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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    THE PEOPLE OF GENEVA DESIRE TO LIVE ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL.


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    (MARCH TO JUNE 1536.)

    AN entire people is not converted to God in a body. The pagan religions were identical with the nation; but the Christian Church is distinct from it.

    Even the Apostolic Church soon extended beyond the narrow limits of the tribe of Judah; it was founded at Jerusalem irrespective of temple, sanhedrim, and Jews, and subsequently was established among all nations unconnected with the state. A prince cannot decree a religion by a cabinet minute; a people cannot elect it by a majority of votes. There is, however, something grand in seeing an assembled nation declare without constraint that they will take the Gospel as the rule of their faith and the source of their life. This is what Geneva was about to do.

    The communities which extended from the foot of the Jura to the Alps of the Voirons and the Mole, had recognized the councils of Geneva as their legitimate lords, reserving their own customs and franchises. But, in the opinion of the Reformers, this territory would only be an embarrassment, unless a new life were communicated to its inhabitants and spread over the whole nation. Commerce, manufactures, liberty, and letters do much for the prosperity of a people, but cannot be their life. If the Word of God, if the light of the world , does not enlighten them; they fall sooner or later.

    These opinions were sufficiently common in Geneva for an unknown poet to say to the united parishes in this unpolished strain: Vaut-il pas mieux dire a Dieu nos secrets, Qu’a un grand tas d’idiots indiscrets?

    Vaut-il pas mieux au pauvre et au debile Donner habit, pain, vin, chandelle et huile, Qu’aux marmots d’or, d’argent, pierre, et bois, Rendre l’honneur defendu taut de fois? ‘Messieurs,’ said Farel to the council on the 13th of March, ‘the Word of God ought to be preached in the parishes subject to this city.’ Ten days later he made a fresh application to that assembly on the same matter, when he was supported by politicians as well as by men of piety. To leave the seeds of popery in Geneva and in her rural dependencies was (they thought) exposing the state to great danger. In order to thread the shoals and brave the storms which threatened the frail bark, there must be a cordial understanding between all the crew. Several persons exclaimed with rather an excess of energy: ‘If some go to sermon and others to mass, the republic will go to the devil.’

    The work was begun at once. The reformers preached in Geneva; other ministers preached in the country; heralds of the council went from village to village making proclamations by sound of trumpet: ‘Let there be no more disobedience!’ they said; ‘no more gambling! No more blasphemy!’

    Still the council did not wish to exercise any constraint with regard to religion. The inhabitants of Viuz and other villages in the mandement of Thiez in Faucigny having prayed that they might be allowed their own way as to church matters, their request was granted. But the bishop, who was less tolerant, excommunicated the poor people, because, although catholics, they recognized, heretical magistrates. The syndics undismayed and very positive as to their episcopal capacity, wrote to the vicars that they would relieve their parishes from the excommunication and completely absolve them — which greatly comforted the worthy peasants. When Easter drew near, however, they began to feel great distress. ‘Alas!’ they said to the syndics, ‘as we have been excommunicated, we cannot take the sacrament at Easter.’ ‘We hold you to be entirely absolved,’ answered the reformed magistrates demurely.

    Upon which the simple people received the sacrament with great tranquillity of mind. These are strange actions. It has been maintained that the church, in proportion as political society becomes Christian, ought gradually to be lost in the state. It has been asserted that, at the epoch of the Reformation, Christianity had completed its ecclesiastical period, and had entered into the political period. Lastly, some men have added that to organize the church was a useless labor, a sheer loss of time, an absolute impossibility, and that presbyteries and synods were but silly child’s play. Was the fact that we have recorded — episcopal absolution emanating from the council — the first step in this absorption of the church by the state; and is it true that the Reformation leads to it? Quite the contrary. By reviving in the Christian conscience the idea of the kingdom of God; by awakening to life and action the members of the evangelical congregation, protestantism awoke the church throughout Christendom. Geneva, owing to the impulse given it by Calvin, became the place where it was constituted in the most independent and most scriptural manner. The church must not be lost in the state, and the state must not be lost in the church, whatever socialists or priests may say. How can the state survive the church? The state is temporary, the church immortal.

