RECALL OF CALVIN TO GENEVA. (AUGUST 1540 TO MARCH 1541.)
THE friends of the Reformers were once more in the minority at Geneva.
The very mistakes of their enemies had restored their moral authority and enlarged their influence. It would have been difficult in so short a time to have committed a greater number of mistakes, or mistakes of a graver character. Beza undoubtedly gives utterance to the general feeling when he declares that ‘the city began to claim again its Calvin and its Farel.’
The ministers who were filling their places were not men likely to make their predecessors forgotten. They were not up to their task. In their preaching there was little unity, little understanding of the Scriptures; and people were not wanting at Geneva to make them sensible of their inferiority. It was for them a period of trouble, humiliation, strife, and unhappiness. The wind was changed. These poor pastors in their turn were objects of ill-will; and they complained bitterly of the censures and the insults which they had to undergo. The council did nothing more than send out of the town a poor blind man who had given offence to them, and ordered them to go on peaceably with the duties of their ministry. But the ministers were by this time aware of the mistake which they had made when they consented to take the place of such men as Farel and Calvin.
Morand, who was of a susceptible nature, was shocked to find himself exposed to what he called ‘intolerable calumnies and execrable blasphemies.’ He was at the same time indignant that justice was not done on the ‘lies.’ He gave in his resignation to the council, expressing his desire ‘that his good brethren might have better reason to stay with them; otherwise,’ said he, ‘look for nothing but ruin and famine.’ He then went away without further leave. This was on the 10th of August. f10 When Marcourt heard of the departure of his colleague he was upset and indignant. What! leave him alone on the field of battle! and that without giving any warning (the other two pastors went for nothing)! He relieved himself by giving vent to his feeling. ‘Bad man!’ he exclaimed, ‘traitor!’
And he loudly condemned before all the people the pastor who had deserted. They were going on together tolerably well, and they could at least complain to one another. Before the council Marcourt took a high tone. ‘Put a stop to these insults,’ said he, ‘or I too will go away.’ The council merely charged him to invite Viret to come and take the place of Morand. To have such a colleague would have been an honor to Marcourt; but Viret had no mind to go to Geneva while Calvin was in exile. Marcourt took his resolution and, like Morand, departed abruptly, without leave.’ It was the 20th of September.
After the departure of these two ministers, the only ones who had any talent, the council, in their turn, had to say, What is to become of us?
Their best pastors having abandoned them, there remained only two incapable men, De la Mare and Bernard. The gentlemen of the council felt themselves greatly straitened. The destitution was extreme, the danger pressing, and the distress great. Then a cry was uttered: a cry not of anguish but of hope. Calvin! they said, Calvin! Calvin alone could now save Geneva. The day after the departure of Marcourt, the friends of the Reformer in the council made bold to name him; and it was decreed ‘that Master A. Marcourt having gone away, commission was given to Seigneur A. Perrin to find means of getting Master Calvin, and to spare no pains for that purpose.’ The Reformer was therefore apprised of the desire which had arisen for his return. When a people have banished their most powerful protector, the most pressing duty is to get him back again. The Genevese had their mournful but profitable reflections.
By the departure of Morand and Marcourt Geneva was left in a state of great dearth, and the friends of Calvin did not shrink from saying so. Porral reproached De la Mare with overthrowing Holy Scripture. The preacher hastened to complain to the council. ‘Gentlemen,’ said he (September 29), ‘Porral alleges that what I preach is poison; but I am ready to maintain on my life that my doctrine is of God.’ Porral, overzealous, then began to open the catalogue of what he called the heresies of the preacher. ‘He has said that the magistrate ought not always to punish the wicked. He has said that Jesus Christ went to his death more joyfully than ever man to his nuptials,’ etc. etc. ‘I maintain that the assertions are false,’ added Porral.
