(JUNE TO AUGUST 1535.)
ROME had set up, beside the Bible and even above it, the word and the traditions of men. The Reformation demanded that the Holy Scriptures should be read by all and preached from the pulpits. The written Word and oral teaching were to displace that pretended infallible chair, which alone was authorized (they said) to set forth the will of God.
One fact of great importance was being accomplished at this time. The discussion maintained at Geneva by Farel, Bernard, Chapuis, and Caroli was but a musketry skirmish; but at a little distance from that city — at Neuchatel — thanks to the labors of Calvin and Olivetan, a tradesman, a Picard like themselves, was preparing that great artillery, whose formidable volleys were to break down the walls of error, on the ruins of which a divine hand was to establish the truth of Jesus Christ.
Pierre Robert of Noyon, called Olivetan, had finished the work the Church had intrusted to him. On the 4th of June, 1535, appeared the first French Bible of the Reformation. ‘Possessing a keen and penetrating mind,’ said one of its readers who was thoroughly capable of appreciating the work, ‘the translator is not deficient in learning; he has spared neither labor, research, nor care, and has ably discharged the duties of a translator of the Bible.’ ‘I have done the best I could,’ said the translator himself, on presenting the book to his brethren; ‘I have labored and searched as deeply as I possibly could into the living mine of pure truth; but I do not pretend to have entirely exhausted it.’ Some people have asserted that Olivetan’s Bible was only a copy of that by Le Fevre of Etaples. The translation of the Old Testament, probably begun before Olivetan’s journey to the Valleys, is the best part of his work, and it may be said to be original. Calvin’s cousin no doubt had his predecessor’s translation before him; but the latter does not contain three consecutive verses in which Olivetan has not changed something. His New Testament is more like Le Fevre’s; still numerous changes were introduced into it. It has been calculated that the new translator had corrected the biblical text of the Sorbonne doctor in twenty-three thousand five hundred places, and in more than sixty thousand, if account be taken of all the minutiae of style. Calvin’s share has reference particularly to the later editions of this Bible. With regard to the mechanical part, the two cousins had found a distinguished auxiliary.
Pierre de Wingle (called also Perot Picard) was one of the good printers of the sixteenth century. The episcopal court of Lyons, where he lived, had prosecuted him for printing ‘certain writings come from Germany;’ he then took refuge at Geneva, but the impression of the New Testament and various pamphlets had compelled him, in 1532, to flee to Neuchatel — a reformed city since 1530 which behaved more hospitably, and shortly after made him a citizen. About half an hour’s walk from Neuchatel, is the little village of Serriere; here Wingle set up his presses, and this modest but happy locality, which first had heard the Gospel preached by Farel, was destined also to be the first to witness the birth of Olivetan’s Bible. The latter had dated his dedication, Des Alpes, ce XIIe de feburier 1535, as if he wished to confound the Vaudois valleys of the Cottian Alps, where the idea had been conceived, with the parts of Switzerland where it had been carried out. The Vaudois had collected for this publication five hundred golden crowns, a sum equivalent to about 2,400l . sterling.
The volume had scarcely left the press, when Wingle and his friends sent it wherever the French language was spoken. ‘Has not the King of kings proclaimed,’ they thought, ‘that His Word should go forth to the ends of the world ?’ ‘The people who make thee this present,’ said Olivetan to the Church, ‘are the true people of patience who, in silence and hope, have overcome all assaults. For a long time they have seen thee maltreated, seeming rather a poor slave than the daughter and heiress of the universal Ruler. But now that thou beginnest to recognize thy origin, these people, thy brothers, come forward and lovingly offer thee their all. Cheer up then, poor little Church! go and cleanse thy spattered rags; go and wash thy befouled hands. Desirest thou to be always subject to masters? Is it not time to think of the Bridegroom? Here is a precious jewel He sends thee as a wedding-gift and pledge of a loyal marriage. Art thou afraid that He will some day leave thee a widow, He who lives for evermore? Courage! bid farewell to that traitorous hag whom thou hast so long called mother. It is true that thou canst bring to thy husband nothing of any value; but come, come boldly with all the nobles and titled ones of thy court, with thy insulted, excommunicated, imprisoned, banished, and plundered ones!
