CALVIN’S RETURN TO GENEVA.
JULY TO SEPT. 1541.
Having turned his back on the diet, Calvin thought of nothing but Geneva. ‘The diet ended as I had predicted,’ he had written; ‘the whole scheme of pacification went out in smoke. As soon as Bucer returns we shall betake ourselves with all speed to Geneva, or, indeed, I shall set out alone without further delay.’ Bucer, in fact, was to accompany Calvin and to assist him with his counsel to see whether it would be right for him to remain in that town. But when he returned to Strasburg he was detained there and also detained his friend. ‘I have regretted a thousand times,’ says the latter, ‘that I did not set out for Basel immediately after my return from Ratisbon.’ In that Swiss town he was to obtain more particular information about the state of affairs on the shores of the Leman, and especially about the suit between Berne and Geneva, concerning ‘Articulants;’ a suit in which Basel had been arbitrator. At Strasburg it was thought Calvin ought not to settle in that disturbed on this page.town so long as this cause of trouble continued to exiSt. If Calvin was evidently more decided than he had hitherto been, the cause was not only what was taking place in Germany, but also what was passing at Geneva. To put the matter into legal shape, to set in broad daylight the feelings of respect for the reformer which now animated the people, and thus to deprive Calvin of every pretext for declining the call which was sent to him, the general Council had been assembled on May 1, and ‘had revoked the edict of expulsion of the ministers passed in 1538, and declared that they esteemed them servants of God, so that for the future Farel and Calvin, Saunier and the others might go in and out at Geneva at their pleasure.’
This measure of the people of Geneva was a large one, but the Council did not stop there. Fearing, with good reason, that Strasburg would wish to keep to herself the great man whom Geneva had banished, they addressed two distinct letters to the ministers and the magistrates of Zurich and Basel, begging them to support their request at Strasburg. They wrote also to the Council and the ministers of the latter town. As these letters are important and very little known, it may be proper to give some passages from them. ‘You are not ignorant,’ said the Genevese syndics and senate in their letter to the pastors, ‘that our ministers have been unjustly driven from our town, not in the regular course of justice, but rather as the result of much injustice, tumult, and conspiracy; and you know the troubles and horrible scandals in which we have been thereby plunged. For an evil so dangerous there is no remedy but the presence of able, prudent, and Godfearing pastors, qualified to repair this disaster. We, therefore, have recourse to you who have given us abundant evidence of your tender solicitude for our Church, endeavoring to persuade our magistrate to reinstate in the ministry our faithful ministers Farel, Calvin, and Courault.
This could not be effected at the time because of the harshness and obstinacy of the perpetrators of the disturbances; and thus a great multitude of just and pious men were plunged in distress and tears. But now our most merciful Father having visited us in his goodness, we beg you to use your endeavors to restore to us our faithful pastors, who were rejected by men that were seeking the gratification of their own evil desires rather than the will of God.’ In such terms did the syndics and the Council of Geneva request the ministers of the towns to which they applied to aid them in recovering their pastors.
The letter of the syndics and the Council of Geneva to the Councils of Zurich and Basel was no less emphatic. They said to them ‘that although for twenty years their town had been kept in agitation by violent storms, it has known no tumults, no sedition’s, no dangers, to compare with those with which the anger of God has visited us, since by the craft and contrivances of factious and seditious men, the faithful pastors, by whom their church had been founded and maintained, to the great edification and consolation of all, have been unjustly driven away by the blackest ingratitude, the benefits, assuredly no ordinary ones, which the Lord had conferred by their ministry, being entirely forgotten.’ The Genevese added ‘that from the hour of that exile Geneva had known nothing but troubles, enmities, strifes, contentions, breaking up of social bonds, seditions, factions and homicides. The city would, consequently, have been almost wholly destroyed, if the Lord in his great compassion had not looked upon it with love and sent Viret to gather together the wretched flock, which was at that time reduced to such a pitch of confusion that it was scarcely, if at all, possible to recognize in it any of the features of a church: and that there was nothing which the Genevese desired more ardently or with more unanimity than to see their ministers restored to the former position in which God had placed them.
