Laboring with Calvin
- Chapter 6 – Beza Becomes Calvin’s Coadjutor and Rector of the University of Geneva
- Chapter 7 – Beza at Nérac
- Chapter 8 – Recall to France
- Chapter 9 – Reception at Court
- Chapter 10 – Speech at the Colloquy of Poissy
- Chapter 11 – Further Discussions
- Chapter 12 – Counsellor of Condé and the Huguenots in the First Civil War
Beza Becomes Calvin’s Coadjutor and Rector of the University of Geneva 1558–1559
In the year 1558, Beza resigned the professorship which he had held for a little short of nine years, to accept a chair in the new institution which Calvin had long been anxious to found at Geneva, for the promotion of higher learning, but, especially, of theological science.
His course in Lausanne had been brilliant and successful. Of this there could be no question. He had discharged the duties of his office with signal ability and faithfulness, and had been rewarded for his toil not only by the applause of the learned, but by a marked increase in the number of his pupils. From a mere handful of students, the Académie of Lausanne had come to boast an attendance of seven hundred. To this development no instructor, not even François Hotman, the distinguished jurisconsult, during his connection with the University, had contributed so much as Beza. The magnetism of the Reformer’s personality, the profound impression made from the very start by his wonderful erudition, his wide acquaintance with classical as well as sacred antiquity, his growing reputation not only as a controversialist, but as a man honored in the councils of the leading Protestant powers of Switzerland and Germany and entrusted with the advocacy of the claims of the persecuted both of France and Piedmont—all enhanced in the eyes of the studious the attraction of the school of learning of which he was a chief ornament.
Why, then, did Beza consent to leave a position so enviable and of such extensive usefulness? The answer to the question is found partly, at least, in the unfortunate condition of discord and embarrassment of the Church of Lausanne. The union of Church and State, always a source, if not of actual, yet certainly of possible trouble, is most productive of mischief in a region which itself is dependent upon another region, its superior by right of conquest or by some other form of proprietorship. The natural and healthy development of the Reformation at Lausanne was hampered by the suzerainty of Bern. It might perhaps have triumphed over the lukewarmness or positive enmity of the irreligious part of the subject city; it was impotent when that element of the population was encouraged by the avowed determination of the paramount authority to tolerate no innovation in the accepted order of things.
The Reformer Pierre Viret had, many years before, taken an important part in the preparatory work that led to the religious change of Geneva in advance of Calvin’s advent, and had subsequently been for a time one of the ministers of that city. He was now and had long been the leading pastor of Lausanne. It was he, as has been seen, that induced Theodore Beza to accept the chair he had held with honor to the city and with credit to himself. A man of solid attainments and of sterling worth, he was at the same time as impetuous and uncompromising as Farel had been in his youth, and had learned none of the prudence that had come to Farel with advancing years. The laxity of morals of a city, many of whose inhabitants utterly failed to recognize the external change of religion as affecting their personal and social life, had long weighed upon Viret’s heart and conscience. To admit to a participation in the most sacred of Christian rites men and women of whose unfitness there could be no doubt, and who seemed so much the more anxious to present themselves as their coming was opposed by all the good, seemed to him as a pastor to be an unjustifiable act of complicity in a criminal profanation. He resolved to put a stop to it. Having by his ardent zeal brought his colleagues over to his opinions, he gave notice that at the coming Easter the customary celebration of the Lord’s Supper would not be observed. He would not desecrate the most sublime and holy ordinance in heaven or on earth. He and his fellow ministers demanded nothing less than the institution of a system of church government such as had been successfully established in Geneva and had made of a city noted for the dissoluteness of its denizens the model State and Church of Christendom. Instead of the promiscuous admission to the Lord’s Supper of all applicants, whatever their knowledge or ignorance, their consistency or inconsistency of deportment, he demanded the erection of a church consistory, or session, with power of discipline ranging from the mildest admonition even to formal excommunication. The better and more earnest part of the people, especially the fugitives from persecution in France, welcomed his efforts. But these efforts met with strenuous opposition from such of the inhabitants of Lausanne as looked back with regret to the days when, under the rule of the former bishops of the place, there was little or no inquiry into the life of the laity, or even of the clergy.
The resident representatives of Bern gave to Viret’s opponents the support of their authority. With a view to the removal of exciting topics from the pulpit, Bern particularly forbade the public discussion of the subject of Predestination. Four clergymen of Thonon, believing it to be their duty, despite the prohibition, to preach on the doctrine in question, were deprived of their places by the government. The classis of Bern replied by demanding freedom of preaching and a form of church government not unlike that of Geneva, declaring that unless it were granted they could not with a clear conscience continue to exercise their churchly functions. Thereupon the chief magistrate and council of Bern resolved to show the world who was master in the Pays de Vaud, and formally cited by name all the preachers and professors to appear in person before them in the city of Bern, on or before a given date, to receive an answer to the “articles” in which their demands had been couched. So rough a summons addressed to the clergy and professors of the subject city was itself an indignity; the answer which they received amounted almost to positive insult. For while Viret and his associates were graciously informed that they might preach about Predestination if they had a natural occasion to do so and if they preached in a moderate and edifying manner, they were not encouraged to look for any such improvement in the administration of the Church as they had declared indispensable to the continuance of the discharge of their offices. In fact, the Bernese council demanded a categorical reply, upon the morrow, as to what the pastors and professors intended to do. They, moreover, intimated that, if the latter persisted in the declaration they had made, to the effect that in case all their requests were not granted they must ask leave to lay down their offices, they would not only be allowed to do so, but forthwith be banished from the country.
Beza, himself no friend of extreme measures, had originally disapproved Viret’s course and maintained a middle ground, entertaining relations of kindly intercourse with both parties. He doubtless hoped that, in the course of time and without resort to an attitude of such pronounced hostility to the ruling power, the desired advantages might be secured through the milder methods of persuasion and greater enlightenment. That he was lukewarm or underrated the importance of the points upon which Viret insisted, is disproved not only by his subsequent attitude when at the head of the Church of Geneva, but by the vigor, zeal, and ability with which in this very year (1558) he maintained in an extended answer to Sebastian Castalio, that the doctrine of the everlasting predestination of God is the sole foundation of man’s salvation. He had been induced, reluctantly and against his better judgment, to acquiesce in the course taken by his more radical brethren, lest he might appear to have deserted them at a critical juncture. He thus came to share in the humiliating journey to Bern and the insolent treatment at the hands of the chief magistrate and council.
These last circumstances, however, were not needed to complete Beza’s disgust with the situation of affairs at Lausanne. Long before their occurrence, he had fully made up his mind to sever his relations with the university and to accept the more congenial work to which Calvin invited him and in the discharge of which he had the alluring prospect of association with the great Reformer whom of all men he honored and loved most. Viret might be annoyed at the determination of his colleague, and might blame him for abandoning a post which Viret himself had by his ill-judged course contributed to make unendurable for a high-spirited gentleman, indeed, for a man of ordinary self-respect; he could not induce Beza to reconsider his action or consent to prolong his stay in a city where he might look for the repetition of scenes such as he had of late witnessed. The event fully justified his action. Within a few months, Viret and the greater part of his associates in Church and University were themselves reduced to the necessity of following Beza’s example. Within that time, the decadence of the institution to which Beza’s learning had lent a temporary luster set in. Thus Lausanne lost its great opportunity of permanently possessing the school for the training of the Christian athletes who were to achieve wonders in the cause of French Protestantism down to the time of the disastrous Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). How, after that event, Lausanne regained a certain prestige in the times of the Church of the Desert, it does not belong to us to relate here.
As for Beza himself, he said nothing, either at the time or subsequently, that might seem to reflect upon Pierre Viret, a man who had in the past deserved well of the Reformation, and was destined still to do good service, both in Geneva and in the Church of Lyons, a man to whom he was attached by strong ties of affection. In his letter to Wolmar, within a year and a half later, he confines himself to the statement, that at the end of his stay at Lausanne, he returned, with the kind consent of the council of Bern, to Geneva, partly because he was desirous of giving himself wholly to theology, partly for other reasons which it was unnecessary to rehearse. And he adds that, not so much of his own choice, as by the advice of men of great eminence, he was induced at Geneva to undertake the office of the sacred ministry.
In Geneva, Theodore Beza was at last in the spot where for years, because of his increasing friendship and intimacy with John Calvin, he had found his chief intellectual and moral support and sympathy. Geneva is not distant much over thirty miles in a straight line from Lausanne, and the lake, then as now, afforded an easy and pleasant route. The proximity of the two cities to one another had encouraged the younger man to make frequent visits to his old schoolfellow, now become an associate in the work of the Reformation. It was time, however, that two such kindred spirits should no longer be separated even by so trifling a distance. There can be no doubt that irrespective of his plans for making use of Theodore Beza’s extraordinary scholarship for the upbuilding of his projected university, Calvin had before this begun to look to Beza as the most suitable man to succeed to the great and multiform duties which Providence had thrown upon him. It is true that Calvin himself was not yet fifty years old, and might, so far as age was concerned, have had the prospect of a long course of activity. But his constitution, never robust, was enfeebled by prodigious study and devotion to the claims of others. At an age when many a scholar is full of strength and vigor, Calvin thought it none too soon to seek for a younger man to be a sharer of his toil and the prospective heir of an inheritance of unremitting solicitude for the welfare of the churches.
The plan of Calvin for the “Académie” of Geneva contemplated nothing less than the erection of a true university—a daring undertaking in a little commonwealth of a few thousand souls, poor in resources, and threatened by powerful neighbors. The founders were compelled to solve a difficult problem as to the source from which the necessary funds could be obtained. It is a significant circumstance that contemporaneously with the purchase of a site for the school, there was published an order of the magistrates of the little republic, commanding all notaries to exhort those persons who might thereafter employ them to draw up wills, to make bequests for the institution.
As Geneva had hitherto possessed no school for higher learning, a “College,” or Gymnasium, was also created, for the purpose of affording preparatory training for the Académie, or University proper, thus replacing a more modest school once taught by Mathurin Corderius, of whom I have already spoken, a scholar whose Colloquies were long in vogue, as a manual for the drill of the young in the familiar use of the Latin language. The study of Latin literature was assiduously pursued in the College and found no place in the Académie. In the latter a close acquaintance with the exclusive tongue of the learned was an absolute prerequisite—for who could profit by instruction given in a language which he understood not at all or but imperfectly? Of the departments of a university only the School of Theology was at first instituted, and of this Theodore Beza was the first head or Rector. It was hoped that other schools would soon be added, and indeed the anticipation was partially realized, but the efforts made in this direction were spasmodic and short-lived. A School of Medicine in a small town or village encounters insuperable difficulties through the lack of large hospitals and of clinical instruction. To encourage the study of medicine at Geneva, it is true, a law was passed in 1564, five years after the establishment of the university, which permitted the dissection of the bodies of criminals executed for their offenses and even of the corpses of patients that died at the city hospital. But the provision was inadequate even in an age which sent men to the gallows or to the block for a great variety of crimes, and in which the laws of health were very imperfectly known or observed. Three years later (1567), Beza, in asking the prayers of the pastors of Zurich, drew special attention to the new medical department of the university. The study of Law fared better than that of Medicine, but the eminent teachers that were called to lecture were very inadequately compensated for their work or proved restless for other reasons, and made but a short tarry. This was the case with Hotman, after the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day (1572). The School of Theology and its teachers fared better. Yet the narrowness of the provision for their support, which has been estimated as the equivalent of 1,000 francs, or two hundred dollars of our present money, was not without its discouraging effect.
The solemn opening of the institution took place on June 5, 1559, in the spacious cathedral of the city, in the presence of the two syndics and of the members of the council of Geneva. The services were impressive. On this occasion, Beza, who had at his arrival been merely constituted public professor of Greek literature, but had subsequently been chosen (October 15, 1558) to preach the Gospel and requested to continue his lectures on the Sacred Scriptures, was formally proclaimed Rector, and inducted into office.
A few months later, on November 9, 1559, he subscribed his name to the laws of the Académie, and to the Confession of Faith of the Church of the city. The signature, “Theodorus Beza Vezelius scholæ rector,” may still be read either in the original Livre du Recteur, or in the faithful transcript of the manuscript which has been printed in our own days. The name is followed by the signatures of Antoine Cavallier, of Vire in Normandy, professor of Hebrew; of Jean Tagaut, of Paris, professor of Arts, or Philosophy; and of François Béraud, of Paris, professor of Greek. The last two had been colleagues of Beza at Lausanne and had already followed him to Geneva. Others were yet to come. But with these we have nothing to do here. As to Beza, he began at once to devote himself to theology. Calvin had for years been teaching this same subject, and he continued to do so, although he was never formally inscribed as a professor. How they divided the instruction between them is not quite certain, but it must have been as Calvin, the author of the entire scheme, had arranged. The instruction of both was essentially exegetical. Calvin and Beza at first confined themselves to the simple interpretation of the books of the Bible, and successively lectured upon them in alternate weeks. At a later time, while one of the two professors continued to devote himself to exegesis, his colleague treated in his lectures of the “common places,” or systematic theology.
Self-sacrifice was the law of the school. The salaries, always inadequate to the support of the incumbents of the chairs, were neither regularly nor fully paid. In times of public calamity we shall see Theodore Beza continuing to teach without compensation, and, indeed, taking upon his shoulders the burden of the entire school, until the return of better days. And in all periods of the history of the Académie of Geneva, from Calvin’s time to ours, so high has been the credit of this seat of learning that men eminent in science have, we are told, accepted as a great honor the position of teaching professors. Twice, too, within a space of sixty years, professors raised to the rank of the first magistrate of the republic have continued, despite this high dignity, to instruct their students.
These students, writing their names below the signatures of the professors whom I have named upon the Livre du Recteur, at first, like their instructors, subscribed to the doctrines of the Confession of Faith of the Church of Geneva. This practice continued from 1559 to 1576, when, under the presidency of Beza, and no doubt with his full approval, the “Venerable Company of the Pastors” of the city relieved the young men of the obligation—”inasmuch,” say the minutes, “as this [subscription] deprives Papists and Lutherans of the opportunity to come and receive profit from this church, and inasmuch as it does not seem reasonable to press after this fashion a conscience that is resolved not to sign what it does not understand. Moreover the Saxons [Lutherans] have taken advantage of this ordinance to compel our students that go to them to sign the Confession of Augsburg.”
Calvin had well selected his colleague and successor. As unsparing of himself, as indefatigable in labor, as devoted to the interests of the faith which he had embraced as was his master, Beza of all men living was best qualified to carry out what Calvin had initiated. Geneva and the world hardly realized the change when the direction of affairs passed, after a comparatively brief interval, from the hands of the one to the other. For Beza, while no blind partisan and no servile imitator, had heartily accepted the system of Calvin, and had become so thoroughly imbued with his spirit, that there was no perceptible break in the influence which emanated from the little city upon the Rhône. Meanwhile, even before Calvin’s removal, that influence seemed to be doubled by the accession of Beza as Calvin’s coadjutor, and Beza did for France what Calvin himself could not have accomplished.
Beza at Nérac
The crisis was fast approaching at which Theodore Beza was to be called to take a more active part in the affairs of Protestantism than was offered by embassies in behalf of persecuted Vaudois. Before long the French court, indeed France entire, was to witness his coming as an advocate of the professors of the doctrines which men still persisted in contemptuously stigmatizing as “new,” and was to hear from his lips the first great plea uttered in defense of those doctrines.
Meanwhile, an incident occurred, at first sight of evanescent importance, but destined to exercise a lasting influence both upon Beza’s life and upon the course of at least one great personage in France.
Toward the close of the brief reign of Francis II, after the conclusion of the famous Assembly of the Notables at Fontainebleau, Antoine of Bourbon, titular King of Navarre, was sojourning in the city of Nérac in the province of Guyenne, of which he was governor by appointment of the King of France. Here he deliberated with his most trusted supporters respecting the position which he should assume in the distracted state of the kingdom. The Huguenots, as the Protestants of the realm had, within a few months, begun to be nicknamed, were making such rapid progress that the Papal Church trembled for the consequences. In the late Assembly, Admiral Coligny spoke boldly in favor of a frank concession of religious liberty and advocated a complete cessation of persecution. Others supported his views and did not quail in face of the defiant attitude and threatening words of the Duke of Guise and his partisans. Antoine had held aloof and had not been present at the discussions. Though cowardly and unstable, he had given and still gave men reason to believe that he sympathized with the Reformed and would uphold their cause. When, therefore, Theodore Beza received at Geneva a very pressing invitation from the King and the Queen of Navarre to visit Nérac and give them the benefit of his counsel, it seemed impossible to decline. The “Venerable Company of the Pastors of Geneva” cheerfully approved his going, while prudently recording upon their minutes a simple statement that, “on the 20th of July, our brother, Monsieur de Bèze, was sent to Guyenne to the King and Queen of Navarre, for the purpose of instructing them in the Word of God.” Nor did Beza, in his efforts to fulfill the part of his mission which in their caution the ministers had refrained from mentioning, neglect the rare opportunity afforded him to work for the more purely religious end which they had put prominently forward. Consternation fell upon the opponents of Protestantism when they learned that Beza had from the pulpit preached publicly before his royal auditors the very doctrines for the profession of which men and women had for so many weary years been subjected to all forms of punishment, even to burning to death.
But Beza’s activity was not confined to the purely religious sphere. For the first time he had the opportunity to display the abilities of a clear-sighted man of affairs. He was the best adviser of Antoine of Bourbon. His voice rose in protest against the insidious projects of the court. When, at the instigation of the Guises, the King of Navarre was urged to comply with the command given in the name of Francis II to come northward and to bring with him his younger brother Louis of Bourbon, Prince of Condé, in order that the latter might have an opportunity to clear himself of the grave accusations of which he was the object, no one opposed the foolhardy venture more strenuously than Beza. His words were little heeded. Antoine, as credulous as he was inconstant, preferred to listen to the suggestions of Cardinal Bourbon, who came on the unfraternal errand of luring his two brothers to their destruction. Before setting out, indeed, the same king who, a few weeks since, had not dissembled his aversion to the Mass and avowed his preference for the Communion as celebrated by the Protestants under both forms, was seen approving by his presence the Roman ceremonial of the Mass, and compelling the attendance of his little son, the future Henry IV. Deaf to the suggestion of his friends that, if go he must, he should proceed to court under the protection of a powerful escort, he persisted in declining the repeated offers made to him successively, at various points in his journey, of the thousands of men that could be brought to him from Poitou and Gascony, from Provençe and Languedoc, in the South, and from Normandy in the North. He fancied himself safe in trusting the person of Condé and his own person to the most perfidious of personal enemies. Condé, strange to say, for the time partook of his delusion. Neither awoke to the danger until it was too late. That in the end they escaped the fate to which one, if not both, of them seemed likely to be consigned, was due to no foresight of theirs, but to a circumstance beyond the reach of human prescience—the speedy and sudden death of the boy-king, Francis II.
