Early Life and Labors
- Chapter 1 – Childhood and Youth
- Chapter 2 – Beza in Paris
- Chapter 3 – Conversion of Beza
- Chapter 4 – Treatise on the Punishment of Heretics
- Chapter 5 – Activity at Lausanne
Childhood and Youth 1519–1539
The leaders of the great Reformation differed from one another as distinctly in personal traits as in the incidents of their lives and the work which they were called to perform. Theodore Beza, whose career and influence I purpose to trace, did not possess precisely the same remarkable natural endowments that fitted Martin Luther and John Calvin for the accomplishment of their brilliant undertakings, but in a different sphere his task was of scarcely inferior importance, and was accomplished equally well. Like Melanchthon, he belonged to another and not less essential class of men whose great office it is to consolidate and render permanent what has been begun and carried forward to a certain point of development by others. But between Beza and Melanchthon there was a marked contrast of allotted activity. Melanchthon was born fourteen years later than Luther, and survived him by the same number of years. He was, therefore, a younger contemporary of the great German Reformer, and his office was preeminently that of supplementing what seemed naturally lacking in the master whom he loved and revered, moderating that master’s inordinate fire, by his prudence restraining the older Reformer’s intemperate zeal, by his superior learning and scholarship qualifying himself to become in a peculiarly appropriate sense the teacher of the doctrines which Luther had propounded. Beza was still nearer to Calvin in point of birth, for only the space of ten years separated them. But he outlived Calvin more than four times that number of years, and ended his life at over fourscore, and early in another century. Thus while Melanchthon is naturally to be regarded as a companion of Luther, Beza presents himself to view chiefly as a theological successor of Calvin, in whose doctrinal system he introduced little change and which he merely accentuated, and as an independent leader of the French Reformed Churches during over a third of a century.
More, perhaps, than any of the other prominent leaders of the great religious movement of his time, Beza is entitled to be styled the “courtly Reformer.” Sprung from the ranks of the old French nobility, a man for whom access to the favored circle of the powerful and opulent was open from earliest youth, with wealthy connections, nurtured in ease and in the prospect of preferment, into whatever department of Church or State he might elect to enter, he manifested in his bearing, his manners, and even in his language the effects of association upon equal terms with the best and most highly educated men of his time. This was an advantage that widened the sphere of his influence, both at the court of Charles IX and at that of Henry IV.
The members of the family from which he sprang wrote their name De Besze. Theodore himself so wrote it to the end of his days, save when he gave it the Latin form of Beza. The family was of old Burgundian stock. Theodore’s birthplace was the town of Vézelay, now a decayed and insignificant place of somewhat less than twelve hundred souls. Situated about one hundred and fifty miles southeast of the capital of France, it continues in its obscurity to carry on a limited traffic in wood, grain, and wine, the wood being obtained in the extensive forest of Avalon and being sent down the river Yonne, to supply in part the needs of Paris and its environs. Even in the 16th century, Vézelay lived chiefly on memories of its past distinction. In attestation of former greatness, it pointed with pride to a famous abbey church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. The ruins still crown a hill overlooking the town, and even now arouse the curiosity and elicit the admiration of such visitors as, from time to time, turn aside from the beaten ways of travel to more secluded paths. Hard-by is still pointed out the spot where, on Palm Sunday, in the year 1146, the Second Crusade was preached by Bernard, the celebrated Abbot of Clairvaux. The slope of a hill at the gate of the place was occupied on that famous occasion by a throng of lords and knights, of ecclesiastics and persons of every station, too numerous to be contained by any building, all of whom were attracted to Vézelay by the fame of the eloquence and piety of the future saint. Upon the great platform erected at the base of the hill sat Louis VII, King of France, and near him the orator who divided with his Majesty the attention of the vast concourse of spectators. Here it was that, at the close of Bernard’s fervid appeal for Palestine, just bereft of the flower of its possessions by the fall of the city of Edessa, not only the lords almost to a man, but Louis VII himself and his wife Eleanor of Guyenne, begged the privilege of attaching the symbol of the holy cross to their garments and of joining the crusade soon to set forth to rescue from the polluting foot of the infidel the land once made holy by the tread of the Son of God.
Nearly four centuries had elapsed from the day on which Vézelay resounded with the cries of “Deus vult! Deus volt!” interrupting Bernard’s address, when, in 1519, on Saint John Baptist’s Day, the 14th of June, Old Style, or the 24th, New Style, was born the future French Reformer. He was a son of Pierre de Bèze, the bailli of the place. Vézelay, having lost its importance in other respects, still retained the honor of being the seat of a royal officer bearing this designation. The position was as honorable as it was influential. Pierre de Bèze had married Marie Bourdelot, also of noble descent, by whom he had had six children before the birth of Theodore—two sons and four daughters. Her kinsmen, as well as his, were persons of prominence. Nicholas de Bèze, brother of Pierre, was a counsellor or judge of the Parliament of Paris, the highest judicial body in France. Being wealthy, unmarried, and of an affectionate disposition, Nicholas would gladly have had all the children of Pierre brought to his house in the capital, there to be reared under the most favorable circumstances, nor would he have spared either trouble or expense. Theodore subsequently styled him the “Mæcenas” of the family. Another brother, having entered the Church, possessed, as Abbot of Froidmont, the means of rendering himself no less serviceable to the promotion of the interests of his nephews. Evidently if Theodore should fail of promotion either in Church or in the judicial career, it would not be from the lack of strong family connections.
There must, it would seem, have been something particularly winning in Theodore, the youngest child in a family of seven children; for he had not emerged from infancy when his uncle, the member of the Parliament of Paris, being on a visit to the bailli of Vézelay, conceived so strong an admiration and affection for the child that he begged to be allowed to take him back with him to the capital. The father consented. The mother at first demurred, but afterwards yielded reluctantly in deference to her husband’s command. She insisted, however, on accompanying her little son to Paris, where she left him. Nor did she long survive the enforced separation from her child. Theodore, who in after years set it down as a singular mark of the divine goodness that he had been born of such a mother, praises, and apparently not without sufficient reason, both the intellectual and the moral endowments of Marie Bourdelot. To extraordinary nerve and dexterity she added great kindliness of heart. Her attention to the wants of the poor was assiduous. They repaid her untiring solicitude with a sincere love.
It was no ordinary misfortune for Theodore to be separated from, and shortly after deprived altogether of, such a mother and at a so tender age. He was but a puny child, of so weakly a constitution that he barely walked at five years of age. When this dangerous stage was passed, his physical ailments seemed only to increase. At one point in his childhood he became the victim of a malady so painful that he was once, when crossing one of the bridges over the Seine, about to throw himself into the river for the purpose of ending his life and his misery in a single moment.
Such are some of the incidents that have come down to us in regard to Beza’s childhood and for which we are indebted to the autobiographical notices inserted in a letter prefaced to hisConfession of the Christian Faith. The letter was addressed to Melchior Wolmar, a distinguished scholar, to whom, under God, the future Reformer owed, more than to father or mother, that training both of the intellect and of the affections which qualified him for the great part he was to play in the affairs of Church and State.
Melchior Wolmar was born in ancient Suabia, or in what now constitutes the southerly part of the kingdom of Würtemberg, at the little town of Rottweil. Following an uncle, Michael Röttli, to Bern, in Switzerland, he became first pupil, then successor of his kinsman in a Latin school which the latter had founded. Thence Wolmar passed to Fribourg, and a year or two later to Paris. Extreme indigence did not prevent him from gratifying his taste for study, and he gave himself so ardently to the mastery of the Greek language, under the guidance of Nicholas Bérauld and other competent instructors, that of one hundred young men that came up for the degree of licentiate at the University, his name was the first upon the list of the successful candidates. The pleasures or honors of the capital were not so attractive to him as to detain him long on the banks of the Seine, or, more probably, Wolmar’s leaning toward Protestant views was too pronounced to make a sojourn at Paris either comfortable or safe. Thus it was that, about the year 1527, he established at Orleans a school for youth which soon obtained a considerable degree of popularity. A few boys were received into the family of the founder.
It was perhaps a year after this time that Beza’s uncle happened to entertain at his house in Paris a relation residing in Orleans. The guest was a man of high position, being a member of the king’s greater council. In the course of the meal, noticing Theodore, who was present, a boy nine years old, he remarked that he had himself a son of about the same age, whom he had placed with a certain Wolmar. So highly did he praise the learning and abilities of this foreigner that, on the instant, Beza’s uncle, who had never before heard of Wolmar, declared his intention to take the rare opportunity and to send his nephew to Orleans. He begged that Theodore might be a companion of his guest’s son. He would make no account of the opposition which all the rest of the family made to the plan. It is almost needless to say that, when, many years later, Beza reviewed the circumstances from the standpoint of a Protestant and a Protestant leader, he could not but regard the impulse that led his uncle on the spur of the moment to send him away from the University of Paris, long since regarded as the most august educational establishment of the world, to a school newly started in a province by a stranger, as a signal exhibition of the direct interference of God. He styled the day on which he reached Wolmar’s house at Orleans—it was the fifth of December, 1528—his second nativity, for it was the point in his life from which was to be reckoned the beginning of every advantage he received. Never has pupil more enthusiastically admitted the instructor of his boyhood into the company of men whose pictures he affectionately cherishes in his memory, than did Beza insert the portrait of Wolmar in the gallery of worthies which, many years later, he gave to the world with words of high praise. Judging from the profile there sketched, the eminent scholar’s appearance indicated the strength of the mind that lay within. The forehead was high and prominent, the nose slightly aquiline, the eyes full of life, the mouth small but firm.
Melchior Wolmar was no longer an obscure man. About 1530 he was invited by the good Princess Margaret of Angoulême, sister of Francis I and grandmother of Henry IV, to be one of that band of eminent scholars with whom she surrounded herself in Bourges, the capital of her duchy of Berry. When Wolmar accepted the call, young Theodore Beza went with him to continue his studies.
If the autobiographical letter which we print in the Appendix fails to supply us with a complete list of the branches the boy pursued under his beloved teacher, his words afford a sketch which the reader’s imagination may readily fill out. The teacher was painstaking and gave himself unreservedly to his pupils. He found in Beza a mind fired with a desire to learn. If the natural sciences were few and imperfectly understood at that time, the literature of ancient Rome and Greece was a treasury upon which students might draw without stint. It would have been difficult for a lad of even moderate ability to be constantly under the faithful instruction of any respectable teacher for seven years without acquiring great familiarity with the classical tongues. Under so admirable a humanist as Wolmar, and so unselfishly devoted to his little group of ambitious youth, Beza and his companions gained a command of both Latin and Greek such as few men in our times can claim to possess. To Beza, Latin became as familiar as his mother tongue. He used it ever afterwards readily, correctly, and effectively, as one needed to be able to use it who was to speak before kings and the most cultured of audiences. The two languages at once became the key to unlock the treasures of knowledge laid up in past ages. It was no hyperbole in Beza’s mouth to say that there was not a branch of learning, even to jurisprudence, into whose mysteries he was not at least partially initiated under the guidance of an instructor who held himself rather a friend and companion in study than a distant and austere pedagogue. Best of all, in Beza’s view, Wolmar had not neglected the religious welfare of his pupils, and had imbued them with the knowledge of true religion drawn from the Word of God, thereby giving him a claim to their imperishable gratitude.
Yet Theodore Beza was certainly at this time no ardent convert in whom clear convictions of truth had been immediately succeeded by overmastering convictions of duty and by a determination to renounce all selfish plans in favor of a life of voluntary consecration to a Master whose service he henceforth joyfully espoused. This assertion is abundantly proved by his life for the next ten years. Fully as he may have accepted, and doubtless did accept, the Word of God as authoritative, and sincerely as he rejected in his heart, and purposed at some future and convenient season to repudiate openly, such doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church as he had learned to be unscriptural, along with the rites which he now viewed as absurd and superstitious, he was by no means ready as yet to make the sacrifices which the frank acceptance of the “new faith” demanded. If his intellect approved the creed in attestation of which many humble men and women—carders, weavers, and the like—cheerfully suffered martyrdom in France about this time, counting the present life as insignificant and valueless in comparison with the life eternal, Beza was still to wait many a year before reaching such a condition of mind and heart as was theirs. The present life with its pleasures and ambitions occupied both mind and heart pretty fully as yet.
It is interesting at this point to notice that there was another youth destined to be a leader in the Protestant Reformation whose life was equally, possibly even more deeply, affected by contact with Melchior Wolmar. This was the young student from Noyon, Jean Calvin, who also sought to profit by the German instructor’s great familiarity with the Greek language. His residence was not a protracted one. He arrived after Wolmar had removed to Bourges, and he was very shortly recalled home by the death of his father. Whether the two pupils, Beza and Calvin, were at this time brought into relations of close intimacy, is not clear. The disparity of their ages may well have kept apart the young man of twenty-two and the boy of twelve, but the elder not less than the younger imbibed the views of their common teacher. It is in fact the statement of one of the most inveterate enemies of the French Reformation, that it was owing to a direct suggestion of Wolmar that the young Calvin abandoned the study of the Code of Justinian to apply himself to the study of theology, and that this was the beginning of that career which was to prove the source of countless damage to the Christian Church. Wolmar, although feigning to be a Catholic, was, says this writer, a means of instilling into Calvin the Lutheran poison, with which Calvin during his own lifetime in turn infected many thousands of souls to their eternal ruin.