    But the magistrates heroically discharged their episcopal functions to little purpose; there was great difficulty in maintaining order. The villages of Vandoeuvre and Celigny wished to hear mass and a protestant sermon every Sunday, while the priests universally demanded the preservation of the Romish ceremonies. The council felt the necessity of explaining the posture of affairs, and called together all the ecclesiastics and proctors of the parishes. On the 3d of April, 1536, the Romanist party was drawn up on one side of the council-room, and on the other were Farel, with some other ministers, and several zealous protestants. Claude Savoye, the premier syndic, spoke against the union of sermons and the mass, which some parishes desired, and declared that such a medley was by no means agreeable to the magistracy. He then said to the priests: ‘Instead of preventing the people from living according to the Gospel, why do you not embrace it yourselves, and give up your mass?’ Dom Claude de Puthex, canon of Satigny, stepped forward and said: ‘If our neighbors of Gex change their mode of life, we will do the same.’ This religion of neighborhood was a surprise to the reformers; and those simple folks reminded them of sheep who pass where others have gone before, and leap over the hedge as soon as the foremost of them have shown the way. ‘Turn about, gentlemen,’ said Farel, ‘instead of continuing your course;’ and he added several ‘beautiful remonstrances.’ ‘Give us a month to study the Gospel,’ answered the canons. After the priests had withdrawn, the council asked the opinion of Farel and Bonivard. The latter declared that ‘consciences must be enlightened and not forced.’ Farel also was of opinion that the papists ought not to be troubled in their devotions, in order that they might not be exasperated against the Word; but that they ought to be brought to the Gospel ‘with extreme gentleness.’

    He therefore proposed that ‘the priests during the required month should give themselves up exclusively to the inquiry after truth.’ When the ecclesiastics were called in, the syndic informed them that their request had been granted unanimously; and at the end of the month, they all declared that they could not prove by the Gospel either the mass, auricular confession, or other papal ordinances. The brother of Guy Furbity, who was in the assembly, declared that Farel’s exhortation to the priests was ‘sound according to Holy Scripture and to God.’ It is true that this person had a reason for wishing to please the Genevans.

    There remained, however, one thing to be done. They had liberated the protestant Bonivard, they determined also to set free the Roman-catholic Furbity, whose release was demanded by his brother William. Guy left his prison on the 6th of April. He had been condemned (it will be remembered) to prove his doctrines, or to retract his insulting language; whereupon he had asked for books, and the council sent him a Bible. ‘A Bible!’ he exclaimed, ‘they must be laughing at me. How can I prove my doctrines with the help of a Bible? I should not succeed in a twelvemonth.’

    He wanted the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, and so forth, and they gave him a Bible! ‘Magnificent lords,’ he said on the 6th of April, ‘I beg your pardon; I said things that displeased you; I was wrong. I did not know how matters were.

    Henceforward I will endeavor to lead a better life, and to preach the truth better than I have hitherto done.’ The council ordered him to be set at liberty forthwith. Farel was more active than ever. He was busy in the city and in the villages with Roman-catholics and reformed: he was intent on everything that could elevate the moral and religious condition of the community. The anarchy and corruption that prevailed in Geneva upon Calvin’s arrival have been exaggerated. The energetic language of the sixteenth century, interpreted by the delicate critics of our times, has perhaps contributed to this mistake. Before the Reformation there was beyond all doubt great corruption among the clergy, and particularly among the monks. That dissoluteness had also infected individuals and even families among the citizens; but one feature had distinguished this people, and especially the councils, during the struggles for political emancipation, namely, the close union of liberty with legality, that is to say, with order. The Genevese were always found ready for the greatest sacrifices — for the sacrifice of their goods, their ease, their homes, and their lives sooner than lose their independence: now these are not the manners of an epicurean people.