The Cardinal of Lorraine had endeavored to persuade Antoine to bring to court in his train the Genevese theologian, as well, apparently, as the famous jurisconsult François Hotman, and others of his Protestant advisers. However, neither Beza nor Hotman had any taste for the adventure. Beza accompanied the Bourbon princes only a part of the way, possibly as far as to Limoges, and then struck out, through a country far from safe, in the direction of Geneva. Hotman took some other way. Both had heavy hearts, because both seemed to have labored in vain. Before Beza there stretched a journey that would have occupied many days under the most auspicious circumstances. He must travel unobserved, and therefore in disguise, and by night. Under the kind protection of Heaven, he escaped every danger, and safely reached Geneva, where his friends, ignorant of his fortunes, had well-nigh despaired of seeing him again.
His short absence of a little over three months was not so barren of permanent advantage as at the time he, and perhaps his friends also, imagined.
Until now, Jeanne d’Albrét, Queen of Navarre, had been timid. While her husband seemed to burn with zeal for the Reformation, she was reserved and cold. Sagacious and discerning, she weighed the dangers that invested an espousal of Protestantism. The principality of Béarn and the rest of the kingdom of Navarre on the northern slope of the Pyrenees were after all but a contracted territory in a peculiarly exposed situation. Her ancestors had not been able to protect the greater part of their possessions from Spanish rapacity. How should she, a woman, rescue the small remainder, were she to incur the enmity of the Papal See by a change of faith? What more effective way than this to invite invasion from without and insurrection from within? Yet just in the proportion that Antoine’s fervor cooled, did her own ardor rise to a glowing heat. Immediately after Beza’s visit to Nérac, and, it would seem, greatly as a consequence of his exposition of the Word of God, she came to a decision from which during all the rest of her life she never swerved. The story is best told in the simple narrative of the history of the Reformed Churches of France composed, if not by Beza, at least under his supervision:
“The Queen of Navarre, after the departure of the king her husband, withdrew to Béarn, where she received within a few days tidings of the arrest of the Prince [of Condé] at Orleans, and of the conspiracy against her husband, as well as of certain conferences held in Spain having in view the surprise of her principality of Béarn and the remnant of Navarre. Seeing then that the trust which she had reposed in man was lost, and that all human help failed her, and being touched to the quick by the love of God, she had recourse to Him in all humility, with cries and tears, as her sole refuge, and solemnly declared her purpose to keep His commandments. Thus was it that, in the time of her greatest tribulation, she made public profession of the pure doctrine, being strengthened in her intention by François le Guay, otherwise known as Bois Normand, and N. Henri, faithful ministers of God’s Word. And committing the issue altogether to the divine mercy, she put on a virile and magnanimous courage, and started to visit and provision for a long siege her stronghold of Navarrenx in Béarn, which, it was rumored, the Spaniards intended to surprise. There she heard the news of the illness of the king [Francis II] and, soon after, of his death. At Christmas following the receipt of this intelligence, she again made a full and clear confession of her faith and partook of the Lord’s Supper. Very soon thereafter she sent to the king [Charles IX] her aforesaid Confession of Faith composed by herself, and written and signed with her own hand; for she was of a singularly fine mind.”
Certainly it was worth all the trouble which Beza took and all the dangers he encountered by the way to know that he had contributed to bring the mother of Henry IV to so resolute a stand. Nor is it strange, in view of all the circumstances, that Beza, when referring to this visit, in the dedication to Henry IV of a treatise published in 1591, should have remarked, “Moreover, Sire, I am myself one of those that had the grace from the Almighty to be called and received and attentively heard, proclaiming the word of my Master, in your royal house of Nérac, thirty-one years ago.”
As for Theodore Beza, he had shown that he was not only a devoted Protestant, but an able statesman as well. It was through no fault of his that Antoine did not present himself at the French court with a body of men sufficient to enforce the demand for a righteous performance of the promises made at Fontainebleau by a royal council which, while outwardly approving, had no honest intention to execute its engagements.
From this time forth, the eyes of the Protestants of France were fixed upon Theodore Beza. When the critical moment arrived that demanded a man both ardent in his religious convictions and eminent in his theological attainments, a man firm and unflinching in the advocacy of the Protestant faith, a man in the constitution of whose character courage and prudence were singularly well balanced, it was no fortuitous thing that Theodore Beza was summoned to assume an important part with high expectations regarding his success, which, as the sequel proved, were not to be disappointed.
Recall to France
The contingency to which reference was made at the close of the last chapter arose in the year following the incidents therein described. It is important therefore to form some conception of the France to which the Reformer was now officially invited to return after an expatriation of thirteen years, interrupted only by the short visit to Nérac. For his native land had undergone a series of wonderful changes, the most wonderful of them all within the brief compass of the last few months preceding his return.
When Beza withdrew secretly from Paris in 1548, he forsook a country governed with a strong hand, if not in fact by a monarch of mature years, at least, in his name and under his legitimate authority, by the favorites to whom he chose to delegate the entire management of affairs. Francis I had then been in his grave but a year. The reign of the monarch whose chief claim to recognition, whose sole pretense to be called “great,” was that, as patron of letters and scholars, he aspired to be the representative of the spirit of the Renaissance, had gone out ingloriously in the glare of the burning villages of the Vaudois of Cabrières and Mérindol, and amid the lurid flames of the holocaust of the “Fourteen” roasted alive on the squares of Meaux. Proscription of the “Lutheran heresy” and of all suspected of being tainted with it, was the watchword of the last years of a prince who was at one time believed to favor what were still styled “the new doctrines,” despite the stout assertions of their advocates that they were but “the old doctrines” of the Church restated.
If the Reformed doctrines made any progress during the twelve years of Henry II, they made it in defiance of the personal hatred of the king and of a systematic legislation of the most severe and sanguinary character. Yet the advance was both rapid and substantial. Of this the most satisfactory proof is found in the excesses of the inquisitorial tribunal erected by the judges of the Parliament of Paris. That tribunal, from the facility and regularity with which it sent its victims to the flames, came to be familiarly designated as the Chambre Ardente. The recent fortunate discovery and publication of the original records of its proceedings gives, in fact, the impression that one half of the atrocities of the famous court had not been told and that popular rumor did injustice to the activity rather than to the humanity of its members.
That Protestantism actually grew, instead of being destroyed root and branch, was patent evidence that it possessed extraordinary vitality. Year by year reports became more frequent of whole provinces “infected” by the “poison” of heresy. The capital itself contained its body of believers meeting regularly, but with the utmost secrecy. They had indeed been organized as a church, with pastors and other officers. Of this the government was possibly as ignorant as it was ignorant of the fact that, a few months before Henry’s death, a representative assembly met within the walls of Paris, composed of delegates from different parts of the kingdom, and adopted a Confession of Faith and settled the Directory for Worship and the Form of Government of the Churches for the time to come. But if Henry was not kept fully informed of these things by his spies, he knew, at any rate, that the judges of his own high Court of Parliament were by no means sound in the faith as judged by the tests of orthodoxy. For did he not, within a month of his death, hear them avow heterodox sentiments in a judicial conference, and did he not openly declare that he would see the guilty burned before his eyes?
The fatal thrust of the misdirected lance of Count Montgomery, in the fatal tourney in honor of the nuptials of Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of France, rendered futile this threat, by depriving Henry both of eyesight and of life. At his death French Protestantism entered upon a new and more surprising course of growth and development. The princes and nobles that came into power were, indeed, no less determined to suppress the Reformation than Henry had been. But what had appeared possible for a monarch in the flower of his age, was soon seen to be utterly hopeless for a mere stripling, confessedly not ruling by himself, who deliberately handed over the reins of authority to his wife’s uncles, the Duke and Cardinal of Guise. For now men who might have continued for an indefinite time to submit to the cruel commands of a lawful king, believed it no sin to oppose the mandates of subjects who had illegally possessed themselves of the machinery of government. The outbreak known as “The Tumult of Amboise” (1560) was no strange phenomenon. It would rather have been strange had no outbreak occurred. Nor is it surprising that, although the ill-concerted enterprise was speedily put down, the popular ferment was not quieted but rather increased. Now the religious instinct of the masses of the people began more openly to demand satisfaction. Unable to obtain churches for their worship, the crowds resorted to the fields, especially in the provinces most remote from the capital. The services were conducted by ministers, many of them trained in the city of Calvin, and were celebrated, as men said, “after the manner of Geneva,” that is, with public prayers such as Calvin had drawn up in his liturgy, with the preaching of God’s Word, and with the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Mandates of bishops, for the most part non-resident, and proclamations of royal governors and lieutenant-governors might lead to the capture and execution of here and there a minister or of some courageous layman. But these incidents had little or no permanent effect. They did not arrest the advance of a religion which confessedly bore good fruit by promoting morality and good order. At this juncture the government resolved to try the experiment of convening an assembly of the Notables of the realm, for the purpose of obtaining the best advice for allaying the prevalent spirit of discontent.
But the Assembly of Fontainebleau (August 1560), so far from devising the means of suppressing the Reformation, gave to the advocates of the Reformation their first opportunity to demand liberty of worship. Here it was that Admiral Coligny boldly brought forward two petitions, the one addressed to the monarch, the other to his mother, Queen Catharine de’ Medici, and both documents presented in the name of “the faithful” of all parts of France. The documents were unsigned, but the admiral asserted that he could secure, if necessary, 50,000 signatures in the single province of Normandy. They demanded houses for worship and the clear recognition of the right to assemble in these houses for the service of God. Here too it was that, a day or two later, the same nobleman took the bold step of openly espousing the cause of the Protestant Reformers. At a moment when, under the law, such sentiments as he uttered rendered him liable to the capital charge of heresy, he solemnly declared his belief that, should the houses of worship be accorded and should the royal judges be instructed to maintain his Majesty’s authority and the public peace, quiet and universal contentment would at once return. It was a notable circumstance that the occasion upon which Admiral Coligny pledged life and property to the belief that thepeople in nowise wished the crown ill, the occasion upon which he warned the king’s advisers that it is a perilous thing to nurture in the king a suspicion of the loyalty of his subjects, was a Saint Bartholomew’s Day, just twelve years before that inauspicious Sunday in August on which the gray-haired Huguenot hero laid down his life, a sacrifice attesting the sincerity of his religious convictions.
The next twelvemonth, the last that elapsed before Beza’s recall to France, was probably more eventful than any other period of equal duration in the 16th century. This was certainly the fact so far as the Protestants were concerned. Francis II died after one of the briefest reigns in French history. The means devised by the enemies of the Protestants for their destruction, including the convocation of the states-general that were to seal the overthrow of their protectors, seemed to have been ordained by Providence for its own ulterior and wiser ends. With the death of their nephew the Guises lost their undisputed ascendancy, and the King of Navarre gained a fresh opportunity to vindicate his right, as first prince of the blood, to the regency of the kingdom. How he was induced to throw away this advantage and other advantages that might have materially affected the progress of the Protestant doctrines, and what were the fruits of his recreancy, I do not purpose to state in detail in this place.
As it was, the day of religious emancipation appeared to have dawned. Many incidents of the early part of the year 1561 might be cited in evidence. One distinguished Roman Catholic prelate made no little stir by openly championing the Protestant movement. Cardinal Odet de Chastillon was the elder brother of Admiral Coligny. He had in his youth entered the Church, having no leaning to the profession of arms. He had recently been making less and less of a secret of his full acceptance of the doctrines of the Reformation. He was count and bishop of the old city of Beauvais, and, as such, one of the twelve ancient peers of the kingdom. Even thus, however, he could scarcely defend himself against the fury of the rabble, when it was noised abroad that, not content with fostering the growth of the “new doctrines” in his diocese, he had at Easter absented himself from his cathedral and celebrated the great Christian feast in the chapel of his episcopal palace. There the Gospel had been preached and the Holy Communion administered “after the manner of Geneva, though something discrepant”—to use Sir Nicholas Throkmorton’s words—each participant receiving both elements at the hands of the officiating clergyman. Naturally the opposition originated with the clergy.
“Wherewith,” pursues the English ambassador, “the canons and divers of the popular people, not content, murmured and assembled in great numbers to have wrought their wicked wills upon the Cardinal, who shut himself and his, with divers of the communicants of the town, within his house; yet not so speedily but that some were hurt and killed, and one of the townsmen brought violently before the Cardinal’s gate, and there burned out of hand without further proceeding of justice in the matter.”
This was in April. Before the close of the same month about one hundred gentlemen and others gathered in a house of the suburbs of Paris, near the Pré aux Clercs, and there held Protestant services. Being discovered, an assault was made upon the house by the populace, but the besieged gentlemen repelled it with harquebuses and such other weapons as they carried. Seven or eight of the assailants were killed before the mob was tardily dispersed by the officers of justice. A few months earlier, the Protestants would certainly have been arrested and tried, and the sequel would have been a holocaust of victims offered up on the altar of religious intolerance. Instead of this, the King of Navarre, opportunely coming to the capital in company with Prince La Roche sur Yon, the Duke of Longueville, and many other noblemen, to repress disorders, gave some sound advice to the authors and abettors of all the mischief to which the Parisians were prone. He called before him in the hall of the Louvre, says Throkmorton, “all the head curates and churchwardens of all the parishes of the town and two of every religious house, with the regents [professors] of the colleges, exhorting them in the king’s name to quietness, and charging others for seditious preaching and rather moving the people to tumults and sedition than edifying them.”
He assured them that “when the same should happen hereafter, the king would make them feel his indignation, and advised them not to molest any man living without open scandal, nor to seek men in their houses, as had been done at the instigation of some there present, whom he knew and [who] had changed their own weed under color of scholars.”
Thus wrote the envoy to his royal mistress in May. A few days passed and her Majesty was informed of a still more significant event. The solemn anointing and coronation of young King Charles IX was duly celebrated in the cathedral of Rheims according to immemorial usage, the Cardinal of Lorraine, as archbishop of the city, officiating and saying mass, and the twelve peers of the kingdom assisting. But no inconsiderable number of the nobles, and these among the most powerful, absented themselves, and their absence was known to be for no other reason than their unwillingness to countenance a worship which they had come to repudiate as idolatrous. Of the number were the Prince of Condé, Admiral Coligny, the Duke of Longueville, Marshal Montmorency, and his brother Damville. Moreover men noticed that, on the part of most of those noblemen who attended, there was little or no reverence paid at the solemn moment of the elevation of the host. “So far forth, thanks be to God, is true religion in this country!” exclaimed the Earl of Hertford, an eyewitness.
At this time, it may be observed, a little frank espousal of the Protestant cause on the part of Queen Elizabeth, a few unmistakable words declaring her firm purpose never to return to the Roman Catholic Church, might possibly have decided the French noblemen that still wavered between the two religions. As it was, the pope, the Emperor, and the King of Spain received confident assurances from England itself that there would be no difficulty in making the queen change her religion, and Elizabeth’s envoy informed her that when a Protestant spoke on the subject to Cardinal Lorraine and Mary of Scots, these “made their advantage of the cross and candles in your [Queen Elizabeth’s] chapel, saying you were not yet fully resolved of what religion you should be.”
Yet, with or without the aid of Elizabeth’s example, the Protestants were becoming more and more bold. Old proscriptive laws could no longer be executed. Protestants would assemble for worship. When, a little later, the Queen of Navarre journeyed by short stages to court, she had preaching services in her presence wherever she stopped. Then the attendance was marvelous. Fifteen thousand persons joined with her at Orleans in partaking of the Holy Communion. The city had declared itself of the new sect, according to the Venetian Suriano.
Earnest Roman Catholics were startled and discouraged, not least of all the papal nuncio, the Bishop of Viterbo. So sure was he that everything was going to rack and ruin, that he sought and obtained his recall. His successor, Cardinal Santa Cruce, was a man who never lost heart and who came determined to win in spite of all difficulties. Yet it may be noted that, before he had been many months in the country, the correspondence of even this sanguine personage took on almost precisely the same mournful tone as that for which he had criticized his predecessor, and he too was begging to be permitted to return to Rome, in order that he might not witness with his own eyes the funeral obsequies of an unfortunate kingdom.
The one thing that pope and nuncio, priests and cardinals, united in dreading as the direst of catastrophes was the very thing which Huguenots and patriots with equal unanimity desired as the consummation of all their hopes—that liberty of conscience and of religious worship might at length be conceded. But, at the bare suggestion that the “heretics” should be publicly heard in defense of their erroneous views, bigots were beside themselves with anger. The only way to deal with such accursed men was to condemn them offhand and without a hearing, lest their insinuating words should infect others with the poison of heresy. Laymen added their influence to that of clergymen in dissuading the government from making a dangerous experiment. On the eve of the colloquy respecting which we are next to speak, Catharine de’ Medici, who had, or feigned that she had, the highest respect for the Doge of Venice, while she was suspicious of everybody else, asked advice of Suriano, the Doge’s ambassador. The latter gave the customary recommendation—to temporize, to keep things as quiet as possible, to resort now and then, as occasion demanded, to persuasion or admonition, to use a little severity, to gain over by gifts and by promises. But when the queen-mother somewhat shamefacedly admitted that it had been agreed that Theodore Beza should have a hearing in the convocation of the bishops, and that she had hopes of gaining him over in one or another of the ways which the ambassador had just suggested, Suriano demurred, “In order that she might never be able to assert that this course had ever been counseled or approved by me, I told her that the Canons had expressly forbidden disputing or treating with heretics, and that the bishops would fall under censure. Such a proceeding would be the source of scandal and peril. If it is desired to gain Beza in this way, it were better done privately in a room.” Catharine replying that the bishops were themselves satisfied with the contemplated arrangement, the ambassador stood his ground, and could only reiterate his strong belief that privacy was better than publicity, and that in any case, only a few persons should be permitted to be present at the colloquy.
Of assurances that no important changes would be made, indeed, no changes at all affecting the religion professed by the kings of France, predecessors of the present occupant of the throne—of assurances that the obedience of France to the pope would be maintained to the utmost and that no attempt would be made to alienate the property of the Church—of such assurances Catharine de’ Medici was prodigal enough. But whether any reliance could be placed on her word was doubtful. The trouble with her and with her council was that they were as ready to unsay as to say, and that they did not hesitate, when convenient, to deny that they had ever uttered any of their previous assertions.
The queen-mother was, in the estimation of all well-informed men, timid and irresolute. Whether she would favor or oppose the progress of the Reformed religion, was a question which it was at the time impossible to answer with certainty, simply because the decision ultimately reached would not be made according to principles fixed and stable, but must depend upon motives of expediency shifting with the apparent demands of the hour. Of settled convictions upon moral or religious matters she had, or appeared to have, few or none. She was profoundly ignorant respecting doctrine.