Calvin’s stay with Wolmar was suddenly brought to an end, as has been stated. That of Beza was terminated, four or five years later, by Wolmar’s return to Germany. Recalled to his native land, Wolmar would gladly have taken with him his promising student, but Beza’s father resolutely declined to grant his permission, and insisted that Theodore should retrace his steps to the city of Orleans, there to devote himself to the mastery of civil law.
As the son obeyed reluctantly (May 1535), so he found no great pleasure in his new task. The study of the law pursued without intelligent method, and taught, as it appeared to him, in a barbarous manner, inspired him, not with admiration, but with aversion. Consequently, while not neglecting his legal studies, he began to devote a considerable, possibly the greater, part of his time to polite letters, and found a singular delight in both Greek and Latin authors. It should be remembered that the French tongue was as yet rude. France had thus far produced few writers of genuine literary merit. There was little in contemporaneous literature to divert Beza from the perusal of the masterpieces of ancient Athens and Rome.
Poetry, in particular, attracted him greatly. He appreciated the verses of the poets of a bygone age, and it was no difficult thing for a youth of his tastes and station to imagine himself born to be a poet. Nor indeed was he altogether mistaken. Whatever may be said of the use to which he at first applied his poetical abilities, and however much those abilities, when subsequently employed in the service of religion, have, especially in our age, been studiously underrated, it will be seen in the sequel that while Beza was possessed of no genius calculated by its scintillations to arouse the enthusiastic admiration of the world, his poetical gifts were of no mean rank. It is no accident that the “battle-psalm” of the Huguenots, so well adapted to be sung at the charge, as it was so often sung during the course of whole centuries, was not from the pen of the facile and timid Clément Marot, but from the pen of Theodore Beza, his resolute and more thoroughly convinced collaborator in the preparation of the Huguenot psalter.
The time for writing the Protestant battle-psalm and such serious compositions, however, was as yet in the distant future, then to be composed under the play of strong and serious views of life. For the present, his poetical gifts led Beza to associate himself with a select band of young men of similar tastes, all inclined to unite the study of the law with the more seductive pursuit of the Muses. They were some of the most cultured and learned members of the University of Orleans, men who, when at a later date Beza was beginning his remarkable career as a Reformer in Switzerland, had already secured high honors in the land upon which Beza’s conscientious convictions had compelled him reluctantly but deliberately to turn his back.
What the poems were that Beza wrote at this period, we shall examine a little farther on.
Four years elapsed from the date when Beza parted from Wolmar—four years of a decorous and blameless life spent in the society of honorable and scholarly men—when, in August 1539, his stay at Orleans came to an end. He had been promoted to the degree of licentiate in law, and he left the university on the banks of the Loire to return to Paris. Let it not be imagined that the training he had received at Orleans even in the matter of law had been insignificant in its bearing upon his subsequent course, nor that he had failed to exhibit that wonderful power of acquisition which characterized his subsequent efforts in every other department of knowledge. Of his great popularity with his fellow students, there is evidence enough in the circumstance that “the nation of Germany”—the scholastic division into which, as a native of Burgundy, he was admitted—selected him to be its head under the title of “procurator.” As such not only did he preside over the internal affairs of the students of his “nation,” but, with the other nine procurators, had a vote in the university council even in such important matters as the election of the rector of the institution.
Beza in Paris 1539-1548
Theodore Beza had lately entered upon his twenty-first year when, having further literary or professional studies in view, he returned to the French capital. His prospects and his mental attitude deserve notice. He was a man of leisure, well provided with friends, possessed of abundant means of present support, and apparently the master of a secure future. His uncle, the member of the judicial Parliament of Paris, the best friend of his childhood, had indeed been dead for seven years; but his father’s other brother, the Abby de Froidmont, was still alive and was not less attached to him than the judge had been. Theodore was in the enjoyment of the revenues of two rich benefices amounting together to about seven hundred gold crowns. His friends had made this weighty provision for him in his absence and despite the fact that he was not in orders, and, according to his own admission, as ignorant as any other layman could possibly be of all matters of a clerical nature. As if this were not enough, his good uncle had fully made up his mind that Theodore should succeed him in his abbey, worth, at the very least, 5,000 gold crowns a year. Besides this, Theodore’s eldest brother, so infirm in body that his life was despaired of, held certain other ecclesiastical benefices. There was every reason to believe that these would ultimately go to swell Theodore’s income.
In short, the young man was surrounded with every allurement to a life of ease and comfort. Relatives and connections of the family by marriage were alike disposed to further his desires; while other friends, whose favor was conciliated by the reputation he had already gained and by the predictions made of his future distinction, stood ready to applaud and congratulate. Whether he should select the Church or the Bar, his success seemed equally assured.
In his reminiscences of the period of his life now in question, Beza informs us that at this very time he was conscious that all these advantages were but snares laid for his feet by the powers of evil, with the view of preventing him from choosing the path which his inner convictions prompted him to enter upon. He had, that is to say, long since formed the resolution that, so soon as he should find himself master of himself and possessed of a certain competence, he would leave France. He would make his way to Germany, rejoin his old preceptor, and, in society with Wolmar, enjoy the liberty of professing his conscientious convictions, even at the sacrifice of more brilliant worldly prospects.
Meanwhile, however, there was little to show that he had not renounced the hopes kindled within him by the words and example of Wolmar. Without giving a loose rein to dissipation or riot, and while living what was regarded as an exemplary life for a young man of station, wealth, and brilliant expectations, he was quite content to devote the ease conferred upon him by his position to the pursuit of the Muses and to whatever literary studies his fancy might dictate.
Such a life, however, was as far from meeting the legitimate ambition of his father, as it was from satisfying the demands of conscience. Consequently, the next few years were in reality as full of struggle and discontent as they might have been supposed replete with satisfaction and quiet. A brief sketch of Beza’s experience at this time is fortunately left us in a letter written by him to an old comrade at Dijon. When he returned from Orleans, Theodore says to his friend, his father looked to his devoting himself at once to the practice of the legal profession. Unfortunately the very thought of such a life inspired him with disgust. The “palais,” or parliament-house, seemed a house of bondage; to enter its walls was to become a bondman for whom there was no hope of escaping a hateful drudgery. As much as the father insisted, so much the son resisted, urging, not without reason, that his previous training, not to speak of the natural bent of his mind, disqualified him for the lucrative but repulsive profession to which he was urged. Apparently the disputes between father and son were frequent, protracted, and animated. They were ended, or at least adjourned, through the intercession of Beza’s elder brother. Unable to oppose the united entreaties of his two sons, the father became less obdurate, and domestic harmony was finally restored by a compact on these terms that the two brothers should hire for themselves a house at common expense, and that, while the elder should devote himself to the family affairs, the younger should enjoy his liberty to study.
“Accordingly,” says Beza, “I lived one year and then a second in by far the most blessed manner, since I lacked neither leisure, nor any kind of teachers, nor abundance of means, nor, in fine, the inclination to master those studies which, as you know, have pleased me supremely.”
The untimely, if not altogether unexpected, death of his brother broke rudely in upon Beza’s delight. This blow recalled to the father’s mind his former purposes regarding his son, and caused him again to insist upon a final renunciation of the scholarly life to which Theodore had hitherto devoted himself.
“I am weighed down,” said Pierre, “by a great mass of affairs, and have reached an advanced age. It is but just and fair that you, my son, upon whom all my hopes are fixed, should assume the burden. Yield at length and consult your own best interests and the interests of your friends, and give up those empty and profitless studies which you have pursued for so many years.”
Theodore, however, was not convinced that the path urged upon him was that which he ought to take, and resisted with great determination. Conscious of the possession of abilities for which the life of routine in a profession which he detested offered no scope, he felt that to yield would be to make shipwreck of all higher aspirations. In this he was doubtless encouraged by the judgments which his associates had passed upon his literary powers, although not even their most sanguine anticipations could have forecast the particular sphere of his brilliant successes. It is difficult, however, in view of the great part which Beza was destined to play in the religious and political history of the 16th century, to close our eyes to the providential guidance of his mind and will in the strenuous opposition which he instituted and maintained to forces that might have made him possibly a counsellor of parliament—conspicuous for intelligence and for greater freedom from class prejudice than his fellows, but exercising no appreciable influence upon the great movements of the intellectual and religious thought of his generation.
How long the obstinate contest between father and son might have lasted, and to what lengths the former might have gone in his indignation at the disappointment of his cherished hopes, had it not been for the enlightened views and calm judgment of the Abby de Froidmont, are questions that we cannot answer. That sagacious kinsman, who had more than once before given useful advice, being now chosen, by mutual consent of the parties, to the honorable office of umpire, gave a decision which, if it did not satisfy his nephew’s desires, at least seemed to him slightly more equitable than the course hitherto prescribed. “Inasmuch as Theodore is so averse to the practice of the law,” he said, “let him indeed continue in the course upon which he has entered; let him, however, become the client of some prince or magnate from whom there may be hope of deriving some fruit of his labors.” Sooth to say, the line of life suggested by his uncle was scarcely less repugnant to the young and ambitious student than that which his father would have had him follow.
“What do you fancy that my feelings were then, my friend Pompon?” he exclaimed. “Was I to go to the court, I who had learned neither how to dissemble nor how to flatter? Was I to embrace this mode of life subject to so many tumults, I who hoped to live in such honorable leisure?”
Yet yield he must, for fear that worse might befall him. He had chosen, or there had been chosen for him, the Bishop of Coutances as the patron under whose auspices he was to enter upon the life of a courtier; he had in fact just been introduced to the palace and household of this “magnate,” when circumstances occurred which, as was thought at the time, merely deferred until a future occasion the execution of his uncle’s designs, but which in reality, as it turned out, altogether frustrated them. In his contemporaneous correspondence the circumstances in question are somewhat vaguely designated as the “storms of wars,” but as the letter containing the expression is unfortunately without the date of the year, it is perhaps impossible to ascertain definitely the political or military events particularly referred to. Meanwhile Beza gladly welcomed any respite from the employment to which he had so lately deemed himself condemned.
“Thus has it come to pass,” he gleefully wrote, “that I have returned to my former manner of life, in which, unless some greater force shall hinder, I shall assuredly grow old. And I feel confident that at length I shall leave to posterity the proof that Beza did not live utterly idle, albeit he lived in the greatest leisure.”
The last words, written in the confidence of friendship, give us the clue to the employments and aspirations of this somewhat obscure period of Beza’s life. His was no trifler’s existence. If he daily spent some hours in the company of a select number of wits of his own age, and if he may occasionally have seemed to have no higher aim than by intercourse with them to strive to give a keener edge to his incisive speech, by far the greater part of his time was devoted to more serious efforts. Year by year, partly alone, partly with the help of the numerous excellent teachers whom he had at command, he was making progress in the departments of study upon which he had already entered, and entering fields previously unexplored. All this was to be no less serviceable to him in that future of which he could as yet have had scarcely even a suspicion, than the literary acumen which attrition with men of similar tastes and gifts was conferring upon him. There seem to have been some fruits early in his residence at Paris of the legal studies imposed upon him by his father, or undertaken from a sense of compunction at seeming to pay little or no respect to that father’s wishes. A casual reference made in the postscript of one of his letters, to a treatise on the Salic Law, that might be expected to issue from the press within a few months, and “under his auspices,” points apparently to some results of attention given to the theory of law, which was less repugnant to him than its practice. Be that as it may, there is, so far as I know, no evidence that the book or booklet in question ever actually appeared. In the same letter the writer speaks of devoting hours to the reading of Hebrew. Occasionally, too, he varied his work by perfecting his acquaintance with mathematics. To Latin and Greek he undoubtedly still gave great attention. If the foundations of an accurate knowledge of the latter tongue had been well laid while he was under the instruction of Wolmar, there must have been built up during the years of private study at Paris that superstructure of close and intimate familiarity with the idiom of the language which stood him in good stead both at Lausanne and at Geneva. It was evidently a long course of preliminary reading that qualified him for the discharge of the duties of professor of Greek in the college of Lausanne—a position which he accepted soon after his expatriation, and which he retained for the next nine or ten years—as well as for his work of Biblical interpretation.
In the enjoyment of means and of leisure, now at length secured, to gratify to the full his literary and studious tastes, it might have seemed that Beza must possess everything essential to his happiness. It was not so. I have already referred to the unrest of his soul from the moment of his return to Paris, and to the distinct purpose which he had soon formed to break loose in due time from everything detaining him in a land where he could not profess the doctrines with which he had become imbued from association with Wolmar—the purpose to direct his steps to a country in which liberty of conscience reigned, and where, in company with his old preceptor, he might live an ideal existence. This purpose he never renounced. Neither, on the other hand, did the allurements by which he was surrounded lose their force. Between the higher and the lower motives, the struggle in Beza’s soul was severe and protracted. I pass on to the events in which the conflict issued.
