(NEW YEAR’S DAY, 1533.)
FOR nearly twenty years liberty had been clearing the ground on which the Gospel was to raise its temple. For nearly eight years a few pious voices had spoken of the doctrine of salvation in private conversations and meetings; but the Reformation had not yet been preached in the face of the people. The hour that was to make it a public and notorious thing was about to strike; the world was about to witness the birth of the principles of that moral power which for two centuries, whatever may have been the meanness of its origin, has influenced the destinies of christendom; which, fanning the flame, that is to say, inspiring the friends of the Reformation with heavenly courage, has waged heroic battles against the Jesuits and the inquisition, and preserved the Gospel and liberty from dangerous assaults.
Geneva was about to hear the voice of a protestant.
The last night of the year 1532 had passed away, and first of 1533 was beginning. In every house relations and friends were greeting the new year, which the reformed hoped would be better than all that had gone before.
The family congratulations being over, they went to church. Bocquet was again preaching at the Gray Friar’s monastery, where many evangelicals attended; but the monk had hardly finished, when numbers of his hearers quitted the chapel and hurried eagerly along the Rue de Rive to the Croix d’Or. There were many curious persons among them, who, knowing that the council had prohibited Froment’s preaching, were all the more desirous of hearing him. In a moment the hall was filled, then the stairs and passage… and at last the street in front of the house. Froment arrived with a few friends, and seeing the crowd, observed: ‘The streets are so full, that it is quite a crush.’ He tried however to make his way through the mass, and his friends assisted him; but do what he would, all his exertions were ineffectual.
Was all this unforeseen, or was it premeditated by some of the huguenots?
Were these energetic men determined at last to bring the evangelist from his narrow schoolroom and force him to preach in public? Is there not some truth in Sister Jeanne’s statement that on the evening before, they had desired to make him preach in the large area of the Madeleine? And may we not believe, that as they did not succeed then, they now desired to compensate themselves by taking a still larger space and making the reformer preach in the open air? These suppositions appear probable, but there is no decided evidence in their favor. At all events, the crowd recognized Froment, and saw that he could not reach the usual place of his ministrations. Those who were in the street perceived that if the evangelist succeeded in entering the Croix d’Or, they would be left outside, which was not agreeable to them. One man shouted out: ‘To the Molard,’ and in a short time the cry became general: ‘To the Molard, to the Molard.’ The Molard was situated in the most populous quarter of the city, near the lake and the Rhone. It was a large square, about 200 yards from the Croix d’Or. Froment hesitated, but the crowd, getting into motion, carried him along with them towards the south-west corner of the square, where the fish market is still held. The fish-women were there with their fresh wares displayed on their stalls. The huguenots, finding no other pulpit, took one of these stalls, and invited Froment to get on it. He was determined, like his master Farel, to preach the truth in every place.
As soon as his head appeared above the others, the multitude that filled the square manifested their delight, and those around him shouted louder than ever: ‘Preach to us, preach the Word of God to us.’ Froment, who was moved, answered with a loud voice: ‘It is also the word that shall endure for ever.’ The tumult was so great that the preacher could not make himself heard: ‘He made a sign to them with his hand to keep silence, and they were still,’ ‘Pray to God with me,’ he said, and then getting off the stall, he knelt upon the ground. He was agitated: the tears flowed down his cheeks; a deep silence prevailed in that square which was so often in those days the scene of tumultuous movements. Some knelt, others remained standing; all heads were uncovered, and even those who were strangers to the Gospel appeared thoughtful. Froment joined his hands, lifted his eyes to heaven, and speaking so distinctly that all could hear him, he said: ‘Eternal God, father of all mercies, thou hast promised thy children to give them whatsoever they shall ask in faith and wilt refuse them nothing that is reasonable and just; and hast always heard the prayers of thy servants, who are oppressed in divers manners. Thou knowest now what is the need of this people better than they or I do… This need is principally to hear thy Word. It is true we have been ungrateful in not acknowledging thee as our only Father, and thine own Son Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent to die for us, in order to be our only Savior and intercessor. But, Lord, thou hast promised us that whensoever the poor sinner draws near thee, by reason of thy Son, born of the Virgin Mary, thou wilt hear him. We know and even are assured that thou desirest not the death and destruction of sinners, but that they should be converted and live… Thou desirest that they should not remain under the great tyranny of Antichrist, and under the hand of the devil and his servants, who are continually fighting against thy holy Word and destroying thy work… Our Father! look down upon thy poor blind people, led by the blind, so that they both fall into the ditch, and can only be lifted out by thy mercy… Lift them out by thy Holy Spirit, open their eyes, their ears, their understandings, their hearts, in order that, confessing their sins, they may look to the goodness of thy Son whom thou hast given to die for them. And since it hath pleased thee, Lord, to send me to them, give both them and me the infinite grace that by thy Holy Spirit they may receive what thou shalt put into the mouth of thy servant, who is unworthy to be the bearer of so great a message. But as it hath pleased thee to choose me from among the weak things of the world, give me strength and wisdom so that thy power may be manifested… not only in this city but in all the world. How can thy servant stand in the presence of such a multitude of adversaries, unless thou art pleased to strengthen him? Show, then, that thy power is greater than Satan’s, and that thy strength is not like man’s strength.’ Froment concluded with the Lord’s prayer.
