Reformer of the Swiss
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 Alpine Schoolmaster
- Chapter 11 – The Romance of Preaching
- Chapter 12 – My Lords of Berne
- Chapter 13 – The Huguenots Appear
- Chapter 14 – Laymen in the Field
The Alpine Schoolmaster 1527–1528
On the banks of the “Great Water,” a narrow stream that falls in thunder from the rugged glaciers of the Diablerets, lies the small town of Aigle (Ælen), about ten miles from Villeneuve, at the upper end of Lake Leman. A railroad now passes through it, and, from the cars, at this point, one may see the sublime Dent du Midi rising on the south, and the proud Dent de Morcles on the north, both crowned with snow, and between them, a quiet, smiling valley, whose picture will not soon fade from his memory. There the laurel blooms beside the most exquisite grapes, and, yet, hanging almost above them, are vast glaciers, near to which, in summer, the shepherds lead their flocks for pasture. If this be his first gate of entrance, the traveler begins to think that he is amid the grandeur of Switzerland.
To this small town, in December 1526, a man was making his way, on foot and in the rain. He wished to conceal his name, for he was one whom persecution had made an exile from France. He was of middle stature, with red beard, quick eyes, fearless face, and the step of a native mountaineer. If he met any of the villagers, he was likely to give them the whole road, and speak kindly to them in purer French than they employed, but, if he met a haughty priest, he was ready to claim his full share of the path, and look back at him with indignation after he had passed. The wonder is that he did not tear down some of the crosses along the way, and dash in pieces the images that exacted devotion from the superstitious traveler.
With him walked a single friend. Night closed around them, and the rain fell heavy and cold. They lost their path, a very dangerous thing for Alpine travelers on whom the snow might be falling before morning. Drenched and chilled, they sat down almost in despair. “Ah!” said the chief one, “God, by showing me my helplessness in these little things, has willed to teach me how weak I am in the greatest, without Jesus Christ.”
“It is no little thing to be lost,” we imagine the other replying. “We shall perish if we stay here.”
“Let us perish then trying to find our way.” Then rising, they bent forward on their dark journey, feeling for stepping places among the rocks, plunging through bogs, wading through the waters, crossing vineyards, fields, hills, forests and valleys, and, at length, dripping with rain and covered with mud, they reached the village of Aigle.
In this desolate night the exile received a new baptism. His natural energy was somewhat softened. He was so subdued that he felt more timidity than he needed, and anxious to be wise, he overstepped his mark. He assumed a new name, hoping, as he afterwards said, “by pious frauds to circumvent the old serpent that was hissing around him.” He represented himself to be a schoolmaster—Ursinus—and he waited for a door to be opened that he might appear as a reformer.
He looked about upon the people, and saw ignorance and degradation as the fruits of Romanism. The priests fleeced the flocks, add then left them to be pastured by curates who played the hireling, and only confirmed the people in their rudeness and turbulence. The best way to bring the priests into watchfulness was to teach the villagers the gospel. Awaken thought among them, and the jealous clergy would rush to the spot to smother it. He cared not, however, how far they kept away from the field.
Ursinus gathered the children and began his work with no fixed salary. His modest lessons were mingled with new and strange doctrines. His scholars wondered when he told them of the good book and the great God who gave it, the true cross and the Lord of glory who died upon it. They had something to believe, to tell, to expand their minds and elevate their souls. The teacher was encouraged; by feeding the Savior’s lambs, he would soon have sheep to feed.
When the day’s work was done, Master Ursinus left the schoolroom and the primers, and took refuge in his poorly furnished lodging place. It became a palace, for the Bible was the light thereof. He applied himself, with absorbing interest, to the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, and the few works of learned theologians that he had brought with him. The debate between Luther and Zwingli was still going on. He examined anew the entire ground on which they wrestled, and asked to which of these champions he should attach himself. The case was decided; he clung to the Zurich reformer.
Master Ursinus went a step farther in his work. He cautiously set about teaching the parents as well as the children. He showed them that purgatory was a mere invention, there was no such place. Then he exposed the delusion practiced in the invocation of the saints. “As for the pope, he is nothing,” said he, “or almost nothing in these parts; and as for the priests, if they annoy the people with that nonsense, which Erasmus knows so well how to turn into ridicule, that is enough for them.”
Thus he went on teaching in a quiet way for some months. A flock gathered around him, loving the good man, who did more for them than anyone had dreamed of doing before. If they were puzzled by the thought that one so great should come among them in their out-of-the-way corner, it was all explained by his simple goodness of heart. And he told them of Him who condescended from heaven to earth, from the throne to a manger, from the crown to the cross, and they understood and believed. He thought the looked-for moment had come, and he might tell them who he was, and what was his mission. “I am William Farel, minister of God,” said he one day.
The villagers thought none the more nor any the less of him for that. It was to them like any other unheard-of name.
But the priests and magistrates were in amazement and terror. They had heard of William Farel. They now saw among them that very man whose name had already become so fearful. They dared not do anything but let him have his way. Nor did he consult with flesh and blood. He had quietly taken the tower; now he would take the town by a bold movement. He ascended the pulpit, and openly preached Jesus Christ to the astonished multitude. The work of Ursinus was over; Farel was himself again.
The council of Berne, in the month of March, commissioned Farel to explain the Holy Scriptures to the people of Aigle and its neighborhood, and to preach until the incumbent of the benefices, Nicolas Von Diesbach, should appoint a suitable minister, a thing that Nicolas was not likely to do. At the same time a fresh order was issued against the immorality of the clergy and laity, and measures were taken to punish offenders. This new order was galling to the priests, who had lived so long in the freest and loosest way that they could not bear to be restrained. They saw that Farel would have the law on his side, and become bolder than before in attacking the general vices and superstitions. The rich and lazy incumbents, with the poor and ignorant curates, were the first to cry out. “If this man continues preaching,” they said one to another, “it is all over with our benefices and our church.”
The civil power also opposed this first preaching of the pure gospel in these regions. The bailiff of Aigle, and Jacques de Roverea, the governor of the four parishes, Aigle, Bex, Ollon, and the Ormond valleys, felt proud of their “brief authority.” They would not support their Bernese lords, nor accept the minister they had sent. They took the side of the priests, and said, “The emperor is about to declare war against all innovators. A great army will shortly arrive from Spain, and assist the Arch-duke Ferdinand.”
Farel stood firm, and fearlessly went on in his work, avoiding to excite opposition by imprudent vehemence, or by exposing too many of the errors of Romanism. He boldly declared the truth, having patience with the rude and ignorant people. This enraged the bailiff and the governor. They forbade “the heretic” to give any kind of instruction, whether as minister or schoolmaster. Thus they hoped to starve him out or send him away. But they did not know their man, nor their excellencies of Berne. Great was the displeasure of the Bernese lords when they learned what had been done. They sent a new decree, dated July third, and ordered it to be posted on the doors of all the churches in the four parishes. The people read that “all the officers of the state must allow the very learned William Farel to preach publicly the doctrines of the Lord.”
This new proclamation was the signal for a revolt. On the twenty-fifth of July great crowds assembled at Aigle, at Bex, at Ollon, and in the Ormonds, crying out, “No more submission to Berne! Down with Farel!” From words they soon proceeded riots. At Aigle they were headed by the fiery bailiff, and they tore down the edict, and prepared to fall upon the reformed people. Farel was soon summoned by his friends, who resolved to defend him. The firm countenances of the Christian converts checked the rioters, and they dispersed. Farel left the town for a few days, and, like a general who flanks an enemy, he entered upon a new movement.
The traveler, who comes from Geneva in a steamer to Lausanne, will expect to find the beautifully situated capital of Vaud repay him for his visit. He may be puzzled by its crooked streets and wearied with its three hills, but he will be interested in its history and its antiquities, especially in the cathedral, founded about the year one thousand. If Farel’s voice of thunder could have been heard therein, he would have started up a nest of as dissolute canons and priests as all Rome could furnish. Although they had a bishop over them, they were drunk at the inns, they gambled in public, they fought in the churches, they kept the vilest company, they were fathers without being husbands, and sent their children out to beg bread; they disguised themselves as soldiers, and came down from the cathedral hill at night, roamed the streets with swords in their hands, and surprised, wounded, and sometimes even killed worthy citizens. Yet they were “ministers of the Virgin,” whose image drew hosts of pilgrims to the great church. There was a power in that city which aimed to keep the whole country at the feet of the pope. Even the trumpet-voice of Farel could not have prevailed in the streets of Lausanne. He knew it, and did not propose thus to storm the stronghold.
A more quiet way showed itself. The bishop had a chaplain named Natalis Galeotto, a man of elevated rank and the most polished manners. He was fond of learning and of learned men, but yet very zealous about fasts and the rites of the church. Farel thought that if this man could be gained over to the gospel, Lausanne, “slumbering at the foot of its steeples,” and amid the noise of its monks, would perhaps awaken, and all the country with it. True, he had denounced Farel’s zeal against fasts and formalities, as absolutely immoral, but yet there was some hope that a man of his intelligence and character might be won to a purer faith.
Farel wrote to Natalis. He modestly introduced himself and gave some account of his former struggles, and the means by which he had found the true light. He urged the gospel upon the chaplain, and entreated him to use well his talents, to warn the wicked, to lose no time in publishing the praises of God, and to “preach Christ as our great pattern, both in speaking and acting.” Then he referred to the evils which were best known, and which none could deny. “Alas! alas! religion is now little better than an empty mockery, since people who think only of their appetites are the kings of the church.” But Natalis made no reply.
Again Farel wrote, urging upon him “that we should renounce everything for Christ’s sake, even our dearest friends and relatives,” if they were in the way. “No loss, trial, or affliction should be shunned on this account, and the Christian ought to go wherever the Lord calls him, though the whole world should rise up against him.” Farel might properly give this advice; he was following it himself. Then, perhaps, referring to some late conduct of Natalis, be wrote, “Knock, cry out with all your might, redouble your attacks upon our Lord.” But still Natalis kept silence. He would not come out of his entrenchments.
The third time Farel returned to the charge. He urged that “the manifestation of the love of God to men through Christ ought to excite every one to gratitude.” He dwelt still longer upon the doctrines which he believed, and called upon Natalis to explain his own views with the same frankness, to agree with what he considered true, and point out what was erroneous. The chaplain ordered his secretary to break the silence.
The reply showed no signs of a friendly disposition, but was full of abuse. The writer asserted his own belief in all the Romish observances, and reproached Farel for undervaluing them. To this the reformer made a calm reply. The correspondence came to an end. If it did not secure its object, it proved the union of gentleness and energy in a man too often supposed to have been made of only explosive materials. The depth of his piety was evinced by the sufferings he endured, and, if his requirements from others were strict, they were no stricter than his own example enforced. For a time Lausanne was shut against him.
After this skirmish with a priest, came a face-to-face conflict with a monk. A mendicant friar, who did not dare to oppose the reformer at Aigle, crept slyly into the village of Noville, built where the Rhone pours its waters into the Lake of Geneva. The friar went into the pulpit and made his attack upon Farel. He exclaimed, “It is the devil himself, who preaches by the mouth of this minister, and all those who listen to him will be damned.” Having thus vented his feelings he felt courageous enough to go back to Aigle. He did not, however, propose to appear there against Farel, whose powerful eloquence terrified him. There was a greater attraction than a combat with the weapons of truth. With a meek and humble look he went to beg, in behalf of his convent, a few barrels of the most delicious wine in all Switzerland!
He had not walked very far into the town before he met the minister whom Berne was resolved to keep in the field. At this sight he trembled in every limb. There was no mob of priests now in the streets to drive away the man of fiery eyes and fearful voice. Farel advanced and in a friendly tone asked, “Did you preach against me at Noville, saying that the devil spoke through me?”
“I did,” whispered the monk in Farel’s ear, not wishing to attract public attention.
“Would the devil preach the gospel, and will those who listen to it be damned?”
“Then why have you publicly spoken against me in such terms? I request that you will point out and prove the errors which I am charged with preaching, for I would rather die than teach false doctrine to the poor people, whom Christ has redeemed by his blood. May the Lord never permit me to preach any doctrine that he does not approve.”
“I have heard say that you are a heretic, and that you mislead the people by your doctrine,” answered the priest, who would have been glad to turn away and look after the wine.
“That is not enough,” replied Farel, “you must make good what you said in your sermon, for I am ready to stake my life in defense of my doctrine.”
The monk now began to bluster, and said, angrily, “What have I preached against you? Who has heard it? I am not come hither to dispute with you, but to collect alms. You ought to know best whether you have preached sound or erroneous doctrine.”
Farel then represented to him that the truth was of the utmost importance, and that he was in a place where he would be certain of meeting with justice. “If you have spoken the truth,” said he, “I cannot injure you. If you are right you should defend your sermon. If you have misled the people you should lead them back to the true path.”
“You are the false teacher; you mislead the people,” said the friar, growing very uneasy and starting down street as if he would shake off his undesirable companion, and “turning now this way, now that, like a troubled conscience.” A few citizens gathered to the spot, and Farel knew them.
“You see this fine father,” said the reformer, pointing to the monk. “He has said from the pulpit that I preach nothing but lies, and that you will perish if you listen to me.”
“Prove what I said,” cried the friar in a passion, and still trying to move away. “Where are your witnesses?”
“The Omniscient One is my witness. Come, now prove your assertions.”
Then the monk, blushing and stammering, began to speak of the offerings of the faithful (the precious wine of Yvorne, for instance, that he came to beg!) and he said that Farel had opposed them. The crowd increased. The reformer, who only sought for an opportunity to proclaim the true worship of God, exclaimed with his loud voice, “It is no man’s business to ordain any other way of serving God than that which he has commanded. Let us worship God alone in spirit and in truth; the true offerings are a broken and a contrite heart.”
The people looked intently upon the two actors in this scene, the monk with his wallet, and the reformer with his glistening eye. When the friar heard Farel say that there was a better worship than the holy Roman church prescribed, he turned pale and flush by turns, trembled and seemed quite out of his senses. At last, raising his hood and taking off his cap, he flung it on the ground and trampled it under foot, and cried out, “I wonder that the earth does not open and swallow us up!”
“Listen to him as he has listened to you,” said one of the by-standers, as he took the monk by the sleeve.
The monk now ceased to stamp on his cap, and to “bawl like one out of his wits,” and he seemed to himself already half dead with fright. Venting his wrath against him who held his sleeve, he said, “Thou art excommunicated, and dost thou lay hands on me.” “What!” replied the villager, “are all excommunicated who touch thy cowl? Hast thou a different God? or art thou baptized into a different name? Art thou not to be spoken to?”
The friar was silent, although furious, and the little town was in an uproar. Farel gave the poor wine-beggar some good advice, while he also took advantage of the crowd to declare some of the most solemn truths of the gospel. It was probably his first chance since the cry, “down with Farel,” had been raised in those streets and perhaps by those very people who now looked on amazed and confused. At length a magistrate appeared, ordered the monk and Farel to follow him, and he shut them up in prison, “one in one tower, and one in another.”
On the Saturday morning, Farel was brought to the castle, where the court was assembled, with the monk already before them. He reminded his judges that they were sitting in God’s stead, and that they should not have respect to persons or rank. He was willing to be punished if he had preached anything contrary to the word of God. He wished to obey the lawful authorities, but as for this friar, “let him make good his charges, or if he cannot, let the people hear the gospel.” The violence of the monk was over. He was now ready to make matters up as best he could. He fell on his knees in alarm.
“My lords;” said he, “I entreat forgiveness of you and of God. And Magister Farel, (turning to him) what I preached against you was grounded on false reports. I have found you to be a good man, and your doctrine good, and I am prepared to take back my words.”
“My friend and brother,” said Farel with deep emotion, “do not ask forgiveness of me, for I am a poor sinner like other men; I put my trust in Jesus. Before I saw you I had forgiven you as well as others who have spoken against me and the gospel. I have prayed to God both for them and for you.”
One of the lords of Berne came up at this time, and the friar, imagining that he was on the brink of martyrdom, began to wring his hands, and to turn now to the Bernese councilor, and now to the court, and then to Farel, crying, “Pardon, pardon.”
“Ask pardon of our Savior,” said the reformer, who begged that the monk might not be punished any farther. The gospel was now defended, and that was all he wished. He hoped that neither the monk, nor any of his brethren, would henceforth say anything behind him which they could not prove before his face.
“Come tomorrow and hear the minister’s sermon,” said the Bernese lord to the friar. “If he appears to you to preach the truth, you shall confess it openly before all; if not, you will declare your opinion. Give us your hand in this promise.”
The monk held out his hand and the judges retired. But he made the best of his Saturday, and was not to be found on the Sabbath. Farel wrote the account of the affair, closing thus: “Then the friar went away, and I have not seen him since, and no promises or oaths were able to make him stay.”
This was much more than a private and personal strife. It was a contest between truth and error, between Romanism and the Reformation. The future success of the gospel seemed to hinge on the triumph of the monk or of the minister. The good cause won the day. French Switzerland was to have the word of God.
