The Reformation In French Switzerland
Only a small portion of what may now be termed French Switzerland lay within the bounds of the Swiss Confederacy at the opening of the Reformation. Berne and Freyburg had some French districts under their jurisdiction; but the territory of the present French cantons, Neufchatel, Vaud, and Geneva, was outside the Confederacy. It was not till after a long time, and a great variety of political relations, that Neufchatel became an integral part of the Swiss Republic. Vaud was conquered by Berne from Savoy in 1536, and remained under its jurisdiction till the time of Napoleon. Geneva, which was perhaps the oldest city in Switzerland, had been for a long period under a somewhat mixed rule. As early as the tenth century, the bishop acquired the principal share in the sovereignty. At that time he recognized the general supremacy of the King of Burgundy. In the twelfth century the German Emperor took the place of the Burgundian King. But while the bishop, more than any other, had the immediate rule, he was obliged to contend with rivals. The counts of Geneva, who served to some extent as his agents in the management of temporal affairs, were disposed to encroach upon his prerogatives. In the disputes which followed, the citizens, by dexterous management of their relations to the contending parties, found opportunity to gain new privileges and franchises. During the thirteenth century another factor came on to the stage, --the counts of Savoy, who afterwards took the title of dukes. Ere long they supplanted the counts of Geneva. After the early part of the fifteenth century, they also succeeded in bringing the episcopal sovereignty into a subservient relation, through the practice of giving the episcopal office to one of their own family. Meanwhile the citizens asserted their right to a share in the government, and maintained such means of self-rule as a general council, a council of twenty, and a board of syndics. In the early part of the sixteenth century, the struggle took a decisive turn. It being the manifest design of the Savoyan duke to incorporate Geneva with Savoy, the party of independence bestirred itself, and put forth every effort to foil his scheme. By alliance with Freyburg and Berne, they gained a complete victory. All connection with Savoy was abolished. The bishop was confined to ecclesiastical functions, and a republican constitution was introduced, the chief legislative authority being vested in a council of two hundred which was filled by the vote of the people. When Calvin came to Geneva in 1536, it appeared in the character of a Protestant republic, in alliance with Berne, but not yet a member of the Swiss Confederacy.
William Farel was the pioneer of the Reformation in French Switzerland. He was born at Gap in Dauphiny in 1489. The first incentive to the evangelical faith was received by him at Paris, under the tuition of Lefèvre. As he was led to study the Bible, his impetuous zeal for Romanism gave way before his astonishment at the disparity between it and the scriptural teaching. Soon he was as devoted to the new faith as he had been to the old, and he went forward to advocate its claims in no spirit of caution or compromise. By nature a man of action, courageous almost to the point of a reckless disregard of personal consequences, and withal gifted with a powerful address, he was well qualified to awaken men from the slumber of tradition. The timid and the time-serving looked upon him askance. To such a man as Erasmus he was perfectly intolerable. Probably he was not suited, in a high degree, to build up a symmetrical structure; but he excelled in the rough work of breaking up and preparing the ground. Driven out of France by persecution, after a brief sojourn in Basle and Strasburg, he began in 1526 to labor in the French districts under the jurisdiction of Berne. His daring methods provoked fierce opposition, and his life was more than once endangered. But he kept in motion, renewed the attack when once defeated, and ended in triumph. By 1530 he had secured a good foothold for the Reformation in Neufchatel, as well as in other places of less importance. 1 See C. Schmidt. Wilhelm Farel und Peter Viret.
Peter Viret, a disciple of Farel, and his co-laborer in French Switzerland, had similar experience of hardships. At one time he was nearly killed by an infuriated priest; and through all his later years, he suffered from the effects of poison which was designed to destroy both him and his brother evangelists. In disposition and in method of labor he was very different from Farel. He preferred quiet to the storm, tempered zeal with an appearance of moderation, and sought to win by persuasive address. The foundation of the important work at Lausanne was due mainly to him.
In Geneva, political and patriotic interests helped to prepare a door of entrance for the fearless preachers. The fact that the bishop had became a tool of the Duke of Savoy in the attempt to overthrow the liberties of the city was not helpful to the interests of Romanism. Not a few minds also (were revolted by the notorious corruption of the Genevese priests and monks.
