ON one fine autumn day (2nd October), Farel and Saunier ‘having finished their journey through Piedmont,’ reached that beautiful neighborhood where the Alps and the Jura, drawing near each other, form a rich valley, in the midst of which calmly deep the pure waters of an azure lake. They soon distinguished the three old towers of the cathedral of Geneva rising high above the houses. They pressed their horses, whose speed was relaxed through fatigue, and entered the city of the huguenots. They had been directed to the Tour Perce, which they found in a street situated on the left bank of the Rhone, and bearing its name. They stopped in front of the inn, dismounted from their horses, spoke to the landlords and took up their quarters under his roof.
One of their first thoughts, after resting themselves, was to inform Robert Olivetan of their arrival. Calvin’s cousin, who was still tutor to Jean Chautemps’ children, hastened to them, delighted at the coming of his brethren. Farel desired to consult with him on the best means of advancing the knowledge of the gospel in Geneva; but another idea had also occupied him during his journey. Knowing how learned Olivetan was in Greek and Hebrew, he had cast his eyes on him to make the translation of the Bible which the Waldensian synod had decided upon. Farel having spoken to him about it, Olivetan exclaimed in alarm: ‘I can not accept such a commission, considering the great difficulty of the work and my own weakness.’ Farel did not admit the excuse, and continued to solicit his friend, who would not give way. ‘You could do this work much better yourself,’ he said to the travelers. But Farel believed that God gives every man a calling for which He has prepared him, and that Olivetan was a scholar while he was an evangelist. ‘God has not given me leisure,’ said Farel, ‘He calls me to another work. He wills me to sow the pure seed of the Word in His field, and water it and make it flourish like the garden of Eden.’ fh186A He dropped the subject, however, in order to talk with Olivetan about the evangelization of Geneva.
Chautemps’ tutor, who had so often sunk under the weight of his task, and so earnestly called for a stronger hand, looked upon Farel as one sent from heaven. But how to begin? The evangelist of Orbe took from his pocket the letters given him at Berne for some of the chief huguenots.
Olivetan saw that a door was opened for the Gospel, and without loss of time the two friends went out to deliver the letters to their addresses.
Olivetan gave Farel the information he required, and explained to him that although some of those to whom he was introduced inclined to the side of the Gospel, the majority were content to throw off the Romish superstitions, and were simply true patriots.
The huguenots having opened the letters that Farel presented, found that the bearer was William Farel, preacher of the Gospel, and that their Bernese friends invited them to hear him speak. This was great news. No name was better known than Farel’s in the districts bathed by the lakes of Geneva, Morat, Bienne, and Neuchatel. The huguenots, delighted to see him, looked attentively at him, and some of them reflected on such an unexpected incident, which religious and political motives rendered most important in their eyes. Friends of the Reformation had often told them that the independence of Geneva would never be secure until the dominion of the bishop and the pope had given place to that of the Gospel, and now the Gospel was knocking at their doors in the person of Farel. Was it not he who had filled Aigle, Morat, Neuchatel, Valengin, and Grandson with the evangelical doctrine? Political men hoped that at his voice the temporal dominion of the church would fall, and the phantoms of the middle ages, which still entangled liberty, would flee away in alarm to distant hidingplaces.
Religious men, who had found pleasure in the words of Am Thun, of Olivetan, and of the Gospel more especially, expected that this great preacher would make the light of heaven to shine in their hearts. All, therefore, expressed themselves ready to hear him, and Farel, saying he should be happy to see them at his inn, took his leave.
The news of the reformer’s arrival spread through the city in a moment. ‘Let us go and hear him,’ said the huguenots; ‘it is the man they call the scourge of the little priests. ’ But the nuns, bigots, and friars were filled with anger. ‘A shabby little preacher,’ said the sisters of St. Claire; ‘one Master William, a native of Gap in Dauphiny, has just arrived in the city.’ Every one prepared for the morrow.
