“The Child Executioners”, a bad seed of hate

The purpose of this book is “An excruciating story in which little boys between the ages of two (!) And twelve kill, torture, assault or eviscerate corpses, burn them or throw them into the river”. Thus in Toulon, in 1562, a Huguenot was dragged, still alive, then stoned and burned by the children of the city. At the same time, in Avignon, another Protestant, however imprisoned, is seized by a gang of children who inflicts the punishment of stoning before throwing him into the Rhône. There are many such examples. Denis Crouzet takes up this series of micro-events to understand the drivers of this Catholic society “Haunted by an immense will to violence”.

Unlike the Calvinian Reformation which attached great importance to education and which, above all, did not attribute any particular mission to youth, the Catholic world reserved a special place for it. Theinfantia, because of his innocence, is considered closer to God. Childhood has a Christlike nature, which makes it better able to fulfill the truth of God. This sacredness allows him to seize a power to judge which adult society renounces “So that justice is a sacred achievement”. It is also for the elderly a way of protecting themselves because killing the impure, it is incurring oneself to be contaminated by impurity, phobia which explains the space left to protected children, as if by magic , thanks to their Christian purity.

This murderous dynamic is based on an essential principle, strongly stated by the author: “There is an absolute obligation of violence because God wants violence.” The essential mission of children is to recall this obligation, at certain crucial moments, such as during the massacre of Saint Barthélemy in 1572 or the assassination of Henri III in 1589, thanks to sketches whose horror serves to justify and release the violence that adults otherwise mobilize. Previous references exist, the most obvious being the stoning of Jews in the Middle Ages where children held an important place. Now the Huguenot, like the Jew responsible for the crucifixion, is also guilty of deicide since he wants to exterminate the true Church, thereby inflicting a new Passion on Christ.

This childish violence is far from being a Catholic singularity of the Wars of Religion, as Denis Crouzet reminds us. It has been shown that in Rwanda, the share of children – often the youngest – in violence is significant, finding that we can extend to many situations of civil war, from the lion cubs of the caliphate in Syria to children killers from Medellín in Colombia who also daily pray to the Virgin for her to give them the strength to kill.

Jean-Yves Grenier

Denis Crouzet Child executioners during the Wars of Religion Albin Michel, 336 pp., € 22.90 (Ebook: € 15.99).

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