David van der Linden
Jean Claude (1619–1687)
The French Protestant pastor and polemical author Jean Claude was one of the most prominent Huguenot leaders of the second half of the seventeenth century, who gained notoriety because of his unrelenting defense of the Calvinist faith in France. Born in 1619 in Sauvetat-du-Dropt in Aquitaine, he studied philosophy and theology at the Protestant academy of Montauban. After graduating in 1645 he served multiple communities in the Huguenot heartland of southern France, in particular Nîmes and Montauban, until in 1666 he was called to Charenton, the famous Huguenot temple outside Paris. Claude only left this post in October 1685, when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and issued a special warrant against him, ordering the pastor to leave the kingdom within twenty-four hours. Together with his wife Elisabeth, he settled in The Hague, rejoining his son Isaac who had already left France in 1682. After preaching a sermon on Christmas morning in 1686, Claude fell ill, passing away just a few weeks later on 13 January 1687.
Jean Claude’s reputation stemmed from his efforts to explain and defend the Calvinist religion in sermons, learned treatises, and disputations. Claude’s sermons were a source of inspiration for generations of Huguenot pastors and laypeople: according to his biographer Abel Rotolp de la Devèze, theology students already flocked to Claude for homiletic advice when he was preaching at Nîmes in the later 1650s, while he also published many sermons throughout his long career. Claude’s Traité de la composition d’un sermon appeared posthumously in 1688, containing useful advice on composing and delivering sermons.
Yet it was above all Claude’s defence of Calvinist theology that bolstered his reputation. Early on in his career, his opposition to a proposed accommodation between Calvinism and the Church of Rome prompted the king to ban him from preaching in Languedoc. In 1664 Claude also became enmeshed in a long-lasting dispute on the Eucharist with the Jansenist theologians Pierre Nicole and Antoine Arnauld. The debate focused on a treatise entitled La perpetuité de la foy de l’Eglise catholique touchant l’Eucharistie, in which Nicole had claimed that from the earliest years of its existence the Christian Church had accepted the miraculous transformation of host and wine into the body and blood of Christ, known as transubstantiation. In a series of treatises Claude refuted this assertion, arguing that the doctrine of transubstantiation was a later invention that lacked all biblical foundation; Protestants had therefore justly rejected this notion during the Reformation in order to return the Christian religion to its untainted form. Claude’s writings led to another royal ban, however, and he was forced to leave his church in Montauban.
Once installed in Charenton in 1666, Claude gained further notoriety. In 1678 he entered into a debate with the influential Catholic bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet on the the authority of the Church. Bossuet accused the Protestants of hypocrisy: despite their rejection of the pope’s infallibility and the authority exercised by the Church of Rome, Protestants had created synods to settle doctrinal disputes and maintain orthodoxy among their members. Claude firmly rejected this comparison. Huguenot synods, consistories, and pastors had only limited power, he argued, because every decision they took had to be in accordance with God’s will. Believers likewise had a solemn duty to monitor that ministers did not stray from the Gospel — only then were they obliged to acquiesce in the synod’s decisions. In other words, pastors were not infallible, let alone entitled to claim absolute power over believers. Yet as Claude pointed out, the Church of Rome had done exactly that, with the result that Protestants were persecuted as heretics.
Claude’s religious activism also earned him respect beyond the borders of the French kingdom, in particular in the Dutch Republic. The University of Groningen offered him a professorship in theology, which Claude declined because he refused to abandon his church in the face of growing persecution. When the Revocation forced him to leave France and settle in The Hague in 1685, he quickly received the protection of the Prince of Orange and the States of Holland, who granted him a secret pension and hired him as their historiographer. Although Claude never published a formal history, he did produce a virulent booklet against the religious policies of Louis XIV, published in 1686 as Les plaintes des Protestans, cruellement opprimez dans le Royaume de France. It contained an exhaustive list of all the methods employed by the French state to convert the Huguenots in the run-up to the Revocation, and made the case for the restoration of the Edict of Nantes. The French ambassador to The Hague, Count d’Avaux, perceptibly warned that this book was nothing less than ‘a manifest to begin a religious war’. Jean Claude would pass away before this coalition of Protestant states would actually take shape in 1688.
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The metadata for the correspondence in this catalogue was collated for EMLO by David van der Linden. Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Editorial Assistant Charlotte Marique and Digital Fellow Alex Hitchman for their help to set out the metadata for upload.
The correspondence of Jean Claude currently contains 115 letters. The vast majority are kept at Leiden University Library and are mostly addressed to his son Isaac, who served as refugee pastor in the Walloon church of The Hague. Unfortunately, the letters Isaac returned to Paris have not been preserved, perhaps because Claude abandoned them during his hasty departure in 1685. The weekly and intimate correspondence between father and son during the years 1684–1685 covers a wide variety of topics, including finances, family life, theological issues, news on the deteriorating position of the Huguenots in France, and detailed advice on sermons and biblical passages. Also of interest are a series of letters Claude sent to Abraham Tessereau, a former lawyer from La Rochelle who had settled in London, and to Louis Tronchin, a Huguenot minister and professor of theology in Geneva. Four hitherto unknown letters to Claude have also come to light in the Brienne Collection, one of which remains unopened. They were sent by a Huguenot woman named De Montallier, who continued to worship secretly in France after the Revocation, reporting on the condition of those who had converted to Catholicism and asking Claude to send undercover ministers.
Bost, Hubert, ‘Jean Claude controversialiste: Charenton contre Port-Royal?’, in Hubert Bost, ed., Ces Messieurs de la R.P.R.: Histoires et écritures de huguenots, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles (Paris, 2001), pp. 121–47.
Deyon, Solange, ‘Les relations de famille et d’affaires de Jean Claude d’après sa correspondance à la veille de la Révocation, 1683–1685’, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, 116, no. 2 (1970), pp. 152–77.
Rotolp de la Devèze, Abel, Abregé de la vie de Mr. Claude (Amsterdam, 1687) [available on line on Google Books].
Van der Linden, David, Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700 (Farnham, 2015).
Van der Linden, David, ‘Predikanten in ballingschap: De carrièrekansen van Jean en Isaac Claude in de Republiek’, De Zeventiende Eeuw, 27, no. 2 (2011), pp. 141–61.