WHILE the upper house of the clergy was sitting at the vicar-generals, the lower house had assembled in the streets. The armed curates and chaplains watched what was going on, and when they saw the premier syndic with ex-syndic Balard and the bishop’s secretary enter the inn, they guessed that they were about to conduct Farel before the episcopal council, and had immediately made it known to their followers, to the women and the common people. When the three reformers, accompanied by the three Genevans, came out, there was already a little crowd in front of the Tour Perce. The number increased as they proceeded along the streets which lead from the banks of the Rhone to the top of the hill; but the populace and the women were content to threaten and jeer at the reformers, crying out as loud as they could, ‘Look at the dogs, look at the dogs.’ Thanks to the presence of the magistrates, the three reformers arrived safe and sound in the Rue des Chanoines, and entered the house of the vicar episcopal. As those who were within as well as those who were without had equally sworn Farel’s death, it seemed impossible for him to escape.’
The three evangelicals had to wait some time; in fact the syndics had preceded them, and required of the episcopal council that no harm should be done the ministers if they freely explained their doctrines. This engagement having been taken, Farel, Saunier, and Olivetan were called in, the two magistrates remaining in the assembly to secure order.
The abbot-vicar of Bonmont presided; on his right and left sat the canons, the bishop’s officers, and the head priests, all in their sacerdotal robes.
The missionary, simply but decently dressed, came forward followed by his two friends, and all three remained standing before the assembly. The official, Messire de Veigy, a learned and eloquent man, was ordered to speak. ‘William Farel,’ he said, ‘tell me who has sent you, for what reason you come here, and in virtue of what authority you speak?’ In Veigy’s opinion it was necessary for the preacher to be sent by some Romish ecclesiastical authority. Farel replied with simplicity, ‘I am sent by God, and I am come to announce his word.’ ‘Poor wretch!’ exclaimed the priests, as they shrugged their shoulders. The official resumed: ‘God has sent you, you say; how is that? Can you show by any manifest sign that you are come in His name? As Moses before Pharaoh, will you prove to us by miracles that you really come from God? If you can not, then show us the license of our most reverend prelate the Bishop of Geneva. Preacher never yet preached in his diocese without his leave.’
Here the official paused; and then disdainfully scanning the reformer from head to foot, he said: ‘You do not wear the dress that is usual for those who are accustomed to announce the Word of God to us... You are dressed like a soldier or a brigand... How is it you are so bold as to preach? Is it not forbidden by a decree of holy church for laymen to preach in public under pain of excommunication? That is contained in the decretals of our holy mother church... You are, therefore, a deceiver and a bad man.’ Farel believed that is was his duty to announce the Word of God, because Jesus Christ had said, Preach the Gospel to every creature. He thought that the true successors of the apostles were those who conformed to Christ’s order, and that (as Calvin says), ‘the pope of Rome and all his tribe had no claim to that apostolical succession which they alleged, since they no longer cared for the doctrine of Christ.’ The clergy in whose presence he was standing did not allow him time to speak. At last they had before them the terrible heretic of whom they had been talking so many years, The official’s words had still further aroused their passions; they could no longer contain themselves. Pale with anger they shuddered and clattered with their feet as they sat. At last the mine exploded; they all spoke at once, pouring insult and abuse on the reformer. Their excitement carried them away; they rose from their seats, rushed upon him, and pulling him now this way, now that, exclaimed, ‘Come, Farel, you wicked devil, what business have you to go up and down, disturbing all the world?... Are you baptized? Where were you born? Where do you come from? Why did you come here? Tell us by whose authority you preach?
