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History of Protestantism, vol. 2 - Contents
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    Chapter 6 : Charles IX-The Triumvirate-Colloquy at Poissy

    Mary Stuart—Charles IX—Catherine de Medici Regent—Meeting of States—General—Chancellor de l’Hopital on Toleration—Speeches of the Deputies—The Church’s Advocate calls for the Sword—Sermons at Fontainebleau—The Triumvirate—Debt of France—Colloquy at Poissy—Roman Members—Protestant Deputies—Beza—His Appearance—Points of Difference—Commotion in the Conference— Cardinal of Lorraine’s Oration—End of Colloquy—Lesson—Impulse to Protestantism— Preaching of Pierre Viret—Dogmas and their Symbols—Huguenot Iconoclasts

    Picture: Louis de Bourbon: Prince of Conde.

    Picture: Beza Presenting the Confession of the French Protestant Church to the King at the Colloquy of Poissy.

    Picture: View of Metz.

    We have seen Francis II carried to the tomb with no more pomp or decency than if, instead of the obsequies of a king, it had been the funeral of a pauper. There followed a sudden shifting of the scenes at court. The day of splendor that seemed to be opening to Mary Stuart was suddenly overcast. From the throne of France she returned to her native country, carrying with her to the Scottish shore her peerless beauty, her almost unrivalled power of dissembling, and her hereditary and deeply cherished hatred of the Reformation. To her uncles, the Guises, the death of the king brought a not less sad reverse of fortune. Though they still retained their offices and dignities, they were no longer the uncontrolled masters of the State, as when Francis occupied the throne and their niece sat by his side. But in the room of the Guises there stood up one not less the enemy of the Gospel, and whose rule was not less prolific of woes to France.HOPV2 546.1

    Catherine de Medici was now supreme in the government; her day had at last arrived. If her measures were less precipitate, and her violence less open, her craft was deeper than that of the Guises, and her stroke, if longer delayed, was the more deadly when it fell. Her son, Charles IX, who now occupied the throne, was a lad of only nine and a half years; and, as might have been expected in the case of such a mother and such a son, Charles wore the crown, but Catherine governed the kingdom. The sudden demise of Francis had opened the prison doors to Conde. Snatching him from a scaffold, if, restored him to liberty. As a prince of the blood, the Regency of France, during the minority of Charles, by right belonged to him; but Catherine boldly put him aside, and made herself be installed in that high office. In this act she gave a taste of the rigor with which she meant to rule. Still she did not proceed in too great haste. Her caution, which was great, served as a bridle to her ambition, and the Huguenots, 1The origin of this word has been much discussed and variously determined. In both France and Geneva the Protestants were called Huguenots. Laval tells us that each city in France had a word to denominate a bugbear, or hobgoblin. At Tours they had their King Hugo, who used, they said, every night to ride through the uninhabited places within and without the walls, and carry off those he met. And as the Protestants of Tours used to resort to these places at night to hold their meetings, they were here first of all in France called Huguenots. Beza, De Thou, and Pasquier agree in this etymology of the word. Others, and with more probability, derive it from the German word Eidgenossen, which the French corrupt into Eignots, and which signifies sworn confederates. It strengthens this supposition that the term was first of all applied to the sworn confederates of liberty in Geneva. Of this opinion are Maimbourg and Voltaire. as they began to be called, had now a breathing-space.HOPV2 546.2

    The Queen-mother fortified herself on the side of the Guises by recalling the Constable Montmorency, and installing him in all his dignities and offices. The next event of importance was the meeting of the States-General at Orleans (December 13th, 1560), a few days after Charles IX had ascended the throne. The assembly was presided over by the Chancellor Michel de l’Hopital, a man learned in the law, revered on the judgment-seat for the wisdom and equity of his decisions, and tolerant beyond the measure of his times. The words, few but weighty, with which he opened the proceedings, implied a great deal more than they expressed. The Church, he said, that great fountain of health or of disease to a nation, had become corrupt. Reformation was needed. “Adorn yourselves,” said he to the clergy, “but let it be with virtues and morality. Attack your foes, by all means, but let it be with the weapons of charity, prayer, and persuasion.” 2See Laval, for report of the speeches in the States-General (volume 1, pp. 384-424). Enlightened counsels these, which needed only wisdom in those to whom they were addressed, to work the cure of many of the evils which afflicted France.HOPV2 546.3

