HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION - THE PLACARDS.
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CALVIN had hardly left Paris when the clouds gathered over the little church of the metropolis. ‘There was no year,’ says a chronicler of the sixteenth century, speaking of 1534, ‘when such great marvels happened in divers countries; but of all these marvels none is more worthy to be remembered than that which caused it to be named the year of the placards .’ The christians of Paris met together frequently in one another’s houses. ‘The Lord,’ said they, ‘commands His disciples to go forth and scatter the doctrine of salvation into all corners of the world.’ The hive was swarming, as it had recently done at Poitiers. Le Comte, whom we have mentioned, quitted his friends, and after many dangers reached Morat, to assist Farel in his evangelical work. Another Lutheran, whose journey was to be productive of disastrous results, followed the same road not long after.
There were, as we have seen, two distinct parties among the evangelical christians of France: the temporisers and the scripturists. They sometimes came in contact, and each of them resolutely defended their own views.
The temporisers looked to Margaret, to the king her brother, and to alliances with Henry VIII. and the Protestants of Germany. Knowing that Francis I. detested the monks, they hoped, with the help of Du Bellays, to give France a moderate reform, and desired to do nothing that might offend him. They waited.
As for the scripturists, that is to say, the evangelicals of the school of Calvin, diplomacy made them feel uneasy; the king’s protection annoyed them, and the idea of recognizing the bishops and the pope alarmed them.
As the two parties could not come to an understanding, they determined to send one of their number to Switzerland, in order to obtain the opinion of Farel and the other refugees. Should they wait or should they act? — such was the question they put. They selected for that consultation a simple, pious, intelligent Christian, by name Feret, who belonged to the royal pharmacy: he accepted the mission and departed. No one suspected at that time that this journey would lead to an explosion that would shake the capital, terrify France, and perhaps destroy the cause of the Reformation.
Feret proceeded to Switzerland. He had hardly crossed the Jura when a striking spectacle met his eyes. Everything was in commotion, as in a hive of bees. Farel, Viret, Saunier, Olivetan, Froment, Marcourt, Hollard, Le Comte, and others besides, coming from Dauphiny, Basle, Paris, Strasburg, or belonging to the country, were boldly preaching the evangelical doctrine everywhere. At Neufchatel all idolatry had been removed from public worship; and the same had been done at Aigle, and in its four mandemerits. Orbe, Grandson, and the Pays de Vaud were beginning to make up their minds; Geneva was tottering; the old Waldenses of Piedmont were holding out their hands to the new reformers.
In many places they were even ‘destroying the altars and breaking down the images,’ according to the command in Deuteronomy 7:5. What a contrast with the timid precautions of the christians of Paris! Feret was quite struck with it, and that alone was an answer.
He explained to the christians to whom he was accredited the very different state of things at Paris; he described the difficulties of France and the two parties that existed among the reformed, and asked for their advice. Farel and his friends held that a subject ought not to rise in rebellion against his lord, but if the king of France commanded anything forbidden by the King of heaven, it was necessary to obey him who was the master of the other. These decided christians rejected all those medleys of the Gospel and popery that Francis I., Margaret of Navarre, Du Bellay, and even Melanchthon (as it was said) desired. ‘These two (the Gospel and the pope) cannot exist together,’ they said, ‘any more than fire and water.’ The mass especially, that main point of the Romish doctrine, must, in their opinion, be abolished. If the papal hierarchy was the tree whose deadly shade killed the living seeds of the Word, the mass was its root. It must be plucked up, and thus prevented from stretching its fatal branches any longer over the wide field of christendom. The writing and posting of placards were proposed.
What indeed could be done? Oppression kept the boldest voices silent. It was necessary to draw up an energetic protest against error, and place it at the same moment, if possible, before the eyes of all France. Farel undertook the task; he could not write without making use of ‘his trenchant style and thundering eloquence.’ He reflected on the evils that afflicted his country. Indignation guided his daring pen; his style was uneven, harsh perhaps, but masculine, nervous, and full of fire. At length the evangelical protest was written, and Farel laid it before his brethren, who accepted it, believing that it would be like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces. The document was taken to the printer’s, and came out in two forms: in placards to be posted up against the walls, and little tracts that were to be dropped in the streets. The sheets were packed up and intrusted to the care of Feret, who departed with the precious bales containing ‘the thunderbolt forged on Farel’s anvil.’ No one stopped him at the frontier; he traversed Franche-Comte, Burgundy, and Champagne without difficulty, and arrived in Paris.