De le Mare was angry and demanded justice. ‘But other business was pressing and nothing was done in this matter.’ f11 Calvin disapproved of these attacks directed against the pastors in office. ‘Beloved brethren,’ he wrote to his friends Geneva, ‘nothing has grieved me more, next to the troubles which have well-nigh overthrown your church, than to hear of your strifes and debates with the ministers who succeeded us. Not only is your church torn by these dissensions, but more,—and this a matter of the gravest importance,—the ministry exposed to disgrace. Where strife and discord exist there can hardly be the faintest hope of progress in the best things. Not that I desire to deprive you of the right, which God has given to you as to all his people, of subjecting all pastors to examination for the purpose of distinguishing between the good and the bad, and of putting down those who under the mask of pastors display the rapacity of wolves. My wish is only that, when there are men who in a fair degree discharge the duties of the pastor, you should think rather of what you owe to others than of what others owe to you. Do not forget that the call of your ministers was not given without the will of God; for although our banishment must be attributed to the craft of the devil, still it was not the will of God that you should be altogether destitute of a ministry, or that you should fall again under the yoke of Antichrist. Moreover, do not forget another matter, namely your own sins, which assuredly deserve no light punishment. ‘This subject calls for a great deal of discrimination. Assuredly I would not be the man to introduce tyranny into the church. I would not consent that good men should be obliged to submit to pastors who do not fulfil their calling. If the respect and deference which the Lord awards to the ministers of his word and to them alone be paid to certain persons who do not deserve them, it is an intolerable indignity. Whosoever does not teach the word of our Lord Jesus Christ, whatever titles and prerogatives he may boast, is unworthy to be regarded as a pastor. But our brethren, your present ministers, do teach you the gospel; and I do not see why you should be allowed to slight them or to reject them. If you say that there are features in their teaching and their character which do not please you, remember that it is not possible to find a man in whom there is not much room for improvement. If you are incessantly disputing with your ministers, you are trampling underfoot their ministry, in which the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to shine forth.’
If the council did not come to a decision on the question which Calvin had decided, it was because, as it declared, it had other business in hand; and the most important, of all was the recall of that great teacher who had displayed so much fairness and moderation. The council felt more and more that the powerful mind and the high authority of Calvin were indispensable in Geneva; and therefore again and again they pressed for his return. On September 20 the Little Council gave Perrin the commission of which we have spoken. On October 13 the Two Hundred decreed that a letter should be written to the Reformer, ‘begging him to consent to assist us.’ Michel Dubois was to be the bearer of the letter, and ‘was to make earnest appeals to the friends of the Reformer to persuade him to come.’
On the 19th the same council decided ‘that, for the promotion of the honor and glory of God, everything possible must be done to get Master Calvin back.’ The next day the people assembled in General Council decreed that, ‘for the advancement and extension of the word of God, a deputation should be sent to Strasburg to fetch Master Calvin, who is very learned, to be evangelical minister in this town.’ On October 22 Louis Dufour, a member of the Two Hundred, was instructed to take the message of the councils to Strasburg; and on the 27th, twenty golden ecus au soleil were voted to him for the purpose of fetching Master Calvin. They insisted upon it; they reiterated their determination; they decided the matter, and then decided it over again; they did not hesitate to repeat it again and again.
The matter was of such importance that entreaties must be urgent. Dufour set out. Would he succeed? That was the question, and it was very doubtful. When Calvin received the first message, previous to that of Dufour, he was so much excited and thrown into so great a perplexity that for two days he was hardly master of himself. Remembering the distress of mind which he had suffered at Geneva, his whole soul shrank with horror from the thought of returning thither. Had not his conscience been put to the torture? Had not anxieties consumed him? ‘I dread that town,’ He exclaimed, ‘as a place fatal to me. Who will blame me if I am unwilling to plunge again into that deadly gulf? Besides, can I believe that any ministry will be profitable there? The spirit which actuates most of the inhabitants is such as will be intolerable to me, and I shall be equally so to them.’ Then turning his thoughts in another direction he exclaimed— ‘Nevertheless I desire so earnestly the good of the church of Geneva, that I would sooner risk my life a hundred times than betray it by desertion. I am ready therefore to follow the advice of those whom I regard as sure and faithful guides.’
It was to Farel that Calvin thus poured out his heart. It was his advice that he sought, and there was no doubt what this advice would be.
