- Chapter 13 – Beza Succeeds Calvin
- Chapter 14 – Beza’s Broad Sympathies
- Chapter 15 – Controversies and Controversial Writings
- Chapter 16 – Beza and the Huguenot Psalter
- Chapter 17 – Beza’s Contributions to History
- Chapter 18 – Beza the Patriotic Preacher
- Chapter 19 – Beza’s Later Years in Geneva
- Chapter 20 – Closing Days
Beza Succeeds Calvin He Edits the Greek New Testament 1563–1565
The public records of Geneva bear witness to the general joy and thanksgiving to God that were felt and expressed at the safe return of Theodore Beza after his long and eventful absence. He reached his home on May 5, 1563. It was therefore over twenty months since he had set out upon his important mission, full of courage, but not blind to the dangers of the enterprise. Within two days of his arrival, a minute appears on the registers of the Council, to the effect that “great thanks, and offers of every kind of service, have been received from all the French Protestant lords, for the great and important services which Monsieur de Bèze has rendered to them, as well as to all the churches of the kingdom.” And a strong light is shed upon the esteem in which the Reformer was held in his adopted city, and upon the reputation he had gained through the unselfishness of his past life, by a statement in the same documents, six days later (May 13, 1563), that a resolution had been passed voting to grant all that he may need to Beza—”le Spectable de Bèze,” in the curious phraseology of the times—”who has expended much money in his travels and who would say nothing about it, even were he in great straits.”
By no one was he more cordially welcomed than by Calvin himself, not an old man—for he was not yet fifty-four years of age—but evidently fast nearing his end. The relation between the two men had long been of the closest and most affectionate character. Although the difference of age was only ten years, Beza had, from the first moment that he set foot in Geneva, assumed to the older Reformer the relation of a child to his parent. Intense admiration for the wonderful intellectual endowments of Calvin ripened into a love such as can exist only between strong characters that think the same great thoughts. Calvin saw in Beza not the slavish copy of himself, but a scholar of greater polish and wider knowledge of polite society, better capable of dealing with courts, with a stronger physical constitution, and therefore having the promise of being able to accomplish much that was denied to his own enfeebled health. The mutual discovery of their respective qualifications to carry on different parts of the great work committed to them, supplementing each other, yet acting in complete harmony, came early. It came on Calvin’s part long before Beza’s stay at Lausanne approached its end. For when, in 1551, Beza, having occupied his chair in the Académie of that city for only two years, was ill of the pestilence that proved mortal to so many, and was reported to be dying, Calvin tells us that he was prostrated with anxiety, and this not for himself alone, but also and chiefly for the Church to which he felt him to be so essential. “I should not be a man,” he wrote at this time, “if I did not love him who loves me with more than a brother’s love and honors me as a father.” Beza’s life was mercifully spared on that occasion, and, now that twelve years of the most confiding friendship and interchange of views on every important point that could interest intelligent men had passed over their heads, the love was still more intense.
But a return to the precise relations subsisting between the two men before Beza went to France was now impossible, so rapidly had Calvin’s health failed. He must assume the heavier of Calvin’s burdens, while waiting for the dreaded moment when, with Calvin’s death, he must attempt to bear them alone.
It is a notable circumstance connected with the period of the world’s history of which we are treating, that it gave birth to a horde of writers, not merely lovers of scandal but authors of impudent calumny against whose envenomed pen the reputation of no prominent champion of the so-called “new doctrines” was safe, either as to great matters or as to small. Beza’s antagonist at Poissy, the monk Claude de Sainctes, was of this type. Among his many inventions, he was not ashamed to assert that, so far from having been selected by Calvin to be his successor, Beza, in his inordinate ambition and rapacity, scarcely waited for Calvin’s removal from the earth to foist himself upon the Church and State of Geneva. Beza’s reply to this fabrication is, as usual, dignified and crushing.
“There was no one in this city at that time,” he writes, “who did not know that when, at length, I had returned home from your slaughter-house, that is, from the first civil war, and when illness precluded Calvin’s presence at our gatherings and especially at the meetings of the presbyters, I was designated, by the request of all my colleagues and of Calvin himself, who urged me to accept when I declined to do so, to sustain a portion of his load. And this also does everybody know, and the whole Council first of all, that, when Calvin died, it was only unwillingly and with reluctance that I took upon my shoulders this load; that in this matter I was moved by no consideration more than by Calvin’s own will, expressed while he was yet alive; and that I accepted it on no other condition but that at the end of the year someone else should be elected. I call God and all my brethren now to bear witness that each successive year I begged of my colleagues that this should be done, but never obtained my request.”
The records of the “Venerable Company” prove the truth of Beza’s solemn assertion. They tell us, moreover, that the pastors took the precaution to reserve for themselves the right of examining and, if necessary, censuring even before the end of the year whatever might seem deserving of reprobation in the conduct of him whom they continued to regard as only the equal of his brethren.
“The moderator,” so the minutes read, “shall always recall Monsieur Calvin, who, so severe against the vicious and the impious, never made use of an inordinate authority in his relations with his brethren; but, on the contrary, adapting himself so far as possible to all, managed to lighten the task of each.”
And so the custom remained until 1580, when a more frequent renewal of the election came into vogue. Even then it was Beza himself, with the support of Trembley, that urged a change by which each member was in turn called upon to preside at the meetings for a single week. The innovation could not, in the very nature of the case, make any diminution in some of Beza’s other engrossing cares, especially such as arose from his vastly extended correspondence with the churches of all parts of Protestant Christendom.
It fell to Beza’s lot, as the friend upon whom the mantle of the master fell, to tell the story of Calvin’s life and death to the world, and to tell it promptly.
Of Calvin’s works, the last to be finished was his Commentary on Joshua. It remained unpublished at the time of his death. Beza brought the work out with a biography of the author prefixed, in lieu of the customary preface from the author’s own pen. It opened with a few touching and appropriate words.
“Had it pleased God to preserve to us longer His faithful servant, Mr. John Calvin, or, rather, had not the perversity of the world moved the Lord to take him to Himself so soon, the present would not be the last of the works in which he has so faithfully and happily busied himself for the advancement of God’s glory and for the edification of the Church. Nor would this commentary issue without being crowned as it were by some excellent preface, like the rest. But it has happened to it as to poor orphans who are less highly favored than their brethren, in that their father has left them too early. However, I see this orphan to be sprung from so goodly a house, thank God, and bearing so strong a resemblance to his father, that without any other testimony he will make himself not only very agreeable, but also very honorable in the eyes of all that shall see it. For this reason I purpose not to recommend it by any testimony of my own—what need of it?—but rather to lament with it the death of him who has been a common father both to it and to me. For I neither can nor ought I to esteem him less my father because of what God has taught me through him, than should this book and so many other books for having been written by him. I shall therefore bewail my loss, but this shall not be without consolation. For, as regards him of whom I speak, I should have loved him too little while alive here below, if the blessedness into which he is now admitted did not change my personal sadness into rejoicing because of his gain. And I should have derived little profit from his teaching so holy and admirable, from his life so good and upright, from his death so happy and Christian, had I not been instructed by all these means to submit myself to the Providence of God with all satisfaction and content.”
A full year had not passed since Calvin’s death when Beza gave to the world, in 1565, the most notable of his contributions to Biblical science. This was an edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, accompanied in parallel columns by two translations into Latin, the one being the text of the Vulgate, the other an original translation of his own. This latter translation he had published as far back as in 1556. This was the reason that the present work bore the misleading designation of a second edition, although it was in reality the first edition of the Greek text. There were added annotations which Beza had also previously published, but which on this occasion he greatly enriched and enlarged.
In the preparation of this edition of the Greek text, but much more in the preparation of the second edition of that text which he brought out seventeen years later (in 1582), Beza might have availed himself of the help of a valuable manuscript of great antiquity which the fortunes of war threw into his hands. The uncial now known to the literary world as the “Codex Bezæ,” and briefly referred to by the letter D, had apparently long rested in the library of the Monastery of Saint Irenaeus at Lyons. It was a copy of the New Testament made in the middle of the sixth century, and comprised the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles both in Greek and Latin. In the iconoclasm and pillage to which Lyons was subjected by Huguenot soldiers in the first civil war, this precious monument of antiquity was happily saved, and passed into the possession of Beza. The great Hellenist undoubtedly recognized its value, but startled, it is said, by the singularity of some of its readings, made little use of it in the preparation of his editions. When, after a score of years, the decline of his powers warned him of the near approach of the close of his period of studious productiveness, he presented the manuscript to the University of Cambridge, where it may still be seen among the choice possessions of that seat of learning. In a similar way, Beza had the advantage of access, for the latter part of the New Testament, to the text of a second manuscript containing only that portion of the Sacred Scriptures, and dating from but a little later in the same sixth century. From the circumstance that it had been found by Beza in Clermont, this manuscript, which is now in the National Library at Paris, is known as the “Codex Claromontanus.”
It was not, however, to these sources that Beza was chiefly indebted, but rather to the previous edition of the eminent Robert Stephens (1550), itself based in great measure upon one of the later editions (the fourth or fifth, it is said) of Erasmus.
“In order to produce this entire work,” says Beza himself, in his preface, “I have compared with the remarks of a Valla, Peter Stapulensis, and Erasmus, the most learned writings both of the Greeks and the Romans, as well as the moderns, and I acknowledge that I have often been essentially supported by these, even though I have not made myself so dependent on either these or those as not to remain true to my own judgment. To all this there was added a copy from the library of our Stephens which had been most carefully collated by his son, Henry Stephens (who has inherited his father’s indefatigability), with some five and twenty manuscripts and almost all the printed editions.”
The result of Beza’s labors was a new edition of the text of the New Testament which, especially in the improved form in which it appeared in 1582 and thereafter, has a recognized place of great influence in the history of Biblical study. That the learned author succeeded in making all the use of his material, limited as it was, which a modern scholar trained in the rigid system now practiced might have derived even from such inadequate apparatus, cannot be affirmed. The rules of textual criticism were of the crudest kind, and Beza himself would seem at times to have adhered with less consistency than at others to the canons which he himself had laid down. But at least there was progress, and Beza’s labors in this direction were exceedingly helpful to those that came after.
The same thing may be asserted with equal truth of Beza’s Latin version and of the copious notes with which it was accompanied. The former is said to have been published over a hundred times. Both were composed with the purpose of conveying a more exact notion of the sense than could be derived from the Vulgate. Both bear in every verse marks of the keen insight, close discrimination, well trained linguistic skill of a scholar who had made himself by an unusually comprehensive study of profane as well as sacred literature almost as familiar with the idioms of the Greek as with those of the Latin tongue. The apparently unprofitable years spent at Paris in reading the works of the ancients, with no present object in view other than the gratification of personal literary tastes, now bore abundant fruit in an unexpected direction. The Biblical exegete, not less than the elegant orator at Poissy, drew upon a treasury of classic lore stored up in the years of leisure when the chief end of the elegant youth from Vézelay seemed to be above everything else to avoid compulsion to wear life away in the dull and repulsive practice of the law. The merits of his work have been variously estimated, for indeed it possessed along with its conspicuous excellences some peculiarities regarded by adverse critics as undeniable defects. Of these the chief has been found by some to consist in the preponderating influence exercised upon the interpretation of Scripture by the author’s view of the doctrine of Predestination. However this may be, there is no question that Beza added much both by his version and by his notes to a clearer understanding of the New Testament. He was no servile follower of the Vulgate, and while he was not always felicitous, either from the standpoint of style or from that of interpretation, in his departures from the rendering of the Vulgate, it is quite certain, as we might expect to be the case in the serious work of so earnest a student, that he introduced no changes for change’s sake.
Beza’s Broad Sympathies Synod of La Rochelle Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day The English Reformation 1566–1574
With Calvin’s responsibilities, Theodore Beza had also inherited Calvin’s broad sympathies and his insatiable avidity to learn everything occurring in any part of the world that bore upon the progress of the kingdom of Christ. This occupied his thoughts almost to the exclusion of matters of purely secular importance. This filled a great part of his correspondence, especially with men likeminded but less favorably situated for the receipt of intelligence from abroad. In particular, his letters to Bullinger, throughout a long series of years, contain what may properly be styled the current history of Christendom. A few sentences of a letter to the Zurich Reformer, written from Geneva, June 6, 1566, may serve as a specimen of this correspondence, while giving a glimpse of the state of Europe two years after Calvin’s death. It has never been published.
“We are enjoying our peace, through the singular and incredible kindness of God. For it is clear to us that never have our enemies been more animated than they now are against this little church and this school. But hitherto God has frustrated all the efforts of the wicked. It is probable that, were we to stand aloof and hold our peace, [the Duke of] Savoy would easily secure everything against that slave of all iniquity, Geneva, wherein reigns that notable robber Beza. We shall live, however, so long as it shall seem good to the Lord. Doubtless you have learned fully all that has been done at Augsburg, and how those thunderbolts of theirs have vanished in empty sound. I hope that the Lord will dissipate the rest of the tempests that are imminent. …
“For the rest, so far as appertains to the French Churches themselves, they are happily growing in the sight of their adversaries. But it is certain that the latter are only watching to obtain an opportunity for overwhelming the chief men and subsequently ruining the rest. Of this our friends have no doubt, and meanwhile look to God [for help]. Among the Piedmontese [Waldenses] after the departure of Mr. Junius, the same thing occurred to our brethren that befell the Israelites when Pharaoh was wonderfully exasperated at the first appeal of Moses. What will happen, God only knows. In England, everything is gradually tending to a manifest contempt of all religion; good men, indeed, groan, but only too few. In Scotland after the slaying of Secretary David [Rizzio] the queen is said to have become so insane as even to have his bones interred in the sepulchre of her fathers. Hence fresh disturbances have arisen. But in short it is represented that all matters are now settled on conditions that are not unequal, if only they be sufficiently stable. Thus much I have to write. Farewell, my father, and continue, as you do, to commend us to God. Two days ago we counted up two thousand students at the promotions of our school. Pray that the Lord may bless these beginnings, while Satan impotently gnashes his teeth.”
The attempt to make of Geneva a model to Christendom for the purity of its morals, enforced by a legislation of unexampled strictness, was not suspended at Calvin’s death, but found in Theodore Beza as decided an advocate as it possessed in his predecessor. Calvin had not been in his grave two years when a signal proof of this fact was afforded.
The number of bishops that were converted to Protestantism and resigned their sees, in the early days of the French Reformation, was larger than one might suppose. Among them was Jacques Paul Spifame, Seigneur de Passy, Bishop of Nevers, who, in 1559, forsook the kingdom and took refuge in Geneva. Here, as a nobleman, he was readily admitted to citizenship, as well as to the ministry. Subsequently he served as pastor at Issoudun. Calvin urged him, in a letter still extant, to return to Nevers and take charge of the newly established Protestant church, showing the people of his former diocese that if he had formerly been their bishop only in name, it was his purpose now to be a bishop in deed. But unfortunately Spifame was not of the stuff of which good pastors are made. The inconsistencies that appeared in his life both when the Prince of Condé selected him for some diplomatic work in Germany, and when he sojourned at the court of the Queen of Navarre, led to investigation, and investigation disclosed crime. In the end he was arrested and tried for adultery at Geneva, and being found guilty was sentenced to death. Despite his tardy confession and the contrition for his sins which he testified on the scaffold, by an address to the people that was accepted as satisfactory proof of repentance, he was publicly put to death on March 23, 1566.
It need scarcely be said that so severe a punishment for a crime of which in the neighboring kingdom the courts of justice were not wont to take cognizance, created a profound sensation and drew down upon the little republic of Geneva, and upon the ministers that approved the republic’s course, almost universal condemnation. But the government did not flinch in the determination to uphold the law, nor did Beza fail to espouse its defense. Writing to the eminent Pithou, of Troyes, in Champagne, less than a month after the event, he says, in a letter which, I believe, is inedited:
“I know well that everybody will pass his own judgment, and that Satan will not spare us. But I hope that the wise will call to mind the Lord’s warning that bids us not to judge rashly of our brethren, and therefore, with still greater reason, not to think ill of an entire Christian Seigniory and Church. … As to the others, who will judge as they please, it is God’s province to stop their mouths, and to Him we appeal from all foolish judgments passed in so many places against us.”
While every part of Christendom where the truth was struggling for existence claimed and secured Beza’s attention and prayers, it was, next to Geneva and its schools, the work in France that lay nearest to his heart. In that kingdom the interval of quiet was short. Then two more civil wars rudely disturbed the delusive dream of steady progress in which the Protestants had indulged. The disasters of Jarnac and Moncontour at first seemed fatal blows from which the Huguenot cause would be slow to recover, if ever it should recover from them at all. But the marvelous ability developed by Admiral Coligny, in turning a flight before the enemy into a successful advance that carried war almost to the gates of the capital, raised the hopes of the despondent and wrested from unwilling hands the concession of a peace on favorable terms.
So long as it lasted, the French war brought new cares and anxieties for Beza. Fugitives poured into Geneva in an almost incessant stream, and these fugitives were for the time to be provided with food and shelter. At such crises it was to Beza that all eyes looked for advice and direction. Never did he fail to secure the needy material aid. Furnished with strong letters of recommendation, envoys sent from Geneva at his suggestion laid the pitiable condition of the destitute Huguenot refugees before the charitable Swiss cantons, while by direct appeals the Reformer reached those that were like-minded in the Low Countries and beyond the English Channel.
