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History of the Reformation - Priests, Monks, Nuns, and Vicar-general Depart (August to December 1535.)

Title: History of the Reformation - Priests, Monks, Nuns, and Vicar-general Depart (August to December 1535.)

Author: John Calvin Language: English

63 00005-0062 Priests, Monks, Nuns, and Vicar-General Depart (August to December 1535.) (August to December 1535.)

THE Reformation protested against the hierarchy. It denied that Christ had given to the Church or to its heads the power of making laws by the fulfillment of which Christians would be justified before God. The Reformation protested against monkery. It denied that a cloistered life could merit salvation and give a piety superior to what the Word of God requires of all Christians; it reproached the monastic discipline with lowering the divine institutions of marriage, government, and labor; and was an occasion of backsliding and unheard-of scandal.

The priests were about to quit Geneva and carry away with them those abuses; but the council, which always studied to proceed by equitable ways, would not condemn them without hearing them. The monks of the different convents, demoralized and trembling like culprits, had, it is true, fled in great numbers. Still there were some remaining, and they received an order to appear before the Great Council to defend their faith. They were very alarmed, but the order was peremptory. On the morning of the 12th of August those members of the order of St. Dominic,

St. Augustin, St. Francis, and the minors of Ste. Claire who were still in Geneva arrived at the hotel-de-ville. They were twelve in number, a poor remnant of those powerful bodies who for long had possessed such great power in the city.

The twelve, standing with bent heads before the council, heard a summary of the disputation

read, and this added to their alarm. The premier syndic having asked them if they had anything to say in favor of the mass and of images, all remained silent. St. Dominic, St. Francis, and even St. Augustin were dumb before the Reform. The syndics, desiring at any price to extract a sound from them, ordered the monks to be called up one after the other.

Chapelain, a brother of St. Dominic, was called first. ‘We are simple people,’ he said, ‘who cannot answer for want of knowledge. We are accustomed to live as our fathers lived and to believe as the Church does.

Do not ask us about matters beyond our reach.’ The other monks were unanimous in requesting that they might be permitted not to inquire into such questions. Monkery fell in Geneva amid universal astonishment and indignation.

But after the monks came the priests. Monseigneur de Bonmont, vicarepiscopal, had, at the request of the council, assembled the canons and the secular clergy at his house. The same day (12th August) in the afternoon, a distinguished deputation of syndics and councilors, wishing to honor the church, went to the grand-vicar, instead of making him come to the hotelde- ville like the monks. The wise and pious Savoye, who had been elected spokesman, informed the priests that a summary of the great disputation having been drawn up, it was about to be read to them,

‘that they might come to a better decision.’ The latter displayed less weakness than the monks. Indignant that laymen should presume to catechise the priesthood, they replied haughtily: ‘We do not want to hear your debate, and we do not care what Farel said. We wish to live as we have hitherto done, and beg you will leave us in peace.’ As the priests rejected the opportunity given them of justifying their doctrines, the representatives of the state interdicted them from celebrating mass until further orders. Some days later the council ordered them ‘to worship God according to the Gospel,’ and forbade them to perform ‘any act of popish idolatry.’ A great and salutary revolution was thus carried out. The Romish priests, seeing their vast temples now

silent, their rich abbeys now bare, and themselves reduced to silence, determined to quit Geneva. The fear of being detained made them have recourse to various expedients. In the evening or early in the morning they stole out of the city, or else, hiding in some corner daring the day, they fled during the night. Priests, laymen, women holding their children’s hands, bade adieu to the cheerful city, to the shores of the beautiful lake, and to its smiling hills. They loved Rome and Rome was sufficient for them. On the 13th of August a cry of alarm was heard in the council: ‘Geneva,’ it was said, ‘by losing a part of its population, will lose its importance.’ But it was the contrary that happened. Confessors of the Gospel compelled to quit their country in the cause of faith, and especially Frenchmen, were to fill up the void made by the adherents of the pope.

The exodus continued day and night, but not without difficulty. Jean Regis, a priest, and two of his colleagues crept one dark night to the back of St. Victor’s convent, entered the stables, and took out three horses.

They were preparing to mount them when they were arrested. The council assembled at two hours after midnight, and sent to prison the priests who were running away on stolen horses. The council prevented the clergy from laying hands upon what did not belong to them, but not from going wherever they pleased.

