(WINTER AND SPRING.)
THERE was in Italy, as we have said in another place, a city in which the love of letters flourished, and where the Gospel found a firm support: that city was Ferrara. It was embellished by a university, bishop’s palace, and cathedral; by the castle of the ancient dukes, the palace of Este; but its fairest ornament was Renee of France. That princess, daughter of King Louis XII., wife of the duke of Este, was not more distinguished by the graces of her mind and her learning, than by the love of holiness which shone in her, like a divine flame, according to the testimony of one of the most learned Christians of Italy. For some time she had turned her attention towards heavenly science and theological studies, and had attracted successively to Ferrara the most eminent Christians of Italy — Curione, Occhino, Flaminio, and Peter Martyr. Two young Frenchmen arrived in their turn some time before the events we have just described.
One was called Charles d’Espeville and the other Louis de Haulmont.
They soon made their arrival known to the duchess, who was expecting them; and Renee, whose heart had remained French, was happy to possess in her palace two such distinguished fellow-countrymen. She knew that they had left their homes on account of that Gospel of Christ which she herself had learnt to love in the society of her dear cousin, Margaret of Angouleme, the king’s sister. She lodged them in the Palace del Magistrato, situated in the Piazza del Duome, and adjoining the castle. Louis de Haulmont was an amiable young man, pious but timid, still undecided as to the road he should take, and the victim of fierce struggles.
His companion, Charles d’Espeville, was a man of humble appearance: his eyes were lively and piercing, his manner serious and firm, and everything in him indicated a soul of a different stamp from that of his friend.
Haulmont’s true name was Louis du Tillet; he was a canon and archdeacon of Angouleme; Charles d’Espeville was none other than John Calvin. As these two Frenchmen were about to sojourn in the states of a prince, a vassal of the pope, they were compelled (says Muratori) to appear under a false name and in a costume different from what they usually wore. Renee, whose compassionate heart had been so often touched by the recital of the terrible punishments and victorious faith which animated the evangelicals, could not look upon one of them who had escaped a dungeon and the scaffold, without experiencing towards him the feelings of a mother and a sister. ‘She was struck with Calvin’s fine genius,’ says a catholic historian, and the perfection with which he spoke and wrote the French language. She presented her two countrymen to the duke, as men of letters who had come to visit the brilliant Italy: this was a better claim to the favor of the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. than their condition as reformers.
Ferrara presented many subjects of interest to Calvin. The duke of Este liked to play the Medici: Bernard Tasso, a poet not without imagination, was secretary to the duchess; and his son, the illustrious author of the ‘Jerusalem Delivered,’ was soon to fill the court of Ferrara with his genius, his sorrows, his despair and folly, caused (it is supposed) by his unhappy passion for the beautiful Leonora, daughter of Renee, and even to expiate by a seven years’ captivity in a madhouse the crime of having loved a granddaughter of Louis XII. and Lucrezia Borgia. Celio Calcagnini, canon, poet, orator, mathematician, and antiquary, who guided in the land of the Muses the footsteps of the youthful Anne of Este, who afterwards became duchess of Guise, and her friend Olympia Morata, was then also at the court of Este. A year sooner, the author of ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ might have met the author of the ‘Orlando Furioso;’ but the somewhat discordant individualities of Calvin and Ariosto were not destined to be found side by side.
It was not the men of learning, however, whom the young theologian had come to see: it was the duchess herself. That princess, who had already received in France a few rays of evangelical light, did not yet possess a sufficient knowledge of Christian truth: she felt this, and was determined to seek above all things peace with God. She therefore had frequent interviews with Calvin. Holy Scripture was the subject of their conversation; the reformer explained to Renee one passage by another, and the light of heaven beaming from all these passages of Holy Writ, carried brightness and warmth into the princess’s heart. The young doctor spoke with simplicity and modesty, but at the same time with affection and decision. ‘If I address you, madam,’ he said, ‘it is not from rashness or presumption, but pure and true affection to make you prevail in the Lord.