    Admiration of the Reformation period ought not to make us unjust towards the period of political emancipation. It is true that the reformers, and Calvin especially, had a hard task with this energetic and restless people, and that the struggles often proceeded from a want of faith and morality, which these austere men had remarked in certain citizens. But the struggles were aggravated by the intervention of the state, to which the ministers were not averse, and by the temporal punishments inflicted on those who infringed religious discipline. Perhaps no one in the sixteenth century perceived more clearly than Calvin the distinction between the spiritual and the temporal; and yet neither he nor Farel understood it, and above all did not realize it, to its full extent. ‘If there should be men so insolent and given up to all perversity,’ said Farel to the syndics, ‘as only to laugh at being excommunicated, it will be your business to see whether you will allow such contempt to remain unpunished.’ The haughty republicans who had sacrificed everything to break down the despotism of the bishop and the duke, were irritated when they saw another yoke imposed upon them in religious matters. They had the true sentiment that their consciences ought to be free, and if attempts had been made to convince them and not to constrain them, the end proposed would have been more easily attained. For many an age Rome had forgotten that the weapons of the evangelical warfare are not carnal . Unhappily magistrates and reformers sometimes forgot it also. It was an error, and the error led to the commission of many faults.

    Nevertheless discipline was not the essential characteristic of Farel, Calvin, and their friends: they were in a special degree men of faith and of a living faith. In their eyes faith was the one thing needful — the good thing above all others. They desired that man should be holy and do good works; but for that, he must believe in the love which God had shown him in Christ. Faith, according to the reformers, is the presiding principle of morality. If a man has faith, he is a child of God; if he has not, he is under the dominion of sin. Moreover Farel did not want a purely negative reform, which should consist in merely rejecting the pope; he wanted it to be positive, and to that end it was necessary that the people should believe in Jesus Christ. Lastly, Farel saw disunion and disputes in Geneva.

    In order that the community, the new Church, should be strong, it ought not to be composed (he thought) of scattered members, opposed perhaps to one another; it must form a single body, and glorify God with one voice and one heart. He desired, therefore, that a public profession of faith in the Gospel should be made at Geneva.

    As sovereignty in matters of state belongs to the assembly of all the citizens, it was supposed with still further reason, that to the same body, convened according to the ancient customs, belonged the right of proclaiming the evangelical doctrine. On Friday, the 19th of May, Farel, accompanied by Antoine Saunier, his old traveling companion in the valleys, and by the pastor Henri de la Mare, appeared before the council. ‘Most honored lords,’ he said, ‘it is of great importance for all the people to live in strict union. To get rid of the quarrels, jeers, reproaches, and dissensions, which the fretful disposition of our nation may occasion every day, we must employ mildness; and, further still, we must manifest our concord. Seeing that there is one only truth of God, all the people should declare their intention to adhere to it with one and the same heart.’

    The council approved of the proposition, and resolved to call together the council-general for a confession of faith, on Sunday, the 21st of May. At Augsburg it was the priests and doctors who had confessed the doctrine; at Geneva, it was to be the whole nation. The difference between the two reforms is natural. Democracy ruled in Geneva, and it had become all the dearer to the citizens from their conviction that if the liberties of nations had been taken away, the crime lay at the door of the papacy.

    Calvin has repeated this more than once. It has been said that the communes, the liberties of the Middle Ages, issued from the furrow and the shop. From the shop came specially the liberty of Geneva. The Burgundians who settled there were traders, and willingly exchanged their arms for merchandise. Some of the heroes of Geneva, whose devotedness reminds us of ancient times, sprang from the counter or the factory.

    Still an appeal to the people was a bold measure, for there yet existed among the citizens, and even in the council, many decided adversaries of reform, and some of them were among the most eminent men. Might not such an appeal stir up an opposition which would overthrow all that had been done? The position of the Roman-catholics was most serious. They were required to conform to the Gospel. Could they do so? Their consciences forbade them. Were they to refuse, they would disturb the unanimity and harmony so necessary to the people at that juncture. Pierre Lullin, almost a septuagenarian, uncle of the haughty huguenot Jean Lullin, was one of the most fervent catholics in Geneva. Unable to do without the mass, he had asked, in September 1535, to be allowed to have it performed by a priest in a chapel of St. Gervais, which was his private property.

