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He was born at Bédarieux, Hérault. In 1738 he was admitted as a preacher by the synod of Languedoc, and in 1740 he went to Lausanne to complete his studies in the seminary founded by Antoine Court. In 1741 Rabaut was placed at the head of the church of Nîmes, and in 1744 he was vice-president of the general synod. During the persecution of 1745-1752, he was forced into hiding. When the marquis of Paulmy d'Argenson was sent to Languedoc to make a military inspection, Rabaut succeeded in interviewing him (1750).
For a time the persecution ceased, but it broke out again in 1753, and a price was put on Rabaut's head. Louis François de Bourbon, prince de Conti, interested himself in the Protestants in 1755, and in July Rabaut visited him. During the years 1755-1760 periods of persecution and toleration alternated. By 1760, however, the efforts of Antoine Court and Paul Rabaut had been so successful that French Protestantism was well established and organized. Court de Gébelin, Rabaut himself, and his son Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne now exerted themselves to get it recognized by the law and government. When the people revolted, the minister Turgot in 1775 requested Rabaut to calm them.
His success aroused the jealousy of his colleagues, who tried to undo the good work started by Antoine Court. Rabaut persevered in his efforts to improve the legal position of the Protestants. In 1785, when he was visited by the Marquis de la Fayette, it was arranged that Rabaut's son, Rabaut Saint-Etienne, should go to Paris on behalf of the Reformed Church.
In November 1787 King Louis XVI's edict of toleration was signed, though it was not registered until January 29, 1788. Two years later liberty of conscience was proclaimed by the National Assembly, of which Rabaut Saint-Etienne was vice-president, and it was declared that non-Catholics might be admitted to all positions. After the fall of the Girondists, however, in which Rabaut Saint-Etienne was involved, Paul Rabaut, who had refused to renounce his title of pastor, was arrested, dragged to the citadel of Nîmes, and kept in prison seven weeks (1794). He died at Nîmes, soon after his release.
See J Pons do Nîmes, Notice biographique sur Paul Rabaut (1808); Charles Dardier, Paul Rabaut, ses lettres à Antoine Court (1884) and Paul Rabaut, ses lettres à divers (1891).