THE POLISH REFORMER IN THE NETHERLANDS AND IN FRIESLAND. (1537-1546.)
THE Reformation had many friends in the Netherlands, and we shall have an opportunity afterwards of seeing this; but they were found, especially at the beginning, among the lowly. The Lollards, the Vaudois, and the Brethren of the Common Life had circulated the Bible and its doctrines there. They gained adherents principally among the weavers and clothiers.
True, they had also won over, in the great commercial towns, some very influential merchants; but; at Louvain, where Alasco settled for sometime, it was chiefly among the little ones that the worshippers of Christ were to be found.
The sojourn of Alasco in this town, in the midst of these Christian people, clearly shows the humility of the Polish noble. He might have received in the Netherlands the honors which he had renounced in Poland. His brother, Ladislaus, ambassador in Austria, his brother Yaroslav, then in high favor with King Ferdinand, could have procured for him a favorable reception at the court of Brussels. He was indeed sought after by eminent men. The chancellor of Ferdinand and the Margrave of Brandenburg made him brilliant offers, if he would enter the service either of the emperor or of the king his brother. But the more the world seemed desirous of seizing upon Alasco, the more he withdrew into a life modest, obscure, and consecrated to God. He now definitively separated from Rome, by placing between them an insurmountable barrier. Determined upon entering the married state, which God established from the beginning of the world, and which the Roman Church itself makes a sacrament, he married, at Louvain, a simple young woman, pious and full of sociable qualities.
Ere long Alasco resolved to leave this Ultramontane town. A wish to remove from the court of Brussels, the need of a life humble and hidden with God, which since his fall he deeply felt, was doubtless the principal motive which induced him to leave Louvain. Perhaps he was also desirous of strengthening himself further in the faith before facing persecution. In search of a peaceful retreat, he went into a secluded district on the shores of the North Sea, in East Friesland, and took up his abode in the dull little town of Embden, as if he were determined to bury himself in this gloomy and lonely place. The first stay he made there, of about two years, was a rough time for him. The life he led offered a strange contrast to the luxury of the court of Sigismund. His life was not only outwardly wretched, without any of the comforts and conveniences in the midst of which he had been brought up, but it was drooping and mournful. In those regions bordering on the North Sea, intermittent fevers prevailed, and these reduced him to a state of great weakness. If he read a little it brought on giddiness, if he attempted to write his sight became confused. In the middle of 1540 he said to Hardenberg, — ‘I am fatigued with writing to you. I have had much difficulty in tracing these few words, although I have devoted myself to it at intervals through the whole day.’ f667 His resources were at this time at a very low ebb, for he was deprived of everything. He had to avoid even trifling expenses, and offered to sell his library. But these adverse circumstances, far from casting him down, produced in him the excellent fruit of patience, he acknowledged that God transformed for him calamities into ‘aids to salvation,’ and gave him the courage indispensable for enduring the trial with constancy. ‘Glory be to God !’ he said to Hardenberg. ‘By these vicissitudes of good and bad health, of life and death, He puts me in mind that He is the master of our whole 1ife, and at the same time a most merciful Father, who does not permit anything to befall us which is not good.’ f668 The religious condition of Friesland at this period was very sad. The Reformation had penetrated into the country as early as 1520. Count Edzard having read some of the writings of Luther, had favored it; and Aportanus, preceptor to the young count, had publicly preached the Gospel. But afterwards the work had been thrown back by the disputations on the sacrament and by the pressure by force of arms of the Duke of Guelderland, who was a very earnest Catholic. The adherents of the pope, the zeal of the sects, and the indolence of the pastors, had all contributed to ruin the Evangelical Church in Friesland. The little country had become a battlefield on which the Roman Catholics, the reformed Zwinglians of Holland, the Mennonites of Friesland, and the Lutherans of Germany waged war. It seemed to be a place where all the religious denominations of the age encountered each other, tried their strength and struggled against one another. Many pious souls sighed for peace, and wondered who could restore it to this distressed land. A way was at length revealed to them as by a sudden flash of light. Some of the nobles and magistrates, who bewailed the religious disorders, having heard that Alasco was in the country, and being acquainted with his piety, his attainments in knowledge, and his noble character, requested Count Enno to call him to Embden as preacher and superintendent of the Church in their country.
Alasco had promised his brother Yaroslav not to lose sight of Poland, and never to settle in a foreign land so long as Yaroslav was living. Moreover, the language, which he only imperfectly understood, and his uncertain health were serious obstacles in the way. His main point, however, was not to engage himself in any work which might detain him at a time when he should receive a call to evangelize his native land. He therefore declined to go, and proposed his friend Hardenberg. But the latter also raised objections; and the count gave up the attempt.