A great number of ecclesiastics and laymen succeeded, however, in gaining the states of the Duke of Savoy, and wherever they went they stirred up the anger of the catholics against Geneva. The storm that was brewing became more threatening. It was not enough for the

Genevans to see their fields laid waste, they learnt from Savoy that the city itself was going to be destroyed. The citizens thrilled with anger: ‘As the attack is to take place in favor of popery,’ they said, ‘it is right that popery should pay for the defense.’ The council, therefore, decided that the church jewels should be devoted to the necessities of the state. The priests of St. Germain, St. Gervais, and other parishes brought their reliquaries and vessels; but the proctors of the Madeleine appeared empty-handed at the hotel-de-ville, and said: ‘By what right do you demand our treasures?’ At the same time the ex-syndic, Jean Balard, and other catholics, seizing the opportunity, exclaimed: ‘Why do you deprive us of our masses?’ But the council was firm, and the priests of the Madeleine, quite brokenhearted, were obliged to bring their chalices and other vessels to aid in combating the defenders of their faith. As the value of these ornaments did not exceed three hundred crowns, those of St. Pierre were added to them. It was time for Geneva to be on its guard. At the beginning of September 1535, the ambassador from the duke of Savoy, prince of Piedmont, informed the pope (on behalf of his master) of what had taken place and asked for prompt repression. He told the pontiff that ‘on the 10th of August the wretched Lutherans had abolished religion; that they had entered the churches, had thrown out the relics and the images, had proclaimed the mass to be an abuse, and had set the ministers preaching.’

Paul III. was thunderstruck; but true to his silent habits, he only expressed his surprise by signs. He shrugged his shoulders, said the ambassador, as if a thrill of horror had run through him.

Then bowing his head he sighed gently, and said in a low tone: ‘Holy Virgin! Holy Virgin!’ and sank into a deep silence. But if his lips were dumb and his body motionless, his mind, full of activity, was agitated and sought some means of conjuring the evil.

At last, breaking silence, he turned to the ambassador: ‘Tell the duke that he has behaved like a good servant of the Church. He has done all in his power to prevent this disaster. Let him persevere in the same course.’ The duke understood him, and, secure of the support of the pope and of his brother-in-law the emperor, he continued his preparations against Geneva.

During this time the houses of the priests who remained in the city, and the aisles of the almost deserted cloisters, resounded with wailings. This was particularly the case in the convent of St. Claire. ... Penitusque cavae plangoribus aedes Femineis ululant. That convent was the only one worthy of any interest: the reformers wished to attempt to introduce a little light into it. The Sunday of the Octave after the Visitation of the Virgin, the syndics, with Farel, Viret, one of the monks who had embraced the reform, and about a dozen notables of the city, made their appearance there about ten o’clock. When the sisters were assembled, Farel took for his text the gospel of the day: ‘Maria abiit cum festinatione in civitatem Judoe :’ ‘Mary went with haste into a city of Juda,’ ( Luke 1:39) and tried to enlighten the nuns. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘the Virgin Mary did not lead a solitary life; she was diligent in aiding others, and went to the town where her cousin, who was older than herself, lived, in order to do her a service. God said in the days of the Creation: It is not good that the man should be alone . Why then should man contradict this law of God?

The Lord is unwilling that any restraint should be imposed upon the conscience, since he has given it liberty. The service rendered to God in the cloisters is therefore a diabolical tyranny.’ At these words the mothervicar, a violent woman, rose hastily, left her seat, went and put herself between the sisters and the heretics , and said sharply to the latter: ‘Be off, for you will gain nothing here!’ — ‘Return to your place,’ said the syndics; but the mother replied. ‘I will do nothing of the sort.’

Consequently they turned her out.

Farel continued: ‘What is this monastic life that is substituted for holy matrimony and liberty? It is a life full of great abuses, monstrous errors, and carnal corruption.’ At these words the sisters began to cry out, ‘It is a falsehood,’ and spat at the reformer in their wrath. But Farel, who had suffered worse things than this, said to the confessor: ‘We know that many of these poor young women would willingly come to the truth and liberty, if you and the old ones did not keep them so close.’ While saying these words he was stopped by loud blows which prevented his being heard. It was the mother-vicar, who had been listening to him; she struck against the partition with her fists, and cried out: ‘Hah! you wretched, cursed man! You are wasting your coaxing words. Bah! you will make nothing of them!’ She then backed up her words by a terrible drumming upon the panels. Some of the sisters stopped their ears with wax, so as not to hear Farel’s sermon. The latter, calling to mind the saying, Give not that which is holy unto the dogs , retired, and the deputation went down the staircase. The monk who had embraced the Reform

was the last of the file; one of the sisters walked behind him, thumping him on the shoulders with her fists, and saying: ‘Wretched apostate, out of my sight!’ ‘But this fine fellow did not seem to notice them,’ says Jeanne, who was present; ‘he said not a word, his tongue was palsied.’ The same could not be said of the mother-vicar, and some others, who kept on vociferating and thumping. Farel returned no more to the convent.

