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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER VI.
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(8th to 11th August 1535.)
The Reformation protested against a ritualistic and meritorious worship; against the multiplicity of feasts, consecrations, ecclesiastical usages and customs; against any adoration whatever rendered to creatures, images, and relics; against the invocation of mediators who usurped the function of the Son of God; lastly, and chiefly, against a pretended expiatory sacrifice, effected by the priests, which was substituted for the only sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ.
All these human vanities were about to disappear. Farel and his friends waited for the reformatory ordinance; but the ardent huguenots, among whom Ami Perrin was the most active, became impatient at the perpetual hesitations of the council. A chance event called forth an energetic demonstration on their part. The same Sunday (8th August) in the afternoon at vespers, the canons, assembling again in their church, chanted the Psalm In exitu Israël, 'When Israel went out of Egypt,'[563] and, with the utmost simplicity, repeated in Latin what Farel had said in the morning in French:
Simulacra gentium argentum et aurum,
Opera manuum hominum.
Os habent et non loquentur.
Oculos habent et non videbunt.
Similes illis fiant qui faciunt ea
Et omnes qui confidunt in illis.[564]
The canons could not have chosen a fitter text. Some huguenots, who knew Latin better perhaps than they did, smiled and called out: 'Ho there, you priests, you curse in your chants those who made the images and trusted in them, and yet you allow them to remain.' They restrained themselves, however, for the moment. The magistrates continued repeating, 'There is no need to abolish the mass and images; else very formidable princes will be to you like ravening wolves rushing upon sheep.'[565]
A very extraordinary thing occurred at this moment. Nobody was willing to begin the work and yet it was accomplished. 'God,' said the reformers, 'who holds the world in his hand, loves to choose the contemptible rather than what is great and apparent.' In fact, it was a mischievous jest of some children which dealt the first blow. 'For this work,' says Froment, 'God stirred up a score of little boys.' These children had often heard the priests, and their errors and abuses spoken of; and their parents had added that it was time they were ended. They slipped into St. Pierre's; stopped and listened, and were struck with the strange intonations of the canons. Making their way towards a part of the church remote from that in which the reverend fathers were chanting, they began to play like boys of their age, 'while nobody thought anything about it,' says the chronicler. They commenced singing and shouting in
imitation of the canons' voices. Presently they lifted up the seats of the low stalls, on which the reverend fathers used to sit when they were not engaged in the service, and let them fall with a noise. Everybody knows the fondness little boys have for amusements of this kind. They gambolled about, but in their games there was a certain opposition to the worship which their fathers condemned. The petulance of their age carried them away. They saw in a corner certain things that resembled dolls; they could not resist their desire to take them; and catching hold of the 'priests' mannikins,'[566] as Froment calls them, they began to toss to one another the small grotesque figures with which the chapels were decorated.
At this moment Perrin, Goulay, and their friends, attracted perhaps by the noise, entered the cathedral. They saw that the great execution had begun; children were beforehand with them. Passion and impulse carried them away. They knew that it was the province of the government only to work out a reform; but when the government hangs back from its duty, what is to be done? 'We have petitioned the council to pull down the idols,' they said; 'and it has not done so for want of courage. Let us then come to its help and do what God commands.' At once the daring citizens, going farther than the children, penetrated into the choir where the priests were singing, and the latter asked in alarm what these laymen were going to do. 'On a sudden,' says the chronicler, 'Perrin and his companions threw the idols to the ground and broke them.' The children who saw this began to run about and 'jump upon those little gods.' Taking up the pieces, they ran to the door with glee, and called to the people collected in front of the church: 'Here are the gods of the priests, will you have a piece?' At the same time they threw the fragments among the crowd. There was great
confusion. The wiser heads ineffectually argued that this work of reform should be left to the council; those huguenots had no doubts as to their duty. If the magistrates were unwilling to have the images destroyed, the Bible commands it. 'The sun is now rising,' they said, 'and scattering throughout Christendom the dense clouds that obscure the religion of Jesus Christ.'
The order of things in the middle ages was indeed incompatible with the new wants of society. Later, in the time of Calvin, after the first victory had been gained, it was important to establish Christian doctrine and to constitute Christian society; but now it was the time of Farel. It was necessary to appeal to the spirit of liberty and to the energetic development of the will—this a conservative writer has acknowledged[567]—a necessity in the first ages at the time of the establishment of Christianity; it was no less a necessity in the sixteenth century. The powers that had invaded the Church were so tenacious that the labor necessary to pull them down was a work of revolution and of war. The moral fact was the same at the epoch of these two great dispensations. Whoever applauds the axe which shattered the colossal statue of Serapis at Alexandria,[568] cannot blame that which threw down the images of a corrupt worship in the temples of Geneva.
Great was the sorrow felt by the devotees during that execution; they seemed looking at the fall of the papacy itself. Some who had remained in the church contemplated the heart-rending spectacle from afar. Foolish women of the city, says Froment, began to weep and to groan. 'Alas! our good saints, our sacred images (they said) before which we used to kneel!... Whom shall we adore now?'—and they 'cursed those dogs (cagnes).'
