History of the rise of the huguenots



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Has no effect in allaying persecution. Calvin achieves distinction.

The learned theologian's eloquent appeal failed to accomplish its end.

If Francis ever received, he probably disdained to read even the

dedication, classed by competent critics among the best specimens of

writing in the French language,2 and must have regarded the volume

to which it was prefixed as a bold vindication of heresy, and scarcely

less insulting to his majesty than the placards themselves. Others,

better capable of forming a competent judgment, or more willing to give

it a dispassionate examination, applauded the success of a hazardous

undertaking that might have appalled even a more experienced writer than

the French exile of Noyon. The Institutes gave to a young man, who had

scarcely attained the age at which men of mark usually begin to occupy

themselves with important


1 Opera Calvini (Amst., 1667), t. ix.]

2 "La dédicace à François I^er, qui est peut-étre une des

plus belles choses que possède notre langue." Paul L. Jacob, bibliophile

(Lacroix), "Avertissement" prefixed to Œuvres françaises de Calvin.

The Institutes he designates "ce chef-d'œuvre de science théologique,

de philosophie religieuse et de style." "Here," says Henri van Laun,

"was a force and concision of language never before heard in France....

The influence of Calvin's writings upon the style of his successors, and

upon the literary development of his country, cannot easily be

over-estimated. With him French prose may be said to have attained its

manhood; the best of his contemporaries, and of those who had preceded

him, did but use as a staff or as a toy that which he employed as a

burning sword." History of French Literature (New York, 1876), i. 338,

339.]

enterprises, the reputation of being the foremost theologian of the age.


He revises the Bible of Olivetanus.

Other studies invited Calvin's attention. Not content with perfecting

himself in the original languages of the Holy Scriptures, he revised

with care the French Protestant Bible, translated by his relation

Olivetanus, of which we shall have occasion to speak in another chapter.

Meanwhile, in an age of intense mental and moral awakening, no

scholastic repose, such as he had pictured to himself, awaited one who

had made good his right to a foremost rank among the athletes in the

intellectual arena.

Visits Italy.

Before his unexpected call to a life of unremitting conflict, Calvin

visited Italy. In the entire absence of any trustworthy statement of the

occasion of this journey, it is almost idle to speculate on the objects

he had in view.1 Certain, however, it is that the court of the

Duchess Renée, at Ferrara, offered to a patriotic Frenchman attractions

hard to be resisted.
The court of Renée de France. Brantôme's eulogy of Renée.

The younger daughter of Louis the Twelfth resembled her father not less

in character than in appearance and speech.2 Cut off by the

pretended Salic law from the prospect of ascending the throne, she had

in her childhood been thrown as a straw upon the variable tide of

fortune. After having been promised in marriage to Charles of Spain,

heir to the most extensive and opulent dominions the sun shone upon, and

future Emperor of Germany, she had (1528) been given in marriage to the

ruler of a petty Italian duchy, himself as inferior to her in mind as in moral
character.3 As for Renée, if her face was homely and unprepossessing, her
intellect was vigorous. She had turned to good account the opportunities


1 Yet it is more probable, as Stähelin suggests (Joh. Calvin, ii. 93), that the classical
associations of Italy drew him to the peninsula, which was at that time the home of art,
than that his fame, having already penetrated to Ferrara, procured him a direct

invitation from Renée to visit her.



2 Showing, according to Brantôme, "en son visage et en sa parole qu'elle
estoit bien fille du Roy et de France." Dames illustres, Renée de France.