The Reformer also consulted his Strasburg, friends, and agreed with them that he could not abruptly quit the church of which he was then pastor; and, above all, that he must be present at the assembly of Worms, as he had already been present in the spring at that of Hagenau. He therefore wrote to the lords of Geneva:—‘It has been arranged by the gentlemen of the council of this town that I should go with some of my brethren to the assembly of Worms, in order to serve not one church alone, but all churches, among which yours is included. I do not, indeed, think myself so wise, so great, or so experienced that I can be of any great use there; but, since a matter of such high concern is at stake, and as it has been arranged not only by the council of this town, but also by others, that I should go there, I am obliged to obey. But I can call God to witness that I hold your church in such esteem that I would never be wanting to it in the time of its need in anything which I could possibly undertake.’ f18 Calvin’s letter was written on the 23rd of October; and Dufour brought him a letter from the council dated the day before. When the delegate reached Strasburg Calvin was already at Worms, where an important conference was about to be held between the Protestant and the Catholic theologians, for the purpose of endeavoring to come to an understanding with each other, in pursuance of the plan agreed upon at Hagenau. The Genevese messenger appeared before the senate of Strasburg, and made known to them the purpose of his journey. The senate replied that Calvin was absent, and that without his consent they could make no promise.
Dufour then determined to follow the Reformer to the town which Luther, by his Christian heroism, had made illustrious. ‘I will ascertain exactly,’ he said, ‘what he thinks of our call.’ A courier carried to Worms the news of the arrival of the Genevese deputation, and the Strasburg magistrate entrusted him with a letter for his deputies, Jacob Sturm and Mathias Pfarrer, in which he enjoined them to do all they could to prevent Calvin making any engagement with the Genevese. The high estimate formed of Calvin in Germany, the fact that an imperial city sent this Frenchman as a deputy to assemblies convoked by the Emperor to take into consideration the deepest interests of the Empire, might well contribute to work a change in the opinion of some of the citizens of the little republic with respect to Calvin, of whom it had hitherto been possible to say:—‘A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.’ The Genevese deputy arrived two days after the courier, and delivered to Calvin the letter of the Council of Geneva. He read it, and it is easy to imagine the impression which it must make on him. It ran as follows:— ‘To the Doctor CALVIN, Evangelical Minister. ‘Our excellent brother and special friend, we commend ourselves to you very affectionately, because we are fully assured that you have no other desire but for the increase and advancement of the glory and honor of God, and of his holy Word. On behalf of our Little, Great, and General Councils (all of which have strongly urged us to take this step), we pray you very affectionately that you will be pleased to come over to us, and to return to your former post and ministry; and we hope that by God’s help this course will be a great advantage for the furtherance of the holy gospel, seeing that our people very much desire you, and we will so deal with you that you shall have reason to be satisfied. ‘This 22nd October, 1540. ‘Your good friends, The Syndics and Council of Geneva.’ f19 This letter was fastened with a seal bearing the motto—Post tenebras spero lucem.
The invitation to Geneva was clear, affectionate, and pressing. But the courier, who had reached Worms two days before, had brought to the Strasburg deputies a letter from their senate the purport of which was entirely the reverse. All those who had heard the letter read, and Calvin most of all, had been astonished at the eagerness to keep the Reformer which the magistrates of this free city expressed. ‘I had never imagined,’ he said, ‘that they set such value upon me.’ He thus found himself pressed on two sides, Geneva and Strasburg; and if the fancy were not too high-flown, we might say that the Latin and the German races were at this moment contending for the man who but a little while before was driven away from the town in which he lived. The decision which Calvin had to form was a solemn and difficult one. His whole career in this world was at stake. He called together such of his friends as were then at Worms for the purpose of consulting with them. To return to Geneva was, in his view, to sacrifice his life, but he was resolved to take this course if his friends counseled it. ‘The faithful,’ thought he, ‘must heartily abandon their life when it is a hindrance to their drawing nigh to Christ. They must in such case act like one who throws off his shoulders a heavy and tiresome burden when he wants to go quickly elsewhere. Let us take our life in our hands, and offer it to God as a sacrifice.’ f21 Calvin’s counselors not being of one mind, it was agreed to wait until the deputation from Geneva should arrive. But having received letters from Farel and from Viret, Calvin called his friends together again, and laying before them all the reasons which he could find, said, ‘I conjure you, in giving your advice, to leave my person altogether out of the question.’ f23 In this very town of Worms, where Luther, in the presence of Charles V., had not shrunk from offering the sacrifice of his life, Calvin declared himself ready to do the same. His language was deeply pathetic. ‘Tears flowed from his eyes more abundantly than words from his lips.’ His friends were moved at the sight of the sincerity and depth of his feelings.