Come with thy tortured, branded, crop-eared, dismembered ones! Such are those whom Christ calls to triumph with him in his heavenly court.’ If the fruits of the Bible published at Neuchatel were more numerous, those of the discussion at Geneva were more prompt. The most candid catholics were struck at seeing the men who were on the side of the Reform giving an account of their faith, while those on the other side stood dumb. There was eloquence in this contrast. Accordingly priests, laymen, and women, stripped of their prejudices, declared that the truth of God, brought forward during the discussion, had opened their eyes. No doubt many simply quitted the forms of popery for the forms of protestantism.
To put aside superstitions, to break images, and to reject the authority of the pope was in their eyes the Reform: their chief was Ami Perrin. But with a great number of Genevans, the movement within, the conversion of the heart, corresponded with the movement without. There were rivers of running water in that city which no man could stop, and at which many quenched their thirst.
The magistrates, however, far from reforming the Roman worship, remained motionless and silent. The friends of the Gospel took the initiative. Claude Bernard, the brother of Jacques, one of the captains of the city, a man full of zeal for the truth, went before the council on June 28th, accompanied by the ministers and several notables, and represented that the mass, images, and other inventions and idolatries, being contrary to Holy Scripture, as the disputation had showed, it was time they were suppressed. The law of conscience ought to become the law of the Senate also. Bernard said: ‘Ought a father to permit the children whose guardianship God has intrusted to him, to become attached to errors opposed to the truth of God? Magistrates, act like fathers. It will be to the glory of God and the salvation of the people.’ The syndics and councils could not come to a decision. The step they were asked to take was that of a giant. They feared to excite the catholics to take up arms, and the duke of Savoy to surround Geneva with his artillery. To cross definitively the line which separated the old times from the new was too much for them. St. Paul and the Apostles had done it in their day, and the reformers were doing it now; but the syndics of Geneva were neither Pauls nor Farels. They feared civil war and escalades; they preferred waiting for the Reform to be accomplished without them, for everything to be changed without any one’s observing it. The council, therefore, procrastinated and did nothing. ‘The minutes of the discussion take a long time arranging, answered the premier syndic to Claude Bernard; ‘as soon as they are drawn out, we will see what is to be done.’ The great evolution of the Reformation was metamorphosed by these worthy ediles into a question of drawing up minutes. To show their love for the status quo, they condemned to three days’ imprisonment, on bread and water and the strappado, a huguenot who had destroyed the images placed in front of the chapel of Notre Dame.
Farel’s friends determined to wait; but no measure of reform appeared, although they waited ten times the space required to examine the minutes.
The huguenots thought that the council was taking refuge in ‘tortuous hiding-places,’ when it ought to act boldly in the light of day. The evangelicals thought that ‘as God gives us everything openly, the secrets of our hearts ought also to be open and displayed.’
Never had courage and firmness been more necessary. Great miseries were beginning. Since the disputation not a sack of wheat or a load of wood had entered the city, while previously they used to enter in great numbers twice a week. There were no eggs, or butter, or cheese, or cattle. One day, however, a cow was brought by a man from a neighboring village; what a supply for a whole city! But the man had scarcely got out of the city, when the enemy seized him roughly and made him pay three times the price he had received. If friends wanted to bring some trifling stores from the nearest farms, they dared not do it by daylight. Finding themselves reduced to such extremities, a few citizens on one or two occasions went out of the city to procure bread: they were insulted and beaten.’ Alas!’ said the poor creatures, ‘we have only to move the tips of our fingers, or go a nail’s breadth out of the city, to make our enemies cry out that we are upsetting heaven and earth.’ Seeing that no progress was made, the evangelicals determined to assert the free publication of the Word of God. It was not enough for them to have it printed, they wanted it preached, not only in their own houses or in the great hall of Rive, but in the churches. They had within their walls one of the most powerful preachers of the age — Farel: they believed that their duty towards God and their fellow-citizens called upon them to make his eloquent voice heard by the multitude.
The 22d of July was the feast of Mary Magdalen. The bells had been solemnly rung to call worshippers to the church of that name, and already a great number of catholics and even evangelicals had gathered within its walls. Was it by a Latin mass that the memory of that Magdalen ought to be commemorated to whom Jesus had said: Thy faith hath saved thee?
