THUS brought by the providence of God into his new sphere, Calvin at once associated himself with Farel and the other pastors.
Soon after his arrival, he was chosen teacher of theology, at first declining the office of preacher, which he undertook in the following year. As he had often preached at Bourges and elsewhere, this singular backwardness at his age (twenty-seven) can only be understood by supposing that he trembled at the solemnity and burden of the work. “Who is sufficient for these things?”
His earliest labors seem to have been moderately paid. In February, 1537, we find a proposal to pay him “six gold crowns, seeing that he has hitherto received scarcely anything.” After a time, he preached in the Cathedral, and his eloquence attracted many hearers.
In October, we find Calvin, Farel, Viret, Fabri, Caroli, and others, attending a disputation which the Council of Berne had appointed to be held at Lausanne. Vigorous attempts were made to prevent this conference; but they were discovered and frustrated.
On the fourth and fifth days Calvin addressed the gathering on transubstantiation. A friar, named Tandi, confessed himself at once a convert to the reformed doctrine, and threw off his monk’s frock, never to be worn again. Farel rose, and said, “Let us thank our Lord together. Let us receive our new brother, for whom Christ has died, as Christ has received us.”
This conference proved of great service in advancing the Reformation cause.
Farel and Calvin drew up a Confession of Faith, containing twenty-one articles; the nineteenth of which claimed the power to excommunicate unholy and vicious persons until repentant. On November 10th, 1536 this Confession was laid before the Council of Two hundred, who ordered it to be printed, publicly read, and circulated.
At this point a trouble arose, caused by Caroli, This man had been a doctor of the Sorbonne, and had professed conversion to the “new” doctrines. He was vain, weak, fickle, changing his opinions with every wind for the sake of advantage. By these unworthy means rising step by step, he made an attempt to obtain the office of inspector over the churches. But the Council perceived his pride, and suitably rebuked him.
This so mortified him that he meditated vengeance on the pastors, and he selected the more prominent to accuse them of Arianism. The defense of Calvin is so noble that I quote part of it: “It is but a few days ago that I dined with Caroli. I was then his very dear brother, and he told me to make his compliments to Farel. He then treated as brethren those whom he now charges as heretics, and protested that he wished always to live in brotherly love with us. But not a word did he say about Arianism. Where was then the glory of God? Where the purity of the faith, and the unity of the church? If you had a single spark of true zeal or piety, would you have silently suffered your brethren and colleagues to reject the Son of God? Would you soil yourself with the infection of such an impiety by communicating with them? “But, supposing all this of no consequence, I demand how you know that I am infected with the Arian heresy. I believe that I have given a pretty clear testimony of my faith, and that you will find no more ardent supporter than myself of the divinity of Jesus Christ. My works are in the hands of everyone, and I have at least derived this fruit from them, that my doctrine is approved by all the orthodox churches. Show us, then, the very passage on which you found our accusation of Arianism; for I will wash out this infamy, and will not endure to be unjustly charged.”
Caroli was overwhelmed by this reply, and appealed to the Council; but they reproved him by ordering him to acknowledge in public the innocence of the ministers he had slandered. To avoid this, he fled to Rome, and was received into the Romish church.
The many gross abuses with regard to morals caused Calvin and Farel to press forward the work of Reformation by an attempt to purge the city.
This was a far more difficult task than they had anticipated. The “Libertines,” worldly men who desired to live as they pleased, opposed all measures proposed in the right direction; and at length the city elections gave them a majority. This placed the pastors in a position of grave difficulty; but they stood firm. The difficulty was increased by the fact that the cause of the Reformation was now as much in the hands of the Council as in those of the preachers. This mixing of the church .and the state must have been responsible for much of the disorder that followed.
The Council of Berne counselled that of Geneva to restore certain ceremonies; among which was the use of unleavened bread in the Communion. Calvin perceived here his opportunity to protest against the bread and wine being given at all to the Libertines. The question at issue was thus obscured by the action of the Council, who were fighting for the use of unleavened bread, while the Reformers were standing for the purity of the Lord’s table.
Easter Sunday, 1538, saw the battle between the opposed parties. Farel in one church, Calvin in another, expounded the nature of the Lord’s Supper, describing the necessary qualifications of worthy communicants; and concluding by stating that on that day the Holy Supper would not be dispensed at all. Both the parties were resolute. Calvin declared that his blood should dye the wood he stood upon rather than dishonor his Lord. “We protest before you all that we are not obstinate about the question of bread, leavened or unleavened. That is a matter of indifference, which is felt to the discretion of the church. If we decline to administer the Lord’s Supper, it is because we are in a great difficulty, which prompts us to this course.”
This was the occasion of a fierce storm of public disorder and riot. The Council sent for the preachers, and ordered them to leave the city at once. “Well and good; God has done it!” was their sorrowful reply as they withdrew. “Had I been the servant of man,” added Calvin, “I should have received but poor wages. But happy for me it is that I am the servant of Him who never fails to give His servants that which He has promised them.”
In banishing the two pastors, the Council did what has been done in numerous other cases;—they condemned them on a false issue. They based their sentence upon the charge that the pastors refused their sanction to the use of unleavened bread. But the pastors treated the absence of leaven as a thing indifferent in itself. It was the presence of the leaven of wickedness in the Libertines that drew forth their decision. But they were condemned; and the two banished servants of Christ “departed from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame” for Christ’s sake.