Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Today on the show, we tell the story of Guillaume Briçonnet, a man caught between stability and reform.

It is the 24th of January 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.


I’m fascinated by characters that when we look back at major events and schisms, don’t seem to fit the standard narrative. That is, we often look back at historical schisms and find those on “Team A” and those on “Team B,” and from there, tell the story of the conflict. In church history, and on this show, this is often seen with the Reformation of the 16th century (this show is brought to you by 1517, for instance- drawing lines in the 16th century is not unfamiliar).

But we have told stories of those men and women who were torn- perhaps they liked the theology of the Reformers but couldn’t overcome familial or national ties. Maybe they had a job that made it hard to put on the line without the certainty of the inevitability of the success of the Reform movements that we see with hindsight. A few weeks ago, we told the story of Marguerite of Navarre- the sister to the powerful Francis I who encouraged reform but was ultimately unable (or unwilling) to see the reform through to the foundational level. The reform that the king's sister was part of centered around a group of men known as the Meaux circle- so named after the bishop of Meux: Guillaume Bricconet- a man who died on this, the 24th of January in 1534.

Guillaume was the second. His father was a very influential secretary to the king of France, and then after his wife’s death (and the birth of his sons) took holy orders and was eventually Cardinal. He, like his son, would be caught between rivals in the late 15th and early 16th century wars between the Papal States, Venice, the Sforzas, and France. Suffice it to say he knew something about international affairs and the church, and his position allowed for the quick rise of his son, our Guillaum Briconnet, to a bishopric at the age of 19. In 1516, the year his father died, the younger Briconnet was sent to Bologna on behalf of Francis I to agree to the terms of the Concordat of Bologna, wherein the French crown ceded some authority back to the Pope.

Back in Meaux, Guillaume was influenced by the work of the Frenchman- and wonderfully named Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, it looks like Luh-fever de-taples and perhaps it’s our aversion to his name in the anglophone world that contributes to him not getting the attention he deserves. D’etaples is the Luther of the French Reformation. He was a first-class humanist, along the lines of Erasmus, with a desire to get a Christ-centered gospel in the vernacular, largely through the theology of Paul, to the French people.

Briconnet’s desire for reform attracted d’Etaples to Meaux in 1521 to join the likes of Francois Vatable (a reform-minded Hebraist) and Guillaume Farel (soon to be a right-hand man to John Calvin).

As bishop of Meaux, and with the support of Marguerite of Navarre, Briconnet was able to assist in publishing the works of these men and writing his own pastoral letters to the churches in his diocese. Unfortunately for them, in 1525, the Spanish crushed the French at the battle of Pavia and imprisoned Francis. This diminished the power of Marguerite as Francis’ mother, Louise of Savoy, was made regent. She echoed the popular catholic thought that the loss at Pavia was God’s punishment for allowing the reformers at Meaux to exist. She ceded authority to hunt for heretics to the parliament, and they cracked down on the Meaux circle. Some, like Briconnet, were tried for heresy, but Marguerite’s support kept them from an untimely end. Others fled to Strasbourg and ratcheted up their calls for reform. What was the Bishop to do? He had been cleared of heresy charges but thought reform needed to take place through the church, not from the outside. This would be a great question for these early reformers who don’t fit the narrative of being on one side or the other. Briconnet’s voice would be marginalized by his former support of the reformers who became more radical from Strasbourg, and his role in the Reformation ended. He served quietly as bishop for almost another decade before dying on the 24th of January in 1534. Born in 1472, Guillaume Briçonnet the younger was 61 years old.  


The last word for today comes from Philippians 2:

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of January 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who loves a good concordat of bologna on rye with pickles and spicy brown mustard- he is Christoper Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose always going to go for the Monte Cristo or Reuben- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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