STRUGGLES, political or religious, are the normal state of society and the life of history. Their necessity in a christian point of view is established by the highest of authorities: I am not come to bring peace upon earth but the sword, said the Savior of men; and one of his disciples sixteen centuries later, developing his master’s words, added: ‘As the greater part of the world is hostile to the gospel, we can not confess Christ without encountering opposition and hatred.’ This thought would be saddening indeed, did not experience and Scripture teach us that opposition is often a means of development; that the gifts of God to man easily perish if nothing revives them; that contradiction, resistance, and trial (thanks to the care of divine providence) tend to civilize nations, and preserve to Christianity the truth, morality, and life it has received from on high.
Whence proceeds this moral influence of contradiction? A principle never evolves all that it contains, says a school, except by coming in collision with a contrary principle. In effect, the blow which a soldier receives on the battle-field adds to his valor. The inflexible obstinacy of Rome in upholding all abuses, excited Luther to display with more energy the great principles of the Reformation. And at Geneva, it was because the huguenots had to contend perpetually against a mean despotism in the state, and an incorrigible corruption in the Church, that their souls groaned after liberty and a better religion.
Yet contradiction is not all that is necessary: there must be reconciliation afterwards. The two-fold opposition of the huguenots (high-minded as it was) against civil and religious despotism, would have been ruined by its excess and would have ruined Geneva, if it had not been moderated afterwards. It was not good for the state that ‘no one was willing to obey,’ It was not good for religion that opposition to popery should consist in walking about the churches during mass. Modern times needed, from their very cradle, authority in the bosom of a free people, and pure doctrine in the bosom of a living Church. God gave both to Geneva, and he did so essentially through the Reformation.
Care must be taken, however, that we go not too far in the way of accommodation. The Reformation must make no concessions to popery.
Whenever it has gone down that easy incline, it has left its calm heights and fallen among quagmires which have endangered its purity and existence.
But that was the conciliation which had to be carried out in those times, and which ought still to be attempted in the Christendom of our times.
Between negative protestantism and Roman-catholicism there is a middle path. On the one hand the gospel ought to supply this: negative protestantism with what is deficient in it, and on the other hand to take away from Romanism whatever is erroneous in it. The huguenots, in part at least, were transformed in the city of Calvin by the great principles of the Reformation. It was by the potent virtue of the gospel that this little city, which had been only an Alpine burgh, was so marvelously metamorphosed and became in Europe the capital of a great opinion.
One circumstance, however, tended to compromise its future. The Reform triumphed, but not without losing strength, for the sword struck foul in the struggle. ‘If a man strive for mastery, he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.’ Calvin understood better than the other reformers the spirituality and independence of the Church; and yet giving away to the general weakness, he had recourse to the secular arm to maintain discipline, and was unable to prevent the death of Servetus. That fatal stake did more injury to truth than to falsehood. From that hour, the doctrine lost its power, a stain soiled its flag, and error seized the advantage of slipping into the ranks of those who were summoned to combat her. Eminent minds were seen abandoning the doctrines of the Reformation, chiefly on account of the civil intolerance by which they were defended. And thus a more or less culpable stagnation followed the powerful activity and furious battles of the primitive days of the Reformation. There were no more combats round the expiatory cross, the eternal Word, the fall, grace, and regeneration. No more struggles, and therefore no more life. The Christian fortress that Calvin had erected having been assailed for two centuries, shaken and dismantled, was on the point of being razed to the ground; when fortunately the struggles, entirely spiritual struggles, began again, and religion was saved by them. When God, after ploughing Europe in the early part of this century with the terrible share of a conqueror, awoke it from its long sleep, he remembered Geneva, and revived there as in other places doctrine and life. That city and all Christendom are now challenged again to the old struggles, and also to new ones, in which faith shall triumph over absolute thoroughgoing negations, which not only deprive man of the grace and adoption of the children of God, but deny also the immateriality and immortality of the soul.
We shall not begin with the struggles of the Reformation in Geneva, but with those which were fought in a country beautifully situated between the lakes and the mountains, — the Pays de Vaud. The country was not large, its cities were not populous, and the names of the men who struggled there do not occupy an important place in the annals of nations.
