We can sink our own arguments by saying too much, as the French reformers sadly discovered in the 1500s. The Protestant movement initially found fertile ground in France. Several preachers, sympathetic to reform, mounted pulpits in Paris, and the king himself showed interest.

But on October 10, 1533, Nicolas Cop was elected Rector of the University of Paris and his inaugural address, prepared by a 24-year-old firebrand named John Calvin, was a declaration of war on the Catholic Church. The speech demanded reformation on the basis of the New Testament and attacked the theologians of the church who “teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification.”

The speech so inflamed Paris that Cop fled to Basel, and Calvin reportedly escaped his room from a window by means of sheets, fleeing disguised as a vine-dresser with a hoe on his shoulder. The ensuing months saw so many posters and tracts on Parisian streets that 1534 became known as “the year of the placards.” The tension exploded into violence over a scathing placard by an overzealous Protestant named Feret. He attacked “the horrible, great, intolerable abuses of the popish mass.”

On the night of October 18, 1534, Feret’s placard was found nailed to the king’s bedroom door, and that did it. Protestants soon filled Parisian jails. And on January 29, 1535, to purge the city from the defilement caused by Feret’s placards, an immense torch-lit procession traveled in silence from the Louvre to Notre Dame. The image of St. Genevieve, patroness of Paris, was accompanied by the royal family, princes, cardinals and church officials, ambassadors, and officers from state and university. Solemn mass was performed in the cathedral. The king declared he would behead even his own children if they embraced the “new heresies.”

The day ended with six Protestants being suspended by ropes to a great machine that lowered and raised them into burning flames, slowly roasting them to death. In the coming months, many more Protestants were fined, imprisoned, tortured, and burned.

The French Reformation miscarried.

Make your words good—you will be glad you did.
Words can bring death or life!
Talk too much, and you will eat everything you say.
If you are too eager, you will miss the road.
(Proverbs 18:20,21; 19:2b)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 29.

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