“I do not believe,” says Suriano, “that her Majesty understands what is meant by the word dogmas, but I suspect that, like others who every day want to dispute concerning religion—all of them, or at least the greater part of them, ignorant people—she confuses dogmas, rites, and abuses, as if they were all one and the same thing. Hence there arises every form of confusion in their disputes and, possibly, also in their opinions.”
But if Catharine de’ Medici was timid and irresolute, there were others who had fully made up their minds and had the courage inspired by their convictions. The King of Navarre might waver and ultimately throw in his lot with the enemies of the Reformation, but his younger brother, Condé, had no hesitation. Nor was there hesitation on the part of the three brothers Chastillon—the Admiral of Coligny, d’Andelot, and the reforming cardinal, who though he still wore the red robe as a member of the Roman Sacred College, was, as we have seen, not afraid to celebrate the Holy Communion and at a later time to take to himself a wife, and, during his residence at Queen Elizabeth’s court, to do efficient work in the interest of the Huguenots and of the other Protestants of the Continent. And, behind these and other important nobles, stood a great body of men, titled and untitled, the majority unknown as yet to the world, though, as the most virtuous and intelligent element of the population, exerting a quiet influence, willing and ready, however, should the occasion come, to suffer loss of property and even death in attestation of their faith.
The times had clearly changed essentially since Beza retired from the kingdom and sought a refuge in hospitable Geneva. True, the battle for religious liberty was not yet won. Legislation was still hostile in the extreme. It was no easy thing for a judge to be both equitable and observant of the law; and between the dictates of the bloodthirsty edicts, as yet unrepealed, and the dictates of natural justice reinforced by a powerful public sentiment in favor of more leniency in dealing with respectable citizens whose only fault was that they did not believe what the greater part of the nation believed or imagined that they believed, the parliaments as well as the lower courts exhibited a singular record of inconsistency verging upon absurdity. Of all the incidents of the year of Beza’s return to France, indeed, the most inconsistent and absurd was the publication of a fresh law, known from the time of its issue as the Edict of July—little better than an anachronism, inasmuch as at a juncture imperatively calling for the supply of relief, it reenacted severe penalties against all such as should attend conventicles where there was preaching or where the sacraments were administered. The best that could be said for it was that the measure was evidently of a temporary character, a sop thrown to the priests to gain a brief respite from their incessant complaints of the indulgence shown to dissent.
Meanwhile the government had, some months before, so far yielded to the insistence of the friends of progress as to decide definitely that an opportunity should at last be afforded the Protestants of meeting with their opponents and setting forth their views and the grounds of those views. Even the time had been fixed. In an interview which Admiral Coligny held with the ambassador of Queen Elizabeth by appointment at a place three leagues distant from Fontainebleau, on the 24th of April, he informed him in profound secrecy, “that yesterday it was resolved, in Council, that in August next the king would assemble his clergy and keep a National Council in France for religion. And as the Queen of England had dissuaded the king from accepting the Council of Trent and [urged him] to desire one in his own realm, where things might be handled with more sincerity, and it was said that the queen would assist him therein, it is now thought that she will show herself a good friend to the king and to the promotion of true religion, if she will send some of her best learned divines to this assembly, and exhort the Princes Protestant to do the like.”
It is very certain, however, that if such were the hopes of Coligny and other leaders of the Reformed faith, Catherine de’ Medici never had the idea of inviting either Elizabeth or any German prince to be represented in a French National Council, nor indeed of holding any Council at all in which Protestants should sit as members. As it was, about the same time as the other two orders of the kingdom were in session in the so-called states-general at Pontoise, she summoned all the bishops of France to meet in the neighboring convent of Poissy, at a convenient distance from the royal castle of Saint Germain en Laye. In justification of her action in calling these representatives of the clergy to consider the present religious situation of France without waiting for the General Council of the Church, which was the great desire of her heart, she excused herself by alleging that she had no intention to make any innovations in ecclesiastical matters, and consequently no intention to do anything at which the pope could take umbrage.
“But,” said she, “those who are extremely ill are excusable if they apply all sorts of remedies to alleviate their pain when unendurable, the meantime waiting for the good physician, which I esteem must be a good Council, for so furious and dangerous a disease of which those may speak with more boldness who feel it and are most affected by it.”
Moreover she defended herself for inviting the Protestant ministers, by calling attention to the admirable opportunity that would be offered to convince them of the error of their ways!
“Having been requested by the greater part of the nobles and commons of this kingdom, a few months ago, to grant a hearing to the ministers scattered in various cities of this kingdom, on their Confession of Faith,” she wrote to the French ambassador at the court of the Emperor, “I was advised to do so by my brother, the King of Navarre, the rest of the princes of the blood, and the members of the council of the king my son. Long and mature deliberation has convinced me that in such great troubles there is no better or more effective means of leading the ministers to abandon their views and of drawing off their adherents than to make their teaching known and discover what errors and heresies it contains.”
It was determined therefore for the first time that the Protestants of France should be heard in defense of their doctrine—a very simple and natural thing, which they had been asking for years with persistence, yet a thing which their enemies had as persistently opposed and denied. They still opposed it, on the present occasion, with one solitary exception. Cardinal Lorraine, strange to say, was quite willing that the Protestants should make a public appearance through their chosen representatives, taking, in fact, so different an attitude from that of his colleagues in the Sacred College as to lay himself open to not a little suspicion. We shall see further on whether this suspicion was well grounded.
Undoubtedly, when the Protestants began to look for the man best qualified to represent them at Poissy, their minds turned instinctively to John Calvin, than whom no other was mentally or morally better equipped—a native Frenchmen, moreover, who had never lost his interest in the land of his birth, but was more active than any other man alive in promoting by his voice and by his pen the progress of the Reformation in France. Calvin, however, was not to be thought of for an instant. With all their affection for him, the ministers of the Church of Paris distinctly told him so and gave him their reasons.
“We see no means of having you here,” they wrote him, “without grave peril, in view of the rage which all the enemies of the Gospel have conceived against you, and the disturbances which your name alone would excite in this country, were you known to be present. In fact, the admiral [Coligny] is by no means in favor of your undertaking the journey, and we have learned with certainty that the queen [Catherine de’ Medici] would not relish seeing you. She says frankly that she would not pledge herself for your safety, as for that of the rest. On the other hand, the enemies of the Gospel assert that they would be glad to listen to all the other [Reformers], but that, as for you, they could not bring themselves to hear you or to look at you. You see, sir, in what esteem you are held by these venerable prelates. I suspect that you will not be much grieved by it, nor consider yourself dishonored by being so viewed by such gentry.”
On the contrary, there existed among the adherents of the Roman Catholic party no such inveterate prejudice against Beza. Men had not forgotten that he was once addicted to the lighter forms of literature and was a graceful poet. He would not be out of his native element in the royal court. He might not equal Calvin in his mastery of the science of theology, but he would be a more acceptable disputant. The believers of Paris wrote urging him to come; so did also the Prince of Condé and Admiral Coligny, who, although as yet unknown to him as a correspondent, not only sent him a letter but dispatched a trusty agent to lay before him the absolute need of him in which Protestant France stood. As to the King of Navarre, he declared with his usual impetuosity that Beza had no friend at court to whom his appearance would be more grateful than to him, and he promised cheerfully to do everything in his power for the Reformer.
Still Beza delayed his coming. This is not surprising. The Edict of July, to which reference has been made, was poor evidence of any intention on the part of the court to deal fairly by Protestantism, whose condition, so far as public worship was concerned, it rendered worse rather than better. The Protestants at Paris were nearly in despair. The colloquy of prelates was in session and the time was short. Men began to say that the Protestants would not dare to appear before so goodly a company and stand up for their errors. Should the colloquy finish its business and adjourn without their having presented themselves to maintain the cause of the Gospel, the mouths of the malevolent would be open to decry their pusillanimity and asperse their religion. The princes hitherto favorable would be disgusted. Catherine de’ Medici, never slow to make cutting speeches, was already saying to one and another that she would never be able to persuade herself that the Reformers had any right on their side if they failed to seize the opportunity offered them to manifest and maintain the grounds of their faith. We have an earnest letter in which the Protestants of Paris laid the situation before Beza, imploring him to make no tarrying, and assuring him that the Edict of July—better understood at home than it could be understood at a distance—had been simply made to satisfy King Philip of Spain and the pope and to extract money from the purses of the reluctant prelates of Poissy—bad motives, doubtless, but containing nothing to discourage the advocates of the truth. Nor was this all. Antoine of Navarre again wrote by a special messenger, this time to “the magnificent Lords, the Syndics and Council of the Seigniory of Geneva,” praying them in the most affectionate manner to consent to send his “dear and well-beloved Theodore de Bèze,” than whom he could ask for no person more highly approved, and to dispatch him as expeditiously as possible “to the end that his delay might not hinder the progress of so good a work.”
It was no longer decent or possible to turn a deaf ear to such appeals. Without waiting even for a safe-conduct, Beza set off on the 16th of August for the scene of the coming theological encounter. Six days later he reached Paris.
Reception at Court
The first tidings that awaited Beza upon his arrival in Paris were by no means encouraging. It is true that he was informed that a number of his colleagues, delegates of Huguenot Churches, some eight pastors in all, had reached the court of France before him, and had been received by the king publicly and with the utmost kindness. Charles was pleased to permit them to present him a petition, and assured them, meanwhile looking upon them “with a very goodly countenance,” that he would communicate their requests to his council and reply to them by his chancellor. And, inasmuch as these requests were to the effect that their avowed enemies, the ecclesiastics, should not be permitted to act as their judges, but that the king himself should preside at the approaching colloquy, and that the Sacred Scriptures in their Hebrew and Greek originals should form the sole ground for the decision of controverted points, it must be confessed that the Protestants might well be pardoned for entertaining sanguine expectations of the issue. But, on the other hand, there came news of plots on the part of their antagonists, no longer, as was believed, vain rumors, but ascertained facts. A still more tangible cause for apprehension was that the very chief of their enemies—the same Duke of Guise who, after the enactment of the intolerant Edict of July, boasted that his sword would never rest in its scabbard when the execution of this law was concerned—expected to reach the royal court on the morrow, at the head of a powerful band of friends and retainers. Well might Beza write to Calvin, when he had been but a few hours in Paris, that he did not know but that he had fallen rather upon a civil war than upon a peaceable conference.
To feelings of discouragement must soon have succeeded more cheerful emotions. The King of France and his court had for some time been at his castle or palace of Saint Germain, or, as it was designated more particularly, in order to distinguish it from the six- or seven-score places bearing the name of one of the most popular worthies in the Roman Catholic calendar, Saint Germain en Laye. The very day of Beza’s arrival at Paris, a messenger rode in haste to convey to the expectant and delighted Huguenot nobles about his Majesty, the welcome intelligence that the man upon whom, more than upon any other, they depended in the approaching struggle, was safe and ready to come to their aid. The distance yet to be traversed by the Genevese Reformer was but fourteen miles. Before nightfall a return messenger was dispatched to beg him to come at once to the royal court. Accordingly, the next day (August 23), Beza set forth on horseback, accompanied by a cavalcade of friendly Huguenots, reaching in time for the evening meal the abode of the Cardinal of Chastillon at Saint Germain, where he and the delegates of the French Protestant Churches were to be hospitably entertained.
He was not allowed to eat in peace, so anxious were his friends to see him and so pressing were the invitations to come to the castle or palace. A flattering reception awaited him. On entering he was met by the new Chancellor of France, not so famous now as he was destined shortly to become, nor so thoroughly understood to be a lover of country and of toleration, the learned and venerable Michel de l’Hôpital. That great man coveted the honor of introducing Beza at the French court, as Beza clearly saw and afterwards wrote down; but the Reformer, not recognizing the great heart of l’Hôpital, and the great patriotism which that heart contained, was wary and suspicious. There was no time, however, for conference. At the door of the chamber into which he passed, Beza found himself confronted with a number of the grandees of the kingdom. First came the great admiral, Gaspard de Coligny, whom he had barely time to salute before the King of Navarre and his brother, the Prince of Condé, threw themselves upon him, “with a very great affection, it seemed to me,” as Beza, who by this time was tolerably well acquainted with the shallow and untrustworthy character of the elder Bourbon, noted not without some pardonable misgivings. Meanwhile, two prelates drew near, the cardinals of Bourbon and of Chastillon, both of whom offered him their hands. It were to be wished that Beza had found space to relate, in his letter to Calvin, all that was said, for the little that he did set down is enough to show that in quickness and in tact he was quite ready for the occasion. As he grasped the proffered hand of Cardinal Bourbon, he could not deny himself the satisfaction of protesting, doubtless with a mischievous twinkle of the eye, that he, Beza, had undergone no change since—at Nérac, a year ago—the prelate had declined to speak to him, for fear of being excommunicated. The poor cardinal, in his embarrassment, could only answer that he was desirous of understanding matters in truth, to which Beza naturally replied by begging Bourbon to abide by his purpose and by offering his own services to that end. A discussion had almost begun, but both saw that it was no suitable time for controversy, and stopped. To Bourbon’s brother, the King of Navarre, Beza playfully, yet earnestly, observed that he greatly feared that his Majesty would soon be less joyful at his arrival, unless he (the king) made up his mind to change his present course of action. To this Antoine replied by an outburst of laughter, and Beza in turn confined himself to assuring him that the words were spoken in all seriousness and that he would do well to think upon the matter.
Such, almost in Beza’s own words, were the incidents of the first few minutes of his stay at Saint Germain. New honors awaited him. He was conducted by a company “far greater than he could have expected,” to pay his respects to the Princess of Condé and to the wife of Admiral Coligny. The next day, which was Sunday, in the lodgings of the Prince of Condé, and in the presence of a large and honorable company that had assembled to hear him, the Genevese Reformer preached a Protestant discourse. At that very moment the prince himself was joining with the Duke of Guise, before the queen-mother and the royal council, in a solemn act of amity and reconciliation. The Duke of Guise solemnly asseverated that he was in nowise the cause or author of the prince’s imprisonment at Orleans, and when the prince had declared that he held to be wicked all that had been its cause, the duke positively asserted that he thought so too, and that the matter did not concern him at all. It was a farce, whose insincerity was transparent to all eyes, played with scarcely an attempt, on the part of the actors, to conceal its worthlessness. All that it effected was to permit the prince and the duke to meet in the ordinary intercourse of life with the semblance of having buried all recollection of the unfortunate Tumult of Amboise and of the subsequent counterplot to destroy the Bourbon princes in the last hours of the reign of Francis II.
That day the Protestant deputies received from the king a favorable reply to the petition which has already been referred to. They were assured, although the promise was not as yet in writing and in authentic form, that they should be admitted to an audience and that their opponents should not be suffered to act as their judges.
At about nine o’clock in the evening, Beza was summoned to the chamber of the King of Navarre. Great was his surprise, on entering, to find that, instead of Antoine alone, there were gathered the queen-mother, Catherine de’ Medici, Prince Condé, the Duke d’Étampes, Cardinals Bourbon and Lorraine, and one or two ladies of the court. Startled though he was and possibly suspecting some snare laid for him, the Reformer did not lose his self-possession and promptly addressed himself to Catherine. In a few words he laid before her the reason of his coming to France. This was in brief his earnest desire to be of service to his native land. The queen-mother replied courteously and kindly, expressing her very great joy should a conclusion in very deed be reached that might procure peace and quiet to the realm. Thus far there was not a ripple to disturb the interview. Apparently Cardinal Lorraine did not intend that it should end so amicably. After some complimentary words, in which he acknowledged the intellectual ability of the newcomer, he added that he had hitherto known Beza merely by his writings, but now that he had come, he exhorted him to study the peace and concord of the kingdom. As Beza had heretofore afflicted France, he now had it in his power to assuage her woes. The taunt did not pass unanswered. Again Beza protested the fervency of his desire to serve his king and his country. It stood next only to his desire to serve his God. “So great a kingdom as France,” he said, “has nothing to fear in the way of disturbance from my slender abilities. Nay, the idea of such a thing has ever been as alien as possible from my thoughts. My writings have shown this, and a comparison of their contents will make it plain.” “Have you written anything in French?” asked the queen-mother. To this Beza replied, “I have written a translation of the Psalms, and a certain Answer to the Confession of the Duke of Northumberland.” Catherine’s question, it came out, had been occasioned by the circulation in France of an insulting song, ascribed to Beza as its author, the previous year. Beza positively and at some length denied that the song in question emanated from him.
The mention of defamatory books brought on a theological discussion.
“I have at Poissy,” said the cardinal, “a book attributed to you, treating of the Sacrament, in which you assert what seems to me an absurdity, that Christ is as much to be sought in the Lord’s Supper as before He was born of the Virgin. Moreover, I am told, although this I am not willing to affirm, as I have never seen the book, that you state that Christ is not more in Cæna than in Cæno” (a play upon words, signifying “not more in the Supper than in the mire“). At this the queen-mother and the other listeners were evidently moved, but Beza quietly replied that, when, the books were produced, he would not disavow them, if they were his. As to the two propositions which the cardinal had referred to, the sense of the former might be true, although only an inspection of the book would show that; but the latter could not be found either in his books or in those of anyone else possessed of the slightest intelligence in the world. “Our Confession of Faith,” he added, “proves in what reverence we hold the Sacraments.”
The discussion drifted into an argument respecting the meaning of the words of our Lord in the institution of His Supper. “I teach the children of my diocese,” said the cardinal, “when they are asked the question, ‘What is the bread in the Supper?’ to answer that it is the body of Christ. Do you find fault with this?” “Why should I not approve the words of Christ?” replied Beza. “But the question is, ‘In what way is the bread called the body of Christ?’” Hereupon he proceeded to set forth his own and the Reformed view—namely, that the signs used retain their original nature, the bread continuing to be bread and the wine to be wine; that the thing signified in the Sacrament is the very body of Christ affixed to the cross and His very blood poured out on the cross; that the bread and water used are not common bread and water, from which, however, they differ only in that they become visible signs of the body and blood of Christ; that therefore the body and blood of Christ, so far as they are truly given and communicated, are truly present in the use of the Supper, not, as they are esteemed to be, under, or in, or with the bread, or anywhere else than in heaven whither Christ has ascended, that there He may reside, so far as appertains to His human nature, until He shall return to judge the quick and the dead; finally, that, in the Communion, the visible signs are given us to be taken by the hand, to be eaten, to be drunk in a natural manner, but, so far as the thing signified is concerned, that is, the body and blood of Christ, they are offered indeed to all, but they cannot be partaken of, save spiritually and by faith, not by the hand, not by the mouth.
