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  • JOHN CALVIN'S WRITINGS -
    LETTER 24.


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    CALVIN TO BULLINGER, S.D.

    It is known that unfavorable rumors are industriously propagated about us, by the artifice of those, who wish to screen themselves by rendering us every where odious. On this account, you will render us a favor, if you will take care, that an abridgment of what I now write be stated to your most illustrious senate. And also, if it will not be too much trouble, I wish that you would send this part of my letter to our brethren, the ministers of the church of Schaff-hausen, that they may, among their people, exculpate this city from unfounded calumnies. The whole affair stands thus: — In the senate were two men, wicked and malicious to the highest pitch of impudence. They were both of them poor and hungry. One is called Perrin, the other Vandellius. The former, being captain-general of the city, had, by proposing impunity to all crimes, conciliated to himself the very refuse of the wicked. When any crimes were committed by the obstinate, the lewd, and the dissolute, he immediately patronized them, that the penalty of the laws should not be enforced. The other was his faithful coadjutor in all these things. They bound to their purpose a part of the senate by their flatteries. They affrightened into submission to them some sordid creatures, who could not hold their office but by their favor. Their family connections espoused their cause, merely on account of their relationship. In this manner, their power in the upper senate had grown so strong, that scarce any dared to resist their inclinations. In fact, for several years, the legal decisions have been entirely in their power; and their scandalous breaches of justice have been abundantly manifest. The city not only saw this, but, by their means, we were evilly reported among our neighbors, and among foreigners. Very many openly opposed them, as they were often vexed and torn to pieces by their atrocious improbabilities. If any one, however, who despised their power, exposed their crimes, they were prompt to take their revenge. They readily passed over whatever was said by their equals. By the continuance of these things, many contracted habits of servitude to their measures. All the edicts lay dead upon the records. No one who was favored by these men had any thing to fear from the laws, or from shame. The judges and the prefect of the city were unusually chosen entirely by their will. Their outrage was, however, at length carried to such an excess, that the people themselves, after having elected, by their suffrages, I know not what refuse, the very basest dregs, became alarmed at their own disgrace. This was confessed by all on the last year, that if the election had been given lip to the enemies of the city, they could not have called into office, from the mob itself, men more disgraceful, but now, as formerly, if the upper senate transgress their will, the council of two hundred are in the habit of bringing relief to their crimes and corruptions. For these men contrived to throw into this body many of the lowest characters; some of whom were turbulent and blustering young men, and others were base and dissolute in their manners. And lest their power should fail them, disregarding the order of the number, they forcibly introduced into the multitude, all those persons whom they supposed to be devoted to their interest. This licentiousness at length became so extensive, that certain persons obtruded themselves into the senate, without any election by that body. This was the faction who, seeing the judicatory of the church opposed to them, and their unbridled impunity in all crimes exposed, excited a contest with us concerning excommunication, that they might destroy the last remains of discipline. They desisted not from turning every thing upside down, till with great difficulty we obtained, that at least advice should be asked of the Helvetic churches, but as your answer destroyed the hopes and purposes of the wicked, our condition was, from that circumstance, a little more quiet. Still, however, they were watching for new opportunities, and having dismissed all shame, they attempted to break down all restraints.

    But, as it was troublesome to us to be in continual agitation, we ventured to importune them to determine something that might be depended upon as an established order of things. In this thing the Lord wonderfully frustrated their purposes. For in the promiscuous suffrages of the multitude, we had the majority. Soon after this, the assembly was held for the election of Syndics, at which a most unexpected change of public opinion appeared. At this time, the wicked became openly outrageous, for they saw themselves once more reduced to order. They now rashly undertook and attempted many things, to destroy the government. We were satisfied barely to restrain or defeat their exertions without tumult.

