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Title: History of the Reformation - a Journey to the Valleys of Piedmont, and Struggles near Neuchatel (End of 1532.)
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

28 00005-0027 A Journey to the Valleys of Piedmont, and Struggles near Neuchatel (End of 1532.)

(End of 1532.)

FAREL expelled from Geneva, with a heart full of love for those whom he had been obliged to quit, meditated on the means of evangelizing them, and like a skillful general, was preparing even during his retreat for a new and more successful struggle. After having saluted the Christians of Orbe and Grandson he departed for the village of Yvonand, on the southern shore of the lake of Neuchatel, where dwelt a youthful Christian Anthony Froment by name, born at Val de Frieres in Dauphiny in 1510, and consequently a year younger than Calvin and his countryman Farel. The reformer invited several evangelists to meet him in this village, and about the middle of October there came Olivetan, who had been unable to stay in Geneva after the departure of his two friends; Adam, Martin (probably Martin Gonin the Waldensian), and Guido (who must not be confounded with the Belgian reformer Guido or Guy you Bres) who With Farel, Saunier, Froment, and others formed a little council. Farel gave an account of his mission: he described his journey to the valleys of Piedmont, and the stormy reception he had met with at Geneva. They all looked with interest on the fugitive missionary who had escaped as by a miracle from the violence of the Genevan priests. Froment in particular could not take his eyes off the reformer; every word of Farel’s made a deep impression on him, and disgusted with the ministers of popery, he pitied the fate of the huguenots deprived of God’s word by the intrigues of the clergy. Farel, fixing his eyes on him, said: ‘Go and try if you can find an entrance into Geneva to preach there.’ Froment was disturbed and speechless. He possessed learning and talents; but he was young and without experience, and wanted that perseverance and firmness by which other reformers were distinguished. His feelings were sensitive, his imagination was ardent, but his character was uneven and rather fickle. He is believed to have been drawn to the Reformation more by witnessing the excesses of Rome than by the inner charms of the Word of God. ‘Alas! father,’ he said to Farel, ‘how can I face the enemies from whom you were compelled to flee?’ — ‘Begin,’ replied Farel, ‘as I began at Aigle, where I was a schoolmaster at first and taught little children, so that even the priests gave me liberty to preach. True they soon repented; and even now I seem to hear the curate exclaiming: “I would sooner have lost my hand than introduced this man, for he will ruin all our business.” But it was too late; the Word of God had begun its work, and the mass and images fell.’ Froment, who was at that time full of ardor and zeal, began to familiarize himself gradually with the idea of going to the city that drove out the prophets. Farel, observing this, persevered, and encouraged his disciple by the recollection of the great dangers they had once incurred together. ‘My dear Froment,’ he said, ‘you fear the men of Geneva; but were you not with me when I planted the Gospel at Bienne, among the mountains, in the valley of Saint Imier, at Tavannes, and near that mountain (Pierre Pertuis) which Julius Caesar tunneled?... Were you not with me when I went to Neuchatel and preached in the streets and marketplace, and in the surrounding villages? Do you not remember that we very often received our rent (censes ), that is, blows and abuse... once in particular at Valengin, where my blood remained for more than four years on the pavement of a little chapel, near which the women and priests bruised my head against the walls, so that we were both of us nearly killed?’ These remembrances were not very encouraging. Some sided with Farel, others thought that a man of twenty-two was too young to be launched into such a terrible gulf... for Geneva really alarmed them.

Froment could not yet make up his mind to attempt the enterprise.

Another thought absorbed Farel.

That pious reformer’s heart was still full of the glorious synod of the valleys at which it had been decided to translate the Bible. He had several times already entreated Olivetan to undertake that great work: he repeated his entreaties both in the assembly and in private. Near Yvonand there is a number of hills which form a sort of labyrinth around a little river.

