History of the rise of the huguenots



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Change in the courtiers.

While so marked a change came over the disposition of the king, it is

not strange that a similar revolution was noticed in the sentiments of

the courtiers--a class ever on the alert to detect the slightest

variation in the breeze to which they trim their sails. The greater part

of the high dignitaries, the early historian of the reformed churches

informs us, adapting themselves to the king's humor, abandoned the study

of the Bible, and in time became violent opponents of practices which

they had sanctioned by their own example. Even Margaret of Navarre is

accused by the same authority--and he honestly represents the belief of

the contemporary reformers--of having yielded to these seductive

influences. She plunged, like the rest, he tells us, into conformity

with the most reprehensible superstitions; not that she approved them,

but because Gérard Roussel and similar teachers persuaded her that they

were things indifferent. Thus, allowing herself to trifle with truth,

she was so blinded by the spirit of error as to offer an asylum in her

court of Nérac to Quintin and Pocques, blasphemous "Libertines" whose

doctrines called forth a refutation from the pen of Calvin.2




1 The Protestants might be pardoned, under the

circumstances, if their language was somewhat bitter respecting both

emperor and king. "Combien que j'espère que nostre Antioche (Charles

V.), qui nous presse maintenant, sera serré de si près, qu'il ne luy

souviendra des gouttes de ses mains, ne de ses pieds; car il en aura

par tout le corps. De son compagnon Sardanapalus (Francis I.), Dieu

luy garde la pareille. Car ils sont bien dignes de passer tous deux par

une mesme mesure." Calvin to M. de Falaise, Feb. 25, 1547, Lettres

françaises, i. 191.--The expression "Sardanapalus inter scorta" occurs

in a letter of Calvin to Farel, Feb. 20, 1546 (Bonnet, Letters of John

Calvin, ii., 35, 36). It will, therefore, be seen from the date that

Merle d'Aubignê is mistaken in referring the description to Henry II.

Hist. de la Réf., liv. xii. c. 1.

2 Histoire ecclésiastique, i. 14.

The French Reformation becomes a popular movement.

Geneva the centre of activity.

The French Reformation was thus constrained to become a popular

movement. The king had refused to lead it. The nobles turned their backs

upon it. Its adherents, threatened with the gallows and stake, or driven

into banishment, could no longer look for encouragement or direction

toward Paris and the vicinage of the court. The timid counsels of the

high-born were to be exchanged for the bold and fiery words of reformers

sprung from the people. Excluded from the luxurious capital, the

Huguenots were, during a long series of years, to draw their inspiration

from a city at the foot of the Alps--a city whose invigorating climate

was no less adapted to harden the intellectual and moral constitution

than the bodily frame, and where rugged Nature, if she bestowed wealth

with no lavish hand, manifested her impartiality by more liberal

endowments conferred upon man himself. Geneva henceforth becomes the

centre of reformatory activity, of which fact we need no stronger

evidence than the severe legislation of France to destroy its influence;

and the same causes that gave the direction of the movement to the

people shaped its theological tendencies. Under the guidance of Francis

and Margaret, it must have assumed much of the German or Lutheran type;

or, to speak more correctly, the direct influence of Germany upon

France, attested by the name of "Lutherans," up to this time the

ordinary appellation of the French Protestants, would have been rendered

permanent. But now the persecution they had experienced, in consequence

of their opposition to the papal mass, confirmed the French reformers in

their previous views, and disinclined them to admit even such a

"consubstantiation" as Luther's followers insisted upon.


Geneva secures its independence.