His discourse was more than once interrupted by emotion. His soul was deeply stirred. He perceived that upon this moment hung a decision which must affect his whole life. They were no terrors of imagination which disturbed him. The struggles and the distress which he passed through at Geneva probably exceeded his anticipations. He was quite overpowered, and wishing to conceal from his friends the passion of his grief, and to pour out his heart freely before God alone, he twice left the room and sought retirement. The opinion of his friends was that for the time he should not make an engagement, but that he might hold out a hope to the Genevese. Calvin, however, went further. In the midst of the conflict through which his soul had just passed he had resolved on the course which terrified him. He would go to Geneva, and he said to the friends of the Reformation, ‘I beg of you to promise that when this diet is over, you will not throw any obstacle in the way of my going to Geneva. The thought that it was God’s will that he should be there was constantly presenting itself to his conscience afresh, and this even in spite of himself.
The Strasburg deputies reluctantly assented. Capito wished to keep him.
Bucer desired that he should be free to accept the call, ‘unless, indeed,’ he added, ‘any contrary wind should blow from your own side.’ f26 Calvin wrote to Geneva on November 12, 1540, as follows:—Magnificent, mighty, and honorable Lords, were it only for the courtesy with which you treat me, it would be my duty to endeavor to meet your wishes. But there is, besides, the singular love which I bear to your church, which God once committed to my care, so that I am for ever bound to promote its good and its salvation. Nevertheless, be so good as to remember that I am here at Worms for the purpose of serving, with what small ability God has given me, all Christian churches. For this reason I am, for the present, unable to come and serve you.’ There was one point which Calvin put forward in all his letters to the council. He would not go to Geneva merely as a teacher and preacher, but also as a guide (conducteur ), and with power to act in such a way that the members of the church might conform to the commandments of God. On October 23, 1540, he wrote: ‘I doubt not that your church is in great distress and in danger of being still further wasted unless help comes. For this reason I will strive, with all the grace which God has given me, to bring it back into a better state. ’ On November 12, in the letter which we quote, he wrote, ‘The anxiety I feel that your church should be well governed, will lead me to try every means of succoring its need.’ On February 19, 1541, he says to them, ‘I beg you to bethink yourselves of all the means of wisely constituting your church, that it may be ruled according to the command of our Lord.’ Calvin was therefore anxious to make the rulers at Geneva understand that one condition of his return was that the church should be well governed and morals well regulated. He did not wish to take anyone by surprise. If he is to be pastor at Geneva, he will reprove the disobedient, as the word of God commands.
He foresaw, nevertheless, that this would be difficult, and his distress was not relieved. The reasons for and against contended with each other in his mind. He was wrapped in confusion and darkness. He was weighed down with a burden. His agitation made it impossible for him to judge calmly, according to right and reason. ‘With respect to this call from Geneva,’ he wrote to his friend Nicolas Parent, ‘my soul is so full of perplexity and darkness, that I dare not even think of what I am to do. When I do enter upon the subject I see no way of escape. Plunged in this distress, I distrust myself and give myself up to others to guide me.’ He was in the condition depicted by a poet, in which Erreurs et verites, tenebres et lumiere Flottent confusement devant notre paupiere, Ou l’on dit: C’est le jour! et bientot: C’est la nuit!
He added ‘Let us pray God to show us the right path.’ We are reminded that Luther had likewise had a similar period of distress in this very town of Worms in 1521. f30 While these things were passing at Strasburg and at Worms, the revival of the gospel at Geneva was becoming more and more manifest. In December 1540, the council, anxious to provide for the good of the church, had besought the lords of Berne with earnest entreaties to send them Viret, then pastor at Lausanne. A letter had also been written to Viret himself.
