Employing Scandal in Reformation Theology

Dr. Scott Francis lectured on his studies of the role of scandal in BYU’s French political pamphlet collection.

PROVO, Utah (September 18, 2019)—Visiting from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Scott Francis was drawn to BYU for its collection of 16th century French political pamphlets. His current research focuses on how Reformation theology affected Marguerite de Navarre and her efforts to bring about ecclesiastical reform.

Francis, in studying BYU’s collection, concentrated on the time period after de Navarre’s death when the Wars of Religion consumed France and increased conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities. He found that scandal, a term whose definition was shifting, was used in print material to augment the large divide between the two groups and their opposing beliefs.

Scandal was previously a theological notion meaning an obstacle to one’s faith and thus an unintentional attraction to sin, lost its religious quality and was used in a more modern way, meaning intentionally pursuing offense in matters that are pertinent to salvation and placing blame on one’s enemy.

Print material at the time clearly displays the shift in meaning; Francis shared examples of the pejoration of scandal in theological documents, official documents such as edicts and proclamations, and political propaganda.

Jean de la Vacquerie, a doctor of theology in the 1500s, drafted a document for Henry II regarding the treatment of heretics (Protestants). De la Vacquerie was an advocate for burning heretics of the Catholic church at the stake, although some would counter and say that such a punishment reveals a noble constancy and long suffering reminiscent of martyrs of the day, rendering this form of discipline scandalous.

According to Francis, de la Vacquerie insists that “burning heretics at the stake isn’t scandalous, no, the infirm and the simple find it scandalous because their faith is weak or they’re poorly educated.” Using an old version of the word scandal, he turns the tables on his enemy for not being faithful enough to support such a righteous cause.

The Edict of Fontainebleau, issued by Louis XIV to renounce the Edict of Nantes, used scandal in a sense resembling its modern meaning. Meant to restore order between Catholics and Protestants, the edict complained that scandal was still common. Francis goes on to show that when speaking of scandal, the edict was referring to iconoclasm, distributing libelous pamphlets, instigating quarrels, etc. which fall in line with modern scandal.

During the first War of Religion, the Prince of Condé, a stout Protestant, theorized that the crown was being held hostage by the influence of the Guise family, forcing ultra-Catholic ideals on the royal family. Francis explained that Condé attacks the Guises via political pamphlets, claiming that they have made the entire reformed religion scandalous by taking liberties in their poor treatment of Protestants, a step further than just condemning the scandalous acts that were condemned by the Edict of Fontainebleau.

After displaying different uses of scandal in 16th century print material, Francis concluded his lecture with the disclaimer that he is not for or against how either group, Protestants or Catholics, used scandal, but he wants to make known how groups with opposing views can use the same concept against each other. It has the potential to create confusion and “to make it all the easier to turn a blind eye to potentially legitimate grievances or the very real suffering of said opponents.”

—Tori Hamilton (Editing & Publishing, ‘20)