And, therefore,’ they continued, ‘we pray you in the name of Christ, most honorable lords, to entreat the illustrious senators of Strasburg not only to give back to us our brother Calvin, of whom we have the most urgent need, and who is so eagerly looked for by our people, but further persuade him to come to Geneva as soon as possible. Learned and pious pastors, such as he is, are most necessary for us, because Geneva is, as it were, the gate of France and Italy; because day by day many people resort to it from these lands and from other neighboring countries; and because it will be a great consolation and edification to them to find in our town pastors competent to meet their wants.’
A letter of like character was sent to Strasburg. All the letters were subscribed, ‘The Syndics and the Senate of the city of Geneva’ (Syndici et Senatus Genevensis civitatis).
Men’s minds were at that time in a state of great agitation. Hostile opinions were not expressed in mawkish phraseology; and the Council, as it was bent on having Calvin at any cost, conveyed its meaning unmistakably. There might be, perhaps, some rudeness of expression; the writing was forcible rather than refined; but we certainly possess in these letters the views of the Genevese magistrates and people, especially of the best among them, respecting Calvin, the authors of his banishment, and the condition of Geneva after his departure. The latitudinarian and often unbelieving spirit of our days would fain reconstruct this history after the fashion of the nineteenth century; but in these documents we have assuredly the impress of the olden time. The chief magistrates of the republic could not possibly have expressed themselves as they did if their statement of facts could have been contradicted by the people, their contemporaries, as they have been several centuries afterwards. The syndics who signed these letters were not upstarts raised to office by a party. They had long been in the Council, and all of them had previously been syndics, one in 1540, two of the others in 1537, and one of these two as early as 1534, and the fourth in 1535. It is not to be doubted that the view taken at this epoch by the chiefs of the Genevese nation will be likewise the view of impartial and enlightened men of every age. It has been said that the faction which expelled Calvin does not deserve the grave reproaches which have been cast upon it by modern historians. The syndics and councils of 1541 can hardly be placed in the ranks of modern historians.
These letters were everywhere well received. The pastors of Zurich wrote word to the Council of Geneva that their Council, eager to give their pleasure, had written to the Council and the ministers of Strasburg, and likewise to Calvin at Ratisbon begging the former to press Calvin, and requesting the latter to comply with the call from Geneva. f86 This testimony, borne by the leading men in the State and in the Church at Zurich, Basel, and Strasburg, after they had received the letters of which we have just given some account, is a confirmation of their contents, and shows that the view set forth in them was the opinion of European Protestantism, ever ready to do homage to the greatest theologian who was, at the same time, one of the greatest men and greatest writers of the age.
Calvin had already said more than once that he would return to Geneva, but he had not yet fulfilled his intention. Even the powerful voice of Farel had not succeeded in getting him to set out, but it had called forth a touching expression of his humility. ‘Certainly,’ said he to Farel, ‘the thunders and lightnings which thou didst hurl so wonderfully at me have disturbed and terrified me. Thou knowest that I extremely dread this call, but I do not fly from it. Why then fall upon me with so much violence as almost to abjure thy friendship? Thou tellest me that my last letter deprived thee of all hope. If it be so, forgive, I pray thee, my imprudence.
My purpose was simply to apologize for not going immediately. I hope that thou wilt forgive me.’ It is beautiful to see this great man, this strong character, humbling himself with so much simplicity before Farel, as a child would do before a father. Doubtless, like Paul on the road to Damascus, he had at first kicked against the pricks. But ‘oxen,’ says he, ‘gain nothing by so doing, except the increase of their own suffering; and just in the same way when men fight and kick against Christ, they must— whether they will or not—submit to his commandment.’ f88 When speaking to Farel of his struggles, Calvin had from the first also indicated the source of his strength and his victory. ‘I should be at no loss for pretexts,’ he said, ‘which I might adroitly put forward, and which would easily serve for excuses before men. But I know that it is God with whom I have to do, and that artifices of that sort are not right in his sight.
Wouldst thou know my very thought, it is this,—Were I free to choose, I would do anything in the world rather than what thou requirest of me.