Calvin having expressed a desire to see this friend at work in Geneva, the Vaudois evangelist had replied that he was ready to do all that he could; even adding that ‘he would willingly shed his blood for Geneva: ’ and he had arrived there at the beginning of 1541. He had immediately applied himself to preaching the word of God, a task for which he was very well fitted, say the registers, and his preaching bore much fruit. Viret was certainly the man that was wanted in this town, the scene of so many conflicts and storms. ‘He handled Scripture well,’ says Roset, who had doubtless heard him, and he was gifted with eloquence which charmed the people.’ He taught with meekness those who were of the contrary opinion, and thought, as Calvin says, that kindliness ought to be shown even to those who are not worthy of it. His gentle accents penetrated men’s hearts, and his actions added force to his words. For the children of Jean Philippe, who perished on the scaffold, he obtained permission to return. These children, by the unrighteous laws of the time, had been the victims of the offences of their father. He set himself to the re-establishing of order in the church, and to restoring the gospel to honor in Geneva. The civil magistrate was among the first to profit by his exhortations; and in the middle of January it was decreed that ‘since the Lord God had done so much good to Geneva, his holy name should be called upon at the opening of the sittings of the council, and wise ordinances should be passed, that everyone might know how he ought to act.’ The people in general desired the return of Calvin, and were more and more friendly to the new order of things.
It was thus with Jacques Bernard, the most influential of the two ministers still remaining at Geneva. Observing the change which was taking place in public opinion, he too faced about. We can even imagine that he was moved to do so by grave reasons. On the first Sunday in February he set out with a heavy heart to the Auditoire at Rive, where he was going to preach. The distress of the church, the departure of Morand and Marcourt, the reduction of the ministry to two pastors, De la Mare and himself, the sense of their inadequacy to a task so large and for a people so numerous, weighed upon his heart. He appeared in the pulpit before an audience sad and dispirited, who, overpowered by grief on account of their terrible forlornness, burst into tears. The poor old Genevese and ex- Cordelier, a lover of his native place, was greatly affected. He felt impelled to urge upon his hearers that they should turn to the Lord their God; and he began to utter a humble and earnest prayer, supplicating Christ, the sovereign bishop of souls to take pity on Geneva, and to send to the city such a pastor as the church stood in need of. The people followed his prayer very devoutly.
On February 6 Bernard wrote to Calvin, and after relating to him the above circumstances, he added: ‘To speak the truth, I was not thinking of you, I had no expectation that you would be the man that we were asking of God. But the next day, when the Council of the Two Hundred had assembled, everyone wished for Calvin. On the following day, the General Council met, and all cried out: We want Calvin, who is an honest man and a learned minister of Christ . When I heard this, I praised God and understood that this was the Lord’s doing and was marvelous in our eyes, that the stone which the builders refused had become the head-stone of the corner. Come then, my revered father in Jesus Christ; it is to us that you belong; the Lord God has given you to us. All are longing for you; and you will see how welcome your arrival will be to all. You will discover that I am not such a man as the reports of some may have led you to suppose, but that I am a sincere friend to you and a faithful brother. What do I say?
You will find that I am entirely devoted to you and full of deference to your wishes. Delay not to come. You will see Geneva a nation renewed, assuredly by the work of God, but also by the ministrations of Viret. The Lord Jesus grant that your return may be speedy! Consent to come to the help of our church. If you do not come, the Lord God will require our blood at your hands, for he has set you for a watchman over the house of Israel within our walls.’ Marcourt had written to Calvin a similar letter. f35 Calvin had been named deputy to Worms by the council of Strasburg, on account of the abilities which he had displayed at Frankfort and at Hagenau These two conferences he had attended merely in his private capacity. But the council perceived, says Sturm, ‘that his presence might do much honor to Strasburg in that assembly of distinguished men.’ The Dukes of Luneburg, important members of the empire, had likewise elected him their representative, so that he was invested with a twofold office. Calvin, notwithstanding his youth and his timidity, his foreign nationality and language, felt that he could not resist the importunities, one might almost say the violence, which were employed to get him to accept this important calling. ‘However much,’ said he afterwards, ‘I continued to be myself, in reluctance to attend great assemblies, I was nevertheless taken, as if by force to the imperial diets, at which, whether I liked it or not, I could not avoid being thrown into the company of many men.’ f37 He had, moreover, the happiness of meeting there two men in whose society he took much delight, two colleagues and friends of Luther whom he had previously seen, one of them at Frankfort, the other at Hagenau, but with whom he now associated more intimately. They were Melanchthon and Cruciger. The former had acknowledged his agreement with him on the doctrine of the Lord’s supper. Cruciger requested of him a private conversation on the same subject; and, after Calvin had explained his view, he stated that he approved it as Melanchthon had done. Thus two Wittenberg theologians and one of Geneva easily came to an agreement. Sincere and prudent men therefore do not find concord so difficult a thing as is supposed.
