Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 2012

One of Many, A Story Far Too Common

His name was Jean de la Fontaine, and he was sixty-three years old. In earlier life he would have been well-known for his connections to the French court, for his father insisted that he retain such ties in order to make a good living for himself. He would have been a familiar face in higher circles. Yet by his sixth decade of life he was known for something far more deadly: his Protestant creed.

Jean and his father Gilles had embraced the Reformation in its infancy. Jean, believing that if he remained in court he would be exempt from persecution, stayed in the king’s service. He found it possible to shield fellow French Protestants from harm and he gave his life to the dueling desires of practicing his faith and helping the Huguenots, and of collecting praise from the monarchy so he and his kin might remain safe. This backfired in 1563.

He believed that after the Peace of Amboise, which brought an end to the first bloody War of Religion that had been triggered by the 1562 Massacre of Vassy (see post of August 30th), he was no longer dependent on his court duties to keep him from harm. He willingly gave up his titles and went home to be with a family who rejoiced over the recent ceasing of war. This rejoicing did not last long. On the tenth of May 1563, sixty-three-year-old Jean de la Fontaine was asleep when men discontent with the recent rulings broke into his home and disturbed the peace.

There was little time for negotiation.

Jean was killed on his front lawn for professing the Huguenot faith. His wife, who had taken it upon herself to plead for his life, was treated to the same: martyrdom at the tip of a dagger. It is unknown how many children were in the house at the time, but it is believed that Jean’s firstborn son and perhaps a servant were also killed. Thus ended what had been a noble and affluent life. This end came about not due to any crime on Jean’s part --- though in these first decades of the Reformation and for long after, the mere profession of Protestantism was considered a crime worthy of death --- but due to intolerance, lack of compassion, and fanaticism.

Jean de la Fontaine was but one Huguenot victim of many. I remember reading an opinion once that if Protestants canonized all of their martyrs as Catholics canonize their saints, there would be too many to enumerate.  But our refusal to cast our martyrs in this light does not mean that we do not honor and appreciate them. We are very well aware of our heritage of bloodshed and persecution, a heritage also of strength, steadfastness, and undying faith and fortitude. Jean de la Fontaine is one example . . . one precious, ill-fated example of taking up his cross and following Christ instead of the world.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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