The people were touched: they had often heard the mechanical prayers of the priests, but not a prayer of the heart. They acknowledged that the reformers were certainly not partisans, but christians who desired the salvation of all men. The evangelist rose and stood once more upon the stall, which was about to become the first pulpit of the Reformation in Geneva. He had heard of the proceedings of the vicars of the Madeleine and St. Germain’s, and was moved by the furious opposition of the priests to the preaching of the Gospel. He had their swords and arquebuses still before his eyes, and resolved to oppose them with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It was necessary to lead the Genevans away from the teachers who deceived them and direct them to Scripture; it was necessary to break with the papacy. All eyes were fixed on him: they saw him take a book — it was the Gospel. He opened it at the seventh chapter of Matthew ( Matthew 7) and read these words:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves: by their fruits ye shall know them.
Then fixing his eyes on his numerous audience, Froment began by expressing his faith in the mysteries of God: ‘Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, very God and very Man, conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, knowing the things that were to happen, foresaw that false prophets would come, not with hideous faces, but with the most pleasing exterior in the world, under the color of holiness, and in sheep’s clothing, so that the children of God might be deceived. For this cause he exhorted his disciples to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Our God does not desire to have a foolish, giddy people, but a people endowed with great wisdom, who can distinguish between the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. They who do nor know it go astray, and are like swine which can not discern good things from bad, and swallow everything indiscriminately..,. Ah! if the serpent, which is but a brute, is so wise in his generation, if he shuts his ears so as not to hear the voice of the charmer, if he casts off his old skin when the time for doing so has come, shall we not fear to follow the cunningly-devised doctrines of men? Shall we not cast off our old skin to put on a new one? Yes, we must put off our old nature which is sin, Satan, idolatry, impurity, robbery, hypocrisy, pride, avarice, and false doctrine, and put on the new man which is Christ… It would be of no use to hear the Word of the Gospel if we did not change our wicked intentions, and to distinguish the false teachers if we did not avoid them. What! if we recognized venomous beasts should we live among them? If we saw a dish of poison should we not beware of eating it? ‘But Christ desires us further to be harmless as doves. Not with the simplicity of monastic hypocrisy or bigotry, but with simplicity of heart, without gain, lovely as that of doves… If we walk in such simplicity we shall overcome all our enemies, as Jesus Christ overcame his enemies by his meekness… Let us not begin fighting, killing, and burning as tyrants do. The child of God has no other sword of defense than the Word of God; but that is a two-edged sword, piercing even to the marrow.’
Everybody understood Froment’s allusion, and many, as they thought of the riot of the evening before, looked and smiled at each other. But while these words, delivered with energy, were stirring the crowd assembled in the Molard, there was still greater agitation in the rest of the city. The priests were irritated; they had tried to shut Froment’s school-room, and now he was preaching in the great square. They went from one to another and ‘excited the laity. ‘The Lutherans,’ they said, ‘have taken their idol to the Molard to make him preach there.’ The vicar-episcopal being instructed by them, apprised the syndics, who sent for the chief usher (grand sautier ) Falquet, and ordered him to stop the preaching. That officer immediately went down to the Molard, the sergeants cleared a way through the crowd, and going up to Froment, who was then speaking with great boldness, he stretched out his staff towards him and said, ‘In the name of my lords I command you to cease preaching.’