But, when I remember that I am not in this matter my own master, I PRESENT MY HEART AS A SACRIFICE AND OFFER IT UP TO THE LORD. f89 Having bound and chained my soul, I bring it under the obedience of God .’ f90 This is Calvin. The words which we have underlined are essential as the explanation not only of the resolution which he took at this time, but also of his whole life. They may be considered as his motto. f91 Calvin set out from Strasburg at the end of August or beginning of September. He went on his way to Geneva, he says, ‘with sadness, tears, great anxiety and distress of mind. My timidity offered me many reasons to excuse me from taking upon my shoulders so heavy a burden; and many excellent persons would have been pleased to see me quit of this trouble.
But the sense of duty prevailed and led me to comply and return to the flock from which I had been snatched away, but in whose salvation I felt so deep a concern that I should have had no hesitation in laying down my life for it.’ Bucer had been unable to accompany him; but the Strasburgers understood well what they were losing. They had declared ‘that they would always consider him as one of their citizens,’ says one of his biographers. ‘They also wished him to retain the income of a prebend, which they had assigned him as the salary of his professorship of theology; but as he was a man utterly free from the greed of worldly good, he would not so much as keep the value of a denier.’ Further, the magistrates of this town gave him a letter for the Council of Geneva, in which they said that it was with regret they let him go, ‘seeing that at Strasburg he could better promote the interests of the church universal, by his writings, his counsel, and other proceedings, according to the surpassing graces with which the Lord has endowed him; and that they prayed the citizens of Geneva to be united and to give ear to him as a man earnestly devoted to the enlargement of the kingdom of Christ.’ They added that ‘if they set the general need of the churches above their own advantage and profit, they would send him back forthwith , in order that in Germany he might more effectively serve the church universal .’ The Strasburg pastors, who had previously written to the Council, speaking of Calvin, said,—‘Christ himself is despised and insulted when such ministers are rejected and unworthily treated. But to this hour all is well with you, since you recognize Jesus Christ in this man, his illustrious instrument, who has never had any other thought than to devote himself to your salvation, even at the cost of his own blood.’ They added, on the present occasion,—‘He is at last coming to you, this instrument of God, this incomparable man, the like of whom this age can hardly name.’ f93 Calvin halted at Basel, visited his friends, and appeared before the Council, who commended him affectionately to Geneva (September 4). Thence he passed on to Soleure; and in this town he heard tidings which greatly grieved him. He was told that troubles had arisen in the church of Neuchatel. Farel had privately remonstrated, in terms earnest but charitable, with a person of rank who was causing scandal in the church, and his remonstrance producing no effect, he censured him publicly in his sermon, in conformity with the apostolic precept, 1 Timothy 5:20 (July 31). The kinsfolk of this person were much annoyed, and stirring up the townsmen against the reformer got him deprived and banished. When Calvin, who had such a warm affection for Farel, heard these things, he could not pursue his journey. Instead of going on to Berne, he hastened to Neuchatel to his friend. He was able to console him, but he could not get his condemnation withdrawn. Only at a later period, Calvin, acting in concert with other pastors, wrote from Geneva a letter which was carried by Viret. The latter having represented to the seignory of Neuchatel that when a minister is to be deposed, it is necessary to proceed by form of trial, likewise spiritual, and not by way of sedition or tumult; and his representation being supported by Zurich, Strasburg, Basel, and Berne, the Council of Neuchatel resolved to keep its reformer. While at Neuchatel with Farel, on the evening of September 7, Calvin wrote to the Council of Geneva stating the cause of his delay. He also reminded them in this note of the duty of governing their town well and holily. The next day he went to Berne, delivered to the Council the letters which he had brought from Strasburg and from Basel, and then set out for Geneva.
For many days past preparations had been making in the town for his reception. ‘On Monday, August 26, thirty-six ecus were voted by the Council to Eustace Vincent, equestrian herald, to go for Master Calvin, the preacher, at Strasburg.’ It was announced in the Council, August 29, that Master Calvin was to arrive one of these days. They talked of the lodgings which must be assigned to him, and propositions rapidly succeeded each another. At first they thought of the house which was occupied by the pastor Bernard, whom they would remove to the house of la Chantrerie.
