History and religious controversy: a position of Pierre-Jean Ruff on prophecy during the Camisard War

In the Cevennes, prophecy, during the Camisard War, has a double face.


The first of these faces is popular and does not pose problem to subsequent analysts. In a troubled period, with very few spiritual leaders, people of all ages, often young and of modest social status, enter into trance and express the unhappiness or guilt of a population traumatized by persecution. Two main reasons determine this surprising phenomenon, beyond the hypersensitivity caused by the humiliation endured.


First, the belief that God is truly omnipotent, insurance commonly shared at that time. Who would dare kicking against what God decides or at least permits? Even through plagues and persecution, it is His will that is communicated. This belief, widespread in all religious circles, can be found for example in The book of Abraham by Marek Halter (during the great waves of persecution against Jews, prominent rabbis always said that these misfortunes come from the Almighty and can be remedied only if their message is accepted and understood). We also find this belief in The plague by Albert Camus, a novel with historical references. Here again, according to the Archpriest of Oran, evil can only come from God, in order that His people comes back to him.


Then, the popular prophetic message of the inhabitants of the Cevennes was expressing their guilt. These people, who were often simple, and often were children, accused their fellows of betraying true faith, by simulating allegiance to the Catholic Church and by living their Protestant faith in secret.


The second face of prophecy in the Cevennes during the Camisard War is more problematic. These people really believed that God had given them specific instructions for fighting against royal troops. Was God really active, or was it only their imagination? There, legitimately, interpretations may vary. In any case, whether there were orders of heaven or only the fantasies of these fighters, most often what happened after the fight has corroborated the inspirations received or such perceived.


André Ducasse says : "Mazel est persuadé que Dieu procède toujours par volontés particulières et que tout est miracle. L’Esprit seul le dirige. Aucun doute ne l’effleure." (La Guerre des Camisards, 1946, p. 71). Simlarly, Henri Bosc says : "Rien n’avait encore été prévu pour une décision à prendre. Ces hommes sont positifs. Ils attendent pour chaque heure l’inspiration directrice… Le mot préméditation quand il s’agit d’une expédition ordonnée par les prophètes en transe et guidée par eux n’a proprement pas de sens. Tout dans les événements de l’affaire du Pont de Montvert va se dérouler par inspiration." (La Guerre des Cévennes, Volume I, p. 169).


Much more recently, in a special correspondence, the historian Jean-Paul Chabrol says: "Les Camisards prétendaient, et sans doute le croyaient de bonne foi, que l’Esprit-Saint parlait en eux… L’opération du Pont de Montvert : tous les prophètes qui ont participé à cette expédition punitive prétendent tous que c’est l’Esprit qui leur a commandé de se rendre au Pont de Montvert… Oui, comme le dit Marion, les inspirations ont été décisives. Tous les camisards le répètent à l’envi… La Guerre des Camisards a été une guerre d’inspirés. Vraies ou fausses, les inspirations des camisards ont été le moteur de cette guerre."


So I am disappointed, and even shocked, when some commentators state that this revolt was instigated and organized as any other rebellion, out of any perspective such as the transcendence or the faith in transcendence. The authors of the Camisard memories would have only later added to their stories God participating in these operations, in order to embellish them. Do we respect the memory of the Camisards with such a position?


If this thesis is presented as a hypothesis or a personal suggestion, there is nothing to say. But by presenting it as a serious reading of these events this saddens me and hits me.


Although the phenomenon of prophecy in the Cevennes surprises us and maybe bothers us, does this justify suspecting the belief of the Camisards? Certainly, we should not take for granted all those who say: "God spoke to me." But do we have the right to argue that God never speaks? Do we respect our fathers if we say that their beliefs are required to be reviewed in the light of our modernity or, more precisely, a given modernity?