One nun, however, had opened her heart to the Gospel. Claudine Levet, who had a sister named Blaisine Varembert, in the cloister, had often visited her, had given her a New Testament, and prayed night and day to God that Blaisine might be enlightened. The latter was touched with the love of the Savior, of which Claudine had spoken to her; and on the festival of Corpus Christi she refused to adore the holy sacrament. Three of the sisters fell upon her, ‘and bruised her all over.’ They put her in prison, and tied her hands and feet. ‘Ah!’ said Blaisine, ‘you keep me in prison, because I reproach you for making good cheer and living in strife with one another day and night.’ Claudine Levet and some other Genevan ladies, with Baudichon de la Maisonneuve and Pierre Vandel, went to the convent with the intention of liberating the poor girl. The

mother-vicar ‘stood upright on her feet,’ and said: ‘Gentlemen, consider well what you are about to do, for if any man comes near, either he or I shall die upon the spot.’ Upon this, the men remaining in the back-ground, two or three ladies approached the prisoner.

The latter, standing by the side of her sister, declared that she desired to serve God purely, according to Holy Scripture, and added that she was detained in the convent against her will. ‘In that case you are free,’ said De la Maisonneuve. To no purpose did the mother-vicar rush impetuously forward, wishing to detain her by force, and several nuns did the same; Blaisine left the convent without saying a word, entered a neighboring house, took off her religious dress, and went in plain garments to her sister’s. Claudine and Blaisine could not, however, make up their minds to abandon the poor recluses. Possessing the Word of God, and the salvation that it announces, they desired to share their good things with them. The Genevese ladies, attached to the Gospel, had much faith and activity. The two sisters, therefore, returned to the convent on Saturday, 28th, and Sunday, 29th August, and Dame Claude began to speak; but the nuns tossed their heads, and called out: ‘Oh the great story-teller! Oh the devil incarnate!’ And the

mother-vicar, turning towards a syndic who had accompanied Claudine, along with other ‘respectable persons,’ said: ‘Take that witch away from here.’ ‘Beware how you abuse her,’ answered the magistrate, ‘for she is a holy creature, enlightened by the true God, and produces great fruits by her divine doctrines, converting the poor ignorant people, and continually taking great pains for the salvation of souls.’ ‘Convert ,’ exclaimed the superior, ‘you should rather say pervert .’ At the same time the sisters spat in her face, according to the report of one of their number. When the syndic saw this, he lost all hope. The duke of Savoy invited the sisters to take refuge in his states, making them fine promises. ‘Fair ladies,’ said the magistrate, ‘name the day you wish to depart.’ — ‘Tomorrow,’ said the mother-superior, ‘to-morrow, at daybreak.’ — ‘Fair ladies,’ resumed the syndic, ‘pack up your goods.’ Early next morning the syndics arrived, when the sisters, after singing a De Profundis , put their breviaries under their arm, and drew up in two ranks.

The mother-vicar placed the young sisters, who might have any longing to quit the veil, by the side of some sturdy nuns who could detain them. A great crowd had assembled before the convent and in the streets. Seeing this, many of the nuns ‘shrank back with fear,’ but the

courageous superior said, with animation: ‘Cheer up, my sisters, make the sign of the cross, and keep our Lord in your hearts.’ They stepped forward. This procession of veiled and silent women represented Roman-catholicism leaving Geneva. Sobs were heard here and there. Three hundred archers marched in front, behind, and at the side of the nuns, to protect them. ‘If any one moves,’ said the syndic to the spectators, ‘he shall lose his head.’

