(NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER, 1533.)
RELIGION needs liberty, and the convictions inspired by her ought to be exempt from the control of the Louvre and of the Vatican. Man’s conscience belongs to God alone, and every human power that encroaches on this kingdom and presumes to command within it is guilty of rebellion against its lawful sovereign. Religious persecution deserves to be reprobated, not only ill the name of philosophy, but above all in the name of God’s right. His sovereign Majesty is offended when the sword enters into the sanctuary. A persecuting government is not only illiberal, it is impious. Let no man thrust himself between God and the soul! The spot on which they meet is holy ground. Away, intruder! Leave the soul with Him to whom it belongs.
These thoughts naturally occur to us as we approach an epoch when a persecuting fanaticism broke out in France, when scaffolds were raised in the streets of Paris, and when acts of terrible cruelty were enthusiastically applauded by a royal cortege.
These rights of conscience, which we record, are not new. They date neither from our century, nor from the sixteenth. The Savior established them when he said: ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesars, and UNTO GOD THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S.’ Since that hour they have been maintained by many courageous voices. During three centuries the martyrs said to the pagan emperors: ‘Is it not an irreligious act to forbid my worshipping the God whom I like, and to force me to worship the god whom I dislike?’ In the fourth century Athanasius and Hilary told the Arian princes: ‘Satan uses violence, he dashes in the doors with an axe… but persuasion is the only weapon truth employs.’ In later years, when the barbarians desired to bend the Church under the weight of brute force, the hitherto servile clergy declared as loudly as they could that religious doctrine did not fall under the dominion of the temporal sword.
When, therefore, in the bloody days of the Reformation, the power of Rome, uniting in some countries with the power of the princes, wished to constrain men’s souls and force them to submit to its laws, the evangelical christians, by claiming liberty in their turn, only asserted the great principle of Jesus Christ formerly adopted-by the Church herself. But strange to say! this principle which she had found so admirable, when she had to employ it in self-defense, became impious when it was appealed to in order to escape from her persecutions. Such inconsistencies frequently occur in the history of fallen humanity. We must call them to remembrance though it be with sorrow. There have always existed many generous persons in the bosom of catholicity who have protested with horror against the frightful punishments by which it was attempted to make our forefathers renounce their faith; and there are still more now, for the laws of religious liberty are gradually becoming established among nations. But we must never forget that two centuries of cruel persecution was the welcome the world gave to the Reformation. When the day of St. Bartholomew saw the streets of the capital of the Valois run with blood, — when ruffians glutted their savage passions on the corps of that best and greatest of Frenchmen, Coligny — immense was the enthusiasm at Rome, and a fierce shout of exultation rang through the pontifical city. Wishing to perpetuate the glory of the massacre of the huguenots, the pope ordered a medal to be struck, representing that massacre and bearing the device: Hugonotorum strages. The officers of the Roman court still sell (as we know personally) this medal to all who desire to carry away some remembrance of their city. Those times are remote; milder manners prevail, but it is the duty of protestantism to remind the world of the use made by the court of Rome, on emerging from the middle ages, of that preeminence in catholic countries, which she contends belongs to her always, and which she is still ready to claim ‘with the greatest vigor.’
Resistance to this cruel preeminence cost the Reformation torrents of the purest blood; and it is this blood which gives us the right to protest against it.
Before we describe the scenes of horror that defiled the streets of Paris at this period, we must follow in his flight that young doctor, who, though illustrious in after years, was now the victim of persecution.
The feast of All Saints being the day when the university celebrated the opening of the academical year, Calvin (as we have seen), through the channel of his friend Cop the rector, had displayed before the Sorbonne and a numerous audience the great principles of the Gospel. University, monks, priests had all been excited, scandalized, and exasperated; parliament had interfered; and Cop and Calvin were obliged to flee.