On the morning of the 3d of October, the most notable of the huguenots left their houses to go to the Tour Perce. They went singly, or at the most two or three together, with a certain fear. One after another the following persons might have been seen entering the inn: the amiable and active Ami Porral, one of the syndics of the year; Baudichon de la Maison Neuve, who had stuck up the ‘Great Pardon of God;’ syndic Robert Vandel and his brother Pierre — all these intimate acquaintances of the bishop; Claude Roset, secretary of state in the following year, and father of the chronicler; syndic Claude Savoy, one of the most zealous defenders of independence; Jean Chautemps, Olivetan’s patron; Dominic Arlod, afterwards syndic; Stephen Dada, descended from an illustrious Milanese family, and properly called d’Adda, from the city of that name; Claude Salomon, the friend of the poor and sick; Claude Bernard; Jean Goulaz, who had torn down the bill of the Romish Jubilee from the pillar of the cathedral; Jean Sourd, Claude de Geneve, and lastly, the energetic Ami Perrin, who several times syndic, captain-general, and ambassador of the Republic at Paris, showed much zeal for the Reformation at first, but afterwards incurred severe reproach. These citizens, who were the elite of Geneva, with several other persons of less distinction, arrived at the reformers’ lodgings.
The landlord of the Tour Perce introduced them into a private room where they found Farel and Saunier. The conversation began.
The two evangelists were full of esteem for the men who were struggling with such courage for independence and liberty against powerful enemies.
They were not slow, however, to observe that if, in a political light, they held the most elevated sentiments, there were great deficiencies in them in a religious light. The huguenots wanted neither pope nor priests; but it was because of the tyranny of the one, and the licentious conduct of the others; as for the true doctrine of the Gospel and the necessity of a moral transformation in themselves, they had not troubled themselves about it. There was also a great void in their religious system. Before they could become good protestants and men morally strong, friends at once of order and liberty, this blank must be filled up. They felt it themselves, and told Farel they desired nothing better than to be instructed. The landlord brought in a few benches and stools for them, and then Farel, having Saunier near him, took his station before a little table. He placed a Bible on it, and began to speak from the Word of God. An audience so select, an opportunity so important for announcing the Gospel, had perhaps never been offered to the reformer. He had before him the earliest champions of modern liberty. These men had recognized the errors in the state, he must now show them the errors in the church; they must learn that if man may throw off despotism in earthly things, it is more lawful still to throw it off in heavenly things.
Farel undertook the task; he showed the huguenots from Scripture ‘that they had been abused until now by their priests; that the latter amused them with silly tales that had no substance in them, and further, that these cheats (affronteurs ) allured them, if they felt it necessary, by flattery, and gave the rein to their lusts.’ He added that neither councils nor popes would teach them to know Jesus Christ, but Holy Scripture only; and urged them to abandon errors and abuses, whose danger and absurdity he forcibly pointed out to them. The huguenots listened to him attentively. ‘They had no great sentiment or knowledge or fear of God, but they already aspired to the religion that had been adopted at Berne,’ says a manuscript of the seventeenth century; and God seeing his people of Geneva stagnating in security, and wishing by an effort of His mercy to show the divine sweetness of his clemency, animated the courage of his servants, Farel and Saunier.’ The simple movement by which Farel, setting aside all patristic, synodical, scholastic, and papal traditions, turned reverently toward the fountain-head, and drank from the Word of God the faith that he preached, specially struck his hearers. They rose, thanked him, and left the room, saying as they retired that it seemed right to substitute the Holy Scriptures for the teaching of the pope. This was the principle of an immense transformation. The Reformation had taken its first step in Geneva when the placards of the ‘general pardon’ of God had been stuck up: it now took the second step. ‘There was a great sensation in the city,’ said Froment. Some of the hearers, returning to their families or their friends, astonished them by saying that henceforth their master should be neither M. La Baume, nor M. Medicis or even M. St. Peter, ‘but the Lord Jesus Christ alone.’ The astonishment was still greater in the political and ecclesiastical bodies.
Hitherto they had only to deal with the heroes of liberal emancipation; now they were in presence of the champions of the religious movement. ‘This thing having come to the notice of the council, canons, and priests of the city, they were suddenly troubled and disturbed.’ The monks were either astounded or very angry, while the nuns of St. Claire were quite alarmed at ‘this wretched preacher, who was beginning to speak secretly at his quarters, in a room, seeking to infect the people with his heresy.’ All of them foresaw that this act would have innumerable and fatal consequences.
There was soon a second meeting. Many of those who had not been at the first wished to be present at this; and from the city, the Molard, and the Rhone bridge, many citizens took their way towards the Tour Perce.