The same complicated political motives that led Francis to relax his

excessive rigor against the Protestants of his realm, in order to avoid

provoking the anger of the German princes, prompted him to assist in

securing the independence of Geneva, which, at the time, he little

dreamed would so soon become the citadel of French Protestantism. After

a prolonged contest, the city on the banks of

the Rhône had shaken off the yoke of its bishop, and had bravely repelled


successive assaults made by the Duke of Savoy. The first preachers of the Reformation, Farel and Froment, after a series of attempts and rebuffs for
romantic interest inferior to no other episode in an age of stirring adventure,

had seen the new worship accepted by the majority of the people, and by

the very advocates of the old system, Caroli and Chapuis. If the grand

council had thus far hesitated to give a formal sanction to the

religious change, it was only through fear that the taking of so decided

a step might provoke more powerful enemies than the neighboring duke.

The latter, being fully resolved to humble the insubordinate burgesses,

had for two years been striving to cut off their supplies by garrisons

maintained in adjoining castles and strongholds; nor would his plans,

perhaps, have failed, but for the intervention of two powerful

opponents--Francis and the Swiss Canton of Berne.
with the assistance of Francis I.

Louise de Savoie was the sister of Duke Charles. Her son had a double

cause of resentment against his uncle: Charles had refused him free

passage through his dominions, when marching against the Milanese; and,

contrary to all justice, he persistently refused to give up the marriage

portion of his sister, the king's mother. Francis avenged himself, both

for the insult and for the robbery, by permitting a gentleman of his

bedchamber, by the name of De Verez, a native of Savoy, to throw himself

into the beleaguered city with a body of French soldiers.
and the Bernese.

While Geneva was thus strengthened from within, the Bernese, on receipt

of an unsatisfactory reply to an appeal in behalf of their allies, came

to their assistance with an army of ten or twelve thousand men.

Discouraged by the threatening aspect his affairs had assumed, Charles

relaxed his grasp on the throat of his revolted subjects, and withdrew

to a safe distance. His obstinacy, however, cost him the permanent loss

not only of Geneva, but of a considerable part of his most valuable

territories, including the Pays de Vaud--a district which, after

remaining for more than two hundred and fifty years a dependency of

Berne, has within the present

century (in 1803), become an independent canton of the Swiss confederacy.1


Calvin the apologist of the Protestants.

The horrible slanders put in circulation abroad, in justification of the

atrocities with which the unoffending Protestants of France were

visited, furnished the motive for the composition and publication of an

apology that instantly achieved unprecedented celebrity, and has long

outlived the occasion that gave it birth. The apology was the

"Institutes;" the author, John Calvin. With the appearance of his

masterpiece, a great writer and theologian, destined to exercise a wide

and lasting influence not only upon France, but over the entire

intellectual world, enters upon the stage of French history to take a

leading part in the unfolding religious and political drama.
His birth and training. Studies at Paris; also at Orleans and Bourges.

John Calvin was born on the tenth of July, 1509, at Noyon, a small but

ancient city of Picardy. His family was of limited means, but of

honorable extraction. Gérard Cauvin, his father, had successively held

important offices in connection with the episcopal see. As a man of

clear and sound judgment, he was sought for his counsel by the gentry

and nobility of the province--a circumstance that rendered it easy for

him to give to his son a more liberal course of instruction than

generally fell to the lot of commoners. It is not denied by Calvin's

most bitter enemies that he early manifested striking ability. In

selecting for him one of the learned professions, his father naturally

preferred the church, as that in which he could most readily secure for

his son speedy promotion. It may serve to illustrate the degree of

respect at this time paid to the prescriptions of canon law, to note

that Charles de Hangest, Bishop of Noyon, conferred on John Calvin the

Chapelle de la Gésine, with revenues sufficient for his maintenance,

when the boy was but just twelve years of age! Such abuses as the gift

of ecclesiastical benefices to beardless youths, however, were of too

frequent occurrence to


1 Mémoires de Martin du Bellay (Edition Petitot), xviii.

271-273. See also Mignet, Établissement de la réforme religieuse à

Genève, Mém. historiques, ii. 308, etc. Also, Merle d'Aubigné, Hist. of

the Reformation in the Time of Calvin, v. 395, etc.]