Mournful events were to be the occasion of Alasco’s entrance upon the active duties of the ministry. He received one day a letter from Poland, announcing that his brother Yaroslav was dying, and wished him to go to him immediately. Alasco set out at the end of winter, 1542, and reached the bedside of his dying brother. Yaroslav had been a clever active man, but withal ambitious, and one that would hesitate at nothing that was necessary for success in his projects, or for avenging himself of his enemies. Here Alasco learnt things which were before partly unknown to him. Zapolya, king of Hungary, after the first successes of his antagonist, King Ferdinand, had fled into Poland. There he had been received at court and had formed a friendship with Yaroslav. ‘Conclude an alliance with the Turks,’ said the latter to Zapolya, ‘and they will restore you your crown.
I undertake the negotiation.’ ‘If you recover me Hungary,’ said Zapolya, ‘I will give you Transylvania.’
Solyman did, in fact, arrive at the gates of Vienna, and restored the Hungarian crown to Zapolya. But Yaroslav had dealt with an unthankful man. The king felt uneasy in the presence of one to whom he owed his crown; and instead of giving him Transylvania he threw him into prison.
Yaroslav, having soon after obtained his release by legal intervention, swore that he would hurl Zapolya from the throne on which he had reestablished him. He then passed over to Ferdinand’s side, fought under his flag in several battles, and next went to Constantinople for the purpose of inducing the sultan to declare against Zapolya. But the party of this prince was still influential in that city. The vindictive Yaroslav was imprisoned, and was only liberated after a long confinement. Disgusted with Hungary and Austria, he returned to his native land; but ere long he fell sick there. It is asserted that the partisans of Zapolya, bent on putting an end to a life so restless and so dangerous for their master, Had poisoned him at Constantinople. His brother now closed his eyes; and, thus witnessing the sad end of one who had aimed at wearing a crown, he was anew impressed with the lesson that we ought to avoid, as a deadly poison, everything which we cannot get without sinning against God; and that even in the case of such advantages of the earthly life as may be enjoyed with a good conscience, we must before all things learn, like Moses, to esteem ‘the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.’ f669 During his sojourn in Poland, Alasco was on good terms with his fellowcountrymen, and stood also in intimate relations with the bishop. He appears to have had some thought of getting his friend Hardenberg called into Poland. ‘You would smile,’ he wrote to him on May 12, 1542, ‘if you knew what I have been doing with our bishops while in my native country.’ As for himself, he went modestly back to Friesland; and soon after his return his health improved. The journey seemed to have done him good. he was animated with fresh zeal. Hardenberg was at this time in the cloisters of the Bernardines at Aduwert, in the province of Groningen, where he seemed to wish to shut himself up. Alasco, cherishing the highest esteem for his friend, did everything that was in his power to draw him out of the monastery; convinced that this Christian man, endowed with a most amiable disposition, a most excellent understanding, and the most profound knowledge, a kinsman, according to common report, of Pope Adrian, was called to play an important part in the religious renovation of the age. This was in fact the case at a later day.
But the Cistercian monk, although awakened by the quickening spirit which then breathed in the Church, remained still tied to his institution and to the rites of which he acknowledged the abuse. He was one of those timid souls who cannot make up their minds to break their chains. He had, however, received some emphatic lessons which ought to have made hint understand the impossibility of living with Rome. When in 1530 he made a stay at Louvain, the theologians of the university denounced him at the court of Brussels as infected with heresy. He was even on the point of being seized and taken to the capital, when the students and the townsmen rescued him from the hands of the inquisitors, and he escaped. They confined themselves to rigorous treatment of his writings. Hardenberg, instead of retiring to Wittenberg or some other Protestant city, took refuge in his convent of Aduwert, where the tolerant abbot placed him in the rank of a professor in the school. His conscience admonished him that he ought to quit the monastic life; but he was enveloped in the powerful bonds with which Rome holds souls in captivity. He tried very hard to convince himself that he need not go forth from the Roman community. He believed that it was possible for him to cease to be a superstitious papist and yet remain a pious Catholic. But sharp pangs of distress tortured him, and he had to sustain terrible conflicts. ‘I am overwhelmed with shame,’ he wrote to Alasco, ‘with grief and sadness; and the wretchedness which I experience keeps me in a state of perpetual torture.’ f671 Afterwards he recovered himself and wrote to Alasco: ‘But I can, I am sure, justify before Christ the motives of my conduct.’ ‘What!’ replied his friend, ‘thou art at peace with Christ, and yet with me thou art full of shame and distress… Am I then greater than He? No, he who has his rest sanctified in Jesus Christ will not find it disturbed by men. Since thou art tossed to and for by so many conflicting thoughts, I am very much afraid, my dear Albert, that thou art farther off from the peace of God than thou seams to be. What! thou art in doubt whether the life which thou art leading in the cloister is a blasphemy; but as for those absurd errors which thou perceives in the worship in which thou takes part and which are dishonoring to the merits of Christ, are they not blasphemies?… Thou saves that one Babylon is as good as another, and that thou may as well stay in they convent as come to us. This comparison is unjust. We have among us no idols; but as for you, you venerate, by offering public worship to it as if it were God, that abomination whose minister you are f673 … If there be still any idols with us, they are laid aside in contempt and neglect. ‘Thou art waiting, says thou, for a leading of the Spirit. But what kind of leading? I do not know. Is it not the Spirit of God who says — “Come out from among them and be ye separate." My dear Albert, I love the, but I do not like they indecision.’
