HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION - CHAPTER 12.
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AT this point the history of the Netherlands presents to us a noble spectacle: we see on the one hand the little ones, those unknown to the world, serving God with fervor and indomitable resolution, and on the other hand, persecutors thirsting for their blood, and conflicts and martyrdoms awaiting them. The heroism of the lowly appears infinitely small in the eyes of the world. In our eyes it is one of the glories of the Reformation, that in its history the little ones are especially brought before us. This is one of the features which distinguish it from secular history, which takes delight chiefly in palaces and in the splendid achievements of conquerors.
At Brussels, Antwerp, Louvain, Ghent, and other towns, there were many friends of the gospel. Evangelical Christianity was continually gaining strength, but at the same time Romish fanaticism was also on the increase.
Ghent, a town of such extent that it was called a country rather than a town, contained at this period numerous adherents of the Reformation. So much did they hunger and thirst after sound doctrine that, in 1537, when a preacher who spoke French only preached the gospel in this town, where nothing but Flemish was understood, numberless hearers thronged around him and hung upon his lips. Pierre Bruly (Brulius), — this was his name — spoke with such fervor of spirit, and with eloquence so forcible, that the Flemings, although they could not understand what he said, were edified by the earnest and affectionate feeling with which he spoke. When the sermon was over, some of his hearers who could afford it, anxious to know exactly what was said by a preacher who pleased them so much, betook themselves to persons who were acquainted with both languages, and, taking out of their pockets the small bag in which they carried their money, said to them, ‘Translate to us, if you please, the discourse which the preacher has delivered; we will give you so much for it. More than three hundred of the Ghentese men and women, appear to have been converted by the preaching of Bruly. As he was anxious, however, to address people who could understand him, he left Flanders three or four years later, and went to Strasburg, where he succeeded Calvin as pastor of the French church. People said of him — ‘He has, like the young Picard (Calvin) a pure doctrine and a spotless life.’ We shall meet with him again hereafter in Belgium.
Happily, other friends of the gospel still remained in Ghent. There was Clava, an old man in years, said Erasmus, but who always renews his youth like the spring-tide and bears the most beautiful fruit; Jean Cousard also, who had been a correspondent of Zwinglius; and especially the four Utenhovs. Nicholas Utenhov, a distinguished jurisconsult, an elegant litterateur, a wise, modest, and upright man, long held at Ghent, with high honor, the presidency of the Supreme Council of Flanders. Every moment of leisure that he could snatch amidst the noises of the palace, the numerous causes brought before him, the exclamations of the suitors and the advocates who were about him, Utenhov employed in reading the Holy Scriptures; and he frequently devoted to the study of them part of the night. f825 Martin van Cleyne, a physician, a commentator on Hippocrates and Galen, tasted the Word of God, rejoicing to see how faith and the gospel healed sick souls and gave them a new life. In the practice of his art he had never seen such marvelous cures; and he, said to himself that, in spite of all the efforts which physicians make to heal them, men nevertheless die at last; while Jesus Christ heals for ever and makes immortal. He therefore began to communicate to his friends and neighbors the sovereign remedy which he had discovered. But, being persecuted by the Inquisition, he went to London under the assumed name of Micron, and became pastor of the Belgian church there. f826 When Alasco arrived at Louvain he found there zealous partisans both of the papacy and the gospel; on the one side theologians and fanatical monks, and on the other a little flock among the citizens who received gladly the light of the gospel. A lady, belonging to one of the principal families of the town Antoinette Haveloos (born van Roesmals) many of whose ancestors had in old times occupied the foremost place in the state, was animated with a lively piety, and, by her virtues, was an example to all the town. She possessed at this time a competency, which she afterwards lost, and she joyfully practiced hospitality. It was in her house that Alasco took his abode when he came to Louvain. Antoinette was then about fifty-two years of age, and she resided at a place called Bollebore, from a fountain situated near the river La Vuerre. ‘Above all things she was given to reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures; and by this means she became acquainted with the will of God, which she also put in practice, discharging towards her neighbors the offices of charity.’ She was, moreover, regarded as the soul of the Reformation in Louvain.
She had a daughter named Gudule, elegant in figure, perfectly beautiful and refined, at this time in the flower of her age. Gudule was reserved and modest, and did not make much display of her religious sentiments; but she had deep feeling and especially great love for her mother. Antoinette’s family circle was large, and her nephews and nieces had almost all become believers in the gospel.
His was not a spirit restless with rash zeal. The bookseller Jerome Cloet, who was well acquainted with him, called him the quietest man in Louvain. He appears to have been well educated, and to have read the Latin works on the faith which were published in Germany and elsewhere. He let no opportunity slip of making the gospel known, and souls were enlightened by his private conversation. ‘To the instructions of Jan van Ousberghen,’ said a pious woman, Catherine, the wife of the sculptor Beyaerts, ‘I am indebted for the sentiments which I profess.’ Still more frequently Ousberghen spoke at meetings held in private houses, in the farms of the neighborhood and in the open air. There were also at Louvain a small number of priests who, although they acted with less freedom than Ousberghen, nevertheless exercised a powerful influence.