    Another eminent man, Syndic Balard, had ceased indeed to be a partisan of the bishop, but he had taken refuge in a catholicism more spiritual than Lullin’s, and yet quite as marked. According to his views, the Holy Ghost governed the Roman-catholic church, which church, communicating that spirit to its members, imposed on them the obligation of finding its doctrines in Scripture. Lullin, Balard, and some others, had frequent conferences together. The sincere catholics were not the only persons to be feared; they were supported by Genevans of scant faith, who cried out against the Reformation, principally because of its rigid morality. The reformers themselves were not without fear with regard to many of those who at that time walked with them. There were men who heard the preachers, but went no farther; they burnt the idols, but did not reform their lives. ‘For faith to be secure, it must be governed by conscience,’ said the theologians, ‘otherwise there is danger that it will be swamped, and that the ship will founder in a stormy sea.’ Were they about to witness a renewal of those tumults which had so often disturbed the General Councils? At length the 21st of May arrived — that day at once so longed for and so feared. The bells rang out cheerfully; Clemence wafted through the air the words carved on her surface: ‘I summon the people. Jesus, Savior of men, Son of Mary, salvation of the world! be merciful and propitious to us!’

    The good citizens congratulated each other, as they obeyed the summons, that this day would put an end to innumerable struggles, and that the city, so long wasted by briers and thorns, would now be covered by the hand of God with flowers and laurels. The emotion was universal.

    Besides the mass of the people, the ambassadors of Berne were present in the church, and among them the chief of the liberating army, Nagueli. One of the most heroic Genevans and most sincere Christians, the intrepid Claude Savoye, was president. When he arose to speak, he reminded them of the flight of the bishop, the arrival of the Gospel in Geneva, the glorious deliverance granted to the city; and then he added, in a voice that was heard all down the nave, ‘Citizens, do you desire to live according to the Gospel and the Word of God, as it is preached to us every day? Do you declare that you will have no more masses, images, idols, and other papal abuses whatsoever? If any one knows and wishes to say anything against the doctrine that is preached to us, let him do so.’

    There was a deep silence: all were in expectation. Will not some voice, friendly to Rome or to the world, protest against reform? The aged and devout Pierre Lullin, the spiritual catholic Jean Balard, the frivolous Jean Philippe, the episcopal Malbuisson, Richardet, Ramel, De la Rive, and others, known for their attachment to Rome, are going, doubtless, to take up the premier syndic’s challenge. The hour is striking; Geneva is about to decide its future. If it is true that the pope is Christ’s vicar, and as God upon earth, let them say so! Now or never. They wait: they wait still; not a word disturbs the solemn silence of the people. No one made opposition. The fact was duly recorded. Then other accents than those which had been anticipated resounded through the aisles of the cathedral.

    Was it the voice of pious syndic Lever, or of one of the Two Hundred, or of some one in the body of the meeting? The council registers do not inform us. That voice, speaking in the name of the united nation, proclaimed: ‘We all, with one accord, desire, with God’s help, to live under that holy evangelical law, and according to God’s Word as it is preached to us. We desire to renounce all masses, images, idols, and other papal ceremonies and abuses, and to live in union with one another, in obedience to justice.’ When the voice ceased, all the people held up their hands and repeating a unanimous oath, exclaimed: ‘We swear it... We will do so with God’s help... We will!’ The assembly broke up, and the citizens departed, congratulating each other that the innumerable tyrannies of ‘Pharaoh ’ and the darkness of the ‘sorcerers ’ were to be succeeded by the mild light of Jesus Christ and the life-giving breath of liberty. Even such huguenots as had struggled especially for political enfranchisement, raised no discordant voice. They knew well that if this petty people remained catholic, it would lose its independence, and infallibly become Savoyard. But others held higher views: Geneva appeared to them as a fortress which God had built to save the Gospel. ‘God,’ said Froment, the oldest of the Genevese reformers, ‘God has selected this strong territory, so difficult of access, to form a rampart as it were against the pope and his followers. It is in these rude countries, guarded on the south by the Savoy mountains and their eternal snows; on the north by the difficult gorges of the Jura; and on the east by the narrow passes of the St. Bernard and the Simplon, where our friends, the Valaisans, with half a score of men can stop an army; it is in this blessed corner of the earth that God planted His Gospel, surrounding his word with those gigantic fortresses, in order that the enemy may neither reach it nor stifle it.’ While the citizens thronged the open square, the ministers went into the pulpit. ‘A mighty captain hath led us,’ they said; ‘let us put our trust in him alone. He has more power than all the kings of the earth, and alone he has preserved us from our enemies. The captain is Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer, and our strong tower.’ Farel and several Genevans asked that some monument should be erected to recall to future ages the memory of their great deliverance. Did not Joshua set up twelve stones after he had crossed the Jordan? Farel composed a Latin inscription, which was carved in letters of gold on stone and steel. The council and people fixed it over one of the principal gates of the city and afterwards over the entrance to the Hotel-de-Ville, so that every one might read this testimony of a grateful city.