Meanwhile, although the period was indeed one of deep solicitude, it was relieved, for Beza, from time to time, by some rays of encouragement and hope. The Church of Geneva was steadily growing, the theological school received a constant and indeed a swelling stream of students. In 1569 Beza was able to write to John Knox that the University had so greatly increased the number of its students that he believed that there were few institutions of the kind in Christendom that were better attended. Colladon and he taught theology upon alternate weeks, and there had now come a third professor, Gallasius by name, driven into this haven, as had an almost countless crowd been driven thither, by the tempests of France. Yet were there two circumstances that prevented the Reformer from taking such solid joy as he might otherwise have experienced from these tokens of prosperity; the one was that if the church was growing in a marvelous fashion, it was growing because of the ruin of other churches; the second, that the plague which had sorely vexed the little city on Lake Leman a year back had within about a month entered upon a new course of destruction. The state of things was worse, instead of better, three years later, a few months before the news came of the Parisian massacre.
“While you off yonder,” he wrote to the same correspondent, alluding to the intestine commotions and to the deeds of violence that were enacted in Scotland, “are exercised by tragedies such as not even Greece entire celebrated in her theatres, we have meantime been contending for a full period of six years with the plague, not are we yet altogether through with this combat, which has certainly carried off not fewer than twelve thousand persons in this little town.”
In fact, he informed Knox, Geneva was no longer the place he had seen years before, for War and Plague had severely handled her, and the forms of the school, once crowded with pupils, were now empty.
When the Peace of Saint Germain, in 1570, closed the deadliest war to which the Protestants had had yet been exposed, the ardor of Beza’s interest in the affairs of his native land did not flag. A few months later there was held, in the month of April, 1571, and within the walls of La Rochelle, most Protestant perhaps of all the cities of France, the seventh in order of the national synods of the Reformed Churches, and one of the most impressive of all these historical assemblies. Not only did Theodore Beza come all the way from Geneva to preside as moderator over this body representative of all the adherents of the Protestant faith, but there was a brilliant representation at its sessions of that large class of princes and nobles that stood at the head of the Huguenot party and had lately been foremost in maintaining its rights on the field of battle. Their enthusiasm had never run higher. Jeanne d’Albrét, Queen of Navarre, was there. With her were the two princes in whom centered the hopes of the Protestants—Henry of Navarre, who, it was hoped, would make good the damage wrought by the defection of his father, and Henry of Condé, whom popular expectation regarded as destined to replace his father Louis, slain at Jarnac. There, too, were Admiral Coligny, Count Louis of Nassau (brother of William the Silent, Prince of Orange), and others scarcely less distinguished. The national synods were purely religious bodies, unlike in this the “political assemblies” which were occasionally convened for more secular purposes. But the present synod seemed almost to be a joint convention of everything most highly revered in Church and State. The most august moment was when three copies of the Confession of Faith of the Protestant Churches having been carefully engrossed on parchment, each copy was signed, in accordance with a solemn resolution adopted on the first day of the sessions, not only by all the ministers and elders, but also by Queen Jeanne d’Albrét and by all the princes and noblemen in the company. The first copy was to be preserved in La Rochelle, the second in a city of the district of Béarn; the third was sent for safe keeping to Geneva.
It was not a mere form in which the delegates engaged when giving to the Confession of Faith, which the French Churches had adopted and presented to Francis II twelve years before, their renewed and solemn adhesion. It was not merely to honor Theodore Beza that the Queen of Navarre and her wise counsellors, disregarding his first refusal, had insisted, in a reiterated appeal, that he should come to preside over the synod. Nor was it an accident that the very first subject to be considered was that of the Confession of Faith, to be followed immediately by the Ecclesiastical Discipline or Form of Government. The very existence of the churches under their present constitution was in question, and it had to be decided firmly, explicitly, and once for all, that the structure whose foundations had been so firmly laid, but whose order and symmetry the years of war and confusion through which the Protestants had been passing had seriously menaced, should be reared according to its original design. There were those who wished to disturb the representative system with its successive courts, rising from the session or consistory of the individual church, through the classis or presbytery and the provincial synod, to the national synod of the entire kingdom, and, in place of securing to the faithful a purely independent existence, to subordinate the Church to the State, and make the pastor, instead of the free choice of the Christian community, the appointee of the civil magistrate. “The civil magistrate,” someone had lately written, “is the head of the Church, and what the ministers are undertaking to exercise is a pure tyranny.” Theodore Beza was requested by the national synod to reply to the attacks made upon the Confession and Government of the churches. It was not the first nor the last of such important charges which were placed in his hands by the Protestants of France, assembled in their highest ecclesiastical councils.
The year following beheld the occurrence of an event which changed the whole face of French history, the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, of the tragic story of which we may not in this place even attempt to give an outline.
The butchery of the Huguenots that began in the city of Paris on the morning of Sunday, August 24, 1572, afforded a fresh opportunity to Beza, and to the little republic of which he was now avowedly the leading statesman, to display their charity toward the persecuted Protestants of France. Several days would have been required in the midst of profound peace for the tidings to pass from the capital to the borders of Switzerland; the news was purposely retarded in the turmoil into which the kingdom was thrown by the dastardly crime that inaugurated the carnage. Not until Saturday, the 30th, did the first information reach Geneva, brought by merchants from Lyons. These were the advance-guard of a great host of fugitives soon to be expected. Startling as was the horrible announcement to the majority of the citizens, it can scarcely be said to have surprised Beza, a keen observer of contemporaneous history, whom acquaintance with the main actors in French affairs and careful study of their characters had prepared even for so tragic a scene as that now presented to the eye in his native land. Least of all did the fate of the magnanimous and unsuspicious Admiral Coligny astonish him, for he had foreseen the catastrophe and attempted to set the victim on his guard. “Never,” he wrote to a friend in Heidelberg, “has so much perfidy, so much atrocity, been seen. How many times did I predict the thing to him [Coligny]! How many times did I forewarn him!” Yet Beza’s apprehensions had probably been rather for the life of the great Huguenot leader, and could scarcely have embraced the lives of so many thousands, especially of more obscure men, women, and children whose blood drenched the ground in almost every part of the country. In the midst of the deep affliction into which the tidings cast him, the faithlessness of the young king and the ineffable meanness of the afterthought by which it was attempted to make culprits of the innocent, especially raised his indignant protest.
“The king at first laid everything to the account of the Guises,” Beza wrote to a friend in the letter just quoted, “now he writes that all was done by his own orders. He dares to accuse of a conspiracy those men whom he caused to be assassinated at Paris in their beds, men of whom the world was not worthy.”
Most of all did his sympathies go out toward the region nearest to Geneva, from which came the majority of those who safely reached its hospitable refuge.
“At Lyons, all, excepting a small number of persons saved by the cupidity of the soldiers, presented themselves of their own accord to be shut up in the prisons; then themselves offered their necks [to the knife]. Not one drew a sword, not one murmured, not one was questioned. All were butchered like sheep at the shambles, and meanwhile the pretext was raised of a conspiracy. O Lord, Thou hast seen these things, and Thou wilt judge! Pray for us too, who may expect the same fate. Our government is doing its duty, but it is in God that we must put our hope.”
During the weeks that followed, Beza found no lack of employment in encouraging and stimulating the Genevese, whose resources were taxed to the utmost by the sudden addition to their numbers of a multitude of once prosperous but now homeless and destitute refugees, only too glad to have escaped from France with their lives. Not that the citizens themselves needed to be reminded of the claims of common humanity and a common faith. They could boast, in after days, of the fact that as fast as the fugitives arrived, they were carried off to private homes, one citizen contending with another as to which should have the honor of entertaining and caring for those that bore the marks of having endured the greatest hardships or received the most wounds. In fact, so fully did individual liberality provide for immediate wants, that, at first, no public help was called for. Only after the lapse of a month was the need felt of lightening the burden assumed by the citizens. Then a collection of funds was made, in which the wealthy councillors and the pastors took, we are told, the largest part. It was Beza who, conscious that, in the danger that threatened Geneva, regarded by the fanatics both of Italy and of France as the very “mine of heresy,” his own peril was the most imminent, turned his own mind and the minds of others to the certainty of the divine protection. “My thoughts,” he wrote to Bullinger, “are more occupied with death than with life.” It was he who, on the day set apart for solemn fasting and prayer to Almighty God, preached in the pulpit of the old church which Calvin had so often filled in former years. His words inculcated firm and unshaken reliance on the goodness of God.
“The hand of the Lord is not shortened,” he said. “He will not suffer a hair of our heads to fall to the ground without His will. Let us not be affrighted because of the plot of those who have unjustly devised to put us all to death with our wives and our children. Let us rather be assured that, if the Lord has ordained to deliver all or any of us, none shall be able to resist Him. If it shall please Him that we all die, let us not fear; for it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us another home, which is the heavenly kingdom, where there is no change, no poverty, no want, where there are no tears, no crying, no mourning, no sorrow, but, on the contrary, everlasting joy and blessedness. It is far better to dwell with the beggar Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, than in hell with the rich man, with Cain, with Saul, with Herod, or with Judas. Meanwhile, we must drink of the cup which the Lord has prepared for us, each according to his portion. We must not be ashamed of the Cross of Christ, nor be loath to drink the gall of which He has first drunk, knowing that our sorrow shall be turned into joy, and that we shall laugh in our turn when the wicked shall weep and gnash their teeth.”
Fully twenty Protestant pastors had found their way to Geneva. These shepherds driven from their flocks were the special objects of Beza’s fraternal solicitude. The perils to which they had found themselves exposed did not discourage others from entering upon the studies that would qualify them to embrace the same dangerous vocation. Beza’s hands were full with providing for the relief of their extreme want. “Our school,” he wrote at the beginning of winter, “is full, almost too full; but the greater part of our students have come to us in a state of utter destitution.” At that very time—such was the Reformer’s untiring literary activity—he could write that the second volume of his theological works, a ponderous folio, was in press, in which, he added, “he contemplated the insertion of several new pieces, especially some theological letters, should God grant him leisure.”
The Parisian massacre, great as was the disappointment of cherished hopes which it created, did not permanently dishearten Theodore Beza and those that, like Beza, had looked for the speedy conversion of France to the Gospel. Much less did it chill his affection and dampen his interest in his native land. After it, not less than before it, he remained the advocate and counsellor of French Protestantism.
The emergency might be purely ecclesiastical, or might have reference to the political relations of his fellow believers; but whatever it was, the Huguenots regarded themselves as entitled to the services of a man equally at home in religion and in diplomacy. Prince Henry of Condé felt that he could not do without this prudent adviser; and so often did he invite the Genevese to make him a “loan” of their leading theologian, that at length, becoming impatient of the inconvenience to which they were repeatedly put, they politely informed his Highness that he would do well henceforth to depend on the letters, in lieu of the visits, of Beza. Nor was the latter less a tried friend and adviser of Henry of Navarre, who rarely failed to communicate to the Reformer his conclusions on all matters of prime importance, and attempt to justify his course in the Reformer’s eyes, in case he seemed to have acted precipitately or ill-advisedly. This does not mean that the wayward prince was much disposed to follow Beza’s recommendations, save where these coincided with his own predilections. But he professed to value them highly and not to reject Beza’s “holy admonitions,” even when not profiting by them.
“I beg you to love me always,” was the postscript of one of his letters, “assuring you that you could not give a share of your friendship to any prince that would be less ungrateful for it, and to continue your good reproof as if you were my father.”
Others were equally anxious to obtain Beza’s views and more certain to be influenced by them. The records of the national synods of the French Reformed Churches prove that at perplexing points it was customary to rely much upon Geneva, and that Geneva’s wise leader was consulted whether, for example, it was deemed opportune to draw up a statement of the reasons for which the Decrees of the Council of Trent were held to be null and void by the Protestant world, or to frame an answer to anti-Trinitarian books. No action of importance indeed seemed complete which had not been communicated to Theodore Beza.
There was probably no country in which Protestantism had taken any root that did not claim a share of Beza’s attention, and with which he did not at some time or other enter into relations by his singularly extended correspondence. Most interesting to us is his part in the reformatory movement in Great Britain, and especially in England.
It is scarcely necessary to remind the reader of the bitter disappointment which upon their return to England, in 1558 and later, awaited the exiles who had fled to the Continent to avoid the persecution reigning in England during the five years of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. Whereas they had looked for a still more perfect reformation than under Edward VI, they found a retrograde movement tending to the reintroduction of theories and practices long since discarded. In place of greater liberty, they met with more determined repression. In nothing were they more deceived than in the attitude of the new queen. Elizabeth, upon whose sincere Protestantism they had built their hopes during the weary years intervening between her brother’s death and that of her elder sister, proved to be far less ardent a friend than they had anticipated. With Geneva and Genevan theologians she had a grievance of her own. It was from Geneva that had issued the unfortunate treatise entitled “The First Blast against the Monstrous Regiment and Empire of Women.” John Knox, who wrote it, was at the time one of the corps of preachers, being pastor of the English church of the city of Geneva. In vain could it be shown that his brethren in the ministry had no part in the composition of the treatise, that they disapproved of it, that Calvin expressed his displeasure to Knox and to Beza, and was only deterred from publicly condemning it by the consideration that it was too late for the application of such a remedy to do any good. Queen Elizabeth’s secretary, William Cecil, was apparently satisfied with the explanation, but Elizabeth herself would not be reconciled to the Genevese, whom she regarded as over-severe and precise.
The new queen was peculiarly fond of pompous ceremonial, more fond, in fact, than the very bishops whom she selected to take the places of the prelates of Mary’s time, who had been removed by death or whom she had deprived. One of their number, John Jewel, writing apparently just before his own nomination to the see of Salisbury, but giving some of the names of his future colleagues, states his “hope that it has been arranged, under good auspices, that religion shall be restored to the same state as it was in under Edward.” But he adds in the same breath, “The scenic apparatus of divine worship is now under agitation, and those very things which you and I have so often laughed at are now seriously and solemnly entertained by certain persons (for we are not consulted), as if the Christian religion could not exist without something tawdry. Our minds indeed are not sufficiently disengaged to make these fooleries of much importance.”
Bishop Grindal, of London, reverting in mind to this period, wrote six or seven years later:
“We, who are now bishops, on our first return, and before we entered on our ministry, contended long and earnestly for the removal of those things that have occasioned the present dispute; but as we were unable to prevail, either with the queen or the parliament, we judged it best, after a consultation on the subject, not to desert our churches for the sake of a few ceremonies, and those not unlawful in themselves, especially since the pure doctrine of the Gospel remained in all its integrity and freedom.”
There were others, however, and these among the most sincere and pious of the ministers recently returned from the Continent, who honestly regarded the vestments which the queen and her advisers were determined to reintroduce as more of consequence than even the excellent bishops esteemed them, and refused to don them; who viewed the use of the sign of the cross in baptism as no indifferent matter, but as a relic of popery; who declined to kneel at the administration of the Lord’s Supper, because to them it seemed to be a plain act of worship and marked a belief in the real corporeal presence of Christ in His sacrament. The neglect or refusal of these men to obey the new prescriptions was visited with harsh measures on the part of the government. The most sincere of Christians and the most devoted of pastors were deprived of their places for no other reason than their scruples of conscience. Particulars of the course of events during these most mournful and disastrous years of English ecclesiastical history must be sought elsewhere. We have no room for them here, save as bearing upon the position taken by the Reformers of Geneva and Zurich. For to Zurich and Geneva the unfortunate clergymen of England naturally turned for sympathy and advice. In those cities many of them had sojourned during their exile. All of them had formed relations of friendship with the leading men of the churches of one or both of the cities. The bishops themselves were on terms of intimacy with Beza, in the one, and with Bullinger and Rudolph Gualter, Zwingli’s son-in-law and Bullinger’s younger colleague and subsequently his successor, in the other. In fact, Bishop Parkhurst, of Norwich, had during four years been a guest in Gualter’s house at Zurich. Theirs was an ancient friendship begun as far back as when Gualter was studying at Oxford.
Between the ministers returned from the Continent that protested strenuously against the innovations and the reintroduction of practices abolished in the time of King Edward VI, on the one hand, and the new bishops who, after a period of active resistance, acquiesced more or less completely in the measures dictated by Queen Elizabeth, on the other, the position of the Swiss Reformers, consulted now by the former and now by the latter, was of a delicate nature and by no means free from difficulties. The Zurich pastors were less happy than Beza at Geneva in meeting these difficulties.
At first, when the trouble seemed to turn chiefly upon the question of vestments, or, at least, was so understood by them, the attitude of Beza and that of Bullinger and Gualter were the same. Beza was at one with his Zurich friends in treating the matter of ecclesiastical habiliments, however absurd and unsuitable these might seem to him to be, as too insignificant to warrant him in countenancing any disposition on the part of aggrieved ministers to abandon the established church. But a divergence of sentiment developed itself later, when the queen demanded a slavish submission and the bishops acquiesced in the demand. The Zurich theologians, having once given their confidence to the bishops, saw no reason to withdraw it, believing them men of piety and integrity. More than all, they were determined not to be involved in a conflict in which the feelings of the contestants had become so exasperated that each side was now to blame, and hardly any remedy could be discovered for the mischief. They disclaimed any power to dictate to the bishops, and therefore refused positively to take part against them when they were pleading their own cause. They equally abstained from attempting to dissuade their opponents from presenting to the elector palatine a petition drawn up by George Withers, one of their number, with the view of inducing that prince to use his influence with Queen Elizabeth to complete the reformation of the Church, or, if this boon could not be obtained, to secure “for those that abominated the relics of antichrist the liberty of not being obliged to adopt them against their conscience, or to relinquish the ministry.” Bullinger and Gualter wrote to Beza at length that it was now their decided resolution to have nothing more to do with anyone in this controversy, whether in conversation or by letter. “And if any other parties think of coming hither,” they added, “let them know that they will come to no purpose.”