Of these the first was his secret marriage.
Beza had not taken the first step toward becoming a priest. He had never assumed the vows that condemn to a life of celibacy. Yet, in accordance with an abuse against which complaints had certainly been numerous enough, but which no complaints had been potent enough to eradicate, he was enjoying, although a layman, the income of more than one ecclesiastical foundation. He was flattered by the hope of obtaining still greater resources of the same kind in future. There were many other favorites of fortune that found themselves in a similar situation. The world was so used to the sight of laymen fattening upon the Church’s pastures, that the unthinking were not even greatly startled when the intruder was the most unfit of men for the discharge of sacred functions, possibly as unblushing in the immorality of his life as the libertine Abbé de Brantôme of a later period. They were shocked only when the lay abbot married and shut himself off from the possibility of ever becoming a clergyman.
Claudine Desnoz was the name of the young woman upon whom Beza’s choice fell. She was of a reputable family, but, as Beza himself admits, of a family inferior in station to his own. In view of the fact that her husband, who was by no means indifferent to matters of the kind, has nothing to say of her gentle birth, we may well dismiss as pure fictions such statements as that she was the daughter of an advocate of Paris, or the sister of a bishop of Grenoble. Be this, however, as it may, the marriage took place apparently at some time in the year 1544, and the witnesses were two of Beza’s most intimate and honorable friends, both of them jurists of distinction, Laurent de Normandy and Jean Crespin. Of the latter I shall have more to say presently. As to the marriage itself, much as the secrecy with which it was entered into must be condemned, the union, duly ratified as it was four years later in a public ceremonial, proved a harmonious and congenial one that lasted until the death of Claudine.
In later times Beza proved himself no irresolute man. At the present time, whether it should be said that the desirability of earthly possessions and ease and leisure to pursue his studies with an assiduity that had won him among his companions the playful appellation of “the new philosopher,” loomed up before his eyes in exaggerated proportions, or that the far more exceeding value of the favor of God and of a clear conscience void of offense with Him and with men had not yet become to him a living reality, he long remained in a pitiable condition of uncertainty, not so much respecting what he ought to do as respecting what he could bring himself to do. Nothing short of a miracle seemed necessary to draw him out of the mire in which, to use his own expression, he found himself caught, unable to come to a definite conclusion—with all his relations prompting him to adopt some certain course of life from which he might acquire wealth and distinction, and his kindly uncle offering him the prospect of still greater property, while, on the other hand, conscience pointed him in a different direction and his wife pressed him again and again to execute his long-deferred purpose to acknowledge her before the world.
That miracle was wrought in his conversion, which dates from the latter part of the year 1548.
Before speaking of this turning-point in his life, it is appropriate that I should speak of the publication, early in the same year, of the collection of his poems which came to be styled hisJuvenilia. These celebrated pieces belong altogether to his youth, that is, to the period in which he was in no sense a Reformer, but, instead, a brilliant and ambitious devotee of belles-lettres. Though many of them had circulated freely among the author’s friends and admirers, they had never been given to the public through the press.
It was evidently not without some scarcely concealed satisfaction at the neatness of his work, that Beza dedicated these first-fruits of his poetical efforts to his old preceptor Melchior Wolmar. Beza was twenty-eight or twenty-nine years of age. Neither the young man who dedicated, nor the old man who accepted the dedication with obvious delight, saw anything amiss in these poems.
Twelve years more elapsed, and Beza, now become a man of forty, an avowed Protestant and a zealous Reformer, had occasion to dedicate to his former teacher a second volume of an entirely different character, which he entitled a Confession of the Christian Faith. He assigned two motives for so doing. The one was that he might return to Wolmar some harvest from the field which Wolmar had sown; the other, that he might have the opportunity of offering his master a book infinitely better and more holy than the poems which, it seems, Wolmar had urged him to republish. To this statement he appended a few pathetic words:
“As respects those poems, who is there that either has condemned them more than I, their unhappy author, or that detests them more than I do today? Would, therefore, that they might at length be buried in perpetual oblivion. And may the Lord grant that, since it is impossible that what has been done should be undone, the persons who shall read writings of mine far different from those poems may rather congratulate me upon the greatness of God’s goodness to me, than accuse him who voluntarily makes confession and deprecates the fault of his youth.”
These are the brave and honest words of a man true to his convictions and more anxious to set himself right at the bar of his own conscience than to forestall the adverse judgment of others. For, in point of fact, learned and cultured men, and none more than the adherents of the other faith, applauded the sprightliness of his verses and never thought of condemning them as wanton, certainly never gave expression to such a thought. Thus the grave and learned President Étienne Pasquier, in his great work on The Researches of France, remarked that “Beza in his youth composed divers French and Latin poems which were very favorably received throughout all France, and particularly his Latin epigrams, wherein he celebrated his mistress under the name of Candida.” “In 1548″ he adds, when he changed his religion, he made a show of despising them.”
Literary productions upon which their author himself sets a low estimate have in ordinary cases a fair chance of being forgotten by others naturally less interested in preserving them. The odium theologicum of which Beza was the object may safely be credited with being the cause of the survival and celebrity of the Juvenilia. In fact, the outrageous misrepresentation of enemies, determined to discover, in what was most innocent, untold depths of depravity, compelled the very author who had vainly sought to consign them to forgetfulness, himself to bring them out again in subsequent editions, so that he might be able to show to the world what were in reality these lighter poems so maligned by men who had a manifest purpose in their inventions. The contrast between the Juvenilia and the sacred drama of Abraham Sacrifiant, or the metrical translation of the Psalms of David, might be unedifying enough; but, at least, the republication was sufficient to cast to the winds those foul calumnies that breed most readily in darkness and ignorance.
What, then, were these much-abused epigrams? Just such poems as a very young man—almost all of them were written before Beza’s twentieth year, although they were published some years later—might write, especially if that young man were possessed of a certain skill in composing verses and were much encouraged thereto by the applause that welcomed his first efforts—most of all if, wielding a facile pen, he were uncommonly learned for his age in classical literature, admiring Virgil, adoring Ovid, and conscious of no higher ambition, so far as style was concerned, than to spend his hours of relaxation in imitating and endeavoring to equal or, if possible, excel the wonderful elegance of Catullus. It was the fashion of the age to indulge in a freedom of language which offends a more modern sense of propriety, but by no means proves that the life of the writer was impure. Indeed, the poet indignantly protests against such an inference and confidently appeals to the testimony of those that knew him intimately to establish the contrary.
“There are among my poems,” he wrote, “a few that are written in somewhat too free a tone, that is, in imitation of Catullus and Ovid; but I had not the slightest fear at that time, nor do I now fear, lest those that knew me as I was should gauge my morals by those playful inventions of my imagination.”
On this score nothing more need be said than that not many of the Juvenilia are open to the charge of indelicacy, while many are above reproach, none more charming and innocent than the celebrated poem addressed to a fictitious Audebert, a companion and equal in years, wherein the rival claims of friendship and love are poetically set forth. It has been the misfortune of Beza, as it is a striking illustration of the perverse imaginations of those who will see evil in everything on which they cast their jaundiced eyes, that this most graceful and delightful of lyrics has been furiously attacked as if it were a shameless avowal of unnatural passion.
In sum, it may be safely said that poems which were read and admired by the cultured throughout France would never have met with censure or provoked controversy, had it not been that their author, subsequently to their publication and many years later than their composition, was converted to other and worthier views of life and its great objects. They belong to a stage of Beza’s life with which he had completely broken when, under the sway of strong religious convictions, he turned his steps toward Switzerland, and so far from seeking for a life of quiet and self-indulgence, deliberately renounced a future of ease for the prospect of comparative poverty, of conflict, and of peril.
Conversion of Beza Departure from France Call to Lausanne “Abraham’s Sacrifice” 1548–1550
The conversion of Theodore Beza occurred a few months after the publication of the Juvenilia and in connection with an illness of so serious a nature that his life was for a time in doubt. Never had man greater reason to regard an apparent calamity as a blessing in disguise. He rose from the bed upon which disease had cast him with views and aims totally different from those which he had cherished until then. The same letter that has enabled us to trace to some extent his intellectual development, raises for a moment the veil that hides the innermost spiritual experiences of the man from the scrutiny of his fellow. Hours of enforced idleness, as well as of extreme peril and suffering, were the condition of his gaining the first glimpse of his true character in God’s sight. Past and present alike seemed to arise and accuse him, and their testimony could not be silenced or refuted. Turn his eyes which way he would, he found confronting him the judgment throne of an offended Deity. The agony was sharp and protracted. It was mercifully succeeded by a view of the pardon extended to him no less distinct and beyond the realm of doubt. Abhorrence of his sins was followed by petitions for forgiveness, and these by a full consecration of his powers to the service of his Savior. From extreme darkness verging upon despair, he emerged into a brilliant and enduring light.
Clearness of religious conviction led to decided and instantaneous action. Old objections and obstacles vanished or were brushed aside. Theodore Beza once thoroughly convinced of duty was not the man to postpone action, or, in the apostle’s words, to be disobedient to the heavenly vision. He did not even wait until he was fully restored to health, but while still far from strong carried into effect the resolution which he had formed of betaking himself to a land where he could freely make profession of his religious belief. He gathered together such of his property as he could carry with him, and, not announcing his purpose to any of his friends or relatives, made his way, accompanied by his wife, and under the assumed name, it is said, of Thibaud de May, to the city of Geneva. He reached it on the 24th of October, 1548.
Such in brief is Beza’s account of the decisive step of his life—no precipitate and enforced flight of a villain unwhipped of justice, a flight rendered necessary by flagitious crimes committed (as malignant and mendacious calumniators subsequently and down to our times have dared to assert with unblushing effrontery), but the honorable withdrawal of an honest man from a country with which were bound up all his prospects of preferment and of worldly prosperity, that in a foreign land he might seek and obtain, along possibly with the discomforts of poverty, the freedom to worship God in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. One of his first acts on reaching Geneva was to procure the public and solemn recognition of his marriage with Claudine Desnoz.
His future was all unknown to him. He possessed no handicraft by means of which the emigrant may hope, as soon as he has gained a slight footing in a foreign land, to secure subsistence. Of learned and unpractical scholars there was an abundance both in Switzerland and in Germany. Many of these were penniless and a burden upon their hosts. We have no reason to believe that this was the case with Theodore Beza, who in his quiet removal from his native land may well be supposed to have been able to bring with him all the funds necessary to meet the temporary needs at least of himself and his wife. But his open renunciation of the Roman Catholic Church cut off every channel of supply that had flowed so freely hitherto, save such as came from the paternal estates, and the anger of father, uncle, and other kinsmen might well be expected to interrupt, if not permanently end, all expectations from this quarter. Under these circumstances, Beza’s thoughts at first turned to a pursuit which, although not strictly a learned profession, had been taken up by some of the most eminent scholars of the day. I refer to the printing of books, which, in the hands of the Aldi at Venice and the Étienne’s or Stephen’s of his own native land, had attained, or was soon to attain, the distinction of ranking with the fine arts. Jean Crespin, a native of Arras, came to Geneva at the same time with Beza. They were men of about the same age. Both had studied law, and both had been affected by the “new doctrines,” as they were called. Crespin, in particular, had witnessed in the city of Paris, where he was admitted as an advocate of the court of Parliament, the triumphant death of at least one Protestant martyr. The constancy of Claude Le Peintre, a goldsmith, burnt alive on the Place Maubert in 1540, seems to have led Crespin to the distinct espousal of the tenets of the Reformed Churches. Similarity of views brought the young men together, and they naturally conceived the idea of establishing at Geneva, on the very frontiers of France, a great printing establishment from which books and publications of various kinds in favor of the Gospel might be issued and circulated far and near throughout the kingdom. The project as a joint enterprise finally fell through, for there was in store for Beza a career of usefulness of quite a different character and better suited to his resplendent abilities. But Jean Crespin did not abandon his purpose. His plans were realized within a few years so successfully that not only did his presses gain a celebrity for the beauty of their products only second to the fame of the presses of the great printers I have named, but became instrumental in giving a great impulse to the doctrines of the Reformation.
His own personal activity as an author did good service in his great martyrology, which, in successive editions and under different titles, chronicled “the Acts and Monuments of the martyrs who from Wycliffe and Huss until this our age have steadfastly sealed the truth of the Gospel with their blood in Germany, France, England, Flanders, Italy, and Spain itself.” It was a great historical and biographical work, not indeed free from occasional errors—errors that may well be excused, in view of the difficulty and dangers encountered in the collection of so great a number of particular facts from widely different sources and even from well-guarded prisons and places of execution—but a work, nevertheless, for the most part, wonderfully exact and trustworthy, with which Crespin is to be congratulated for having linked his name for all time.