2 They seem to have shared liberally in the traits of libertines and banditti. In 1502 the police were obliged to break down the doors of the monastery to rescue young maidens whom the monks had kidnapped in open day upon the streets. Shortly before the year 1586, the people had occasion to storm the palace of the bishop to take from his grasp an honorable maiden upon whom with equal audacity and indecency he had laid violent hands. (Gaberel, as quoted by Stähelin in his Johann Calvin ) Moreover, the influence of Berne, whose friendship was indispensable on political grounds, afforded a strong support to those who favored a religious reform.
Farel made his first visit to Geneva in 1532. The council showed him a measure of consideration; but as he came before the ecclesiastics, he encountered men more ready to mob than to listen. The scene is so characteristic of Farel's ministerial experience, that a part of it may well be introduced. The priests met him with the cry, "Come, give an account of yourself, you accursed devil of a Farel. What are you prowling around for, to involve every thing in disturbance ? Who has called you to this city, and by what authority do you preach?" Farel answered, "I am no devil. I journey about to preach Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and rose for our justification. I am sent of God as a herald of Jesus Christ, to preach Him to as many as will listen; and I am ready to give an account of my faith if you mill listen to me in patience. I am no disturber of the peace of this city. It is you, rather, who have filled not only this city but the world with confusion, through your maxims of men and your corrupt lives." At this response a bystander exclaimed, "He has uttered blasphemy. What need have we of any further witness? He is guilty of death; into the Rhone with him ! It is better that this accursed Luther should die, than that all the people should be ruined by him." "Speak the words of God, and not of Caiaphas," replied Farel. The cries of execration and vengeance were now redoubled. It was with difficulty that the brave preacher escaped. One made a thrust at him with a dagger, and another attempted to fire upon him with a gun. Farel was obliged to leave the city, but not to abandon the enterprise. A young man by the name of Froment was persuaded to renew the effort. He began as a teacher, and succeeded in collecting a small company devoted to the gospel, when the opposition became so fierce that he was obliged to leave. Berne made complaint over the treatment of the evangelists. Finally, the government of Geneva so far yielded, as to appoint a disputation (1534) for testing the merits of the new teaching. The Reformers won the day. Farel was allowed to preach in the city; and matters progressed so rapidly that in 1535 the council issued an edict abolishing Romish rites, and giving a legal sanction to the preaching of the gospel after the new mode.
In 1536, a cultured young man, twenty-seven years of age, stopped for the night at Geneva, intending to resume his journey on the morrow. Farel, who felt that the talents of the stranger would make him an invaluable ally to himself, found him out, and besought him to remain in Geneva. The young man, being far more disposed to scholarly retirement than to the harassing encounters of a public ministry, gave an emphatic refusal. Farel replied that he might, if he chose, selfishly confine himself to his studies, but the curse of God would rest upon him in so doing. Struck by the words of the fiery preacher, the young man yielded, and concluded to stop in Geneva. He began forthwith to deliver theological lectures, and was soon prevailed upon to accept the position of a pastor. This young man was John Calvin.
John Calvin (or Cauvin), born at Noyon in 1509, belonged to a family of middle rank and condition. He distinguished himself as a youth by his studious and serious temper. He had little relish for the amusements of his companions, and reproved with much decision their disorderly conduct. At the age of twelve he was nominated to a chaplaincy, in accordance with the wide-spread custom of the age to bestow ecclesiastical titles and revenues upon mere children. Two years later he went to Paris, where he enjoyed superior facilities for education in the classics and the scholastic philosophy. Changing the direction of his studies, in accordance with the wishes of his father, he next devoted himself to the law at Orleans, where his remarkable ease of acquisition, aided by an astonishing memory, soon gained for him the honor of Doctor of Laws. At Bourges, where he continued his law studies, he learned more perfectly concerning Luther and his work. Having his attention directed to the Bible, he sought a mastery of Greek and Hebrew, for the sake of a more satisfactory understanding of the Word. Going a second time to Paris, be gave himself zealously to theological study, and espoused with full conviction the Protestant cause. His first work, given out when he was twenty-four years of age, was a tribute to his classical studies rather than to his religious zeal. It consisted of a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia. But an oration which he composed near the same time (1533) for Nicolas Cop, to be delivered by the latter as the newly elected rector of the Paris University, had a very positive religious aim, -- consisted, in fact, of a defence of the evangelical teaching. The delivery of the oration made a great stir. Cop and Calvin were obliged to flee. Two years later Calvin came to Basle. Here was issued the first edition of his Christian Institutes. This work, though much expanded in later editions, contained the essential principles of the Calvinian system. After a short sojourn in Italy, at the court of the French princess Renée in Ferrara, Calvin found his way to Geneva. Not attempting an exhaustive consideration of his career, we notice a few of the more significant points respecting the Genevan Reformer.
