a website dedicated to the memory of Adolphe Monod (1802-1856)



André Bieler (1914-2006)

André Bieler was a Swiss pastor and theologian. As one of the founders of the Bern Declaration in favour of development assistance (1968) he is considered to have been one of the foremost protestant specialists on ethics of the second half of the twentieth century.

His book Chrétiens et socialistes avant Marx: Les origines du grand malentendu, [Christians and socialists before Marx ; the origins of the great misunderstanding] Geneva, Labor et Fides, 1981, contains an interesting passage on Adolphe Monod and the Awakening movement (p. 46 et seq.)

*** My translation of the French original ***

“... In this context one would have to cite the long list of protestant organisations for evangelism, mission and mutual aid that proliferated during this period. […] One would also have to cite the life and dedication of the great personalities who have brought fame to the Protestantism of this time, thanks to the dynamism and self-denial produced by their living faith, which was a fruit of the Awakening. Many women of great worth have stood out by their persistent dedication in favour of philanthropic activities in which they invested their lives. We remember the great names: Monod, Hollard, de Pressensé, Lutteroth, Stapfer, de Broglie (Mrs de Broglie was Mrs de Staël’s daughter), Mallet, de Gasparin etc. All of them were part of business circles, members of the diplomatic corps, members of liberal professions or senior civil servants.

This notwithstanding, the political orientation of the members of the Awakening movement was not only backward-looking but very often counter-revolutionary. Adolphe Monod suspected the minister Oberlin, whose exemplary social work at the Ban-de-la-Roche we have mentioned above, of not being sufficiently religious. He wrote:

“He was a very respectable pastor, but one may ask oneself whether the care he has taken of the temporal interests did not prejudice the development of the spiritual interests in some respects.”

Looking down from his pious stance, he pronounced a very severe judgement on the silk workers of Lyons when they revolted at the beginning of the July Monarchy. In 1831, he wrote:

“We have asked God in particular not to deal with this poor people (the insurgent workers) according to its sins, to remember his children living in this town, whose number is greater than that of the just of Sodom, to spare the city because of them, to put a damper on the raging passions etc. At first, we were painfully agitated, but soon we received peace and we felt pleasantly tranquil. … While these awful scenes took place outside, everything was tranquil inside. You could have had the impression of going from the Kingdom of the demon to the Kingdom of Jesus-Christ by making just a few steps: we were reading his Word, we called upon his name, we rejoiced in the grace of him who had delivered us from the passions of natural man and who maintained our peace in the midst of the fury and the calamities which we had to witness …”

The attitude was the same during the 1848 revolution. The Methodist Louis Rostand has very well expressed the fear these events generated in the protestant groups he was familiar with:

“There is terror everywhere, he wrote, the crowds break the doors …; we fear looting, we fear arson, we fear everything; death is on everyone’s lips.”

Ami Bost openly expressed his disdain for the new regime:

“What a mean and miserable comedy the establishment of this Republic was!” he writes. “How come that pious persons could be mistaken as to the nature of this prank and forget what even Montesquieu, although he was not very much informed on religion, had discerned: that a Republic can only survive if there is a certain degree of virtue, which we have lost long ago.”

According to E. Léonard, most “pious people” held such opinions. However, he cites some exceptions: the pastor Léon Pilatte, who had a very humble background, who said that he was “sick with emotion and joy” when he heard of the advent of the Republic; the young Edmond de Pressensé, who was much more open-minded than his environment with respect to socialist aspirations – he was struck by the calm and the intelligence of the revolutionaries, “this intelligent, quick-witted, spiritual and good race”; and Mrs André-Walther, “the pietist of the high society of Paris whose Hôtel de la Trésorerie générale in Tours constituted a base for a runaway intelligentsia”. …”

NB: In his book La carte protestante. Les réformés francophones et l’essor de la modernité (1815-1848) [The protestant card. The French-speaking Reformed protestants and the rise of modernity (1815-1848)], Geneva, Labor and Fides, 1997, p. 90, William Edgar (1944-), a professor of apologetics, challenges these assertions. Having cited a passage from Adolphe Monod’s sermon Etes-vous un meurtrier ? [Are you a murderer?], he pursues:

*** My translation of the French original ***

“It is true that this approach to social problems is somewhat moralizing. But Bieler’s evaluation of Monod and his colleagues of the Awakening movement (“not only backward-looking but very often counter-revolutionary”) is too harsh. […] This sort of conservatism is rather found in the sermons of the first-generation preachers such as J.-I.-S. Cellerier. […] I think that [Monod] expresses an individualistic approach to social problems, which is commonly found in protestants (but also elsewhere). At that time, Monod thought that one first had to moralize the Christians in order to reach more global solutions later on. It is a sort of indirect apologetics, based on protestant principles.”

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