The Reformation in France
This section comprises chapters 10 through 14. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 10 - The Resurrection of Reform
- Chapter 11 - The Court of Francis 1
- Chapter 12 - The Apostles of the Faith
- Chapter 13 - John Calvin
- Chapter 14 - The Valley of the Shadow of Death
THE RESURRECTION of REFORM
The sixteenth century witnessed the resurrection of reform. The infant form of civil and religious liberty had been rocked in the cradle of an earlier epoch, only to die in its bright youth. Now the veil of the tomb was rent, and it came forth armed with new strength. That era, like a first conqueror, founded a new realm, the realm of opinion. Instantly the customary, the medieval, received a check. The scholastic methods of the universities began to recede before the progressive spirit of emancipated philosophy. The further usurpations of paganized Christianity were vetoed by the authoritative voice of primitive faith.
The new instinct was so full and active, that it bubbled over into secondary spheres. It showed itself even in architecture; and the Gothic towers of the old royal keeps were replaced by creations formed on the models of chaste ancient art. It showed itself in war, and the mailed, mounted chivalry went down before the infantry and the artillery of innovating science.
Moral and political Europe, equally rotten, began to be revolutionized. Now, as always before, Rome set herself to subdue the rebellion against her theology and her politics, using her old weapons, thumb-screws, racks, unearthly dungeons, and slow fires, invoking the grim horrors of the Inquisition to aid her in chilling the rising lava-like enthusiasm for the truth.
But God was not mocked. He sat serenely in the blue heavens, making the wrath of man to praise him. It had been decreed in His councils who is from everlasting to everlasting, that the spiteful drama in which Rome played the part of Sir Omnipotent should not be lengthened into further acts without a vigorous and successful protest.
When the pontiffs condescended to recite the articles of their belief to medieval Europe, the Amen of Christendom was fiercely fervent. But at length Leo X stepped out upon the balcony of the Vatican, and commenced to intone his creed: We believe in the observance of the minutest trifles of the ceremonial law; we believe that human nature is neither hereditarily corrupt nor intrinsically depraved; we believe that the saints and martyrs had a superfluity of merit, which they delegated to the church, and which, placed in the huge tureen of Rome, may be ladled out to those hungry souls who are willing to buy heaven with a price; we believe in the theoretical celibacy of the clergy; we believe in the dogma of monachism; we believe that there exists in the priesthood of the holy see a mediatorial caste between God and man; we believe that the pope, sitting as God, in the temple of God,cannot err; we believe that salvation is to be obtained by good works, by ave Marias, by penances, and by gold.
And when the courtly Medici’s last cadence died quite away, as he ended his impious recital, while Europe stood ominously silent, a clear, resonant voice, echoing from the heights of the obscure town of Wittenberg, in semi-barbarous Germany, replied, “Oh nations, ye have listened to Pope Leo’s Babylonian heresies: hark ye now to the Christian truth; for thus saith the Lord God: ‘By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.’ “
By these words Luther launched the Reformation, whose soul was, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
Then the mutterers of the mass and the children of the Bible joined battle to decide which should shape the future.
That struggle was the epic of the sixteenth century. The Roman publicists have affirmed, and certain rationalistic philosophers on both sides of the water have claimed, that it meant emancipation from the dominion of the religious principle—that it meant, not a reformation, but an abolition of Christianity.
But the choral song of the Reformation was not materialism. The movement which Luther inaugurated, and which Calvin organized, did indeed clasp hands with liberty and strike off chains; but only as a logical result, not as its chief purpose. The object of the Reformation was to reopen the path by which God and man unite. This path, which Christ had opened, had been blocked up in ages of superstition by the worship paid the Virgin, the saints, the host, by meritorious, magical, supererogatory works, by ecclesiastical formalities. Men awoketo protest; Protestantism arose from the inner impulses of European life.
Religion was long the terror of the world. It was attempted to dissipate it by amusing nations, or to pile it over with strata of society—a layer of soldiers, over that a layer of lords, and a king on top, with clamps of priests and hoops of castles. But the religious sentiment would penetrate this motley mountain which lay piled huge and unshapely upon the human conscience; it would burst the hoops, and rive the earthy matter laid on top of it…
“The ethereal mould, Incapable of stain, would soon expel Her mischief, and purge off the baser fire, Victorious.”
The reformers recognized the cheat, believed in a real unity, heard the cry of smothered conscience beneath the mountain of priest-caste which Rome had reared with the patient labor of ages, invoked God’s earthquake to topple it over; and as layer after layer fell, while society grouped itself on the level of faith in God, not in men, the angels them selves sang pæans. The overthrow of an ecclesiastical oligarchy, God and man brought face to face through faith in Christ, this was the grand work of the Reformation, whatever other beneficentresults might follow in its train.
So far was Protestantism from involving a principle contradictory to religion: it simply sought to comprehend it, and to secure to mankind the liberty to understand it, in a more spiritual and unselfish disposition, in opposition to a worldly priesthood; it called on man to ground his faith, not on the word of a priest, but on the infallible word of God.
In 1519, two years after Luther had openly denied the infallibility of the church of Rome, the college of the Sorbonne, the most famous in medieval Europe, where Reuchlin had studied, where Erasmus had been graduated, but always the champion of Latin orthodoxy, denounced the new opinions. Twenty-four months later, the Parisian faculty of theology published their memorable condemnation of the Lutheran heresy.
At the same time Leo X was launching the thunderbolts of the Vatican upon the Reformation in Germany. Attracted by the universal hubbub, scholars paused in the first flush of their enthusiasm for resuscitated learning, to look up from their Greek text and inquire into the meaning of the din. The fascination of ancient letters was forgotten for a moment. Persons of the highest stations and of the lowest became curious to examine and weigh the merits of a controversy to which so much importance seemed attached. France especially was in a fever of excitement. Authentic records show that so early as 1523 there were in several of the provinces of that realm, and particularly in Southern France, Languedoc, Provence, the ancient seats of the Vaudois creed, great numbers both of the gentry and the commons who had embraced the reformed tenets; and even some of the episcopal order were tainted with Lutheranism.
In 1519, two of Luther’s ablest and most eloquent disciples, Martin Bucer, all fire and energy, and Melancthon, the personification of calm, persuasive Christian philosophy, had visited France and created a desire for reform.
At the outset, the omens were favorable to the reception of the new theology in France. As the abuses of Rome were wide-spread, ripe, and pregnant, the dissenters made many and rapid converts. Francis I, who ruled the realm at the commencement of the Reformation, was the puppet of his own vanity, inordinately fond of gaiety, pomp, and dissipation. Without fixed principles of religion, he regarded questions of faith with indifference, so long as they did not trench upon the domain of policy. The historical rival of Charles V of Spain, when that cunning emperor temporized with the German dissenters, he also tolerated their brothers in France.
Thus it was that the Reformation secured time to ground itself in that kingdom; and this comparative immunity from persecution, this portentous stillness which ushered in a frightful storm, was so well employed that when the trial hour came, it was found that half of France, headed by some of the most historic names in her annals, were the devoted disciples of the reformed theology.
The numbers and influence of these disciples of a pure faith soon made them loom up into importance. It began to be thought that they might subvert the established religion. Influenced by this fear, and pushed on by the incessant solicitation of the churchmen resident at his court, as well as by the active example of Charles V in the Netherlands, Francis I was persuaded to persecute the reformers, timidly at first, but finally with Titanic energy.
The French prelates, though immersed in the lewd pleasures of the court, were too clear-sighted not to see with alarm the precipice upon which their order stood. They had sanctioned the aid furnished by Francis to foment the rebellion of the German Protestants, in order that internecine broils might weaken and perplex the political power of Charles V. But they were not disposed to tolerate the new opinions in France, lest their ascendency should despoil them of their revenues, as it had already despoiled the Germanic bishops. It was the dread of pecuniary loss, rather than care for religious unity, that urged these worldly and foppish prelates, lapped in luxury, bloated with pride, and swollen with license, to desert for an instant the arms of their mistresses, to button-hole the king, and insist upon the adoption of sanguinary measures for the extirpation of heresy; it was this which impelled them to admonish Francis that the maintenance of the old faith in its integrity would be a full atonement for all the sins he had committed or might commit—would be a passport to paradise.
