1902 Encyclopedia > Moses Amyraut

Moses Amyraut
French Protestant theologian and metaphysician

MOSES AMYRAUT, a pre-eminent French Protestant theologian and metaphysician, was born at Bourgueil, in the valley of Anjou, in 1596. His family was an ancient and illustrious one from Hagenau, Alsace. They migrated to Orleans in the 13th or 14th century. His father was a lawyer of local note, and designing Moses for his own pro-fession, on the completion of his studies at Orleans of humanity and philosophy, he sent him to the university of Poictiers. It is recorded that there the youth studied fourteen hours a day, and made such swift progress that he was able to maintain theses and disputations, and to take the degree of licentiate (B.A.) of laws. On his way home from the university he passed through Saumur, and having visited Mons. Bonchereau, pastor of the Protestant church there, he introduced him to the renowned lord of Plessis-Mornay, governor of the city. Both were struck with young Amyraut's ability and culture, and both urged him to change from law to theology. Plessis-Mornay, who was chary of laudations, pronounced that 'there was nothing above the grasp of his great parts." Returned home, his father, after considerable hesitation, gave consent to the change from law to divinity, with a proviso that he should revise his philological and philosophical studies, and read over Mons. Calvin's Institutions, before finally deter-mining. He did so, and, as might have been anticipated, decided for theology. He thereupon removed to Saumur —destined to be for ever associated with his name—and " sat at the feet of the great Cameron," who ultimately regarded him as his greatest scholar. He had a brilliant course, and was in due time licensed as a minister of the French Protestant Church. The contemporary civil wars and excitements hindered his advancement. His first church was in St Aignau, in the province of Maine. There he remained two years. The celebrated Daille, being then removed to Paris, advised the church at Saumur to secure Amyraut as his successor, praising him " as above himself."

The university of Saumur at the same time had fixed its eyes on him as professor of theology. The great churches of Paris and Eouen also contended for him, and sent their deputies to win him, to the provincial synod of Anjou. Amyraut had left the choice to the synod. He was appointed to Saumur, and to the professor's chair along with the pastorate. On the occasion of his inauguration he maintained for thesis De Sacerdotio Christi. His co-professors were Lewis Capell and Josua de la Place, who were also Cameron's pupils. Very beautiful was the life-long friendship of these three remarkable men. They remain associated still as the joint authors of a body of divinity entitled Theses Salmurienses. Full of energy in every atom of him, Amyraut devoted himself to his labour of love with a fine enthusiasm of love of labour. He very speedily gave French Protestantism a potentiality it had never possessed before. In 1631 he published his Traite des Religions, a book that still lives ; and from this year onward he was a foremost man in the church, especi-ally at the national and provincial synods. One incident in his synodical services stands out, as the like do in the story of Luther and of John Knox. Chosen to represent the provincial synod of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine at the national synod held in 1631 at Charenton, that assembly appointed him their orator to address the king, and to present to him " The Copy of their Complaints and Grievances for the Infractions and Violations of the Edict of Nantes." Previous deputies had addressed the king on their bended knees, whereas the representatives of the Eoman Catholics had been permitted to stand. Amyraut consented to be orator only if the assembly authorised him to stand. There was intense resistance. Eichelieu himself, preceded by lesser dignitaries, condescended to visit Amy-raut privately, to draw him over to kneel; but the stout-hearted orator held resolutely to equality with the Eoman Catholics, and carried his point. Standing in the presence of king and court, he recounted the complaints and grievances of his church, and charmed even his adver-saries with his mingled dignity of manner and suavity of address. Long afterwards Richelieu recalled the memorable incident; and the " Oration," which was immediately published in the French Mercury, remains a historic land-mark in the history of French Protestantism. During his absence on this matter the assembly debated "Whether the Lutherans who desired it, might be admitted into communion with the Reformed Churches of France at the Lord's Table 1" It was decided in the affirmative previous to his return ; but he approved with astonishing eloquence, and thereafter was ever in the front rank in maintaining intercommunication between all churches holding the main doctrines of the Reformation. His defence against many adversaries on the question was published in 1647—De Secessione ab Ecclesid Romana deque Ratione Pads inter Evangélicos in Religionis Negotio constituendce. Bayle (s.v) recounts the title-pages of no fewer than thirty-two books of which Amyraut was the author. These show that he took part in all the great controversies on Predestination and Arminianism which then so agitated and harassed all Europe. Substantially he held fast the Calvinism of his preceptor Cameron; but, like Eichard Baxter in England, by his breadth and charity exposed himself to all manner of misconstruction from Peter du Moulin and others ultra-orthodox. His La Defense de Calvin never was answered, although superabundantly replied to. The university of Saumur became the university of French Protestantism. Amyraut had as many as a hundred students in attendance upon his prelections. Another historic part filled by Amyraut was in the negotiations originated with Mons. le Goux, lord of Berchére, first president of the parliament of Burgundy, when exiled to Saumur, for a reconciliation and reunion of the Roman Catholics of France with the French Protestants. Very large were the concessions made by Richelieu in his personal interviews with Amyraut ; but, as with the Worcester House negotiations in England between the Church of England and Non-conformists, they inevitably fell through. On all sides the statesmanship and eloquence of Amyraut were conceded. When the king visited Saumur in 1651, Amyraut declined to close his church on the Sunday, but preached a sermon that rang through Europe on the text, "Fear God, honour the king." Amyraut remained to the end one of the most prominent names of French Protestantism ; and his De l'Elévation de la Foy et de l'Abaissement de la Raison en la Créance des Mystères de la Religion (1641) gave him early a high place as a metaphysician, which was sustained by after works. Exclusive of his controversial writings, he left behind him a very voluminous series of practical evangelical books, which remain the fireside favourites of the peasantry of French Protestantism still. His Estât des Fidèles après la Mort has comforted many mourners ; his Sur l'Oraison Dominicale is striking and. rich ; his Du Mérite des Œuvres and Traité de la Justification, weighty and powerful ; his Paraphrases on Old Testament and New Testament books of Holy Scripture, judicious
and suggestive—sometimes penetrative. His closing years, were weakened by a severe fall he met with in 1657. He died on 18th January 1664. His portrait was published by his son, but with no name or inscription underneath.

(Bayle, s.v. ; Biog. Univ., s.v. ; John Quick's Synod, in Gall. Reform., pp. 352-7 ; ibid. MS. Icônes Sàcrœ Gallicanes ; Life of Cameron.) (A. B. G.)

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