Pierre Du Moulin – a Patriarch of the French Reformation
Pierre Du Moulin – a Patriarch of the French Reformation
Little known today, Pierre du Moulin was one of the main protagonists of the French Reformation and one of the main defenders of the gospel against semi-Pelagian reinterpretations.
He was born in 1568 in the Château de Buhy in north-east Normandy, France, in 1568. His father Joachim was a nobleman and pastor in the Reformed church in the Orléans area. His mother, Françoise Gabet, was related by a previous marriage to the famous Reformer Philippe Du Plessis. In his autobiography, Pierre said he was proud to be born in the same room where Du Plessis drew his first breath twenty years earlier. These two men became pillars of the French Reformed Church.
A Pastor’s Son in a Dangerous World
At that time, the French Reformed churches were in a precarious situation. In 1573, the rippling effects of St. Bartholomew’s Massacre (a wave of Roman Catholic violence against French Protestants) arrived at Du Moulin’s doors, as Roman Catholic forces attacked his home. At first hidden inside a straw mattress, he was finally able to escape when a servant girl concealed him under her long skirt.
After some travels, his family settled at Sedan, a French-speaking Protestant district just outside the Kingdom of France. His mother died sometimes during this time of upheaval, possibly of exhaustion.
In Sedan, Pierre attended a Protestant college and academy. When the place ceased to be safe, he moved to Paris, where he tutored the children of a Protestant Family. Later, he relocated to London, where a pastor encouraged him to enter the ministry. With this new vision in mind, Pierre continued his studies first in Cambridge, then in Leiden, Netherlands. By this time, he was well respected and had already received (and declined) a call to pastor a church in Paris.
The trip to Leiden was adventurous, as he was caught in a violent storm and thrown overboard. He was safe, but his luggage was lost. On his arrival, he wrote a poem in Latin, Votiva tabella (“Memorial Tablet”), that made him famous.
Popular Preacher and Author
His fame reached Louise de Coligny (1555-1620), the French princess of Orange, who met him and introduced him to the Dutch court and to leaders of the republic. Together with Pierre’s brother-in-law André Rivet (1572-1651), a French theologian who taught logic at Leiden, the princess helped Du Moulin to obtain a post as teacher of logic and Greek at Staaten College. Around this time, he also became a popular author.
In February 1598, Du Moulin received a second invitation to pastor a church in Paris. By this time, Henry IV, king of France, had ratified an edict (Edict of Nantes, 1598), allowing French Protestants to worship undisturbed. They enjoyed greater peace, but were in dire need of pastors.
This time, Du Moulin accepted the call. Initially, the church in Paris met in the home of Catherine de Bourbon (1559-1604), sister of Henry IV, who became a fervent supporter of Du Moulin and made him her chaplain. Later, the church moved to the citadel of Charenton.
The same year, Du Moulin married a noblewoman named Marie Collignon. Together, they had eight children. In a letter written to his oldest boys about 27 years after his wife’s death (1622), he described her as “a rare example of piety, zeal and charity towards the poor. She lived as one must die. She looked at things here below as one must see them from heaven.”
His sermons were deeply pastoral. Some became polemic due to the nature of the attacks against Protestants. He also wrote books on an impressive variety of topics, from theology and piety to natural science and politics. He was a supporter of King James I of England, who reciprocated the feelings of admiration.
When the Reformed churches in the Netherlands organized an international synod at Dordt in 1618, Du Moulin and Rivet were chosen to represent the French church, but the French authorities changed their minds at the last minute and prevented the delegation from attending. Du Moulin sent to Dordt an essay he had recently written, entitled Anatomia Arminianismi, which was read in open session. In the end, the Canons produced by the Synod of Dordt (which agreed with Du Moulin’s assessments) were endorsed at the next French Synod in 1619.
New Struggles and Pains
The death of his wife in 1622 threw Du Moulin in a state of deep depression – a condition to which he was prone. He had experienced similar attacks before. Once, he had stayed in his study for six months without coming out to reassure his concerned family. But Marie’s death was the hardest trial he ever had to face. This event, together with an arson attack which destroyed the church at Charenton, caused him again to withdraw from others.
He later faced the subject of depression in a letter to his sons, advising them to remember the abundance of God’s mercies. “Will the power for sadness of inconveniences you suffer, whether in body or in family affairs, be greater than the power for joy and rest to the soul of the grace of God, your adoption in Jesus Christ, and the hope of his salvation? These inconveniences are short-lasting, and God makes them profitable, turning evils into remedies. But the grace of God and the effects of his love are forever.”
Speaking from experience, he reminded them to put their trust in the Lord. “There is no softer pillow than to cast your worries and fears on the providence of God, saying, ‘God will provide for it. He watches for us while we sleep. He covers us with his hand. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’”
In 1623, Du Moulin took on a new wife, Sara de Gelhay (1597-1673), daughter of Captain Louis de Gelhay. Together, they had ten children, making Du Moulin one of the greatest patriarchs of the Reformation.
The changed political climate in France after the death of Henry IV caused him to return to England, but not for long. When James I died in 1625, Du Moulin returned to Sedan, where he remained until his death in in 1658 (due to complication from a horse-riding fall).
His daughter Marie (ca. 1613-1699), who never married, took care of him on his deathbed, reading to him from the Psalms. Her only regret was that she couldn’t read them in Hebrew, since her father preferred hearing them in their original language. She later corrected that lack. Not only she became proficient in Hebrew, but she became an important voice for the education of Christian women. At least two of Du Moulin’s sons became pastors and continued his legacy of faithfulness to the orthodox Reformed theology.
 Pierre Du Moulin, Lettre de Pierre Du Moulin à ses fils Pierre, Louis, et Cyrus, 1649, http://dvarim.fr/DuMoulin/DuMoulin_D_1_Lettre.pdf, p.1, (my translation).