When I consider the pre-eminence in which He has placed you, I think that, as a person of princely rank, you can advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ.’ But even this consideration was not necessary to arouse the zeal of the evangelist of Noyon. The princess’s noble character and her love for the Gospel touched him deeply. ‘I observe in you,’ he added, ‘such fear of God, and such a real desire to obey Him, that I should consider myself a castaway if I neglected the opportunity of being useful to you.’ Calvin was the most profound and most earnest commentator of Holy Scripture; and Renee embraced with her whole heart the truths that he proclaimed, so that the reformer was able to say to her some time later: ‘It has pleased God, madam, to enlighten you with the truth of His holy Gospel. Let us now confess that if God has withdrawn us from the depths of darkness, it is in order that we should follow the light straightforwardly, turning neither to this side nor to that.’ The duchess profited by this advice. ‘Calvin,’ says Muratori, ‘so infected Renee with his errors that it was never possible to extract from her heart the poison she had drunk.’ An open Christian walk was difficult at a court where popery and worldliness ruled together. Hence Renee felt keenly the need of directions in harmony with the Word of God; and in her difficulties and agonies, at the times when she was about to faint, ‘as if she was sunk in water almost over her head,’ she had recourse to the evangelical theologian. Calvin then invited her always to walk ‘forwards, in order that the gifts of God might increase in her.’ ‘The main point,’ as he wrote to her some time after, ‘is that the holy doctrine of our Master should so transform us in mind and heart, that His glory may shine forth in us by innocence, integrity, and holiness.’ Some of the most illustrious divines of Roman-catholicism have been, in France and other countries, the directors of princes; but there was a great difference between them and the reformer. That practical evangelist, whom Romish controversialists and others have reproached with speaking of nothing but doctrines, urged the daughter of Louis XII. to ‘seek after innocence , integrity , and holiness .’
The relations of Calvin with the duchess lasted all his life, and they were always marked with frankness and respect. Touched with a zeal so Christian and so pure, she loved and honored him, ‘as long as he lived,’ says Theodore Beza, ‘as an excellent instrument of the Lord.’ Even when he could no longer hold a pen on account of his extreme weakness, Calvin, borrowing the hand of his brother, wrote to her; and to her were addressed the last three French epistles of the reformer. The duchess of Ferrara was not the only person whom Calvin called at that time to a Christian life. ‘Many others, especially among those about her person, were seduced ,’ says Muratori; that is to say, brought over to evangelical truth. These conversions, probably, must not be ascribed solely to Calvin: some, like Renee, had already enjoyed a certain knowledge of the Gospel; others were afterwards strengthened in their faith; but all received something from the young reformer. Soon after his arrival at the court of Ferrara, Calvin had remarked a lady of great intelligence and learning, who was one of its principal ornaments. This was Anne de Parthenay, first lady of honor to the duchess, and wife of Antoine de Pons, count of Marennes, first gentleman to the duke. The countess of Marennes was a great musician, and often sang in the duchess’s apartments, where she was admired for the beauty of her voice. But Anne busied herself with more serious labors. Not satisfied with studying the Latin authors, she had a taste for Greek, and ‘intrepidly’ translated the poets and prose writers. That eminent woman did more: she read books of divinity, and even took a particular pleasure in ‘discussing almost every day with the theologians the matters of which they treated.’ She therefore talked with Calvin on these subjects, and before long the pure and living faith of the reformer gave a new direction to her soul. Hitherto she had been somewhat of a ‘blue-stocking,’ but now she ‘ceased to have any confidence in herself,’ and sought in the holy books and in her Savior the means of quenching the thirst for knowledge and the divine life which tormented her. From that hour she became a new creature and a ‘good huguenot.’ She even won over her husband to the convictions that were dear to herself, and, so long as the countess lived, the latter showed himself a great lover of virtue and of truth. Adjoining the hall of Aurora, where Renee and her court usually assembled, was a chapel adorned by the pencil of Titian. Until now Calvin had only spoken in the duchess’s apartments, and respect naturally prevented the servants (according to the historians of the Roman church) ‘from inquiring too curiously into what occurred there.’ But ere long Renee began to think that she ought not to keep for herself only and a few court favorites the words of life and light which fell from the lips of the French divine. While listening to them, she had felt the bitterness of sin and the fear of God’s judgments; but she had at the same time tasted the sweets of pardon and eternal life. Ought not others to enjoy them also?