There were no women among them, but the men filled every corner of the room, anxious to hear the Gospel. As Farel on the former occasion had spoken particularly of scripture, he now addressed the huguenots on the subject of living grace. He showed them that it was not the pardon of the Church, but the pardon of God, that saves. Those prelates and masters who, puffed out with magnificent titles, were continually recommending pious works, were (he said) building the temple of God with straw and stubble, instead of bringing together the living stones of which scripture speaks, he maintained that when the priest spoke so much of penance, vows, masses, fasts, aves, macerations, flagellations, indulgences, pilgrimages, invocations to the Virgin and the saints, they hardly left Jesus Christ the hundredth part of the work of redemption. Farel and Saunier repeated strongly that pardon resides wholly in the Savior, and not in part only, ‘at which those who heard him took great pleasure.’ Some meditated as they went away on what they had heard, and that silent conversation of the soul speaking with its God began in the quiet chamber of many a house. ‘By this means a goodly number of Genevans received a knowledge of the Gospel.’ Some of them — Baudichon de la Maison-Neuve and Claude Salomon amongst others — earnestly besought Farel to come and explain the Scriptures in their own houses.
This second meeting added considerably to the alarm in the catholic camp, and the commotion was particularly great among the women, who were at that time the main support of the papacy in Geneva. ‘There is not one of them,’ said a reformer, ‘that has any desire to learn the truth, so tainted are they with the breath, teaching, life, and conversation of their priests. There is a great intimacy between them; some are their brothers, others their friends, neighbors, gossips... I shall say nothing more at present,’ he added, ‘to save the honor of the ladies.’ The priests told their female parishioners that if they did not turn out these unbelievers everything was lost. The Genevan ladies, therefore, entreated their husbands, and brothers, to expel the heretic preachers. A few citizens, who cared very little about the Reformation, were carried away by their wives, and proceeding angry and heated to the Tour Perce, desired Farel and Saunier to leave Geneva at once, if they did not wish to be turned out forcibly. ‘If we cannot maintain what we say,’ replied the reformers, ‘we offer ourselves to death.’ Having God for the author of their faith, they were tranquil in the midst of tempests. Thus; despite all the efforts of the husbands urged by their wives, and of the wives urged by the priests, Farel remained. At that time a great agitation prevailed in Geneva: canons, rectors, monks, and curates ran up and down, talking with one another, ‘and holding counsel together, asked what they should do with those persons.’ The magistrates, noticing the commotion occasioned by the arrival of Farel and Saunier the city, summoned them to appear before the bench, and met to consult as to what should be said and done to them. The council had not made up their minds either for or against the Reformation, and many of the members arrived at the town-hall not knowing clearly what they ought to do. Ex-syndic Balard, who was then discharging the functions of vidame, a zealous Catholic whom Fromerit calls (probably with some exaggeration) ‘the head servant of the priests,’ was for immediate repression, and a few were ready to vote with him. The majority, composed of men of moderate views, had no desire to offend the canons and priests, but feared still more to offend Berne. William Hugues, the premier syndic and Besancon’s brother, was rather favorable to the reformers. Only a small number of decided huguenots were convinced that the new doctrine alone could free them from the bickerings of the bishops and the dukes. Farel and Saunier were conducted to the town-hall and taken into the council chamber. As they entered, everybody looked with curious eye on that man with keen look and red beard who was setting all the country in a blaze from the Alps to the Jura. One of the magistrates most devoted to the Church addressing Farel rudely, said: ‘It is you then that do nothing but disturb the world; it is your tongue that is stirring up tumult everywhere and trumpeting rebellion. You are a busy-body who have come here only to create discord. We order you to depart from the city instantly.’ The angry looks of some of the councilors were at the same time turned upon Farel, who being regarded as the scourge of the priests, ‘was for that reason supremely hated by them.’ The reformer contained himself, and answered: ‘I am not a deluder, I am not a trumpet of sedition; I simply proclaim the truth. I am ready to prove out of God’s word that my doctrine is true, and,’ added he in a voice trembling with emotion, ‘not only to sacrifice my ease but to shed the last drop of my blood for it.’
The reformer’s noble simplicity touched the members of the council, and supplied the huguenots with sufficient motives to undertake his defense.
Farel’s judges appeared to be softened by his moderation. Then calling to mind that St. Paul under similar circumstances had invoked the respected name of imperial Rome, the evangelist resolved to follow his example. ‘Most honored lords,’ he said, ‘are you not allies and co-burgesses of Berne? Know, then, that my lords of Berne, who have at heart to advance the Gospel, have given me letters wherein they bear witness to my innocence and doctrine, and beg you to hear me preach peacefully, assuring you that by so doing you will confer a pleasure on them.’ At the same time Farel produced the credentials with which their excellencies had furnished him. The syndics took the letter. ‘If you condemn me unheard,’ continued Farel, ‘you insult God, and also, as you see, my lords of Berne.’