It was in vain that Alasco thus earnestly appealed to Hardenberg. The monk clung to the bars of his cloister, and seemed, by the aid of his monks, to defy every effort. But Christ at length set him free. His advance in the knowledge of the gospel did what the persuasions of his friend had failed to do. In 1543 he quitted the monastery, and betook himself to Wittenberg, where the reformers gave him the most brotherly welcome.
Count Enno was now dead. His wife, Countess Anna of Oldenburg, became regent of Friesland. She was a woman of noble character, pious but rather feeble. She called Alasco to undertake the direction of the churches of the country. The Pole had by this time got accustomed to the climate and had learned the language; and, as his brother was dead, he was set free from the promise which he had made to him. In reply to the countess he therefore said, ‘I accept your proposal, but on this condition — that if ever I am called into Poland for the cause of the gospel, I shall be at liberty to go there.’ The countess agreed to this condition; and all those who had at heart the prosperity of religion and of the country were filled with joy. Alasco lost no time in writing to his friends of the whole affair. ‘Explain to the king,’ said he; ‘that although I have accepted a ministerial office here, I am free at any time; if he should recall me, to return to my native land.’ In Poland people fancied that he was inclined to come back whatever might be the nature of the work to which he was called. He therefore received royal letters inviting him to return, and holding out to him the hope of some great bishopric. These letters deeply grieved him. His heart was greatly pained. It was not the king alone who thus misunderstood him; his relations and friends did the same. ‘What,’ said he, ‘they would fain have me again enter upon my old way of life, the pharisaic way. It is asking me to return to my vomit.’ He immediately replied: ‘I will have no apostleship invested with the bishop’s tiara or the monk’s cowl. My return is not to be thought of, except it be for some legitimate vocation.’ Language so decided cooled his friends; nor did they write to him again for some time.
Alasco now applied himself to the work which was allotted to him in Friesland. The Reformation, it was said, was in need of the file. f677 Exorcism and other superstitious rites were not yet abrogated. Various questions about the sacraments were disturbing men’s minds. A great number of sectaries had taken refuge in the country; and many of the courtiers led a dissolute life, caring least of all about religion. Alasco displayed admirable prudence, zeal, moderation, and steadfastness, and thereby excited the more violent discontent. Those whom he aimed at putting right began to calumniate him. Some said — ‘He is an anabaptist;’ others — ‘he is a sacramentarian’ The countess herself having vindicated him, they adopted another course for ruining him. They stirred up the monks against him, which was not a difficult matter. These men appealed to higher powers than Countess Anna. They carried their accusations against, the new superintendent to the court of the Netherlands, and this was in fact denouncing him to the emperor. ‘He is a perjurer and a disturber,’ they said. Ere long the countess received an order from Brussels to take severe measures against the firebrand. The order fell upon Friesland like a hurricane. ‘Dost thou hear the growl of the thunder? ‘ said Alasco His friends were alarmed. The scenes which he had witnessed at Louvain, the burning of men, the burying alive of women, by order of the same government, were, perhaps, now going to be repeated. Alasco, however, remained calm, and the Divine goodness protected him. He appeared before the princes and the higher orders of the state, and, having asserted his innocence, was informed that there was no intention of depriving him of his ministry.