But while it may not have been very long before Beza definitely renounced the career to which Crespin would gladly have welcomed him, it did not at once appear to what department of activity a man of such marked abilities should devote himself. For manifold were the advantages he possessed. His personal appearance was striking. He was of good stature and well proportioned. His countenance was very pleasing. Refinement was stamped upon his features. His whole bearing was that of a man accustomed to the best society. His manners at once conciliated the favor of the great and found him friends among the gentle sex. This is the testimony both of the inimical historian of The Origin, Progress, and Ruin of the Heresies of Our Time, Florimond de Ræmond, and of the Jesuit Maimbourg. The latter writer furthermore volunteers the statement that it was undeniable that Beza’s intellect was of a very high order, being keen, ready, acute, sprightly, and bright, for he had taken pains to cultivate it by the study of belles-lettres and particularly of poetry, wherein he excelled both in French and in Latin. To which very handsome tribute the critic somewhat grudgingly adds a concession that Beza knew a little philosophy and jurisprudence, learned in the schools of Orleans. Allowance being made in the last sentence for the strong prejudice of the partisan historian, the portrait may be accepted as sufficiently accurate, as it is unexpectedly favorable.
That Theodore Beza was welcomed with delight by John Calvin need scarcely be said. The great Reformer, now at the height of his renown and usefulness, had never forgotten the promising lad, ten years his junior, who had studied under the same teacher and of whose singular brilliancy that teacher had never tired of making mention. And now that, after a long period of hesitation, Beza, by a single bold step, had broken with the past and, sacrificing rank, ease, and every worldly consideration, had thrown himself in for life or for death with the reformatory movement to which Calvin had devoted his own magnificent powers, the joy and the thankfulness to Heaven with which the latter welcomed the new recruit were mingled with lively curiosity respecting the particular work which Providence had reserved for him to accomplish.
As I have said, that work did not at once disclose itself to view. The enfeebled condition of Beza, but lately risen from a very critical illness, did not incline him to great haste in the search. Thus it was that after a few months’ stay in Geneva he fulfilled what had for years been a strong wish of his heart, and made a journey to southern Germany to see his old preceptor, Melchior Wolmar, at Tübingen. Pupil and teacher seem not to have met since Wolmar made Beza a brief visit, early in the latter’s stay at Paris, when the German was sent on a diplomatic errand by the Duke of Würtemberg to the French court. That was ten years ago, but the intensity of the mutual love of Wolmar and Beza had suffered no abatement. The greetings were as kind and affectionate as could be imagined. Yet Beza made no attempt to carry out his early dream of study and leisure in Wolmar’s neighborhood. It must be supposed that scholarly idleness had lost its charm for a man who had now acquired a new earnestness of purpose, and, in the troubled state of Germany at the moment, Beza saw no opportunities beyond the Rhine to further the work to which he had devoted his life.
On his way back to Geneva, Beza naturally passed through Lausanne, the most important place in what at the present time constitutes the Canton of Vaud, one of the members of the Helvetic Union. At Lausanne he met Pierre Viret, himself a native of Orbe in this district, who after having played an important part in the reformation of Geneva, had of late been laboring for the same cause in his native region. Viret recognized in Theodore Beza the very man whom he needed as a colleague in the “Académie,” or University, recently established at Lausanne, and he begged him to accept a chair in this institution.
The Pays de Vaud, as it was styled, had long been a part of the dominions of the Duke of Savoy. Its conquest by the Bernese was a sequence of the campaign of 1536, in the course of which the great Swiss Canton of Bern sent an army of 6,000 men, under the celebrated Naegeli, to the relief of Geneva. Not content with having accomplished the chief object of their undertaking, and encouraged by the absence of the opposition which they had expected to meet, the Bernese proceeded to annex not only the district of Chablais, on the southern side of Lake Leman, but the district of Gex, and the greater part of that of Vaud, on the western and northern shores. At first the rich bishopric of the “imperial” city of Lausanne was exempted from seizure. But the prize was too tempting. In a second incursion, made only two months later in the same year, the episcopal domain also was incorporated in the possessions of the Canton of Bern.
For his misfortune the Bishop of Lausanne, Sebastian de Montfaucon, had only himself to blame. He had been so imprudent as to write from the town of Fribourg, where he had taken refuge, a letter inciting the people of his diocese to take up arms against the Bernese. This was early in 1536. At once the conquerors set about consolidating their power by the abolition of the three special “estates” of Lausanne, as well as of the “estates” by which Vaud was governed, and by the substitution of a government administered through eight bailiffs set up at as many places in the district. A solemn conference, or colloquy, was called by the Lords of Bern and met, in October, in the cathedral of Lausanne during a number of successive days. Here were discussed ten theses drawn up by the Reformer William Farel. Six commissioners of Bern and of Vaud were present to hear the debate. Four presidents superintended the sessions. Four notaries kept an official record of the proceedings, and read, as the occasion arose, any chapter of Holy Scripture that might be called for.
The discussion covered in general the whole field of controversy between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It was carried on with vigor, but with more hopefulness by the Reformers—Farel, Viret, Calvin, and others—than by their opponents. As the Roman Catholics entered upon the struggle reluctantly, their first step was to submit a protest on the part of the chapter of the cathedral itself against any disputation. God is not, said they, the author of dissension but of peace, and discussion may be pernicious to the particular church, which even though gathered in Christ’s name is liable to fall into error. When this protest and other protests of a like kind were disregarded, the opposition instituted was somewhat wanting in courage, as though the result of the matter were a foregone conclusion. Once, indeed, Jean Michodus, “the Reverend of Vevey,” grew confident when replying to the Protestant view of the impossibility of justification by works as set forth by Saint Paul, and turned upon one of the champions of the other side, Caroli—formerly a Roman Catholic doctor of the Sorbonne, now a professed Protestant, although later he returned to his original faith. “I have heard many good doctors at Paris,” said he, “but they did not, like you, explain the third chapter of Romans as referring to the deeds of the law, but Only to the ceremonies. And you yourself, Monsieur our master Caroli, I have heard you explain this passage otherwise than as you expound it now.” To which Caroli could only reply, “That I expounded this passage as you assert, I confess. I was then of the number of the persons of whom Saint Peter speaks, those ignorant men that wrest the Holy Scriptures, because they do not understand them. So I acted, and could not satisfy my own conscience. Then I set myself to reading the Scriptures and comparing passage with passage, and praying God to grant me a true intelligence. And God has opened my understanding. He has brought me to the true knowledge of His gospel, as you see. Do not therefore marvel if I have changed, but rather do as I have done; forsake every doctrine not taken from the Scriptures, and hold by them alone.”
There was a dramatic episode at one point when the ground of justification was under discussion. Farel called for the reading of the latter part of Romans 3, and exclaimed, “You see how that it is freely, without desert, without the deeds of the law, that a man is justified!” Hereupon the Roman Catholic disputant, a physician, Dr. Blancherose, burst out, “I do not believe that it is so.” At once a Bible was brought and laid before him, not a printed volume of modern times, whose authority might be questioned, but an old manuscript Bible written on parchment, taken from the library of the Franciscan convent, and he was bidden to read the passage for himself. There to his amazement were the words themselves, and, though scarcely believing the evidence of his senses, he cried out, “It is true! A man is justified by faith as the holy Apostle says! We are not saved by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, God saved us!”
The commissioners had no judicial powers. They could only report the proceedings of the colloquy to the Lords of Bern. The answer of the latter was soon forthcoming. The conference ended on Sunday, the eighth of October; on Thursday, the 19th, or only eleven days later, the decree was issued. By virtue of their duty, not only to govern their subjects in equity and justice, but “to employ all diligence and force that these subjects may live according to God in true and lively faith which produces good works,” the Bernese proclaimed their decision “to cast down all idolatries, papal ceremonies, traditions, and ordinances of men not conformable to the Word of God.” In the execution of this purpose, they ordered all their bailiffs and subordinate officers to make a personal visitation, immediately upon the receipt of these letters, and command all priests, deans, canons, and other churchmen so called at once to desist from all “papistical ceremonies, sacrifices, offices, institutions, and traditions,” as they desired to avoid the displeasure of the government. They especially recommended them without delay to overthrow all images, idols, and altars, whether in church or monastery, doing all this without disorder or tumult. And they bade all these and their other subjects to betake themselves, for the purpose of hearing the Word of God, to the nearest places in which preachers had already been appointed or should hereafter be appointed, and to give them a favorable audience. As to the further dispositions respecting the so-called churchmen and church property, the latter gave promise, with God’s help, of “so reasonable and holy a reformation that God and the world shall be well pleased.”
Lausanne had not waited for the receipt of the decision of Bern. No sooner was the conference concluded, than the people, anticipating the forthcoming decree, began in an unauthorized fashion the work of destruction and spoliation. The beautiful cathedral of Nôtre Dame was the first victim of their iconoclastic zeal, and a church whose erection is traced back to the early part of the 13th century still bears testimony to the zeal of men who were resolved to remove every trace of a superstitious worship. Here, as elsewhere throughout Vaud, there was no lack of opposition; but the overwhelming influence of the great Canton of Bern everywhere carried the day, and the whole district was ultimately brought over to a profession of the Reformed doctrines.
The immense store of treasures which the cathedral contained was dispersed. A large part found its way to Bern. But fortunately the government of this sagacious republic saw the propriety of applying no inconsiderable portion of the ecclesiastical property that fell into its hands to the promotion of the higher intellectual interests of the region itself. Whether from disinterested motives, or from the desire to attach their new subjects to them by self-interest, the Lords of Bern gave to the communes, or sold to them at an insignificant price, lands heretofore belonging to churches and monastic foundations, and we are told that the proceeds of this property served to form those school and eleemosynary funds which the Vaudois townships still possess at the present day.
A fragment of the treasures, or of the endowment of the cathedral of Lausanne, was applied to the establishment of the “Académie.” The Bernese in the capacity of lords paramount had, in accordance with the prevalent ideas of the rights and duties of the civil government, undertaken to change the religion of the Pays de Vaud. They had taken away a religion that appealed to the senses and to the imagination of the people, and substituted for it a religion which presupposed a knowledge of the Word of God; but they had found themselves utterly unable to supply the teachers or preachers of that Word whom every place, even to the smallest village, absolutely required in order to prevent the inhabitants from lapsing into a state of still more abject ignorance than had hitherto prevailed. It was primarily for the purpose of training men for the pastoral office, and not for that of preparing men for professional or public life, that the “Académie” was founded.
Beza did not at once undertake the duties which he was invited to assume, but returned to Geneva and consulted with his brethren and especially with John Calvin. The call was altogether unexpected, and Beza was at first disposed to decline it. Doubtless, as Professor Baum suggests, the state of his health, not yet altogether restored, was one chief reason for this. But it would appear from the sequel that when he thought of deciding to go to Lausanne, the matter of the recent publication of his unfortunate Juvenilia weighed much in his mind against such a step. But Viret wrote to Calvin, and the latter with other friends endeavored to remove Beza’s scruples. The authorities of the Canton of Bern, adopting the action of the Academy of Lausanne, extended a formal but flattering invitation. To this Beza felt himself no longer at liberty to turn a deaf ear. It is characteristic of the man, however, and the circumstance throws a bright light upon the sincerity of his character and the thoroughness of his conversion, that before he consented to be inducted into the office of a teacher of sacred as well as secular learning to whom the interests of the young were entrusted, he was foremost in calling the attention of the ecclesiastical council which, as the manner of the Reformed Churches was, met to inquire into his past life and into his doctrinal belief, to the great error of his youth.
“Of my own accord,” he writes at a later time, “I made mention of the Epigrams I had published, lest perchance the matter might be to the damage of the Church, because there were among them some of an amatory character and certainly now and then written with too much license, that is, in imitation of the ancient poets. It pleased the assembly of the brethren that nevertheless I should assume that function in the Church, in the first place because it seemed plainly unjust that in the case of a person who had passed over to Christ from the Papal religion, just as from paganism, there should be imputed to him the error in question in a life otherwise honorable and blameless, and in the second place, because I voluntarily pledged myself to make it publicly known to all men how greatly that inconsiderate act of mine displeased me.”
On assuming his office, Beza took an oath declaring his hearty approval of all the decrees of the disputation held at Bern in 1528 respecting the Christian religion, and promised, on pain of God’s anger, to conform his life and teaching thereto.
Thus began the course of a brilliant and fruitful professorship extending over a period of nine years (1549–1558). The work was congenial. All his past studies had prepared Theodore Beza for a thorough discharge of its duties. Greek was his favorite tongue. Its direct bearing upon the preparation for the Christian ministry of the youth that were drawn to his classroom by the reputation of his learning, procured him peculiar gratification. There had been a time when secular learning pursued for its own sake satisfied his highest aspirations; now he could not be happy without the conviction that, in the professor’s chair, he was rendering no less important a service to the advancement of religion than he would have rendered in the pulpit devoting his entire time to the work of a popular preacher. Thus it was that his labor became from the very start a labor of love. Apart from the inspiration created by contact with bright minds among his pupils, there was also the friendly intercourse with his eminent colleagues and the growing intimacy with scholars and theologians eminent for their attainments residing in neighboring cities, men already well known to him by reputation, but now beginning to be familiar to him through personal relations or by correspondence—no small compensation to his mind for the losses he had sustained in forsaking home and native land—men like Bullinger, Musculus, and Haller, not to speak of Calvin himself and Viret.
