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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS OF PARIS IN 1534.


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    (SUMMER 1534.)

    CALVIN found Paris very different from what he had left it, when he had quitted it in such great haste eight months before. The times seemed favorable to the Gospel. The King of England, although remaining catholic at heart, had resolved to emancipate himself from the dominion of Rome: this event had created a great sensation throughout Europe, and men asked whether Francis I. would not imitate ‘his good brother.’ He did not seem far from it. At that time he was uniting with the protestant princes of Germany, he was restoring one of them to his states, and laying before the French clergy articles of faith drawn up by the author of the Confession of Augsburg. Calvin knew of these strange acts of the monarch, and it was partly this which had induced him to return to Paris. Francis I. was not the only person in France who felt new aspirations. There was in all classes a leaning towards a reformation. The learned called for liberty of thought, and desired to see the reign of the monks come to an end. Certain statesmen wished to deliver France from the enslaving influence of Rome, even while maintaining its catholicity. William du Bellay, the king’s most active minister, called Bucer the reformer, ‘an excellent professor of the best theology;’ and wrote to him: ‘Everything bids us be hopeful: the king’s taste for a better learning (that is, for the Holy Scriptures) increases day by day.’ Bucer himself, who was full of hope, communicated it to his friends: ‘The pope’s reign is falling very low in France,’ he wrote, ‘and many people long for Jesus Christ.’ The clergy became uneasy, and a Franciscan friar complained that ‘ the heresy of Luther having entered France, had already covered so much ground, as almost to call itself her mistress, even in Paris.’ Noblemen and men of letters, citizens, students, and many of the lower classes hailed the Reformation as the commencement of a new day. ‘All who have any sense,’ it was said, ‘whatever be their age or sex, when they hear the truth preached, forsake bigotry.’

    Such were the circumstances under which Calvin came to reside in Paris at the house of his friend La Forge, at the sign of the Pelican, in the Rue St. Martin. The pious tradesman and his wife received him with the most cordial hospitality, and fearing lest he should again expose a life so precious to the Church, they conjured him not to trust too much to what was said about the king’s disposition, and to beware of teaching in public, if he would not risk his life. The flame of persecution which appeared extinct, might break out again at any moment.

    One martyrdom, of which he was told all the particulars, was well calculated to enforce these rules of prudence. Calvin did not find in Paris that strong and decided christian, Pointer the surgeon, whom he had often seen at the meetings. The monks, whom this bold man had reprimanded so soundly for their immoralities, had raised a clamor against him; Leclere, the priest of St. Andre-des-Arts, had prosecuted him; he had been imprisoned in the Conciergerie and condemned to be burnt after being strangled. This was paying very dearly for the lessons of morality he had given the friars. Before the hour of execution, the gaoler had taken him into the prison chapel, and left him there with a monk before an image. The confessor began to exhort him: ‘Kneel down before the image and ask pardon for your sins.’ Seeing that his penitent remained motionless, he seized him by the neck to force him upon his knees. But Pointet, who was naturally of a ‘violent temper,’ thrust the monk back roughly, saying: ‘Satan, begone, and do not tempt me to turn idolater.’ The confused and exasperated confessor ran hastily out of the chapel, and going to the criminal chamber told the president and his two assessors what had passed, and begged them to come and bring the man to reason. ‘He is a madman, he is out of his senses,’ exclaimed the magistrates, as they accompanied the confessor. These three individuals, who had just condemned Pointet to be strangled, having repeated the invitation which the monk had given him, the prisoner, who was annoyed by this persecution, treated them as he had treated the monk; he called them ‘bloodthirsty wretches, murderers, robbers, who unjustly and against all reason put to death the children of God!’ The three judges, excited and terrified in their turn, hurried back to the court, and there, heated by passion, they increased the severity of the sentence, adding that Pointet should have his tongue cut out before anything else was done to him. Had not that tongue called them murderers? It was hoped that he would now show himself more tractable, but they were mistaken. The steadfast christian could not speak but he refused to make the least sign of recantation, and to bend his head before an image. The enemies of truth (as the chronicle styles them) seeing this, had recourse to a fresh aggravation of the sentence: they condemned him to be burnt alive, ‘which was done as cruelly as they could devise.’ This death produced a deep impression on the minds of the evangelical christians of Paris. Calvin, yielding to the representations of his friends, resolved to substitute ‘private admonitions’ for preaching at the assemblies, and began by visiting the humble christians whom he had heard spoken of at La Forge’s.