attract special notice or call forth unfriendly criticism. With the same easy
disregard of churchly order the chapter of the cathedral of Noyon permitted
Calvin, two years later, to go to Paris, for the purpose of continuing his studies,
without loss of income; although, to save appearances, a pretext was found in
the prevalence of some contagious disease in Picardy. Not long after, his

father perceiving the singular proficiency he manifested, determined to

alter his plans, and devoted his son to the more promising department of

the law, a decision in which Calvin himself, already conscious of secret

aversion for the superstitions of the papal system, seems dutifully to

have acquiesced. To a friend and near relation, Pierre Robert

Olivetanus, the future translator of the Bible, he probably owed both

the first impulse toward legal studies and the enkindling of his

interest in the Sacred Scriptures. Proceeding next to Orleans, in the

university of which the celebrated Pierre de l'Étoile, afterward

President of the Parliament of Paris, was lecturing on law with great

applause, Calvin in a short time achieved distinction. Marvellous

stories were told of his rapid mastery of his subject. Not only did he

occasionally fill the chair of an absent professor, and himself lecture,

to the great admiration of the classes, but he was offered the formal

rank of the doctorate without payment of the customary fees. Declining

an honorable distinction which would have interfered with his plan of

perfecting himself elsewhere, he subsequently visited the University of

Bourges, in order to enjoy the rare advantage of listening to Andrea

Alciati, of Milan, reputed the most learned and eloquent legal

instructor of the age.
His studies under Wolmar.

Meanwhile, however, Calvin's interest in biblical study had been

steadily growing, and at Bourges that great intellectual and religious

change appears to have been effected which was essential to his future

success as a reformer. He attached himself to Melchior Wolmar, a

distinguished professor of Greek, who had brought with him from Germany

a fervent zeal for the Protestant doctrines. Wolmar, reading in the

young law student the brilliant abilities that were one day to make his

name illustrious, prevailed upon him to devote

himself to the study of the New Testament in the original. Day and night were spent in the engrossing pursuit, and here were laid the foundations of that profound biblical erudition which, at a later date, amazed the world, as well,

unfortunately, as of that feeble bodily health that embittered all

Calvin's subsequent life with the most severe and painful maladies, and

abridged in years an existence crowded with great deeds.
Translates Seneca "De Clementia."

The illness and death of his father called Calvin back to Noyon,1

but in 1529 we find him again in Paris, where three years later he

published his first literary effort. This was a commentary on the two

books of Seneca, "De Clementia," originally addressed to the Emperor

Nero. The opinion has long prevailed that it was no casual selection of

a theme, but that Calvin had conceived the hope of mitigating hereby the

severity of the persecution then raging. The author's own

correspondence, however, betrays less anxiety for the attainment of that

lofty aim, than nervous uneasiness respecting the literary success of

his first venture. Indeed, this is not the only indication that, while

Calvin was already, in 1532, an accomplished scholar, he was scarcely as

yet a reformer, and that the stories of his activity before this time

as a leader and religious teacher, at Paris and even at Bourges, deserve

only to be classed with the questionable myths obscuring much of his

history up to the time of his appearance at Geneva.2


Calvin's escape from Paris to Angoulême.

The incident that occasioned Calvin's flight from Paris was


narrated in a previous chapter. Escaping from the officers sent


1 In dedicating to Wolmar his commentary on II. Corinthians, Calvin deplored the loss
sustained in the interruption of his Greek studies under his old teacher, "manum enim,
quæ tua est humanitas, porrigere non recusasses ad totum stadii decursum, nisi me,

ab ipsis prope carceribus, mors patris revocasset." Upon the basis of

the words here italicized, Merle d'Aubigné builds up a story of outcries

and intrigues of priests (against Calvin) who "did all in their power

to get him put into prison"! Ref. in Time of Calvin, ii. 28. M.

