(1526 TO OCTOBER 1532.)
ON Friday, 12th July, Farel came from Morat to Grandson, where a quiet conference was to be held. Four disciples of the Gospel begged to receive the imposition of hands. Farel and his colleagues examined them, and, finding them fitted for the evangelical work, sent them to announce the Gospel in the neighboring villages of Gy, Fy, Montagny, Noville, Bonvillars, St. Maurice, Champagne, and Concise. But the conference was to be occupied with more important business.
For two or three years past a strange report had circulated among the infant churches that were forming between the Alps and the Jura. They heard talk of christians who belonged to the Reformation without having ever been reformed. It was said that in some of the remote valleys of the Alps of Piedmont and Dauphiny, and in certain parts of Calabria, Apulia, Provence, Lorraine, and other countries, there were believers who for many centuries had resisted the pope and recognized no other authority than Holy Scripture. Some called them ‘Waldenses,’ others ‘poor men of Lyons,’ and others ‘Lutherans.’ The report of the victories of the Reformation having penetrated their valleys, these pious men had listened to them attentively; one of them in particular, Martin Gonin, pastor of Angrogne, was seriously moved by them. Being a man of decided and enterprising character, and ready to give his life for the Gospel, the pious barbe (the name given by the Waldenses to their pastors) had felt a lively desire to go and see closely what the Reformation was. This thought haunted him everywhere: whether he traversed the little glens which divided his valley, like a tree with its branches, or whether he followed the course of the torrent, or sat at the foot of the Alps of Cella, Vachera, and Infernet, Gonin sighed after Wittemberg and Luther. At last he made up his mind; he departed in 1526, found his way to the reformers, and brought back into his valleys much good news and many pious books.
From that time the Reformation was the chief topic of conversation among the barbes and shepherds of those mountains.
In 1530 many of them, threading the defiles of the Alps, arrived on the French slopes, and following the picturesque banks of the Durance, took their way towards Merindol, where a synod of Waldensian christians had been convened. They walked on, animated with the liveliest joy; they had thought themselves alone, and in one day there had been born to them in Europe thousands of brethren who listened humbly to the Word of God, and made the pope tremble on his throne... They spoke of the Reformation, of Luther, and Melanchthon, and of the Swiss as they descended the rough mountain paths. When the synod was formed, they resolved to send a deputation to the evangelicals of Switzerland, to show them that the Waldensian doctrines were similar to those of the reformers, and to prevail upon the latter to give them the hand of fellowship. In consequence, two of them, George Morel and Peter Masson, set out for Basle.
On their arrival in that city, they asked for the house of Oecolampadius; they entered his study, and the old times, represented by these simpleminded worthy barbes, greeted the new times in the person of the amiable and steadfast reformer. The latter could not see these brave and rustic men standing before him and not feel an emotion of respect and sympathy. The Waldenses took from their bosoms the documents of their faith, and presented them to the pious doctor. ‘Turning away from Antichrist,’ said these papers, and Masson and Morel repeated the words, ‘we turn towards Christ. He is our life, our peace, our righteousness, our shepherd, our advocate, our victim, our high-priest, who died for the salvation of believers. But alas! as smoke goeth before the fire, the temptation of Antichrist precedeth the glory, In the time of the apostles Antichrist was but a child; he has now grown into a perfect man. He robs Christ of the merit of salvation, and ascribes it to his own works. He strips the Holy Ghost of the power of regeneration, and attributes it to his ceremonies. He leads the people to mass, a sad tissue of jewish, pagan, and christian rites, and deprives them of the spiritual and sacramental manducation. He hates, persecutes, accuses, robs, and kills the members of Jesus Christ. He boasts of his length of life, of his monks, his virgins, his miracles, his fasts, and his vigils, and uses them as a cloak to hide his wickedness. nevertheless, the rebel is growing old and decreasing, and the Lord is killing the felon by the breath of his mouth.’ Oecolampadius admired the simplicity of their creed. He would not have liked a doctrine without life, or an apparent life without doctrine, but he found both in the Waldensian barbes. ‘I thank God,’ he told them, ‘that he has called you to so great light.’ Ere long the doctors and faithful ones of Basle desired to see these men of ancient times. Seated round the domestic hearth, the Waldenses narrated the sufferings of their fathers, and described their flocks scattered over the two slopes of the Alps. ‘Some people,’ they said, ‘ascribe our origin to a wealthy citizen of Lyons, Peter de Vaux or Waldo, who, being at a banquet with his friends, saw one of them suddenly fall dead. Moved and troubled in his conscience he prayed to Jesus, sold his goods, and began to preach and sent others ‘to preach the Gospel everywhere. But,’ added the barbes, ‘we descend from more ancient times, from the time when Constantine introducing the world into the Church, our fathers set themselves apart, or even from the time of the apostles.’ In the course of conversation, however, with these brethren, the christians of Basle noticed certain points of doctrine which did not seem conformable with evangelical truth, and a certain uneasiness succeeded to their former joy. Wishing to be enlightened, Oecolampadius addressed a few questions to the two barbes. ‘All our ministers,’ they answered on the first point, ‘live in celibacy, and work at some honest trade.’ ‘Marriage, however,’ said Oecolampadius, ‘is a state very becoming to all true believers, and particularly to those who ought to be in all things ensamples to the flock.