Should she prevent those from entering who desired to enter?
Calvin was ready. Renee invited him to preach in Titian’s chapel. Had he not preached in the catholic churches of Noyon, Angoumois, and Poitou?
The duchess threw open the doors of that service to all who desired to take part in it. The count of Marennes and his wife, the youthful Jean de Parthenay, seigneur of Soubise and brother to the countess, with other members of that family, the count of Mirambeau, Anne of Beauregard, Clement Marot, and Leon Jamet, the ex-clerk of finance, who had fled from Paris after the affair of the Placards — were all present at these meetings.
The charms which French people found in a French service might excuse these assemblies in the eyes of the duke of Este. But they were soon joined by learned Italians, friends of the Gospel, and among others by Giovanni Sinapi and his brother, as well as by the pious, sprightly, and beautiful Francesca Baciro, whom Giovanni Sinapi married two years later. At this epoch so glorious for Italy, when Curione taught at Pavia, protected by the admiration of his hearers; when Aonio Paleario at Sienna glorified Jesus Christ, ‘the king of every people;’ when Mollio at Bologna commented on the Epistles of Saint Paul to the great scandal of the pope; when Juan Valdes, Peter Martyr, and Occhino filled Naples with the Gospel; when Christ’s truth seemed to be gliding even into Rome itself, a Frenchman, under the patronage of a French princess, was announcing in Ferrara the same Gospel, but with a voice even more distinct. What a future for Italy, if Rome had not extinguished these lights! There was gathered around the preacher a serious and friendly audience in the chapel of the castle of Ferrara.
Calvin, full of the truths he had just set forth in his Institutes , ‘put forward that Word of the Lord whose majesty by a holy violence constrains souls to obey it,’ and showed that this ‘Gospel, whose smallness many folks despised, as if it crouched at their feet, so far surpassed the range of the human mind that the greatest geniuses lift their eyes in vain, for they can never see the top.’ Among the persons whose heart sought after God was the beautiful Anne of Beauregard, who, though still very young, had accompanied Renee to Ferrara. Being betrothed, and all radiant with the joy of her youth, she was soon to be called to other altars than those of marriage. Falling ill, she profited by the Word she had heard, and, content with Christ alone, despised the world. Death cut down that beautiful flower. Renee regretted her bitterly; all the court wept with her; and Marot, who was then at Ferrara, wrote these melancholy lines upon her tomb: De Beauregard, Anne suis, qui d’enfance, Laissai parents, pays, amis et France, Pour suivre ici la duchesse Renee ; Laquelle j’ai depuis abandonnee, Futur epoux, beaute, fleurissant age ; Pour aller voir au ciel mon heritage.
Laissant le monde avec moins de souci Que laissai France, alors que vins ici? The count of Marennes, a man of no decision of character, often attended Calvin’s preaching. He was rather afraid that the duke, his master, would be displeased; still the duchess herself had arranged these meetings. The countess, his wife, whose humble servant he was, asked him to join them; his brother-in-law, Soubise, also invited him; Marennes, therefore, followed the others to chapel, being urged from without and not from within.