We should have known, even had not Beza himself expressly told us, that it was this thought and the analogy of the patriarch who, at the bidding of Jehovah, left the land of his nativity not knowing whither he went, that chiefly influenced Beza in the choice of the subject of the first poetical production that he brought out after his conversion. He had not been quite a year at Lausanne when he gave to the world a sacred tragedy, under the title of Abraham’s Sacrifice. In the preface he introduced it with these words (dated Lausanne, October 1, 1550): “I admit that by nature I have always delighted in poetry, and I cannot yet repent of it; but much do I regret to have employed the slender gifts with which God has endowed me in this regard, upon things of which the mere recollection at present makes me blush. I have therefore given myself to such matters as are more holy, hoping to continue therein hereafter.”
The drama was written originally for the use of the students, and was first performed by them in one of the halls of the former “officiality,” or seat of the judge representing the late Bishop of Lausanne in the trial of ecclesiastical cases. So favorable was its reception by the public, that it was repeatedly brought on the boards. From Lausanne it passed to other places, not only in Switzerland, but in France, where it was played with great applause in many cities. It was also translated into foreign tongues.
The famous President Étienne Pasquier, while he is certainly mistaken in the date and occasion to which he ascribes the work, is a witness whose testimony cannot be challenged to the impression it made upon himself: “Theodore Beza, a fine poet, both Latin and French, composed, on the accession of King Henry [the Second], the Sacrifice of Abraham in French verse, so well portrayed to the life, that, as I read it in former days, tears flowed from my eyes.” The most pathetic passage is naturally that which culminates in the last dialogue between the patriarch and his son as the latter is about to be sacrificed. A modern French critic of high standing may here be allowed to speak, especially as he institutes a favorable comparison between Beza’s work and that of the great Racine himself, which might be esteemed presumptuous if instituted by a foreigner. In analyzing the latter part of the drama, A. Sayous, in his Études Littéraires, observes upon the passage where Abraham turns to immolate Isaac, that “Here begins a scene that amply justifies Pasquier’s tears. It is conducted with singular art. The emotion grows from the beginning to the end—the dénouement naturally suspended and the father’s anguish prolonged by the young son’s questions, the tears of Isaac, his childish prayer, his thought of his mother, and his artless resignation—all this is of a truthfulness that surpasses in pathos the scenes in the French Iphigénie, between Agamemnon and his daughter.” In which bold advocacy of the composition of the French Reformer, the acute critic fortifies himself by citing the German poet Chamisso “who pushed his admiration so far as to compare the dialogue between Isaac and Abraham to the most divine productions of the Greeks.”
Treatise on the Punishment of Heretics
With little pleasure we turn from the first of the poetical compositions written after Theodore Beza’s conversion, to the first of his graver and more important writings in prose.
Abundant attention was given in a previous chapter to the youthful error of Beza into which he fell before he broke with his old thoughts and purposes in life, an error at a later time not merely deplored, but heartily repented of, candidly confessed, and publicly condemned by him to the end of his days. I must now speak of an act of his more mature life which our later age must regard as most reprehensible, an act for which not only did he never express repentance, but which he continued to justify as proper and righteous throughout a full half-century, or to the very time of his death, with an unshaken conviction that he was in the right. I refer to his public advocacy of the tenet, then held by the vast majority of educated and religious men, but now as universally repudiated, that heretics, and especially outrageous blasphemers, may and ought to be punished by the civil authorities, even capitally. In 1554 Beza first published his treatise “Concerning the duty of punishing heretics by the civil magistrate: in answer to the medley of Martin Bellius and the sect of the new Academics” (“De hæreticis a civili magistratu puniendis, adversus Martini Bellii farraginem, et novorum Academicorum sectam”).
The controversy arose from the execution of the Spanish physician Michael Servetus, burnt alive at the stake on the hill of Champel, at Geneva, on October 27, 1553.
The main facts in the case are incontrovertible and are so familiar to all readers of history, that the barest reminder is necessary in this place. Having been apprehended at Vienne, near Lyons, Servetus escaped from the hands of the Roman Catholic judges by a secret flight, and in his absence was condemned, as a heretic and a fugitive, to a death by slow fire. But he had avoided one danger only to fall into another equally appalling. Discovered in the city of Geneva by John Calvin, and by him denounced to the civil authorities, he was again tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the same punishment. Calvin had long since forewarned Servetus of the peril he would incur by coming to Geneva. He now openly advocated his being put to death. It is the great blot upon his name. It is the one great error of his life which has given occasion to his enemies and the adversaries of the Protestant faith to blaspheme. And this is none the less true if we concede, as we must concede, that his fault was the fault of the great majority of his contemporaries, even the most pious and excellent, who with him held the pestilent doctrine that sins against God, transgressions against the first table of the law, may be punished, even capitally, by the civil magistrate. It is not that, according to the popular impression, John Calvin burned Servetus; for, in point of fact, so far from burning him, he opposed this mode of execution as cruel; but that he, with his intellect of the highest order and with a heart which we know otherwise to have been kindly, had not enfranchised himself from old and traditional theories of the province of the secular power, and as a Christian knew not what spirit he was of; indeed, that he seemed to have receded from his own tolerant expressions in the earliest edition of his Institutes, wherein he asserted, respecting our treatment of the excommunicated, that we should live with them as with Turks, Saracens, and other enemies of religion, striving, meanwhile, in every possible manner, whether by exhortation and by teaching, or by mildness and gentleness, or by prayers to God, to induce them to turn to the better way and the society of the faithful.
To cruelty in the putting of men out of the world, the men of the 16th century were, unfortunately, pretty well used. The estrapade, in the neighboring kingdom of France, had had its host of victims, and the estrapade, ingeniously contrived to prolong the tortures of the dying victim, by alternately lowering him into the flames and hoisting him out, in preparation for a new exposure to the fire, was, to say the least, quite as cruel as the ordinary execution at the stake. It was therefore not so much the cruelty of the means used to put Servetus to death, as the inconsistency of the Reformers in resorting to violence to suppress heresy, that shocked many contemporaries, as it shocks us.
Among those that entered a protest against the principle involved in the execution of Servetus, was a writer who signed himself Martin Bellius, but whose true name was suspected by Beza of being Sebastian Chasteillon, or Castalio. It was in answer to his treatise that Beza wrote.
Castalio, if indeed it was he, had given to his small volume, now become extremely rare, the form of an inquiry into the question, “Whether heretics ought to be proceeded against, or persecuted, and, in general, how they should be dealt with.” It claimed to be a book “of the utmost necessity in this most turbulent time,” and was made up of a collection of the sentiments of the learned in ancient and in modern times. To us, as we shall see presently, the chief interest centers in the remarkable dedicatory letter which the author prefixed to it. Castalio was a very erudite man, whose most noteworthy production was a new translation of the Bible into the Latin language, the result of the labors of ten years. In this he strove, while often making a slight sacrifice of the literal form, to give to the Holy Scriptures a clearness and an elegance of expression that would commend them to a wider circle of readers, and enable them to supplant profane writings in the schools. It is no impeachment of his good intentions, or, indeed, of his scholarship, to admit that his Bible won no such place as was anticipated for it by its author. Yet Castalio was no contemptible exegete. If the scholarly reader will take the trouble to run through the pages of the lengthy treatise in which Beza reviews some of the passages translated in his own Latin version of the New Testament, and to compare them with the same passages as rendered by Castalio, he will convince himself of this. For if he find Beza’s judgment in the great majority of cases to be more sound than that of his opponent, yet will he discover others where the latter shows himself superior. Thus Beza’s interpretation of Hebrews 5:7, in which he coincides with Calvin, is forced and undoubtedly erroneous, while that of Castalio is endorsed by the latest and best of recent scholars, and is certainly correct. As a teacher and successor of the famous Mathurin Corderius, Castalio had worthily discharged the duties of his office in the college of Geneva, until, in consequence of differences of opinion between himself and his old friend Calvin, he voluntarily retired, and took up his abode first at Lausanne and then at Basel. Here he spent the rest of his days in an honorable but painful struggle against poverty. History has in our own times vindicated his claim to be classed among the first and noblest assertors of the rights of the human conscience. The letter to the Duke of Würtemberg which “Martin Bellius” prefixed to his book on the treatment of heretics, and in which he fully sets forth his view, has been justly styled “one of the purest inspirations of the century,” “one of those beneficent revelations that console for the excesses of another age,” in which “its author proclaims, with rare eloquence, a truth so novel that it was to scandalize contemporaries—the right of every man to believe freely and to assert his belief, remaining responsible for his errors only before God.” A few sentences describing the state of Christendom may suffice to convey a notion of its spirit:
“Nobody can stand the slightest contradiction, and, although there are today nearly as many opinions as there are men, there is not one sect that does not condemn the others; hence exiles, chains, fires, the gallows, and that lamentable array of punishments for the simple crime of holding views displeasing to the powerful of the earth, on questions in dispute for centuries and still unsettled.” “I have long been seeking to find out what a heretic is, and here is what I have discovered: he is a man that thinks otherwise than we do respecting religion.” “I ask you, Who would wish to be a Christian, when he sees men that lay claim to that designation dragged to execution and treated more cruelly than we treat thieves and robbers? Who would not believe that Christ is a Moloch or some pitiless divinity demanding human sacrifices upon his altars?”
It is deplorable to see a man of the intellect of Beza, through the long course of a treatise which, in the edition of his collected theological works, fills not less than eighty-five closely printed folio pages, laboring to overthrow the arguments, for the most part clear and cogent, by means of which Castalio and others, doubtless otherwise his inferiors in dialectic skill, but on this question speaking from the fulness of conviction, had built up a structure which in our eyes at least is impregnable. It is not the only case in which, looking back from a considerable distance of time upon a past conflict of arms, we cannot divest ourselves of the conviction that there has been some frightful mistake, and that, from their character, from their antecedents, from the community of their great aims, the combatants ought to have been fighting, not as enemies, but as friends, in order to conserve and not to tear down, making a common front against common foes. Nor perhaps, is it an unwarrantable surmise that the strong personal friendship in which he held Calvin, and the ardent desire to vindicate the propriety of Calvin’s course, added unconsciously to the virulence with which Theodore Beza treated both the memory of Servetus himself and the man who called in question the justice of the punishment of Servetus. As for that heretic, he is to Beza, I may remark, “of all men that have hitherto lived the most impious and blasphemous,” while the men who have condemned his trial as iniquitous, are for him the “emissaries of Satan.”
Castalio and his allies, according to Beza, took three positions, each of which they defended by a variety of arguments. The first was that heretics ought not to be punished. The second was that heretics cannot justly be punished by the civil magistrate. The third was that heretics should not be punished with death. In order to prove that heretics should not be punished, they alleged that the matters in controversy are not as yet necessary to be known, nor can they be known save by the pure in heart, nor, if known, would they make men better; that they cannot be decided by God’s written Word. They argued from the examples of Judas Maccabeus and of Moses, from the authority of Gamaliel and Paul, from the Scriptural description of Charity, from the mildness and gentleness that should characterize all Christians. They asserted that no class of men are less to be feared than are heretics. They brought up instances of Christ’s clemency and benignity. They showed that the civil magistrate leaves unpunished much greater offenders—Turks, Jews, the proud, the avaricious, and the like. They boldly claimed that in point of fact no one can be compelled to believe, and therefore the attempt ought not to be made to compel men to believe.
They proved that, if to be punished at all, the punishment of heretics does not belong to the civil magistrate, by our Lord’s own assertion that His kingdom is not of this world, and by that of Saint Paul that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Theologians, they said, can defend their doctrine, as do the professors of the other sciences, without a recourse to the magistrate. They used Christ and His apostles as examples. They did not forget to notice that the world is incompetent to judge of heresy, and that most princes abuse their authority in this as in other things. They fortified themselves with evidence drawn from the practice of the ancient Church.
As to the third head, they made effective use of the Parable of the Tares and the command to let the tares grow until the harvest. To permit the magistrate to kill the heretic is, said they, to permit him to exercise God’s prerogative of killing the soul. If heretics are to be slain, then the greater part of mankind should be put to death. Saint Paul bids us “avoid,” not “kill,” the heretic, and enjoins us, “Judge nothing before the time.” The fear of death makes men hypocrites. Many are the instances where such punishment has resulted very badly. By the Church under the Emperors the life of even such an arch-heretic as Arius was spared.
Such were, according to Beza, the arguments, often crudely stated, by which the forerunners of that tolerance which has become the law of our higher civilization undertook to establish principles which for us have become axiomatic truths. As historic evidence of human progress they deserve a place here. Nor would it be altogether uninteresting to note in detail the answers by which Beza attempts to break the force of the arguments of his opponents. But more important is it to examine the grounds on which he undertakes affirmatively to establish his own allegations.
