Farel in Geneva
This section comprises chapters 15 through 18. 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 15 – The Preachers at the Inn
- Chapter 16 – Froments Little Sermons
- Chapter 17 – Farel in His Element
- Chapter 18 – Calvin United With Farel
The Preachers at the Inn 1532
On a fine October day two travelers, the one riding a white horse, and the other a black one, entered Geneva, stopped at the Tour Perce, dismounted, addressed the landlord, and took up their quarters under his roof. He would never forget them, for the little slender man with a red beard and sun-burnt face was William Farel, and the other was Anthony Saunier, now on their return from the visit to the Waldenses. One of their first thoughts was to inform Robert Olivetan of their arrival.
The schoolmaster hastened to meet them, supposing that the gospel in Geneva was to be the first and last topic of conversation. But Farel had another idea which must first be mentioned. He had fixed on this excellent Greek and Hebrew scholar to translate the Bible for the Waldenses.
“I cannot accept such a commission,” said the modest teacher. “The work is difficult, and I am not qualified.”
“Your excuses cannot be admitted. God gives you this call, and he has prepared you for the task.”
“You could do this work much better yourself,” still urged the accomplished scholar.
“God has not given me leisure,” replied Farel, “He calls me to another work. He wills me to sow the pure seed of the word in his field and water it and make it flourish like the garden of Eden.” The subject was changed to matters in the city.
Out of his pocket Farel took the letters given him at Berne for some of the chief Huguenots. They went and made several calls, talking as they went of the late affairs in the streets. The Huguenots opened the letters and found that a famous man was in town. They looked at him with gratitude to him, to Berne, and to God. Certainly he should preach, not simply because Berne requested them to hear him, but because they expected that this great preacher would bring the light of heaven into their hearts. Farel left them for the night, saying that he would be happy to see them at his inn.
‘The great missionary had come! It was the best of news to the Huguenots. “Let us go and hear him,” they said; “he is the man they call the scourge of the little priests.” But there was wrath among the bigots, the friars, and the nuns. They knew what to expect. Jeanne de Jussie, a literary nun, wrote thus in venting her feelings: “A shabby little preacher, one Master William, of Dauphiny, has just arrived in the city.”
To a room in the Tour Perce many of the noted citizens and councilors went the next morning to be instructed. The landlord brought in some benches and stools, and Farel took his station near a little table. On it he placed a Bible, and he drew from it the faith that he preached. He set forth before this select audience, in which were the earliest champions of modern liberty, both Romanism and the reformation. They saw the former was all wrong; the latter they wished to embrace. They rose, thanked him and left the room, saying that it seemed right put the Bible in place of the teaching of the pope. The placards of the “great pardon” noted a first step; this preaching at the Tour Perce marked the second step toward the reformation in Geneva.
These men carried home what they had heard; they talked about it; there was a “great sensation in the city,” and sister Jeanne de Jussie again journalized about “this wretched preacher, who was beginning to speak secretly at his quarters, in a room, seeking to infect the people with heresy.” There was a second meeting, and still plainer preaching, “at which those who heard him took great pleasure.” The priests were alarmed, and they set about alarming the women, who then were the main supporters of the papacy. The Genevan ladies begged their husbands and brothers to drive away the heretics. Some went with their husbands, angrily, to the inn, and desired the preachers to leave at once, if they did not wish to be turned out by force. But this was to Farel no storm at all; it was a mere zephyr, that he did not mind.
The council, or senate, was now in trouble. Its members were divided on the great question—what should be done with these preachers? To keep them would rouse the wrath of the priests and their party; to expel them would greatly offend the stout old Berne. All agreed that it was fair to hear them still farther, and Farel and Saunier were led to the town hall. As they entered the senate chamber, every eye was fixed on “that man with keen look and red beard, who was setting all the country in a blaze, from the Alps to the Jura.” Before long one of the senators opened his battery upon Farel.
“It is you, then, that do nothing but disturb the world. It is your tongue that is trumpeting rebellion. You are a busybody, who have come here only to create discord. We order you to leave the city instantly.” This was certainly intelligible enough, without the aid of the angry looks now turned upon Farel.
“I am not a deluder; I am not a trumpet of sedition,” answered the reformer, in calm self-control. “I simply proclaim the truth. I am ready to prove out of God’s word that my doctrine is true, and”—the voice grew tender with emotion—”not only to sacrifice my ease, but to shed the last drop of my blood for it.”
The senators were touched at this noble simplicity. The Huguenots were moved to defend the accused. The tone and temper of all were softened by his moderation. But Farel could defend himself. “Most honored lords,” said he, “are you not allies of Berne?” They grew solemn at the mention of that name. He placed the letters from that city before them, saying, “They bear witness to my innocence and doctrine, and beg you to hear me preach peacefully. … If you condemn me unheard, you insult God, and also, as you see, my lords of Berne.” The countenances of the senators changed, and they gently dismissed the preachers, simply begging them not to disturb the peace of the city by new doctrines.
Disturb such a peace as Geneva had known! It must have seemed absurd to their honors. The real disturbers were already in council under the wing of the church. At the house of the grand vicar, de Gingins, were gathered the clerical strength of the Romish party. That challenge of Farel, “I will prove by the word of God,” was a terror to them. “If we discuss,” said they, “all our office is at an end.” They liked not the weapons. The priests had others. They carried arms under their gowns. It was proposed to use them. Sister Jeanne de Jussie knew of the plot. The council would entrap the preachers by asking for a disputation. “Having deliberated to kill Farel and his companion,” says an old manuscript, “they found the best means of getting them to come would be to invite them to a debate.” The conspirators agreed that Farel was never to go alive out of the vicar-general’s house, but, first of all, they must get him to enter it. The bishop’s secretary, Machard, was deputed to summon the preachers and the schoolmaster to retract or to explain before the council what they had preached at the inn.
The plot was whispered. The Huguenots in the town hall grew suspicious, and sent the two chief magistrates to go with the bishop’s secretary. These three Genevans went to the Tour Perce and met the three reformers. Machard invited them to retract the doctrines they had taught.
“We affirm these doctrines in the strongest way possible,” said Farel, “and again offer to die if we cannot prove them by Scripture.”
“In that case,” said the secretary, “come before the Episcopal council, to discuss with the priests and maintain what you have declared.”
“No harm shall be done to you,” added the two magistrates. “We pledge our word to it.” The preachers were delighted with this opportunity of announcing the gospel, and, with Olivetan, they set out, not expecting any danger.
Already was there a suspicious-looking group in front of the Tour Perce. While the upper house of the clergy was sitting at the vicar’s, the lower house had met in the streets. The armed curates and chaplains had watched the messengers going to the inn, and guessed what it meant. They gathered their followers, particularly the women and the rabble. When the three Genevans with the three reformers passed, they fell in the train. “Look at the dogs,” said they, with coarse jeers and threats. There was danger on every hand. In the council and in the streets men had sworn Farel’s death. At the door of the vicar’s house the three reformers had to wait some time, for the two magistrates went in to ask another pledge of the council that the ministers should be safe while they freely explained their doctrines. The pledge was given, and they entered and stood together before the imposing assembly, all in their sacerdotal robes. The official, de Veigy, was ordered to speak.
“William Farel,” said he, “tell me who has sent you, for what reason you come here, and by what authority you speak.” He knew of no authority but that of the Romish church.
“I am sent by God,” replied Farel with simplicity, “and I am come to declare his word.”
“Poor wretch,” groaned the priests with a shrug of the shoulders.
“God has sent you, you say,” resumed the official. “How is that? Can you show a clear sign, as Moses did before Pharaoh? If not, then show us the license of our most reverend prelate, the bishop of Geneva. Preacher never yet preached in his diocese without his leave.” He paused; he scanned the decently-dressed reformer from head to foot; he feared to hear any answer from Farel, and did not intend that one should be given, and then broke forth again, “You do not wear the robes of a clergyman. You are dressed like a soldier or a brigand. How dare you preach? A decree of the holy church forbids laymen to preach. You are a deceiver and a bad man.”
Thus ran the abuse. The clergy did not give Farel time to speak. It was not for that they had called him. They were glorying in the fact that they had within their grasp the terrible heretic, of whom they had been so long talking. It was hard for them to keep their hands off him. They sat, pale with anger, and clattered their feet on the floor. At last they must speak or burst, and they all spoke at once, pouring insult on the reformer. They rose, rushed upon him, and, pulling him this way and that, they cried out, “Come Farel, you wicked devil, what business have you to go up and down, disturbing all the world? Are you baptized? Where were you born? Where did you come from? Why do you come here? Are you the man that spread heresies at Aigle and Neufchatel, and threw the whole country into confusion?”
It was not meant that Farel should have any chance to answer these questions. The noise was so great that neither he, nor the vicar, nor the magistrates, could gain a hearing. A rattle was heard; the weapons were clattering beneath the priest’s frocks. Farel remained still as he could amid all this uproar. At length the grand vicar secured order and silence. Farel seized the moment.
