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Title: History of the Reformation - Images and the Mass Abolished (8th to 11th August 1535.)
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

62 00005-0061 Images and the Mass Abolished (8th to 11th August 1535.)
(8th to 11th August 1535.)

THE Reformation protested against a ritualistic and meritorious worship; against the multiplicity of feasts, consecrations, ecclesiastical usages and customs; against any adoration whatever rendered to creatures, images, and relics; against the invocation of mediators who usurped the function of the Son of God; lastly, and chiefly, against a pretended expiatory sacrifice, effected by the priests, which was substituted for the only sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ.

All these human vanities were about to disappear. Farel and his friends waited for the reformatory ordinance; but the ardent huguenots, among whom Ami Perrin was the most active, became impatient at the perpetual hesitations of the council. A chance event called forth an energetic demonstration on their part. The same Sunday (8th August) in the afternoon at vespers, the canons, assembling again in their church, chanted the Psalm In exitu Israel, ‘When Israel went out of Egypt,’ and, with the utmost simplicity, repeated in Latin what Farel had said in the morning in French:

Simulacra gentium argentum et aurum, Opera manuum hominum.

Os habent et non loquentur.

Oculos habent et non videbunt.

Similes illis fiant qui faciunt ea Et omnes qui confidunt in illis. ’

The canons could not have chosen a fitter text. Some huguenots, who knew Latin better perhaps than they did, smiled and called out: ‘He there, you priests, you curse in your chants those who made the images and trusted in them, and yet you allow them to remain.’ They restrained themselves, however, for the moment. The magistrates continued repeating, ‘There is no need to abolish the mass and images; else very formidable princes will be to you like ravening wolves rushing upon sheep.’ A very extraordinary thing occurred at this moment. Nobody was willing to begin the work and yet it was accomplished. ‘God,’ said the reformers, ‘who holds the world in his hand, loves to choose the contemptible rather than what is great and apparent.’ In fact, it was a mischievous jest of some children which dealt the first blow. ‘For this work,’ says Froment, ‘God stirred up a score of little boys.’ These children had often heard the priests, and their errors and abuses spoken of; and their parents had added that it was time they were ended. They slipped into St. Pierre’s; stopped and listened, and were struck with the strange intonations of the canons.

Making their way towards a part of the church remote from that in which the reverend fathers were chanting, they began to play like boys of their age, ‘while nobody thought anything about it,’ says the chronicler. They commenced singing and shouting in imitation of the canons’ voices.

Presently they lifted up the seats of the low stalls, on which the reverend fathers used to sit when they were not engaged in the service, and let them fall with a noise. Everybody knows the fondness little boys have for amusements of this kind. They gambolled about, but in their games there was a certain opposition to the worship which their fathers condemned.

The petulance of their age carried them away. They saw in a corner certain things that resembled dolls; they could not resist their desire to take them; and catching hold of the ‘priests’ mannikins,’ as Froment calls them, they began to toss to one another the small grotesque figures with which the chapels were decorated.

At this moment Perrin, Goulay, and their friends, attracted perhaps by the noise, entered the cathedral. They saw that the great execution had begun; children were beforehand with them. Passion and impulse carried them away. They knew that it was the province of the government only to work out a reform; but when the government hangs back from its duty, what is to be done? ‘We have petitioned the council to pull down the idols,’ they said; ‘and it has not done so for want of courage. Let us then come to its help and do what God commands.’ At once the daring citizens, going farther than the children, penetrated into the choir where the priests were singing, and the latter asked in alarm what these laymen were going to do. ‘On a sudden,’ says the chronicler, ‘Perrin and his companions threw the idols to the ground and broke them.’ The children who saw this began to run about and ‘jump upon those little gods.’ Taking up the pieces, they ran to the door with glee, and called to the people collected in front of the church: ‘Here are the gods of the priests, will you have a piece?’ At the same time they threw the fragments among the crowd. There was great confusion. The wiser heads ineffectually argued that this work of reform should be left to the council; those huguenots had no doubts as to their duty. If the magistrates were unwilling to have the images destroyed, the Bible commands it. ‘The sun is now rising,’ they said, ‘and scattering throughout Christendom the dense clouds that obscure the religion of Jesus Christ.’