Froment stopped, and turning to the chief usher answered him in a loud voice, ‘We ought to obey God rather than man. God commands me to preach His Word, you forbid it; I am therefore not bound to obey you.’
The presence of the public force caused, however, some little sensation in the audience. The evangelist noticing it turned to the people and said, ‘Do not be disturbed, my friends, but listen to what our Lord says — that we must beware of false prophets.’ Silence was restored, everyone became calm, and Falquet, finding the evangelist was determined to preach, thought it the safest plan to refer to his masters, and withdrew with his officers. Froment then continued his discourse: ‘In order to be on our guard against false prophets, we must know what they are, what is their doctrine and life, and with what they are clothed. When they have been described to you in their natural colors, you will avoid their teaching and their life as more deadly than the plague. The plagues with which God has visited you heretofore only touched you outwardly; but this, more venomous than all the other poisons of the earth, infects the soul, kills it, and casts it into perdition. With this plague we and our fathers have been infected for nearly a thousand years. Not that it came upon us suddenly, and in villainous and deformed appearance; no, it came gradually, under the color of holiness and in sheep’s clothing, these ravening wolves having even some good intentions. But although Jesus Christ had warned us of their coming, and had pointed them out to us, we have been blinded and led by the nose to the ditch of deceit like cattle to water… The son of perdition, who sitting in the temple of God is worshipped as God — him you worship and keep his commandments. Oh! what a fine master you serve, and what prophets you have! Do you know them? Not to keep you in suspense I declare openly that I am speaking of the pope, and that the false prophets of whom I bid you beware are the priests, monks, and all the rest of his train. ‘But some of you, who yourselves belong to that band, will say: “It is you that are the false prophets! Our law is old, and yours is but of yesterday, and brings confusion among the people of every country. While our friends reigned, we enjoyed so much good, so many happy years, that it was quite marvelous; but since you have come to preach this new law there have been wars, famines, pestilences, divisions, strifes, and ill-will.
Certainly you are not from God.” ‘Well, let us examine this statement; let us find out who are these false prophets — we or your priests?… In order to discriminate in such a matter the two parties ought to have a competent judge, who is no acceptor of persons, and that the parties should not be judges in their own cause. For if, in civil causes, we need good judges, good pleadings, good witnesses, good reasons, and letters patent, how much more so in the things of God!… We shall take, therefore, a competent judge, and shall produce witnesses, documents, and ancient customs for the defense of our right.’
Curiosity was excited; the hearers asked each other what was the judge’s name. Hitherto the pope had been appealed to as sole judge of controversies: who was Froment going to put in his place? ‘In the first place,’ he continued, ‘the judge shall be — God. Yes, God who judges with righteous judgment, not regarding either rich or poor, wise or foolish, and who gives right to whom it belongs; — the judge shall be His true Son Jesus Christ, attended by His good and lawful witnesses the prophets and apostles; and here,’ said he, holding up the New Testament, and showing it to the people, ‘here are the sealed letters, signed with the precious blood of our Lord, and the cloud of martyrs who were put to death in order to bear this testimony. What read we there? ‘Firstly, the Lord condemns the Pharisees as blind leaders. Now, do you not think that yours (the Romish priests) are condemned by him?… Those who call themselves saints through their own merits, the only saints of the church, and who wish to lead you by their bulls, pardons, auricular confessions, masses, and other tricks or maneuvers which they have invented out of their own heads… which the Pharisees never dared do. ‘Moreover, the Lord in St. Matthew bears this testimony: There shall arise false prophets in the latter days who will say unto you, Lo, here is Christ or there! ( Matthew 24:23) Do they not tell you that Christ is there… in the inner part of the holy house, hidden in the farthest place, in a vessel? Do not believe them. The true Christ is he who hath ransomed us with his blood. Seek him by a real faith at the right hand of the Father, and not in a house, in a cupboard, in the pyx… as your new redeemers and high priests do. ‘And what says Jesus Christ to-day for the fuller identification of the false prophets? He not only says that they come in sheep’s clothing, but that they walk in long robes, devour widows’ houses, and for a show make long prayers. The Lord does not forbid wearing long robes for the necessities of the body, but the hypocritical superstitions connected with them, the wearers esteeming themselves holier than the laity, by being dressed, shaven, and shorn differently from us… Yes, by such means they have devoured widows; I do not mean to say that they eat women; it is a manner of speaking, as we say, of tyrants that they devour their people, and of lawyers that they devour their clients, that is to say, their substance; and not that they eat men’s flesh, as the cannibals do.