    In the street which lay between the two gates of the law courts there was a shoemaker’s shop. On entering it, no one was seen but a poor hunchback, ‘crippled in all his limbs, except the tongue and the arms. This paralytic creature was the shoemakers son, and by name Bartholomew. ‘Alas!’ said his father, Robert Milon, to those who expressed their compassion at the sight, ‘he was not always so; he was quite another person in his youth, endowed with excellent gifts both of body and mind.’ In fact, Bartholomew was once the handsomest man of the parish, very clever, and full of liveliness and imagination. He had abused these gifts; he had followed his impassioned disposition, and had launched into life, indulging in all the lusts of youth, in foolish amours and other kinds of irregularities with which young folks willingly defile themselves. Continually carried away by his impetuous temper, he equally courted pleasures and quarrels, he rushed into the midst of the strife as soon as any discussion arose, and displayed unparalleled temerity in all his disputes. He got up balls and concerts, despised the things of God, turned the priests into ridicule, and laughed at pious men. Everybody in the quarter talked about Berthelot (as he was called) and of his exploits; some with admiration, others with fear.

    All the young men looked up to him as their leader.

    One day, while giddily indulging in his ordinary diversions, he met with a fall and broke his ribs. As he would not apply any remedy, the mischief grew worse: the various parts of his body ‘died little by little,’ and he was entirely paralyzed. What a change in his life! Poor Bartholomew, who had been so proud of his beauty, now weak, broken-down, deprived of the use of his limbs, unable any more to associate with his friends, was obliged to keep in his father’s shop all day long. He was deeply distressed, not only by the severe pains he suffered, but by the sight of his deformity. Sitting near the window, he had no other amusement than to watch the passersby, and his temper being still the same, or rather soured by his misfortunes, he was not sparing of his sarcasms. One day, seeing one of the evangelicals passing before the shop, he began to insult him, and ‘to scoff at the terrible majesty of God.’ — ‘Halloa! Lutheran!’ he called out, adding all sorts of taunts. The christian stopped; he was touched when he saw the pitiful condition of the wretched individual who insulted him, and going up to him, said affectionately: ‘Poor man, why do you mock at the passers-by? I)o you not see that God has bent your body in this way in order to straighten your soul ?’ These simple words struck Milon: he had never thought that his soul was bent as well as his body. ‘Can it be true,’ he asked, ‘that God has made these misfortunes fall upon me, in order to reform his misguided creature?’ He lent an ear to the Lutheran, who spoke with him, and gave him a New Testament, saying: ‘Look at this book, and a few days hence you will tell me what you think of it.’

    Milon took the Gospel, opened it, and having begun, says the chronicler, ‘to taste the fruit of this reading, he continued at it night and day.’ This little volume was enough for him: he had no need of any teacher. The sword of the Word of God pierced to the bottom of his heart, and his past life terrified him. But the gospel consoled him: ‘It was to him like a loud trumpet sounding the praise of the grace of Christ.’ Milon found the Savior: ‘Mercy has been shown me,’ he said, ‘in order that the love of God which pardons the greatest sinners, should be placed as on a hill, and be seen by all the world.’ He had now a curb that restrained him, and prevented him from ‘indulging in abuse, quarrels, bicker-lugs, squabbles, and contentions.’ The wolf had become a lamb. Bartholomew imparted the riches he had found in the book of God to his father, to the other members of his family, and to all the customers who visited the shoemaker’s shop.

    There was not a room in Paris that offered a spectacle at once so interesting and so varied.