The crowd looked on silently as the sisters passed along. When the procession arrived at the Arve bridge, where the territory of the city ceased, the nuns, who had imagined they would find the duke and his court waiting at the frontiers of his states to receive them with great honor,

could see nobody. A poor monk alone appeared, bringing a wretched wagon, in order to carry the old and sick. The rain and the muddy roads delayed their progress. The poor nuns, who knew nothing but their convent, were startled at everything. Seeing a few sheep grazing in a meadow, they screamed aloud, taking them (says one of the sisters) for ravening wolves . A little farther on, some cows which were in the fields, attracted by this troop passing along, stretched out their heads towards the road, and lowed. The nuns imagined they were hungry bears , and had not

even strength to run away. At nightfall they reached St. Julien, having taken fifteen hours to go a short league. The next day they entered Annecy, where the duke gave them the monastery of the Holy Cross. All the bells of the city rang at their arrival. Here the poor nuns found some repose; but they did not forget the judgment of God that had banished them from Geneva, and did not hide the cause of their misfortunes. ‘Ah!’ said Sister Jeanne de Jussie, ‘the prelates and churchmen did not observe their vows at this time, but squandered dissolutely the ecclesiastical property, keeping women in adultery and lubricity, and awakening the anger of God , which brought divine punishment on them.’ If the truth extorted such a confession from a nun, an honest but fanatical disciple of popery, we may understand what the reformed thought and said. A cry came from their hearts against the immorality and hypocrisy of those who ought to have been their guides. Hence there was great agitation among the priests; they came running in a distracted manner to Monseigneur de Bonmont, and asking him: ‘What is to be done? must we stay or go?’

The grand-vicar thought it was necessary to go. Public opinion declared unequivocally against him: he was one of those priests who called forth Sister Jeanne’s reproof. ‘Monseigneur keeps in his house several mistresses and agents of debauchery,’ people said. ‘Gaming, mots de gueule , dances, banquets, impudicity, and every kind of dissolute living, are his delight. He generally has five vile prostitutes at his table, seated according to their degree, two at his right and two at his left, while the oldest waits upon the others. He smiles when he talks of impudicity, and says, “It is a mere backsliding, and does not count.”’ Seeing the storm grow darker, the wretched priest was terrified in his conscience, and resolved to act like his bishop, and quit a city where he could no longer live as he had always lived. The Reformation was the re-establishment of morality as well as of faith. Monseigneur fled to the mountain, to solitude in the abbey of Bonmont, near Nyon, on a spur of the Jura, which overlooks Lake Leman and its rich valley. Another terror was soon to drive him thence. The anger of God (spoken of by Jeanne) continued to work out his judgments: opprobrium accumulated on those priests who had thought themselves the kings of the earth. On the 18th of September, some of the citizens having caught one of them in an act of impurity, they set him on a donkey, and paraded him thus through the city, making his mistress, disguised as a lackey, walk behind him. Serious men disapproved of such buffoonery. ‘Ah!’ they said, ‘disease, the consequence of their disorders, has so punished them, that as we see them pass

along in their processions we might imagine them to be soldiers returning from the war, they are so covered with scars — true martyrs of the pope!’ The magistrates would have liked not to punish them, not to banish them, but to reform them. ‘Give up,’ they said, ‘your dances, gluttony, and dissolute living, and dwell in our city according to God’s law, like citizens and good friends.’ But that seemed too difficult for the priests: they preferred to leave Geneva.

The most active, however, remained. Dupan and some of his colleagues went from house to house, strengthening the weak. They might be seen passing along the streets, wearing their sacerdotal vestments. If a child was born, they hastened to christen it according to the Roman ritual; if fervent Catholics desired the sacrament, they met secretly in some chamber, knelt down before a hastily constructed altar, crossed themselves, and said mass. They even carried their zeal so far as to visit certain of the reformed, in order to bring them back to the fold of the Church. At the very moment when the edifice was giving way on all sides, their natural inflexibility and enthusiasm for the papacy made them remain, as if their feeble hands were

sufficient to support it. Such courage claims our admiration, but the reformed considered it rather as a matter for serious anxiety. They felt the necessity of concord and unity at this critical moment. ‘See what your condescension exposes us to,’ they said to the magistrates. ‘Just as the enemy is marching against the city, these priests are going to stir up a civil war within our gates.’ The syndics who knew the danger and the necessities of the city, thought that the best means of securing to Geneva her independence and her faith, would be to set everything in good order.