    QUUM ANNO PROFLIGATA ROMANI ANTICHRISTI TYRANNIDE ABROGATISQUE EJUS SUPERSTITIONIBUS SACRO-SANCTA CHRISTI RELIGIO HIC IN SUAM PURITATEM ECCLESIA IN MELIOREM ORDINEM SINGULARI DEI BENEFICIO REPOSITA ET SIMUL PULSATIS FUGATISQUE HOSTIBUS URBS IPSA IN SUAM LIBERTATEM NON SINE INSIGNI MIRACULO RESTITUTA RUERIT SENATUS POPULUSQUE GENEVENSIS MONUMENTUM HOC PERPETUAE CAUSA FIERI ATQUE HOC LOCO ERIGI CURAVIT QUO SUAM ERGA DEUM GRTITUDINEM AD POSTEROS TESTATAM FACERET.

    The citizens who had left their homes to embrace the faction of the bishop and the duke, and to fight against the Reformation, were struck with the surprising deliverance accorded to Geneva. They became friends again, and many of them asked permission to return to their country. Evangelical Geneva was pleased to see those prodigal sons once more knocking at the door of their father’s house, and welcomed them on their pledging themselves to obey the laws and contribute to the taxes in a manner proportionate to their means. Some of them, however, were forbidden to carry either sword or knife, ‘except for the purpose of cutting bread.’ — ‘Let us put an end to all enmities and disorders,’ said the citizens, ‘and live together like good friends.’ The priests and monks who had embraced the Reform, were compensated for the stipends of which they had been deprived. The state desiring to show its gratitude to Bonivard, paid his debts, made him free of the city, and gave him the house of the vicarepiscopal, the dignity of a member of the Two Hundred, and a pension of two hundred and fifty crowns. The ex-prior of St. Victor married, thus substituting a Christian union for the ignoble life of a monk.

    Evangelical Geneva furnished an example of the feelings engendered by help from heaven; patience and meekness were displayed towards everybody. The Genevans had read in Scripture, that ‘Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things;’ and in this spirit they acted. ‘Most honored lords, I cannot go to hear the sermon,’ said the timid Malbuisson, ‘because I suffer from the gout.’ This excuse could only be met by a smile, for the gout did not prevent him from attending the Council; but no one desired to constrain him. If even the most zealous sought to lead recalcitrants to the Gospel, they did not insist. They wanted Balard to go to sermon, but he did not; they wanted him to leave the city, but he remained; they wanted him to close his warehouse (he was a large ironmonger), and it was no sooner shut than he reopened it. He continued to be a member of the Council and discharged all its functions. Girardet de la Rive took his child a league from the city to have it christened by a priest; and yet he was re-elected syndic in 1539 and 1543, and in Calvin’s time, in 1547, was appointed one of the six commissioners for drawing up the ordinances of justice. Those terrible huguenots were kindly people at heart. They desired to give their fellowcitizens time to compare the old life with the new, the doctrine of the Bible with that of the pope. The Roman-catholics kept holiday the feast days of the Romish church, and saw their priests in secret; but gradually their convictions were modified. As constraint was not applied outwardly, truth acted all the more inwardly. Those upright men read the Holy Scriptures, and Scripture shedding a light into their hearts, drew them day by day nearer to the truth. At last they went to hear sermons like the rest.