Once and again in the course of the conversation, the cardinal expressed his acquiescence in the doctrine propounded. He rejoiced greatly, he said, to hear that these were the sentiments of Beza and his friends, for he had understood that they had thought differently. At one point he expressed a hope that for himself he might retain the doctrine of Transubstantiation; yet he conceded that it might be omitted by the theologians, and he indeed would be unwilling that there should be a schism in the churches because of Transubstantiation. Later on, he protested that he was not urgent in behalf of Transubstantiation and admitted that Christ must be sought for in heaven. In fact he plainly showed to the skilled disputant with whom he had to do that his views were by no means settled, and that he had no true mastery of the subject. His time, he said, had been taken up with other studies. At length he went so far as to say, “I am unpracticed in discussions of this kind, but you lave heard what I would say.” “And you in like manner,” returned Beza, “have heard from me what should satisfy you. I sum all up thus: The bread is the body of Christ sacramentally, that is, although that body is today in heaven and nowhere else, yet the signs are with us upon the earth. Yet just so truly is that body given to us, and just so truly is it partaken of by us through faith, and that to life eternal because of God’s promise, as the sign is naturally extended to our hands.”
Beza’s statement contented, or seemed to content, the cardinal. Turning to the queen-mother, who had sat through the long discussion, “Madam,” he said, “I believe so too, and this satisfies me.” Whereupon Beza also addressed her and exclaimed, “Behold then those wretched ‘Sacramentarians’ so long vexed and borne down with all sorts of calumnies!”
There was an animated scene for a moment. Catharine de’ Medici, overjoyed, was not silent. “Do you hear, my lord cardinal, that the opinion of the Sacramentarians is none other than that which you yourself have approved?” She added a few words about union and conciliation. Cardinal Lorraine himself congratulated the Reformer and said these very words to him: “Monsieur de Bèze, I have greatly rejoiced to see and hear you. I adjure you, in God’s name, to let me understand your reasons and that you also understand mine. And you will not find me so black as some people make me to be.” Beza thanked him and in turn begged him not to desist from pursuing the path of conciliation, professing his own purpose to use for this end every gift God had conferred upon him. Thus the disputants separated and the little gathering broke up. Not, however, before witty Madame de Cursol, one of the auditors, who understood the cardinal well, had taken his hand as she bade him good-night with the significant words: “Good man for this evening, but tomorrow, what?” With a true intuition she foresaw precisely what came to pass. Scarcely had the next morning come when the cardinal was boasting that he had overcome Beza and brought him over to his opinion.
All these particulars we learn from a letter which Beza dispatched to Calvin the following evening. Upon the receipt of it, Calvin, not a little amused at Lorraine’s pretended friendship, wrote to warn Beza not to trust the prelate’s professions. Thirteen years before, he told him, a papal legate, the Cardinal of Ferrara, had imposed upon him (Calvin), lavishing caresses upon him and promising to be the best of friends. And he added playfully his advice that Beza should not display any over-elation because of Cardinal Lorraine’s effusive demonstration, nor assume lordly airs towards him, his fellow Reformer, in view of the circumstance that Calvin could so easily retaliate, particularly inasmuch as a papal legate is the superior of any and every simple cardinal.
Meanwhile it looked as if the Parisian Protestants might have spared themselves the feverish haste with which they sent for Beza, and that Beza himself might have come by slower stages. The prelates were in no hurry to meet either the representatives of the Protestant Churches or the Reformer from Geneva. They had been in session for three weeks. Instead of any more imposing designation, which would, if it approached the notion of a national synod, have excited the ire of the pope, their coming together had, as we have seen, been styled a colloquy, that is, a more or less informal conference. Their time had thus far been spent to little profit—in angry wrangling over such matters as the discipline of the Church, the number of priests, the dignity of the episcopate and of cathedral churches, and the reformation of the monastic rules. They were fully determined, after they had settled all these matters, to adjourn and go home, without giving the slightest attention to the true object for which they had been convened.
Happily, Catharine de’ Medici was for the time under the influence of good advisers, among whom were prominent the liberal Bishop of Valence and the new chancellor, Michel de l’Hôpital. The one or the other of these two men was probably the true author of a letter which Catharine had recently sent to the pope over her own signature, outlining the radical changes which she regarded as necessary concessions to the spirit of the times. Being ready to give up image worship, the denial of the cup to the laity in the Lord’s Supper, the use of the Latin language in public worship, the practice of the celebration of private masses, and other abuses to which the bigots clung tenaciously, she was not likely to listen with patience to the protests of a few bishops who had the effrontery to propose to disperse without giving a moment’s consideration to the vital questions that were occupying the serious thoughts of a great part of France and threatened to create a lasting schism. But the delays were interminable, and the air was full of rumors that the Protestants would either fail of obtaining the hearing for which they had been brought to Saint Germain, or, if heard at all, would be heard in such a manner as to defeat the very object in view. The dilatory government was brought to the necessity of instant decision when, on the eighth of September, Beza, having been fully sixteen days at Saint Germain, the Protestant ministers, envoys of the churches, presented themselves before Catharine de’ Medici, and respectfully but firmly demanded that impartial treatment which they had been promised, and assured her that they would immediately leave unless measures were taken to defeat the machinations of their enemies.
Whatever hesitation Catharine had displayed at once disappeared. Before being dismissed from her presence, the ministers had the satisfaction of seeing informal action taken by the members of the royal council that were present, granting essentially all the Protestant requests. The prelates would not be their judges. The minutes of the proceedings would be reduced to writing by one of the secretaries of state, but to this official record the Protestants might add notes or comments of their own. The young king, Charles IX, would be present, in company with the princes of the blood. To this determination Catharine remained firm. The Sorbonne, or theological faculty of the University of Paris, sent some of their number to wait upon her, entreating her to give no audience to heretics, whose teachings the Church had heretofore often condemned, or, at least, if she would hear them herself, not to suffer her young son’s orthodoxy to be jeopardized by exposure to such infection. But Catharine was inflexible. The conference was appointed for the morrow, and Charles IX and his suite were to hear what the Reformers had to say for themselves and for their teachings.
Speech at the Colloquy of Poissy
The occurrence which is next to be described constitutes one of the critical events in the history of the Reformation in France. Its importance can scarcely be exaggerated.
The adherents of the Reformed Churches had one standing grievance to allege against the established Church and against the government which in the religious domain did little more than carry out the suggestions of that Church. They maintained that the faith they professed was rational and Scriptural. Each separate doctrine was based upon some distinct utterance of the Word of God. Instead of being newly invented, their belief was the original belief of the Christian Church. Upon every point where it differed from the present creed and the current practice, antiquity was in their favor. Their opponents who cloaked themselves with the pretense of following immemorial usage were themselves innovators, since they upheld a system that came into existence long after the times of the Apostles, so that at best it was fairly entitled only to the designation of inveterate error. These Protestant claims appeared to the multitude and even to the greater part of educated men at first sight strange and paradoxical, for they involved an overturning of all preconceived notions.
But the Reformers did not ask to be believed on their own simple assertion. From the greatest to the least they offered to prove the truth of their statements by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Their adversaries stopped their ears. They would not listen to the Protestants when living and still less when dying. If a martyr undertook to vindicate the doctrine for which he was suffering the torture of slow death by fire, his voice was conveniently drowned by the incessant beating of drums, unless, indeed, a gag of wood or iron had already been forced into his mouth to impose silence upon him.
All that the Reformers asked of the ruling powers was to be heard. If they could but gain the ear of the king, they made sure that their arguments were so convincing, the truth so patent, that there could be little fear of the result. If he would listen kindly, candidly, impartially, they cared little for anything else; but they insisted that he and no one else should preside at the audience, and that their enemies should not pronounce upon the truth or falsity of their allegations. If this last was to be the case, that is, if the “Gospel,” as they confidently styled their doctrine, was to be granted a pretended hearing only to be subjected to the indignity of a prearranged humiliation and defeat—in this case, and in this case alone, they were resolved to refuse to plead. Even personal affront was of little account, so long as it affected them alone. Only let the Word have a fair hearing. All else was immaterial.
It will be seen that just this personal affront was to be offered them in the coming encounter. Strange to say, John Calvin had predicted, some ten years before, the very insult which was put upon the Reformers at Poissy, and had then expressed in their name a willingness to endure it. For when, on January 24, 1551, he dedicated to young King Edward VI of England his Commentary on the Catholic Epistles of the New Testament, he exclaimed with reference to the attitude of inferiority in which the enemies of the Reformation so persistently sought to place its friends, “Then let them sit, provided we are heard, declaring the Truth while standing.”
It was therefore with no slight sense of the importance of the occasion, and with a hearty prayer to Heaven for help to make good use of it, that, about ten o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, September 9, 1561, Theodore Beza set out for Poissy, escorted by a strong detachment of about one hundred horsemen, sent as a bodyguard to preclude the possibility of any such treacherous attack as, in the present excited condition of the public mind, would have been nothing less than a national disaster. With him rode, also on horseback, those faithful and courageous men, the ministers and the representatives of the churches to whom had been prayerfully entrusted such a commission as all felt it had never before been the privilege and responsibility of any similar body of men to discharge. It is not probable that, even without Beza, they would have proved unequal to the task of setting forth with clearness and force the Protestant side in the great controversy. In an age much addicted to discussion, these were picked men, whose equals, for learning as well as natural ability, could scarcely have been found, man for man, throughout the kingdom. Three or four ministers stood forth preeminent. Augustin Marlorat, of Rouen, was the distinguished man who after the siege and capture of the capital of Normandy, not much over a year later, in the first civil war, was judicially murdered for his religion’s sake by the provincial Parliament. Nicholas des Gallars was the well-known pastor of the French refugees at London. John Raymond Merlin, a skillful professor of Hebrew at Geneva, was that same chaplain of Admiral Coligny who was as by a miracle saved from the dagger when, in 1572, his patron was assassinated at the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, and who subsequently, when lying in the garret into which in his fight he had fallen, was as strangely saved from starvation by the hen that daily came and laid an egg for his supply. François de Saint Paul, more famed as a theologian, came from distant Provence, where he was honored as the founder of more than one church.
The distance from the castle of Saint Germain to the nuns’ convent at Poissy is possibly a little over three miles. A straight and broad avenue led from the one place to the other, cutting off the greater part of the extensive forest of Saint Germain on the right from the small portion that lay on the left hand. It required less than half an hour for Beza to reach his destination. The Duke of Guise, to whom this duty had been assigned, received him with as gracious an aspect as he could assume and handed him and his associates over to the conduct of the captain of the royal guard. Following the latter, they were subsequently ushered into the presence of Charles IX.
The large refectory of the conventual edifice had been prepared for the unusual meeting, as best it could be, at short notice. A quaint engraving of the time, which Montfaucon has reproduced in his Monuments de la Monarchie Françoise, may help us to form an idea of the place in which were assembled all the most distinguished personages of France.
The tables of the nuns ran along the sides of the room, the table of the abbess along the side farthest from the spectator as he entered. In front of this table sat a number of great lords in a row, and before them in turn the princes of the blood royal. In advance of these were six detached seats, places of highest honor. Here sat young King Charles IX, with his younger brother (the future Henry III), and Antoine, King of Navarre, on his right, while the seats to his left were occupied by his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, his sister, Margaret of Valois, future bride of Henry IV, and Jeanne d’Albrét, Queen of Navarre. Chairs had been arranged for the six French cardinals that were in attendance at court, in two rows facing one another and somewhat nearer the door. On the spectator’s right were Cardinals Armagnac, Bourbon, and Guise; on his left Cardinals Tournon, Chastillon, and Lorraine, with the High Chancellor of France, Michel de l’Hôpital, sitting between the last two. In three rows on benches advancing towards the spectator’s left hand were gathered bishops and doctors, while other dignitaries of the same grade occupied a similar position on his right. More toward the center of the room were a table and seats for the secretaries of state.
No seats had been provided for Beza and his companions, the Protestant ministers and delegates, to occupy on their arrival. Swiss guards, in their picturesque costume, and bodyguards of the king stood on either side of the entrance; and the lower end of the hall was crowded with men curious to witness and listen to the proceedings.
Charles IX, being a boy of eleven years of age, opened the session with the few simple words which he had been instructed by his mother to utter, and bade the chancellor to set forth the object for which the conference had been appointed. Thus directed, Michel de l’Hôpital, seating himself on a stool, “pretty far forward in the hall toward the right side,” made an appropriate address.
“Both the king’s predecessors,” said he, “and the king himself have tried every means, forcible and mild, to reunite his people so unfortunately divided by a diversity of opinions. Neither force nor mildness has been of much avail. Consequently the division long since begun has been succeeded by a capital enmity between his Majesty’s subjects, from which, unless God supplies some prompt and quick remedy, only the entire ruin of the State is to be apprehended. It is for this reason that, following the example of the action of former monarchs in similar straits, the king has called you together, that he may communicate to you his need of counsel and help. Before all things else, he begs you, so far as possible, to devise the means of appeasing God, whose anger is certainly provoked, and of rooting out and removing whatever has offended Him. And should it be found that, through the sloth and avarice of those that are in charge of His service, there have crept in abuses contrary to God’s Word, contrary to the prescriptions of the Holy Apostles and the ancient constitutions of the Church, his Majesty begs you, so far as your authority extends, to put forth your hands with a resolution that shall take away from your enemies the occasion upon which they have laid hold to speak ill of you and to draw the people away from your obedience. Look also to all that may reform both your lives and the administration of your charges.
“Now, inasmuch as the diversity of opinions is the principal ground of troubles and seditions, the king, following in this the decisions of the two meetings heretofore held, has granted a safe-conduct to the ministers of the new sect, in the hope that a kindly and gracious conference with them may be of great advantage. I therefore beg this entire company to receive them as a father receives his children, and to take pains to teach and instruct them. Then, should the opposite of what was hoped for come to pass, and no means be found to bring them back or to unite us all, it will not, at least, be possible hereafter to say, as has been said in the past, that they have been condemned without having been heard. When this dispute shall have been faithfully reported and published throughout the kingdom, as it really was held, the people will be able to understand that it is for good, just, and certain reasons, and not by force or authority, that this doctrine has been rejected and condemned. Meantime his Majesty promises to be, as all the king’s predecessors have always been, in everything and everywhere, the protector and defender of his Church.”
Scarcely had the chancellor concluded his temperate speech when Tournon, the oldest of the cardinals present, arose and addressed the king before l’Hôpital could carry out his purpose to summon the Protestants. In spite of every rebuff, the bigots had not lost courage and strove at the last moment to prevent the promised conference from taking place. The cardinal was presiding officer of the assembled clergy, both in virtue of seniority and by rank. For he was dean of the college of Roman cardinals and primate of France by reason of his archbishopric of Lyons, to which the primacy was attached. He thanked the king and his mother for their presence, and briefly complimented the chancellor upon a speech which he said was so learned, so wise, and so well constructed that it could not be surpassed. He added that he had come prepared to answer all the chief points in the letters of convocation sent to the prelates, but that now a number of questions of prime importance had just been raised, to which he professed his unwillingness and his inability to reply offhand. He must consult with his colleagues, end he asked for a written copy of the chancellor’s propositions. This request l’Hôpital denied, saying that everybody had had the opportunity to hear them. Tournon then insisted, on the ground that he needed the paper especially for the benefit of such bishops as had not been present at Poissy and were coming in from day to day. But l’Hôpital refused to accord the dilatory motion and ordered the Protestants to present themselves and speak.
At the word, Theodore Beza and the delegates who had chosen him to be their spokesman were brought into the hall by the captain of the king’s guard, and came forward until their farther advance was stopped by a rail barring their nearer approach to the king and to the gathered dignitaries of his court and Church. Petty malice had planned the arrangement in order to give to the Protestant ministers the aspect of accused persons who were permitted to clear themselves of crimes laid to their charge, or of culprits about to be sentenced to condign punishment. Of petty malice, sooth to say, this was by no means the: only manifestation. “Here come the Genevese curs!” spitefully exclaimed one of the cardinals, in tones loud enough to be heard distinctly by Beza as he entered in company with another minister from the city of Calvin. To whom the courtly Reformer replied with unruffled composure, “Faithful dogs are much needed in the Lord’s sheepfold to bark at the wolves.”
Beza, like his companions, was simply dressed in the long black Genevan gown, worn in public from the time of the Reformation to the present day by the pastors of the Churches of France and French Switzerland. On reaching the rail he stood for an instant and then addressed the young king in these words: “Sire, inasmuch as the issue of all enterprises, both great and small, depends upon the help and favor of our God, and chiefly when these enterprises concern the interests of His service and matters that surpass the capacity of our understandings, we hope that your Majesty will not find it amiss or strange if we begin by the invocation of His name, beseeching Him after the following manner.”
A hush fell upon the entire assembly, as the speaker, ending this exhortation, knelt on the floor and began to repeat the beautiful prayer of Calvin’s liturgy. His colleagues on his right hand and on his left also knelt. This example was contagious. The queen-mother fell on her knees. The cardinals and possibly the bishops arose and stood with uncovered heads while Beza reverently uttered the Huguenot confession of sins and supplication for pardon—the very words that had been used and were still to be used by many a martyr suffering the penalty of death for attending conventicles where this prayer was customarily repeated. His words were:
“Lord God! Almighty and everlasting Father, we acknowledge and confess before Thy holy Majesty that we are miserable sinners, conceived and born in guilt and corruption, prone to do evil, unfit for any good; who, by reason of our depravity, transgress unceasingly Thy holy commandments. Whereby we draw down upon ourselves, by Thy just judgment, ruin and perdition. Nevertheless, O Lord, we are sore displeased that we have offended Thee, and we condemn ourselves and our evil ways, with a true repentance, beseeching Thee that Thy grace may succor our distress. Be pleased, therefore, to have pity upon us, O most gracious God! Father of all mercies! for the sake of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Redeemer. Blot out our sins and our pollution, and set us free, and grant us the daily increase of the graces of Thy Holy Spirit; to the end that, acknowledging from our inmost hearts our unrighteousness, we may be touched with a sorrow that shall work in us true repentance, and that this may cause us to die unto all sin and to bring forth the fruits of righteousness and purity that shall be well pleasing to Thee, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Savior.
“And, inasmuch as it doth please Thee this day so far to exhibit Thy favor to Thy poor and unprofitable servants, as to enable them freely, and in the presence of the king whom Thou hast set over them, and of the most noble and illustrious company on earth, to declare that which Thou hast given them to know of Thy holy truth, may it please Thee to continue the course of Thy goodness and loving-kindness, O God and Father of lights, and so to illumine our understandings, guide our affections, and form them to all teachableness, and so to order our words, that in all simplicity and truth, after having conceived, according to the measure which it shall please Thee to grant unto us, the secret things which Thou hast revealed to men for their salvation, we may be able with heart and with mouth to set forth that which may conduce to the glory and honor of Thy holy name, and the prosperity and greatness of our king and of all those that belong to him, with the rest and comfort of all Christendom, and especially of this kingdom. O Almighty Lord and Father, we ask Thee all these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son our Savior, as He Himself hath taught us to seek them, saying, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’” etc.