We also think,’ he continued, ‘that pastors ought not to devote to manual labor, as yours do, the time they could better employ in the study of scripture. The minister has many things to learn; God does not teach us miraculously and without labor; we must take pains in order to know.’ The barbes were at first a little confused at seeing that the elders had to learn of their juniors; however, they were humble and sincere men, and the Basle doctor having questioned them on the sacraments, they confessed that through weakness and fear they had their children baptized by Romish priests, and that they even communicated with them and sometimes attended mass. This unexpected avowal startled the meek Oecolampadius. ‘What,’ said he, ‘has not Christ, the holy victim, fully satisfied the everlasting justice for us? Is there any need to offer other sacrifices after that of Golgotha? By saying Amen to the priests’ mass you deny the grace of Jesus Christ.’
Oecolampadius next spoke of the strength of man after the fall. ‘We believe,’ said the barbes modestly, ‘that all men have some natural virtue, just as herbs, plants, and stones have. ‘We believe,’ said the reformer, ‘that those who obey the commandments of God do so, not because they have more strength than others, but because of the great power of the Spirit of God which renews their will.’ ‘Ah,’ said the barbes, who did not feel themselves in harmony with the reformers on this point, ‘nothing troubles us weak people so much as what we have heard of Luther’s teaching relative to free-will and predestination... Our ignorance is the cause of our doubts: pray instruct us.’
The charitable Oecolampadius did not think the differences were such as ought to alienate him from the barbes. ‘We must enlighten these christians,’ he said, ‘but above all things we must love them.’ Had they not the same Bible and the same Savior as the children of the Reformation?
Had they not preserved the essential truths of the faith from the primitive times? Oecolampadius and his friends agitated by this reflection, gave their hands to the Waldensian deputation: ‘Christ,’ said the pious doctor, ‘is in you as he is in us, and we love you as brethren.’
The two barbes left Basle and proceeded to Strasburg to confer with Bucer and Capito, after which they prepared to return to their valleys. As Peter Masson was of Burgundian origin, they determined to pass through Dijon, a journey not unattended with danger. It was said here and there in cloisters and in bishops’ palaces that the old heretics had come to an understanding with the new. The pious conversation of the two Waldendans having attracted the attention of certain inhabitants of Dijon, a clerical and fanatical city, they were thrown into prison. What shall they do? What, they ask, will become of the letters and instructions they are bearing to their religionists? One of them, Morel, the bearer of this precious trust, succeeded in escaping: Masson, who was left, paid for both; he was condemned, executed, and died with the peace of a believer.
When they saw only one of their deputation appear, the Waldenses comprehended the dangers to which the brethren had been exposed, and wept for Masson. But the news of the reformers’ welcome spread great joy among them, in Provence, Dauphiny, in the valleys of the Alps, and even to Apulia and Calabria. The observations, however, of Oecolampadius, and his demand for a stricter reform, were supported by some and rejected by others. The Waldensians determined therefore to take another step: ‘Let us convoke a synod of all our churches,’ said they, ‘and invite the reformers to it.’
One July day in 1532, when Farel was at Grandson, as we have seen, in conference with other ministers, he was told that two individuals, whose foreign look indicated that they came from a distance, desired to speak with him. The two barbes, one from Calabria, named George, the other Martin Gonin, a Piedmontese, entered the room., After saluting the evangelicals in the name of their brethren, they told them that the demand that had been addressed to them to separate entirely from Rome had caused division among them. ‘ Come,’ they said to the ministers assembled at Grandson, ‘come to the synod and explain your views on this important point. After that we must come to an understanding about the means of propagating over the world the doctrine of the Gospel which is common to both of us.’ No message could be more agreeable to Farel; and as these two points were continually occupying his thoughts, he determined to comply with the request of the Waldensian brethren. His fellow-countryman, the pious Saunier, wished to share his dangers.