He was nevertheless still threatened with great dangers. The government of the Netherlands was not inclined to relinquish its proceedings. It was incensed against a man who had rejected the flattering offers made to him at Brussels, to undertake in Friesland a work so offensive to the fanaticism of that court. If Protestantism were to be established in this country, the Protestants of the Netherlands might find there support and a place of refuge. This was not all. John of Falkenberg, brother of the late Count Enno, at first thoroughly devoted to the Reformation, married, at Brussels, Dorothea of Austria, a natural daughter of Maximilian and aunt of Charles the Fifth. Thenceforth, this Frisian prince became an ardent adherent of Rome, and labored with all his might to exclude Alasco and the gospel from Friesland. Alasco saw the clouds getting heavy and the waves swelling, but he remained calm. ‘I know not yet to what conflicts I shall be called,’ he wrote to Bullinger, ‘but I am sure they will not stop till they have driven me away. This is not all. The sectaries on one side, and false brethren on the other, are causing trouble everywhere; but I look upon all these tribulations as convincing evidence that I am a minister of Christ — of Christ, against whom the world and the devil point all their warlike engines. I thank God, our Father, through Jesus Christ, my deliverer, that my faith is exercised by these trials; and I beseech Him to give me with the trials the courage I have need of, that I may show forth his glory whether by my life or by my death. I may expect fresh thunders from the court of Brabant, but God is mightier than they. It is in Him that I have believed, and it is also to Him that I entirely commit myself at this time.’ f681 Without delay he put his hand boldly to the work, and endeavored to clear the country of the last between old things and new wavered between Rome and the gospel. Others, more attached to the traditions, said, ‘Do what you will, so long as we have the monks and the images, the Roman Church subsists among us.’ The Franciscans of Embden, it is true, no longer said mass; but they displayed great activity in the endeavor to regain the ground which they had lost. They preached, baptized, administered extreme unction, paid visits, and drew up wills by the bedside of sick persons. A decree of the government, which groped along the border-line of freedom and intolerance, enjoined them to appear before the superintendent who would examine into their knowledge and their faith, and would give or refuse them authority to preach and to administer the sacraments. The monks were indignant. ‘We have nothing to do,’ they said, ‘with any superintendent, and least of all with this foreigner and his long beard.’ Alasco offered them a conference for the discussion of the principal points in controversy between them. ‘Anything but that,’ they answered. And they bestirred themselves to raise up discontent and murmuring against the reformer. ‘If we keep him in this country,’ they said, ‘great dangers impend over us. The wrath of Count John and of the emperor will burst forth against us. Who can withstand them? ‘ The countess and her advisers took alarm at this argument. What were they in comparison with the formidable Charles the Fifth? Their zeal was cooled. They began to wish that some event might rid them of a man who compromised them in such high quarters. Alasco perceived that the countess after having set her hand to the plough was looking back. He saw that the moment was critical, and that if the Reformation was not to be suppressed in Friesland, he must be quick toward off the stroke of the enemy. It is not to be expected that a man of the sixteenth century would act on the principles of the nineteenth. Alasco, a man of resolute spirit, appealed to the princess, herself, and wrote to her the following beautiful letter: — ‘I know, Madam, that you are desirous of promoting among your subjects the glory of Jesus Christ. But you err in two respects. You too readily comply with either party in matters of religion. This is one fault. You act in conformity with the wishes of those about you rather than with the will of God. This is the second. It is not your own salvation alone which is at stake, but that of many churches confided to the care of you and me, of which you will have to give account to the eternal Judge. It is a magnificent destiny to be a prince; but on this condition, that you seek the glory of God…. The monks are guilty of idolatry, and they are its ministers. They lead astray many of your subjects who offer to idols a forbidden worship. We cannot endure this. It is commanded us to flee from idolatry. Put away therefore the idols, and remove their ministers from the midst of us. How long shall we go on trying to please at once both God and all the world? If God is our master, why not follow Him resolutely? If He is not, what need have you of me as his minister? I am ready not only to spend my property in the service of the Church, but to give my life for the glory of Christ, if only you will consent to be governed by the Word. If you will not do this, I cannot promise you my services as a minister. Be sure, I understand how useful the esteem of men is, and especially of those whose favor is of so much importance. I am only a foreigner, burdened with a family and having no home. I wish therefore to be friends with all, but .… as far as to the altar. This barrier I cannot pass, even if I had to reduce my family to beggary. He who sustains all flesh will also sustain my dear ones, even though I should leave them no resources. Never, Madam, would I have said these things to you, did I not know your piety and your goodness. But I should betray the cause of truth, if I did not say them to you. It is better to be unpolite than unfaithful. May God give his Holy Spirit to guide your counsels. (August 8, 1543.)’ Such was the noble letter written by Alasco to the Princess Anna of Friesland. She appreciated the piety and the freedom of his words, and replied to him with much kindliness. She told him that she would give orders for the removal of the images, but that it must be done gradually, without noise and by persons duly authorized, keeping the ignorant populace from interfering in the proceeding. The work was begun, but went on very slowly, so that the measure adopted in August had made little progress in November.
