Calvin Is Driven From Paris

Author:      Fairbairn, A. M.;Audin, Jean M. V.

By A. M. Fairbairn

 

 

He Makes Geneva The Stronghold Of Protestantism, 1533

 

     Among what may be called the second generation of Protestant reformers,

the great leader was John Calvin.  By his writings, and by his directive and

administrative work, he exerted a strong influence upon the reformed churches

in his own day and upon the theology and polity of later times.  He was born

in France in 1509, and while still in early manhood, having become familiar

with classical learning, with law, and especially with theology, he ardently

embraced the Protestant faith and began to preach the reformed doctrines.

 

     Calvin spent some time in Paris, then a centre of the "New Learning" and

of religious ferment, and there he felt the effects of raging persecution. The

publication of his great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion,

marked an epoch in the history of Protestantism.  Though differing on certain

points from the teachings of Luther, it was a powerful exposition of the

Protestant faith as Calvin understood it, severely logical in form, and

especially distinguished by its stern doctrines relating to divine

sovereignty.

 

     When in 1536 Calvin went to live in Geneva, it was already a Protestant

city.  He became virtually its ruler and made it a kind of theocracy, or

rather a "religious republic," which he administered with vigorous laws

enforced with the greatest strictness.  Zealous Protestants from many

countries gathered at Geneva, and from there the influence of Calvin, somewhat

modified by that of his Swiss predecessor Zwingli, spread rapidly into France,

England, Scotland, and Germany.  At the time of Calvin's death (1564) there

were three types of Protestantism established in the world - his own, and

those of Luther and Zwingli.  In Great Britain, and afterward in America, the

Calvinistic type came to play a most important part in religious and national

development.

 

     Two estimates of Calvin, the first from a Protestant point of view, the

second that of a Roman Catholic writer, are here presented.

 

A. M. Fairbairn

 

     In 1528 Calvin's father, perhaps illuminated by the disputes in his

cathedral chapter, discovered that the law was a surer road to wealth and

honor than the church, and decided that his son should leave theology for

jurisprudence.  The son, nothing loath, obeyed, and left Paris for Orleans,

possibly, as he descended the steps of the College de Montaigu, brushing

shoulders with a Spanish freshman named Ignatius Loyola.  In Orleans Calvin

studied law under Pierre de l'Estoile, who is described as jurisconsultorum

Gallorum facile princeps, and as eclipsing in classical knowledge Reuchlin,

Aleander, and Erasmus; and Greek under Wolmar, in whose house he met for the

first time Theodore Beza, then a boy about ten years of age.

 

     After a year in Orleans he went to Bourges, attracted by the fame of the

Italian jurist Alciati, whose ungainliness of body and speech and vanity of

mind his students loved to satirize and even by occasional rebellion to

chasten.  In 1531 Gerard Calvin died and his son, in 1532, published his first

work, a commentary on Seneca's de Clementia.  His purpose has been construed

by the light of his late career; and some have seen in the book a veiled

defence of the Huguenot martyrs, others a cryptic censure of Francis I, and

yet others a prophetic dissociation of himself from Stoicism.  But there is no

mystery in the matter; the work is that of a scholar who has no special

interest in either theology or the Bible.  This may be statistically

illustrated: Calvin cites twenty-two Greek authors and fifty-five Latin, the

quotations being most abundant and from many books; but in his whole treatise

there are only three Biblical texts expressly cited, and those from the

Vulgate.

 

     The man is cultivated and learned, writes elegant Latin, is a good judge

of Latinity, criticises like any modern the mind and style, the knowledge and

philosophy, the manner, the purpose, and the ethical ideas of Seneca; but the

passion for religion has not as yet penetrated as it did later into his very

bones.  Erasmus is in Calvin's eyes the ornament of letters, though his large

edition of Seneca is not all it ought to have been; but even Erasmus could not

at twenty-three have produced a work so finished in its scholarship, so real

in its learning, or so wide in its outlook.

 

     The events of the next few months are obscure, but we know enough to see

how forces, internal and external, were working toward change.  In the second

half of 1532 and the earlier half of 1533 Calvin was in Orleans, studying,

teaching, practising the law, and acting in the university as proctor for the

Picard nation; then he went to Noyon, and in October he was once more in

Paris.  The capital was agitated; Francis was absent, and his sister, Margaret

of Navarre, held her court there, favoring the new doctrines, encouraging the

preachers, the chief among them being her own almoner, Gerard Roussel.

