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Title: History of the Reformation - Plot of the Women Against Reform; Farel’s Preaching 1531
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

21 00005-0020 Plot of the Women Against Reform; Farel's Preaching 1531

THE Reformation brought great benefits to women. The divine Word which it placed in their hands, and which it desired to see in their hearts, would free them from the dominion of the priest to put them under that of the Savior; give them that meek and peaceful spirit which (as Calvin says) becomes their sex; and substitute for a religion of external practices an inner, holy, and useful life. However, the women, attached to their priests and ceremonies, and who are easily aroused, were often opposed to the Reform, of which we shall have instances.

Hollard’s mother was not of this number. Strongly attached to her son, she gave way to her maternal sorrow. Her son a prisoner, her son without a protector, her son exposed to the vengeance of the exasperated Romancatholics — thoughts like these caused her the deepest anxiety. She could think of nothing but saving him, ready to incur any danger, and to brave even the anger of the enemies of the gospel. The bailiff of Berne, she said to herself, alone can save Hollard. He lives at Echallens, in a castle, surrounded with his officers; he is a haughty Bernese, a cold diplomatist perhaps... It matters not; the poor woman will go and implore his help.

Romain will not abandon her; if there are any difficulties, any dangers, he will be near her; he will protect the mother and deliver the son. Madame Hollard and the schoolmaster set off together for Echallens, and presenting themselves at the castle, informed the bailiff of Diesbach of the monk’s insulting address and its consequences... O happiness! the Bernese magistrate is moved, grows angry, and departs immediately. The lordbailiff felt that the friar’s insults were the cause of all the disorder; that by denouncing the married priests and monks as apostates and villains, he had attacked the gospel and the Reformation, recognized by My Lords of Berne; and that the friar was the person to be blamed.

Arriving the same day about four o’clock, Diesbach would not go to the guildhall or the castellan’s; but sitting down in the open air near the old castle, he sent his officers to fetch Friar Juliani. The sergeants carefully searched the convent and several houses without finding the monk, who was hiding in the house of a woman, named ‘Frances Pugin, instructress of girls in all virtue and learning.’ Being informed of the search, he took courage, left the house, and went straight to the bailiff, who was still seated in front of the castle, waiting the result of his enquiries. Friar Michael saluted him respectfully; but the lord of Diesbach, rising up, caught him by the hand and said: ‘I arrest you in the name of My Lords,’ and then, taking him to the prison, ‘drew Hollard out of his hole and put the said friar in his place.’ Such were the energetic proceedings of Berne.

Mark Romain, as pleased at having rescued his friend, as if he had gained a thousand crowns, and thinking he had achieved a master-piece,’ says a contemporary, was going quietly home. Meanwhile the people, alarmed at the arrival of the bailiff and the imprisonment of the monk, had assembled in the market-place, and spoke of flinging the schoolmaster into the river to punish him for having gone to fetch the Sieur de Diesbach.

Unfortunately Mark Romain came in sight just at this moment. The townspeople, ‘seeing him come joyfully along,’ pointed him out to one another. ‘There he is,’ they said, and began to cry: ‘Master, come here!’

Romain, observing the tumult, passed suddenly from joy to fear and took to flight, all following in pursuit. They gained upon him: he looked from side to side to see if some door would not open to receive him, but all remained closed. Arriving in front of the church, he rushed into it; but had hardly set his feet inside, when he stopped in astonishment. The women who had desired to tear Hollard to pieces were in the church, as well as some men, on account of the Salve Regina which was said daily at five in the afternoon. Kneeling before the altar, with clasped hands and eyes turned to the ground, they were invoking the Queen of heaven : ‘Hail, queen of mercy; we send up our groans to thee! O thou who art our advocate, save us!’ At the moment when Romain entered, the women turned their heads and caught sight of him; being suddenly changed into furies, they rushed upon him, as they had done before upon Hollard, ‘caught him by the hair, threw him on the ground, and beat him.’ The women were the champions of catholicism in Orbe. The grand banneret looked on quietly at this execution. He saw the whole affair,’ he said, ‘and I did not think the schoolmaster would ever get out alive.’ Pierrefleur took care not to go to his help, and the blows continued to fall on poor Romain, until one of his friends arrived. ‘I am certain,’ says the banneret, who had seen all this without being moved, ‘that had it not been for the assistance he received from this Lutheran, he would never have gone out of the place until he was dead.’ ‘We read in Scripture of people who ceased not to beat St. Paul; Romain, who experienced ‘this riotous and cruel rage,’ was afterwards a minister of the gospel. He was now going through his apprenticeship.