At this crisis, arrived Count John, the husband of Dorothea of Austria.
This noble man, earnestly devoted to the Romish system, was immediately beset by the monks. Greatly provoked by the reforms which he saw in process of accomplishment in Friesland, he laid before the countess all the grievances of the monks and said to her, ‘It is absolutely essential that you should banish this man.’ But the reformer vindicated himself with so much force and truth that the count was shaken; and when the countess said positively, ‘I cannot do without Alasco,’ John gave way.
This victory hastened on the Reformation. All public worship was forbidden to the monks; nor were they allowed to maintain any intercourse with members of the Church calculated to turn them aside from the obedience due to the Word of God. They were allowed to live at peace in their convent; but public services of the Roman Church were even there forbidden. Gradually they took their departure. In the same way images disappeared. Alasco, a moderate man, did not think it his duty to precipitate reform. He labored for it persistently and prudently; and notwithstanding this slowness it made progress. He believed — and this feature distinguished him from some reformers — that a Christian is likely to succeed as well, and even better, by gentleness than by rashness. Patience et longueur de temps Font plus que force ni que rage.
This patience was not idleness. Various sects, banished from the Netherlands and other districts of Germany, had taken refuge in Friesland, where they found freedom. The Brussels government called upon the countess to expel them. The princess and her advisers were quite inclined to do so without further inquiry, but Alasco opposed this. He conceived an excellent plan of action, but one very difficult to execute. He would have liked to unite the different Protestant parties in a single body, comprehending therein even the smallest sects. ‘You have permitted,’ said he, ‘these strangers to settle among your people, and we cannot now, just to please those who pursue them, drive them away without any form of trial. Let us examine first what they are. All error of the understanding does not render a man liable to punishment; but guilty intentions alone.’
The countess requested him to make such an examination as he suggested.
Alasco then, actuated by a generous longing for unity and freedom, applied himself to the task; but he soon found himself involved in a conflict with a great number of differing opinions, often irreconcilable, and had to maintain a sad struggle with grave errors. One man among them all appeared to him to be sincerely pious, and to set before himself a really praiseworthy object. This was Menno. Alasco invited him to a religious conference which turned upon the subjects of the ministry, the baptism of children, and the incarnation of the Son of God. It was chiefly this last point with which he concerned himself. Menno taught a fantastical doctrine. He believed that the birth of Jesus had been only in appearance, that He had not received from the Virgin Mary his flesh and blood, but had brought them from heaven. Alasco did not confine himself to a viva voce opposition to this Gnostic dogma; but wrote a treatise on the subject.
Menno having put forward several other opinions which were peculiar to himself, Alasco admitted that it was impossible to attach him to the great evangelical body; but at the same time he did not ask for his expulsion. f684 Another divine, a far less estimable man than Menno, not only holding fantastic notions, but also leading all immoral life, next appeared before him. His name was David Joris (or George); and he was a native of Delft in Holland. His father was a conjurer who, as well as his wife, used to play off juggling tricks at fairs and markets. The young David, endowed with an original and even profound intellect, remarkably clever, and of lively imagination, was at the same time filled with ambition and vanity. He learnt the business of painting on glass; but on Sundays and festival days he used to join his parents and amuse the spectators with his legerdemain.
