Poissy, Conference of
Poissy, Conference of an ecclesiastical colloquy held September, 1561, is of very great importance in the reformatory history of the French Church. It has been somewhat spoken of in the article HUGUENOTS SEE HUGUENOTS (q.v.). It was called by Catharine de' Medici, and was composed of all bishops and archbishops, and the representatives of the absent prelates of France. It was intended that the conference should prepare partly for the anticipated renewal of the Tridentinum (q.v.), partly as a sort of national council, to effect the reformation of the French Church; and partly to help reduce the debt of the kingdom by the treasures of the Church. But however friendly the prelates were to the state, they did not look very favorably upon the project of reform, though all classes of society were then anxiously discussing not only reform of abuses but of doctrine. Reformed preachers were invited to participate, and even Catharine wrote in favor of the project of keeping the Huguenots within the pale of the Church, and to facilitate a reconciliation by tolerating a difference of sentiment. Pius IV, then the Roman pontiff, objected to the conference, on the ground that "if every prince were to take upon himself to hold councils in his own dominions the Church would soon become a scene of universal confuision" (Fra Paolo, Hist. du Concile de Trente, liv. 5, § 53, 72).
The colloquy was opened Sept. 9, in presence of the young king, the queen mother, the princes of the blood, the great officers of the crown, and a brilliant audience. Cardinal de Tournon presided. The Reformers were represented by twelve of their most eminent ministers, headed by Theodore Beza the favorite disciple and confidential friend of Calvin. Peter Martyr, who was reckoned the ablest theologian of the party, was likewise present. The proceedings were opened with a speech by chancellor L'Hopital in favor of this national council, and its advantages over an ecumenical synod. Beza spoke next in elaborate exposition of the doctrinal system of the Reformers as set forth in the "Institutions" of Calvin. Beza's tone was calm, conciliatory, and impressive. In treating of the Eucharist, lie employed language which at first seemed almost tantamount to the Catholic terminology on that vital point. Butt on further explanation it appeared that the presence which he recognized was subjective only; depending not on the supernatural virtue of the sacrament, but on the power of faith; to be sought not in any change of the substance of the elements, but in the heart of the devout communicant. Beza repudiated both transubstantiation (q.v.) and consubstantiation (q.v.). Cardinal de Tournon objected to Beza's speech, and in a trembling voice prayed for its interruption on the ground that the young monarch's mind would be poisoned. Beza, however, managed to conclude, when, after a few hasty words of angry remonstrance from the cardinal, the assembly separated in a state of agitation (De Thou, Hist. Univ. liv. 28; La Place, Commentaire de l'Etat de Religion, liv. 6).
At the second meeting, several days afterwards, the cardinal of Lorraine replied to Beza in a very able discourse. The doctrine of the real presence, as held in the Church of Rome he proceeded to establish by proofs drawn with great skill from the Holy Bible and the Church fathers. (The speech is given at full length in the Collection des Poces-verbaux des Assembles generales du Cleyrg deFrance, vol. 1, "Pieces Justifications," No. 2.) The sitting was then adjourned. The sessions which followed were not held in the royal presence, and were comparatively private. Though it was clear that there could be no successful settlement by the conference, it was resolved by all parties to make a final effort for approximation, and for this purpose a select committee of ten persons was named from the most moderate members of each party. After some days of negotiation, these divines drew up a formulary upon the doctrine of the Eucharist, in the terms of which it was hoped that all sincere friends of peace in the rival communions might be induced to concur. Its language, however, was so ambiguous that each party was at liberty to construe it in accordance with their own prepossessions. Tie following was the draft agreed upon: "We confess that Jesus Christ, in his Holy Supper, presents, gives, and exhibits to us the true substance of his body and blood by the operation of the Holy Spirit; and that we receive and eat sacramentally, spiritually, and by faith the very body which died for us, that we may be bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh; and inasmuch as faith, resting on the Word of God, makes present things which are promised, so that thereby we receive actually the true and natural body and blood of our Lord by the power of the Holy Ghost, in that sense we acknowledge the real presence of Christ in the Holy Supper" (Beza, Histoire des Eglises Ref 1, 608; Contin. de Fleury, liv. 47, 24). Of course such evasion could not prove satisfactory. The doctors of the Sorbonne being appealed to, rejected the formulary as "captious, insufficient, and heretical;" and then the prelates put forth a counter-statement, asserting the real presence by transubstantiation of the elements, according to the authorized traditions of the Church. This they forwarded to the queen, with a request that Beza and his associates might be ordered to signify their acceptance of it without further demur, under pain of being proscribed as heretics and banished from the kingdom. This peremptory demand was equivalent to a rupture of the negotiations; and the conference of Poissy terminated without satisfactory result.
The actions of the conference were therefore of very little advantage. Several regulations relating to discipline were made. Concerning the election of bishops, it was ordered that the name of the person nominated by the king to a bishopric shall be posted at the cathedral doors, and in other public places, that all persons may have the opportunity of objecting to him if they know anything against him. The following is a summary of other important actions of this synod:
Archbishops and bishops are forbidden to absent themselves from their dioceses for more than three months; are exhorted to apply themselves to preaching and visitations, and to hold annual synods.
Archbishops are directed to summon provincial councils every three years, according to the decrees of the Council of Basle. Excommunications, save for weighty reasons, are forbidden. Curates not to be admitted to their benefices until they have been examined by the bishop: they are ordered to proceed to priest's orders within a year from their admission: to reside constantly; to explain the Gospel to their people, and to teach them to pray. Private masses are forbidden to be said while solemn mass is celebrated.
Priests are enjoined to prepare themselves carefully before approaching the holy altar; to pronounce the words distinctly; to do all with decency and gravity; not to suffer any airs, save those of hymns and canticles, to be played upon the organ; to correct the church books; to try to abolish all superstitious practices; to instruct the people that images are exposed to view in the churches for no other reason than to remind persons of Jesus Christ and the saints. It is further directed that all images which are in any way indecent, or which merely illustrate fabulous and ridiculous tales, shall be entirely removed.
These regulations are closed by a profession of faith in which the errors of Luther and Calvin, and other sectarians, are specially rejected.
See, besides the authorities already cited, De Felice, History of French Protestantism, p. 101 sq.; Bossuet, Varuiations, vol. 1; Jervis, Church of France, 1, 137-146; Soldan, Gesch. des Protestantismus in Frankreich (1855), etc., vol. 1; Ranke, Franzosische Gesch. 1, 236 sq.; Baum. Theodor Beza (1851), vol. 2; Smedley, History of the Ref. Relgion in France, 1, 148 sq., 178; Smiles, History of the Huguenots (see Index); Hardwick, History of the Reformation, p. 138 sq. (J. H. W.)