3 See the pompous ceremonial on this occasion and the

epithalamium of Clément Marot, in Cronique du Roy François Ier (G. Guiffrey,


1860), 68-73.

for self-improvement afforded by her high rank. Admiring courtiers


made her classical and philosophical attainments the subject of lavish
panegyric, perhaps with a better basis of fact than in the case of many
other princes of the time; while with the French, her countrymen,
the generous hospitality she dispensed won for her unfading
laurels. "Never was there a Frenchman," writes the Abbé de
Brantôme, "who passing through Ferrara applied to her in his distress

and was suffered to depart without receiving ample assistance to reach

his native land and home. If he were unable to travel through illness,

she had him cared for and treated with the utmost solicitude, and then

gave him money to continue his journey."1 Ten thousand poor

Frenchmen are said to have been saved by her munificent charity, on the

occasion of the recall of the Duke of Guise, after Constable

Montmorency's disastrous defeat at St. Quentin. Her answer to the

remonstrance of her servants against this excessive drain upon her

slender resources bore witness at once to the sincerity of her

patriotism and to a virile spirit which no Salic law could

extinguish.2

The brief stay of Calvin at Ferrara is involved in the same obscurity

that attends his motives in visiting Italy. But it is known that he

exerted at this time a marked influence not only on others,3 but on

Renée de France herself, who, from this period forward, appears in the

character of an avowed friend of


1 Dames illustres, ubi supra.

2 "Que voulez-vous? Ce sont des pauvres François de ma

maison; et lesquels si Dieu m'eust donné barbe au menton et que je

fusse homme, seroient maintenant tous mes sujets. Voire me

seroient-ils tels, si cette meschante Loy Salicque ne me tenoit trop de

rigueur." Ibid., ubi supra. A readable account of the life of this

remarkable woman is given in "Some Memorials of Renée of France, Duchess

of Ferrara" (2d edit., London, 1859), a volume enriched, to some extent,

with letters drawn from the Paris National Library, and from less

accessible collections in Great Britain.

3 Possibly including the wonderfully precocious child,

Olympia Morata. See M. Jules Bonnet's monograph, Vie d'Olympia Morata,

épisode de la Renaissance et de la Réforme en Italie. Stähelin has well

traced Calvin's religious influence upon Renée and the important family

of Soubise. Joh. Calvin, i. 94-110. The extant letters of Calvin to

Renée are full of manly and Christian frankness, and affectionate

loyalty. Lettres françaises, i. 428, etc.

the reformatory movement. Calvin had from prudence assumed the title


of Charles d'Espeville, and this name was retained as a signature in his
subsequent correspondence with the duchess.
Calvin leaves Ferrara.

A point so close to the centre of the Roman Catholic world as Ferrara

could scarcely afford safety to an ardent reformer, even if the fame of

his "Institutes" had not yet reached Rome; and Ercole the Second was too

dependent upon the Holy See to shrink from sacrificing the guest his

wife had invited to the palace. Returning, therefore, from Ferrara,

without apparently pursuing his journey to Rome or even to Florence, Calvin
retraced his steps and took refuge beyond the Alps. Possibly he may have
stopped on the way in the valley of Aosta, and displayed a missionary activity, which has been denied by several modern critics, but is attested by local monuments and tradition, and has some support in contemporary documents.1
Revisits France. Is recognized while passing through Geneva.

Farel compels him to remain.

Once more in Basle, Calvin resolved, after a final visit to the home of

his childhood, to seek out some quiet spot in Germany,


1 Stähelin is skeptical about, and Prof. Billiet and M.

Douen reject altogether the story of Calvin's labors at Aosta. Thus much

M. Bonnet believes to be established by concurrent MS. and traditional

authority: That, early in the year 1536, Calvin had succeeded in gaining

over to the reformed doctrines a number of influential men in this

Alpine valley, of the families of La Creste, La Visière, Vaudan,

Borgnion, etc.; that he and his converts were accused of plotting to

induce the district to embrace Protestantism, and imitate the example of

its Swiss neighbors, by constituting itself a canton, free of the Duke

of Savoy; that the estates, on the 28th of February, 1536, declared

their intention (with a unanimity procured, perhaps, by the expulsion of

the opposite party) to live and die in the obedience of the Duke of

Savoy and of mother Holy Church; that Calvin and his principal adherents

escaped with difficultly into Switzerland; and that expiatory processions were instituted


at Aosta, in token of gratitude for deliverance from heresy, in which the bishop and the
most prominent noblemen, as well as the common people, "walked with bare feet
and in sackcloth and ashes, notwithstanding the rigor of the season." Tradition still points
out the "farm-house of Calvin," his "bridge," and the window by which he is said to have
escaped. The event is commemorated by a monument of the market-place, bearing an
inscription that testifies to its having been erected in 1541, and renewed in 1741 and 1841.
See the interesting Aostan documents contributed by M. Bonnet to the