Beautiful forests of majestic oaks stretch their branches so wide and high that it is possible to walk beneath their immense leafy arches — a circumstance which has earned for this district the name of Arcadia. Was it in a private room or in these woods that Farel urged Olivetan, as they trampled underfoot the dry leaves which autumn had already loosened from the trees? I can not tell: in either case he no longer solicited, he ‘importuned;’ but Olivetan — like Froment with respect to Geneva — repeated his unwillingness to ‘venture’ upon such a task. ‘How,’ said he, ‘can I express Hebrew and Greek eloquence in French, which is but a barbarous language compared with them? You know it is as difficult as to teach the hoarse raven to sing the song of the nightingale.’ Farel tried to encourage him: he might do it. Olivetan’s style is, considering the time, one of remarkable elegance. But Catvin’s cousin alleged other reasons: he had certain fears. ‘Such an undertaking,’ he said, is like a ball in a public building wherein everybody dances as he likes. I shall be encompassed with critics, correctors, and calumniators... They will not be friends, I am very sure, but strangers devoid of charity, Christians who will philosophize about the dot over an i , and bring forward a thousand false imputations.’ — ’ St. Jerome undertook a similar work,’ said Farel. ‘St. Jerome!’ exclaimed Olivetan, ‘he had more trouble in answering such people than in all his work. How could I do it — I, who am but a petty page, a mere varlet, compared with such a knight?’ But Farel pressed him so much that he thought himself bound to undertake it. He promised, and it was well known that what he promised he would perform.

Farel had won a great victory. The French churches would have a good translation of scripture. But a journey was necessary. ‘Cross the Alps,’ he said to his friend; ‘go to the Waldensian valleys, and come to an understanding with the brethren about the translation.’ Then turning towards other members of the synod, he added: ‘And you, Adam, Martin, and Guido, go with him and preach to them the doctrine that will correct all their errors.’

This mission, which was to result in the publication of the Bible in French, was not without importance or without danger. The evangelists proposed to take the direct road by Mount St. Bernard; but before reaching the lake of Geneva they would have to cross a district belonging to the Duke of Savoy. Now the duke, the Count of Challans, and the Sieur de Bellegarde were not at all anxious that the Waldensians of the Piedmontese valleys should unite with the reformers of Switzerland. The four friends determined, therefore, to travel by night. Having supped at Yvonand with Farel and the other brethren, they began their journey immediately after. It was at the end of October. They traveled through the darkness, led by a guide who knew the country well. They successfully accomplished their night journey, and arrived at Vevey the next day before dinner-time. They began immediately to speak of Christ, for they had no wish to fall into sloth and carelessness. From Vevey they proceeded to Aigle, where they found the evangelical christians, of the place assembled to receive them. ‘I salute you in Christ,’ said Adam, ‘and exhort you to reprove one another as becomes brethren and ministers of the word of truth.’ When they had almost reached the pretty village of Bex, in the midst of its orchards and walnut trees, in front of the picturesque Dent de Moreles, and the huge Dent du Midi, Martin was attacked with severe pains. His companions immediately looked for a house where they could lodge the sick man, but the country was so poor that they could not find a room fit to receive him. These poor brethren were on the highway with their suffering friend, anxious and yet not knowing what to do. Some one told them that about a league behind them, at the village of Ollon, lived the minister Claude who would gladly receive them. They accordingly retraced their steps, and arrived at Ollon, a little place in the midst of the shady woods which extend to the foot of the mountain on which are situated the charming hamlets of Chensieres and Villars. They asked for the pastor’s house and it was shown them; they dragged their friend to it and knocked at the door. Claude opened it himself, and at the sight of a pale and fainting man invited the strangers in. But on a sudden hasty footsteps were heard, a woman appeared flushed with anger and with fiery eyes — a violent, wicked, pitiless, scolding woman: she was the unfortunate pastor’s wife.

She screamed and gesticulated, and instead of being grave, as Scripture requires such women to be, she forgot all restraint and broke out: ‘What’s this, a sick man? If you receive him into the house, I will leave it.’ Claude durst not say a word: the voice of this Xantippe rose higher and higher, and at last she turned her back on her husband and the strangers, and disappeared in a passion. Poor Claude was sorely vexed and ashamed. ‘We will not be the cause of a divorce,’ said Adam, ‘we will go away.’ The pastor, a good but weak man, who could not keep his wife in order, let them go.