Soubise, on the contrary, an independent man, of noble, decided, and energetic character, went with his whole heart, and, after Renee, was the best conquest of the Gospel at Ferrara. In that fanatical age it was choosing a hard and miserable life; but the Gospel Word had conquered him, and he was determined to walk among the thorns. ‘John of Soubise, a hero of the sixteenth century,’ says Moreri, ‘suffered himself to be perverted at the court of the duke of Ferrara, when Renee of France received there certain doctors of the pretended reformed religion.’ He had been trained for the profession of arms; he now found at Calvin’s side the sword of the Word of God, and returning into France courageously ‘occupied himself in defending the truths he had believed.’ A gentleman of the king’s chamber, a knight of the Order, having had command of the French army in Italy, a man of great resources and great service, ‘having effected a hundred master-strokes,’ he was, above all, very zealous for God; and, without neglecting the important affairs of the kingdom, he sought the salvation of the humblest tenant on his estates. A good old pastor, Mulot des Ruisseaux, ‘impelled by the singular virtue of the lord of that place’ (Soubise), used to leave his house at the approach of night the only time when evangelical Christians dared meet together and visit the adjoining districts, everywhere teaching the Scriptures. More than once, on hearing the signal of alarm, he had to hide in the woods and pass the night there. In a short time a great part of the people had forsaken mass. Soubise even desired to convert Catherine de Medicis, and with that view held long conversations with the queen, and the crafty Italian woman led him to hope for a moment that she was on the point of turning Protestant. The trouble that he had taken was not entirely loSt. The duchess of Bourbon Montpensier, ‘a woman of virile character and of wisdom beyond her sex,’ as De Thou describes her, being present at Soubise’s conversations with Catherine de Medicis, received the truths which he was explaining to another; and somewhat later two of that lady’s daughters, the duchess of Bouillon and the princess of Orange, bravely professed the doctrines of the Reformation.
By his only daughter, Catherine of Parthenay, Soubise was grandfather of the celebrated duke of Rohan.
It was not only among his compatriots at Ferrara that Calvin was a fisher of men. The traditions of certain families of the peninsula place several eminent Italians among the number of those who heard and received light from him. One of them was a Neapolitan nobleman, the duke of Bevilacqua, then at Ferrara. His ancestors, who descended from the Boileaux, barons of Castelnau, a family which in France has produced many distinguished men, were of Languedocian origin, and had been compelled by the persecutions directed against the Vaudois and Albigenses in the thirteenth century to take refuge in the kingdom of Naples. Bevilacqua discovered at Ferrara, in Calvin’s teaching, the truth for which his forefathers had been compelled to leave France.
Another Italian, more eminent still, who used to attend these evangelical assemblies, was Titian, then about the age of fifty-eight. That great painter, who had decorated the castle of duke Alphonso of Este, was again at Ferrara. Possessing a calm, solid, judicious and truth-loving mind, devoted to nature, and seeking to represent her in all her truth, Titian was naturally struck with the pure and living religion which Calvin preached.
The great artist was no stranger to the deep affections of the soul, and the sublimest heroism in his eyes was the devotedness of the Christians, who sacrificed their lives for their faith. There are no scenes more terrible and pathetic than those represented in his pictures of martyrs. Nurtured with the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and other great men of Italy, who had shown themselves opposed to the abuses of the popes and their adherents, Titian could applaud the opposition led by the young Frenchman against the papacy. But if at that time he greeted evangelical truths with admiration, there is no evidence that they sank very deeply into his heart. It would appear that Bevilacqua asked him to paint Calvin’s portrait; but however that may be, the portrait still exists in the palace of the duke of Bevilacqua at Naples. There is no indication that Titian preserved the impressions he received at Ferrara. ‘Among those who seem touched by the beauty of the Gospel,’ says Calvin, ‘there is scarcely one out of ten in whose heart the Word of God is not stifled.’ Titian was, no doubt, an instance of the truth of the fact indicated by the Reformer.
