Antoine Court – Organizer of the Church of the Desert

Antoine began preaching when he was 18 without formal training but he studied incessantly at home.

The Huguenots continued to worship in secret – in private homes, forests, or caves. Trained preachers were a rarity, but there was an abundance of improvised preachers and self-appointed prophets. For some, the substance of the sermons or prophetic messages didn’t matter. They just wanted to hold on to their faith. A few others, especially young people, began to question this dubious practice. One of these people was Antoine Court.

 

The death of Louis XIV in 1715 revitalized the hopes of the scattered Huguenots (French Protestants). After all, Louis XIV had been responsible for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes – the 1598 law that allowed for the toleration of Huguenots in Roman Catholic France.

The revocation – issued in the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) – had brought with it terrible consequences for the Huguenot community. About 700 churches were destroyed. Pastors were banned from preaching. They were allowed to leave, as long as they left everything behind – including any children over the age of seven, who would then be adopted by Roman Catholic families. All other Huguenots were simply expected to convert to Roman Catholicism.

Naturally, there had been resistance. In 1702, a group of Huguenots organized an actual war of rebellion and self-defense against the government. They were known as Camisards for their distinctive white shirts (camisa means “shirt” in one of the French regional languages). The war ended in 1704, with casualties on both sides, but uprisings continued until 1710, after the main leaders of the Camisards had died.

The Huguenots continued to worship in secret – in private homes, forests, or caves. Trained preachers were a rarity, but there was an abundance of improvised preachers and self-appointed prophets.

For some, the substance of the sermons or prophetic messages didn’t matter. They just wanted to hold on to their faith. A few others, especially young people, began to question this dubious practice.

One of these people was Antoine Court, born in 1695 in the French region of Vivarais, between the Rhone River and the Massif Central Mountains. His father Jean died in 1700, leaving his 32-year old wife Marie Gébelin to care for their three children. She brought them up in the Reformed faith.

Of the three, Antoine was the most zealous for Christ’s church. He began preaching when he was 18. He had no formal training but studied incessantly at home.

He counted the cost and trusted in God’s protection as he traveled around France as itinerant preacher. His boldness took him to Marseille, on the southern coast of France, where he preached for a few months to the Huguenot prisoners who had been condemned to row in the royal galleys.

In a short period of time, he became well known and well respected in the Huguenot community. In the meantime, his travels convinced him of the urgency of a renewed reformation in France.

Reorganizing French Churches

The occasion came in 1715. Louis XIV’s only heir was his five-year old great-grandson Louis XV, so the throne had to be temporarily held by a regent, the Duke of Orleans. The unstable political situation allowed Court to organize and preside a meeting of nine Huguenot men (four laymen and five preachers) in a hamlet at Montèzes (Gard), in the south of France. The men included Pierre Durand, brother of the better-known Marie Durand who resisted in a French prison for 38 years.

The meeting (later known as Synod of Montèzes) arrived at some important decisions. First of all, there would be no more prophetic revelations. Scriptures would be the only authority and preachers would return to biblical expositions. This measure would be enforced by elders, operating within well-organized and well-regulated churches (as they were before 1685). The elders would be also responsible for organizing regular worship, supplying the pulpit with well-trained preachers, and meeting consistently in synods.

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