Bulletin de l'hist. du protest. français, ix. (1860) 160-168, and his

letter to Prof. Rilliet, ibid., xiii. (1864) 183-192.

there to give himself up to those scholarly labors which he fancied would be


more profitable to France than the most active enterprises he might engage
in as a preacher of the Gospel. He had accomplished the first part of his

design, had disposed of his property in Noyon, and was returning with

his brother and sister, when the prevalence of war in the Duchy of

Lorraine led him to diverge from his most direct route, so as to

traverse the dominions of the Duke of Savoy and the territories of the

confederate cantons of Switzerland. Under these circumstances, for the

first time, he entered the city of Geneva, then but recently delivered

from the yoke of its bishop and of the Roman Church. He had intended to

spend there only a single night.1 He was accidentally recognized by

an old friend, a Frenchman, who at the time professed the reformed

faith, but subsequently returned to the communion of the Church of

Rome.2 Du Tillet was the only person in Geneva that detected in the

traveller, Charles d'Espeville, the John Calvin who had written the

"Institutes." He confided the secret to Farel, and the intrepid reformer

whose office it had hitherto been to demolish, by unsparing and

persistent blows, the popular structure of superstition, at once

concluded that, in answer to his prayers, a man had been sent him by God

capable of laying, amid the ruins, the foundations of a new and more

perfect fabric. Farel sought Calvin out, and laid before him the urgent

necessities of a church founded in a city where, under priestly rule,

disorder and corruption had long been rampant. At first his words made

no impression. Calvin had traced out for himself a very different

course, and was little inclined to exchange a life of study for the

perpetual struggles to which he was so unexpectedly




1 This is Calvin's distinct statement: "quum rectum iter

Argentoratum tendenti bella clausissent, hac (Geneva) celeriter transire

statueram, ut non longior quam unius noctis moræ in urbe mihi foret."

Calvin, Preface to Psalms.



2 "Unus homo, qui nunc turpi defectione iterum ad Papistas

rediit, statim fecit ut innotescerem." Ibid., ubi supra. Consequently

Beza, in his Latin Life of Calvin, is mistaken when he asserts: "eos

[sc. Farel and Viret] igitur quum, ut inter bonos fieri solet, Calvinus

transiens invisisset," etc.; for it was Farel that sought him out, on

Du Tillet's information.

summoned. But when he met Farel's request with a positive refusal, pleading
inexperience, fondness for literary pursuits, and aversion to scenes of tumult
and confusion, the Genevese reformer assumed a more decided tone. Acting

under an impulse for which he could scarcely account himself, Farel

solemnly prayed that the curse of God might descend on Calvin's leisure

and studies, if purchased at the price of neglecting the duty to which

the voice of the Almighty Himself, by His providence, distinctly called

him.1

The amazed and terrified student felt--to use his own expression--that

God had stretched forth His arm from heaven and laid violent hold upon

him, rendering all further resistance impossible. He yielded to the

unwelcome call, and became the first theological professor of Geneva.

Somewhat later he was prevailed upon to add to his functions the duties

of one of the pastors of the city.


Farel's own recollections.

If the scene impressed itself ineffaceably on the memory or one of the

principal actors, its effect, we may be sure, was no less lasting in the

case of the other. More than a quarter of a century after, Farel, on

receiving the announcement that his worst apprehensions had been

realized, in the death of his "so dear and necessary brother Calvin,"

