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Title: History of the Reformation - Expiations and Processions
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

15 00005-0014 Expiations and Processions 
(End of 1534 and Beginning of 1535.)

AN expiation was required for the purification of France — solemn ceremonies, sacrifices, and the stake. Nothing must be wanting to the expiatory work.

Du Bourg, Milon, Poille, and their friends were lying in prison, waiting for the day when they were to appear before their judges. The poor paralytic had remained as calm as in his father’s shop: he was even calmer.

Formerly, when friends or kindred, well accustomed to lift him, had taken him in their arms, he had cried out with the pain he felt in every limb. But now, in prison, he bore it all without pain, and ‘the roughest handling seemed tender.’ Receiving unknown strength from God, he was tranquil and joyful under .tribulation. That holy patience spread peace in the hearts of his companions in misfortune. ‘It is impossible to tell the consolation he afforded them,’ says the chronicler. They all found themselves in a dark road which led to a cruel death, but this poor man walked before them like a torch, to guide and gladden them with its soft light.

The day of trial arrived: it was the 10th of November, a fortnight after the placards. Seven prisoners were taken to the Chatelet: entering that ancient building, where some remains of Caesar’s walls are still to be seen, they appeared before the criminal chamber, and the king’s advocate in his scarlet robe called for a severe sentence. The poor paralytic could not be accused of running about the city to fasten up the handbills; he was convicted all the same of having some at his father’s shop. Justice was at once prompt and cruel. These virtuous men were all condemned to have their property confiscated, to do public penance, and to be burnt alive at different places, and on different days. The court thought that by spreading the punishments, they would extend the terror more widely.

The sentence was confirmed by the parliament. On the 13th November, three days after the sentence, one of the turnkeys entered the cell of the paralytic, and lifting him in his arms like a child, carried him to a tumbril; the procession then took its way towards the Greve. As he passed before his father’s house, Milon greeted it with a smile. He reached the place of execution, where the stake had been prepared. ‘Lower the flames,’ said the officer in command: ‘the sentence says he is to be burnt at a slow fire.’ This was a cruel prospect, still he uttered none but words of peace. He knew that to believe and to suffer was the life of a christian; but he believed that the grace of suffering was still more excellent than the grace of faith. The enemies of the Reformation, who surrounded the burning pile, listened to the martyr with surprise and respect. The evangelicals were deeply moved, and exclaimed: ‘Oh! how great is the constancy of this witness to the Son of God, both in his life and in his death!’ The next day it was the turn of Du Bourg, the tradesman of the Rue St. Denis. The wealth he had enjoyed during his life, the tears of his wife, the solicitations of his friends, had been ineffectual to save him. He was a man of decided character: when he had posted up the placard, he had done so boldly, although he knew that the act might cost him his life, and he stepped into the tumbril with the same courage. When he arrived in front of Notre Dame, he was made to alight; a taper was put into his hand and a cord round his neck, and he was then taken in front of the fountain of the Innocents, in the Rue St. Denis, quite near his house — he might have been seen from the windows — after which his hand was cut off. The hand that had fixed up the terrible protest against Rome fell to the ground, but the man stood firm, believing that ‘if those who do battle under earthly captains push forward unto the death, although they know not what will be the issue, much more ought christians who Ere sure of victory to fight until the end.’ Du Bourg was taken to the Halles and there burnt alive. On the 18th it was Poille’s turn. That old disciple of Briconnet’s showed as much firmness as his master had shown weakness, The mournful procession took its way towards the Faubourg St. Antoine, and halted before the church of St. Catherine: it was here the stake had been prepared for the edification of the believers of that district. Poille got down from the cart, his features indicating peace and joy; in the midst of the guard and of the surrounding crowd, he thought only of his Savior and his crown. ‘My Lord Jesus Christ,’ he said, ‘reigns in heaven, and I am ready to fight for him on earth unto the last drop of blood.’ This confession of the truth at the moment of punishment, exasperated the executioners. ‘Wait a bit,’ they said, ‘we will. stop your prating.’ They sprang upon him, opened his mouth, caught hold of his tongue and bored a hole through it; they then with refined cruelty, made a slit in his cheek, through which they drew the tongue, and fastened it with an iron pin. Some cries were heard from the crowd at this horrible spectacle: they proceeded from the humble christians who had come to help the poor bricklayer with their compassionate looks. Poille spoke no more, but his eyes still announced the peace which he enjoyed. He was burnt alive.