Let us not forget, however, that there are two kinds of history: the stage of one is a brilliant circle, of the other a humble sphere. The actors in the former are great personages, in the latter men of low esteem in their own day. But is not the least sometimes the greatest of these two kinds of history? Are not events of small dimensions geometrically similar to great ones? Have they not often a deeper moral significance and a wider practical influence? With truth it may be said of the struggles of Vaud and Geneva: Magnam causam in parvum locum concludi, a great cause is here confined within narrow limits. The scenes, so modest and obscure, so full of decision and life, which this history presents, have probably done more to found the kingdom of truth and liberty, than the disputes and wars of powerful potentates. Such a thought as this has been expressed, even in Paris. A contemporary writer, after tracing in his history of the sixteenth century an outline of the portentous future threatened by the intrigues of the papacy, regains his courage with the words: Europe was saved by Geneva. All the reformers have been men of strength; but while Luther and Calvin have particularly contended for the principles and doctrine of the Reformation, others, like Knox and Farel, applying themselves to the practice, have specially undertaken to win certain countries or cities to the gospel. The men of God, in all ages, have done both these things; but not one of them has combined the two, like St. Paul. There were two men in that apostle, the doctor and the evangelist. Calvin was the great doctor of the sixteenth century, and Farel the great evangelist: the latter is one of the most remarkable figures in the Reformation.
A catholic in his youth, fanatic in abstinence and maceration, Farel had embraced salvation through grace with all the living ardor or; his soul, and from that hour everything appeared to him under a new face. His desire to enlighten his contemporaries was intense, his heart intrepid, his zeal indefatigable, and his ambition for God’s glory without bounds. A difficulty never stopped him; a reverse never discouraged him; a sacrifice, even were it that of his life, never alarmed him. He was not a great writer; in his works we meet occasionally with disorder and prolixity; but when he spoke he was almost without an equal. The energetic language which transported his hearers had been derived from the writings of the prophets and apostles; his doctrine was sound, his proofs strong, his expressions significative. Poets are made by nature, orators by art, but preachers by the grace of God; and Farel had the riches of nature, of art, and of grace. He never stopped to discuss idle or frivolous questions, but aimed straight at the conscience, and exhibited before those who listened to him the treasures of wisdom, salvation, and life that are found in the Redeemer.
Full of love for truth and hatred for falsehood, he inveighed energetically against all human inventions. In his eyes the traditions of popery were a gulf in which horrible darkness reigned, and hence he labored to extricate souls from it and plant them in the soil of God’s Word. His manly eloquence, his lively apostrophes, his bold remonstrances, his noble images, his action flank, expressive, and sometimes threatening, his voice that was often like thunder (as Beza tells us), and his fervent prayers, carried away his hearers. His sermon was not a dissertation but an action, quite as much as a battle is. Every time he went into the pulpit, it was to do a work. Like a valiant soldier he was always in front of the column to begin the attack, and never refused battle. Sometimes the boldness of his speech carried by storm the fortress he attacked; sometimes he captivated souls by the divine grace he offered them. He preached in market-places and in churches, he announced Jesus Christ in the homes of the poor and in the councils of nations. His life was a series of battles and victories.
Every time he went forth, it was conquering and to conquer. It is very true, as we have said, that the cities where he preached were not large capitals; but Derbe, Lystra, and Berea, where St. Paul preached, were little towns like Orbe, Neuchatel, and Geneva. Most assuredly the Acts of the Reformation are not the Acts of the Apostles; there is all the difference between them which exists between the foundation of Christianity and its reformation; but notwithstanding the inferiority of the sixteenth century, the labors of the reformers have a claim upon the interest of all those who love to contemplate the humble origin of the new destinies of mankind. Is there, after the establishment of Christianity, anything greater than its Reformation? Have not those weak movements which began in the petty spheres in which Farel and Calvin lived, gone on widening from age to age?
Are they not the origin of that new religious transformation which, notwithstanding the declamations and the triumphant cries of unbelievers, is now going on in every nation of the earth? The source of the Rhone is but a thread of water which would pass unnoticed elsewhere; but the traveler who stands at the foot of the huge glaciers which separate the mountains of the Furka and the Grimsel, cannot look unmoved at that little stream, which, issuing, imperceptibly from the earth, is to become a mighty river. The thought of what it is to be inspires the friend of nature and of history in this sublime solitude with emotions more profound than those excited by its copious and monotonous waters at Lyons, Beaucaire, or Avignon. It is for this reason we dwell longer upon the origin of the Reformation.
A general who desires to capture an important city, first makes sure of his position and occupies the surrounding country: and so Farel, desirous of winning Geneva to the gospel, first set about enlightening the neighboring people. His operations were not strategic certainly; he thought only of converting souls; and yet his labors in the Vaudois towns and villages admirably prepared the way for his successes among the huguenots. We have already seen what he did at Aigle, Neuchatel, and elsewhere; we must now follow him into other parts of that picturesque country, enclosed between the pointed citadels of the Alps and the undulating lines of the Jura, whose waters flow — some by the lake of Neuchatel, the Aar and the Rhine to the North Sea, others by the lake of Geneva and the Rhone to the Mediterranean: a symbol of the spiritual waters which, issuing from the same hills, were soon to bear light and life to the peoples of the north and of the south.