1. CALVIN AS MAN AND THEOLOGIAN. -- He is described as having been of medium stature, with a sallow complexion, and an eye of piercing brightness. He was much less a man of the people than Luther or Zwingli. In comparison with them, he might be termed aristocratic in his tastes. While capable of very lucid and edifying address, he was not gifted with the fervid popular eloquence either of the German or the Swiss reformer. Beta says that he despised mere eloquence, and was sparing in the use of words, though when he spoke it was always in choice phrase and to the point. 1 Life of Calvin.
Calvin was also less the man of the family and the nation than Luther or Zwingli. The slightest acquaintance with him would lead us to expect no such full and warmly colored domestic scene as is presented in Luther's life, though there is no reason to question the happiness of his married life with Idelette de Bure, and his profound grief over her early death. While Luther was German from centre to circumference, and Zwingli appears emphatically under the guise of the Swiss patriot, Calvin stands comparatively apart from national associations. The characteristics of the French man are not conspicuous, and we should find but moderate difficulty in thinking of him as native to any one of a number of countries.
This is explained in large part by the subordination of the emotive element in Calvin, intellect being far less than the heart a mirror of the local and special. On the emotional side, his nature was undoubtedly less strong and rich than that of Luther. He had little of his poetic sensibility, and was a total stranger to his abounding humor. He was more self-controlled, but his wrath when once excited burned with even greater fierceness. While far from being habitually morose, as is manifest from the testimony of his associates, he lacked the art of easy accommodation to the standpoint of others. The accent of the censor was apt to be mingled with his counsels. "Through life he had a tone, in reminding men of their real or supposed delinquencies, which provoked resentment. To those much older than himself, to men like Cranmer and Melanchthon, he wrote in this unconsciously cutting style. There was much in the truthfulness, fidelity, and courage, which he manifests even in his reproofs, to command respect. Yet there was a tart quality which, coupled with his unyielding tenacity of opinion, was adapted to provoke disesteem. We learn from Calvin himself that Melanchthon, mild as he was naturally, was so offended by the style of one of his admonitory epistles, that he tore it in pieces." 1 G. P. Fisher, History of the Reformation.
We see here, however, the unconscious aggressiveness of a strong nature, rather than a selfish disregard for the feelings or interests of others. That in the central current of his life Calvin was eminently unselfish, is not to be questioned. Many a page in his history shows this. It was at the sacrifice of self that he entered primarily upon the rasping and harassing work of organizing the reform at Geneva. When driven out after two years, together with his colleagues, by the party opposed to their measures, he refused to take counsel with resentment. Consulting for the good of the congregation from which he had been exiled, he wrote to Farel that he would sooner depart entirely out of the way of his opponents, than by remaining in the neighborhood give any ground for the suspicion that he intended to repay them like for like. 1 Bonnet, Calvin's Epistles, English edition, Epist. xxii. When summoned back, after three years spent mainly in Strasburg, he looked upon the summons as a call to martyrdom. Writing to Viret respecting the proposed return, he said, "Why not rather submit to be crucified? It would be better to perish at once, than to be tormented to death in that chamber of torture." 2 Paul Henry, Life of Calvin, i. 249, in translation by Stebbing: Bonnet, Epist. xlvii. Nevertheless, as soon as he was convinced that the interests of religion required it, he set his face toward Geneva. In some relations, it is true, the conduct of Calvin suggests a species of selfishness. The hardness with which he treated certain theological opponents seems to savor of an egoistic attachment to his own system of opinions. Very likely, in defending his system the natural wish to guard his own honor and intellectual supremacy mingled with other motives; still his main interest was to serve the truth rather than to exalt Calvin. Moreover, exhibitions of magnanimity on his part toward those of a different theological school are not wanting. For example, as, in 1544, Bullinger was about to reply to a violent attack of Luther upon the Swiss, Calvin admonished him to treat the German Reformer with moderation and respect, in consideration of his wonderful gifts and extraordinary services in overthrowing the realm of Antichrist. "I have often remarked," he wrote of Luther, "that, even if he should call me a devil, I would still hold him in such honor as to acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God." 1 Bonnet, Epist. cxxii. In his relations with Melanchthon, also, he showed a very fair degree of liberality; indeed, he performed an act displaying much of personal and theological generosity. While the "Loci Communes" of Melanchthon was the only work of systematic theology which could come into competition with his "Institutes," and was, moreover, opposed to his position on the subject of predestination, he not only took pains to translate it into French, but also warmly commended it to his countrymen.
