One of the most famous and highly respected theologians of the 17th century was the French Huguenot Jean Claude (1619–1687). Everyone in the Reformed communion speaks of him the highest respect. Even his greatest opponent, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the famous Roman Catholic apologist, said of him that he said the most and best of what could be said for a bad cause! In this post, I would like to give a very brief overview of his life and explain a few of his works that are available in English.
As for the major events of Claude’s life, he was born in the home of a Protestant minister in southwestern France, where French Protestantism was strongest, in 1619. He did his studies at Montaubon and was ordained by his own father in 1646. He ministered in La Treyne for one year and then went on to Saint-Afrique where he served for eight years. In 1655, he became a pastor in the Reformed Church at Nîmes, one of the most important churches in France. Because of his success and the outcome of a provincial Synod in 1661, he was banished from the province (Languedoc). He then went to Paris to seek to get the sentence removed, but he was unsuccessful. His travels then led him to Montaubon, where he had studied for the ministry, and he was soon called and installed as a minister of that place. There, he served with relative peace and contentment for four years.
For various reasons, Claude was banished from Montaubon, and once again he went to Paris to have the sentence removed where, once again, he was unsuccessful. However, the Lord had other plans. He became the pastor at Charenton. Charenton was the most important Protestant Church in France because of its proximity to the Court. Because of the terms of the Edict of Nantes, no Protestant Church was allowed within the walls of Paris. Consequently, all of the Protestants in Paris had to worship outside the city walls. The closest church was in Charenton, about five miles outside of Paris. From this church, Claude countered the machinations against the Protestants, gave counsel to the Churches of France, and defended the cause of the Reformation. He was from 1666 until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the pastor of French Protestantism.
On October, 18, 1685, Louis XIV signed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, bringing an end to the toleration of French Protestantism. All pastors had to leave the kingdom within 15 days unless they changed their religion. Claude was given 24 hours. He was driven to the border by the king’s servants. He went through the Spanish Netherlands en route to The Hague, Netherlands, where his son, Isaac, already lived and served as a minister. He lived there only a little over a year but in great peace and died on January 13, 1687.
Jean Claude’s Works in English
Even though Jean Claude wrote mainly in French, quite a few of his works have been translated into English. Some of these works are only available on Early English Books Online. Here you will find translations of Claude’s book on the history of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, refuting the idea that transubstantiation was always believed. Claude had a conference with Bossuet at the house of the Countess of Royes before Mlle. de Turenne who was about to convert to Catholicism. Bossuet and Claude both published accounts of and reflections on this conference where they discussed primarily the doctrine of the Church. Finally, you can also find his book Self-Examination in Order to Prepare Oneself for Communion. This is an excellent and concise work that is particularly worth reading and illustrative of Claude’s strengths as a pastor.
If you only have access to Google Books, there are three works that you can read. The first is A Defence of the Reformation. According to Pierre Bayle, the famous Protestant scholar and encyclopedist, this is the best work on the subject. Claude weighs the circumstances leading up the Reformation, the just causes of the Reformation, and the legitimate call of the Reformers. This book was a response to a book written by Pierre Nicole (1625–1695), a Jansenist controversialist, entitled Legitimate Prejudices against the Calvinists.
Second, Claude wrote a book about the sufferings of the Huguenots entitled The Cruel Persecutions in the Kingdom of France. This story is well worth knowing and reading. This book was written in order to explain to Europe what had happened to the Huguenots who experienced, for that time period, some of the worst persecutions of all the Protestants.
Third, Claude wrote a book on the composition of a sermon. This work was not published until after Claude’s death. The French version is published in Vol. 1 of his Posthumous Works. It was translated in 1778 by the Rev. Robert Robertson and later published by Charles Simeon with notes and skeletons of various sermons. This work is helpful in understanding the philosophy of preaching in the French Reformed Church (and no doubt in other Reformed Churches as well). This book is helpful for historical analysis and for preaching generally but Claude also includes discussions and examples of many text where he shows how to organize the sermons and apply them.
By way of example, he begins by saying that a preaching text should not be too short or too long. He says that it should not be too short because “flourishes of wit and imagination must be displayed which are not of the genius of the pulpit; and, in one word, it will make the hearers think, that self is more preached than Jesus Christ. . .” (Essay on the Composition of a Sermon, 2). On the other hand, he warns that a sermon should not be too long. As he says:
Preaching is not only intended to give the sense of scripture but also of theology in general and, in short, to explain the whole of religion, which cannot be done if too much matter be taken; so that, I think, the manner commonly used in our churches is the most reasonable, and the most conformable to the end of preaching. Everybody can read scripture with notes and comments to obtain the simple sense: but we cannot instruct, solve difficulties, unfold mysteries, penetrate into the ways of divine wisdom, establish truth, refute error, comfort, correct, and censure, fill the hearers with an admiration of the wonderful works and ways of God, inflame their souls with zeal, powerfully incline them to piety and holiness, which are the ends of preaching, unless we go farther than barely enabling them to understand Scripture (Ibid.).
These two quotations will give a good sense of the whole work on the composition of a sermon.
Even though Claude is not well-known today, he is by no means a minor figure in the history of the Reformed Church. He was called by God to the pastorate at a time of great difficulty for the Protestant Churches in France. He was not able to write as much as others because of the tremendous burdens of the pastorate and the machinations of the Catholic clergy against the Protestants. In many ways, it is astonishing that he wrote as much as he did. Nevertheless, what he has written still deserves to be read and considered as we seek to bring the Protestant faith to our own day through the pulpit and writing just as Claude did.
Note: Originally posted on July 5, 2008