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A view from elsewhere

With the first issue of 2022, our magazine launched a new section: vue d’ailleurs… vue d’avant. The idea is to offer you some food for thought on how our convictions, ideas and principles have evolved over time and space. The key word here is decentring!

A view from elsewhere… a view from before
Pierre-Olivier Léchot

1522 – exactly 500 years ago! For us Protestants, 1522 is an important year in the development of the Reformation: it was in 1522 that Luther returned to Wittenberg after his stay in the Wartburg and opposed the iconoclastic activities of Karlstadt before publishing his German translation of the Bible in September. It was also in 1522, on 9th March to be precise, that Zwingli and a few of his friends launched the Reformation in Zurich by ostentatiously eating meat during Lent. For a Catholic, 1522 was also an important year: it was on the night of 24th/25th March that Ignatius of Loyola, who had until then devoted himself to a military career, decided to consecrate his life to God… Finally, a true connoisseur of literature will probably know that it was in all likelihood in 1522 that Joachim du Bellay was born.

But who knows that on 28 July 1522, Suleiman the Magnificent began the siege of Rhodes before conquering the island, putting an end to more than two centuries of Western presence? And who ever learned that it was in that same year that a certain Khayr ad-dīn (perhaps better known by the semi-legendary name of Barbarossa) took Constantine in the name of the same Suleiman? Few, in any event, have learned that in the spring of the same year, the army of the Khan of Crimea, Mehmed I Giray, penetrated into what is now Russia, threatening Moscow and pillaging its suburbs. And very few people know that it was also in 1522 that the prince of the Timurid dynasty, Bâbur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Prince of Kabul, took Kandahar before turning to Delhi and founding the Mughal Empire, which dominated India until British colonisation.
These are just a few examples: they highlight the need for what some contemporary historians contemporary historians call a ‘connected
There was plenty to be outraged about! In a letter dated May 1544, the reformer of French-speaking Switzerland, Guillaume Farel, complained to Calvin that the King of France was allowing the infidel Turks to worship in his kingdom, even though he was persecuting French Protestants. Mere slander? Not really. In the autumn of 1543, François I, an ally of the Ottoman Empire, had authorised the fleet of the famous Turkish admiral Admiral Barbarossa to winter in the port of Toulon. This stay was not without consequences: only the men were allowed to stay, while women and children had to leave the town. But François I went even further: not only was Ottoman currency used in Toulon, the city’s cathedral had been converted into a mosque so that the Turkish sailors (a total of 30,000 troops) could worship there. It is said that a muezzin regularly sounded the call to prayer from the cathedral tower…

Some 50 years later, however, the people of Geneva had no cause to complain about the Turks. Taken prisoner when a Savoyard galley was captured on Lake Geneva in 1589, around thirty Turks were employed to work on the fortifications of Calvin’s city. In 1590, the prisoners were allowed to leave town. Several of them, however, chose to stay. They converted to the Protestant faith and married Genevan women. In 1591, thinking that these gallant Turks were traitors at heart, Savoyard spies approached them in an attempt to get them to open the city gates. They got that quite badly wrong: clearly well integrated into the city, the « Turks of Geneva » refused, denounced the agents of the Duke of Savoy and were rewarded for their loyalty.

At the beginning of the 18th century, yet another story was told by the galley slave Jean Marteilhe. When he was sentenced to the galleys because of his faith, he met two Turks: Aly and Ysouf. Both of them become his friends. When they were authorised to go ashore while the fleet was over-wintering, the Turks seem to have done the reformed galley slaves a favour by passing on messages and sums of money. Nearly 50 years after this encounter and the recognition of the « charity of the Turks,
history’, that is to say, a history concerned with the future of humanity not only by focusing on non-European history, but also by attempting to study these different developments in world history together. For the Protestant theologian, this observation is a warning against making the past events of one’s own confession the alpha and omega of religious history, but to accept the possibility that representatives of other religions do not necessarily see the same events in the same way. By extension, such a reflection should also apply to our theological, ethical and spiritual convictions – but we must be careful not to assert that, because of this plurality of points of view, everything is equal. That would be too simple and too lazy a conclusion. Rather, it seems to me that, without abandoning our convictions, we need to put them into perspective and rethink them from the perspective of an in-depth dialogue with representatives of other faiths and religions. This is undoubtedly the most important lesson to be learned from the history of the sixteenth century: it was in fact since the time of Luther, Suleiman and Bâbur that humanity has entered the era of globalisation. Whether we are fans of connected history or not, we are all, whether we like it or not, the heirs of a time when all the parts of the world came to be connected – for better or for worse.

Marteilhe still spoke of it with emotion: « I was moved to tears », he wrote in his memoirs.


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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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