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Title: History of the Reformation - Formation of a Catholic Conspiracy Lent, 1533
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

33 00005-0032 Formation of a Catholic Conspiracy     

Lent, 1533

EVANGELICAL zeal was the occasion of the persecution. Its enemies were angered; they could not understand the inappreciable life then fermenting among their people. If a meeting was suppressed in one house, it was held in another. ‘They could not find any remedy against this.’

One, however, offered itself. A dominican monk, an inquisitor of the Faith, had just arrived in Geneva. ‘He is a great orator,’ was the report in the city, ‘a fervent catholic, just the opposite of Bocquet.’ He had come to preach the Lent sermons in the grey-friar’s stead, and everybody hoped he would repair the evil the other had done. ‘Deliver us from this heresy,’ said the heads of the Dominicans to him. The monk, flattered by this confidence and proud of his mission, prepared a fine discourse, and the next day or the next but one after Guerin’s departure he went into the pulpit. St. Dominic’s church was crowded, and a good many evangelicals, including Olivetan, were present. After a short introduction the monk began with loud voice and ardent zeal to decry the Bible, to abuse the heretics, and to exalt the pope. ‘He uttered without restraint all that came into his head.’ ‘I will blacken them so,’ he had said, ‘that they shall never be washed clean.’

Great was the excitement among the huguenots. ‘If any one of us is so bold, as to move his lips,’ they said, ‘such a little liberty makes our masters bawl out like madmen; but they are allowed to pour out their poison and infect the world with it.’ Olivetan, who was present during the sermon, could hardly contain himself, but as soon as it was ended, he got upon a bench, thinking it would be wrong of him not to make the truth known. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I desire to show you honestly from Scripture where you have erred in your discourse.’ These words created great astonishment. What! a layman presume to teach the Church… … The priests and some of their creatures surrounded Olivetan, abused him, pushed him off the bench, and would have beaten him. ‘Whereupon up came Claude Bernard, Jean Chautemps, and others, who took their friend away from the monks and people who desired to kill him.’… But he did not escape so easily: the council sentenced him to banishment, without hearing or appeal. Everyone regretted him: ‘He was a man,’ they said, ‘of such learning, godly life and conversation!’ Olivetan was forced to leave.

Geneva, suffering under a violent commotion, cast off the evangelists one after another, as the sea casts up the fragments of a wreck. The clerical party was beginning to doubt whether these banishments were enough… When Farel was expelled, Froment appeared; when Froment had got away, Guerin presided over a Lutheran sacrament; when Guerin had been obliged to make his escape, Olivetan got upon a bench in the church and publicly contradicted an inquisitor! He too was gone, but others would not fail to come forward… Canon Wernli, equerry De Pesmes, the bold Thomas Moine, and other catholic chiefs, thought that an end should be put to this state of things. The reformed saw the danger that threatened them. Baudichon de la Maisonneuve consulted with his friend Claude Salomon. They argued that as Friburg desired to enslave their consciences, they ought to apply to Berne to deliver them. Salomon wished to consult the Genevese councilors favorable to the Reform. ‘No,’ said Baudichon, ‘let us ask nobody’s opinion; let us do the business alone. Which of the council would join us? John Philippe, John Lullin, Michael Sept, Stephen of Chapeaurouge, Francis Fayre, Claude Roset? True, they are all friends of independence, but they have an official position. If we apply to them, we shall only compromise them. We are at liberty to expose our own lives, but not those of our friends. Let us go to Berne alone.’ Nevertheless two magistrates, Domaine d’Arlod and Claude Bernard, were informed of their intention. They were embarrassed, for they knew that such a step might cost the lives of those who ventured it. The courage of the two patriots affected them. ‘We believe we are following God’s will,’ said Maisonneuve. ‘In that case,’ replied Arlod, ‘we shall give you no instructions either verbal or written, we shall only say: Do whatever God shall inspire you to do.’ It was with these words, recorded in the registers, that the two Genevans departed for Berne. As soon as they arrived, they appeared before the council and explained how the clergy were endeavoring to stifle the germs of faith in their birth.

The Bernese did not hesitate: greatly irritated by the violence which the Genevans had used towards Farel, in despite of their letters of recommendation, they made answer that they would do everything to support the Gospel in Geneva.