The preaching of Farel brought back the priests to the parishes, for their craft was in danger. And, as if they were not enough against one lonely reformer, certain Romish agents came to their aid from Savoy and Valais. They assembled the people, they discussed measures which were dangerous and revolutionary; but they took care not to meet Farel in debating ten theses, which a large council of reformers at Berne had appointed him to defend. He was fresh from this conference, held January 1528, where he had met several of the distinguished divines in Zurich, Basle, and Strasburg. He was ready for the priests, being armed with an ordinance which declared “that the return to the Scriptural faith and the free use of the Bible was a right that belonged to the people, and that the churches of the cantons should follow the example of Berne.” But the agents of Rome were afraid of arguments. Their only hope was in outward resistance. Berne had no business to sanction the late innovations, and “the bears” would find the world at war against them! They would treat Farel only with slander, ridicule, threats, and violence; they would set at naught the decrees of those who sent him. The proclamations were torn down from the church doors. Troops of citizens paraded the streets. The drum was beaten to rouse the populace against the reformer. Sedition and riot everywhere prevailed.
Farel knew what was threatened, but he was fearless in duty. On the first Sabbath after his return, February 16, he went into the pulpit and began to preach, having, probably, a Bernese senator present to secure him a peaceful hearing. Riotous bands collected about the gates of the church, uttered savage yells, raised their hands in tumult, and compelled the minister to break off in his sermon. The papal party were carrying matters too far, and their noise should be heard across the mountains. They should hear again from Berne. The senate discussed the late events, and ordered that Farel should not be molested in his preaching. Envoys came and called a meeting of the four parishes. Bex declared for the reform. Aigle, less decidedly followed the example. Ollon left the case with the women; the peasants did not dare to maltreat Farel; they, however, excited their wives to rush upon him and beat him with their fulling-clubs. The parish of the Ormonds felt calm and proud at the foot of its glaciers and signalized itself by resistance. The senators were patient with the ignorant people of these last two parishes, and gave them more time to decide upon their course. But, meanwhile, they must hear the word of God, and allow no one to speak from their pulpits against the late orders. And Farel must superintend the preaching.
At Ollon there was no little disorder. While Farel was preaching, one Jajod fell upon him, and roused others to join in the assault. The commission of senators were surprised at this outrage. They ordered the governor to arrest the rioters and to protect the preacher. The people must hear his side as well as that of the priests, and thus be able to come to a fairer decision. Farel sent one of his helpers into the field. But the inhabitants would not hear him.
Claude, one of Farel’s co-workers, went to the Ormonds. When preaching there one day, with great animation, he was suddenly disturbed by the ringing of the bells, “whose noise was such that one might have said all hell was pulling at them.” At another time the shepherds rushed down the mountains like an avalanche, and fell upon the church, crying furiously, “Let us only find these sacrilegious wretches who tear down our altars, and we will hang them, we will cut off their heads, we will burn them, we will throw their ashes into the ‘Great Water.’” It is no wonder that the gospel made slow progress among mountaineers, who seemed to take their angry spirit from the storm that roared through their lofty valleys with a fury unknown to the people of the plain.
At Bex and Aigle the good work met with more rapid success. The senate was glad to know that some churches had given up the mass, removed or burned the images and torn down the altars. The curates, still leading immoral lives, were loath to yield to the order of the senate requiring them to give up their offices to the reformed preachers. Farel was often interrupted at Aigle, and once the pulpit was overturned. But the Bernese senators felt that they must take care of a poor dying people who were too ignorant to banish the wolves and receive the kind shepherds sent to the flocks. They must employ their authority in securing a fair hearing for the gospel.
A new governor was appointed over the four parishes, Hans Rudolf Nageli, a man favorable to the reformed doctrine. Deputies went with him, and by their prudence and firmness great changes were quietly effected. The stormy Ormondines were, at length, induced to forsake their ancient superstitions, and let their altars be destroyed, their images be burned, their Romish paintings be defaced, and their depraved curates be dismissed. The preachers were found to be more attentive to the flocks than the priests, and the doctrines which they had so fiercely opposed were seen to be the pure truths of that good word which God had revealed for their salvation.
The Elijah of the Alps had received the call to return to France, but he was in his element, and would not be tempted nor even driven from the parishes of a poor and misguided people. Impetuous as the streams that broke down the mountainsides, he was still prudent as the shepherd who would have his flock to love him, and at the sound of his voice, follow him up to the glaciers. For months he stood alone, but the Bernese authorized him to secure helpers in his work. From Berne and Basle and France there came devoted fellow-laborers. Yet not all of them were blameless. One Christopher Ballista did him much evil. This man had been a monk at Paris, and had written to Zwingli; “I am but a Gaul, and a barbarian, but you will find me pure as snow, without any guile, of open heart, through whose windows all the world may see.” And the world did see that the monk knew not himself. Zwingli sent him to Farel, who was calling loudly for laborers in Christ’s vineyard. The fine language of the Parisian at first charmed the people. But his words were the best things about him. He had been disgusted with popery, but not truly converted from it. He found the work too hard for one who was brought up to a soft, lazy, gluttonous life. Plain fare, rough journeys, Alpine storms, patient labors, and an ignorant rude people were not to his liking. The people began to distrust him, and then he became, as Farel wrote, “like a furious monster vomiting wagonloads of threats.” Thus ended the toils of Ballista.
Often did Farel’s heart turn to his native land. To someone he thus wrote, with force and beauty: “Let us scatter the seed everywhere, and let civilized France, provoked to jealousy by this barbarous nation, embrace piety at last. Let there not be in Christ’s body either fingers, or hands, or feet, or eyes, or ears, or arms, existing separately and working each for itself, but let there be only one heart which nothing can divide. … Alas! the pastures of the church are trodden under foot, and its waters are troubled! Let us set our minds to concord and peace. When the Lord shall have opened heaven, there will not be so many disputes about bread and water and allusion to the debates about the real presence in the Lord’s supper and on baptism. A fervent charity—that is the powerful battering ram with which we shall beat down those proud walls, those material elements, with which men would confine us.”
During most of this time Farel had lived at his own charge. On one visit to Berne he received many presents, and the senate, no doubt, gave him a salary afterwards. Important movements were going on in the canton of Berne, but we cannot turn aside to see “this great sight.” The language of that canton was German, and the history belongs to that of the German-Swiss reformers. The work there was not much affected by the influence of Farel the Frenchman.
The Romance of Preaching 1529–1530
The valleys now promised a cheering harvest for their Lord, and Farel turned his eyes to another quarter. He was supported by Berne. The cantons of Berne and Friburg held, in partnership, the parishes of Morat, Orbe, and Granson; they also had alliances with Lausanne, the capital of Vaud, and with the cantons of Neufchatel and Geneva. The Bernese senators saw that it was both their interest and their duty to have the gospel preached to as many of their allies and subjects as they could reach. They commissioned Farel to carry it among them, provided he could obtain the consent of the respective governments. This was granted him.
The visitor at Friburg may be shown the ancient trunk of a lime tree, which supports a legend. The story runs that, on the day of the battle at Morat in 1476, a young Friburger, who had fought bravely, ran home to tell the good news in the city, how Charles the Bold of Burgundy was defeated and disgraced by the loss of 15,000 men. The courier reached this spot, losing breath and blood, and falling down utterly exhausted. He could barely say, “Victory,” and then he died. He carried a branch of lime in his hand, and this was planted on the spot where he expired. It grew into the old tree which now is propped up by pillars of stone. Farel was to wage a moral battle at Morat with Friburg against him, and, as bold as the once routed duke, he was to win a better victory than Charles lost. It was for him to bear the palm of victory, and to plant in this very town that little seed which should grow into the mightiest trees of righteousness.
One day he went to Morat and preached the truth at the foot of those towers which had been thrice attacked by some of the greatest armies of Europe. If we mistake not, the bishop of Lausanne had been at this place a few years before, and in his avarice, had attempted to impose a tax on the people at the celebration of the mass. This they had not forgotten. In a short time the new preacher gained the willing ears of a large class of people, and certain of the priests became obedient unto the faith. The reception of the reformed doctrines was to be decided, after a fair hearing, by the majority. The general vote was still in favor of the pope, and Farel quietly withdrew and went to Lausanne, where a considerable number of people had already abandoned popery.
The bishop and the clergy opposed the reformer and drove him from Lausanne. He soon reappeared bearing a letter from the lords of Berne to the authorities of the city. They read the bold words, “We send him to you to defend his own cause and ours. Allow him to preach the word of God, and beware that you touch not a hair of his head.”
This was a shell thrown into the camp and might burst. The council was in great confusion. There was the bishop on the one side and Berne on the other. It was a very serious business. The Council of Twenty-four referred it to the Council of Sixty, but their honors excused themselves from touching it, and sent it up to the Council of Two Hundred (November 24, 1529). But they could do nothing. They gave it back to the Smaller Council. No one wished to have anything to do with it.
True, there was need of a reform. The citizens were complaining of the priests and canons and monks, saying “that their lives were one long train of excesses,” but the faces of the reformers looked too austere. They seemed too strict and rigid for those who sought mere gentle decency rather than earnest devotion. The new preachers would carry the people over to the other extreme. Besides how dull would the city be if deprived of her bishop, his court, and the dignitaries about him! No more pilgrims to the image of Our Lady; no more great fairs for the sale of relics and indulgences; no more purchasers in the markets, nor boon companions in the taverns; no more suitors in the church courts, nor gay processions on her festivals; no more masses in the great cathedral which Pope Gregory X had consecrated two centuries and a half ago! It was painful to think of the change which the Reform would make. The city would become a desolate widow, beholding no more the noisy throng of her people, who were her wealth and her glory! “Better a disorder that enriches than a reform that impoverishes!” It would raise an uproar. It would turn everything upside down. It must not be permitted. Berne must not send her preachers there. Farel must depart, and he departed.
He returned to Morat. The word gained over the hearts of the people. Merry bands were upon the roads on festival days, who said to one another, laughingly, “Let us go to Morat and hear the preachers.” Then slyly cautioning each other, they said, “Be careful not to fall into the hands of the heretics.” They entered the church, smiling; they soon grew serious, glancing no more at each other, but riveting their eyes on the preacher, or dropping them to weep. Truth had her firm grasp upon them. They went home, some in deep silent thought, some in spirited talk about the doctrines they had heard, some to pray, and many to believe the glad tidings. The fire sparkled among the people, and spread in every direction. This was enough for Farel; he found a welcome for the truth. His eye was turned to another stronghold among the ridges of the Jura and on the borders of France.
At a short distance from Morat was one of the fortresses of popery, the earldom of Neufchatel, with its six or seven delightful valleys, and its chief town of the same name, built on a hill that slopes down to one of the most charming lakes of Switzerland. Its chateau had been the old home of princes, and now belonged to Joan, the widow of Louis of Orleans. She had inherited the earldom from her ancestors, and lost it when her husband aided the French king (1512) in a war against the Swiss; but now (1529) she had just received it back as a present from the Swiss cantons.
The princess was now at Paris, in the suite of Francis I, “a woman of courtly style, vain, extravagant, always in debt, and thinking of Neufchatel only as a farm that should bring her in a large revenue,” and devoted to the pope and popery. Twelve canons, with several priests and chaplains, made up a powerful clergy, having at their head the Provost Oliver, the brother of the princess. This main army was flanked by a strong array of auxiliaries. About half a league distant, on one side, was the abbey of Fontaine-Andre, regarded with great veneration. The monks, who founded it in the twelfth century, cleared the ground with their own hands, and became powerful lords in the world. On the other side was the abbey of the Benedictines of the Isle of St. John, whose abbot had lately been deposed by the Bernese, and, burning with vengeance, he had taken refuge in his priory at Corcelles, where a third entrenchment was thrown up.
To march right into such a stronghold, held by such an army, and having such reserve forces on each side, and demand its surrender, looked as foolish as the wildest dream of the old knight-errants of the Rhine. Even Farel would not thus attempt to take the fortress. The papists had done all they could to make it difficult of access. They dared not weaken their own cause by instructing the people; they hoped to strengthen it by amusing them. Pomps and shows took the place of sermons. “The church, built on a steep rock, was filled with altars and images of the saints; and religion, descending from this sanctuary, ran up and down the streets, and was travestied in dramas and mysteries, mingled with indulgences, miracles, and debaucheries.” The higher clergy were rich, influential, and corrupt; the people untaught, rude, superstitious, and warlike; the princess was ready to crush any new movement, and the governor, George do Rive, was zealous for the ancient system of worship. It seemed that the place could be taken only by a wise strategy.
On a December day a frail boat left the southern bank of the lake, and carried a Frenchman of ordinary appearance, who steered for the Neufchatel shore. Quietly landing under the walls, he walked to one of the gates, near which had grown up the little village of Serrière. He inquired for Emer Beynon, the priest of the place, whom he had learned “had some liking for the gospel.” Parson Emer received him with joy, for the visitor was no other than Farel, who had planned his campaign, and had entered upon it. But what could he do? Farel had been heard of and feared, and he was forbidden to preach in any church whatever in the earldom. The poor priest suggested that no injunction was laid upon the rocks nor the open air. Farel mounted on a stone, still pointed out, in the cemetery, and, turning his face away from the church, preached to the wondering people who came at his call. This rock was the corner-stone of protestantism in the canton of Neufchatel. The whole town became his church, and many came to hear him.
Very soon the rumors of this bold movement went in at the gates, and filled all the capital. A great commotion was seen in the streets. On one side the government, the priests, and the canons cried “Heresy!” On the other, “some inhabitants, to whom God had given a knowledge of the truth,” flocked to the preacher’s pulpit of stone. Already was there a small protestant force in Neufchatel. The soldiers, who had been with the Bernese army, had just returned, bringing back the liveliest enthusiasm for the reformed doctrines. They hailed with delight the man who had thus planted himself at the very gates of the city. These, and others, who longed for the glad tidings of salvation, could not repress their joyful hopes. “Come,” said they to Farel, “and preach to us in the town.”
They were almost disposed to carry the preacher in their arms. They assumed to be his bodyguard; they entered the gate of the castle; they passed the church and in front of the canon’s houses; they descended to the narrow streets, inhabited by the citizens, and reached the market-cross. There Farel mounted a platform and addressed the crowd which gathered from all the neighborhood—”weavers, vinedressers, farmers, a worthy race, possessing more feeling than imagination.” Grave was the preacher’s countenance; weighty truths hung on his lips; his speech was energetic; his voice like the thunder; his eyes, his features, his gestures, all showed that he was a man of intrepidity. The citizens, accustomed to run about the streets after mountebanks, were touched by his powerful language.
The very first sermon won over many of the people. If they could have had their way, scarcely a finger would have been lifted against the messenger of glad tidings. If the people in the sixteenth century had been left to their own choice, the reformation would have gained all Europe. The same would be true now. But never and nowhere would the priests let them alone. At this first sermon of Farel, certain sly and crown-shaven monks glided among the hearers and began to excite them to do what they would never have thought of doing. Some of the ruder class were thus aroused to obey their masters and attempt violence. “Let us beat out his brains,” cried some. “Throw him into the fountain,” cried others. The fountain was near at hand (and is still shown), but the undaunted preacher was neither to be beaten nor drowned. None of these things moved him.
In vain had there been a decree that this “heretic, William Farel,” should preach in no church in the Canton. He needed none. Every place was a church, every stone or bench or platform was a pulpit. He preached in the streets, at the gates, in the public squares, and the dwellings of the monks echoed his powerful voice. No matter if the snows and winds of December were forbidding the people to hear him; or if the cheerful fire-sides were tempting them to remain within doors, they would crowd about the man who cared for their souls. The canons made a vigorous defense, and the “shorn crowns” rushed out into the cold weather, shouting, crying down, rousing up, begging, threatening, and making a furious ado, but it was all useless. No sooner did this Frenchman rise up in any place and in trumpet tones declare his message, than the monks found all their labor lost. All eyes were fixed on him; with open mouth and attentive ear the people hung upon his words, and forgot the winter’s cold, and the rage of the priests. And scarcely did he begin to speak when as he exclaims, “Oh! wonderful work of God! this multitude believed as if it had but one soul.”
Thus at the first assault the gospel carried the town. For several days the multitudes increased. They came from the neighboring districts; they invited him to their homes and villages; they scarcely knew how to leave him. It seemed to him that Jesus Christ was walking, almost visibly, through the streets, opening blinded eyes and softening hardened hearts. Wearied and yet stronger than ever, he bowed down in his humble lodging, and thanked God for his marvelous power, and then he sent a message to his colleagues at Aigle. “Unite with me in thanking the Father of mercies for so graciously enlightening those who were oppressed by the greatest tyranny. God is my witness, that I did not leave you, with whom I would gladly live and die, from a wish to escape bearing the cross. The glory of Christ and the love shown to his word by the disciples of this place, enable me to bear the greatest sufferings.”
But during all these days what were the strong forces of the pope, here gathered, attempting to do? Was the winter shutting them up in their comfortable quarters?
We must not follow the worst of them into their resorts of revelry, lust, and shame, nor ask for the fathers of those children which crept out of dens of infamy to be taken up and supported at the public expense. A plain blunt age made and preserved the record which now cannot bear the light. We have opened it far enough, unless we may turn from their baser crimes to their cruelties. In a house near the city were placed some poor lepers, who were barely able to keep soul and body together by the funds arising from the sale of certain offerings. The rich canons made their feasts more sumptuous by taking these proceeds, and thus they robbed these helpless sufferers of the bread of charity.