The effects of this policy of the courtier prelates were soon experienced. On the 9th of June, 1523, a severe edict against the heretics was published. Then, in the autumn of the middle ages, the reapers of intolerant Rome went out into the field to glean once more a bloody harvest.
The first step of the victorious priests, under the king’s decree, was to disperse an influential and numerous congregation of reformers at Meaux. This city was in the episcopal see of William Briconnét, an earnest and devout churchman, who had studied the canons of the Scripture as well as the canons of the church, and who, animated by the words of Luther, had himself ascended the pulpit, proclaimed the doctrine of salvation by faith, and conducted himself as a bishop should, by striving to instruct his flock, by identifying his interests with theirs, instead of neglecting them to immerse himself, as most of his order did, in the unhallowed dissipations of the gayest capital in Christendom. But the platforms of the Sorbonne echoed with denunciation. The “novelties” of Briconnét were placed under the ban, as the deviations of Wickliffe, of Huss, of Jerome, of Luther, had already been, and the good bishop’s instructive eloquence died away in a stifled groan.
Lefèvre of Estaples was the friend and mentor of Briconnét. This patriarch of the Reformation had ventured to study the original records of the faith while Europe yet shivered in the chilly gloom of superstition. He drew from the Pauline epistles certain maxims concerning justification and faith, which a little later formed the soul of the reformed theology; and this indefatigable student, at the advanced age of eighty, preserving his vivacity and intellectual strength untouched by time, commenced a translation of the Bible, which forms the basis of the French version of the Scriptures.
For a time Francis I wavered in his determination. The fickle monarch, influenced by Erasmus, then the learned idol of lettered Europe, befriended Lefèvre, and even established a college for the cultivation of the ancient languages, in opposition to the Sorbonne. The deep religious spirit of the age touched for a moment the callous, selfish heart of the knight-errant king. With his mother and sister he frequently read the Scriptures, and they were heard to remark that the divine truth—which seemed to them to be there—ought not to be denominated heresy. Luther was frequently lauded at the court, while the Sorbonne sullenly lamented that the persecution of the followers of the heretic and the destruction of his writings, despite the king’s decree of the 9th of June, met with obstructions from the Louvre.
But Francis remained for a little under the influence of his sister and the scholars of the empire. He even spoke of nullifying his edict, and was heard to regret the dispersion of the Meaux assembly; affirming at the same time that he saw no reason why Roussel and Aranda—two celebrated orators of the Reformation—should not preach at the court.
The shuttlecock king soon had a relapse. When Erasmus nudged his elbow, he was tolerant; when the prelates pointed to the rising tide of the reform, and bade him beware lest it swamp his throne, he grew alarmed.
The first symptom of the change was an auto da fé.
In the initial days of the Reformation, Louis de Berquin, one of the earliest opponents of the Sorbonne, an eminent scholar, an enthusiastic Christian, enjoyed the special favor of Francis, who, like all pedants, loved to surround himself with literati, with artists, with sculptors, and who petted Leonardo da Vinci with one hand, while he patted French scholarship upon the shoulder with the other.
Berquin’s boldness soon impelled him to cross swords with the Sorbonne. The consequence was, that while his royal master, captured by Charles V at Pavia, languished in a Spanish prison, he lay in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Francis, on his return to France, liberated the incarcerated scholar, who was no sooner out however, than, making it a point of honor not to retire before his persecutors, he recommenced the combat, undertaking to convict Beda, the syndic of the Sorbonne, of himself holding heretical opinions.
Berquin relied upon the monarch’s support. But meantime Francis, who had hurled himself upon Italy like an avalanche, was once more foiled by the calm tactics of the wily emperor, and returned into his kingdom with shattered health, a decimated army, and weakened authority; for, as Erasmus remarked in a warning to Berquin, the king’s defeat had weakened his domestic power.
The Sorbonne saw the opportunity, seized it, actually secured the consent of the king to their program of procedure, and taking Berquin, in 1529, publicly burned him on the Place de Gréve. The Parisian populace, over whom the preachers of the Sorbonne exercised unlimited influence, are said to have shown less sympathy for this hapless victim than they ordinarily exhibited for the most abandoned criminals.
Francis I never afterwards paused. The demon of persecution took full possession of him. To the end of his life he continued to slaughter his subjects with an indiscriminate malignity which bordered on frenzy.
To this chapter of persecution, the Jesuit Fleury refers with an unfeeling jeer: “From time to time some false prophet appeared upon the scene, to publish his fanaticism or to sound the disposition of the court. But repression was prompt: it cost dear to one Berquin of Arras, to Jean Leclerc, a wool-carder of Meaux, and to Jaques Parané, a clothier of Boulogne. They were all burned alive, and a dread of the fire silenced the spirit of several oracles. History doubtless mentions these despicable names to perpetuate the reproach of their birth or their impiety, rather than to celebrate these vile founders of the Calvinistic church.”
Rail on, proud mocker, at God’s lowly poor. But these despised and scattered members of a torn body were made one again in Jesus Christ; while from their ashes they spoke with grander, more persuasive eloquence than that with which antique art endowed him who…
“Fulmined over Greece To Macedon, and Artaxerxes’ throne.”
THE COURT of FRANCIS I
The first of these was Renée, duchess of Ferrara, and daughter of Louis XII. This lady had been early won to adopt the resurrected tenets of the gospel. Under the beautiful sky of fatal Italy she listened to the hurried words of the flitting reformers who ventured to mutter their opinions in an undertone even beneath the very throne of Leo X. The situation of her husband’s estates in the near vicinity of Rome, made him fearful of exciting either the temporal or spiritual wrath of the pontiff, lest that arbiter both of this world and the next should pounce upon him and despoil him of his heritage.
Therefore Renée concealed her sentiments during the duke of Ferrara’s life. But a little later, become a widow, she quitted the stifling atmosphere of Italy, and taking possession of the castle of Montargis, an hour’s ride from Paris, openly avowed her adherence to the reformed theology, and gave the warmest of welcomes to the evangelical preachers, besides offering to the persecuted the safest of asylums.
The other of these ladies was Margaret de Valois, queen of Navarre, the daughter, the sister, the wife, the mother of kings, the greatest woman of her age.
Margaret, like Renée, had given her cordial assent to the teachings of the “evangelicals,” as the French reformers were sometimes called.
The sister of Francis I lived much at the court, figured in state ceremonies and in the councils at the Louvre, at St. Germaine, at Fontainebleau; yet she preserved her sweet simplicity, her religious zeal, her calm faith, amid the wicked fascinations of her brother’s court, giving her heart to the three things she loved best—the king, France, and the gospel of her Christ.
Margaret went wrapped in the respectful veneration of Europe. The scholars of Christendom were especially proud of one who had devoted her way of life to literature and divinity, who wrote and spoke with equal grace and eloquence, who was familiar with Latin, with Greek, with Hebrew; they enthroned her as their princess, they hailed her as their Mæcenas.
She had also been early initiated into politics. The diplomats counted her one of the best heads in Europe; and Dandolo, the Venetian ambassador, affirmed her to be the ablest politician in France.
Margaret is said to have been beautiful and stately in her person; and thus accomplished, influential, politic, and courageous in her Christian belief, she walked through the kingdom binding up the wounds of the hunted dissenters, succoring the needy, befriending the outlawed professors of the hated truth, earning the benediction of the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”
“A perfect woman, nobly planned To warn, to comfort, and command; And yet a spirit pure and bright, with something of an angel’s light.”
After Francis had decided to fight heresy under the banners of the Sorbonne, Brantome relates that the constable, Anne of Montmorenci, when conversing with him upon the most effectual mode of extirpating heresy, did not scruple to say that “his majesty should begin with his court and his own relations,” naming Margaret as one of the most dangerous of the heretics. Francis replied, “Nay, speak no more of her; she loves me too well not to believe what I believe,” with which equivocating phrase he turned off his overzealous counselor.