“My lords,” said he, nobly lifting his head, “I am not a devil. I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and, if I journey to and fro, it is that I may preach Jesus Christ. … I am compelled to teach him to all who will hear me. For this cause, and for no other, I am come into this city. Having been brought before you to give an account of my faith, I am ready to do so, not only at this moment, but as many times as you please to hear me peaceably. As for the disturbances in the land, I will answer as Elijah did to King Ahab, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house.’ Yes, it is you and yours who trouble the world by your traditions, your inventions, and your dissolute lives.”
“He blasphemes; what further need have we of witnesses,” cried out one of the raging, gnashing priests. “He is guilty of death.”
“To the Rhone, to the Rhone!” shouted others. “Kill him! It is better for this rascally Lutheran to die than to let him trouble all the people.”
“Speak the word of God,” said Farel at these perversions of Scripture, “and not those of Caiaphas.”
“Strike! strike!” cried a Savoyard, as the furious priests shouted whatever was uppermost in their minds. They divided the three reformers among them, and each was abused, spit upon, and beaten; yet each was calm and patient, remembering, doubtless, the meekness of the Great Master under similar treatment. Certain of the better priests and the two magistrates were ashamed of such a scene, and tried to end it.
“It is not well done,” said an abbot, “have we not pledged our word and honor to them?”
“You are wicked men,” cried out William Hugues, a just magistrate, who was more than disgusted with the violent party. “We brought you these men on your promise that no harm should be done to them, and you want to beat them to death before our faces. I will go and ring the great bell and convoke the general council.”
The thought of a general assembly of the citizens alarmed the priests, for they might expel the authors of this disturbance and give every security for the reformers to remain. In few cities would the people side with the priests, and Neufchatel was a fearful example of the popular power. The abbot took advantage of this new lull, and asked Farel and his two friends to withdraw so that the council might deliberate. Farel left the room, shamefully insulted and bruised.
And what does the reverend sister Jeanne de Jussie say came next? About eighty of the lower order of priests had collected about the house, “all well armed with clubs to defend the holy catholic faith, and prepared to die for it.” Strange mode of defending the faith! Not much danger of dying for it when there were eighty in arms against three defenseless strangers! “They wished to put that wretch and his accomplices to a better death.” Sister Jeanne knew all about the scheme.
As Farel entered a long gallery he saw a gun leveled at him, and in an instant the priming flashed, but the load was not expelled. Some say it burst in the hands of the vicar’s servant who aimed it at Farel. “I am not to be shaken by a popgun,” said he coldly. “Your toy does not alarm me.” His friends said, “Verily, the God of mercy turned aside the blow that he might preserve Farel for more formidable struggles.”
Again were the strangers summoned to the council room. The grand-vicar said, “William Farel, leave my presence and this house, and within six hours get you gone from the city with your two companions, under pain of the stake. And know that if this sentence is not more severe you must ascribe it to our kindness and to our respect for the lords of Berne.”
“You condemn me unheard,” said Farel. “I demand a certificate to show at Berne that I have done my duty.”
“You shall not have one,” was the reply. “Leave the room, all of you, without one word more.” They got out of the council of the clergy, but how were they to get away from the city? The mob must be met. They went forth into a hurricane of enmity. On a sudden there was a stir in the crowd, a falling back and parting. An armed body of men rescued them from violence, to the great grief of Sister Jeanne, who wrote of the most of the mob, that “the worthy men were not satisfied” to see the heretics depart alive, and one rushed forward at Farel with a sword “to run him through.” The magistrates seized the “worthy man,” and many were chagrined because the blow failed. Amid hootings and hisses and groans and threats, the reformers reached the Tour Perce under guard. It grieved Farel that he must leave the generous men who had listened to him at the inn. But he intended to preach yet in Geneva.
Early the next morning a little boat lay waiting, and a few friendly citizens went to the Tour Perce to bring away the missionaries. The priest party were there to turn their matins into murder. Some staunch Huguenots came up, brought out the two strangers, and hurried to the lake. In the boat they were carried over to an unfrequented place near to Lausanne, and after a tender parting with their friends, who had thus far attended them, they made their way to Orbe. It required faith in God to hope that Geneva would ever become a stronghold of Protestantism.
Froment’s Little Sermons 1532-1533
At the village of Yvonand, on the southern shore of Lake Neufchatel, dwelt a young Dauphinese named Anthony Froment. He had been more disgusted with the excesses of Rome, probably, than charmed by the riches of the Bible, and had sought peace of soul in the Reformation. He had been with Farel, helping him through some of the most perilous scenes, and was now preaching to a little flock in Yvonand.
To this village came Farel, in October, with new plans in his mind for taking Geneva. He invited several ministers to meet him in council, among whom were Olivetan, Saunier, Froment, and Martin (probably), the Waldensian by whose parishioners he had been entertained in the “holy valley.” Farel gave an account of his mission to Piedmont, and of the stormy reception he had received at Geneva. They all looked on him with wonder and gratitude to the Author of miracles. Froment could not keep his eyes off the fugitive missionary, and he pitied the Genevan patriots who seemed about to lose all they had ever gained.
“Go and try if you can find an entrance into Geneva to preach there,” said Farel, fixing his keen eye on Froment. For a little the young Dauphinese was speechless with astonishment.
“Alas! father,” said he, recovering himself, “how can I face the enemies from whom you are compelled to flee?”
“Begin as I began at Aigle,” replied Farel, “where I was a schoolmaster at first and taught little children, so that even the priests gave me liberty to preach. True, they soon repented, and even now I seem to hear the curate exclaiming, ‘I would sooner have lost my right hand than introduced this man, for he will ruin all our business.’ But it was too late; the word of God had begun its work, and the mass and images fell.”
A new schoolmaster in Geneva—an Ursinus! The plan began to appear wise and to win upon Froment. It would be an achievement to gain a position in the city that had driven out the prophets.
“You fear the men of Geneva,” said Farel, who noticed that Froment was entertaining his plan. “But were you not with me when I planted the gospel at Bienne, and at Tavannes, and near that mountain (Pierre Pertuis) which Julius Caesar tunneled? Were you not with me when I went to Neufchatel and preached in the streets? Do you not remember that we very often received our rent, that is blows and abuse; once, especially, at Valangin, where my blood remained for more than four years on the pavement of a little chapel, near which the women and priests bruised my bead against the walls, so that both of us were nearly killed?”
These remembrances were not very encouraging. Some of the council sided with Farel; others thought that a man of twenty-two was too young to face the fearful storm in Geneva. Froment was not decided. Another thought was struggling for the chief place in Farel’s mind.
Those Bibles and teachers for the Waldenses must be in readiness. Again and again did Farel talk to Olivetan about the proposed version, as they met with their friends, sat together in private, or walked under the noble oaks of Yvonand. After much pressing, the scholar consented to make the translation, and a great victory was gained for the poor Christians of the valleys. They should have a good version of the Scriptures. But a journey was necessary. “Cross the Alps,” said Farel, in his commanding way, “go to the Waldensian valleys, and come to an understanding with the brethren about the translation. And you, Adam, Martin, and Guido, go with him and preach to them the doctrine that will correct all their errors.”
These four men set out, and had reason to use every caution lest the Duke of Savoy and his officers should seize them. They traveled by night in the last days of October. A guide led them onward, and the second day they were at Vevay where they dined and spoke of the “Bread of heaven.” Then they entered Farel’s old district, where his voice first proclaimed the gospel to the French Swiss. At Aigle they were welcomed, and the people gathered to hear them, happy to know that their former teacher, Ursinus, had become so great a man in the world, and happier still to hear afresh the good word of grace. Near to Bex brother Martin was attacked with severe pain. No house was open to receive him, and the walnut trees would not shelter him. What could his friends do? Someone told them of Ollen, where lived the minister Claude, preaching to a little flock that Farel had once gathered. They went, carrying the sick man, and reached the door, where Claude met them. The pastor was touched at the sight of a sick man and invited the strangers in. On a sudden the voice of a violent, pitiless, scolding woman was heard, ” What’s this, a sick man? If you receive him into the house, I will leave it.”
The travelers saw that Claude was unfortunate in having a Xantippe for a wife. Her voice rose higher and higher; he durst not say a word; she disappeared in a passion, and he was sorely vexed and ashamed. “We will not be the cause of a divorce,” said prudent Adam, “we will go away.” So away they went, poor Claude not daring to harbor them. All of them were soon sick with what Adam called cholera. At last they dragged themselves to a wretched cottage, where they got a little comfort for large pay. Rest and the mountain air somewhat repaired their broken health. Other anxieties came, which they bore with good humor. “Alas,” said Adam, the purser, smiling, as he held up the wallet, “our purse has been seized with such cruel pains that there is scarcely anything left of it.”
They met one of the monks of St. Bernard, and spoke to him of the way of life. He listened and was convinced. Said he, “I will quit Anti-Christ.”