These canons had been at open war with the monks of the Abbey of Fontaine Andre. Encamped on their two hills, they claimed each other’s property, wrested away each other’s privileges, launched at one another the coarsest insults and criminal charges, and even came to blows. “Captor of silly women,” cried the canons to the abbot of Fontaine, and “he returned the compliment in the same coin.” These quarrels disturbed the whole country. Such was the boasted purity and unity in the Romish church, at that day, in the canton of Neufchatel.
On a sudden these quarrels ceased, the fighters shook hands. A strange event was taking place in the city. The word of God was there preached. The canons, from their lofty hill, could not look down on the crowds in the streets with contempt. They were startled, affrighted, and aroused to league together all their forces. The monks of Fontaine should be mustered into service. The report had reached the abbey. All there were astir. They would now be brothers to the canons. Hatred to the gospel united these parties. They joined their strength against the reformer.
“We must save religion,” said they, who had so long been destroying it. They meant that they must save their livings, their tithes, their banquets, their scandals and their privileges. It would be folly for them to oppose a single doctrine preached in their streets. They must resort to insult. At Corcelles, these opposers went farther. A voice was one day heard proclaiming the gospel under the windows of the priory where the deposed abbot of Fontaine had taken refuge. The monks looked down upon a listening crowd; Farel was there. What an interruption of their peace! a public disturbance indeed! They rushed forth, not to call a magistrate in the legal way, but to fall upon the heretic. Among them was the prior Rodolph, increasing the tempest, and creating a real public disturbance. One writer affirms that he had a dagger in his hand. Farel escaped with difficulty.
This was not. enough. The civil power must be brought against the reform. Popery has always taken this course. The state must assist her in persecuting the teachers of truth, in keeping back the Bible from the people, and in maintaining her power in the land. The canons, the abbot, and the prior, now the best of brothers, appealed to the governor, George de Rive. He was prompt in marshalling all the forces of church and state to put down the new movement. On every side Farel saw himself surrounded. He was called “to endure sufferings, greater than tongue can describe.” Before long he was compelled to yield for a time. He again crossed the lake of Neufchatel; but, on looking back, he could see the gospel fires, kindled at so many points, burning in a flame of glory.
He went to Morat. The people urged him to stay and pass the Christmas with them, but the senate of Berne wished him to visit Aigle, and thither he pressed. He was not now the strange Master Ursinus. He was the good missionary, the first shepherd the people ever had, the lovely man who had led them to the bishop of their souls. It was a Christmas when Christ was honored in that village as never before. But soon a messenger came to bid him away.
Great events were passing at Morat. On the seventh of January, 1530, a second vote was taken there, and the majority were in favor of the reform. But the Romish minority, long urging that the majority should rule, were disposed to revolt. They began a course of insult and violence. One man was needed, and the voters for the gospel cried for Farel. Berne heard the voice and sent for him.
A few days after this, Farel and the Bernese messenger were scaling the magnificent mountains above Vevay, and catching indescribable views of Lake Leman, with its waters of marvelous blue. They entered upon the estates of John, the knight of Gruyere, who was in the habit of saying, “We must burn this French Luther.” The darkness came on them at St. Martin, where they took lodgings. The curate and two priests prepared to insult them in the morning. They said the messenger’s badge was an infernal mark, and pointing to Farel, cried, “Heretic! devil!” They knew he was not the latter, or they would have been silent enough. The curate was as cautious as Shimei, and the knight stayed close in his castle. Farel passed on, leaving the revilers to take comfort from their impudence.
On reaching Morat, Farel brought to nothing the schemes of the popish minority, and gave strength to the growing cause. Not spending time and breath to defend himself, he hastened to preach in the adjoining districts. He filled all Mittellach with his doctrine. He crossed the little lake of Morat, and entered into the villages of the valley, lying between it and Lake Neufchatel. There, on the beautiful hills, he planted that heavenly vineyard, better than the earthly ones that covered them. The effort was fully successful. Friburg objected to the movement. Berne replied, “Let our ministers preach the gospel, and we will let your priests play their tricks. We desire to force no man. The majority should rule.” Farel was raising up the majorities. The people began to find true liberty in that religion which is its source, its regulator and its defense. It was about this time that he wrote his powerful letter “To all lords, people, and pastors.”
The reformer took all the margin that was on his commission. The Bernese senate reminded him that his special field was now Morat, and that he should remain where his instructions were so eagerly received, unless sent for by others who were willing to hear him. But he thought it his duty to sow, and God would take care of the harvest. He went into the northern part of the canton of Berne, awakening the people of the valleys and the villages.
One day in April, he entered the church at Tavannes, just as the priest was saying mass. Farel went into the pulpit. The astonished priest stopped. The minister preached until the people were so moved that it seemed as if an angel had come down from heaven. “The poor priest, who was chanting the mass, could not finish it.” He fled from the altar. The people were so roused that they demolished the images on the spot, and pulled down the altars. They were putting down popery in a shorter time than the priest had spent in its most pretentious rite. The other ministers came to the work. The whole valley was soon disposed to adopt the reformation, in spite of the protests from the bishop of Basle. The parish afterwards was favored with a settled pastor.
On a cold day in 1529, some Bernese soldiers were trying to pass away their time, while they were defending the city of Geneva from the army of Savoy. With them were some young men from Neufchatel, and the talk often ran upon what a good work Haller and his friends were doing. The young Bernese were shivering and it was proposed to have a fire. Where could dry wood be got? Some of them knew, for every Romish church had its idols. They went to the Dominican church, and brought away armloads of the sacred trash, saying, “Idols of wood are of no use but to make a fire with in winter.” The young men of Neufchatel returned home wiser than they left it, and it was their delight to recount in their jovial meetings the exploits of the campaign, and the way they kept warm at Geneva.
These young men were to cause an uproar in Neufchatel. They were waiting for Farel to return. He reappeared about the middle of the year 1530. Being master of the lower part of the city, he raised his eyes to the lofty cathedral and castle. The best plan, said he, is “to bring these proud priests down to us.” His young friends hit upon a scheme that had cost more than one man his liberty. They went here and there through streets, one early morning, and posted up large placards bearing these words, “All those who say mass are robbers, murderers and seducers of the people.” There was no lack of readers, talkers, clamorers and agitators. The noise grew louder. The town began to shake. The canons summoned the people, called together the clerks, and armed a large troop with clubs and swords. Then marching at their head, they descended into the city, tore down the placards, cited Farel before the court, as a slanderer, and demanded ten thousand crowns damages.
The two parties appeared in court, and this was all that Farel desired. “I confess the fact of the placards,” said he, “but I am justified in what I have done. Where can be found more horrible murderers than these misleaders, who sell paradise, and thus nullify the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. I will prove my assertion by the gospel.” He began to open his Bible.
“The common law of Neufchatel,” the canons cried out, flashing with rage, “and not the gospel is in question here. Where are the witnesses?”
“Here are witnesses enough in this Holy Word.” Farel was not to be cried down. He persisted in the testimony of the Scriptures against his accusers, and proved that the canons were really guilty of the charges on the placards. To make good such a proposition was to ruin popery. The court were perplexed; they had never heard a similar case. They resolved to lay it before the council of Besançon. Thence it went up to the emperor and to a general council. Perhaps it lost itself on the way to Rome. The bad cause gained nothing by making a disturbance. Farel took advantage of the lull in the storm.
He preached again in private houses and on public squares. These were still his temple. When his opposers wished to drive him back, he made a step in advance. One day when the people were around him, they asked, “Why should not the word of God be proclaimed in a church?” They hurried him along with them, opened the doors of the Hospital chapel, set him in the pulpit, and a large audience stood silent before him.
“As Christ was born in a manger at Bethlehem,” said the preacher, in his first sermon in a church of the city, “so this hospital, this abode of the sick and the poor, is today become his birthplace in the town of Neufchatel.” Then feeling ill at ease amid the painted and carved figures that decorated the chapel, he laid his hands on these idols and cast them down, breaking in pieces by the fall.
The civil power was now invoked by the papists. They had a right to ask its protection, but asking it they destroyed what they wished to save. The governor prayed the Bernese senate to remove Farel and his companions. But the friends of the reformer were not thus to be outdone. They also sent deputies to Berne, who asked, “Did not our young men bear arms to assist you in your reformation? Will you abandon us in ours?” The Bernese hesitated in order to decide justly between the two parties.
A dying man was to turn the scale. One of the most illustrious citizens of the Bernese republic was expiring amid the tears of his sons and his neighbors. All Berne was full of mourning for him, and in fear of the plague of which he was a victim. He was told of the two appeals from Neufchatel, and rallying his waning strength, he said, “Go and beg the senate, in my name, to ask for a general assembly of the people of Neufchatel for Sunday next. Let the vote be taken.” The message of the dying noble decided the Senate. Berne sent deputies to Neufchatel, who arrived August 7, 1530. Farel thought that during the debates he had time for a new conquest, and he went into Valangin, where we will trace his steps in the next chapter.
The governor did all he could to support the priests and put down the people, but soon found himself at his wit’s end. He sent to the Princess Joan, “begging her to cross the mountains to appease her people, who were in terrible trouble because of the Lutheran religion.” (It was not Lutheran, however.) The princess was too much absorbed with the gayeties of the Parisian court to care for the religion of the canton.
The lines were more and more clearly drawn between the canons and the citizens. The townspeople asked the priests to give up the mass, but they refused. Then the canons were urged, by a written petition, to discuss the question with Farel. But there was the same refusal. “But, for goodness’ sake, speak either for or against!” It was all of no use. They feared debate.
Sunday, October 23, was a day long to be remembered. Farel had returned, and he was preaching in the hospital. He knew that the magistrates of the city were inclined to act with the people against the priests, and that they had talked of giving up the cathedral to the reformers. “Will you not,” said he in his sermon, “honor the gospel as much as the other party does the mass? If this superstitious act is performed in the high church, shall not the gospel be preached there also?” The hearers rose at the hint. “To the church!” they cried, “to the church!” They took Farel with them, and left the hospital. They climbed the steep street of the castle. They forced their way through the array of canons, and priests, and their followers, who did all they could to resist them. Nothing could check them. Insults and shouts were in vain; they pressed onward. They opened the gates of the “Church of Our Lady,” devoted to Romanism for nearly four hundred years. They entered to engage in a new struggle. The canons were there to dispute the way into the pulpit. But it was useless. The crowd was not a band of rioters; they carried a moral force with them. The gospel had a right in the cathedral, and the magistrates had so declared. They had said “that it appeared to them a very good matter to take down the altars and have preaching there.” It should be done. The citizens moved on against the canons, forming a close battalion, and, in the center, placing the reformer. At length Farel stood in the pulpit. The Reformation was victorious.
No shouts arose. All was calm and solemn in the church and at its gates. There was no wish to insult the papal party, and even the adversaries were silent. Farel delivered “one of the most effective sermons he had hitherto preached,” and the people listened as for eternity. They were deeply moved; they were broken in heart; the most obstinate seemed to be converted; and from every part of the old church were heard cries—”We will follow the evangelical religion, both we and our children, and in it we will live and die.”
The zeal of the multitude was beyond control. They wished to imitate the pious King Josiah, and deal one final blow to a false religion. They asked, “If we take away these idols from before our eyes, will it not aid us in taking them from our hearts? Once these idols be broken, how many souls, now hesitating, will decide for the truth! We must save them as by fire.” The latter motive decided them, and then began a scene that filled the Romanists with horror, for, according to them, it must bring down upon the city the terrible judgments of God.
In his castle, adjoining the cathedral, was the governor, de Rive, and, with anxiety, he looked upon the people while they were furnishing him with abundant materials for a letter to the Princess Joan. “These daring fellows,” wrote he, “seize mattocks, hatchets, and hammers, and thus march against the images of the saints.” They march against the statues of certain ones who were not saints—those of the counts themselves—which the people take for idols and utterly demolish. They lay hold of the paintings, tear out the eyes in the pictures of the saints, and cut off their noses. The crucifix also is thrown down, for it has taken homage from our crucified Lord. One image yet remains, the most venerated of all; it is “Our Lady of Mercy,” presented by Mary of Savoy, but it is not spared. “They have bored out the eyes of Our Lady of Mercy,” writes the governor, “which the departed lady, your mother, had caused to be made.” The fragments of the broken images are carried out and thrown from the top of the rock into the roaring torrent below.
All this was rude, and none can fully justify it, although it was not mere rioting and excess. The people felt that the temple must be cleansed, popery must be put down, the gospel must have its proper place, and God must be no longer robbed of his glory by graven images. They had now gone far enough, but, in the excitement they went still farther. They seized the patens, from which they emptied the “holy wafers,” and then cast them into the torrent. They wished to show that they did not any longer believe that the wafers were the real body of the Lord, and they distributed them one to another and ate them as merely common food. At this sight the canons and chaplains could no longer remain quiet. A cry of horror was heard. They rushed forth, leading their infuriated party, and the dreaded struggle began in a battle of blows.
At the windows of the castle, all this time were certain dignified but wrathful and helpless spectators, the provost Oliver, and two canons, the three being members of the privy council, and other high dignitaries. They had been silent; they dared not be otherwise. But now they showed themselves to restore peace by ordering all “the supporters of the evangelical doctrine” to appear before the governor. This was like “trying to chain the whirlwind.” For why should the reformed party stop? There was the authority of the magistrates on their side. They haughtily replied, “Tell the governor that in the concerns of God and of our souls he has no command over us.”
The governor found that he was simply George de Rive, with no authority that weighed a feather with the people. He must yield, and save some remnant of the papal idolatry. Some images were not broken, and he had them hid away in secret chambers. The citizens allowed him to do this, saying to him, “Save your gods; preserve them under strong bars, lest perchance a robber should deprive you of the objects of your adoration.”
The tumult gradually ceased, and quiet was restored. As but a comparatively small part of the citizens were actively engaged in these proceedings, the governor still believed that the majority were in favor of the Romish faith. He was anxious to have the matter tested by a vote of the parishioners. But the reformed party insisted that this step should not be taken in the absence of the Bernese deputies. They at length came, and heard both sides of the case. They proposed that the vote should be taken, when the papal party who “always took the other side,” objected. Some of them rose in the council, and touching the hilt of their swords, spoke of dying “martyrs for the holy Faith.” The young soldiers, who had been in the Genevese war, were quite as ready for that style of arbitration as the Romanists. A little more and there would have been a battle. At last it was agreed that the votes should be taken. The cathedral was opened, and there amid the ruins of pictures and altars, the majority decided for the Reformation, and gave the last blow to popery in that city.
The mass was expelled from the churches, although it was mournfully chanted every day in the castle. It became a storehouse for various spoils, removed from the cathedral when it was thoroughly cleansed, such as relics, ornaments of the altars, much machinery of Romish worship, and even the organ. Several of the canons embraced the Reformation. Others turned their eyes to some quiet corner where they might hide the disgraces of their defeat. When the November winds were raging among the mountains, a troupe of canons, priests, monks and singing-boys painfully climbed through the gorges of the Jura and took refuge in the Val de Travers, wondering if the voice of Farel should ever startle them again.
A little “miracle,” such as popery often furnishes to the ignorant, occurred about this time. Two townsmen named Fauche and Sauge were going out to their vineyards. They passed by a little chapel in which the latter had set up a wooden image of St. John. The former said, “There is an image, and I shall kindle my fire with it tomorrow.” So as Fauche returned he took it away and laid it down in front of his house. The next morning he put it into the fire. An awful explosion followed; the humble family were in dismay; it was a miracle caused by the anger of the saint at being burned; the priests were ready to vouch for it. The poor man made haste to return to the mass. His neighbor came to explain it, but it was in vain that Sauge protested on oath that it was only a joke. He had come at night, bored into the image (and the saint complained of no pain!), filled it with gunpowder, and closed the wound. It was a very earthly thing, but Fauche would not believe one word of such reasoning. He must flee the vengeance of the saints. He hook his family and settled in France. From a faith in such tricks the reformers were delivering the people by leading them back to the real miracles of the Savior whose words, works, and death were their only hope.
What a renovating change since the day when the people carried Farel into the cathedral! If he had been the chief mover in the scenes of October third, the governor would surely have given him a full notice in his minute letter to the princess. Yet he did not name him as taking any part in the fearful movement. Nor did Farel appear in all the business of the votes. One might have said that he was not at Neufchatel. The governor knew not of him in his report. There was something greater than Farel, the word of God. It was at work, and to its Author be the praise for the wondrous change.
Farel was held in grateful remembrance by the council and the citizens, as the chief agent in introducing the gospel. They would gladly have retained him, but he was under engagements to the Bernese authorities. He made a second visit to the Val de Ruz.
For many years an inscription was visible on one of the pillars of the cathedral. It brought to mind the memorial day, as one read:
On October 23, 1530, Idolatry Was Overthrown And Removed From This Church By The Citizens.
My Lords of Berne 1530–1531
There is an old castle, built on a rock, that overlooks the town of Valangin, about a league over the mountain from Neufchatel. Here lived the counts who exercised lordship over the Val de Ruz and four other valleys, which lay among the seven mountains of the Jura chain.