    The city of Bordeaux had sent an orator to the Parliament. Lying remote from the court, and not domineered over by the Popish rabble as Paris was, Bordeaux breathed a spirit more friendly to liberty and the Reformation than did the capital, and its deputy was careful to express the sentiments entertained by those who had commissioned him to represent them in this great assembly of the nation. “Three great vices,” he said, “disfigure the clergy-ignorance, avarice, and luxury;” and after dwelling at some length on each, he concluded by saying that if the ministers of religion would undertake to reform themselves, he would undertake to reform the nation. The spokesman of the nobility, the Lord of Rochefort, next rose to express the sentiments of the body he represented. His words were not more palatable to the clergy than had been those of the speakers who preceded him. He complained that the course of justice was obstructed by the interference of the priests. He did not know which was the greater scandal, or the source of greater misery to the country — the prodigious wealth of the clergy, or the astounding ignorance of their flocks. And he concluded by demanding “churches” for the “gentlemen of the religion.”HOPV2 547.1

    Thus all the lay speakers in the States-General united as one man in arraigning the Roman Church as pre-eminently the source of the many evils which afflicted France. They all with one voice demanded that the clergy should reform their doctrine, amend their lives, moderate the magnificence and luxury in which they lived, and laying aside their arrogance and bigotry, should labor to instruct their flocks, and to reclaim those who had gone astray, not with the knife and the faggot, but with the weapons of truth and reason.HOPV2 547.2

    It was now the turn of the clergy to be heard through the oracle whom they had selected—Jean Quintin, Professor of Canon Law. He had undertaken the cause of an institution laden with abuses, and now arraigned at the bar of the nation, as the cause of the manifold distractions and oppressions under which the country groaned. He took the responsibility lightly. He began by expressing his regret—a regret, we doubt not, perfectly sincere —that a most unwonted and dangerous innovation had been practiced in permitting the nobility and commons to address the assembly. The Church, he said, was the mouth of the States-General; and had that mouth, and no other, been permitted to address them, they would have been spared the pain of listening to so many hard things of the Church, and so many smooth things of heresy. The heretics, said the orator, had no other Gospel than revolution; and this pestiferous Gospel admitted of no remedy but the sword. Were not all the men who had embraced this Gospel under the excommunication of the Church? and for what end had the sword been put into the hand of the king, if not to execute the deserved vengeance to which “the Church” had adjudged those who had so fatally strayed? And, turning to the young king, he told him that his first and most sacred duty, as a magistrate, was to defend the Church, and to root out her enemies. Coligny, who sat facing the speaker, started to his feet on hearing this atrocious proposal, which doomed to extermination a third of the population of France. He demanded an apology from the speaker. Quintin could doubtless plead the authority of canon law, and many a melancholy precedent to boot, for what he had said; but he had overshot the mark. He found no response in that assembly; even Catherine de Medici felt the speech to be an imprudent one, and the priests, whatever their secret wishes, durst not openly support their orator; and so Quintin was compelled to apologize. Sickening under his mortification, he died three days thereafter.HOPV2 548.1

    Something had been gained by the meeting of the States-General. The priest-party had suffered a rebuff; Catherine de Medici had felt the pulse of the nation, and was more convinced than ever that the course she had resolved to steer was the wise one. Her supreme object was power; and she would best attain it by being on good terms with both parties. She opened the halls of Fontainebleau to the Protestant preachers, and she and her maids of honour were to be seen at times waiting with edifying seriousness upon the sermons of the Reformed pastors. So far did the Queen Regent carry her favors to the Protestants, that the Roman Catholics took alarm, fearing that she had gone over, not in seeming only, but in reality, to the “religion.” There was little cause for their alarm. Catherine had no intention of becoming a Huguenot. She was merely holding the balance between the two parties-making each weaken the other-judging this to be the most effectual way of strengthening herself.HOPV2 548.2