Thus not a house was opened to receive an expiring missionary. The poor evangelists were quite disheartened. ‘Let us cheer up,’ Said they, ‘and make haste to reach the Alps.’ The four travelers resumed their journey, Martin probably on horseback; but on arriving at the foot of the mountain beyond Martigny his pains increased. Martin was half dead, Olivetan suffered from an inflammation of the bowels, Guido was exhausted with fatigue, and Adam alone was unaffected. But ere long he too was attacked. Seized with cholera (it is his own word ) he thought his end was come. The four missionaries dragged themselves painfully along the brink of the torrent, whose noisy waters alone disturbed the silence around them. They lifted their eyes mournfully towards those gigantic mountains which it seemed impossible for them to cross, and ineffectually sought a refuge in the poorest of cottages. One thing, however, was left them — the faithfulness of their Master. They said to one another: ‘God takes us down into the abyss when He pleases, but His grace is almighty to lift us out of it again.’ At this moment they caught sight of a wretched house. They went up to it, explained their condition, and happily they were received in consideration of their money. God, whom they had invoked, alleviated their disorder, and the next day they were able to resume their journey, feebly at starting, but gradually the mountain air gave them strength.
They had been forced to incur extraordinary expenses, and Adam, who held the purse, smiled as he saw its shrunken condition. Their good humor began to return: he showed his friends the lean little bag, and said merrily: ‘Alas! our purse has been seized with such cruel pains in the inside that there is scarcely anything left in it.’ They climbed the mountain, and needing rest entered an inn situated between Martigny and the convent of St. Bernard. They soon observed one of the monks, and approaching him desired in spite of their weakness to discharge their duty: they spoke to him of Jesus Christ, and of the grace he gives to sinners. The monk, who belonged to the Augustine order, listened attentively to their words, and began to talk with them, while the evangelists pressed him closely by means of the Holy Scriptures. He was touched and convinced. ‘I will quit Antichrist,’ he exclaimed. Adam immediately took paper, sat down and wrote: ‘Here is a letter for Master Farel,’ he said to the friar, ‘go to him, and he will tell you what you have to do.’ The evangelist and the monk separated. Even down to our days conversions have been effected among the brethren of this monastery.

At last the four friends arrived among the Waldenses, who listened joyfully to their words of truth and love: some of these Alpine shepherds, were even known to have gone two days’ journey to hear them. These poor christians handed over to Olivetan towards the printing of the Bible 500 gold crowns — an immense sum for them and begged that the publication should be hurried on. Olivetan and the barbes came to terms. Here finishes this episode, which to some may have little interest except so far as it is connected with the history of the French protestant translation of the Holy Scriptures.

When this news reached Farel, his eyes were fixed upon another country.

The young and gentle Fabri, whom the reformer loved as a father loves a son, was preaching at Neuchatel, when one day he saw some peasants arrive who had been deputed from the village of Bole in the parish of Boudry. These good people entreated him to come and settle among them.

The parish priest, a worthy man by the way, looked upon the Gospel not as a proclamation of grace, but as a second law more perfect than the firSt. Having heard the reformers inveigh against the corruption that prevailed in the church, he had at first gone with them; but he soon hesitated and shrunk back, when he found that their new morality reposed on a new faith. In fact the ministers who preached in those quarters said that the Gospel substituted a regenerative doctrine for the dead ordinances of the law; that Christ’s religion did not consist in practices commanded by the priests, or even in a purely outward morality, but in a new heart from which proceeds a new life. ‘The law,’ said Calvin in later years, ‘is like grammar, which after it has taught the first elements, refers the learners to theology or some other science, in order that they may be perfected.’ The priest of Boudry would have thought himself but too happy to see his parishioners endowed with that external morality which did not satisfy the evangelicals. A zealous doctor of the law, he turned against the doctors of grace, and hence it happened that a few of his parishioners listened to Neuchatel.

Fabri followed these honest people, and the gentle and moderate reformer was immediately engaged in a severe campaign. The village of Bole was for the reformer; the little town of Bendry for the priest. There were two places of worship in the parish, the church, and a chapel called the Pontareuse, situated in a low out-of-the-way place. The government decided that this should be for the use of both parties. Many catholics, more fanatical than their priest, entered into a plot to oppose the worship of the reformed. On the first Sunday in November, 1532, the latter went down full of peace and joy into the wild valley through which flows the torrent of the Reuse, and where a few remains of the little chapel are still visible. They entered and took their seats on the benches, while Fabri went up into the pulpit. Meantime the catholics, girding on their swords, which was not usually done, entered the chapel and drew up near the altar. While Fabri was preaching, all the bells suddenly rang out together so as to drown his voice, and the more he besought them to let him finish, the louder rang the catholics in the belfry. Then those who were in the church began to move, pushing and shouting. Fabri, seeing this disorder and profanation, ceased speaking and left the church, he had hardly got outside when the catholics near the altar ran and shut the door, and fell like madmen on the surprised, and hesitating, and unarmed congregation. The confusion was very great, and it was this that saved the innocent. No one distinguished friends from enemies: each man struck the first he met.