The Reformation is a good tree; let it therefore bear its fruit! Christians ought to take care of their sick and of their poor. Accordingly, a general hospital was founded at Ste. Claire, and endowed with the revenues of the old hospitals and the property become ownerless through the departure of the ecclesiastics. Claude Salomon, one of the most fervent evangelicals, dedicated himself, his wife, and his fortune to its service.

Christians ought to take care of their children. It is true that in 1429, F. de Versonex, the syndic, had founded a school where grammar, logic, and the liberal arts were taught; but the director of that institution having left the city, the school had been shut. It must be restored and improved. Farel and his friends required that the instruction should be universal — for all children. The school was established in the place which is still named Rue du Vieux College, and its direction intrusted to Saunier, a capable man. After the extirpation of ignorance came the suppression of mendicity. An order was published by sound of trumpet on the 29th of October, ‘that no person should beg, but seek shelter in the poor-house.’ Subsequently these institutions received important developments. It was not until the period when the college and academy were founded by Calvin that instruction took a start in Geneva, which carried intellectual culture to such a height in that city. But the starting-point was Saunier’s college, where primary instruction was mixed up with religion. The Reformation launched Geneva like a ship, which at first coasts along the nearest shores, but reaches at last the remotest seas. It was not simply a matter of theological dogma, as some believe; it developed the conscience, the understanding, and the heart, and regulated the will. It did not form merely a few Christian men; it gave to that city a new people, school, church, literature, science, and charity; it gave new value to the great interests of man, and called into existence a well-spring of useful research and elevated thoughts. The

Reformation was able to say: Humani nihil a me alienum puto. While the council was carrying out these beneficent measures, a certain number of agitated and restless priests kept going from house to house, consulting together and professing opinions that tended to rebellion.

Instead of taking harsh measures against them, the magistrates loyally determined to give them a fresh opportunity of defending their faith. On the 29th of November thirty priests, headed by Dupan, appeared before the council. There were still thirty priests in Geneva and only three ministers! It was not, therefore, by numbers and by the might of man, that the Reformation was established, but by the power of God. The premier syndic asked them to undertake the defense of popery. ‘We have neither the ability nor the learning,’ answered Dupan; and he added: ‘Sooner than expose our religion to a new discussion, we will give up all pastoral functions.’ The priesthood abdicated. On the 6th of December the council again called the priests before them, and gave them this option: ‘If your doctrine is good, defend it; if bad, renounce it.’ Then the break-up began. ‘For a long time,’ said Delorme, ‘I have been saying mass unwillingly,’ and he passed over, with others, to the side of the Reform. Some left the city; and the council required that those who remained ‘should wear other hats,’ and live like the rest of the citizens. Lastly, wishing to make it evident that there was no longer in Geneva either bishop or prince, the

council voted that the episcopal palace should be converted into a prison. This was no change in its destination, according to certain sarcastic huguenots, since the bishop and his see had never been of any use but to keep liberty captive. Thus ended the existence of the Romish priesthood in Geneva.

The magistrates, far from persecuting catholicism, had on several occasions put the priests in a position to defend it: it was the religion of the popes that fled and made way for the religion of the Holy Scriptures. Complete religious liberty, the conquest of modern times, did not certainly preside at that day in the councils of the republic; but as an historian of Geneva, who is not a protestant, has said, ‘We must not demand of an age ideas, theories, and acts which could not exist until after events and revolutions still to come.’ Seeing that the priests were departing, that their chants no longer reechoed through the lofty Gothic aisles, that the tapers no longer burnt upon the gorgeous altars and the varied ceremonial had disappeared, Farel, Viret, and Froment came forward and said: ‘We are ready to preach without sparing ourselves either weariness or labor, and to employ all the power of the Word to lead the flock into the straight road with wisdom and gentleness.’ And in fact from that hour the Word which awakeneth and teacheth was heard daily in the churches, and particularly at St. Pierre and St. Gervais. The hearers said that these true ministers of the Gospel ‘did not behave like old-clothes men (revendeurs ), who are accustomed to polish up their wares and put a gloss upon their old rags, in order to get more money for them; but they offered the pure and simple doctrine of Jesus Christ.’ Many felt that

the Word of God was a sword which pierces to the heart and kills the old man in such a manner that a new man takes the place of him that was slain.

Farel assembled the people in the cathedral in order that they should all pray for peace to God who giveth it. These prayers ascended to heaven. Geneva was to have peace, but after new trials.