The order of things in the middle ages was indeed incompatible with the new wants of society. Later, in the time of Calvin, after the first victory had been gained, it was important to establish Christian doctrine and to constitute Christian society; but now it was the time of Farel. It was necessary to appeal to the spirit of liberty and to the energetic development of the will — this a conservative writer has acknowledged — a necessity in the first ages at the time of the establishment of Christianity; it was no less a necessity in the sixteenth century. The powers that had invaded the Church were so tenacious that the labor necessary to pull them down was a work of revolution and of war. The moral fact was the same at the epoch of these two great dispensations.

Whoever applauds the axe which shattered the colossal statue of Serapis at Alexandria, cannot blame that which threw down the images of a corrupt worship in the temples of Geneva.

Great was the sorrow felt by the devotees during that execution; they seemed looking at the fall of the papacy itself. Some who had remained in the church contemplated the heart-rending spectacle from afar. Foolish women of the city, says Froment, began to weep and to groan. ‘Alas! our good saints, our sacred images (they said) before which we used to kneel!... Whom shall we adore now?’ and they ‘cursed those dogs (cagnes ). ’ A new and still more striking act increased the wrath of the priests and that of their partisans. Of all the Romish dogmas there was none which more disgusted the huguenots than transubstantiation. To affirm it (they maintained)was to presume that Jesus Christ, man and God, was transformed into a little cake. And hence a French refugee, Maigret, surnamed the Magnificent, a man without pity for Roman errors, having found some wafers in the church, threw them upon the ground; his dog, who followed him, sprang upon them and eat them up. ‘Now if these little cakes had been real gods,’ said the pitiless Maigret, ‘they would not have allowed themselves to be eaten by that beast.’ No one has combated the doctrine of transubstantiation more vigorously than Calvin, but he would not have approved of such a rude mode of acting; later, he expressly condemned it. ‘Let us not take too great license,’ he said.

The horror of the priests knew no bounds; they ran out of the church, hastened to the hotel-de-ville, and described to the council the violent scenes that had just taken place. The syndics, irritated because the huguenots had despised their orders, sent two of their number to the cathedral — Antoine Chiquand and Ami Bandiere. They were ‘much excited,’ shouting and threatening ‘those who had done this.’ But the reformed were not inclined to give way. They had made strange discoveries. Some who had begun to search after the famous arm of St. Anthony — upon which, in important cases, oaths used to be made with the ringing of bells and great pomp, found not the arm of the saint, but the limb of a stag. Others, opening the precious shrine which inclosed the head of St. Peter, brought out a piece of pumice-stone instead of the skull. ‘See,’ they exclaimed, showing these objects to the surrounding crowd, ‘see what the priests used to make us worship.’ This gave another direction to the indignation of the delegates from the council, and one of them, disgusted at such mean frauds, said to the other: ‘If the gods of the priests are true gods, let them defend themselves. As for us we can do no more.’ The huguenots, wishing to make these scandals known to the people, put the pumice-stone and the stag’s bone under magnificent canopies, and prepared to carry these precious relics of an apostle and a saint all round the city. The novel procession attracted an immense crowd, and the disgusting falsehoods, of which it was a proof, opened the eyes of the most obstinate. ‘Now we know,’ they said, ‘the value of the priests’ words! They made us pay five florins for the ceremony; they pretended that if any one made a false oath, the saint would wither up his hand. All that was only to frighten and plunder us.’ Every one began to despise a clergy who, for so many ages, had thus played upon the good faith of the people. An old writer has said: ‘Justae quibus est irae. ’ ‘Woe unto the Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’ In the evening, a certain number of citizens met together after supper, when the more excited proposed that they should make the round of the other churches and throw down the idols everywhere.’ — ‘No,’ replied the wiser ones, ‘not now; if we did it at so late an hour, folks would say, as they did of old at Pentecost, that we are full of new wine. Let us wait until to-morrow morning.’ This was the general opinion.