On the 25th of March the council of Geneva met. There was evidently something new: many of the members wore an anxious look; others appeared cheerful. Du Crest, the premier syndic, a man devoted to the Romish Church, announced with an air of consternation, that he had just received a letter from Berne in which the council of Geneva were severely reprimanded. In truth, the Bernese did not mince matters: they complained of the violence done to Farel and the persecution organized in Geneva against the evangelical faith. ‘We are surprised,’ they said, ‘that in your city the faith in Jesus Christ and those who seek it are so molested… You will not suffer the Word of God to be freely proclaimed, and banish those who preach it.’ This letter troubled the council. ‘If we concede what Berne demands,’ they said, ‘the priests will get up fresh disturbances. If we refuse, Berne will break off the alliance, and the reformed will revolt.’ Whichever way they turned, danger seemed to threaten them. ‘So that they knew not what answer to give,’ adds the register. Almost all of them were enraged against Maisoneuve and Salomon. They were brought before the council and confessed that they had gone to Berne and had solicited the letter which had been sent. Upon this several mamelukes called out ‘treason;’ but the consciences of these two noble citizens bore witness that they had served the cause of liberty and justice. They remained firm, and the council, being disturbed and undecided, adjourned to the next day the question of what was to be done. The agitation spread from the council-room to the chapter-house and into the city. Every one spoke about Berne’s demand of full liberty for the gospel. The canons, priests, and most devout of the laity were unanimous for refusing; the daring Thomas Moine became the soul of this movement.’

They resolved, upon his proposition, to intimidate the council and obtain from it the total suppression of the evangelical meetings. Forthwith the most zealous of the party went into the city and visited from house to house. At the same time Moine got a few of his friends together and proposed to go to the council in a body: their numbers, he doubted not, would over-awe the syndics, and the catholics would obtain their demands. This measure was resolved upon, and the meeting fixed for the morrow.

Next day, when the council met, they were told that a considerable number of citizens desired an audience. They were admitted, to the number of about two hundred, including Thomas Moine, B. Faulchon, Francois du Crest, Percival de Pesmes, and Andrew Maillard: their countenances bore the mark of violent passions. ‘Most honored lords,’ said Moine, who was a clever speaker, ‘notwithstanding the edict which bids us live like brothers, many persons are endeavoring to sow disorder and dissension among us. Some of them have gone to Berne, and the lords of that place have written you a letter which disturbs all the city… Who are those guilty men who go and denounce their country to the foreigner? Were they deputed by the council? What instructions did they receive? What answer did they bring you? We beg to be informed on these matters. We wish to know them, and whether anything has been done tending to the ruin of the republic.’

The premier-syndic, amazed at such a speech, begged Moine and his friends to retire, and the embarrassed council determined to procrastinate. ‘We will do everything in the world to bring this difficult matter to a happy conclusion,’ they answered. ‘We will assemble the Sixty, the Two Hundred, the heads of families, even the general council, if necessary the whole republic. Rest content with this promise.’ ‘We have been deputed,’ answered Moine, ‘to demand that you should produce before us those who went to Berne. We will not leave this room until we have seen them. If you do not summon them, we will go and fetch them.’

On hearing these words the council grew alarmed. What a disturbance and what violence there would be in the council-chamber if the two huguenots should appear before these excited catholics!… The syndics replied that they would return an answer. This procrastination put the mamelukes beside themselves. It was not Moine alone who protested: the two hundred who surrounded him raised their hands and shouted in menacing tones: ‘Justice, justice! Let us keep our promise to Messieurs of Friburg — that Geneva would preserve the faith of its fathers.’ The alarmed syndics endeavored by exceeding gentleness of manner (says a manuscript) to appease the tumult; and the two hundred discontented catholics returned to their homes with haughty look and resolute air. ‘If the council haggles any more,’ they said, ‘we will do ourselves justice!’ In the city, men said: ‘We thought the catholics decrepit, downcast, asleep, or dead… but they are opening their heavy eyes; their strength is returning, and the swift-flying vultures are about to pounce upon their prey.’ In fact, two of the syndics, and several councilors, with other laymen of the catholic party and some priests, went into the city, and endeavored to persuade all they met to enter into the plot formed against the Gospel.

They told them that there was nothing to be expected from the council. ‘If the faith of our fathers is to stand, by our own hands it must be supported,’ they said. ‘Hold yourselves in readiness to march against the Lutherans.’

