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Triumph & Tragedy: The Gospel in Paris

Stories from the French Reformation, Part 20
by J. A. Wylie with Janet Evert

What’s happening: Although French King Francis I does not totally oppose the Reformation, he allows enemies of Protestantism to hold powerful positions in France. These ruthless men send many Protestants to the stake, including Louis de Berquin in 1529. After seeing a martyr offer his life for his faith, John Calvin abandons his plans to become a priest and joins the Reformation. In 1532, Calvin begins sharing the gospel in Paris. Meanwhile, King Francis I plots against Charles V of Spain.

The day Louis de Berquin died was a terrible one for Margaret, Queen of Navarre and sister of King Francis. As she thought of the noble knight on the martyr’s pile, Margaret’s heart overflowed with sorrow. Who would be next? If only her brother would take a firm stand for the gospel!

Then, to Margaret’s joy, Francis held out his hand first to the Protestants of Germany, and then to the Protestant King of England.1 Surely Francis had finally decided to place himself on the path of reform. Surely the last Protestant blood had been spilled and the last stake had been planted for the cause of
the gospel in France!

Margaret’s zeal and courage grew stronger every day. In 1533, after the carnival season,2 she decided the time had come for the gospel to be preached in Paris itself. While her brother was in Picardy for a rest, Margaret summoned Professor Gerard Roussel.3 “I want you to proclaim the great tidings from the
pulpits of Paris,” she told him.

The timid professor shook like an aspen at the queen’s words. “It is good for the gospel to be preached,” he told

Margaret, “but I am not the man. There are too many dangers. I beg of you to find someone with more courage for the task.”

The queen would not hear of his objections. Instead, she ordered the churches of Paris to offer their pulpits
to Roussel.

Margaret had underestimated the strength of the enemy. The Sorbonne, led by Beda, lifted its haughty head
and commanded that the doors of the churches be kept closed. Although the Sorbonnists could control the city pulpits, Margaret was mistress of the palace. She fitted up a salon4 in the Louvre5 as a chapel, and
announced that a sermon would be preached there each day. All were welcome to attend, from royalty to

The Parisians opened their eyes in wonder. Here was something new—the king’s palace turned into a Lutheran chapel! When the hour came, a crowd streamed through the gates of the Louvre and pressed into the salon. Roussel offered a short prayer, read a portion of Scripture, and explained it with great clearness. This was very wise of him. A direct attack on the papacy would but have angered and offended the hearers, but the simple presentation of the truth touched their hearts and their consciences.

With each day, a greater crowd gathered in the chapel. The salon could no longer hold all who came, and side rooms and corridors were thrown open to make more room for over 5,000 nobles, lawyers, professors, merchants, artisans, and bourgeoisie6 who flowed through the royal gates each day to hear the good news of salvation.

Margaret now returned to her first idea. She wrote to her brother, asking him to put the churches of Paris at her command. Francis answered by giving her permission to use two churches in the city. Margaret immediately found Protestant preachers to fill the pulpits of both churches. Citizens who had reveled with guilty pleasures during the carnival now filled the churches to hear the gospel message. Drunkards became sober, the idle became industrious, the disorderly grew peaceful, and the immoral put aside their wicked
ways. Margaret rejoiced as she imagined the gospel flowing throughout France, bringing life and peace to parched, weary lives.

Meanwhile, what were the doctors of the Sorbonne doing? Did they stand by with shut mouths and folded arms, quietly looking on? Did they fall asleep, not caring that France was becoming “Lutheran?” Far from it. After sending out spies to make a report, they raised the alarm. A flood of heresy had entered France, and it must stop. “Let us burn Roussel,” Beda cried, “just as we did Berquin.”

The Sorbonne did not have quite enough power to drag the preacher from the Queen of Navarre’s side. They sent an urgent message to Francis, asking him to allow them to proceed against Roussel, but he chose not to interfere.

(To be continued.)

1. King Henry VIII, who broke with the Church because of a quarrel with the pope. Henry did not
seem to have many true Protestant sentiments.
2. The carnival, or Mardi Gras, was notorious for its foolishness and immorality.
3. A professor at the Sorbonne who had sympathized with Lefevre and Farel.
4. A large room.
5. The palace.
6. The middle class.

From Young Disciple magazine, Volume 23, Number 20.

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