The solemn confession of sins of the Genevan liturgy, and the equally beautiful prayer of Beza’s own composition with which he had associated it, predisposed his hearers to listen to the eloquent and forcible address to his Majesty that followed.
“Sire,” he said, when he had risen from his knees and again stood at the bar, “it is a great happiness for a loyal and affectionate subject to look upon the face of his prince, since it represents to him, as it were, the visible majesty of God, and he cannot therefore but be greatly moved by the sight to consider the obedience and submission that he owes him. But if it so happen, that not only is he permitted to see his prince, but also be seen of him, and, what is of more importance, heard and finally received and approved, then truly is his a very great and peculiar satisfaction.
“Of these four advantages, Sire, it has pleased God in His secret counsels that a part of your very humble and obedient subjects should for a long time have been deprived to their very great regret, until now in His mercy, having heard our continual cries and groans, He has so favored us as to grant us a blessing rather desired than hoped for—the blessing of seeing your Majesty, Sire, and, better still, of being seen and heard by you in the most noble and illustrious company on earth. Should we therefore never receive any other advantage now or hereafter, yet would the remainder of our lives be insufficient duly to thank our God and render worthy praises to your Majesty.
“But when, together with this, we consider that this same day not merely opens the way, but invites us and, after so benignant and gracious a fashion and one so becoming your royal gentleness, constrains us unitedly to testify to our obligation to confess the name of our God, and to declare the obedience we render you, we are compelled to admit, Sire, that our intelligence is incapable of conceiving the magnitude of such a boon, our tongues still less competent to express what affection enjoins. So great a favor surpassing all human eloquence, we prefer to confess our own impotence by a modest silence, rather than belittle such a benefit by the defect of our words.”
Having thus given utterance in graceful periods, if in an exaggerated style quite foreign to the taste of our later times, to those sentiments of submission which the men of the 16th century found none too strong for their unbounded loyalty, the orator proceeded to point out the single blessing which he and his friends still lacked. They had been permitted to see their king, to be seen by him, to be received by him with kindness. There yet remained the fourth point, that their service be accepted as agreeable by his Majesty.
“This also we hope to obtain,” said Beza, “and God grant that our coming may put an end not so much to our past wretchedness and calamities, the memory of which is as it were extinguished by this happy day, as to what has ever seemed to us more grievous than death itself, namely, to the troubles and disorders that have come upon this kingdom by reason of religion, with the ruin of a great number of your poor subjects. Now several things have hitherto prevented us from enjoying so great a benefit, and these would still cause us to despair, were it not that, on the other hand, there are a number of things that tend to strengthen and assure us.
“There is, in the first place, a persuasion rooted in the hearts of many persons by a certain misfortune and perverseness of the times, that we are turbulent and ambitious men, obstinate in our opinions, enemies of all concord and tranquility. It may also be that there are other people whose notion of us is, that, although we are not altogether enemies of peace, yet we demand it under conditions so rough and harsh as to be in nowise admissible, as if we were undertaking to turn the whole world upside down, in order to create another after our own fashion, and even to despoil some of their property in order to possess ourselves of it. There are several other hindrances of like magnitude or even greater, Sire; but we much prefer that their memory be buried rather than that we should reopen ancient sores by rehearsing them, now that we are on the point, not of making lamentations and complaints, but of seeking the most prompt and suitable remedies.
“And what then gives us such assurance in the midst of so many hindrances? Sire, it is no reliance upon anything in us, seeing that we are, in every way, of the smallest and most contemptible in the world. Neither is it, thank God! a vain presumption or arrogance, for our vesture and lowly condition do not comport therewith. It is rather, Sire, our good conscience, which assures us of the excellence and justice of our cause, of which, therefore, we hope that our God, by means of your Majesty, will be the defender and protector. It is also the gentleness already to be recognized in your face, your speech, and your countenance. It is the equity which we see and have learned by experience to be impressed upon your heart, Madam”—here he turned to Catharine de’ Medici. “It is the uprightness of you, Sire, and the illustrious Princes of the Blood”—this he said, bowing to the King of Navarre, the Prince of Condé, and those that sat with them. “It is also the evident grounds we have to cherish the hope that you, our highly honored lords of the Council, conforming yourselves to one and the same resolution, will not be less inclined to grant us so holy and necessary a concord than we are to receive it. And what more shall we say? There is still another consideration that encourages us. It is that we presume, according to the rule of charity, that you, gentlemen, with whom we are to confer”—and here he turned to the cardinals and bishops on his right and on his left—”will exert yourselves in conjunction with us, according to our small measure, rather to clear up the truth than to obscure it, to instruct rather than to debate, to weigh arguments rather than to gainsay—in short, to prevent the malady from making farther progress rather than to render it altogether incurable and fatal. Such, gentlemen, is the opinion we have conceived of you, and we pray you, in the name of that great God who has gathered us here and who will be the judge of our thoughts and of our words, that notwithstanding everything that has been said, written, or done during the space of forty years or thereabouts, you will with us lay aside all the passions and prejudices that might hinder the fruits of so holy and praiseworthy an undertaking, and that you will expect of us, if you please, what, with the help of God’s grace, you will find in us—namely, a mind tractable and ready to receive everything that shall be proved by the pure Word of God.
“Do not think that we are come to maintain any error, but to discover and correct every defect that shall be found, either on your side or on ours. Do not regard us as possessed of such overweening conceit as to undertake to ruin the Church of our God which we know to be eternal. Do not imagine that we are seeking the means of making you like unto ourselves in our poor and humble condition, wherein nevertheless, thank God, we find singular contentment. Our desire is that the ruins of Jerusalem may be rebuilt, that this spiritual temple may rise again, that the house of God built of living stones may be restored in its integrity, that the flocks so scattered and dispersed by a just vengeance of God and by the carelessness of men may be rallied and gathered again in the sheepfold of the supreme and only Shepherd.
“Such is our purpose, such all our desire and our intention, gentlemen. If you have not believed it heretofore, we hope that you will believe it when we shall have conferred, in all patience and mildness, respecting what God has given us. Would to God that, without going farther, instead of entering upon opposing arguments, we might all raise a hymn to the Lord and join hands with one another, as has sometimes happened between the armies even of unbelievers and infidels drawn up in battle array. It were a great shame for us if we profess to preach the doctrine of peace and good will and meantime are the most easily estranged and the most difficult to reconcile. What then? These things men can and ought to desire; but it belongs to God to grant them, as also He will do when it shall please Him to cover our sins by His goodness and dissipate our darkness by His light.
“And while on this topic, Sire, in order that it may be understood that we intend to proceed with a good conscience, simply, clearly, and frankly, we shall declare, if it please your Majesty to grant us permission, what in sum are the principal points of this conference, yet in such a manner that, with God’s help, no one shall have any just occasion of offense. There are some who think and would gladly persuade others that we differ only respecting things of slight consequence, or respecting matters that are indifferent rather than essential points in our faith. There are others who, quite on the contrary, through lack of being well informed respecting our belief, suppose that we are agreed as to nothing whatever, any more than Jews or Mohammedans. The intention of the former is as praiseworthy as the opinion of the latter is to be rejected. This will, we hope, appear in the sequel. But certainly neither those who hold the one nor those that hold the other view open the way to a true and solid agreement. For if the latter are to be believed, the one of the two parties can exist only by ruining the other, a thing too inhuman to be thought of and most horrible in the execution. If again the opinion of the former is to be received, it will be necessary that many matters remain undecided. From this there will result discord more dangerous and damaging than ever.
“Thus, then, we admit (and we can scarcely make the admission without tears) that just as we agree respecting some of the principal points of our Christian faith, so also we disagree as to a part of them. We confess that there is one only God, in one and the same infinite and incomprehensible essence, distinct in three persons, consubstantial and equal in everything and everywhere, that is to say, the Father unbegotten, the Son eternally begotten of the Father, and the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son. We acknowledge one only Jesus Christ, true God and true man, without confusion or separation of the two natures or of the properties of the same. We acknowledge that insofar as He is man, He is not the son of Joseph, but was conceived by the secret power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, virgin, I say, both before and after His birth. We acknowledge His nativity, His life, His death, His burial, His descent into hell, His resurrection, and His ascension, as they are contained in the Holy Gospel. We believe that He is on high in the skies, seated on the right hand of God, where he will remain until He comes to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Ghost, who enlightens, comforts, and sustains us. We believe that there is a holy Catholic, that is, universal Church, which is the assembly and communion of saints, outside of which there is no salvation. We are assured of the free remission of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, in virtue of which, after that these same bodies being raised again shall have been reunited to our souls, we shall enjoy blessed and eternal life with God.
“‘How then?’ someone will say, ‘Are not these the articles of our faith? Wherein then are we discordant?’ First, in the interpretation of a part of them; secondly, in that it seems to us (and, if we are mistaken in this particular, we shall be very glad to know it), that men have not been satisfied with the aforesaid articles, but for a long time have not ceased adding articles to articles; as if the Christian religion were a structure that is never completed. Moreover, we say that what has been newly built, so far as we are able to learn, has not always been built upon the old foundations. Consequently, it rather disfigures the structure than serves to deck it out and adorn it. Nevertheless, more attention has often been given to these accessories than to what is essential. But to the end that our intention may be still better understood, we shall bring out these points in detail.
“We assert, therefore, and we hope to establish our assertion in all sobriety by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, that the true God, in whom we are to believe, is robbed of His perfect righteousness, if we undertake to set up, in opposition to His anger and just judgment any other satisfaction or cleansing, in this world or in the next, than that entire and complete obedience which can be found in no other than in one only, Jesus Christ. And, in like manner, if we say that He frees us from only one part of our debts, inasmuch as we pay the other, He is despoiled of His perfect mercy. Hence it follows, so far as we can judge, that when we would learn on what ground we obtain paradise we must take our stand upon the death and passion of one only, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, or else, instead of the true God, we should adore a strange God, who would be neither perfectly just nor perfectly merciful.
“From this also depends another point of very great importance touching the office of Jesus Christ. For if He alone is not entirely our salvation, that so precious name of Jesus, that is to say, Savior, announced by the angel Gabriel, would not be His proper name. In like manner, if He is not our only prophet, having fully made known to us the will of God His father for our salvation, first, by the mouth of the prophets, afterwards in person in the fulness of times, and later by His faithful apostles; if He is not also the sole head and spiritual king of our consciences; if He is not also our only eternal priest, after the order of Melchisedek, having, by one offering of Himself, made once and never repeated, reconciled men to God, and become now sole intercessor for us in heaven until the end of the world; in short, if we are not altogether complete in Him alone, then the name and title of Messiah or Christ, that is to say, anointed of God and devoted to this end, will not belong to Him.
“If therefore, men will not be satisfied with Christ’s own word alone, faithfully preached and subsequently reduced to writing by the prophets and apostles; Christ is dispossessed of His office of prophet. He is also degraded from His position as head and spiritual king of His Church, if new laws are made for men’s consciences, and from His place as priest forever, by those who undertake to offer Him up anew for the remission of sins and who are not satisfied to have Him as sole advocate and intercessor in heaven between God and men.
“In the third place, we are not agreed either as to the definition, or as to the origin, or as to the effects of the faith which, following Saint Paul, we call ‘justifying faith,’ and through which alone we believe that Jesus Christ with all His benefits is applied to us. As to good works, if there are some persons who regard us as despising them, they are very ill informed; for we do not separate faith from charity any more than we can separate light and heat. And we say with Saint John, in his first epistle, that whoever says that he knows God and does not keep His commandments makes himself a liar by his own conscience and in his entire life. However, we frankly confess that we disagree in this matter on three principal points. The first is touching the origin and first source from which good works proceed; the second, what they are; the third, for what they are good. As to the first, we find no other free will in man save that which is made free by the sole grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; and we say that our nature, in the state into which it is fallen, needs before all things to be, not helped and sustained, but rather slain and mortified by the power of God’s Spirit, inasmuch as grace finds it not only wounded and weakened, but altogether destitute of strength and opposed to everything that is good, yes, even dead and decayed in sin and corruption. And we render this honor to God, that we do not claim to share in this matter with Him. For we ascribe the beginning, and the middle, and the end of our good works to His sole grace and mercy working in us. As to the second point, we accept no other rule of righteousness and obedience before God than His commandments, as they are written and recorded in His Holy Word. To these commandments we do not regard it lawful for any creature to add, nor to subtract from them, so as to bind the conscience. Respecting the third point, namely, for what purpose they are good, we confess that so far as they proceed from the Spirit of God working in us, since they proceed from so good a source, they ought to be called good, although if God were to examine them strictly, He would find only too much to find fault with.
“We say also that they are good for another purpose, inasmuch as by them our God is glorified, men are drawn to the knowledge of Him, and we are assured that, the Spirit of God dueling in us (a fact which is known by its fruits), we are of the number of His elect and predestinated to salvation. But when we seek to discover on what grounds we have eternal life, we say with Saint Paul that it is a free gift of God, and not a reward due to our merits. For Jesus Christ, in this respect, justifies us by His sole righteousness, which is imputed to us, sanctifies us by His holiness, which is imparted to us, and has redeemed us by His one sacrifice of Himself, which is granted to us, through a true and living faith, by the mere grace and free gift of our God. All these treasures are communicated by the power of the Holy Ghost, making use to this end of the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of His Holy Sacraments. Not that these are necessary, seeing that He is Almighty God, but forasmuch as it pleases Him to make use of these ordinary means to create and nurture in us that precious gift of faith which is, as it were, the only hand to lay hold on, and, as it were, the only vessel to receive Jesus Christ for salvation with all His treasures.”
From this exposition of the Protestant view of good works, the speaker naturally proceeded to consider the Word of God and the Sacraments to which he had just referred.
“We receive as the Word of God only the teachings recorded in the books of the prophets and apostles, called the Old and New Testaments. For by whom shall we be certified of our salvation if not by those who are witnesses above reproach? As to the writings of the ancient Doctors and the Councils, before receiving them without dispute, we should have first to make them accord altogether with the Scriptures, and next among themselves, seeing that the Spirit of God never contradicts Himself. This, gentlemen, we think you will never undertake to do. Should you undertake to do it, you will please pardon us if we say that we shall never believe it possible until we see it actually accomplished. What then? Are we of the race of that wretched Ham, son of Noah, who uncovered his father’s nakedness? Do we esteem ourselves more learned than so many ancient Greek and Latin Fathers? Are we so conceited as to think that we are the first that have discovered the truth and to condemn for ignorance the whole world? God forbid, gentlemen, that we should be such. But methinks you will allow that there have been councils and councils, doctors and doctors, seeing that it is not in our days alone that there have been false prophets in the Church of God, as the apostles warn us in a number of places and, particularly, in the fourth chapter of the first epistle to Timothy, and in the twentieth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In the second place, as to the councils and doctors that are received, since all the truth that can be found in them must necessarily have been drawn from the Scriptures, what more certain means shall we find of deriving benefit from their intelligence than by testing everything by that touchstone, and considering the testimony and the reasons given by the Scriptures, on which they will be found to have based their interpretation?”
The conclusion drawn by Beza is: “We therefore receive the Holy Scriptures as a complete declaration of everything needful for our salvation. As to what may be found in councils or in the books of the doctors, we cannot and ought not to prevent you, or ourselves, from deriving help from them, provided it be founded on the express testimony of Scripture. But, for the honor of God, do not bring up to us their bare authority, without trying everything by this touchstone. For we say with Saint Augustine (in the second book of Christian Doctrine, chapter sixth), ‘If there be any difficulty in the interpretation of a passage, the Holy Ghost hath so tempered the Holy Scriptures, that what is obscurely stated in one place, is very clearly stated elsewhere.’ I have spoken at some length on this point, in order that everyone may understand that we are not enemies either of the Councils or of the old Fathers, by whom God has been pleased to instruct His Church.”
Beza had reserved to the last the consideration of two subjects—the sacraments and the government of the Church. He excused himself on the ground of lack of time from the fuller treatment of the former which its importance would justify, and confined himself to a summary statement of the belief of the Protestant Churches.
“We are in agreement with the Roman Catholics as we think,” said he, “in the description of this word ‘sacrament,’ namely, that the sacraments are visible signs by means of which our union with our Lord Jesus Christ is not simply signified or represented to us, but also is truly offered on the Lord’s side, and consequently ratified, sealed, and as it were engraven by the virtue of the Holy Ghost upon those who by a true faith apprehend Him who is thus signified and presented to them. I use this word ‘signified,’ gentlemen, not to enervate or annihilate the sacraments, but to distinguish the sign from the thing it signifies in all virtue and efficacy. Consequently, we grant that in the sacraments there must of necessity intervene a heavenly and supernatural mutation. For we do not assert that the water of the Holy Baptism is simply water, but that it is a true sacrament of our regeneration and of the cleansing of our souls in the blood of Jesus Christ. In like manner, we do not assert that in the Holy Supper of our Lord the bread is simply bread, but the sacrament of the precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for us; nor that the wine is simply wine, but the sacrament of the precious blood that was shed for us. However, we do not say that this change is effected in the substance of the signs, but in the use and the end for which they are ordained. Nor again do we say that it is effected by virtue of certain words pronounced, nor by the intention of him who pronounces them, but by the sole power and will of Him who has ordained this action so divine and heavenly, of which therefore the institution ought to be repeated aloud and clearly, in a tongue that is understood, and distinctly set forth, in order that it may be understood and received by all that are present. So much for the external signs. Let us come to what is testified and exhibited by the Lord through these signs.
“We do not say, what some, in consequence of having failed to understand us well, have thought that we teach, namely, that in the Holy Supper there is a simple commemoration of the death of our Lord Jesus. Therefore we do not say that in it we are made partakers merely of the fruit of His death and passion; but we join the inheritance with the fruits proceeding therefrom, saying with Saint Paul in the tenth chapter of First Corinthians, that the bread which we break according to His institution is the communion of the true body of Jesus Christ which was given for us, and that the cup of which we drink is the communion of the true blood which was shed for us, even in that same substance which He assumed in the womb of the virgin and which He took from among us to heaven. And I pray you, gentlemen, in God’s name, what can you therefore seek or find in this holy sacrament which we also do not seek and find there?”
The statement was certainly far removed from the view of the Reformer Zwingli and of the Sacramentarians, so called. But Beza did not hide from himself the fact that it would satisfy neither the Roman Catholics nor the Lutherans.
“I understand very well that a reply is quite ready on this point. The one party will ask us to acknowledge that the bread and wine are transmuted, I do not say into sacraments of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (for this we have already admitted), but into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. The other party, perhaps, will not press us so far as this, but will require us to grant that the body and blood are really and corporeally either in, or with, or under the bread. But on this matter, gentlemen, for the honor of God, hear us patiently without being scandalized, and put off for a time all the opinion you have conceived of us. When either one of these opinions shall have been proved to us by Holy Scripture, we are ready to embrace it and to hold it until death. But it seems to us, according to the small measure of knowledge that we have received of God, that this transubstantiation is inconsistent with the analogy and propriety of our faith, insomuch as it is directly contrary to the nature of the sacraments, in which the substantial signs must of necessity continue to be true signs of the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; and it likewise overthrows the truth of His human nature and His ascension. I say the like of the second opinion, that of consubstantiation, which, in addition to all that has been said, has no foundation in the words of Jesus Christ, and is in nowise necessary to our being partakers of the fruit of the sacraments.