A new and still more striking act increased the wrath of the priests and that of their partisans. Of all the
Romish dogmas there was none which more disgusted the huguenots than transubstantiation. To affirm it (they maintained) was to presume that Jesus Christ, man and God, was transformed into a little cake. And hence a French refugee, Maigret, surnamed the Magnificent, a man without pity for Roman errors, having found some wafers in the church, threw them upon the ground; his dog, who followed him, sprang upon them and ate them up. 'Now if these little cakes had been real gods,' said the pitiless Maigret, 'they would not have allowed themselves to be eaten by that beast.'[569] No one has combated the doctrine of transubstantiation more vigorously than Calvin, but he would not have approved of such a rude mode of acting; later, he expressly condemned it. 'Let us not take too great license,' he said.
The horror of the priests knew no bounds; they ran out of the church, hastened to the hôtel-de-ville, and described to the council the violent scenes that had just taken place. The syndics, irritated because the huguenots had despised their orders, sent two of their number to the cathedral—Antoine Chiquand and Ami Bandière. They were 'much excited,' shouting and threatening 'those who had done this.' But the reformed were not inclined to give way. They had made strange discoveries. Some who had begun to search after the famous arm of St. Anthony—upon which, in important cases, oaths used to be made with the ringing of bells and great pomp, found—not the arm of the saint, but the limb of a stag. Others, opening the precious shrine which inclosed the head of St. Peter, brought out a piece of pumice-stone instead of the skull. 'See,' they exclaimed, showing these objects to the surrounding crowd, 'see what the priests used to make us worship.' This gave another direction to the indignation of the delegates from the council, and one of them, disgusted
at such mean frauds, said to the other: 'If the gods of the priests are true gods, let them defend themselves. As for us we can do no more.' The huguenots, wishing to make these scandals known to the people, put the pumice-stone and the stag's bone under magnificent canopies, and prepared to carry these precious relics of an apostle and a saint all round the city. The novel procession attracted an immense crowd, and the disgusting falsehoods, of which it was a proof, opened the eyes of the most obstinate. 'Now we know,' they said, 'the value of the priests' words! They made us pay five florins for the ceremony; they pretended that if any one made a false oath, the saint would wither up his hand. All that was only to frighten and plunder us.' Every one began to despise a clergy who, for so many ages, had thus played upon the good faith of the people. An old writer has said: 'Justæ quibus est iræ.'[570] 'Woe unto the Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!'[571]
In the evening, a certain number of citizens met together after supper, when the more excited 'proposed that they should make the round of the other churches and throw down the idols everywhere.'—'No,' replied the wiser ones, 'not now; if we did it at so late an hour, folks would say, as they did of old at Pentecost, that we are full of new wine. Let us wait until to-morrow morning.'[572] This was the general opinion.
The next day, Monday the 9th of August, early in the morning, the drum beat in the streets. Some people asked 'Whether there was any alarm of the enemy.'—'Make yourselves easy,' they answered; 'it is only a fight against Rome and her idols.' Everything
was conducted with order: the citizens were drawn up in their companies. Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, Pierre Vandel, and Ami Perrin, who were the three captains of the city, put themselves at their head, and then they all marched with drums beating to the church of St. Gervais. It was not a tumultuous band, but the majority of the people advancing under the orders of their regular captains. None of those citizens had the least doubt as to the lawfulness of his proceedings. The new crusade, like that of Peter the Hermit, was accomplished to the cry of—It is the will of God!
There were at St. Gervais' scandals still greater than at St. Pierre's. The priests, to procure money, pretended that St. Nazaire, St. Celsus, and St. Pantaleon were buried under the high altar. When a poor woman approached, she heard a confused noise.[573] 'It is the voices of the holy bodies,' said the priests, 'praying to be taken up and canonized; but that requires a large sum of money.' Others related how at the dead of night small luminous creatures were often seen moving about the cemetery. 'They are souls from purgatory,' explained the ecclesiastics; 'they wander about here and there asking for masses for their deliverance.' Certain persons, wishing to learn the truth, crept one night into the cemetery, caught some of those poor souls, and found that they were—crabs, with small wax tapers lighted and fastened on their backs.[574] Frivolous men laughed, but serious men, seeing to what guilty manœuvres the priests had been driven by the love of gain, were seized with horror. 'Avarice so excites them,' said Calvin one day, 'that there is nothing they will not try, how bad soever it may be—treacheries,
frauds innumerable, hatreds, poisonings—as soon as the gleam of silver or gold has dazzled their eyes.'
The three captains and their companies, having reached the church, began by exploring the vault where the three saints groaned, and discovered the trick. They found under the altar two earthen vessels connected by a tube, and pierced with holes like those in an organ-pipe, so that the least noise over the vessels produced the effect of organ-bellows, and caused a sound like the indistinct murmur of persons talking.[575] 'The poor papists could not believe it.'—'No!' they said; 'it is St. Nazaire, St. Celsus, and St. Pantaleon.'—'Come and see then,' answered the reformers. They came and saw, and 'some of them from that hour refused to believe any more in such abuses.'[576]
The judgment having been accomplished at St. Gervais, the three captains turned their steps towards the church of St. Dominic, one of the chief sanctuaries of popery between th............
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