    These favors to the Protestants roused the slumbering zeal of the Romanists. Now arose the Triumvirate. The party so named, which makes some figure in the history of the times, was formed for the defense of the old religion, its members being the Duke of Guise, the Constable Montmorency, and the Marshal St. Andre. These three men had little in common. The bond which held them together was hatred of the new faith, the triumph of which, they foresaw, would strip them of their influence and possessions. There had been a prodigal waste of the public money, and a large confiscation of the estates of the Protestants under the two former reigns; these three men had carried off the lion’s share of the spoil; and should Protestantism win the day, they would, in modern phrase, have to recoup, and this touched at once their honour and their purses. As regards the Guises, their whole influence hung upon the Roman Church; her destruction, therefore, would be their destruction. As respects the Constable Montmorency, he prided himself on being the first Christian in France. He was descended in a direct line from St. Louis; and a birth so illustrious—not to speak of the fair fame of his saintly ancestors— imposed upon him the duty of defending the old faith, or if that were impossible, of perishing with it. He was incapable of defending it by argument; but he had a sword, and it would ill become him to let it rust in its scabbard, when the Church needed its service. As regards Marshal St. Andre, the least influential member of the Triumvirate, he was a noted gourmand, a veritable Lucullus, to whom there was nothing in life half so good as a well-furnished table. Marshal St. Andre foresaw that should Roman Catholicism go down in France, he would not only lose his Church—he would lose his dinner. The first might be borne, but the latter was not to be thought of. These men had formerly been at deadly feud among themselves; but now they resolved to sacrifice their differences upon the altar of their country, and to unite together in this holy league for the defense of their religion and their estates. The Triumvirate will again come before us: it has left its mark on the history of France.HOPV2 548.3

    The States-General again assembled in the end of 1561. The first thing that came under its notice was the financial state of the kingdom. The national debt amounted to £48,000,000, and bade fair greatly to exceed that sum in a short time, for the expenditure was a long way in excess of the revenue. What was to be done? A proposal was made that anticipated the measure which was carried out in France in 1789, and adopted long after that date in all the countries in which Roman Catholicism is the established religion. The speaker who made the proposal in question, laid down the principle that the ecclesiastical property belongs to the nation; that the clergy are merely its administrators; and founding on that principle, he proposed that the estates of the Church should be put up for sale, and the proceeds divided as follows:—one-third to go to the support of the Church; one-third to the payment of the national debt; and one-third to the revenues of the crown, to be applied, of course, to national uses. In this way it was hoped the financial difficulty would be got over; but the great difficulty— the religious one—lay behind; how was it to be got over?HOPV2 548.4

    It was agreed that a Council should be summoned; but it augured ill for the era of peace it was to inaugurate, that men disputed regarding its name before it had assembled. The priests strongly objected to its being called a Council. That would imply that the Protestant pastors were Christian ministers as well as themselves, entitled to meet them on terms of equality, and that the Reformed bodies were part of the Church as well as the Roman Catholics. The difficulty was got over by the device of styling the approaching assembly a Colloquy. The two parties had a different ideal before their mind. That of the Romanists was, that the Protestants came to the bar to plead, and to have their cause judged by the Church. That of the Protestants was, that the two parties were to debate on equal terms, that the Bible should be the supreme standard, and that the State’s authorities should decide without appeal. Knox, in Scotland, drew the line more justly; framing his creed from the Bible, he presented it to the Parliament, just a year before this, and asked the authorities to judge of it, but only for themselves, in order to the withdrawal from the Roman hierarchy of that secular jurisdiction in which it was vested, and which it was exercising for the hindrance of the evangel, and for the destruction of its disciples. The Protestant Church of France had no Knox.HOPV2 549.1

    On September 9th, 1561, this Colloquy—for we must not call it a Council —assembled at Poissy. On this little town, which lay a few leagues to the west of Paris, were the eyes of Christendom for the moment fixed. Will the conference now assembling there unite the two religions, and give peace to France? This issue was as earnestly desired by the Protestant States of Germany and England, as it was dreaded by the Pope and the King of Spain.HOPV2 549.2

    Nothing was wanting which pomp could give to make the conference a success. The hall in which it was held was the refectory of the convent at Poissy. There was set a throne, and on that throne sat the youthful sovereign of France, Charles IX. Right and left of him were ranged the princes and princesses of the blood, the great ministers of the crown, and the high lords of the court. 3Laval, volume 1, p. 482. Along two sides of the hall ran a row of benches, and on these sat the cardinals in their scarlet robes. On the seats below them were a crowd of bishops, priests, and doctors. The assembly was a brilliant one. Wherever the eye turned, it fell upon the splendor of official robes, upon the brilliance of rank, upon stars, crosses, and other insignia of academic distinction or of military achievement. It lacked the moral majesty, however, which a great purpose, earnestly and sincerely entertained, only can give. No affluence of embroidered and jeweled attire can compensate for the absence of a great moral end.HOPV2 549.3

