- Protestantism came to France immediately after its emergence in neighboring Germany and Switzerland. When strong opposition arose, two of the leading Protestant thinkers, John Calvin and William Farel, moved to Geneva, which became the center of the French-speaking Protestants. Calvin developed the theology and ecclesi-ology that would dominate the Reformed church (as opposed to the Lutheran Church based in Germany). French Protestants overwhelmingly sided with Calvin, their position being summarized in the Gallican Confession of 1561.Opposition became persecution during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, when some 20,000 Huguenots (French Protestants) were killed. (The term Huguenot is of disputed origin, though it may have derived from Bezanson Hugues, one of their early leaders. It was originally a term of opprobrium, but it long ago came into common use.) A period of civil war ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which granted toleration. Persecution resumed in the next century; the edict was revoked in 1685, and Protestant ministers were ordered to leave the country. Only in 1787 was a final edict of toleration enacted in France.After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, an estimated 100,000 Huguenots left France. French Protestant churches were founded in relatively tolerant countries in both Europe and the Americas.Within France, the Huguenots survived underground and formed what is today the Reformed Church of France. It was reorganized during the reign of Napoleon, at which time it had an estimated 430,000 adherents. The law of 1806 dictated local churches to be organized around a consistory composed of its pastor and the leading laymen (elders), who would manage local affairs. There would be one consistorial church for every 6,000 believers. originally, 76 consistories served by 171 pastors were formed. Every five churches would unite into a synod. The synod (comprising one pastor and one elder from each of the five churches) supervised public worship and religious education. Its enactments had to be approved by government authorities, a provision that ended with the separation of church and state in France in 1905.A national organization was formed during the reign of Louis Napoleon in reaction to divisions that had appeared. Two groups split off in the 1830s and 1840s, one representing a pietistic tendency, and the other supporting a strictly confessional faith.Despite their conflicts, the Reformed churches were able to build one of the most active foreign missionary agencies, the Paris Mission ("Societe des missions évangéliques de Paris), which began in South Africa and spread around the world, especially in the French colonial empire.in the 20th century, most Huguenot churches in other countries disappeared, as members adapted to local languages and merged into like-mined Reformed and Presbyterian churches. in the United States, for example, most former Huguenot congregations have been integrated into the fellowship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The former works of the Paris Mission have become autonomous church bodies and continue to exist throughout the former French colonies.See also Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.Further reading:■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)■ Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion 1562-1629 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)■ George A. Rothrock, The Huguenots: A Biography of a Minority (Chicago: Nelson Hall, 1979).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.