A mob had collected round the castle in which Friar Michael was confined, and angry voices were heard loudly demanding his liberty. At this moment the bailiff of Diesbach came out to return to his place of residence, having Hollard by his side, whom he was going to restore to his mother. When he saw the crowd he was much astonished, for ‘all were crying out and demanding their good father.’ ‘Why have you arrested Friar Michael?’ asked some. ‘Why have you delivered Christopher?’ asked others. ‘By order of My Lords of Berne,’ answered the imperturbable bailiff; and then added, pointing to the lofty walls of the castle, ‘If you can set him at liberty, you may take him... .but I advise you not.’ ‘We will be bail for our good father, body for body, goods for goods,’ exclaimed the burgesses; but the bailiff kept on his way without answering them.

The Sieur of Diesbach had hardly arrived at the great square, when he perceived the ladies and other women of the city waiting for him, their hearts full of sorrow and anguish. They all fell on their knees ‘with many tears,’ and stretching their hands towards him, exclaimed: ‘Mercy for the good father! set him at liberty!’ These cries softened the Bernese, he stopped and could hardly speak for emotion, He made them understand, however, that it was not in his power to liberate Juliani, and then returned home, for ‘the hour was late.’ The principal catholics now assembled to consider what was to be done. A priest put in prison in Orbe, for a strictly Romish sermon... What a scandal! They resolved to appeal from the heretical Bernese bailiff to the Friburgers who were good catholics. The grand banneret volunteered for this important mission, and next day Noble P. de Pierrefleur and Francis Vuerney set out for Friburg, where they related everything to the council.

The lords and princes of that city were much ‘concerned and vexed,’ and a deputation composed of Bernese and Friburgers received instructions to arrange the difference. But this measure, far from diminishing the struggle, was destined to increase it. As the deputation passed through Avenches, a Roman city older than the Caesars, they fell in with Farel, who for more than a month had been preaching the gospel there, amid its ruined aqueducts and amphitheaters, and had met with nothing but lukewarmness. Without hesitation the evangelist left Avenches, and departing with the Bernese arrived at the banks of the Orbe, whither the noise of battle attracted him. No ruins were to be seen there: but seven churches and twenty-six altars testified to the ancient splendor and Romish fervor of the city.

It was the 2nd of April, Palm-Sunday. Mass had been celebrated, the various offices had been said, even to vespers. Farel, who had stayed quietly in doors, observing that the service was over, left his inn ‘with presumptuous boldness.’ His friends followed him, idlers flocked round him, the devout ran after, and a crowd of men, women, and children soon filled the church with a great noise. Then ‘without asking leave of any one, Farel went into the pulpit to preach.’ But he had scarcely opened his mouth, when everybody, ‘men, women, and children, hissed, howled, and stamped with all sorts of exclamations to disconcert him. Dog, they cried; lubber, heretic, devil, and other insults: it was a glorious noise.’ ‘You really could not have heard God’s thunder,’ said Pierrefleur. Farel, who was accustomed to tumult, as a soldier to the whistling of the bullets, continued his address. Anger got the better of some of them. ‘Seeing that he would not desist, they grew riotous, surrounded the pulpit, pulled him out of it, and would even have proceeded to blows.’ The confusion was at its height, when the bailiff, ‘fearing that worse would follow,’ rushed into the midst of the crowd, took the reformer by the arm, and escorted him to his lodging.

The mixed commission was empowered to restore peace to this agitated city; but as for Farel he had but one idea: Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. If he can not preach it in the church, he will do so in the open air.

On the following day (Monday) he left the house of his entertainer at six in the morning, and proceeding toward the great square, began to preach.

There was nobody present; it mattered not; he thought that his powerful voice would soon collect a good assembly. But satisfied with the victory of the evening before, the inhabitants of Orbe had said to themselves that they would leave the preacher alone: he had not a single hearer. That was not, however, the only reason: a plot was concerting against Farel — a women’s plot naturally; for the men in general were cold in comparison with the other sex.