 

     Two letters of Calvin to Francis Daniel belong to this date and place;

and in them we find a changed note.  One speaks of "the troublous times," and

the other narrates two events: first, it describes a play "pungent with gall

and vinegar," which the students had performed in the College of Navarre to

satirize the Queen; and secondly, the action of certain factious theologians

who had prohibited Margaret's Mirror of a Sinful Soul.  She had complained to

the King, and he had intervened.  The matter came before the university, and

Nicolas Cop, the rector, had spoken strongly against the arrogant doctors and

in defence of the Queen, "mother of all the virtues and of all good learning."

Le Clerc, a parish priest, the author of the mischief, defended his

performance as a task to which he had been formally appointed, praising the

King, the Queen as woman and as author, contrasting her book with "such an

obscene production" as Pantagruel, and finally saying that the book had been

published without the approval of the faculty and was set aside only as

"liable to suspicion."

 

     Two or three days later, on November 1, 1533, came the famous rectorial

address which Calvin wrote, and Cop revised and delivered, and which shows how

far the humanist had travelled since April 4, 1532, the date of the de

Clementia.  He is now alive to the religious question, though he has not

carried it to its logical and practical conclusion.  Two fresh influences have

evidently come into his life, the New Testament of Erasmus and certain sermons

by Luther.  The exordium of the address reproduces, almost literally, some

sentences from Erasmus' Paraclesis, including those which unfold his idea of

the philosophia Christiana; while the body of it repeats Luther's exposition

of the beatitudes and his distinction between law and gospel, with the

involved doctrines of grace and faith.  Yet "Ave gratia plena" is retained in

the exordium; and at the end the peacemakers are praised, who follow the

example of Christ and contend not with the sword, but with the word of truth.

 

     This address enables us to seize Calvin in the very act and article of

change; he has come under a double influence.  Erasmus has compelled him to

compare the ideal of Christ with the church of his own day; and Luther has

given him a notion of grace which has convinced his reason and taken

possession of his imagination.  He has thus ceased to be a humanist and a

papist, but has not yet become a reformer.  And a reformer was precisely what

his conscience, his country, and his reason compelled him to become. Francis

was flagrantly immoral, but a fanatic in religion; and mercy was not a virtue

congenial to either church or state.  Calvin had seen the Protestants from

within; he knew their honesty, their honor, the purity of their motives, and

the integrity of their lives; and he judged, as a jurist would, that a man who

had all the virtues of citizenship ought not to be oppressed and treated as

unfit for civil office or even as a criminal by the state.  This is no

conjecture, for it is confirmed by the testimony he bears to the influence

exercised over him by the martyred Etienne de la Forge.  He thus saw that a

changed mind meant a changed religion, and a changed religion a change of

abode.  Cop had to flee from Paris, and so had Calvin.

 

     In the May of 1534 he went to Noyon, laid down his offices, was

imprisoned, liberated, and while there he seems to have finally renounced

Catholicism.  But he feared the forces of disorder which lurked in

Protestantism, and which seemed embodied in the Anabaptists.  Hence at Orleans

he composed a treatise against one of their favorite beliefs, the sleep of the

soul between death and judgment.  Conscious personal being was in itself too

precious, and in the sight of God too sacred, to be allowed to suffer even a

temporary lapse.  But to serve the cause he loved was impossible with the

stake waiting for him, its fires scorching his face, and kindly friends

endangered by his presence.  And so, in the winter of 1534, he retired from

France and settled at Basel.

 

     Now a city where Protestantism reigned, where learning flourished, and

where men so unlike as Erasmus and Farel - the fervid preacher of reform -

could do their work unhindered, was certain to make a deep impression on a

fugitive harassed and expatriated on account of religion; and the impression

it made can be read in the Christianae Religionis Institutio, and especially

in the prefatory Letter to Francis I.  The Institutio is Calvin's positive

interpretation of the Christian religion: the Letter is learned, eloquent,

elegant, dignified, the address of a subject to his sovereign, yet of a

subject who knows that his place in the state is as legal, though not as

authoritative, as the sovereign's.  It throbs with a noble indignation against

injustice, and with a noble enthusiasm for freedom and truth.  It is one of

the great epistles of the world, a splendid apology for the oppressed and

arraignment of the oppressors.  It does not implore toleration as a

concession, but claims freedom as a right.

