(NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER 1532.)
FAREL, seeing his labors in these different localities crowned with a success that promised to be lasting, turned his eyes with all the more ardor to Geneva. The numerous victories of Neuchatel and Vaud seemed to augur new ones to be gained in the city of the huguenots. There were however, great obstacles. A fanatical party, directed by monks and priests, was opposed to all change, and even the enlightened catholics, who desired the abolition of crying abuses, kept repeating that the church ought first of all to be maintained, and then reformed. ‘A purification is not enough,’ said Farel; ‘a transformation is wanted.’ But who was to bring it about?
He had been banished from Geneva, and for a time could not return there.
Froment, young, poor, simple-minded, but intelligent, had refused to undertake so difficult a task. Farel tried once more. Froment did not understand how the attack of one of the strongest fortresses of the enemy could be entrusted to so young a man. ‘Fear nothing,’ said Farel; ‘you will find men in Geneva quite ready to receive you, and your very obscurity will protect you. God will be your guide, and will guard your holy enterprise.’ Fro ment yielded, but felt humbled; and reflecting on the task entrusted to him, he fell on his knees: ‘O God,’ he said, ‘I trust in no human power, but place myself entirely in thy hands. To thee I commit my cause, praying thee to guide it, for it is thine.’ He did not pray alone.
The little flock at Yvonand, affected at this call which was about to take away their pastor, said: ‘O God, give him grace to be useful for the advancement of thy Word!’ The brethren embraced, and Froment departed, ‘going to Geneva,’ he tells us, ‘with prayers and blessings.’ It was the 1st November 1532.
He reached Lausanne, whence he took his way along the shore of the lake towards Geneva. The poor young man stopped sometimes on the road, and asked himself whether the enterprise he was about to attempt was not sheer madness. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will not shrink back; for it is by the small and weak things of this world that God designs to confound the great.’
And then he resumed his journey.
The Genevese were much occupied at that time with signs in the heaven.
A strange blaze shone in the firmament; every night their eyes were fixed upon a long train of light, and the most learned endeavored to divine the prognostics to be drawn from it. ‘At the new moon,’ says a manuscript, ‘there appeared a comet, at two in the morning, which was visible from the 26th September to the 14th of the following month. About this time Antony Froment arrived in Geneva.’ Many huguenots, irritated at the reception given to Farel, despaired of seeing Geneva reformed, and its liberties settled on a firm basis. Some, however, who were adepts in astronomy, wondered whether that marvelous sheen did not foretell that a divine light would also illuminate the country. They waited, and Froment appeared.
The young Dauphinese was at first much embarrassed. He tried to enter into conversation with one and another, but they were very short with the stranger. He hoped to find ‘some acquaintance with whom he could retire safely and familiarly;’ but he saw none but strange faces. ‘Alas!’ he said, ‘I can not tell what to do, except it be to return, for I find no door to preach the Gospel.’ Then, calling to mind the names of the chief huguenots, friends of Farel, who (as he said) would give him the warmest welcome, Froment resolved to apply to them, and waited upon Baudichon de la Maison-Neuve, Claude Bernard, J. Goulaz, Vandel, and Ami Perrin,… but strange to say he everywhere met with embarrassed manners and long faces. The mean appearance of the young Dauphinese disconcerted even the best disposed. Farel (they thought) might at least have sent a scholar, and not a working-man. Geneva was an important and learned city. There were men of capacity among the Roman clergy, who must be opposed by a minister of good appearance, a well-established doctor… The huguenots bowed out the mean little man. ‘Ah!’ said Froment, returning to his inn, ‘I found them so cold, so timid, and so startled at what had been done to Farel and his companions, that they dared not unbosom themselves, and still less receive me into their houses.’ Confounded and dejected at seeing all his plans overthrown, he walked thoughtfully through the streets with his eyes bent on the ground. He entered the inn, shut himself up in his room, and asked himself what was to be done next. Those who seemed to wish to hear the Gospel looked at him with contemptuous eyes. If he spoke to any persons, they turned their backs on him. Not one door was opened to the Word of God… His feelings were soured. Wearied and dejected he sank under the weight, and lost courage. ‘I am greatly tempted to go back,’ he said. Froment went to the landlord, paid his bill, strapped his little bundle on his shoulders, and, without taking leave of the huguenots, bent his steps towards the Swiss gate, and quitted the city. But he had not gone many yards before he stopped; he felt as if he were detained by an invisible hand; a voice was heard in his conscience, telling him he was doing wrong; a force greater than that of man compelled him to retrace his steps. He returned to his room, shut the door, and sat down; leaning on the table with his head in his hands, he asked what God wanted with him. He began to pray, and seemed to witness in himself the realization of the promise: I will lead thee in the way in which thou shouldst walk. He called to mind what Farel had told him, and what the reformer had done at Aigle.