Meanwhile they remained on such terms of friendship with the prelates to whom Withers bade the elector palatine transfer all the blame from the queen, as to be frequent recipients of presents, especially of cloth, doubtless very welcome to them in their self-denying and slenderly paid labors, until Bullinger found himself compelled to beg Bishop Sandys and Grindal, now become Archbishop of Canterbury, to desist from sending more. Their enemies were asserting that the bishops sent presents to learned men to draw them to their side. “I had rather,” said the aged Bullinger, “that men who are so ready to speak evil and calumniate, should not have the least occasion of detracting from me and my ministry.”
Beza, on the other hand, although still remaining unmoved in his love and respect for Bullinger, as his copious extant correspondence abundantly proves, and although after Bullinger’s death, in 1575, continuing his close relations with Zurich by a frequent interchange of letters with Rudolph Gualter, was much more outspoken in his condemnation of the course of the queen and in expressions of sympathy with the distressed ministers who suffered for their conscientious refusal to conform to her arbitrary demands.
The letter which Beza wrote to Bishop Grindal (June 27, 1566) is a very long and striking document, intended to stimulate that excellent prelate to put forth strenuous exertion to terminate the distressing state of affairs in England. I shall not even recapitulate the arguments employed to exhibit the dangers of the course upon which the queen had launched the ecclesiastical establishment. He subordinated the question of ritual to doctrine, conceding that, while the latter, as it has come down to us from the apostles, is perfect, admitting neither addition nor diminution, the forms of worship were not fixed by the apostles themselves for all times and all places. But he deplored the retention of practices either absurd in themselves or injurious in their tendencies. He condemned still more strongly the reintroduction of objectionable practices after they had been discontinued for a considerable space of time—practices in defense of which it could not therefore be truthfully urged that they were followed, through fear lest the weak might be offended. He charged the responsibility for schism, if schism should arise, not so much to the account of such brethren as might forsake the Church, as to the account of those who virtually expelled them.
“Relying upon your sense of equity,” said he, “I shall not fear to say this: If those men sin who, rather than have things of the kind forced upon them contrary to their consciences, prefer to leave the Church, much greater guilt in the sight of God and the angels is incurred by men, if such there be, who allow flocks to be deprived of their shepherds and pastors, and thus permit the beginnings of a horrible dissipation, rather than see ministers in all other respects blameless [officiate] clad in this rather than that garb, and prefer that no Supper be offered anywhere to the starving sheep, rather than that kneeling be omitted.” “If this be the result,” he adds, “which I can scarcely believe, it will be the beginning of much greater calamities. And if it be true, as is everywhere asserted, though I do not yet credit it, that private baptism [as in the Romish Church] by women is permitted, I cannot see what it is to return from the goal to the starting-point, unless it be this. Whence has this foulest of errors emanated, save from dense ignorance as to the nature of the sacraments? Whoever is not sprinkled with water (say those that uphold this profanation of baptism) is damned. If this be so, the salvation of infants will arise not from God’s covenant (which, however, is clearly the foundation of our salvation), but from the very seal of the covenant that is affixed, and this not that it may be rendered more certain in itself, but rather that we should be made more certain of it. What would be more unjust still, the entire salvation of infants would depend upon the diligence or negligence of parents.”
There were other rumors still more incredible—so improbable were they—that the English prelates had reintroduced abuses than which the antichristian church had none that were more intolerable—the plurality of benefices, licenses for non-residence, permits to contract marriage, and for the use of meats, and other things of that sort. If the story was true, these were not a corruption of the Christian religion; they were a clear defection from Christ. Those consequently were not to be condemned that opposed such attempts; they were rather to be commended.
The letter ended with some stinging words of rebuke for those who wished to force the ministers to pledge themselves to obey whatever the queen and the bishops might hereafter prescribe in matters of ecclesiastical ritual.
“I have yet to learn,” wrote Beza, “by what right, whether you look at the Word of God or at the ancient canons, the civil magistrate is authorized to introduce new rites in churches that have been constituted, or to abrogate old ones; what right bishops have, without the advice and consent of their body of elders, to ordain anything novel. For I see that these two curses [arising from] the base and ambitious adulation of superior bishops addressed to their princes, partly abusing their virtues, partly even ministering to their vices, have ruined the Christian Church; until it has come to such a pass that the most powerful of the Metropolitans of the West, by the just judgment of God punishing both magistrates and bishops, has snatched up for himself all rights, human and divine. Yet I confess that my whole nature shudders as often as I reflect on these things and looking forward see that the same and yet more bitter punishments threaten most of the peoples which so eagerly embraced the Gospel at the beginning, but now are gradually departing from it. Nor do I doubt that the same groans of all the good are everywhere arising. Oh that the Lord may answer them, and for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son, give to kings and princes a truly pious and religious mind, and good and courageous counsellors. May He bestow His Holy Spirit upon the leaders of His Church, imparting to them, first of all, in abundant measure, both knowledge and zeal; and may He increase and preserve the peoples that have already professed the true faith, in purity of doctrine and rites and in holiness of life. Farewell, and in turn continue to love me together with this entire Church and school, and to assist us with your prayers.”
Meanwhile, Beza, as he informs us, was consulted again and again by those brethren in the English churches who found themselves in the utmost perplexity respecting their duty, in view of the novelties thrust upon them. To their inquiries he states that he long avoided replying, and this for three reasons—first, he was unwilling to believe that such men as the bishops could do things alien to the duty of their office; secondly, he was reluctant to pronounce an opinion based upon ex parte statements; thirdly, he feared that he might do more harm than good. Compelled at length to notice the points laid before him, he addressed himself first to the most important of all:
“Can you approve the irregularity of a call to the ministry when a crowd of candidates are enrolled, without the legitimate vote of the body of presbyters, or the assignment of any parish, and after a very slight examination into their life and morals, upon whom subsequently, at the mere good pleasure of the bishop, authority is conferred to preach the Word of God for a certain time, or simply to recite the liturgy?”
“We reply,” says Beza, “that calls and ordinations of such a kind by no means appear to us to be lawful, whether we look at the express Word of God or the more pure among the canons. Yet we know that it is better to have something than nothing. We pray God with all our hearts that He may grant to England a more legitimate call to the ministry, in default of which the blessing of the teaching of the truth will surely be lost to her or maintained only in some extraordinary and truly heavenly way. We must beg the queen to attend in earnest to this reform, and her council and the bishops to further it. But, meantime, what? Certainly, as for ourselves, we cannot accept the function of the ministry, even if offered, in this fashion, much less seek it. Yet those to whom the Lord has in this manner opened an avenue to the propagation of the glory of His kingdom, we exhort to persevere courageously in the fear of God; on this added condition, however, that they be permitted to discharge their entire ministry holily and religiously, and consequently to propose and urge, according to the measure of their office, such things as tend to the amelioration of the condition of affairs. For otherwise, if this liberty be taken away, and they be ordered so to connive at a manifest abuse, as even to approve of what clearly should be corrected, what other advice shall we give but that they prefer rather to be private individuals than contrary to their conscience to favor an evil which will necessarily soon bring with it the utter ruin of the churches?”
On another point about which he had been consulted, namely, whether they might not continue to discharge their office contrary to the will of the queen and the bishops, Beza replied that he shuddered at the thought, for reasons which needed not to be explained.
The subject of the vestments naturally received attention and condemnation at Beza’s hands. Yet, after a long discussion of their nature and tendencies, when the question recurred, “What shall those do upon whom these things are thrust?” he could not but reply that they did not seem to him to be of such moment as that, on their account, either ministers should desert their ministry rather than wear them, or the flocks lose their spiritual nourishment rather than listen to ministers thus arrayed. “But if the order is issued to the ministers, not only to endure these things, but approve them as right by their signatures, or favor them by their silence, what other counsel can we give than that, after testifying their innocence and trying every remedy in God’s fear, they yield to open violence?” Such in sum was the advice given by the Genevese Reformer, not indeed without a strong feeling of discouragement, yet also with the hope, which he expressed before concluding, that better things might be in store for a kingdom whose reformation had been sealed by the blood of so many excellent martyrs.
The fortunes of Puritanism in England were watched by Beza with interest that did not diminish as time went on. Less solicitous with regard to details of ritual than with regard to the integrity of the discipline of the Church, he lent his full sympathy to the Presbyterian movement. He honored and estimated at his true worth Thomas Cartwright, that prince of theologians, of whom on one occasion he wrote, “The sun, I think, does not see a more learned man.” When Cartwright, for his sturdy maintenance of his views, was deprived of his chair as Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University and of his fellowship in Trinity College, and forbidden to preach or teach, he crossed the Channel, and at Geneva was welcomed by Beza and his colleagues. Strengthened by conference with them and other Reformers of the Continent, he returned later to his native land in time to support by his voice and vigorous pen the “Admonition to Parliament for the Reformation of Church Discipline,” which so infuriated the opposite party, that its authors, Field and Wilcox, were consigned to prison for their audacity. The Genevese Reformer was held responsible for a great share of the changes which it was sought to introduce into the government of the Church of England. Bishop Sandys wrote to Gualter at Zurich (August 9, 1574):
“Our innovators, who have been striving to strike out for us a new form of a church, are not doing us much harm; nor is this new fabric of theirs making such progress as they expected. Our nobility are at last sensible of the object to which this novel fabrication is tending. The author of these novelties, and after Beza the first inventor, is a young Englishman, by name Thomas Cartwright, who they say is sojourning at Heidelberg.”
Unlike Beza, Bullinger’s associate Gualter had little sympathy with a movement whose ulterior results he suspected, and had written to Bishop Cox a few months earlier, March 16, 1574: “I greatly fear there is lying concealed under the presbytery an affectation of oligarchy, which may at length degenerate into monarchy, or even into open tyranny.”
Controversies and Controversial Writings
We see, in his autobiographical letter to Wolmar, that Beza claims for himself, as a theologian, little or no originality. And, although this letter was written in 1560, that is, very early in his literary career, and he lived and studied for not much less than a half-century longer, he would, doubtless, have taken no very different view at the end of the period. His theology was essentially the theology of his great master, John Calvin. Accordingly the leading doctrines of the system of Calvin were also most prominent and fundamental in that of Beza. If there was any difference, these doctrines were more strongly accentuated by Beza and more rigidly carried out to their legitimate consequences. Most of the controversies in which the disciple became involved arose therefore in connection with the doctrines of the divine sovereignty and election, and with the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper.
It would manifestly be impossible, within the compass of the present volume, to speak in detail of all the numerous theological disputes in which Beza took part in the course of his long life, and of the works from his pen to which they gave rise. The greater number of the latter may be read in the three large volumes of his Theological Treatises (Tractationes Theologicæ), revised and republished by the author himself in 1582. Since his opponents were wont to reply, as best they could, to his arguments, Beza, unwilling to leave the last word to them, usually rejoined with a defense of his first position. Thus, we not infrequently find two or even three treatises bearing upon the same point and pursuing the same lines of thought, addressed to the same antagonist.
It will be remembered that Beza informs us that the important work to which he prefixed the letter to Wolmar was his Confession of the Christian Faith, composed primarily with the hope of gaining over his aged father, by clearing away the calumnies which the enemies of the truth had circulated respecting it. Subsequently given to the world, this Confession took a classical position and was recognized, both by friend and by foe, as an authoritative exposition of the Reformed belief. The former bought and read it, especially in the French language, and circulated it in many successive editions. There are said to have been six French editions printed in Geneva alone, within three years of the original publication. It was translated into English and Italian. That it met with the animadversion of the Roman Catholic Church is not surprising: the reading of any theological writing of Beza is strictly forbidden by the official Index of Prohibited Books down to our own times. But it is certainly significant of the influence which the Confession continued to exercise, long after the death of its author, that about a century and a quarter from its first appearance—that is, in 1685, the very year that Louis XIV recalled the Edict of Nantes—it was still so widely read, and esteemed by the clergy of France so dangerous a book, that it called forth from the Archbishop of Paris a distinct condemnation in a special circular-letter. What rendered the Confession specially odious in the eyes of the prelate was the circumstance that, not content with setting forth the Protestant views on such important points as the Trinity, the Church and its Government, and the Final judgment, the author gave up the last third of the book to a “Brief Contrast between the Papacy and Christianity,” of a particularly exasperating character. The amenities of discussion were rarely made of much account by disputants in the 16th century. The very first position which Beza undertakes to establish is that “Papists, in place of the true God, worship a fictitious and imaginary divinity that is neither perfectly just nor perfectly merciful,” for “that cannot be a perfect justice which approves of human acts of satisfaction, nor that a perfect mercy which only supplies the deficiency in man’s merit.”
To the same class of general treatises belongs A Summary of the Whole of Christianity, with the alternative title, “A Description and Distribution of the Causes of the Salvation of the Elect and the Destruction of the Reprobate, Collected from the Sacred Scriptures.” At the head stands a table or diagram, occupying a single page, wherein the author’s conception of the whole scheme of God’s dealings with the human race is presented to the eye. This is followed by a “Brief Explanation of the Foregoing Table,” covering thirty-five pages chiefly taken up with proof-texts derived from Holy Writ, but introduced by sundry citations from Saint Augustine, indicating that the question about Predestination is not a question of mere curiosity or of little profit for the Church of God. This treatise is, if we except the defense of the right of the magistrate to punish heretics, which we have considered in a separate chapter, the first of Beza’s writings on religious topics, having been written and published in 1555, during his professorate at Lausanne. It is almost needless to remark that it closely reflects the influence of Calvin.
Ten years after the Confession and fifteen years after the Summary appeared (1570) another systematic treatise from Beza’s pen, entitled “A Little Book of Christian Questions and Answers, in which the Chief Heads of the Christian Religion are Epitomized” (Quæstionurn et Responsionum Christianarum Libellus, etc.). It was subsequently enlarged and accompanied by a “Compendious Catechism.” For clearness of exposition this third treatise, the fruit of Beza’s later thought, surpasses its predecessors. The three treatises together comprise the best results of a long study of systematic theology, and the last, in particular, will repay a careful perusal.
On the subject of Predestination, Beza crossed swords, as early as 1558, with Sebastian Castalio, in defending Calvin’s doctrine from the accusation of being contrary to natural affection on the part of God, as the Father of mankind, and from other similar accusations.
What Beza believed on the subject of the Lord’s Supper we learn well enough from his own utterances respecting it, both in his great speech before Charles IX at the Colloquy of Poissy, and on other occasions. While denying that the elements of bread and wine are in the Communion transformed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, according to the Roman Catholic view, or that the body and blood of Christ are present in, with, and under the bread and wine, according to the Lutheran view, he declined, on the other hand, to assert that the elements are mere signs and that the act of partaking is a mere commemoration, as was the Zwinglian view held in German Switzerland, but, with Calvin, believed that the worthy partaker, not in any carnal sense, but none the less truly, by faith feeds upon the body of Christ. He repudiated the notion that he would divorce Christ from the feast he had instituted.
But not even so did Calvin or Beza escape attack from the more ardent advocates of the doctrine of Consubstantiation, and the scholar felt himself compelled to appear in his master’s defense as well as his own. To the scurrilous assault made by Joachim Westphal, at Hamburg, he wrote a careful and, on the whole, a more temperate reply than could have been expected in the circumstances. It was entitled “A Plain and Clear Treatise Respecting the Lord’s Supper, in which the Calumnies of Joachim Westphal are Refuted” (1559). As Westphal, not content with discussing the main question, had raised a hue and cry against the rejection by the Reformed of so many ancient usages, Beza answered in defense of their position that while themselves dropping the practices which they disapproved, they carefully refrained from condemning their brethren who continued to observe such practices when these related to things indifferent. But Beza waxes angry with a holy indignation when he comes to advert to the gross and vituperative language used by Westphal as to the witnesses for the faith, members of the Reformed Churches of France, burned at the stake, whose ashes were even yet smoking.
“For the insults which you have not been ashamed to vomit forth against the holy martyrs of the Lord, whom Popish tyranny is daily snatching from our assemblies, you will yourself see to it how you shall answer at the Lord’s judgment-seat. Their writings survive and will hand down their blessed memory, whether you approve of it or not, to a grateful posterity. In the name of all Christian Churches, I am ashamed that in any Church there could be found a man so insolently wanton as to utter sharp words against those, even when dead, whom their very executioners revered while they were dying. Certainly the Lord will not suffer to go unavenged this more than inhuman and barbarous cruelty. To Him we commend the cause of His martyrs.”
Nor does Beza leave unnoticed the abuse which Westphal, at the very same time that he complains of Calvin’s severity, heaps on Calvin’s devoted head, not only accusing him of gluttony and winebibbing, but hinting that the Reformer’s language, being fit only for the ears of courtesans, he had possibly learned from his mother, the concubine of a parish priest. We can well excuse the outburst of indignant remonstrance to which Beza gives vent, when he stigmatizes, with deserved contempt, the man who, in order to crush a theological opponent, accuses the most abstemious of men of excess, and exhumes from the grave a respected matron of an honorable and noble family in Noyon, long since dead, that he may without proof besmirch her unspotted memory.