One or two evangelicals endeavored to open the door, and at last they succeeded and rushed out, but their position was not bettered. ‘Their adversaries, delighted at being able to distinguish them,’ says an eyewitness, ‘fell upon them like wolves upon lambs, threatening them with death.’ ‘God help us!’ exclaimed the poor people scattered here and there. At last they succeeded in reaching their homes, miraculously as it were, but with many bruises. They were happy at being in peace. ‘Our heavenly Father fought for us mightily,’ they said. Clubs and swords only served to increase their repugnance for that theocratical tyranny which men had substituted for the mild gospel of Jesus Christ.

The next day some of the reformed went to Neuchatel against the advice of Fabri, who desired to wait for deliverance from the Lord and not from men. To the friends who met them on the road, they told the story of the plot to which they had nearly been victims. All the villages between Boudry and Neuchatel were in commotion, and the peasants of Auvernier and Colombier flew to arms, ready to join the Neuchatelans if they went to the help of their brethren. The council of Neuchatel decreed that henceforth the chapel of Pontareuse should belong entirely to the reformed.

The catholics resolved to pay no attention to this. On Christmas day the priest had already sung two masses before the hour appointed for the evangelical preaching; and at the moment when the reformers arrived, he resolutely began high mass ‘with loud and long singing,’ although there was scarcely anybody to hear it. The reformed waited patiently, but when the service was ended, and just as they were hoping that their turn had come, they were surprised to see the catholics arriving in a crowd. Fabri then wanted to go into the pulpit, but had great difficulty; one pushed him one way, and one another, and all shouted out against him. Order being a little restored, one of the reformers went, as was customary, to take a chalice for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The priest who had remained in the church, watching what was going on, rushed upon him and snatched the vessel from his hands, crying out, ‘Sacrilege! Sacrilege!’ The friends of the priests determined to put an end to the service once for all. ‘Some of them rushed like raging lions upon the reformers, and hit them with their fists; and one of them struck a governor (probably one of the communal councilors) with a knife; but God,’ says the document we quote, ‘permitted only his clothes to be pierced.’ This did not end the battle. Others, going to a room behind the altar, where they had hidden some large sticks, dealt their blows lustily on all sides. The women rushed into the vineyards, tore up the vine-props, and brought them to as many of their husbands as had neither sticks nor knives. Some of them left the chapel and picked up stones to throw at the minister, who was still in the pulpit, and kill him. From every side they fell upon the poor evangelicals, calling them ‘Rascally dogs!’ Even the santier of Boudry, whose duty it was to preserve order, joined in the riot, threw off his official robe, and loudly hooting, struck harder than the rest. The parish priest, who loved the law so much, had suddenly lost his balance. Incensed, and beside himself, stripped to his doublet, and ‘bareheaded like a brigand,’ he directed the battle. His friends, well provided with arquebuses, bludgeons, knives, and other weapons, seeing that the evangelists had rallied round their pastor, rushed upon them, intending to kill many of them; ‘but it was God’s will that this wolf should be stopped on the way,’ says the official document, ‘and be driven back into his den.’ The reformed, who parried the blows as well as they could with their hands only, at last succeeded in reaching their houses. They told their relations and friends what had happened, and gave God thanks. ‘It is indeed a great miracle,’ they said with emotion, ‘that there was nobody killed. But the Lord Jesus Christ is a Good Shepherd; he keeps his sheep so well in the midst of the sword, the fire, the lions, and even death itself, that the wolves can not snatch them out of his hand.’