Those energetic words, written at the foot of the Jura, seemed strangely bold when they were read under the walls of the Sorbonne, and at the gates of the Louvre. That brave and pious minister, Courault, came forward in the meeting as the organ of the ‘men of judgment,’ as they were afterwards called. ‘Let us beware of posting up these placards,’ he said; ‘we shall only inflame the rage of our adversaries thereby, and increase the dispersion of believers.’ But on the other hand, those who were alarmed at the steps taken by Francis I. to unite the pope and the Gospel were delighted. ‘Let us be cautious of so squaring our prudence,’ they said, ‘that it does not make us act like cowards. If we look timidly from one side to the other to see how far we can go without exposing our lives, we shall forsake Jesus Christ.’ In their view it was of importance to confess the Lord in the sight of France, and in order to do so, they were ready, like the martyrs of old, to encounter death. Many of the opposite party gave way, and the publication of the placard was resolved on. These sincere christians were so firmly convinced of the divinity of their doctrine, and so full of faith, that they expected an intervention from God — not a miraculous one indeed, but an extraordinary one — ‘a rushing mighty wind from heaven,’ and ‘cloven tongues like as of fire,’ which should kindle all hearts. They thought that God would by this declaration open to France the gate of His spiritual treasures.
The consultation continued. Where should they circulate this paper? asked some. ‘All over Paris,’ was the reply: — ‘All over France,’ answered others. They were not unknown individuals who deliberated thus: the wealthy tradesman, Du Bourg, and his friends were there, and if Bartholomew Milon could not act, at least he gave advice which was to cost him dear. The warmest friends of the Reformation shared the work between them: each man had his district, his province. ‘They portioned out the kingdom in order to do the same in every city ,’ says the catholic Fontaine; and the night of the 24th of October was appointed for this daring enterprise. The placards were divided among those who were to post them up or to distribute them. Knowing that unless God made the truth enter into the heart, they would do nothing but beat the air in vain , these pious men exhorted one another to ‘pray to God. with fervent zeal.’ Then every man returned home, carrying with him a bundle of placards and a parcel of tracts.
When the night came, the selected men left their houses, carrying the printed sheets in their hands; and each one did his duty in his quarter, silently and mysteriously. The fervent christian who thus hazarded his life, took, however, certain precautions; he listened to, hear if any one were coming, hastily stuck the bill on the wall, and then glided noiselessly away to some other place, where he posted up another. In a short time the streets, market-places, and cross-ways were covered with the evangelical proclamation, some being fixed even on the walls of the Louvre. As the day appeared, most of these daring men returned home; but others hid themselves and from a distance watched to see what would happen.