    The king rose and said a few words. Much could not be looked for from a lad of only ten years. The chancellor, Michel de ‘Hopital, followed in a long speech, abounding in the most liberal and noble sentiments; and had the members of the assembly opened their ears to these wise counsels, they would have guided its deliberations to a worthy issue, and made the future of France a happy and glorious one. “Let us not pre-judge the cause we are met to discuss,” said in effect the chancellor, “let us receive these men as brethren-they are Christians as well as ourselves; let us not waste time in subtleties, but with all humility proceed to the Reformation of the doctrine of the Church, taking the Bible as the arbiter of all our differences.” L’Hopital aimed at striking the key-note of the discussions; but so little were his words in harmony with the sentiments of those to whom they were addressed, that the speech very nearly broke up the conference before it had well begun. It called for Reform according to the Bible. “The Bible is enough,” said he; “to this, as to the true rule, we must appeal for the decision of the doctrine. Neither must we be so averse to the Reformed, for they are our brethren, regenerated by the same baptism, and worshipping the same Christ as we do.” 4Ibid. volume 1, pp. 484,485. Straightway there arose a great commotion among the cardinals and bishops; angry words and violent gestures bespoke the irritation of their minds; but the firmness of the chancellor succeeded in calming the storm, and the business was proceeded with.HOPV2 549.4

    The Protestant deputies had not yet been introduced to the conference. This showed that here all did not meet on equal terms. But now, the Papal members having taken their seats, and the preliminary speeches being ended, there was no excuse for longer delaying the admission of the Protestants. The doors were thrown open, and Theodore Beza, followed by ten Protestant pastors and twenty-two lay deputies, entered the hall. There was a general desire that Calvin, then in the zenith of his fame, should have taken part in the discussions. The occasion was not unworthy of him, and Catherine de Medici had invited him by letter; but the magistrates of Geneva, unable to obtain hostages of high rank as pledges of his safety, refused to let him come, and Theodore Beza was sent in his room. No better substitute could have been found for the illustrious chief of the Reformation than his distinguished disciple and fellow-laborer. Beza was a native of Burgundy, of noble birth; learned, eloquent, courtly, and of a dignified presence. We possess a sketch of the personal appearance of this remarkable man by the traveller Fynes Moryson, who chanced to pass through Geneva in the end of that century. “Here,” says he, “I had great contentment to speak and converse with the reverend Father Theodore Beza, who was of stature something tall and corpulent, or big-boned, and had a long thick beard as white as snow. He had a grave senator’s countenance, and was broad-faced, but not fat, and in general, by his comely person, sweet affability, and gravity, he would have extorted reverence from those that least loved him.” 5Fynes Moryson, Itinerary, part 1, p. 181: Lond., 1617.HOPV2 550.1

    The Reformed pastors entered, gravely and simply attired. They wore the usual habits of the Geneva Church, which offered a striking contrast to the State robes and clerical vestments in which courtier and cardinal sat arrayed. Unawed by the blaze of stars, crosses, and various insignia of rank and office which met their gaze, the deputies bore themselves with a calm dignity, as men who had come to plead a great cause before a great assembly. They essayed to pass the barrier, and mingle on equal terms with those with whom they were to confer. But, no; their place was outside. The Huguenot pastor could not sit side by side with the Roman bishop. The Reformation must not come nigh the throne of Charles IX and the hierarchy of the Church. It must be made appear as if it stood at the bar to be judged. The pastors, though they saw, were too magnanimous to complain of this studied affront; nor did they refuse on that account to plead a cause which did not rest on such supports as lofty looks and gorgeous robes.HOPV2 550.2