To Westphal succeeded, in 1561, Tilemann Hesshus, as a defender of the Lutheran phase of doctrine, and as an assailant of the Genevese church and its theologians. That Beza regarded him as a stupid adversary was no sufficient excuse for the open contempt and rudeness with which he treated him, even if we give all the weight possible to the somewhat frivolous plea that the exacerbation of his temper was due to a particularly annoying attack of catarrhal fever with which he was afflicted when he wrote.
These were discussions of the earlier part of Beza’s course, anterior to the Colloquy of Poissy, and before the Reformer assumed a place among the disputants most widely known throughout Christendom. After that event, and after the death of Calvin coming so close upon it, Beza fell heir to new controversies, carried on by him, not as Calvin’s younger adjutant, but as Calvin’s legitimate successor, partly in the same general direction, partly on new lines.
Some of these, doubtless, were not only needlessly bitter, but altogether unnecessary. Such, perhaps, was the controversy that arose from the attempt of Castalio, in his translation of the Scriptures, to modernize his version and replace the Hebraisms of the Vulgate with good Ciceronian phrases. Yet Beza was right in his position that fidelity to the text had not in a few instances been sacrificed by Castalio to the supposed exigencies of a flawless Latinity.
In the case of the aged and respected Italian scholar, Bernardino Ochino, of Siena, there was much to regret in the attitude taken by Beza and by other Reformers. Ochino was not only a man of great ability, but a Christian that had sacrificed everything for his faith. Before his adoption of Protestantism he had enjoyed wonderful popularity in his native land as a pulpit orator. At the age of fifty he was the prince of Lenten preachers. The praise lavished upon him by the learned was surpassed only by the plaudits of the multitudes that flocked to hear him whenever it was announced that he would speak. If Cardinal Bembo, a leading scholar of the period, wrote to Colonna, in March 1539, that he had never discoursed with a person of greater sanctity, and that he intended “not to miss a single one of his beautiful, solemn, and edifying discourses,” the next month he was informing the same correspondent that, at Venice, from which he wrote, Ochino was “literally adored,” “there was no one that did not praise him to the skies.” Twice was he elected Vicar General of the Capuchin Order, and so well did he stand with the Holy See that his nomination was cheerfully confirmed by the pope. But Ochino was becoming more and more evangelical in his preaching, as the Roman Church became more and more pronounced in its opposition to any form of reformation. The inevitable logic of his recognition of the doctrine of Justification by Faith led him out of the establishment in which he held so high and influential a position, to the lands beyond the Alps where he could give free expression to his new convictions. He did not hesitate to take a step which involved the loss of all things that men prize highest—rank, ease, the esteem of the multitude. He fled first to Switzerland.
The autumn of the year 1542 found him in Geneva, “an old man of venerable appearance,” according to Calvin, and one who “was greatly respected in his own country.” He was warmly welcomed by the Genevan Reformers, and he, in his turn, delighted with the order, purity, and simple worship which he witnessed, poured out an encomium upon the city and its usages which I should be glad, were there space here, to reproduce. From this time forth he lived an exemplary and useful life as a Protestant and a Protestant minister. When he left Geneva, at the end of three years, he went provided with a letter of “special recommendation” from Calvin. He was well received by Bucer at Strasburg. At Augsburg he became by public appointment Italian preacher to his compatriots residing in that city. Compelled to flee, in 1547, on the approach of the Emperor Charles V, one of the first of whose demands was that the city should surrender to him the person of Bernardino Ochino, he was that same year invited to England by Cranmer, shortly after the accession of Edward VI. The six years of that estimable prince’s reign were spent by Ochino in labors for his countrymen sojourning in London whether for mercantile purposes or as exiles for religion’s sake. Meanwhile, he was made non-resident prebendary of Canterbury. When Mary came to the throne, Ochino hastily retired to the Continent, and for ten years (1553–1563), or until within about a year of his death, he lived in Switzerland, first at Geneva, and afterwards at Basel and Zurich. At Zurich he accepted the office of minister to Italian Protestants from Locarno.
Unfortunately, in this period of his life, Ochino developed a tendency to indulge in curious speculations, for a full discussion of which the reader must look elsewhere. Suffice it to say here that, in a book which he wrote, not so much by direct assertion as by inference, the soundness of the aged author was brought into suspicion. If, for the most part, he seemed in the dialogue himself to assume the defense of the current belief and left the attack to another, yet, with an impartiality carried to the extreme of complaisance, he lent such cogency to the arguments of his opponents as to lay himself open to the charge of a virtual surrender of principles and beliefs that should have been dear to him. Thus his belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and His equality with the Father naturally becomes in the judgment of the reader more than doubtful. The great problems affecting man and his destiny, divine grace and human ability, and all the views and theories that have troubled the ages, are presented in so antithetical a manner, and the arguments in favor and in opposition are marshaled in such a formidable array, that the decision is veiled in uncertainty. Of such contests the natural issue is in doubt, if not in positive despair of the attainment of certainty in matters of religion. Nor indeed in matters of faith alone. Ochino exhibited the same method in the treatment of moral questions. In setting forth the reasons in favor of polygamy and in condemnation of it, he left the final decision in such suspense that the answer to the question whether, in certain cases, an individual man might or should marry a second wife during the lifetime of a first wife was referred to that man’s own decision acting under the inspiration of God. If, after prayer to the Almighty for the grace of continence, the gift is not received, Ochino’s ultimate counsel to him is to do whatever God prompts him to do, if only he knows for certain that God is prompting him; for whatever is done by divine inspiration cannot be sin.
That the Swiss Reformers, Bullinger, Beza, and all the others, should have been shocked, amazed, indignant, at the promulgation of such views by a professed adherent of the Reformation, is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that Beza regarded the last matter mentioned as of such vital importance that he published, in refutation of Ochino’s views, his two treatises On Polygamy andOn Repudiation and Divorce, extracted from his lectures on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. That Beza styled him “an impure apostate” may be explained, if it may not be excused, by the fact that the whole trend of Ochino’s disputations was directly to that “academic uncertainty” respecting all truth which the Reformers regarded as more pernicious than any single error of doctrine, since it sapped the foundations of all religion. But it was certainly not to the credit of the Protestant Reformers, especially those of Zurich and Basel, that in their detestation of the utterances of their misguided brother, long their associate in Christian work and the object of their Christian affection, they forgot the past too completely, and sanctioned, if they did not urge, the severe punishment which the magistrates dealt out to Ochino, without allowing him to be heard in his own defense, or in explanation of books written, not in the vernacular for circulation among the people, but in a foreign tongue for the consideration of the learned and curious. The circumstance that Sebastian Castalio had acted as his translator aggravated the resentment of the indignant Zurichers at having ignorantly harbored for so long a time in their city a disloyal Protestant, in one whom they had known only as a brother in the faith. Old and infirm—he was in the seventy-sixth or seventy-seventh year of his age—the venerable man whom all had so lately united in honoring for his past services was in midwinter bidden to depart from the city and jurisdiction of Zurich, in company with his four children, within a term of a fortnight or, at furthest, three weeks. Basel would not long receive him, Mülhausen refused him a refuge, Nuremberg consented only to his passing the winter there. From Poland he was expelled with all foreigners not Roman Catholics. He died of the plague at Schlackau in Moravia, in the latter part of the year 1564.
Respecting the bodily presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, Beza continued to be drawn into controversies, reaching through many years, partly with Roman Catholics, partly with fellow Protestants. Among the former the most prominent was the white friar, Claude de Sainctes, whom he had encountered at the third session of the Colloquy of Poissy. It was Claude who had on that occasion made the astounding assertion that tradition stands on more stable foundation than do the Holy Scriptures themselves, inasmuch as the latter can be dragged hither and thither by a variety of interpretations. He showed no more wit in the treatise which he brought out, five or six years later, under the title, An Examination of the Calvinistic and Bezæan Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. The author’s crudity would seem to have warranted Beza’s somewhat contemptuous designation of him as a “theologaster.” De Sainctes had aimed at currying favor with his patron, the Cardinal of Lorraine, by reinforcing the prelate’s peculiar attempt to confound or win over Beza and his companions at the great colloquy. The cardinal’s strength did not lie in the breadth or depth of his theological acquisitions, but he certainly had no lack of cunning. If, he thought, the Calvinists could not be silenced by argument, at least their cause would be prejudiced if, in any way, they could be set by the ears with their fellow Protestants from beyond the Rhine.
In his written attack, Claude de Sainctes, reviving his patron’s tactics, endeavored to establish that a difference of theological views separated Geneva from the neighboring cantons of Switzerland, while there was a fundamental contradiction, amounting to real enmity, between the Calvinists and the Lutherans. Whereupon Beza reminded the friar that his contention did not possess even the merit of novelty.
“Have you forgotten, Claude,” he said, “the answer I gave to your cardinal, in that more absurd than serious skirmish of his, at a time when he was devising the very same assault that you are now making? Drawing from his bosom a paper which he at first pretended to be the Confession of Augsburg, but which was in reality, as subsequently appeared, a copy of a private confession of a certain one of the Wittenberg theologians, recently brought to him by one Rascalo, his spy, without their knowledge, the cardinal inquired of me whether we would give our assent to it. In turn, I asked him to tell me whether he himself assented to it. Startled by my unexpected reply, he frankly admitted that he could not do so. Thereupon I retorted, ‘What affair is it, then, of yours whether we agree with them or no, since you dissent from us both? And yet, lest you should suppose that I am seeking to evade the question, I will tell you that we regard those whom you call “Protestants” as our very dear brethren; that we disagree with the Augsburg Confession on only a very few points; and that these very points themselves, suitably interpreted, could easily be reconciled, did not the unreasonableness of certain persons stand in the way.’ This is what I said on that occasion. I do not imagine that you have forgotten my words. For this reason I should be the more astonished that you have now undertaken the same plan, were it not that the whole world has come to understand what is your sense of shame, what your conscience.”
Into the systematic refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence, occupying in particular the whole of Beza’s third and last answer to Claude de Sainctes, there is no need of our entering. Let it be enough to say that it was careful, comprehensive, cogent. To us, however, the chief interest attaching to the whole controversy is the personal element which the friar introduced into the matter in his first attack upon Calvin and upon Beza himself. The circumstance that he had not neglected a single opportunity to calumniate them, that he had not omitted a single incident of their lives that could be misinterpreted or wrested to their disadvantage, makes De Sainctes’ accusations with Beza’s replies uncommonly interesting reading, and invests them with a certain historical importance. Witness, for example, the triumphant retort of Beza to the monk’s scurrilous slanders respecting the alleged impurity of his early life at Paris and his compulsory and clandestine flight to Geneva in order to avoid condign punishment for his vices. “Had I been seized with the love of lewd women,” said he, “should I have betaken myself to that city which is almost the only one where licentious living is punished by public ignominy and by no insignificant fines, and adultery by death?”
More lamentable than any controversies with the Roman Catholics, because more unnecessary and more productive of evil and discord within the bosom of Protestantism itself, were the controversies with representatives of the dominant phase of the theology of Germany. I am glad that the scope of this work is such that I am not compelled to rehearse in detail the mournful story of the manner in which the divergence of views already subsisting became more and more pronounced, and a mere difference of theory led to a separation, a schism, almost to a positive hatred, between men who should have loved and respected each other as members of one Christian host arrayed against one common enemy.
What were Beza’s feelings toward the Lutherans we have already seen. What he said to the Cardinal of Lorraine at the Colloquy of Poissy was the sincere sentiment of his heart—they were his very dear brethren in Christ. That there were differences between their views on the mode of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament and respecting the alleged ubiquity of His human body, he did not affect to deny. But he was disposed, instead of magnifying these differences, to reduce them to the smallest possible dimensions. His manly honesty did not allow him, indeed, to abstain from strenuously maintaining the truth, as he conceived it to be, against every successive opponent, but this loyalty to principle did not prevent him from sincerely desiring, what was also the sincere desire of Philip Melanchthon, especially in his later years, that a cordial and charitable union might be effected between the two great branches of the Church of the Reformation. But that friend of concord was no more, and the loss to Christendom by his removal by death was in Beza’s view irreparable. Scarcely had five years elapsed when the latter wrote to the brethren of Bern and Zurich that the enemy were now hoping to effect their designs with much greater ease than hitherto, because now, as never before, they would have the papists as allies in the condemnation of the Reformed, and because “no Melanchthon survived to restrain them by his great authority.”
It is a thousand-fold to be deplored that his advances toward conciliation were not responded to with a corresponding cordiality, but met with coldness when they did not call forth an absolute denial of the fraternal bond. The latter was the case at the conclusion of the conference held at Montbéliard, in March 1586. The excellent Count Frederick of Würtemberg, under whose auspices the gathering of theologians was held, was an ardent lover of peace and leaned to the Reformed views. Beza, now an old man, had not, in his zeal for union, hesitated to come in person and endeavor to find the common ground upon which he was convinced that Calvinists and Lutherans could honorably stand without sacrifice of dignity or principle. But the attitude of Andreæ, the chief representative of the other side, was unconciliatory, and, at the end of the discussion, the two parties were farther apart than they were at its commencement. In vain had it been made clear to every impartial man that the two great wings of the Protestant Church were practically in complete accord as against the Church of Rome. When, the conference over, Beza offered his right hand in token of love and confidence to the man with whom the argument had been chiefly sustained, Andrew declined to take it. He could as little see, he said, how Beza was able to esteem him and the other Würtemberg theologians, to whom he had imputed all sorts of errors, as brethren, as he himself could recognize fraternal communion with Beza, who had shown that he held the imaginations of men above the Word of God. But while he could not greet him as a brother, Andreæ was pleased to offer him his hand as a fellow man. Beza, however, promptly rejected the ostentatious mark of condescension.
Beza and the Huguenot Psalter
It has frequently been said that to Beza the world is indebted, if not for the whole of the Huguenot liturgy for the Lord’s Day service, at least for the beautiful confession of sins and prayer that constitute its most striking feature. It has been asserted that this simple but grand formula was taken from the extemporaneous words used by the Reformer at the beginning of his historical defense of the Reformed Churches and their doctrine at the Colloquy of Poissy, without doubt the most picturesque and impressive scene not only in the life of Beza himself, but in the early period of the French Reformation. We have seen, however, that the story is a pleasing fiction, and that the confession of sins, so far from being uttered for the first time before the august assembly that met in the nuns’ refectory of Poissy, had before then been repeatedly on the lips of martyrs at the stake, nay, that for nearly twenty years it had been a component part of Protestant worship, both when secretly and when openly celebrated, at Strasburg, at Geneva, and in a multitude of places in France. Composed and used for several years before Theodore Beza fully broke with the Church of Rome, that liturgy had for its author not the young student from Vézelay, but John Calvin himself.
But Beza rendered to Huguenot devotion a service not less notable in another direction. The worship of God’s house could have been conducted in an orderly and impressive manner and with undiminished fervor without Calvin’s liturgy at all; but, deprived of the metrical psalms, the worship would have lost its most characteristic feature. Without those psalms, too, the very history of the Huguenots, civil as well as religious, would have been robbed of a great part of its individuality. In the long conflict that arose out of the effort to crush the Protestant doctrines and their professors in France, from the first outbreak of civil war in the middle of the 16th century down to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the 17th, and indeed far beyond that time, when the Reformed faith was supposed to have been annihilated, the psalms were the badge by which the Huguenots were recognized by friend and foe alike; they were the stimulus of the brave, the battle cry of the combatant, the last consolatory words whispered in the ears of the dying.
Now the French psalms were peculiarly the work of Theodore Beza.
True, indeed, it is that the collection bears and has always borne the joint names of Clément Marot and Théodore de Bèze, and that it was the success of the brilliant and versatile poet of the Renaissance in his attempts to turn the psalms of David into French verse that led Beza to follow his example. But what had been approached by the former, it would seem, mainly as a literary task, aiming first of all at the gratification of the reader, was with the latter a labor of love and an attempt to achieve for the cause to which he had devoted his life, the most noble of works. For it can hardly be denied that efforts which give to pious thought the most appropriate vehicle for its expression fall short of no other human ambitions in usefulness and dignity.
It may be admitted from the start that in native poetical genius Beza falls distinctly below Marot. The verdict of the literary world on this point is not likely to be reversed. In any production of a kind demanding the exercise of a lively imagination, on any subject where the light touch of a master in the graceful expression of thought is of the first importance, there can be no question that his countrymen would give the palm to the poet whose days were spent in the court and in the frivolous circles of the great. Yet it is not unreasonable to look for a more adequate treatment of religious themes at the hands of a writer in full and lasting sympathy with their high truths than at the hands of a poet whose religious feelings are either shallow or evanescent. As Beza could enter more easily than Marot into the devotional spirit of the Hebrew original, so there are psalms or parts of psalms which have been rendered by him with a dignity approaching to grandeur, with a dignity which the most prejudiced critic must confess is unsurpassed in anything from the pen of Marot. Among these psalms stands prominent the sixty-eighth, of which the initial stanza of twelve lines deserves, more than any other passage, to be regarded as the choicest jewel of the entire collection—a worthy introduction to the psalm which stands unchallenged as, above all the rest, the Huguenot battle song. Sung at the charge at many an encounter of the period when the Huguenots were at their strongest, it is no less associated in every line with those humbler but scarcely less glorious and equally heroic conflicts when, in the Camisard war of the 18th century, the “Children of God,” as they styled themselves, having survived the supposed overthrow of their religion, dared defy the arms of Louis XIV.
It was in the year 1533, apparently, that the first of Clément Marot’s translated psalms appeared in print, appended to the former part of that curious work of the Duchess of Alençon, only sister of Francis I, entitled Miroir de très chrestienne princesse Marguerite de France. This was the sixth psalm of David, whose plaintive cry was admirably reproduced in the opening verses, “Ne vueilles pas, O Sire,” etc.