The members of the conference and the evangelicals of Grandson gazed with respect upon these ancient witnesses of the truth, arriving among them from the farther slopes of the Alps and the extremity of Italy, where they would have had no idea of going to look for brethren. They crowded round them and gave them a welcome, overflowing with love for them as they thought of the long fidelity and cruel sufferings of their ancestors.
They listened with interest to the story of the persecutions endured by their fathers, and the heroism with which the Waldenses had endured them. They were all ears when they were told how the barbes and their flocks were suddenly attacked by armed bands in their snowy mountains during the festival of Christmas in the year 1400; how men, women, and children had been compelled to flee over the rugged rocks, and how many of them had perished of cold and hunger, or had fallen by the sword. In one place the bodies of fourscore little children were found frozen to death in the stiffened arms of their mothers who had died with them... In another place thousands of fugitives who had taken refuge in the deep caverns (1488) had been suffocated by the fires which their cruel persecutors had kindled at the entrance of their hiding-place. Would not the Reformation regard these martyrs as its precursors? Was it not a privilege for it thus to unite with the witnesses who had given glory to Jesus Christ since the first ages of the Church?
Some of the Swiss christians were alarmed at the idea of Farel’s journey.
In truth great dangers threatened the reformer. The martyrdom of Peter Masson, sacrificed two years before, had exasperated the Waldenses of Provence, and their lamentations had aroused the anger of their enemies.
The bishops of Sisteron, Apt, and Cavaillon had taken counsel together and laid a remonstrance before the parliament of Aix, which had immediately ordered a raid to be made on the heretics: the prisons were filled with Waldensians and Lutherans, real or pretended. Martin Gonin, one of the two Waldensian deputies, was in a subsequent journey arrested at Grenoble, put into a sack, and drowned in the Isere. A similar fate might easily happen to Farel. Did not the country he would have to cross depend on the duke of Savoy, and had not Bellegarde and Challans laid hands on Bonivard in a country less favorable to ambuscades than that which Farel had to pass through? That mattered not: he did not hesitate, he will leave these quarters where the might of Berne protects him and pass through the midst of his enemies. ‘There was in him the same zeal as in his Master,’ says an historian; ‘like the Savior, he feared neither the hatred of the Pharisees, nor the cunning of Herod, nor the rage of the people.’ He made every preparation for his departure, and Saunier did the same. Just as Farel was about to leave Switzerland, he received unpleasant tidings from France, and thus found himself solicited on both sides. He wrote to his fellow-countrymen one of those letters, so full of consolation and wisdom, which characterize our reformers. ‘Men look fiercely at you,’ he said, ‘and threaten you, and lay heavy fines upon you; your friends turn their robes and become your enemies... All men distress you...
Observing all modesty, meekness, and friendship, persevering in holy prayers, living purely, and helping the poor, commit everything to the Father of mercies, by whose aid you will walk, strong and unwearied, in all truth.’ Towards the end of August, Farel and Saunier took leave of the brethren around them, got on their horses, and departed. Their course was enveloped in mystery: they avoided the places where they might be known and traversed uninhabited districts. Having crossed the Alps and passed through Pignerol, they fixed their eyes, beaming with mournful interest, on the lonely places where almost inaccessible caverns, pierced in the rugged sides of the mountains, often formed the only temple of the christians, and where every rock had a history of persecution and martyrdom. Their place of meeting was Angrogne, in the parish of the pious Martin Gonin. The two reformers quitted La Tour, and following the sinuosities of the torrent, and turning the precipices, they arrived at the foot of a magnificent forest, and then reached a vast plateau abounding in pastures: this was the Val d’ Angrogne. They gazed upon the steep ranges of the Soirnan and Infernet, the pyramidal flanks of mount Vandalin, and the gentler slopes upon which stood the lowly hamlets of the valley. They found Waldenses here and there in the meadows and at the foot of the roads; some were prepared ‘to be a guard for the ministers of the good law;’ and all looked with astonishment and joy at the pastors who came from Switzerland. ‘That one with the red beard and riding the white horse is Farel,’ said John Peyret of Angrogne, one of their escort, to his companions; ‘the other on the dark horse is Saunier.’ ‘There was also a third,’ add the eye-witnesses, ‘a tall man and rather lame;’ he may have been a Waldensian who had acted as a guide to the two deputies. Other foreign christians met in this remote valley of the Alps. There were some from the southern extremity of Italy, from Burgundy, Lorraine, Bohemia, and countries nearer home. There was also a certain number of persons of more distinguished appearance: the lords of Rive Noble, Mirandola, and Solaro had quitted their castles to take part in this Alpine council. Clergy, senate, and people were thus assembled; and as no room could have held the number, it was resolved to meet in the open air. Gonin selected for this purpose the hamlet of Chanforans, where there is now only one solitary house. There, in a shady spot, on the side of the mountain, surrounded by an amphitheater of rugged cliffs and distant peaks, the barbe had arranged the rude benches on which the members of this christian assembly were to sit.
