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Title: History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin Volume 3. Preface
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

00005-0001 History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin Volume 3. Preface
By J. H. Merle D’aubigne, D.D.,

Author of the ‘History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.’ Etc.

‘Les choses de petite duree ont coutume de devenir fanees, quand elles ont passe leur temps. ‘Au regne de Christ, il n’y a que le nouvel homme qui soit florissant, qui ait de la vigueur, et dont il faille faire cas.’


History of the Reformation - Volume 3

Preface The time at which this volume appears would seem to require a few words of introduction.

A day which closes a great epoch in the history of modern times, will soon be called to the remembrance of Protestant Christians. The registers of the Consistory of Geneva for the year 1564, bear under the name of Calvin these simple words: Alle a Dieu le Sabmedy 27 de May, entre huit et neuf henres du soir. The author of this volume, having been invited by the Evangelical Alliance to deliver an address on The Reformation and the Reformer of Geneva, during the (Ecumenical Conference held at Geneva in September, 1861, observed, in the course of his preparatory work, this important date, and proposed to the assembly that on the tercentenary of the Reformer’s death, Geneva, and the Reformed Churches in general, should return thanks publicly to God that he had raised up John Calvin in the sixteenth century, to labor at the reformation of the Church, by re-establishing Holy Scripture as the supreme authority, and grace as the only means of salvation. The members of the Conference, about two thousand in number, adopted the resolution by acclamation. As Christian Protestants were preparing to celebrate the anniversary, the author desired to contribute something according to his ability towards reviving the memory of the great doctor. Almost at the very time when the idea of this Protestant festival occurred to his mind, he proposed to describe in a special work, The Reformation of Europe in the time of Calvin. Having published the first two volumes more than a year ago, he looked forward to issuing another before the 27th May, and he now presents it to the public. May it occupy its humble place among the memorials destined to commemorate the Lord’s work.

The persecuting jesuitry of the seventeenth century, and the superficial incredulity of the eighteenth, have calumniated the great Reformer of the West. Times have changed, and the nineteenth century is beginning to do him justice. His works, even those still in manuscript, are sought after and published; his life and character, his theology and influence, are the object of numerous studies which in general bear the stamp of fairness; and even distinguished painters have found the subject of their finest pictures in his life.

We entertain no blind admiration for him. We know that he has sometimes used bitter language. We acknowledge that, sharing in the faults of his century, or rather of ten centuries, he believed that whatever infringed on the respect due to God ought to be punished by the civil power, quite as much as any firing that might be injurious to the honor or the life of man.

We deplore this error. But how can any one study with discernment the Reformer’s letters and other writings, and not recognize in him one of the noblest intelligences, one of the most elevated minds, one of the most affectionate hearts, and in short, one of those true Christian souls who unreservedly devote themselves to duty? An eminent scholar, whom Scotland still laments — Dr. Cunningham, the successor of Chalmers — said, in a work published a short time before his death, ‘Calvin is the man who, next to St. Paul, has done most good to mankind.’

No doubt he will always have his enemies. A journal of high character and great circulation in Germany, speaking of a libel (Schmaehschrift is the word used), published some time ago against Calvin, asks, ‘From what camp does it proceed — from jesuitical Romanism or atheistical libertinism?’ It is, indeed, from these quarters that the enemies of the Reformer principally come; but Re acknowledge that a man may be opposed to Calvin, and yet not belong to either of these schools.

Let us not disquiet ourselves, however, about such attacks; Calvin’s master has said, If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? ( Luke 18:31) The author of the present volume thinks that the best way of doing justice to his memory, is to make him known. The reader will meet in this work with many sayings and doings of this great man, which are not to be found in other histories. If a writer had the good fortune to lay before the German public some unknown trait of Luther’s life, all Germany would be taken up with it. Shall we be more indifferent to the life of our great Reformer? Certainly there are more striking actions in the life of Luther, who so easily gains possession of our hearts; but we may ask whether there are not features in the life of Calvin, which are less frequent in that of the Wittemberg doctor; the manner, for instance, in which the young doctor of Noyon, wherever he happens to be (at Angouleme, Poitiers, etc.), is at once surrounded by distinguished men, whom he wins over to the truth?

The author desires, however, to remind some of his readers, that this book is not the history of Calvin. The title expresses that clearly enough: History of the Reformation IN EUROPE in the time of Calvin. It is the second series of a work of which the History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, was the first. The Reformation of the Western nations, of which Calvin was the soul, having a special character, we thought it our duty to devote a special work to it; but we shall not confine ourselves to relating the facts of the Reformation in which Calvin took a direct part. One portion of the fourth volume will describe the Reformation in England, from the fall of Wolsey. We purpose also to continue retracing the leading features of the Reformation in Germany, as we have already done in the first two volumes of this work, in which the alliance of Smalkalde, the peace of Nuremberg, the emancipation of Wurtemberg, and other analogous events have found their place. It is the Reformation as a whole which the author desires to delineate.
After speaking of France and Calvin, the author relates, in the present volume, facts which concern Latin Switzerland (Suisse Romande), the Waldensian villages of Piedmont, and finally Geneva.

