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Title: History of the Reformation - Formation of the Church. Friends and Opponents.
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

30 00005-0029 Formation of the Church. Friends and Opponents 
(Middle to the End of Dec. 1532.)

WHILE the Gospel was thus manifesting its power in Geneva, the bishop persisted in his inflexible hostility. The Genevan magistrates still felt great regard for him. On the 13th December 1532 the council sent a deputation to him to obtain his consent to a tax which was deemed to be necessary; the Sieur de Chapeaurouge, the ex-captain-general Philippe, and others, appeared respectfully before him. Love of order and the obedience due to established authority were characteristics of the Genevese statesmen, and vexed as they were at the abuses which had their source in the power of the bishop, they could not take upon themselves to do anything without his consent. The bishop, flattered with these attentions, made the deputation very welcome for a couple of days, but on the third all his bad humor returned. When the ambassadors appeared before him again he said hastily: ‘I will grant you nothing, not a single crown, and I will compel my lords of Geneva to ask my pardon on their bended knees.’ On the 26th December the deputation reported this language to the council, who were annoyed at it; and while the bishop was sending these messages to Geneva which did not advance the cause of popery, the Reformation, on the contrary, was endeavoring in every way to enlighten men’s minds and win their hearts. Froment being in communication with Farel and the reformed of Switzerland, received from them Testaments, tracts, and controversial works, which his friends and he distributed all over the city, where they were read with eagerness. Every day more persons were won over to the evangelical faith. They were of all conditions of life. A certain tradesman, named Gudrin, a cap-maker, listened while working in his shop to all that was said around him, and thought seriously of religion and of the abuses of popery. One day he determined to visit the Croix d’Or, and the words he heard there touched his heart and enlightened his mind. Being sensible, intelligent, modest, and of decided character, he gave himself up with all his heart to God’s cause, and ere long became Froment’s helper. There were also persons of all ages among the converts. Claude Bernard had a daughter between seven and eight years old whom he early introduced to the knowledge of scripture. The child’s precocious understanding was struck with certain simple and clear passages which condemned the popular superstitions; and the little controversialist (we are told) confounded the ignorant priests. Unable to answer her they spread a report that she was possessed of the devil. A Frenchman of distinction, passing through Geneva, wished to see her, and was charmed with her infantile graces and piety.

It was soon apparent that there was something more than a new doctrine: a moral reformation accompanied the revival of faith. In the days of her bigoted catholicism Claudine Revet had been very fond of dress; her conscience now reproached her with having been unreasonable in her love of costly attire, and more eager to ornament the body than to adorn the soul. One day she shut herself up in that room where she had heard the call of God, stripped off (says Froment) ‘all superfluous bravery (bravete ), laid aside those ornaments and trappings which had only served to show her off in a vain-glorious way, as a peacock spreads his tail,’ and from that time she wore a plain and becoming dress. Having sold her beautiful robes and other belongings, she gave the money to the poor, particularly to the evangelicals of France, who having been banished from their homes on account of truth had come to Geneva. All her life she loved to receive refugees in her house. ‘Verily,’ they said of her, ‘verily, she follows the example of Tabitha who was called Dorcas ( Acts 9), and deserves to be kept in perpetual remembrance.’

Claudine did more than this: she spoke frankly and meekly of the precious truth she had received, and ‘scattered it wherever she happened to be in the city.’ The priests alarmed at such an astonishing transformation endeavored to bring her back to the practices of the church; but Claudine ‘showed them tenderly by scripture what was necessary’ (namely, faith and charity). All in the city were surprised to hear her talk as she did. The news of her conversion made a great sensation, particularly among the Genevese ladies. One day, when the most worldly of them had met together, they talked of nothing but Madame Levet and her estrangement from the mass and from amusements. They were Pernette Balthasarde, wife of a councilor; the wife of Baudichon de la Maison Neuve; the wife of Claude Pastor, Jeanne Marie de Fernex, and many other rich and honorable ladies. ‘Alas!’ they said, ‘how is it that she has changed in so short a time?’ They had loved her, and all the more regretted that she was lost… They vented their anger on Froment. ‘She has heard that creature,’ they said, ‘and been bewitched by him.’ These ladies resolved that they would see her no more. Claudine did not despair of her friends. She continued to live for God, and all might see that a holy life, full of good works, proceeded from her faith.