Margaret has been finely called the mother of French reform. She did indeed by her life, by her precepts, by her station, by her enthusiasm, attract many to the gospel. Her influence in the upper tiers of society was especially marked. But there is always danger when princes turn missionaries. When the Bible spoke through the eloquent lips of the most beautiful woman of the day, there were some who yielded an apparent assent, not because they were penetrated by the truth, but because they were fascinated by the bewitching speaker; for when Margaret exhorted, who so stout as not to bow his head, and at least simulate conviction? But such Christianity was of course but superficial at the best; and when danger lowered, these fair-weather disciples skulked away. Others yielded an intellectual assent to the truths of Protestantism, but preserved the heart icy and untouched—a sad error, decomposing to the religious life of a church, destructive of the existence of nationalities.
Thus from one cause or another it chanced that there were many enlightened consciences in the upper ranks of French society, but there were few consciences which were smitten by the word of God. This weakened even the apparent strength of the Reformation in Latin Europe. For as Merle D’Aubigné has well said, “Conscience is the palladium of Protestantism, far more than the statue of Pallas was the pledge of the preservation of Troy in the heroic fable of the Odyssey.”
When, a little later, Margaret, who had been already wed to the duke of Alencon—a prince of the blood, but a man without courage, amiability, or understanding, chief cause of the disaster at Pavia, from which field he lad fled in disgrace, and eventually died of shame—married again Henry d’Albrét, king of Navarre, the companion in arms of Francis, a prince brave, gay, accomplished, handsome, witty, learned, and eloquent, the young queen wrote religious toleration upon the first line of the first page of her code of laws, and opened an asylum for the persecuted “evangelicals,” which even kings long hesitated to violate.
Meantime the persecution continued with increased severity. The reform saw her children around her, some already dead, some in chains, all threatened with a fatal blow. Martyrdom followed martyrdom. Such havoc was made among the “evangelicals,” that an annual procession was instituted to render thanks to the Almighty that they had been permitted to spill so much heretical blood. when Dymond Leroy, with five others, suffered in 1528, Francis went personally to witness the execution, and stood bareheaded while the fires were kindled. When the fête was over, the monarch marched away from the scene at the head of a procession of monks and priests.
Of course the encouragement king’s personal attendance at an auto da fé could not but be productive of increased enthusiasm in persecution. France bled from every pore. To record these sufferings would convert these pages into a martyrology.
Francois, archbishop of Lyons and cardinal of Tournon, was the chief instigator of these massacres. This haughty and intolerant prelate was the representative of an ancient family. He had entered the church at an early age, and had risen rapidly through the various ecclesiastical grades—monk; abbé, bishop, archbishop—until, in 1530, in his forty-second year, he received the red hat of a cardinal.
Tournon was celebrated as a negotiator and as a statesman, but it is as a persecutor that he achieved his widest fame. To use his panegyrist’s expression, “He made it as dangerous to converse in secret as to discuss in public. Nothing escaped this great man, who seemed to multiply himself in order to discover artifice or punish temerity; so that foreign princes were accustomed to say that he alone was equal to an inquisition in France.”
The overweening pride and bigotry of this inflated prelate had been sharply curbed by Margaret while she resided at the court. But upon her departure for her kingdom of Navarre, the emancipated cardinal became the confidant and adviser of the king. He was thus enabled to give loose rein to his atrocities.
Under the iron hand of Tournon, the vacillating monarch was kept sternly immovable in the policy of blood. On one occasion when Margaret had persuaded her brother to listen to a sermon by one of her favorite preachers, Lecoq, curate of St. Eustache, who ventured “to preach the doctrines of Zwingli,” as we are assured by Maimbourg, “though the king could not at first discern the venom concealed under his fine phrases,” the cardinal compelled Lecoq publicly to retract, and imposed a penance on Francis for listening to his sermon.
At another time the queen of Navarre so highly extolled the piety and genius of Melancthon, that Francis consented to invite him to a conference with the French divines upon the best means of restoring harmony to the divided church.
The clergy were in consternation. The prospect of contending with the learned and eloquent St. John of the Reformation alarmed them as greatly as it elated the evangelicals. Francis had already dispatched the invitation; but Tournon undertook even at the last moment to prevent the visit. His scheme for changing the king’s opinion is described by Maimbourg as worthy of immortality.
He entered the royal apartment apparently absorbed in the pages of a book which he held in his land. Francis, noticing his abstraction, inquired the name of the volume which interested him so deeply. The prelate paused in his measured walk, looked up with a well-affected start, and replied, “Sire, it is a work by St. Irenaeus.” He then instantly directed the monarch’s attention to a passage where Irenaeus had given full scope to his feelings against heretics, showing that the apostles would not even frequent any public place where they were admitted. The wily cardinal then expressed his grief that, with such examples before him, the eldest son of the church should have sent for a heresiarch who was the most subtle and celebrated of Luther’s disciples. Francis, surprised and shocked, instantly sent to revoke his invitation, protested by all the saints in the calendar that he would never renounce his hereditary faith, and, to give emphasis to the declaration, issued orders for the persecution of the heretics with additional vigor. “This sudden and generous resolution,” moralizes the Jesuit who chronicles the episode, “fell like a thunderbolt upon the Protestants, who felt secure from such a reverse under the protection of the queen of Navarre.”
The prospects of reform grew gloomier every day. The provinces were abandoned to the cruelty of the prelates. The capital was governed by the court. The court was controlled by two harlots.
It was during the reign of Francis I that women acquired that ascendancy at court which enabled them, under the two or three succeeding sovereigns, to nominate and to depose ministers, marshals, and judges—to dictate the policy of France. Francis, fond of gallantry and intrigue, thought that the charms of the softer sex would smooth the rough manners of his courtiers into becoming gentleness. From that idea sprang the new régime. The age of iron was succeeded by the age of debauchery. Ladies flocked to the court, each anxious to secure credit and influence, and careless of the means by which that object was gained. Chastity soon ceased to be a virtue—it became prudery; female honor was bartered for the privilege of bestowing pensions, or for the éclat of station. The authority of the ministers was merely nominal; the wives and daughters of the nobles swayed the scepter, each one retaining it so long as her beauty, talents, and intrigues enabled her to command an ascendancy.
Hence originated the excessive luxury, the super-refinement, the loose morality of the higher circles of French society. Men of letters, wits, poets, flitted through the galleries of the Louvre, each one attracted thither by avarice, by pleasure, by ambition, or by all.
The servility of these mocking letters increased the corruption of the age. The wits and poets who thronged the halls of the palace lowered the moral tone of the court circles by their nauseating flatteries, by their unchaste songs, by their profane epigrams.
They soon made themselves of use to the ladies by chanting hymns to the beauty of some favorite, and by satirizing her rivals. They held their talents to be a marketable commodity, to be knocked down to the highest bidder. Their verses conferred taste and genius upon their patrons, though nature might have denied them common-sense.
This mixture of lewd women, atheistic bishops, servile wits, and scheming courtiers, formed what was deemed a brilliant and gallant court.
The courtiers were divided into two rival factions, each of which obeyed one or the other of two beautiful but abandoned women, the Duchess d’Estampes, mistress of Francis I, and the famous Diana of Poitiers, mistress of the king’s eldest son Henry, the dauphin.
Atheism might be bred by such an atmosphere; bigotry might be made to grow in such a, soil; persecution might thrive in such ground; but the austere precepts of the Reformation were too rare an exotic to be fostered there. The self-denial, the pure morality, the indifference to unlawful worldly pleasure, which characterized the “evangelicals,” awoke no responsive chord in the breast of a court surrendered to dissolute levities. Nay, the courtiers soon came to hate their reproving Nathan. “We are weary,” ported Diana of Poitiers, “of the declamation of the reformed preachers against the vices of the court and of the church.”
And so the guilty court spun out its wild dance, unmindful, as it quaffed its brimming bowl, as it reeled and joked and laughed, of the earthquake which growled beneath its feet.
But the orgies at the capital did not stay the devastating tread of persecution. The inquisitors walked across France, from the English channel to the Pyrenees, hunting heretics and kindling autos da fé, until, to borrow the striking expression of a writer who has painted that epoch for the instruction of shuddering Christendom, “France scented burning bodies in every breeze.”