Six years later came out at Strasburg what has been styled the first edition of the Protestant Psalter, containing twelve new psalms translated by Marot, but strangely enough omitting the sixth, with which the editor or publisher seems not to have been acquainted. Two years more passed, and in 1541 there appeared with the imprint of Anvers (Antwerp) a fuller collection of thirty psalms translated by Marot. Finally, in 1543, there was given to the world by Marot the entire collection of fifty psalms, with which his activity in this direction closed, together with the Song of Simeon and the Ten Commandments, as well as one or two versifications such as the Angelic Salutation, which never found a permanent place in the Protestant Psalter. It was to this publication that the poet prefixed the poetical “Letter Addressed to the Ladies of France” which he had recently written to persuade his fair readers to substitute for the songs of love, always worldly and often foul, with which their abodes resound, songs of quite another strain; yet songs of Love alone, their author very Love, composing them by His supreme wisdom (while vain man has been but the mere writer), and having conferred language and voice to sing His own high praises. Blessed be he, exclaims the poet, that shall live to see that golden age when God alone shall be adored, praised, and sung, and when the laborer at his plough, the teamster on the road, and the artisan in his shop shall lighten their toil by a psalm or hymn; happy he that shall hear the shepherd and the shepherdess in the wood make rocks and lakes echo and repeat after them the holy name of their Creator. The whole was summed up in the closing injunction thus to hasten the coming of the golden age.
The poem, if it does not prove that its author was a true Huguenot at heart, a Protestant by deep conviction, at least furnishes evidence that he was not devoid at times of genuine religious feeling.
Clément Marot died at Turin in the summer of 1544. After a life of singular variety, in which his unconcealed aversion to the Roman Catholic Church had exposed him to danger and imprisonment in France, and led him to sojourn at the court of Duchess Renée at Ferrara, and for a time in Venice, he spent a little over a year in Geneva. Not only did he frequently confer with Calvin on the matter of the translation of the psalms, but the great Reformer himself recommended the council of the city to employ him at public expense in completing the work. The council rejected the application, and Marot withdrew from Geneva. That he was compelled to do so, having been found guilty of adultery and escaping only through Calvin’s intercession, seems to be a pure fabrication of the royal historiographer Cayet, who, having from Protestant turned Roman Catholic, was not unwilling to circulate stories of the kind against the poet who had attacked his newly espoused faith. For the fact is that no record of any proceedings against Marot has been found on the Genevese registers, while, on the other hand, it is known that the penalty for the crime of adultery had not as yet been fixed at death, and was not so fixed until sixteen years after Marot’s death.
At Clément Marot’s death the Protestants had an incomplete psalter, consisting of barely one third of the whole number of psalms, and these not continuous, but with certain gaps. A writer uniting the requisites of a faithful translator to those of a poet by nature it was not easy to find. Marot had no rival during his lifetime, nor had he his equal among the poets that survived him; but it was natural that, under the circumstances, the eyes of Calvin and of others should turn to Beza. The Juvenilia, written and published before his conversion, had long since proved him to possess high literary abilities. He was himself anxious to show that these abilities could be employed to better purpose than when the ambition to rival Ovid and Catullus reigned supreme in his breast. Accordingly, within about two years from the date of his reaching Lausanne, that is, in 1551, we find Beza publishing a separate collection of thirty-four psalms. A year later he republished these in connection with forty-nine of those which Marot had translated. With these eighty-three psalms the Protestant psalter was more than half-way on toward completion. It was appropriate that Beza, in imitation of Marot, should now provide it with a poetic letter dedicatory. Marot had dedicated his psalms to his patron, Francis I, and had written to the “Ladies” of France to incite them to sing these in lieu of worldly songs. Beza addressed the epistle which he placed at the head of his work to “The Church of our Lord,” the “little flock” which in its littleness surpasses the greatness of the world, the little flock “held in contempt by this round globe and yet its only treasure.” The choice of Beza was the better, and he made of his address, regarded by some writers not without reason as his masterpiece, so excellent an introduction to the psalms that for centuries it continued to hold its place even when the circumstances to which it made reference had long since faded from the memory of the majority of the faithful who used the collection in their devotions.
The exordium is calm in its quiet strength.
Petit Troupeau, qui en to petitesse Vas surmontant du monde la hautesse; Petit Troupeau, le mespris de ce monde, Et seul thresor de la machine ronde;
Tu es celui auquel gist mon courage, Pour te donner ce mien petit ouvrage Petit, je di, en ce qui est du mien Mais au surplus si grand, qu’il n’y a rien
Assez exquis en tout cest univers, Pour esgaler un moindre de ces vers. Voila pourquoi chose tant excellente A toi, sur tout excellent, je presente.”
Let kings and princes, clothed in gold and silver, but not in virtues, stand back. With them lying flatterers fill their pages. They are not addressed here. Not that they are not spoken to; but they have neither ears to hear, nor heart to learn the message. The poem is for those other true kings and true princes, worthy to possess realms and provinces, potentates who beneath the shadow of their wings defend the life of many a poor believer. Let them hear the enchanting harp of the great David, and being kings hearken to the voice of a king. Let shepherds listen to a shepherd’s pipe which God Himself was pleased to sound. Let the sheep catch the divine music which communicates both joy and healing. Do they mourn? They shall be comforted. Do they hunger? They shall be filled. Do they endure suffering? They shall be relieved.”
The poet was writing, as I have said, in 1551, that is, in the midst of the persecutions under Henry II. That very year the monarch published a terrible law against the Protestants of his realm. The Edict of Châteaubriand, of June 27, 1551, we have already seen, sent the new heretics straight to the flames on the mere sentence of an ordinary judge, and cut off all right of appeal. Nor was Geneva forgotten by the legislator. As Calvin remarked, that city was honored with a mention in the ordinance more than ten times. The importation of books of any kind from Geneva, and from other places well known to be in rebellion against the papacy, was prohibited under severe penalties. So was also the retention by booksellers of any condemned book, as well as clandestine publications in any shape. Every printing establishment was now subjected to a visitation twice a year. The great fairs of Lyons were searched three times a year, because it had been discovered that many suspected books were introduced into France by that channel. In fact all book packages from abroad were to be examined by the clergy, before their contents could be put into circulation. Book-peddling was utterly forbidden, on the ground that peddlers from Geneva smuggled books into France under cover of disposing of other merchandise. It became a punishable offense to be the bearer of a simple letter from Geneva. To have fled thither was sufficient to lead to confiscation of property, and the informer was promised one third of the forfeited goods. So resolved was the king to extinguish Protestantism once for all, that all simple folk were warned not even to discuss matters of faith, the sacraments, and the government of the Church, at table, in the fields, or in the secret meeting.
Would it have been surprising, when Geneva was thus singled out for special hostility by the malice of Henry II, had Beza, in his general view of the enemies of the “little flock,” noticed with peculiar execration the king of his native land? Yet, while the pope naturally comes in for mention, as “the wolf that wears the triple crown, surrounded by other beasts of his kind,” the poet prefers to call attention among monarchs only to the good King Edward VI of England, hospitably greeting on the shores of his insular domain the fugitives that have escaped the fires of persecution. For him he prays that, as in his youth he has already surpassed all other kings, so in his advancing years he may surpass even himself:
Que Dieu to doint, O Roy qui en enfance As surmonté des plus grands l’espérance, Croissans tes ans, si bien croistre en ses graces, Qu’ après tous Rois toi-mesme tu surpasse.”
But the poet’s thoughts turned by preference to the victims of persecution with whom the prisons of France were overflowing. To these sufferers, Beza’s words were words of encouragement to patience and endurance in the profession of their faith, with the lips, if speech was allowed them; if not, let courage supply a testimony which the tongue was not permitted to give. After which the poet enforces his injunction with a couplet that seems to anticipate by ten years the famous warning which this same Beza made to the recreant King of Navarre, to the effect that the Church of God is indeed an anvil to receive and not strike blows, but an anvil that has worn out many hammers. Let persecutors, he says, tire of murdering God’s children sooner than the latter tire of withstanding the assaults of His enemies:
Que les tyrans soyent de nous martyrer Plustost lassez [lassés], que nous de l’endurer.”
The remainder of the “Epistle to the Church of our Lord” need not detain us long. In order that no one should have an excuse for not singing God’s praise, Marot, says Beza, turned into French the psalms once written by David, but, alas! died when he had completed only one third of his task. What was worse, he died leaving no one in the world, no learned poet, to continue his labors. This was the reason that when death snatched him away, with him David also was silent, for all the best minds feared to try their hands at the task which a Marot had undertaken. What, then, someone will say, makes you so brave as to attempt so grave a work? To which question Beza replies by pleading his own consciousness that his powers fall far short of his good will, and by promising to applaud the efforts of those whom he would incite to enter upon the same office and perform it in a manner more worthy of its great importance. In conclusion, as Clément Marot had begged the “Ladies” to cease singing of Cupid, “the winged god of love,” and give themselves to the celebration of the true, the Divine Love, so Beza challenges the poets of his time, those “minds of heavenly birth,” to turn from the low subjects of their songs to themes of higher merit. Let the time past suffice to have followed such vain inventions, and objects of adoration which shall perish with the works of their adorers. But whatever others may conclude to do, the poet declares that, insignificant as he is, he will celebrate the praises of his God. The mountains and the fields shall be witnesses, the shores of the lake shall repeat, the Alps shall take up the cry in the clouds.
We have seen that in 1551 Beza had added only thirty-four psalms to those translated by Marot, and that the united collection comprised but eighty-three. Eleven years more passed before the Genevese Reformer gave to the world (in 1562) the remaining sixty-seven, and thus completed the Psalter. The appearance of this work coincides in time with most striking events in the history of the French Protestants, and itself marks a singular crisis in their fortunes.
Up to this date the psalms in the vernacular had been almost uniformly proscribed by Church and State. The singing of them by the common people was taken as a sure sign of heresy. It is true that there was a short period in the reign of Francis I when they seemed to be in high favor at court. Charmed by the rhythm, or by the music to which they were sung, the monarch and the nobles of his suite were pleased to adopt certain psalms as their favorite melodies, quite regardless of the religious sentiment expressed. According to the account of a contemporary, a gentleman by the name of Villemadon, Francis himself was so much pleased with the thirty psalms translated by Clément Marot and dedicated to the king, that he bade the poet present his work to the Emperor Charles V, who in turn set high store by the translation, rewarding the author with a gift of two hundred doubloons, encouraging him to complete his work, and asking him, in particular, to send him as soon as possible his version of the psalm “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 107).
The dauphin, the future Henry II, showed particular fondness for the psalms, and ordinarily went about singing or humming them, to the great satisfaction, we are told, of all good and pious souls. Nothing more was needed to induce the courtiers, and even the king’s old mistress, Diana of Poitiers, to pick out each his or her favorite psalm, and beg of the dauphin to let them have it, to his no small perplexity as to which one of them he should thus gratify. For himself, Henry, as yet childless, though he had been married to Catharine de’ Medici for not far from a score of years, chose Marot’s rendering of the 128th psalm—a selection dictated, doubtless, by the wish that he too might be blessed as the man that feared the Lord, his wife being as a fruitful vine by the sides of his house, and his children like olive plants round about his table. It was about the same time, and for a similar reason, that Catharine de’ Medici declared her preference for the 142nd psalm (“I cried unto the Lord with my voice,” etc.).
The short-lived enthusiasm of the court for the singing of the psalms had little or no effect upon legislation. For nearly twenty years after this time the laws against the use of the psalter in the vernacular continued to be as severe and were as persistently executed as ever. It was not, as has been said, until 1562, that a change, induced by political considerations, was effected.
For two years and more France had seemed to be arousing itself from the sleep of ages and clamoring for the Word of God. Thus, for instance, in 1558, about a year before the sudden death of the persecuting Henry II, a singular and unlooked-for outbreak of psalm-singing took place in the heart of Paris and on the favorite promenade of the best society, the so-called Pré aux Clercs. Here, just across the Seine from the Louvre, it happened one afternoon in May that two or three voices started the tune of one of the proscribed psalms. In an instant other voices joined in, showing that the words and the air were familiar to many, and soon almost the whole body of promenaders—students, gentlemen, ladies among the rest—were unitedly celebrating God’s glory. The next day, and the next, the thing was repeated. There were said at last to be five or six thousand engaged in the unlawful act of praising the Almighty in French, among them many notable personages of state, including the King and Queen of Navarre. The irregularity did not escape the notice of the bigots of the neighboring college of the Sorbonne, the theological faculty of Paris; nor did they rest until the bishop of the city had called the attention of parliament to an incident which was declared to tend to sedition, public commotion, and a disturbance of the public peace.
Other features of the awakening are referred to elsewhere, and need not be recalled here. Let it suffice my present purpose to repeat what Montluc, Bishop of Valence, said in his famous speech in the Assembly of Notables held at Fontainebleau, in August, 1560, while the old laws were still in full force. After begging the young king (Francis II) to have daily preaching in his palace, in order that the mouths of those might be closed who asserted that God was never spoken of among those about his Majesty’s person, the prelate turned to Catharine de’ Medici and Mary of Scots, and exclaimed:
“And you, Mesdames the Queens, be pleased to pardon me if I venture to beg you to command that, in place of silly songs, your maids and all your suite shall sing only the psalms of David and the spiritual songs that contain the praises of God. And remember that God’s eye searches out all places and all men in this world, but rests nowhere [with favor] save where His name is invoked, praised, and exalted.” “And hereupon,” he added, addressing himself to the king, “I cannot abstain from saying that I find extremely strange the view of those who would interdict the singing of the psalms, and who give occasion to the seditious to say that we are no longer fighting against men but against God, for we strive to prevent His praises from being proclaimed and heard by all.”
This he followed by proof which it would have been difficult for his opponents to refute, and which they took good care not to notice.
The Guises kept the good advice of Montluc and others from bearing fruit, but the movement which he represented did not stay its course. At last, in September 1561, the colloquy came. It was no longer a matter of doubt that a considerable body of people in France had espoused the doctrines of the Reformation, although it had not yet been decided definitely how they were to be dealt with. Then it was that a few weeks before the publication of the tolerant “Edict of January,” Beza secured for the complete psalter translated by Clément Marot and himself a privilege, or governmental authorization and copyright. The date of its issue was December 26, 1561.
And now began a very deluge of editions of the psalter following one another almost without intermission. Such was the new and quickened demand, that it was difficult, almost impossible, to keep up with it. Besides other issues which have undoubtedly escaped notice, we know of twenty-five or twenty-six distinct editions that were put out within the bounds of the single year 1562; that is, a distinct edition on the average for every fortnight. Six different printers or companies of printers published nine editions in the city of Geneva alone for circulation in France. Paris was not far behind with seven editions. Lyons had three. Saint Lô had one. Five editions were without designation of place. There are known fourteen editions of 1563, ten of 1564, thirteen of 1565—in all more than sixty editions in four years. The books were of all sizes. There were diminutive volumes and stately folios. No other book of the period, not the most fascinating of romances, had such a surprising circulation. It was not curiosity that had to be gratified; it was a veritable famine for the Word of God that had to be satisfied. The men, women, and children even would sing the psalms, and at any price they must have the books containing the psalms, for use at home, in the shop, especially in over 2,000 congregations.
That the Reformed religion gained ground in no slight extent from the stress that was laid upon psalm-singing, is a fact that cannot be ignored; nor can it be denied that the psalms themselves owed much of their power to the suitable and attractive music to which they were set. In the Roman Catholic churches the psalms were indeed repeated, but in a language not understood by the laity, being monotonously chanted by the clergy. The enemies of the Protestants might inveigh against the novelty of permitting every worshipper to take part in what was the priest’s prerogative by immemorial usage. They might with Florimond de Ræmond condemn and ridicule as incongruous, if not positively indecorous and profane, the very idea that these holy compositions of David the king should be transferred from the church to the workshops of artisans, that the cobbler as he sewed shoes should sing the divine “Miserere” (the 51st psalm) at his bench, or the blacksmith as he smote upon the anvil, drone the solemn “De Profundis” (the 130th psalm), or the baker hum some other psalm at his oven. They might make much of the confusion arising in a great congregation when in one part of the vast building in which they were assembled the singers were engaged in repeating one verse and in a distant part a different one, the leader being unable by use of hands or feet to bring them into unison. They might protest that not without reason had the Catholic Church prohibited the promiscuous, rash, and indiscreet use of those holy and divine hymns dictated to David by the Holy Spirit Himself, on the ground that the worship of God is not to be mingled with our ordinary actions, unless with an attention and reverence bred of honor and respect, and that a boy ought not to be permitted to delight himself at his work with the psalms as with a pastime, in the midst of vain and frivolous thoughts. They might question whether when, in the smaller congregations, the maidens raised their sweet voices in song, their hearts were as firmly directed to God as both the hearts and the eyes of the listening youth were riveted upon the fair singers. Whatever the jealous enemies of the Protestants and their worship might affirm or suspect, at least they could not deny that in the popular use of the psalms lay a most attractive feature of the Protestant service.