He does not think it proper to pass by unnoticed certain reproaches which the first two volumes have brought upon him. ‘It is a strange idea,’ some have said, ‘to devote so much space to Geneva. Is it not doing too much honor to a little city of a few thousand souls? History requires great people and mighty personages. We meet with these at least around Luther; but in Geneva, we find none but humble syndics and petty citizens.’

True, it is so. In this part of our history we have to deal with a little city and a little people; and even in this democratic age, there are persons who will put up with nothing but electors and kings. May we be permitted to reply that what is small, as regards outward appearances, is sometimes important as regards moral influence. This is a truth often reverted to in Holy Scripture:

The ships, though they be so great, yet are they turned about with a very small helm. ( James 3:4) This portion of our narrative contains two parts: one is devoted to a man — Calvin; the other to a city — Geneva. These two existences seem in the eyes of many persons to evolve separately, as if they were never to meet.

But there is a close relation between them: from the very beginning they are destined to unite. Each is energetic, though without parade, and their alliance will in some future day double their strength. When Calvin and Geneva are one, many men and nations will feel their powerful and salutary influence. It is a marriage that will produce a numerous and active posterity. Whatever the friends of worldly greatness may say, this union, when it took place, was an event of more importance to the human race, than that which led a panegyrist of Louis XIV. to exclaim, in reference to a celebrated event — Les Bourbons, ces enfants des dieux, Unissent leurs tiges fecondes! The idea expressed above will not be generally accepted. The smallness of the scene which it unfolds will prevent the second work from interesting so much as the first. And yet there have been critics who have felt the importance of the history of Geneva. May we be permitted to give a few examples?

The London Review says: ‘For the narrowness of the field — a small city — the variety of characters presented may well astonish us. The dewdrop is big enough to hold an image of the heavens and earth; and a city closely studied mirrors an empire. The story is crowded with incidents and surprises, with heroic deeds and endurance, and also with foul deeds and shames.’ Some reviewers have gone so far as to place the facts of the second work above those of the first. The New York Observer says: ‘The story of the times in which the Swiss Reformation was wrought is surrounded with a sublimity, romantic grandeur, and interest that attach to no part of the great German movement under Luther.’

We omit the remarks of other journals, particularly of the Saturday Review, which rejoices to see ‘the Genevese champions of liberty brought to light.’ We must, however, quote one more, the Patriot, which says: ‘Geneva is one of the smallest and one of the most heroic cities of Europe.

Had it been predicted, its history would have been incredible. Geneva defied not only the Duke of Savoy and the Pope, but the Emperor Charles V., and dared also his scarcely less powerful rival Francis I.; and in spite of them all it won, first, its political and then its religious liberties, and not for itself only but for Northern Europe. More than once it was the Thermopylae of Protestantism and freedom, bravely held by an heroic little band scarcely more in comparison with those who sought to destroy them than the three hundred men of Leonidas in comparison with the Persians.’

But if the opinions of some were favorable to the little city, the criticisms of others were not so; and as the author will again speak of Geneva in this volume, and (God willing) in others, he desires to say a word of explanation with reference to these objections.

If the work is found uninteresting, the fault must be ascribed to the historian, not to the history. The talent of one of the great masters of history would have prevented all reproach; but the workman damaged the work. Can the present generation have become so fastidious as to cease to feel interest in what is great and beautiful of itself, and to need all the refinements of style in order to revive its morbid tastes?

Geneva is a republic, and this, perhaps, may also have told against our narrative, Some persons have fancied that when the author spoke of liberty, he meant liberty in the republican form alone, and that may have displeased them. But that is a mistake; the author has always had in view that constitutional liberty which includes all modern liberties, and not any particular form of it. He even believes that the monarchical form is the most favorable to the liberties of a great nation. It has been his lot to see side by side a republic without liberty and a monarchy in which all were free. The coldness, however, of some readers for the annals of a little people, proceeds in the main from another cause. There are in reality two histories: one which is external and makes much noise, but whose consequences are not lasting; the other which is internal, has but a mean appearance, like the seed when it germinates; and which nevertheless, bears most precious fruit, Now what pleases the general public is a. narrative in which great armies maneuver; while, on the other hand, what touches the author is the movement of the soul, of strong characters, enthusiastic outbursts, the low estate of humble and tranquil hearts, holy affections, life-giving principles, the faith which gains victories, and the Divine life which regenerates nations — in a word, the moral world. The material world, physical and appreciable forces, parks of artillery and glittering squadrons, possess but a secondary interest in his eyes. Numerous cannons, it is true, give more smoke; but to those external powers, which destroy life, he prefers the internal powers which elevate the soul, warm it for truth, for liberty, and for God, and cause it to be born again to. life everlasting. If these internal forces are developed in the midst of a little people, they possess all the more attraction for him.