    The moral majesty of Beza asserted its supremacy, and carried it over all the mock magnificence of the men who said to him, “Stand afar off, we are holier than thou.” Immediately on entering he fell on his knees, the other deputies kneeling around him, and in the presence of the assembly, which remained mute and awed, he offered a short but most impressive prayer that Divine assistance might be vouchsafed in the discussions now to commence, and that these discussions might be guided to an issue profitable to the Church of God. Then rising up he made obeisance to the young monarch, thanking him for this opportunity of defending the Reformation; and next, turning to the prelates, he besought them to seek only to arrive at truth. Having thus introduced himself, with a modest yet dignified courteousness, well fitted to disarm prejudice against himself and his cause, he proceeded to unfold the leading doctrines of the Reformation. He took care to dwell on the spirit of loyalty that animated its disciples, well knowing that the Romanists charged it with being the enemy of princes; he touched feelingly on the rigors to which his co-religionists had been subjected, though no fault had been found in them, save in the matters of their God; and then launching out on the great question which had brought the conference together, he proceeded with much clearness and beauty of statement, and also with great depth of argument, to discuss the great outstanding points between the two Churches. The speech took the Roman portion of the assembly by surprise. Such erudition and eloquence they had not expected to find in the advocates of the Reform; they were not quite the contemptible opponents they had expected to meet, and they felt that they would do well to look to their own armor. Beza, having ended, presented on bended knee a copy of the Confession of the French Protestant Church to the king.HOPV2 550.3

    But the orator had not been permitted to pursue uninterruptedly his argument to its close. In dealing with the controverted points, Beza had occasion to touch on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It was the center of the controversy. The doctrine he maintained on this head was, in brief, that Christ is spiritually present in the Sacrament, and spiritually partaken of by the faith of the recipient; but that his body is not in the elements, but in heaven. If the modest proposal of the Chancellor de l’Hopital, that the Bible should rule in the discussion, had raised a commotion, the words of Beza, asserting the Protestant doctrine on the great point at issue between Rome and the Reformation, evoked quite a storm. First, murmurs were heard; these speedily grew into a tempest of voices. “He has spoken blasphemy!” cried some. Cardinal Tournon demanded, anger almost choking his utterance, that the king should instantly silence Beza, and expel from France men whose very presence was polluting its soil and imperilling the faith of the “most Christian king.” All eyes were turned upon Catherine de Medici. She sat unmoved amid the clamor that surrounded her. Her son, Charles IX, was equally imperturbable. The ruse of the Roman bishops had failed — for nothing else than a ruse could it be, if the Romanists did not expect the Protestant deputies quietly and without striking a blow to surrender their whole cause to Rome-and the assembly by-and-by subsiding into calm, Beza went on with his speech, which he now pursued without interruption to its close.HOPV2 550.4

    The feeling among the bishops was that of discomfiture, though they strove to hide it under an air of affected contempt. Beza had displayed an argumentative power, and a range of learning and eloquence, which convinced them that they had found in him a more formidable opponent than they expected to encounter. They regretted that the conference had ever met; they dreaded, above all things, the effect which the reasonings of Beza might have on the mind of the king. “Would to God,” said the Cardinal of Lorraine, “that Beza had been dumb, or we deaf.” But regrets were vain. The conference had met, Beza had spoken, and there was but one course-Beza must be answered. They promised a refutation of all he had advanced, in a few days.HOPV2 551.1

    The onerous task was committed to the hands of the Cardinal of Lorraine. The choice was a happy one. The cardinal was not lacking in ingenuity; he was, moreover, possessed of some little learning, and a master in address. Claude d’Espenee, accounted one of the most learned of their doctors, was appointed to assist him in the way of collecting materials for his answer. On the 16th of September the Colloquy again met, and the cardinal stood forth before the assembly and delivered an eloquent oration. He confined himself to two points-the Church and the Sacrament. “The Church,” he said, “was infallibly guarded from error by the special promise of Christ. True,” he said, glancing at the Protestant members of the Colloquy, “individual Christians might err and fall out of the communion of the Church, but the Church herself cannot err, and when any of her children wander they ought to submit themselves to the Pontiff, who cannot fail to bring them back to the right path, and never can lose it himself.” In proof of this indefectibility of the Church, the cardinal cast himself upon history, expatiating, as is the wont of Romish controversialists, upon her antiquity and her advance, pari passu, with the ages in power and splendor. He painted her as surviving all changes, withstanding the shock of all revolutions, outlasting dynasties and nations, triumphing over all her enemies, remaining unbroken by divisions within, unsubdued by violence without, and apparently as imperishable as the throne of her Divine Founder. So spoke the cardinal. The prestige that encompasses Rome has dazzled others besides Romanists, and we may be sure the picture, in the hands of the cardinal, would lose none of its attractions and illusions. The second point, the Sacrament, did not admit of the same dramatic handling, and the cardinal contented himself with a summary of the usual arguments of his Church in favor of transubstantiation. The orator had not disappointed the expectations formed of him; even a less able speech would have been listened to with applause by all audience so partial; but the cheers that greeted Lorraine when he had ended were deafening. “He has refuted, nay, extinguished Beza,” shouted a dozen voices. Gathering round the king, “That, sire,” said they, “is the true faith, which has been handed down from Clovis; abide in it.”HOPV2 551.2