    But as it was no secret, that they were anxious, beyond measure, for a revolution, the senate determined to oppose the best defense against their licentious rage. Of the French, who had resided here for a long time, whose probity was well known, a number, perhaps about fifty, were admitted to the right of citizenship. The faction perceived how much stronger this addition would render the hands of the good. They determined, therefore, to leave no stone unturned, to defeat this counsel. The business was discussed among themselves in the streets, and the wine shops, and also in the houses of some individuals. When they had drawn over certain persons to their purpose, they began to rise not only in complaints, but in open threats. By secret collusion, the prefect of the city was induced, with a large but base and shameless train, to enter the council-room, and denounce the senate if they proceeded. A great part of this mob was made up of sailors, fishermen, kitchen servants, butchers, vagrants, and persons of such like condition; as if the city could not defend its rights without such patriots. The senate answered, in a dignified manner, that they had attempted no innovation; but had proceeded in the order sanctioned by the most ancient usage of the city; that it was an insufferable indignity, to endeavor to destroy the ancient customs, to force from the order of citizens those who had for a long time honorably dwelt among them, and finally, to attempt to wrest from the senate the authority which had, from the remotest antiquity, been committed to their hands. But as the senate thought best to proceed without violence, they offered pardon, for this time, to the public conspirators. They however severely reproved the prefect, for using his influence in behalf of so abandoned men, in so unjust a cause. The senate, at the same time, decreed to convoke the council of two hundred. When they were assembled, the authority of the upper senate war sanctioned; and it was determined, that they might henceforward admit as citizens such of the French residents as they should judge proper. But before the lower senate had decreed this last clause, the violent fury of these fellows burst forth in such a manner as to prove, that they were determined to cast themselves headlong, into all extremities, as in a desperate case. It was not the city was almost brought to a general slaughter, in a nocturnal tumult. The day before that on which it happened, a dinner, free of expense, was given to many of those unprincipled men. The leaders, however, feasted in a different place.

    Vandellius bore the expense of the dinner, and Perrin of the supper. Their runners were flying about in all directions. Many unfavorable omens were observed. The steady inhabitants were, not without cause, concerned for themselves. It is the custom in this city, after the watches are stationed at the gates, that the captain of the watch goes the round to examine the sentries. Each senator performs this office in his turn. The watch of this night being stationed in the center of the city, they heard an outcry at a small distance. In that quarter, behind the merchants’ shops, some one being struck with a stone, cried out that he was killed. The watch ran together instantly to discharge their duty. Two brothers encountered them, who were of the company of Perrin and Vandellius; men of the lowest class, being butchers, who had supped on free cost at the same table. From this circumstance it became evident, that this outcry was made by agreement, otherwise two men only would have dared to attack the watch who were armed. They both indeed confessed this to be the fact, to the judges, and to many others, and to me also in private. But yet, when they were taken to punishment, they denied that this outcry was made as the signal for a mob. They were however convicted, by so many proofs, that their impudence was of no avail. They did not at all deny, that on the same day, between the dinner and supper, they accompanied Perrin, of their own accord, to a neighboring village; that while they were on their way there, mention was made of five hundred armed men, who were to be called from some other place, to guard the city; that when the same subject was introduced at the afternoon’s repast, Perrin, when the mechanics came in, repressed the conversation, commanding silence, schwick, schwick, in German; and that as this village was without the jurisdiction of Geneva, he said that an asylum and support were there prepared for any who should commit any capital crime in the city.