The next day, Monday the 9th of August, early in the morning, the drum beat in the streets. Some people asked ‘Whether there was any alarm of the enemy.’ ‘Make yourselves easy,’ they answered; ‘it is only a fight against Rome and her idols.’ Everything was conducted with order: the citizens were drawn up in their companies. Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, Pierre Vandel, and Ami Perrin, who were the three captains of the city, put themselves at their head, and then they all marched with drums beating to the church of St. Gervais. It was not a tumultuous band, but the majority of the people advancing under the orders of their regular captains.

None of those citizens had the least doubt as to the lawfulness of his proceedings. The new crusade, like that of Peter the Hermit, was accomplished to the cry of — It is the will of God!

There were at St. Gervais’ scandals still greater than at St. Pierre’s. The priests, to procure money, pretended that St. Nazaire, St. Celsus, and St. Pantaleon were buried under the high altar. When a poor woman approached, she heard a confused noise. ‘It is the voices of the holy Bodies,’ said the priests, ‘praying to be taken up and canonized; but that requires a large sum of money.’ Others related how at the dead of night small luminous creatures were often seen moving about the cemetery. ‘They are souls from purgatory,’ explained the ecclesiastics; ‘they wander about here and there asking for masses for their deliverance.’ Certain persons, wishing to learn the truth, crept one night into the cemetery, caught some of those poor souls, and found that they were crabs, with small wax tapers lighted and fastened on their backs. Frivolous men laughed, but serious men, seeing to what guilty maneuvers the priests had been driven by the love of gain, were seized with horror. ‘Avarice so excites them,’ said Calvin one day, ‘that there is nothing they will not try, how bad soever it may be — treacheries, frauds innumerable, hatreds, poisonings — as soon as the gleam of silver or gold has dazzled their eyes.’

The three captains and their companies, having reached the church, began by exploring the vault where the three saints groaned, and discovered the trick. They found under the altar two earthen vessels connected by a tube, and pierced with holes like those in an organ-pipe, so that the least noise over the vessels produced the effect of organ-bellows, and caused a sound like the indistinct murmur of persons talking. ‘The poor papists could not believe it.’ — ‘No!’ they said; ‘it is St. Nazaire, St. Celsus, and St. Pantaleon.’ — ‘Come and see then,’ answered the reformers. They came and saw, and ‘some of them from that hour refused to believe any more in such abuses.’ The judgment having been accomplished at St. Gervais, the three captains turned their steps towards the church of St. Dominic, one of the chief sanctuaries of popery between the Jura and the Alps. Great miracles were worked there: the huguenots called them ‘great swindles.’ A beautiful image adorned in a costly manner, and representing Our Lady, stood in the church, and had the power (it was said) of calling back to life the children who had died without baptism. Poor people came to Geneva from all the country round, with their lifeless little children, and laid them on the altar before the image. Then a feather placed on the infant’s mouth flew into the air, or else the cheeks flushed with red: sometimes the child perspired. The spectators cried out’ ‘A miracle!’ ‘The child is resuscitated’ (revicoulle ), said the monks. Immediately the bells rang, the child was christened, and then buried. ‘The child had never been restored alive to its father or mother,’ said the huguenots, ‘and yet they had to pay dearly for it.’ The citizens lifted up the altar and found two machines under it: on one side were certain instruments in which they blew to make the child breathe, and on the other some stones which were heated to make the child turn color or perspire. An ointment with which they had smeared it became soft, and gave a certain hue to its flesh. ‘Really,’ exclaimed the Genevans, ‘those who believe such clumsy absurdities ought to have been converted — into blocks!’ Henceforth Our Lady ceased to work miracles. The band of reformers, having passed to the refectory, found there a carving representing a big fat woman at a table cutting up a large pie, with monks seated round her. Beneath were these words from <19D301> Psalm 133, Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

At this moment Farel came up: ‘Is it thus, my fathers,’ he said, ‘that you interpret Holy Scripture? Have you not jeered enough at men, but you must jeer also at the Word of God? By what right do you adapt it to your gluttony?’ ‘Alas!’ exclaimed the monks, ‘excuse us; you have come too late to make us renounce our good customs.’ Meanwhile some huguenots had stopped before another piece of sculpture, at which they were quite amazed. At the top they saw a devil with seven heads: from the devil issued the pope with his triple crown; from the pope issued the cardinals; from the cardinals the bishops, monks, and priests... and below them was a burning furnace representing hell. The reformed Genevans were astonished to find in a convent of St. Dominic a satire upon the papacy, more cutting than all that they had ever imagined. The three captains and their companies arrived at last near the Arve, where stood the church of Notre Dame; but the syndic, informed of what was going on, arrived at the same time, and wishing to save a famous picture of the Virgin, had it carried before them to the hotel-de-ville. There was no lack of raillery; people asked if they were going to work miracles with the picture? and they were compelled to burn it in the great hall to escape the jokes that were showered upon them.