This doubtless had a bad effect on him. He afterwards heard the evangelical doctrine preached, and fastened upon it, but not without admixture. He saw in it, not a means of salvation in heaven, but a means of being great here below; and discontented with his modest calling he aspired to become head of a sect. Joris composed treatises and hymns, preached, gained adherents and baptized them. He was prosecuted in several towns of Holland, wandered to and for under various disguises, and at last arrived in East Friesland. Here his ardor obtained him some disciples. ‘The doctrine announced by the prophets,’ said he, ‘and even by Jesus Christ is not perfection. The Pentecostal spirit led man forward indeed, but only brought him to the age of youth. Another spirit was needed for the development of a grown man, and this spirit is in the Christ David (Joris), I am the first-born of the regenerate, the new man of God, the Christ according to the Spirit. It is necessary to believe unreservedly in me. This faith will bring the man who possesses it to perfect freedom, and he will find himself above all law, all sin, and all compulsion.’ A1asco, when he heard these strange pretensions, said to him, ‘Prove to us by the testimony of the Word of God that this vocation belongs to you. Many churches have been troubled by men who, like you, arrogated for themselves a divine mission; and it is to pretensions of this sort that we owe the tyranny of the pope and of Mohammed.’ f685 David replied in the style of an infallible doctor. He told Alasco that he would communicate to him his Book of Miracle, that this book would show him how he, David, surpassed him in the knowledge of the truth, and that he would give himself up to be led by it to the highest knowledge of God. Alasco replied that it was impossible for him to admit his infallibility. ‘In spiritual things,’ he added, ‘the Word of God alone has any worth for me. I shut my eyes to all besides. May the Lord govern me and keep role for his glory by the true scepter of his royalty.’ Joris quitted Friesland and betook himself to Basel. There he assumed fictitious names, continued to direct his partisans in the north, who sent him a good deal of money, and fared well and lived licentiously. It was discovered after his death that this wretched man had several illegitimate children. The men of Basel, alarmed at having had such a man among them, testified their abhorrence of his memory in the most energetic manner. f688 Alasco, in the midst of these struggles, was diligent in the work of the ministry. He explained the Holy Scriptures from the pulpit; but, while he usually conformed to received customs, he allowed much freedom in the outward arrangements of the service, because he feared that uniformity would lull men’s minds to sleep, and that from too rigorous adherence to this mode, or that rite, or such a vestment, there would arise a new papacy. He therefore considered it desirable that from time to time there should be some variety and change. The main point, in his view, was the preaching of the Word of God. ‘Let us beware,’ he said ‘of letting our attention be distracted by a multitude of ceremonies.’ There was, however, one matter to which he attached higher importance. He desired that the life of Christians should be conformed to their profession. ‘What,’ said he, ‘are we to contend against errors without, and at the same time allow license to be established in our own houses, and while we are severe towards others are we to be indulgent to our own irregularities?’ He therefore appointed in the church at Embden four elders, grave and pious men, who in the name of the whole church were to watch over good morals. Finally, not wishing the government of the Church to be in the hands of a prince or a magistrate, or even of national consistories established in various places, he entrusted this office to what he called the Coetus, the assembly of the pastors. His error was the non-admission to it of the elders. This institution, however, contributed to promote unity in sound doctrine, harmony of life and faith, and a good theological culture.
Brotherly conferences were held in which were made mutual exhortations to sanctification. The necessities of the flock were investigated and the means of providing for them. The life of candidates, both inward and outward, engaged their attention; and many of the members of the Coetus said that they had learnt more in it than at the university. f690 Alasco, who with regard to literature was a follower of Erasmus, with regard to worship a follower of Zwinglius, and with regard to discipline, the constitution of the Church, and the sacraments, a follower of Calvin, was, with regard to the doctrine of grace, rather a follower of Melanchthon. In 1544 he wrote an Epitome of the doctrine of the churches of East Friesland. He sent this to Hardenberg, requesting him to communicate it to Bucer at Strasburg and to Bullinger at Zurich. He firmly believed that an eternal counsel of God controls all history; that Christ is the central point of Christianity, and that apart from Him there is no salvation. ‘But God,’ he said, ‘so far as it rests with Him, shuts out no one from his mercy. Christ, by his holy death, has expiated the sins of the whole world. If a man be lost, it is not because God created him for the purpose of suffering everlasting punishment, but because he has voluntarily despised the grace of God in Jesus Christ… God is the Savior of us all, the most loving Father of all, most merciful to all, most pitiful for all. Let us then implore his mercy through Him to whom nothing can be refused, to wit, Jesus Christ.’ Some persons, bound to system; having accused Alasco to Calvin on account of this doctrine, the latter would not listen to these denunciations; and the brotherly affection of the two reformers was not in the least interrupted.
It was not so in Friesland. Alasco encountered a sharp opposition on the part of some of his colleagues and some of the magistrates. At the same time, disorders prevailed and fatal opinions were spreading in the country.