“If hereupon someone asks us whether we make Jesus Christ to be absent from His Holy Supper, we reply that we do not. But if we look to the distance of the places (as we must when the question respects His corporeal presence and His humanity distinctively considered), we say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as the highest heaven is removed from the earth, in view of the fact that, so far as we are concerned, we are on the earth and the sacraments also, and that as to Him, His flesh is in heaven, glorified in such wise that, as says Saint Augustine, glory has not taken away from Him the nature of a true body, but its infirmity. If then anyone would conclude from this that we make Jesus Christ absent from His Holy Supper, we answer that this is an erroneous conclusion; for we render this honor to God, that we believe, according to His Word, that, although the body of Jesus Christ is now in heaven and not elsewhere, and we are on the earth and not elsewhere, we are nevertheless made partakers of His body and blood in a spiritual manner and by means of faith, as veritably as we see the sacraments with the eye, touch them with the hand, put them into our mouth, and live of their substance in this bodily life.
“This, gentlemen, is in sum our faith on this point. As it seems to us (and if we are mistaken we shall be very glad to be informed) it does no violence to the words of Jesus Christ or of Saint Paul. It does not destroy the human nature of Jesus Christ, nor the article of His ascension, nor the institution of the sacraments. It does not open the door to any curious and inexplicable questions and distinctions. It does not at all detract from our union with Jesus Christ, which is the chief end for which the sacraments were instituted, and not to be either adored, or kept, or carried, or offered to God. And lastly, if we are not deceived, it does much more honor to the power and to the word of the Son of God than if we imagine that His body must be really joined to the signs in order that we should become partakers of them.
“We do not touch on what remains concerning the administration of Holy Baptism; for we believe that no one of you, gentlemen, would place us in the ranks of the anabaptists, who have no stouter enemies than we are. And as to some other particular questions on this score, we hope, with God’s help, that, the chief points being settled in this mild and friendly conference, the rest will be concluded of itself.
“As to the other five so-called sacraments, true it is that we cannot give them this name until we have been better instructed in the Holy Scriptures. Meanwhile, however, we think that we have re-established true confirmation, which consists in catechising and instructing those that have been baptized in infancy, and in general all persons before admitting them to the Lord’s Supper. We teach true penitence also, which consists in a true acknowledgment of one’s faults and satisfaction to the offended parties, be it public or private, in the absolution which we have in the blood of Jesus Christ, and in amendment of life. We approve of marriage, following the injunction of Saint Paul, in the case of all those who have not the gift of continence, and consequently do not think it lawful to bind anyone thereto by a vow or perpetual profession, and we condemn all wantonness and lust in word, gesture, or act. We receive the degrees of ecclesiastical charges according as God has ordained them in His house by His Holy Word. We approve of the visitation of the sick as a principal part of the sacred ministry of the Gospel. We teach with Saint Paul to judge no man in a distinction of days and meats, knowing that the kingdom of God does not consist in such corruptible things. Meanwhile, however, we condemn all dissoluteness, exhorting men continually to all sobriety, to the mortification of the flesh according to every man’s need, and to assiduous prayer.
“There still remains the last point, concerning the external order and government of the Church. Respecting this, we are of the opinion that we may be permitted, gentlemen, to say, with your consent, that everything therein is so perverted, that everything is in such confusion and ruin, that, whether one consider the order as now established, or have a regard to life and manners, scarcely can the best architects in the world recognize the marks and vestiges of that ancient edifice so well adjusted by the apostles with compass and rule. Of this you yourselves are good witnesses, as you have busied yourselves about it of late. In short, we shall pass over these matters, which are sufficiently well understood, and which it were better to cover in silence than to utter.
“To conclude, we declare before God and His angels, before your Majesty, Sire, and all the illustrious company that is about you, that our only purpose and desire is that the form of the Church may be brought back to the simple purity and beauty which it had in the times of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, as to those things that have since been added, that such as shall be found superstitious, or manifestly contrary to the Word of God, may be altogether abolished; that those which are superfluous may be cut off; that those which experience has taught us lead to superstition may be removed. If there be found others useful and proper for edification, after a mature consideration of the ancient canons and authorities of the Fathers, let them be retained and observed in God’s name, according to what may be suited to the times, places, and persons, to the end that with one accord God shall be worshipped in spirit and in truth, under your obedience and protection, Sire, and the protection of the persons established by God under your Majesty for the government of this realm. For if there be any that still think that the doctrines which we profess turn men away from the subjection which they owe to their kings and superiors, we have, Sire, wherewith to answer them with a good conscience.
“It is true that we teach that our first and principal obedience is due to our God, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. But if our writings do not suffice to clear us from such a crime laid to our charge (as disloyalty to our sovereign), we shall bring up, Sire, the example of very many lordships and principalities, and even kingdoms, which have been reformed according to this same doctrine. These will suffice us as good and sufficient testimony for our acquittal. In short, we take our stand respecting this matter on what Saint Paul says in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, where, speaking of temporal government, he expressly enjoins that every soul be subject unto the higher powers. ‘Nay,’ Saint John Chrysostom says on this passage, ‘even were you an apostle or an evangelist, for that such subjection does not derogate from the service of God.’ But if it has happened, or if it should hereafter happen, that some, covering themselves with the mantle of our doctrine, should be found guilty of rebellion against the least of your officers, Sire, we protest before God and your Majesty, that they are not of us, and that they could not have more bitter enemies than we are, according as our poor condition permits.
“In fine, Sire, the desire we have to advance the glory of our God, the obedience and very humble service due to your Majesty, our affection for our native land and specially for the Church of God—these have brought us to this place in which we hope that our good God and Father, continuing the course of His loving-kindness and mercies, will confer upon you, Sire, grace such as that which He conferred on the young King Josiah, two thousand two hundred and two years ago; and that under your happy government, Madam [Catharine de’ Medici], assisted by you, Sire [the King of Navarre], and the other and excellent princes of the blood and lords of your council, the ancient memory shall be revived of that renowned Queen Clotilde, who served of old as the instrument of our God to give the knowledge of Himself to this realm. Such is our hope. For this we are ready, Sire, to employ our own lives, to the end that, rendering to you very humble service in a matter so holy and praiseworthy, we may behold the true golden age in which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shall be worshipped by all with one accord, as to Him belong all honor and glory for ever. Amen.”
Here Beza and his company kneeled for a moment. Then, rising, he continued, at the same time presenting to the king the Confession of Faith of the French Churches: “Sire, your Majesty will be pleased to give no thought to our language, rough and unpolished as it is, but rather to the affection that is wholly given to you. And, inasmuch as the points of our doctrine are contained clearly and more fully in this Confession of Faith which we have already presented to you, and on which the present conference will turn, we very humbly beseech your Majesty to do us again this favor of receiving it from our hands, hoping by God’s grace that, after having conferred on it in all sobriety and reverence for His holy name, we shall find ourselves in agreement as to it. And if, on the contrary, our iniquities prevent such a blessed consummation, we doubt not that your Majesty, with your good council, will know how to provide for everything, without prejudice to either of the two parties, according to God and to reason.”
Such was the first plea of the Reformation that reached the ear of a king of France. It was confessedly not unworthy of the orator from whose mouth it came, of the rare occasion, of the subject, of the presence in which it was delivered.
One dramatic incident that interrupted the quiet course of Beza’s speech has been purposely omitted, in order that the reader may have before him the unbroken argument. I must go back to narrate it.
The dignified bearing and the well-chosen words of Beza, uttered with force and grace and breathing the spirit of profound conviction, had commanded the close and respectful attention of his hearers, even when he uttered unpalatable sentiments, from the beginning of his discourse until he was well on in the discussion of the nature of the sacraments. It was otherwise when the Reformer came, after a formal rejection both of the Roman Catholic and of the Lutheran doctrines, to speak of the relative places of the body of Jesus Christ and of the consecrated elements in the Lord’s Supper. At the words, “We say that His body is as far removed from the bread and wine as the highest heaven is removed front the earth,” a number of the prelates who had long been inwardly chafing with anger and indignation could contain themselves no longer. Cardinals, bishops, doctors of the Sorbonne, began to express their dissent in loud and violent tones. Amid the din that instantly arose, Beza’s voice was quite drowned for the time, and the only intelligible words that could be made out were exclamations of “He has blasphemed! He has blasphemed God!” coming from one and another of the ecclesiastics. The bystanders looked for nothing else than that they should accompany their cries with a symbolic rending of their clothes. Cardinal Tournon, who had risen to his feet, turned to the young king, and prayed him either to command Beza to desist from speaking, or to suffer him with his brethren, the Roman Catholic prelates, to retire from the place. The queen-mother, however, thought that there had been quite enough of this, and commanded silence. Cardinal Lorraine, less ardent or more politic than some of his colleagues, joined with her in the attempt to restore order. Beza, who meanwhile had stood unmoved by the sudden outbreak of this unexpected storm, continued his speech and finished it according to his original design.
At the close of Beza’s address there was a second demonstration. No sooner had he stopped than Cardinal Tournon, “all trembling with wrath,” rose and, as primate and presiding officer of the assembly of prelates, addressed the king. It was, he said, by his Majesty’s express command that the cardinals and bishops, in order to obey him, had consented (not, however, without conscientious scruples) to listen to these new evangelists. For they foresaw that the latter might, as they had done, utter things unworthy of the ear of a Most Christian King, things that might well have offended many people who were about his Majesty. The assembly of the prelates, suspecting that this might occur, had, continued the cardinal, instructed him in this case to beseech the monarch very humbly not to believe or give credit either to the meaning or to the words uttered by the person who had spoken in behalf of the adherents of the new religion, and to beg him to suspend the judgment he might form on the matter until he should have heard the remonstrances which the assembly intended to make to him. By this means the prelate hoped that his Majesty and all the honorable company by which the king was supported would be able to learn the difference there exists between truth and falsehood. He begged that a day might be assigned the prelates for this purpose, and he added that, but for the respect they entertained for his Majesty, they would have arisen on hearing the blasphemous and abominable words that had been uttered, and would not have suffered the conference to proceed. What they had done, they had done in order to obey his Majesty’s command; and they prayed him very humbly to persevere in the faith of his fathers, and invoked the Virgin Mary and the blessed saints in paradise, both male and female, that this might be.
The cardinal was about to say more, but Catharine cut his speech short. She assured him that nothing had been done in the affair save by the decision of the royal council and with the concurrence of the Parliament of Paris. The end in view, said she, was not to make innovations or commotions, but, on the contrary, to appease the troubles proceeding from the diversity of religious opinions, and to bring back those that had strayed from the right way. The truth was to be established by means of the simple Word of God, which must be the sole rule. “We are here to hear both sides,” said she. “Reply, therefore, to the speech of Monsieur de Bèze to which you have just listened.” Cardinal Tournon declined to accept the challenge on the ground that the speech had been a long one, and could not be answered offhand, but he promised that if a written copy were afforded to the prelates, they would prepare a suitable rejoinder. The point was conceded, and herewith the proceedings of the day came to an end.
Further Discussions The Edict of January Massacre of Vassy 1561–1562
In the last chapter I have given a translation of Beza’s speech of September 9, 1561, before the King of France, the chief noblemen of his court, and the assembled cardinals and bishops of the realm. Of this memorable address I have inserted nearly the whole, and almost always in a close rendering. Two reasons have moved me to do this. The speech possesses a peculiar historical importance, irrespective of the person who was the mouthpiece of the Protestants, now for the first time officially summoned for their defense to the bar of public opinion. As such, it may be regarded in the light of a great State paper, wherein every sentence is of weight, while every position that is taken has a more or less direct bearing on the subsequent course of the French reformatory movement. This is the more general consideration. The more special and personal has reference to Theodore Beza himself. As a work of art, the address at the Colloquy of Poissy exhibits, better, perhaps, than any of his other productions, the striking oratorical abilities of the man whose name it instantly made famous. At the same time, its importance as an exposition of the theological views of Beza, and, we may add, of Calvin, should not be overlooked in a biographical work like the present. The doctrinal contrast between the Reformation and the Roman Catholic system, on the one hand, and between the position of Beza and the positions of the Reformers of Wittenberg and Zurich, on the other, is so clearly marked in this document, that the most superficial of readers can have little difficulty in forming a distinct conception of the individuality of Beza as a theologian.
That his effort had proved a great success cannot be denied. Friends and foes were agreed on this point at least. Hubert Languet, the distinguished Protestant negotiator, who chanced to be in Paris at the time, expressed himself scarcely more strongly respecting the brilliancy of the oration than did Claude Haton, the curate of Provins. But whereas the Protestants gave it their unqualified approval, the Roman Catholics condemned with great bitterness those utterances respecting the sacraments which had raised the passionate protests of Cardinal Tournon and his associates. There is no doubt that Catharine de’ Medici and others who shared her politic views regarded Beza’s frank statement as a needless and offensive expression of opinion, and deplored what they stigmatized as a blunder that came near wrecking the conference. But whoever will look with calmness at the entire situation must come to a different conclusion. A suppression of the candid views of the Reformers on so critical a point might indeed have prevented an explosion of priestly indignation at this particular juncture. But it could only have postponed what must have come sooner or later. And such difficulties are for the most part best met when met most promptly. A conference broken off because of a clear and unmistakable expression of opinion on an important theological subject—had indeed such a result ensued—would have wrought far less damage to the Protestant cause than might have resulted from an insincere and dishonest treatment of a distinctive dogma, or from a politic silence, by which the whole tone of the discussion would have been lowered and the self-respect of its professors would have been sacrificed. Calvin saw this, and, so far from condemning, he applauded Beza’s boldness in unqualified terms.
“Your speech is now before us,” he wrote to Beza on receiving the text of the oration, “wherein God wonderfully directed your mind and your tongue. The testimony that stirred up the wrath of the holy fathers could not but be given, unless you had consented basely to practice evasion and expose yourself to their derision.”
Beza had nothing to retract and no apology to make. Hearing, however, that the queen-mother was, or pretended to be, displeased with what he had said on the matter of the Lord’s Supper, he wrote to her, the next day, to explain both what he had said, which, on account of the uproar created by the prelates, she had possibly not heard distinctly, and the object for which he had said it. The letter is a model of manly frankness. Far from modifying his speech in any particulars, he repeated for Catharine’s benefit the very words that had given offense. He declared that what had moved him to use them was a desire to defend his co-religionists from the charge of sacrilegiously making Jesus Christ to be absent from His Holy Supper.
“But,” said he, “there is a great difference between making Him present insomuch as that He there truly gives us His body and blood, and saying that His body and blood are united with the bread and wine. I acknowledged the former, which is also the chief thing; I denied the latter.”
Beza begged as a favor that he might be permitted to set forth his views more fully before her and any other persons who might give him instruction in case he was wrong. He closed his letter with passages from Saint Augustine and Vigilius, Bishop of Trent, who had expressed themselves quite as strongly as he had done respecting the matter in hand.
It is perhaps needless to say that no such opportunity as Beza asked for was vouchsafed to him. The prelates, averse from the beginning to anything like free and fair discussion with the Protestants, were still more disinclined to treat with them since they had heard the magnificent exposition of the Reformed doctrines by one who was at the same time forcible and gentle, courteous and self-possessed. But a promise had been given that Beza should be answered, and that promise the Cardinal of Lorraine undertook to redeem just one week after Beza had spoken. The place was the same; the assembled dignitaries were the same; the Protestants were the same except that their numbers were increased by the arrival of the distinguished Peter Martyr. In one respect, however, there was a notable difference. The cardinal, instead of speaking, like Beza, from behind a bar, was provided with a pulpit from which he might deliver his discourse as one having authority, and thus appear to be either a learned preacher instructing the ignorant, or a judge pronouncing the final sentence of the law upon offenders.
And how did he attempt to answer the full, clear, and candid exposition of the Reformed faith made by Beza? Chiefly by an assumption of a lordly superiority, with a slight admixture of patronizing condescension and unsolicited compassion. He began by lauding at great length both the temporal authority of kings and the spiritual authority of ecclesiastics. He concluded with an appeal to Charles IX to adhere to the religion of his predecessors, all of them loyal to the holy Catholic faith, from whom he had inherited the distinction of being styled not only “Most Christian” but “First Son of the Church,” and with a corresponding appeal to Catharine de’ Medici, promising for himself and all his associates of the Gallican Church that they would not spare their very life-blood in the maintenance of the true Catholic doctrine, nor fail to do their full duty in the service of the king and the support of his crown. On only two points of the Reformed confession did the cardinal even pretend to enter into argument. He maintained that the Church is no mere aggregation of the elect, but includes the tares along with the wheat. He argued that the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist is not spiritual alone, but real and corporeal, as well. As for the rest, he treated the Protestants as wayward but misguided children for whom he had no reproaches to utter, but only pity—the more so that they had shown some disposition to receive instruction and to return to a Church that was ready to welcome them so soon as they consented to submit to her authority. But if they would not return, and if their ministers would accord in doctrine neither with the Latin nor with the Greek Church, and indeed remained at variance with their fellow Reformers, the Lutherans of Germany, he suggested that the French Protestants ought to withdraw to some remote region where they would cease to disturb flocks over which they had no legitimate authority, to a solitude where at least they might remain until their new-fangled opinions should grow as old and venerable as the creed of the established Church.
When the Cardinal of Lorraine was through, the prelates at once made a dramatic demonstration of their approval, starting to their feet in a body, and, with Cardinal Tournon at their head, pressing about Charles IX. They begged the young prince to remain constant to the teachings of the Church, and particularly to require that Beza and his associates should accept and sign what they had just been taught, before being permitted to receive any additional instruction. The Genevese Reformer rose in his turn and claimed the privilege of answering Cardinal Lorraine on the spot—a request which, for reasons of her own, Catharine de’ Medici thought fit to deny, promising that he should have an opportunity at a later time.
With this incident the Colloquy of Poissy assumed so different a shape as scarcely to be the same. The clergy could with difficulty be persuaded to consent to meet the Protestants a third time, and when they yielded to pressure, the small room of the prioress was large enough to contain all that presented themselves—a dozen bishops and cardinals with about as many attendant theologians bearing ponderous tomes, the works of the Church Fathers of the first five centuries, from which Cardinal Lorraine was to refute the Reformed doctrine. On the other side, the twelve Protestant ministers were again admitted, but not the laymen. Charles IX was absent. In his place came Catharine de’ Medici and the King and Queen of Navarre, with sundry members of the royal council. The conference was undignified and disorderly. Its regular course was interrupted by the intemperate speech of a Dominican friar, Claude de Sainctes, and by the absurd demand sprung upon the French Protestants by Cardinal Lorraine that they should answer categorically the question, whether or no they would consent to subscribe to the Augsburg Confession which was received by the Protestants of Germany.