At Worms was formed that intimate friendship between Melanchthon and Calvin which might be so serviceable to each of them as well as to the Church.
But troublesome spirits were not wanting in this town. Among others there was the dean of Passau, Robert of Mosham, who at Strasburg had already had a discussion with Calvin, in which the advantage did not remain with the Roman Catholic champion. He considered it a point of honor to seek his revenge, and he was once more thoroughly beaten by the learned and powerful doctor. The superiority of Calvin, and the remembrance of his former defeat, inspired terror in the heart of the dean, and he got out of his depth. Melanchthon, who was present at their conference, followed Calvin with as warm an interest as he had manifested twenty-one years before at the disputation of Luther with Dr. Eck at Leipsic. He admired the clearness, the accuracy, the depth and force of the theological propositions and proofs of the young French doctor; and charmed at once by an intellect so clear and a knowledge so profound, he proclaimed him THE THEOLOGIAN par excellence. This designation was worth all the more as originating with Melanchthon; but all the evangelical doctors who heard him were struck not only with his language, but with the wealth and weight of his thoughts and his arguments.
From the time of this intercourse at Worms, there always existed between Melanchthon and Calvin that warm affection and that peculiar esteem which are felt by the dearest friends. Esteem was perhaps uppermost in Melanchthon, and affection in Calvin. On the one side the friendship was founded more on reflection (reflechi ), on the other it was more spontaneous. But on both sides it was the product of their noble and beautiful qualities. They esteemed each other and loved each other because they both had the same zeal for all that is true, good, and lovely, and because, with a noble emulation, they were striving to attain these blessings and to diffuse them in the world. When the best among men draw together, and especially when Christianity purifies and consecrates their union, then their characters and their hearts are exalted, and their mutual love cannot fail to exert a beneficial influence. This friendship between two such men at first surprises us. They are usually set in contrast with one another; the Frenchman being looked upon as an example of extreme severity, and the German of extreme gentleness. How then, it may be said, could the soft, sweet tones of the soul of Melanchthon set in vibration the iron soul of Calvin? The reason is that his was not an iron soul. So far, indeed, as the great truths of salvation were concerned, Calvin was no more to be bent than an iron bar; for these he was ready to die. But in his relations as a husband, a father, and a friend, he had a most tender heart.
Even if, in the controversies of the age, the discussion turned on matters of doctrine not affecting salvation, he could bear with and even love his opponents as few Christians have done.
The friendship of Melanchthon and Calvin was not one of those earthly ties which pass away with the years; this affection was deep-seated and its bonds were firm. The two friends had long interviews with each other at Worms. Melanchthon never forgot them. ‘Would that I could talk fully and freely with thee,’ he wrote to Calvin at a later period, ‘as we used to do when we were together!’ Having received a work of Calvin’s in which he was mentioned, Melanchthon said to him—‘I am delighted with thy love for me; and I thank thee for thinking of inscribing a memorial of it in so famous a book, as in a place of honor.’ ‘Yes, dear brother,’ wrote he on another occasion, ‘I long to speak with thee of the weightiest matters, because I have a high opinion of thy judgment, and because I know the uprightness of thy soul, thy perfect candor. I am now living here like an ass in a wasp’s nest.’ f40 Calvin, although he loved Melanchthon, did not fail at the same time to tell him freely his opinion whenever he appeared too yielding. He had been told that, on one occasion of this kind, Melanchthon tore his letter to pieces; but he found that this was a mistake. ‘Our union,’ he said to him, ‘must remain holy and inviolable; and since God has consecrated it we must keep it faithfully to the end, for the prosperity or the ruin of the Church is in this case at stake. Oh! that I could talk with thee! I know thy candor, the elevation of thy sentiments, thy modesty and thy piety, manifest to angels and to men.’ Oftentimes Melanchthon, when worn out with the toil imposed on him by his attendance at the assemblies in company with Calvin, worried by the Catholic theologians, and not always agreeing with the Lutherans, overwhelmed with weariness, would betake himself to his friend, throw himself into his arms and exclaimed, ‘Oh, would God, would God, I might die on thy bosom!’ Calvin wished a thousand times that Melanchthon and he might have the happiness of living together. He did not hesitate to say to Melanchthon, ‘that he felt himself to be far inferior to him:’ and nevertheless he believed that, if they had been oftener together, his friend would have been more courageous in the conflict.