Among them was one man of sixty, feeble in body, his head hoary with age, modest, but very learned. His name was Paul van Roovere. He possessed many hymns, psalms, and other writings in the vulgar tongue (Flemish), besides the Holy Scriptures, in the study of which he spent his time. He was a poet and was very skillful in versification; he was likewise a musician and player on the flute. The evangelicals of Louvain frequently accosted him when they saw him in the street, at church, or in the cathedral of Louvain, where he appears to have discharged some ecclesiastical functions. the sculptor Jan Beyaerts, one day in Lent, entered into conversation with him in St. Peter’s church, opposite to the altar of St. Ann. They spoke of the communion, and Master Paul, setting transubstantiation aside, said that the holy supper was simply a pledge which Christ had left to us of his passion by which we are saved. Master Paul had established a charitable fund for the poor reformed Christians; and when he went to the house of Catherine Sclercx, the wife of Rogiers, he used frequently to give her money to distribute to the poor, ‘because he knew that she liked to visit the houses of the needy.’ This pious priest was at the same time an agreeable man, and his conversation ‘turned upon entertaining subjects.’ He was a handsome old man, always kindly and good-humored. ‘Sincere convictions,’ it has been observed, ‘do not exclude the love of the fine arts or the graces of wit.’ f835 Master Paul had a friend, Matthew van Rillaert, with whom ‘he often talked about the word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and discussed the questions whether communion should be in both kinds and whether priests ought to marry.’ ‘Ah,’ said Matthew, ‘better take a wife than commit the sin of fornication.’ He often went to the shop of the bookseller Jerome Cloet, and ‘there religious subjects were talked of, the councils of the Church and justification by faith.’ But among the believers of Louvain the most eminent was Master Peter Rythove, schoolmaster of St. Gertrude, who, in this capacity, was entrusted with the education of young men intended for the ministry. He was a wellinformed man, and the most learned of the theologians. He was a frequent visitor at the bookseller Cloet’s, and used even to buy books on botany, medicine, and other sciences. f837 One of the most noteworthy personages of the evangelical band at Louvain was Jacques Gosseau, bachelor of the Civil and Canon Laws, and formerly dean of the Drapers’ Guild. He lived on his fortune. He had married Mary, the niece of Antoinette van Roesmals. One day, at vintage-time, when Antoinette, her daughter Gudule, and other friends were at his house, Mary said that she had a great longing to eat some grapes, and proposed to go to Rosselberg to the vineyard of her sister Martha. The Rosselberg is a line of hills which takes its name from the ferruginous color of the soil.
When they came to the ramparts, near the gates of the city, they met the evangelist Van Ousberghen, Jan Beyaerts and his wife Catherine. They walked on together towards the Rosselberg; and on the way Jan van Ousberghen began to read in the New Testament. They arrived at the vineyard. The porter, said one of the accused, was ‘a believer.’ They ate some grapes; and then on their way back the party took the road to Boschstrathen, and sat down for a while in the fields. Jan van Ousberghen again took his precious volume and read in the New Testament. Many persons were afterwards prosecuted for this innocent walk. f838 But the conferences on matters of faith, as they used to call them, were chiefly held at the house of Antoinette, either at Bollebore or at the black Lys, where she afterwards took up her abode.
There were present both men and women of various ranks, who freely conversed with one another. It is probable that Alasco attended these meetings, especially those held at Antoinette’s house, in which he often resided. His name, however, does not appear in the interrogatories. Jan Schats often read the Bible there. There is no purgatory, said he; the soul, when it escapes from the body, rests until the day of judgment in a place which God knows. Jan Vicart, the haberdasher of the Golden Gate, said — ‘There are two churches, the Christian church and the church of Rome. It is enough for us to make confession to God, because from Him cometh all salvation. I receive the sacrament in remembrance of Christ, and I bring up my daughters in these sentiments.’ f840 The faith of some of these disciples was not steadfast and pure. The sculptor Beyaerts was one of the frequenters of these meetings; but he held some views which were more ardent than profound, and had more enthusiasm than steadfastness in his faith. In each of the churches of St. Peter and St. James there was a picture intended to impress the parishioners and induce them to come forward to the help of souls detained in purgatory. Beyaerts devoted himself to the task of putting an end to the scandal which these pictures occasioned among his friends. One evening he went by stealth into St. Peter’s church, near the tower, under the bells, by the side of a crucifix. He was alone in the church; he took down the picture, concealed it under his gown, and went quickly away.
Meeting Catherine Sclercx, she saw the picture and said to him, ‘Well done.’ Beyaerts did the same with the picture in St. James’s church, and all his friends were pleased, and said that these pictures were ‘wicked cheats.’ But this same man, now so bold, displayed lamentable weakness when brought before the judges.
But there was something more than weakness. The Spirit of God was carrying on His work at Louvain and in the Netherlands, but the evil one was not idle. A black sheep had crept into the fold. George Stocx, a member of a chamber of rhetoric, and author of various songs and poems, appears to have belonged to the party of the libertines. While he was a devout speaker at the meetings, he denied his doctrine by his manner of life. He sought after opportunities of luxurious living, sang verses which excited laughter, danced and drank. One evening after attending a feast, at Gempe, he was so drunk when the time came for returning to Louvain that they had to throw him into a wagon. f841 It was otherwise with Jan van Ousberghen. With respect to him there was but one testimony. He was a holy man, people said, who had suffered much for the glory of God. He had strong faith in Christ, great piety, singular modesty, and marvelous steadfastness. He was the soul of the meetings held in the house of Antoinette. But two calamities successively occurred to waste the little Christian flock. An epidemic broke out in Louvain, apparently in 1539. It attacked especially the household of Antoinette, and carried off her husband and several of her children. The disconsolate widow took refuge, with Gudule, who was spared to her, in one of the towers of the town. These towers looked over the country, and the plague-stricken were compelled to resort to them, to prevent contagion spreading in the town. This epidemic, which took from Antoinette the objects of her tenderest affections, made a change also in her condition of life. She was henceforth ‘a poor old woman, laden with poverty and sufferings, having lost all that she possessed, even her very means of subsistence.’ But the gospel remained to her.