There was a noble dame at Orbe, a native of Friburg, Elizabeth, wife of Hugonin, lord of Arnex, an honest and devout woman, but enthusiastic, violent, and fanatical. Elizabeth, being persuaded that the death of the reformer would be a very meritorious work, had assembled at her house some other bigoted women, had addressed them, and worked upon them, so that they had agreed to beat the reformer and even kill him: they only waited for an opportunity. The same day at four in the afternoon a city council was held at which the deputies of Berne and Friburg and even Farel also were present, when the council was over, the reformer came out: it was the moment that Elizabeth and her accomplices, informed of the circumstance, had selected to carry out their plot. A gentleman, Pierre de Glairesse, knowing the danger the evangelist ran, quitted the council after him, and begged permission to accompany him. Meanwhile the women who had left their houses were waiting for Farel in the middle of a street through which he must necessarily pass. Approaching them without any mistrust, they fell upon him unawares, ‘and took him by the cloak so gently,’ says the chronicler ironically, ‘that they made him stagger and fall.’ They then attempted to ill-treat him and beat him; but Pierre de Glairesse rushing in between them, took him out of their hands, and said, bowing to them very politely: ‘Your pardon, ladies; at present he is under my charge.’ They all let go of him, and Glairesse conducted him to the inn where My Lords of Berne awaited him.

While Elizabeth was trying go kill the reformer, her husband, William of Arnex, as bigoted as herself, was pleading the cause of the monk. The mediators had ordered that Friar Michael should be put on his trial. He was taken to the castle in agitation and alarm, and the lords of Berne, bringing a criminal charge against him, said: ‘You asserted that the poor in spirit are the monks.’ Friar Michael : ‘I deny it.’ ‘You said that to resist the pope, the bishops, and other ecclesiastics is resisting the commandment of God.’ Friar . ‘I deny saying it in those terms.’ ‘You said that few follow the new law, except a heap of lascivious monks.’ Friar . ‘I deny having said it in that way, and I named nobody.’ ‘You said that when priests marry, the women they take are not their wives but their harlots, and that their children are bastards.’ Friar . ‘I confess it.’ ‘You said that Mary was the treasure-house of graces.’ Friar . ‘I did.’ ‘You said the saints, like Anthony, expel and cure certain diseases,’ Friar . ‘I did’ ‘You said that those who deny that the books of the Maccabees form part of the Holy Scripture, are heretics.’ Friar . ‘I did.’ ‘You said that those who have adopted the new law have no good in them, and deny the articles of faith.’ Friar . ‘I did not.’ This mixture of denials and confessions disarmed the judges. They listened to the solicitations of D’Arnex and set Juliani at liberty. The Bernese, however, bound him to preach in future nothing but the Word of God. ‘Most honored lords,’ exclaimed the poor friar, ‘I have never preached anything that is not found in the holy gospel, in the epistles of St. Paul, or in some other part of Holy Scripture.’ Friar Michael, confounded at not gaining a triumph as striking as that of his patron with the brilliant helmet, and fearing lest he should be sent back to prison, thought only of saving himself. He entered the convent for a short time, and then fled into Burgundy. The deputies returned home and Farel remained.

Shortly after Easter there came a mandate from Berne ordering that whenever Farel desired to preach, he should be given a hearing, support, and favor. As soon as the mandate had been read, the people, without waiting got the opinion of the Council, exclaimed, ‘Let him go about his business, we do not want him or his preaching.’ The lords of Berne answered that Farel was to be free to speak, but that no inhabitant was constrained to hear him. The evangelist gave notice that he would preach on the Saturday after Quasimodo, at one o’clock, when he would expose Juliani’s errors.

The catholics, not content with the permission given them to keep away, determined to organize a reception for Farel that should disgust him for ever with preaching. As soon as the minister entered the church the strangest of congregations met his eyes: all the brats (marmaille ) of the place were assembled; lying in front of the pulpit and all round it, the children pretended to be asleep, snoring and laughing in their sleeves. Farel observing three persons who appeared to be serious, went into the pulpit and said, pointing to the little ragamuffins: ‘How many weapons Satan has provided to hinder our cause! Never mind, we must surmount every obstacle.’ Being determined to refute Friar Michael, he began his discourse; but on a sudden the children started to their feet, as sharp-shooters lying flat behind the bushes start up at the approach of the enemy, and salute him with their fire. The young scamps exerted their lungs, howling and shouting with all their might, and at last quitted the church with a horrible uproar. ‘Nobody was left but the minister, quite amazed. And this was the first sermon preached in the town of Orbe,’ says the grand banneret maliciously. The next day, Sunday, there was a great procession. Priests, monks, and all the parish, chanting as loud as they could, proceeded according to custom to St. George’s, outside the town. Farel profited by the departure of the enemy to seize upon the place, and the last parishioner had hardly crossed the threshold of the church, when he entered it, followed by his friends, went up into the pulpit, and loudly declared the truth. Ten evangelicals, Viret, Hollard, Secretan, Romain, and six of their friends, composed the whole of his congregation. Meanwhile the procession was on its way back. First appeared the children two and two, then the exorcist with the holy water and the sprinkler, then came the priests, magistrates, and people, all singing the litany. The children, seeing the minister in the pulpit, and remembering the lesson they had received, rushed into the church, whistling, howling, and shouting as on the evening before. The priests and people who followed them made threatening motions, and Farel, understanding that the storm was about to burst, showed a moderation he did not always possess, came down from the pulpit, and went out. The clergy exulted: they ascribed Farel’s retreat to weakness and fear, and said openly in the city: ‘The minister can not refute the articles of faith established by Juliani.’ ‘Indeed,’ answered the Bernese bailiff, ‘you have heard the monk and you now complain that you have not heard the minister... Very good! you shall hear him. It is the will of the lords of Berne that every father of a family be required to attend his sermon under pain of their displeasure.’