In this castle dwelt Wiliamette de Vergy, the widow of Count Claudius, and the dowager of Valangin. She was full of reverence for the pope, and of respect for the memory of her husband, at whose burial a hundred priests had chanted high mass. Then, too, many penitent young women were married, large alms were distributed, the curate of Locle was sent to Jerusalem, as a reward for his services, and the widow herself afterward made a pilgrimage for the repose of the soul of her departed lord. That she would be a bitter foe to the reformation might be well understood. It was the one thing she hated. Her zeal for popery prompted her to much fasting and solitude. Yet her long silences and gloomy devotions were sometimes followed by merry dances in her halls, when the wife of John, the knight of Gruyere, paid her a visit, and reported his threats against Farel with exquisite satisfaction. They never dreamed that this “French Luther” had his eye upon the Val de Ruz. Williamette and her priests, and her chamberlain, Bellegarde, who even excelled her in hating the reformation, had reason to tremble.
People from the Val de Ruz had come daily to Neufchatel, where they heard the doctrines of the reformers, and they carried back to their parishes certain good news, which were certain to spread far and wide. Still, they were not likely to neglect the great Romish festival on the fifteenth of August—that of “Our Lady of the Assumption.” It was a day when the villages would swarm with people.
This was the very day that Farel selected to make a descent upon the valleys. He left Neufchatel after the affair of the placards, that the people might settle their own affairs with the Bernese deputies. With him went a young Dauphinese, a relative (as it appears), an ardent Christian, and a man of strong, decided character—Anthony Boyve. This family has since given several pastors to the church at Neufchatel. The two missionaries climbed the mountains through the pine forest, and then descended into the valley. They were not disposed to linger about the castle, and, shunning Valangin, as it seems, they halted at the village of Boudevilliers, and proposed to preach there.
They met some persons who had heard the “great preaching” at the capital of the canton, and all of them went into the church. On all sides the people were thronging to it, to hear the praises of “Our Lady” celebrated. The priest was preparing to chant the mass, but Farel entered the pulpit and began his form of service. While the reformer was preaching Jesus Christ and his promises, the priest and his choir were chanting the missal. It was Christianity and Romanism in open competition and contrast. The awful moment came when the wafer was to be changed into the very body of the Lord; the sacred words fell from the priest’s lips over the elements. The people felt the power of their old habits and their superstition, and they deserted the preacher and gathered toward the altar. The crowd was kneeling. Rome seemed triumphant.
Suddenly, a young man, who felt indignant at seeing the mass preferred to a sermon, rushed forth, through the choir and up to the altar, and snatched the host from the hands of the priest, and cried aloud, as he turned to the people, “This is not the God whom you should worship. He is above, in heaven, in the majesty of his Father, and not, as you believe, in the hands of a priest.” This man was Anthony Boyve.
At first this daring act produced the desired effect. The mass and the chanting ceased; the crowd was silent and motionless in astonishment. Farel, who was still in the pulpit, took advantage of the calm, and preached Him “whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things.” The people listened. But the priests and their party acted as if there was a sweeping fire in the town. They rushed into the towers and rang the alarm bell with all their might. These means drew a crowd of newcomers, not so devotional as the rest. Farel and Boyve would have been slain on the spot had they not retired. “God delivered them.”
In the evening they set out for home by a narrow path that wound beneath the castle. They were stealing cautiously along, when suddenly, in a narrow pass, a shower of stones fell upon them, and about a score of priests, men, and women assailed them with clubs. The quaint old chronicler states “that the priests had not the gout either in their feet or arms; the ministers were so beaten that they nearly lost their lives.” They were dragged, half dead, nearer to the castle, to afford some satisfaction to the countess. She came down the terrace and cried, “Drown them! drown them! throw them into the Seyon—these Lutheran dogs, who have despised the host.” The priests were already dragging them towards the bridge. Never was Farel nearer death.
Just then, from behind the last rock that hides Valangin, “there appeared certain good persons of the Val de Ruz, coming from Neufchatel.” They asked of the priests, probably intending to save Farel, “What are you doing?”
“Treating these heretics as they deserve. Putting them into the river.”
“Put them, rather, in a place of safety, that they may answer for their proceedings. Would you deprive yourselves of the only means of finding out those who are poisoned by heresy? Make them confess who their friends are.”
The priests caught the idea, and took the bruised missionaries into the chapel of the castle. Passing by an image of the virgin they said to them, “Kneel down before Our Lady.”
“Ye ought to worship the only true God, and not a dumb lifeless image,” said Farel.
But they beat the blood out of him, and for six years the stains were visible on the walls. They led them to the prison, and “let them down almost lifeless into the dungeon of the castle of Valangin.” The prisoners, like Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi, could “sing praises unto God.” Bellegarde had now an opportunity to display his zeal, and he was preparing for them a cruel end. But some townsmen of Neufchatel came and demanded them. The countess dared not refuse, for Berne might show a strong hand. The senate requested her to make an inquiry and detect the outlaws; she pretended to do so “to put a good face on the matter.” The canons of Valangin were ever after suspected of laying the plot in the house of the countess, where they were daily guests at her table. One account has it that, “Nevertheless the priest who beat Farel most, never failed to eat daily at the lady’s table by way of recompense.” This was of little moment; the great thing was that the truth had been sown in the Val de Ruz, and we shall soon see the reapers coming for the harvest.
This severe beating accounts for the gap in the previous chapter between August and October, when we had nothing to record pertaining to Farel. He was recovering from his wounds. It may have been that during this interval his letter, to a young man about to enter the ministry, was penned. “Look for labor, not for leisure. Truly a wide field lies open, but only for those who wish to feed the flock rather than to live upon it. Much reproach is to be endured. You must expect to meet with ingratitude in return for kindness, and evil for good.”
Farel had now passed through the great events of October 23; he had preached in Neufchatel from a pulpit stripped of every ornament; he had visited the surrounding villages, “working at a reformation night and day.” He had seen his friend Emer Beynon, who first set him up on the stone to preach in Serrière, take a decided course. This good man said one day to his parishioners, from his pulpit, “If I have been a good priest, I desire now to be, by God’s grace, a better pastor.” These words should go everywhere. Farel recommended to him a career of labors, fatigues, and struggles in behalf of the gospel. Emer saw his parish imitate Neufchatel in giving a majority for the Reform.
There was much secret work going on among the Romanists at Neufchatel. Some persons were more zealous for popery after its downfall than they had been in the day of its power. The clergy glided into houses and said mass to a few friends darkly gathered around a temporary altar. The priest came noiselessly to baptize a child, breathed on it, made the sign of the cross on its forehead, and sprinkled it with water of Romish consecration. They hoped to build up in secret what had been overthrown openly. At length they agreed upon a counter-revolution.
A plot was laid for the vespers of Christmas. While the Christian songs were rising to heaven, the conspirators were to rush into the church, expel the heretics, overthrow the Protestant pulpit and tables, restore the images, and celebrate the mass in triumph. But the plot came to light, as such schemes of darkness generally draw into them persons who will betray themselves. Berne was notified of the plan. She sent her deputies, who arrived on the very eve of the festival. “You must see to this,” said they to the governor. “If the reformed are attacked, we, their co-burghers, will protect them with all our power.” The conspirators laid down their concealed weapons, and the Christian hymns were not disturbed. Thus ended the Neufchatel vespers.
Noble Berne! sending forth her missionaries, and not allowing a hair of their heads to be touched, if they could help it, and bringing the priests of many a village and city to the terms of the people. The bear on her shield was a terror to the Romanists. But she appeared to the friends of the gospel as a protecting shepherdess and a nurturing mother.
In the middle of winter Farel crossed the mountain and entered the church of Valangin, went into the pulpit, and began to preach just when the Countess Williamette was coming to hear the mass. She ordered his mouth to be shut, but through his lips passed a torrent of truth, carrying away the prejudices of his hearers. The aged dowager retired in haste, saying, “I do not think this is according to the old gospels; if there are any new ones that encourage it, I am quite amazed.” What the priests did, this time, we do not know, but the people of Valangin were won to the truth. The affrighted lieutenant of the place ran to Berne and made complaint to the senate, but he gained nothing. Their excellencies said coolly, “Why should you disturb the water of the river? Let it flow freely on.”
On the slopes of the Jura mountains Farel wandered, preaching in the hamlets and gaining new triumphs. Curates and abbots resisted him with violence. At one place he was dragged out of the pulpit and driven away by insults and blows; at another he was wounded by a stone or a gunshot. At St. Blaise the people, hissed on by the priests, fell upon him, and he escaped from their hands “severely beaten, spitting blood, and scarcely to be recognized.” He was put into a boat by some of his friends and conveyed to Morat, where his wounds detained him, more wearied and restless than if he had been engaged in his apostolic labors.
The report of this violence at St. Blaise reached the reformed people in Neufchatel. They felt their blood boil. They reasoned thus—if the priests and their allies bruise the body of Christ’s servant (which is truly the temple of God), why should we spare their dead idols? They rushed to St. Blaise, entered the church, threw down the images, and broke up a vast amount of popish machinery. They went to the Abbey of Fontaine Andre, and greatly alarmed that blissful nest of quarrelsome monks by destroying their altars and images. Even granting that these were acts of an unchristian revenge, still it should be noted that these image breakers did not seek to return the wounds of Farel upon living men, but upon dead idols. Not against the priests but against popery, were their blows directed. There was no disposition to take vengeance upon a man, woman, or child, nor upon canon, monk, abbot or priest. Thus the Romanists struck at the preachers of the gospel; they persecuted even unto death. Protestants aimed at great errors and pitied the people, and proved that they were more nearly like God, who hates the sin, but spares the sinner.
One more glance at Valangin. It has generally been stated that Farel was there a third time during this period. But an old chronicler says it was “the minister of Neufchatel,” and this title was never given to Farel. The minister in those days was Anthony Marcourt, a zealous Frenchman. On a great holiday he went to Valangin, and soon had a crowd about him in the streets, listening to his words. The canons were watching from their windows, and the countess and her chamberlain from their towers. They sought how to divert the people from the preacher. They dared not use brute force because of Berne. They proposed to insult the minister, and raise a tremendous laugh in the assembly. A canon and Madame’s coachman took two horses from the stables and performed a piece of vile trickery which decency will not allow us to describe. But instead of a laugh there was the most intense disgust and indignation. The schemers knew not with whom they were dealing. They overshot the mark. The infamous spectacle was scarcely over, when the multitude rushed into the church. They broke the ancient windows and the shields of the lords; they scattered the relics, tore the books, threw down the images, and turned over the altars. Then, sweeping forth like a whirlwind, they threatened the canons’ houses. The dwellings were destroyed, but the canons and their pack fled wildly into the woods, and found sorrow enough for trying to raise a laugh.
Williamette de Vergy and Bellegarde, trembling behind their battlements, repented too late of their monstrous expedient. They saw the last offensive house sacked; they knew not what would come next. But how awful! The outraged people turn toward the castle, they ascend the hill, they draw near. Is the castle to be rifled or even demolished? Not at all, proud lady! “We come to demand justice for the outrage committed against religion and its minister,” respectfully say the delegated burghers standing at the gate. They are permitted to enter, and the affrighted countess hears their case, and orders the poor wretches, who had done her bidding, to be severely punished. Still she takes the first chance to send a messenger to Berne declaring that “great insults had been offered her”! Berne hears only one side of the case, orders the reformed party to pay the damages, but insists that they shall have the free exercise of their religion. The countess must submit. James Veluzat from France became the first reformed pastor of Valangin. In 1531 the entire principality of Neufchatel came under the power of Francis, son of the princess Joan. He proclaimed liberty of conscience and faith in the whole canton. The sermon on the rock at Serrière had been one means of securing these great results.
And now comes another reaper into the harvest. A young Dauphinese, named Christopher Libertet Fabri, had been studying medicine at Montpelier, where he first learned the disease of his own soul and found its remedy. He still intended to go to Paris and complete his studies. Being at Lyons, he met certain friends of the truth who told him of the wonderful events in Neufchatel and the neighboring villages. He was so interested in these reports that he changed his mind and his route; and now we find him at Morat, inquiring for the house where Farel is lodging.
Sore from the beating at St. Blaise, “shivering with cold, spitting blood,” and scarcely able to speak, Farel is lying at Morat. Tenderly has he been welcomed there, and carefully is he watched by the friends who tread softly about his room. A young man wishes to see him. As he is a Dauphinese, he may come. Modestly approaching the bed, he introduces himself as Christopher Fabri, and says, “I have forsaken everything—family, prospects and country—to fight at your side, master William. Here I am. Do with me as seems good to you.”
“I see that we have the same faith and the same Savior,” replies Farel, after being touched with the young man’s lively affection and intense devotion. He looks upon Fabri as “a son whom God has sent him,” and day after day talks with him. On his bed he is training a student for the ministry. He would like to keep him always at his side, but he must bid his “tenderest son” preach the more beloved Savior.
“Go, now, my dear son in the faith,” says Farel one day, “and preach the gospel at Neufchatel.” Has Farel ordained him in that sick room, as he himself had been at Basle?
“O my master,” answers Fabri in tears, “my sorrow is greater today than when I left father and mother, so delightful have been my conversations with you.” He learns his duty, obeys, goes to Neufchatel and urges forward the good work.
On the Roman highway, that led from Italy to Gaul, was the ancient city of Urba, built, it was said, in the same century with Rome. The story runs that the kings of the first French race once rested near this old city, and, charmed with the valley that sloped from the foot of the Jura to Lake Neufchatel, they exclaimed, “It is enough; we will stop here.” In place of Urba grew up the town of Orbe, which was now to talk of mightier personages than the old French kings, of whose wise choice they boasted, or “good Queen Bertha,” who dwelt at this old town when this part of Switzerland belonged to Little Burgundy. The country is full of legends about her spinning on horseback with a distaff fastened to a saddle, which is still shown at Payerne. She was a friend to all the poor, and “the nursing mother of the nation, which she guided and fed.” She had a zeal for building convents and castles, and some of the “towers of Bertha” still remain. She was anxious to impart to her people a love of industry by setting them a good example. One day she was spinning on her palfrey as she rode through some pastures near Orbe, when she saw a young girl spinning, like herself, while watching her flock of sheep. She rode up and gave her a beautiful present, along with much praise. The next day several noble, but idle ladies came before her with their distaffs, in hopes of a reward. But she knew their vain pretensions, and told them “The peasant girl came first, and, like Jacob, carried my blessing, leaving nothing for Esau.” People talk of “the good days when Queen Bertha spun, and when she told the peasants good stories from the Bible.”
In that town was a burgess, “cloth-dresser and tailor,” who, one day in 1511, wrote down the name of another son—Peter Viret. The father went on fulling the cloths and associating with the best-informed burgesses, and even with some of the nobles. Peter drew up, taking no delight in his father’s pursuits, nor aspiring after his official dignities. He wished for God, and took the path which the priests pointed out as the way to heaven. If alone or with his brothers, Anthony and John, he walked along the banks of the Orbe, or looked with emotion on the Jura, and caught glimpses of the Alps; then he lifted his eyes toward the Most High for help. He was ignorant, and must remain so as long as the blind were leading the blind. He resolved to be a priest. His father did not oppose, for it was counted an honor among the townspeople to have a priest among their children. He gained all that the schools of Orbe could offer him, and, when about twelve, he was sent to the University of Paris. It was the same year (1523), that John Calvin entered one of the same colleges. Did these two boys, who were yet to be most intimate at Geneva, meet there and begin their genial friendship? We know not. But they were alike in their love of study and their Romish style of piety. Years afterward Viret wrote of his early devotion to the church of Rome. “I cannot deny that I went pretty deep into that Babylon.”
It seems that on one of the last cautious visits which Farel made at Paris, he met the young Viret, whose modesty charmed him into an acquaintance. The young Swiss was thus led to search for the truth, and was pointed to the true path to heaven. “God took me out of error,” said he, and then a decisive question was forced upon him. The time came for the tonsure, when the razor must do its part in making him a priest. He must make up his mind. He was not long about it. He refused, and was forthwith “set down as belonging to the Lutheran religion.” He knew what to expect, for Beda was ferreting in all cases for heretics, and hastily quitting Paris he returned to his father’s house.
The priests of Orbe set their eyes upon him. They saw that he was lonely and depressed, and they suspected that he was in a struggle between Rome and Christ. They grew uneasy about him, and told him about the fathers of the church. His foot slipped; his head was bewildered; he almost fell back again, “deep into that Babylon.” But he caught the divine Word, clung to it, and, renouncing what mere men declared, he said, “I will believe only Jesus Christ, my Savior.” He felt that he was a prisoner just released from “the citadel of idolatry.”
There were two prisoners for whom he felt the tenderest affection. “Since the Lord has brought me out,” said he, “I cannot forget those who are still within.” His father and mother were never out of his thoughts. Between business and popery they had no thought of Christ. He prayed for them and read to them a few chapters of the gospel. They were delighted with his humble, earnest life, and his faith took hold of their hearts. He was, at length, able to write, in later years, “I have much reason to give thanks to God, because it hath pleased him to make use of me to bring my father and mother to the knowledge of the Son of God. … If he had made my ministry of no other use, I should have good cause to bless him for this.” He is soon to hear a most powerful voice, to see all Orbe in motion, and to be in the pulpit, astonished at himself.
The story of the castle stairs was worthy of many a late hour by the firesides of Orbe. In 1475, the Swiss took the town by storm, but the castle was to be disputed inch by inch. The invaders broke in the doors, the garrison yielded step after step, fighting, in vain bravery, on every stair, and at every chamber door. Backward and upward the defenders were driven until they took refuge in the tower. Fire completed the awful work of death. It was reserved for the missionary champion to give the townsmen other stories for their long winter evenings, and by degrees to make his advance into this stronghold of popery, kindling the fire that would refine and purify their hearts.
