(JANUARY TO JUNE 1535.)
THE Reformation of Geneva, prepared by the restoration of civil liberty and begun by the reading of the Word of God and the teaching of various evangelists, was about to be definitively carried out by the devout ministry of Froment, Viret, and particularly of Farel. Afterwards Calvin, in accord with the Councils, who never renounced their right of intervention, will strengthen the foundations and organize and crown the edifice. The civil and ecclesiastical powers had (especially since the days of Hildebrand) struggled continually with each other in the different nations of Christendom, and stirred up hatreds, divisions, and wars. A better state of things was to take the place of these perpetual troubles.
Church and State were not always to be united even in Geneva; but they would show more moderation in their relations, would more frequently have the same thoughts, and would advance hand in hand towards a mutual independence, which would not, however, estrange them from each other.
At the beginning of 1535 the opposition to Reform was still vigorous in that city, whose inhabitants were discussing the important question whether liberty was a good or an evil? The partisans of the pope and Savoy tried to demonstrate to such of the citizens as were known to be in favor of civil liberty and religious reform, that their condition would go from bad to worse, if they did not accept the sovereignty of their bishop, the protectorate of a neighboring prince, and the supremacy of the pope — three masters for one. The fruits of that independence with which they were so captivated, would be (they said) agitation, disorder, violence, and misery. The feudal party was sincerely convinced that the path of liberty is rugged and dangerous; that he who follows it stumbles, falls, and is ruined; and that whether a nation be great or small, it needs an absolute and energetic power to keep it in order. They advised the Genevese to lay aside their fine theories, their old parchments, and their ancient franchises, and to take a master if they desired to see peace, wealth, pleasure, and prosperity abound within their walls.
The citizens rejected this advice. They believed that as the liberties they possessed came from their fathers, they ought not to rob their children of them. They knew that independence had dangers, privations, and troubles to which they must submit. But life itself is not without them, and we should not think that a reason for making away with it. If God has enriched man with noble faculties, it is not that he may mutilate or stifle them, but develop, regulate, and increase them. No man worthy of the name voluntarily accepts laws in the making of which he has had no share.
Caesarism, violence, and secret societies cannot be substituted in a nation for independence, justice, and publicity. Despotism dwarfs a man, liberty strengthens him. To take it away in order to prevent abuses, is to change the work and plan of the Creator.
And yet everything seemed to indicate that liberty and reform were about to be destroyed in Geneva. An assembly of the Swiss Cantons held, as we have seen, at Lucerne on the 1st of January, 1535, had been occupied about Geneva; and Berne, the only canton that wished well to the Genevese, had consented that the bishop and the duke should be reinstated in the rights which they pretended to possess, provided religion remained free; for, the Bernese had added; ‘faith is the gift of God.’ But the envoys of Savoy had demanded the complete and unconditional recognition of the absolute authority of the duke and the bishop, which alone (they affirmed) could put an end to all hatred and effusion of blood. The diet had decided on this, so that the reformation and independence of Geneva were about to be annihilated by the Swiss themselves.
But it is when men draw back that help is nearest. If all were resolved, outside of Geneva, to destroy its Reformation, the small phalanx of citizens within its walls was not less resolved to uphold it. Three parties called for it alike. The old huguenots wanted it to be immediate, violent even if necessary; the magistrates wished it to be legal, slow, and diplomatic; and the evangelicals desired it to be spiritual and peaceably accomplished by the Word of God. There were many pious souls in the houses of people of mark, as well as in obscure dwellings, who cried to God day and night for the triumph of the good cause. That little city of 12,000 souls had determined to resist the powers who wanted to crush it. — Without hesitation, without fear, Geneva trusted in God and marched onwards. The period (7th of February) having arrived at which the magistrates were elected every year, the Genevese resolutely voted to the first offices of the state the friends of independence and reform. Among the councilors there were also some of the most decided huguenots. With such men — with Farel, Viret, and Froment within its walls, and with the Divine protection, the transformation of Geneva seemed imminent, notwithstanding the efforts of Switzerland, Piedmont, the emperor, and the pope.