Adam took a paper, wrote something, handed it to the monk, and said, “Here is a letter for Master Farel; go to him, and he will tell you what you have to do.” What became of the monk we know not, but the missionaries finally reached the Waldensian valleys, and began to teach and preach. Some of these Alpine shepherds went on foot a two days’ journey to hear them. Poor as these Christians were, they handed over to Olivetan five hundred gold crowns, and urged him to hasten forward the work of giving them a new translation of the Bible. It was finished in 1535, and in the preface he says, “It is to Thee alone that I dedicate this precious treasure, in the name of a certain poor people, who, ever since they were enriched with it by the apostles and ambassadors of Christ, have still possessed and enjoyed the same.”
In the room of an inn at Geneva was a young man, who had felt something far more chilling than the winds of the early November. He had met the piercing coldness of the people. He had tried to talk with one and another, but they were very short with the stranger, who imagined that he could not preach with the chance of an audience. He looked about for some acquaintance, whom he could draw aside and tell his plans, but all faces were strange. He went to some of the leading Huguenots. They looked at his mean appearance rather than listened to his words; they intimated that Geneva was an important and learned city, and the accomplished Roman clergy must be opposed by a fine gentleman of a minister, or a celebrated doctor; and the little man was politely bowed out of their houses. Those who seemed willing to hear the gospel stared at him with contemptuous eyes. “Alas!” said he, “I cannot tell what to do, except to return, for I find no open door to preach the word.” Yvonand would receive him again—for this was Anthony Froment. It cost the little flock there a struggle to give him up; they had wept at the parting with blessings and prayers.
He paid the landlord his bill, strapped his little bundle on his shoulders, and, without one word of adieu to the cold Huguenots, bent his steps toward the Swiss gate and stopped. An invisible hand seemed to arrest him. A voice cried up from his conscience. A force, greater than that of man, sent him back. He took his room at the inn, sat down with his head in his hands, and asked what God wanted with him. He remembered what Farel had done at Aigle. He rebuked himself for coming there as a preacher. He will now begin in humility as a schoolmaster.
He met with a man of lowly lot, and asked him where there was a place for a school. He was led to a large hall, near the Molard, in a house on which is still seen the sign of the golden cross. With his eye he measured the room and rented it. He would have a school, if he could only get the scholars. He drew up a placard, in his best handwriting, and posted several copies in the public places. It read thus: “A young man, just arrived in this city, engages to teach reading and writing in French, in one month, to all who will come to him, young and old, men and women, even such as have never been to school; and if they cannot read and write within the said month, he asks nothing for his trouble. He will be found at Boytet’s hall, near the Molard. Many diseases are also cured gratis.”
The papers were read by the passers by, and some who had met him, said, “We have heard him speak; he talks well.” To some his proposal was suspicious; others replied that it was benevolent, for “in any case he does not aim at our purses.” But the priests and their followers were irritated, and exclaimed in their usual style, “He is a devil. He enchants all who go near him.”
The school opened, and there was no lack of young learners. Froment taught with clearness and simplicity. Before dismissing the children he would open his Testament, read a few verses, explain them, and then ask if any at their homes were sick. If so he gave them a few harmless remedies. The children ran home and told everything. The mothers stopped in their work to listen, and the fathers, especially the Huguenots, made them tell it over again. Thus the children prattled about it, and the older ones were set wondering. Soon the city was quite engaged about “the schoolmaster who spoke French so well.”
The teacher was doing more than he promised; there were Arithmetic, and good manners, a thing not to be despised in Geneva, and there were those readings and talks from the Bible. The grown people must go and hear. Certain ones played off their jokes, wives held back their husbands, priests vented their feelings in coarse abuse, but still Froment found the interest increasing. There were some peeping in and slyly listening to his words. The little sermon was what most came for, and they seemed to lack ears and mouths enough to gather it all. The boys glanced on the men whom they had brought in with a feeling of triumph, and the men came oftener and stayed longer. Many of the Huguenots began to see that true Christianity did not consist in mocking the priests and the mass, as they had so long been doing, but in knowing and loving the Savior. “Come,” they began to say to their neighbors, “come to the Golden Cross, and hear him, for he preaches very differently from the priests, and charges nothing for his trouble.” Men, women, and children began to see who could get first to the hall. The poor man who had been bluffed and bowed out of their houses, had risen to high esteem among the Huguenots, and to the honor of being ridiculed by the priests.
The motive which led some to the hall was not a love for the gospel, but a hatred of the priests, monks, and Mamelukes. Such Huguenots as Ami Perrin, Goulaz, and Adda, thought that the new doctrine “which fell from the skies,” might overthrow the party that opposed the liberties of the city, and they ranged themselves on the benches of the hall and supported Froment with great zeal in the city. Rome was to fare even worse. Certain more liberal priests came to hear the schoolmaster, and declared the doctrines good for all to receive. But the monks went into houses, lingered with groups on the streets, and jeered at Froment’s appearance and his doctrines. “What can that little fool know, who is hardly twenty-two?” His admirers answered, “That fool can teach you to be wise.”
From the days that Paul found “the chief women not a few,” to be among the first to receive the word of Christ, it has often occurred that influential women have led the advance in confessing the true faith. It was so in Geneva. For three centuries the ancestors of Paula had been styled nobles, and she had honored John Levet with her personal merits in being an excellent wife. When the preaching of Farel reached her ear, she “became very zealous for the word.” She now was anxious to win her sister-in-law, Claudine, the wife of the worthy Aime Levet, to the gospel. Claudine was “an honest, devoted. and wondrously superstitious woman,” and more than once had shown combat when the new doctrines were broached. She lived across the Rhone.
“Come, now,” said Paula one day when at her house, “and hear the schoolmaster. Those beautiful little sermons will give you delight.”
“I have so great a horror of him,” was the reply, “that for fear of being bewitched I will neither see nor hear him.”
“He speaks like an angel.” “I look upon him as a devil.” “If you hear him you will be saved.” “And I think I shall be damned.”
“Pray hear him once,” and Paula in deep emotion still pleaded, “Pray hear him once, for love of me.” Claudine at last consented to go. But she would thoroughly protect herself. She gathered fresh rosemary leaves, and fixed them about her temples; she hung relics, crosses, and rosaries round her neck, and saying, “I am going to see an enchanter,” she went with Paula, thinking that she would even lead back her sister into the “mother church.”
In mockery Claudine sat down before the magician, who held a book in his hand. Then, mounting on a round table to be the better heard, he opened the book, read a few words, and began to apply them. Dame Claudine, not caring the least for the assembly, and wishing to make known her religion, crossed herself several times, and repeated certain prayers. Froment still unfolded the rich treasures of the little book. She began to be astonished; she looked at the minister; she was not hearing an angel, but God was speaking from that small book. Not a more attentive listener was in the hall. She asked herself, “Can this be true, seeing that the church knows nothing about it?” Her eyes fixed on the schoolmaster’s book. It was not a missal or a breviary. It seemed to her full of life. It was indeed the word of life.
The talk was ended, and all lingered and left. She sat still, looked at the teacher, and asked, “Is that all true? Is it proved by the gospel?”
“It is all true. It is the gospel,” said he, in a pleasing voice. “Is not the mass mentioned in it?”
“Not that I can find.”
“And is the book from which you preach a genuine New Testament?”
“It is, Madame.” It was probably Lefèvre’s version.
“Then lend it to me,” she earnestly requested. He did so, and she placed it carefully under her cloak among her beads and relics, and went home talking with Paula, who began to hope that the finger of God had touched her soul.
Dame Claudine was in earnest. She took her room, ordered that her family should not wait meals for her, nor knock at her door, and “she remained apart for three days and three nights, without eating or drinking, but with prayers, fastings, and supplications.” The Testament lay open on her table before her, and she read it, kneeling and lifting her eyes to heaven for light. She had many severe struggles, but at last she heard her Lord say, through his word, “Daughter, thy sins are forgiven thee.” She discovered that “the grace of God trickled slowly into her heart,” but the least drop seemed a fountain never to be exhausted. Three days she thus spent, as Paul remained three days in prayer at Damascus.
And now she must see the man who had first led her into these rich treasures. She sent for him to come to her house over the bridge. He crossed the Rhone and was met in her home with no other language than the “tears that fell on the floor.” When the tide of emotion had receded, she told him how God had opened for her the door of heaven, and so talked that the young preacher was greatly instructed. As Calvin says of Lydia, “From this tiny shoot an excellent church was to spring.”
One day she shut herself up in that room, where she had heard the call of God, and resolved to extinguish all her former glory in dress and decoration. She took “all superfluous bravery, laid aside those ornaments and trappings which had served to show her off in a vain, glorious way,” and packed them up for sale. These and her most beautiful robes were sold. The money she gave to the poor, particularly to the evangelists of France, who were now exiles in Geneva. All her life the refugees were most welcome to her house. “Verily,” they said, “she follows the example of Dorcas, and deserves to be kept in perpetual remembrance.” She did more; she spoke meekly and frankly of the precious truth wherever she went, and presented the New Testament, which Farel was sending, to many of the Genevan ladies. Her husband had been most bitter against Froment, but he began to be softened. She gently won him to the Lord. Little meetings were held in the house of the Levets, and when Froment was not present, she read and explained the Scriptures. The modest Guerin, a cap-maker, was reading his Bible day and night, and soon he cast his lot with the laborers in the vineyard.
