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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > BOOK IX. CHAPTER I.
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(January to June 1535.)
The Reformation of Geneva, prepared by the restoration of civil liberty and begun by the reading of the Word of God and the teaching of various evangelists, was about to be definitively carried out by the devout ministry of Froment, Viret, and particularly of Farel. Afterwards Calvin, in accord with the Councils, who never renounced their right of intervention, will strengthen the foundations and organize and crown the edifice. The civil and ecclesiastical powers had (especially since the days of Hildebrand) struggled continually with each other in the different nations of Christendom, and stirred up hatreds, divisions, and wars. A better state of things was to take the place of these perpetual troubles. Church and State were not always to be united even in Geneva; but they would show more moderation in their relations, would more frequently have the same thoughts, and would advance hand in hand towards a mutual independence, which would not, however, estrange them from each other.
At the beginning of 1535 the opposition to Reform
was still vigorous in that city, whose inhabitants were discussing the important question whether liberty was a good or an evil? The partisans of the pope and Savoy tried to demonstrate to such of the citizens as were known to be in favor of civil liberty and religious reform, that their condition would go from bad to worse, if they did not accept the sovereignty of their bishop, the protectorate of a neighboring prince, and the supremacy of the pope—three masters for one. The fruits of that independence with which they were so captivated, would be (they said) agitation, disorder, violence, and misery. The feudal party was sincerely convinced that the path of liberty is rugged and dangerous; that he who follows it stumbles, falls, and is ruined; and that whether a nation be great or small, it needs an absolute and energetic power to keep it in order. They advised the Genevese to lay aside their fine theories, their old parchments, and their ancient franchises, and to take a master if they desired to see peace, wealth, pleasure, and prosperity abound within their walls.
The citizens rejected this advice. They believed that as the liberties they possessed came from their fathers, they ought not to rob their children of them. They knew that independence had dangers, privations, and troubles to which they must submit. But life itself is not without them, and we should not think that a reason for making away with it. If God has enriched man with noble faculties, it is not that he may mutilate or stifle them, but develop, regulate, and increase them. No man worthy of the name voluntarily accepts laws in the making of which he has had no share. Cæsarism, violence, and secret societies cannot be substituted in a nation for independence, justice, and publicity. Despotism dwarfs a man, liberty strengthens him. To take it away in order to prevent abuses, is to change the work and plan of the Creator.
And yet everything seemed to indicate that liberty
and reform were about to be destroyed in Geneva. An assembly of the Swiss Cantons held, as we have seen, at Lucerne on the 1st of January, 1535, had been occupied about Geneva; and Berne, the only canton that wished well to the Genevese, had consented that the bishop and the duke should be reinstated in the rights which they pretended to possess, provided religion remained free; for, the Bernese had added, 'faith is the gift of God.' But the envoys of Savoy had demanded the complete and unconditional recognition of the absolute authority of the duke and the bishop, which alone (they affirmed) could put an end to all hatred and effusion of blood.[473] The diet had decided on this, so that the reformation and independence of Geneva were about to be annihilated by the Swiss themselves.
But it is when men draw back that help is nearest. If all were resolved, outside of Geneva, to destroy its Reformation, the small phalanx of citizens within its walls was not less resolved to uphold it. Three parties called for it alike. The old huguenots wanted it to be immediate, violent even if necessary; the magistrates wished it to be legal, slow, and diplomatic; and the evangelicals desired it to be spiritual and peaceably accomplished by the Word of God. There were many pious souls in the houses of people of mark, as well as in obscure dwellings, who cried to God day and night for the triumph of the good cause. That little city of 12,000 souls had determined to resist the powers who wanted to crush it. Without hesitation, without fear, Geneva trusted in God and marched onwards. The period (7th of February) having arrived at which the magistrates were elected every year, the Genevese resolutely voted to the first offices of the state the friends of independence and reform.[474] Among the councillors there were
also some of the most decided huguenots.[475] With such men—with Farel, Viret, and Froment within its walls, and with the Divine protection, the transformation of Geneva seemed imminent, notwithstanding the efforts of Switzerland, Piedmont, the emperor, and the pope.