A friar came to the town, about the time of Lent in 1531, and noisily offered for sale the pardons of the pope. One morning he was shouting the value of his wares, with his eye on the watch, for some visitor might put to him unpleasant questions. He soon noticed a little man with a face paled by illness, and with an eye that could look through such quackery, coming near to the stall. None gave way, for none knew him. Pressing near, he raised his loud voice and asked, “Have you indulgences for a person who has killed his father and his mother?” The monk was confounded; the stranger boldly stepped on the curb of the public fountain, and began to preach of the water of life as earnestly as if he were in the pulpit. The astonished people left the friar and gathered around the new orator, who was telling them how to obtain the free pardon of God, and urging them to drink freely of the fountain of life. It began to be whispered who the preacher was—William Farel, who had risen from his couch at Morat, and hearing the friar’s drum, as Luther says, had come to Orbe as soon as he could venture to walk. By this first sermon, a tradesman named Christopher Hollard, and one Mark Romain, a schoolmaster, were persuaded to accept the gospel.
There was commotion enough in the town to put Farel in his element, but wisdom dictated his departure and he left. The friar, whose name was Michael Juliani, knew not what to do, until the Sisters of St. Clair entreated him, as their dear confessor, to preach against heresy. He was delighted. He boasted that he would lead the heretics back to the faith. “Not so easy a job as you think,” said certain nobles, who knew the power of Berne. The man who had authority there over magistrates was the bailiff, the lord of Diesbach, a stout Bernese in his views. What would he say?
The friar did not care; he was bent upon preaching against the Reform, and he had so published. The bells rang, a crowd filled the church, and even some of the suspected ones came. Such an unusual audience turned the friar’s head. He thought he should have such a victory as his patron Michael the archangel had over Satan. He preached up Rome, and preached clown the Reformation, using the most verbose abuse and violence. Five or six friends of the gospel were there writing it all down upon little papers which they held on their knee. The sermon ended and the bailiff began. He and certain other nobles begged the friar to cease from his excessive abuse, and to preach simply the doctrines of the church. But he was flattered with the idea that certain devout folks were exceedingly pleased. In their eyes Father Michael’s tirades were genuine eloquence.
He was one day preaching upon “the poor in spirit,” claiming that ignorance was the blessed sign of the children of God. “Sirs,” said he, “the poor in spirit here referred to are the priests and friars. They have not much learning I confess, but they have what is better. They are mediators between man God; they are worshippers of the Virgin Mary, who is the treasure house of all graces. … But who are these who say they are justified by faith? Who are they who throw down the crosses on our roads and in our chapels? Enemies of Christ. Who are they who renounce their vows in order to marry? In Infamous, abominable apostates before men and before God.” This last fling would not apply to Farel, for he was in single life.
Suddenly a loud noise was heard in the church, and a man was standing up in full view repeating with a loud clear voice the words, “Thou liest.” The declaimer stopped, and all looked at a middle-aged man who had a brother that had believed the truth, left the priesthood, married, and became a reformer at Friburg. This man was the same Christopher Hollard who had heard Farel at the public fountain, and had renounced popery. Though his protest was not the most refined, yet it came from an honest heart, which was roused, when he heard men like his brother denounced, and the word of God set at naught. His voice was soon drowned, for the men rushed from their places to fall upon him, but the women, who filled the nave, were before them. Christopher was so beset that a Romanist wrote, “If the people had been let alone, he would never have gone out of the said church, which would have been a great benefit to the poor catholics. An officer rescued him and threw him “into a dungeon to avoid a greater scandal.”
The women were the champions of Romanism in Orbe, and formed their plot against the reform. But the mother of Christopher Hollard was not one of their number. She loved her son; she feared his foes. She said to herself, “The bailiff of Berne, Diesbach, is the only man who can save my son. I will go to his castle and implore his help.” Mark Romain, the schoolmaster, went with her. The cool Bernese heard them. He was aroused, wrathy, and would show what was meant by the authority of My Lords of Berne. He came to Orbe and set officers upon the track of Michael Juliani. They searched the convents in vain. He was very quietly hidden in the house of “Frances Pugin, instructress of girls in all virtue and learning.” Hearing that he was wanted, he put on a bold front, went straight to the bailiff, and saluted him with all deference. The lord of Diesbach did not feel softened by the friar’s crafty courage, but, rising up, he took him by the hand, saying, “I arrest you in the name of My Lords of Berne.” Then, leading him to the prison, he “drew Hollard out of his den, and put the said friar in his place.” Such was Bernese authority when the truth needed her defense.
Mark Romain was as pleased “as if he had gained a thousand crowns; and, thinking he had achieved a masterpiece,” was going quietly home. The mob were seeking their revenge, and, as their monk was in the castle prison, they talked of flinging the schoolmaster into the river. Just then, “seeing him come joyfully along,” they called to him. He ran, looking on every side for an open door, and finally rushed into the church, where the women, who had wished to tear Hollard in pieces, were kneeling to Mary, “the queen of heaven.” They rushed upon him; and a calm looker-on said of the affair, “I did not think the schoolmaster would ever get out alive.” We read of those who “ceased not to beat Paul.” Romain was now in his apprenticeship of perils, and he lived to become a minister of the gospel, for which he was suffering. Around the castle was another mob, enraged at seeing Hollard by the side of the bailiff, whom he was about to restore to his mother. They cried out, “Why have you arrested Friar Michael? why released Christopher?” The cool and indomitable bailiff gave them that crushing answer—”By the order of My Lords of Berne,” and, before their “good father” could be liberated, they must get “My Lords’” consent.
A deputation was therefore sent to the Romish Friburg to gain its interference. A committee was sent back. But Berne had a word to say. Certain Bernese gentlemen were sent to Orbe along with the Friburgers. Passing through Avenches they fell in with Farel. He had been a month among ruins older than the Caesars, preaching to a people dead in popery. Farel joined the Bernese and returned to Orbe, where there were no ruins, and where all were alive. And while the mixed commission are doing what they can for Father Juliani and for peace, he will preach the gospel.
The services of Palm Sunday were over, all from mass to vespers. Farel had kept quiet indoors, but now left his inn “with presumptuous boldness.” A crowd soon filled the church, and he entered the pulpit “without asking leave.” Scarcely had he begun to preach when all sorts of sounds were raised, from hisses to howlings, from the cry of “dog” to that of “devil.” “It was a glorious noise,” says an admirer, “you really could not have heard it thunder.” From rudeness they proceeded to rioting. They pulled Farel out of the pulpit, and would have beaten him, but that same dreaded bailiff strode in among them, and, taking Farel by the arm, escorted him to his lodging. Thus things went on. We give but a specimen of the rude tricks and violent efforts to prevent the reformer from preaching. The Bernese allowed the friar his liberty, after confessing his untrue assertions, provided he would preach nothing but the word of God. He left soon after for other regions. An order came from Berne, insisting that Farel should preach unmolested.
The women’s league and plot against Farel prevented him from having an audience. On the next Sunday nearly all the parish took a march out of the town, and he went into the pulpit and preached to ten persons, among whom were Peter Viret, Hollard, and Romain. He left the church when the procession was returning. The clergy exulted and called him a coward, saying, openly, “The minister who promised to refute Father Juliani cannot do it.” “Indeed,” said the staunch bailiff of Berne, “you have heard the monk, and now you complain that you have not heard the minister. Very good! you shall hear him. It is the will of My Lords of Berne that every father of a family shall attend his sermon, under pain of their displeasure.”
They dared not disobey, and the church was thronged. Farel rose in the pulpit, with all his energies aroused by the sight of arch a congregation. He exposed the errors of Father Juliani. Day after day he set forth the truth. “The penance which God demands is a change of heart and life.” “The pope’s pardons take away money; but they cannot take away sin.” Of the confessional he said, “How many souls have been cast into hell by it! how many virgins corrupted! how many widows devoured! how many orphans ruined! how many princes poisoned! how many countries wasted! … O Heaven unveil these horrors! O Earth cry out! creatures of God weep; and do thou, O Lord, arise!”
Still the audiences grew less, and the bailiff had the good sense not to notice the fact. But this contempt at Orbe had its compensation in the respect that came from the neighboring villages. Message after message came from the peasantry who urged the great preacher to visit them. He wrote to Zwingli, “Oh! how great is the harvest. No one can describe the ardor the people feel for the gospel, and the tears I shed when I see the small number of reapers.” There was one young man among his hearers whom he loved with an affection only equal that which was returned. The ardent, fiery, fearless and almost rash Farel was heart to heart with the meek, timid, sensitive and always prudent Viret. In the gospel the Peters and Johns and Pauls are knitted in brotherhood by more than earthly ties. Thus it became with Farel, Viret, and Calvin.
It was told through the town, now quiet through awe of My Lords of Berne, that on May 6, 1531, a son of the good burgess, clothier and tailor, a child of the place, and a favorite of all, would preach his first sermon. Perhaps few were aware that Farel had persuaded, urged and almost forced him to assume so solemn a duty. He was accused of being rather heretical, but he was so inoffensive that nobody would believe it. The young people wished to see their former playmate in the pulpit. Older ones wanted to hear what the son of their honored burgess had to say. The day came and the church was filled, many having come from a distance. All were impatiently waiting, when at last they saw the young man of only twenty years, of small stature, pale, long and thin face, lively eyes, meek and winning expression, with his brows touched with the light of eternity. By his modesty, his eloquence, his wonderful power in handling the word of God, his persuasiveness in urging the duties of repentance and faith, his prudence in managing errors so as not to arouse bitter feelings and by his earnestness in setting forth Christ crucified for sinners, he kept the most worldly men hanging upon his lips. He was a prophet who had honor in his own country. That day was the greatest day, thus far, in his life. It placed him in the band of mighty reformers of errors and heralds of the truth.
A month had passed since Farel’s return, when all at once, a report filled Orbe with astonishment. It was said, and each reporter could hardly believe it, that Madame Elizabeth, wife of Lord Arnex, was converted. She had planned the women’s conspiracy against Farel, she had beaten him in the street, she had a hand in filling the church with boys (marmaille, brats) who laid down and pretended to be asleep until Farel began his sermon and then sprang up howling with all their lungs and leaving the preacher alone; she had suddenly become a convert to the awful heresy! They shook their heads and smiled, and felt chagrined. Nor was this all. Lord Arnex, who had pleaded for Father Juliani, given bail for him, and despised My Lords of Berne, was also converted. George Grivat, too, the best musician in the town, had gone from the choir into the pulpit. Others of note—”chief women not a few”—were among the believers in the doctrines which Farel and Viret had preached.
These disciples wished to receive the Lord’s Supper. Farel was sent for and he hastened from Morat. At six in the morning of Whitsunday, he announced, to a large assembly in the church, that there would be the breaking of bread in remembrance of “the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross.” Eight persons came forward, Lord Arnex and his wife, Hollard and his aged mother, Cordey and his wife, William Viret the burgess, George Grivat, afterwards pastor at Avenches. Peter Viret was doubtless absent from the town. A white cloth was laid over a bench (for they would not use Romish tables), and the sacred emblems were placed. After prayer, Farel asked, “Do you each forgive one another?”
“Yes,” was the response of the little band, never before so deeply affected. Oh that Farel would forgive them!
The bread was broken and given by the hand of the minister, the wine was touched by the lips of the penitent, and the Lord crucified on Calvary was glorified in little Orbe. The only interruption was made by the priests coming in, near the close of the service, and chanting the mass as loud as they could.
But these disciples were to suffer. Hollard became too rash, and went to breaking idols with all his might. One day, when Faerl was preaching, he flew at an image of the Virgin and dashed it in pieces. The church began to be cleansed, and our Romish writer “was greatly astonished at the patience of the populace.” It was through fear of My Lords of Berne. But the Friburgers almost gained the day. Taking certain priests out of prison, they put in their stead fifteen of the image breakers, and one of them was Lord Arnex. For three days they were kept on bread and water—the priests had enjoyed good “bed and board”—and then they were allowed to return home.
There may be failings in men who advocate a faultless cause, but we who may have too little zeal should be careful how we judge those who have too much. We are writing of times when the reformers had few preparatory schools for discipline, and the Romanists were not then trained into a crafty and smooth Jesuitism. Often must the whirlwind sweep through a town in advance of the “still small voice.” If the preacher were sometimes rash, the papists were nearly always riotous. The one class proved what they had to declare by Scripture; the other persecuted without hearing the evidence. It is not hard to perceive which deserves the greater amount of charity.
The Huguenots Appear 1531–1532
“Be prudent; do not rashly expose yourself to danger, but take good care of yourself for the Lord’s future service.” Thus wrote Zwingli to Farel when this suffering missionary was laboring to sound the gospel through all the country, from Berne to Basle.
“Take good care of yourself, also,” was the reply, “for far greater danger threatens you than me.” The warning was too late. Zwingli had fallen on the battlefield. But such words were just like Farel. He scarcely thought of himself. No reformer was more like St. Paul, in his zeal, his feebleness of body, his strength of spirit, his perils and his journeys. It is not possible for us to follow him into every town that he surprised, every pulpit where he was attacked, nor every little new church where he often brake bread with the glad disciples.
On the shore of Lake Neufchatel, at the entrance of the town of Grandson, stood the large convent of the Gray Friars. Two men came to its door one day, rang the bell, and were shown into the parlor. The superior, Friar Guy Regis, met them and asked what they wanted. They told him they intended to see that the gospel was preached in the town, and, in passing the convent, they had said to each other that this was the place begin. They coolly begged him, “in the name of the lords of Berne,” to grant them the use of the chapel. And if he wished to know who they were, there were their commissions, bearing the names of Farel and de Glautinis, the minister of Tavannes. The friar had heard of them, and he knew all that was still going on at Orbe, and, if he could help it, the like should never occur at Grandson. It was insolent to ask what they did; he was resolute enough to repay their bold impudence. “Heretic!” said he to Farel. “Son of a Jew!” cried a listening monk. This was not a very encouraging reception. They left, and some friends put them upon another track. “Go to the priory, on the hill.”
Soon they were knocking at the door of the Benedictine convent, where several monks appeared. They had a hint of the arrival of the missionaries, and with their eyes they measured them from head to foot. Farel asked permission to preach, when a loud uproar arose in the cloister. One friar came forward with a pistol hid under his frock, and thought to put an end to the “heretic who was disturbing all the churches.” The sacristan pointed his pistol at Farel with one band, and, seizing him with the other, tried to drag him into the prison. De Glautinis sprang forward, when the monk with the knife fell upon him. The friends of the preachers, waiting at the door and hearing the noise, rushed in and tore them from the stout arms of the monks. The gates were closed in scorn, and for two weeks remained shut, so great was the fear of these reformers. Farel went to Morat, but de Glautinis began to preach in the streets and private houses of the towns. Guy Regis led the whole array of the monks against him. Guy would not debate with him there; but if he would only go to some far-off city, he would prove that his preaching was mere witchcraft. After such a valiant proposal, attended with roaring abuse from the monks, the troop made their retreat behind the convent walls, where they perhaps talked of the terrors of the most notable year in the history of Grandson. The castle had once been defended for ten days against the assaults and artillery of the Burgundian army. Famine came, and the garrison accepted the offered pardon and surrendered. Charles the Bold received them, and vented upon them the outrages of revenge. Two days afterward his crime returned upon his own head, and, being defeated by the Swiss, he was compelled to fly for his life across the mountains, with only five followers. His splendid baggage is still among the antiquities of Geneva. Perhaps these Benedictines imagined that they had resisted Farel, and that no spiritual famine would ever cause them to yield their fortress. They may have supposed that he had fled and resolved never to appear again in their streets.
The lords of Berne heard of the treatment given their ministers, and some of them came to Grandson. Wishing to give the people the liberty of hearing the gospel without hindrance, they ordered the convent churches to be thrown open, whatever might be the will of the Benedictines. They sent for Farel, who brought Viret with him. It was but six days after his first sermon and Viret was fully in the work. The three preachers gave the friars the privilege of hearing the truth every day. The priests excited the people; the reformers were in and out of prison; Farel was struck by an officer when questioning a friar; he and Watteville, a Bernese deputy, were met in the church by two monks armed with axes; Watteville had them arrested, and after the friar ended his sermon, Farel went forward and refuted it. These two monks, within two years after, renounced popery and preached the truth which they had once opposed.
One day the preachers were holding service in the church, when a troupe of women had the masculine boldness to rush in and put an end to the preaching. The congregation, at first, tried to resist them, but it was hard to employ force against the gentler sex, especially when their will was taking such a furious way to carry a point. Farel and his companions left the women in charge of affairs until the people should prefer a change. They went into the surrounding villages and raised up majorities for the Reformation. Grandson at length gave the right vote, and John Le Compte, a young man whom Farel had known in Meaux and invited into Switzerland, became its minister. If history be silent, charity inclines us to imagine that those women received him as their good pastor, and gave their zeal to a better cause.