On New Year’s day the city was to pass another crisis. The council had forbidden Froment to preach, and this made the people the more anxious to hear him. The hall was soon filled, then the stairway, then the street, and others still coming. The young preacher came, and he could not press through the crowd. What should be done? One man shouted out, “To the Molard,” and the cry became general. This was a large square, near where the Rhone pours out of the lake. Thither they went, crying, “Preach to us the word of God.” Mounting upon a little market-stall, the preacher beckoned with his hand, and there was silence. “Pray to God with me,” he said, and, kneeling, the tears ran down his cheeks, while his voice rose solemnly to heaven. By that prayer, so unlike anything the people had ever heard, thousands were convinced that he sought the salvation of their souls. The text was not fortunate, “Beware of false prophets,” but the sermon was powerful, every point being proved by the Scriptures. Various attempts were made to disturb him, until, at length, an armed band forced their way toward the stand. After much confusion Froment was carried away by his friends, and with great difficulty was saved. The school must now be given up, and preaching abandoned.
We cannot linger upon his perils—how he was almost detected in the house of Jean Chautemps and must seek another refuge, how Perrin said to him, “The law allows me to keep an honest servant unmolested in my house and I engage you,” how he worked at the loom and none dare touch him, and how he began to visit cautiously at their homes, those who believed. Once he was detected crossing the bridge, and was so near to death, that his friends barely got him into the house of Dame Claudine, who must see her windows broken by the mob. At night Froment was advised to leave, and he departed for Yvonand to rest a while from the contests that make this the heroic period of his life. His work had not been in vain. Among other patriots Baudichon de la Maison-Neuve became a most zealous protestant, and his house and that of the Levets were the chief resorts for the little band of Christians.
Sometimes these believers had a great treat. A minister would be passing through Geneva; he must stop and preach in a private room, and the good news went here and there among them. “What is his name?” they would ask.
“Where is he staying?”
“At Aime Levet’s by the bridge.” And Claudine saw her rooms filled every evening while the minister stayed.
“We should have the Lord’s supper,” these Christians began to say one to another. It was decided, and as no minister could be obtained, they urged Guerin to preside.
“Where shall it be celebrated?” was the next question.
“At Baudichon’s house,” said one. “No,” said the more prudent, “not anywhere in the city, for the priests and their spies will cause a new uproar.”
“I have a little walled garden near the city gate,” said Adda, “and there nobody can disturb us.”
On an early morning in March, as it seems, these believers quietly took their seats on the rude benches, and the Lord’s table was spread in this garden, reminding them of the sacred gardens where their Savior had agonized, or had lain in the tomb. Just when Guerin sat down at the table, the sun rose and, blessing the scene with his first rays, made it more imposing than the distant Alps of glittering snow. Never was this holy ordinance observed in a simpler manner. From the trembling hands of a layman, who felt that he was daring to do a sacred act with almost impious touch, they received the bread and the wine, and remembered the Crucified, praying for those who were afraid to meet with them, pledging their faith and their love, hoping for the day when there should be a reformed church in the city with a pastor who would feed the flock, and praising God for what they had already heard from his messengers now banished, and read in his word now hidden in their homes and their hearts. Thus was celebrated their first communion in Geneva.
This was not to be the end. The priests went about saying of these quiet believers, “They make so much of Christ that they deprive themselves of the church.” Guerin and Olivetan (now in the city) held that the Romanists “made so much of the church that they deprived themselves of Christ.” Here was the dividing line between the two parties. The honest Guerin was charged with the crime of having administered the Lord’s supper in the garden, and he must leave the city. Hastily fleeing he went to Yvonand that he might be with Froment who had done so much to enlighten his mind.
The sad state of the true church led Olivetan to write of it, “I love thee; I have seen thee ill-treated, ill-dressed, torn, disheveled, chilled, bruised, beaten, and disfigured. I have seen thee in such a piteous case, that men would sooner take thee for a poor slave than the daughter of the Great King, and the beloved of his only Son. Listen! thy friend calls thee; he would teach thee thy rights and give thee the watch-word, that thou mayest attain to perfect freedom.” The little church at Geneva might have sat for this affecting picture. Yet these hidden ones “met every day in houses or gardens to pray to God, to sing psalms and Christian hymns, and to explain Holy Scripture.”
Farel in his Element 1533-1535
All seemed lost in the storm that swept through Geneva in the year 1533. We can glance at only a few other of the sad effects. There was the banishment of Olivetan, for rising upon a bench and daring to say something after a friar had been bawling like a madman in decrying the Bible, exalting the pope, and abusing the people, who sought for true liberty and the new life. All that the mild translator said was, “Master, I desire to show you honestly from the Scripture where you have erred in your discourse.” It was too much for those who dreaded fair discussion. He was pushed off the bench, saved from deadly blows by Chautemps, denied a hearing by the council, and expelled from the city. There was talk that these banishments were not enough. Farel had been driven away, but after him rose up Froment. He had been expelled, but Guerin appeared in his stead. He had been cast out, but then came Olivetan. This fourth leader had been banished, and now somebody else would suddenly take his place. The whole band must be expelled or treated with worse cruelties. There were secret plots formed in the house of the grand-vicar—an armed attack, a fight on the Molard, a plan to burn out the Huguenots, and a reign of terror.
There was the restoration of the bishop-prince, Peter la Baume, who, six years before, had carried off a young girl to his castle, and raised a tempest that bore him away into banishment. There were all his revenges upon the innocent, some of them being thrust into prison, and some put to flight. Chautemps escaped; but his wife, the delicate, accomplished, devoted and heroic Jaquema, must pay for it by suffering rough treatment in a narrow cell. Claudine saw her house again despoiled, and her husband fleeing for the mountains; and if he had not been overtaken, seized, and cast into a deep dungeon, she would have suffered in his stead. These are mere specimens of the persecution. There was almost everything to please the sister Jeanne de Jussie in making up her journal, and telling how the women met to “make war and kill the heretic wives, in order that the breed might be extirpated,” and how, with their little hatchets and swords and caps full of stones, “there were full seven hundred children, from twelve to fifteen years old, firmly resolved to do good service along with their mothers.” But what will she note down when Farel himself will be preaching to the nuns of St. Clair?
Yet, amid all this storm and uproar, there was a voice from My Lords of Berne. Messengers went and told them all about this madness for popery and this violence against their ministers. They were aroused, like a “bear robbed of her young.” Papal Friburg should not drive out of the re-allied city the men whom protestant Berne sent there to preach the gospel. They “did not mince matters.” They gave the Genevan council something to think about, and to put its members in a fearful dilemma. The council was called; there was something new; the looks of all were anxious; the premier, with an air of consternation, offered a letter from the Bernese senators: “We are surprised that in your city the faith in Jesus Christ, and those who seek it, are so greatly molested. … You will not suffer the word of God to be freely proclaimed, and you banish those who preach it.”
What should be done? “If we yield to what Berne demands, the priests will get up fresh disturbances.” It will not do to put down the priests, for Friburg insisted on their presence and power. This course, then, seemed full of danger. But was the other any safer? “If we refuse,” said they, very solemnly, “Berne will break off the alliance, and the reformed will revolt.” This course was dangerous. And they knew not what to do. But they murmured and set the whole city in commotion, and caused a war in their very streets. The priests had their way, one of them blustering and boasting, “Here I am ready to enter the lists with these preachers. Let My Lords of Berne send as many as they like. I will undertake to confound them all.”
He should have the chance. “My Lords” would send one who would be glad to meet all such debaters. They sent a deputation, and Farel along with it, but the noisy monk was gone. The stories about Farel and Viret were not of the sort to attract the superstitious. The priests said that they fed devils at their table in the shape of huge black cats, and that one hung from every beard on Farel’s face, and that he had no white circle in his eyes. They declared that the preachers had brought war, pestilence, famine, and discord into the city. It seems that Farel did not preach during this brief visit.
The priest party sent for a doctor of the Sorbonne to preach the Christmas sermons. This was Guy Furbity, a man of great pomp and little discretion. He, being a Dominican, was expected to preach in the convent de Rive; but, in order to make the victory the more effective, he was led by an armed escort to the cathedral of St. Peter, some time before the Christmas week. There he declaimed about the soldiers dividing our Lord’s garments, and the heretics dividing the church, calling the latter by all the worst of names. One writer states that Froment and Du Moulin were present, and, after hearing the sermon, they offered to prove its fallacy by the Holy Scriptures. This caused an outcry, “Away with them to the fire.” Du Moulin was banished, and Froment was hidden in the house of a friend until he could escape.
Just before Christmas a deputation came from Berne, bringing Farel, Viret, and Froment, and insisting that they should be heard, and that the friar Furbity should be arrested for abusing their honors, their ministers, and good Christians generally. The friar went so far that the senate of Geneva put him under close guard. The grand-vicar ordered French Bibles to be destroyed, and forbade anyone to preach without his license. But the preachers taught in private houses and waited for Berne to open the public doors.