    When the noise had a little subsided, Beza rose and requested permission to reply on the spot. This renewed the confusion. “The deputies had but one course,” insisted the prelates, “they ought to confess that they were vanquished; and, if they refused, they must be compelled, or banished the kingdom.” But the hour was late; the lay members of the council were in favor of hearing Beza, and the bishops, being resolved at all hazards that he should not be heard, broke up the assembly. This may be said to have been the end of the conferences; for though the sittings were continued, they were held in a small chamber belonging to the prior; the king was not permitted to come any more to them; the lay deputies were also excluded; and the debates degenerated into mere devices on the part of the Romanist clergy to entrap the Protestants into signing articles craftily drafted and embodying the leading tenets of the Roman creed. Failing in this, the Cardinal of Lorraine attempted a characteristic ruse. He wrote to the Governor of Metz, desiring him to send to him a few divines of the Augsburg Confession, “holding their opinions with great obstinacy,” his design being to set them a-wrangling with the Calvinists on the points of difference. Arriving at Paris, one of them died of the plague, and the rest could not be presented in public. The cardinal consequently was left to manage his little affair himself as best he could. “Do you,” said he to Beza, “like the Lutherans of Germany, admit consubstantiation?” “And do you,” rejoined Beza, “like them, deny transubstantiation?” The cardinal thought to create a little bad blood between the Protestants of Germany and the Protestants of France, and so deprive the latter of the assistance which he feared might be sent them from their co-religionists of the Fatherland. But his policy of “divide and conquer” did not prosper. 6See very lengthened accounts of the debates and whole proceedings of this Conference in Beza’s Histoire des Eglises Reformees au Royaume de France, tom. 1, pp. 308-390; Lille, 1841; and Laval’s History of the Reformation in France, volume 1, pp. 482-587; Lond., 1737.HOPV2 551.3

    It was clear that no fair discussion, and no honest adjustment of the controversy on the basis of truth, had from the first been intended. Nevertheless, the Colloquy had prompted the inquiry, “Is Romanism simply a corruption of the Gospel, or rather, has it not changed in the course of the ages into a system alien from and antagonistic to Christianity, and can there in that case be a possibility of reconciling the two faiths?” The conference bore fruit also in another direction. It set the great Chancellor de l’Hopital to work to solve the problem, how the two parties could live in one country. To unite them was impossible; to exterminate one of them-Rome’s short and easy way-was abhorrent to him. There remained but one other device-namely, that each should tolerate the other. Simple as this way seems to us, to the men of the times of L’Hopital, with a few rare exceptions, it was unthought of and untried, and appeared impossible. But, soon after the breakdown of Poissy, we find the chancellor beginning to air though in ungenial times, his favorite theory-that men might be loyal subjects of the king, though not of the king’s faith, and good members of the nation, though not of the nation’s Church; in short, that difference of religious opinions ought not to infer exclusion from civil privileges, much less ought it to subject men to civil penalties.HOPV2 553.1