A flash of light illumined his soul. They will have nothing to do with him in Geneva, because his appearance is mean. Be it so; he will undertake with humility the work that God gives him; and since he is rejected as an evangelist, he will turn schoolmaster.
During his walks Froment had met with one Le Patu, a man but little known, whom he asked if he could procure for him a place for a school. Le Patu answered that there was the great hall at Boytet’s, at the Croix d’Or, near the Molard. They went there together; Froment measured its dimensions with his eye, and hired the room. He breathed again; he had now one foot in the stirrup; it only remained to get into the saddle, and begin his course. It was necessary to find scholars; with God’s help Froment despaired of nothing. Returning to the inn, he drew up a prospectus, made several copies in his best handwriting, went out with them, and posted them in all the public places. They ran as follows: ‘A man has just arrived in this city who engages to teach reading and writing in French, in one month, to all who will come to him, young and old, men and women, even such as have never been to school; and if they can not read and write within the said month, he asks nothing for his trouble. He will be found at Boytet’s large room, near the Molard, at the sign of the Croix d’Or. Many diseases are also cured gratis.’
These papers having been posted about the city, many of the passers by stopped to read them. ‘We have heard him speak,’ said some with whom he had conversed; ‘he talks well.’ Others thought that the promise to teach reading and writing in a month was suspicious; to which more benevolent men replied, that in any case he did not aim at their purses. But the priests and devout were irritated. ‘He is a devil,’ said a priest in the crowd; ‘he enchants all who go near him. You have hardly heard him before his magical words bewilder you.’ The school opened however, and he did not want for young pupils.
Froment, who had talent (his book of the Actes et Gestes de Geneve proves this), taught with simplicity and clearness. Before dismissing his scholars he would open the New Testament and read a few verses, explaining them in an interesting manner; after which (as he had some knowledge of medicine) he would ask them whether any in their families were sick, and distribute harmless remedies among them. It was by the instruction of the mind and the healing of the body that the evangelist paved the way to the conversion of the heart. The school and medicine are great missionary auxiliaries. The children ran home and told their parents all; the mothers stopped in their work to listen to them, and the fathers, especially the huguenots, made them tell it again. Some of the boys and girls were continually prattling about it; they even accosted men and women in the streets, inviting them to come and ‘hear that man .’ In a short time the city was full of the schoolmaster who spoke French so well.
Several adults resolved to hear him, either from a desire to learn, or from a curiosity, or in sport. Wives, however, stopped their husbands; jesters played off their jokes, and priests uttered their anathemas. But nothing could stop the current, for people thought the schoolmaster would speak against the lives of the priests, the mass, and Lent… These worthy huguenots, as they passed through the streets, heard ‘numerous loud jests and whispered hints’ around them. They took their places behind the children and listened. Froment began: ‘He speaks well,’ said his hearers, he did even more than he had promised; He taught arithmetic, which was very acceptable to the Genevese, who are by nature rather calculating. It was the sermon, however, which the hearers waited for, and that was very different from what they had expected — a homily instead of a philippic.