They break their bones (to get at the marrow ), says a prophet , and eat the flesh of my people, as flesh within the caldron. ( Micah 3:3) ‘Look now, O people, I pray you, and judge for yourselves. Tell us who are those who wear such clothing, such long robes, who devour widows, making long prayers for show… You know very well it is not us, for we are dressed like other people; but if your priests were to dress like us they would be apostate and excommunicate. ‘Nay more, we do not lead poor people to understand that they ought to bring us a portion of their goods, and that then we will save them; that praying for them and the dead, we will bring them out of purgatory… But your priests do so, and under such pretexts they have dragged into their paws almost all the riches of the earth; and not a word must be said about it… for whosoever speaks of it will suddenly be put to death, or be excommunicated, or called heretic and Lutheran. ‘Ah! Jesus Christ, St. Paul, and the other apostles paint them so truly to the life that there is no one so blind or stupid as not to recognize them easily, except those who are afraid of losing their soup-tickets. The Holy Scriptures call them wells without water, and-christs, despisers of the Lord, and say that they give heed to doctrines of devils, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats which God hath created to be received with thankfulness of them which believe. ( 1 Timothy 4:1-3) While Froment was thus haranguing the people in the Molard, the magistrates assembled in the hotel-de-ville learnt from the chief usher that the sermon was still going on. The syndics were exasperated. The canons and priests argued that as the civil power was helpless, they ought to take the matter into their own hands, and, grasping their arms, prepared to descend. At the same time, the council being resolved to make an example, ordered the preachers to be apprehended wherever they were found; and consequently the lieutenant of police, the procurator-fiscal, with sergeants, soldiers, and priests, marched in a large body to the Molard, angry and indignant at the evangelist’s boldness, and determined to throw him intoprison; If Farel had been placed beyond their reach, Froment at least should not escape. While this excited band was descending the Peron with deadly intentions, Froment, who either had no suspicion, or did not care about it, was continuing his discourse to the people of Geneva. ‘There are many other passages of scripture,’ he said, ‘which might be brought forward for a stronger proof; but these must suffice to put you in a position to judge whether we or your pastors are false prophets. There is none among you who does not know that we do not forbid marriage or meats; that we declare marriage holy, ordained from the beginning of the world to all such as have not the gift of continence, without any distinction of persons. But the pope does otherwise, and says that he who hath not a lawful wife may keep a concubine (Distinctio 34, cap. 16. Qui non habet uxorem, loco ilius concubinam habere potest ); for, he adds, I desire that they be holy… Verily a wonderful holiness is that!… I make you all judges. You have long known them better than I have. ‘As for meats, we leave every man free, as our Lord has done, exhorting the people to use them profitably, without excess or superfluity, giving thanks to God… But these do the very opposite. Although Christ was sent by the Father to teach us the truth, they bring us lies, dreams, false doctrines, prohibition of marriages and of meats, and all sorts of nonsense, as if they were holy things.’… At this moment a confused noise was heard. Claude Bernard, whose eyes and ears were on the watch, perceived a band of armed men entering the square. The lieutenant of the city, the procurator-fiscal, the soldiers and the armed priests, exasperated and impatient, were occupying the Molard Bernard saw that resistance would be dangerous and useless; besides the Reformation must not be established in Geneva by violence, it must make its way by conviction. There was not a moment to be lost; every one knew what would be the fate of the evangelist if he were taken… He must be saved. Bernard therefore sprang from his place and rushed ‘in great excitement’ towards Froment, shouting to him at the top of his voice: ‘Here are all the priests in arms… the procurator-fiscal and the lieutenant of the city are with them… For the honor of God descend, get off the stall, and let us save your life!… Make your escape!’ Froment would not come down: they entreated him in vain; his heart burnt within him, for he perceived that his discourse was stirring their souls… How could he forsake his work at such a decisive moment? But the priests and arquebusiers were coming nearer; some of the huguenots were already grasping their swords and preparing to resist the sacerdotal gang. There would have been bloodshed and death. ‘Pray, for God’s honor, let us avoid the spilling of blood,’ exclaimed Bernard. Froment could not resist these words. Some of his friends caught hold of him, lifted him off the stall and dragged him away. They took him through a narrow private passage, and by this means reached Jean Chautemps’ house. The door opened and the evangelist was put into a secret hiding-place. The priests and soldiers vainly endeavored to reach him; the mass of hearers was between them and him. The lieutenant ordered the people, under heavy penalties, to retire; and when the preacher was in safety, the assembly dispersed. The magistrates and priests returned angry and disappointed to report this second failure to the syndics. The Word had not been sown in vain; many of the hearers found that they had received a glorious new year’s gift. Such was the first day of the year 1533 at Geneva.