In intellect, Calvin was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century. The mere amount of the work which he accomplished in the space of about thirty years attests extraordinary capacity. His routine duties as teacher, preacher, and administrator, were such that it is difficult to conceive how there could have been time or strength for other tasks. In fact, however, the additional labors were of great compass. He carried on an extensive correspondence, responding with much pains-taking to the manifold inquiries which came from the great multitude that owned him as the master mind among all the leaders in the religious revolution. He assisted in preparing the translation of the Bible which passed into general use among the French Protestants, though his work in this line was of much less significance than that of Luther. His commentaries, distinguished for lucidity, terseness, and rational attention to the trend of each writing, covered the larger part of the Bible. Not a few controversial treatises came from his pen. Crowning all, was his great work in systematic theology, to which he gave the finishing touch five years before his death. As one surveys this list of achievements, he can readily credit Calvin with that mental trait of which Beza makes special note, --a memory of wonderful tenacity and promptness, which brought under control all the acquisitions gained through years of industrious research. Along with this was associated great keenness, logical vigor, and firmness of mental grasp. To an extraordinary degree, he was exempt from that haziness of view which involves a prolonged chance for change and amendment of opinions. "In the doctrine which he delivered at the first," says Beza, "he persisted steadily to the last, scarcely making any change." 1 Life of Calvin. And Scaliger has remarked that it is an astonishing fact that one who wrote so much as Calvin should have found no occasion to retract any thing. 2 Stähelin, I. 64. Every one must allow that he laid hold upon a wide circle of truth with great vigor and precision. His system was strong, massive, and to a large degree consistent. The defect was that it was not broad enough to assign a due place to all important truths.
The limitations which are conspicuous in the theological system of Calvin may be imputed in part to his age, and in part to his personal characteristics. From the one came the foundation tenet respecting divine sovereignty and predestination; from the other, the decisive rendering and resolute elaboration of that tenet. Usage has so interwoven the doctrine of irresistible divine decrees with the name of Calvinism, as almost to convey the impression that the Genevan Reformer was its originator. This is far from being the case. The doctrine was part and parcel of Reformation theology in its primitive stage. Luther and Zwingli expressed it in most unqualified terms. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, against whose legalism and theory of merit it was naturally employed by the Reformers, it held a place. Bellarmin taught it with qualification which ameliorated it more in appearance than in reality. Still Calvin was peculiarly the champion of the doctrine. With Luther and Zwingli it was more a side thesis than a matter of central attention and repeated emphasis. The generosity of God, and the gratuitousness of His salvation, were the prominent points with the German Reformer. Calvin had the resolution to look at the reverse side of predestination. His hardy spirit, like that of Dante, peered unblanched into the abyss of reprobation. By force of natural disposition and juristic training, he was inclined to the standpoint of the law-giver. On this basis he wrought out his conception of God. A relative lack of the heart element left him with imperfect premises. Accordingly justice and sovereignty, which allow of no exception and no contingency, filled up too wide a compass in his thoughts of Deity. He was more in fellowship with the spirit of the Old Testament than with that of the New, and drew from the former the majority of the texts upon which he discoursed, if we may judge from such sermons and homilies as have been preserved. Having determined his conception of God, Calvin made this the standard by which every thing else was to be measured. "He meditates and imagines," says Guizot; "and, if I dared, I would say he presents God to us and describes Him as if he knew Him thoroughly. He then summons man into the presence of God, and denies or calmly rejects every thing in him which does not accord with or cannot be adjusted to the God whom he has conceived and depicted. He denies the free-will of man, and affirms his predestination, because he imagines that man's free-will is opposed to the idea which he has formed of the omnipotence and omniscience of God, and that his predestination is necessary to it." 1 St. Louis and Calvin. This describes very fairly the method of Calvin. It should be observed, however, that it does not express Calvin's own conception of his method. He had no thought of building on a speculative basis, but believed that every important item in his system was clearly dictated by the Word of God before which he bowed in profound homage.