“You must arrest Furbity and bring him to trial for insulting us,” said the Bernese, “and he must prove from Scripture what he has declared, or recant.” The Genevese hesitated. It would offend Friburg. “If you prefer Friburg to us,” replied Berne, “then choose her. But what about those large sums of money which you owe us for defending your city? What about the articles of alliance? Refuse our request, and we must have a settlement. We will remove the seal from the articles, and you will look no more to us for help.” The senate of Geneva could afford to give up the alliance with papal Friburg, rather than that with Protestant Berne. They therefore let the Bernese summon Furbity to a discussion with Farel.
It was, no doubt, one of the gladdest days of Farel’s life, when he met this friar in an open debate. It was a delight not often afforded to the reformers. Furbity agreed to prove his points by Scripture. Many subjects were discussed through several days. The friar broke down in his undertaking, especially on the eating of no meat in Lent. “I cannot prove it from Scripture,” said he, with fading pomp.
“This is keeping your promise admirably,” said Farel, “that you would maintain from Scripture, before all the world, and to your latest breath, what you have been preaching.”
The friar found himself mastered. He apologized to the Bernese commissioners, and hoped for the liberty of trying his eloquence in quarters where he might have less to do with the Bible. But Berne was in earnest and too severe, no doubt. He must recant, and that in the cathedral. Then he might leave the city. Pale and trembling he went into the pulpit, and instead of recanting his errors before the people, who were already convinced of them, he began to complain of injustice and persecution! The Bernese insisted on his recantation. He refused and thus was false to his own promises. The people became indignant. They wrongly set upon him and almost killed him. The Bernese interfered, and put him into prison. There he was visited by Farel, Viret, and Caroli. On seeing this last one, he almost fainted away, for Caroli had been his divinity tutor, and had left the Romish faith. For two hours they labored with him, but he persisted in his errors. He was kept for two years in prison, and finally released at the intercession of Francis I. We do not justify his punishment. By Farel’s triumph over him in the debates, a strong turn was given to the reformation.
During the next Lent a milder monk was preaching in one of the churches. He was enjoined by the senate to publish the pure gospel, and not allude to the adoration of the Virgin Mary, prayers to the saints, purgatory, and such like subjects. He promised to obey but did not keep his word. The Bernese deputies heard his sermons, and then asked that one of their ministers might preach, promising that he should not attack the mass, nor image worship, nor any peculiar tenet of popery. They said it was reported that their preachers kept in dark corners, met at an inn for worship, and dared not appear in the churches. But the Genevese senate feared to offend Friburg and the bishop, and the request was not granted. The people tried another plan that very day.
In a few hours the bell of the Franciscan church was ringing, and the people flocking thither almost carrying Farel. They set him up in the pulpit, and he preached without interruption. It was the first protestant sermon in a Genevan church. Everyone was astonished, and the grave question was, who of the citizens had rung the bell. “It was not by our consent,” said the senate. “We had no hand in it,” said the Bernese envoys, “it looks like a wonderful providence.” The Friburgers declared that it must not be permitted again, or they would break off their alliance. The senators asked the Bernese to send away the preachers. “Not at all,” said the Bernese, who begged Farel to bear in mind the critical state of the city, and be moderate in his attacks upon the errors of the priests. In April 1534, the Friburgers carried out their threat, tore the seal from their treaty, and left Geneva in the hands of Berne and the reformers.
It was a great victory for the Protestant cause, whose weapons were those of peace and good will to men. At Whitsuntide Farel administered the Lord’s supper to a large number of communicants. For a moment there was fear of a disturbance, for a priest entered the church in full dress, as if he intended to break up the services. All were breathless. He walked up to the table, threw off his robes, declared that he thus renounced popery, and wished to be received into the little band of disciples, and sat down with the communicants. The exiles began to return, and the prisoners to see hope of release. By degrees one church after another was opened to the preachers.
The Romanists began to make a new use of their old weapons. The bishop and the canons approved of a plan to surprise the city by night, expel the civil rulers, take the government in their own hands, and sweep out the new doctrines and the new church. The plot came to light, and the bishop came to grief. The pope next tried the “thunders of the Vatican,” and Geneva, with her allies, was excommunicated from the church of Rome. This act raised up Huguenots in the streets and in the senate, and finally Geneva broke with the bishop-prince and with the pope.
Smaller plots were laid. A servant girl was engaged by certain priests to take off the ministers by mixing poison with their food. It happened that Farel ate nothing that day, Froment dined elsewhere, and only Viret partook of the poisoned dish. He felt the effects of it immediately, and, although his life was saved, his health never recovered entirely from the shock. Not long after a still more atrocious attempt was made to poison the bread and wine at the Lord’s supper. These plots excited a sympathy for the reformed and a general hatred against the priests and their party.
The preachers now resided with the Franciscans and gained many of these monks over to the reformed faith. One of these was James Bernard, the brother of Farel’s host. They often talked of the Scriptures together, and the Franciscan agreed to defend the new doctrines before an assembly of his own brethren and those of St. Bernard. Thus, to Farel’s delight, a disputation was held for nearly four weeks, when all the main points between Romanists and Protestants were discussed. Caroli, of whom more anon, then showed that he was anything but a true reformer. The result was most happy. Many of the priests became obedient unto the faith, and the people were strengthened. Claudius Bernard, Farel’s host, demanded that the senate make a public acknowledgement of the reformation, and declare that popery was no longer the religion of Geneva. But the senators hesitated, lest there should be a renewal of disturbances.
One day Farel was invited to preach in the Magdalen church. He went, and, as he entered, the priest left the mass and hastily retired, leaving Farel the pulpit and the audience. The vicar complained. The senate ordered Farel to confine himself to the two churches already open to him and his brethren. A few days afterward Farel appeared in another church, and for this was brought before the senate. He listened respectfully to their rebukes, and then begged to be heard. He urged “that the reformation was the work of Divine Providence, and to delay its progress was to oppose God’s will; besides, almost the whole city had declared in its favor. Issue right commands if you wish the servants of God to render you willing obedience. Give God the glory, and aid the victory of truth over error, especially when you behold some of the most zealous defenders of popery converted to the true religion.” The senate did not withdraw their prohibition, and were reminded that “.we must obey God rather than men.” There were some Gamaliel’s in that senate who would not allow any forcible measures.
Another day, August 8, 1535, the bell of the Franciscan church was ringing, and Farel was on the way thither, when he was met by a strong body of men. They obliged him to go to the cathedral, the very throne of Romanism in the city, on whose pillar had once been nailed the “great pardon.” There, in the pulpit of St. Peter’s, he declared what had not rung to its roof for centuries. He was himself again, with his loud voice and his torrent of eloquence. He could not endure the images and relics that were thickly seen in all corners. No doubt he said many severe things, which excited the people against these idolatries, and when they came again in the evening in great numbers, the work of image-breaking commenced in downright earnest. Vandel, Baudichon, and others led the way, and they left mourning enough for the monks. The next day they visited other churches and made rough havoc of the images.
The senate, not knowing whereunto this would grow, joined with the council of Two Hundred, and they summoned Farel to appear before them. He went with several other ministers, Franciscans, and citizens. He addressed them with firmness and moderation at first, and then warming with Scripture and the greatness of his cause, he employed all his bold and masterly eloquence in defense of the faith. “We do not wish those priests, who cannot receive our doctrines, to be punished,” said he, “but we pray for their conversion. We are here to preach, not to persecute. We are ready to seal the truth with our blood.” He then prayed most fervently that God would give light to the members of the council, so that they might act wisely in behalf of the people who needed salvation. All was respectful, earnest, powerful, and convincing.
The councilors were touched, moved, and decided. They asked the Romish clergy to come forward and state their arguments. The monks confessed their ignorance, and those higher in rank simply hurled back their contempt for Farel and their defiance of the council. It was firmly resolved to abolish popery, and to establish protestantism. In the evening of the same day, August 10, the vicar was informed of the proceedings, and that his services were no longer desired. The mass was forbidden, even in private houses. The Bible was to have its place and its power. The bishop-prince removed to the little town of Gex, and the see was declared vacant. The monasteries were suppressed, and an opportunity was given for Sister Jeanne to hear that fearful preacher, William Farel, on whom she had expended so much of her wit and her wailing.