    In the sixteenth century Geneva was more liberal than people of our day suppose. What a transformation had come over the city! The Genevese, those veteran athletes, laid down their arms at the feet of the Prince of Peace.

    The tumultuous city, continually exposed to the brigandage of the knights, to the nocturnal attacks of the Savoyards, and to internal dissension, was transformed into a center of civilization. ‘Let us profit by our liberty,’ said Bonivard. ‘Let us make good laws and set up a good government, for, according to the sentiment of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, empires and great lordships are acquired by brave and valiant captains, but are kept up by just judges. Messieurs of Geneva, you are indebted to God for two blessings: one, that your republic has given birth to liberty; the other, that, on leaving its mother’s womb, it found nurses ready to supply it with such nourishment that if you take advantage of it your republic will be, if not immortal, which is impossible, yet it will be of long and vigorous duration.’ In fact, Geneva became at once a free city, a learned city, and an evangelical city. Easter Sunday 1536 was one of the high festivals of the renovation of this little people. Farel, stationed at a humble table, which had replaced the pompous altar, broke the bread and blessed the cup, while a calm and solemn crowd drew near the symbols of the body and blood of the Savior. ‘What a sacrament we had,’ he said, ‘and what great things the Lord hath done for us.’ But he longed for still greater things. ‘I pray that He who hath increased this little flock beyond all our expectations, may increase it still more by augmenting our faith.’ The reformer was then almost alone in Geneva.

    Froment had been summoned to Aigle, and Viret had gone to Neuchatel.

    Farel was sinking under his labors and called loudly for help. In his opinion the Genevans wanted a new man, some one in his place. His incessant energy, his somewhat coarse manner, and even the victories he had gained, had inspired such as were wanting in religion with prejudices that might injure the cause of the Gospel. Farel was rather one of those who found societies than of those who organize them; he was sensible of this, and desired to place in other hands the definitive establishment of the church in Geneva, in order that he might go to new scenes where he might gain new victories. He was like one of those noble war-horses that neigh for the battle.

    Where could the man of God be found to complete the work? He was sought among the ministers, but to no effect. The Reform was liable to perish, not from want of work, -but from want of workmen. ‘Alas!’ cried Farel, ‘where shall we find the preachers we require? I cannot tell.’ It is true that ex-priests and monks frequently offered themselves, but what workmen they were! One day it was a simpleton without any capacity; at another, a coward who did not care to undertake a task so full of peril; one man was immoral; another self-sufficient; a third was worldly; a fourth altogether monkish. Farel was dismayed. ‘You speak to me of Dennis,’ he said, ‘but Dennis is a monk from head to foot.’ The reformer had as much trouble in putting these sham fellow-helpers aside, as in contending with desperate enemies. ‘Beware of the tonsure,’ he said to his friends, ‘of the tonsure and the tonsured.’ ‘We want none of those skimmers of Scripture,’ he said, ‘who turn to every wind like weathercocks on the steeples; none of those flatterers of princes and magistrates, who wish to please them for their bellies’ sake, or through fear of being banished: none of those dissolute monks, who seek only to please master or mistress. No, no; none of these mercenaries; for it is to be feared that if we take them to lead the flocks, we shall enter into a more inextricable labyrinth than that through which we have passed.’

    Not only Geneva but Western Europe required ‘a God-fearing pastor,’ as Farel said; a doctor who could explain with learning the teachings of Holy Scripture; an evangelist who, with eloquence full of life, should convert souls to Christ; a champion who should fight valiantly against the doctors of Rome and lead them captive to the truth; and a man of administrative capacity who could establish order in the churches of God. The earth had shaken, old buildings had been thrown down. It was requisite to erect in their place an edifice more conformable with the original design — one with more air, more light, more warmth. Where could the man be found who, gifted with wisdom from God like Solomon, should raise a temple to Him which should manifest his glow? He was sought for everywhere, perseveringly yet ineffectually. And yet the man whom God had elected was soon to appear.

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