Whatever the dogmatic defects or merits of Calvin's Institutes, it was well qualified to exert a powerful influence. Its tone of energy and confidence took captive a large proportion of the minds of that militant generation. Its grasp of biblical and patristic lore, and its cogency of argumentation, made it a dreaded instrument in the eyes of opponents. Florimond de Raemond described the work as "the Koran, the Talmud of heresy, the foremost cause of our downfall." 1 F. W. Kampschulte, Johann Calvin, seine Kirche und sein Staat in Genf., i. 278. "In fact," says Kampschulte, "it was the common arsenal from which the opponents of the old Church borrowed their keenest weapons. No writing of the Reformation era was more feared by Roman Catholics, more zealously fought against, and more hostilely pursued, than Calvin's Institutes." The same author, who wrote as a liberal Roman Catholic, speaks highly of the literary characteristics of the work, and declares that it contains passages well worthy of comparison with the best pages which have been written by Pascal and Bossuet. 2 i. 274, 275.
2. THE PART OF CALVIN IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE GENEVAN CHURCH AND SOCIETY. --Calvin, notwithstanding his preference for quiet and retirement, had too deep convictions, and too strong a sense of responsibility, not to be urged on to a certain ascendency when once a public trust had been accepted. Doubtless his part in the Genevan administration has sometimes been exaggerated. His position was not exactly that of an Olympian Jupiter or an absolute dictator. Sharp and decisive measures were known at Geneva, independent of the agency of Calvin. The Genevese themselves were not disinclined to act with severe determination. At the same time it must be allowed that Calvin was in full sympathy with a rigorous scheme, that he sharpened the regulations at various points, and, above all, that he added an influence which secured a persevering execution of strong statutes.
It was directly after his return to Geneva from Strasburg, in 1541, that Calvin began to perfect the church system which is associated with his name. In working out his scheme, he seems to have been led by local exigencies to a measure of departure from his theory of the proper relation of Church and State. In theory he discarded both the mediæval or papal conception, which made the State a mere dependency or satellite of the Church; and the notion, too nearly approximated in some of the countries which had accepted the Reformation, that the Church is a dependency of the State. He viewed the two as properly co-ordinate powers, having each its own sphere, each rendering support to the other, but neither claiming supremacy over the domain of the other. As actually instituted at Geneva, however, the polity of Calvin did not fully guard the Church from the intrusion of the State. It was provided in his scheme, that a pastor should be nominated by the company of pastors already installed. It was then in order for the magistrates to confirm the choice, and to report it to the congregation for their acceptance. The pastors, together with the professors of the academy, formed a college having jurisdiction over matters more purely theological, such as the arrangement of courses of theological study, the examination of candidates, and the conducting of controversies. The same body also took a chief part in determining the order of worship. With the pastors there were associated, in another body called the consistory, a number of laymen, the proportion being two of the latter to one of the former. This tribunal had charge of the discipline and the finances. In the fulfillment of the former function, it was armed with the most ample prerogatives. Every house was supposed to stand open to its visitation, and every member of the community must accept the correction or penance which it might impose for any offense against the laws of God. Where an evil seemed too deeply rooted to be eradicated by spiritual admonition or censure, the civil magistrate was expected to lend his aid. The lay members of the consistory, instead of being elected by the congregation, were chosen by the little council of the republic from its own members, and from those of the council of sixty and the council of two hundred. This evidently was unfavorable to the independence of the Church; but Calvin probably thought the arrangement necessary to insure the execution of a rigorous discipline.
Before Calvin had completed his ecclesiastical scheme, he was called to serve the state as a member of a commission for revising the constitution, and preparing a civil code. The commanding intellect of Calvin, and his juristic training, no doubt gave him the primacy in this commission, so that the outcome may be regarded as representing his views and preferences. The constitution was made to take on a more aristocratic cast. The existing assemblies were indeed retained; but the prerogatives of the larger receded toward the smaller, so that a preponderance of authority was vested in the little council, which was composed of not more than twenty-five members. As to the criminal code, it has been remarked that one might describe it, more properly than the laws of Draco, as written in blood. Proceeding on the basis that whatever Merits punishment in the sight of God ought to be punished in a Christian state, so far as it comes within the sphere of possible recognition, it laid down penalties with unsparing severity against all forms of immorality and vice. The code bears emphatically the stamp of Calvin. Yet it would seem not to have been a mere product of his individual will enforced upon an unwilling people; for it was continued after his death, and in some particulars was developed to a higher degree of severity.