Calvin had been a faithful and active workman in his Master’s vineyard, yet he did not always meet with friendly and docile hearers, even in Ferrara. Among the persons forming the duchess’s court, he had noticed a cringing person with insinuating manners, whose look and expression displeased him greatly. That man, by name Master Francois, chaplain to Renee was one of those double-hearted people who wish to satisfy God and their own cupidity. Calvin had heard that the life of that priest was far from saintly. ‘I do not interfere,’ he answered, when called upon to declare his opinion as to the chaplain’s superstitious doctrines ‘I do not interfere, for if I laid myself out to speak evil of him, I should have to speak of far different matters, on which I remain silent.’ Master Francois, seeing the favor which the young stranger enjoyed at court, assumed all air of being convinced by his words, appeared to become his friend, and began to preach as evangelically as he could. He raised no objections to Calvin’s meetings, but prevailed on the duchess to be present at mass also, which he continued to say, notwithstanding his evangelical appearances. Such a man could not please the upright and inflexible reformer. ‘When I see any one extinguishing the light of truth,’ he wrote one day to Renee, ‘I cannot forgive him, were he a hundred times my father.’ Calvin tried, therefore, to convince Francois that the celebration of what he called ‘the sacrifice at the altar’ was contrary to Holy Scripture. Whenever the chaplain went astray the reformer admonished him. ‘I have often tried to bring him into the true path,’ he said. The priest would then appear sorrowful, and ashamed of his weakness, and Calvin, pressing him still more closely, would succeed in ‘making him confess his iniquity.’ But human respect still prevailed in Francois, and if any one about the court happened to be present at his conversations with the reformer, he would make excuses for himself before them.
One day, finding his discourses useless, Calvin determined to present him with ‘a treatise of his;’ that is all he says. He does not mention the title of this work; but as it cannot have been either his commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia or the Psychopannichia , it was evidently the Institutes of the Christian Religion , which he had just printed at Basle — these three works being at that time all the reformer had written. Even on the supposition that Calvin had left Basle before the actual publication of his book, it would have been very natural for him to take a copy with him when starting for Italy. Master Francois opened that volume, which, by God’s grace, has imprinted indelible convictions in so many minds. This is the first notice we have of the reading of the Institutes : it is mentioned by Calvin himself, and took place during his Italian journey, in the castle of Lucrezia Borgia’s son. These circumstances impart to it a peculiar intereSt. Francois probably did not read the whole treatise. The mass was the subject of difference between him and Calvin, and consequently it was that part of his work to which the latter referred him. There was much in it calculated to disturb the chaplain. ‘Christ,’ said the treatise, ‘being immortal, has been appointed by God everlasting priest; he has no need then for others to succeed him. Now do not those priests who offer sacrifice every day put themselves in Christ’s place, and rob him of the prerogative of his eternal sacrifice?’ Further on he adds: ‘The mass being established in such a manner that a hundred thousand sacrifices are offered up daily, swamps and buries the sacrifice of Christ which was offered as sole sacrifice. To set up an altar now is to pull down the cross of Jesus Christ. The mass blots out of the remembrance of men the Savior’s true and only death.’ And still further on the chaplain read: ‘The mass robs us of the fruits which resulted to us from the death of Christ; for who will believe himself redeemed by that death, when a new redemption is presented to him in the mass?’ Other considerations put forward by Calvin in his book, were equally calculated to convince the priest.
Calvin who was not deficient in classical recollections and who anticipated a second Iliad in which the princes of the earth would meet — some to retain the mass, others to remove it — compares it, in conclusion, to that woman of antiquity, so notorious by the impure passions and the cruel war she stirred up. ‘Assuredly, he exclaimed, ‘Satan never constructed a stronger machine to attack the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Behold that Helen under whose eyes the enemies of the truth are fighting with so much rage, with whom they commit adultery, and plunge into a spiritual impurity which is the most detestable of all.’ He then draws up and displays the long catalogue of ‘great and serious abuses’ which the mass has engendered, namely, disgraceful markets, illicit and dishonest gains, great extortions — all kinds of impurity, idolatry, sacrilege, and other ‘consequences’ that we omit.