Herminjard observes hereupon that one need not be very thoroughly versed

in Latin or in Roman antiquities to understand Calvin's allusion; and

every classical scholar will sympathize with M. Herminjard when he

expresses, in view of the historian's blunder, "un étonnement

proportionné à la célébrité de l'auteur." Corresp. des réformateurs, ii. 333.



2 See the very sensible remarks of Herminjard, ubi supra, iii. 202.

to apprehend him as the real author of the inaugural address of the rector,


Nicholas Cop, Calvin found safety and scholastic leisure in the house of his
friend Louis du Tillet, at Angoulême. If we could believe the accounts of later

writers, we should imagine the young scholar dividing his time in this

retreat between the preparation of his "Institutes" and systematic

labors for the conversion of the inhabitants of the south-west of

France. Tradition still points out the grottos in the vicinity of

Poitiers, where, during a residence in that city, Calvin is said to have

exclaimed, pointing to the Bible lying open before him: "Here is my

mass;" and then, with uncovered head and eyes turned toward heaven,

"Lord, if at the judgment-day thou shalt reprove me because I have

abandoned the mass, I shall reply with justice, 'Lord, thou hast not

commanded it. Here is thy law. Here are the Scriptures, the rule thou

hast given me, wherein I have been unable to find any other sacrifice

than that which was offered upon the altar of the cross!'"1
He resigns his benefices. He reaches Basle.

The caverns bearing Calvin's name may never have witnessed his

preaching, and the address ascribed to him rests on insufficient

authority;2 but it is certain that the future reformer about this

time took his first decided step in renouncing connection with the Roman

Church, by resigning his benefices, the revenues of which he had

enjoyed, although precluded by his youth from receiving ordination.3
Not many months later, finding himself solicited on all sides to take an

active part as a teacher of the little companies of Protestants




1 A. Crottet, Histoire des églises réf. de Pons, Gémozac,

et Mortagne en Saintonge (Bordeaux, 1841), 10-11, and Merle d'Aubigné,

Hist. of the Ref. in the Time of Calvin (Am. ed.), iii. 53, tell the

story without any misgivings, and the latter with characteristic

embellishment. But it rests on the unsupported and slender authority of

Florimond de Ræmond, lib. vii. c. 14, from whose account I cannot even

find that the scene was laid in the caverns.

2 Stähelin (Johannes Calvin, Leben und ausgewählte

Schriften, i. 33) well remarks that what makes this address very

suspicious is the circumstance that a quite similar passage occurs in

Calvin's letter to Sadolet, leading us to the conclusion that we have

here only a "reminiscence" of this much later document.

3 He resigned his chapel of La Gésine and his curacy of

Pont l'Evêque, May 4, 1534. Herminjard, iii. 201.

arising in different cities of France, he resolved to leave France and court

elsewhere obscurity and leisure to prosecute undisturbed his favorite

studies.1 Accordingly, we find him, after a brief visit to Paris and

Orleans, reaching the city of Basle, apparently toward the close of the

year 1534.2
Apologetic character given to his great work.

It was here that Calvin appears to have conceived for the first time the

purpose of giving a practical aim to the great work upon the composition

of which he had been some time busy. In spite of his professions of

unsullied honor, Francis the First had not hesitated to disseminate, by

means of his agents beyond the Rhine, the most unfounded and injurious

reports respecting his Protestant subjects. It was time that these

aspersions should be cleared away, and an attempt be made to touch the

heart of the persecuting monarch with compassion for the unoffending

objects of his blind fury. Such was the object Calvin set before himself

in a preface to the first edition of the "Institutes," addressed "To the

Very Christian King of France."3 It was a document of rare importance.


1 This, and not the persecution at that time raging in

France, is the reason assigned by Calvin himself in the preface to his

commentary on the Psalms, where he tells us that, the very year of his

conversion, seeing "que tous ceux qui avoyent quelque désir de la pure

doctrine se rangeoyent à lui pour apprendre," he began to seek some

hiding-place and means of withdrawing from men. "Et de faict," he adds,

"je veins en Allemagne, de propos délibéré, afin que là je peusse vivre

à requoy en quelque coin incognu." Corresp. des réformateurs, iii. 242,

243. See the same in the Latin ed., Calvini opera (Amsterdam, 1667),

iii. c. 2. This preface is dated Geneva, July 23, 1557.