Evidently no good could be expected to come from a conference which bade fair to degenerate into an unseemly wrangle. Yet, two days later, in a meeting at which Beza was permitted to reply to the prelate’s unreasonable proposal, the Reformer maintained his dignified composure. He reminded the queen-mother, with manly frankness, of the issues dependent upon the conference. It was of supreme importance that this should be conducted in a fair and friendly manner. He retorted with quiet but effective irony to an ill-timed speech made at the last session by a Roman Catholic theologian, Claude d’Espense, who endeavored to show that the Protestant ministers were intruders who had assumed their office without a proper “call.” What, asked Beza, if a bishop were to ask a Reformed pastor his authority for undertaking to preach and administer the sacraments, and were to be met with the counter-questions: “Were you elected to the episcopate by the elders of your church? Did the people seek for you? Were inquiries instituted regarding your conduct, your life, and your belief?” or, “Who ordained you, and how much money did you pay to be ordained?” Many a bishop’s cheek would blush were he compelled to reply to such an interrogatory. Nor was Beza less happy when he drew attention to the circumstance that Cardinal Lorraine, instead of undertaking to prove by the Church Fathers of the first centuries the falsity of the Protestant position, and thus affording his antagonists the opportunity to meet him on the field of honest discussion, demanded of them that they subscribe to an article said to be extracted from the Augsburg Confession and treating of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, as the condition of future conference.
Beza was ably reinforced by the Florentine, Peter Martyr Vermigli. This famous Italian exile, now over sixty years of age, respecting whom an opponent (d’Espense) frankly admitted that there was no other man of his time that had written so amply and with so much erudition on the subject of the Lord’s Supper, had come to France upon the pressing invitation of Catharine de’ Medici, and provided with a special safe-conduct from Charles IX. He was a striking personage. Beza, in his collection of lives of worthies and their portraits, written long after, felicitously styles him a phoenix born from the ashes of Savonarola. From a monk and visitor-general of the Augustinian order, Martyr had become a Reformer, and had fled beyond the Alps. He was a professor at Strasburg with Bucer. In King Edward’s reign he labored in England with zeal and acquired a distinguished place among those who strove to make the services of the Established Church free from the taint of Roman Catholicism. He was appointed to lecture on the Scriptures at Oxford. After her accession, Queen Elizabeth, as Bishop Jewel tells us, was altogether desirous that he should be invited back to England, that, “as he had formerly tilled, as it were, the University by his lectures, so he might again water it by the same.” He had now been five or six years at Zurich, a coadjutor of Bullinger, at the head of the Church and exercising a powerful influence across the Channel, especially by his letters. His great reputation and the dignity of his presence added force to his admirable address. In French he could not have spoken with freedom. He would therefore naturally have used Latin, the common language of the learned world; but he preferred to fall back upon his native tongue, in order that Catharine de’ Medici, like himself a Florentine, might understand him the more readily. A little while later on the same day, when Lainez, the second general of the Jesuit order, and as such the successor of Ignatius Loyola, obtained permission to speak and uttered a coarse tirade against the Reformers, likewise employing the Italian tongue, no objection was made to his procedure. But Peter Martyr was rudely interrupted by the Cardinal of Lorraine, who petulantly exclaimed that he did not want to listen to a foreign tongue.
There was little more of the colloquy which had begun so pompously, and it adjourned never to meet again. In its train followed a few private conferences in which five Roman Catholics chosen for their supposed moderation of sentiment met an equal number of Protestant ministers in one of the rooms of the mansion occupied at Saint Germain by the King of Navarre, and deliberated upon some of the points at issue. Beza was one of the company. His colleagues were Peter Martyr Vermigli, Augustin Marlorat, Jean de l’Espine, and Nicholas des Gallars. The party was compelled by the demand of the bishops at Poissy to take up first the question of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Although this was the very point of difficulty between Reformed and Roman Catholics, less trouble was found in coming to an agreement than anyone not familiar with the constitution of the joint commission on the Roman Catholic side would have apprehended. Peter Martyr, loyal successor of Zwingli and Zwingli’s views, put the matter plainly from the Protestant position when he told his associates that, for his part, he believed that the body of Christ is truly and as to its substance nowhere else than in heaven; while he did not deny that the true body and true blood of Christ, given on the cross for the salvation of men, are, by faith and spiritually, received by believers in the Holy Supper. Twice did the conferees laboriously draw up an article which should express the thought of Martyr, yet in such language as to satisfy both parties. The first result of their efforts was instantly rejected by the bishops. When the supposed objection had been obviated by important changes of phraseology and a second article had been prepared, which the Roman Catholic members felt confident would prove fully acceptable, their work was scornfully repudiated and the bearers were dismissed with the accusation of having betrayed their cause to the Protestants. The Protestants were no better pleased with the article than were the Roman Catholics, and by mutual consent all further attempts were abandoned to reconcile what was really irreconcilable; or, rather, to gloss over substantial disagreement by means of terms that could be, and would be, interpreted diversely by different persons. All that could be said to the credit of the recent effort was that it had been honestly made with the earnest purpose to postpone, or, if possible, avert altogether, the outbreak of civil war which all intelligent men saw to be imminent.
With the discharge of Beza’s commission to plead the Protestant cause in the Colloquy of Poissy, the object of his coming to France was fulfilled. He was anxious to resume his duties at Geneva. When, however, he applied for leave to start on his homeward way, he was so far from obtaining it that Catharine de’ Medici sent for him and strongly urged that he should remain at least for a time. Her request might have been disregarded, high as was the advantageous estimate of his character and services which it implied. It was otherwise when Prince Condé, Gaspard de Coligny, and the most prominent members of the Huguenot party added their vehement solicitations, begging that he should not desert them at a time when it was given out that the settlement of the religious status of the adherents of the Reformed faith was about to be settled by an Assembly of Notables. In the circumstances, Beza had no choice but to subordinate his personal preferences to the general good of the cause. He was the less anxious to by at home, perhaps, that he heard from Geneva that the theological school was suffering no detriment by reason of the absence of one of its two theological professors, since his colleague was teaching immense numbers of students. Just at this moment an enthusiastic correspondent of Farel wrote, “It is a marvel to see the number of persons that listen to Monsieur Calvin’s lectures. I estimate them at more than a thousand daily.” Meanwhile, still more phenomenal was the continual increase of avowed Protestants in almost all quarters of France. Everybody heard of the unprecedented gatherings of worshippers that took place in certain cities and towns; but everybody did not know, as Catharine de’ Medici learned by instituting a special inquiry, that the Huguenots had over 2,000 churches in France—more precisely, 2,150 and over—varying in size from a single church comprising almost all the inhabitants of some considerable town and ministered to by two or more pastors, down to a church of a few members in the midst of an overwhelmingly superior Roman Catholic population. As for Beza, his most pressing desire for the moment was that the Protestants, conscious of growing numbers, might restrain their natural impetuosity for at least two months; so were his hopes that the coming Assembly of Notables would materially better their condition. The queen-mother was evidently glad to give audience to the Genevese Reformer in France, and reckoned upon his cooperation in the maintenance of peace. Nor were his services unimportant.
On January 17, 1562, the results of the deliberations of the Assembly of Notables were published in the form of a royal edict—known in history as the Edict of January. For the first time in French history the Protestants were accorded official recognition, and gained a part, at least, of their natural rights. Not only were they suffered to reside in the kingdom, but they were permitted to worship God in gatherings of unarmed men and women, anywhere outside of the walls of the cities. If they were commanded to surrender all the edifices of which they had taken possession situated within the city walls, the loss was of small consequence in view of the importance of the cardinal concession, especially as the law guaranteed them safety and protection on the way to and from their places of worship.
After the enactment of the Edict of January, there remained much to occupy Beza’s attention. First of all, there was the task of allaying the dissatisfaction of his fellow believers, who had not unreasonably hoped for a law that should accord complete religious equality both of worship and of profession, and who were impatient that their anticipations remained unfulfilled. Here Beza’s ability and wide influence were of great service to the queen, who, there can be no doubt, was sincerely desirous of ending the present state of uncertainty and consequent danger, by the cordial acceptance of the edict by both religious parties. I may instance, in particular, a letter which he drew up in the name of the ministers and deputies of the Churches while these still remained at Saint Germain, and which was sent to all the Protestant congregations throughout France, counseling them to accept loyally the king’s edict, and encouraging them to hope that the new law would prove only the harbinger of better things to come. The letter was accompanied by a paper taking up all the fourteen articles of the new law, examining each in turn, and explaining how it should be observed. I cannot speak further of these able documents, the circulation of which had the desired effect of securing the submission of the Huguenots. Nor shall I detain the reader long with a fresh conference between Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians, in which Beza played a conspicuous part, and as a consequence of which he attained yet greater prominence.
Catharine de’ Medici still clung to the hope that by discussion a common ground might be reached. Under her auspices a larger company than the last convened in the grand council hall of the castle of Saint Germain. Iconoclasm had become a common feature of the reformatory movement of late, much against the will of the leading Reformers, despite, indeed, their vehement protests; but it was difficult to restrain the people, and the statues and paintings of saints, whether adorning the interior or the exterior of churches, fared ill at the hands of mobs intent on the forcible removal of the insignia of popery. It may have been this circumstance that led Catharine to propose Images and Image Worship as the special topic for the consideration of the learned men she brought together. But nothing came of their debates, unless it be that they showed not only that the views of the Roman Catholics and of the Protestants were irreconcilable, but that the former were not agreed among themselves. It was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Valence, Montluc, that brought out the startling fact that one zealous controversialist, Artus Désiré, had had the effrontery to compose a metrical substitute for the second Commandment, as versified by the Protestants, wherein the Almighty was made to order, instead of to forbid, the making of graven images of anything in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth, and to be greatly pleased with, instead of condemning, whatever honor or worship was paid to it. Beza’s long speech was a masterly discussion of the entire theme, and received the strong commendation of his brethren, however little it may have convinced his opponents. The profitless conference lasted about a fortnight, from the 28th of January to the 11th of February, 1562.
Twenty days later came the Massacre of Vassy, the spark which kindled a conflagration that was to rage in France for most of the rest of the century.
The Edict of January, with its equitable, but limited, concessions to the Protestants, was supremely distasteful to the Roman Catholic Church and to the bigoted adherents of that Church who would have toleration for none but themselves. It was, consequently, an object of special abhorrence to the family of Guise, a family which aspired to represent the most extreme tendencies in Church and State and thereby to strengthen its already exorbitant influence. The enactment of the Edict of January was a virtual repeal of the intolerant Edict of July of the previous summer, respecting which Duke Francis of Guise, more blunt of speech and less politic than his brother, Cardinal Lorraine, had openly boasted that his sword would never rest in its scabbard when the execution of the ordinance was in question. He was in a state of irritation which any fortuitous incident might easily convert into insane fury. On Sunday morning, March 1, 1562, while on his return from a conference at Saverne, near the banks of the Rhine, with Duke Christopher of Würtemberg, he chanced to enter a small town of Champagne named Vassy, at this time a fief whose revenues were enjoyed by his kinswoman Mary, Queen of Scots. A congregation of Huguenots were worshipping in a rude barn which they had transformed into a sanctuary. Their services were interrupted by the duke’s followers. It is needless here to decide precisely how the assault was brought on, whether by the nobleman’s express orders, or by the forward zeal of his attendants and without his previous participation. The main facts are indisputable. A band of peaceable Protestants were broken in upon, in the midst of their prayers and hymns, under the eyes of one of the first noblemen of the kingdom, and men, women, and children, who had come to worship the Prince of Peace, were slaughtered like sheep, and without distinction of age or sex. Many fell within the rude but sacred enclosure, fugitives were picked off by the arquebusiers and slain before they could reach a place of safety. Fifty or sixty persons dead and about twice that number of badly wounded were the fruits of that Sunday morning’s work.
Say what they would, the friends of Guise could never prove that the massacre was not in glaring violation of the edict signed only six weeks previously, forbidding judges, magistrates, and all other persons, of whatever station, quality, or condition they might be, from hindering, disquieting, molesting, or in any wise attacking “those of the new religion” in or when going to or from their places of assembly outside of the walls of the cities.
When the news reached the French court and the capital, the Protestants loudly protested against the daring infringement of the law, and demanded the punishment of the law-breaker, whom they denounced as a murderer. Beza was still in France. The Churches begged him to represent them and to use his recently acquired influence in securing from the queen-mother and her advisers a prompt condemnation of this first blow struck at the Edict of January. Francour accompanied him as a representative of the Protestant nobles. The two envoys found Charles IX and Catharine de’ Medici at Monceaux. In an audience at which were present Antoine of Bourbon, King of Navarre, the recently arrived papal legate, Cardinal Ferrara, and others, Beza clearly and forcibly set forth the attack that had been made upon the solemn decree of the king by one of his subjects, on his own personal responsibility, and the evident plots laid to ruin the Huguenots of France. He frankly and temperately laid before his Majesty the disasters that must certainly flow from such flagrant acts of injustice if permitted to pass unpunished. Catharine returned a gracious reply, promising that the matter should be thoroughly investigated, and that, if the Protestants exercised self-restraint, ample provision should be made to satisfy them. The Duke of Guise would not, she hoped, pursue his journey to Paris. She had written to him and requested him not to do so.
There was one person who had listened to Beza’s remarks and to the queen’s conciliatory response with ill-concealed anger, and who could contain himself no longer. This was Antoine of Bourbon, formerly, as we have seen, and so long as it served his purpose, an ardent friend of the Reformation, but of late a pronounced ally of the Guises, since the promise of the restoration of his old kingdom had been held forth to allure him, he now broke out with reproaches against the Protestants for going, as he said, armed to their preaching services.
“Arms in the hands of the wise,” replied Beza, “are bearers of peace. The occurrence at Vassy shows how necessary they are to the Church, unless safety be otherwise provided, and this provision, Sire, I most humbly beg you, in the name of the Church which until now has cherished such hope in you, to make.”
The legate, a troublesome priest, whose sole mission to France was in the interest of the maintenance of proscription laws against the Huguenots, here attempted to support Navarre’s allegations by descanting upon the misdeeds of the Protestants which recently had caused riot and bloodshed at their place of assembly near the church of Saint Médard. Beza, having been present on the occasion referred to, was able to refute the prelate’s calumny on the spot, after which he repeated the demand for the punishment of the Duke of Guise, who was known to be coming armed as in a time of war—a procedure from which nothing but mischief could ensue. Hereupon Antoine of Bourbon threw off all disguise, and avowed himself the duke’s friend and partisan. “Whoever,” said he, “shall touch my brother the Duke of Guise with the tip of his finger, will touch my whole body.”
It was a critical juncture in the history of French Protestantism, and the champion of French Protestantism realized the full responsibility that devolved upon him. First he begged Antoine to hear him patiently as one whom he had long known and whom he had, not many months ago, requested to come to France to help in giving peace to the realm. Next he reminded him that the way of justice is God’s way, and that justice is a debt which kings owe to their poor subjects. To ask for justice is to wrong nobody. Antoine had attempted to excuse the massacre at Vassy by alleging that the Protestant worshippers had thrown stones at Guise and his followers, and that thereupon the former had been unable to restrain the fury of his men, and bloodshed followed. Princes, said he, are not to be expected to submit to being stoned. “If that be so,” the Reformer quietly responded, “the Duke of Guise will be exculpated on producing the persons who committed the fault.” And then it was that, rising to the height of that commanding eloquence which few of his contemporaries knew so well how to attain, he closed his address to the insincere King of Navarre with words which the Churches of France never forgot, but which, through the ages of persecution that were to follow, they cherished as a motto to sustain their courage. “Sire,” he gravely said, “it belongs in truth to the Church of God, in whose name I speak, to endure blows and not to inflict them. But it will also please your Majesty to remember that she is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”
Thus the incident closed, and Beza took his leave. “It was God’s will,” says the author of the history of the origins of the Protestant Churches, “that these words should be spoken to the King of Navarre, and that, notwithstanding, Beza should return safe and sound, having discharged a sufficiently hazardous commission.”
Within a few weeks there broke out the first of those unfortunate civil wars in which the Huguenots became involved. Condé took the field at their head. Catharine de’ Medici, who had implored his assistance in letters still extant, the authenticity of which cannot rationally be doubted, ended a period of vacillation, and not so much consented, as was forced, to put herself into the power of his opponents. Beza could not in conscience desert the Huguenots at a moment when his services were imperatively needed. His return to his pulpit and to his lecture-room at Geneva was of necessity long deferred.
Counsellor of Condé and the Huguenots in the First Civil War 1562–1563
It was not without an effort that the French Protestants had succeeded in obtaining from the little republic of Geneva, ever jealous of its rights, the “loan” of Theodore Beza until this hour. The earnest letters of the excellent and highly respected Jeanne d’Albrét, Queen of Navarre, supported as they were by the entreaties of Admiral Coligny and other Huguenot noblemen, however, prevailed over the reluctance of the Genevese, and on December 22, 1561, the Great Council prolonged Beza’s leave of absence for three or four months. We shall see that this was not the last time that the request was repeated, and that the patience of the government of Geneva was sorely tried. In the 16th century there was such a thing as having a pastor and professor who was too much in demand.
For there was one thing upon which friends and foes were in full agreement—both assigned to Theodore Beza, with signal unanimity, the foremost place among Protestants for eloquence. Claude Haton, the prejudiced but discriminating curate whose memoirs are among the most readable papers of the century and well reflect public sentiment on nearly every point, proclaimed him the most highly esteemed of all the preachers of France for his fair words, more than for his learning. To have conceded the superiority in learning also, would have seemed to the ecclesiastic a species of endorsement of Beza’s success at Poissy.
The people, making no such distinction, flocked to the Huguenot services to hear him. On the very day and at almost the precise hour that the Duke of Guise entered Paris, despite the queen-mother’s prohibition, Prince Condé was accompanying the Huguenot minister, with a bodyguard of four or five hundred horsemen (others said more), to a preaching place beyond the Porte Saint Jacques, where he discoursed to a crowded gathering. The papal nuncio, Cardinal Santa Croce, writing to the pope’s minister, Cardinal Borromeo, the next day, found in this and similar occurrences presages of evil to come. For, as the nuncio never tired of reiterating at the French court, unless the preachers were driven from the kingdom, all other precautions would be of little avail for the rescue of the Roman Catholic cause.