Farel was inactive (a singular thing!) at the moment when we are going to see him prepare betimes for the conquest of Geneva. Wounded near Neuchatel by a riotous crowd, he had been placed in a boat, and carried across the lake to Morat, as we have said in a former work. His friends in that town had welcomed him with emotion, and kept watch around his bed. Condemned to repose, ‘shivering with cold, spitting blood,’ and scarcely able to speak, he was communing in silence with his God when he saw a young Dauphinese of good appearance, Christopher Fabri by name, enter his room. This Frenchman, of whom we have already spoken, had studied medicine at Montpelier, and there received the first rays of the gospel. Having started for Paris, in order to complete his studies in that city, he met with some friends of the truth at Lyons, who told him of all that was going on at Neuchatel and its vicinity. Fabri was greatly moved, and being a man of lively, prompt, and decided character, he suddenly changed his route, calling, and life, and instead of going on to Paris turned his steps to Geneva, and thence to Morat.
On arriving at that town, the student enquired after Farel, and on presenting himself at the house, was admitted into the room where the reformer was lying. Modestly approaching the bed, he said to him: ‘I have forsaken everything, family, prospects, and country, to fight at your side, Master William. Here I am; do with me what seems good to you.’ Farel looked at him kindly, and ere long appreciated the young man’s lively affection and boundless devotion. He saw that they both had the same faith, the same Savior. As he was unmarried, he looked upon Fabri as a son whom God had sent him, and henceforward had frequent christian conversations with him, in which he sought to train him for the ministry of the gospel. Farel would have liked to keep him always at his side; but he loved Jesus Christ more than the tenderest son is beloved; and accordingly, after a short but delightful intercourse he asked the converted Dauphinese to go and preach the gospel at Neuchatel. Fabri, who had not expected so early a separation, exclaimed with tears: ‘O master, my sorrow is greater to-day than when I left father and mother, so sweet have been my conversations with you.’ He obeyed, however.
Farel was never content with sending others to battle; he burned to return to it in person, and to lead to the heavenly King, whose servant he was, all the population which, enclosed between the Alps and the Jura, spoke the language of his country. He thought that if the intelligent people placed at the gates of France were won over to the divine Word, they would become a focus to cast the light of the gospel into that kingdom, and an asylum where the Christians persecuted by Francis I. might find a refuge.
A town lying at the foot of the lower slopes of the Jura attracted his thoughts during his solitary hours at Morat: this was Orbe. The ancient city of Urba, built, it is said, in the same century as Rome, was situated on the Roman way that led from Italy to Gaul. Being rebuilt later some little distance off, the kings of the first race of France, as the people of Orbe boasted, had taken up their residence there, as if, immediately after crossing the Jura, they had exclaimed at the ravishing prospect of the Alps: ‘It is enough! we will stop here,’ A torrent issuing from the lakes that are found in the high Jurassic valleys plunges into the gigantic clifts of the mountain, and after pursuing a subterranean and mysterious career, reappears on the other slope, towards the plain, whence descending from one fall to another, it gracefully sweeps round the beautiful hills on which the town of Orbe is situated, surrounded with vineyards, gardens, and orchards, ‘with all kinds of plants and good things.’ A dealer in indulgences, attracted by this wealth, was just at this time noisily selling his pardons for every offense. Farel, still detained at Morat, hearing the sound of his drum, as Luther says, made an effort to walk: he left the latter town, and proceeded to Orbe. On the next market-day, being determined to resist the new Tetzel, he quitted his inn and went to the market-place, where he found the indulgence-seller offering his wares with much shouting. The monk, whose eye was always on the watch, soon noticed in the middle of the crowd a little man with a red beard and piercing eyes who caused him some uneasiness. Farel, approaching slowly, took his place quietly before the stall and said to the quack, just as an ordinary purchaser would have done, but with concentrated anger: ‘Have you indulgences for a person who has killed his father and mother?’
Without waiting for an answer, and wishing to undeceive the superstitious crowd, he boldly stept on the basin of the public fountain; and began to preach as if he were in the pulpit. The astonished market-people left the monk and gathered round the new orator, whose sonorous voice entreated the multitude to ask pardon of the Savior instead of buying indulgences from the monk. As the priests and the devout were exceedingly irritated at both preaching and preacher, Farel could not remain at Orbe; but a few drops of living water had gushed forth, and some souls had had their thirst quenched by them. A tradesman, Christopher Holland by name, and one Mark Roman, a schoolmaster, were converted to the gospel at this time.
The whole town was in commotion, and the sisters of St. Clair, as bigoted as those of Geneva, entreated their confessor to preach against heresy.