 

     Its author is a young man of but twenty-six, yet he speaks with the

gravity of age.  He tells the King that his first duty is to be just; that to

punish unheard is but to inflict violence and perpetrate fraud.  Those for

whom he speaks are, though simple and godly men, yet charged with crimes that,

were they true, ought to condemn them to a thousand fires and gibbets. These

charges the King is bound to investigate, for he is a minister of God, and if

he fails to serve the God whose minister he is, then he is a robber and no

king.

 

     Then he asks, "Who are our accusers?" and he turns on the priests like a

new Erasmus, who does not, like the old, delight in satire for its own sake or

in a literature which scourges men by holding up the mirror to vice, but who

feels the sublimity of virtue so deeply that witticisms at the expense of vice

are abhorrent to him.  He takes up the charges in detail: it is said that the

doctrine is new, doubtful, and uncertain, unconfirmed by miracles, opposed to

the fathers and ancient custom, schismatical and productive of schism, and

that its fruits are sects, seditions, license.  On no point is he so emphatic

as the repudiation of the personal charges: the people he pleads for have

never raised their voice in faction or sought to subvert law and order; they

fear God sincerely and worship him in truth, praying even in exile for the

royal person and house.

 

     The book which this address to the King introduces is a sketch or

programme of reform in religion.  The first edition of the Institutio is

distinguished from all later editions by the emphasis it lays, not on dogma,

but on morals, on worship, and on polity.  Calvin conceives the Gospel as a

new law which ought to be embodied in a new life, individual and social. What

came later to be known as Calvinism may be stated in an occasional sentence or

implied in a paragraph, but it is not the substance or determinative idea of

the book.  The problem discussed has been set by the studies and the

experience of the author; he has read the New Testament as a humanist learned

in the law, and he has been startled by the contrast between its ideal and the

reality which confronts him.  And he proceeds in a thoroughly juridical

fashion, just as Tertullian before him, and as Grotius and Selden after him.

Without a document he can decide nothing; he needs a written law or actual

custom; and his book falls into divisions which these suggest.

 

     Hence his first chapter is concerned with duty or conduct as prescribed

by the Ten Commandments; his second with faith as contained in the apostolic

symbol; his third with prayer as fixed by the words of Christ; his fourth with

the sacrament as given in the Scriptures; his fifth with the false sacraments

as defined by tradition and enforced by Catholic custom; and his sixth with

Christian liberty or the relation of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities.

But though the book is, as compared with what it became later, limited in

scope and contents - the last edition which left the author's hand in 1559 had

grown from a work in six chapters to one in four books and eighty chapters -

yet its constructive power, its critical force, its large outlook impress the

student.  We have here none of Luther's scholasticism, or of Melanchthon's

deft manipulation of incompatible elements; but we have the first thoughts on

religion of a mind trained by ancient literature to the criticism of life.

 

     The Institutio bears the date "Mense Martio; Anno 1536"; but Calvin,

without waiting till his book was on the market, made a hurried journey to

Ferrara, whose Duchess, Renee, a daughter of Louis XII, stood in active

sympathy with the reformers.  The reasons for this brief visit are very

obscure; but it may have been undertaken in the hope of mitigating, by the

help of Renee, the severity of the persecutions in France.  On his return

Calvin ventured, tradition says, to Noyon, probably for the sake of family

affairs; but he certainly reached Paris; and, while in the second half of July

making his way into Germany, he arrived at Geneva.  An old friend, possibly

Louis du Tillet, discovered him, and told Farel; and Farel, in sore straits

for a helper, besought him, and indeed in the name of the Almighty commanded

him, to stay.  Calvin was reluctant, for he was reserved and shy, and

conceived his vocation to be the scholar's rather than the preacher's; but the

entreaties of Farel, half tearful, half minatory, prevailed.  And thus

Calvin's connection with Geneva began.

