Just a history recommendation

A couple months ago I began reading The History of the Reformation in Europe at the Time of Calvin by J.H. Merle D’aubigné.

It is bound today mostly in 4 or 8 volumes but was originally 16. He was writing in the mid 1800s. It is one the best histories I have ever read. I’m nearly finished with the first 2 of 8. I highly recommend it - and plan to read his other histories as well. Below is a taste from my reading today on the wedding of Catherine de Medici to the monarchy of France.

It was not decorous for the pope to appear to have come so far only to give away a young lady. He proposed, therefore, in order to conceal his intrigues, to issue the bull against the heretics which he had brought with him. It was his wedding present, and nothing could better inaugurate Catherine’s entry into France. But the diplomatist, William du Bellay, did all in his power to prevent this truly Roman transaction. He had several very animated conversations on this subject with the cardinals and with the pope himself. He represented to him the necessity of satisfying the protestants of Germany: ‘A free council and mutual concessions,’ he said; but Clement was deaf. Du Bellay would not give way; he struggled manfully with the pontiff, and conjured him not to attempt to put down the Reformation with violence. He used similar language to Francis, and laid before him some letters which he had recently received from Germany; but the king replied that he was taking the matter too seriously. The bull of excommunication was simply a manner, a papal form … and nothing more. The bull was published, and there was a great noise about it. Francis and Clement, each believing in the other’s good faith, were deceiving one another. The only truth in all this Marseilles business was the gift the pope made to France of Catherine de Medici. That was quite enough certainly.

As soon as the pope’s niece arrived, preparations were made for the marriage. The ministers of the king and of the pope took the contract in hand, and the latter having spoken of an annuity of one hundred thousand crowns: ‘It is very little for so noble an alliance,’ said the treasurers of Francis I.—‘True,’ replied Strozzi, one of Clement’s most able servants; ‘but observe that her grace the Duchess of Urbino brings moreover three rings of inestimable value … Genoa, Milan, and Naples.’ These diamonds, whose brilliancy was to dazzle the king and France, never shone on Catherine’s fingers or on the crown of Henry II.

The ceremony was conducted with great magnificence. The bride advanced, young, brilliant, radiant with joy, with smiling lips and sparkling eyes, her head adorned with gold, pearls, and flowers; and in her train … Death … Death, who was always her faithful follower, who served her even when she would have averted his dart; who, by striking the dauphin, was to make her the wife of the heir to the crown; by striking her father-in-law, to make her queen; and by striking down successively her husband and all her sons, to render her supreme controller of the destinies of France. In gratitude, therefore, towards her mysterious and sinister ally, the Florentine woman was forty years later, and in a night of August, to give him a magnificent entertainment in the streets of Paris, to fill a lake with blood that he might bathe therein, and organise the most terrible festival that had ever been held in honour of Death. Catherine approached the altar, trembling a little, though not agitated. The pope officiated, desirous of personally completing the grandeur of his house, and tapers without number were lighted. The King and Queen of France, with a crowd of courtiers dressed in the richest costumes, surrounded the altar. Catherine de Medici placed her cold hand in the faithless hand of Henry of Valois, which was to deprive the Reform of all liberty, and France herself, in the Unhappy Peace, of her glory and her conquests. Clement gave his pontifical blessing to this tragic pair. The marriage was concluded; the girl, as Guicciardini calls her, was a wife; her eyes glanced as with fire. Was it a beam of happiness and pride? Probably. We might ask also if it was not the joy of the hyena scenting from afar the graves where it could feast on the bodies of the dead; or of the tiger espying from its lair in the African desert the groups of travellers upon whom it might spring and quench its raging thirst for blood. But although the appetites which manifested themselves in the St. Bartholomew massacre already existed in the germ in this young wife, there is no evidence (it must be acknowledged) that she allowed herself to be governed at Marseilles by these cruel promptings.

There are creatures accursed of God, who, under a dazzling veil and fair outward show, impart to a nation an active power of contagion, the venom of corruption, an invisible principle of death which, circulating through the veins, infects with its morbid properties all parts of the body, and strikes the physical powers with general prostration. It was thus at the commencement of the history of the human race that a fallen being deceived man; by him sin entered into the world, and death by sin. This first scene, which stands alone, has been repeated, however, from time to time in the world, though on a smaller scale. It happened to France when the daughter of the Medici crept into the family of its kings. No doubt the disease was already among the people, but Catherine’s arrival was one of those events which bring the corruption to a head. This woman, so false and dissolute, so vile as to crawl at the feet of her husband’s mistress and pick up secrets for her; this woman, who gave birth to none but enervated, idiotic, distempered, and vicious children, not only corrupted her own sons, but infected an entire brilliant society that might have been noble and just (as Coligny showed), and instilled her deadly venom into its veins. The niece of the pope poisoned France.