“Heretics are to be punished.” By heretics are not meant unbelievers, like Jews and Turks; nor men of blameworthy lives, like thieves and murderers; nor men that err from the truth through sheer simplicity and ignorance; but such persons as lay claim to be called the faithful, and, having been legitimately convicted from God’s Word, yet, following their own judgment, so pertinaciously and resolutely defend certain false doctrines against the Church, as not to hesitate by their factions to rend the Church’s peace and concord. That such men ought to be punished, “no one—to my knowledge at least,” says Beza, “has been found thus far to call in question, with the exception of these new Academics.” They are the greatest pests of the Church, true instruments of the devil for its destruction. The great part of men live far from exemplary lives, and are exposed to the violent assaults of the external foes of the Church; but so long asDoctrine remains safe, it appears as a brilliant constellation, a Cynosure by whose rays the pious may hold their course in the midst of the tempests. But when Doctrine itself is so corrupted that the devil lurks beneath it, what remains but that very many will embrace the devil in place of God? What but that very many, abandoning the hope of knowing the truth, will cast from them all religion, and, in fine, there will arise a horrible confusion in the Church of God? The evil is most grave when Satan has transformed himself and attacks the very vitals of the Church. Then the most prompt, the sharpest, of remedies is called for. So far from having no obligation to keep within bounds the spreading cancer, it may be necessary, in order to save the rest of the body, for men to resort to cautery and knife. This is shown by the testimony of God’s Word. Not to speak of laws against blasphemers and false prophets, or of the acts of Moses, Asa, and Josiah, he that will not hear the Church, we are told, is to be regarded as a Gentile and a publican. If this was said of one who had committed a private wrong, much more ought it to hold good in the case of one who plucks up religious Doctrine itself. Thus did the apostles give over to Satan the heretics Philetus and Hymenaeus. The conclusion of the whole matter is, therefore, that “those who think that heretics ought not to be punished, are attempting to introduce into the Church of God the most pestilent of all opinions, a view that conflicts with the doctrine first given by God the Father, subsequently renewed by Christ, and finally practiced by the universal orthodox Church by perpetual consent.” “So that to me, indeed,” observes Beza, “such men appear to act more absurdly than if they were to deny that sacrilegious persons or parricides ought to be punished, since heretics are infinitely worse than all such criminals. For which reason I shall not employ more words to prove this part of the question, which I am confident that all who are not altogether unjust judges will concede to me.”
If heretics, then, should be punished, by whom may punishment be inflicted? “They are to be punished by the civil magistrate,” Beza replies. The chief end of human society is that God may receive the honor which men are bound to pay Him. Now, the civil magistrate is the appointed guardian and governor of human society. He ought therefore in the administration of the affairs of human society to take the greatest account of this its chief end. It is his duty indeed, so far as in him lies, to see that no discord shall intervene in the dealings of the citizens with one another; but since it is not the ultimate and chief end of human society that men should live together in peace, but rather that, living in peace, they should worship God, it is the duty of the magistrate, even at the cost of external peace, if it cannot be done otherwise, to secure the true worship of God throughout the extent of his jurisdiction. So far is it from being his duty to abstain from exercising solicitude for religion. But he cannot conserve religion unless he coerces the pertinacious and factious despisers of religion by the sword (jure gladii). It remains, that whoever undertakes to divorce the magistrate from religion either does not know what is the true end of human society, or conceals what he knows perfectly well. The exterior discipline of the Church must be entrusted to one of the two—either to the civil magistrate or to the ministers of the Church—otherwise there is anarchy. It cannot be entrusted to the latter, else there would be a confused mingling of the power of the sword and that of the keys. It must therefore be entrusted to the former.
To illustrate: An Anabaptist is denounced. The body of presbyters assembles. He is summoned, but answers that he will have nothing to do with sinners. How does the Church act? If it acts according to God’s Word, when the unhappy man cannot be corrected in any other way, it delivers him unto Satan, that he may learn not to blaspheme. He, on the other hand, willingly and of his own accord, separates himself from the Church. Other fanatics follow him and so a defection arises. Next some disciple of Servetus or Osiander will come forward. On being summoned, he will present himself, but it will be to judge the Church. Being cast out, he too will find disciples, and hence another faction. At length some “Academic,” an excellent and modest man, forsooth, will make his appearance. When summoned, he will come and will state, by way of preamble, that he is eager to learn, and that he reads and hears everything. If you undertake to teach him, however, he prays that no violence be done to his conscience. If you insist and expose his impudence in corrupting the Scriptures, quite unlike the old philosophers of the Academy, who used to assert that the only thing they knew was that they knew nothing, he will tell you that no one knows anything but himself, and yet he will protest that he condemns nobody. If he can find any means of so doing, he, too, on being ejected from the Church, will set up another conventicle.
What shall the Church do in these circumstances? Cry unto the Lord, you say. Yes, and despite Satan’s vain opposition, the Church will be saved. But the hungry man cries and does not wait to be fed by an angel as was Elijah. The bread that is given him, or that he seeks to obtain by his industry, he regards as provided for him by God. Suppose that there be in the Church a Christian magistrate. Must he, who will not tolerate the dissensions of the citizens in profane matters, remain quiet when the great end for which human society was instituted is in question? Or, are those rather to whom the power of the sword is not entrusted, to be permitted to take upon them to exercise coercion? Who does not see that if the ministry thus intrude on the office of the magistrate, as the Roman Antichrist has done, there is the greatest danger of dire confusion as the result of commingling what God Himself has made distinct? Then, again, if the pastors, the shepherds of the flock, become transformed into wolves, what is to be done? You will say, Let a Council be convened and let it compel the submission of the unruly. But who shall summon the Council, especially the Universal Council, if not the civil magistrate? For the apostle’s prescription remains fixed: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.”
All this, says Beza, is confirmed by the authority of the Word of God—and here he cites a multitude of passages of the Old Testament and of the New—and by the opinions of the learned men of more modern times—Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, and the like.
“Heretics are occasionally to be coerced even by capital punishment.” The right of the magistrate to punish heretics being once proven, as Beza believed that he had proved it, he found little difficulty in the matter of the amount or severity of the punishment. The gravity of the crime of heresy is the first and chief ground for the infliction of the penalty of death. Inasmuch as the purpose of the law is to deter men from sin by the example of the punishment meted out to the wrong-doer, it is right that the judge should take great account of humanity. Thus it happens that one and the same offense is visited in the same region, now with a more severe, now with a milder sentence. But there are some crimes which, because of their enormity, are punished, among all races of men above the rank of savages, not indeed by one particular kind of execution, but yet universally by some form of death. Such are parricide, voluntary homicide, sacrilege, blasphemy, impiety, or the violation of the publicly received religion, and other crimes of the sort. The case is clear enough as far as parricide, voluntary homicide, and sacrilege are concerned. It is surprising that anybody should entertain doubts respecting blasphemy and impiety, for nobody can deny that the magnitude of a crime is to be measured by the quality of the person against whom the offense is committed. Blasphemy and impiety, by which God’s majesty is attacked, are, therefore, so much the greater crimes, as His glory excels the dignity of men. Not that all blasphemers and impious persons indiscriminately are to be punished, but only those that act willingly and knowingly. Those that are without the Church must be left to God, who will judge them or in His own time enlighten them. But those that are within the Church must be admonished, first, privately, then before a greater number, possibly dealt with more sharply. But if to blasphemy and impiety there be added heresy, that is, a stubborn contempt of the Word of God and of Church discipline, and if a mad fury for corrupting others also has taken possession of them, what greater or more flagitious crime can arise among men? If, then, the mode of punishment ought to be regulated according to the greatness of the crime, it would seem that no adequate penalty can be found for this heinous enormity. A man who slays another, or commits any other crime against his neighbor, attacks the commonwealth, yet so as that some estimate can be made of the injury; but he that publicly opens the way for the corruption of God’s true worship, starts a conflagration which possibly shall scarcely be extinguished by the everlasting destruction of an infinite number of men. Whether to vindicate the glory of God or to preserve human society, therefore, there are no men whom the magistrate ought to punish more severely than heretical blasphemers.
Such, briefly stated, were Beza’s arguments. He found them to be in full accord with the precepts given by the Lord in the Old Testament to slay without pity the introducer of strange gods, the false prophet, the blasphemer, and the profaner of the Sabbath. Such commands, he said, have never been repealed. The Mosaic Law remains in force, with the exception of the ceremonial part. Of the other two divisions, the Decalogue or Moral Law, being an accurate transcript of the Natural Law, in which man’s conscience agrees with the unchanging will of God, cannot suffer destruction before nature itself perishes, but abides the certain rule of right and wrong for all nations and for all ages. The third division of the Mosaic Law, the judicial, is also of universal obligation, insofar as its precepts do not relate to one people alone, nor punish the violation of ceremonies now abolished by the Gospel, but embrace that code of general equity which should everywhere prevail.
“In fine,” said Beza, “I do not hesitate to affirm that those princes do their duty who adopt as examples for their own imitation these laws of God, by establishing, if not the very same kind of penalty, yet certainly the very same measure of penalty, and who, as against factious apostates, enact some form of capital punishment for horrible blasphemy and crime. For the majesty of God should be held to be of such moment among all men, through the everlasting ages, that, whoever scoffs at it, because he scoffs at the very Author of life, most justly deserves to be put to death by violence. This I say, this I cry aloud, relying upon the truth of God and the testimony of conscience. Let my opponents shout until they are hoarse that we are savage, cruel, inhuman, bloodthirsty. Yet shall the truth conquer and show at length that those deserve these epithets who, in their preposterous or insincere zeal for clemency, suffer the wolves to fatten upon the life of the sheep rather than do their duty in vindicating the majesty of God.”
Most deplorable indeed is the error of Beza, both because of the perverted view he presented of the duty of the Christian Church to appeal to the State for aid in its conflict with heresy, and because of the equally disastrous notion he entertained of the duty of the Christian ruler to punish, even with death, the crime of active dissent from the Church’s tenets. It is impossible for us, however, to deny the sincerity of the conviction, animating him and his fellow Reformers, that the indiscriminate admission into the Christian State of all shades of religious thought would at no distant period prove the State’s ruin. It was this conviction that rendered Beza blind to the consequences that were sure to follow, and that did follow, the approval of the principle enunciated by Saint Augustine that constraint may lawfully be employed to bring the recalcitrant into the Gospel fold. Not to speak of the justification of every form of cruelty found by the apologists for Romanism in the execution of Servetus by Protestants, the enforced conversions of the dragonnades, a hundred years later, seemed to have an anticipated vindication in the theories advanced by those Protestant writers who with strange inconsistency have striven to clear Calvin and Geneva from the imputation of persecution.
Yet Beza was honest in this. He was also honest in his relentless opposition to Castalio, the advocate of toleration—a man whom, in his Life of Calvin, written ten years later, he did not hesitate to style a “monster,” who “by advising every man to believe what he chose, opened the door to all heresies and false doctrines.” Meanwhile, no more singular fact could be instanced in this connection than that the Protestant martyrs, commonly known as the “Five from Geneva,” while daily awaiting death at the hands of the executioner for their religious opinions, set the seal of their unequivocal approval on the sentence meted out to Michael Servetus. One of their number, Antoine Laborie, himself informs us of the fact, in a letter written shortly before his execution. On being reminded by one of his judges “that God distinctly commanded through Moses, that heretics should be most severely punished,” the future martyr tells us, “I readily conceded that heretics ought certainly to be punished, and for an example I brought up that impure dog Servetus, upon whom was inflicted the last of punishments at Geneva, but I bade them be very cautious lest they should treat Christians and the sons of God as heretics.”
Activity at Lausanne 1549–1558
The life of Beza at Lausanne was far from being uneventful. His health, which we have seen was precarious when he accepted his responsible post in the University of Lausanne, not without fear that it might tax his strength beyond his powers of endurance, was subjected to a severe strain by an attack of one of those strange epidemics which were in the 16th century confusedly spoken of as “the plague.” This occurred in the summer of 1551, when Beza had been professor for less than two years. Within another twelve months, Providence laid new burdens upon him.