    Bartholomew’s christian charity became as inexhaustible as his worldly skill had once been fertile in inventing amusements, he devoted entirely to God the restless activity which he had lavished on the world. At certain hours of the day, the poor young man ‘unequalled in the art of writing,’ would collect the children of the neighborhood round his bed and dictate to them a few words of the Bible, teaching them how to form their letters properly. At other times he thought of the necessities of the poor, and labored diligently with his own hands: ‘etching with aquafortis on knives, daggers, and sword-blades,’ he executed many unusual things for the goldsmiths. He spent the proceeds of his labor in supporting several needy persons who possessed a knowledge of the Gospel. He had also a fine voice, and played on several instruments ‘with singular grace;’ accordingly, every morning and evening he consecrated to the praise of the Lord those gifts which he had formerly dedicated to pleasure, accompanying himself as he sang psalms and spiritual songs. People came from all quarters to this shop, which was situated in the center of Paris: some came ‘by reason of the excellent and rare things he did;’ others ‘visited him to hear his singing.’ A large number were attracted by the great and sudden change that had taken place in him. ‘If God has bestowed these gifts on me,’ said the poor paralytic, ‘it is to the end that His glory should be magnified in me.’ He meekly taught the humble to receive the Gospel, and if any hypocrites presented themselves, ‘he took them aside, and launched on them the thunderbolts of God.’ ‘In short,’ adds the chronicler, ‘his room was a true school of piety, day and night, re-echoing with the glory of the Lord.’

    At some distance from this spot, but near De la Forge’s, at the entrance of the Rue St. Denis, at the corner of the boulevard, was a large draper’s shop, the Black Horse, belonging to John du Bourg. This tradesman was a man of independent character, who liked to see, to understand, and to judge for himself: he had never frequented the schools or even had much conversation with the evangelicals, but for all that, says the chronicle, he had not been denied the wisdom from heaven. By means of the Holy Scriptures, which he read constantly, and in which he humbly sought the truth, he had received from God the knowledge of those ‘glad tidings which (as it was said) the wise can not obtain by their own wisdom.’

    Forthwith he had begun to spread it around him with an unwearying activity, which astonished his neighbors. ‘That ardor, which makes a great show at the beginning,’ said some of his relatives, ‘will soon end in smoke, like a fire of tow as the proverb says.’ They were mistaken; the Word had sunk into his heart, and taken such deep root there, that it could not be plucked out. The priests had intrigued, kinsfolk had clamored, and customers had deserted him, but ‘neither money nor kindred could ever turn him aside from the truth.’ While his old friends were growing distant, new ones were drawing near him. A receiver of Nantes, Peter Valeton by name, was often seen entering his shop. Like Du Bourg, he was ‘a man of sense and credit,’ but while the tradesman had been instructed in solitude by the Holy Ghost, the receiver had come to a knowledge of the Gospel ‘by means of some good people with whom he associated,’ and then the study of the New Testament had confirmed his faith. He did not stop here. Being in easy circumstances, and fond of books, he bought all the writings of the reformers he could procure. If there was one in any bookseller’s back shop, he would catch it up, pay for it instantly, hide it under his cloak, for fear the volume should be seen, and hurry home with it. On reaching his room, he would place it at the bottom of a large chest or trunk, the key of which he always carried with him. Then as soon as he had a spare moment, he would close his door, reopen the chest, take out the precious book, and read it eagerly. He listened if any person was coming, for though he was a faithful soul, he was still weak in the faith, and was afraid of the stake.

    All these pious men joyfully welcomed those who showed any love for the Gospel. There was sometimes present at their meetings a Picard gentleman, by name John le Comte, belonging to the household of the Amirale de Bonnivet, widow of the celebrated favorite of Francis I. He was born at Etaples in 1500, had attached himself to Lefevre, his fellowtownsman, followed him into Briconnet’s service, and only left him to enter Madame de Bonnivet’s family, as tutor to her three sons. Constantly attending the meetings of the little Church, he often spoke at them, and every one appreciated his knowledge of Scripture (he could read them in Hebrew), his sound theology, and his talent in expounding the truth. We shall meet with him again in Switzerland.