Are you not the man who propagated Luther’s heresies at Aigle and Neuchatel, and threw the whole country into confusion? Who sent you into this city?’ The noise and tumult would not permit either Farel or the grand vicar to speak; the weapons were heard to rattle which some of the priests carried under their frocks. Farel remained still and silent in the midst of this raging sea. At last Messire de Bonmont succeeded in interposing his authority, made his colleagues resume their seats, and silence was restored. Then the reformer, nobly lifting up his head, said with great simplicity: ‘My lords, I am not a devil. I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and if I journey to and fro, it is that I may preach Jesus Christ — Jesus Christ crucified, dead for our sins, and risen again for our justification, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life. As an ambassador of Jesus Christ I am compelled to teach Him to all who are willing to hear me. I have, however, no other right to speak than that which the commandment of God gives to me His servant. My only aim is so to discharge my duty that all the world may receive salvation, and it is for this cause and for no other that I am come into this city. Having been brought before you to give an account of my faith, I am ready to do so, not only at this moment, but as many times as you please to hear me peaceably. What I have preached and still preach is the pure truth and not a heresy, and I will maintain it even unto death.
As for what you say about my disturbing the land and this city in particular, I will answer as Elijah did to Ahab, I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house. Yes, it is you and yours who trouble the world by your traditions, your human inventions, and your dissolute lives.’ The priests, astonished at the calm, simple, free and spirited language of the reformer, had listened to him in silence so far, but the moment they heard him speak of their human inventions and irregular lives, his words were like daggers and disturbed their wicked consciences. It might have been said that the infernal deities (it is the expression of a reformer) were hovering about them and left them no repose. ‘They fixed their burning eyes on Farel; they gnashed their teeth,’ says a manuscript; and one of them starting up in a passion said: ‘Blasphematur, non amplius indigemus testibus. Reus est mortis.’ This was the signal for a scene more savage than the former. All rose again, some impelled by violence and pride, others believing they were supporting the cause of religion, and exclaimed: ‘To the Rhone, to the Rhone! kill him, kill him! It is better for this rascally Lutheran to die than permit him to trouble all the people.’ These words, without being those which the high-priest uttered against Christ were very like them. Farel was struck by the resemblance. ‘Speak the words of God and not of Caiaphas,’ he exclaimed. At these words the exasperated priests could contain themselves no longer. They all started up together and shouted out: ‘Kill him, kill the Lutheran hound!’ Dom Bergeri, proctor to the chapter, still more excited than the others, urged them on, exclaiming in his Savoyard dialect: Tapa, tapa! (which, adds Froment, means ‘Strike, strike!’) The sentence was immediately carried into execution; they surrounded the three reformers; some caught hold of Farel, others of Saunier, and others of Olivetan. They abused them, beat them, spat in their faces, and uttered all sorts of cries, so that it was like a pandemonium. In the midst of all this uproar Farel and his companions ‘preserved their patience and moderation.’ The abbot of Bonmot, syndics Hugues and Balard, and even a few priests, ashamed of such a scene, tried to put an end to it. ‘It is not well done,’ said the abbot, ‘have we not pledged our word and honor to them?’ Syndic Hugues, a just, quick, and energetic man, disgusted with the behavior of the ecclesiastics, broke out at last. ‘You are wicked men,’ he said; ‘we brought you these men on your promise that no harm should be done them, and you want to beat and kill them before our faces... I will go and set the great bell ringing to convoke the general council. The assembled people shall decide.’ Hugues was leaving the room to go and put his threat into execution, when Balard, the other magistrate, desiring to prevent anything that might compromise the cause of Rome, endeavored to calm him. However the syndic’s threat had produced its effect; the priests alarmed at the thought of a general assembly of the citizens, and fearing lest it should decree their expulsion from Geneva, returned to their seats rather ashamed of themselves. The abbot, taking advantage of this new lull, desired Farel and his friends to withdraw, in order that the episcopal council might deliberate. Farel left the room covered with spittle and severely bruised. While the superior clergy were behaving in this way, the inferior clergy were assembling, and about eighty priests had collected before the house of the vicar-episcopal, ‘ all well armed with clubs to defend the holy catholic faith and prepared to die for it.’ This mode of defending religion, so different from that of the first fathers of the church, has been made known to us through the reverend Sister Jeanne de Jussie. The priests were stout, resolute men, they had formed a plot and were there to carry it into execution. ‘They wished,’ adds Sister Jeanne, ‘to put that wretch and his accomplices to a bitter death.’ Such was the exploit they contemplated, and for its accomplishment they carefully surrounded the grand-vicar’s house. They filled the narrow area of the Puits St. Pierre and the Rue des Chanoines, and had even penetrated into M. de Bonmont’s courtyard and garden, so that it was impossible for Farel to escape. The fanatical and agitated crowd, which had been there for some time, was beginning to grow impatient that the episcopal council sat so long. Farel and his two friends, when they had turned into a long gallery, could hear the raised voices of some of the members of the council, and the increasing noise of the crowd that filled the courtyard. But another danger threatened them.