In the course of his lessons Froment read at one time a story from the Bible, at another one of our Lord’s sermons, giving the Scripture as the Scriptures of God, explaining as he went on the difficult words, and then applying the doctrine affectionately to the conscience of his hearers. They were all ears; leaning forward and with half-opened mouth, each one seemed afraid of losing a word. A few boys turned glances of triumph on those whom they had brought there. Froment joyfully marked the effect produced by his teaching. ‘They were much astonished, for they had never heard such doctrine.’ Some began to understand that evangelical christianity did not consist in mocking the priests and the mass, but in knowing and loving the Savior. ‘Those who heard him conceived in their hearts some understanding of the truth.’ In a short time the success of this simple instruction surpassed the hopes of the teacher. Those who had heard him talked of the beautiful discourses delivered at the Croix d’Or. ‘Come,’ said they, ‘for he preaches very differently from the priests, and asks nothing for his trouble.’ — ‘Good,’ said some citizens more ignorant than the rest; ‘we will go and hear him; we will learn to read and write, and hear what he says’ Men, women, and children hastened to the hall, striving which should be there first. The poor man whom the Genevans had repulsed had suddenly grown in their estimation. The disputes between huguenots and mamelukes, the claims of the Duke of Savoy and Bishop De la Baume were forgotten; nothing was thought of but the evangelist. At the epoch of the Reformation nothing was more striking than the great difference between the instruction given by the priests and that given by the reformers. ‘Their teaching,’ it was said, ‘is not such a cold, meager, lifeless thing as that of popery. True, our masters sing loud enough, and preach whatever pleases their patrons, but they chirp out divine things in a profane manner; their discourses have no reverence for God, and are full of fine words and affectation… In the others, on the contrary, instead of mere words and idle talk, there is virtue and efficaciousness, a life-giving spirit and divine power.’ The friends of the priests could not hear such remarks without feeling the deepest alarm. ‘Pshaw!’ they said, ‘you speak as if the man had enchanted you. By what sounds, figures, or magical operations has he bewitched you? Or is it else by fine words, great promises, or other means of seduction… ..by money?’ From that time if they saw in the street a man or woman who attended the meetings at the Croix d’Or, they would cry out: ‘He! he! there goes one of the possessed!’ Complaints were made and bitter reproaches: signs of disapprobation were heard; but ‘notwithstanding all this contrary movement the number of hearers increased daily. Many of those whom curiosity had attracted were interested, enlightened, and touched, and returning home they praised and glorified God.’ All were not, however, won over to the Gospel. Certain huguenot leaders, Ami Perrin, John Goulaz, Stephen d’Adda, and others, took no great pleasure in the preacher’s sermons; but believing that this new doctrine, which fell from the skies, would overthrow the dominion of the priests and mamelukes, they did not hesitate to range themselves among Froment’s hearers, and to support him energetically in the city. Ere long matters went still worse for Rome. Some of Froment’s hearers invited certain priests who were liberally inclined, to come and hear the schoolmaster. The idea of sitting on the benches at the Croix d’Or alarmed these churchmen, the huguenots repeated the Frenchman’s words: ‘Truly,’ said the priests, ‘these doctrines are good, and we should do well to receive them.’ — ‘He! he!’ said certain of the citizens, ‘the clerks who made such a brag are now converted themselves.’
The alarm increased. The most bigoted monks and priests entered private houses, addressed the groups assembled in the public places, and jeered at Froment’s doctrine and person. ‘Will you go and hear that devil?’ they said; ‘what can that little fool (folaton ) know who is hardly twenty-two?’ — ‘That fool,’ answered Froment’s admirers, ‘will teach you to be wise That devil will cast out the devil that is in you.’ In truth an astonishing work was going on in Geneva at this time; many souls were gained to the evangelical faith, and as in the times of the apostles, it was the women of distinction who believed first. Paula, the wife of John Levet, and probably the same as Pernetta of Bourdigny, was daughter of the lord of Bourdigny, in the mandament of Peney. The members of this house had been styled nobles or damoiseaux as far back as the thirteenth century, and many of them had been syndics of Geneva. This lady, prepared by the teachings of the evangelists who had preceded Froment, ‘had become very zealous for the Word,’ and earnestly desired to bring to the Gospel her sister-in-law Claudine, wife of a worthy citizen, Aimee Levet. The latter, ‘an honest, devoted, and wondrously superstitious woman,’ was upright and sincere, and more than once had combated zealously her sister’s opinions. One day when Paula was at Claudine’s house, she conjured her to come and hear the schoolmaster. ‘I have so great a horror of him,’ replied her sister-in-law, ‘that for fear of being bewitched, I will neither see nor hear him.’ — ‘He speaks like an angel,’ answered Paula. ‘I look upon him as a devil,’ retorted Claudine. ‘If you hear him, you will be saved.’ — ‘And I think I shall be damned.’ Thus contended these two women. Paula was not discouraged. ‘At least hear him once? she said, and then added with emotion, ‘Pray hear him once for love of me!’ She prevailed at last, though with great difficulty.
Dame Claudine, although yielding to her sister’s entreaties, resolved to protect herself thoroughly. She armed herself carefully with all the antidotes provided in such cases; she fastened fresh-gathered rosemary leaves to her temples, rubbed her bosom with virgin wax, hung relics, crosses, and rosaries round her neck, and shielded by these amulets, she accompanied Paula to the Croix d’Or. ‘I am going to see an enchanter,’ she said, so deceived was she. She promised herself to lead back the Demoiselle de Bourdigny into the fold.