Evangelical books and lectures were multiplied. The theologians and the monks — the band of Pharisees as they were called by a minister of the day — multiplied their complaints and outcries. The Council of Brabant resolved, at the beginning of 1543, to make a general arrest of suspected persons at Brussels, Antwerp, Oudenarde, and especially at Louvain, where the reformed Christians were taking greater and greater liberties. In the course of March the attorney-general, Peter du Fief, a man notorious for his violent and unjust proceedings, arrived at Louvain. He determined, in order that none of those who had been denounced to him might escape, to apprehend them in a body during their first sleep. One night, in the middle of March, when it was already dark, Peter du Fief assembled his men and informed them that the business in hand was the seizure and imprisonment of all the heretics, without any noise, and without words, in the darkness. Between ten and eleven o’clock at night the officers set out on their way. The poor people, mostly of the class of artisans, wearied with their day-labor, had lain down to rest in their beds without a thought of anything happening. The officers knocked at the door. If perchance the father of the family, on account of his hard work, had fallen into a sound sleep and did not immediately come to open to them, the door was broken down, and these brigands hastened violently to the very bedside of the father. There they took by surprise the husband and the wife, who, starting out of sleep, stared about, wondering what was the matter. The sergeants immediately laid hands on the husband, sometimes on both husband and wife, according to orders, and took them away. f845 Thus were seen leaving their homes the sculptor Beyaerts and his wife Catherine, Dietrich Gheylaert and his wife Mary, van der Donckt and his wife Elizabeth. The children, who were beside their parents, sometimes even in the same bed, were the last to wake, and they all trembled. The whole house was filled with armed men, torches were flaring here and there, soldiers were ferreting about in every corner in search of books or men — a suspected book was sufficient ground for a sentence of death — drawn swords, halberts and cuirasses gleamed in the pale light of the torches. The little ones, who saw their father and mother ill-used, dragged one this way, the other that way, and carried off with their hands bound, wept and cried aloud. They called after them — ‘Where are you going, father? Where are you going, mother? Who is going to stay here? Who will give us our food to-morrow?’ The sergeants, fearing that the neighbors would hear these cries and come to help them, seized the little ones. ‘The poor children were flogged,’ says the chronicler. As they only cried the more, their mouths were closed by force.
Nevertheless, the constables did this to no purpose, for the uproar was too loud not to be heard. Many evangelicals, ‘when they perceived these boors were coming,’ threw themselves out of bed, leaped over the walls in their shirts, and made their escape. Sometimes some good people came with all speed to warn their friends, who then escaped; and this greatly increased the fury of the tyrants. The attorney-general, inflamed with rage and hatred against the truth, kept up the hunt all night with his men; and nothing could pacify his wrath but committing to prison twenty-three of the townsmen, fathers and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, of various classes. He had them confined in different places, giving orders that they should not be allowed to read, to write, or to speak to anyone, whether it were father, mother, or wife. Besides those whom we have named, there were also seized Antoinette van Roesmals, the chaplain Paul de Roovere, the parson van Rillaert, the Sclercx, Schats, Vicart, Jerome Cloet, and others, who, when thus torn away from their homes were persuaded that nothing short of their death would allay the rage of their enemies.
The honest townsmen of Louvain could not restrain their indignation. ‘What!’ said they, addressing the cruel du Fief, ‘thou art sending to prison people who by their virtue gave a good example to the whole town! Have they stirred up any sedition? Hast thou seen a single one of their number with a bloody sword in his hand? How durst thou lay on innocent men those unclean and sacrilegious hands with which thou hast pillaged the holy places, and robbed the poor of their earnings? Will not these houses into which thou dost make bold to enter for the purpose of persecution fall on thee?’ f846 The examinations forthwith began. Latomus, a doctor of the university of Louvain, famous for his controversy with Luther, the dean, Ruard Tapper, of Enkhuysen, whom the pope six years before had nominated inquisitorgeneral of the Netherlands, and others besides, betook themselves every day to the prisons; and they went ‘as if they were going to a combat, equipped and tricked out at all points against a body of poor weak women. The younger prisoners modestly kept silence; but the more experienced turned the arguments of the theologians against themselves, so that the latter retreated in confusion.’
It was on the 20th of March, 1543, that the inquiry began. Catherine Sclercx, wife of Jacques Rogiers, an apothecary, was brought up pede ligato on that day, on March 31, and on June 13. ‘What do you hold about the invocation of saints?’ they said to her. ‘I am little practiced in discussion,’ replied Catherine, ‘but I will not hold anything except what Holy Scripture teaches. It is there said we must worship God only, and there is only one mediator. I have therefore purposed in my own mind to worship and to invoke none but Him.’ ‘What impudence!’ said the theologians; ‘thou art venturing, with hands full of uncleanness, to present thyself before God. If the emperor came into this town, wouldst thou not, before approaching him, appeal to Monsieur de Granvella, in order that he might recommend thee to him?’ ‘But see,’ simply answered Catherine, ‘suppose the emperor were at a window and called me with his own tongue, saying — "Woman, thou hast to do with me; come up hither, I will grant thee what thou shalt ask for," would you still counsel me to wait until I had gained friends at court?’ This noble woman then said, with a holy boldness — ‘I have a heavenly emperor, Jesus Christ, the redeemer of the world. He says aloud to all men, Come unto me! It is not to one or two of you, gentlemen, our masters, that he speaks this word. It is to all; and whosoever, feeling the burden of his sins pressing upon his soul, hastens in tears to respond to the call of God’s mercy, needs no other advocate, neither St. Peter nor St. Paul, to procure him access to his prince.’ The judges in astonishment rose without coming to any decision, contenting themselves with exclaiming, as they went away, ‘A Lutheran.’