That man whose hand was one day boldly to raise the standard of the Gospel in the world, whose teaching was to enlighten many nations, and whose eloquence was to stir all France; that man who was yearly to send forth from Geneva some thirty or forty missionaries, and whose letters strengthened all the Churches; that man, still young, pursued by the lieutenant-criminal and his sergeants, had been forced to steal out of his chamber into the street and disguise himself in strange garments; and in the beginning of November, he retold himself in the back streets on the left bank of the Seine looking on every side lest there should be any one on his track. He had never been more tranquil than at the moment when struck by this sudden blow. Francis I. resisted the insolence of the monks; the Sorbonne had been compelled to disavow their most fanatical acts; many Lutherans were able to preach the Gospel freely to those around them; a reforming movement seemed spreading far and wide through France… when suddenly the lightning darted forth and struck the young reformer. ‘I thought I should be able to devote myself to God’s service without hindrance,’ said he in his flight; ‘I promised myself a tranquil career;… but at that very moment, what I expected least, namely persecution and exile, were at the door.’ Calvin did not regret, however, the testimony he had borne to the truth, and resigned himself to exile. Far from resembling the unbroken horse (to use his own expression) who refuses to carry his rider, he voluntarily bowed his shoulders to the cross. Never tire in the middle of your journey, was his maxim always. Yet as he traveled along those rough by-roads of the Mantois, he often asked himself what this severe dispensation was to teach him. Was he to retire from Paris and renounce the idea of making that city the center of his christian activity? That would, indeed, be a hard trial for him. His people seemed to be waking, and he must leave them!... Still he kept on his way. On arriving near Mantes, he went to the residence of the Sire de Haseville, to whom he was known, and there remained in hiding several days. He then resumed his journey, either because he thought himself too near his enemies, or because his host was afraid.
Calvin took the road to the south; he crossed the charming plains and valleys of Tournine, entered the pasturages and forests of Poitou, and thence turned his steps towards Saintonge and the Angoumois. This latter province was the end of his journey. On a hill at whose foot the Charcute ‘softly flowed,’ stood the cathedral, the old castle and city of Angouleme, the birth-place of Margaret of Navarre. Calvin entered the gates of this antique town, and made his way to one of the principal streets, which afterwards received in his honor the name it still bears — Rue de Geneve. In that street was a large mansion whose principal apartment was a long gallery in which more than four thousand volumes, printed or manuscript, were collected: it was one of the most valuable private libraries then existing in France. The fugitive halted before this house. Learned works were doubtless well calculated to attract him; but he was animated by another motive also. This mansion belonged to the family of Du Tillet, whose members were reckoned among the most learned in the kingdom. The father and two of his sons were detained in Paris by their duties in the Chamber of Accounts, at the Louvre and in parliament; but another son, Louis, canon of the cathedral, was at Angouleme, and lived alone in that large house, when he was not at his parish of Claix. Louis was Calvin’s friend, and it was the remembrance of this gentle, mild, and rather weak young man, whose disposition was very engaging, that had induced the fugitive to bend his steps towards the Angoumois.
Calvin stopped in front of his friend’s house and knocked at the door, it opened, and he went in: we can not say whether he found the canon there or not, but at all events the latter was filled with joy when he heard of the arrival of the young doctor, whose ‘great gifts and grace’ he admired so much, and whose intimacy had been so sweet to him. Calvin told. him how he had been obliged to flee from the attacks of the parliament, and of the danger to which those who gave him refuge were exposed. But Du Tiller thought himself the happiest of men, if he could but shelter his friend from the search of his enemies. Once more he was about to enjoy those spiritual and edifying conversations which he had so often regretted and could never forget. Even the persecution Of which Calvin was a victim made him all the dearer to his friend; and Louis introduced him into the vast gallery, installed him in the midst of the most eminent minds of all ages, whose celebrated works loaded the numerous shelves, and established him, as in a safe retreat, in that beautiful library which seemed prepared for the lofty intelligence and profound studies of the theologian.