The government party desired to precipitate nothing; they intended to conciliate opposite opinions, and to seek a certain middle course which would satisfy everybody; but the cause of the Reformation and of liberty fermented in many hearts. Those waters, which the magistrates would have desired to see motionless, were strongly agitated, and the Roman ship, already dismasted, might be suddenly engulfed. Almost every day some citizen, some woman, or even some monk, left the Church of the pope and entered the Church of the Gospel; or else some foreign Christian, who had forsaken everything to obey his conscience, entered the free city, principally by the gate of France. Those pious refugees were received like brothers. People gathered round them, looked at them, and questioned them. The strangers told how they had waged a bitter war, endured vile reproaches, wept much and groaned much; but the annoyances they had suffered (they added) appeared light, now that they had found deliverance and liberty. The Christians of Geneva were strengthened by the faith of these noble confessors of Jesus Christ. The reforming torrent increased, it was seen rushing against the weakened barriers. The Roman-catholics both from without and within vainly endeavored to check it; it was about to sweep away the worm-eaten timbers of popery. The council, however, seemed motionless. The ardent Bandiere was pushing forward, the catholic Philippin was holding back; but the halfway opinions of the chief syndic and of Du Molard finally prevailed.
The moderate party agreed that some concession ought to be made to the evangelical party, if they wished to remain in office. A good opportunity occurred of realizing this plan. They discovered a gray friar who offered to preach the Word of God, while wearing the hood of St. Francis. To give a mitigated Gospel, under a Roman form, is the plan ordinarily chosen by those who have set peace before truth. One or two days after the election of syndics, the cordelier, supported by the council, asked the Chapter for a place to preach in. The canons, who were a little mistrustful, examined him: he wore the brown frock of St. Francis, and a cord served him for a girdle. Still they feared there was something underneath. ‘Go to the vicarepiscopal, who lives at Gex,’ they said. The ‘evangelical monk’ did so; but the vicar also regarded him with an uneasy look. ‘My lord bishop,’ he answered, ‘will soon come to Geneva; he will bring with him whatever preacher he likes.’ The poor Franciscan came back and told the council that they had bowed him out everywhere. Two councilors now waited upon the Chapter to support the monk’s petition; when some of them, who lived as canons do, as idly as can be imagined, suddenly found that they had their hands full. ‘We have to read the service,’ they answered, ‘and it is so long! and then there is other work to do; there is the procession, in which we must walk in order. We have not the time to think about preaching! Make the best arrangement you can.’ The council was disgusted. To bawl out litanies, that was a pressing matter; but to have the Word of God preached was a supererogatory work. ‘Well then,’ said the offended syndics to the monk, ‘we will give you a place ourselves,’ and they assigned him the church of St. Germain, situated in a district devoted to catholicism. This was Saturday, 12th of February, the eve of the first Sunday in Lent. The report of this decision threw the catholics of the parish into confusion, and there were violent scenes in many a household. The women were beside themselves; they abused their husbands, called them cowards, and enjoined them to oppose the monk’s sermon. One of them, by name Pernette, was distinguished in this opposition. Small, fat, short-legged, and with her head between the shoulders, she was so like a ball that they called her in the city Touteronde. But a restless spirit agitated her little body, and a big voice came out of it. Pernette bestirred herself, plotted in-doors, shouted in the streets, and at last went to see the parish-priest.
The priest of St. Germain and bishop’s procurator-fiscal was Thomas Vandel, brother of Robert, Pierre, and Hugues. He was an undecided character, disposed to walk like his brothers in the way of independence, but close ties attached him to the bishop, and he hesitated. Divided in heart, he was continually driven backwards and forwards by opposing sentiments.
For the moment, thanks to the efforts of certain canons and noble ladies, the wind at the parsonage was favorable for the papacy. Certain huguenots, however, were just then speaking in a loud voice; and Vandel, unwilling to pronounce for either side, threw the burden on the principal members of his parish, by requesting them to present a petition to the council.
On Sunday morning a little before the hour at which the monk was to preach, the deputation proceeded to the hotel-de-ville. The members were really speaking for their wives. There was no question of heresy. ‘We fear that there may be a disturbance,’ they said, ‘and therefore beg to have our usual service.’ The syndics answered, ‘You will hear the preacher. If he preaches well, he shall stay; but if he preaches any novelty, anything contrary to Holy Scripture, he will be expelled.’ Accordingly the priest had it announced in the church that the monk would preach by order of the council. The women and a few men returned to their homes much irritated.
