Napoleon and Protestants

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Protestantism was generally proscribed in France between 1685 (Edict of Fontainebleau) and 1787 (Edict of Versailles). During that period Roman Catholicism was the state religion. The French Revolution began a process of dechristianization that lasted from 1789 until the Concordat of 1801, an agreement between the nation and the Papacy. The French general and statesman responsible for the concordat, Napoleon Bonaparte, had a generally favorable attitude towards Protestants, and the concordat did not make Catholicism the state religion again. [1]

Protestantism in France has existed in its various forms starting with Calvinists and Lutherans since the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin was a Frenchman, as well as numerous other Protestant Reformers including William Farel, Pierre Viret and Theodore Beza, who was Calvin's successor in Geneva. Peter Waldo was a merchant from Lyons, who founded a pre-Protestant group, the Waldensians. Martin Bucer was born a German in Alsace, which historically belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, but now belongs to France.

Kingdom of France kingdom in Western Europe from 843 to 1791

The Kingdom of France was a medieval and early modern monarchy in Western Europe. It was one of the most powerful states in Europe and a great power since the Late Middle Ages and the Hundred Years' War. It was also an early colonial power, with possessions around the world.

Edict of Fontainebleau 1685 edict

The Edict of Fontainebleau was an edict issued by Louis XIV of France, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes (1598) had granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. Though Protestants had lost their independence in places of refuge under Richelieu on account of their supposed insubordination, they continued to live in comparative security and political contentment. From the outset, religious toleration in France had been a royal, rather than a popular policy. The lack of universal adherence to his religion did not sit well with Louis XIV's vision of perfected autocracy: "Bending all else to his will, Louis XIV resented the presence of heretics among his subjects."


In April 1802, Bonaparte unilaterally promulgated the Organic Articles, a law designed to implement the terms of the concordat. It formally recognised the Lutheran and Reformed churches in France, provided for their ministers to be paid by the state and granted them several previously Catholic churches as compensation for Protestant churches destroyed during the persecutions of the reign of Louis XIV. The articles were not negotiated with either Catholics or Protestants and were not informed by actual Protestant ecclesiology. For the first time, Protestant ministers took part in public ceremonies as paid agents of the state. [1] The first Reformed church was legally established in Paris in 1802, and by 1804 there were 120 Reformed ministers on the state payroll. There had been only forty-eight ministers in France in 1750, all practising underground because it was a capital offence to preach in a Protestant church. The presidents of twenty-seven Reformed consistories were present when Bonaparte was crowned Emperor Napoleon I in 1804. By the end of his reign, Napoleon had 137 Reformed pastors in his pay. [2] With the expansion of the First French Empire and the direct incorporation of the Netherlands, as well as western and northwestern German regions, France was now in possession of vast Protestant majority areas.

Organic Articles

The Organic Articles was a law administering public worship in France.

The term Protestant ecclesiology refers to the spectrum of teachings held by the Protestant Reformers concerning the nature and mystery of the Church.

Consistory (Protestantism) Protestantism

In Protestant usage, a consistory designates certain ruling bodies in various churches. The meaning and the scope of functions varies strongly, also along the separating lines of the Protestant denominations and church bodies.

As a result of Napoleon's actions, French Protestants generally considered themselves emancipated and integrated into national life in the period from 1802 until Napoleon's defeat and exile in 1814. The Charter of 1814, the constitution introduced by Louis XVIII, maintained the freedom of Protestants as it had been under Napoleon while restoring Catholicism as the state religion. Nevertheless, there was widespread violence against Protestants in 1815. [1]

Charter of 1814 constitution

The French Charter of 1814 was a constitution granted by King Louis XVIII of France shortly after his restoration. The Congress of Vienna demanded that Louis bring in a constitution of some form before he was restored.

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  1. 1 2 3 André Encrevé, "French Protestants",in Rainer Liedtke and Stephan Wendehorst (eds.), The Emancipation of Catholics, Jews and Protestants: Minorities and the Nation-State in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Manchester University Press, 1999), pp. 56–82.
  2. Steven C. Hause, "French Protestants, Secularism, and the Separation of Church and State, 1802–1905", in Kathleen Long (ed.), Religious Differences in France: Past and Present (Truman State University Press, 2006), pp. 141–59, at 143.

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