THE APOSTLES of the FAITH
Reference has been already made to several of the worthies who aided in the resurrection of the gospel in France—to Renée of Ferrara, to the beautiful Margaret of Navarre, to Lefèvre, to that Berquin who suffered in the Place de Gréve, and who, with his Testament in hand, had traversed the neighborhood of Abbeville, the banks of the Somme, the towns, manors, and fields of Artois and Picardy, filling them with love for the word of God.
But there were other apostles of the faith besides these.
A nobleman of the German city of Strasburg, Count Sigismund of Haute-Flamme, a friend and ally of queen Margaret, who called him her good cousin, had been touched by Luther’s heroism and the preaching of Zell. His conscience once aroused, he endeavored to live according to the will of God. Sigismund was not one of those nobles, rather numerous then, who spoke in secret of the Savior, but before the world seemed not to know him. The reformers all bore loving testimony to his frankness and courage.
Although a dignitary of the church, and dean of a celebrated theological chapter, the count labored to spread the evangelical truth around him; and one day, while busied in revolving the best means of doing so, he conceived a grand idea.
Finding himself placed between Germany and France, and himself speaking fluently the languages of both, he resolved to undertake the task of leavening France with the precepts of Christ.
He instantly commenced his self-imposed labor. As soon as he received any new work from Luther, he had it translated into French and forwarded to Margaret.
He did more. Esteeming the queen of Navarre to be the door through which the principles of the Reformation were to enter France, he wrote Luther, urging him to pen a letter to Margaret, or to compose some pamphlet calculated to encourage her in her zealous labors.
Count Sigismund’s labors with the priests and nobles who surrounded him were not crowned with success. Some few gentlemen indeed spoke brave words, but they were only lip deep. But the monks looked at him with genuine amazement. Their dreams were disturbed, their licentiousness was reproached, the dolce far niente of their lives was to be broken up. “Ah ha! The Reformation then means that we must change our easy life, give up our naps, quit our cloisters, surrender our illicit amours;” ’twas thus they reasoned. The keen eye of Lambert of Avignon, one of the ablest of the reformers, detected this commotion in the monkish dove-cotes, and turning to the count, he said with a smile, “You will not succeed here; these folks are afraid of damaging their wallets, their kitchens, their stables, and their bellies.”
Sigismund succeeded better with Margaret. Soon after the defeat at Pavia, he wrote her a sympathetic letter; and again, when her sisterly affection drove her to seek Francis, when he languished in his Spanish prison, Margaret was strengthened and comforted by her good cousin’s kind words.
Pierre Toussaint, prebendary of Metz, Roussel, one of queen Margaret’s favorite preachers, and Farel, were also active servants in the vineyard during these initial years. They all endured great sufferings for the sake of that gospel which they loved. Still, nothing could shake their faith. They continued to tune their voices into harmony with the celestial chorus.
On one occasion, when Toussaint chanced to pass through the diocese of the abbot of St. Antoine, that violent and merciless priest seized the young evangelist, and despite his candor, sweetness, and the broken health under which he rested, plunged his fragile victim into a frightful dungeon full of stagnant water and other filth. Toussaint could hardly stand erect in this hideous den. With his back against the wall, and his feet on the only spot which the water did not reach, stifled by the poisonous vapors emitted around him, the young preacher recalled the cheerful house of his uncle the dean of Metz, and the magnificent palace of the cardinal of Lorraine, where he had been so kindly received ere he became a heretic. What a contrast! His health declined, his mind sank, his tottering limbs could scarcely support him.
Meantime poor Toussaint’s friends had acquainted Margaret with his condition, and the indignant queen hastened by post to Paris, threw herself at the feet of her brother, and finally rescued this lamb from the fangs of the wild beast.
When the young evangelist came out of this fearful den, he was thin, weak, and pale as a faded flower. He stood bewildered. No one offered to receive this heretic who had just cheated the scaffold. But at length he went boldly to Paris, sought Margaret, and found an asylum with her.
Toussaint found the young queen surrounded by distinguished personages, all eager to present their homage. “Side by side with nobles and ambassadors dressed in the most costly garments, and soldiers with their glittering arms, were cardinals robed in scarlet and ermine, bishops with their satin copes, ecclesiastics of every order with long gowns and tonsured heads.” These, desirous of enlisting the influence of Margaret in their favor, spoke to her of the gospel and of reform. Toussaint, a stranger to the chicaneries of politics, listened with profound astonishment to this strange court language. At the outset he was deceived, and took the religious prattle of this troop of flatterers for sound piety. It was not long, however, before his eyes were opened. When he saw the drift of their artful harangues, he burned to expose them.
Learning that Lefèvre and Roussel had arrived in Paris from Blois, Toussaint, full of respect for them, hastened to their apartments, and with impetuous eloquence urged them to assist him in unmasking the hypocrites, and in boldly preaching the whole gospel in the midst of the giddy court.
“Patience, Toussaint,” replied the two scholars, both timid by nature, and whom the debilitating air of the court had perhaps still further weakened; “patience; don’t spoil every thing; the time is not yet come.” Then Toussaint, ardent, generous, upright, burst into tears. “Yes,” he said, “be wise after your fashion; wait, put off, dissemble: you will acknowledge however at last that it is impossible to preach the gospel without bearing the cross. The banner of divine mercy is now raised; the gate of the kingdom of heaven stands wide open. God calls us. He does not mean us to receive his summons with supineness. We must hasten, lest the opportunity should escape us, and the door be closed.” But the timid scholars could not be moved. Then he wrote Œcolampadius, “Roussel is weak; Lefèvre lacks courage; God strengthen and support them.”
For himself, he was stifled at the court; the air was closer to him than in the den of the abbot of St. Antoine. Disgusted by the lewd revels of the capital, he resolved to quit it. “Farewell to the court,” said he; “it is the most dangerous and seductive of harlots.”
Then the young Metzer, putting behind his back certain “magnificent offers” which had been made to him if he would stay and connect himself with the mystical and timidly progressive wing of the Roman church, which Briconnét then represented, quitted the kingdom. But foreseeing that a terrible struggle was approaching, he left with a prayer that God would enable France to show herself worthy of the Reformation.
William Farel, another of those men upon whom God set the seal of his apostleship, was one whose simple, serious, earnest tones carry away the masses. “His voice of thunder made his hearers tremble. The strength of his convictions created faith in their souls; the fervor of his prayers raised them to heaven. When they listened to him, ‘they felt,’ as Calvin once said, ‘not merely a few light pricks and stings, but were wounded to the heart, pierced with the truth; hypocrisy was dragged from those wonderful and more than tortuous hiding-places which lie deep in the heart of man.’
“He pulled down and built up with equal energy. Even his life, an apostleship full of self-sacrifice and danger and triumph, was as effectual as his sermons. He was not only a minister, he was a bishop. He was able to discern the young men best fitted to wield the weapons of the gospel, and to direct them in the great war of the age; for Farel never attacked a place, however difficult of access, which he did not take.”
Farel’s native place was Gap, a little village in Dauphiny. Desirous of preaching the gospel to his relatives there, on one occasion he took up his quarters in a corn-mill hard by the gates of the hamlet, where he explained a French Bible to the villagers who crowded about him.
Ere long he ventured to preach in the very heart of Gap; “desecrating,” as the Capuchins phrased it, “a chapel dedicated to St. Colombe.” “The magistrate forbade his preaching, and the parliament of Grenoble desired to have him burned;” so runs the record of the monks.
Farel replied by a formal refusal of obedience; upon which Benedict Olier, a zealous papist, and vice-bailiff, escorted by a posse comitatus, marched to St. Colombe. The doors were shut, and double-barred. The officers knocked. All were silent. They broke in. A large audience were assembled, but not a head was turned; all were drinking in greedily the eloquent words of the dauntless preacher. The officers went to the pulpit, seized Farel, and “with the crime in his hand,” as the forcible expression of the Capuchins put it, referring to the Bible which he held, he was led through the crowd and imprisoned.