Under the censorship of the consistory, and the rigors of the state code, Geneva was subjected to a course of training which has rarely, if ever, been paralleled. Simple neglect of religion, as well as despite to its claims, was attended with penalties. A person who forbore to take the sacrament when not forbidden was subjected to discipline. The sick, after three days' confinement, were required to give notice to the minister, that they might receive admonition and comfort at his hands. Card-playing, theatre-going, and dancing were put under the ban. Adultery and blasphemy were treated as capital offenses. Expressions only indirectly indicative of disrespect toward God were subjects for investigation and penalty. A young husband was called to account because, when presenting to his bride a book on housekeeping, he had jokingly remarked that such a writing was the best psalm-book for her. In 1565 a woman was scourged because she sang common songs to psalm-tunes. In 1579 a gentleman of respectability was imprisoned twenty-four hours, because he had been found reading the narratives of Poggio, and was compelled publicly to burn the book. Filial impiety was treated according to the prescriptions of the Mosaic code. A peasant boy, for reviling his mother and casting a stone at her, was publicly whipped, and suspended by the arms from the gallows as a token that he deserved death. Another child was beheaded for striking his parents. Another, for simply attempting to strike his parents, was condemned to death, but the capital sentence was afterwards exchanged for whipping and banishment. 1 Henry and Stähelin.
A society never existed upon which such a yoke could easily be bound. It would have worn the appearance of miracle, if Geneva, which shortly before had been overflowing with corruption, had quietly conformed to the new pattern of living. It contained, in fact, powerful elements of insubordination. Some claimed license for dissenting theological opinions; a still larger number claimed wide license in their moral practice. Calvin suffered repeatedly opposition, insults, and attempts at intimidation, at least up to the year 1555. Matters came to such a pass that the dogs upon the street were set upon him, and he expected nothing else but that the struggle would end in his being killed.
Among the refractory elements with which Calvin had to deal, were the so-called Libertines. Some of these seem to have been ultra-spiritualists, and inclined to antinomian and pantheistic tenets. Others were distinguished by their democratic principles and their political opposition to the party of Calvin. These opponents, after a severe struggle, were driven from the field.
A like fate befell the theological opponents, Castellio and Bolsec. The former was a man of culture, and excelled as a teacher of the classics; but he was not satisfied to confine himself to work of this order. He was ambitious for theological distinction, and with some intemperance of language declared for the rejection of Solomon's Song from the canon, and repudiated the representation of Christ's descent into hell. Calvin therefore opposed his request for recognition among the clergy. This irritated Castellio, and called out animad-versions which were thought to be prejudicial to the peace of the Church. He was accordingly dismissed, though not without a show of consideration, as he took with him a recommendation from Calvin. At Basle, which was the scene of his future labors, Castellio carried his theological criticism to further results, and wrote against the doctrine of predestination. Bolsec, who, after leaving the order of the Carmelites, came to Geneva with the intention of practising medicine, made a direct issue on the same doctrine. Inasmuch as he proceeded in an opinionated and turbulent manner, his attempt to correct the Genevan theology speedily ended in his banishment. The cause, in this instance, was much better than the advocate. Bolsec was a man of shallow principles. He finally returned to the Roman Catholic Church, and expressed his zeal for its interests by providing a treasury of atrocious lies against Calvin and Beza.
But the opponent whom a terrible fate made far more conspicuous than any other, was Michael Servetus. He was of the same age as Calvin, having been born in Spain in 1509. In talents and acquisitions he was a man far above the ordinary rank. He was educated to some extent in the law, made very considerable progress in the sciences, acquired reputation as a skilled physician, and occupied himself much with theology, which he had a great ambition to renovate. In respect of character, much less can be said in his favor. He was proud-tempered, overbearing, and given to unmeasured sarcasm in dealing with an opponent. He was also untruthful. At various junctures he flatly denied known facts, and for a series of years lived in hypocritical compliance with the outward requirements of the Roman Catholic Church, though he had previously renounced the faith of that church.
Servetus had scarcely reached his majority when his ardor for theological distinction came to a signal manifestation. As early as 1531, he published a work on the "Errors of the Trinity," which made him odious to both Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians, and gave him occasion to conceal his identity under an assumed name. The positive teaching in this treatise seems to have been of Sabellian cast, with some added eccentricities. About twenty years later he brought out anonymously a second work entitled the "Restoration of Christianity," in which he gave full vent to his opposition to the Trinity, and also revealed his bias toward the neo-Platonic pantheism. In the interval between these two publications, Calvin had made an unpleasant acquaintance with Servetus, who wished to enlist him for his novelties, and obtruded upon him a correspondence which finally became well Stocked with abuse and contempt. Some years before the final catastrophe, he had learned to regard Servetus as a turbulent, revolutionary character, and had written to Farel that if he carried out his proposal to come to Geneva, he would see to it, so far as he was concerned, that he should not get away alive. 1 Bonnet, Epist. cliv., in 1546. Calvin's words are as follows: "Servetus lately wrote to me, and coupled with his letter a long volume of his delirious fancies, with the Thrasonic boast, that I should see something astonishing and unheard of. He takes it upon him to come hither, if it be agreeable to me. But I am unwilling to pledge my word for his safety; for if he shall come, I shall never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail."