Then, September 4, there was further discussion. ‘La Chantrerie , being opposite to St. Peter’s church, is most suitable,’ they said, ‘for the abode of Master Calvin, and some garden (curtil ) will be provided for him.’ On the 9th it was announced in the Council that he was to arrive the same evening. The houses in question being, doubtless, in an unfit state, orders were given to Messieurs Jacques des Arts and Jean Chautemps to make ready for him the house of the Sieur de Freneville, situated in the Rue des Chanoines, between the house of Bonivard, on the west, and that of the Abbe de Bonmont, on the east. But after all it was in another house, the fourth proposed, that he was to be received. f95 It does not appear that Calvin had himself announced to the Council the day of his arrival; nor are we acquainted with any document which in a clear and positive manner indicates this date, worthy of remark though it be. All that we know is that on the 13th he was there, and appeared before the Council. Instead of the 9th he may have arrived on the 10th, the 11th, or even the 12th. We may suppose that Calvin wished the Genevese not to know the day of his arrival, fearing lest they should give him a rather noisy reception. I have no intention of showing myself and making a noise in the world , he said on another occasion. However this might be, if the arrival of the reformer were unostentatious like himself, it filled many hearts with great joy. This is attested by the contemporary biographies.
Congratulations were uttered, and this among the whole body of the people, but above all in the Council, on this singular favor of God towards Geneva, a favor so great and so tardily acknowledged. ‘He was received,’ says the French biography, ‘with such singular affection , by this poor people, who acknowledged their fault, and were famishing to hear their faithful pastor, that they were not satisfied till he was settled there for good. Such is the testimony of contemporaries, friends of Calvin.
Will history add anything to it? Did Calvin traverse in triumph the districts over which three years before he had wandered as a miserable fugitive? Did he make his solemn entry into Geneva, in the midst of the uproarious joy of the population? Did he address the assembled masses?
So far as we know, there is no document that speaks of such things.
Nothing would be more contrary to Calvin’s disposition. If he could have foreseen that a ceremonious reception was preparing for him, he would rather have crossed the lake, and made his entry into Geneva by way of Savoy.
It appears that the house of the Sieur de Freneville, who had quitted Geneva, could not be made ready the same day. The reformer was, therefore, received in the house of Aime de Gingins, abbot of Bonmont, who, although he had been elected bishop by the chapter, in 1522, had not been accepted by the Pope, but, in the absence of the bishop, was discharging almost all his functions. This house had been the scene of one of the most striking passages of the Reformation; the appearance of Farel before Messeigneurs the abbot and the Genevese clergy, in 1532. Of smaller size than that which now occupies its site, it had a garden, from which, as well as from the house itself, were seen stretching far away to the northeast the lake, its shores, the Jura, and rich tracts of country.
Calvin was alive to the enjoyment of this smiling landscape, these beautiful waters, these stern mountains. That straight line of the Jura, pure and severe, is it not a type of his work? When, a little while after, he was looking for a house for Jacques de Bourgogne, Seigneur of Falais, who desired to settle near him, he mentioned to him a dwelling situated doubtless near his own, from which he would have, he said, ‘as fine a view as you could wish for in the summer.’ In winter the north wind made this exposed situation less pleasant, but the view was still very fine, and the storms which raged on the lake would doubtless sometimes appear in Calvin’s eyes to be in harmony with those which agitated the city.
Subsequently, perhaps in 1543 or 1547, certainly before 1549, Calvin quitted this house for the adjoining one, that of M. de Freneville, which the State had just bought; and in this he continued to reside, so far as appears, to the end of his life. One of the chief pleasures of Calvin on his arrival was that of meeting Viret again.
The reformer came back to Geneva an altered man. Three years, four months, and twenty days had elapsed since his departure; and his sojourn in Germany had exercised a marked influence on him. Strasburg had given him what Geneva could not offer. He had in him by nature the stuff of which great men are made. But during these three years his ideas had been widened, and his character had been completed. He had entered into a wider sphere. Intellectual life at Geneva was almost exclusively Genevese; at Strasburg it was Germanic, and, at least in the case of a few, European.
