(FROM APRIL TO WHITSUNTIDE 1535.)
JACQUES BERNARD and the Reformers had a meeting for the purpose of drawing up their propositions. The justifying power of faith was to hold the first place, for, according to the Gospel, man must, before everything, condemn the selfish existence he has lived until the moment of his awakening, and place all his confidence in the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ alone. The theses drawn up by the Reformers were as follows: —
I. Man must seek justification for his sins in Jesus Christ ALONE.
II. Religious worship must be paid to God . ALONE.
III. The constitution of the Church must be regulated by the Word of God ALONE.
IV. The atonement for sins must be ascribed to Christ ’s sacrifice, offered up ONCE, and which procures full and entire remission.
V. We must acknowledge ONE ONLY Mediator between God and man — Jesus Christ.
The fault of Rome had been to add to the Gospel many strange dogmas and ceremonies, and place them above the primitive edifice, stage after stage, pile after pile, thus crushing it: this is indeed the proper meaning conveyed by the word superstition. The Reformers aspired to pull down this framework, and liberate Christian truth from all the fables by which it was disfigured. Hence, as we see, the word alone plays a great part in this disputation. Its object was to exclude all human additions and to exalt God alone, Christ alone, the Gospel alone. These propositions, however, did not entirely satisfy Farel. In his opinion it was necessary, after laying down truths, to point out errors. Five negative theses were, therefore, added to the five positive theses: —
VI. It is wrong to put our trust in good works and look for our justification in them.
VII. To worship saints and images is to be guilty of idolatry.
VIII. Hence our traditions and ecclesiastical (or rather Roman, ) constitutions are not only useless but pernicious.
IX. The sacrifice of the mass, and prayers to the dead or for them, are a sin against the Word of God, and men are wrong to look to them for salvation.
X. The intercession of saints was introduced into the Church by the authority of men and not of God.
These propositions seem to us now mere theological formulae: they were more than that. There was the true spirit in them. ‘There are different ways of speaking,’ said the friend to whom Farel wrote an account of this disputation; ‘the roaring of a lion is different from the braying of an ass.’ There was indeed in these theses, destined to throw down a whole world of errors, the formidable ‘roaring of a lion.’
On the 23d of April Jacques Bernard went to the hotel-de-ville and presented his propositions to the council, who authorized him to defend them, and desired him to inform the members of the chapter of St. Pierre and other priests, monks, and doctors. At Constance, freedom of discussion had been suppressed; and that assembly, therefore, had produced no other light than the flames of the scaffold. It was not thus that the Reformation was to advance. ‘Let the truth appear and triumph!’
The theses were immediately distributed in all the churches and monasteries of the city. No worshipper crossed the threshold of the sanctuary without receiving one of the printed handbills. The superior of the Franciscans waited personally upon the canons and presented each of them with a copy of the propositions. He gave them to every member of the government, lay and clerical: there was no shop or refectory in which the ten propositions were not read and commented upon. They were posted on the church doors and in the public places, not only in Geneva, but in the allied and neighboring cities. They were even sent to gentlemen at their chateaux. In its very infancy, the Reformation proclaimed and practiced the widest publicity. The trumpet sounded in every quarter of the city, and the herald announced that a discussion would take place on the 30th of May in the great hall of the Cordeliers of Rive, and that scholars of all classes, Genevese or foreigners, clerks or laymen, were invited with full liberty of speaking, and the offer of a safe-conduct. ‘Ah!’ said Froment, one of the champions, ‘if such a license were given by every prince, the business would be soon settled, without burning so many poor Christians. But the pope and his cardinals forbid all discussion of this or that, except it be with fire and sword: a fashion they have learnt no doubt from the Grand Seignor.’ The remark was but too true. The news of the discussion had no sooner reached the bishop than a feeling of horror came over him. ‘What!’ he said, ‘convoke a council in my own city! nobody has the right to do it but myself.’ And he immediately published throughout his diocese a proclamation ‘forbidding the faithful to be present at the assembly under pain of excommunication.’ The duke of Savoy also forbade his subjects to attend it, and the Franciscans, at that time assembled in general chapter at Grenoble, having received the invitation, declared they would not come. There were, no doubt, capable men among them; but to discuss the truths taught by the Church was, in their eyes, aiming a blow at its authority. The result was a universal silence on the part of the priests.
They were very clever in making the most of miraculous appearances, of dead children restored to life; but of discussion, not a word. One or two fervent Catholics would, however, have willingly broken a lance with Farel, but the orders of their chiefs held them back. The army of the pope, summoned by the voice of the trumpet, was wanting on the day of combat.