The punishments followed one another rapidly; many other sentences had been delivered, On the 19th November, a printer who had reprinted Luther’s works, and a bookseller who had sold them, were taken together to the Place Maubert. The poor creatures had probably only thought it a good speculation; they were however burnt at the stake. On the 4th December a young clerk underwent the same punishment in front of Notre Dame. On the following day, a young illuminator, a native of Compiegne, who worked in a shop near the Pont St. Michel, died on the pile constructed at the foot of that bridge. Sometimes it was deemed sufficient ‘to flog the accused naked,’ to confiscate their property and to banish them. The terror was universal All who had kept up any relations with the victims, or had occasionally frequented the meetings, were uneasy and troubled. There was great agitation in the evangelical houses: flight seemed the only refuge, and many made preparations for their departure.

Although we have spoken of the evangelical christians, we have not named them all. There were some whose profession, without being as public as that of Du Bourg, De la Forge, and Milon, was yet quite as sincere; many of them made themselves known at this time. Of this number were several nobles: the Seigneur of Roygnac and his wife, the Sieur of Roberval, lieutenant to the marshal of La Marche; the Seigneur of Fleuri in Briere, the Damoiselle Bayard, widow of Councilor Porte — all took the road of exile deeply sorrowing. Trouble and alarm had penetrated even into the offices of the State: many government officers, Elouin du Lin, receiver to the parliament of Rouen, and William Gay, receiver of Vernay, being forced to choose between their livings and their consciences, abandoned their posts and fled. Among the fugitives were many who would not have been looked for among the converted. Master Pierre Duval, treasurer of the privy purse, touched by grace divine in the midst of the revels which came under his management, and his secretary, Rene, also a convert, resolved to sacrifice those allurements of the world, which vanish with life, and fly from the terrible wrath of their master. Another Duval (John), probably of the same family as Pierre, keeper of the lodge in the forest of Boulogne, which served as a hunting rendezvous for the court, had been reached by the Word of God in the midst of his stags and falcons, just as his cook, William Deschamps, had been. In like manner, the Gospel had entered the Hotel des Finances: two clerks of the Treasury had begun to seek for the treasure in heaven ; their names were Claude Berberin and Leon Jamet, of Sansay in Poitou. All these men disappeared suddenly; some lay hid in remote villages where they had friends; some went to Basle, others to Strasburg. Jamet, a friend of Clement Marot (who has addressed to him four of those burlesque epistles known as coq-a-l’ane, and then in great vogue), went to Italy, and took refuge at the court of the Duchess Rene of Ferrara, who made him her secretary; and Clement himself, who had already .had more than one encounter with the law, for his hatred of all constraint and not for his faith, got frightened also, and accompanied his friend beyond the Alps.

Side by side with these noblemen and servants of the king were found more lowly men on every road in France. The trades connected with typography (printers, booksellers, and binders) formed the most numerous contingent in these bands of fugitives. The Reformation had gained many followers among the masters and their workmen, and it was sufficient to have printed, bound, or sold any of Luther’s works, to be burnt alive. Master Simon Dubois, John Nicole, the Balafe (the surname alone has come down to us) — all of them printers, were in flight. Andrew Vincard, the bookseller; Cholin and Jerome Denis, master-binders; and one Bathe d’Orge, furbisher of books to the court, had disappeared. Master goldsmiths, engravers; John Le Feuvre, a cutter of block-books, (he may perhaps have cut certain designs representing Christ and Antichrist, which had been distributed along with the placards); a cooper, a carpenter, a shoemaker; Girard Lenet, a painter; John Pinot who kept an inn, called the Key, on the Greve, notorious for lodging Lutherans; the sister of the paralytic Milon, who could not bear to remain in the city where her brother had been burnt — all these were flying far from Paris. Dauphiny was the province of France which had contributed most to the evangelical brotherhood of Paris. Master Thomas Berberin, Pasqualis, Franqois, Gaspard Charnel, and a young friar named Loys de Laval, were all from Dauphiny, and returned hastily to their picturesque home.