The Genevan ladies, although unwilling to visit her, watched her; and observing ‘that she persevered in well-doing, and was still a constant pattern of holy living,’ they drew near her. They were curious to know the cause of this singular change, and began to speak to her when they met her, some even going to see her. Claudine received them affectionately, spoke to them about that which filled her heart — this was what her friends desired — presented them with the New Testament, and begged them to read it and to love the Savior. Several of these ladies were converted, especially those whom we have named. Claudine, who was their ‘exemplar of life and charity,’ pressed them to adopt a christian conduct. ‘Put aside your great display,’ she said to them, ‘attire yourself simply and without superfluity, and give your minds to great charities. Faith holds the first place, but after that come good works.’ From that time indeed these women showed great compassion for the wretched. The fame of their good deeds spread abroad, and the Gospel was honored by them. It seemed admitted that no one could be a Christian unless he had some poor persecuted foreigner in his house. Such was the Christianity of Geneva at the moment when it was beginning to appear, and such it remained for two centuries.

Aime Levet, who was at first strongly opposed to Froment and the Gospel, gradually softened down. The holiness and charity of his wife made him appreciate the Word of God: ‘thus Claudine won her husband to the Lord. From that time she had more liberty, and the meetings at the Croix d’Or being insufficient, little assemblies were held at her house or at others. When there was no evangelist present capable of explaining the Bible, they begged this pious christian woman to do it, saying: ‘No one has received from the Lord greater gifts than you.’ Claudine would then read the scripture, and set forth with simplicity the truths and graces she had found therein. The reformers remembered the precept of St. Paul, Let your women keep silence in the churches ; but they added, ‘This must be understood of the ordinary charge, for a case may happen when it will be necessary for a woman to speak in public.’ Ere long the modest Guerin, who studied his Bible day and night, and other christians likewise, took an active part in the work of evangelization.

The church was forming. At first there were a few souls awakened separately here and there in Geneva; now with the element of individuality, which is the first, was combined the element of communion, which is not less necessary, for Christianity is a leaven that leaveneth the whole lump. Those who had begun to believe assembled to advance together in faith. Doubtless it was not yet church in its complete state, with all its institutions. Believers, even without forming a church, may act upon one another, pray in common, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together; things ordinarily begin in this way. This state of transition, the lawfulness of which must be acknowledged, proves that the ecclesiastical organization, with its ministers, elders, deacons, presbyteries, and synods, has not the first place in Christianity, and that the pre-eminence belongs to faith and christian sanctification. This imperfect mode of existence is insufficient: it has many deficiencies, and is exposed to many dangers. The church should be formed. Somewhat later, under Calvin, it attained indeed its complete form in Geneva. It would be foolish to deny man the right of being at first a child; but it would be no less so to refuse him the right and duty of becoming a man.

Just at this time the evangelicals received an unexpected help. A Franciscan coming from abroad began to preach the Advent sermons in the Rive church, and this monk, Christopher Bocquet by name, happened to have some inclination for the Gospel. Being invited to preach in a city where two parties were at war, he abstained from both superstitions and abuse — frequent themes with many catholic preachers — but at the same time he abstained from certain distinctive doctrines of the Reformation which he did not quite understand, and keeping to certain common ground of Christianity, he delivered ‘moderate’ sermons. Dressed in his brown frock, and with the cord round his waist, and humbly bending his head, he entered the Cordeliers’ church, went up into the pulpit, and contemplating the mixed crowd before him, proclaimed to all a Savior who had come not in magnificent array, but in gracious love, and called upon every heart to rejoice at his sight. The evangelicals were edified, and the number of persons frequenting the church increased every day. But Friar Christopher ‘had hardly finished his sermon,’ when the huguenots hurried away to Froment’s meeting-place, where the trumpet gave no uncertain sound.

They were not the only persons who went thither. Many catholics having heard the reformers say that the monk and the schoolmaster preached fundamentally the same things, followed the crowd going to the Croix d’Or, and some of them took a liking for what they heard.

Thus the people were more and more enlightened. The evangelicals met sometimes at one house, sometimes at another; they read and discussed the little tracts that were sent them, but above all applied themselves to Holy Scripture. It was there only that these simple christians were willing to seek the light which their consciences needed. ‘Let us specially study the sacred writings,’ they said, ‘in order that we may distinguish in religion what comes from God, from that which men have added to it.’ The Genevans retired from these meetings strengthened and full of joy, and their love for the Word of God continued to increase.