What Switzerland needed was religious liberty, so that priests and preachers might have a proper freedom of speech, and the people the free choice of their mode of worship. Berne had labored for it, but papal Friburg wanted the liberty all on their own side. Little Orbe was to claim this one-sided freedom so madly that the rights of the preachers were to be declared equal to those of the priests. It was on this wise. On Christmas eve, 1531, a minister—it may have been Viret—was in the church preaching upon the coming of the Savior into the world and into the hearts of men. Certain bigots peeped in and, seeing an attentive crowd, exclaimed, “The devil must have sent a good many there.” The time for the midnight devotions of the Romanists had not come, but when the clock struck nine another crowd entered the gates to raise a riot. The gospel party quietly retired; the priest party set upon them in the streets, where houses were assaulted, blows given, blood shed and heads broken. The preachers were not at fault; they were simply using the church when the priests had left it empty. Viret, with ten of the reformed, went to Berne to plead for religious liberty.
A sort of council was there held the first days of January, consisting of two hundred and thirty ministers, and many laymen. They heard Friburg the champion of popery, and Berne the staunch advocate of Protestantism. “We desire,” said the Bernese, “that everyone should have free choice to go to the preaching or to the mass.”
“And we also,” said the Friburgers.
“We desire that all should live in peace, and that neither priests nor preachers should call their adversaries heretics or murderers.”
“And we also,” said the Friburgers.
“We do not wish to hinder the priests and preachers from amicably discussing matters of faith.”
“Quite right,” said the Friburgers.
Thus articles for securing religious liberty were drawn, signed, and published. It is regretted that they were not faithfully kept, and that the Romanists, who thought discussion was folly, did not regard persecution as a crime.
We return to Farel. “Even were my father alive, I could not find time to write to him,” was his frequent apology for silence. Yet he seized moments to address a noble letter to the suffering Christians of France, from whose numbers many young men were coming to labor in Switzerland. He now became interested in another body of sufferers on the slopes of the Italian Alps—the Waldenses.
For two or three years there were strange reports circulated among the infant churches which were forming between the Alps and the Jura. They heard of a wonderful people who had never been papists and had always been what they were struggling to be. These people had a simple faith, simple worship, simple form of government, and had been driven by Rome into the coldest recesses of Piedmont, and they were the most remarkable Christians ever known. But while these reports were coming over the snow-crowned mountains, other reports met them on the way. The Waldenses had rumors among them of the mighty work of God in the lands of the Rhine and the Rhone. Their preachers must go and see what Luther and Farel and Zwingli and their increasing hosts were doing and believing. They went on foot, and visited Germany, France, England, and Switzerland, giving and receiving encouragement. They invited commissioners to their next Synod in Piedmont.
One day there came to Grandson two men, whose foreign look showed that they had come from a distance. It was in July 1532. They wished to speak with Farel. George of Calabria and Martin Gonin entered the room. They spoke of their people, their faith, their antiquity, and how they had not left Rome, for Rome had long ago left them. They had continued in the apostles’ word and doctrine. Probably they said what some of their brethren, seated in the friendly house of Œcolampadius, had said to him. “Some people ascribe our origin to a wealthy citizen of Lyons, Peter Waldo, who saw one of his friends fall dead at a feast. Moved at the sight, and troubled in conscience, he prayed to the Lord, sold his goods and began to preach, and sent others to proclaim the gospel everywhere. But we descend from more ancient times, when Constantine was introducing the world into the church, and our fathers set themselves apart, or even from the time of the apostles.” Farel was delighted with the brethren, and with joy accepted their invitation to attend their synod.
No time was to be lost—Farel never had any to lose. He took with him Anthony Saunier, a Dauphinese, who knew popery by hard experience, having lain in prison at Paris fourteen years, for daring to believe what his Redeemer taught. Certain friends had fears for their safety. Everywhere there were persecutions, and in Savoy and Dauphiny the bishops had specially “ordered a raid to be made upon the heretics.” In the last days of August they passed by the caverns of Pignerol, in which the Waldenses had once their retreats and their temples; they passed La Tour, where every rock was a memorial of persecutions and martyrdoms; they went on to Angrogna. There the synod was to meet, in the parish of Martin Gonin. The people were in the fields and in the roads, ready “to be a guard to the ministers of the good law.”
“That one with the red beard and riding the white horse is Farel,” said John Peyret of Angrogna, the escort, to the people who gazed along the way. “The other, on the black horse, is Saunier.” There was a third, “a tall man and rather lame,” a Waldensian, perhaps, who had joined them. Other “foreign Christians” were gathering in this remote valley.
On the twelfth of September the synod was opened “in the name of God.” Farel was the leading man in favor of urging the Waldenses to renounce the papal errors that had slowly crept among them, or been forced upon them by the violence of the Romanists. The other party contended that they should compromise a little, in order to save their lives and their church. Farel gained his point with most of them. They confessed their errors and signed a covenant of faith and love.
It greatly interested Farel and Saunier to examine the old manuscripts, preserved for centuries, among which was the Noble Lesson, saying,
The Scriptures speak, and we must believe.
Search the Scriptures from beginning to end.
And they looked at several manuscript copies of the Bible, which the Waldenses showed them with peculiar pride, saying, “These were copied correctly by hand so long ago as to be beyond memory, and are to be seen in several families.” The visitors were moved as they turned over the leaves, “marveling at the heavenly favor accorded to so small a people.”
Farel proposed to the synod that measures should be taken to have the Bible and other books translated, printed, and circulated among the Waldenses, and to establish schools in all their parishes. They agreed “joyfully and with good hearts to Farel’s demand.” The hour came to adjourn and separate. The pastors returned to their churches, the shepherds to their flocks, the lords to their castles, and never forgot, that people whose church has been “the burning bush of Christendom.” Farel and Saunier shook hands with the villagers, who wept to see them go, mounted their horses and rode on, talking of teachers and translators, books and Bibles for the Waldenses. They were directing their way to an ancient city, where Caesar had built long walls against the Helvetii, and where popery had thrown up entrenchments against the reformation. We turn now to Geneva, which God is about to make renowned for a theology that has been called “the grandest form of the grandest faith in heaven or on earth.” The truth of the motto on her shield was being proved—”After darkness I wait for light.”
It was no sudden purpose, formed along the way, that led Farel to Geneva. It had long been in his mind, and before starting for Italy, he had resolved to stop there on his return. With that intent he had obtained from the Lords of Berne, certain letters of introduction to the leading Huguenots of Geneva. “I will go to them,” said he, “I will speak to them, even if there is nobody that will hear me.”
This plan of Farel is the beginning of the positive work of the Reformation in Geneva. But it was not the beginning of the movement against the papacy and the bishops. For years in that city, Rome had been opposed by a band of patriots who sought liberty in the state, but cared less for a new life in the church. Young Geneva had already been shaking old Rome. To understand the difficult work before Farel, it is quite important to trace the rise of the patriots, and see how they came to be called Huguenots.
There came to Geneva in 1513 a brilliant young man, full of good humor, making himself easily a favorite with everybody, laughing at almost everything, with wit sparkling on his pen, and Virgil and Cicero at his tongue’s end. The priests admired him, the people loved him, and he was the hero of the hour. He could amuse his company, or in solitude prove himself one of the best French writers of his times. This agreeable scholar was Francis Bonivard, known in poetry as the prisoner of Chillon. “He was to play in Geneva by his liberalism, his information, and his cutting satires, a part not very unlike that played by Erasmus in the great Reformation.” With him there were two subjects too serious for a jest; one was the revival of letters, and the other was the love of liberty. He was born at Seyssel, and was in high favor with Charles III, Duke of Savoy, the worst of foes to Geneva. “He was educated at Turin where he became the ringleader of the wild set at the university.” This, in the duke’s eyes, qualified him for a work quite similar to that of Catiline when he sought to gain his treasonable plots by corrupting the youth of Rome. Charles was intent upon drawing Geneva into the snare, and annexing it to his dominions. The jovial Bonivard seemed to be just the man to prove “an excellent bait to entice the youth of the city into the nets of Savoy.”
He soon met a genial companion. Philibert Berthelier, with three centuries of noble blood in his veins, was the leader of a rising party in the city. In April 1513, he had lamented the death of Charles de Seyssel, the bishop and prince of Geneva. This “right good person,” ever mild and frank, was “for a wonder, a great champion of both ecclesiastical and secular liberty.” He wished Geneva to remain with a free state and a free church. Duke Charles had sharply quarreled with him, saying, “I made you bishop, but I will unmake you, and you shall be the poorest priest in the diocese.” The bishop had just returned from a pilgrimage, and he suddenly died. It was thought that the duke made sure his threat, and poisoned him for the crime of protecting the liberties of Geneva.
When this report was on the wind there was intense excitement in the city. The gates were shut, cannon were dragged through the streets and placed on the walls, and sentries were posted everywhere. The citizens expected that the duke would seize the city, set his own bishop over them, and take the secular power in his own hands. They had good reasons for their suspicion. They gathered in groups on the streets, ready for any orator who might lift his voice.
Berthelier seized the opportunity to resist the pope and the duke, so that the one should not get the church, nor the other the state. “Let us resist the duke,” said he and his associates. “Is there a people whose franchises are older than ours? We have always been free, and there is no memory of man to the contrary.” “Come, you canons, choose a bishop! Elect a bishop who will defend our liberties.” The man for them was at hand. They were too earthly themselves to ask for a candidate of a very heavenly spirit. Liberty, not religion, was the word on their lips. Aimé de Gingins, canon of St. Peter’s, was then a firm advocate of Genevan rights. He was the best boon companion in the world, keeping open house and feasting joyously the friends of pleasure; fond of hearing his associates laugh and sing, and of rather free manners, after the custom of the church in those days. The people named him their bishop, and the canons confirmed the vote. The one thing now was to uphold their new bishop, and persuade the pope to sanction their choice. They sent men to Rome to obtain his confirmation. The pope, Leo X, had another affair to manage. His brother, Julian the Magnificent, needed a wife. The pope had an eye on the noble lady, Philiberta of Savoy, the sister of the duke Charles, and the aunt of Margaret, queen of Navarre. She was “a pure, simple-hearted young girl, of an elevated mind, a friend to the poor,” and too good to be put up as the price of a bishopric. But so it was. With her, Charles would buy Geneva, and place over it a bishop from his own relatives.
He had a cousin, John, the son of an unmarried bishop, who was the grandson of the once married Amadeus, who was the last of the rival popes under the name of Felix V. John had no birth to boast, and was withal a puny, repulsive debauchee. “That is the man to be bishop of Geneva,” thought the duke, “he is so much in my debt that he can refuse me nothing.” John was ready for any bargain that would give him an office. Charles sent for him. “Cousin,” said he, “I will raise you to a bishopric, if you will, in return, make over the temporal power to me.” Thus John agreed to pay his debts, which the duke had “talked about pretty loudly” of late.
John went to Rome, and the pope received him with the greatest honor. “This disagreeable person had the chief place at banquet, theatre, and concert.” The pope kept him talking of the charms of Philiberta. “Let the duke give us his sister,” said the pope, “and we will give you Geneva. You will then hand over the temporal power to the duke!” Was there not need of a Reformation?
The messengers of Geneva came to Rome, told of their choice of a bishop, but, alas! these Alpine shepherds had no beautiful princess to offer as the price of the favor they wished. “Begone,” said Leo, “I know you not.” The graceless John was the only one whom he would know as their bishop. The pope was thus paving the way for the overthrow of his power in Geneva, and for the Reformation.
“A fine election, indeed, his holiness has honored us with!” said Berthelier and his compatriots. “For our bishop, he gives us a dissipated clerk; for our guide, in the paths of virtue, a dissipated bastard; for the preserver of our ancient liberties, a scoundrel ready to sell them!”
It was expected that Bonivard would take the part of the duke, the pope, and also of the disgusting John. But he took sides with the patriots. He found Berthelier to be “one of those noble natures who count glory by placing themselves at the service of the weak. No man seemed better fitted to save Geneva. … He affected no great airs, used no big words, was fond of pleasure and the noisy talk of his companions; but there was always observable in him a seriousness of thought, great energy, a strong will, and above all a supreme contempt of life.” Yet policy led him to act at first a strange part with the new bishop.
John came to his diocese and met with no violent opposition. He must be wise in his crafty schemes, and court the leading patriots. He soon learned that there was one name on all lips; one citizen, ever cheerful, frank in heart, very popular, taking part with the young people in all their merry-making, winning them by his charming and lively manners, and gaining confidence by his willingness to render them any service in his power. “Good,” said John, “here is a man I must have. If I gain him I will have nothing to fear. He must have the best charge I can bestow.”
“Be cautious,” whispered certain ones; “he conceals a rebellious, energetic, unyielding mind.”
“Fear nothing,” replied John, “he sings gayly and drinks with the young men of the town.” Berthelier did this to kindle their souls at his fire. He was at last induced to accept of the castle of Peney. Bonivard said, “Peney is the apple which the serpent gave to Eve.” But Berthelier had not sold himself. The people’s bishop, de Gingins, was given a large pension, and lived in the same house which afterwards became the home of John Calvin. Bonivard was now to secure the object for which he had come to Geneva.
His uncle, John Aimé Bonivard, was the prior of St. Victor, one of the city gates. It was a little state, and its prior a sovereign prince. The aged uncle was on his deathbed, and Francis, now one-and-twenty, sat by it. The old man grew seriously agitated. He thought of one great evil that he had done. In rashness he had once ordered four large culverins to be made at the expense of the church, in order to batter down the castle of an old friend and neighbor. None of his many other old sins gave him so fearful a pang as this. In anguish he turned to his nephew, saying, “Francis, you know those of cannon. … They ought to be employed in God’s service. I desire that immediately after my death they may be cast into bells for the church.” The old prior felt relieved and died, leaving to his nephew the principality, the convent, and the culverins.
On this very day Berthelier called to sympathize with his friend, and he heard the story of the four guns. “What! cast cannon into bells!” he exclaimed, “we will give you as much metal as you require to make a peal that shall ring loud enough to stun you, but the culverins ought to remain culverins.”
“My uncle ordered them to be put to the service of the church.”
“The church will be doubly served,” retorted Berthelier. “There will be bells at St. Victor and artillery in the city.” The point was gained. Berthelier laid the matter before the council, who voted all that was needed for the bells.
The duke heard of this affair, and he could not be prudent toward men whose minds would not bear provocation. He claimed the convent guns. So anxious was he to succeed in the game he was playing that he moved too rashly. His one thought was to possess Geneva. By grasping for it he was doomed to lose his principalities. The guns made a noise in the city. The council of fifty met to discuss the matter, and Berthelier was not alone in supporting the rights of the city.
A young man of twenty-five rose up and said, “In the name of the people I oppose the surrender of this artillery to his highness; the city cannot spare them.” This young citizen was Besançon Hugues, who felt that liberty was worth a war with the duke. Not yet had the sports, the music, the dances, the cup, and the card caused him to forget the freedom of his country. Others of the “children of Geneva” had not been made effeminate by these soft arts. They were ready to use the culverins; they would not give them up; and so the four guns remained in city. But from that hour Charles shot his wrath at Berthelier, Hugues, and Bonivard.
Not yet was Geneva fully given over to the duke. Perhaps these patriots hoped that they could manage the weak and unpopular John, and prevent the surrender of the temporal power. John was at Rome, urging his cousin’s demand. Philiberta was about to be married, and the pope was expected to ratify the bargain as soon as she should be paid over to his brother, Julian de Medici. He did it. His bull confirmed the wedding of Geneva to Savoy, which was the real marriage intended. Charles was delighted with his triumph. He had gained what his ancestors had sought for centuries. He imagined himself the hero of his race, and told everybody, “I am sovereign lord of Geneva in temporal matters. I obtained it from our holy father, the signing pope.”
The news went to Geneva. The whole city was in commotion. When John came, the council begged him to maintain their ancient liberties. He looked at them, but was silent. They went back thinking that the last blow was struck in the old republic. The citizens met without exchanging a word; their pale faces and downcast looks told all. One cry, however, was heard: “Since justice is powerless we will resort to force, and if the duke is resolved to enter Geneva, he shall pass over our bodies.”
The patriot party grew. It attracted the young men with whom Berthelier had laughed and sung, and they caught his fire. The bishop, John, began to obey his masters. He laid heavy fines on the people; he deprived men of their offices; he threw good citizens into prison for imaginary offenses; he carried off Claude Vandel, a distinguished lawyer of spotless character; he pardoned a robber; and he was bent upon robbing Geneva of all her rights. The leading patriots were aroused. They prepared for the worst, if war should be necessary. Threats alarmed the Savoyards, and one night they concluded to flee. Ordering their horses they rode out by a secret gate. Nor did they go alone. The gouty bishop went with them to Turin, and in great terror crouched at the feet of his master, Charles.
“Cousin,” said the duke, “in your fold there are certain dogs that bark very loudly and defend your sheep very stoutly; you must get rid of them.”
The bishop was open to such advice, and there, in the palace of Charles the Good, who was cruelest of all, was plotted the death of Geneva’s best citizens.
Those citizens knew what to expect. On a day when several of them met, Berthelier said, “Have done with banquets and dances; we must organize young Geneva into a defensive league.
“Yes, let us march onwards,” said Bonivard, “and God will give a good issue to our bold enterprise.”
“Comrade, your hand,” said Berthelier, reaching forth his own. Their hands were clasped. A cloud passed over Berthelier’s face, and he said, “But know that for the liberty of Geneva you will lose your benefice, and I shall lose my head.” Bonivard could not forget this scene, and he wrote, “He told me that a hundred times.” It would prove too true.