Two parties met there face to face. At the head of that which was unwilling to break entirely with the Roman Catholic Church were two barbes, Daniel of Valence and John of Molines, who struggled for the success of their system of accommodation and compliance. On the other hand Farel and Saunier supported the evangelical party, who had not such distinguished representatives as the traditional party, and proposed the definitive rejection of all semi-catholic doctrines and usages. Before the opening of the synod the two ministers, finding themselves surrounded by numbers of the brethren, both in their homes and under the shade of the trees where the assembly was to be held, had already explained to them the faith of the Reformation, and several of the Waldenses had exclaimed that it was the doctrine taught from father to son among them, and to which they were resolved to adhere. Yet the issue of the combat appeared doubtful; for the semi-catholic party was strong, and described the reformers as foreigners and innovators who had come there to alter their ancient doctrines. But Farel had good hopes, for he could appeal to Holy Scripture and even to the confessions of the Waldenses themselves.
On the 12th September the synod was opened ‘in the name of God.’ One party looked with favor on Farel and Saunier, the other on John of Molines and Daniel of Valence; but the majority appeared to be on the side of the Reformation. Farel rose and boldly broached the question: he contended that there was no longer any ceremonial law, that no act of worship had any merit of itself and that a multitude of feasts, dedications, rites, chants, and mechanical prayers was a great evil. He reminded them that Christian worship consists essentially in faith in the Gospel, in charity, and in the confession of Christ. ‘God is a spirit,’ he said, ‘and divine worship should be performed in spirit and in truth.’ The two barbes strove in vain to oppose these views, the meeting testified their assent to them. Did not their confession reject ‘all feasts, vigils of saints, water called holy, the act of abstaining from flesh, and other like things invented by men?’ The worship in spirit was proclaimed.
Farel, delighted at this first victory, desired to win another and perhaps more difficult one. He believed that it was by means of the doctrine of the natural power of man that popery took salvation out of the hands of God and put it into the hands of the priests: ‘God,’ said he, ‘has elected before the foundation of the world all those who have been or who will be saved.
It is impossible for those who have been ordained to salvation not to be saved. Whosoever upholds freewill, absolutely denies the grace of God.’
This was a point which Molines and his friend resisted with all their might. But did not the Waldensian confessions recognize the impotency of man and the all-sufficiency of grace? Did not they call the denial of these things ‘the work of Antichrist? Farel moreover adduced proof from Scripture. The synod was at first in suspense, but finally decided that it recognized this article as ‘conformable with holy Scripture.’ Certain questions of morality anxiously occupied the reformer. In his opinion the Romish Church had turned everything topsy-turvy, calling those works good which she prescribed though they had nothing good in them, and those bad which were in conformity with the will of God. ‘There is no good work but that which God, has commanded,’ said Farel, ‘and none bad but what He has forbidden.’ The assembly expressed their entire assent.
Then continuing the struggle, the firm evangelical doctor successively maintained that the true confession of a christian is to confess to God alone; that marriage is forbidden to no man, whatever his condition; that Scripture determines only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper; that christians may swear in God’s name and fill the office of magistrate; and finally, that they should lay aside their manual occupations on Sunday in order to have leisure to praise God, exercise charity, and listen to the truths of Scripture. ‘Yes, that is it,’ said the delighted Waldenses, ‘that is the doctrine of our fathers.’ Molines and Daniel of Valence did not, however, consider their cause loSt. Ought not the fear of persecution to induce the Waldenses to persevere in certain dissimulations calculated to secure them from the inquisitive eyes of the enemies of the faith? Nothing displeased the reformers so much as dissembling. ‘Let us put off that paint,’ said Calvin, ‘by which the Gospel is disfigured, and let us not endeavor slavishly to please our adversaries; let us go boldly to work. If we permit compromises in some practices the whole doctrine will fall, and the building be thrown down.’ Farel thought as Calvin did. Perceiving this loophole for the two bathes, he urged the necessity of a frank confession of the truth. The members of the assembly, pricked in their consciences by the remembrance of their former back-slidings, bound themselves to take no part henceforward in any Romish superstition, and to recognize as their pastor no priest of the pope’s church. ‘We will perform our worship,’ they said, ‘openly and publicly to give glory to God.’