If the Reformation met with faithful adherents in Geneva, it also encountered resolute adversaries. The astonished and bewildered priests seemed to sleep. Contenting themselves with a war of trifles, they made no active and combined opposition to the evangelical movement. It was the laity who uttered the cry of alarm. Angry at the inactivity of the clergy, they gave the signal of a ‘holy war’ destined in their opinion to expel the infidels from their well-beloved Zion. Thomas Moine was at their head — a decided, impetuous man, a fluent speaker, and one who had attained great consideration in the Romish party; he complained that they had permitted the enemy to establish himself little by little in the ancient episcopal city. He said that it was time to wake up, and reproached the Genevese ecclesiastics for their cowardice. Moine did not speak in vain.

The vicar of La Madeleine touched by his words, determined to exalt the honor of his church and corporation, and gave notice that he would preach against the heretical schoolmaster and the foreign preacher. The large area was soon filled with fervent catholics, among whom were some of the reformed, in particular Chautemps, Claude Bernard, Salomon, and Perrin.

The vicar praised the catholic apostolic Roman Church, extolled its head, who was (he said) the representative of God, and defended its worship and institutions. Then having praised the fold, he described the ‘wolves’ that prowled around it to devour the sheep. He accused Froment of ignorance and falsehood, and conjured his hearers not to throw themselves into the paws of wild beasts, thieves, and robbers… On leaving the church the four huguenots who had heard him met to inquire what was to be done. These men who at the first moment had, like the others, given so bad a reception to the schoolmaster, had been touched (three of them at least) by the simple preaching of the Gospel. The Bible, as we have seen, had become their court of appeal, which grieved the priests, who dared not deny the divinity of the book, but as they had never studied it, were much embarrassed to find the proof of their dogmas in it. After some deliberation Chautemps and his friends waited upon the vicar. ‘Froment,’ they said, ‘is a good and learned man; you say that he has lied; prove it by Scripture?’ The vicar having consented, the huguenots demanded that the discussion should take place in public, so that all might profit by it; but the priest desired it to be held at the parsonage. The champions of the Reformation gave way, and arrangements were made for the disputation to take place on the last day of the year. The poor priest (Claude Pelliez by name) was greatly embarrassed: he retired to his room, took up the Vulgate, which he did not often open, and began to look for passages to oppose to the reformed doctrines; but he searched in vain, he could find none.

In the afternoon of the 31st December, St. Sylvester’s day, Chautemps, Bernard, Perrin, and Salomon went to the parsonage of the Madeleine, wearing their swords as was customary. Some priests whom the curate had invited were already there, but they had to wait for the champion of Romanism who had not yet been able to find a single text. The four huguenots took off their belts, threw their swords on the bed, and sitting round the table with the priests, began to talk familiarly together. At last the vicar, who had had some trouble to tear himself away from his folios, in which he still hoped to find something, appeared with a bulky volume under his arm. The huguenots rose as he entered; beneath the table at which they were sitting stood some wine-bottles which they and the priests had emptied while waiting for him, and which Perrin had paid for.

The conference now began. The vicar opened his big volume, in which some strips of paper indicated the places he thought favorable to him, and read a long extract opposed to Froment’s doctrine. ‘What book is that,’ asked Perrin; ‘it is not a Bible.’ The huguenots added, ‘You have not been able to find in the Bible one word with which to answer Froment;’ and laughed at him. ‘What is that you say,’ retorted the priest, reddening with anger; ‘it is the Postilloe perpetuoe in biblia of the illustrious Nicholas Lyra!’ — ‘But you promised to refute Froment out of Scripture.’ — ‘Lyra,’ said the priest, ‘is the most approved interpreter.’ The huguenots were determined not to accept the commentaries of man as if they were the very Word of God. The Bible incorruptible and infallible, before which all human systems must fall, was the only authority. ‘Lyra is not a good doctor,’ said Perrin. — ‘Yes!’ — ‘No!’ — ‘Yes!’ — ‘You do not keep your word.’ Perrin had understanding rather than real piety: he was a lamp, but it had no oil. Haughty, violent, and headstrong, he wanted everything to bend before him, and so did the vicar. The quarrel grew hot, and instead of discussing they abused each other. Then one of the churchmen having left the room stealthily, a band of priests suddenly entered with one De la Roche at their head, who carried a naked sword which he pointed in front of him. ‘What?’ said Claude Bernard, ‘we came in good faith, we four only, to your house to discuss; we have drunk with your friends, we have thrown our swords on the bed… and you traitorously send for an armed band of priests. It is a trap.’ With these words the four citizens grasped their swords, made a way through their opponents, got out into the street, and held their ground, ready to defend themselves. One of the priests ran to the belfry of the Madeleine and began to ring the tocsin. Thus ended the first theological dispute in Geneva.