Once more Alasco appealed to the princess. ‘The monks and their idolatry still hold their ground, ecclesiastical discipline is destroyed, and so much indulgence is shown for licentiousness, that if any man lead a sober life, he might on this ground be called a sectary. Nor is this all. The country is again the receptacle of the strangest doctrines, and, after having waged war on the gnats, we are now giving food to wasps and hornets, and are allowing ravens to croak at their leisure.’ f693 Alasco, perhaps, aspired to a perfection which is not attainable in this world. Struck with the divine element, he did not sufficiently apprehend the influence of the human element in the things of this life. Finding that his endeavors to purify the Church were useless, he could not endure the responsibility imposed on him by his episcopal office. He thought it burden enough to be responsible for his own errors, without being also responsible for the faults of others. He therefore resigned his office of superintendent, while retaining that of preacher. This failure to achieve complete success did not, however, at all abate the energy of his zeal.
Faith had created within him a moral force which could not decay. The princess having entreated him to resume his office, he laid down certain conditions. He would be amenable only to God and his Word. He could not endure that men of the world should come and intrude themselves in his path. He required to be guaranteed against interference of the magistrates in the internal affairs of the Church, and against disturbance by pastors who would interrupt its unity. f694 This was conceded; and he now resumed his work courageously. But the old trials were followed by fresh ones. Count John and most of the courtiers could not endure the seriousness of his character and his desire to see the prevalence of order in the Church. His enemies reproached him for protecting dangerous sectaries, perhaps because he contended against them only by the word, and had no wish to proceed against them by imprisonment or banishment. Other trials fell upon him. He was again afflicted with fever and even threatened with loss of sight. One of his children, little Paul, was taken from him. His heart was broken by this loss. ‘Everything makes me feel,’ he said, ‘that this earthly dwelling is about to be destroyed, and that soon (so I hope) we shall be in the Father’s house, with Christ. Our dear little one has gone before us, and we shall soon follow him.’ f695 These mournful events made him feel a longing for a more quiet life. He sighed for some retreat in which he might pray at peace, while applying himself diligently to the work of his ministry, he bought a house in the country, with hind adjoining, and in it he invested almost all his property.
In this situation he had some rural occupations. He was busied about his house, and also a little about his fields; and it was a joy to him to be in the midst of the works of God. He was a good father and, according to the injunction addressed to bishops by St. Paul, he endeavored to bring up his children in all purity and modesty. His wife managed the house affairs, milked the cows, and made the butter. But Alasco did not forget the main point. In his view the most indispensable condition for the prosperity of his own personal piety and for success in his pastoral functions was the diligent study of the Holy Scriptures. He carried on correspondence with Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, and others. He studied the works of Calvin, whom he highly esteemed, although there was some difference in their opinions. He was a large-hearted man. We do not find, however, that he wrote to Calvin before the year 1548. f696 His residence in the country by no means lessened his active exertions; it appears, on the contrary, to have extended them. We find his influence operative in West Friesland, where it was diffused both by the ministry of the pastors of those districts who had taken refuge at Embden, and by himself personally. He appears to have visited Franeker and other towns.
Far from narrowing his sphere of action, he enlarged it. He devoted attention to everything steadfastly and prudently. In his case was demonstrated the truth that he who has an acquaintance with the common life of men and practice in conducting worldly business is so much the more qualified for guiding the Church of God.
It is possible that Alasco may have found in West Friesland some unexpectedly favorable conditions. If credit is to be given to authentic documents, a man who has always passed for a persecutor, and who held an important position in the government of the Netherlands, at this time secretly favored the Reformation of Friesland. This was the celebrated Viglius of Zuychem, a man endowed with great talents and a distinguished jurisconsult, who had studied first at Franeker, and afterwards in the universities of the Netherlands, France, and Italy. Viglius is so famous, so well known for the ability which he displayed in opposition to the Reformation that we cannot refrain from lifting the veil for the purpose of disclosing one side of his history which is very little known. He is a striking example of a class of men too numerous in the sixteenth century.