The first arrest of Servetus came from the Roman Catholic side. He was apprehended at Vienne, and doubtless would have paid there the extreme penalty of heresy, if he had not managed to escape from his prison. The clew leading to his arrest was afforded by a French refugee living in Geneva; and the documentary evidence which was necessary to prove the identity of Servetus, and his authorship of the obnoxious book published shortly before, was supplied by Calvin,--though, it would appear, not by his own choice, but reluctantly, and at the earnest solicitation of the refugee, who urged that his reputation for veracity would be compromised if he failed to establish his allegations.
As if driven on to his fate by a blind infatuation, Servetus, after escaping from prison, came to Geneva. He remained concealed for a time, and was just on the point of departing for Zurich when he was discovered, and at the instance of Calvin was arrested. In the protracted trial which ensued, Servetus was given a very fair opportunity to clear himself, or at least, to secure a mitigated sentence. He was asked to reply to the charges in writing, with the understanding that his answers should be submitted to the judgment of the principal churches of Switzerland. Instead of attempting to conciliate favor by a moderate statement of his views, he indulged freely in invectives against Calvin, and took no pains to retract expressions which were counted blasphemous, and which must still be so regarded from the standpoint of Trinitarianism. His tone was supremely adapted to exasperate his judges. The Genevese council accordingly was not inclined to show him any mercy, and condemned him, as a blasphemer as well as a heretic, to be burned at the stake. On the 27th of October, 1553, the fearful sentence was executed. The unhappy man endured the ordeal, at the last, with striking heroism.
Thus the heretic was silenced, but at what a price! For more than three centuries the smoke and flame which ascended about the tortured body of Servetus have cast back a lurid light upon the form of Calvin. Not even the memory of his great intellectual and moral traits can afford here any adequate shield to the stern theologian. His part in the deed of intolerance can never be excused. All that charity can do is to suggest the palliating considerations: (1) Servetus was no ordinary theological opponent. His tone was calculated to provoke intense animosity. While not above indulging in falsehood and hypocrisy, he wished to pose as the apostle of a renovated Christianity. He was not content to keep aloof from Calvin, but seemed bent upon crossing his path. The natural result was a resentment not easily repressed. That Calvin gave too wide a scope to this resentment, and allowed it to cloud his conviction of duty, cannot fairly be questioned. At the same time, it is not necessary to suppose that he was moved mainly by personal feeling, or that, in the event of a recantation by Servetus, he would not so far have waived his radical dislike of the man as to vote for a good measure of indulgence toward him. His letter to Farel may indeed be quoted as counter evidence; but words spoken in the heat of vexation cannot be taken as an index of settled and unalterable purpose. (2) Great opprobrium had been brought upon the Reformation by fanatical outbursts leading to bloody violence. The rejection of infant-baptism gave ostensible ground for associating Servetus with the Anabaptist enthusiasts. In any case, Calvin regarded him as a man of dangerous temper, a menace to the common interests of religion. (3) The cruel manner in which Servetus was put to death cannot be charged against Calvin. On the contrary, he requested, together with the clergy of Geneva, that the capital sentence might be executed in some mode less painful than burning. The responsibility for that phase of barbarity rests upon the civil authority.