It was about noon — a time favorable for a riot. On hearing the church bell the city was thrown into commotion, and everybody hurried to the spot.

It was said that the huguenots desired to get possession of the building so that the schoolmaster might preach in it. Priests came forward with their adherents to defend the sanctuary; huguenots took up arms to protect their brethren hemmed in in front of the church. ‘Alas!’ said the friends of peace, ‘the priests are ringing the tocsin, and thus exciting the citizens to kill one another.’ The four huguenots, with drawn swords and their backs to the wall, prepared to give the churchmen a warm reception; while their friends, as they arrived, drew up by their side. The tumult was general. ‘Let us close in to the church,’ said the priests, who wished to surround it to prevent the evangelists from entering. Huguenots and catholics hastened from every quarter to the Madeleine. Terror seized the most timid. The poor ladies of St. Claire, who were at dinner, hearing the noise, rose from the table in alarm, and exclaiming, ‘Alas! they have threatened to marry us… they are going to put their abominable plot into execution,’ made a procession round their church and garden with great devotion and many tears. Just at this time the council broke up, and two of the syndics, Ramel and Savoie, who were going home, had to pass through the midst of the riot.

The two parties were on the point of coming to blows. The syndics advanced, checked the combatants by interposing their official staves, and ordered them to lay down their arms, which was done. ‘There was neither violence nor bloodshed.’ But all was not ended. Some members of the chapter and several priests, hearing that a fight was going on at the Madeleine, had collected in the Rue des Chanoines, where William Canal, incumbent of St. Germain’s, harangued them. The catholic faith is threatened, the throne of the pope is shaken, the great honor due to Mary is endangered… We must fall upon those who impugn it, and free the city from their persons and their errors.

Such was the sum of his discourse.

The tumult being quieted round the church, the lieutenant of justice (Chateauneuf) had turned towards the Rue des Chanoines, where he had been told that the priests were in commotion. Finding them determined to follow Canal sword in hand to the Madeleine, he commanded them to stop. The priest of St. Germain’s, unwilling to submit to the orders of a civil magistrate, rushed hastily towards the church. Chateauneuf laid his hand upon him, when the rebellious parson turned round and leveled his arquebuse at that officer; but a friendly arm prevented his firing. Canal ran off, and the other priests dispersed. The council reassembled in the evening. Each opinion was represented in that body, which halted between two opinions. After a riot like that which had just occurred, it was necessary to take certain precautions, especially as the morrow was New Year’s day, and at such times men’s minds are more easily excited. The council summoned the principal friends of the reform, and Froment also was invited, although the Registers make no mention of his presence. ‘We exhort you,’ said the syndics, ‘to make Anthony Froment cease from disputing and preaching, as well as the others who teach in private houses; and we conjure you to live as your fathers did.’ No one would make any promise; on the contrary, the reformed withdrew, saying, ‘We will hear the Word of God wherever we can: nobody has a right to hide it.’ Then turning to Froment, they begged him not to be silent under such prohibition. ‘We are constrained,’ they said, ‘to hear the schoolmaster and his friends, because the decree of the council ordering the Word of God to be preached in every parish has not been observed.’ The reformed, while desiring before all things to obey God, put themselves in the right: they appealed to lawful ordinances, and this was the ground which they intended keeping.

The council, acknowledging that this position of the evangelicals was impregnable, sent for the Abbot of Bonmont, the vicar-episcopal, and begged him to detain at Geneva the cordelier who had preached the Advent so well, and to press the Dominicans also to provide a preacher calculated to edify their congregation. They required further that there should be true preachers of the Word of God in every parish. The vicar-episcopal, being a peaceful man, promised everything, even to punishing Canal the priest.

The tumult was appeased, but great agitation still reigned in men’s minds.

Some saw that the storm was over, others that it might easily break out again. As it was St. Sylvester’s eve, there were numerous meetings throughout the city, catholics and huguenots being equally excited, and both waiting anxiously for the morrow.