The friendship which united Melanchthon and Calvin at Worms, and afterwards at Ratisbon, did not remain without fruit. If Melanchthon, who was head of the Protestant deputation, displayed on that occasion more energy than usual, if the Romish theologians were almost brought over to the Evangelical doctrines, it must be attributed to the influence of Calvin.
The metal, till then too malleable, acquired by tempering a greater degree of firmness.
Calvin, however, was saddened by what he saw. It might be possible to come to some arrangement with the papacy, which would in appearance make some concessions; but he had no doubt that if Protestantism were once caught in Rome’s net, it was lost. It was this which appears to have taken up his attention in the last days of the year, when mournful thoughts are wont to cast a gloom over the mind. But he did not stop there, he knew that Christ did conquer and will conquer the world. ‘When we are well-nigh overwhelmed in ourselves,’ he said, ‘if we but look at that glory’ to which Christ our head has been raised, we shall be bold to look with contempt on all the evils which impend over us.’ One circumstance might contribute also to remind him of the victories which Christ gives. On the first day of the year 1541 he was at Worms. Here it was that, twenty years before, Luther had appeared before the emperor and the diet, and by his faith had won a glorious victory. Calvin doubtless remembered this. ‘Moreover,’ says Conrad Badius, an eye-witness, who was admitted to the lodgings of the Protestant doctors, ‘the pope’s adherents were so astounded and distracted by the mere presence of the servants of Jesus Christ, that they did not dare to lift up their heads to utter a word.’ f44 Deeply affected by the formidable struggle which had been going on for nearly a quarter of a century, and persuaded that Christ would put all his enemies under his feet, Calvin gave utterance to this thought in a Song of Victory (Epinicion). It is the only poem of his that we possess, and it contains some fine lines. ‘Yes,’ sang Calvin, ‘the victory will be Christ’s, and the year which announces to us the day of triumph is now beginning.
Let pious tongues break the thankless silence and cause their joy to burst forth. His enemies will say, What madness is this? Are they triumphing over a nation which is not yet subdued, are they seizing the crown before they have routed the army? True, impiety sits haughtily on a lofty throne.
There still exists one who by a nod bends to his will the most powerful monarchs, his mouth vomiting deadly poison and his hands stained with innocent blood. But for Christ death is life and the cross a victory. The breath of his mouth is the weapon with which he fights, and already for five lustra he has brandished his sword with a vigorous hand, not without smiting. The pope, leader of the sacrilegious army, wounded at last, groans under the unlooked for plagues which have just fallen upon him, and the profane multitude is trembling for terror. If it be a great thing to conquer one’s enemies by force, what must it be to overthrow them by a mere sign? Christ casts them down without breaking his own repose: he scatters them while he keeps silence. We are a pitiful band, low in number, without apparel, without arms, sheep in the presence of ravening wolves. But the victory of Christ our king is for that very reason all the more marvelous.