wrote to a friend a touching letter, in which he referred in a few

sentences to the same striking interview. "Oh, why am not I taken away

in his stead, and why is not he, so useful, so serviceable, here in

health, to minister long to the churches of our Lord! To Whom be

blessing and praise, that, of His grace, He made me fall in with him

where I had never expected to meet him, and, contrary




1 Calvin, in the preface to the Psalms already quoted,

says: "Genevæ non tam consilio, vel hortatu, quam formidabili

Gulielmi Farelli obtestatione retentus sum, ac si Deus violentam mihi

e cœlo manum injiceret. Et quum privatis et occultis studiis me

intelligeret esse deditum, ubi se vidit rogando nihil proficere,

usque ad maledictionem descendit, ut Deus otio meo malediceret, si me a

ferendis subsidiis in tanta necessitate subducerem. Quo terrore

perculsus susceptum iter ita omisi," etc.--Beza throws these words into

Farel's mouth: "At ego tibi, inquit, studia tua praetextenti denuntio

Omnipotentis Dei nomine, futurum ut nisi in opus istud Domini nobiscum

incumbas, tibi non tam Christum quam teipsum quærenti Dominus

maledicat." Vita Calvini (Op. Calv., Amst. 1661, tom. i).

to his own plans, compelled him to stop at Geneva, and made use of him there

and elsewhere! For he was urged on one side and another more than could be

told, and specially by me, who, in God's name, urged him to undertake

matters that were harder than death. And albeit he begged me several

times, in the name of God, to have mercy on him and suffer him to serve

God in other ways, as he has always thus occupied himself,

nevertheless, seeing that what I asked was in accordance with God's

will, in doing himself violence he has done more and more promptly than

any one else has done, surpassing not only others, but himself. Oh, how

happily has he run an excellent race!"1


Calvin becomes the head of the commonwealth. His view respecting church
and state, and the punishment of heresy.

For twenty-eight years the name of Calvin was inseparably associated

with that of the city which owes its chief renown to his connection with

it. Excepting the three years of exile, from 1538 to 1541, occasioned by

a powerful reaction against his rigid system of public morality, he was,

during the whole of this period, the recognized head of the Genevese

commonwealth. A complete mastery of the principles of law, acquired by

indefatigable study at Orleans and Bourges, before the loftier teachings

of theology engrossed his time and faculties, qualified him to draw up a

code to regulate the affairs of his adopted country. If its detailed

prohibitions and almost Draconian severity are repugnant to the spirit

of the present age, the general wisdom of the legislator is vindicated

by the circumstance that he transformed a city noted for the prevalence

of every form of turbulence and immorality into the most orderly

republic of Christendom. Few, it is true, will be found to defend the

theory respecting the duty of the state toward the church in which

Calvin acquiesced. But the cruel deaths of Gruet and Servetus were only

the legitimate fruits of the doctrine that the civil authority is both

empowered and bound to exercise vigilant supervision over the purity of

the church. In this doctrine the reformers of the sixteenth century were firm




1 This interesting letter, dated Neufchâtel, June 6, 1564,

was communicated by M. Herminjard to the editor of the fine edition of

Farel's Du Vray Usage de la Croix, printed by J. G. Fick, Geneva,

1865, who gives it entire, pp. 314, etc.

believers. They held, as John Huss had held a hundred years

before, that Truth could appropriately appeal for support to physical

force, under circumstances that would by no means have justified a

similar resort on the part of Error. The consistent language of their

lives was, "If we speak not the truth, we refuse not to die." "If the

Pope condemns the pious for heresy, and furious judges unjustly execute

on the innocent the penalty due to heretics, what madness is it thence

to infer that heretics ought not to be destroyed for the purpose of

aiding the pious! As for myself, since I read that Paul said that he did

not refuse death if he had done anything to deserve it, I openly offered

myself frequently prepared to undergo sentence of death, if I had taught

anything contrary to the doctrine of piety. And I added, that I was most

worthy of any punishment imaginable, if I seduced any one from the faith

and doctrine of Christ. Assuredly I cannot have a different view with

regard to others from that which I entertain respecting myself."1

So wrote Farel, and almost all his contemporaries agreed with him. And

thus it happened that the conscientious Calvin and the polished Beza

were at the pains of writing long treatises, to prove that "heretics are

justly to be constrained by the sword,"2 almost at the very moment

when they were begging the Bernese to intercede




1 "Sane non possum de aliis aliud sentire quam quod de me

statuo." Farel to Calvin, Sept. 8, 1553, Calv. Opera, ix. (Epistolæ), 71.