Several other fugitives were monks: there were brother Gratian and brother Richard, both Augustines; brother Nicholas Marcel, a Celestine; the precentor Jehannet, surnamed the preacher ; and Master John le Rentif, a secular priest, popularly known as the precheur de bracque , so called, probably, because having thrown off his sacerdotal gown, he preached in breeches. In this fugitive flock there was one black sheep, the famous doctor of divinity, Peter Caroli. The Sorbonne had stopped his lectures at the college of Cambray for having said: ‘Nothing keeps us more from the knowledge of God than images; and it is better to give sixpence to the poor than to a priest for a mass.’ He left for Switzerland, where his presence was not very highly appreciated. ‘At that time also went out Caroli,’ says Beza, ‘carrying with him the same spirit of ambition, of contradiction, and of lewdness; a man whom the spirit of God had not sent, but whom Satan had brought to hinder the Lord’s work.’

The colleges, also, where the evangelical light was beginning to illuminate some of the masters and pupils, supplied several fugitives. Professors on whom the severity of parliament would have fallen, rose up, bade farewell to their pupils, sorrowfully went out of their studies, and disappeared.

Master John Renault, principal of a college at Tourney; Master Mederic Sevin; Master Mathurin Cordier, Calvin’s mentor and friend, had quitted Paris in haste, without taking leave of their colleagues. All classes of society had furnished representatives to that body which was hurrying from the capital along every road. These noble christians were often treated ignominiously in their flight: many had pity on them, but others insulted them. They were sometimes obliged to hide themselves in stables or in the woods; worn out by poverty and hunger, clothed in ‘coarse and dirty garments,’ the better to elude their enemies; but the peace of faith consoled them; they had been unwilling to deny Christ; they had preferred, as Calvin says, to renounce the life of this world to live for ever in heaven, and the hope of a glorious resurrection prevented them from fainting. Margaret shed many tears in secret, and her silent sorrow spoke eloquently to her brother. Presently she risked a few prayers in behalf of her friends, Roussel, Courault, and Berthaud. The king was still irritated against them; but the love he felt for his sister prevailed. He ordered the three doctors to be taken out of prison and put in a convent: the dungeon was changed to a cell, which was some slight relief; and a sharp reprimand was given to each of them. Roussel declared that he had no desire to break with the Church, and retired to his abbey at Clairac. The feeble Berthaud, whom the punishments had frightened, resumed his monastic dress without any reserve, and died in the cloister; but the aged and intrepid Courault remained firm. In vain did the king send him back to the convent; in vain was the monk’s frock put on him, and a chaplet in his hands; he kept silent, but at the first opportunity, some days only after he had been sent to the cloister, he escaped, and, although almost blind, took the road which Farel and Calvin had already trodden, and reached Basle.

This pardon, almost a disgrace to the king who granted it, was the only and the last expression of Francis’s pity; after having given way to his sister, he gave way to the courtiers, the cardinals, the Sorbonne, and parliament. The king’s indulgence to the three doctors served but to hasten the terrible persecutions that were about to begin in France. The people, especially at Paris, ignorant and superstitious, and not imagining there could be any other religion than that which they had been taught, were astonished, disturbed, and uneasy at seeing the great number of men and women won to the Gospel; they were even touched by the serenity of the martyrs. The chiefs of the ultramontane party, alarmed at the agitation which was gradually spreading all over the capital, and desirous of strengthening the faith of the masses, began to solicit the king very earnestly. They reminded him of the paper against the mass, and called for severer punishment and more striking satisfaction; they represented to him that ‘the inhabitants of Paris were much disturbed by the multitude of those who had gone astray from the faith.’ They seemed to see the waves of Luther’s doctrine impetuously advancing from Germany, and on the point of breaking over France. At all risks a dyke must be raised up sufficient to stop them. ‘Sire,’ they said, ‘transmit faithfully to your successors that glorious title of eldest son of the Church which you have received from your forefathers… You know how greedy the French mind is for novelties, and where may that lead us… Give a public proof of your attachment to the faith.’ Francis had not forgotten the placard fastened by night to the door of his chamber, and that evangelical re. monstrance seemed in his eyes a scandalous libel aimed at his majesty. Let there be more burnings then… But it is desirable that they should be accompanied with unusual pomp. By a royal law and constitution, it was. ordered that they should pray to the Almighty for the destruction of heresy, and to that end there should be a solemn procession and an expiatory sacrifice. Francis intended to crown it with acts of barbarity.