Calvin, who needed retirement and repose, felt happy. ‘I am never less alone than when alone,’ he used to say. At one time, he gave thanks to God; at another, taking the precious volumes from the shelves around him, he opened and read them, assuaging the thirst for knowledge which consumed him. A learned retreat, like that now given him, was the dream of his whole life. Pious reflections crowded into his heart, and if during his flight he had felt a momentary darkness, the light now shone into his soul. ‘The causes of what happens to us are often so hidden,’ he said in after times, ‘that human affairs seem to turn about at random, as on a wheel, and the flesh tempts us to murmur against God, because he sports with men, tossing them here and there like balls,… but the issue shows us that God is on the watch for the salvation of believers.’ A new epoch, a new phase, was beginning for Calvin: he was leaving school, he was about to enter upon life, and a pause was necessary. The future reformer, before rushing into the storms of an agitated career, was to be tempered anew in the fire of the divine Word and of prayer. Great struggles awaited him: the Church was waking up from the slumber of death, throwing back the winding-sheet of popery, and rising from the sepulcher. One universal cry was heard among all the nations of the WeSt. At Worms, a monk had demanded the Holy Scriptures of God in presence of the imperial diet; a priest had demanded them at Zurich; students had demanded them at Cambridge; at Spire, an assembly of princes had declared that they would hear nothing but the preaching of that heavenly Word; and its life-bearing doctrines had been solemnly confessed at Augsburg in the presence of Charles V. Germany, Switzerland, England, the Low Countries, Italy — all Europe, in a word, was stirred at the sight of that new faith which had come forth from the tomb of ages ... .France herself was moved. How could a young man so modest, so timid, who feared so much all contact with the passions of men — how could Calvin battle for the faith, if he did not receive in the retirement of the Wilderness the baptism of the Spirit and of fire?
And this baptism he received. Alone and forced to hide himself, he experienced an inward peace and joy he had never known before. ‘By the exercise of the cross,’ he said, ‘the Son of God receives us into his order, and makes us partakers of his glory.’ Accordingly he gave a very extraordinary name to the obscure town of Angouleme: he called it Doxopolis, the city of glory, and thus he dated his letters. How pleasant and glorious this retirement proved to him! He had found his Wartburg, . his Patmos, and unable any longer to hide from his friends the happiness he enjoyed, he wrote to Francis Daniel of Orleans: ‘Why cannot I have a moment’s talk with you?’ he said, ‘not indeed to trouble you with my disputes and struggles; why should I do so? I think that what interests you more just now is to know that. I am well, and that, if you take into account my known indolence, I am making progress in my studies.’ Then after speaking of Du Tillet’s kindness, of his own responsibility, and of the use he ought to make of his leisure… the joy which filled his heart ran over, and he exclaimed with thankfulness: ‘Oh! how happy I should think myself, if the peace which I now enjoy should continue during the time of my retirement and exile. The Lord, whose providence foresees everything, will provide. Experience has taught me that we cannot see much beforehand what will happen to us. At the very moment when I promised myself repose, the storm burst suddenly upon me. And then, when I thought some horrible den would be my lot, a quiet nest was unexpectedly prepared for me. … It is the hand of God that had done this. Only let us trust in him, and he will care for us!’ Thus the hunted Calvin found himself at Angouleme, under God’s hand, like a young storm-driven bird that has taken refuge in the nest under the wing of its mother.
The young canon took the liveliest interest in the fate of his guest, and hoped to see the hospitality he showed him bear precious fruits for learning and the Gospel. Calvin, too humble to believe that Du Tillet’s cares had any reference to himself, ascribed them solely to his friend’s zeal for knowledge and the cause of Christ; it seemed to him that he could never repay such kindness but by constant labor, and that was all he ever had to give. ‘My protector’s kindness,’ he said, ‘is sufficient to stimulate the indolence of the laziest of men. Cheer up, then! let me make an effort, let me struggle earnestly. No more carelessness!’ Then he shut himself up in Du Tillet’s library, gathered round him the books he wanted, and said: ‘I must give all my attention to study; this thought is constantly pulling me by the ear.’ If he took a moment’s leisure, he felt ‘his ear pulled,’ that is to say, his conscience was troubled; he hurried to his books, and set to work with so much zeal, ‘that he passed whole nights without sleeping and days without eating.’ This was his indolence!