This was an argument which they found unanswerable. f847 ‘Even the women mock at us,’ said the theologians; ‘let us put an end to this trial as soon as possible, and let us begin with those of our own order.’ They then gave orders to bring up the priest, Peter Rythove, schoolmaster of Sainte-Gertrude. They were more afraid of him than of anyone, conscious that he knew them well and had the power of divulging their frauds. Word was brought to them that he had escaped. This was an addition to their trouble. ‘Quick,’ they said; ‘let placards be posted up that he may be arrested.’ He took good care not to make his appearance, and they declared him to be an obstinate heretic. Then flying to his house, like insatiable harpies, they plundered him of everything that belonged to him. ‘O players!’ said honest men, ‘how well you agree to perform your farces before the simple-minded people! and especially never to return empty-handed to your homes!’
They now fell upon the poor priest, Paul de Roovere, and they were determined to have him put to death with pomp and solemnity, and to exhibit him as a public spectacle. Artisans set to work and erected a platform in the great hall of the Augustines. On the day of the exhibition a great crowd of townsmen and of students filled both the hall and the adjacent streets. The procession advanced. At its head there walked a small wan old man, thin, with a long white beard, and almost wasted away with grief and exhaustion. Truly, said the spectators, this is the shadow of a man, a corpse already in a state of decomposition. It was poor Paul surrounded by armed men. Behind him came the dignitaries of the university, the heads of the convent, and others of the clergy. These doctors, at once accusers and judges, ascended the platform and took their seats in a circle, with Paul de Roovere standing in the midst of them. There sat the chancellor, Latomus, a great enemy to literary culture, who, when preaching one day before Charles V., narrowly escaped being hissed by some lords of the court. By his side sat the dean and inquisitor, Ruard of Enkhuysen, ‘a man whose oratory was of the poorest kind, but whose cruelty was extreme.’ Next to him was Del Campo a Zon, also an inquisitor, canon of St. Peter’s, and rector for the occasion, who was called by some ‘the devil incarnate,’ and there were several others. ‘Sergeants, armed at all points, surrounded the platform, prepared to defend these brave pillars of the Church.’ The rector, who was afterwards bishop of Bois-le-Duc, rose, enjoined silence, and said with a loud voice — ‘Desirous of faithfully discharging our duty, which is to defend the sheep against the furious assaults of wolves, to kill the latter and to strangle them, we present to you, as a rotten member of our mystical body, which ought to be lopped and cut off, this man, in whose house we have found a great number of Lutheran books, and who dares even to say that to be saved it is enough to embrace the mercy of God offered in the gospel.’
Then, turning to the people, the rector, canon, and inquisitor exclaimed — ‘Beware, therefore, you who are here present, and let the danger which threatens you, and the fear of losing your souls, restrain you from despising the power of the Roman pontiffs. This wretch is condemned to be degraded from the priesthood and delivered over to the secular arm to undergo the punishment which he deserves.’
The rector was followed by Father Stryroy, prior of the Dominicans, a vehement man, whose voice was a thunder-peal of audacity and impudence. But some laughed at his storm of words, and others abhorred a course so disgraceful. Many even talked of driving the orator and the judges from their seats and of rescuing the priest Paul. But no one was willing to be captain and bell the cat. One glance from Paul would have sufficed; but the poor priest, weakened in body as well as in mind, remained motionless and silent, and thus disheartened his partisans. The priests also had noticed the dejection of the old man. They determined to take advantage of it; and, retiring into an adjoining hall, they employed for the purpose of inducing him to recant vehement entreaties, supplications, flattery, promises, and allurements. The old man resisted all.’ The inquisitors then, provoked, calling to remembrance the tyrant of Agrigentum, who had his enemies burnt at a slow fire and his friends in a copper bull, said to him — ‘We will make you suffer more grievous torture than any Phalaris ever inflicted.’ Paul trembled at these words. He was led back to prison, and monks and theologians came every day and talked to him about the cruel sufferings which were in preparation for him.
Meanwhile the attorney-general was preparing for the trial of the laymen.
This lasted from March 21 to the end of April; but no sufficient evidence was obtained. The judges now had the prisoners taken into the great prison, where the rack was, and there they began that frightful and marvelous process of which it has been said that it is perfectly certain to ruin an innocent man who has a feeble constitution, and to save a guilty man if he were born robust. This lasted fifteen days. The torturers knew no pity for age, or sex, or infirmity. The poor women were victimized (gehennees) and tormented as well as the men. The piteous cries of these cruelly-tortured wretched ones were heard in the streets of Louvain Their voices, raised by grief to a higher pitch, were borne to a distance.
Inarticulate sounds, piercing words, repeated exclamations, lamentations, weeping, mournful noises, broken sobs, and dying voices spread terror everywhere. Throughout the town there was nothing but sighs, tears, and lamentations from people of every class, whose hearts were filled with grief. f854 Almost all were steadfast, but one sad victim consoled the tyrants, as the chronicler calls them. They had so terrified poor Paul that the wretched old man was seen ascending the platform with trembling steps, and there he read a statement which the theologians had prepared.