But the followers of the new doctrine were already to be found in every class—in the workman’s garret, in the tradesman’s shop, in the fortified chateau of the noble, and sometimes even in the bishop’s palace. During the night the reformers rallied, and either by force or stratagem took the brave old man from prison, hurried him to the ramparts, let him down into the plain in a basket, and “accomplices ” who awaited him sped with him to a place of safety
Although the larger part of Farel’s apostleship was spent in foreign countries, for he was an exile from his dear France, yet he exercised a very marked influence upon the formation of the Gallican church.
Under the distant inspiration of Luther’s eloquence, under the zealous labors of Toussaint, Sigismond, Farel, and Margaret, supported by an active host of less distinguished representatives, the reform continued to spread, despite Tournon’s exertions and the denunciations of the Sorbonne. But the dissenters were scattered, often ill-informed on vital points of faith, and lacked uniformity of effort and belief. Who shall organize the Reformation? Who shall mold this heterogeneous mass of dissent into a grand unit? This loose-jointed body of reform, whose plastic hand shall reshape it into strength and symmetry? Such were the questions which Farel, Œcolampadius, Sigismond, and the other chiefs of Latin reform began to put to each other with anxious emphasis.
Then the brain of French Protestantism began its work: John Calvin appeared.
John Calvin was born on the 10th of July, 1509, at Noyon, in Picardy, which was also Lefèvre’s native province. He was emphatically a man of the people. His family was not one of marked importance. His grandfather was a cooper at Pont 1′Evèque; his father was secretary to a bishop, and in the days of his greatest prosperity, apprenticed his brother Antony Calvin to a bookbinder. Simple, frugal, poor, intelligent, such were John Calvin’s immediate progenitors.
His father valued letters, and he determined that his son should be liberally educated. The boy was therefore sent in his fifteenth year to the college of La Marche, at Paris.
There, pale, diffident to a painful degree, but with a look of striking intelligence, the bashful and studious boy of Noyon speedily shot to the head of his class. It was at the university that the famous friendship between Calvin and Mathurin Cordier began. Cordier, in 1523, when Calvin came to town, was a professor at La Marche. One of those men of ancient mold, who prefer the public good to their own advancement, he had neglected a brilliant career which had opened its alluring arms to welcome him, and devoted himself to the instruction of children. The professor was instantly attracted towards his singular pupil. Calvin’s purity, his quickness, his thoroughness, his genius captivated him, and he lavished his instructions upon the thoughtful boy with unstinted hand. He taught him Latin and Greek and Hebrew. He initiated him into the temple of medieval culture. He imparted to him a certain knowledge of antiquity and of ancient chivalry. Indeed he inspired his pupil with his own ardor, and walked with him, arm in arm, in the “true path” of science.
In after years, when both master and scholar had been driven from France, and had taken up their abode in that little city at the foot of the Swiss Alps, whose mouth was to speak great things, Calvin, then expanded into the most celebrated doctor in Europe, loved to recall these days of his student life, and publicly announcing his indebtedness to Cordier, he said, “Oh, Master Mathurin, Oh man gifted with learning and great fear of God, when my father sent me to Paris, while still a child and possessing only a few rudiments of the Latin language, it was God’s will that I should have you for my teacher, in order that I might be directed in the true path and right mode of learning; and having first commenced the course of study under your guidance, I have advanced so far that I can now in some degree profit the church of God.”
But in those days both Cordier and Calvin were strangers to the evangelical doctrine, and devoutly followed the papal ritual.
“Calvin,” says one of his biographers and disciples, “was at first a strict observer of the practices of the church. He never missed a fast, a retreat, a mass, or a procession.” “It is a long time since Sorbonne or Montaigne had so pious a seminarist,” was the common expression.
Thus Calvin, like Luther, while in the papal church, belonged to its strictest sect. “The austere exercises of a devotee’s life were the schoolmaster that brought these men to Christ.”
His application surprised his tutors. Absorbed in his books, he often forgot the hours for his meals, and even for sleep. The people who resided in the neighborhood were accustomed to point out to each other as they returned home late at night, a tiny, solitary gleam, a window lit up till the starry tapers of the sky were quenched in the grey of the morning. There sat John Calvin, elaborating in his august reveries thoughts which a little later were to convulse the universe.
Calvin’s father, familiar with his son’s genius, had marked out for hire a brilliant ecclesiastical career: an abbot’s mitre, a bishop’s cope, the red hat and the scarlet gown of a cardinal glittered before his eyes. Therefore when he heard from time to time of young Calvin’s rapid advancement in grammar, in philosophy, in scholastic theology, he would smooth his beard and say, “Ah ha! We shall see brave things yet.”
In 1527, two years after leaving home, he went back to Noyon at vacation time, and “although he had not yet taken orders, he delivered several sermons before the people.” At eighteen he had a parish.
Then it was that a new light, which had but little resemblance to the false radiance of scholasticism, began to shine around him. At that time there was a breath of the gospel in the murky air, and the reviving breeze reached the scholar within the walls of his college, the priest in the recesses of his convent; no one was protected from its influence. Calvin heard people talk about the Bible, Luther, Lefèvre, Melancthon, Farel, and of what was passing in Germany.
When the rays of the sun rise in the Alps, it is the highest peaks that catch them first. In the sunrise of the Reformation, the most eminent minds were first enlightened. In the colleges there were sharp and frequent altercations. Calvin was at first among the most inflexible opponents of the evangelical doctrine; but soon he was won to study. Thoroughness was his mania. With him, as with so many others, examination meant emancipation. And at length, after a terrible struggle, he experienced that “joy and peace in believing” which had solaced Luther’s torn soul in the Erfurth cloister. His conversion was hastened by witnessing several martyrdoms. He opened his Bible. Everywhere he found Christ. Instantly the scales fell from his eyes. “Oh Father,” he cried, “His sacrifice has appeased thy wrath; his blood has washed away my impurities; his cross has borne my curse; his death has atoned for me. We had devised for ourselves many useless follies, but thou hast placed thy word before me like a torch, and thou hast touched my heart, in order that I may hold in abomination all other merits save those of Jesus.”
Calvin then, at nineteen, broke with Rome, and quitting Paris repaired to Orleans, and later to Bourges, where he “wonderfully advanced the kingdom of God.”
After a life of vicissitudes, extending from the year 1527 until 1535, frequently smitten by the bolts of excommunication, a fugitive at Angouleme, at Nevac, at Poitiers, yet preaching at Paris, and haunting the scenes of his greatest danger, Calvin repaired to Geneva en route to Germany, where, unexpectedly to himself, his journey was summarily arrested; while his name became ever after united with that of the brave Alpine city which, under his sway became the Rome of the Reformation.
And here, at the name of Geneva, it becomes not only interesting and instructive, but germain to this history, to sketch the more salient outlines of the gallant and romantic story of that immortal city, as magnificent in the beauty of its landscape, clasped to the snowy bosom of the Alps, bathing its feet in the waters of lake Leman, as in the grandeur of its moving history.
Geneva was at first simply a rural township, and as a part of Gaul it became an appendage of the Roman empire when the emperors leashed the European provinces to their car of conquest. In the fourth century, under Honorius, it became a city, receiving this title after Caracalla had extended the franchise of citizenship to all the Gauls.
From the earliest times, either before or after Charlemagne, Geneva possessed rights and liberties which guaranteed the citizens against the despotism of their feudal lords. The Genevese claimed to have been free so long that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary; and it is certain that the precise date of the birth of their freedom is shrouded in the mist of remote antiquity.
The Genevese soil was composed of three strata: the political lords, the counts of Geneva, who even so early as the eleventh century had extended their rule over an immense and magnificent territory; the bishops, who, gifted with superior intelligence, respected by the barbarians as the high-priests of Rome, and knowing how to acquire vast possessions by slow degrees, finally confiscated for a time the independence of the citizens without much ceremony, and united the quality of prince with that of bishop; and the burghers, not very numerous, but always intelligent, and resolute to maintain their parchment guarantees.