 

     Calvin's life from this point onward falls into three parts: his first

stay in Geneva from July, 1536, to March, 1538; his residence in Strasburg

from September, 1538, to September, 1541; and his second stay in Geneva from

the last date till his death, May 27, 1564.  In the first period, he, in

company with Farel, made an attempt to organize the church and reform the mind

and manners of Geneva, and failed; his exile, formally voted by the council,

was the penalty of his failure.  In the second period he was professor of

theology and French preacher at Strasburg, a trusted divine and adviser, a

delegate to the Protestant churches of Germany, which he learned to know

better, making the acquaintance of Melanchthon, and becoming more appreciative

of Luther.

 

     At Strasburg some of his best literary work was done - his Letter to

Cardinal Sadoleto (in its way his most perfect production), his Commentary on

the Romans, a Treatise on the Lord's Supper, the second Latin and the first

French edition of his Institutio.  In the third period he introduced and

completed his legislation at Geneva, taught, preached, and published there,

watched the churches everywhere, and conducted the most extensive

correspondence of his day.  In these twenty-eight years he did a work which

changed the face of Christendom.

 

     We come then to Calvin's legislative achievements as his main title to

name and fame.  But two points must here be noted.  In the first place, while

his theology was less original and effective than his legislation or polity,

yet he so construed the former as to make the latter its logical and indeed

inevitable outcome.  The polity was a deduction from the theology, which may

be defined as a science of the divine will as a moral will, aiming at the

complete moralization of man, whether as a unit or as a society.  The two were

thus so organically connected that each lent strength to the other, the system

to the church and the church to the system, while other and more potently

reasonable theologies either died or lived a feeble and struggling life.

 

     Secondly, the legislation was made possible and practicable by Geneva,

probably the only place in Europe where it could have been enacted and

enforced.  We have learned enough concerning Genevan history and institutions

to understand why this should have been the case.  The city was small, free,

homogeneous, distinguished by a strong local patriotism, a stalwart communal

life.  In obedience to these instincts it had just emancipated itself from the

ecclesiastical Prince and its ancient religious system; and the change thus

accomplished was, though disguised in a religious habit, yet essentially

political.  For the council which abolished the bishop had made itself heir to

his faculties and functions; it could only dismiss him as civil lord by

dismissing him as the ecclesiastical head of Geneva, and in so doing it

assumed the right to succeed as well as to supersede him in both capacities.

 

     This, however, involved a notable inversion of old ideas; before the

change the ecclesiastical authority had been civil, but because of the change

the civil authority became ecclesiastical.  If theocracy means the rule of the

church or the sovereignty of the clergy in the state, then the ancient

constitution of Geneva was theocratic; if democracy means the sovereignty of

the people in church as well as in state, then the change had made it

democratic.  And it was just after the change had been effected that Calvin's

connection with the city began.

 

     Its chief pastor had persuaded him to stay as a colleague, and the

council appointed him professor and preacher.  He was young, exactly

twenty-seven years of age, full of high ideals, but inexperienced,

unacquainted with men, without any knowledge of Geneva and the state of things

there.  He could therefore make no terms, could only stay to do his duty.

What that duty was soon became apparent.  Geneva had not become any more moral

in character because it had changed its mind in religion.  It had two months

before Calvin's arrival sworn to live according to the holy evangelical law

and Word of God; but it did not seem to understand its own oath.  And the man

whom his intellectual sincerity and moral integrity had driven out of

Catholicism could not hold office in any church which made light of conviction

and conduct; and so he at once set himself to organize a church that should be

efficaciously moral.

 

     He built on the ancient Genevan idea, that the city is a church; only he

wished to make the church to be primary and real.  The theocracy, which had

been construed as the reign of the clergy, he would interpret as ideal and

realize as a reign of God.  The citizens, who had assumed control of their own

spiritual destinies and ecclesiastical affairs, he wanted to instruct in their

responsibilities and discipline into obedience.  And he would do it in the way

of a jurist who believes in the harmony of law and custom; he would by

positive enactments train the city, which conceived itself to be a church, to

be and behave as if it were indeed a church, living according to the gospel

which it had sworn to obey.