A great idea was at that time growing in his heart. Parliament accused and even burnt his brethren for pretended heresies. ‘Must I be silent,’ he said, ‘and thus give unbelievers an opportunity of condemning a doctrine they do not know? Why should not the Reformed have a confession to lay before their adversaries?’ As he examined Du Tillet’s library, he came upon certain books which seemed to him to bear particularly on the existing state of suffering among evangelical christians. He saw that apologies had formerly been presented to the Emperor Adrian by Quadratus and Aristides, to Antoninns by Justin Martyr, and to Marcus Aurelius by Athenagoras. Ought not the friends of the Reformation to present a similar defense to Francis I? If Calvin’s mouth is shut, he will take up the pen. God was then setting him apart for one of the great works of the age. He did not indeed compose his Christian institutes at this time, even under the elementary form of the first edition, but he meditated it; he searched the Scriptures; he drew out the sketch, and perhaps wrote some passages of that work, the finest produced by the Reformation. And hence one of the enemies of the Reform, casting a severe look on the learned library of the Du Tillets, was led to exclaim: ‘This is the forge where the new Vulcan prepared the bolts that he was afterwards to scatter on every side… That is the factory where he began to make the nets that he afterwards fixed up to catch the simple, and from which a man must be very clever to get out. It was there that he wove the web of his Institutes, which we may call the Koran or the Talmud of heresy.’ While Calvin was writing his first notes, he heard some strange rumors.
Men spoke to him of certain materialists in whose opinion the soul died with the body. At first he hesitated as to what he should do. ‘How,’ he asked, ‘can I join battle with adversaries of whose camp and arms and tactics I know nothing, and of whom I have only heard some confused murmur? Another consideration checked him. Allied to them were Christians who, while rejecting these errors, said that time did not exist for the soul separated from the body, and that the moment of death was followed instantly by the moment of resurrection. ‘I should not like these good people to be offended against me,’ he said. Calvin refused to fire a shot against his enemies lest he should wound his brethren.
But one day he was told of enormous and degrading sophisms. These teachers said to their followers: ‘God has not placed in man a soul different from that of the beast. ‘The soul is not a substance; it is only a quality of life, which proceeds from the throbbing of the arteribs or the motion of the lungs. It cannot exist without the body, and perishes with it, until man rises again whole.’ Calvin was thunderstruck. To be a man and to rank yourself among beasts, seemed to him foolish and impious. ‘O God!’ he exclaimed, ‘the conflagration has increased, and thrown out flakes which, spreading far and wide, have turned to burning torches… O Lord, extinguish them, we pray thee, by that saving rain which thou reservest for thy Church!’ It was this gross materialism which absorbed Calvin’s attention at Angouleme. He saw the evil which these teachers might do the Reform, and shuddered at the thought of the dangers which threatened the simple. ‘Poor reeds tossed by every wind,’ he exclaimed, ‘whom the slightest breath shakes and bends, what will become of you?’… Then addressing the materialists he said: ‘When the Lord says that the wicked kill the body but cannot kill the soul, does he not mean that the soul survives after death? Know you not that, according to Scripture, the souls of the saints stand before the throne of God, and that white robes were given unto every one of them?’ Then resorting to irony, he continued: ‘Sleepy souls, what, I pray, do you understand by these white robes? Do you take them for pillows on which the souls recline that are condemned to die?’ This mode of arguing was not rare in the sixteenth century.
Calvin, agitated by these errors, took up his pen, and committed to paper the reflections which he published shortly after.
Calvin loved to repose from these struggles on the bosom of friendship. In the society of Du Tillet at Angouleme he found once more the charms which that of Duchemin had procured for him at Orleans. All his life he sought that noble intercourse, those offices, those kindnesses which friendship procures. Even when deep in study, he loved to see the library door open, a well-known face appear, and a friend sit down by his side. Their conversations had an inexpressible sweetness for him. ‘We have no need,’ said the young canon, ‘of those secrets which Pythagoras employed to produce an indissoluble friendship between his disciples.
God has planted a mysterious seed between our souls, and that seed can not die.’