Such a request had great weight and must be attended to, for these sisters were held in great consideration. Phillippina of Chalons, Louisa of Savoy, recently canonized at Rome, and Yoland, grand-daughter of St. Louis, had assumed the veil in this convent. The struggle might take place more freely in Orbe than in many other Vaudois towns. The Sires of Chateau-Guyon, who possessed the lordship at the time of the war between Switzerland and Burgundy, having taken the part of Charles the Bold, had been deprived of their possessions by the League, and the suzerainty adjudged in 1476 to the cantons of Berne and Friburg. The municipal magistrates, chosen from the principal burgesses or nobles of the city, were good catholics; but the superior authority belonged to a bailiff, living at Echallens, and who was by turns a Friburger or a Bernese. Now Berne was zealous for the Reform. The friar-confessor, full of confidence in himself, smiled at the flattering request the nuns of St. Claire had made him, and having no mistrust of his eloquence, he said to the banneret, the Sire de Pierrefleur: ‘I shall create these Lutherans anew in the faith, as they were before.’ Noble de Pierrefleur, a fervent catholic but a man of good sense, who knew the firmness of the reformers and saw Berne in the background, did not believe that the new creation, with which the monk flattered himself, was such an easy thing, and answered: ‘I am far from your opinion, father, for such people have more obstinacy than knowledge, and great is the folly of those who desire to remonstrate with them.’ Michael Juliani (for that was the friar’s name) was not to be stopped by this opinion, and he gave notice of his sermons against the Reform, which were talked about all over the city. The bells rang; priests, monks, and devotees filled the church, and even those suspected of Lutheranism attended. The orator was filled with joy at the sight of the unusual crowd, and his head was turned. Had not his patron saint, the archangel Michael, armed with a golden spear, trampled Satan under his feet; and should he not gain a similar victory? Losing all moderation, he began to extol in the most pompous terms Rome, the priesthood, celibacy, and to attack the reformers with violence and abuse. Five or six Lutherans were noticed in the church, pen in hand, writing down all the father said on a piece of paper which they held on their knees. When the sermon was over, the offended bailiff of Diesbach, the grand banneret, and other notables, displeased with the presumptuous discourse, accosted the friar and begged him to desist from abusive language and to preach simply the doctrines of the Church. But in the eyes of certain devout folks, the greater Michael’s abuse, the greater his eloquence.
The confessor, delighted at his success, and thinking, as they did in many convents, that knowledge is a sign of the children of the devil (Farel had studied at the university of Paris), and ignorance that of the children of God, went into the pulpit again on the 25th March, and took for his text: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Sirs,’ he exclaimed, ‘the poor in spirit here referred to are the priests and friars.
They have not much learning, I confess, but they have what is better: they are mediators between man and God, worshipers of the Virgin Mary, who is the treasure-house of all graces, and friends of the saints who cure all diseases... What then can those want who listen to them? But who are the people who say they are justified by faith? who are they who throw down the crosses on our roads and in our chapels?... Enemies of Christ. What are those priests, monks, and nuns who renounce their vows in order to marry? — Unclean, impure, infamous, abominable apostates before men, and before God. The friar was continuing in this strain, when suddenly a loud noise was heard in the church. The evangelicals present had been excited at the very commencement of the discourse; at first they had restrained themselves, and then whispered to each other; but when the monk began to insult those who thought (as the Bible says) that marriage is honorable to all men, one of them, unable to contain himself, stood up and before the whole assembly repeated twice and with sonorous voice, the words: ‘You lie!’... The orator stopped in amazement, and everybody turned toward the quarter whence these words proceeded. They saw a man of middle age standing there greatly agitated. It was Christopher Hollard, who had been converted by Farel’s first sermon, and who combined an honest heart with a violent character. His brother, John Hollard, the late dean of Friburg, had embraced the Reformation and married; Christopher, fancying the monk was reflecting on his brother, had hastened to protest, rather coarsely, it must be acknowledged, but with the frankness of an honest heart, which sees the commandment of God blasphemed.
This exclamation had hardly resounded through the church, when a great uproar, caused by the people, drowned the Lutheran’s voice. The men who were present would have rushed from their places upon the disturber; but the women who filled the nave were before them. ‘All with one accord fell upon the said Christopher, tore out his beard and beat him; they scratched his face with their nails and otherwise, so that if they had been let alone, he would never have gone out of the said church, which would have been a great benefit for poor catholics.’ Thus spoke the grand banneret, who had lost, as it would seem, a little of the moderation he had shown on other occasions. The castellan, Anthony Agasse, was not of his opinion; he wanted the culprits, if there were any, to be punished by the law and not by the populace; and rushing into the midst of this savage scene, he rescued Hollard from the hands of the furies, and threw him into a dungeon to avoid a greater scandal.’