He declared, with a voice scarcely audible, ‘that he detested that religion which at the instigation of Satan he had hitherto followed.’ Deep sighs and broken sobs every moment interrupted him. Good men who heard him were touched with compassion at the sight of this unfortunate victim. At the command of his masters, the poor man took his books and cast them into the fire; while the doctors ,and the judges, with an air of pride and triumph, insulted the gospel of God. The wretched man was placed in close confinement in the castle of Vilvorde, was fed on bread and water only, and was not allowed to read or to write, or to see anybody. He was ‘like a dead body in a grave, until at length he died there of exhaustion.’
It was now the turn of the other prisoners. Jan Vicart and Jan Schats were taken to the town-hall, and there the attorney-general turned towards them a cruel countenance and said — ‘My friends, I am grieved at your fate; but the devil has deceived you, and consequently you ere condemned to be burnt and reduced to ashes as men relapsed into Lutheranism. If I were to act otherwise, I should not be Caesar’s friend.’ f855 The whole city of Louvain was in a state of great excitement. Although executions usually took place outside the town, the inquisitors had determined that in this case the victims should suffer in the open space before St. Peter’s church, for the sake of terrifying the people. The young Spaniard who relates these facts, and who was at this time on a visit to Louvain, went to the spot at five o’clock in the morning. Many workmen were already very busily engaged in enclosing a part of the space, that no one might pass the barrier. They next set up in the middle two crosses about the height of a man, and piled round them ‘a great quantity of faggots and other wood.’ Afterwards, the attorney-general and his attendants entered a house opposite to the church, the windows of which looked out on the two crosses. All the town companies had been ordered up ‘for daybreak,’ that the people might not rescue the prisoners. The militiamen, who had escorted the magistrates, encompassed the place, and showed by the expression of their faces that they were there ‘by compulsion and with great reluctance.’ The two prisoners at length appeared. There was first Jan Schats, now about forty-three years old, whose principal crime was having had in his house a German Bible, and read it, as well as the Life of our Lord, the Sinner’s Consolation, the Little Garden of the Soul, Emmaus, and other works bound together ‘in a leather cover.’ In addition to this, he was accused of having visited those of his own creed who fell sick and of having assisted them with his alms. By the side of Schats was Jan Vicart, haberdasher, who was charged with the like offenses. These two men, coming from rigorous confinement, and having suffered cruel torture, were weak and almost half dead.
Nevertheless, the bystanders heard them lamenting their sins before God and asserting that they welcomed death, having confidence in the divine mercy. f857 When their prayer was finished, the deathsman bound them to the two stakes, placed a rope with a slip-knot round their necks and then piled faggots round them with straw and powder. At a signal from the attorneygeneral, he tightened the rope to strangle them. The magistrate then ‘displaying as much light-heartiness as if he had been named emperor of the Romans,’ says an eye-witness, handed to the deathsman a lighted torch, and in doing this he leaned forward so eagerly that he narrowly missed falling from the window. The eyes of the multitude were fastened on him, and they contemplated with astonishment, says the chronicler, ‘his hideous face afire with rage, his fierce eyes, his mouth which breathed out flames more terrible than those of the torch in his hand. Many there were who uttered horrible imprecations against this sanguinary monster.’ ‘Ere long the fire was so large that one might have said the flames touched the clouds and would set them on fire. Some jets of flame rose to such a height and made so much noise that it might have been imagined loud voices were crying from heaven for vengeance.’
The next day it was the turn of the women. Two of them, both quite elderly, who above all had steadfastly maintained the truth of the gospel, were condemned to the most cruel punishment, namely, to be buried alive.’ f859 One of these women was Antoinette van Roesmals, the friend of John Alasco, of Hardenberg, and of Don Francisco de Enzinas, whose ancestors had governed the state. She was now about sixty years of age, and was full of faith and of good works. It was said in the town that her kinsfolk, her friends, and even the bailiff, had offered a large sum of money that she might be set at liberty, but in vain. She drew near to the spot where she was to be laid alive in the ground. Gudule, her beautiful daughter, in the flower of her age, who cherished the deepest affection for her mother, would not be separated from her. ‘I will,’ she said, ‘be a spectator of the sacrifice of my mother.’ It was however agreed that she should not stand by the brink of the grave in which she who had brought her into the world was to be buried alive, and she consented to remain at a distance, if only she could see her mother. Thus concealed in a place apart, she saw the pious Antoinette led to execution; she saw the grave prepared, and that her mother still remained calm. Gudule was overwhelmed, silent and motionless. She shed no tears; her whole life was in her gaze. With fixed eye she watched the progress of the dismal execution. But when she saw her mother going down alive to the place of the dead, when the servants of the executioners threw upon her some shovelfuls of earth and she began to be covered with it, Gudule uttered a cry. From this moment she could not refrain; her outcries were terrible. ‘O God!’ says an eyewitness, ‘with what lamentations, with what wailing’s she filled the air!’ Her tongue was at length loosed, she was no longer motionless.
She plucked out her hair, she tore her face. ‘The poor girl is still living,’ says the witness who has left us the narrative of these events, ‘and I have good hope that she will never be forsaken of the everlasting God, the Father of our deliverer, Jesus Christ, who is also the Father of the orphan.’