    Another important result of the Colloquy at Poissy, was that the Reformation stood higher in public estimation. It had been allowed to justify itself on a very conspicuous stage, and all to whom prejudice had left the power of judging, were beginning to see that it was not the disloyal and immoral System its enemies had accused it of being, nor were its disciples the vicious and monstrous characters which the priests had painted them. A fresh impulse was given to the movement. Some important towns, and hundreds of villages, after the holding of the Colloquy, left the communion of Rome. Farel was told by a pastor “that 300 parishes in the Agenois had put down the mass.” From all quarters came the cry, “Send us preachers!” Farel made occasional tours into his native France. There arrived from Switzerland another remarkable man to take part in the work which had received so sudden a development. In October, 1561, Pierre Viret came to Nismes. He had been waylaid on the road, and beaten almost to death, by those who guessed on what errand he was travelling; and when he appeared on the scene of his labours, “he seemed,” to use his own words, “to be nothing but a dry skeleton covered with skin, who had brought his bones thither to be buried.” Nevertheless, on the day after his arrival, he preached to 8,000 hearers. When he showed himself in the pulpit, many among his audience asked; “What has this poor man come to do in our country? Is he not come to die?” But when the clear, silvery tones of his voice rang out upon the ear, they forgot the meager look and diminutive figure of the man before them, and thought only of what he said. There were an unction and sweetness in his address that carried captive their hearts. All over the south of France, and more particularly in the towns of Nismes, Lyons, Montpelier, and Orthez, he preached the Gospel; and the memory of this eloquent evangelist lingers in those parts to this day. 7The important part played by colporteurs in the evangelization of France is attested by an edict of Francis II, 1559, in which he attributes the troubles of his kingdom to “certain preachers from Geneva,” and also to “the malicious dispersion of condemned books brought from thence, which had infected those of the populace who, through want of knowledge and judgment, were unable to discern doctrines.” (Memoires de Conde, tom. 1, p. 9; Londres, 1743.)HOPV2 554.1

    Nor was Beza in any haste to depart, although the conferences which brought him to Paris were at an end. Catherine de Medici, on whom his learning, address, and courtly bearing had not failed to make an impression, showed him some countenance, and he preached frequently in the neighborhood of the capital. These gatherings took place outside the walls of Paris; the people, to avoid all confusions, going and returning, going and returning by several gates. In the center were the women; next came the men, massed in a broad circular column; while a line of sentinels stationed at intervals kept watch on the outside, lest the fanatical mob of Paris should throw itself upon the congregation of worshippers.HOPV2 554.2

    It was impossible that a great movement like this, obstructed by so many and so irritating hindrances, should pursue its course without breaking into occasional violences. In those parts of France where the whole population had passed over to Protestantism, the people took possession of the cathedrals, and, as a matter of course, they cleared out the crucifixes, images, and relics which they contained. In the eyes of the Protestants these things were the symbols of idolatry, and they felt that they had only half renounced Romanism while they retained the signs and symbols of its dogmas. They felt that they had not honestly put away the doctrine while they retained its exponent. A nation of philosophers might have been able to distinguish between the idea and its symbol, and completely to emancipate themselves from the former without destroying the latter. They might have said, These things are nothing to us but so much wood and metal; it is in the idea that the mischief lies, and we have effectually separated ourselves from it, and the daily sight of these things cannot bring it back or restore its dominancy over us. But the great mass of mankind are too little abstract to feel or reason in this way. They cannot fully emancipate themselves from the idea till its sign has been put away. The Bible has recognized this feebleness, if one may term it so, of the popular mind, when it condemned, as in the second commandment, worship by an image, as the worship of the image, and joining together the belief and the image of the false gods, stringently commanded that both should be put away. And the distinctive feeling of the masses in all revolutions, political as well as religious, has recognised this principle. Nations, in all such cases, have destroyed the symbols represented. The early Christians broke the idols and demolished the temples of paganism. In the revolution of 1789, and in every succeeding revolution in France, the populace demolished the monuments and tore down the insignia of the former regime. If this is too great a price to pay for Reformation, that is another thing; but we cannot have Reformation without it. We cannot have liberty without the loss, not of tyranny only, but its symbols also; nor the Gospel without the loss of idolatry, substance and symbol. Nor can these symbols return without the old ideas returning too. Hence Ranke tells us that the first indication of a reaction against the Reformation in Germany was “the wearing of rosaries.” This may enable us to understand the ardour of the French iconoclasts of the sixteenth century. Of that ardour we select, from a multitude of illustrative incidents, the following:—On one occasion, during the first war of religion, news was brought to Conde and Coligny that the great Church of St. Croix in Orleans was being sacked. Hurrying to the spot, they found a soldier mounted on a ladder, busied in breaking an image. The prince pointed an arquebuse at him. “Menseigneur,” said the Huguenot, “have patience till I have knocked down this idol, and then I will die, if you please.”HOPV2 554.3

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