The government party desired to precipitate nothing; they intended to conciliate opposite opinions, and to seek a certain middle course which would satisfy everybody; but the cause of the Reformation and of liberty fermented in many hearts. Those waters, which the magistrates would have desired to see motionless, were strongly agitated, and the Roman ship, already dismasted, might be suddenly engulfed. Almost every day some citizen, some woman, or even some monk, left the Church of the pope and entered the Church of the Gospel; or else some foreign Christian, who had forsaken everything to obey his conscience, entered the free city, principally by the gate of France. Those pious refugees were received like brothers. People gathered round them, looked at them, and questioned them. The strangers told how they had waged a bitter war, endured vile reproaches, wept much and groaned much; but the annoyances they had suffered (they added) appeared light, now that they had found deliverance and liberty. The Christians of Geneva were strengthened by the faith of these noble confessors of Jesus Christ. The reforming torrent increased, it was seen rushing against the weakened barriers. The Roman-catholics both from without and within vainly endeavored to check it; it was about to sweep away the worm-eaten timbers of popery.[476] The council, however,
seemed motionless. The ardent Bandière was pushing forward, the catholic Philippin was holding back; but the halfway opinions of the chief syndic and of Du Molard finally prevailed.
The moderate party agreed that some concession ought to be made to the evangelical party, if they wished to remain in office. A good opportunity occurred of realizing this plan. They discovered a gray friar who offered to preach the Word of God, while wearing the hood of St. Francis. To give a mitigated Gospel, under a Roman form, is the plan ordinarily chosen by those who have set peace before truth. One or two days after the election of syndics, the cordelier, supported by the council, asked the Chapter for a place to preach in. The canons, who were a little mistrustful, examined him: he wore the brown frock of St. Francis, and a cord served him for a girdle. Still they feared there was something underneath. 'Go to the vicar-episcopal, who lives at Gex,' they said. The 'evangelical monk' did so; but the vicar also regarded him with an uneasy look. 'My lord bishop,' he answered, 'will soon come to Geneva; he will bring with him whatever preacher he likes.' The poor Franciscan came back and told the council that they had bowed him out everywhere. Two councillors now waited upon the Chapter to support the monk's petition; when some of them, who lived as canons do, as idly as can be imagined, suddenly found that they had their hands full. 'We have to read the service,' they answered, 'and it is so long! and then there is other work to do; there is the procession, in which we must walk in order. We have not the time to think about preaching! Make the best arrangement you can.' The council was disgusted. To bawl out litanies, that was a pressing matter; but to have the Word of God preached was a supererogatory work. 'Well then,' said the offended syndics to the monk, 'we will give you a place ourselves,' and they assigned him
the church of St. Germain, situated in a district devoted to catholicism. This was Saturday, 12th of February, the eve of the first Sunday in Lent.[477]
The report of this decision threw the catholics of the parish into confusion, and there were violent scenes in many a household. The women were beside themselves; they abused their husbands, called them cowards, and enjoined them to oppose the monk's sermon. One of them, by name Pernette, was distinguished in this opposition. Small, fat, short-legged, and with her head between the shoulders, she was so like a ball that they called her in the city Touteronde.[478] But a restless spirit agitated her little body, and a big voice came out of it. Pernette bestirred herself, plotted in-doors, shouted in the streets, and at last went to see the parish-priest.
The priest of St. Germain and bishop's procurator-fiscal was Thomas Vandel, brother of Robert, Pierre, and Hugues. He was an undecided character, disposed to walk like his brothers in the way of independence, but close ties attached him to the bishop, and he hesitated. Divided in heart, he was continually driven backwards and forwards by opposing sentiments.
For the moment, thanks to the efforts of certain canons and noble ladies, the wind at the parsonage was favorable for the papacy. Certain huguenots, however, were just then speaking in a loud voice; and Vandel, unwilling to pronounce for either side, threw the burden on the principal members of his parish, by requesting them to present a petition to the council.
On Sunday morning a little before the hour at which the monk was to preach, the deputation proceeded to the hôtel-de-ville. The members were really speaking for their wives. There was no question of heresy. 'We fear that there may be a disturbance,' they said, 'and therefore beg to have our usual service.' The syndics
answered, 'You will hear the preacher. If he preaches well, he shall stay; but if he preaches any novelty, anything contrary to Holy Scripture, he will be expelled.' Accordingly the priest had it announced in the church that the monk would preach by order of the council. The women and a few men returned to their homes much irritated. An insurrection was at once organized; a clerical partisan collected a number of the parishioners about him in the street and shouted out, 'Shut the church doors against the gray friar.' Pernette, who was there, went home, caught up a great wooden pestle with which she used to pound salt,[479] and brandishing it like a club, marched fiercely to the combat. A great number of women, among whom were some of rather questionable morality, surrounded her, ............
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