There had been signs of an awakening in this capital; and there were to be found in it men who were truly imitators of Jesus Christ, a class unhappily too small. One of the citizens, Giles Tielmans, a native of Brussels, was not ‘of a rich family nor of great renown,’ but he had acquired by his virtues a higher esteem, even on the part of the enemies of pure doctrine. Giles had never wronged a single creature, and he had always made it his aim to give pleasure to everybody. He was now thirtythree years of age, and no one had ever had a complaint against him. If he encountered opposition he would give way. He would rather relinquish his rights than quarrel about them, in order that he might in this life maintain peace and charity. This Christian man fulfilled, both in the letter and in the spirit, the commandment of his master — ‘If any man will take thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.’ He had been endowed by God with a good disposition, but ‘having begun to taste in his youth the heavenly wisdom drawn from the sacred writings, this natural goodness had improved to an incredible degree.’ His look was sweet and modest, his deportment amiable, and everything about him revealed a soul holy and born for heaven, dwelling in a pure and chaste tabernacle. He spent the greater part of his time in visiting the sick, in relieving the poor, and in making peace between any of his neighbors who might be at variance with each other. Tielmans used to say that it was a disgraceful thing to pass one’s life in idleness. In order to avoid this, to earn his living by his own labor, and to have something to give to the poor, he had followed the trade of a cutler. He lived in a very humble way, spending hardly anything on himself, but distributing among the needy the fruits of his toil, which God greatly blessed. ‘He had thus won the love of the people.’ ‘All good men were fond of talking with him; all listened to him, and all gave up their property at his bidding. But if anyone made him a present, he accepted it only for the purpose of relieving some poor person known to him.’ He had at Brussels his baker, his shoemaker, his tailor, and his apothecary. Of the first he took bread for the hungry; of the second, shoes for the barefooted; of the third, garments to cover the naked in winter; and of the fourth, medicines to cure the sick. The physician he paid out of his own purse.
His principal aim was to become well-acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel. He therefore read the Scriptures diligently, and meditated on them deeply. With so much fervor did he put forth all the energies of his soul in prayer, that ‘oftentimes his friends found him on his knees, praying and in a kind of rapture.’ He was a hard worker. He read all the best books which were written on the doctrine of salvation, but especially the Holy Scriptures; and when he explained the Christian faith, it was with so much eloquence that people exclaimed, ‘O pearl of great price! why art thou still buried in darkness, whilst thou oughtest to be kept in the sight and knowledge of all the world, esteemed and prized by everyone!’ f867 In 1541, the epidemic raged again. Famine accompanied it. ‘The republic was in great distress, and many poor people were in very great trouble.’
Tielmans sold his goods by auction, and they fetched a large sum. From this time not a day passed but he went into the public institutions in which the plague-stricken were treated. He gave them what they were in want of; and served them with his own hands. He went to the inns where strangers were entertained, and he removed the sick into his own house, nursed and fed them. When they had recovered their health, he gave them the means of pursuing their journey. One day he visited a poor woman who was near her confinement. She had already five children who slept with her every night. He immediately returned to his house, sent her his own bed, the only one which remained in his possession, and slept himself on straw. f868 He was physician not only to the bodies of men, but also to their souls.
He came to the bedside of sick persons and taught them to know the Savior. With great power he said to them, — ‘Trust not in your own works. The mercy of God alone can save you, and this is to be laid hold of by faith in Christ. f869 So vast was the extent of sin that divine justice could be appeased only by the sacrifice of the Son of God. At the same time, the love of God towards man was so unspeakable that He sent his Son into the world, from the hidden place of his abode, f870 to cleanse men from sin by his own blood and to make us inheritors of his heavenly kingdom.’ So energetic were the words of Tielmans that many of those ‘who lay upon their deathbeds attacked by the pestilence, in distress and consternation and a prey to all the horrors which follow in its train, seemed to recover life; and, casting away all pharisaical opinions and all trust in their own deservings, embraced the doctrine of the Savior’, and passed joyfully to their heavenly home.’ Those who escaped the contagion, having been brought by the Word to the knowledge of the truth, were scattered about in the neighboring towns, and sowed there what they had learnt of it; so that by these means ‘religion had beet restored in its purity in the whole of Brabant.’ Such was the life of Giles Tielmans. In him faith and works were admirably united. This case is one of the fruits of the Reformation which it is worth while to know.
Persecution had not been slow in causing agitation and terror among the faithful of Louvain Unfortunately, not all of those who ‘said that they had tasted of the gospel and had laid hold of the true religion’ were able to persevere. There were several such at Louvain, and especially among those who belonged to the higher classes, who no longer showed any sign of true Christianity, and who, though they did not believe in Romish doctrines, yet gave out that they did, and became thorough hypocrites. They broke off intercourse with those who in their opinion might compromise them. If they had in their households any pious men, they expelled them, bidding them provide for themselves elsewhere. ‘Ah!’ said one of those who were thus turned into the street, ‘I marveled at the thoughtlessness of men. Is there any greater virtue, any ornament of life more excellent than to maintain true religion, with high courage and unconquerable spirit, even to one’s last breath? It gives me great; pain to see people, who were not among the worst, lose heart at the first breathing of the storm, and like cowards put off the profession of piety.’
The same blow fell upon Brussels. The parish of La Chapelle had for its parson a fanatical priest named William Guene, ‘a wicked rake,’ says the chronicler. The incumbent of this benefice was William de However, bishop in partibus of Phoenicia, suffragan vicar of the bishop of Tournay.
But as other offices prevented his giving his personal services in the parish, he had entrusted the administration to Guene, with the title of vicepastor.