Still Roman-catholicism did something. Monsignor de Bonmont went to the council on the 25th of May, and begged the syndics to take part in a torchlight procession and other ceremonies which were to take place on the 27th of the month, the festival of Corpus Christi. That procession, however brilliant it might be, was very displeasing to the zealous Reformers: they did not like that the Word of God should be supplanted by millinery, lace, and all the empty glitter which dazzles the eye in sacerdotal costumes. The answer of the council was judicious: ‘We have appointed a discussion,’ said the premier syndic to the vicar-episcopal; ‘that will decide whether the procession is holy or not. Wait a little, then; if the conference is in favor of the procession, it shall be proclaimed with sound of trumpet.’ At the same time the council resolved to send a deputation to all the convents to invite the monks, who answered, ‘We have no learned men among us; it is impossible for us to take part in the discussion.’ One convent, however, displayed resolution: it was that of the nuns of Ste. Claire. The mother-vicar, Mademoiselle de Montluet de Chateau-Fort, a woman of warm and fiery temperament, answered the invitation: ‘Begone! you are wicked people who want to vex the servants of God.’
The deputies replied, ‘It is said, madam, that certain of your nuns remain only by force under your instruction, and would like to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.’... At these words the mother-vicar breast out. ‘Satan has no part among us,’ she cried; and turning towards the nuns, added, ‘My sisters, speak, speak!’ Almost all exclaimed at the top of their voices, ‘We will live and die in our holy calling.’ The clamor was so great that the deputies could not make themselves heard. ‘Do not be afraid, gentlemen,’ said the mother, ‘this is nothing. You will hear something very different if you take us to your synagogue. When we are there, we will make such an uproar, that we shall remain mistresses of the place.’ ‘Dame vicar,’ said a deputy, ‘you are very arrogant.’ Thereupon the gentlemen retired, acknowledging however that they had not witnessed such courage in the convents of the monks. Farel, who was distressed at seeing the priests of Geneva refuse the discussion, would have supplied their place by distinguished athletes belonging to one party or the other, he wrote to Lefevre of Etaples, the celebrated doctor of the Sorbonne, and invited him to the combat in which liberty and truth were about to engage in Geneva. The aged and venerable doctor shed tears, and returned thanks to God for what he heard. But he was too old to take part in a disputation; perhaps, too, his faith was not bold enough; he declined the invitation. Farel turned his eyes in another direction. A chapter of the order of St. Francis was at that time sitting at Lyons, its president being Pierre de Corne, or de Cornibus, the most intrepid adversary of the heretics, the butt of Rabelais’ jests and of some unbelieving worldlings, but highly extolled by the devout, and especially by Loyola’s friend, Francis Xavier. Farel pressed De Cornibus to come to Geneva; the reformer could not give a plainer proof of the seriousness of his intentions and the impartiality of the discussion. ‘I am quite ready to break a lance in Geneva,’ wrote De Cornibus. The council were highly delighted with this answer, and prepared to receive the warlike doctor with great honor. But all of a sudden De Cornthus informed them that he could not come.
If the combatants were not to be very numerous, the spectators at least were crowding in from all sides — men and women, great and small.
Everybody wanted to see and hear, but nobody was willing to speak. The reformers were in despair, lest the dialogue should be turned into a monologue, and instead of a grand combat, one army alone should appear on the field of battle. An unexpected help now appeared. A doctor of the Sorbonne, named Caroli, arrived in Geneva and declared himself ready to dispute. Possessing insupportable vanity, tossing his head as he walked along the street, assuming a haughty and impudent air with everybody, the Parisian doctor made a great stir, talked incessantly, aped the gentleman, and boasted loudly. Much taken up with himself, he sought marks of honor, and to obtain them employed cunning, artifice, and intrigue. He represented himself to be, or allowed others to call him, bishop. ‘Have you heard,’ said the citizens, ‘that a bishop has arrived from France?’ Everybody thought that Farel had found his man at last. But the reformer, who had known him long, shook his head. The foolish admiration which Caroli felt for his own person had drawn upon him the contempt of those who were not to be deceived by his braggadocio. The reformer knew that he was fluent of tongue, but was without firm principle, uprightness, or solid character, and that his sole desire was to make a name whether in the Roman or in the evangelical camp mattered little to him. He was known to unite and to quarrel with everybody in turn. He was neither catholic nor reformer, but simply Caroli. As skillful as the famous Beda in the tricks of sophistry, he had disputed in Paris with that illustrious champion; and the Sorbonne having interdicted him, Margaret of Valois looked upon him as a victim of the Gospel, and gave him the living of Alencon. He had come from that city to Geneva, where nobody had expected or wanted him. It was rumored abroad that there would be a great stir in the city; and Caroli, who had a keen scent (to use the words of a contemporary), thought that Geneva would be a theater where he might display his profound learning and fine voice, and gather fresh laurels to adorn his brow. There was only one point about which he still hesitated: should he take the side of Rome or of the Reformation?
