SUNDAY, the 30th of May and the feast of Pentecost, the day on which the discussion was to begin, came at last. A year had passed away since the Reformation had made its public entrance into Geneva; it was now about to take another step — one that would secure its triumph. The day of Pentecost, so important for the establishment of Christianity, was to be important also for the Reformation. The same Spirit which had begun the Church, is also that which will renew it when it has fallen. Friends and enemies crowded that day to the convent of Rive, animated with the liveliest and most opposite emotions. Nothing had been spared so that the debate should take place with solemnity. ‘A theater,’ that is to say, a platform, had been erected in the great hall. The eight commissioners took their seats, and an immense concourse of Genevans and foreigners filled the vast auditory. A table had been placed in the arena for the combatants.
Jacques Bernard appeared first: he was followed by Farel, Viret, and Froment; but the places set apart for the champions of the Roman Church remained unoccupied, and people began to ask if Rome would fail to appear. At last two ecclesiastics came forward: one was Chapuis, prior of the Dominican convent, the most learned man at that time in Geneva; the other was Caroli, the Sorbonne doctor.
Bernard spoke first. He undertook to prove that, in the Romish Church, men did not look to Christ for justification from their sins, and for that purpose put in the rules of his order, and showed how the monks claimed to be saved by their vain practices, and gave themselves up to pride, avarice, and even to great impurity. He spoke from personal knowledge. A man of upright heart, quick, a little violent even, he repelled with energy the disorders in which he had once taken part. Standing in the great hall of his own convent, the guardian pulled down what he had worshipped and worshipped what he had pulled down. This made the father-confessor of Ste. Claire exclaim: ‘How that accursed Jacques Bernard despises the frock he once wore.’ Chapuis, the Dominican, came forward resolutely in defense of the monastic orders, and reproved the guardian severely. Farel rose in support of Bernard, but Chapuis, who feared such an adversary, maintained that nobody but Bernard ought to answer him. The next day Bernard and Chapuis, the heads of the two great convents of Geneva, met again; but Chapuis received orders from his Provincial to leave the city immediately.
This vexed the magistrates exceedingly: they remembered Furbity, and the excessive zeal which had caused his imprisonment: they had no doubt that he would joyfully seize the opportunity of defending the faith of Rome.
Having sent for the jailer’s wife, they ordered her to place the articles under dispute in the reverend father’s hands. As she was a zealous Roman-catholic, and on good terms with Furbity, they thought that he would receive them more willingly from her than from her husband, who was ardent for the reform. The woman, a timid soul, was afraid of everybody: of her husband, whom she did not wish to displease by neglecting the commission, and of the reverend father, whom she feared to offend by giving him the heretical propositions; so she sent them by one of the turnkeys. ‘Alas!’ exclaimed Furbity, ‘even my poor hostess is trying to seduce me.’ He tossed the paper out of his cell. The jaileress sent it back to him by her little girl; but the latter, who was harshly received, brought it back to her mother, who, frightened at the probability of displeasing their worships, slipped the theses into the cell by the window.
The reverend father, seeing the paper which he had cursed falling at his feet, picked it up, tore it to pieces, and trampled it under foot. All hope of seeing him defend popery had to be given up.
The disputation began again without him. Bernard and Farel, having Caroli for respondent, showed by Scripture that Jesus Christ alone saves men from sin. Caroli was very weak, but hinted to his partisans that he reserved his hardest blows till the last, and would then pound his adversaries to powder. He did not speak up for either side. The honest Viret, indignant at such trickery, attacked him so skillfully, that he was constrained to pronounce for or against the truth. The Sorbonnist took the side of the reformers. ‘All the efforts of man are in vain,’ he said. ‘Without the grace of Christ, he can neither begin what is good, nor pursue it, nor persevere.’ ‘Very good,’ exclaimed Farel; ‘thank you, doctor. The glory of God and the edification of the people, is all we desire.’ Caroli was quite proud of having spoken so well.
The reformers were again without antagonists, Caroli appearing to agree with them. The magistrates returned to their notion about Furbity, and as Caroli had been his theological tutor in Paris, the Council asked him to invite his old pupil to come and defend his doctrine, or to disavow his errors as he himself had done. ‘Willingly,’ said the vainglorious doctor.
After dinner, the four syndics, the great Parisian doctor, that Satan William Farel (as Sister Jeanne calls him), Pierre Viret and several of their friends, went to the prison. The Dominican appeared: he was thin, weak, debilitated, and his feet tottered, so that when he saw the Sorbonne doctor in the company of all those heretics, he fell fainting to the ground.’ They lifted him up, and when he had recovered his senses, Caroli, addressing him in a doctoral tone, said: ‘How is this, brother Guy; will you die in your obstinacy — in your errors, now that we have arrived at the truth? Acknowledge that you have been deceived, and return to God.’