The campaign was over; the citizens returned to their homes; the Christian conscience approved of their work. The suppression of so many shameful frauds — was it not ordered in heaven? From that day mass was sung no longer in any of the churches. The action of the citizens was more than a popular movement: the Reform was strengthened by it. No one would have condemned the vile tricks of the priests more than the honest and brave Luther. Yet Luther, putting specially in the foreground the great doctrine of man’s justification by faith, thundered against indulgences and other pretended good works, but tolerated images; while Zwingle, Farel, and Calvin, regarding especially God, His glory, and His grace, protested against every apotheosis of the creature, against all paganism, and particularly against all images in the Lord’s temple. Here then was a characteristic difference between Lutheranism and the Reform.

Great was the sorrow and anger of the priests. Gathered round the ruins of what they had adored, some remained silent while others uttered cries of horror. The threats of the clergy were such that the alarmed council that very day called the three captains before them, and asked if they intended to obey orders. ‘Certainly,’ they replied; ‘we destroyed the images, because they were set up contrary to God’s Word.’ The syndics, struck with the firmness of those men, summoned the council of Two Hundred for the next day. The next day was the 10th of August, a memorable day which was to decide the destiny of Geneva. There was great agitation throughout the city. Some of the friends of Rome still hoped, trusting in the antiquity of their forms and traditions; but the reformed believed the cause of the Reformation gained, since there was on its side God, His Word, and the majority of the citizens and of the councils. The two hundred senators having taken their place, and many other persons of note sitting near them, Farel appeared, accompanied by Pierre Viret, Jacques Bernard, and several laymen. His slight appearance, his complexion tanned by the sun, and his red beard, so dreaded by the priests, had nothing imposing; but there was in that man a heart burning with love for Christ’s Gospel, and from those thick lips flowed streams of masculine eloquence which carried away all hearers. He advanced firm and sure of the victory of the Reformation. It is written: Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. Fear not. There was much talking and agitation in the assembly: the men who composed it had a presentiment of great things; they felt the importance of the crisis, and, full of anxiety about what would happen, fixed their eyes on Farel.

Silence having been proclaimed, the reformer, holding the minutes of the disputation in his hand, began to speak, and selected as the principal points of the debate the worship of images and the sacrifice of the mass.

He reminded them ‘that most of those who demanded their maintenance had abstained from appearing; that others had not been able to defend them, and that many had rejected them. ‘Why,’ he exclaimed, ‘should not all embrace the Gospel? We are ready, my colleagues and I, not only to make a public confession, but if necessary) to sprinkle it with our blood.’

Then addressing the council directly, and raising his ‘voice of thunder,’ says a Roman-catholic author, he called upon the assembly to deliver a judgment that should give glory to God. ‘What!’ said he: ‘the dominion of the papacy is falling, and would you lift your hands to support what God is overthrowing? Will you always halt between two opinions? If the pope really utters oracles, listen to him; but if the voice we hear in Scripture is God’s voice, do what it ordains.’ — Here Farel stopped: he felt the importance of the decision that was about to be taken, and a profound emotion came over him. Lifting his hands towards heaven, he exclaimed: ‘O God! enlighten this council, make it understand that Thy glory and the salvation of all this people are concerned; humble the loud boasting of the priests, and make Thy cause triumph.’ This ‘earnest prayer,’ as a manuscript terms it, made a deep impression upon all who heard it.

The deliberation began: it was calm, serious, thoughtful, and marked with all the dignity such an important affair demanded. The most earnest reformers would have liked the immediate cessation of popery in Geneva; but the council thought it wiser to proceed slowly. As Farel had uttered a new challenge against the priests, the premier syndic proposed to call upon them to defend the mass and image-worship if they could.