The latter plea touched the magistrates of Geneva closely; and, accordingly, changing countenance, they gently dismissed Farel and Saunier without imposing any punishment on them, but begging them only not to disturb the public tranquility by new doctrines. The two ministers quitted the council chamber. Meanwhile an episcopal council was being held; and jurists, canons, and priests were assembling at the house of the grand vicar. Monseigneur de Gingins, abbot of Bonmont, deliberated as to what should be done. The Reformation and the reformers, of whom there had been so much talk these fifteen years, were in Geneva at last. The rock so long suspended over their heads was at length detached from the mountain, and threatened to destroy everything. What was to be done? The tumult was still greater in the city than in the grand vicar’s house. A crowd, attracted by the summons of Farel and Saunier before the council, ‘was scattered up and down the streets,’ and priests paraded the city, ‘carrying arms under their frocks.’ The reformers had some trouble to reach their lodgings.
The episcopal council prolonged its sittings. Monseigneur de Bonmont, a sincere but moderate and liberal catholic, was ill at ease. Seeing angry faces and flashing eyes around him, he represented that it would be necessary to proceed cautiously and in accordance with justice. Some of those present were exasperated, for in their eyes De Gingins’ moderation was flagrant treason. In their opinion it was necessary to prosecute immediately not only the foreign preachers, but ‘all who inviting them into their houses (as Maison-Neuve for instance) to converse about the Gospel, wished to live differently from what their forefathers, pastors, and bishops had taught them.’ The most reverend vicar represented that persons were not convicted without being heard, that they must summon these strangers before them, call upon them to explain their doctrine, and then they would be sentenced upon full knowledge of the facts. This alarmed the council, and Dom Stephen Piard, proctor to the chapter, exclaimed with a frown: ‘If we dispute, all our office is at an end.’ He urged that ‘to discuss theological questions was to overlook the authority of the church; that we must believe because Rome has spoken; that these people with their Bibles were subtle spirits and dangerous adversaries,... and that the authority of the chapter would be overthrown if they permitted any disputation.’
Dom Stephen enjoyed a certain authority; the assembly was about to refuse to hear Farel, when it was opposed by some of the members who were most notorious for their fanatical zeal. In the sixteenth century not only jurists regarded it as a duty to condemn heretics to death, but devout persons, laymen as well as priests, thought they did an acceptable thing to God by putting them to death. It would appear that these latter persons had made up their minds to this meritorious work. ‘Having deliberated to kill Farel and his companion,’ says a manuscript, ‘they found the best means of getting them to come would be by giving them to understand that they desired to debate with them.’ The pious sister Jeanne de Jussie corroborates this statement. The conspirators carried the proposal to summon Farel. He was never to go out again from the vicar-general’s house; but first of all it was necessary for him to enter it. Machard, the bishop’s secretary, was deputed to summon Farel and Saunier, and also Olivetan, ‘to retract publicly or to explain before the episcopal council what they had preached in the inn.’
Ere long something transpired of the plot of these fanatical ecclesiastics, and the huguenots, forming part of the little council at that moment assembled in the town-hall, represented to their colleagues that the priests had no other object than to draw the ministers into a trap. Accordingly the two chief magistrates, Hugues and Balard, accompanied Machard to the Tour Perce, to give a guarantee to Farel and his friends. Some persons suspected Balard of wishing to get Farel and Saunier into trouble. ‘There is nothing more prejudicial to Geneva than division,’ he said; ‘I wish those who disturb us were well out of us.’ But he was neither a coward nor a traitor; he was determined to send the reformers away from Geneva, but to protect their lives.’ On reaching the inn the bishop’s secretary informed the evangelists that the episcopal council invited them to retract the doctrines they had taught, the presence of Balard and Hugues giving weight to the request. Farel answered: ‘We affirm these doctrines in the strongest way possible, and again offer to die if we cannot prove them out of scripture.’ ‘In that case,’ resumed Machard, ‘come before the episcopal council to discuss with the priests, and maintain what you have said.’ ‘No harm shall be done you,’ said the premier syndic and the vidame, ‘we pledge our word to it.’ Farel and Saunier, delighted with this opportunity of announcing the Gospel, set off, accompanied by Olivetan. They were calm and full of joy, doubtless not expecting what awaited them, but ready nevertheless to give up their lives.