Remembering our Forefathers in the Faith
18 November is fast approaching as I write this newsletter in the midst of another outburst of international turmoil, the global consequences of which are not clear yet. The situation is threatening enough to bring us to a renewed focus on our ultimate hope, which is the coming in glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus-Christ. He is and remains the ruler of kings on earth (Rev. 1.3).
In this context, does it make sense to devote so much time and energy to commemorate an event that took place 400 years ago, namely the death of Philippe Duplessis-Mornay (1549-1623)? This prominent French Huguenot was not only a soldier, diplomat and statesman of European stature, but also a political thinker and a noted theologian in his time.
I would first reply that ignoring or neglecting the history of our forefathers in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) is a blatant denial – alas too common among many Protestants – of the meaning of the Covenant of Grace through the ages, until the return of the Lord. If we are able to pass on this faith to our children and grandchildren, it is because by God’s Providence a chain of believers did so in the past, more often than not with tremendous efforts and sacrifices. There is no point in reading Hebrews 11 if we do not show interest in their historical and spiritual legacy, reflecting critically on it and working assiduously to leave in turn a faithful legacy to the next generations.
Acquiring more Visibility
There is a related motive that led me to initiate this historical commemoration a year ago, with the official support of the city council of Saumur (the town Duplessis-Mornay was governor of from 1589 to 1621 ). It is a way of giving more local visibility to the ministry of Reformed Faith and Life since we live a mere ten miles away from Saumur. So far I have been able to reach out to several individuals in the community, but RFL has not acquired the kind of impact we have generated nationwide through the use of social media. This community prides itself on its rich cultural legacy and the region attracts tourists because of its beautiful landscapes, Medieval and Renaissance architecture, not to mention its excellent wines. By involving local bodies we aim at creating awareness of a common heritage which the larger public (there are still a number of Roman Catholics) is not so well acquainted with. Having to deal with French authorities in the context of the strict separation between State and Church, we must avoid any perception of doing some kind of Christian proselytism through this planned event. Still, it is impossible to evoke the legacy of Duplessis-Mornay and avoid drawing attention to the spiritual motives behind his relentless action in the service of his country. This may eventually bring some people to reflect upon today’s cultural and political challenges, and principles for meeting them in our own context. To mention a few local actors we invited to partner with us for this commemoration : 11th Grade students of a fine arts class at the Duplessis-Mornay public High school in town (with the hearty support of the principal); an old firm producing bronze and silver medals; two well-established wineries as well as a newly created wine tasting guild; a company specialized in boat tours on the Loire river that has a boutique in town; a local conference speaker; a retired university professor who is the author of a biography on Duplessis-Mornay; several tour guides; the curator of the Saumur castle (for the use of a conference and reception hall in the former abbey of the castle); some staff of the Saumur city council etc.
At a different level, a year ago I was already commissioned by a well known Protestant publishing company, La Cause, to compile a book about Duplessis-Mornay comprised of a selection of texts from his time. Earlier this year I started browsing through a mass of documents: letters written by him, biographical sketches written by his remarkable wife Charlotte, excerpts of various theological treatises. I then selected what seemed to reflect best his character, views and actions. I organized them according to larger sections and transcribed his prose in modern French, accompanying everything by short introductions and notes to explain the historical context of events mentioned. The book is currently at the printer. It will be officially presented in the reception hall of the castle’s abbey during the celebration on 18 November.
Being Well Thought of by Outsiders
After this year’s banking crisis (basically sorted by now) we have become quite aware of how fickle some institutions can be in their dealings with a Christian ministry like ours, although we operate both legally and transparently. Thinking retrospectively, through its federating impact, the Duplessis-Mornay initiative should also help us gain the kind of status that may guard us from undue suspicion or actions in future (so we hope at least). According to 1 Tim. 3.7, being well thought of by outsiders should be a trademark of servants of the Lord. We know that it is not so easy when authorities decide to reward those who do evil instead of giving approval to those who do good (Rom. 13.3). Still, we have to obey this mandate as long as it doesn’t force us to bring into jeopardy our belief in Christ’s rule over our life. In his own time, Duplessis-Mornay faced the exact same challenge and had to pay a hard price for some uncompromising choices he made to remain faithful to his convictions. May we not be less courageous in a time of renewed threats and the prospect of afflictions in the flesh.
Warmly in Christ,
Rev. Eric Kayayan
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