Poissy Conference Couldn't Cure France

Dan Graves, MSL

Poissy Conference Couldn't Cure France

As such conferences go, Poissy was a flop. By the middle of the sixteenth century, France seemed ready to tear itself apart over religion. A large minority of Frenchmen had converted to Reformation views. And while the majority remained Catholic, there were divisions among them, too, some wanting to stick firmly to the headship of Rome, others arguing for a semi-independent French Catholic church.

While Charles IX was a minor, his mother, Catherine de' Medici ruled France as regent. In a desperate effort to preserve order in her nation, the queen summoned Catholic and Protestant theologians to work out a religious agreement under which both sides could live. Although this conference was stoutly resisted by France's leading Catholics, Catherine brought it about.

On this day, September 9, 1561, the Colloquy of Poissy met in the dining room of a local convent. Representing the Catholics were six cardinals, 38 archbishops and bishops, and many other clergymen. The two most famous of the Protestants in attendance were Theodore Beza from Switzerland and the Italian-born humanist and scholar Peter Martyr Vermigli.

Chancellor L'Hôpital opened the proceedings with a speech assuring the delegates that it was appropriate for the monarchy to hold such a conference for the sake of the church. There might be doubts in the minds of the Catholics, he thought, because the Council of Trent was in session and they might ask themselves if they did not belong there instead.

Beza stated the Protestant position and aroused cries of blasphemy when he said that the body and blood of Christ were as far from the bread and wine, as the highest heaven is from the earth. Catholics believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ. In the end, differences over the Eucharist (Lord's Supper) and the authority of the pope proved to be walls the negotiators were not nimble enough to leap over.

Not that they didn't try. Realizing that nothing could be accomplished by the large convention, a much smaller committee was delegated to look for solutions. Twelve men from each side sat together. However, the pope's men did everything they could to sabotage the talks. They simply had no intention of reaching an agreement with ideas they defined as heresy.

Still, royal pressure was great to come up with some kind of reconciliation so that France might not destroy itself in useless strife. Therefore an even smaller committee of five from each side talked and came up with a vague formula of agreement. But when they presented this wording to the whole group at Poissy, neither side would accept it.

The next year, the Catholics and Huguenots went to war. Battles and atrocities raged off and on for thirty years.


  1. Grant, A. J. The Huguenots. Archon, 1969.
  2. Rothrock, G. A. The Huguenots; a biography of a minority. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979.
  3. "Poissy, Colloquy of." Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica, 1911.
  4. "Religious Discussions." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  5. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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