When the counts of Geneva had been hoodwinked by the cunning of the bishops into ceding the city to them, they had reserved the old palace, and part of the criminal jurisprudence, and continued to hold the secondary towns and the rural district of their countship.
But in process of time dissensions arose. The conflicting jurisdictions of the bishop-princes and the counts clashed.
Prelates who had already turned their crosiers into swords, their flocks into serfs, and their pastoral dwellings into fortified castles, hungered for more power. The battered walls of Geneva yet bear the marks of the fierce struggle which ensued, and which continued through the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, Pierre de Savoy, a soldier and a politician, made a herculean effort to recover the city of his ancestors. The conflict lasted long; but eventually he was obliged to surrender his claims. Disgusted with his failure, and exhausted by his unceasing activity, Pierre finally retired to his castle of Chillon, where every day he used to sail upon the beautiful lake, luxuriously enjoying the charms of nature lavished around; while the melodious voice of his minstrel, mingling with the rippling of the waters, celebrated the lofty deeds of this illustrious paladin.
In the fifteenth century the counts of Savoy, having added several other provinces to Genevois, and become dukes, more eagerly desired the acquisition of Geneva than ever. They changed their tactics. Sheathing the ineffectual sword, they resorted to wily diplomacy. The new campaign was opened with spirit, and pope Martin V was petitioned to confer upon the dukes of Savoy the full secular authority in Geneva.
But the citizens, who in the lapse of ages had engrossed the civil government of the city, became alarmed at the news of this maneuver; and knowing that “Rome ought not to lay its paw upon kingdoms,” good papists as they then were, they determined to resist the pope himself, if necessary, in the defense of their liberties. Placing their hands upon the gospels, they exclaimed, “No alienation of the city or of its territory; this we swear.”
The sovereign of Savoy, balked in his best scheme, withdrew his petition. But Martin V, while staying three months at Geneva, on his return in 1418 from the Council of Constance, ran a-muck with the ancient city. There was something in the pontiff which told him that liberty did not accord with the papal rule. He was alarmed at witnessing the franchises of the Genevese. “He feared those general councils that spoil every thing,” says a manuscript chronicle in the Turin library; “he felt uneasy about those turbulent folk, imbued with the ideas of the Swiss, who were always whispering in the ears of the Genevese the license of popular government.”
“The pope,” says D’Aubigné, “resolved to remedy this, but not in the way the dukes of Savoy proposed. These princes desired to secure Geneva in order to increase their own power. Martin thought it better to confiscate it to his benefit. At the Council of Constance it had just been decreed that episcopal elections should take place according to the canonical laws, by the chapter, unless for some reasonable and manifest cause the pontiff should think fit to name a .person more useful to the church. Martin thought that the necessity of curbing republicanism was a reasonable motive; and accordingly, as soon as he reached Turin, he translated the bishop of Geneva to the archiepiscopal see of the Tarentoise, and heedless alike of the anger of the Savoy dukes, and of the rights of the canons and the citizens, he nominated Jean de Rochetaillée, patriarch in partibus of Constantinople, bishop and prince of Geneva.”
The Genevese, surprised and overawed, acquiesced in sullen discontent. Seventy odd years rolled away, and still the faithful citizens remembered their broken charters, and hugged the memory of their ancient franchises. At the commencement of the sixteenth century, driven to desperation by the tyranny of their bishop-prince, they determined to revolt, and turning towards Switzerland, whose…
“Hills, rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun,”
had always borne up a hardy race of freemen, they invited the powerful Helvetic confederacy to assist them in expelling the usurper.
In its earlier stages the contest was a political one, but ere long it assumed a religious phase. The Reformation was preached. Its spirit took invincible hold of German Switzerland. The towns of the Helvetic confederacy had often come into collision with the grasping dukes of Savoy. Cherishing republicanism as their palladium of safety, they also hated the bishop-prince of Geneva, who had despoiled their Genevese cousins of their birthright, besides planting an inimical state upon their borders. Switzerland therefore lent a willing ear to the Genevan ambassadors, who came to solicit the assistance of the confederation. And when, a little later, the Helvetic cities had the additional motive of wishing to clutch Geneva as a trophy won to the reformed faith which they professed, they threw themselves into the contest with redoubled ardor. Precisely as the house of Savoy, backed by the pope, wished to extend its limits in a monarchical and Romanist sense, Switzerland desired to extend hers in a popular and Protestant sense.
The Genevese did not at once accept the Reformation. Numberless fierce quarrels followed its entrance within their walls. But gradually the citizens, remembering the tyranny under which they had groaned when the bishop-prince swayed the scepter of Geneva, recalling the mischief which pope Martin had worked them, and perceiving that the liberality of the reform contrasted strongly with the intolerant despotism of Latin orthodoxy, came over and ranged themselves under the Protestant banners, adjudging their franchises safer under the Reformation than under Rome.
William Farel of Gap had joined the Protestant missionaries when they undertook to extend their creed into the Romanic border lands, and by his boldness, eloquence, and unceasing energy, he gave brave help in proselyting Geneva. Instigated by him, the city council had publicly proclaimed that Geneva adhered to the Reformation; and so wonderful was the spell of his preaching, that priests were seen to throw off their vestments before the altar, and confess the Protestant creed.
Such was the posture of affairs when John Calvin entered Geneva in the year 1535. His intention was merely to visit Farel for a few days, and then seek in Germany an asylum where he might devote himself to tranquil meditation. Farel, however, perceiving his vast ability, was resolved not to permit him to depart; and when Calvin refused to remain in Geneva, he announced the wrath of Almighty God upon him should he shirk his duty, for heaven, he said, would make the quietness of study a curse to him.
Calvin afterwards said that it appeared to him as if he had seen the hand of God stretched forth from above to hold him back; he dared not resist it.
Calvin and Farel clasped hands, and immediately began to preach.
It seems that there were in Geneva certain persons who had adopted the reformed faith because they thought that it would bring them increased personal license. These latitudinarians were soon offended at the strict discipline which the two orators of the Reformation proclaimed. They intrigued so effectually that Farel and Calvin were exiled.
Calvin was far from caring too anxiously for his person. He had been obliged to endure opposition, combined with agony of conscience, which he declared were more bitter than death—the mere remembrance of which made him tremble. He began now again to wander and to learn; in particular he commenced a correspondence with the German reformers, with Melanethon, with Bucer, with Capito, and formed a closer acquaintance with them at the Diet.
It soon appeared that he could not be dispensed with at Geneva. The independence of the city was menaced in two directions: one party, which was inclined to the Vatican, were disposed to reinaugurate the old regime; the other showed a spirit of compliance with foreign dictation which imperiled the freedom of the town.
Both these factions were subdued, after long and sanguinary domestic contests, and those remained triumphant who regarded the maintenance of the strict Protestant discipline as the salvation of the city.
Deeply penetrated with this conviction, they looked upon all they had suffered as a punishment for the expulsion of their preachers. It was resolved to recall them. Although Calvin was extremely reluctant to return, yet Farel’s solemn adjurations impelled him to accede to the call; and while Farel departed for Neufchatel, whither he had engaged to go, the great French divine reentered Geneva as a conqueror in 1541.
The condition of his return, though not distinctly stated, was still tacitly understood to be the adoption of his system of ecclesiastical discipline.
Calvin instantly went to work. He planted education as the basis of his state. He new-modeled the civil code, and shaped it to strict republicanism, sealing his renovation with these words of Christ: “THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.” He next organized the Reformation. The Genevese reformers shaped their divinity on the model of his “Christian Institutes,” which were written in 1536, and dedicated to Francis I, before the final return to Geneva. Ere long this work was scattered broadcast through Latin Europe. The Reformation lost its heterogeneous character. The conflicting sects were melted into unity, and France at last accepted the essential tenets of the despised Vaudois when she permitted the plastic hand of her great Genevan doctor to mold her into Protestantism.
The Abbé Anquétil, an old chronicler whose words at one time were in wide favor with the papists, considers the “Christian Institutes” to have been the chief support of the “heresy;” “for they systematized the Protestant doctrines, and enabled their assemblies to keep together even when their ministers were torn from them.”