Let his head then be crowned with the laurel of victory, let him be seated on the chariot drawn by four coursers abreast, that his glory may shine forth before all. Que tous ses ennemis qui lui ont fait la guerre Aillent apres, captifs, baissant le front en terre: Eck still flushed with his Bacchic orgies, the incompetent Cochlaeus, Nausea with his wordy productions, Pelargus with his mouth teeming with insolence,—these are not chief men, but the shameless multitude have set them for standard-bearers in the fight. Let them learn then to bow their necks under an unaccustomed yoke. And you, O sacred poets, celebrate in magnificent song the glorious Victory of Jesus Christ, and let all the multitude around him shout Io Paean !’ f45 At the end of February Calvin set out for Ratisbon, to which place the conference of Worms had been transferred by the emperor. He had informed the council of Geneva of this absence on February 1, 1541. ‘I am appointed deputy,’ he said, ‘to the diet of Ratisbon, and since I am God’s servant and not my own, I am ready to serve wheresoever it may seem good to him to call me.’ Touching the arrival of Viret at Geneva he added, ‘he is a man of such faithfulness and discretion, that having him you are not destitute.’ This sojourn of Viret at Geneva was in Calvin’s eyes a matter of great moment. He had grave fears for the city. ‘I greatly fear,’ said he, ‘that if this church had remained much longer in its state of destitution, everything would have turned out contrary to our wishes; but now I hope; the danger is past.’ f47 The preparations for his journey had not allowed Calvin to reply immediately to Bernard. The letter of this Genevese pastor was not altogether agreeable to him. Bernard’s application to him of a prophecy referring to Jesus Christ (the head-stone of the corner ), was in his eyes a piece of flattery which could only disgust him (usque ad nauseam, he wrote to Farel). However, he knew his man, and so the more willingly took his letter in good part. He wrote to Bernard from Ulm, March 1, that the arguments which he advanced for his return had always had great weight with him; that he was most of all terrified at the thought of fighting against God, and that it was this feeling which never allowed him entirely to reject the call that he thanked him for his entreaties, and that, seeing his kind intentions, he hoped that the feeling of his heart corresponded to his words, and he promised on his own part all that could be expected of a friend of peace, opposed to all strife. ‘But, at the same time,’ he added, ‘I beseech you, in God’s name, and by his awful judgment, to remember what he is with whom you have to do, the Lord, who will call you to give to him an exact accounting at the judgment day, who will submit you to a most rigorous trial, and who cannot be satisfied with mere words and empty excuses. I ask of you only one thing—that you consecrate yourself sincerely and faithfully to the Lord.’ Thus is it always; his own great motive the will of God; and as to Bernard, he must be a true servant of God. The truth before everything.
Calvin, meanwhile, was gradually becoming familiar with the thought of returning to Geneva. The same day (March 1) he wrote, it is true, from Ulm to Viret, and said to him, ‘There is no place under heaven that I more dread;’ but he added, ‘The care required by this church affects me deeply; and I do not know how it happens that my mind begins to lean more to the thought of taking the helm.’ The decisive blow had been struck by Farel. It was he who, in 1541, restored to Geneva this Calvin whom he had first given to the city in 1536. About the end of February the Reformer received from his friend a letter so pressing, and so forcible, ‘that the thunders of Pericles seemed to be heard in it,’ according to the expression of Calvin’s friend, the refugee Claude Feray, who at the Reformer’s request wrote to Farel and thanked him ‘for this vehemence so useful to the whole Christian republic. No one knew better than Farel that Calvin alone could save Geneva. The Reformer now, therefore, began to change his attitude. Hitherto he had turned his back on the town that called him; from this time he set his face towards the city of the Leman.
Almost at the same time Bullinger and other servants of God from Berne, from Basel, and from Zurich, prayed the council and the pastors of Strasburg not to oppose the return of the Reformer.
Meanwhile, however powerful the thunder-peals of Fare might be, there were other circumstances which undoubtedly had an influence on Calvin’s decision. Other thunders were heard, besides those of which Claude Feray speaks, which deeply affected the Reformer, and which must have made it easier to exchange Strasburg for Geneva. The plague was raging in the former town, and was causing great mortality. Claude Feray was one of its first victims. Another friend of the reformer, M. de Richebourg, had two sons at Strasburg, Charles and Louis; Louis was carried off by the epidemic three days after Feray. Antoine, Calvin’s brother, immediately took the other son, Charles, to a neighboring village. Desolation was in the house of the Reformer. His wife and his sister Maria quitted it likewise and went to join their brother Antoine. Calvin was in consternation as he received at Ratisbon, in rapid succession, these mournful tidings. ‘Day and night,’ said he, ‘my wife is incessantly in my thoughts; she is without counsel, for she is without her husband.’ The death of Louis, the sorrow of Charles, thus deprived within three days of his brother, and of his tutor Feray, whom he respected as a father, powerfully affected Calvin. But it was the sudden death of the latter, who had been his most trustworthy and most faithful friend at Strasburg, which above all filled him with grief.
He thought sorrowfully of himself. ‘The more I feel the need,’ said he, ‘of such an adviser, the more I am persuaded that the Lord is chastising me for my offences.’ Prayer, however, and the Word of God refreshed his soul.
He wrote to M. de Richebourg a touching letter, which he closed by entreating the Lord to keep him until he should arrive at that place to which Louis and Feray had gone before. f51