If humble heroes are not popular, shall I therefore leave their noble actions in obscurity? Shall I limit myself henceforward to bringing princes and kings on the stage, with statesmen, cardinals, armies, treaties, and empires?

No: I cannot do so. I shall have to speak, indeed, of Francis I. and Charles V., of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII., and other great personages; hut I shall still remain faithful to little people and little things. It is indeed a petty city whose struggles I am relating; but it is the city that for two centuries made head against Rome, until she had resigned the task entrusted to her into the hands of more powerful nations — England, Germany, and America. Let the liberals despise her who at this very time most enjoy the fruits of her severe struggles... Be it so... As for me, I have not the courage to follow them. I call to mind the refugees she has entertained... the asylum they found there, and which their children still enjoy... and I desire to pay my debt. Oh! if she would only understand that she cannot exist with honor in the future, unless, while loving liberty, she loves the Gospel more than everything else.

Let me say a few words more on the principles which have guided me in composing this history. What it is necessary for us to study above all things is, in my opinion, the beginnings. The formation of beings, the origin of the successive phases of humanity, possess in my eyes an importance and interest far surpassing the exhibition of what these things have afterwards become. The creative epoch of Christianity, in which we contemplate Christ and His apostles, is to me far more admirable than those which succeeded it. Similarly the Reformation, which is the creation of the evangelical world in modern times, has greater attractions for me than the Protestantism which comes after. I take a pleasure in watching life in its commencement. When the work is done, its summa momenta are over. In the first lines of the first volume of my first work, I said that I should follow this rule. I shall not be reproached for remaining faithful to it.

An objection has been raised that this history is too full of details. I might reply that it is not good to leave facts in vagueness; that they must be analyzed end described. The surrounding circumstances can alone give an accurate knowledge of events and impress on them the stamp of reality.

The author may here quote an authority which no one will dispute. He remembers, that being in Paris at M. Guizot’s, just as the first volume of the History of the Reformation appeared — about thirty years ago — that illustrious writer said to him; ‘Give us DETAILS, the rest we know.’ We do not think that many of our readers will fancy they know more than he does.

Another conviction also exercises some influence on the character of my narrative. It seems to me that the study of the unknown has a peculiar charm. Geneva and its struggles for liberty and the Gospel, are a terra incognita, except to its citizens and a few men of letters. When historians describe ancient or modern times — for example, the Revolution of the Netherlands, of England, or of France, — they can only say a little better what others have already said before them. Perhaps there is some advantage in exploring a virgin soil — in adding new facts to that treasury which ought to be the wisdom of nations. The author is not, however, blind to the truth there may have been in some of the criticisms upon his work — and while following the principles he has laid down, he will endeavor to profit by them.

He had hoped to publish the third and fourth volumes together this year.

Having been forced to pass the winter of 1862-63 at Nice, with injunctions to abstain from work, he publishes one only now; bat the next, God willing, will not be long delayed.

On returning from Nice, the author passed through Piedmont, partly to be present at a synod in the Waldensian valleys, which reminded him of the one described in this volume; and partly to make researches among the General Archives of the kingdom at Turin. The valuable collections there contained were liberally thrown open to him, and he was able to select and transcribe some precious documents hitherto unknown, of which, as will be seen, he made immediate use. While thanking the various persons who have been useful to him in his researches, the ;author desires also to express his acknowledgements to the translator of this work, Dr. H.

White, who has spared no pains in conveying to the English reader a faithful and animated copy of the original. The translation has been carefully revised by the author with great care, line by line and word by word, and some changes, not in the French edition, have been introduced.

Will this work obtain a success similar to that which attended the former one? That treated of the Reformation in Germany, with Luther as its hero; this treats especially of the Reform in Western Europe, with Calvin as its head. The scene of the latter being nearer home, ought to have more interest for British readers; or shall a new-born pass, on for Germany and the Germans make them look with indifference on all that does not directly concern the country of Luther?... France, Holland, England, Scotland, Switzerland should possess some attraction for them. The history, hitherto almost unknown, of the Reformation of Geneva is not only attractive in itself, it is also of importance with regard to England. Geneva is the representative of a Christian system, of a great doctrine, — that of the supreme authority Of Holy Scripture, and of the pure Gospel. The final triumph of this doctrine is of the greatest consequence for the English churches. A well-known British theologian of our day has said: ‘Two Systems of doctrine are now, and probably for the last time, in conflict — the Catholic and the Genevan . May this work be of some little use in determining the issue!

La Graveline, Eaux Vives: Geneva, May 1864.