God, by giving in the sixteenth century a man who to the lively faith of Luther and the scriptural understanding of Zwingli joined an organizing faculty and a creative mind of rare genius, furnished the complete reformer. If Luther laid the foundation, if Zwingli and others built the walls, Calvin completed the temple of God.
Then Geneva became the school of the Latin and Anglo-Saxon, as Wittenberg was of the German and Slavonic Reformation.
As soon as Guy de Brés and many other fiery scholars returned from Geneva to the Low Countries, the momentous contest between the rights of the people and the revolutionary and bloody despotism of Philip II of Spain began; heroic struggles took place, and the creation of the republic of the United Netherlands was their glorious termination.
John Knox returned to his native Scotland from Geneva, where he studied several years; then popery, arbitrary power, and the exotic immorality of the French court, imported by queen Mary Stuart, made way on the north of the Tweed for the pure enthusiasm which bred Christian liberty and civilization.
Those Englishmen who sought an asylum in Geneva during the bitter persecutions of “Bloody Mary,” imbibed there a love of the gospel and of civil liberty; and when they returned to Great Britain, these fountains gushed out beneath their footsteps.
Numberless disciples of Calvin carried with them every year into France the august principles of the Genevese school.
Even the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, who, quitting their inhospitable country in the reign of that royal pedant James I, planted on this continent their populous and mighty colonies, may in no improper sense claim Geneva as their mother. Calvin, looming through the centuries, may stretch his hand across the water from Mont Blanc, and placing it upon the head of the American Republic, murmur a proud benediction, and say, “You too are mine; I created you.”
THE VALLEY of the SHADOW of DEATH
It will be remembered that the French king’s first edict against heresy had been issued on the 9th of June, 1523. Nearly three years later, February 5, 1526, government issued another fiat. In those days all proclamations were made by a herald who traveled from city to city, trumpet in hand, and sounding his trumpet in the public squares to collect an audience, cried out his message in a loud voice.
On the morning of the 6th of February there was an unwonted stir in the streets of Paris. Crowds of excited people thronged the pavements, and with vehement gesticulation and voluble tongue harangued one another upon some question of exciting import. The great rush was towards the Louvre. There, at ten in the morning, a herald took his stand upon the palace steps, and after the customary flourish of the trumpet, cried, by order of Parliament, “All persons are forbidden to put up to sale, or translate from the Latin into French, the epistles of St, Paul, the Apocalypse, and other books. Henceforward no printer shall print any of the writings of Luther. No one shall speak of the ordinances of the church or of images otherwise than as holy church ordains. All books of the Holy Bible, translated into French; shall be given up by those who possess them, and carried within a week to the clerks of the court. All prelates, priests, and their curates, shall forbid their parishioners to have the least doubt of the Romish faith.”
When the herald paused, the vast crowd began to disperse. The comments were various. “Heresy should be choked in blood,” said some. “The Sorbonne fear Faust’s type,” said others. The majority turned away with the peculiar French shrug, and said quietly, “Patience; we shall see.”
The prior of the Carthusians, the abbot of the Celestines, monks of all colors, “imps of antichrist,” says an old chronicler, openly rejoiced in this brilliant triumph over heresy. “They gave help to the band of the Sorbonne,” and cried, Amen, at the end of every sentence of the proclamation.
A little later the new edict was cried in Sens, Orleans, Meaux, and “in all the bailiwicks, seneschallies, provostries, viscounties, and estates of the realm.” And now Cardinal Tournou’s inquisitors, taking one edict in the right land and the other in the left, walked on their mission of destruction hedged about with the sanctity of public law.
France bled at every pore.
History teaches best by individual instances. Descriptions of collective cruelties lose their graphic power through the breadth of the delineation.
There was a young man about twenty-eight years of age, a licentiate of laws, William Joubert, who had been sent by his father, king’s advocate at La Rochelle, to Paris to study the practice of the metropolitan courts. Notwithstanding the prohibition of the Parliament, young Joubert, who was of a thoughtful disposition, ventured to inquire into the validity of the papal faith. Conceiving doubts, he said in the presence of some friends, that “not Genevieve nor even Mary could save him, but the Son of God alone.”
For these words the unhappy licentiate was thrown into prison under the proclamation. His frightened father hastened to Paris by post; his son, his hope, a heretic, and on the point of being burned!
He gave himself no rest. Never before had he so exerted himself to save a client. He went to the Sorbonne; he visited the court; he besieged the Parliament. “Ask what you please,” said the miserable father; “I am ready to give any sum to save my boy’s life.”
Vainly did the tireless advocate struggle. On Saturday, February 17, 1526, the inquisitor came for young Joubert, helped him into the tumbril, and carried him to the front of Notre Dame: “Beg our Lady’s pardon for your infidelity,” he said. Joubert was silent. He drove on to the front of St. Genevieve’s church: “Ask pardon of St. Genevieve.” The Rocheller was firm in his new faith.
He was then taken to the Place Market, where the people, seeing his youth and handsome appearance, deeply commiserated his fate. “Do not pity him,” said the inquisitorial guard; “he has spoken ill of our Lady and of the saints in paradise; he holds to the doctrine of Luther.” The executioner then approached Joubert, pierced his tongue with a red-hot iron, strangled him, and then burned the body.
A young student who already held a living faith, though not yet in priest’s orders, had boldly declared that there was no other Savior but Jesus Christ, and that the Virgin Mary had no more power than the other saints. This youthful cleric of Théronanne, in Picardy, had been imprisoned in 1525, the year preceding the last edict. Terrified by that punishment, he went on Christmas eve, with a lighted torch in his hand, and stripped to his shirt, and “asked pardon of God and of Mary” before the church of Notre Dame. In consideration of this “very great penitence,” it was thought sufficient to confine him for seven years on bread and water in the prison of St. Martin-des-Champs!
Alone in his dungeon, the recusant scholar heard once more the voice of God in the depths of his heart; his conscience beat loud beneath the silent porch of his prison. He began to weep hot tears at the remembrance of his denial of the faith; “and forthwith,” says the chronicler, “he returned to his folly.” Whenever a monk entered his cell, the young cleric proclaimed the gospel to him. The monks were astonished; the convent was in a ferment. Merlin, the grand penitentiary, went to him, and advised and entreated and stormed and menaced, all without effect. Finally, by order of the court, he was taken into the Place de Grove, where poor Berquin suffered, and burned alive.
Such were the methods employed by the Roman commission to force the abhorrent doctrines of their church back into the unwilling hearts of those who rejected them. They made use of scourges to beat them, of cords to strangle them, and, of fires to roast them alive.
But the ultramontanists did not confine themselves to hawking at untitled prey. In the year 1533 they flew at a higher quarry. Margaret of Navarre, herself a queen, and sister to the king, was venomously assailed.
Margaret, sighing after the time when a pure and spiritual religion should displace the barren ceremonials of popery, had published, first at Alencon, in 1531, and then in Paris, in 1533, a poem, entitled, “The Mirror of a Sinful Soul, in which she discovers her Faults and Sins, and also the Grace and Blessings bestowed on her by Jesus Christ her Spouse.”
The poem was mild, spiritual, and inoffensive; but it was written by a queen, and it made a great sensation. Many persons read it with interest, and admired Margaret’s piety and genius.
But not so the Sorbonne. Beda, the fiery syndic, absolutely devoured the little book; he had never been so charmed with any reading, for at last he had proof that the king’s sister was a heretic. A diabolical plot had been laid by the ultramontane party to ruin Margaret a little before, and her household were steeped to the lips in the plot. But there was no occasion now to invoke the “Scythian ingratitude” of the queen’s dependents. “Understand me well,” cried the exultant syndic, holding up the volume, “this is not a dumb proof, nor a half proof, but a literal, clear, complete proof.”
The Sorbonne assembled. “Listen,” said Beda. The attentive doctors fixed their eyes upon the syndic. Beda read:
“Jesus, true Fisher thou of souls, My only Saviour, only Advocate.“
“Point against the accused,” said Beda. He continued:
“Pain or death no more I fear, While Jesus Christ is with me here.”