Five young men, all of them Frenchmen by birth, who had been studying both sacred and profane letters at his feet and at the feet of his colleagues for a longer or shorter space of time, conceived the brave project of suspending their studies that they might visit each his native region in the fatherland and enlighten their own friends and kindred in the truths which they had themselves embraced. It was a particularly hazardous venture to which they felt themselves individually called by God’s Holy Spirit, for the French Protestants had fallen on exceptionally perilous times. The cruel Edict of Châteaubriand had lately been enacted. “A right of appeal to the highest courts has hitherto been granted, and still is granted, to persons guilty of poisoning, forgery, and robbery,” wrote Calvin respecting the new law, “but this appeal is denied to Christians. They are condemned by the ordinary judges to be dragged straight to the flames, without any liberty of appeal.” To forsake the hospitable halls of Lausanne and enter France, was to rush headlong into a fiery furnace. One of the five, Bernard Sequin by name, a refugee from the region of Limousin, had been an inmate of Beza’s house, possibly earning his livelihood in part by service. Another had lived with Viret. But so far from dissuading them, their teachers and patrons applauded their manly and Christian resolve, and gave them letters commendatory of their character addressed to the faithful whom they might meet. However, the immediate issue did not correspond with their expectations. At Lyons, the very first place of importance which they entered, they were arrested, thrown into prison, examined on the capital charge of heresy, and condemned to death. It looked like a sheer waste of valuable lives which, with a little more prudence, might have been saved. In truth, however, there was no waste. Contrary to all anterior probability, under a law meant to expedite the execution of dissidents from the Church of Rome, they were kept in prison for over a year. During all that time, and long after, the letters that they wrote, containing minutes of the fearless words they uttered in the presence of everything that would naturally have terrified weaker men into silence or submission, thrilled the hearts of multitudes of men and women into whose hands they fell. It is safe to say that each of the five “scholars of Lausanne,” writing from the noisome dungeon of Lyons, made many more converts than he would have gained had he been permitted to reach his home and preach without hindrance to his friends and neighbors.
The cause of the delay that rendered this activity possible is to be found in the influences which Beza and Viret were able to set in motion. The young men were the protégés and the recipients of the bounty of the powerful Canton of Bern, owner of the Pays de Vaud, and founder of the University of Lausanne. To secure the intercession of the Lords of Bern with the French king, who was in need of Swiss troops, and to direct the efforts of Bern in every quarter that appeared to offer promise of success—this was the incessant study of Beza and his colleagues. They did not hesitate to go in person and plead before the magistracy the cause of their beloved pupils. If all their efforts and all the honest endeavors of the Bernese failed to accomplish the release of the captives, the fault must be laid at the door of Henry II and of Cardinal Tournon, rivals in the ignoble practice of violating assurances and promises solemnly given.
But labors such as this episode of martyr history imposed were far easier to be endured than the trial that awaited Beza two or three years later. I have spoken at the beginning of this work of the high position of the Reformer’s family, of the ambition of his father and uncles, and of the hopes which both father and uncles based upon the brilliant abilities of the possession of which Theodore had given proof. Even now, although four or five years had elapsed since his withdrawal from France, they could not bring themselves to renounce the dream of seeing him once more at Paris, well started upon a career that would add great luster and wealth to the already fortunate family. They were encouraged to make the attempt to reclaim him, by false rumors that his success abroad had by no means corresponded with his anticipations, and that they might more easily persuade him because he was a disappointed than. First, therefore, Theodore’s elder brother John presented himself unannounced at Lausanne, fully prepared to offer sufficient inducements to bring the exile home. If Theodore was surprised by his unexpected but welcome advent, John was much more astonished to find Theodore occupying a position of honor and influence. Calumny had reported him to be living a dissolute life. He was said to be as much despised by others for his vices as he was himself wanting in self-respect. On the contrary, John found him a prominent citizen of Lausanne, a beloved colleague of scholars of high repute, a teacher enjoying the confidence of his pupils, the pride of a great school of learning. The result of the conference of the two brothers was such as might have been looked for. “You must before this have heard of the unexpected arrival of my elder brother,” Beza wrote to Calvin. “He came to institute a struggle with me, in which, thank God! I was so successful that I gained access to the attainment of what I never ventured to hope.” Unfortunately, we have no further information respecting the interview or its ulterior results. We only know that from Theodore Beza’s last will and testament it would appear that some of his nephews had been brought up in the principles of a pure Gospel.
The conflict was not over. John Beza at his departure stated to Theodore that, in case his persuasions proved ineffectual, his aged father would come in person to make a supreme effort. Accordingly, some months later, father and son met, on the confines of Franche-Comté. The Reformer looked forward with no little trepidation to an interview of which, if he did not fear the consequences, so far as his own steadfastness was concerned, he dreaded the results in the case of his infirm parent. He therefore wrote to Farel:
“I have received a fresh message respecting my father, which gives me great hope that either he will shortly come in person to us, or that I shall certainly meet him not far from here. Pray for me, I beg you, that I may not be compelled to be the minister of death to him through whom the Lord conferred this life upon me, and, in the next place, that against the impending temptation, the most severe of all, my strength may suffice that I may truly and earnestly ponder what the Lord says: ‘Every one that hath forsaken father or mother for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life.’ For, otherwise, who am I that I should resist these temptations? But I hope to be able to do both this and all things through Him who is in truth my Father.”
About the same time he wrote to Calvin respecting the same matter:
“A still harder struggle threatens me with my father, whom I am to meet in five days on the borders of the [Franche] Comté. May God give me grace, as I hope in Him, not only to withstand courageously his powerful assaults upon my heart, but to win him over, if possible, for my Master. More than all other threats I fear that look, the caressing prayers, the tears of the father, the old man. But I hope that here also, as so often heretofore, my compassionate God will graciously stand by me, that all may redound to His glory.”
This is all that has come down to us respecting the last, painful interview of Beza; but we infer that after a renewed but ineffectual presentation of all the motives which his father could marshal, both parent and child returned to their homes, doubly sorrowful because neither could hide it from himself that their conference had made the gulf of separation between them wider and final.
It is not out of place here to draw attention to a feature of the life of Beza which it had in common with the lives of most, if not indeed of all the rest, of the Reformers, although perhaps to a higher degree than they. The work which they were originally summoned to undertake, and which they accepted under the impression that it was to occupy their undivided attention for the residue of their days, so far from proving to be their sole vocation, was only one, and often by no means the most important, part of their future activities. When, at William Farel’s solicitations, reinforced by his solemn and awful commination, John Calvin renounced his projected studies elsewhere, he supposed himself to be assuming charge of the reformation of the single city of Geneva. He little dreamed of the vast responsibilities, even “the care of all the churches,” that lay ready to be placed upon his shoulders, whether he wished to bear them or not. In like manner, Theodore Beza, a convalescent, distrustful of his strength to do even this work, accepted the congenial duties of a professorship of the Greek language in the University of Lausanne, little foreseeing, we must suppose, that his chair would introduce him, naturally and by easy stages, to an incomparably wider sphere of usefulness; that, in point of fact, the university classroom was to serve merely as the vestibule of a grander structure; that from a teacher of youth it was to make of him a powerful advocate of the oppressed brethren of his own faith, at a later time the first recognized apologist before kings and princes of the principles for which the martyrs of the Reformed Churches of France had ineffectually striven to secure a hearing; and ultimately the honored and trusted Counsellor and Leader of French Protestantism.
It was in the years now under consideration that Beza took the first steps in this direction.
We have seen how the circumstance that he had been their teacher induced Beza to assume a prominent part in the efforts put forth to save the lives of beloved pupils, destined victims of religious intolerance. The skill he manifested and the consciousness to which he awoke—that his mental characteristics, his liberal training, his familiarity from infancy with the best society, his cultivated manners, and his easy and dignified address afforded him special facilities, and therefore conferred special responsibility, for representing the cause of the oppressed at court and in the homes of the powerful—opened his eyes to his advantages and to his duty. As a natural consequence, from this time forward, whenever there were delicate negotiations to be conducted in behalf of the churches of his faith, the eyes of men turned with ever-increasing confidence to Theodore Beza as the most promising man in the Reformed communion to conduct them. On the other hand, Beza himself permitted no considerations of private comfort or ease to deter him from undertaking a work often tedious and burdensome, always making a heavy draft upon his sympathy.
His first attempt in this direction had a political as well as a religious side. The alliance between the powerful and aggrandizing Canton of Bern and the far less extensive and independent city of Geneva had been made for a definite number of years and was to terminate on February 8, 1556. It was by no means certain that the ambitious government of the former state would renew a relation from which the weaker city seemed to derive all the benefit. Moreover, Bern had more than once made it clear that there was no lack of persons powerful in its councils who would gladly extend its territory to the outlet of Lake Leman and hold Geneva upon the same tenure on which it already held the Pays de Vaud. If this project should fail, there were men ready to recommend the acceptance of the offers of a close alliance made contemporaneously by Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy. The danger to Protestantism was imminent. Forsaken by Bern, the nearest and most powerful of the cantons in which the Reformation had taken root, the republic of Geneva, the object of the implacable hatred of the Roman Pontiff and of the Roman Catholics throughout Europe, could not have failed to be ground to pieces between the two adjoining countries—France and Savoy—of which the one or the other seemed destined to destroy its independent existence. The danger that menaced Geneva was a danger menacing Protestantism entire, and Beza helped to avert it, by exhibiting, and by inducing others to exhibit, to those in power the consequences that were certain to follow the suicidal policy of disunion. The renewal of the alliance between Bern and Geneva, in 1557, was in great part the result of Beza’s intercession at Zurich and with the other Protestant cantons, and constituted in itself a claim to the gratitude of the city which was soon to become his home for the remainder of his life. It formed a new link in the chain already binding him in the closest friendship to John Calvin.
Meanwhile, before this disquieting question had been set at rest, another cause of solicitude arose. The valleys inhabited by the Waldenses, or Vaudois, of Piedmont, constituted a part of the territories taken from the Duke of Savoy by Francis I in 1535. During the score of years which the French occupation had now lasted, the inhabitants, professing to be in full accord with the Protestants, but claiming that they had held their pure faith for centuries before the birth of Luther and even from the time of the apostles, enjoyed a respite from persecution, as grateful as unlooked for. While relentlessly vexing the adherents of the Reformed faith in their own dominions, Francis I and Henry II had either from policy abstained from similarly maltreating the professors of a kindred faith in the newly acquired domain, or, possibly, had forgotten the very existence of an insignificant body of dissenters who gave them no trouble in a time of general confusion. In consequence of their unwonted exemption from external interference, the Vaudois began to make a freer profession of their faith, to hold more public religious services, and to seek and obtain the services of twenty or more preachers, many of them trained for the sacred ministry in Switzerland, and especially at the school of Lausanne. In the Val d’Angrogna, in particular, they even commenced the erection of houses of worship. Such boldness could not long escape notice.
The French Parliament of Turin sent two of its members, the President de Saint Julien and the Counsellor Della Chiesa, with an ample escort to visit the valleys and put a stop to the progress of heresy. If proclamations could have effected this, the menaces addressed to those that refused to submit, and the rewards offered to those who consented to embrace the Roman Catholic faith, would have sufficed. But the Vaudois either forsook their homes or were deaf alike to threats and to entreaties. This was in 1556. The next year more strenuous measures were instituted. It became evident that nothing short of a determined effort to suppress the Vaudois religion was to be expected. That it would fail miserably in the end, as all similar efforts, before that time and since, have failed, was, it is true, almost a certainty. A Waldensian martyr, put to death for his constancy twenty years before, expressed the truth in a homely fashion, when, just before his execution and being already bound to the stake, he requested a bystander to hand him two stones, and having received them began to rub the one against the other, and then addressed these words to a crowd now curious to learn the significance of his strange actions: “You imagine that by your persecutions you will abolish our churches, but that will be no more possible for you than it is possible for me to destroy these stones with my hands or by eating them up.” Nonetheless was the prospect of one of those massacres, that have so often drenched the Waldensian mountainsides with blood, so terrible that no time was lost in sending forth a cry of distress to summon all friends in Switzerland and elsewhere to the rescue.
Both Geneva and Lausanne heard the news with pity and with horror. Among the destined victims of persecution and death were prominent ministers of whom many formerly studied theology in those cities under Calvin and Beza. There was no opportunity for long consultation. Someone must be promptly dispatched to arouse the four great Protestant cantons and the Protestant princes of southern Germany, and induce them to use the privilege of friends or allies with the King of France, by remonstrating against the execution of the proscriptive measures ordered by the court. That man must be courageous, energetic, and quick and fertile in expedients. Above all, he must be sufficiently catholic in his views to be able to conciliate in favor of the proposed intervention the partisans of the different shades of the Reformed faith and the Lutherans, whether broad or narrow in their views. He must, moreover, be a man of conspicuous tact and address, who from his birth and associations would stand unabashed in the presence of princes and courtiers. Such a man was found in Theodore Beza, and the choice of him was fully justified by the sequel. With him went, as fellow envoy, the now aged William Farel, the memory of whose masterful ministry of evangelization in French-speaking Switzerland and in the neighboring parts was still fresh in men’s minds, and whose rash impetuosity, if not altogether extinguished by added years, was well kept in check by the surer judgment of his younger colleague, whom he thoroughly respected and admired.
Bern not only gave leave of absence to Beza, but provided him and Farel with strong letters of recommendation to her three confederate cantons of Zurich, Basel, and Schafhausen. In these places, as everywhere else, Beza was the spokesman. Being unfamiliar with the German language, he spoke in Latin, the universal language of courts and universities, and his ornate periods and graceful eloquence secured him a favorable hearing from all the learned. When it was necessary, the Reformer Bullinger, of Zurich, and others gladly acted as interpreters. With the support of such a man at Zurich, of the leading pastor, Simpert Vogt, at Schafhausen, and of Simon Sulzer at Basel, it was easy to bring the magistrates to look favorably on the plan of sending a body of envoys from the four evangelical cantons to the French court. The “instruction” given to them as a guide for the discharge of their commission in a delicate undertaking has come down to us. It was written by Theodore Beza, and is the first and a very favorable example of his papers dealing with political affairs.