Meanwhile it was ordained, that (not to offend the catholics) the pulling down of images should be stopped, and that (not to offend the reformers)the celebration of mass should cease. These resolutions passed almost unanimously. But Rome was already vanquished and the friends of the reformed were eager to prove it. A layman stood up and said: ‘You call up the priests, but I am much afraid there is not one left in the city. They are all thinking of running away and carrying off the church treasures. Why should we always temporize? The reform of the abuses which disfigured religion, far from damaging its existence, will restore it to itself, just as washing a smeared and dirty picture restores it to its primitive condition. That bishop, those priests, those citizens who run away, are not the Church, they are only deserters.’ The council resolved unanimously that the Romish priests who fled were not carrying the Church of Geneva with them, and ordered an inventory to be taken of all ecclesiastical property.

The sitting then broke up. The mass was suppressed: this was an enormous step. The abolition of the mass was the abolition of popery. The reform was immediately carried into execution. The next day (11th August) a formal order was issued ‘neither to sing nor to say mass’ in the city of Geneva. The frightened priests obeyed: they drew in their horns, they hid themselves, and took good care not to permit the least chant to be heard. Ere long there was a new trouble. They saw the commissioners of the council enter the churches and draw up an inventory of the furniture, jewels, and ecclesiastical property. With down-cast eyes and silent lips, the ministers of Rome beheld the disappearance of the fine portraits, pyxes, chalices, and other precious works, which were removed to a place of safety beyond the reach of dilapidation. They were valued at more than ten thousand crowns. From that day no Roman service was celebrated in the city. There was not to be found among the clergy one of those enthusiastic souls who rush into the midst of danger to uphold and to proclaim their faith.

These bold acts were not, however, accomplished without a murmur. The populace generally was for the Roman worship, and some opposition cries were heard. ‘If the mass is no longer sung,’ said some timid souls to the syndics, ‘the people may rise.’ ‘Ah!’ said some prudent men, ‘if the mass is sung again, that would create a still greater disturbance.’ The council therefore maintained the prohibition. A few catholics, faithful to the superstitions of ages, might be seen going at the canonical hours into the silent churches, wandering like ghosts through the deserted aisles, and shedding tears. Alas! there were no more chants, no more prayers, no more masses, no more litanies, no more incense! The priests and the organ all were silent.

In those days of great alarm a few women only displayed any courage. ‘We will not strike our colors,’ said the sisters of St. Claire. And in fact they did hear the mass, but with closed doors and in low tones in the middle of the choir, and sometimes, for greater security, in the refectory.

Zealous catholics went and knocked stealthily at the convent gate and begged in a whisper to be admitted to the masses celebrated without singing and without pomp. They joined in the service with trembling: they pricked up their ears and were alarmed at the least noise. This fidelity did not last long. Five days later, on the 5th of August, the feast of the Assumption, the last communion took place. The father-confessor and his companions, after saying mass timidly, stole out of the city. While night was gradually stretching its veil over popery and its followers, the sun rose higher upon the friends of the Holy Scriptures. There were no more Latin chants, no more theatrical postures, sacerdotal garments, pictures and incense; none of those practices pleasing to the eye, to the ear, or to the smell, which had so long reigned in the Church; but in their place Jesus Christ; Christ, in the past, making atonement on the cross for the sins of His people; — Christ, in the present, always in the midst of His followers, vivifying, sanctifying, and consoling their hearts. These Christian men had entered into the new era of truth and charity, to which the reformers invited them. While the councils were busy particularly with the maintenance of tranquillity; while the great body sought only independence and liberty — precious goods, but which cannot suffice the small body of truly pious souls, acknowledging the Son of God as the author of a new life, were decided to follow wherever He should lead them.

The fall of the mass, which dates from the 10th of August, was regarded by the reformed as a sign of victory, and the Genevan Church, adopting this idea, celebrates every century in the month of August (reckoning from 1535) the jubilee of its reformation. After three years of struggles the first victory was gained; but a fourth year was to pass away before the definitive establishment of the Reform. Let us therefore continue our march until May 1536, and even until the arrival of Calvin.