 

     Thus a confession of faith was drawn up which the people were to adopt as

their own, and so attain clarity and concordance of mind concerning God and

his Word; and a catechism was composed which was to be made the basis of

religious instruction in both the school and the family, for the citizen as

well as the child.  Worship was to be carefully regulated, psalm-books

prepared, psalm-singing cultivated; the preacher was to interpret the Word,

and the pastor to supervise the flock.

 

     The Lord's Supper was to be celebrated monthly, but only those who were

morally fit or worthy were to be allowed to communicate.  The church, in order

that it might fulfil its functions and guard the holy table, must have the

right of excommunication.  It was not enough that a man should be a citizen or

a councillor to be admitted to the Lord's Supper; his mind must be Christian

and his conduct Christlike.  Without faith the rite was profaned, the presence

of Christ was not realized.  Moreover, since matrimonial cases were many and

infelicity sprang both from differences of faith and impurity of conduct, a

board, composed partly of magistrates and partly of ministers, was to be

appointed to deal with them; and it was to have the power to exclude from the

church those who either did not believe its doctrines or did not obey its

commandments.

 

     These were drastic proposals to be made to a city which had just

dismissed its bishop, attained political freedom, and proclaimed a reformation

of religion; and Calvin was not the man to leave them inoperative.  A

card-player was pilloried; a tire-woman, a mother, and two bridesmaids were

arrested because they had adorned the bride too gayly; an adulterer was driven

with the partner of his guilt through the streets by the common hangman, and

then banished.  These things taxed the temper of the city sorely; it was not

unfamiliar with legislation of the kind, but it had not been accustomed to see

it enforced.  Hence, men who came to be known as "libertines," though they

were both patriotic and moral and only craved freedom, rose and said: "This is

an intolerable tyranny; we will not allow any man to be lord over our

consciences." And about the same time Calvin's orthodoxy was challenged.  Two

Anabaptists arrived and demanded liberty to prophesy; and Peter Caroli charged

him with heresy as to the Trinity.  He would not use the Athanasian creed; and

he defended himself by reasons that the scholar who knows its history will

respect.  The end soon came.  When he heard that he had been sentenced to

banishment he said, "If I had served men this would have been a poor reward,

but I have served Him who never fails to perform what he has promised."

 

     In 1541 Geneva recalled Calvin, and he obeyed as one who goes to fulfil

an imperative but unwelcome duty.  There is nothing more pathetic in the

literature of the period than his hesitancies and fears.  He tells Farel that

he would rather die a hundred times than again take up that cross "in qua

millies quotidie pereundum esset." And he writes to Viret that it were better

to perish once for all than "in illa carnificina iterum torqueri." But he

loved Geneva, and it was in evil case.  Rome was plotting to reclaim it; Savoy

was watching her opportunity, the patriots feared to go forward, and even the

timid dared not go back.  So the necessities of the city, divided between its

factions and its foes, constituted an appeal which Calvin could not resist;

but he did not yield unconditionally.  He went back as the legislator who was

to frame laws for its church; and he so adapted them to the civil constitution

and the constitution to them, that he raised the little city of Geneva to be

the Protestant Rome.

 

     The Ordonnances ecclesiastiques may be described as Calvin's programme of

Genevan reform, or his method for applying to the local and external church

the government which our Lord had instituted and the Apostles had realized.

These ordinances expressed his historical sense and gratified his religious

temper, while adapting the church to the city, so that the city might become a

better church.  To explain in detail how he proposed to do this is impossible

within our limits; and we shall therefore confine ourselves to the most

important of the factors he created, the ministry.

 

     The ministerial ideal embodied in these ecclesiastical ordinances may be

said to have had certain indirect but international results; it compelled

Calvin to develop his system of education; it supplied the reformed church,

especially in France, with the men which it needed to fight its battles and to

form the iron in its blood; it presented the reformed church everywhere with

an intellectual and educational ideal, which must be realized if its work was

to be done; and it created the modern preacher, defining the sphere of his

activity and setting up for his imitation a noble and lofty example.