One of the grand-vicar’s servants, Francis Olard, surnamed Ginin, a violent man, stood at the end of the gallery, having been posted there arquebuss in hand, as a sentinel. He had listened to the tumult from within; the shouting from without excited and inflamed him. Was not this Farel the enemy of his masters — a heretic whom everybody wished dead? His weapon was ready: he leveled it at Farel and prepared to fire. Had the priests stationed Olard there for this purpose, as the chronicles say, or did he act of his own accord, being more fanatical than his masters, as the servants of political or ecclesiastical corporations often are? Be it as it may, the arquebusier pulled the trigger, the priming flashed... but the gun did not go off. Farel turning to him coldly: ‘I am not to be shaken by a popgun; your toy does not alarm me.’ — ‘Verily,’ said his friends, ‘God of mercy turned aside the blow, in order to preserve Farel for struggles still more formidable.’ Meanwhile the council were still deliberating, and many wished Farel to be put to death. Heresy in that age, as is but too well known, was punished capitally; but the magistrates pointed to the danger of using violence towards the preacher of the lords of Berne. Their opinion prevailed, and the reformers having been brought into the room again, the grand-vicar said: ‘William Farel, leave my presence and this house, and within six hours get you gone from the city with your two companions, under pain of the stake. And know that if the sentence is not more severe, you must ascribe it to our kindness and to our respect for my lords of Berne.’ — ‘You condemn us unheard,’ said Farel. ‘I demand a certificate to show at Berne that I have done my duty.’ — ‘You shall not have one,’ the abbot hastily replied; ‘leave the room all of you, without a word more.’ The priests and people collected in front of the house, learning that Farel was about to appear, crowded one upon another, uttering angry cries. It would seem that the reformer heard them and stopped an instant, knowing full well what was in reserve for him. It was in truth a solemn moment, perhaps his last. ‘The bailiff dared not come out,’ said Sister Jeanne, afterwards Abbess of Aannecy, ‘for he had heard the noise made by the church people before the door, and feared they would put him to death.’
Seeing that Farel hesitated, two of the senior canons addressed him coarsely: ‘As you will not go out willingly, and in God’s name,’ they said, ‘go out in the name of all the devils, whose minister and servant you are.’
Thus spoke a few fanatical priests. Their God was the church, and there was no salvation for the sinner except in the sacrifice of the mass: in them imagination took the place of understanding, and passion of judgment.
They had no idea of the living faith which animated the hearts of Farel and his friends, and looked upon them as impious. Putting aside the holy authority and wise precepts of scripture, they had no other rule than strong attachment to their church and the excess of zeal which carried them away. Inflamed by violent passion they did not confine themselves to abuse. The sister of St. Claire is far from wishing to conceal their exploits: ‘One of them,’ she says, ‘gave him a hard kick, the other struck him heavily on the head and face; and in great confusion they put him out with his two companions.’ Farel, Saunier, and Olivitan quitted the house, and thus escaped the illtreatment of those reverend gentlemen. But turned out of doors by the canons, they fell from Scylla into Charybdis; they had to experience still more culpable excesses of religious fanaticism. The priests, chaplains, sacristans, and the furious populace assembled in the street, hooted, hissed, groaned, and howled; some threateningly flourished their weapons.