His mind was not devoid of liberal tendencies, and in his heart was some leaning to the religion of the gospel. But he saw that under Charles the Fifth he could secure his position and retain the high honors with which he was loaded only by siding with those who opposed the light and the gospel. This, therefore, he did. Like Alasco, he was indebted to Erasmus for his first impressions. While still a young boy, he was an enthusiastic admirer of the learned Dutchman, his fellow-countryman. ‘From my childhood,’ he wrote to Erasmus in March 1529, ‘my feelings toward you have been of such a nature that in my studies I had never felt a more powerful stimulus than the thought of making such progress as would warrant the hope of my winning your kindly regard.’ f697 Afterwards, even before he made the personal acquaintance of Erasmus, he took his part against those who assailed him. ‘I am desirous, ’he wrote, ‘that you should know the great love I cherish for you, and that I am ready vigorously to repel the rage of shameless and perverse men who assailed you, and thus to protect a peaceful leisure which you employ in the most useful studies.’ Erasmus, on his part, was charmed with what he called the easy and amiable disposition of Viglius; and he added that he had found in his letters powerful enchantments which had completely won his heart. With respect to the attacks of which the young man had spoken, he said, ‘Alas!’ it is my destiny to be engaged in a perpetual conflict with the whole phalanx of sham monks and sham theologians, monsters so frightful and so dangerous that it was certainly easier for Hercules to contend with Cacus, Cerberus, the Nemean lion, and the hydra of Lernae. As for you, my dear young friend,’ he added, ‘consider by what means it may be possible for you to obtain praise without hatred.’ Unfortunately Viglius followed his advice too well, or at least allowed himself in following it to be led into acts of culpable cowardice.
While still imbued with elevated sentiments, the young Frisian at first avoided making any engagement with Charles the Fifth, with whose cruel policy he was too well acquainted. He refused several offers of this prince, and particularly an invitation to take charge of the education of his son Philip; but ambition ultimately gained the ascendancy. As an eminent jurisconsult, Viglius entered in 1542 into the great council of Mechlin, of which in the following year he was named president. The emperor next made him president of the privy council at Brussels and head of the order of the Golden Fleece. From the time that he accepted these offices, the enthusiastic disciple of Erasmus saw the beginning of a conflict in his inner life which seems to have ended only with his death. On the one side, he declared boldly against freedom of conscience and against heresy, things which he regarded as the ruin of nations. He even went so far as to call those atheists who desired to be free in their faith. But if he thus satisfied Charles the Fifth and his ministers, he was unable entirely to stifle the best aspirations of his youth; and he secretly showed for the Protestants a tolerance which was quite contrary to his principles. He was accused; and the government of the Netherlands, having received orders to get precise information about him requested, with the utmost secrecy and under the seal of an oath, a churchman and a man of letters, whose names have not been divulged, to state what they knew respecting him. The report made by these priests presents a strange contrast to the judgment of history on this man. ‘Viglius is accused,’ said these two anonymous reporters, ‘of having been from his youth greatly suspected of heresy, and chiefly of the heresy of Luther; of having been and of still being reputed a heretic, not only in the Netherlands, but in France, Italy, and Germany; of having associated only with heretics, as, for example, those of Augsburg, Basel, and Wurtemberg; of having given promotion, since his elevation to the post which he fills, only to men of the same character; of having caused the nomination, as councilor to the Imperial chamber, of Albada, who had resigned his office of councilor in Friesland because he would not consent to the punishment of Anabaptists, Calvinists, and other sectaries; of having introduced into the university of Douai, for the purpose of exercising jurisdiction over churchmen, lay and married rectors; of having lavishly conferred offices upon his brothers, kinsmen, and friends in Friesland, all of them tainted and infected with heresy; and of many other things of the like kind.’ f700 In quoting this passage, we do not profess to reform the judgment of history; but only to show what sometimes lay hidden under the rude and menacing manners of the councilors of Charles the Fifth.
The testimony of the two priests astonished the duchess of Parma. ‘With me,’ she said, ‘the president has always appeared to be a good Catholic.’
Was Viglius then secretly a follower of Luther? By no means. But he cherished some of the liberal notions of his illustrious fellow-countryman, Erasmus, and even felt some regard for the Reformation. When he was censured for having taken part in drawing up the persecuting edicts of 1530, he denied the charge, and asserted that he had done all he could to induce the emperor to mitigate their severity. A priest, who is not suspected of partiality for Protestants, has said of Viglius — ’This great man used his influence to moderate the harshness of the duke of Alva by milder counsels.’ Viglius, while a thorough Roman Catholic in his speeches, was less so in his deeds, when he could be so without risking the loss of the favor of princes. He was not a hypocrite in virtue, as so many are; he was a hypocrite in fanaticism. But fanaticism then passed for a virtue, and secured him wonderful advantages.
What a contrast between the two men whose names were at this time so widely known in the two Frieslands! The influence of Alasco was not confined to these countries. On the banks of the Rhine he took part, in conjunction with his friend Hardenberg, in the attempts at reform in the diocese of Cologne. The time was, however, soon to arrive when he would find himself compelled to leave Friesland, and would be removed to a larger sphere, to labor there, in the midst of distinguished men, at the work of the Reformation.