The celebrity attained by Beza as a translator of the psalms led the national synods of France to look to him for help when the need was felt of enriching the worship of God’s house with additional hymns. Late in the century, the 13th national synod, meeting at Montauban in 1594, requested him “to translate into French rhyme the Hymns of the Bible, for the purpose of their being sung in the church together with the Psalms.” Four years later, the 15th synod, of Montpellier, inserted in its records a minute to the effect that “as regards the Hymns of the Bible which have been put in rhyme by Monsieur de Bèze, at the request of several synods, they shall be sung in the families to train the people and incline them to make public use of them in our churches; but this regulation shall have effect only until the next national synod.”
The fact, however, seems to be that the Huguenots took less kindly to these later poetical productions of the venerable author than to his early efforts. The hymns, sixteen in number, appeared in 1595, but promptly fell into disuse. On the other hand, Marot’s and Beza’s psalms retained their place in the love of the Huguenots, throughout the checkered existence of French Protestantism, though with many verbal alterations dictated by changes in the French language, down almost to our own times.
Beza’s Contributions to History
Theodore Beza’s direct contributions to historical science were few. He was a scholar and a teacher first, and by preference, afterwards a man of action through the strength of his convictions and the force of providential circumstances. As a teacher, he wrote to inform and convince others, and readily passed from the field of calm and quiet instruction into the field of controversy, that he might refute and silence those who held different views from his, and who undertook to maintain these views by argument. As the man of action, he was chiefly concerned with the future of the great cause to which he had deliberately sacrificed every prospect of wealth and promotion in his native country. Present duties left him little time to look backward, had his tastes inclined him so to do. The nearest approach that Beza ever made to entering upon the writing of history was a sketch dashed off on the spur of the moment and with a distinct bearing upon present controversies. I have already had occasion to refer to the Life of Calvin, as a tribute of filial love and respect to one whom he held above all others to be entitled to the appellation of father. Melchior Wolmar alone could have disputed with John Calvin the claim to be Beza’s intellectual and spiritual parent. But great as was Beza’s indebtedness to him who had emancipated his higher powers from the slavery of ignorance and superstition, and implanted a thirst for the truth, it was to the wonderful hold that Calvin took upon him that was due the mysterious change that made of Beza a true Reformer qualified to take up the onerous work of leader of the Church of Geneva and preeminently the counsellor of French Protestantism.
The Life of Calvin breathes in every line the deep affection and unbounded reverence in which his biographer holds him. It is no blind panegyric, but a eulogy based on firm conviction. The writer’s contention is contained in two or three sentences:
“It can be affirmed (and all those that have known him will be good and sufficient witnesses to the truth of this), that never has Calvin had an enemy who, in assailing him, has not waged war against God. For from the time that God introduced His champion into the lists, it may well be said that Satan has selected him, as though having forgotten all the other challengers, for the object of his assault, and has sought to bring him, if possible, to the ground. On the other hand, God has shown him this favor, that He has conferred on him as many trophies as he has had enemies opposed to him. If therefore an inquiry be instituted into the combats he has sustained from within for doctrine’s sake, nothing can make them appear slight but the diligence he has used so as not to give his enemies leisure to recover their breath, and the steadfastness God has conferred on him never to yield, be it ever so little, in the Lord’s quarrel.”
In carrying on these struggles with God’s enemies, of whom Beza gives the formidable list, and wherewith he occupies many pages of his treatise, he does not deny that the subject of his biography was vehement and by nature prone to anger, but maintains that that vehemence in God’s service assumed a truly prophetic type and invested him with a majesty apparent to all.
“Those who shall read his writings and shall seek the glory of God in uprightness, will there behold the shining of the majesty whereof I speak,” says the admiring writer. “As for those who at the present time treat religion as they treat political affairs, being colder than ice in regard to the affairs of God, more aflame than fire in what concerns themselves, and call anger everything that is more frankly said than pleases them; as he never tried to please that kind of people, I also shall make it a matter of conscience not to amuse myself with answering them. What then would these wise men say, these men so moderate (provided that God alone be in question), if they had had experience of such anger from closer at hand? I feel confident that they would have been as much displeased as I myself esteem, and shall all my life long esteem, myself happy to have been the hearer of so great and rare an excellence, both in public and in private.”
To Theodore Beza has been commonly ascribed the authorship of an extensive work that appeared in three volumes at Antwerp in 1580. The title in translation reads, “Ecclesiastical History of the Reformed Churches in the Kingdom of France; wherein are truthfully described their revival and growth from the year 1521 until the year 1563, their laws or discipline, synods, persecutions both general and particular, the names and labors of those who have happily toiled, the cities and places where they were established, with the account of the first troubles or civil wars.”
Of the value of this history too much cannot be said. It is the earliest, as it is the fullest, account of the first forty years of the Reformation in France. It is accurate, thorough, authentic. There is no pretense of anything like fine writing, the author being quite content with the simple statement of events as they occurred. This being its object, its author has not hesitated to incorporate into his narrative extensive passages in which the phraseology agrees word for word with passages in other contemporary Huguenot writings, such as the Histoire de l’Estat de France sous le Règne de François II, attributed to Regnier de la Planche, the Commentaires of Pierre de la Place, the Martyrology of Jean Crespin, and others. Documents of importance are inserted without change or abridgment. The stories of the growth and development of individual churches are reproduced apparently in the very words of the local accounts forwarded to Geneva or Paris. In short, it is a compilation laboriously and judiciously made, the general trustworthiness of which has been established beyond controversy by a comparison with information derived from other sources, and, within our own days, more than once corroborated by the unexpected discovery of official documents long hidden from the knowledge of men.
Who the true author was will perhaps never be known. It was certainly not Beza, although he was a friend of Beza and doubtless received much help from Beza in the collection of materials for the composition of the work. This is evident from a mere inspection of the book itself. The writer speaks of Beza uniformly in the third person. He is prevented by no feeling of modesty from praising Beza’s great speech at Poissy, asserting that it was delivered in a manner very agreeable to all those who were present, as the most difficult to please subsequently admitted, and that it was listened to with remarkable attention until the orator reached the point in his discourse which the prelates chose to make an occasion for their noisy interruption. He refers to conversations which he had himself held with Beza, as where he says, “Beza made no answer for the moment because, as I have since heard him say, he was satisfied with replying to the chief point without touching upon what was accessory.” He inserts an address made by Beza to Queen Catharine de’ Medici in the name of the Protestant ministers in the great council chamber of the castle of Saint Germain, prefacing it with the remark that it was “as follows, so far as could be gathered.” But the inference drawn from the contents of the work that it was written by someone else than Beza is converted into certainty by a passage in a letter to the Landgrave of Hesse, from the hand of Beza himself, who, in sending a copy of the history, soon after its publication, commends it both for its substance and for the fidelity and absence of all literary embellishment with which it is written, “although the author has suppressed his name, fearing that truest of sayings, ‘Truth begets hatred.’”
Somewhat more than a mere collection of eulogies, yet decidedly less than a series of unprejudiced biographies, was a book, the genuine work of Beza, that saw the light of day in the same year 1580. It bore the title Icones (Images), with a subtitle showing that it consisted of “True Portraits of the men, illustrious for learning and piety, by whose ministry chiefly, on the one hand, the studies of good letters were restored, and, on the other, true religion was renewed in various regions of the Christian world within our memory and that of our fathers; with the addition of descriptions of their life and works.” It was a veritable gallery wherein the reader seemed to pass successively in front of not far from one hundred picture-frames, intended to be filled by correct representations of the most famous characters of the modern religious world. The desire of the author had indeed outrun his ability. Over one half of the places were unoccupied, and the descriptions confronted blank spaces which the reader was exhorted, if possible, to supply with the necessary canvases. Nonetheless were the rude delineations of the more fortunate subjects calculated to deepen in the reader’s mind the impression made by those heroic characters that had played a prominent part in the religious affairs of the century. A few representatives of earlier centuries were there in their appropriate places—the forerunners or advance-guard in the great procession—Wycliffe, Huss, Jerome of Prague, and Savonarola; but the majority were men of contemporary times, or, at least, of times within the memory of men still alive. To anyone that remembers the close connection which the Reformers always recognized as existing between the progress of letters and the advance of pure religion, it will not be startling to find occupying no inconspicuous place, not only the great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam, in company with his rival Reuchlin, but Francis I of France, as the patron of learning and of the Renaissance, with the corps of literary men with whom he and his sister surrounded themselves—Budé, Vatable, and Toussain—while Michel de l’Hôpital, Scaliger, and the great printer Robert Étienne, or Stephens, were not far off. Clément Marot, the translator of one third of the psalter, had his own place as a reward for “the extreme usefulness to the churches of the work which he had accomplished, a work deserving eternal remembrance,” despite the fact, recorded by his appreciative continuator, that the poet had never, even to the last days of his life, amended his bad morals, acquired during a protracted residence at court, that worst of teachers of piety and honorable deportment. Apart from the pictorial illustrations, the Icones, notwithstanding the brevity of the sketches, constitute an important source of trustworthy information, to which we willingly admit our indebtedness on more than one occasion. For if the spirit of high appreciation pervades the work, the words of panegyric are, for the most part, reserved for the epigrams that are interspersed—a species of composition to which Beza was much addicted even down to his latest years.
No more convenient place than this may occur to make a passing reference to the circumstance that Beza interested himself in the matter of the correct pronunciation both of the Latin and Greek languages and of the French, and published short treatises on the subject of the first two in the years 1580 and 1587, and of the third in 1584. This last treatise, of which copies have now become so extremely scarce as to be practically unobtainable, possesses a real value as a historical discussion of the fluctuations of Beza’s native tongue.
Beza the Patriotic Preacher Beza and Henry IV’S Apostasy 1590–1593
The patriotism which Beza had always exhibited in behalf of the little commonwealth which he chose to be his adopted country, had a fresh opportunity to display itself in the new dangers that menaced Geneva in the years from 1590 to 1592. The peril came from the persistent efforts of an implacable enemy, the Duke of Savoy. To the exposure to actual warfare were added the discomfort and losses of a state of virtual siege, emphasized from time to time by an approach to a real famine of bread. There was dissension at home. If the greater part of the citizens did not falter in their purpose, there was no lack of faint-hearted men, even among the citizens, men who would have been glad to purchase safety with submission. But in the crisis of the peril, the voice of Beza was raised in no irresolute tones, proclaiming from the old pulpit of the church of Saint Pierre the same doctrine that he had advocated more than a generation before. The sermons which he preached—he believed they would be his last—were intended to be a testimony and, so to speak, a testament containing a final recapitulation of the teaching of a lifetime. He inculcated, on the one hand, repentance and amendment of life in the sight of God, and, on the other, a bold and unflinching maintenance of the rights and the liberties of the republic. The war was unavoidable. It was also just, because waged in self-defense. Seldom has an orator of threescore years and ten more vigorously or more eloquently set forth the motives for a hearty and hopeful prosecution of an honorable struggle. Let me give a single passage which has deservedly called forth the admiration of an acute writer of recent times, who, referring to its construction formed altogether on classical models, well observes that we might almost fancy that we were listening in Athens itself to the voice of Pericles exhorting his fellow citizens to persevere in carrying on the Peloponnesian War.
“Humanly speaking,” says Beza, “common sense of itself teaches us to lay down life for the salvation of our country and for a just freedom. And, before going any farther, people of Geneva, how often, in conflict against the same enemies, have your fathers, when reduced to the last extremity, maintained very bravely that liberty which they have left you—a liberty which I also hope and dare assure myself that, with the Lord’s help, you will preserve to the very end! And this for a reason still more just than that which all your predecessors had. For, not to mention the yoke of a miserable slavery which men would impose upon us, it is God’s glory and truth, it is our souls, our conscience, our eternal salvation that are now at stake, whatever color or pretext may be alleged to the contrary. As for all the fine promises that may be made to you on this point, have you not made proof enough of what the good faith and the honesty of those with whom you have to do amount to? And as to us, gathered here from so many different places, who have found here not an Egypt, but all gentleness and kindness, can it be that there should be found one in the midst of us that would consent, in so cowardly a manner and with such base ingratitude, to leave the home under the shelter of which we have been received, rather than show by our deeds, and until the last breath of life, that it was zeal for the glory of God alone, and the desire to be fed with His holy Word, and to serve Him purely, that made us renounce all the advantages of this world in order to obtain that pearl of great price which we have found and which illuminates us in this place? I do not believe it, nor is it this that leads me to speak. I speak solely for the purpose of persuading those that may be in doubt, and confirming those that may in any way be wavering.
“But let us consider whether the difficulties are such and so great as they are represented to be. If it be a question of provisions, it cannot be said that there is a lack as yet. If in this circumstance we do not recognize the great and extraordinary kindness of God, experienced more than once within a few years, when not only war, but famine, from far and near, threatened to be immediately upon us, shall we not deserve by our ingratitude that what we fear and still worse may befall us? I ask, upon his conscience, if there is a person in this assembly who, had he thought that this war would last three months only, would have dared to promise himself that there would be a market for the purchase of the necessaries of life in Geneva? Yet God has brought this to pass and still continues it, after the loss of harvest and vintage, after so many fires and the devastation of the whole region. And what shall make us distrustful respecting the future, if it be not forgetfulness of the past? What! shall those miserable Parisians and other conspirators against their king go so far as to eat their horses and asses, instead of renouncing what they have so miserably undertaken, and can it be that we should lose courage so soon in so just and necessary a defense of our property, our lives, and our souls?
“Our money has given out. Perhaps our enemy is not in less perplexity than we are. But, however that may be, he that has provided for us hitherto is not dead, He will never die. And were those to fail us who serve us only for money’s sake, let us boldly say that we should have lost nothing whereon we ought to have leaned. A single man armed with faith toward God, with zeal for His glory, and with love of his country, will be worth a thousand hirelings. The chief captains are confined to their beds in consequence of disease or wounds. So be it; God will raise them up again when it shall please Him, and when they shall be needed. We shall then have learned from experience more than once, to the great astonishment of the captains themselves, that the arm of the God of hosts is not dependent upon either the prudence and experience of captains or the valor of soldiers to such a degree that He cannot do His work all by Himself, when it so pleases Him. And when will it please Him? When those who fear Him and trust in Him have need.
“We have been twice beaten with rods within a few days; but let not our enemies boast. It is neither their courage nor their strength that has done this, but our fault and rashness. To go back to the source of this disaster, it is our too great and long-continued errors that God has determined to chastise very lightly and for our great good, if He be pleased to grant us grace to amend our ways. The ten tribes of Israel in the very just and necessary war against Benjamin lost forty thousand men in two battles; yet they did not desist and happily accomplished what they had justly begun. And, I pray you, ought this sortie, which met with poor success in consequence of our great mistake, to have more power to astonish us and lead us to adopt disorderly plans than over six stout and stiff encounters against a larger force of our adversary shall have to encourage us when we have God before us and with us? If the Lord demands our lives as a sacrifice for His glory, what greater happiness could we desire than to pass from this life into life everlasting in so just a defense of the cause of the Lord and of our country together? And those who, by reason of a lack of the true and holy steadfastness of which we speak, may be disposed through cowardice to abandon our standard, whereon the name of Jesus Christ is inscribed, whither shall they flee to escape from His hands?
“Now this is not spoken, my brethren, for the purpose of trumpeting the war, to which may our good God and Father be pleased to put a good and happy end. But in order that we may reach it, let us not take counsel of distrust or of an inordinate apprehension of the difficulties that offer. But knowing how we entered upon the war, let us commit ourselves to Him who is the safe refuge of the oppressed and who requites the proud and ambitious. Let us acknowledge and correct the faults because of which what had been well and holily resolved upon has not always been carried out in like manner. Let us ask Him for the increase of zeal unto His glory, and of the faith needed in the midst of such tempests, that we be not swallowed up of them, but reach the haven through all these winds and storms. Let us not join His arm to the arm of flesh, but commit ourselves to Him with such prudence as it may please Him to give us, as well respecting the means as respecting the time of our deliverance. Let us keep bound and close, first to Him, the strongest of the strong, and then to one another, by a true mutual love, so as at last to say with David, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me.’ So doing, what have we to fear, since God is for us, and death itself is made for us the entrance into the true life? Otherwise, we must needs come to what was published in the camp of God’s people in the matter of war: ‘What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart melt as well as his heart.’ But I dare to hope that none such shall be found, and that rather the great God of hosts will show us His great wonders. Amen.”
It is a somewhat singular circumstance that so staunch a Protestant, so fearless an advocate of the principles of the Reformation, as Theodore Beza should have been misrepresented as actually approving, if not applauding, the act of apostasy by which Henry IV secured undisputed possession of the crown of France at the price of the denial of his conscientious convictions. Still more strange is it that it is not a Roman Catholic, but a Protestant biographer of the Reformer and a writer of no mean repute, Friedrich Christoph Schlosser, who makes the paradoxical assertion, maintaining that Beza gave a signal proof that he was far removed from a blind fanaticism, in that, instead of lamenting the king’s defection, he regarded that defection as a necessary step to heal the wounds of a country rent asunder by religious dissension.