A few persons began to come out of doors; they went up to the large handbills and stopped to examine them. Gradually a crowd was formed, some friars approached: hundreds of persons of every class collected round the strange placards. They were read aloud, remarks were made upon them, and the most diverse sentiments were expressed; many persons gave vent to indignation and threats; some approved, the greater part were astounded. The crowd was particularly large in the streets of St. Denis and St. Honore, in the Place Royale, in the city, at the gates of the churches, and of the Sorbonne and the Louvre. Let us read this terrible handbill, as it was read in the streets of the capital. The public of our age will find it too severe and possibly too long, and we must abridge it a little; but the men of the sixteenth century read it to the end, and notwithstanding its defects, its action was powerful. Like the shock of an earthquake, it made all France tremble. It began with a solemn invocation: — TRUTHFUL ARTICLES CONCERNING THE HORRIBLE, GREAT, AND UNBEARABLE ABUSES OF THE POPISH MASS, INVENTED DIRECTLY AGAINST THE HOLY SUPPER OF OUR LORD, THE ONLY MEDIATOR AND ONLY SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. ‘I invoke heaven and earth in witness of the truth against that proud and pompous popish mass, for the world (if God does not apply a remedy) is and will be by it totally desolated, ruined, lost, and undone; seeing that in it our Lord is outrageously blasphemed, and the people blinded and led astray. Which ought not to be borne any longer. ‘In the first place, every believing christian ought to be very certain that our Lord and only Savior, Jesus Christ, the great bishop and pastor ordained of God, has given His body and soul, His life and blood for our sanctification, by a perfect sacrifice. To renounce this sacrifice as if it were insufficient, to replace it by a visible sacrifice, namely, the mass, as if Christ had not fully satisfied for us the justice of His Father, and as if He were not the Savior and Mediator, would be a terrible and damnable heresy. ‘The world has been, and in many places still is, filled with wretched high-priests, who, as if they were our redeemers, set themselves in Christ’s place, and pretend to offer an acceptable sacrifice to God for the salvation both of the living and the dead: do not these people make the apostles and evangelists liars, and do they not even believe themselves, since they chant every Sunday at vespers that Jesus Christ is a priest for ever ?… ‘Yes, by the great and admirable sacrifice of Jesus Christ all outward and visible sacrifice is abolished. Christ, says the Epistle to the Hebrews (which I entreat everybody to read diligently), was offered once for all. — By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Christ offered once and not often… If the sacrifice is perfect, why should it be repeated?… Come forward then, ye priests, and answer if ye can! ‘That is not all. By this unhappy mass the whole world has been plunged into a common idolatry. Are we not given to understand falsely that under the forms of bread and wine Jesus Christ is corporeally, really, and personally contained, in flesh and bone, as long, broad, and entire as when He was alive?… And yet Holy Scripture and our faith teaches us the contrary, that Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, ascended into heaven. St. Paul writes to the Colossians, Seek those things which are above, where CHRIST SITTETH ON THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD. Listen: St. Paul does not say:
Seek Christ who is in the mass, or in the sanctuary, or in the box, or in the cupboard. He says: Seek Christ who is in heaven. If the body is in heaven, it is not on earth; and if it is on earth, it is not in heaven. A real body can never bc in more than one place at a time, where it occupies a certain space of a certain size. It is impossible for a man twenty or thirty years old to be hidden in a bit of dough like their wafer. ‘Augustin knew this well when he wrote: “Until the world comes to an end, the Lord is on high ; but His divinity is everywhere.” And so did Fulgentius, when he wrote: “The Lord was absent from heaven, according to his human nature, when he was on earth; and he left the earth when he ascended to heaven. But as for the divine nature, it never quitted heaven when he came down to earth, and did not leave the earth when he ascended to heaven.” ‘When any one of us says: Lo, here is Christ, or there! the priests say: We must believe him. But Christ says: Believe it not. At the moment of the communion they chant Sursum corda, Lift your hearts on high; but they do the contrary, and exhort us to seek Christ not on high, but in their hands, in their boxes, and in their cupboards. ‘Nay, further, these blind priests, adding error to error, teach in their madness, that after they have breathed upon or spoken over the bread, which they take between their fingers, and also over the wine that they put in the chalice, there remains neither bread nor wine, but that Jesus Christ is there alone by transubstantiation… Big and monstrous words… doctrine of devils, opposed to all Scripture. I ask these cope-wearers, Where did they find that big word TRANSUBSTANTIATION?… St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. John, St. Paul, and the old Fathers never spoke of it. When they made mention of the Lord’s Supper, those holy writers openly and simply called the bread and wine, bread and wine. St. Paul does not say: Eat the body of Jesus Christ; but: Eat this bread. Ah!