They dared not disobey, and the church was thronged. Filled with joy at the sight of such a congregation, Farel ascended the pulpit: never had he been clearer, more energetic and more eloquent. He passed in review all the subjects of which Juliani had treated; at one time attacking the pardons which the Romish Church sells to credulous souls, at another the doctrine which assigns the keys of heaven to St. Peter. ‘The key of the kingdom of heaven,’ he said, ‘is the Word of God — the Holy Gospel.’ One day Farel spoke of the stupid practices imposed upon catholics under the name of penance. ‘The penance which God demands,’ he said, ‘is a change of heart, life, and conversation.’ Another day he battled with indulgences: ‘The pope’s pardons take away money, ’ he said, ‘but they do not take away sin. Let every christian be aware that nobody can escape the anger of God, except through Jesus.’ He thundered against auricular confession. ‘Confession in the priest’s ears which the pope commands,’ he said, ‘helps him to learn the secrets of kings and aids him in catching countries and kingdoms. But how many souls have been cast into hell by it! how many virgins corrupted! how many widows devoured! how many orphans ruined! how many princes poisoned! how many countries wasted! bow many large establishments of men and women given up to debauchery... O Heaven, unveil these accursed horrors! O Earth, cry out! Creatures of God, weep; and do thou, O Lord, arise!’ Farel, without possessing the iconoclastic ardor which Hollard displayed ere long, was indignant at the worship paid to the images of the saints, and strove against them with the arms of the Word. ‘The people,’ he said, ‘set candles before the saints who are out of this world and have nothing to do with them... While if those saints were alive and had need of a light to read the Gospel by, instead of giving them candles, you would tear out their eyes!’... Then scandalized at the disorderly living of the world and the Church, the christian orator exclaimed: ‘Farces full of scoffing, filth, ribaldry; obscene and idle songs, books full of vanity, lewdness, falsehood and blasphemy, wicked and illicit conversations... all this is suffered openly... But the New Testament which contains the doctrine and passion of Christ is forbidden, as if it were the Koran of Mahomet, or a book of witch- craft and enchantment... O Sun, canst thou pour thy light on such countries? O Earth, canst thou give thy fruits to such people? And thou, O Lord God, is thy vengeance so slow against such a great outrage? Arise, O Lord, and let the trumpet of thy holy Gospel be heard unto the ends of the earth.’ Although the catholics were indignant, and not without reason, at the order from Berne, which obliged them to attend the sermons opposed to their faith, the reformer preached without difficulty the first and second day; but on the third, the alarmed priests harangued their flocks and thundered from their pulpits against the heretical discourses; and from that time Farel counted few hearers in the church besides the friends of the Gospel. The bailiff had the good sense not to observe this disobedience.

The surrounding districts compensated Farel for the contempt of Orbe.

His reputation having spread into the neighboring villages, the people eagerly desired to hear him. Receiving message after message, and touched at the sight of these worthy peasants knocking at his door, he wrote to Zwingle: ‘Oh! how great is the harvest! No one can describe the ardor the people feel for the Gospel, and the tears I shed when I see the small number of reapers.’ Several of the evangelicals of Orbe asked to be sent out to preach, but Farel, thinking them not ripe enough, refused. There were some who took offense at this, but it did not move Farel. ‘It is better to offend them,’ he said, ‘than to offend God.’

St. Paul said: Lay hands suddenly on no man. Farel and the other reformers desired that the minister should honor his ministry. He required above all things a converted heart, but that was not enough. It is a bad sign when the Church admits into the number of those who are to point out the gate of salvation, either men who have not passed through it or who have not the gift of the Word, or are deficient in wisdom. But if the leaders of the Church are faithful, God will send them true ministers.