In point of fact, so far from acquiescing in Henry’s defection, Beza opposed it with all his might. Using the freedom of an old friend, he wrote earnestly in advance to dissuade the king from showing any weakness. His letter has been brought to light and shows that Beza, at seventy-four years of age, had lost none of his old-time vigor. Apprehending the increasing severity of the attacks to which Henry would certainly be exposed in the conference with the Roman Catholic prelates for which the time of meeting was already determined upon, the Reformer tells the monarch that the prayers of his fellow believers continually rise to heaven that by his steadfastness he may win in the sight of God and man a crown far more precious than the two earthly crowns (of France and Navarre) which were already divinely conferred upon him, although as yet he had not come into complete possession of them. He therefore begs him to see to it that, in the coming conference for instruction, the truth shall be provided with good and sufficient advocates as against the teachers of falsehood, and that only such arms shall be allowed as ought to be employed in this spiritual combat. Let not the king permit himself to be dazzled by the glitter of alleged antiquity and of Fathers and Councils of the Church, but insist on an appeal to the Holy Scriptures alone, all additions thereto of whatever kind having first been removed. Then let the world know that he enters into this conference, not because he is in doubt or irresolute respecting a religion in which he has been nurtured from his infancy, but because he would have all men know that he is a lover of truth, and neither a heretic nor a relapsed person, as there are some that dare to affirm. Let Henry make it understood that he cannot and will not suffer violence to be done to his own conscience, as he will never use violence toward the conscience of others. Let him therefore humble himself and from the bottom of his heart pray for a truly contrite spirit, to the end that having obtained pardon for everything wherein he has offended, being a man as he is, God may not take away from him His Holy Spirit, without whom it were far better to have been only a simple private person rather than a king or prince, yea, never to have been born at all rather than live and draw upon himself a condemnation so much more severe, as he has received more favors from the Creator. As to the difficulties of his position, let Henry ask himself whether he has not by the grace of God encountered and overcome greater perils from his childhood up. Has he never been accompanied by fewer friends? Has he never been more destitute of human help?
Here Beza could scarcely have been more frank and insistent:
“Have not your most faithful servants been massacred, as it were, in your very arms? And how many times has your life been at the mercy of your enemies, in thousands and thousands of ways? Thereupon, what has become of the enemies of God and your enemies, against whom He has stretched forth His powerful arm, yea, when you could not have imagined it? Have not enemies that remain still to do with the same Judge and for the same cause? Has that great God changed in His power against His hardened enemies, or in His will to maintain and raise up His own servants, when and in such manner as it shall please Him? The issue can never be other than very good and very happy for those that follow Him without straying from the path by which He leads them. … Moreover, Sire, we are assured that, over and above what we have said, and all that could be said on this point, you have not forgotten and never will forget that precious sentiment of which, as we have learned, you were so expressly reminded by the late queen, your mother of immortal and most blessed memory, in her last will and testament, namely, that ‘God knows them that honor Him and casts dishonor on them that dishonor Him.’ Nor also, as we believe, have you forgotten that excellent speech which God put into your heart and into your mouth to utter in the midst of alarms, as it has peen reported to us: ‘If it be my God’s will that I reign, I shall reign, despite any attempt to prevent me; and if it be not His will, neither is it mine.’ They were words worthy of a king Most Christian both in name and in fact. Such God grant that you may always be, for His glory and for the establishment of your France, and may your Majesty remember the firmness of the poor city of Geneva, for religion’s sake reduced to great straits—Geneva that is little in power, but very sincere in its attachment to your service.”
The letter closed with a reference to the instructive example of King David, rescued from a thousand deaths, miraculously carried to the throne, and, after exposure for years to civil war, finally placed in full possession of his regal rights, and with a prayer that Henry might surpass even David, by avoiding David’s faults and imitating David’s virtues.
The author of so sturdy a plea for manly perseverance amid temptations to weakness would have been slow to approve the pusillanimous surrender of principle made by Henry IV, on July 25, 1593, at the abbey of Saint Denis. He would have been the last man on earth to applaud the Abjuration as a necessary step to heal the wounds of his unfortunate kingdom, or, to use a more modern phrase, as a disinterested sacrifice of personal preferences upon the altar of patriotism.
Beza’s Later Years in Geneva
The last twenty or twenty-five years of Beza’s life at Geneva were years of diminishing activity, but not of idleness. Burdens too heavy for his impaired health were gradually thrown off, but there remained a wide range of labors useful to Church and Republic.
His property did not, we may believe, place him among the wealthy citizens of Geneva. It sufficed for his wants and not only made him independent of others, but permitted him to gratify his well-known hospitality and liberality. Thus it was that, on occasion, when the university lost its professors whom it had no means of paying, Beza was glad to carry on the work of instruction at his own charges, until the advent of better times.
With the same gratitude to Heaven with which in his autobiography he chronicles the fact that he was born of a noble Burgundian family, he alludes in his later years to the comparative ease of his pecuniary circumstances. He was no indigent refugee. In dedicating the first edition of his collected theological works to Sir Thomas Mildmay (in February 1570), he stated it as his chief reason for so doing, that the English knight had in times of great calamity generously relieved the necessities of the poor exiles who had forsaken their native land for the Gospel’s sake.
“Since then,” he adds, “I also am one of their number—by no means indeed needy, by God’s kindness, but nevertheless so united with them by the same spirit in Christ, that whatever things befall them I regard as my own—I have believed that I could not escape the vice of ingratitude, unless I gave expression to the respect in which I hold you, by proffering these volumes as a pledge. The time is most opportune, since I had them in my hands at the very moment when the announcement reached me of your benevolence toward our poor students.”
Evidently the Rector of the University of Geneva was not dependent upon the scanty emolument, irregularly paid, of his office, but had retained or recovered no insignificant part of the family inheritance.* If the sight of the honorable position attained by Beza, the professor at Lausanne, had affected deeply his father and brothers, who had learned of his departure from France with great displeasure, the admiration of the survivors knew no bounds when, at the court of France, about the time of the Colloquy of Poissy, their kinsman gained such distinction as he could not possibly have acquired through the favor and patronage of his Roman Catholic connections.
* M. Charles Borgeaud refers (Bulletin, XLVIII , 64) to the fact that a number of Beza’s scholars lived under his roof and ate at his table, and adds: “This great man, who was the counsellor of so many kings and princes, the incontestable head of a powerful party, and the spiritual director of a republic, was throughout his whole life obliged, in view of the slenderness of his resources, to have boarders in his home. To one of these last, George Sigismond of Zastrisell, he sold his library (for six hundred gold crowns).” The truth seems to be that while Beza’s means were ample for his personal wants, he was so liberal in his gifts to every good work, including the university, and to every deserving applicant for his assistance, that he could put to good account every little addition to his income. He was childless, and his house could accommodate without inconvenience additional guests. He and his wife were of a social disposition, and were not averse to having the companionship of young people, if of congenial tastes.
One circumstance, a result of Beza’s voluntary withdrawal from France in 1548, has not been noticed. A year or more had elapsed since he reached Geneva, when the “procureur general,” or king’s attorney, attached to the Parliament of Paris took cognizance of the fact. As an absentee, Beza was summoned to appear before the court within the space of three days, and, having failed to present himself, was, on the last day of May, 1550, condemned to be executed in effigy, all his property being declared forfeited to the king. The sentence was never published or executed. Fourteen years later, both Henry II and Francis II being now dead, the Reformer obtained from Charles IX (August 1, 1564) a formal annulment under the great seal of France and accompanied by honorable expressions. It was the king’s will, moreover, that Beza should enjoy, in company with all his other subjects, the full benefits of the edict of pacification. The document was a complete refutation of the malignant accusations of Beza’s enemies.
This was three years after the Colloquy of Poissy. To the period of the colloquy itself belongs a touching incident of family history. The Reformer was unexpectedly visited at court, probably at Saint Germain, by his brother Nicholas, toward the end of September, or at the beginning of October, 1561. The brother brought the intelligence that the aged father—he was seventy-six years old—was fast declining in health, and was anxious to see his son Theodore at Vézelay before he died. The latter dutifully promised to go there on his return to Geneva. But, as we have seen, the return was long deterred. The colloquy was followed by private conferences, the conferences by the Assembly of Notables, and there was no one whom the queen-mother and the royal council regarded it more important for the peace of France to detain at court than Beza. With the passage of time, Pierre de Bèze became more urgent. In a letter written to his son in French, which Beza translated and inserted in his own letter of November 25, 1561, to Calvin, he said:
“That you have not yet come, my son, I forgive, because you have wisely placed public affairs before private. But see to it that you remember also what you owe a parent, and that you do this as soon as possible, when you shall be permitted. I desire that your brother also, who is there, should come with his wife, and that you should summon your wife also when you come. For I have resolved in the presence of you all, my children, to make my will, and, if so it please God, to die. Consequently you will do me a grateful service if you should be able to bring also from her monastery your sister, who is now my only daughter.”
It was an unfortunate conclusion to the matter that Beza and his father after all did not meet again. The civil war broke out. It became impossible for Beza to traverse Burgundian territory, and the long looked-for opportunity never came to reach Vézelay before his father’s death.
I have said that Beza’s burdens were somewhat lessened as the years passed on. Let it not be supposed, however, that they were, until the very last, what most men would call light. In a letter to Melanchthon’s son-in-law, Gaspard Peucer, written in 1594, we find a few lines telling us what he could and did accomplish at seventy-five years of age:
“With the exception of a trembling of the hand that almost prevents my tracing a line, I am well enough, thank God! to preach every Sunday and to deliver every fortnight my three theological lectures. The auditorium is pretty well filled for these trying times. I am overwhelmed with occupations of different sorts and infinite in number—not those which depend on my office and to which I am accustomed by virtue of it, but occupations that come every instant from without, difficulties that must absolutely be met and solved, of which you can easily imagine the multitude and importance in this whirlwind of war that drags us along. Thus it is that in the midst of agitations, I struggle and am nearing the end of my course, with my spirit as much as possible on high.”
Meanwhile Beza found time to give a careful and final revision to the French version of the Bible in common use among Protestants. This was essentially the translation made by Robert Olivetanus, a cousin of John Calvin, regarding which the most interesting circumstance was that the Waldenses of Piedmont, out of their deep poverty, had collected the sum, enormous for them, of fifteen hundred gold crowns, to pay the expenses of the printing, in 1535 by Paul de Wingle, in the village of Serrières, dear Neufchâtel. Calvin and others had labored to perfect it. Now Beza and his colleagues—especially Corneille Bertram, who held the chair of Hebrew—gave it a further revision. Thus was developed the famous “Bible of the Pastors and Professors of Geneva,” which, from 1588 on to almost our own times, has passed through a multitude of editions and exercised a vast influence on successive generations of readers. The remarkable preface was written by Beza at the request of the Venerable Company of Pastors. The Library of Geneva stilt boasts among its many objects of interest a richly bound copy of this Bible, bearing the arms of France and Navarre, which the Council of the city had had prepared for presentation to Henry IV. Its companion volume, similarly prepared for his sister, Catharine of Bourbon, was graciously accepted by her. But Henry, when his copy reached the court, was about to abjure, and the presentation, which would at the time have led to embarrassing complications, was deferred until some favorable juncture might arise, and the Bible ultimately returned to Geneva.
Of all the lectures in the university, those of Beza were naturally the best attended. The students of all the faculties made it a point to be present at them, no matter what part of the Bible he happened to be commenting upon. It was the Epistle of Paul to the Romans when young Louis Iselin, in 1581, wrote a letter to his uncle which has come down to us. Beza’s lecture hour alone was announced by the ringing of the bell of the cathedral of Saint Pierre, as if calling to a religious function, and precisely as it used to ring for the lectures of John Calvin before the university was instituted.
Nor was this strange. Beza was the first citizen of Geneva, the man who was always at his post, however it might be with others, the one man whom everybody went to see on arriving, and again before his departure. No student was well satisfied with himself unless he took away a letter of commendation from the old patriarch, or, at the very least, an album in which was inscribed his characteristic signature with some verses kindly composed for the occasion. In the estimation of the University and of the burgesses, and not less in that of the outside world, Beza stood for both School and State. Every appeal to foreign princes or foreign commonwealths for one or the other either originated from him or was urged under his patronage. It was the authority of his great name, the memory of his great services in the past in behalf of Protestantism, that secured the great results which flowed from the appeals, the abundant funds which saved both the school and the commonwealth from a destruction which otherwise might have overtaken both almost at any moment in a long succession of years. So long as he lived, such was his high standing, such were his relations with the Protestant sovereigns of Europe, that they made of him, as it were, a permanent minister of foreign affairs.
In the year 1588 Beza’s wife died of the plague after a married life of forty-four years. She was the Claude or Claudine Desnoz whom he had espoused secretly, but before witnesses, three or four years before leaving France, afterwards confirming and ratifying his engagements in the presence of the church, immediately upon his arrival at Geneva. The union, although childless, had otherwise proved a source of unmingled happiness. The wife, whom he had married for love and in an irregular manner, was devoted, affectionate, and helpful. Her husband celebrated her virtues and his own grief in a long consolatory poem addressed to the eminent Jacques Lect, a member of the Council of Geneva, who, not long after the death of Beza’s wife, had been called to pass through a similar affliction.
Not many months, apparently, after Claudine’s sudden death, Beza married a second wife, Geneviève del Piano, the widow of a Genoese refugee. Being now in his 70th year, and somewhat of a victim to rheumatism, he had been urged to this step by his friends, who wished to provide him with a companion in his loneliness. As the expressions of his joy over his new union were moderate, so the results were satisfactory to the full measure of his wishes and prayers.
“Here again, esteemed friend and very dear brother,” he wrote to Pastor Grynæus, of Basel, August 20, 1588, “here again, by the advice of friends, and led by the very many inevitable ills of old age to seek for the help of another, I have returned to matrimony. I have taken to wife a widow approaching her fiftieth year, so adorned, according to the testimony of all good people, with piety and every matronal virtue, that a wife more suitable and more to my mind could not fall to my lot. Regarding this blessing of God toward me, I wish you to render thanks to Him with me, and to join your prayers to mine that the sequel may correspond to this commencement.”
Beza had no children by either of his wives.
The even tenor of the aged Reformer’s later years was interrupted by a curious attempt at conversion. A young ecclesiastic of noble family, born at Sales, a castle belonging to his family in the neighborhood of Annecy, was at this time engaged in a brilliant work of proselytism which was to render the name of Francis of Sales famous throughout Christendom. It has been the boast of his friends and admirers, that by his instrumentality no fewer than 70,000 Protestants, constituting almost the entire population of the district of Chablais, east and south of the Lake of Geneva, were brought into the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church. His methods have been represented as purely spiritual, inspired by love and carried out in gentleness. In reality they were an appeal to worldly considerations, backed by a display of military force and characterized by cruelties such as have rarely been exceeded in the history of religious intolerance. The conversion of Chablais was a foretaste of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; for the Dragonnades of the Duke of Savoy were only the counterpart, on a smaller scale, of the “booted missions” organized under Louvois and executed by Foucault and the other servile intendants of Louis XIV. The future Saint Francis of Sales was the prototype of the prelates of that monarch’s court.
It was while engaged in the reduction of the Protestants of Chablais that a suggestion was made to Francis of Sales that he should try his skill in bringing over to Roman Catholicism Theodore Beza, the hero of many an intellectual contest and the famous Protestant champion. Beza was born in 1519, early in the century. Sales was born in 1567, when two thirds of the 16th century had elapsed. In 1597, the former was consequently almost an octogenarian, the latter was barely thirty years old. What a triumph would it be if the experienced Goliath of the heretics were to be overthrown by a well-directed pebble from the sling of the youthful David!
Francis of Sales was moved to make the attempt by a papal brief of which his nephew has given us a translation:
“Dear and Well-Beloved Son: We have been informed of the piety that is in you and the zeal you have for the honor of God, a thing that has been agreeable to us. The messenger will intimate to you in our name certain matters which concern the glory of God and which we have much at heart. You will employ herein all the diligence which we promise ourselves from your prudence and affection to the Holy See. At Rome, October 1, 1596.”
All accounts agree that Francis of Sales made several visits to Beza at his home in the city of Geneva, and that he was met with kindness. Beza was, says Auguste de Sales, the future saint’s nephew and biographer, “a handsome old man of about seventy years, who affected an appearance of gravity,” and his visitor, “on entering his abode, did not forget the dictates of civility in saluting him, as also Beza received him very courteously.” According to the same authority, Francis introduced the conversation with a jest, of no great merit certainly, but sufficient to draw a hearty laugh from his indulgent host. It consisted in a play of words, made on the spur of the moment, upon an inscription which had caught the guest’s eye below a portrait of Beza’s great predecessor. By the slight change of two or three words in the Latin verses, Francis of Sales, without marring the meter, had made Geneva from “happily” to “insanely” listening to the words of her great teacher Calvin, and that teacher’s writings “condemned,” in place of “celebrated,” by the pious throughout the world.
From trivialities the talk turned to things more serious, and Francis of Sales plied Beza with the question so commonly raised in contemporaneous controversy with Protestants, whether a man could not be saved in the Roman Catholic Church. To this Beza promptly answered that a man might thus be saved, not, however, by means of that multitude of ordinances and ceremonies with which Christ’s teachings had been overlaid. A discussion ensued on the subject of good works which would be immaterial to our purpose, even could we know with certainty what was really said.
Francis did not fail to report this interview to Pope Clement VIII, in words reproduced by his nephew:
“I began by entertaining good hopes of the conversion of the first of Calvinistic heretics. With this object in view, I entered Geneva several times, but never had the least opportunity to speak to the man in private; until finally, three days after Easter, I found him alone and did my very best. But his heart was not moved. He is altogether stony, being inveterate in his hardness, as the result of a long series of years miserably spent. Perhaps I shall bring him back to the fold; but what is to be done?”
To which the pontiff replied in his letter of May 29, 1597:
“Your zeal is worthy of a servant of God. We approve what you have done until now, in the matter of bringing back the lost sheep. We passionately seek this divine work. Prosecute therefore, with the help of the grace of God, what you have begun.”