2 Whether before or after the appearance of the "Placards,"

is uncertain. On Calvin's early life, see Beza's Life, already referred

to; the Histoire ecclésiastique; various letters in J. Bonnet's Letters

of Calvin, and Herminjard, Corresp. des réformateurs; Haag, France

protestante; the reformer's life by Paul Henry, D.D., and especially the

scholarly work of Dr. E. Stähelin (2 vols., Elberfeld, 1860-1863).



3 The mooted question whether Calvin wrote the Institutes

originally in Latin or in French--in other words, whether there was a

French edition before the first Latin edition of 1536--has been set at

rest by M. Jules Bonnet, who, in a contribution to the Bulletin de

l'histoire du protestantisme français, vi. (1858) 137-142, establishes

the priority of the Latin. The chief points in the proof are: 1st, the

absence of even a single copy of the supposed French edition of 1535;

2d, Calvin's statement to Francis Daniel, Oct. 13, 1536, "I am kept

continually occupied upon the French version of my little book;" 3d, his

The preface to the "Christian Institutes." Eloquent peroration.

He briefly explained the original design of his work to be the

instruction of his countrymen, whom he knew to be hungering and

thirsting for the truth. But the persecutions that had arisen and that

left no place for sound doctrine in France induced him to make the

attempt at the same time to acquaint the king with the real character of

the Protestants and their belief. He assured Francis that the book

contained nothing more nor less than the creed for the profession of

which so many Frenchmen were being visited with imprisonment,

banishment, outlawry, and even fire, and which it was sought to

exterminate from the earth. He drew a fearful picture of the calumnies

laid to the charge of this devoted people, and of the wretched church of

France, already half destroyed, yet still a butt for the rage of its

enemies. It was the part of a true king, as the vicegerent of God, to

administer justice in a cause so worthy of his consideration. Nor ought

the humble condition of the oppressed to indispose him to grant them a

hearing; for the doctrine they professed was not their own, but that of

the Almighty himself. He boldly contrasted the evangelical with the

papal church, and refuted the objections urged against the former. He

defended its doctrine from the charge of novelty, denied that

miracles--especially such lying wonders as those of Rome--were necessary

in confirmation of its truth, and showed that the ancient Fathers, far

from countenancing, on the contrary, condemned the superstitions of the

day. He refuted the charge that Protestants forsook old customs when

good, or abandoned the only visible church; and in a masterly manner

vindicated the Reformation from the oft-repeated charge of being the

cause of sedition, conflict, and confusion. He begged for a fair and

impartial hearing. "But," he exclaimed in concluding,


decisive words in the preface to the edition of 1551: "Et premièrement

l'ay mis en latin à ce qu'il pust servir à toutes gens d'estude, de

quelque nation qu'ils fussent; puis après désirant de communiquer ce qui

en pouvoit venir de fruict à nostre nation françoise, l'ay aussy

translaté en nostre langue." See also chap. iii. of Professors Baum,

Cunitz, and Reuss, Introd. to Institution de la religion chrétienne

(Calv. Opera, t. iii.).]

"if the suggestions of the malevolent so fill your ears as to leave no room for

the reply of the accused, and those importunate furies continue, with

your consent, to rage with bonds and stripes, with torture,

confiscation, and fire, then shall we yield ourselves up as sheep

appointed for slaughter, yet so as to possess our souls in patience, and

await the mighty hand of God, which will assuredly be revealed in good

time, and be stretched forth armed for the deliverance of the poor from

their affliction, and for the punishment of the blasphemers now exulting

in confidence of safety. May the Lord of Hosts, illustrious king,

establish your seat in righteousness and your throne with equity."1

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