The priest was greatly agitated. The beauty of the language, the dearness of style, the energy of expression, the powerful logic, the strength of affection, the rapidity and seriousness of the reproaches, the accusations and recriminations which fell upon his soul, like hailstones in a storm, and above all the idea that the mass robbed Christ of his cross and his crown, and insulted his divinity, alarmed Francois who had imagined nothing of the sort. He was ‘convinced in his conscience;’ he thought himself really guilty and exposed to great danger, while his anguish increased more and more. He hastened to the reformer, and there (says Calvin), ‘he protested with strong oaths he would never assist at the mass, it being so great an abomination.’ The chaplain’s emotion was sincere, only it was not permanent. He soon relapsed into his habitual condition, and recommenced preaching the word of God ‘solely because he thought he might thus catch benefices and other prey.’ At a later period Calvin wrote of him: ‘Madam, I know my man so well that I do not value his oath more than the chattering of a magpie. If persons who can raise him to dignities, or are rich enough to fill his wallet, ask him to give glory to God, he will take pains to gratify them; but if any persecution should come, he will be quite ready to renounce the Gospel. He plays different parts at different times. It is not the duty of a Christian to speak ill of his neighbor, but there is no one with whom I wage such fierce war as with those who, under the cloak of the Gospel, play the hypocrite with princes, and by their cunning and tricks keep them always enveloped in clouds, without leading them to the true goal. This man,’ he said, ‘is convinced in his conscience, and yet he continues doing what he acknowledges to be wrong.’ He added: ‘All the hatred which I have shown him hitherto is, that I have endeavored with all my power to edify him in what is right.’ Such were the struggles which the valiant champion of the Gospel had to maintain in the palace of the dukes of Este.
One of the duchess’s ladies — her name is not known — who had found peace with God in the Savior’s death, refused to be present at mass.
Francois attempted to convince her, but the young lady remained firm as a rock. ‘She would not offend her conscience.’ The angry priest complained to the duchess and did all in his power to deprive the young maid of honor of the kindly feeling which Renee was accustomed to show towards her.
Before long the duchess herself was ‘warned,’ that those who ‘conducted themselves like that young lady’ would not be tolerated, seeing that they would give occasion for scandal. The princess, knowing full well that the duke would not permit any one at court to reject the mass, was in great distress, and Calvin was informed of it by the countess of Marennes. The enemies of the Reformation added falsehood to violence. The confessor tried to make the duchess believe that the churches of Germany had not discussed the matter, but that they admitted the mass. Calvin complained loudly of the great injury done to the churches of God. ‘All the churches that have received the Gospel,’ he wrote a little later, ‘and even all individuals hold this article that the mass ought not to be endured.
Even Capito, one of those who endeavors earnestly to moderate matters, teaches in a work dedicated to the king of England, that it is the duty of Christian princes to drive from their realms such a detestable idolatry.
