Daniel De Superville – Bringing Comfort to a Pilgrim Church

Daniel De Superville – Bringing Comfort to a Pilgrim Church

If the sixteenth century was a turbulent time for French Huguenots, the following century was disastrous. What little hope they had nurtured in 1598, when King Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes granted them some rights to worship and participate in the country’s civil life, began to wear out under his son, Louis XIII. If Louis couldn’t outright abolish the edict, he could dissect every decree in order to find ways to condemn the Huguenots over minor details.

            For example, he allowed the Huguenots to have their own schools only if these schools were built next to their churches. Since many Huguenot children lived far from their churches, daily attendance was impossible.

            The king also put an end to national synods and tried to limit the Huguenots’ communication with Reformed churches outside of France. And, even though the Edict of Nantes allowed Huguenots to serve in the government, Louis simply refrained from appointing them. Other people followed his example, and avoided to hire Huguenots for professional services.

            Huguenot homes became favorite places for traveling bands of soldiers who needed a place to stay. Staying at people’s homes was a common practice, and people were expected to give hospitality. But soldiers knew they could take advantage of the Huguenots, mistreating them and stealing their food, and the government wouldn’t do anything about it. In fact, soldiers were encouraged to harass the Huguenots because of their religion.

            Eventually, the king gave permission to Huguenot children to choose their religion at the age of seven. If they chose to be Roman Catholic, they would be taken from their families and be placed in Roman Catholic homes at their parents’ expense. He was hoping that children could be easily convinced.[1]

The Huguenot Diaspora

            Finally, in 1685, the next king of France, Louis XIV, abolished the Edict of Nantes altogether, depriving Huguenots of whatever rights they had left. All Huguenot churches were closed, and Huguenot pastors had two weeks to either leave the country or become Roman Catholic. If they chose the second option, they received a raise of one-third of their current salary. Most pastors chose to leave. Those who resisted or didn’t leave on time were sent to the galleys for forced labor.

            The king forbade those who were not pastors to leave, and sent soldiers to force them to become Roman Catholics. Many managed to leave anyhow. From 1560 to 1760, more than 200,000 Huguenots left France. This was a great loss to their native country, because most of them were excellent workers and had been faithful citizens.

            Some of those who stayed kept their faith without telling others about it, while some prepared to fight back. They eventually created what they called “the Church of the Desert,” with secret meetings in caves or private homes. Those who attended these meetings ran terrible risks. If caught, the women were sent to jail and the men to the galleys.

            Leaving the country was also risky. Those who had money could pay a smuggler - a considerable expense, because smugglers placed their lives at risk. After a while, some Huguenots created handwritten manuals with advice on how to expatriate.

            Most people left by ship, because borders were heavily guarded. To reach the harbors, they often traveled by night and hid during the day. Some died during the trip, from exhaustion, hunger, or cold. Then they had to get used to a new country, find accommodations and, in some cases, learn a new language. Thankfully, they could usually find a French-speaking church, pastored by other Huguenots.

Comforting a Displaced People

            Daniel De Superville was a French refugee who was called to minister to fellow expatriates. Educated in Geneva under excellent professors such as Francis Turretin, he returned to France in the difficult years before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. When one of his sermons was reported as subversive, he was arrested and threatened with imprisonment. When he was finally forced to leave the country, he moved to Rotterdam, Netherlands, where he was appointed pastor of a French-speaking church.

            His first wife, Elizabeth de Monnevy, died soon after their arrival, followed by the couple’s two children. Superville remarried in 1693 to another Huguenot refugee, Catherine Van Armeiden. Together, Daniel and Catherine had seven children.

            Other Huguenot pastors had moved to Rotterdam – many of them more famous than Superville – but he quickly assumed the role of comforter both of the exiles and of the suffering Christians at home. His letters, later collected under the title On the Duties of the Afflicted Church, show a heart moved with sincere compassion.

            His sermons are also pregnant with the gospel, carefully distinguishing it from the law for a people who needed more than ever to trust in its power and bask in its comfort.

            Superville’s sermon “The Mysteries of Providence,” on Isaiah 45:15, helps his listeners to understand that there are always some hidden aspects of God’s being, actions, and will. There are always things hidden and things revealed. Being finite creatures, we can’t expect to understand everything God is doing. But even the God who seems hidden, Superville said, is always the Savior of his people. Rather than bringing discouragement, frustration, or resignation, God’s mysteries cause us to admire – and consequently trust – his infinite wisdom.

            “We are in the habit of divining the conclusion and development of every occurrence that we see,” Superville said. “We determine the end it is designed to accomplish, and we confide in the future of our anticipations. In these our conjectures we commonly refer events to some particular end interesting to ourselves. But God has views far more extensive than ours.”[2]

            Superville encouraged his listeners by pointing their attention to the past, how God has preserved His people both in biblical times and throughout the history of the church. “It is his will to permit certain revolutions and periods of trial,” Superville said, “but night will always be succeeded by day, and God will finish his work.”[3]

            Even if, at first sight, the course of history seems to be determined by powerful men, it’s God who arranges the events and turns the hearts. We don’t fully understand how, because “God manages things in such a manner, so gently inclines the heart, and so imperceptibly influences the will that it is impossible to distinguish his agency.” In fact, “we plunge ourselves into unfathomable depths when we attempt to explain how our liberty can consist with the secret impulses and infallible direction of God. Yet, we are assured that a ‘king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. He turneth if withersoever he will.’”[4]

            Superville ended his sermon by pointing to the future, “when God that hideth himself will appear as the Savior, confounding his enemies who now insult him with impunity, and glorifying his children. Then, the number of our fellow-worshipers being completed, we shall united in shouting, ‘To him who hath saved us out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, be glory and honor forever. Amen.’”[5]



[1] See also “Antoine Court – Organizer of the Church of the Desert,” https://www.placefortruth.org/blog/antoine-court-%E2%80%93-organizer-church-desert, and “Marie Durand and the French Commitment to Reformed Orthodoxy,” https://www.placefortruth.org/blog/marie-durand-and-french-commitment-reformed-orthodoxy

 

[2] Daniel de Superville, Sermons, transl. by John Allen, London: Burton & Briggs, 1816, 9

[3] 30

[4] 12.

[5] 38