 

     Calvin soon found that the reformed faith could live in a democratic city

only by an enlightened pulpit speaking to enlightened citizens, and that an

educated ministry was helpless without an educated people.  His method for

creating both entitles him to rank among the foremost makers of modern

education.  As a humanist he believed in the classical languages and

literatures - there is a tradition which says that he read through Cicero once

a year - and so "he built his system on the solid rock of Graeco-Roman

antiquity." Yet he did not neglect religion; he so trained the boys of Geneva

through his catechism that each was said to be able to give a reason for his

faith "like a doctor of the Sorbonne." He believed in the unity of knowledge

and the community of learning, placing the magistrate and the minister, the

citizen and the pastor, in the hands of the same teacher, and binding the

school and the university together.  The boy learned in the one and the man

studied in the other, but the school was the way to the university, the

university was the goal of the school.

 

     In nothing does the pedagogic genius of Calvin more appear than in his

fine jealousy as to the character and competence whether of masters or

professors, and in his unwearied quest after qualified men.  His letters teem

with references to the men in various lands and many universities whom he was

seeking to bring to Geneva.  The first rector, Antoine Saunier, was a notable

man; and he never rested till he had secured his dear old teacher, Mathurin

Cordier.  Castellio was a schoolmaster; Theodore Beza was head of college and

academy, or school and university, together; and Calvin himself was a

professor of theology.  The success of the college was great; the success of

the academy was greater.  Men came from all quarters - English, Italians,

Spanish, Germans, Russians, ministers, jurists, old men, young men, all with

the passion to learn in their blood - to jostle each other among the thousand

hearers who met to listen to the great reformer.  But France was the main

feeder of the academy; Frenchmen filled its chairs, occupied its benches,

learned in it the courage to live and the will to die.  From Geneva books

poured into France; and the French church was ever appealing for ministers,

yet never appealed in vain.

 

     Within eleven years, 1555-1566 - Calvin died in 1564 - it is known that

Geneva sent one hundred sixty-one pastors into France; how many more may have

gone unrecorded we cannot tell.  And they were learned men, strenuous,

fearless, praised by a French bishop as modest, grave, saintly, with the name

of Jesus Christ ever on their lips.  Charles IX implored the magistrates of

Geneva to stop the supply and withdraw the men already sent; but the

magistrates replied that the preachers had been sent not by them, but by their

ministers, who believed that the sovereign duty of all princes and kings was

to do homage to Him who had given to them their dominion.  It was small wonder

that the Venetian Suriano should describe Geneva as "the mine whence came the

ore of heresy"; or that the Protestants should gather courage as they heard

the men from Geneva sing psalms in the face of torture and death.

 

     It was indeed a very different France which the eyes of the dying Calvin

saw from that which the young man had seen thirty years before.  Religious

hate was even more bitter and vindictive; war had come and made persecution

more ferocious; but the Huguenots had grown numerous, potent, respected,

feared, and disputed with Catholicism the supremacy of the kingdom.  And

Calvin had done it, not by arms nor by threats, nor by encouragement of

sedition or insurrection - to such action he was ever resolutely opposed - but

by the agency of the men whom he formed in Geneva, and by their persuasive

speech.  The reformed minister was essentially a preacher, intellectual,

exegetical, argumentative, seriously concerned with the subjects that most

appealed to the serious-minded.

 

     Modern oratory may be said to begin with him, and indeed to be his

creation.  He helped to make the vernacular tongues of Western Europe

literary.  He accustomed the people to hear the gravest and most sacred themes

discussed in the language which they knew; and the themes ennobled the

language, the language was never allowed to degrade the themes.  And there was

no tongue and no people that he influenced more than the French.  Calvin made

Bossuet and Massillon possible; as a preacher he found his successor in

Bourdaloue; and a literary critic who does not love him has expressed a doubt

as to whether Pascal could be more eloquent or was so profound.  And the ideal

then realized in Geneva exercised an influence far beyond France.  It extended

into Holland, which in the strength of the reformed faith resisted Charles V

and his son, achieved independence, and created the freest and best educated

state on the continent of Europe.

 

     John Knox breathed for a while the atmosphere of Geneva, was subdued into

the likeness of the man who had made it, and when he went home he copied its

education and tried to repeat its reformation.  English reformers, fleeing

from martyrdom, found a refuge within its hospitable walls, and, returning to

England, attempted to establish a Genevan discipline, and failed, but

succeeded in forming the Puritan character.  If the author of the Ordonnances

ecclesiastiques accomplished, whether directly or indirectly, so much, we need

not hesitate to term him a notable friend to civilization.

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