Frobity, divided between respect for his old teacher and fidelity to the pope, exclaimed: ‘God forbid that I should quarrel with my master... I desire to die in the truth as I learnt it of you.’ ‘Come, then, and defend it,’ they said. But Furbity imposed a singular condition: he required Farel’s beard to be cut off. We know that the bigots believed in the existence of a devil in each hair of the reformer’s beard. ‘If I must dispute with that idiot,’ he exclaimed, ‘let the dwelling of his master the devil be first cleared away, and all his skin shaved.’ They urged the doctor to no purpose: nothing could shake him. No beard or no discussion.
The debate began again, and that day Caroli was Roman-catholic from head to foot. Bernard maintained that Christ was the only mediator; Caroli affirmed that it was Mary. ‘The Virgin having remained upon earth, after the death of the Savior,’ he said, ‘the mother naturally succeeded the Son.’ — ‘Mary, the successor to her Son!’ exclaimed Farel. ‘Let us have done with these foolish questions: let us get out of this labyrinth of quibbling which men call Roman theology. ’ It was agreed that the discussion next day should turn upon the Mass.
Caroli, determining to arm himself completely to defend this palladium of popery, spent a portion of the night in hunting over huge folios, and in taking notes of the reasons that might be adduced in favor of that sacrifice. The Mysteria Missae of Innocent III., the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, the Sentences of Bonaventure, were in turn examined by him. The next day he began to pour out the arguments he had hastily collected. ‘Firstly,’ he said; ‘secondly’... But he lost the thread and stopped short, continuing to repeat the same words.’ The scholar forgot his lesson. To complete the comedy, it only wanted Farel to prompt the arguments which he had forgotten. ‘You mean to say this or to say that,’ suggested the reformer. — ‘Yes, yes,’ said the poor doctor, ‘it is exactly what I meant to say.’ Caroli, piqued at this triumph of Farel’s, made an effort, and getting once more into the saddle, began to prance about valiantly. ‘Really,’ said Froment, who heard him, he now argues with subtlety and great earnestness.’ The catholics, without waiting for the reformer’s answer, ran off to the canons: ‘The Parisian doctor is speaking admirably,’ they said.
The canons ordered some of their best wine to be taken to him. Caroli was at this moment the happiest man in the world; the papacy and the Reformation both lavished their favors on him at once.
The next day the audience was more numerous than usual: the doctor’s eloquence had been much talked about, and the catholics came in crowds.
Sworn enemies of Reform said to one another, ‘Let us go and witness the triumph of the divine mysteries of popery.’ That day the points to be defended were transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, the adoration of the bread, the taking away of the cup, the invocation of saints, the use of a foreign tongue, and other rites and customs. Caroli, puffed up by the good position he had acquired, tossed his head and challenged his adversaries in a loud tone: ‘Give me a man who shows himself a man,’ he said, ‘and we will fight together.’ Then stood forward to answer him a mere boy. When the veteran doctor saw this novice, so puny in body, he despised him as Goliath despised David. ‘Surely,’ he said, ‘you do not mean to pass him off for one of your pastors!’ This young man was Pierre Viret, then twenty-four years old, whose health was still weakened by the poison, and who had such a pale face and weak look that he seemed ready to faint. ‘Alas!’ he said of himself, ‘I am but a mere bag of bones.’ His language showed little color or elegance: but he had a logical style, perfectly clear, the skill of an orator, and all accompanied by an indescribable sweetness and charm.
The two champions joined in combat; and Viret refuted Caroli’s assertions so dearly and so completely, that all the spectators took his side. Caroli, not knowing what to say, began to vociferate a long ‘Bah! bah! bah!’ It was useless for Viret to adduce the most solid reasons, the Sorbonne doctor could find no other argument than that foolish interjection. ‘What do I hear?’ exclaimed Farel; ‘we should blush to answer in such a manner.’ Caroli held his tongue, and some catholics began to ask themselves whether the doctrines they had held for sacred might not be merely the opinions of men. Quitting this part of the subject, the doctor proceeded to defend the forms of popery. ‘How much more august is the service,’ he said, ‘if it is celebrated in Latin! What majesty there is in the Roman ceremonies! The tonsure of the priests is a crown to them.’ ‘It is Christ’s wish,’ said Farel, ‘that leaving shadows, we should worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
If we load the Church with ceremonies, signs, and ornaments, we rob it of the presence of Jesus Christ. If King Hezekiah broke the brazen serpent, what must be done with all these superstitions, which surpass the idolatry of the Jews in scandal?’
It was too much. The bishop, informed of the progress of the discussion, issued from Arbois on the 13th of June, in the very midst of the debates, an order, ‘forbidding people of every condition to be from that day forward so bold and daring as to speak or trade with the syndics, preachers, and citizens of Geneva, under pain of excommunication and a fine of twenty-five livres.’ Thus the bishop set up a quarantine to separate Geneva from Christendom; but it was precisely at this epoch that the obscure city of the Allobroges came into communication with the world, and spread abroad the light which it had received. While the papacy ceased to utter its oracles there, and had in its service none but the dumb, the Word of God made its loud and mighty voice heard through the mouths of the Reformers. Such was the result of the discussion. ‘In that controversy,’ says a modern historian who does not belong to the Reform, ‘the catholics were defeated by the reformers.’