There is now not a single man of reputation who is not of that opinion.’ During his residence at Ferrara, Calvin was not satisfied with combating the errors of those who surrounded him: he did not forget France, to which his heart was always attached; and he watched, although from afar, the friends he had left there. The superstitions of Italy and the profane spirit displayed by the priests in the midst of their relics and empty ceremonies, produced the same effect upon him as upon Luther, and made him all the more desirous to see his fellow-countrymen withdraw from the authority of the pope. He was therefore deeply moved by the news which reached him at this time. Nicholas Duchemin, with whom he had lived at Orleans, whose character he esteemed, and of whom he had said, ‘that he was dearer to him than his life,’ had been appointed official or ecclesiastical judge, which brought him into close relations with the Roman clergy and worship. Calvin was alarmed and sent him a letter which, revised and enlarged, was published under this title: How we must avoid the papal ceremonies and superstitions , and observe the Christian religion with purity . ‘I do not mean,’ said Calvin to his friend, ‘that you should make a conscience of things which it is not in your power to escape, and with regard to which you should be free. I do not forbid your entering the temples which surround you, although numberless examples of impiety are witnessed in them daily. Although the images are consecrated to detestable sacrileges, I do not forbid you to look at them. It would not even be in your power, for the streets are full of a multitude of idols. But have a care lest a too great license should make you overstep the bounds of liberty.’ Duchemin was very sensible of the danger, and wishing to be at the same time faithful to the Gospel, and to preserve an advantageous appointment, had put this question to Calvin: ‘How can I keep myself pure among the pollutions of Babylon?’ Calvin showed him, as he had shown Francois, that the mass was the most dangerous enemy. ‘Do not believe,’ he said, ‘in that conjurer who approaches the altar and begins to play his tricks, now turning this side, now that; at one time resting motionless, at another muttering his magic murmurs, by means of which he pretends to draw Christ down from heaven to make reconciliation between God and man, and thus substitute himself for the Savior dead and raised again.’ The more Calvin reflected on Duchemin’s position the more it alarmed him. He thought himself on the point of losing one of the earliest objects of his tender affection. A few moments longer on the verge of the abyss and his friend would fall into it. He called to him with all his strength and with a cry of anguish. ‘I feel very great regret for your condition,’ he said. ‘I am sorry that you are not permitted to extricate yourself from that Egypt where so many monsters are always before you. A man thinks to himself that it is of no great importance to trifle a little in order to preserve the favor of the people, and to take part with others in wicked ceremonies.
Then one foot is placed a little further on, and thus declining gradually, he falls from the straight path, and is precipitated to ruin and perdition. Let us be careful never to recede, even a nail’s breadth, from the obedience due to our heavenly Father. Awake, then, awake, most virtuous man! Display in your actions such piety, goodness, charity, chastity, and innocence, that the superstitious, even while vexed that you are not like them, may be constrained to confess, whether they will or not, that you are the servant of God.’ It was not long before the Reformer received still more distressing news. It was not merely a disciple, it was a teacher who grieved him. One of the men whom he esteemed the most was not only exposed to peril, but had succumbed. Calvin learnt that, on the death of Pierre d’Albret, bishop of Oleron, Queen Margaret of Navarre, who was falling away from evangelical simplicity, had sent to Rome to beg the vacant see for Roussel; and that, after some difficulty, the court of the Vatican had granted the favor. Roussel a bishop, and by favor of the pope! Calvin was amazed.
People wrote to him that the appointment had been celebrated by the poets of Bearne, and that Roussel was overwhelmed with congratulations; and Calvin wondered whether his friend, amid the seducing songs of the sirens, would lend an ear to his warnings. He determined, however, to give utterance to the solemn voice of faithfulness. The stern language he addressed to the new bishop shows us, more clearly than the cleverest portrait, the great decision of his soul. ‘It will seem to you that I dream,’ he wrote to Roussel, ‘if alone among the multitude of those who flatter you, I come to disturb the rejoicings. And yet, if you suffer yourself in the least degree to be cozened by such prettinesses, they will lead you into a heavy and dangerous forgetfulness.
Those who have once drunk, be it but a little drop, of that cup of the Roman table, are intoxicated and bewitched.’ Calvin pictured to himself the magnificent state of his friend, the great splendor, the grand appearance, the mitre, crosier, mantle and ring, and all the rest of the paraphernalia with which he was bedizened; the riches, the pomp displayed in his household, the long train of servants, the dainty table, and a thousand other forms of luxury and superfluity, and exclaimed: ‘Now that you have become the favorite of fortune, remember that He who appointed bishops (that is, God) wills that, while the people sleep, they should be in a watch-tower on a hill, casting their eyes on all around them, and that their voice should be like the sound of a trumpet. With what faithfulness do you labor to raise up that which has fallen? True religion is defamed, mocked at, trodden under foot, and even entirely ruined; the poor people are deceived, abused, plundered by a thousand frauds, and led to slaughter... and all that is done before your eyes! You not only let these things pass, but there is hardly any impiety in your diocese which you do not sanction by your seal! ‘What ought to be done with one who, like you, deserts his captain, passes over to the enemy, and damages the camp in whose defense he had sworn to employ his life? ‘Blow the trumpet, watchman! Arm thyself, shepherd! Why waitest thou? Of what art thou thinking? Is this a time for sleep?