Ought not those words to be preached which Jesus had addressed to her, and not the rubbish with which the priests sent their flocks to sleep? This was what the reformers asked each other. They observed, moreover, that the catholics, less numerous than the protestants, had six churches, while the latter had scarcely one or two places of worship. They added that if the marvelous work begun in Geneva was to be completed, great meetings must be held in the temples. Some persons called out, ‘Farel.’ — ‘Yes, Farel,’ repeated many: ‘let us go and fetch him;’ and they all ran to the convent of Rive. The reformer had just gone into the pulpit when the message was handed to him. Farel was always ready and believed he had a right to speak in a church. ‘My friends,’ he said to his congregation, ‘we must to-day preach the good news under the vaulted roof of the Madeleine, and abolish idolatry there.’ He then came down from the pulpit and bent his way towards that huge old gothic church, with its Carlovingian tower, whose foundation dates from the eleventh century.
The crowd of his hearers followed him. He entered: his friends made signs of joy: the priest standing before the altar, where he was celebrating mass, stopped in alarm and ran away; his acolytes followed him, and all the worshippers wished to do the same. But the huguenots, thinking that the Word of God was specially necessary for them, shut the doors. This roused the catholics, the frightened women shrieked, and all made such an uproar, that the reformers opened the doors and let those depart who pleased. There remained, however, a certain number of undecided persons; and Farel began to preach with power, that Savior who had pardoned the Magdalen and who still pardons sinners.
Meantime those who had fled, dispersing in the streets and houses, cried out against the scandal, while the parish priest, running off to the hotel-deville, complained to the council. Farel was forbidden to preach again in that church. When the sermon was ended, the catholics returned and the priests sang mass in it with more fervor than ever. The huguenots made no opposition, but they also claimed that no one should oppose their meetings. The two worships were to be free. In fact the very same day at vespers, ‘those rascals (canailles ), ’ says Sister Jeanne, ‘again took possession of the holy church, and every day afterwards it was the usual custom to preach in it.’ The irritated council summoned Farel before them on the 30th of July. ‘Sirs,’ said the reformer, ‘you have yourselves acknowledged that whatever cannot be proved by Scripture ought to be suppressed; why then do you delay doing so? Were not the defenders of popery vanquished in our debates? And has not almost the whole city recognized the finger of God in this signal defeat of the papacy? Give us orders which we can obey, for fear we should be constrained to answer you with Scripture, that it is better to obey God rather than men. Assemble the Council of Two Hundred and let them decide.’ The syndics, knowing that the friends of Reform had a majority in that assembly, refused the demand, and repeated their prohibition to Farel, adding: For good reasons.
Farel thought theft reasons bad. In such a matter he knew but one really good: Preach the Gospel to every creature, the Lord had said. He set no bounds either to his desire for the triumph of the truth, or to his expectation of help from God to give him the victory. A holy ambition that would not be straitened, animated him, and according to the words of Elisha, he smote five or six times until the enemy was vanquished. Farel was one of those men whom God raises up for great and salutary revolutions: opposition only served to inflame his courage.
On the 1st of August he went to Saint-Gervais, where the friends of the Reform were numerous. The uneasy syndics sent a guard of fifty men; but Farel went into the pulpit and preached in the old church the ever new Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the 5th of August he became still bolder, and proclaimed the and-Roman doctrine in the church dedicated to St. Dominic, the father of the Inquisition. This evangelist did not perform his office at his own time only and according to his own convenience: he never spared himself, whatever were the vexations he gathered from his labors.