It was important that the reformer of the Latin race should be thoroughly acquainted with the reformers of the Germanic race, and that there should be between them some spiritual fellowship. Even if there must be independence with respect to their work, there ought at the same time to be unity. There was no town in Europe better fitted than Strasburg to furnish a thorough knowledge of the reformation of Luther and of that of Zwinglius. The doctors of this city, it is well known, held constant intercourse with Wittenberg and Zurich, and endeavored to bring about a union between them. Calvin, in this town, ran no risk of getting Germanized. His was one of those powerful natures which do not lose their native impress. Moreover; French refugees were numerous there, and amongst these he found his first sphere of labor. All the faculties of the Genevese reformer had gained something by this contact with Germany.
His general information had been enlarged, his knowledge had become deeper and richer, his soul had attained more serenity, his heart was more kindly and tender, his will at once more regulated, stronger, and more steadfast. He knew that the future had battles in store for him; they would find him more gentle, more apt for endurance, but at the same time resolved to remain immovable on the rock of the Word, and to conquer by the truth. Strong by nature, he was now more completely invested with that divine panoply of which St. Paul speaks. He was fitted not only to feed a little flock, but to form a new society, to organize and to govern a great church. He was returning to Geneva simple and humble as before, and nevertheless a superior man.
Calvin, having arrived from Strasburg on September 13, went to the Town Hall, and was received by the syndics and Council. Some hearts had, no doubt, been beating high in anticipation of this interview; and the reformer himself did not set out to it without emotion. When he came to Geneva, in 1534, he was twenty-seven years of age, rather young for a reformer. He was now thirty-two, the age of our Savior at the time of his ministry. He could already speak with authority; nevertheless, it might be said of him as of St. Paul—his bodily presence is weak. He was of middle stature, pale, with a dark complexion, a keen and piercing eye, betokening, says Beza, a penetrating mind. His dress was very simple, and at the same time perfectly neat. There was something noble in his whole appearance. His cultivated and elevated spirit was at, once recognizable; and although his health was already feeble, he was about to devote himself to labors which a man of great strength might have shrunk from undertaking. Amiable in social intercourse, he had won all hearts in Germany; he was now to win many at Geneva. f102 On presenting himself before the Council, Calvin delivered to the syndics the letters from the senators and pastors of Strasburg and Basel. He then modestly apologized for the long delay which he had made. He had intended to vindicate his own conduct and that of his colleagues who were banished with him three years and a half before; but the very warm reception given him in the town, and by the magistrates, showed him that Geneva had quite got over the prejudices of that period. A vindication would have involved recalling to mind painful facts and ungracious sentiments; and this was not the business which he had to do at this moment. His Christian heart, his intelligent mind joined to counsel him otherwise, to forget. He therefore did not vindicate himself either before the Senate or before the people.
He felt the need of going forward and not backward. ‘We must not take our eyes from the brow and fix them in the back,’ he said one day. ‘I go straight to the mark.’ ‘As for myself,’ said he at this memorable sitting of September 13, ‘I offer myself to be a servant of Geneva for ever.’ He meant really and truly to serve , but in the truest and most beautiful sense of the word. To Farel he wrote (September 16)—‘Immediately after offering my services to the Senate, I declared that no church could subsist except by establishing a well-constituted government, such as the Word of God prescribes, and such as was adopted in the early church.’ He next touched delicately on some points in order to make it clear to the Council what he desired. ‘However,’ he continued, ‘this question is too extensive for discussion on this occasion. I request you nominate some of your body to confer with us upon this subject.’ The Council named for that purpose four members of the Little Council, the former syndic Claude Pertemps; the former secretary, Claude Roset; Ami Perrin, and Jean Lambert; and two members of the Great Council, Jean Goulaz and Ami Porral, both ex-syndics. f104 These six laymen, in cooperation with Calvin and Viret, were to draw up articles of a constitution for the church. The other three pastors appeared willing to go with their two colleagues. We do not see, however, that the Council offered to its conqueror its homage with almost grovelling submissiveness. There was agreement, there was respect on the part of the Council, but there was no humiliation; and we cannot admit that Calvin considered his right of lordship over Geneva as an article of faith which God himself had proclaimed. At this sitting he called himself servant, and not lord; and the only reservation which has to be made is that he would always consider himself before all a servant of God. The Council afterwards resolved to return thanks to Strasburg for having sent Calvin, and at the time to request that he might be allowed to settle permanently at Geneva. Calvin himself no longer hesitated; and this appeared in the courage with which he set about the organization of the church. Geneva and Calvin were henceforth inseparable, as much so the city and the river which flows by and waters it.