Whether Sister Jeanne heard Farel or not, we cannot tell, but he preached to the nuns of St. Claire, and showed that Mary and Elizabeth were not shut up in convents, but were excellent mothers at their homes. They had been thrown into horrors long before by certain women who told them, “If the heretics win the day they will certainly make you all marry, young and old, all to your perdition.” And now they took to flight, furnishing Sister Jeanne a chance to employ her vivid pen in a more sorrowful way than usual. Some of them had not been outside the convent walls for many years, and they were frightened at the most harmless objects. They spent a day in getting to St. Julien, about four miles distant. “It was a pitiful thing,” she writes, “to see this holy company in such a plight, so overcome with fatigue and grief that several swooned by the way. It was rainy weather, and all were obliged to walk through the muddy roads, except four poor old women who had taken their vows more than sixteen years before. Two of these who were past sixty-six, and had never seen anything of the world, fainted away repeatedly. They could not bear the wind; and when they saw the cattle in the fields, they took the cows for bears, and the sheep for ravening wolves. They who met them were so overcome with compassion that they could not speak a word. And though our mother, the vicaress, had supplied them all with good shoes to save their feet, they could not walk in them. And so they walked from five in the morning, when they left Geneva, till near midnight, when they got to St. Julien, which is only a little league off.” We should feel more pity for these nuns if they had been as simple and innocent as was generally supposed, and as they wished to be thought. It created no little surprise, after their departure, to find that there was a secret underground passage leading from their convent to the monastery of the Franciscans. From this it was suspected that they were not altogether dead to earthly vanities.
The citizens met on the twenty-first of May, 1535, and took an oath to support the Reformation. Geneva was rising into a Protestant state, quite theocratic in its government and powerful in its influence upon the world. Michelet, who is a moderate Roman Catholic, declares, “Europe was saved by Geneva.” And who saved Geneva? So far as mere men are concerned, due credit must be given to Farel, the great missionary, and Calvin, the great theologian. Unto God they gave all the glory.
Calvin United with Farel 1534–1538
Let us go back a little and see what has become of some of our French heroes, and trace the steps of others who are on the way to Geneva.
“Never tire in the middle of your journey,” was the maxim of a young man who was entering the old city of Angoulême, where the Duchess Margaret was born. He walked along a street which in after years bore the name Rue de Genève, in honor of him. In this street was the mansion of Du Tillet, where he knocked and was admitted. There he had a young friend, Louis Du Tillet, to whose refuge he was invited, and he was now welcomed as John Calvin. A fierce persecution had driven Calvin from Paris, and in this retreat he found a happy home. In the large library he found books that he had never seen before, and prepared for writing the Institutes, the greatest work on theology that had ever appeared. In a vineyard nearby he took recreation, and to this day it is called La Calvine. In the village of Claix he drew the notice of the people, who asked the name of that short, thin, pale young man, and they called him “the little Greek,” because he was giving some persons lessons in that language.
Not far distant was Nerac, the residence of Margaret, who was now the queen of Navarre. Calvin wished to see Lefèvre before the old man was taken away, and Roussel, whom he feared was not firm enough in the faith. He set out, and at Nerac inquired for the house of Lefèvre. Everybody knew the good old man, and perhaps his Testament was in many of their hands. “He is a little bit of a man,” said they, “old as Herod, but lively as gunpowder.” This old man, with his white hair and broken appearance, had about him a living force, meekness, gentleness, moral grandeur, and heavenly brightness that charmed the young visitor. They talked, rejoiced, sympathized and wept together. Lefèvre was deeply moved when he saw that Calvin was bold enough to break away from the old church and enlist “under the banner of Jesus.” Gazing upon him, he said, “Young man, you will one day be a powerful instrument in the Lord’s hand. … God will make use of you to restore the kingdom of heaven in France. Be on your guard, and let your ardor be always tempered with charity.” Thus they talked. The old man pressed the young man’s hand, and they parted, never to meet again on earth.
About three years after this Lefèvre died (1537) at Nerac, where Margaret took delight in treating him as a father. One day when near his end he burst into tears. The queen asked the reason. He replied, sorrowfully, that he could not help reproaching himself, because he had shrunk from the very cross which he had advised others to bear. While he had imparted to so many the gospel, and encouraged them in exposing their lives for its sake, it grieved him to think that he was dying in quiet, and that by flight he had deprived himself of the glory of a martyr’s name.
Gerard Roussel never broke with the Romish church, although, as bishop of Oleron, he still preached the new doctrines. A Roman Catholic wrote of him, “His life was without reproach. His kennel of greyhounds was a great crowd of poor people; his horses and his train were a flock of young children instructed in letters. He had much credit with the people, upon whom he stamped by degrees a hatred and contempt for the religion of their fathers.” The good man was a Protestant at heart, and he died in 1550.
Calvin left this region, gathered about him several missionaries, and they labored in the west of France, until the wrath of the priests knew no bounds. He gained no little fame as an “arch-heretic,” while his friends said, “Would to God that we had many Calvins.” But we find him and Du Tillet, with two horses and two servants, leaving France in 1534. They were robbed by one of the servants, who took their money, mounted one of the horses, and rode away as fast as he could. One horse was left, and the other servant came forward and offered them ten crowns that he had. This took them to Strasburg, where they rested and suddenly heard that a certain William Farel had made a tremendous uproar in France.
An old chronicler called 1534 the year of the placards. Certain men in Paris wished to strike a blow in behalf of rights which they dare not proclaim. They seemed oppressed into silence, and they wished to protest against errors and wrongs in a way that would arouse the public attention of all, from the king to the cottager. They sent Feret to Switzerland to learn how to do it. He consulted with Farel and his co-laborers. The scheme of the placards was proposed. Farel undertook the task. He could not write without using “his trenchant style and thundering eloquence.” He wrote it, and proved himself to be what Michelet calls him, “the Bayard of the battles of God.” The paper was printed in two forms, one for posting up on the walls, and the other as little tracts to be dropped in the streets. The sheets were packed, and Feret departed with “the thunderbolt forged on Farel’s anvil.” These were soon after distributed far and near, to be exposed in every city of the kingdom. It was long enough for a short sermon, and when it appeared men read a terrible protest against the errors of Romanism. Beda charged Margaret with it, but she felt that it was a protest against her and her temporizers. Next Beda accused the king, but he cleared his hands by allowing a furious persecution to sweep the land. There were martyrs, prisoners, and exiles by scores. One of the prisoners was a most eloquent preacher, named Courault, who spoke forth the gospel without reserve or disguise. He had so presented the truth to Louis Du Tillet, while he was in Paris, as to lead him out of Margaret’s party of temporizers into that of the Scripturists, soon to be headed by Calvin. Aged and infirm as he was when he was brought before the king, he would not yield, and, in spite of Margaret’s tears and entreaties, he was sent back to the convent. Did Margaret have a hand on the keys? Whether or not, he in some way escaped, and, though nearly blind, he took the road to Basle. We shall meet him again in Geneva.
Farel was represented at Paris by one of the martyrs, and it will not be a mere episode to tell the story of the converted friar, Le Croix. While a Dominican at his convent in Paris, he was startled in mind by the teaching of Cop and young Calvin. He longed for the gospel, dared not hear it in the capital, and resolved to go to a country where it was freely preached. The eyes of Duprat were on the watch, but he escaped and went to Neufchatel and Geneva, leaving his cowl in the convent and his monkish name in the air. He was thenceforth Alexander Canus. Heartily was he welcomed by Farel and Froment, who carefully taught him the glad tidings which they preached. He was converted—completely transformed. He must proclaim the Sun of Righteousness, point to the cross, preach the Kingdom. One thought absorbed all others, ” O my Savior! thou hast given thy life for me; I desire to give mine for thee.”
But he could not declare the truth in Geneva. The priests controlled the magistrates, and the magistrates wrote him a heretic and condemned him to death. They, however, lifted the sentence “for fear of the king of France,” and he was simply turned out of the city. On the highway beyond the walls he stopped and preached to the people who followed him. All were charmed by his powerful eloquence. “Nobody could stop him,” says Froment, “so strongly did his zeal impel him to win people to the Lord.”
He went with Froment to Berne, and there asked himself and heaven where he should go and preach. To Switzerland? It had already able men. To France? Prisons and death awaited him there. But France needed preachers; he might, perhaps, do something for the gospel. He crossed the border, and went into the region of Macon, where Margaret’s chaplain, Michael D’Aranda, had preached nearly ten years before. He raised his voice among the simple and warm-hearted people, who were exposed to the wildest fanaticism. Wandering along the streams he entered the cottages, talked unto the peasants and planted the truth on the plains of Bresse. Certain pious goldsmiths in Lyons heard rumors of his wonderful work. They probably remembered that a certain William Farel had filled Dauphiny with his doctrine ten years before, and that Peter Sebville was not allowed to preach the Lenten Sermons in their city. They were ready to run risks and to make sacrifices for their faith, and they sent for Alexander to visit them. He went and entered their shops, talked of the new doctrines, and found several “poor men of Lyons” rich in faith. The conversation was pleasant, but he was not satisfied. He must teach more openly. He preached from house to house, then drew the people into larger assemblies. The good word grew. Opposition sprang up like tares to choke its growth. He exclaimed, “Oh that Lyons were a free city like Geneva.”