    Another rather singular person attracted the attention of the assembly by his dark complexion, his gloomy look, and mysterious air. He was a celebrated Italian, Giulio Camillo of Forli (in the States of the Church), philosopher, orator, poet, astrologer, philologist, and mythologist, of great skill in the cabalistic science, who pretended to hold intercourse with the elementary beings, and had labored forty years in constructing a machine in the form of a theater, full of little niches, in which he lodged all our faculties and many other things besides, and by means of which he pretended to teach all the sciences. Francis I. having invited him to Paris, Camillo exhibited to him, and explained, his wonderful machine, at which the king was delighted, and gave him 500 ducats. Although taciturn and dreamy, he courted the society of pious men. Paleario speaks of him in his letters, and he became intimate in Paris with Sturm, who willingly received into his house the learned of all countries. The latter was charmed to see a scholar, invited from Italy by the king, and of whom all the world was talking, inclining towards the Gospel; and one day, writing to Bucer, he said: ‘Camillo professes not only profound science but admirable piety also…. God often does something by means of men of this sort; who, when their will is equal to their means, become great patterns.’ Camillo knocked at the door and came in while Sturm was writing, Sturm showed him the letter, and the Italian wrote at the foot: ‘Would to God that my mind were in my hands, or that it could flow from my pen!… If you could see it you would certainly recognize it as your own.’ It would appear that Camillo was deceived. He was a man of original mind, desirous of learning everything new, including the Reformation; but there was some quackery ill him. If his famous machine did nothing for the progress of science, it advanced his fortunes, which was a compensation in his eyes. Calvin was less pleased with him than Sturm; the eagle eye of the reformer was not deceived. The Italian’s gloomy air seemed to hide some unbelief or heresy. ‘If spiritual joy reign not in our heart,’ he said, ‘the kingdom of God is not in us.’ Many other well-known persons visited the friends of the Gospel in Paris; among them were Des Fosset, afterwards lieutenant-general of Berry, Jacques Canaye, subsequently a famous advocate before the parliament, besides other lawyers, noblemen, royal servants, tradesmen, and professors. Persecution made them known, and we shall have to name many of them among the exiles and martyrs. Besides these adult laymen, a number of scholars or students was observed at the evangelical meetings. Among them was a boy of Melun, Jacques Amyot by name, ‘of very low origin,’ says Beza, picked up in the streets of Paris by a lady, Who, wishing to turn him to account, made him attend her sons to college and carry their books. Amyot, who was to be one of the most celebrated writers of the age, soon showed a wonderful aptitude for Greek literature; he had even learnt to know something of the Gospel. He was to change hereafter, to take orders, to forget what he had learnt, and even to become ‘a very wretched persecutor;’ but at this time he was considered to be a friend of the new doctrine.

    It was the common people, however, that were most numerous at these conventicles. One of them, Henry Poille, a poor bricklayer from a village, near Meaux, told a friend one day ‘that he had come to a knowledge of the truth in the school of Meaux, thanks to Bishop Briconnet. Alas!’ he added, ‘the bishop has been overcome since then by the enemies of the cross.’

    Even the most necessitous persons were active in good works. A poor woman named Catelle had turned schoolmistress out of love for children. ‘It would be too cruel a thing,’ she said, ‘to exclude those of tender age from God’s grace!’

    But of all these evangelical christians of Paris no one had more zeal than De la Forge. ‘He never spared his goods for the poor,’ says the chronicler. He had the Bible printed at his own expense, and along with the alms which he distributed he would always add a kind word, and often a Gospel or some other pious book.

    Calvin was not however equally pleased with everything in Paris. He willingly recognized the beauty of the city, but was terrified at seeing fearful abysses and (as he called them) ‘the depths of hell’ side by side with its magnificent palaces. He felt ‘extreme sadness’ at the sight. An immense movement was then being accomplished all over the world. As the sun of spring brings up the seed sown in the earth — the tares as well as the good seed — the sun of liberty that was beginning to shine quickened not only the germs of truth, but sometimes also those of error.

    Calvin’s soul was deeply grieved at this; but he did not stand still. He had received from God the call to oppose all false doctrines, and was pre paring to do so. This is one of the main features of his character. To the very last he combated the pride of those who wish to know everything; the rage for subtleties, mystical pretensions, immorality, unitarian doctrines, the deism which denies the supernatural, and the pantheistic and atheistic theories. In Paris he met with all these aberrations. His principal means of combating error was to put forward the truth; yet he thought it useful sometimes to have conversations and even conferences with his adversaries, of which we shall see some examples.

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