Larger meetings were held. The bell was ringing for vespers when about fifty of the patriots met around Berthelier. He told them of their history and bade them consider their destiny. The great citizen fixed on them his noble look and asked, “Do you wish to transmit to your children slavery instead of liberty?”
“No, no, but how can the liberties of the city be saved?” “How! By being united, by forgetting our private quarrels, by opposing with one every violation of our rights. … If the bishop’s officers lay hands on one of us, let all the rest defend him. Who touches one, touches all.”
“Yes, yes, one heart, one cause! Who touches one, touches all!”
“Good, let this motto be the name of our league, but let us be faithful to the noble device.”
“But what would we do,” asked one among many who had their fears, “if the duke and bishop should attack the city with a strong army?”
“Fear nothing,” replied Berthelier, sharply; “we have good friends; I will go to the Swiss, I will bring back forces, and then I will settle accounts with our foes.”
Thus ran the tide when the bishop returned, and took pleasure in making arrests and in torturing poor Pècolat. Terrors increased in the city, the streets were deserted, only a few laborers were seen in the fields. Many citizens fled. The league of “Touch one, touch all,” was almost dissolved, and that at the very hour when its founder was in peril. Berthelier was threatened.
“The sword is over your head,” said Bonivard, “Escape for your life.”
“I know it,” Berthelier answered, “yes, I know that I shall die, and I do not grieve at it.”
“Really, I never saw and never read of one who held life so cheap.” Others joined Bonivard in urging their chief to flee. They told him of the power of his foes.
“God will miraculously take away their power,” he replied.
“There happen to be here some envoys from Friburg. Depart with them. Out of Geneva you will serve the city better than within it.”
This consideration decided him. Early the neat morning he put on a Friburg cloak, and when the troupe rode through the gate, the cautious guard did not suspect that the great republican was with them. The spoiler put his hand on the nest, but the bird was gone. The houses were searched for six days, but all for nothing. The bishop was raving in his castle; Berthelier was calling the Swiss to aid Geneva.
By the hearth of Councilor Marty in Friburg sat Berthelier, sorrowful, silent, and motionless. A great idea was in his mind—”Geneva must be an ally of Switzerland”—which then included only a small part of the country now called by that name—”for that I would give my head.” He began to talk with his host. “I have come poor, exiled, persecuted, and a suppliant, not to save my life, but to save Geneva, and to pray Friburg to receive the Genevans into citizenship.”
“Take courage,” said Marty, giving his hand. “Follow me into the abbeys where the guilds are assembled. If you gain them your cause is won.”
We need not follow them to hear the eloquence of Berthelier. He gained his object. The Friburgers would go and see the misfortunes of Geneva with their own eyes. They went and talked answered with such men as Hugues and the Vandels. They hunted up bishop John, easing his gout in the country, and reasoned with him in a different style from that prevailing at Turin. They asked a safe-conduct for Berthelier so that he might return home. It was refused on the ground that he needed none! Nobody would harm him! “Very well,” said the Friburgers, “we will collect together these grievances of the people and remedy them. We will come in such force as to take these Savoyards and then—then we will treat them as you have treated our friends.” After this they rode home in great wrath.
The words of the Friburgers were repeated through the city. The league between them and the Genevans was spoken of as a mightier protection than that of the “Children of Geneva.” A new German word was introduced, Eidesgenossen, the oath-bound Leaguers. The duke’s party threw it in contempt at the patriots, and as it did not fit the Savoyard tongue, they put it into various shapes, Eidguenots, Eyguenots, Huguenots! Perhaps the name of Hugues helped to give it the latter form. It was a nickname, long since made sacred by the noble character of those who bore it. It passed into France and was probably first applied to all who opposed the Papacy. At Geneva it had originally a purely political meaning, and simply meant the friends of independence. It had no religious meaning until after the Reformation.
The duke’s party had no sooner started this epithet than the patriots, repaying them in their own coin, called out, “Hold your tongues, you Mamelukes. As the Mamelukes denied Christ to follow Mahomet, so you deny liberty for tyranny.”
We might linger upon many a touching story of trials, banishments, tortures, and executions, but space forbids. The years rolled on, the times grew worse, and Geneva found no permanent relief. After a while Bonivard was arrested, robbed of his priory, and shut up for two years in a castle. An army of the duke was in the city. Berthelier, who had returned, had reason to expect death.
Early one morning, Berthelier set out for his daily retreat, where he breathed the fresh air in a quiet meadow near the city. He was now (1519) about forty years of age, and so conscious of his danger that he was “always booted and ready to depart for the unknown shores of eternity.” He had with him a little weasel of which he was very fond. It was sporting in his bosom as he walked on in contempt of his enemies. An officer, who knew of these morning walks, had placed some soldiers outside the walls, while he remained within to make certain the arrest. Just as the good citizen was about to pass the gates, the troop came forward. He thought not of going back to arouse the young men of the League; he turned not from the road, but went on caressing his little favorite, and “walked straight toward the armed men, as proudly as if he were going to take them,” wrote Bonivard. Thus “one of the founders of modern liberty” was arrested, and was to suffer the vengeance of his tyrant foes. He was thrust into prison, where his little weasel still played in his bosom, and at the least noise would stiffen its ears and look into the eyes of its master. He had holier means of lightening his cares; he quoted the Psalms, and, perhaps, cast all his burdens on the Lord. On the wall he wrote a sentence which some think refers to the Savior’s resurrection. His foes were trying to frighten him with threats of death when he wrote, “I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.” He became the martyr of liberty, but though dead, he yet spake of freedom for Geneva. “Three great movements were carried out in this city,” says D’Aubigné. “The first was the conquest of independence; the second, the conquest of faith; the third, the renovation and organization of the church. Berthelier, Farel, and Calvin are the three heroes of these three epics.”
This leader of the league left much work to be done. A new man came to bear his part in it. This was Baudichon de la Maison-Neuve, a man of noble family, exalted character, bold measures, welcome everywhere, and serving to clear the way for the reformation. But God was removing out of the world the bishop who was assuredly not fit to remain in power; and, unless there was deep repentance for his personal sins and shames, not fit to be taken away by death.
John lay at Pignerol, dying of diseases which charity would leave untold. At his bedside stood Peter de la Baume, who was trying to console the bishop. The poor man had some remorse for his crimes. A crucifix was held before his eyes. His mind was upon the man whose death he had caused, and he imagined that he saw the features of Berthelier. With a wild look he asked, “Who has done that?” Blasphemy and insult were mingled with the foam that whitened his lips. At length his heart softened a little. Giving to Peter a last look, he said, “I wished to give the principality of Geneva to Savoy. To attain that object I have put many innocent persons to death. … If you obtain this bishopric, I entreat you not to tread my footsteps. Defend the franchises of the city.” He said more, closing with the words, “In purgatory God will pardon me.” He breathed his last, and Peter rose up from his prayer the bishop of Geneva.
Worse and worse trials came. The bishop kept none of his promises. The duke entered the city with Portuguese fashions and theatrical plays. The people were expected to attend dramas, dances, games, and sports in the open air, even in spite of the April rains. There were some good qualities about Peter the bishop, and he proved the scope of his imagination, or his power to insult with flattery, when he told the Genevans of “the great love and affection which John had felt, while alive, for them and for all his good subjects,” and that he “had made as holy an end as ever prelate did!”
LAYMEN IN THE FIELD 1523–1532
The Huguenots were demanding that the Genevans should be free; others, mostly laymen, were coming with a little book in their hands, to say “The truth shall make you free indeed.” One class spoke in the name of humanity, the other in the name of Christianity. The two great forces were soon at work, but they did not work unitedly. Many of these political Huguenots were still Romanists. They were afraid of the Bible. Like many now in Europe, they wished to throw off the temporal power of the pope, but yet let the pope have his spiritual power. The patriot Hugues hoped for a free, but not a protestant Geneva. It was the state, not the church, that he wished to see reformed. The same mind was in Bonivard, who, like Erasmus, dealt his satires upon all parties. If these Huguenots had all been athirst for the Bible, and if they had made that the cornerstone of their liberties, there would have been less battle and a speedier victory. Farel would have found the reformation already there when he entered the city. Calvin would have had far less trouble in fulfilling his mission.
Had these patriots all been protestants, Geneva might have received her form of doctrine and polity from Wittenberg. Luther was known there in 1520. A few Huguenots had rejoiced at his resistance to papal power. They wished to treat the bulls of the Vatican as Luther had done—burn them. His writings seem to have found their way into the city. Bonivard says in his chronicle, “Luther had already given instruction at this time to many in Geneva and elsewhere.” The duke’s party heard the great monk’s name and took alarm. They thought it worthwhile to make a splendid parade, and march out of the city with the image of St. Peter, and cry down Luther and his doctrines. The Huguenots noticed the procession of canons, priests, monks, scholars and white clerks marching beyond the walls. “All the priests have gone out,” said they, “let us shut the gates and prevent them from returning.” Had they done so, it would have been nothing more than a rough joke. But they lacked the courage. The idea got wind; the startled priests and monks hurried back to their nests, and had only a good fright. There was a far better way to exclude these haters of Luther, had these Huguenots been willing to learn it. They were to have the opportunity. The Bible was coming.
The deeds of men outlast their names. We know not who were the humble missionaries that came to Geneva about the year 1524, but we know what they carried. It was Lefèvre’s French Testament. It was borne on the waves of that missionary movement, which was started at Basle, Montbeliard and Lyons. Not in vain did the Chevalier Anemond oversee the printing of these Testaments and religious books; not in vain did the merchants Vaugris and Du Blet send them into those regions which swell the Rhone with their streams. The book-hawkers came to Geneva, and some of the citizens “talked with them and bought their books.”
One of the first to welcome these Bible-colporteurs was Baudichon, who read the Scriptures with astonishment, because he could find in them no Romanism, no images, no mass, no pope, no purgatory, but could find a new religion, a new authority, a new life, a new church; and all these new things were just what the Lord and his apostles taught. Robert Vandel also read with delight, for he thought that here was the power to make Geneva a republic, independent in religion and politics. Such men saw with disgust the snares laid by the duke’s party in the amusements which pretended to be in honor of Charles and the new bishop. Among other displays was a theatrical performance called “the finding of the cross.” It was a lame attempt at a “mystery-play.” It represented the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena going to Jerusalem to find the cross, so that the precious relic might be of use to the church. Three crosses were dug up on the Calvary represented upon the stage. A miracle would decide the true one from those of the two thieves. A dead body (so feigned) was brought. Helena says,
To this corpse we will apply These three crosses carefully, And, if I be not mistaken, At the touch it will awaken.
The three crosses are applied, and when the third one touches the corpse, it is restored to life! Wonderful miracle! The Mamelukes were delighted. Charles fancied such tricks were acting like a charm. “The flies are caught by the honey,” said he, “yet a few more diversions and these proud Genevans will become our slaves.”
The Huguenots resolved to have a play of their own, and gained permission to honor the duke and new bishop in their own way. A great fair was drawing the people to the city, and a crowd gathered to see the Huguenot play. A bishop or two and many priests came, but Charles knew the men too well; he feared a “snake in the grass” and did not appear. The play was Le Monde Malade, the Sick World, or really the Finding of the Bible. The World was very sick, growing worse and worse, a priest comes with his wares and masses, World wants the masses very short, priest shows him some, they don’t suit, priest finds that neither short nor long masses will do, a wise man proposes a new remedy—”What is it, say?”
“A thing which no man dare gainsay, The Bible!”
The World does not like that remedy, and proves himself a fool! Thus the play ends. The Genevans soon had more serious events to engage their minds. For two years there were banishments and martyrdoms, but the Testaments were not lost. The tyrants missed their mark by sending patriots as exiles to Berne and Basle, and other cities where the truth was preached. The Romanists were sending them to the school of the gospel.
These wanderers had woes enough, but this helped to bring about the Swiss alliance of 1526. Berne and Friburg joined hands with Geneva. The exiles returned, the duke’s party began to flee “like birds of night before the first beams of day.” Laymen began to talk about the gospel, and to read and think for themselves. An honest Helvetian was coming to give them a lift.
Thomas ab Hofen, a wise and sedate man, had done a good at Berne. The alliance business brought several deputies to Geneva, and he came along with them, greatly to Zwingli’s joy. This Christian layman had no intention of reforming the city; his mission was diplomatic; but he was not one who could hide his genial light. He visited many citizens, attended the churches, met the people in their meetings, and concluded that there was much patriotism among them, but very little Christianity. The great want in Geneva was religion. At his inn he wrote to Zwingli, “The number of those who confess the gospel must be increased.” There were a few Christians in the city.
The deputy of Berne was not ashamed to be an ambassador of Christ. When he could take an hour from his official duties, he conversed with the people, telling them what was going on at Berne and Zurich. Around the hearth of some Huguenot, where burned the January fire, he talked of the good gospel, and kindled a love for the liberty there is in Christ. We imagine him often at the house of Baudichon whose wife became an earnest believer. But he had a chance to learn the former fatness of the priests by looking behind the screens.
The priests honored him at first, as one in high office. Some of them heard him often speak of religion and imagined that he belonged to their coterie. They here afraid to have a layman talk of the gospel; it looked too much like apostolic and reformation days. They sought to gain his pity by innocently telling him of the fine times they had, when presents of bread, wine, oil, game, and tapers were plentiful in their houses. “But alas!” said they, with sad complaints, “the faithful bring us no more offerings, and people do not run so ardently after indulgences as they used to do.” This was more pleasing news to Ab Hofen than they supposed. It might be a bad state of things for the priests, but it was good for the gospel.
The citizens became more and more attached to the genial visitor. They invited him to their homes, and their public assemblies, that he might speak of the noble things occurring at Zurich. He was cheered, and his old melancholy fits did not return so frequently. His eyes sparkled and he felt unwearied in well doing. “I will not cease proclaiming the gospel,” he wrote to Zwingli, “all my strength shall be devoted to it.”
But now he finds the darker side of his work. The Huguenots were mostly mere friends of liberty, and not of the gospel. They grew cold toward him when he spoke of certain reforms, and of that faith which saves. Those who were first to welcome him began to fall away, and scarcely saluted him in the street. The eyes of the priests flashed with jealousy and hatred as they went about warning the people against him, lest he should ruin the city. The men were made cautious, and the women especially frightened. “All my efforts are in vain,” he wrote, “there are about seven hundred clergymen in Geneva who do their utmost to prevent the gospel from flourishing here. And yet a wide door is opened to the word of God. The priests do not preach, and as they are unable to do so, they are satisfied with saying mass in Latin. If any preachers were to come here, proclaiming Christ with boldness; the doctrine of the pope, I am sure, would be overthrown.”
This simple-hearted, sensitive layman despaired of doing any good, and with a broken heart returned to Berne. He died not long after, “as a Christian ought to die.” It was found after his departure, that his efforts had not been useless. Even Hugues, the leader of the Romish Huguenots, was benefited, and joined hands, for a time, with Baudichon, the leader of the gospel Huguenots. William la Mouille, the bishop’s confidant, seems to have been led to the truth by the good layman of Berne.
The duke’s party—the “bishopers”—were in trouble. Peter la Baume had let the Huguenots elect their magistrates to govern the city so that he might get the temporal power in his hands. The canons must flee, and away they went, muttering, “No more canons, ere long no more bishop.” Their saying was to come true, not because the duke was now against the bishop, who claimed also to be the temporal prince, but because Peter played the fool, as the robber of a young girl. One day in 1527, a report got abroad which put the whole city in commotion. “A young girl of respectable family,” said the crowd, “has just been carried off by the bishop’s people; we saw them dragging her to the palace.” The palace gates were shut; the bishop was at dinner. The girl’s mother had rushed forth, followed the robbers up to the gates, which were shut in her face, and was now pacing about the building, crying in despair. The citizens crowded in front of the palace, and were not choice of their terms in deriding the bishop.
Peter did not like to be disturbed at dinner time. He was puzzled to know what to do, and thought the best thing was to be deaf. Wine did not calm him, for he heard a furious hammering at the gates. The servants told him that the magistrates had come; he left his chair, and went to the window. There he stood, “paler than death”; the people gazed, and were profoundly silent. The magistrates made him a respectful and earnest speech. He answered, “Certainly, gentlemen, you shall have the young woman. I only had her carried off for a harper, who asked me for her in return for his services.” So she was stolen to pay the wages of a musician! Guilty enough, but viler still. The gates were unbarred, the girl restored to her mother.
“No more bishop,” thought the people. He might go and join the exiled canons. “Ha, you bishopers! a fine religion is that of your bishop,” cried the Huguenots. On a certain night Peter took a boat, and then a horse, and made for Burgundy, where in summer he could walk “among his pinks and gilly-flowers,” and in winter have his “beautiful fur robes, lined with black satin,” and all the year round be able to say, “I am much better supplied with good wine here than we were Geneva.” Of which wine, one who often dined with him, says, “he had sometimes more than he could carry.”