An insurrection was at once organized; a clerical partisan collected a number of the parishioners about him in the street and shouted out, ‘Shut the church doors against the gray friar.’ Pernette, who was there, went home, caught up a great wooden pestle with which she used to pound salt, and brandishing it like a club, marched fiercely to the combat. A great number of women, among whom were some of rather questionable morality, surrounded her, crying, ‘The Lutherans want to give us a preacher. Oh, the dogs, the dogs!’ Pernette raised her pestle and declared she would brain the first heretic who dared approach the pulpit. Her bellicose companions followed her, entered the church, drew up in battlearray, and waited for the enemy. Directly the cordelier appeared, they began to make a great uproar, and rushed in front of him, shouting and tossing their arms and their weapons. Pernette got on a chair, and brandished the pestle over their heads. The Reformed who had entered the doors gathered round the preacher, crying, ‘Forward, courage!’ and made a way for the monk, who, little by little, reached the foot of the pulpit. ‘Then,’ says sister Jeanne de Jussie, ‘that apostate from St. Francis, who still wore the robe of the holy order, began to preach in the heretical fashion.’ But as soon as the Franciscan opened his mouth, Pernette gave the signal by raising her pestle, and immediately the bigots of both sexes made such an uproar that the cordelier was compelled to be silent.
The council, unwilling to see their orders defied, took proceedings against the rioters. The friend of the priests who had prompted the insurrection lost his citizenship; Pernette was condemned to a few days’ imprisonment on bread and water; and two other women of loose conduct were banished from the city. From that time the cordelier preached in peace; and the cure seeing which way the wind was blowing, graciously received him into his own house. Before long he began to have a liking for the monk’s opinions, and appeared to range himself on the side of the Gospel. This victory — as was natural — precipitated the movement of the Reformation in Geneva. Easter day was kept with much fervor by the friends of the Gospel. They went in considerable numbers to the Lord’s table, which was spread at the Rive convent. Husbands accompanied their wives; the young guided the old. Some huguenots, who probably were not among the communicants, wishing to prove to the catholics, that although they were in the last days of Holy Week, the bells had not made a journey to Rome, as the priests led the superstitious people to believe, rang them in loud peals on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, says sister Jeanne. The fanatical adversaries of the Reformation, exasperated by this progress, were about to take a cruel revenge.
Gaudet of St. Cloud, near Paris, a pious man and formerly knight of Rhodes, saw with joy this active movement of reform. Accordingly, he had left his uncle, the Commander of Rhodes, Sire Loys Brunis de Compesieres, a man heartily devoted to the pope, and had gone and settled in Geneva with his wife and household. The city of the huguenots was specially adapted to offer a refuge to the exiles. Then, at least, there was no exclusive aristocracy; every individuality had its place. Any one might by his intelligence and energy take his seat among the notables. Gaudet, touched by these liberal manners, and edified by the zeal with which Farel and the other ministers scattered the true doctrine of the Son of God amidst great difficulties, lived happily in Geneva, heard the preaching and even preached himself, which seemed extraordinary in a knight of Rhodes. One day a Genevese Roman-catholic, visiting the Commander of Compesieres, told him what his nephew was doing. When Sire Loys heard that the knight of Rhodes was turning heretic and preacher, he resolved to get him out of so dangerous a city, and to that end gave his visitor a letter in which Gaudet was invited to go to Gex, where he would find important news from Paris. Gaudet set off. It was not an easy thing at that time to make this journey. Genevese mamelukes, Savoyard knights, and other brigands filled the castle of Peney. Perched on the walls, they kept watch on all the surrounding country, and as soon as they perceived a traveler, they swooped down upon their prey, and carried him off to their eyrie.
Their brigandage was the chief topic of conversation in all the country round. ‘On the 9th of February of this year,’ people said at Geneva, ‘three cordeliers and two printers, all disciples of the Gospel, who had come from France and were journeying hither, were carried away from the inn at which they had halted by twelve arquebusiers from Peney. A little later another Frenchman was taken, tortured, and hanged. Between the 1st and 5th of April several Genevans were taken to the castle with their hands tied behind them like criminals. A huguenot, condemned, without proof, of having helped to drive the bishop out of Geneva, was torn limb from limb by horses in the Courtyard at Peney. The garrison of that castle creates continual alarm night and day; and carries off cattle, goods, and even men, women and children.’ Such savage acts were of a nature to prevent Gaudet from acting upon his uncle’s invitation; but a knight of Rhodes knows no fear. He reached Gex on the 22d of June without hindrance, and departed the next morning. He was travelling without suspicion when some armed men pounced upon him and carried him off to the castle of Peney.
