Friday, July 18, 2014

Let God Arise

Claude Arnassan recalled accompanying some men from Cavalier's troop to a place where they expected to find an assembly, but getting lost along the way. One of their number urged them: "My bothers, pray God and he will guide us." No sooner had they fallen to their knees "when there appeared a light in the air, like a large star, which moved toward the place where the Assembly was, a half league from there. As soon as this celestial flame disappeared, we heard the signing of psalms and joined our brothers." 
This was nowhere more clearly demonstrated than by the most famous miracle of the entire period, in August 1703, when Pierre Claris repeated the miracle described in the OT book of Daniel (3:23-8) by placing himself in a fire and emerging unscathed. Several historians have discussed this particular event… [e.g. Georgia Cosmos, "Trial by fire at Sérignan: an apocalyptic event in the Cévennes war and its echoes abroad," Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, 27/5 (2002), 642-58]. 
Pine cones and other combustibles were gathered and lit, and Claris stepped into the fire, continuing to prophesy until the fire had burned itself out…All of the prophets who were present and who later testified for Misson's Théâtre sacre left behind vivid accounts of his miracle, and Antoine Court remarked that "this event had a large impact in the providence and was attested by a large number of witnesses." 
Court, the Protestant historian whom Joutard credited with writing the first "modern" history of the conflict, had considerable doubts. "But," he wrote, "by the information I have gathered, the truth is here altered: first, Claris did not stay in the fire; second, he entered it twice; third, he burned his arm and was obliged to stop in Pierredon and put on a dressing." Court, the rationalist pastor who fought much of his life against the prophetism that had fired the rebellion, was a concerned to show its fallacies as the witnesses in the Théâtre sacre were to show its accuracy. W. Gregory Monahan. Let God Arise: The War and Rebellion of the Camisards (Oxford 2014), 98-99. 

The English translation of Le Théâtre sacré des Cévennes, accomplished by John Lacy, was entitled A Cry from the Desart. The most serious omission of the work, in terms of its English readership, is the collector of testimony’s preface, “Au Lecteur.” This piece is an integral part of the original which describes the aims of the work, its historical significance and the immediate context in which the depositions were collected in London. Contemporary reactions to désert prophecy (traced in chapter seven),[1] are central for an understanding of the circumstances which compelled Misson to undertake the collection of sworn evidence from former inhabitants from the region who claimed to have witnessed miraculous phenomena in the Cévennes. Witnesses who came forward between November 1706 and March 1707 to give testimony were cautioned against making false or inaccurate statements; they were to report “la vérité pure et simple” speaking only of events they could distinctly remember (pp. 24-7). 
The texts of the Théâtre sacré confirm earlier contemporary reports documenting the occurrence of prophesying in adjacent provinces: the phenomenon had first appeared after the Revocation in 1688 in the Dauphiné, after which it spread to the Vivarais and Velay. The outbreak of prophesying in the Cévennes after 1700 was perceived by believers to be of a similar nature to the “miracles” which had occurred earlier in these provinces. Witnesses’ accounts of these events in their depositions reflect understandings of unified dimensions of time (pp. 34-6). 
The depositions of the Théâtre sacré are distinct from records of interrogation held in archival repositories in France (p. 2). They are voluntary testimonies given by French exiles in London. It should be emphasized that most were collected after the act proclaimed against the Camisard inspirés in the Savoy church in January 1707. In all probability, witnesses were not unaware of the action taken against the three men by the ministry of this church. At the time of the collection of the depositions, it is unlikely that any of the witnesses could have imagined that they would later be summoned to verify their statements many of which were given under oath before Masters in Chancery (p. 166). 
Only five out of the total number of witnesses who gave depositions for the Théâtre sacré gave declarations in support of assertions in the Examen du Théâtre sacre, a pamphlet published anonymously in London in 1708 (p. 170). Denial of former testimony was prompted by the very real fear of reprisal by the consistory. Evidence in consistorial records, for example, reveals that action was taken against persons who continued to attend the inspirés’ meetings after their denunciation by the ministry of the refugee churches (p. 168). It is also not inconceivable that witnesses could have denied their former statements so as to avoid further involvement in this controversial affair. 
In my account of this event in Huguenot Prophecy, I locate this story within the context of the apocalyptic piety of the désert and also show how its reception in London provoked requests for verification of the miracle.

This is a good example of how to sift testimonial evidence for modern miracles:

i) Both Gregory Monahan and Georgia Cosmos are historians who specialize in this period. Their monographs have been published by prestigious academic publishing houses, which certainly have no bias in favor of miracles. Their studies are based on primary source material and eyewitness accounts.

ii) I don't think it's coincidental that we have reported miracles among the Huguenots and the Covenanters. I think it's antecedently more likely that God will perform encouraging miracles for Christians facing dire persecution.

iii) Cosmos discusses both the disincentive to lie under oath as well as the incentive to recant former testimony if the witness feels threatened by the escalating controversy.

iv) Monahan records the reservations of a skeptic.  But he doesn't state Antoine Court's source of information. We should take those objections into account in assessing the credibility of the reported miracle. By the same token, we should take his hostile agenda into account. 

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