It was like an impetuous hurricane that seemed as if it would sweep everything before it. It was a human tempest more terrible perhaps than that of the winds: Venti, velut agmine facto, Qua data porta ruunt, et terras turbine perflant ; Insequitur clamorque virum stridorque rudentum. On a sudden there was a movement in the crowd, those who were on the outside falling back in alarm upon their comrades: there was a body of armed men approaching. At this time up came the syndics and all the watch with their halberts. ‘Pray, sir priests,’ said they, ‘do nothing rash.’
The mob gave way. ‘We are come to execute justice,’ added the magistrates. Upon this they took ‘the bailiff,’ placed him and his companions in the midst of the guard, and all marched off in the direction of the Tour Perce, the crowd parting right and left to make way for the escort. The priests, fourscore in number, kept together, forming a dark and agitated group, and so stationed themselves that the three ministers must necessarily pass before them on their road to the inn. They had heard that Farel and his friends were to be expelled from the city; ‘but the worthy men could not be satisfied with this,’ says Sister Jeanne. Considering that the syndics and even the episcopal council refused to do justice to them, they were resolved to take the matter in their own hands. Just as the three preachers were passing in front of them, one of them rushed forward sword in hand upon Farel ‘to run him through.’ One of the syndics who was at the reformer’s side saw him, caught the assassin by the arm, and stopped him. This act of the magistrate seriously grieved the devout.
Laymen who prevented the clergy from killing their adversaries were looked upon as impious. ‘Many were chagrined,’ says the good nun innocently, ‘because the blow failed.’ The halberdiers closed their ranks, thrust the priests and their creatures aside, and the reformers continued on their way. The mob, finding they could not touch the Lutherans, compensated themselves with hooting. In every street through which they passed, men and women cried out that they ought to be flung into the Rhone. At length the procession reached the Tour Perce; the reformers entered, and the syndics left a guard.
They must go — of that there could be no doubt. Farel and his friends might have been overwhelmed with sorrow, and have fainted in the midst of their work; but their Heavenly Master had said, When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another. ( Matthew 10:23) What grieved them was the thought of the generous men who had listened to them; these Farel was determined not to abandon. If the tempest obliged him to depart, he would take advantage of the first moment of calm weather to introduce into Geneva that Gospel which many huguenots desired with all their hearts. The next day (4th October) a few citizens, friends of the reformer, rose early, got ready a boat near the Molard, and went to the Tour Perce to fetch the missionaries, hoping that if the latter set off betimes they would not be observed. But the priest-party was quite as matutinal as they were; some of them were already before the door, and it is probable they had been there all night for fear the huguenots should take advantage of the darkness to get the ministers away. Claude Bernard, Ami Perrin, John Goulaz, and Peter Verne — all stanch huguenots — came up; they gave the signal, a door was opened, and they entered the inn. A few moments elapsed during which a number of priests and citizens assembled in that part of the Rue du Rhone which lies between the Tour Perce and the Molard. Presently the inn door opened again, and the four huguenots came out with Farel and Sautier. When they saw them the crowd became agitated. ‘The devils are going,’ shouted the priests, as the two evangelists and their friends passed along. Farel, seeing the numbers around him, wished to exhort them, ‘as he walked along;’ but Perrin would not permit it, representing to him that it was necessary to push on quickly for fear the priests should block the way. When the reformers reached the water’s edge, they got into the boat with their defenders. The boatmen immediately began to row, and the crowd that lined the shore could do nothing but hoot. Perrin, fearing violence, would not land at any of the towns or hamlets of Vaud, but steered the boat to an unfrequented place between Merges and Lausanne. Here they all got on shore and embraced each other; after which the huguenots returned to Geneva, and the reformers made their way to Orbe and thence to Grandson.