Those who wished to hear the truth became more thirsty every day. They went to him and listened to his messages; they dragged him to their homes; they gave him more work than he could do. He asked Farel to send him help, but none came. The persecution was thought to be so fierce at Lyons that nobody dared face it. He worked on alone, in by-streets or in upper rooms. The priests and their pack were always on the watch ready to seize him. But as soon as his sermon was ended, his friends surrounded him, carried him away and hid him in safe retreats. But he could not remain silent. Wistfully putting out his head and looking round the house to see that no spy was near, he sallied forth, went to the other end of the city, and there preached with all his energy. Scarcely was his sermon finished when he was again taken and hid in some new retreat where he could not be found. “The evangelist was everywhere and nowhere.” When the priests were looking for him in the southern suburbs, he was preaching on the northern heights that overlook the city. Thus he was the invisible preacher, a mystery to the people, a marvel to the police.
He did still more; he visited the prisons. One day he heard that two men, well known in Geneva, had come to Lyons on business; the Genevan priests had informed against them as heretical Huguenots, and the bishop had thrown them into a dungeon. They were the energetic Baudichon de la Maison-Neuve and his friend Cologny. Alexander asked to see them; the gates opened; the strange preacher, who had baffled the police, was inside the Episcopal prison. He was in jeopardy every moment. Had any of the agents, who were searching for his track, recognized him, the gates would never have opened to him again, and his sudden disappearance would have been another of those mysteries which Rome has ever been skilful in preparing. He felt no fears. He spoke to the two Genevans “a word in season”; he went to other prisoners with the heavenly consolations, and left the cells, no man laying hands on him.
The priests found out what a chance they had missed, but it was too late. He was off, they knew not where. They were “near bursting with vexation,” and lamented with one another, saying, “There is a Lutheran, who preaches and disturbs the people, collecting assemblies here and there in the city, whom we must catch, for he will spoil all the world, as everybody is running after him; and yet we cannot find him or know who he is.” More diligently did they watch and search, but all was useless. Never had a preacher in such strange ways escaped so many snares. They began to say that the unknown man must be possessed of strange powers, by which he passed about invisible.
Easter came—the time when the reformers in Lyons were to boldly raise their banner. The goldsmiths were no longer content with secret meetings; they had made every preparation for a large assembly; the place was settled; they talked of little else, and notice was quietly given from house to house. The day brought the people, and the converted Dominican preached to a large audience. Whether in a church, or hall, or in the open air, the chronicle does not say. He moved and swayed his hearers, and “it might have been said that Christ rose again that Easter morn in Lyons, where he had been so long in the sepulchre.” Spies were present; knowing glances were cast; the preacher was no longer invisible; the detectives saw him, heard him, studied his features, took note of his heresies, and hurried to report them to their superiors.
The gladness of many a heart found vent in many a humble dwelling. The cautious believers had a taste of the good word. They wanted a perpetual feast. They requested him to preach again on the morrow. He was ready, and he spoke to a larger audience than before. Eyes were fixed, ears attent, hearts open, and souls rejoicing. But the police were there, charged to seize the mysterious preacher. After a touching sermon his friends surrounded him to take him safely away. But the officers laid hands on him and took him to prison. He was tried and condemned to death. This cruel sentence caused many to mourn. They urged him to appeal. He did appeal, but the result was he was transferred to Paris. They remembered that Paul had once appealed to Caesar, and thus he won over a great nation at Rome. Why might not Alexander do the same at Paris? He was led away by a captain and his company, who knew not the nature of the preacher’s offense.
The captain was a worthy man. He rode beside Alexander, and they soon were in conversation. The officer asked him why he was arrested. The cause was told. The captain was astonished; he became still more interested in the story of the mysterious preacher; new truths entered his mind, and he wished himself like the pious prisoner. “The captain was converted,” says Froment, “while taking him to Paris.” Alexander did not stop at this. He spoke to the guards, one by one, and several of them were won over to the gospel. They halted for the night at an inn, and there he found means to address a few good words to the servants and the heads of the household. This was repeated at every stopping-place, and he was happier in receiving the attentions of the villagers to the things he told them, than ever was prince in having suppers and ovations at the towns through which he passed. It was often whispered abroad that a strange captive was at the inn, and the people came to hear him. Now and then they brought the priest or the orator of the village to dispute with him, but he soon silenced them with arguments, and went on touching the hearts of his hearers. No mob could be raised, for a captain was in the crowd. Many left the inn, saying, “Really, we never saw a man answer his adversaries better by Holy Scripture.” Thus Alexander, the captive, marched on as a conqueror, waited upon by increasing crowds. “Wonderful thing,” remarks Froment, “he was more useful at the inns and on the road than he had ever been before.”
The Easter of 1534 had passed in Paris a very happy one for Roussel and Courault, who were set at liberty; but a wretched one for Beda and his pack, who were thrust into prison in place of the preachers. All this was done by the king, in answer Margaret’s entreaties. All Paris had enough to talk about, along, with the rumors from Lyons concerning an invisible preacher, who kept the police in perplexity. But a change was suddenly given to the conversation. One day a man loaded with chains entered the capital. He was escorted by archers, who treated him with the greatest respect, even when leading him to the great prison. It was Alexander. The Dominicans remembered him as the friar, Le Croix, and they made the most noise. If Beda was taken from their party, they said, one should be taken from the other party to match him, and Francis I let matters take their course. Alexander was brought before the court. “Name your accomplices,” said the judges. He had none to name. The order was declared, “Give him the boot.”
The reader will remember William Budœus, the illustrious scholar. He was at the trial; he saw the awful tortures applied until a limb was crushed. He heard the groan and the prayer, “0 God! there is neither pity nor mercy in these men! May I find both in thee!”
“Keep on,” said the chief of torture.
“Is there no Gamaliel here to moderate these cruelties?” asked the victim, as he turned on Budœus a mild look of supplication. The scholar had been astonished at the patience of the sufferer.
“It is enough,” said the man of weighty words. “He has been tortured too much; you ought to be satisfied.”
The inhuman work ceased. The poor man was lifted up a cripple, and carried to his dungeon. Not long after, amid great display, the sentence was pronounced, “Alexander Canus, of Evreux, in Normandy, you are condemned to be burnt alive.” A flash of joy lit up his face.
“Truly, he is more joyful than ever before,” said the spectators. The priests then came forward. They feared lest Alexander should preach the gospel even at that very hour.
“If you utter a word,” said they, “you will have your tongue cut out”—a practice that began about this time. They shaved his head and took off his clerical dress; meanwhile he was silent, only smiling at some of their absurdities. They brought the rough robe to put it on him.
“O God!” he exclaimed, “is there any greater honor than to receive this day the livery which thy Son received in the house of Herod?”
He was put into a mean dust-cart, and as it jolted on, he stood up, leaned toward the people, and “scattered the seed of the gospel with both hands.” The hearers were moved, some with rage, some with pity; the Dominicans, in the cart with him, pulled his gown and in every way annoyed him, but he would not be checked.
“Either recant, or hold your tongue,” said they.
“I will not renounce Jesus Christ,” he replied, turning round to them with a withering look. “Depart from me, ye deceivers of the people.”
The ruling passion for preaching was strong in death. Alexander saw some lords and ladies in the crowd, along with his friends, the monks, and common people, and he asked permission to speak a few words to them. A dignitary, unusually gracious, gave his consent. Then with a holy enthusiasm, Alexander confessed himself a believer in Christ. “Proceed,” said he to the executioners. They bound him to the pile, but above the roar of the flames his voice of faith was heard, saying, “O Savior, receive my spirit. My Redeemer! O my Redeemer!” At last all was still. The people wept. The executioners said one to another, “What a strange criminal!”
“If this man is not saved, who will be?” whispered the monks, no doubt remembering their good brother friar, Le Croix.
“A great wrong has been done to that man,” said many who were beating their breasts and starting home. “It is wonderful how these people suffer themselves to be burnt in defense of their faith.”
Burnt in defense of the gospel! Truly this was the only real defense it had in France when but a few months before this monk had left the capital to be taught of William Farel, to preach and found a church in Lyons, to talk of the good tidings along every road and in all company, and to return a martyr, and leave the world a lesson from his short but glorious career.
But if the faith be defended by the death of one champion, it is to be fortified by the life of another. It was Calvin’s duty to escape, for the Lord had need of his active energies.
In the summer of 1536 a young preacher came to the house of Viret in Geneva, intending to stop there for only a night. He had been in Italy and was on the way to Basle where he had spent some time as an exile from France. Some one—Du Tillet or Caroli—discovered him, and went and brought Farel to see him. He was already in high repute as the author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Farel met, for the first time, John Calvin, from the country of his noble friends, Lefèvre and Olivetan. Farel thought what Beza afterwards said, “God conducted him hither,” and was resolved to secure his services in that city. He at once presented the case to the guest of Viret.
“I cannot bind myself to any one church,” says Calvin, “but I would endeavor to be useful to all. I have my plan for study before me, and I am not one of those who can afford to be always giving without receiving.”
“Now,” said Farel, with that manner and voice which filled thousands with awe, “I declare to you, in the name of the Almighty God—to you who only put forth your studies as a pretence—that if you will not help us to carry on this work of God, the curse of God will rest upon you, for you will be seeking your own honor rather than that of Christ.”