‘Clement’s joy was incredible,’ says Guicciardini. He had even a feeling of gratitude, and resolved to give the king four hats for four French bishops. Did he intend that these hats should supply the place of Urbino, Genoa, Milan, and Naples? Nobody knows. One of the new cardinals was Odet de Chatillon, then eleven years old, brother of the immortal Coligny, and subsequently one of the supporters of protestantism in France. The king, wishing to appear grateful for so many favours, wrote to the Bishop of Paris, that ‘as the crime of heresy increased and multiplied, he should proceed to act against the heretics.’—‘Do not fail,’ he added. But the Bishop of Paris, brother of the diplomatist Du Bellay, was the least inclined of all the prelates in France to persecution. Francis knew this well, and for that very reason, perhaps, gave him the order.

The pope, delighted at having made so good a bargain in the city of merchants, embarked on the 20th of November to return to Rome. Excess of joy was hurtful to him, as it had been to his cousin Leo X. The threats of the emperor, who demanded a council; the pressure of Francis I., who claimed Catherine’s three rings; the quarrels of his two nephews, who were fighting at Florence,—all filled poor Clement with uneasiness and sorrow. He told his attendants that his end was near; and immediately after his return, he had the ring and the garments prepared which are used at the burial of the popes. His only consolation, the approaching destruction of the protestants, seemed to fail him in his last days. Even during his interview with the pope, Francis was secretly intriguing to unite with the most formidable of the enemies of Rome. After embracing the old papacy with apparent emotion, the chivalrous king gallantly held out his hand to the young Reformation. In the space of two months he had two interviews as opposite as possibly could be. These two contradictory conferences point out one of the traits that best characterise the versatile and ambitious Francis. This modern Janus had a head with two faces. We have just seen that which looked backwards into the past; we shall soon see that which looked forwards into the future. But before we follow the King of France in his oscillation towards Germany and the protestants, we must return to Calvin, In October 1533, Francis and Clement had met at Marseilles; and on the 1st of November, while those princes were still diplomatising, a great evangelical demonstration took place at Paris.


Luther and Melancthon opposed the political processes that were employed during their day to save the reformation. Francis 1 of France was eager to depose the Pope from politics - but the reformers knew that the governments of men are not the way to win the Kingdom of God.

"But fresh obstacles now intervened. The theologians of the Reformation detested these foreign alliances and wars, which, in their opinion, defiled the holiest of causes. Luther and Melanchthon waited upon the elector, conjuring him to oppose the landgrave’s rash enterprise; and Du Bellay found the two reformers employing as much zeal to prevent the union of Francis and Philip as he to accomplish it…

The doctor held very decided opinions on this subject. An alliance with the King of France, what a disgrace! A war against the emperor, what madness! ‘The devil,’ he said, ‘desires to govern the nation by making everybody draw the sword. With what eloquence he strives to convince us that it is lawful and even necessary! Somebody is injuring these people, he says; let us make haste to strike and save them! Madman! God sleeps not, and is no fool; he knows very well how to govern the world. We have to contend with an enemy against whom no human strength or wisdom can prevail. If we arm ourselves with iron and steel, with swords and guns, he has only to breathe upon them, and nothing remains but dust and ashes.… But if we take upon us the armour of God, the helmet, the shield, and the sword of the Spirit, then God, if necessary, will hurl the emperor from his throne, and will keep for us all he has given us—his Gospel, his kingdom.’ Luther and Melanchthon persevered in their representations to the landgrave, in order to thwart Du Bellay’s plans. ‘This war,’ they said, ‘will ruin the cause of the Gospel, and fix on it an indelible stain. Pray do not disturb the peace.’ At these words the prince’s face grew red; he did not like opposition, and gave the two divines an angry answer. ‘They are people who do not understand the affairs of this world,’ he said; and, returning to Hesse, he pursued his plans with vigour.


Very interesting. Thanks for the quote.

I have been struck repeatedly by the early reformers refusal to play politics to win “the kingdom.” They actually had the ears of kings, queens, and lords and yet steadfastly held that the Kingdom is not won by swords and earthly kings, but by the Spirit.

Much different today when men who are completely unknown and have no shot at the ear of presidents are quite certain the right man in power would allow the Kingdom to break forth.