2 Declaration pour maintenir la vraye foy que tiennent tous

chrestiens de la Trinité des personnes en un seul Dieu. Par Jean Calvin.

Contre les erreurs detestables de Michel Servet Espaignol. Où il est

aussi monstré, qu'il est licite de punir les heretiques: et qu'à bon

droict ce meschant a esté executé par justice en la ville de Genève.

1554.--In this famous little book the author classifies doctrinal errors

according to their gravity. Slight superstitions and the ignorance into

which simple folk have fallen, are to be borne with till God reveal the

truth to them. Offences of greater magnitude, because injurious to the

church, should be visited with mild penalties. "But when malicious

spirits attempt to overthrow the foundations of religion, utter

execrable blasphemies against God, and disseminate damnable speeches,

like deadly poison, to drag souls to perdition--in short, engage in

schemes to cause the people to revolt from the pure doctrine of

God--then it is necessary to have recourse to the extreme remedy, so

that the evil may not spread farther" (pp. 48, 49).

with their ally, King Henry the Second, of France, in behalf of the poor
Protestants languishing in the dungeons of Lyons, or writing consolatory letters
to Peloquin and De Marsac, destined to suffer death in the flames not many

days before the execution of the Spanish physician at Geneva.1


His fault the fault of the age.

In truth, however, it was less Calvin than the age in which he lived

that must be held responsible for the crime against humanity with which

his name has come to be popularly associated. He did, indeed, desire and

urge that Servetus should be punished capitally, although he made an

earnest but unsuccessful effort to induce the magistrates to mitigate

the severity of the sentence, by the substitution of some more merciful

mode of execution.2 But the other principal reformers of Germany and

Switzerland--Melanchthon, Haller, Peter Martyr, and Bullinger gave their

hearty endorsement to the cruel act;3 while if any further proof

were needed to attest the sincerity and universality of approval

accorded to it, it is afforded by the last letters of the brave men who

were themselves awaiting at Chambéry, a few mouths later, death by the

same excruciating fate as that which befell Servetus at Geneva.4




1 See Calvin to C. and T. Zollicoffre, March 28, and the

same to Peloquin and De Marsac, Aug. 22, 1553. Servetus was burned Oct.27.



2 Two months before the execution Calvin wrote to Farel, Aug. 20, 1553: "Spero capitale
saltem fore judicium pœnæ vero atrocitatem remitti cupio;" and on the 26th of October,
he again wrote, "Genus mortis conati sumus mutare, sed frustra. Cur non profecerimus,
coram narrandum differo." Calv. Opera, ix. 70, 71. As it is thus in evidence not only that
Calvin did not burn Servetus, but desired him not to be burned, and made an ineffectual
attempt to rescue him from the flames, we might anticipate for the stale calumny a speedy
end, were not the tenacity of life characterizing such inventions so notorious as to have passed
into a proverb.

3 Melanchthon, for example, after expressing his entire satisfaction with Calvin's treatise,
and his conviction that the church both now and hereafter owes and will owe him gratitude
for it, adds: "Affirmo etiam, vestros magistratus juste fecisse, quod hominem blasphemum,
re ordine judicata, interfecerunt." Mel. to Calvin, Oct. 14, 1554, Opera (Bretschneider), viii. 362.

4 Laborie, one of the heroic "five," sending from prison an

account of his examination, states that, when one of his judges asked

him whether he did not know that God had by Moses sanctioned the

punishment of heretics, he freely admitted it: "Hæreticos certe

puniendos facile concessi, et in exemplum proposui impurum illum

canem Servetum, qui Genevæ ultimo supplicio affectus fuit: verum sedulo

caverent, ne in Christianos et Dei filios velut hæreticos

animadvertant," etc. Letter in Crespin, Actiones et Monimenta Martyrum

(Genevæ, 1560), fol. 291.]

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