The hireling fleeth,” said the people, “when he seeth the wolf coming.” The wolf was the duke of Savoy, who wished to devour both hireling and sheep. But Charles was to hear that the Genevans had removed the signs of his temporal power from among them. “No more bishop”—the next thing was “no more duke.” Eight years before he had set up the white cross of Savoy, carved in marble, in the heart of the pity. The Huguenots were grieved whenever they saw it. He had said, “I have placed my arms in the middle of the city as a mark of sovereignty. Let the people efface them if they dare!” One morning, five days after the bishop’s flight, the white cross was gone. “Who did it?” asked the gathering crowd. “It has fallen into the river,” but no one could see it in the clear waters. The parties began to quarrel. Bonivard at last said, “I know the culprit.” “Who? who is it?” “St. Peter, for, as the patron of Geneva, he is unwilling that any secular prince should have any ensign of authority in city.” This event produced a great impression, and as the authors were never known, some thought it a miracle. Many said, “What the hand of God hath thrown down, let not hand man set up again!”
Other Bernese laymen came to Geneva to continue the work of Ab Hofen. It was the Lenten season, and they said in private families, “God speaks to us of the Redeemer, and not of Lent.”
“Obey the Church,” said the Friburgers, “or we will break off the alliance.” The Genevans thought on the subject; many of them ate meat that spring, and felt none the worse for it, however much it put the alliance in danger.
The Bernese soldiers, who had kindled their fires with the images taken from the churches, had let fall little sparks of truth, which burned and blazed in the hearts of the citizens. The Huguenots made some new signs of uneasiness; they uttered their sarcasms upon the priests in public places; they walked up and down the aisles of the churches, and talked of the needed reform. In 1530 Hugues Vandel wrote for help, and sent one letter to Farel. “The majority in the city of Geneva,” he said, “would like to be evangelical, but they want to be shown the way, and no one dare preach the gospel in the churches, for fear of Friburg.” Farel knew how serious was this difficulty, for stout old Berne had long been opposed by Friburg. What could be done? After much thinking Vandel suddenly gained a bright idea, and wrote to Farel and Fabri about it. His plan was this: St. Victor was a little independent state near the walls of Geneva, and Bonivard might annex it to Berne; then a Bernese bailiff would be there and “a preacher who would be our great comfort.” The Huguenots could then leave the mass and go out in crowds to hear Christ preached in the church of Bonivard. The plan failed. In fact the prior of St. Victor had scarcely the control of his own possessions. He could not collect his rents, and plots were on foot to betray him and the convent to the duke. He grew sad when reduced to four crowns a month, and that a gift from the council of Geneva. By annexing the priory to the hospital of the city he hoped to gain his revenues. The duke would not permit this, for he must have the priory, as it would give him a footing close to the gates which were shut against him. Charles resolved to get rid of him.
Bonivard was in trouble about his priory, his poverty, his enemies, but above all, his mother was seriously ill at the town of Seyssel in the duke’s territory. He must go and see her; the duke was glad to send him a passport. He did not see the trap; he visited his mother, and left her full of anguish for his fate. She was never to see him again. He started for Lausanne, but when on the Morat hills he was seized by ruffians tend carried to the castle of Chillon, where he was to remain long years. The duke’s hand was apparent; the agent of his treachery was Bellegarde, who had slept with him the night before, and said in the morning, “I am afraid something may happen to you, I will send my servant with you.” This servant led him into the ambush. Bellegarde had been the murderer of the patriot Levriere.
The brilliant existence of this Genevan Erasmus was thus suddenly ended. He was never himself again. When he came out of Chillon he was a far different man. The long caged bird had lost both voice and wing. He had not the gospel in which to rejoice like Luther in the Wartburg. He had cheated himself of these heavenly consolations by trying to keep on neutral ground and be neither a Romanist nor a gospel Huguenot. His wit, his jests, and his criticisms upon everybody unfitted for the true benefits of the Reformation. And yet we cannot but sympathize with him, when sitting in his large armchair at St. Victor, he writes, “The Huguenot leagues are not sufficient; the gospel must advance in order that popery may recede.”
Again there were Bernese soldiers in the city (October 1530), and they determined to have the word of God preached. They went to the cathedral and ordered the door to be opened. Some of them went into the towers and rang the bells. Their preacher went into the pulpit, read the Scriptures, and delivered a sermon. Many Genevese looked on and listened, but did not fully understand. It was a new mode of worship, but when they saw that simple prayer, singing, and the reading and explaining of God’s word were the essential parts of it, they liked it better than the Roman form. From that time the reformed service was repeated daily for weeks, and “no other bell, little or big, rang in Geneva.” The priests said it was all German, and the people would not be the wiser for it. But copies of the Bible and tracts in French were in store. The preacher went about among the Genevans, talked with them, and, after shaking hands with them, left books in their houses whose truth would bring rest to their hearts. Some of them began to “prefer God’s pardon to the pardons of the pope.”
Whispers of such movements came to the ear of Farel, during the years when he was being carried into cathedrals, or was making his own perilous way into forbidden pulpits, and was settling pastors over the flocks which had been won from popery. Geneva occupied his thoughts.
In the little boat that bore him so often across the Lake Neufchatel, in his visits to the Val de Ruz, on his bed at Morat, recovering from severe bruises and the loss of blood, on his journey to the Waldenses, and still more on his return, he felt that he must preach the gospel in Geneva also. It was not enough that the Huguenots should refuse to listen to the mass, and simply walk up and down the church while the priests were chanting it. They must have the gospel. To break from error is but half a reformation; the better half is the full acceptance of the truth.
“Alas!” said he, “there is no other law at Geneva than the law of arms.” The law of God must be there. The patriots had only secured a lip-revolution. The preacher must declare regeneration as the only hope for true liberty. He wished to go at once. The very fact of the strong opposition there was an attraction to his bold and quite romantic nature. But Berne had claims upon him, and noble Berne had no authority to sending into Geneva. If he liked perils, he had enough in the districts where he was already beaten for the gospel’s sake. If he left those fields, Rome would regain her lost ground. He, therefore, looked about for some man who was fitted to bear the glad word to that city, of which the restless prior, Bonivard, had said, a few years before, “God only remained, but while Geneva slept, he kept watch for her.”
We left the young Peter Toussaint at the mansion of the noble Madame Contraigues, waiting for some voice to call him into a bolder work than the Duchess Margaret was willing to have done. He went afterward to Zurich, at the call of its reformers. Here seemed to be the needed man. Farel wrote to Zwingli, “Make haste to send him into the Lord’s vineyard, for you know how well fitted he is for this work. … It is no small matter; see that you do not neglect it. Urge Toussaint to labor strenuously, so as to redeem, by his zeal, all the time he has lost.” The great doctor did all that he could to persuade the young Frenchman, who at first was inclined to go. “Enter into the house of the Lord,” said the adviser, “rend the hoods in pieces, and triumph over the shavelings. You will not have much trouble, for the word of God has already put them to flight.” He did not literally mean that Toussaint should tear the friars to pieces, but the young man was afraid to see even their hoods shaking at him. He had wanted to see more courage shown at the Parisian court; he now lacked it himself when Genevan perils were before him. He shrank back and refused to take the mission with its cross.
Farel, who never shrank from any summons, was vexed. He could scarcely afterward forgive his young friend. He fell down and poured out his anguish before Heaven. “O Christ, draw up thine army according to thy good pleasure; pluck out all apathy from the hearts of those who are to give thee glory, and arouse them mightily from their slumber.”
This apathy was, perhaps, charged partly upon the Bernese, who had not sent preachers to Geneva, as Farel thought was their duty. They took alarm at the threat of the Friburgers, who said, “If Geneva is reformed there is an end to the alliance.” The alliance did come to wreck; a hurricane was blowing over Geneva, for the duke of Savoy was preparing to attack the city. The Bernese gave up the cause of the Huguenots. “Alas!” wrote Farel, “the Bernese show less zeal for the glory of Christ than the Friburgers for the decrees of the pope.”
One patriot heart was broken when the alliance was ended. It was that of Besançon Hugues, the duke’s enemy, but the bishop’s friend. He resigned his office, saying to the senate, “I am growing old; I have many children; I wish to devote myself to my own affairs.” He was only forty-five; but the late months had been as long years to him. His forty official missions, his dangers, his flights and exposures, his disappointments and reproaches were enough to bring gray hairs upon that head, which deserves some of our best laurels. It was God’s time for him to retire. He would be in the way of the gospel movement. He was not pleased to see that the Christian Huguenots were gaining new followers every day. It was time to give space to Baudichon. His Romanism must fade before the reformation. He retired, sighing lest all liberty was lost, and in less than a year he breathed his last. Faith might have taught him that God would defeat the threatening duke of Savoy, by bringing in a mighty alliance with Heaven.
An ambassador of the heavenly alliance was coming—a modest, learned, devout, and strong layman, who would help to prepare the way for Calvin and Farel. Farel had long known him—perhaps had seen him on the university benches, when Lefèvre was awakening debates among the students—and perhaps he had a hand in bringing him into Geneva. He was not a preacher, but merely a schoolmaster. We need to know more of him.
When Calvin was at college in Paris, he was often visited by fellow townsman and cousin, Peter Robert Olivetan. Calvin was then a devout Romanist, and it grieved him to find his affectionate cousin such a heretic. The grief was fully reciprocated. Robert did all he could to convert his younger relative.
“O my dear friend,” said Robert, “study the Scriptures.”
“I will have none of your doctrines,” was the reply. “Their novelty offends me.”
They parted, little satisfied with each other. Calvin knelt before the images in the chapel, and prayed to the saints for his friend. The other shut himself up in his room and prayed to Christ. The prayer to Jesus was to prevail. One day Calvin saw light breaking through the darkness that for months had gathered before him. “If I have been mistaken,” said he, “if Olivetan and my other friends are right, if they have found that peace which the doctrines of the priests refuse me!” He shed tears and cried unto God. Following Olivetan’s advice he studied the Scriptures—perhaps the Testament of Lefèvre. It is worthy of notice that the three great Picardins—Lefèvre, Olivetan, and Calvin, were to have a decided influence at Geneva. It is very touching to know that the older cousin helped to lead the younger into the truth, and then, without any plan but that of God, he went to a strange city to help prepare a place for him to declare it. It was strange, too, in human eyes, that Olivetan should be led to Geneva. He was not seeking it. He had been compelled to leave Paris, and Farel had fixed upon him as a teacher for those ancient Waldenses who were holding out their hands to the modern reformers.
In the city council of Geneva there was a wealthy, enlightened and influential man named Jean Chautemps. He needed a teacher for his sons. People spoke to him of a mild, genial man, who knew well the best society of Paris, and, “besides, a very learned man.” This gentleman considered it very fortunate to have such a master for his children, and soon had in his house Robert Olivetan, who taught according to “the right mode” of Mathurin Cordier, the great preceptor of Calvin.
Was he thinking that his brilliant and powerful cousin might sometime come and preach in Geneva? Perhaps, and yet he said nothing in that direction. He set bravely to work in his modest way. He held forth a shining lamp. He sometimes went with Chautemps to the churches, and was moved with grief at the errors which he saw and heard. He would return home, and, sitting with his patron, refute the opinions of the priests, and explain the word of God. The councilor became a friend of the reformation, and, amid all the strifes, upheld the cause. His heart was warming, and his house preparing to receive “that great missionary, Farel,” about whom there such wonderful reports in the land.
The schoolmaster took a still wider range, and talked with the councilor’s friends, and to all whom he could approach. He endeavored to “point out with gentleness” to the priests the errors which they taught. Fear did not hinder him. He became so bold that Chautemps advised him to be more cautious, lest he should come to harm. Still he went on in his unassuming but courageous way. And now the Genevans began to come to him. In small circles they sat to hear the word. Then, from private houses, he was drawn out into the open air, in front of the churches, there to touch the consciences and make the ears of his hearers tingle.
One day at a private assembly there came a few men and women, most of them known to the master of the house, and they sat down on the benches before the new teacher. Some of the intellectual men, of whom Geneva was proud, were present. After reproving their sins and their unbelief, and telling them of Christ, he said to them, “We cannot attain true holiness if the Holy Ghost, who is the reformer of hearts, be absent. By the Spirit of Jesus Christ the remains of sin in us diminish little by little. What a profound mystery! He, who was hung on the cross, who even ascended into heaven to finish everything, comes and dwells in us, and then accomplishes the perfect work of eternal redemption.” Thus taught the schoolmaster, who was soon to rouse all Geneva.
The pope’s great jubilee was coming; the people were talking about it, and some told how it originated. A witty scholar thus relates the story: “On the eve of the new year, 1300, a report spread suddenly through Rome (no one knew whence it came) that a plenary indulgence would be granted to all who would go the next morning to St. Peter’s. A great crowd of Romans and foreigners hurried there, and in the midst of the multitude was an aged man, stooping and leaning on his staff, who wished also to take a part in the festival. He was a hundred and seven years old, people said. He was led to the pope, the proud and daring Boniface VIII. The old man told him how, a century before, an indulgence of a hundred years had been granted on account of the jubilee; he remembered it well, he said. Boniface, taking advantage of the declaration of this man, whose mind was weakened by age, declared that there should be a plenary indulgence every hundred years.” As great gains were made out of the scheme, it was thought that it would pay well to have the jubilee more frequently, and it was appointed for every fifty years, then every thirty-three, and then every twenty-five. Such jubilees were held in our times in 1825 and in 1833.
The minds of the Genevans were soon in a great ferment. There was much talk and murmuring everywhere in the streets. “A fine tariff is the pope’s,” the bolder ones said. “Do you want an indulgence for a false oath? Pay about 29 livres. One for murder? a man’s life is cheaper—only about 15 livres. It is all an invention of the devil.”
“If the pope sells indulgences,” said some who were beginning to have glimpses of the truth, “the gospel gives a free pardon. Since Rome advertises her pardons, let us advertise that of the Lord.” They went to Olivetan, whom they had probably heard declare against these tricks to fill the treasuries of the pope. He probably was the real author of a “heavenly proclamation,” which was to startle the citizens. Baudichon hurried to the printer, and had it struck off in large, bold letters. He and one Goulaz laid their plans, and while Geneva slept as the ninth of June was dawning, they were busy in the streets. Gentle taps of the hammer fastened on a pillar in front St. Peter’s church, right over the advertisement of the pope’s jubilee, a proclamation which the laziest priest would have kept awake to prevent, if he had suspected what would be seen in morning.
The sun rises, the people awake, throw open their windows and doors, and see little groups standing here and there, staring at some new wonder. The groups become crowds. Houses are left empty, the streets are filled with readers, talkers, murmurers. Men and women, young and old, priests and friars gather in front of the placards, and read with amazement, these strange words:
God Our Heavenly Father Promises A General Pardon Of All His Sins To Every One Who Feels Sincere Repentance And Possesses A Lively Faith In The Death And Promises Of Jesus Christ.
“This surely cannot be a papal indulgence,” say certain Huguenots, “for money is not mentioned in it. Salvation given freely must certainly come from heaven.” “A defiance of the pope’s pardon,” cry the priests, in wrath that grows fiercer as they overhear the talk of the delighted readers. They insulted those whom they suspected had posted up “the general pardon of Jesus Christ.” They not only used their fists, but more deadly weapons. They made a great uproar, and tried to tear down the placards. But the patriotic party, now called Lutherans by the priests, would not allow this to be done. Two parties were soon organized—those who defended the placards, and those who wanted to pull them down. One leader from each were to have a small battle.
A certain canon, Wernly of Friburg, hearing the tumult, rushed out of his house, went toward the cathedral of St. Peter, and caught sight of the placard on the pillar. He flew at it, clenched it, and tore it down, uttering a coarse oath. There he stood, a burly active fanatic, who could handle a sword as skillfully as the censer, and give a blow as readily as a blessing.
A Genevese patriot saw what was done, and, walking up to the pillar, calmly put another paper in the place of the one torn down. All saw that he was Goulaz, a bold spirit who could brave those whom he despised. The Friburger lost all self-control, and forgetting the placard, he rushed upon the heretic, dealing him a lusty blow. Then he drew his sword (for the canons wore swords at that time), but Goulaz was ready to meet him with his own weapons. In the struggle, Wernly was wounded in the arm. Upon this there was a general tumult that increased and extended through the whole city. The magistrates were scarcely able to prevent a fierce battle in the streets.
The noise of this affair soon reached Friburg, where it was said that the placards were the result of the sermons of a certain schoolmaster, who had taught that the pardon of God was to be preferred before all the indulgences of the pope. This Romish city would not be satisfied until the council of Geneva forbade any more papers to be posted up without their permission, and ordered that “for the present the schoolmaster should cease to preach the gospel.” The priests went about visiting every family, and demanding the surrender of every New Testament.
“The priests want to rob us of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” murmured the people, “and in its place give us what? Romish fables! Really it is quite enough to hear them at church.” The councilors were urged to show themselves Christians. Often had Olivetan told them that there was no intention of introducing a new religion, but of returning to the old. This was easily understood. The friends of the Reformation in the council began to speak boldly for the word and the people’s right to read it. It was ordered by the council that “in every parish and convent the gospel should be preached.” This was the first official act in Geneva favorable to the Reformation.
The great pardon of Jesus Christ began to be understood and embraced by numbers of people. The placards announcing it mark an important epoch in the history of Geneva. From the little town of Payerne where Anthony Saunier was pastor came to the Genevese one of the best letters ever penned. We quote one of the first and one of the last sentences. “We have heard that the glory of God is with you. … Be the standard bearers upon earth of the colors of our Savior, so that by your means the holy gospel may be borne into many countries.”