The conscience of the young traveler was so touched that he never forgot it. Toward the close of his life he said, “As I was kept in Geneva, not properly by an express exhortation or request, but rather by the terrible threatenings of William Farel, which were as if God had seized me by his awful hand from heaven, so was I compelled, through the terror thus inspired, to give up the plan of my journey, but yet without pledging myself, for I was conscious of my timidity and weakness, to undertake any definite office.” He is first noticed in the archives of Geneva as iste Gallus, “that Gaul,” but in the spirit of modern appreciation Montesquieu says, “The Genevese ought to observe the day of his arrival in their city as a festival.”
In the highest part of the city, where once stood a temple to Apollo, visitors still enter the old cathedral of St. Peter, dating back to the sixth century, and gaze on the same little pulpit in which Calvin preached his powerful sermons. We suppose that he there stood when his first sermon in Geneva created such an enthusiasm that the people could scarcely restrain their delight. They followed him to his lodgings, and he was obliged to promise that he would preach the next day, so that their friends might hear him. Farel was overjoyed, for if he were thus eclipsed, there would be all the more light in that dark city, which was waiting for it. Calvin, soon after his arrival, was elected preacher and professor of theology. He at first declined the former office, but was so urged that he accepted it the neat year. His first labors were almost gratuitous, but none the less cheerfully rendered.
With no little joy to Farel it was arranged to have a debate at Lausanne, where he had made several attempts to gain a footing for the truth. Viret had succeeded and gathered a small church. The priests agreed to the discussion. All the Romish clergy were urged to come. And some of them, who knew not so much of the Bible as even the ten commandments, attended. The elders of the church and the citizens were invited. The bishop protested, but the lords of Berne had a will of their own in such matters. On their way thither the Protestant ministers narrowly escaped the hands of some assassins, who had been planted on the road to murder them. Farel, who took the leading part, drew up ten propositions relating to the true faith, the true church, and the true ordinances of worship. Several days were spent in the discussions, and if the cathedral ever had more priests in it—for there were many—it certainly never before had so many Protestants. After one of Calvin’s arguments against transubstantiation, a Franciscan, named Tandi, arose before the whole assembly, confessed that he was overcome by the power of the truth, and declared that henceforth he would live according to the gospel of Christ. Viret spoke more than Calvin, and Farel more than all. In closing the debates he said, “We do not thirst for blood, like those who laid in wait to destroy us on our way hither. So far from seeking to punish them, we interceded on their behalf, and our only wish is that they may receive complete forgiveness.” The result was favorable to the Protestant cause. Several of the principal persons on the papal side went home convinced of their errors, and became advocates for the reformation. The Bernese divided the canton into seven districts, and appointed ministers in them all.
At Geneva Farel still pushed on his schemes. With the help of Calvin he drew up a brief confession of faith and certain rules of discipline. It was not easy to break up the old customs of the people, and many of Farel’s new measures were not to their taste. They were lively and fond of excitement, and had been used to an almost unbounded license. In clear weather they loved music and dancing in the open air. On rainy days they had their cups and cards at the wine shops. Among all, their holidays Sunday was quite as gay as any, when masquerades and other mummeries were their delight. But, as all this was connected with the baser forms of profligacy, Farel attempted to suppress these amusements. The silver tones of the convent bells, which had been baptized in order to give their sounds a power over bad weather, ghosts, and Satan, were to be heard no more. The bells were to be cast into cannon for the defense of the city, thus changing their carols into thunders of war. Gambling, swearing, slandering, dancing, the singing of idle songs in the streets, Sabbath-breaking, and absence from church without good reasons were forbidden. The people must be at home by nine o’clock in the evening. The senate passed these laws, and they were proclaimed with a trumpet.
To the confession of faith was added Calvin’s catechism, and it was ordered to be printed and read at St. Peter’s every Sunday, until the people should understand it. It was adopted, so that Calvin wrote, “We easily succeeded in obtaining that the citizens should be summoned by tens, and swear to adopt the confession, which was done with much satisfaction.” Those who would not adopt it lost their rights as citizens. On a solemn day, July 20, 1537, the people took the oath, for the third time, to support the reformation.
Murmurings began to be heard, then louder opposition, and a party grew up which held their meetings, and wore fresh flowers as a badge. The lines were drawn, and the contentions became bitter. What they complained of most was the determination of Farel not to use the stone fonts for baptism, nor unleavened bread in the Lord’s supper, nor to observe the festivals of Christmas, New Year, Annunciation, and Ascension. Berne was consulted and decided against Farel. The Genevan senate followed in the same decision, and the Bernese began to have more and noisier friends than ever before in that city. This party now made use of the awful name of My Lords of Berne, in order to threaten and insult the ministers whom Berne had such trouble in keeping in Geneva. Troops of them went about parading the streets by night, insulting the ministers at their homes, and threatening to throw them into the Rhone. Berne had preserved the stone fonts, the unleavened bread, and the four festivals, and they would hold fast to them, for they were not able to see the principle which Farel thought was involved in them. He regarded them as relics of popery, and feared these relics would lead back the people into the old reality. Calvin took his side, although he declared, “Little will be said about ceremonies before the judgment-seat of God.” Councils and synods failed to restore peace. A plot was suspected against the preachers.
The aged, blind, and eloquent Courault, whom the Queen Margaret had tenderly cherished as his sight was failing, and whom the placards at Paris had sent into exile, was now at Geneva. He preached with much fire against the decision of Berne, and handled Genevan politics in too rough a way to gain his point. He was forbidden to preach, but he again entered the pulpit. He was then cast into prison, and for some time his best friends could not procure his release.
A bold step was taken by Farel and Calvin. They refused to administer the Lord’s Supper with unleavened bread in a city that would not allow any proper church discipline. Easter Sunday was coming, and the Sacrament was expected on that day. The council urged them to administer it; they refused and were forbidden to enter the pulpit. They, however, went at the time and each preached twice, Calvin at St. Peter’s, and Farel at St. Gervais, without any communion. A great principle was now coming to light, that of not allowing the state to rule the church in matters of religion. But a great disturbance arose in the city. Some took the sword, but the reformers employed the weapons of Scripture. No blood was shed, and what was gained by Farel and Calvin could not be seen for a few years. They first must suffer for their principles.
The next morning the senate met and passed sentence of banishment on Calvin and Farel. In three days they must leave the city. They were informed of the act, and said, “Let it be so; it is better to serve God than man.” Courault was released and permitted to go with them. He went to Thonon where Christopher Fabri was preaching, and he was welcomed as a father in this excellent pastor’s house. Of the style of hospitality which he enjoyed, Calvin can tell us in a letter to Fabri, written after a journey through the cantons. He says, “I could never get your wife to treat us in a plain homely way. She repeatedly requested me to ask for whatever I chose as if it were my own. She entertained us too sumptuously. We felt just as much at home as if you had been there.” The good hostess was surely none the less kind to the aged refugee. But he could not rest even there. He must preach the faith so long unknown to him while a monk, and he was afterwards settled at Orbe, where the zealous, blind, and lovely old man gained many friends, and in a few months they wept when they laid him in the grave.
The lords of Berne had not dreamed that they were causing such a result as this. A violent man named Peter Konzen, a Bernese minister residing at Geneva, had a prominent hand in the mischief, for he had misrepresented all parties. In a few weeks Farel and Calvin appeared before the senate of Berne. The Bernese wished to undo what had been done under excitement. After many discussions and several messages to the Genevese senate, they resolved to send back the ministers, along with Viret, whose milder methods might restore order. Two senators went with them, but the ministers lately exiled met with a cold refusal near the gates of Geneva. One of them thus describes it: “We were about a mile from the city when a messenger, in great haste, met us and stated that we were forbidden to enter. The (Bernese) messengers held us back or we should otherwise have tranquilly pursued our journey. But this saved our lives, for we afterwards learned that an ambush had been formed outside the city, and that close to the very gates, twenty gladiators, known banditti, were lying in wait for us.”
The Bernese ambassadors and Viret went on and entered the city. They appeared before the Genevan senate. They asked that the exiles might be admitted, their apology heard, and their sentence expunged. They pleaded the very eminent services of Farel to whom his opposers were greatly indebted for their present liberty. They said that Calvin and Farel would now baptize at the fonts, use the unleavened bread, and allow the festivals to be prudently observed. Viret put forth all his eloquence, and the senators and citizens were moved. But it was all in vain. New charges were founded upon mere trifles and quibbles, and the senate, in a stormy assembly, renewed the decree of banishment.
Bound in heart as brothers, Farel and Calvin took their way toward the cities on the Rhine, where a Protestant could find refuge when no other place would receive him. “Wet with the rain and almost dead with weariness,” they entered Basle. Bucer sent word to Calvin to come to Strasburg, but as Farel was not invited, he chose to remain with this Boanerges whom he loved with all tenderness. The gentle sunbeam was wedded to the lightning by the power of that grace which unites the most diverse natures. It is a proof that Farel was not all fury and self-will, when he drew so closely to him such gentle men as Lefèvre, Œcolampadius, Viret, and Calvin.