The council likewise adopted certain resolutions respecting the person and the family of the reformer. It gave orders (September 16) to send for his wife and his household, and for this purpose bought three horses and a car.
Next, his salary was fixed, and ‘considering,’ said the Council (October 4), ‘that Calvin is a man of great learning, a friend to the restoration of Christian churches, and is at great expense in entertaining visitors, it is resolved that he receive an annual salary of five hundred florins, twelve measures of wheat, and two bossots of wine.’ On the same day it was ordered that some cloth should be bought, with furs, to make him a gown. f108 And now the work must be begun. Calvin saw the difficulties of the task.
He did not put his trust in himself; he hoped above all for the help of God; but he desired also the co-operation of his brethren. Three days after his appearance before the Council he wrote to Farel: ‘I am settled here as you wished. The Lord grant that it may turn out well! For the present I must keep Viret. I will not on any account permit him to be taken from me.’ He wished also to have Farel with him. He thought the presence of these two as his colleagues was essential to success, and he spared no effort to secure them. ‘Aid me here,’ he said to Farel, ‘you and all the brethren with all your might, unless you mean to have me tortured for nothing.’ But, whatever distrust he felt of himself, he had no doubt of the victory. ‘ When we have to contend against Satan,’ he continues, ‘and when we join battle under the banner of Christ, he who has invested us with our armor and impelled us to the fight will give us the victory.’ f110 But although he attributed the victory to God he knew that he himself must fight. This observation applies to his whole life. Of all men in the world Calvin is the one who most worked, wrote, acted, and prayed for the cause which he had embraced. The co-existence of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man is assuredly a mystery; but Calvin never supposed that because God did all he personally had nothing to do. He points out clearly the twofold action, that of God and that of man. ‘God,’ said he, ‘after freely bestowing his grace on us, forthwith with demands of us a reciprocal acknowledgment. When he said to Abraham, “I am thy God,” it was an offer of his free goodness; but he adds at the same time what he required of him : “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” This condition is tacitly annexed to all the promises: they are to be to us as spurs, inciting us to promote the glory of God.’ And elsewhere he says: ‘This doctrine ought to create new vigor in all your members, so that you may be fit and alert, with might and main, to follow the call of God.’ f111 Never, perhaps, did Calvin exhibit his great capacity for action more remarkably than at the epoch of which we are treating. It is certainly a mistake to assert that ‘Calvin regarded himself, by virtue of the Divine decree, as little more than an instrument in the hand of God, without any personal co-operation. What! could Calvin, who far more than Pascal was the conqueror of the Jesuits, have said as they did: Sicut baculus in manu! This Calvin is the man of Roman or infidel tradition, but not the man as he appears in history.
After requiring that evangelical order should be established in the church, Calvin’s first act was to call the people to humiliation and prayer. The evils which then desolated Christendom were afflicting to him. The pestilence, after striking the reformer in his affections at Strasburg, was raging cruelly in many countries, and was threatening Geneva. In addition to this, Solyman was overrunning Hungary. But in this act of humiliation Calvin had another object in view. A new life must begin for Geneva, and how was it to be prepared except by repentance and prayer? There was need of a change of inclination, and this could only be effected by the voice of conscience making itself heard, and opposing with its authority the moral evil existing in each individual. Then a real sense of the need of redemption would awaken in men’s hearts, and they would lay hold of the Gospel which the Reformation brought them. Calvin, therefore, set forth in the council: ‘That the Christian churches are grievously troubled, both by the plague and by the persecution of the Turks; that we are bound to pray for each other; that it would be well to return to God with humble supplications for the increase and the honor of his holy Gospel.’
Consequently, ‘in the same month of October, one day in the week was appointed for solemn prayer in the church for all the necessities of men, and for turning away the wrath of God.’ Wednesday was the day definitely fixed. When the day came, therefore, all shops were closed, the great bell called the people together, the churches were crowded, the ministers implored the mercy of the Lord, and Calvin’s discourse was grave, and full not only of force but of charity. ‘With the truth,’ he said, ‘we must join love, to the end that all may be benefited, and be at peace with one another.’ f114