Claudine entered the hall and sat down in front of the magician in mockery and derision, says the chronicle. Froment appeared, having a book in his hand. He mounted on a round table, as was his custom, in order to be better heard, and opening the New Testament, read a few words, and then began to apply them. Claudine, without caring the least for the assembly, and wishing to make her catholicism known, crossed herself several times on the breast, at the same time repeating certain prayers. Froment continued his discourse and unfolded the treasures of the Gospel. Claudine raised her eyes at last, astonished at what she heard, and looked at the minister. She listened, and ere long there was not a more attentive hearer in all the congregation. Froment’s voice alone would have been ‘wasted,’ but it entered into the woman’s understanding, as if borne by the Spirit of God. She drank in the reformer’s words; and yet a keen struggle was going on within her. Can this doctrine be true, seeing that the church says nothing about it? she asked herself. Her eyes often fell on the schoolmaster’s book. It was not a missal or a breviary… It seemed to her full of life.
Froment having completed his sermon, the children and adults rose and prepared to go out. Claudine remained in her place: she looked at the teacher, and at last exclaimed aloud: ‘Is it true what you say?’ — ‘Yes,’ answered the reformer. ‘Is it all proved by the Gospel?’ — ‘Yes.’ — ‘Is not the mass mentioned in it?’ — ‘No!’ — ‘And is the book from which you preached a genuine New Testament?’ — ‘Yes.’ Madame Levet eagerly desired to have it: taking courage, she said: ‘Then lend it me.’
Froment gave it to her, and Claudine placing it carefully under her cloak, among her relics and beads, went out with her sister-in-law, who was beginning to see all her wishes accomplished. As Claudine returned home she did not talk much with Paula: hers was one of those deep natures that speak little with man but much with God. Entering her house, she went straight to her room and shut herself in, taking nothing but the book with her, and being determined not to come out again until she had found the solution of the grand problem with which her conscience was occupied.
On which side is truth? At home or at Wittemberg? Having made arrangements that they should not wait meals for her, or knock at her door, ‘she remained apart,’ says Froment, ‘for three days and three nights without eating or drinking, but with prayers, fasting, and supplication.’
The book lay open on the table before her. She read it constantly, and falling on her knees, asked for the divine light to be shed abroad in her heart. Claudine probably did not possess an understanding of the highest range, but she had a tender conscience. With her the first duty was to submit to God, the first want to resemble Him, the first desire to find everlasting happiness in Him. She did not reach Christ through the understanding; conscience was the path that led her to Him. An awakening conscience is the first symptom of conversion and consequently of reformation. Sometimes Claudine heard in her heart a voice pressing her to come to Jesus; then her superstitious ideas would suddenly return, and she rejected the Lord’s invitation. But she soon discovered that the practices to which she had abandoned herself were dried-up wells where there had never been any water. Determined to go astray no longer, she desired to go straight to Christ. It was then she redoubled those ‘prayers and supplications’ of which Froment speaks, and read the Holy Scriptures with eagerness. At last she understood that divine Word which spake: ‘Daughter, thy sins are forgiven thee.’ Oh, wonderful, she is saved! This salvation did not puff her up: she discovered that ‘the grace Of God trickled slowly into her;’ but the least drop coming from the Holy Spirit seemed a well that never dried. Three days were thus spent: for the same space of time Paul remained in prayer at Damascus. Madame Levet having read the Gospel again and again desired to see the man who had first led her to know it. She sent for him. Froment crossed the Rhone, for she lived at the foot of the bridge, on the side of St. Gervais. He entered, and when she saw him Claudine rose in emotion, approached him, and being unable to speak burst into tears. ‘Her tears,’ says the evangelist, ‘fell on the floor,’ she had no other language. When she recovered, Madame Levet courteously begged Froment to sit down, and told him how God had opened to her the door of heaven. At the same time she showed herself determined to profess without fear before men the faith that caused her happiness. ‘Ah!’ she said, ‘can I ever thank God sufficiently for having enlightened me?’ Froment had come to strengthen this lady and he was himself strengthened. He was in great admiration at ‘hearing her speak as she did.’ A conversion so spiritual and so, serious must needs have a great signification for the Reformation of Geneva, and as Calvin says in other circumstances where also only one woman seems to have been converted: ‘From this tiny shoot an excellent church was to spring.’