What! a murderer, guilty of shedding blood, every drop of which the Lord will require of thee again! And thou art not afraid? ‘O Rome, Rome! how many good people thou corruptest who otherwise were not ill-born? How many among those already corrupted whom thou makest worse daily? How many of those whom thou hast debauched, whom thou plungest into eternal perdition? ‘O my dear Roussel, come out of that slough as soon as possible, for fear lest while lingering in it you should sink deeper and deeper into the mire. ‘You will say, I know: “What then will become of us poor wretches? Must we, who live at our ease, go into foreign lands, like needy vagabonds? Must we, who always have our pantry and cellar full, without any toil, live upon coarse fare procured by the sweat of our brows and the labor of our hands?” ‘If you find such a life strange, you are not a true Christian. It is very hard, I confess, to leave one’s birthplace to be a wanderer and a stranger. And yet the Lord, who is a marvelous worker, contrives that this poverty, so bitter in the opinion of men, is made pleasing to them, and that, tempered with a heavenly sweetness, it procures them especial pleasure.’
Thus the young man of twenty-seven was already a teacher abounding in energy and good sense. These two letters, which (according to the most trustworthy evidence) were written at Ferrara, would of themselves be sufficient to mark his residence in that city with a special character. It was then he began to appear, to speak, and to lead with the authority of a reformer. In him God gave His church a teacher gifted with that indomitable firmness which, notwithstanding all obstacles and all seductions, is able to break with error and to uphold the truth. At the same time He gave a man whose activity was not to be limited to the place where he lived, but whose wide spirit would embrace all Christendom, and who would be able to send into France, the Low Countries, England, Poland, and wherever it became necessary, the words of wisdom and of faith.
Calvin taught not only by his words but by his example. He might have been able, by softening down some expressions in the Gospel, to remain in the palace of the dukes of Este, and to enjoy the favor of princes. But if he required fidelity and renunciation in Roussel, he first possessed them himself. He made the sacrifices to which he invited others, and was ready to exchange the pleasures and brilliancy of a court for the horrors of a prison, or of a flight environed with danger. Calvin remained firm, as ‘seeing Him who is invisible,’ and preferred to be afflicted with the people of God rather than have a part in the joys of the great ones of the earth.
This spirit of self-denial characterized him to the last. The friend of princes, the councilor of kings, he lived humbly, having scarcely the means of supplying the ordinary wants of life.
It is said that Calvin visited Padua, Venice, and even Rome; but it does not appear that history can accept this tradition. It is probable that all the time he spent beyond the Alps was passed near the Duchess Renee. His influence, however, extended beyond the palaces and the principality of the dukes of Este. One of the men who may be considered the best judges, one of the literary historians of the peninsula, the jesuit Tiraboschi, declares that Calvin’s sojourn at the court of Ferrara was more injurious to Italy than all the soldiers, active disciples of Luther, who propagated his doctrines there. And yet Calvin scarcely quitted Ferrara. Just when the star of Ariosto, which had shone over that city, had set, and when that of Tasso was about to appear, the star of Calvin shone there with a purer light than that of the bard of Orlando or of Godfrey. But the faithful Christian could not long remain in the bosom of worldliness and popery without suffering from their violent attacks. Calvin’s sojourn was about to end in a tragic and unexpected manner.