All Paris was astir: the streets were hung with drapery, reposoirs were erected, the most magnificent dresses were preparing in the palace, and the victims in the dungeons were counted. Francis had many motives for giving a grand spectacle and accompanying it with bloody interludes; public policy was not without a share in them. He wished to silence the evil tongues that were raving about his friendly relations with Henry VIII. and the good grace with which he had received the ambassador from the Grand Turk; he wished to draw down the blessings of heaven upon his arms; he wished to show that if he protected sound learning, he despised fanatical writings, and detested the anonymous libels circulated at the same time as the placards, the Seven Assaults, the treatise Against the pope’s traffickers, and a host of others. But the wrath that had seized him at seeing the criminal handbill on his own door, particularly called for a terrible revenge, and that without delay.

The 21st January, 1535, arrived. Early in the morning a large crowd of citizens and people from the surrounding country filled the streets; even the roofs of the houses were covered with spectators. This curious and agitated multitude still further augmented the general emotion: many citizens of Paris had never seen anything like it before. ‘There was not the smallest piece of wood or stone jutting from the walls that was not occupied, provided there was room on it for anybody, and the streets seemed paved with human heads.’ The innumerable concourse admired the tapestry with which the houses were hung, the reposoirs, the pictures filled with splendid mysteries. The people gathered particularly before representations of the Holy Host, of the Jew (probably the Wandering Jew), ‘and others of very great singularity.’ Before the door of each house was a lighted torch, ‘to do reverence to the blessed sacraments and the holy relics.’ The procession began at six in the morning. First came all the crosses and banners of the several parishes; then followed the citizens, two and two, each with a torch, and the four mendicant orders, with the priests and canons of the city. Never had so many relics been seen before. It was not only living men who figured that day in the streets of the capital to do honor to the mass; but there were St. Philip, St. Marcel, St. Germain, St. Mery, St. Honore, St. Landry, St. Opportuna, St. Martin, St. Magloire, and many others, who, whole or in part, were paraded before the people.

The crowd regarded these ancient relics with devout admiration: ‘There’s the body of the saint!… there are his shoes and his breeches!’

Thus spoke the devout; but what effect did these superstitions produce on enlightened men? What would Calvin, in particular, have said, that great friend of the worship in spirit and in truth paid to God alone? He had left Paris some months since; but had he been there still, at the moment of the procession, at De la Forge’s or f any other house before which it passed, what would have been his feelings? These we learn from one of his writings, in which he treats of all the relics displayed at this time before the ]Parisians. This is the proper moment for showing what he thought of these pretended relics of saints. Irony is a weapon to be sparingly used in religious matters; we find it employed, however, more than once in the Bible, for instance where Elijah speaks to the prophets of Baal. Calvin might therefore make use of it; but he was not naturally given to humor, and a profound seriousness underlies his irony.

