While the Internet is flush with conspiracy theories about how the Notre Dame fire got started, Christians – even of the Reformed Protestant variety – are publicly mourning the loss of the historically significant structure. We should probably be reminded that the last time Providence befell cathedral it was at the hands of Calvinists.
A spokeman for Paris firefighters, Gabriel Plus, said that the flames are extinguished the but the real question is if Notre Dame can remain standing. The question for Protestants is if we want it to. The French Huguenots, who last accosted the facility in 1548, would probably be shocked to learn that some 21st Century Calvinists are wringing their hands over it.
The Huguenots were French Protestants who founded the Reformed Church of France in the early 16th Century. The Huguenots, prior to being ruthlessly butchered by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, were about ten percent of the French population. They continued to suffer persecution at the hands of Roman Catholics in France until the French Revolution.
And the French Calvinists were no pushovers, either. They resisted Catholicicism’s tyrannical grip strongly, taking part in the French Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598. In response, their political privileges were taken away in 1620. In 1685, King Louis XIV made Protestantism illegal in France and decreed that they should either convert to Catholicism or flee (he then bragged that almost a million Huguenots had died or fled from France). This persecution continued up until the Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens in 1789.
As a part of their resistance to Romanist persecution, the Huguenots raided Notre Dame earlier on in their history (1548) to rid it of idols. Calvinists and those of the Reformed persuasion have traditionally been iconoclasts, finding images used for worship to be a form of idolatry and repugnant. They viewed Notre Dame as a testiment to the wickedness of the Papacy and its heretical errors.
Although little is known about the riots in 1548, the Huguenots, being brought to faith by Jesus’ Gospel as taught by John Calvin, had a Biblical hatred for idolatary. Without much fan fair, they stormed Notre Dame, overturned images, tooks the heads of various statues, and knocked the demonic-looking gargoyles off the roof.
There is no doubt that if the Huguenots of 1548 were to see Notre Dame of April 16, 2019, they would rejoice in tears at the ash-heap.
The doctrine of the Huguenots (and the historic church) has been iconoclasm, the belief that the Second Commandment should guide our worship. This being the case, the creation or use of physical objects or images for the purpose of worship is strictly prohibited. This is the position of the Universal Church until roughly the 4th Century, and the position of Reformed Protestantism until, well…today.
As some prominent Calvinists mourn the loss of Notre Dame in our age of endless virtue signaling, one wonders if the position of Calvinism toward idols and a House of Idols has gotten better or worse.
But for many of us Calvinists, our position has clearly changed on whether a place like Notre Dame is beautiful or hideous, worth saving or worth demolishing.
As for me, I at least tip my hat to the Huguenots, while we remember that God’s vengeance is always greater than our own.
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.’ (Deuteronomy 32:35)