The difficulties increased as Beza and Farel pursued their way, but these were overcome. At Montbéliard—capital of a county now forming part of France—which, many years before, Farel and Toussain had undertaken to evangelize in the midst of great commotions, they found the place altogether won over to Protestantism, but they also found Toussain, who was now at the head of the Church, not only decided in his adhesion to the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper as opposed to the Zwinglian or to the Calvinistic, but particularly alienated from Geneva and pronounced in his disapproval of the execution of Servetus, and of the apologies written in justification of that lamentable event. This did not, however, in the end, prevent Montbéliard also from endorsing and heartily recommending the mission of the envoys. At Strasburg, Beza was welcomed by François Hotman. This eminent scholar, his attached colleague in the University of Lausanne, had, a year or two since, accepted a chair in the University of Strasburg. Here, as elsewhere, the presence of the venerable Farel, who had written nothing to offend Lutheran susceptibilities, proved advantageous. The senate of the city not only paid him and Beza other flattering attentions, but sent Hotman with them, mounted, and with mounted guards of honor, at the city’s expense, to carry two letters, the one addressed to Otto Henry, elector palatine, and the other to Duke Christopher of Würtemberg. Both these princes received the envoys graciously, the former at Baden, where he was sojourning for his health’s sake, the latter at Göppingen. The elector palatine, desirous of making the German intercession more effective with the French king by the addition of the influence of Hesse, wrote and dispatched by a special messenger of his own a letter to the Landgrave Philip of Hesse.
An object which Beza had incidentally proposed to himself in his mission, an object of even greater permanent importance to Christendom than the rescue of the Waldenses, was the unification of Protestantism by the reconciliation of the views respecting the Lord’s Supper held by the two great subdivisions of the Protestant world. He had conferred at Strasburg with the superintendent and doctor of theology, John Marbach. At Göppingen he met and conversed long with the eminent Jacob Andrew, his future disputant in a more formal colloquy. There seemed to be some prospect of substantial agreement, and, as the references to Calvin’s expressed views were deemed insufficient, Beza was induced to draw up a new and brief confession of faith touching the chief point in controversy. Written with the evident desire to reduce to a minimum the difference between the opinions of Lutherans and Calvinists, the document is a literary and religious curiosity. In some regards it may be compared with those extraordinary articles, with their amazing concessions, which Melanchthon drew up, a quarter of a century earlier, in the vain hope of being able to bring together such discordant views as those of Rome and those of the adherents of the Reformation. Calvin and Beza undoubtedly rejected the opinion of Zwingli, that the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist are mere signs. It is equally certain that they did not hold with Luther that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine, though these are not miraculously transmuted into very flesh and blood. But it must be confessed that, in the Confession now under consideration, as we shall see, Beza approached as nearly to the Lutheran view as it was possible to do without actually abandoning the Reformed position.
Both the Swiss and the Germans fulfilled their promises and sent envoys to France. Their reception need not detain us long. The Swiss, honest but simple-minded rustics, were kindly but somewhat contemptuously treated, and received no definite answer to their plea in behalf of the Waldenses. They deserve our respect, however, for this, at least, that when at their departure King Henry II, who, through Constable Montmorency, had previously promised them each a gold chain, now sent them a present of two hundred ducats, they proved themselves to be no mercenary boors, by indignantly rejecting the proffered bounty, with the exclamation, “We seek not gold nor silver, but the safety of brethren who are our members and partakers in the same religion.”
The German envoys, who arrived in Paris a full month later than the Swiss, represented seven Protestant princes, all of them entitled to high consideration. They were instructed to impress upon the King of France the injury to his reputation which the report of the cruelties exercised upon his innocent subjects would produce. They were also to urge upon his Majesty the necessity of instituting an impartial investigation, which would surely establish both the purity of the doctrinal tenets and the loyalty of the persecuted. But although a reply was made to the envoys, in the monarch’s name, it was of no very satisfactory import. For it plainly betrayed the annoyance of the king at what he considered an unnecessary appeal of his conquered subjects to their sovereign’s friends, and confined itself to the expression of a hope that the inhabitants of the Val d’Angrogna would henceforth so order their lives, like the rest of his subjects, as not to compel him to exercise severity toward them.
Exactly how much good was effected by the German and Swiss intervention, it is difficult to ascertain. Despite his affected indifference, Henry and his advisers were not insensible to the importance of maintaining a good understanding with their Protestant neighbors and allies. Beside this, however, the king had within a few weeks more engrossing and perplexing matters on hand. On August 10, 1557, his army was defeated with great loss in a pitched battle at Saint Quentin. Constable Montmorency, who commanded it, was taken prisoner. Paris was threatened. It was no time to think about the Vaudois and their proposed annihilation. The project was dropped. Less than two years later, by the treaty of Cateau Cambrésis (on April 3, 1559), the Vaudois valleys, with all the rest of Piedmont, save Turin and two or three other places, passed out of the hands of the French and were restored to their rightful sovereign, the Duke of Savoy.
This was but the first of three successive visits of Beza to Germany in the interest of his oppressed fellow believers. From the Vaudois or Waldensian valleys of Piedmont, the scene of persecution shifted to France and to the city of Paris itself. So precarious was the situation of the Protestants of the capital, in view of the sanguinary legislation of Henry II, that although their number was by no means insignificant and was daily growing, they dared meet only by night and with the utmost secrecy. Unhappily, a nocturnal gathering held in a house of the Rue Saint Jacques was surprised by their enemies, and, out of a much larger number of worshippers, one hundred and twenty persons, mostly women, with a few men and some children, were apprehended and dragged to prison. Many of them were shortly put to death, and the mob had the gratification of beholding such a sight as a Parisian mob never tired of seeing—the victims of its hatred, some of them young women and respectable matrons, roasted in the flames of the estrapade.
The political juncture was particularly inauspicious for the “Lutherans,” as the dissenters from the Roman Catholic Church were still styled. Bigots represented the calamity that had lately befallen the kingdom in the defeat of Saint Quentin as a direct punishment for its sin in tolerating heresy, and stirred up the populace to welcome any new blow aimed at the Protestants. The latter, terrified by what had befallen their brethren, and apprehensive of what might still be in store, anxious above all to save the lives of the prisoners from their impending fate, sent in haste to Geneva to acquaint Calvin with the new disaster and to beg that everything should be done to enlist the interest of neighboring Protestant states. Again was Beza chosen, in conjunction with the aged Farel and with Budaeus and Carmel, to lay the pitiful case of the French before as many as would listen to their cry of distress. Not once but twice did the Reformer leave Lausanne and exert himself to the utmost to bring both Swiss cantons and German princes to prompt and decisive intercession.
The direct results were not over-encouraging. The Swiss envoys, when they reached the court of France, allowed themselves to be so completely hoodwinked by the Cardinal of Lorraine, always rich in promises of support, that leaving all to him they found themselves in the end dismissed by the monarch with a message to the effect that he had expected that Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Schafhausen would be content with his response to them in the matter of the Waldenses of Angrogna, and abstain from sending him ambassadors on a similar occasion, as they had now done. At any rate, he begged his “very dear and good friends” from this time forth to give themselves no care or solicitude respecting what he might do in his kingdom, since he was resolved to maintain his religion therein as the most Christian kings, his predecessors, had done. In this matter, he said, he had to give an account of his actions to no one but to God.
The elector palatine wrote a letter which seems to have had some effect in securing a lull in the persecution. Others, especially good Christopher of Würtemberg, did the same. But the German princes were not always moved to prompt and effective action. The old disunion between Lutherans and Reformed had not been suffered to die out by the zeal of the theologians who looked askance at the orthodoxy of their Swiss brethren and were disposed to magnify rather than to attenuate the disastrous differences of Luther and Zwingli, now that Luther and Zwingli had long been in their graves. It seemed to Beza an opportune time to labor to conciliate the favor of the Germans, by showing them that the persecuted French Protestants whom they were entreated to help were no heretics, but brethren in substantial agreement with themselves as to the essential truths of the Reformation held in Germany. In common with his colleagues, therefore, he laid before Melanchthon, Brentius, Marbach, Andreæ, and the other most prominent representatives of Lutheran theology, at their gathering at Worms, a written exposition of the tenets of the French Churches, of so irenic a character that the divergences seemed not merely smoothed down, but almost obliterated. In all the Augsburg Confession of 1530, they found but one article which was not in agreement with their own Confession and which they did not accept, namely, the article respecting the Lord’s Supper. Even the difficulties in this article they thought could be removed by a conference of learned and pious men. Meanwhile, they declared that “they had never believed, nor had they taught, that the Lord’s Supper is merely a sign of profession, as the Anabaptists believe, or merely a sign of the absent Christ.”
A few months before, while on the embassy to plead the cause of the Waldenses, Beza, speaking for himself and for Farel, expressed himself no less strongly, in a confession of faith which he handed to the Duke of Würtemberg, at Göppingen, as setting forth the doctrine held by the Churches of Switzerland and Savoy, or Piedmont. A sentence or two from this, the first of Beza’s utterances respecting the Lord’s Supper, it may be well to quote, in order to show the length to which the Reformer was willing to go in the effort to find a common ground on which to stand with his German brethren:
“We confess that in the Lord’s Supper not only all the benefits of Christ, but also the very substance of the Son of man—I say, that true flesh which the everlasting Word took into perpetual unity of person, in which He was born and suffered for us, rose and ascended into the heavens, and that true blood which He shed for us—are not merely signified, or set forth symbolically, figuratively, or typically, as the memorial of an absent person, but are truly and certainly represented, exhibited, and offered to be applied, there being added to the thing itself symbols that are by no means bare symbols, but such that, so far as appertains to God’s promise and offer, they always have the thing itself truly and certainly conjoined, whether they be set forth to believers or to unbelievers.”
It is not surprising that, in his attempt to gain over the German Protestants, Beza should have incurred not a little risk of alienating his own friends in Switzerland. His apparent concessions to Lutheran views were highly distasteful to the adherents of the Zwinglian theology, and Bullinger, the Reformer of Zurich, had succeeded not only to the influence but in a great measure to the views of Zwingli. Endeared as he was to Beza by ties of cordial affection and good will, Bullinger could not but view the utterances of Beza at Göppingen with grave apprehension, as indicative of a danger of schism among Swiss churches thus far harmonious. Calvin understood his friend better and poured oil on the troubled waters. “As there is no lurking danger in Beza’s confession,” he wrote to Bullinger, August 7, 1557, “I readily excuse him, because, in consideration of the brethren, with studied moderation he has striven to reconcile fierce men; especially as he previously distinctly explained all his different meanings.” But Bullinger was not fully appeased even by Calvin’s intercession, and Beza’s efforts to reconcile Lutherans and Reformed by reducing to an apparent minimum the differences that kept them apart, gave rise to an interchange of letters between Lausanne and Zurich, extending over a number of months, which even now may be read with profit. Upon Beza’s project of a conference to be held with the view of harmonizing discordant views upon the matter under consideration, Bullinger looked with scant favor. He accepted with kindness the explanations of his meaning which Beza, sincerely sorry to have incurred the disapproval of so excellent a friend, made at great length in successive epistles, and he conceded frankly the desirability of mutual love and holy concord between the servants of a common Master.
“Meanwhile,” said he and his colleagues, the pastors and doctors of the Church of Zurich, “it is not any and every sort of a concord that we long for, but a concord that is religious, moderate, conflicting in nothing with the pure truth hitherto professed, introducing no obscurity or doubt into manifest light and perspicuous doctrine, a concord which on account of its clearness shall be common and welcome to all the pious, abiding and stable, and that shall scatter abroad no new beginnings of fresh dissensions.”
Thus it was that Theodore Beza’s attempt to effect a reconciliation between the warring elements within the bosom of Protestantism itself, aroused the suspicion, and drew upon him the animadversion, of many of his own most sincere friends. So had Melanchthon’s equally well-meant project of bringing together again the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, two- or three-and-twenty years earlier, drawn upon him the displeasure of the greater part of those who learned of it. As, however, Philip Melanchthon comforted himself, when accused of being a deserter to the Protestant cause, not only by the consciousness of his integrity of purpose but by the support and approval of Martin Luther, so did Theodore Beza find ample compensation for the not altogether unreasonable annoyance expressed by others, in the unswerving confidence extended to him by the great Reformer of Geneva. For to Calvin he felt a devotion not inferior to that which characterized the relation of the younger of the Wittenberg theologians to his father in the Lord. Both Beza and Melanchthon, if unsuccessful in accomplishing the desired union, had this consolation, at least, that their labors had been expended in the most honorable and humane of causes, the endeavor to realize the great purpose of the common Lord of all Christian people, that they might be one even as He and His Father were one. And both Melanchthon and Beza were specially inspired by an earnest desire and hope thereby to put an end to the further effusion of blood at the hands of those professing the same Christian faith.
End of Section 1