Scripture employs no deception, and there is no pretense in it. The bread is therefore bread. ‘Presumptuous enemies of the Word of God, shameless heretics, they are not satisfied with pretending to enclose the body of Jesus Christ in their wafer; but see into what absurdities their superstition leads them. They are not ashamed to say that the body of Jesus Christ may be eaten by rats, spiders, and vermin… Yes, there it is printed in red letters in their missals, in the twentysecond Item, beginning thus: If the body of the Lord be eaten by mice and spiders, be reduced to nothing, or be very much gnawed, or if the maggot is found whole inside… let it be burned and placed in the reliquary! ‘O earth! why openest thou not to swallow up these horrible blasphemers? O hateful men! Is that gnawed body really the body of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?… Would the Lord suffer Himself to be eaten by mice and spiders? He who is the bread of angels and of all the children of God, has been given us to feed vermin? Him, who is incorruptible, at the right hand of God, will you make liable to worms and rottenness? Did not David write the contrary, prophesying his own resurrection?… Wretches! were there no other evil in all your infernal theology than the irreverence with which you speak of the precious body of Jesus, are you not blasphemers and heretics?… yea, the greatest and most enormous the world has ever seen. ‘Kindle, yes, kindle your faggots, but let it be to burn and roast yourselves… Why should you kindle them for us? Because we will not believe in your idols, in your new Gods, in your new Christs, who let themselves be eaten by vermin, and in you also, who are worse than vermin. ‘What means all these games you play round your God of dough, toying with him like a cat with a mouse? You break him into three pieces… and then you put on a piteous look as if you were very sorrowful; you beat your breasts… you call him the Lamb of God, and pray to him for peace. St. John showed Jesus Christ ever present, ever living, living all in one — an adorable truth! but you show your wafer divided into pieces, and then you eat it, calling for something to drink… What would any man say who had never witnessed such monkey tricks?… Did St. Paul or St. John ever eat Christ in that manner? and would they acknowledge such mountebanks as the servants of God? ‘Finally the practice of your mass is very contrary to the practice of the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ!… Certainly, there is no marvel in that, for there is nothing common between Christ and Belial. ‘The Holy Supper of Jesus Christ reminds us of the great love with which He loved us so that He washed us in His blood. It presents to us on the part of the Lord the body and blood of His Son, in order that we should communicate in the sacrifice of His death, and that Jesus should be our everlasting food. It calls us to make protest of our faith, and of the certain confidence we have of being saved, Jesus having ransomed us. By giving to all of us only one bread it reminds us of the charity in which we, being all of the same spirit, ought to live, That Holy Supper, being thus fully understood, rejoices the believer’s soul, in all humility, and imparts to him all gentle kindness and loving charity. ‘But the fruit of the mass is very. different. By it the preaching of the Gospel is prevented. The time is occupied with bell-ringing, howling, chanting, empty ceremonies, candles, incense, disguises, and all manner of conjuration. And the poor world, looked upon as a lamb or as sheep, is miserably deceived, cajoled, led astray — what do I say? bitten, gnawed, and devoured as if by ravening wolves. ‘By means of this mass they have laid hands on everything, destroyed everything, swallowed up everything. By its means they have disinherited princes and kings, lords and shopkeepers, and all whom we could name, dead or alive… O false witnesses, traitors, robbers of the honor of God, and more hateful than the devils themselves! ‘In short, the truth chases them, the truth alarms them, and by truth shall their reign shortly be destroyed for ever.’
Such was the proclamation posted up in Paris and all over France. We trace in it, we must confess, the coarseness of the language of the sixteenth century, and especially in a passage which must have greatly stirred the anger of the clergy, where the placard, in speaking of the pope and cardinals, priests and monks, calls them false prophets, wolves, seducers, and gives them other names besides, which are rarely employed in our days except in the bulls of the Roman pontiffs. We discover in this writing the antipapistical spirit in all its unreflecting force. Certainly, when it says that the true Supper of Christ ‘rejoices the believer’s soul, and imparts to him all gentle kindness and loving charity,’ we taste the savor often Gospel; but, generally speaking, this manifesto is an engine of war with a brazen head. If we transport ourselves to the early days of the Reformation, we can understand that it was necessary to employ vigorous battering-rams to beat down the old and apparently unshakeable walls of popery. Every line in this placard reveals to us the warm-hearted, but also impetuous and eloquent Farel, frank, decisive, intrepid among men, who had the admirable heart of the knight without reproach, with his thirst for danger, and was the Bayard of the battles of God.’ The work resembles the workman.
While conceding something to the times in which the placard was written and posted up, we may ask whether that act proceeded solely from a movement of the mind free from every tinge of human passion, and was one of the arms that the apostles would have employed. In any case it seems to us certain that more moderate language would really have been stronger, and more surely have attained its end. This is what the event will show.