All the priests and their followers had not returned to the hotel-de-ville.
Froment had disappeared, but he could not be far off. Some of them prowled about the adjacent streets, trying to discover the reformer’s’ hiding place. At last one of them found it out. Chautemps was known to be a decided evangelist, and they called to mind that Olivetan had lived in his house. Several catholics stationed themselves under his windows, and when the night came, they began to make an uproar. This alarmed Froment’s friends; and going to his hiding place they told him that ‘he must move to the house of another citizen.’ They went, out by a backdoor, and, owing to the darkness, he was conducted without being recognized to the house of the energetic Perrin, who was more dreaded than the honest Chautemps. Ere long, however, the priests and their adherents followed him there: ‘Ami Perrin,’ they shouted, ‘we will pull down your house and burn you in it if you do not send the Lutheran away.’ Perrin made use of stratagem: going out to the riotous catholics, he said: ‘We have liberty to keep an honest servant in our houses without impediment from anybody.’ He then said to Froment: ‘You are my servant, I engage you as such, and you shall work for me.’ At the same time a few of Perrin’s friends, stanch huguenots, came up the street, presenting such a threatening front to the priests, that they were forced to retire. The syndics determined to convoke the great council on the morrow. The circumstances were serious: the new doctrine had been preached publicly, and Froment’s bold address had made an impression, especially on the huguenots. They had discovered that the surest means of guaranteeing their political emancipation was to establish a religious reformation. At the Molard, liberty and the Gospel had shaken hands. The catholics asked whether the pope’s sovereignty was about to fall to the ground. The various parties grew warm, abused each other, and lively discussions took place between them. The politicians maintained that if the city was divided on such un-important matters, their irreconcilable enemy Savoy would plant his white cross on the walls he had coveted so long. Certain laymen, fill of confidence in their own ability, doubted whether strangers and madmen (follateurs ) should be permitted to vent their nonsense everywhere?… The priests spoke the loudest: they asked the Genevans if they would forsake the faith of their ancestors; if the catholic and apostolic religion, attacked, overthrown, and annihilated, was to give place to a new doctrine that would bring down the ruin of Geneva.
The huguenots replied that if the religion announced by the reformers was not that of the pope, the schoolmen, the councils, and perhaps even of the Fathers, it was at least that of the apostles and Jesus Christ, and consequently was older than that of Rome. They represented that as the papal government was nothing else than despotism in the church, it could produce nothing but despotism in the state. The two parties became more distinct every day. The syndics and councilors, wishing to restore concord, went from one to another, trying to calm down the more violent; but it was a very hard task.
On the 2nd of January, when the council of Two Hundred met, the premier syndic proposed, ‘that it should be forbidden to preach in private houses or in public places without the permission of the syndics or the vicar-episcopal — and that all who knew of preachers guilty of infringing this law should be bound to inform against them, under penalty of three stripes with the rope.’ At these words the huguenots exclaimed, ‘We demand the Holy Scriptures;’ to which ‘the friends of the priests replied, ‘We desire that sect to be utterly extirpated.’ The council thought to restore harmony between everybody by carrying a resolution that Bocquet the gray friar should preach until next Lent.