Farel liked not those ambiguous characters who hoist one flag or another according to the place they may be at. Catholic at Paris, Erasmian at Alencon, Caroli would probably be a reformer at Geneva. Farel went to his inn, where he found him at breakfast. Entering upon business immediately, the reformer said to him frankly: ‘You are driven from France for the faith, you say; certainly you have not deserved it, for you have done nothing that was unworthy of the pope or worthy of Jesus Christ.’ The doctor of the Sorbonne, offended by such words, held his tongue and continued his meal. ‘The song I sang him while he was at breakfast,’ said Farel, ‘did not seem to please him much.’ ‘Are you willing now,’ resumed Farel, ‘to confess the truth openly, as God requires, and to repair the evil that you have done by your dissimulation?’ The Parisian doctor cleverly turned the conversation and began to parade a great zeal for the poor. ‘I am going to send my servant back to France,’ he said, ‘to receive the money from my benefices, and I shall distribute it among your poor refugees.’ Farel remembered how certain monks in Paris had made a great display about a collection in favor of the poor, not a penny of which had the latter ever seen. ‘God,’ he said, ‘will never fail either the poor or us.
Let us now give the bread of the Word to men’s souls,’ and left him.
Several days elapsed. Caroli compensated himself for the humiliation Farel had inflicted upon him by representing himself everywhere as one of the greatest orators of France; and accordingly all the Genevans wanted to hear him. ‘Let us put him to the test,’ said Farel, who asked him to preach. But Caroll, no doubt fearing the proof, urged a thousand excuses to get off. ‘Your sermons charm me,’ he said to Farel, ‘and I cannot persuade myself not to hear them.’ This braggart priest, who pretended to support the refugees, was living upon them, extorting their money, wine, and other things. ‘Our master,’ said one of them to Farel, ‘behaves very theologically: he uses wine magisterially, and even Sorbonically.’ The reputation of certain doctors of the Sorbonne was established on that point. ‘He has women to make his bed,’ they added, ‘to pull off his stockings; and even for other familiarities.’ The wretched man imagined that, coming into a country which rejected the law of the pope, he could throw off the law of God.
Farel, assured of the truth of these reports, visited this vain and impure priest, spoke to him of his dissolute life, reminded him of the judgment of the Lord, and entreated him to change his conduct. Farel spoke with so much authority, that all who were present were struck with it. The Sorbonne doctor was confounded: he hid his face in his hands, and did not open his mouth. From that time he behaved more prudently, and did nothing (openly, at least) that could be charged against him. He had his reasons for not quarrelling with the reformers.
Jacques Bernard, who had but recently thrown off the cowl, was not so clear-sighted as Farel; Caroli tried, therefore, to throw dust into his eyes.
He hinted that, as a doctor of the Sorbonne of Paris, celebrated by former struggles with the most illustrious doctors, he was well qualified to be appointed arbiter in the disputation, and invited to pronounce authoritatively the final judgment. Thus, becoming umpire between Geneva and Rome, he already fancied himself the most important person of Christendom. The simple-minded Bernard, circumvented by the artifices of the wily Frenchman, consented to make the strange proposition to Farel. — ‘No,’ at once answered the reformer; ‘it is to God and to Holy Scripture that we must pay supreme honor. We do not want men as judges of our controversy: the Lord is the only judge, who will decide authoritatively by the Scriptures. That presumptuous man would only seek his own glorification in the dispute.’ The magistrates supported this opinion.
In fact, the council, finding itself between two confessions — one coming, and one departing — regarded itself as mediator, and wished to see which was right or wrong; then, if there were cause, to do as certain good kings of Israel and Judah had done — ‘extirpate the idolatry of their people.’ Placed at the head of the republic, the magistracy did not understand that religious matters, so important at that period, were not within its jurisdiction; and even when the question was decided somewhat later, when the firm Calvin was established at Geneva, the State continued to hold under its jurisdiction all matters which are considered in this day as belonging to the Church. The council, therefore, nominated eight commissioners, empowered to regulate the discussion, and chose them from among the most respected leaders of the people: four belonged to the catholic party, and four to the reformed opinions; all of them had been syndics. The council, moreover, named four secretaries, belonging to the two parties, and instructed them to draw up the minutes. The discussion was proclaimed by sound of trumpet, and it was published everywhere, that the disputation would be entirely free. Then, fearing lest the enemy should take advantage of the opportunity to attack Geneva, the syndics bade the captain-general ‘keep careful watch and ward at the gates, towers, and ramparts, and prevent any disturbance taking place in the city.’