One evil result of the tragedy was an incentive to support maxims of intolerance on the part of those who ought to have been the advocates of religious liberty. The practical necessity of sustaining Calvin in his mighty conflicts at Geneva made Protestant theologians more forward to sanction severity against heresy than otherwise they would have been. If this cause did not affect their theory on the subject, it did affect the expression of their theory. The most eminent representatives of the Swiss churches thought it incumbent on themselves to commend the capital sentence against Servetus. Even Melanchthon gave it also his approbation. Beza, who was then laboring at Lausanne, in answer to a plea for tolerance by Castellio, published a treatise in which he expressly defended the right of magistrates to put obstinate heretics to death. He could only reproduce the immemorial argument for intolerance; and his treatise in the light of the present age appears as a pretty lame production in comparison with that of Castellio, which was a skillful and able presentation of the claims of religious tolerance. 1 Castellio wrote under the name of Martin Bellius. A full abstract of his treatise is given by Baum in his " Theodor Beza," vol, i. It appears from the statement of Beza that the sentiments of Castellio found other advocates. In his Life of Calvin he says, "Scarcely were the ashes of that unhappy man [Servetus] cold, when questions began to be agitated concerning the punishment of heretics: some maintaining that they ought indeed to be coerced, but could not justly be put to death; others, as if the nature of heresy could not be clearly ascertained from the Word of God, or as if it were lawful to judge in an academic fashion of all the heads of religion, maintaining that heretics ought to be left to the judgment of God only. This opinion was defended even by some good men, who were afraid that if a different view were adopted they might seem to sanction the cruelty of tyrants against the godly."
The trial of Servetus came near the acme of the struggle against the opposition party at Geneva. Shortly afterwards the Calvinian discipline was comparatively unchallenged. As to the merits of that discipline, it is quite obvious that it cannot be defended, as a whole, from the standpoint of modern times. It showed too little respect for the individual conscience, was too exacting and inquisitorial in spirit. Yet it was not without conspicuous benefits. It gave needed emphasis to the maxim that morality and religion must be indissolubly joined. It nurtured the republic to a peculiar vigor and moral strength. From being one of the most corrupt cities on the Continent, Geneva became in important respects the most exemplary. Various witnesses have borne highly favorable testimony to the sobriety, widely diffused intelligence, and strict morality which might be observed there. In the next century after the death of Calvin. Valentin Andreä expressed his admiration for the moral tone which he found pervading Genevan society.
3. INFLUENCE OF CALVIN OUTSIDE OF GENEVA.-- When Calvin wrote the first edition of his Institutes, he had it in mind to serve the Protestant interest at large, rather than to absorb his energies in any local enterprise. And, notwithstanding the exacting demands placed upon him in Geneva, his ambition was fulfilled upon a much broader scale than he could have anticipated. As already indicated, Protestants in different countries felt that he was a pillar of strength to their cause; and Romanists feared his pen as one of the most formidable foes with which they had to contend. Geneva, under his hand, became a citadel and an arena, a refuge to which the fugitive might flee from persecution, and a training-school in which he might be equipped for heroic service. Philip II. expressed what many among the foes of the Reformation felt, when he wrote to the French King, respecting Geneva: "This city is the source of all mischief for France, the most formidable enemy of Rome. At any time I am ready to assist, with all the power of my realm, in its overthrow." 1 Stähelin, II. 499. The French Government on its part threatened to destroy the city if it did not keep its evangelists at home, and sent an ambassador to give notice to that effect. The evangelists, however, continued to pour forth; Calvin having assured the magistrates, that, inasmuch as the city depended upon the omnipotent God alone for protection, the highest prudence consisted in the most perfect obedience to His will. The scale on which Geneva exercised the function of a training-school may be estimated from the fact that at one time, according to the report of a contemporary, Calvin had regularly a thousand hearers for his theological lectures; and also by the fact that the Academy of Geneva, which was opened in 1559, enrolled during its first year nine hundred students. As far as into the eighteenth century, the academy was an important factor in educating the clergy of the Reformed Church in France and the Netherlands, as well as in Switzerland.
The reasons for the wide and penetrating influence of Calvin have been indicated in the account of his character and work. He organized an intellectual system for the reform movement, and gave incisive expression to the ideas which were struggling in the minds of his contemporaries. The masculine tone of his writings took a strong hold upon a great multitude of men, and infused into them something of his own energy and resoluteness of spirit. Having the temper of the lawgiver, as well as that of the logician, he gave an unique stress to the ethical demands of Christianity, and urged powerfully the need of realizing the truth of God in practice, as well as acknowledging it in theory. Not a little of that stern practical energy, that readiness to carry out convictions, which has been manifested in various sections of the Reformed Church, was born of Calvin's spirit and teaching. Even the more somber phases of the Calvinian creed, though certain sooner or later to be productive of undesirable results, were not without their stimulus in the era of conflict. The thought of the majestic predestinating God, who works with irresistible might, greatly strengthened the resolution of many a hardy soul.
The immense labors of Calvin involved premature exhaustion of body. During his last years, his face already bore, save in the undiminished glance of the eye, the impress of death. He passed away in peace on the 27th of May, 1564.