The Lutherans, they said. It was indeed the Reformation that was then stirring up all the wrath of the clerical party. Some of its members, no doubt, hated liberty as much as the Gospel; but most of the catholics would have tolerated the ancient franchises of the people. The point on which they were all agreed was an unquenchable opposition to that new doctrine which they called Lutheranism, Luther being in their opinion its great apostle. This Lutheranism was fundamentally what was afterwards named Calvinism, for Luther and Calvin were one in the great evangelical principles. All the reformers preached in the sixteenth century, in Europe, and particularly at Geneva, that the pure grace of God was the only power of eternal salvation, and that the Church was composed of all those who possessed true faith, and not of those who slavishly adhered to a dominating hierarchy. The doctrines of Lutheranism and of the Reform might differ, in regard to certain abstract questions, as touching the finite and the infinite, for instance: Lutheranism might put in bolder relief the immanence of God, while the Reform inclined towards his transcendene, to use the language of philosophers and theologians; but they were and they are agreed in all that is essential; and it was these living doctrines that a powerful party was endeavoring to expel from Geneva.

On Thursday night the canons, priests, and chief ‘partisans of the papal religion,’ as Wernli, De Pesmes, Moine, and their friends, met in the vicarepiscopal’s great hall. They arrived one after another, most of them armed to the teeth, and breathing vengeance: the room was soon filled, and many stood in the court-yard. Their intention was carefully to arrange the plot that was to free them from the Reform. Some huguenots, informed of the conspiracy, drew near to watch their adversaries. The circumstances, the tumultuous crisis that was approaching, the interests to be discussed, the violent passions with which the two parties were animated, the late hour at which this conference was held — all combined to render it a solemn one. Men’s minds became clouded, and certain huguenots of ardent imagination, who gazed at a distance upon the walls behind which these plotters were assembled, indulging in fantastic visions, fancied they saw the furies, torch in hand, stirring up discord; but they were merely monks clad in their long robes, and holding the torches with which the hall was lighted. At length the proceedings began. Some of the speakers represented that the number of rebels increased daily; that the sacerdotal authority decreased proportionately; and that if things were allowed to go on so, ere long nobody would take any account of the Church. ‘Let us not lower’ ourselves to dispute with heretics. Let us not wait for help from the magistrates. The Council of Sixty is about to meet, but they will hesitate just like the ordinary council. Those bodies are too weak; we must act without the government; we are the strongest. If it comes to fighting, the defenders of catholicism will be ten, perhaps twenty, to one. When the evangelists are conquered, we will invite the bishop back, who will return with all the banished mamelukes, and inflict on the rebels the punishment they deserve. Geneva, preserved from the Reformation, will no longer be able to spread it through the surrounding countries, and will be in future ages the support of the papacy. Let us execute justice for ourselves; let us fly to arms, ring the tocsin, draw the sword, and call upon the faithful to march against those dogs, and make a striking example of the two traitors who went to Berne. Let us kill all who are called Lutherans, without sparing one; which will be doing God a good service. We are assured of the bishop’s pardon: his lordship has already sent us the pardons in blank.

At the sound of the great bell, let every one go armed to the Molard, and let the city gates be shut, so that nobody may escape.’ This is what was said in the vicar-episcopal’s house. The leaders agreed upon the place of meeting, the number of the armed bands, the names of those who should command them, and the manner in which the reformed should be attacked; everything was arranged. The assembly applauded; the conspirators, raising their hands, bound themselves by a solemn oath to execute the plan and to secresy; after which they retired to take a brief repose. The festival of Easter was approaching: more than two centuries before, the Sicilian Vespers had filled Palermo and all Sicily with massacre; the enemies of the Reformation in Geneva desired also to celebrate the same festival with rivers of blood.