“Confirmation,” growled the syndic. “Listen again,” said Beda:
“Not hell’s black depth, nor heaven’s vast height, Nor sin, with which I wage continual fight, Me for a single day can move, Oh, holy Father, from thy perfect love.”
The doctors were scandalized. “No one,” said them, “can promise himself any thing certain as regards his own salvation unless he has learned it by special revelation from God.”
“Let us proceed,” said Beda, overflowing with delight:
“How beautiful is death, That brings to weary me the hour of rest. Oh, hear my cry, and hasten, Lord, to me, And put an end to all my misery.”
“Deadly heresy,” said Beda; ” what insolence!” He made his report. “Of a truth,” said his colleagues, “that is enough to bring anybody to the stake.”
The Sorbonne instantly prohibited the Mirror of a Sinful Soul, and put it in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
The faculty decided that the first thing to be done was to search every bookseller’s shop in the city, and seize all the copies found. A priest named Leclery made the search. Accompanied by the university beadles, he went to every bookstore, seized Margaret’s poem wherever the tradesmen had put it out of sight, and returned to the Sorbonne laden with the spoil.
Then the faculty deliberated upon the measures to be taken against the queen.
Meantime insinuations and accusations against the king’s sister were uttered from every pulpit. Margaret was even lampooned in a college comedy which Calvin reported.
But still the faculty hesitated. They knew that Francis loved his sister, and they dreaded punishment. The monks were everywhere exasperated. “Let us have less ceremony,” cried one of them, the superior of the Grey Friars; “put the queen of Navarre into a sack, and throw her into the Seine.”
Margaret supported these insults with admirable mildness. But when Francis heard of them, his rage knew no bounds. The constable Montmorenci, who had caballed against the queen of Navarre, was publicly snubbed. The insolent prior who had proposed to sew Margaret into a bag and throw her into the river was next dealt with. “Let him suffer the punishment which he desired to inflict upon the queen,” said Francis. But Margaret interceded for the wretch, and his life was spared. Stripped of his ecclesiastical dignities, he was sent to the galleys for two years. The collegians who had satirized the queen were imprisoned, and the Sorbonne was severely rated; Beda was exiled, and the faculty were advised “not to mix themselves up in such dangerous matters, or to beware of the terrible anger of the king.”
Thus auspiciously to Margaret and to the reform ended this tilt with the Sorbonne doctors.
But a terrible tragedy was about to be enacted, which compensated the faithful for the mortification of this defeat. The unhappy Vaudois appear once more upon the historic stage; now, as always before, agonized as martyrs.
Some of the Vaudois remained in France even after the cessation of the atrocious harries of De Montfort and St. Louis in the thirteenth century; and reference has been made to those of Cabrières and Merindole, who were protected by the noble fiat of Louis XII. After their transitory appearance in that reign, the Vaudois had disappeared from the excited history of the succeeding ages, and wrapped in the mountain fastnesses of the French Alps, they procured the means of subsistence by pastoral industry. Thus they lived in peace with man and serving their fathers’ God until the Reformation began to stir the world. Then Calvin, from his seat in Geneva, offered them his alliance. He was familiar with the hoary tenets of their ancient faith, and he endorsed them.
Then the tranquil rest of the Vaudois mountaineers was broken. Their confession of faith was reported at Paris. Eighteen of their principal teachers were cited to appear before the Parliament. But ere the summons could be obeyed, a decree of extermination was pronounced upon them without a hearing.
William du Bellay was then governor of Provence. This gentleman was appointed by Francis to execute the sanguinary edict. With a humanity rare in those cruel times, the governor determined to see the king, and if possible to turn him from his purpose. Francis, who had previously appointed Du Bellay his envoy to the conference of Smalcald, held him in high favor, and condescended to hear his representations.
“I have come, sire,” said he, “to inform your majesty of the actual character of the Vaudois, which, in my official capacity, I have taken great pains to investigate. They do certainly differ from our communion in many respects; but they are a simple, irreproachable people, benevolent, temperate, humane, and of unshaken loyalty. Agriculture is their sole occupation; they have no legal contentions or party strife. Hospitality is one of their cardinal virtues; and they lave no beggars among them. No one is tempted to steal, for his wants are freely supplied by asking.”
“But they are heretics,” responded Francis sternly.
“I acknowledge, sire,” said the governor, “that they rarely enter our churches; and if they do, that they pray with their eyes fixed on the ground. They pay no homage to saints and images; they do not use holy water; they do not acknowledge the benefit to be derived from pilgrimages, nor do they say mass either for the living or the dead.”
“And is it for such men as these,” said the king, “that you ask clemency? Go, go, Du Belay; for your sake they shall receive pardon, if within three months they present themselves before the archbishop of Aix, renounce their heresies, and become reconciled with the mother church. If they are still rebellious, they must expect the utmost severity. Meantime the edict stands unrepealed. Think you that we burn heretics in France only that they may be nourished in the Alps?”
The Vaudois cherished their patriarchal opinions too faithfully, they were embalmed in the tradition of too much suffering, to enable them to even to think of submitting to the king’s conditions. They therefore awaited their doom in frozen despair.
But it happened that the Provencal Parliament had for its president an advocate of unrivalled legal skill, M. Chassanée, and his noble heart prompted him to use every wile known to his profession to defeat the decree; and he did indeed succeed in postponing the execution of the edict until after his death.
But Chassanée was succeeded by a fierce bigot named d’Oppede, who had no scruples to .overcome. That we may not be accused of overcoloring the woeful catastrophe which followed, we extract the account from the unfriendly pages of a Romish chronicler, the abbé, Anquétil:
“In 1545, Francis I gave permission to employ the aid of arms against the Vaudois mountaineers. It was granted at the solicitation of the Baron d’Oppede, president of the Parliament of Aix, a violent and sanguinary man, who revived against those heretics assembled in the valleys of the Alps on the side of Provence a parliamentary decree given five years before.”
“Every thing was horrible and cruel,” says the historian De Thou, “in the sentence denounced against them; and every thing was still more horrible and cruel in its execution. Twenty-two villages were plundered and burned, with an inhumanity of which the history of the most barbarous people scarcely affords an example. The unfortunate inhabitants, surprised during the night, and pursued from rock to rock by the lurid light of the fires which consumed their dwellings, only avoided one ambuscade to fall into another. The piteous cries of old men, of women, and of children, far from softening the hearts of the soldiery, as mad with rage as their chiefs, only served to indicate the track of the fugitives and mark their hiding-places, to which the assassins carried their fury.
“Voluntary surrender did not exempt the men from slaughter or the women from excesses of brutality which human nature blushes to record. It was forbidden, under penalty of death, to afford them any refuge. At Cabrières, the principal town of the canton, seven hundred men were murdered in cold blood; and the women who had remained in their houses were shut up in a barn, which was filled with straw and then fired. Those who attempted to escape from the window were hacked back by swords or impaled on pikes. At the last, according to the tenor of the sentence, the houses were razed, the woods cut down, the fruit-trees plucked up by the roots, and this country, so fertile and so populous, became an uninhabited desolation.”
Such is the ghastly picture of this massacre, as painted by the reluctant pens of two inimical historians, De Thou and the Abbé Anquétil.
Maimbourg, in describing the scene, says that more than three thousand persons were slain, and that nine hundred houses were plundered and then burned.
Thus with a quivering wail passed this last remnant of the ancient Vaudois from the inhospitable and persecuting shores of time, to join their martyred ancestors in eternity.
But the Vaudois had accomplished their mission. They had dropped the seed which sprang up and bore a hundred-fold. Severity, far from checking the progress of the Reformation, only inspired its professors with sublimer energy. They died, on the scaffold or amid the flames, with the steadfast devotion of martyrs.
Hitherto the reformers had only ventured to assemble at night, and in the unknown byways and slums of France. Now they met openly in the light of day. They even erected a church in the heart of scoffing Paris, while the chief cities in the provinces hastened to imitate the example of the capital.
Thus was fulfilled the later saying of John Calvin, that “the kingdom of Christ is strengthened and established more by the blood of martyrs than by force of arms.”
The END of SECTION II