This Guene,’ who ought rather to be called a wolf, considering his wicked tricks and his abominable actions,’ was continually making outcries in public, and particularly against the pious Giles Tielmans, a man so rich in good works. He put questions to him in his sermons, ‘swore arm called upon heaven and earth to witness that, if this man were not taken out of the way and put to death, the whole country would in a little while, be of his opinion.’ Guene did not confine himself to saying these things in his church; but went to the attorney-general and formally accused ‘this innocent and excellent man.’ Peter du Fief did not wait to be told a second time. He seized Tielmans and put him in prison. Matters did not stop here. f871 More than three hundred suspected persons, inhabitants of the towns of Brabant and Flanders, had been pointed out. Their names had been enrolled and their persons were to be seized. Many of them resided at Brussels. There were Henry van Hasselt, Jacob Vrilleman, Jan Droeshout, Gabriel the sculptor, Christian Broyaerts and his wife, niece of Antoinette van Roesmals, and others, besides great number of the most respectable people of the city.’ But the tragical scene at Louvain had raised the alarm.
Many took flight and remained in concealment in secret places. Some were, however, arrested.
There was one man more of note, and this was Justus van Ousberghen, next to Tielmans the most devoted evangelist. No one had more zeal, no one more courage, as a preacher of the gospel. There was, however, one thing of ‘which he was afraid, and this was the stake. Heretics were condemned to the flames; and the thought of being burnt, perhaps burnt over a slow fire, caused him unheard of uneasiness and pain. And assuredly, many might be uneasy at less. Nevertheless, he lost no opportunity of proclaiming the gospel. He was not at Louvain at, the time of the persecutions of March; but was then in an abbey about two leagues from the town, where he was at work. The poor man had sort trials to bear. His wife was a scold. Some time before the scenes of March 1543, Justus had been absent from Louvain three or four months, no doubt for the purpose of making known the gospel at the same time that he was working for his livelihood.
When he returned home, his wife, instead of bidding him welcome, received him in a shameful manner. ‘People have been to arrest you,’ she said to him; and she refused to admit him into their dwelling. Justus, notwithstanding his zeal, was a man of feeble character, and his wife ruled over him. He did not enter his house. Turned into the street, and exhausted with fatigue, he questioned with himself whither he should go. The heavens were black and the rain was falling in torrents. He betook himself to the bachelor of arts, Gosseau, and requested him to give him a bed for a single night. ‘I promise you I will go away to-morrow morning.’ he said.
The Gosseaus with pleasure complied with his request.’ You are quite chilly from the rain,’ they said; ‘first warm yourself by the fire.’ The poor man dried himself, and then took a little food. ‘God be praised,’ said he, ‘for all my miseries, and for giving me strength to rise above them!’
Shortly after the terrible night of March, Justus, as we have mentioned, was at an abbey two leagues from Louvain, where he was employed ‘in trimming with fur the frocks of the monks,’ for he was a furrier by trade.
He had established himself at the entrance to the monastery, and was doing his work without a thought of impending danger. Suddenly the drossard of Brabant made his appearance with a great number of archers.
The drossard was an officer of justice whose business was to punish the excesses committed by vagrants. As the pious Van Ousberghen used to travel from place to place to get work, the magistrate had affected to consider him not as a heretic, — this would have been honoring him too much, — but as a vagrant. ‘At once, all the archers,’ he related, ‘fell upon me as a troop of ravenous wolves fall upon a sheep; and they instantly seized my skins and trade implements.’ The wolves, however, did not content themselves with the skins, they seized the man and carefully searched him. Ousberghen made no resistance. They found on him a New Testament and some sermons of Luther ‘which he always carried in his bosom.’ The archers were delighted with these discoveries. ‘Here,’ they said, pointing to the books, ‘here is enough to convict him.’ They hastily bound him and took him to Brussels; and there he was confined in the house of the drossard. The monks who had assembled were amazed at the scene of violence which was presented at their own gates. They had had no suspicion that a man who decorated their garments kept such heretical books in his pocket. f872 The next day two councilors of the chancery of Brabant appeared to conduct his examination. ‘We shall have you put to the torture,’ they said, ‘if you do not speak the truth.’ ‘I will speak it till death,’ he answered, and I shall need no torture to compel me.’ They asked him what he thought of the pope, of purgatory, of the mass, of indulgences. ‘I believe,’ said he, ‘that salvation is given of God of His perfectly free goodness;’ and he confirmed his faith by the words of Holy Scripture. ‘Why,’ resumed the commissioners, ‘have you these books about you, since it is not your calling to read?’ ‘It is my calling to read what is necessary for my salvation,’ he replied. ‘The redemption announced in the New Testament belongs to me no less than to the great doctors or even the great princes of the world.’ ‘But these books are heretical.’ ‘I hold them to be Christian and salutary.’ The Reformation was and always will be the most powerful means of diffusing instruction. Rome said to the people, — ‘It is not your business to read.’ And the people, instructed by the Reformation, answered,’ It is our business to read that which saves us.’
The examination continued; — ‘Discover to us your accomplices, heretical like yourself,’ said the councilors. ‘I know no other heretics,’ replied Justus, ‘but the persecutors of the heavenly doctrine.’ This word ‘persecutors’ suddenly enraged the commissioners. ‘You blaspheme,’ they exclaimed. ‘If you do not acknowledge that you lie, we will make you undergo such torments as man has never yet suffered; we will tear you limb from limb with a hot iron.’ ‘The drossard saw with his own eyes the monks of the convent where I was seized and which I attended,’ replied he; ‘if you wish to have them taken, do so at your own good pleasure.’