Thus encouraged, Francis repeated his visit and entered upon new discussions, involving the question of good works and the authority of the Holy See. In the course of the conversation, as he reported, Theodore Beza made the remark, “As for myself, if I am not in the right way, I pray to God every day that He will lead me into it.” The words, for some reason or other, gave his visitor fresh hope, possibly because they were accompanied by a sigh. In a third interview he returned to the charge. His panegyrists regard it as a signal proof of his courage that he thrice exposed himself to the peril of entering Geneva and encountering enemies enraged at him by his previous visits, though certain it is that never was he safer in his life than he was within its walls. It was on this occasion that, approaching Beza, as his nephew tells us, De Sales made an extraordinary speech:
“Sir, you are doubtless agitated by many thoughts, and since you recognize the truth of the Catholic religion, I do not doubt that you have the wish to return to her. She calls you to enter her pale. But it may be that you fear lest, should you return to her, the comforts of life may fail you. Ah! sir, if that be all, according to the assurance I have received from His Holiness, I bring you the promise of a pension of four thousand crowns of gold every year. In addition, all your effects will be paid for at double the price at which you value them.”
Up to this point we may believe Francis of Sales’ nephew. Another biographer, Marsollier, writing in the present century, in a notice prefixed to the complete works of Saint Francis of Sales, asserts that, convinced of Beza’s friendly dispositions toward him and resolved to take advantage of them, Francis informed the Reformer that he had brought with him a pontifical brief, recently received, in which Beza was offered an honorable refuge wherever he might choose to go, a pension of 4,000 gold crowns, the payment for his furniture and books at his own valuation, in fine all the security he might judge proper to exact.
Up to this point, I repeat, we can believe narratives possibly the one a reproduction of the other, but both from Roman Catholic sources. It is otherwise, however, when Auguste de Sales makes “poor Beza remain speechless with his eyes fixed upon the ground, and then confess that the Roman Church was the mother Church, but add that he did not despair of being saved in the religion wherein he was.” Whereupon the future saint gave up the case as lost and returned to Thonon. Fortunately there are other accounts that have more verisimilitude and do less violence to our knowledge of Beza’s manly dignity, to which his nearly fourscore years had lent a still greater title to respect.
“When,” adds a Genevese manuscript, “Beza heard these odious words, a severe majesty replaced on his countenance the kindly cordiality with which he had been speaking to the young priest. He pointed to his library shelves empty of books; for these had been sold to defray the expenses of the support of a number of French refugees. Then conducting his visitor to the door, he took leave of him with the words: ‘Vade retro, Satanas!’—‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’”
And an oral tradition makes Beza conclude his leave-taking with the trenchant observation, “Go, sir, I am too old and deaf to be able to give ear to such words!” But whatever may have been the particular form of De Sales’ dismissal, this much is certain, that he returned whence he came without having effected his purpose. Unfortunately, he or his friends had boasted of his victory before it was won. Therefore the news was spread throughout Europe that De Sales was about to lead his aged convert in triumph to be reconciled to Mother Holy Church at the See of Saint Peter. Crowds waited at Siena and elsewhere on the road to Rome for the edifying spectacle, but waited in vain. Beza never came. Others reported the story differently. The arch-heretic, Calvin’s successor, had died, forsooth, but, before his death, he had recanted in the presence of the Council of Geneva, had begged them to be reconciled to the Romish Church and to send for the Jesuits, and had himself received absolution by special order from the pope, at the hands of the (titular) Bishop of Geneva, Francis of Sales. Wherefore, after Beza’s death, the city sent to Rome an embassage of submission. It is Sir Edwin Sandys that gives us, in his Europæ Speculum, this amusing account of the death-bed conversion of the Reformer, who did not die for a good period of eight years yet, and of the “ambassadors of Geneva, yet invisible.” The Jesuits took part in the matter by printing a document which Lestoile, in his Journal, says began with the words, “Geneva, mother and refuse of heresies, now at length that Beza is dead, embraces the Catholic faith.” As for Beza himself, thus quickly blotted out of existence by popular rumor and inimical pamphleteers, it seemed good to him to vindicate both his own existence and his honor, by publishing a letter that very year and over his own name, full of the old sprightliness and setting forth with relentless sarcasm the shameless inventions of the members of the “company of monks that lyingly assume the name of Jesus.” This and a pungent epigram called out by the same circumstances are among the very last of the products of Beza’s pen that have come down to us.
But up to the end of his life the passion for letters continued, and now that the time for sustained labors had clearly passed, it was chiefly in poetry that he continued to divert himself, the epigram which had been the pastime of his youth thus becoming the solace of his old age. The homeliest circumstance of everyday life afforded subject enough for verses—Latin verses, of course—in which the trivial occurrence was turned to spiritual account and made to bear a higher interpretation. In the freedom of familiar correspondence with his old friend, Grynæus, the pastor of Basel, he jots down, for example, the fact that that very morning of his 76th birthday, his aged servant had greeted him on awaking with news from the poultry-yard. A hen had been bought a month before and had been lost sight of at once; she just now appears, but not alone; fifteen little chickens, her progeny, follow and crowd about her.
“You see,” he writes to Grynæus, “by this homely incident how unconventionally I treat you. I gave thanks for this increase of wealth to the Author of all good, and I saw in it—shall I tell you?—without regarding myself in this as being guilty of superstition—the presage of some special favor. I even composed on this subject an epigram, and I send it to you, in order not to leave you a stranger to these light relaxations of my mind.”
The eight verses enclosed were of faultless Latinity, but need not be transcribed here. The thought was simple but pious. The hen bought but a month ago rewards her purchaser, who expended for her but ten sous, with a whole brood of young. “And I, O Christ full of benignity, what fruits have I returned to Thee in the seventy-six years that I have lived until now?”
It was five years later (1600) that a nobleman from Guyenne, happening to pass through Geneva on his way back from Rome in company with the physician of the King of Morocco, as Florimond de Raemond relates called upon Beza. The patriarch, now past fourscore, received his visitors with all his old-time dignity, courtesy, and affability. He was clad in a long tunic that came down almost to his feet and girt with a leathern belt held by a large buckle in front. His beard was long and gray. His hair reached his well-turned shoulders. Upon his head was a broad hat of generous dimensions. Altogether the sketch drawn by Raemond’s pen is a counterpart of the famous portrait that still hangs in the Public Library of Geneva.
Beza had been writing, and still held in his hand some leaves of paper on which his visitors could see verses written and rewritten with many erasures, and when he looked up and greeted them at their coming in, he remarked as he called their attention to the lines, “This is the way that I beguile my time!” It is a pleasant view to which the historian introduces us, of a man of magnificent natural endowments and magnificent achievements in Church and State, placidly occupying the enforced leisure of old age, and striving to forget the ailments of a suffering body, by the composition of unpretending stanzas, for the amusement of himself or the chance friend that might drop in. Not so in the opinion of his suspicious visitor. We hardly know whether we should rather be diverted by the silliness or be disgusted by the malignant suggestions of the “nobleman from Guyenne.” He could not read the verses Beza had been scribbling, and therefore used to say that he was in doubt whether they were of an amatory character or not; but, at any rate, he sighed and said to himself, “Alas! Does this holy man, with one foot already in Charon’s bark, so spend his old age! Is this the sort of meditations with which a theologian occupies himself!”
Meanwhile, though apparently retired from active participation in affairs whether of Church or of State, Beza did not fail to exert himself to good purpose where anything could be done by him either for the advantage of the cause of religion or for the good of the republic of Geneva. Henry IV, in particular, entertained for him a reverence and accorded to him a consideration which even the events of the unfortunate Abjuration, and Beza’s manly frankness in rebuking that Abjuration, had been unable to disturb. Nominal Roman Catholic that he was, the tone of his correspondence was unaltered.
“Monsieur de Bèze,” he writes, February 9, 1599, “I have heard with much satisfaction of your continued good will towards me, and that you lose no opportunity to exercise it for the advantage of my affairs. This increases still more the favor which I have always borne you, and while waiting to display it in deeds, I have been desirous to assure you anew by this message, that you could not seek for its manifestation for yourself or for others in any matter in which you will not find me greatly disposed to gratify you. Meantime I pray God to have you, Monsieur de Bèze, in His holy guard. This ninth of February, at Gandelu.”
Nor were these empty words, as the event proved. In 1600, Henry, when starting out upon his Italian campaign, passed near Geneva, and encamped, at the distance of two leagues from that city, before the fort known as Sainte-Catherine. This fort, originally erected by the Duke of Savoy, had been a source of great annoyance and anxiety to the Genevese, ever suspicious, and not without good reason, of their neighbor and enemy. When the syndic and deputies of the city went out to congratulate the monarch, the latter inquired very kindly regarding the health of Theodore Beza and expressed a desire to see him. Despite his years, the Reformer promptly hastened to pay Henry his respects, and greeted him with a short address in the name of the pastors, which could not have been better received.
“My father,” Henry replied, addressing the Protestant patriarch in the hearing of all, “your few words signify much, being worthy of the reputation for eloquence which M. de Bèze has gained. I take them very kindly and with all the tender feelings they deserve.”
And then upon the very spot he granted to the Genevese what Beza and his fellow citizens had asked.
“I want to do for you,” he said, “all that may be to your convenience. Fort Sainte-Catherine shall be torn down, and here,” pointing to the Duke of Sully, who stood by, “is a man in whom you may trust with good reason, and to whom I now issue my commands.”
The speech was the more remarkable as a testimony of affection and esteem because Henry had styled Beza “father,” a title which, as Benoist observes, is little used by Protestants in addressing their pastors, but upon which the monks pride themselves and which they have, as it were, appropriated to themselves among the Roman Catholics. They were consequently scarcely less indignant when the king applied it to Beza than they were a year later, when, before restoring Fort Sainte-Catherine to the Duke of Savoy, according to the terms of the treaty of peace, he secretly allowed the inhabitants of Geneva to destroy the walls with their own hands, a permission of which they availed themselves so gladly that, when the moment arrived for turning the fort over to their hereditary enemy, there was not one stone upon another where the walls had lately stood.
The perils to which Geneva was exposed were not dissipated by the overthrow of Fort Sainte-Catherine, for Charles Emmanuel was an implacable foe whose treacherous attempts upon the republic ended only with his life. He made little account of compacts or of treaties of peace. Scarcely had two years elapsed since Henry’s visit when a new and more formidable conspiracy was set on foot. The Savoyard frontier at that time ran closer to Geneva than the French frontier does at present, the canton having gained a considerable accession of territory and population in the 19th century. An army secretly massed on the border could traverse the intervening space and reach the walls by a few minutes’ march. This is what occurred on the night of December 21, 1602, one of the longest, as it is apt to be one of the darkest, nights of the year. There were 8,000 soldiers in the force that stealthily approached the fortifications, preceded by their four generals and a picked body of troops. It is said that as the ladders were raised and the advance-guard began to climb in the most profound silence, the Savoyards were encouraged by the whispers of the Jesuit missionaries in attendance, who said, “Climb boldly; every round is a step heavenward!” The project had almost proved a complete success, for no one on the inside had perceived them, when a sentinel on guard gave the alarm by discharging his musket. Two hundred men had already scaled the walls and stood on the ramparts. A few soldiers had actually entered the city. The main body was approaching the gate which a traitor had agreed to open to them. But a Vaudois, Mercier by name, thwarted the plot by his presence of mind and let the portcullis fall. The citizens, awakened from their sleep, rushed to meet such of the enemy as had penetrated into the streets, and slew to the number of three hundred of the assailants. The survivors were put to flight, and retired to Savoy. Sixty-seven that were taken prisoners were afterwards ruthlessly beheaded. Of the Genevese there were but seventeen killed.
The conflict over, the people flocked to the church of Saint Pierre to render thanks to Almighty God for His wonderful interposition in their behalf. In the religious services, Theodore Beza, notwithstanding his advanced age and bodily feebleness, took the most prominent part. At his bidding the worshippers with one accord chanted the words of the 124th psalm, turned into verse by the Reformer himself a half-century before, than which no jubilant words more appropriate to the occasion could have been found in a collection that lends itself wonderfully to the expression of every phase of human experience.
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, Now may Israel say; If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, When men rose up against us; Then they had swallowed us up quick, When their wrath was kindled against us.
Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us As a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; The snare is broken and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”
On every recurring anniversary of “The Escalade,” from that day to this, the same psalm is joyfully sung in Saint Pierre at the commemorative services; and the visitor sees upon one of the bas-reliefs of a fountain erected in 1857, on the Rue des Allemands, and known as “The Monument of the Escalade,” a representation of Theodore Beza in the act of returning thanks to God.
Honored for his long years of service, revered for his signal piety and the virtues that had characterized his entire life, held in special veneration as the sole survivor of the group of Reformers that glorified the first half of the 16th century, and now by his very aspect recalling an age long since passed, Theodore Beza spent the remnant of his earthly existence in placid contentment and with a happy anticipation of the rewards of the heavenly. As his infirmities increased, so also multiplied the sedulous attentions of his devoted friends and of his colleagues in Church and University. A touching evidence of affection and solicitude was given in the resolution adopted by his brethren of the ministry, a few months before the end, to the effect that at least two of their number should visit him daily, to inquire respecting his health, and to minister such comfort as they might be able. Thus as the flame of life flickered in the socket before quite going out, there were always friendly eyes that watched with mingled hope and fear. When for a brief moment he seemed to be snatched from the borders of the grave, there sat by his side those from whose lips the precious assurances of the Gospel were doubly precious, because recalled by friends with whom he had enjoyed sweet communion in the past. On Saturday, October 12, 1605, he listened with folded hands and with evident joy, as his colleague La Faye recited the words of Saint Paul, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and discoursed respecting God’s grace to the called according to His purpose, whom He has justified and glorified. On the morrow, the last day of his life, he awoke feeling so much relieved of suffering that he rose, allowed himself to be dressed, offered his morning prayer, took a few steps, and ate a little food. It was characteristic that his last thoughts before the end came were directed to his beloved Geneva, which for its own sake, and as the representative of the cause of the truth, had long been dearer to him than life itself. “Is the city in full safety and quiet?” he asked. Then, on receiving an affirmative answer, he suddenly sank down, losing strength and consciousness at once, and in a few minutes passed peacefully away, while sorrowing friends prayed about his bedside.
A great man, indeed, had fallen, over whose mortal remains all that was highest and best in Church or State in Geneva did well to weep, deploring the loss that both State and Church had sustained.
There is still in existence, saved by one of those strange freaks of fortune which occasionally preserve the most fragile of shells through the midst of the storms that dash to pieces the most strongly built frigate, a copy of the simple notice that summoned the friends to attend the last rites in Beza’s honor. It runs thus in translation:
“What the haven is to those that sail, that is the removal into another life to those whose death is precious in the eyes of the Lord. Inasmuch, therefore, as yesterday that great light of the Church, that reverend man, Doctor Theodore Beza, worn out with years, was peacefully translated from this transitory and wretched life to that other life in which there is eternal blessedness free from disquietude, and inasmuch as he is this day to be consigned to burial, the illustrious and generous lords, counts, barons, nobles, all in fine that apply themselves to letters now present in this Academy, are invited, in the name of the Pastors and Professors, today at noon, to pay this last honor due to so great a man and one that has died in so pious a manner, and to attend his funeral. Whose body indeed, like as the bodies of all that die in Christ, is sown in corruption, but shall be raised in incorruption: in such wise that neither death nor life shall separate us from the love which is in Jesus Christ our Lord, who translates His children from death to life. He died on the thirteenth of October, 1605.”
In imitation of his great master, John Calvin, and in accordance with the city ordinances, Theodore Beza, before his death, had expressed a wish that his body should be interred in the public cemetery of Plainpalais, outside the walls. His preference was disregarded, and the magistrates ordered that the place of burial be in the heart of Geneva itself. It was not so much for the sake of conferring superior honor upon the great theologian and leader that this resolution was reached, as to forestall the possibility of danger to the republic. A watchful enemy was in the neighborhood, and might take advantage of the moment when all Geneva’s best citizens and most valiant soldiers should have gone forth accompanying Beza’s remains to the grave, to make a sudden attack upon the defenseless place. Moreover, there were rumors that the enemies of the Reformer intended at a later time to disinter his corpse and, if they exposed it to no other indignity, to carry it off in triumph to Rome. Accordingly, it was to the buildings then known as the cloisters of the cathedral church of Saint Pierre that Beza’s body was carried on the shoulders of his former students, and was there laid to rest within a stone’s throw of the sacred edifice where he had for so many years lectured and preached. Strange as it may appear, during the course of the 18th century, the cloisters, having fallen into a ruinous condition, were torn down, and the tomb of Beza shared in the demolition. Whither his remains were taken is unknown. It is as impossible for the visitor to Geneva at the present time to discover the last resting place of Theodore Beza, the pupil, as to identify the humble and unmarked grave of his master, John Calvin, at Plainpalais.
Church and State pledged themselves to one another over Beza’s grave to concord and a union of effort for the welfare of Geneva. Speaking through his successor in the moderator’s chair, the Venerable Company recalled to memory the fact that the Reformer lead been not only a shining light in the house of the Lord, but a wall of defense to the republic of Geneva, which owed to his prevalent intercession every honor and every favor which it had received at the hands of foreign princes. And the syndic who responded in the name of the magistracy, reciprocated the hope that, for the advantage of the common country, there might ever subsist a good understanding between Church and State. To the accomplishment of this end, he urged that all should walk in the footsteps of those two great men, John Calvin and Theodore Beza, who had so happily served the interests of the commonwealth.