The two barbes, who were no doubt sincere, became more eloquent. The moment was come that was to decide the future. In their opinion, by establishing new principles they cast discredit on the men who had hitherto directed the churches. No doubt it was culpable to take part in certain ceremonies with an unworthy object, but was it so when it was done for good ends? To break entirely with the Catholic Church would render the existence of the Waldenses impossible, or at least would provoke hostilities which would reduce them completely to silence... Farel replied with wonderful energy maintaining the rights of truth. He showed them that every compromise with error is a lie. The purity of the doctrine he professed, his elevated thoughts, the ardent affection expressed by his voice, his gestures, and his looks, electrified the Waldenses, and poured into their souls the holy fire with which his own was burning. These witnesses of the middle ages called to mind how the children of Israel having adopted the customs of people alien to the covenant of God, wept abundantly and exclaimed: ‘We have trespassed against God!’ The Waldenses felt like them, and desired to make amends for their sins. They drew up a brief confession in 17 articles, in conformity with the resolutions that had been adopted, and then said: ‘We adhere with one accord to the present declaration, and we pray God that, of his great charity, nothing may divide us henceforward, and that, even when separated from one another, we may always remain united in the same spirit.’ Then they signed their names. The agreement was not however universal. During the six days’ discussion several barbes and laymen might have been seen standing apart, in some shady place, with gloomy air and uneasy look, talking together on the resolutions proposed to the synod. At the moment when every one was affixing his signature to the confession, the two leaders withheld theirs, and withdrew from the assembly.
During the discussion, and even before it, Farel and Saunier had had several conversations and conferences with the Waldenses, in the course of which the barbes had displayed their old manuscripts, handed down from the twelfth century, as they said: the Noble Lesson, the Ancient Catechism, the Antichrist, the Purgatory, and others. These writings bore the date of A.D. 1120, which probably was not disputed by Farel. One line of the Noble Lesson seems to indicate this as the period when it was composed. Since then, however, more recent dates have been assigned to the other writings, especially to the Antichrist, and even to the Noble Lesson.
In any case, however, these documents belong to a time anterior to the Reformation. The Waldensians displayed with peculiar pride several manuscript copies of the Old and New Testament in the vulgar tongue. ‘These books,’ they said, ‘were copied correctly by hand so long ago as to be beyond memory, and are to be seen in many families.’ Farel and Saunier had received and handled these writings with emotion; they had turned over the leaves, and ‘marveling at the heavenly favor accorded to so small a people,’ had rendered thanks to the Lord because the Bible had never been taken from them.
They did not stop there: Farel addressing the synod, represented to them that the copies being few in number they could only serve for a few persons: ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘if there are so many sects and heresies, so much trouble and confusion now in the world, it all comes from ignorance of the Word of God. It would therefore be exceedingly necessary for the honor of God and the well-being of all christians who know the French language, and for the destruction of all doctrines repugnant to the truth, to translate the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek tongues into French.’ No proposal could be more welcome to the Waldenses; their existence was due to their love of Scripture, and all their treaties and poems celebrated it: The Scriptures speak and we must believe.
Look at the Scriptures from beginning to end. Thus spoke the Noble Lesson. They agreed ‘joyfully and with good heart to Farel’s demand, busying and exerting themselves to carry out the undertaking.’ The proposition, was voted enthusiastically, and the delighted reformers looked with emotion and joy at this faithful and constant people, to whom God had entrusted for so many ages the ark of the new covenant, and who were now inspired with fresh zeal for his service. The hour had come for them to separate. John of Molines and Daniel of Valence went to Bohemia, and joined the Waldenses of that country; the pastors returned to their churches, the shepherds to their mountains, and the lords to their castles. Farel mounted his white horse, Saunier his black one; they shook hands with the Waldenses who surrounded them, and descending from Angrogne to La Tour, bade adieu to the valleys.
Where should they go? What would be the next work undertaken by Farel?... Geneva had long occupied his thoughts, and as he crossed the Alps he had before him in spirit that city with its wants and its inhabitants, especially those who were beginning to ‘meditate on Jesus Christ.’ Already, before his departure for Italy, Farel had conceived the plan of stopping at Geneva on his return, and with that intent had even received from my lords of Berne some letters of introduction addressed to the leading Huguenots. ‘I will go to them now,’ he said, ‘I will speak to them, even if there is nobody that will hear me.’ This idea, which never quitted him, was the beginning of the Reformation of Geneva.