Thereupon Justus was conducted to the prison of la Vrunte, into a lofty chamber, railed in and barred, in which he was left for nine weeks without seeing anyone. Terrible were the assaults which he suffered in his own soul. Left without any human support, and no longer feeling in himself the same energy, the snares of the enemy, the remembrance of his sins, the image of a cruel death by burning, as astounded and made him tremble. ‘Pray with me,’ he said to another prisoner; ‘entreat that the mercy of God may keep me in the article of death, and that I may happily reach the end of this Christian warfare.’ New strength was indeed given him.
The commissioners read to him the confession made before them. ‘Do you. acknowledge it?’ they said. He answered that he did. ‘But,’ he added, ‘you have suppressed the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures by which I confirmed it.’ ‘Since you acknowledge this confession,’ said the councilors, ‘we summon you to retract it; otherwise you will be tormented with unheard of pains, and burnt alive.’ ‘You may make use of force,’ he answered, ‘but you cannot compel me to this iniquity.’ ‘We give you till tomorrow to consider it.’ As he was re-entering his prison, tied and bound, Giles Tielmans approached him and said affectionately, — What is the matter?’ ‘The Lord calls me.’ he answered. Giles was going to speak further with him, but the archers roughly thrust him back, saying,. — ‘Off with thee; thou hast deserved to die as much as he! Thy turn will come.’ ‘Think also of your own,’ said Giles.
On the following day, Justus was again brought before the judges. ‘Hast thou changed thy opinion?’ they said to him. ‘If thou dost not retract everything thou wilt perish.’ ‘Never will I deny, on earth and before men, the eternal truth of God, because I desire that it should bear witness for me before the Father in heaven.’ Thereupon they condemned him to be burnt alive. ‘Thy body shall be consumed,’ they said, ‘and entirely reduced to ashes.’ This was enough to strike terror into the heart of the poor man who had such a dread of fire; but falling upon his knees he thanked God, and then his judges, for putting an end to the miseries of his life. Terrified, however, at the thought of the flames, he turned to his judges and said, — ‘Give permission for me to be beheaded.’ ‘The sentence is passed,’ they said, ‘and can be revoked only by the queen.’ f874 Giles Tielmans did not leave Ousberghen; consolations flowed from his lips in accents so divine, with such energy, sweetness, and piety, that every word went to the heart of the sufferer, and drew tears from his eyes.’ Unfortunately, a great number of monks and priests kept coming, ,and continually, interrupted these delightful conversations. ‘Do not trouble yourselves so much,’ said Justus to the monks; ‘but if you have power to do anything for me, only entreat of the judges that I may be beheaded.’ His horror of burning did not abate. ‘We will see,’ they said craftily, ‘whether it can be done.’ They then urged him to receive at their hands the sacrament of the body and blood of the Savior. I long ago received it for the first time spiritually,’ he said; ‘it is engraved in living letters on the tables of my heart. Nevertheless, I do not despise the symbols, and if you are willing to give me them under the two kind, of bread and wine, according to the institution of the Savior, I will receive them.’ The monks consented. It was a large concession on their part. The relator, however, who was in the prison, is unable to assert that the Supper was thus given to him. f875 On the eve of the execution, almost all the household went up to him. He was very feeble, and suffered much from thirst. He turned, however, to his friends and said, — ‘My death is at hand; and since all our sins were nailed to the cross of our Savior, I am ready to seal with my blood his heavenly doctrine.’ They all wept, and falling on their knees, by the mouth of Giles they commended Justus to the Lord. When the prayer was finished, Ousberghen rose and said, — ‘I perceive within me a great light, which makes me rejoice with joy unspeakable. I have now no other desire than to die and be with Christ.’
Two of the councilors had gone to the governess of the Netherlands, and had requested her to substitute beheading for the stake. Queen Mary instantly replied, — ‘I will do so; it is a very small favor where death is not remitted.’ Was there any connection between this favor and the consent of Justus to receive the Supper, at the hands of the priests, provided it were administered under both kinds? We sometimes see even strong minds shaken by some innate aversion, such as that which Justus experienced at the thought of fire.
On January 7, early in the morning, the archers arrived. Justus van Ousberghen was conducted to the market-place, and there forthwith his head was cut off. While this was going on the whole prison was in tears. f876 The death of Justus was not enough. The priest of La Chapelle, William Guene and his band, were determined to have also that of Giles.
On January 22, the sergeants, who were to take him into a prison where torture was applied, came for him. It was before daylight, at five o’clock in the morning, because they feared the people. When Giles heard that they were asking for him, he came; and seeing them all shivering (it was very cold weather), he made them go into the kitchen and lighted a fire for them.
Tielmans was put to the torture; and on January 25th he was condemned to be burnt. On the 27th, six hundred men were put under arms and escorted him to the place. A vast pile was erected there. ‘There is no need of so much wood,’ said he, ‘for burning this poor body. You would have done better to show pity for the poor people who are dying of cold in this town, and to distribute to them what there is to spare.’ They intended to strangle him first, to mitigate the punishment. ‘No,’ said he, to those who wished to, grant him this kindness, ‘do not take the trouble. I am not afraid of the fire, I will willingly endure it for the glory of the Lord.’ He was prepared to face the sufferings which Justus had so much dreaded. He prayed, and entered a little lint of wood and straw constructed on the pile.
Then, taking off his shoes, he said, There is no need for these to be burnt; give them to some poor man.’ He knelt down, and, the executioners having set fire to the pile, the kindhearted man was consumed and his ashes were flung into the river.
The people openly murmured against the monks and from this time began to hate them. When they came to the houses of the townsmen to ask alms, the people used to answer, — ‘Giles was burnt for having distributed all his property among the poor; as for us, we will give you nothing, for fear of being likewise put to death.’ f877