Poissy, Colloquy of

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POISSY, COLLOQUY OF. On the eve of the French Wars of Religion (15621598), a conference between Calvinist and Catholic theologians, aimed at religious reconciliation, took place outside Paris. The history of the Colloquy of Poissy, SeptemberOctober 1561, was one of great hope, then failure, followed by the unprecedented destruction of civil war.

The calling of the colloquy was a clear indication of the royal government's intention to resolve religious problems in France on the national level. Catherine de Médicis, the queen mother and regent, wanted to ensure that the French church could reform itself without the intervention of the pope and the general council, the convocation of which had been announced in November 1560. The Colloquy of Poissy followed a national synod of the Gallican Church that had met at Poissy from July through August. This assembly had proposed a number of significant reforms affecting the clergy and further agreed on the annual subsidy of the clergy to the crown, known as the Contrat de Poissy. Now Catherine hoped to achieve theological agreement through the discussion between Protestants and Catholics.

The colloquy began on 9 September with a discourse by Théodore de Bèze, Calvin's alter ego. Bèze's presentation of the Reformed doctrine of sacraments, specifically its objection to Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, brought to the surface the most divisive issue in the colloquy. Bèze's remark that Christ's body was "as far removed from the bread and wine as is heaven from earth" prompted cries of blasphemy. Charles de Guise, the cardinal of Lorraine, delivered on behalf of the Catholics a fundamentally irenic speech. The cardinal pointed out, however, the disagreement of the German Protestants with the Reformed on the real presence in the bread and wine, and proposed on 24 September that Bèze subscribe to the Lutheran formula on the Eucharist.

The introduction by the cardinal of Lorraine of the Augsburg Confession, a moderate statement of Lutheran belief formulated in 1530, led contemporaries, including Calvin, as well as many historians, to question the cardinal's sincerity and good faith. Yet it is unlikely that the cardinal of Lorraine, the most ardent champion of the Colloquy of Poissy, was willing to risk the collapse of the colloquy simply to embarrass the Reformed party by pitting it against the Lutherans. Rather, the cardinal at this point aimed at an interim religious settlement, such as the Augsburg Interim (1548), as a step toward restoring religious unity in France. On 1 October the theologians at Poissy, led by the moderate Claude d'Espence, came up with a common eucharistic formula. The assembly of the clergy refused its approval. Thus ended the Colloquy of Poissy.

What the organizers of the colloquy, including Catherine de Médicis, Chancellor Michel de L'Hôpital, and the cardinal of Lorraine, strove to achieve was a concord based on mutual concession between Catholics and Protestants. Concord, designed to bring all together in one Christian church, was different from toleration, because once concord had been established, the king would have forced all his subjects to conform to it. This effort at a religious compromise in the colloquy failed mainly because of the intransigence of both Protestants and Catholic extremists. The fiasco of the Colloquy of Poissy ended any hope that a national synod would provide remedies for the religious schism in France. The government attempted toleration of Protestants with the Edict of January in 1562, but it could not prevent the Wars of Religion that began with the massacre of Huguenots at Vassy on 1 March 1562.

See also Bèze, Théodore de ; Calvinism ; Catherine de Médicis ; Gallicanism ; Guise Family ; Huguenots ; L'Hôpital, Michel de ; Lutheranism ; Wars of Religion, French .


Evennett, H. Outram. The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Council of Trent: A Study in the Counter-Reformation. Cambridge, U.K., 1930.

Nugent, Donald. Ecumenism in the Age of the Reformation: The Colloquy of Poissy. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.

Turchetti, Mario. Concordia o tolleranza? François Bauduin (15201573) e i "moyenneurs." Geneva, 1984.

Marie Seong-Hak Kim