The holy bodies followed each other along the streets of the capital. The admiration of the citizens increased at every moment; they believed, as each relic passed them, that they were looking at an object unique in the world. ‘The marvel is not so great,’ said Calvin subsequently. ‘We have not only one body of each of these saints, but we have several. There is one body of St. Matthew at Rome, a second at Padua, and a third at Treves. There is one of St. Lazarus at Marseille, another at Autun, and a third at Avallon.’ Soon the canons of the Holy Chapel came in sight, wearing their copes: no church in Christendom possessed such treasures. ‘Here is the Virgin’s milk!’ — ‘Indeed,’ said Calvin, ‘there is not a petty town or wretched convent where they do not show us this milk. If the Virgin had been nursing all her life, she would hardly have been able to supply such all abundance!’ ‘There is our Lord’s purple robe,’ said the people; ‘and the linen cloth he tied round him at the Last Supper, and his swaddling clothes!’ — ‘They would do better,’ said Calvin, ‘to seek for Christ in his word, his sacraments, and spiritual graces, than in his frock, little shirt, and napkin.’ ‘There is the crown of thorns!’ was soon the cry. The sensation produced by this venerated object was all the. greater, and the struggles of the people to get near it all the stronger, because it had never before been seen in the processions. — ‘It is no rarity,’ said Calvin. ‘There are two of these crowns at Rome, once at Vincennes, one at Bourges, one at Besancon, one at Albi, one at Toulouse, one at Macon, one at Clery, one at St. Flour, one at St. Maximin, one at Noyon, one at St. Salvador in Spain, one at St. Jago in Gallicia, and many others in other places besides. To make all these crowns and gather all these thorns, they must have cut down a whole hedge.’ ‘Here comes the true cross!’ Again there was a rushing and shouting, citizens and strangers crushing one another. — ‘It is not the only one,’ said the reformer, ‘there is no petty town or paltry church where they do not show you pieces; and if all were collected together, there would be a load for a great barge, and three hundred men could not carry it.’ Next appeared a silver-gilt shrine, which attracted universal attention: it contained the relics of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris; it was the last anchor in the midst of the tempest, and was never brought out except when France was in great peril. The butchers of Paris had offered to carry this precious amulet, and had prepared themselves for it by a fast of several days: they moved along barefoot and dressed in long shirts.

Around this somewhat ferocious group there was a continual movement. ‘There she is, the holy virgin of Nanterre,’ was the cry. ‘She saved our forefathers from the fury of Attila, may she save us from Luther’s!’ The people threw themselves upon the relic: one wished to touch it with his cap, another with his handkerchief, a third with the tip of his finger, some even more daring tried to kiss it.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. ( Psalm 2:12) After the relics came a great number of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, with coped and miterd abbots. Then, under a magnificent canopy, the four pillars of which were borne by the king’s three sons and the Duke of Vendome, first prince of the blood, came the host carried by the bishop of Paris, and adorned as if it had been the Lord in person.

Then appeared Francis I., without parade, bareheaded and on foot, holding a lighted taper in his hand, like ‘a penitent commissioned to expiate the sacrilege of his people. At each reposoir he gave his taper to the Cardinal of Lorraine, joined his hands and knelt down, humbling himself, not for his adulteries, his lies, or his false oaths — of these he did not think — but for the audacity of those who did not like the mass. He was followed by the queen, the princes and princesses, the foreign ambassadors and all the court, the chancellor of France, the council, the parliament in their scarlet robes, the university, the other corporations, and the guard. All walked two and two, ‘exhibiting every mark of extraordinary piety.’ Each man carried a lighted torch in profound silence.

Spiritual songs and funereal airs alone interrupted from time to time the quiet of this gloomy and slow procession.

In this way it traversed the different quarters of the capital, followed by an immense crowd of people, and the inhabitants of each street, standing in front of their houses, fell on their knees as the host went by. The crowd was so great that bodies of archers, with white staves in their hands, posted in every street, could scarcely keep open a passage for the procession. At length they arrived at the church of Notre Dame; the sacrament was placed on the altar; mass was sung by the Bishop of Paris, and all imaginable homage was paid to the host in order to atone for the insults offered to it by the placards. From Notre Dame, the king and the princes returned to the bishop’s palace.

There are days of evil omen in history. There is one especially that k is sufficient to name to fill the mind with sorrow and mourning… fatal date which solemnly inaugurated in France the epoch of persecution and martyr. dom. On the twenty-first of January, 1535, a king of France, surrounded by his court and ministers, his parliament and clergy, was about to devote to death with all due ceremony the humble disciples of the Gospel. What the Valois began, the Bourbons continued, and the most illustrious of them carried out on a vast scale the system of galleys and of burning piles. Alas! there are dates which coincide in a striking and pitiless manner. Two hundred and fifty-eight years later there was another twentyfirst of January. The simplest, the meekest, the most generous of the Bourbons, condemned by misguided men to suffer death, ascended the scaffold erected in a public place in Paris; he received the death-blow on the twenty-first of January, 1793. We do not presume to explain history; we do not say that the innocent Louis XVI. paid the penalty of his predecessor’s crimes, and that God ordained the expiation commanded by Francis I. to be followed by another. But the coincidence of these two dates startled us, and we could not avoid stopping to contemplate them with a holy fear.