The duties now devolving upon Beza were of the most varied and complex character, and the literary training which had qualified him for dealing with very different subjects was called into constant requisition. As a Christian minister, who was also the most highly trusted friend of Condé, he was at one moment occupied in consulting for the best interests of religion and morality in the Huguenot camp, at another in justifying to friends and foes the course of the prince and his associates. The tergiversation of Antoine of Navarre had made the position of his queen, brave Jeanne d’Albrét, a difficult one at court; it had also made the attitude of the Huguenots to the wife of their new opponent by no means simple. It was soon reported to the Queen of Navarre that the Protestant soldiers in their camp had dropped all references to her husband from the petitions which, as dutiful subjects, they were wont to utter in behalf of the King of France and the princes of royal blood. We have a noble letter in which Theodore Beza, replying to a communication from Jeanne, who complained of this omission, as well as of the iconoclasm of the Huguenot troops, espouses the cause of his brethren with manly frankness and firmness, yet also with respect and true affection. A few sentences alone can here be given of a paper that deserves to be reproduced entire. The Reformer does not conceal his aversion to the prevalent image worship, but neither does he permit this aversion to prevail over his love of law and order.
“As to the first point, Madam, respecting which you were pleased to write me,” wrote Beza, “I can say nothing about this overthrowing of images, except what I have always felt and preached: that is to say, that this mode of action does not please me at all, inasmuch as it seems to me to have no foundation in the Word of God, and as it is to be feared that it proceeds rather from impetuosity than from zeal. Nevertheless, because the deed itself is in accordance with the will of God, who condemns idols and idolatry, and because it seems as if, in so widespread a movement, there were some secret counsel of God, who, it may be, intends by this means to put to shame the greatest by means of the smallest, I content myself with reprehending in general what is deserving of reprehension, and with moderating such impetuous procedures as much as it lies in my power. But that destruction of the monuments of the dead is entirely inexcusable, and I can assure you, Madam, that the prince is fully resolved not only to make the most thorough investigation, but also to inflict such punishment as may serve as an example to others.
“As to the last point in your letter, … I shall tell you frankly what I think and what attitude all the Churches of these regions take. So long as the king your husband gave evidence of the fear of God, he was named with you in the public prayers, because of the hope that was entertained that he would improve little by little, as so often he professed his purpose to do. Subsequently, when it was seen that he was banding together with the enemies of God, still we did not cease to make supplications for him by name in the prayers of the Church, and this with so much the more ardor as we foresaw the danger of ruin to be greater and more evident. This lasted until, to our great regret, he so burst all bounds as not only to scandalize the Church, but, what is worse, to proclaim himself head and protector of those whose hands are reeking with the blood of the children of God, of those who have always professed themselves the persecutors and desperate enemies of the latter. You may believe, Madam, that it was not without deep anguish that we heard and witnessed this piteous change, and that we were brought to this point. For how could we pray against the enemies of God and His Church, and, at the same time, name one of the chief enemies among those persons whom we hold in highest esteem? Yet would I not come to the point of pronouncing a final sentence of rejection, for there are those who have drawn very near to that point who yet have received grace and mercy. As for myself, although I see in him at present more evidence of rejection than of salvation, yet am I unwilling to determine what God has counseled for the future, according to the riches of His great mercies, and I am content to be ignorant of what God has concealed, rather than too rashly condemn the sinner with his sin. I have not therefore removed him from the prayers, as though cutting him off forever from the Church, but his name has merely been omitted from the place where he was mentioned for the aforegoing reasons. Yet nothing prevents his being comprehended under the general designation of ‘the princes of the blood,’ whom we conjoin with the king in special respect. Otherwise you would have far greater occasion to complain than he; for it has seemed indecorous to name you without him, and I see that the greater number [of worshippers], in order to cover the matter in some fashion, omit mention of you also. And yet I am as certain as that I shall die, that your memory, Madam, is as precious and dear to all the Churches of God as that of any person in this world.”
These words would seem to have been penned shortly after a narrow escape of Beza from falling into the hands of his enemies, to which he alludes near the close of his letter.
“I came near being surprised on my return from Angers,” he writes, “and, from what I learn, the king your husband, Madam, must have written expressly on the subject with threats little befitting the service which all my life long I have desired to render him. Praised be God, who delivered me from this danger, showing me in very deed that it is better to serve Him than to serve men. But I protest before my God, that this has not changed my affection, and that I would not bemoan my death today, were it to conduce to his salvation.”
Very different in style was the document which Beza was perhaps at this very moment preparing for publication in the name of the Prince of Condé, and which was given to the world a week later.
The three leading Roman Catholic noblemen, having fully determined to precipitate a civil war, ostensibly for the purpose of hindering the further progress of Protestantism, but in reality so as to secure for themselves the undisputed mastery, had just presented to the crown their exorbitant demands in the form of two petitions, of one and the same date, and constituting in effect a single document. The contents were sufficiently radical to satisfy the most bigoted friend of the old order of things. Ignoring altogether the recent tolerant edict of the king, the subscribers stipulated that the exercise of any other religion than the Roman Catholic and Apostolic religion be interdicted in France by a perpetual and irrevocable law, and that all royal officers, of whatever kind, be compelled to conform to that religion or else leave the realm. Churches that had been seized and damaged must be restored and repaired, the sacrilegious must be punished, all that had taken up arms without authority from the King of Navarre must lay them down or be pronounced rebels. If all this were done, they professed themselves ready to retire from the kingdom, in fact, to go to the ends of the earth. They would not even require as a condition that Condé should participate in their exile, nay, they would prefer to have him return to the royal court, where, doubtless, he would deport himself in a manner worthy of a prince of the blood royal. In other words, should the prince dismiss all the Protestant troops that were flocking to his standard, he was welcome to make a fresh trial of the perils that await the credulous man who risks his neck upon the good faith and promises of inveterate enemies. Only the opportune decease of Francis II had saved Condé’s life at Orleans, a little over two years since; he was now invited to find out by a new experience whether Heaven would a second time interfere as signally in his behalf.
We can scarcely suspect the Duke of Guise, Constable Montmorency, and Marshal Saint André of such simplicity as to imagine that they could impose upon the Prince of Condé, but they had hopes of imposing upon the people by their cheap display of magnanimity. It required a skillful hand to defeat their purpose, and certain it is that Condé had at his command no more skillful hand than that of Theodore Beza. The reply which went out to the world in the name of Louis de Bourbon was so keen that ordinarily well-informed contemporaries such as the historian De Thou, at a loss to ascertain who could have composed it, were driven to the absurdity of conjecturing that it might have emanated from the pen of the shrewd and versatile Bishop Montluc, author of some of the ablest State papers of the period.
The writer branded the pretended petition or petitions of the Roman Catholic leaders as an arrogant assumption of authority that in no sense belonged to them. What they had put forth was in point of fact not a petition but a decree, made by the duke, the constable, and the marshal, with the cooperation of the legate, the nuncio, and the Spanish ambassador. The league they had formed was more full of danger and more sanguinary than that of Sulla, or that of Caesar, or that of the Triumvirate of Rome. Its authors had refused to obey the queen’s commands and retire to their governments. They had come to Paris in arms, contrary to her express commands, and no prayer of hers or of the young king could induce them to leave the capital. They had forcibly brought Catharine and Charles from Fontainebleau to Melun, and from Melun to Paris. Such was the reverence and humility of which they prated, while the love they pretended to bear to their country did not prevent them from calling in foreign arms to plunder it, and, if God did not prevent, to subdue and ruin it.
“And then,” wrote Beza in Condé’s name, “they demand a perpetual edict to settle matters of religion; and when we ask for the maintenance of the edict that has been made until the king’s majority, they tell us that this is an uncivil and unreasonable demand; that it is the prerogative of the king, when it seems good to him, to change, limit, amplify, and restrict his edicts; and that when we ask of him that what has already been ordained by him and his council be kept and maintained during his minority, we wish to keep his Majesty in prison and captivity. Meanwhile they want the edict which they three have framed to be perpetual and irrevocable. If the reason alleged by them against us is to be received, for that same reason we shall conclude that they themselves wish to detain the king a prisoner both in his minority and in his majority, nay, we are warranted in saying that they think that they can lord it over not merely the person of the king, but over the whole realm, since in a matter of so great importance and involving such consequences, they dare present an ordinance authorized by but three persons. What more did ever Augustus, Mark Antony, and Lepidus, when by their wicked and infamous Triumvirate they overturned the laws and the Roman commonwealth? Had they been moved by honest zeal, as they assert, by a peaceable and not a seditious zeal, by a zeal for religion and not for ambition, they would not have begun by active measures. They would have come unarmed, they would have presented themselves with humility and reverence; they would have set forth the causes that moved them to disapprove of the Edict of January; they would very humbly have begged the king and queen to examine, in conjunction with their council, with the advice of the parliaments, and the other estates, whether by some other means a remedy might be found for the troubles, to the preservation of the honor of God, and of the security and greatness of the king and kingdom. Had they thus spoken, they would have shown that they were inspired by no other passion than the zeal of their consciences. As it is, their course of action sufficiently reveals the fact that religion serves them only as a means to secure a following and to introduce division among the king’s subjects. With one portion and in conjunction with foreigners, they purpose to make themselves masters and lords of everything. To them I am constrained to say that the princes of the blood, whose enemies they have always been and whom they have ever driven into the background, so far as they were able, will not suffer foreigners and persons not called to the government, to take it upon themselves to make edicts and ordinances in this kingdom. Yet they want and demand that the Romish religion, which they call Catholic and Apostolic, alone be established and recognized in France, and that preaching and the sacraments be forbidden to the adherents of the Reformed religion. It is a Duke of Guise, a foreign prince, a Sieur de Montmorency, and a Sieur de Saint André, who enact an ordinance contrary to the Edict of January, accorded by the king and the queen his mother, the King of Navarre, the princes of the blood, with the king’s council and forty of the greatest and most notable personages of all the parliaments. It is these three that draw up a law against the petition presented by the States, that is to say, the nobles and Third Estate at Orleans and, later, at Saint Germain; both of which estates petitioned the king to be pleased to grant places of worship to the adherents of the Reformed religion. These three make an ordinance that cannot be executed without a civil war, without putting the kingdom in danger of evident ruin. This they themselves see and admit. And this is the way the kingdom stands indebted to them, and this is the fruit born of their wisdom and good zeal, or, to, speak more properly, of their intrigues, underhand practices, and ambition to rule.”
With such words did Beza make the Prince of Condé to characterize the new Triumvirs, while defending the cause which these Triumvirs had conspired to overthrow. Again, as in his letter over his own signature to the Queen of Navarre, being compelled to touch upon the iconoclasm out of which the enemies of the Protestants made so great an accusation, he dwelt upon the efforts that had been conscientiously put forth to check and punish the practice, and again he contrasted the fault, as fault it undeniably was, of destroying lifeless statue in stone, with the far more heinous crime of ruthlessly destroying the persons of men and women made in the likeness of God:
“If the breaking of images merits punishment, as I fully believe it does—inasmuch as the act is committed contrary to the king’s ordinance—what punishment do those expect who cloak themselves so readily with the king’s name, for the murders that have been committed by themselves and, following their example and at their solicitation, at Vassy, at Sens, at Castelnaudary, and at Angers—where it is well known that five hundred men and women have been slain for no other reason than their religion? He that dictated the ‘petition’ should have examined his own conscience and have recognized the fact that it is not found that the lifeless image has ever cried for vengeance; but the blood of man, who is the living image of God, cries for it to Heaven, and calls it down, and brings it, even though it tarry long.”
To the suggestion that Condé and those who were in arms with him ought to be declared rebels, the prince was made to respond that this was an article that called for a reply in another way than in writing. He hoped, he said, within a few days, to go in search of those that made the assertion, and settle by arms the question, whether it belonged to a foreigner and two insignificant persons such as they were, to judge a prince of the blood and two thirds of the noblemen of the kingdom, and pronounce them to be rebels and enemies of the kingdom.
Finally, in a passage of great beauty and oratorical force, the prince was made by Beza to institute a startling contrast between the demand of the new Triumvirs and that which he himself made:
“I ask for the maintenance of the Edict of January, and they wish of their own authority to annul and abolish it. They ask for the destruction of an infinite number of houses, as well of the nobles as of the common people; I ask and desire that all the king’s subjects, of whatever quality they may be, shall be upheld, protected in their estates and property, and preserved from all insult and violence. They wish to exterminate all the adherents of the Reformed religion; and I desire that we may be reserved to the time when the king shall reach his majority (at which time we will obey what he shall be pleased to command us), and that meanwhile the adherents of the Romish Church shall not be disturbed, molested, or constrained in their property or in the exercise of their charges. They demand an armed force to execute what they have undertaken, and do not consider that they will compel an infinite number of worthy people to defend themselves. They do not take into consideration the scarcity of the means at their disposal, nor regard the troubles and the ruin that civil war brings. What is worse, they have engaged in writing to introduce foreign arms, which means, in plain talk, to give the kingdom to be the prey of its enemies. On the contrary, I do not ask to retain my arms, I do not make use of the king’s money, I do not call foreigners to enter the kingdom, and have declined those offered to me. God is my witness that I have begged them not to come and to prevent others from coming, either for or against us. … They demand that we be declared rebels; they demand our lives, our honor, and our consciences. We demand nothing whatever of their lives, their honor, their property, or their consciences, nor wish them any other ill save that to which we are willing to bind ourselves—which is, that they and we withdraw to our houses, and this according to the conditions more fully set forth in our Declarations and Protestations heretofore made and sent to the king and queen.”
Such was the tenor and such were a few points of the noble document wherein the brilliant Genevese Reformer supplied the young Prince of Condé with a defence clear and convincing to every dispassionate reader, if, in those exciting times, any dispassionate readers were still to be found.
A recital of the incidents of this eventful war do not belong here. The reader must look elsewhere for the massacres on the one side and the reprisals on the other, for the wearisome tale of acts of unnecessary cruelty and brutality, for the blunders almost surpassing belief committed by men who esteemed themselves and were regarded by others as wise and prudent. Contrary to his expectations, Beza was detained with the army at Orleans, where he took a part in drawing up that remarkable set of articles regulating the discipline and morals of the army, which was intended to make Huguenot warfare a model for all future generations, but which in reality lasted barely a couple of months. The daily prayers and the frequent preaching in the prince’s presence devolved upon him, but was the smallest part of his duties. It was not forgotten that he was no novice in diplomacy, and when Admiral Coligny’s youngest brother, Andelot, was dispatched to levy troops in Germany as auxiliaries to the depleted army of the prince at Orleans, it was natural that Beza should be thought of as of all men the most likely to succeed in securing the favor of the German princes with whom he had treated when pleading the cause of the persecuted Waldenses of Piedmont and the victims of calumny and judicial murder in Paris.
His visit to the banks of the Rhine and to Switzerland afforded him an opportunity to go to Geneva and confer with Calvin. It did not permit him to resume his cherished duties at the University and in the church of Saint Pierre. His allotted place was evidently still in France and with his brethren who were there fighting against almost overwhelming odds and never more in need of a clear-headed, far-sighted counsellor, a faithful, energetic, and untiring man of affairs. Beza’s leave of absence, even with the renewal which had been granted, had long since run out. But when Calvin added his solicitations to Beza’s exposition of the critical condition of Protestantism in France, the syndics and council of the republic were forced to see that the interests of the Reformation everywhere were involved in their decision, and preferred the general good to the convenience of Geneva. In doing so, they recognized the fact that new responsibilities had been thrown upon Beza, and that, in view of his great administrative abilities, he had been compelled to assume an office scarcely less important than that of a military commander, since it had to do with the supply and control of the sinews of war. The minute of their action, which is still extant, is as honorable to their disinterestedness as to Beza’s tried integrity of character.
“Monsieur de Bèze,” the record states, “being called to France not only as a minister, but also as treasurer, the Council and the ministers have found themselves in great embarrassment, reflecting, on the one side, upon the great need we have of so great a man and upon the dangers which he may run, and, on the other, upon the desolation of the Church and the comfort he will administer to her, and upon the unseemliness of discouraging, by a refusal to let him go, those who are with so much valor and firmness defending the cause of the Gospel, and of incurring notable reproaches at their hands. Finally, we have judged that we ought not to have our own particular interest so much at heart, as the advancement of God’s kingdom and glory; and the said Beza has been permitted to act as he shall deem fit.”
After his return to France, Beza was present at the battle of Dreux, and witnessed the defeat and capture of the Prince of Condé, singularly enough offset in the same battle by the capture of Marshal Montmorency, the commanding general of the Roman Catholics, and the death of Marshal Saint André, a second of the so-called “Triumvirs.” That inveterate calumniator, Claude de Sainctes, who will be remembered as one of the disputants at the Colloquy of Poissy, accused the Reformer, some years later, of having fought in that engagement, an assertion which Beza denied.
“I was certainly present at the battle, both at the beginning and the end (why should I not, having been duly called there?), and, indeed, which you may wonder at more, dressed in my cloak and not armed, nor may anyone cast in my teeth either the slaying of anybody or flight.”
The first civil war lasted two or three months more. Its conclusion was hastened by a tragic event. Duke Francis of Guise, while inspecting the works by means of which he seemed about to capture the city of Orleans, then held by the Huguenots, was treacherously shot by a miscreant named Poltrot, and died within six days. By whom the assassin had been instigated to the deed is even now uncertain. After at first glorying in his act, he broke down through fear of death and accused Admiral Coligny, Beza, M. de Soubise, and others. Subsequently he retracted his statements and declared them to be false; but while suffering his horrible sentence and being torn asunder by four horses, he again returned to his improbable story. Admiral Coligny and all those whom he had accused denied with the greatest solemnity that they had prompted the assassin to commit his dastardly action. With others we have nothing to do. Theodore Beza said that, so far from having counseled the man, he had never, to the best of his knowledge, laid eyes upon him. All fair-minded men cleared him, and most men held the crackbrained assailant of Guise to be a wild enthusiast whom fancied personal wrongs or the wrongs of his party had led to seek vengeance for himself.
At the expiration of hostilities Beza returned to Geneva and resumed the functions he had been compelled to intermit for about a year and a half. To the admiration which he had aroused in friends and foes alike, he had added the strong affection and confidence of all the French Huguenots won by his arduous and disinterested services in their behalf.
Of dangers incurred there had been no lack. For just in proportion as his friends had come to love and rely upon him, so had the enemies of Protestantism, within and without the kingdom, come to hate him as the most redoubtable of opponents. That they invented falsehoods respecting him was nothing strange; it was Beza’s experience to the very end of his days. On the present occasion the fabrication was a rumor that obtained wide currency to the effect that Beza and Calvin had had so violent a quarrel that the former did not dare to return to Geneva! In the full belief that the story was true, the Duchess of Parma, Spanish Regent of the Low Countries, thinking it likely that Beza might wend his way to Holland or Germany, secretly ordered the frontiers to be watched and offered a reward of 1,000 florins for Beza’s capture, dead or alive. The Reformer was portrayed as a man of medium stature, with a high and broad face, and a beard that was half gray.
End of Section 2