    Upon the apprehension of those two men, (the tumult increasing) one of the Syndics, who lived near the place, appeared with lighted torches, and the staff which was the badge of his office. The reverence of this people was always so great for this sacred staff, that by its appearance the greatest mobs were dispersed, and when slaughter was threatened, the violence was restrained by its influence. One of these brothers, with a drawn sword, encountered the Syndic. The Syndic, relying on the badge of his authority, seized him, that he might commit him to prison. Many of the factious flew to his assistance. Every light was extinguished. They declared, that they would not suffer their good companion to be carried to prison. Perrin came at this moment. He at first dissembled attempts to pacify them, and seized the staff of the Syndic, whispering in his ear, it is mine and not yours. The Syndic, though a man of small stature, would not give it up, but struggled boldly, and with all his strength. While these things were going on, a clamor was raised in every direction, through all the streets of the city, as it would seem, in a moment; the French are in arms — the city is betrayed by treachery — the house of the senator, the prefect of the watch is filled with armed men. — It was thus these emissaries tumultuously assembled those whom they knew to be on their side, Perrin, as soon as he believed his band sufficiently strong, began to vociferate, the Synidical staff is ours — for I hold it. This was not answered by a single testimony of applause, although he was surrounded by the conspirators. Thus it is evident, that they were restrained by some providential influence. Confounded with shame, and equally terrified, Perrin by degrees recovered himself. But falling upon another Syndic, a kinsman of his by marriage, he forcibly seized his staff. He complained that the rights of the city were violated in the attack made upon him, and called for assistance. As the mob had the superiority in arms, no one raised a finger, or moved a step, at the Syndic’s complaint. But a certain reverence again prevented the vilest from applauding this act of Perrin. At length, forced by fear, he privately returned the staff. At this time, many of the conspirators were in arms. One voice resounded everywhere — the French must be killed — they have betrayed the city. But the Lord watched over these unhappy exiles, and so held them in sleep that they heard none of these horrid outcries; or so supported them that they did not fear the threatened danger. None of them left their houses. And thus, by the interposition of God, the purpose of the wicked was defeated, as no one offered himself to the combat. For they had determined, as was afterwards well known, if any attacked them, to defend themselves; that some being slain, they would proceed in battle array against others, as if the sedition had been raised by us. They not only threatened those who had taken up their residence here, but they exclaimed, that their patrons also should be slain, and that punishment should be inflicted upon the senate. In this affair, you may see the clemency of our senate, who, when the authors of this nefarious uproar were apprehended and convicted, not only spared their lives, but abstained even from moderate chastisements, so that they were not indeed corrected by whipping. The Syndics, having ordered the senate to be convoked, ran quickly from one part of the city to the other.

    The wicked, however, relying upon their multitude, not only to elude and despise their authority, but also to abuse them with insults, left very small hopes of a remedy. However, by divine interference, beyond all our expectations, the violence of the tempest began to moderate by degrees.

    The next day it was decreed, that inquiry should be made concerning the public violence. The Syndics took up three days in examining the witnesses. That no one should say, he was pressed to a false testimony, they assembled the council of two hundred; and while the testimonies were recited, the conspirators themselves sat among the judges. As it appeared that any one was concerned in the crime, or labored under unfavorable suspicions, he was ordered to leave the senate room, as he could not with integrity give his opinion. But Perrin, seeing his wickedness would be detected, with three others, made his escape by flight. The lower senate, justly exasperated at the indignity of this outrage upon good order, decreed that the crime of this conspiracy ought to be severely punished.

    They exhorted the upper senate, who have the power of passing sentence, strenuously to exact exemplary punishment. The fugitives were summoned by the principal sheriff, and then by a public crier, according to custom; and this was done by the sound of trumpet for fifteen days. By their letters, they declared that they would not appear, unless the public faith was pledged for their security. But it would have been very absurd, to absolve, by a law as privileged persons, those criminals who ought to defend their cause in chains. On the appointed day, five were condemned.

    But before the judges pronounced sentence, they recited, in a public assembly, the crimes of those whom they were obliged to hold convicted, since they refused, when summoned, to appear and defend their innocence upon trial. Then they produced the confession of those, who were punished, and who are still in prison. It is very evident, that they are too dangerous and too wicked, to be permitted to escape by any subterfuge.

    Yet they are shameless enough to persist in spreading opprobrious reports; that they are oppressed by unjust hatred; that they defended the rights of the city against the French; and that the senate was devoted to the French. As if the council of two hundred, by whose previous judgment they were sentenced, were not the people. As if they were driven from the city by force of arms. As if the people, believing them to be the patrons of their liberties, would quietly permit them to be oppressed with such severe injuries. But so true is it, on the other hand, that by their flight, all the tumults were composed; the cloudy and tempestuous atmosphere, which they had drawn over the city, was dispersed; the laws resumed their force, and tranquility was restored to the people. Those persons who came to entreat for them, at their request, saw most evidently, that the city was no longer divided by discord, nor disturbed by contentions; and that the punishment decreed against them was approved by the deliberate opinion of all. Possessed of the most consummate impudence, they not only extenuate the crime which they have admitted, but with futile cavils, boast that those crimes were made up out of nothing. It is by no means difficult to confute these assertions. They declare it is not probable, that when they had a large mob under their power, they should rush to arms without a strong guard. As if it was a rare and infrequent example, that the wicked are blinded, and thrown headlong by their madness. And certainly, whatever they may pretend, it was manifest madness that drove one in a back yard, to knock down a man with the stroke of a stone, from whence the outcry began. The same infatuation also induced the two brothers to make an attack upon the watch, who were armed with drawn swords.

