Protestantism in France

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Protestantism in France has existed in its various forms starting with Calvinists and Lutherans since the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin was a Frenchman, as well as numerous other Protestant Reformers including William Farel, Pierre Viret and Theodore Beza, who was Calvin's successor in Geneva. Peter Waldo (Pierre Vaudes/de Vaux) was a merchant from Lyons, who founded a pre-Protestant group. Martin Bucer was born to German minority in Alsace, which historically belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, but now belongs to France.

Hans J. Hillerbrand in his Encyclopedia of Protestantism: 4-volume Set claims the Huguenots reached as much as 10% of the French population on the eve of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, declining to 7-8% by the end of the 16th century, and further after heavy persecution began once again with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV of France.

Protestants were granted a degree of religious freedom following the Edict of Nantes, but it ceased with the Edict of Fontainebleau. Protestant minority has been persecuted, and a majority of Huguenots fled the country, leaving isolated communities like the one in the Cevennes region, which survives to this day.

Today Protestants in France number over one million, or about two percent of the country's population. A renewed interest in Protestantism has been brought by numerous Evangelical Protestants, rather than stagnating Reformed and Lutheran confessions which are since 2013 largely enclosed in the United Protestant Church of France.


The first extant Protestant tradition is often identified as the Waldensians, who originated through the teachings of Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant of Lyon who lived in the 12th century. The Waldensians later moved to Northern Italy, where they experienced near decimation from Catholic authorities until the Reformation, when they affiliated with the Calvinists and other Reformed Christian groups of Switzerland, Germany and France. The group still exists in Italy, Germany, Brazil and the United States.


The Huguenots of the Reformed Church of France emerged from the teachings of John Calvin, and became the major Protestant sect in France until a large portion of the population died in massacres or were deported from French territory following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The group survived until the end of the monarchy and the restoration of full citizenship for Huguenots by the French Revolutionaries. Today, the Huguenots number about one million, or about two percent of the population; They are most concentrated in southeastern France and the Cévennes region in the south. The Calvinist congregations in Alsace and Moselle are organised as the Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine (EPRAL).


Lutherans formed a minority among the overall French Protestants. Their congregations were strengthened by Lutheran immigrants, mostly settling in economically propsperous places. With the French eastward expansion also a number of smaller states of prevailingly Lutheran population had been annexed in the 17th and 18th century. Under Napoleonic religious legislation of 1801 and 1802 also French Lutheranism was reorganised forming the Église de la Confession d'Augsbourg de France, established as a nationwide synod and body. It renamed as Evangelical Lutheran Church of France in 1906. In 1872 the Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine (EPCAAL) had branched off, competent since for most Lutheran congregations in Alsace and Moselle.

Later establishments[edit]

In 1927 some congregations of EPCAAL branched off and established a separate Evangelical Lutheran church and synod for France and Belgium. Many Evangelical Protestant sects would be established in France in the post-WWII period, many of which would derive their liturgical styles from North American evangelical charismatic or Pentecostal movements.

Significant decline under Louis XIV[edit]

Under his rule, the Edict of Nantes which granted rights to Huguenots was abolished. The revocation effectively forced Huguenots to emigrate or convert in a wave of dragonnades. Louis XIV managed to virtually destroy the French Protestant minority, which had survived more than 150 years of wars and persecution under previous French kings.

Further persecution[edit]

Persecution formaally stopped with the Edict of Versailles in 1787, although it was not until the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 that Protestants were fully emancipated.

Apology to the Huguenots[edit]

In October 1985, to commemorate the tricentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Mitterrand gave a formal apology to the descendants of Huguenots around the world.[1] At the same time, a special postage stamp was released in their honour. The stamp states that France is the home of the Huguenots ("Accueil des Huguenots"). Hence their rights were finally recognised.

A new rise of Protestantism[edit]

Protestantism is declining in Europe,[2][3] with some exceptions such as France,[4] where it was eradicated after the abolition of the Edict of Nantes by the Edict of Fontainebleau and the following persecution of Huguenots, but now is claimed to be stable in number or even growing slightly.[4]

Protestants form a minority of 3% in France. Various churches shaped by Evangelicalism have been the main reason behind the current rise of Protestantism in the country, while Calvinists and Lutherans are declining, and in 2013 large parts of these groups merged into the United Protestant Church of France.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dagon, Gérard. Petites églises de France. [S.l.]: Édité par l'auteur; [S.l.: Printed by] M. Hagondange, 1977. N.B.: Concerns non-Catholic Christian groups and also non-Christian religions in France.
  • Mehl, Roger. Le Protestantisme français dans la société actuelle: 1945-1980, in series, Histoire et société, n'o 1. Genève: Éditions Labor et Fides, 1982. Without ISBN