The premier syndic, who was distressed at the strife and hatred by which the citizens were divided, proposed that ‘all men, citizens, and inhabitants, should forgive one another.’ The Genevans, who were prompt to anger, were equally prompt to reconciliation. ‘Yes, yes,’ they exclaimed, as they lifted up their hands, ‘We desire to love those who are of a contrary opinion.’ And soon bands of men might be seen parading the streets, in which persons of the most opposite opinions held one another affectionately by the arm. Meantime Froment remained in Perrin’s house and wove ribbons, ‘otherwise he could not have stayed there,’ as he informs us. Whilst seated in silence at the loom, passing the shuttle to and fro, he deliberated whether he should remain in hiding or again openly proclaim the Gospel?
Having made up his mind to go from house to house to strengthen those who had believed, he went out and knocked at certain doors; a few of his friends, armed with stout sticks, followed him at a distance, without his knowledge, to prevent his being insulted. One day, however, a vulgar woman abusing him roundly, Jean Favre, a violent huguenot, and his bodyguard, went up and gave her ‘a sound slap in the face.’ Froment turned round, distressed at his friend’s hastiness: ‘It is not by violence,’ said he, ‘that we shall gain friends, but by gentleness and friendship.’
Another time Froment was crossing the Rhone bridge to go to Aime Levet’s. It was a holiday, and the priests at the head of a procession were advancing on one end of the bridge as Froment arrived at the other.
They were carrying crosses and relics, mumbling prayers and invoking the saints: Sancte Petre, chanted some; Sancte Paule, chanted others. Froment being taken by surprise and embarrassed, determined to be moderate, and not to throw the saints into the river as Farel had done at Montbeliard, he therefore stood still, but did not bow to the images. When they saw this, the priests left off chanting and began to shout: ‘Fall on him!.., fall on the dog!… to the Rhone with him!’ The devout women who followed them, breaking their ranks, rushed upon the reformer; one caught him by the arm, another by the dress, while a third pushed him from behind: ‘To the Rhone with him,’ they cried, and endeavored to throw him into the river.
But his bodyguard, consisting of John Humbert and some other huguenots, who were a little way off, ran up and rescued Froment from the hands of these furies. Upon this the women, priests, and sacristans, seeing that the Lutherans had saved their idol, shouted still louder than before. A tumultuous crowd filled the bridge. The huguenots, wishing to put Froment in a place of safety, hurriedly thrust him into Levet’s house, which was situated at the corner of the bridge. The populace, excited by the clergy, instantly besieged the house: they flung stones at the windows, threw mud into the shop, and at last rushed in and scattered the drugs and bottles upon the floor. Lever was an apothecary — a profession much esteemed. The huguenots, having put Froment in safety in a secret chamber, went out and assisted by a few friends drove the priests, women, and rioters from the bridge.
At night Froment left his hiding-place and returned to Perrin’s, where he assembled a few friends and told them that he thought it was his duty to leave the city on account of these ‘raging tempests.’ Chautemps, Perrin, Levet, and Guerin were much distressed, but they confessed that the violence of his enemies rendered the evangelist’s longer stay in Geneva useless. Claude Magnin offered to accompany him, and when the night came Froment bade his brethren farewell. Proceeding cautiously, he quitted the city, crossed the Pays de Vaud, and arrived at the village of Yvonand, where he rested from his Genevese battles.
Froment was not one of those eminent men who play a part because of their great character, and whose influence is continually on the increase.
His ministry at Geneva during part of the winter 1532-33 was the heroic period of his life, after which he seldom appears but in the second or third rank: he was eclipsed by teachers who were superior to him. In the briefness of his ministry he resembles those heavenly bodies which attract all eyes for a few weeks, and then disappear; but he resembles them also by the influence which the people ascribe to their ephemeral passage.
Froment’s stay in Geneva shook the Romish traditions, secured the Holy Scriptures from oblivion, began to shed a few rays of light in the city, and laid the first foundation of the Church. Ere long the Word of God was carried thither in greater fullness by Farel and Calvin: the sun poured out all its light, and a solid majestic edifice was built on the foundations laid by the poor schoolmaster.