The fanatics who had taken up their abode there, tried to bring Gaudet back to the teaching of Rome; but as their efforts were useless, they took other means which doubtless were not to be found in his uncle’s instructions. They kept him for about five days in great torment. ‘If you will recant,’ they said, ‘your life shall be spared.’ But the ex-knight knew that we have to fight continually, and he had the doctrine of salvation too deeply engraved in his heart to forget it. ‘He remained constant,’ say the chroniclers, ‘supporting the cause of the Gospel.’ The men of Peney had not expected this. In their eyes Gaudet’s firmness was criminal obstinacy, and they resolved ‘to put him to the cruelest death ever heard of in this country.’ They determined that he should be ‘burnt alive over a slow fire, for having settled at Geneva, for having attended sermons, and heard and preached the Gospel.’ That was his crime. Wishing to let their neighbors enjoy a spectacle so worthy of being seen, the gentlemen invited the peasantry of the neighborhood, men, women, and children, to be present. Gnuder was brought from his dungeon, and taken into the castle yard, which was filled with spectators, and there fastened to a post. One of the Peneysans brought some embers and placed them ‘neatly’ under his feet; when the soles of his feet were burnt, the fire was removed and passed in succession over the different parts of the body. But the Christian knight remained firm. He knew that when God puts his Holy Spirit into a man, he cannot fail, although the heavens should fall. His cruel torturers showed as much determination as he did. They said that Gaudet was a member of that famous order of St. John of Jerusalem founded in the Holy Land, placed under the protection of the holy see, and which had defended with so much glory the Cross against the Crescent. The knowledge that one of its knights had joined the heretics, that he had even become a preacher, transported them with fury.
Seeing that their burning coals did nothing, they tied the disciple of the Gospel to a pillar, stood round him with their arms, and, more cruel than the Red Indians, began to prick him all over with their spears and halberds. Gaudet, forgivingly, blessed his enemies. ‘You are putting me to death,’ he said, ‘because I have preached the Word of God. I call to the God of mercy, and pray that He will pardon the sufferings you inflict upon me.’ The martyr was visibly sinking, but he ceased not to invoke the name of Christ; and ‘that invocation,’ says the chronicler, ‘brought him alleviation in his bitter torments.’ He had put his hope in the faithfulness of the unseen God. The punishment and the joy of the martyr had a different effect upon the spectators from what had been expected. They were seized with horror; they uttered deep sighs, and ‘departed weeping and groaning to their homes, being grieved at such an outrage.’ At length Gaudet, exhausted, rendered up his soul to God, two clays after he had been fastened to the pillar. Geneva, who had had her martyrs of liberty, now had her martyrs of faith. So cruel an action revolted every heart. The priests said: ‘It will do us more mischief than twenty of Farel’s sermons.’ The huguenots exclaimed that the brigands’ nest must be destroyed. The relatives of the citizens confined in it feared lest they should meet with Gaudet’s fate, and called for their deliverance. The council met one night after supper, the gates of the city being already closed, and the attack of Peney was proposed. They were reminded, in vain, ‘that it contained old soldiers, men tried in war, and that the castle was strong and well supplied with artillery.’ Gautier’s cruel punishment carried the day: the proposal for attacking was voted.
The herald passed through the dark streets, with orders that every man, bearing arms, should go to his muster-place without delay. A force of nearly five hundred men and two pieces of artillery left the city. About an hour after midnight, the little army was under the walls of the fortress. All was quiet: everybody was asleep. Unfortunately, the ladders had not yet arrived, and the Genevese, fearing they would be observed if the assault was deferred, pointed their cannons and fired a shot. The men-at-arms in the castle were aroused: at first they imagined they were taken, says the chronicler; but recovered themselves before long. Some rang the alarm-bell to call their friends from outside, others ran to the ramparts. Renouncing their idea of scaling the walls, the Genevese aimed their cannons at the gate and battered it down; the Peneysans immediately set up another. Bullets and cannon-balls rained on the besiegers, the walls seemed on fire. Some of the Genevese fell where they stood; others, who were wounded, retired out of gunshot, and sat down mournfully by the road-side. At this moment it was reported that M. de Lugrin, who commanded at Gex, was approaching with his troops. As the Genevans were about to be caught between two fires, the commanders ordered a retreat.
Everybody crowded to the gates to receive the dis-comfited force. What a disaster! women looking for their husbands, mothers for their sons! ‘What remedy can be found for the ills that now oppress us?’ was the cry. The voices of the Reformers revived their drooping spirits, and said’ ‘God will do other and greater things. He will deliver you from your enemies, but by other means which you do not understand, in order that the honor may be entirely paid to Him, and not to your human enterprises and artillery.’ The Genevans neglected nothing for their defense. They took the bells from the convents and cast them into cannon; they cleared away the walls of the faubourgs which still existed; they established a permanent force to protect the open country and seek provisions; and, finally, sent away the traitors whom they found in the city. They trusted in God, but they wished to be ready for battle.