    And, moreover, that they should petulantly condemn and mock the authority of the syndics, to disobey whom was always a capital crime, is an evident proof, not merely of sudden fury, but of audaciousness before conceived, and among themselves long determined upon. Whence originated this unanimous outcry among them all, that the city was betrayed by the French, unless they had conspired together for this very purpose? Unless they had, by special agreement, given out this watchword, how could it be that in the most distant parts of the city, this outcry, made up of nothing, should be joined in at the same moment? How came it to pass, that the wife of that same Vandellius ran to the doors of all those whom she supposed to be of their party, accusing the French of treason? But this is what one of Perrin’s followers confessed, who was more intimate with him than any one else, that those two leaders of sedition, four or five days before, conversed about it between themselves. “Why,” said Perrin, “do we remain idle, when we shall shortly be punished for our cowardice? It is now three years since the enemies have conspired together to effect our ruin. They placed me first on the list. We must, therefore, be hand in hand with them. A specious pretext is now offered us. We will say that it is not for the interest of the republic to grant to so many rights of citizenship. We shall obtain nothing from the upper senate or the two hundred. We will appeal to the people, Ad populum provocabimus. The multitude will unite with us against the will of the syndics. We will suborn the men of our party, to raise a tumult.

    There will be no difficulty in taking off our enemies; only let us be daring, and the victory is ours.” This intimate of Perrin, who is almost the very shadow of the man, repeated this testimony four times.

    Let those men deny that they were justly condemned, who proposed to butcher in the midst of the assembly of the people, and in the holy place, two of the syndics, some of the senators, and some of the most worthy and innocent of the citizens. I say nothing of myself, as they take it for granted that I am their enemy. What Pertin said, about my conspiring their ruin, is not worthy of an answer.

    The senate have not as yet pronounced sentence against Vandellius. But his guilty conscience has driven him from the city. From these facts it will be manifest, that in this great tumult, the same moderation has been regarded, as is usual in the most quiet state of affairs; and that nothing has been done against those wicked men, either artfully or without due consideration. If you were here, you would say, that our senate have proceeded with too much forbearance and remissness. But it is better to err on this side than on the other, lest any one absurdly complain, that it was cruel, and done in the heat of passion. God grant that the remembrance of so great a deliverance may awaken us to unremitting gratitude, and bind us with diligent assiduity to the duties of our office.

    When I began to write this letter, I had no expectation of its being carried by our brother Othoman. For although he had spoken of his journey, he was then uncertain whether he should go directly to Zurich, and I had determined to procure another messenger. It happens well, and affords me much pleasure, as he will be able to explain more fully any circumstance which I may have expressed with too much obscurity, from endeavoring to be concise. You have twice exhorted me to patience in my station; but I think I have borne very patiently so many indignities, and passed them in silence, that while I restrained my passions, I appeared to be wanting in resolution. I wish by my silence, and apparent indifference, I could have pacified those who do not cease to hate me, nor to rage against all our good citizens. But although they are the more enraged on account of my moderation, I am determined to pursue one steady course. I am happy to hear that N — has obtained an office in which he may be useful. May the Lord grant him grace to discharge its duties with faithfulness. Salute, in my name, your fellow ministers, your wife and family. Farewell, illustrious man and respected brother. May the Lord continue to direct you by his Spirit, and bless your labors. Yours,

    JOHN CALVIN.

    Geneva, June 15, 1555.

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