The Council of Sixty met the next day (Friday, 28th March 1533). Never perhaps was there a body more divided. When the catholics demanded that the promise made to Friburg should be kept, the huguenots represented that if the council decided in favor of the Romanist party, not only would the bishop resume his former power, but that having seen the Reform on the brink of triumphing, he would throw himself into the arms of Savoy, as the only power capable of saving the Roman faith. The council, placed between these two fierce currents, remained in its usual indecision, and declared in favor of neither. This was just what the leaders of the Romanist party expected. Everything was prepared for carrying out the conspiracy (to use Froment’s word) which had been planned the night before. The cathedral had been selected as the place of meeting. The first who entered it was the valiant canon, Peter Wernli. He was armed from head to foot, and advanced into the sanctuary as a general goes to battle. Wernli handled the sword as well as his brother, who was a captain in the service of the king of France. Gifted with the strength of a Hercules or a Samson, he designed, like the first, to drive Cerberus out of the city; and like the second, to pull down the pillars of the temple. He said to those who had gathered around him in St. Pierre’s: ‘We will cut off the heads of those who went to Berne and of all their friends.’ Three hundred armed canons and priests came after him, and then a great number of their lay followers. ‘The Lutherans threaten us,’ said some of these angry citizens; ‘they want to rob the churches and convents.’ Such a tale could not fail to excite their minds still more.

The huguenots, informed of the plot arranged at the vicar-general’s, and observing the catholics making ready for the attack, saw at once that their first act would be to seize Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, on account of his journey to Berne, and inflict on him the fate of Berthelier and Levrier.

They therefore assembled to the number of sixty around their friend to defend his life at the price of their blood. Some of Moine’s partisans went to inform the assemblage at St. Pierre’s that they had seen several persons enter Maisonneuve’s house.

This information was a signal of battle to the conspirators. ‘Forward!’ they cried: ‘let us go and attack them!’ Two catholics, friends of peace, who happened to be in the church (B. Faulchon and Girardin de la Rive), fearing a civil war, ran to the council. ‘Both parties are under arms,’ they said; ‘some at St. Pierre’s, others at Baudichon’s: the first are preparing to march down against their opponents… Should they do so, there will be a great disturbance: look you to it.’ The council, suspending all other business, ordered the four syndics to proceed with the badges of their office, first to St. Pierre’s (for the aggressors were there), and next to Maisonneuve’s, and command both parties to return immediately to their homes. The task was a difficult one, but the four magistrates did not hesitate to undertake it. Preceded by their ushers they entered the cathedral, with the syndical staff in their hands. At the sight of them the crowd grew calm. ‘We desire to know,’ said the premier-syndic, ‘the cause of this meeting.’

The assembly answered with one voice: ‘We are going to fight the Lutherans who are assembled in the Rue des Allemands. They are always keeping us in fear, and we must put an end to it. We can no longer endure such a pest in the city They are worse than the Turks.’ At this moment two of the reformed, uneasy as to what might happen, approached the cathedral, and mounting the steps before the porch, stood there some time, peeping into the church, undecided whether they should enter. The priests and mamelukes perceiving them, exclaimed: ‘Look at the wicked wretches, they are come to spy the christians!’ At last, with more zeal than prudence, the two evangelicals entered. They were J. Goulaz and P. Vandel, the latter a man of twenty-six, who had adopted the Reform, but always retained a great affection for his old catholic friends. Addressing the syndics with great mildness, he said: ‘Pray put an end to this disturbance, lest worse should come of it.’ When the mamelukes heard his words, they became angry and drew their swords to strike the two huguenots. Portier, the episcopal secretary, a violent and fanatical man, seeing Vandel, exclaimed: ‘How is it that you are here, traitor!’ Several of them rushed upon Vandel, threw him to the ground, and trampled on him:

Pertier, drawing his dagger (sanguidede ) and seizing the young man ‘in a cowardly manner by the back,’ (says the Council Register) stabbed him near the left shoulder, intending to kill him. Vandel lay seriously wounded on the pavement of the cathedral ‘with great effusion of blood.’ A crowd of priests immediately gathered round him and began to lament loudly, not because a man had been stabbed, but because blood had defiled the temple. ‘Never after was bell rung or divine service performed in that church, or even in the other churches, because the mother-church was closed, until it was purified by My lord the suffragan,’ says Sister Jeanne.

Goulaz, it is reported, seeing his friend on the ground, ran off to the evangelicals and told them all. Some of them, notwithstanding the danger which they incurred, proceeded to the cathedral, and obtained the syndics’ permission to carry Vandel away. They removed him to Baudichon’s house, where they got him to bed. A few huguenots constituted themselves his nurses, and as they looked on their pale and blood-stained friend, they asked one another what would happen next.