While these songs of thanksgiving were being sung in the houses of the evangelists, the cure was triumphing in the church. The battle was scarcely terminated by the retreat of the reformed, when, proud of the victory he had won by stones and clubs, he laid down the stake with which he had armed himself, covered his head, arranged his disordered doublet, put on his sacerdotal robes, and entered the church of Boudry with a grave and composed air. Seeing it full, and wishing to profit by the advantage he had gained, he went into the pulpit and exclaimed in his burlesque manner: ‘Some strangers have come of their own accord into this country. One comes front Paris, another from Lyons, and a third from I do not know where. This one is called Master Anthony, that one Master Berthoud, another Master William, a fourth Master Froment, (i.e. wheat ) with barley or oats... They carry a book in their hands and boast of having the Holy Ghost. But if they had the Holy Ghost, would they want a book? The apostles who were filled with the Holy Ghost understood without book all languages and all mysteries. My brethren, will you believe: a stranger before a man of the country whom you know? Do not associate with those devils; they will lead you into hell; but come to confession as all your forefathers have done; open yourselves to me upon the seven deadly sins, the live natural senses, and the ten commandments. Do not be afraid; your consciences will be cleansed of all evil. Put me to death in case I do not prove all I have told you.’ The catholics left the church very proud of such a fine discourse.

Some of the friends of the reformed hurried off to Fabri, and reported to him that the priest offered to prove all he had said, particularly that he could absolve from the seven deadly sins and those of the five senses.

Without loss of time Fabri appeared before the castellan and councilors of Boudry, and asked for a public disputation, offering to die in case he could not show that all he had preached was true, and that what the priest had said was false. The latter bluntly refused all public discussion; he did not like combats of that kind, and compensated himself in another fashion.

One day, as he sat half undressed at his window watching the birds as they darted through the air, and the people who were walking in the street, he saw Fabri passing in front of his house. In great excitement he called to him and began abusing him: ‘Gaol-bird! forger!’ he said, stretching his head out of the window; tell me why you corrupt Holy Scripture?’ Fabri, hoping the cure would grant him the discussion he had so much desired, made answer: ‘Come down and bring out your Bible; we will take a clerk who can read it to the people, and I will show you that I am no forger.’ At these words the alarmed priest exclaimed; ‘I have something else to do besides disputing With a gaol-bird like you;’ and he retired hastily from the window. Such were the struggles the reformers had to go through in order to transform the church. This transformation was going on, and ere long the whole principality of Neuchatel was won to the Reformation.

In 1532 it penetrated into the mountain regions among the shepherds and hunters of Locle and Chaux de Fonds. Claude d’Arberg, who had so often followed the chase in these mountains, had built an oratory there to St. Hubert, the hunters’ patron saint. The saint (says the legend) was once met by a bear, which killed his horse, but Hubert got on the bear’s back, and rode him home to the great astonishment of everybody. A more formidable hunter was now about to tame the bears of these parts. Jean de Bely, the evangelist of Fontaine, having gone to Locle at the time of the fair of St. Magdalen, Madame Guillemette de Vergy had him seized instantly and forced him to dispute for two hours in her presence with the cure, Messire Besancenet. ‘Put him in prison,’ said the countess, who was offended at his doctrines; but whilst the high-born dame was so irritated at what she had heard, the priest, a good-natured man, interceded in the kindest manner in favor of the heretic. The lady released him, and the worthy vicar, taking Bely by the arm, led him graciously to the parsonage, and drank wine with him. Already people said that the mountain bears were beginning to be tamed.

From Locle the Gospel made its way to Chaux de Fonds, and thence to Brenets (1534). The earnest mountaineers had taken the images out of the church, desiring to worship God in spirit and in truth, and were preparing to break them in pieces and throw them into the Doubs, when they saw two fine oxen approaching, driven by some devout inhabitants from a neighboring village of Franche Comte. ‘We offer you these beasts,’ said they, ‘in exchange for your pictures and statues.’ — ‘Pray take them,’ said the people of Brenets. The Franche-Comtois gathered up the idols, the Neuchatelans drove away the oxen, and ‘each thought they had made a fine exchange,’ says a chronicler.

With the exception of one village, the evangelical faith was established throughout the whole principality of Neuchatel, without the aid of the prince and the lords, and indeed in spite of them. A hand mightier than theirs was breaking the bonds, removing the obstacles, and emancipating souls. The Reformation triumphed: and after God, it was Farel’s work.



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