He summoned weary souls to rest at the feet of Christ; he followed up the obstinate; he argued, reproved, entreated, exhorted. He multiplied the inducements to make the dilatory enter upon the way of life, and ‘his vehemence was always tempered with meekness.’ The hour had arrived when divine truth was to triumph over human errors; he therefore multiplied his attacks. The greatest blow yet remained to be struck. A thunder-clap was about to bring down an abundant rain upon the thirsty earth, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost which cometh from heaven. The cathedral of St. Pierre, whose three old towers soar above the city, played a great part in its history, and every Genevan was attached to its stones, though they were now (as it were) broken and scattered, and the divine service was contaminated by mournful profanations. But the greater the desolation, the more did pious men desire to see that august temple purified and the good news proclaimed beneath its vaulted roof. Fourteen canons still belonged to it, established to defend it; but those unhappy clerks, isolated, scared, and conquered before a blow was struck, waited trembling until the tide of Reform, which still kept rising, invaded their sanctuary. They had not long to wait. On Sunday morning, 8th of August, a crowd of reformed Genevans mounted the streets leading to the church, and approached it with the firm intention of replacing the light upon the candlestick. ‘When rust has tarnished iron,’ said a reformer, ‘we endeavor to restore it to its former brightness: must we not, then, cleanse away from the Church of Christ the thick rust which ages of darkness have accumulated on it?’ Having entered the noble edifice, the reformers began to ring the great bell to call the people to hear the Gospel. Clemence was tolling the last hour of the Middle Ages, the De Defunctis of images, ‘those gods of the priests,’ as the huguenots called them. The chapel which contained the arm of St. Anthony, on which men used to swear in serious cases, was to be pulled down all that mass of waxen hands offered by devotees, and a thousand other relics equally stupid, were to disappear.
In that temple, now ‘crammed with idols,’ God and his Word were henceforward to reign alone.
Farel arrived and went into the pulpit. The worship they were about to celebrate was not to be an ordinary service: a religious revolution was about to be accomplished. Ceremonies were the essence of popery. Now Farel was full of the idea that there are no ceremonial laws in Christianity; that an act of worship, discharged according to the rules of the Church, is not on that account pleasing to God and meritorious: that to overburden believers with festivals, bowing of the head, crossing, kneeling before pictures, and ceremonies, is opposed to worship in the spirit; that to fill the churches with images, offerings, relics, and tapers is dealing a blow at justification by faith and the merit of Christ’s death which alone save the sinner. He believed with his whole heart that divine worship, according to the New Testament, does not consist in processions, elevations, salutations, bowings, genuflections before the host, and other superstitious usages; that its essence is faith in the Gospel, the charity which flows from it, patience in bearing the cross, public confession of Jestis Christ, and the living prayer of the heart. At the sight of the statues, the pictures, the votive offerings which surrounded him — at the recollection of the superstitious ceremonies which for centuries had profaned that cathedral, Farel in great emotion was ready to do anything, even at the risk of his life, to establish that religion which is spirit and life. ‘Those idols,’ he said, pointing from the pulpit to the images around him, ‘the mass and the whole body of popery are condemned by the Holy Ghost. The magistrates, ordained by God, ought to pull down everything that is raised in opposition to God’s glory.’ The images, if they remained, would be in his eyes a sign of the victory of catholicism; but if they fell, their fall would proclaim the victory of the Reformation. This point had been often discussed: the priests and devout people opposed Farel’s intentions with all their power, and maintained that such changes required the consent of a general council. The alarmed politicians objected that if they pulled down the images, then for one enemy Geneva would have a hundred — the duke of Savoy, the king of France, the emperor, the pope, the cardinals, and all the bishops in the world.
There were at this time two powers and two systems in the city: the reformers, whose ideal theories had not yet been modified by reality, said that the State, as well as individuals, ought to become a new creature; that the Gospel would accomplish this work of transformation; that the Church would change the people and would make of the State a kingdom of God upon earth... Alas! that task is still far from being accomplished, and can it ever be? On the other hand the politicians, without wishing to reject the influence of the Gospel, thought that the State occupied the first place in human society, and that order was not possible without it. They believed that the magistrates, without being the masters of the faith, ought to be the source of regularity in the Church, and accordingly the State undertook to restrain the evangelicals. It was attempted later in Calvin’s day; now it was done in Farel’s. The council sent for him after the sermon at St. Pierre’s and asked him why he had preached in the cathedral. ‘I am surprised,’ said the reformer, ‘that you make a crime of what is in accordance with Scripture.’ If, however, he rendered unto God the things that were God’s, he was willing to render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar’s. He therefore expressed a desire that the reformers should be summoned by the legitimate authority, and renewed his demand for the convocation of the Council of Two Hundred.
The syndics ordered him to discontinue his sermons at St. Pierre’s until further notice.