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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER VII.
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(August to December 1535.)
The Reformation protested against the hierarchy. It denied that Christ had given to the Church or to its heads the power of making laws by the fulfilment of which Christians would be justified before God. The Reformation protested against monkery. It denied that a cloistered life could merit salvation and give a piety superior to what the Word of God requires of all Christians; it reproached the monastic discipline with lowering the divine institutions of marriage, government, and labor; and was an occasion of backsliding and unheard-of scandal.
The priests were about to quit Geneva and carry away with them those abuses; but the council, which always studied to proceed by equitable ways, would not condemn them without hearing them. The monks of the different convents, demoralized and trembling like culprits, had, it is true, fled in great numbers. Still there were some remaining, and they received an order to appear before the Great Council to defend their faith. They were very alarmed, but the order was peremptory. On the morning of the 12th of August those members of the order of St. Dominic, St. Augustin, St. Francis, and the minors of Ste. Claire who were still in Geneva arrived at the hôtel-de-ville. They were twelve in number, a poor remnant of those powerful bodies who for long had possessed such great power in the city.
The twelve, standing with bent heads before the council, heard a summary of the disputation read, and this added to their alarm. The premier syndic having asked them if they had anything to say in favor of the mass and of images, all remained silent. St. Dominic, St. Francis, and even St. Augustin were dumb before the Reform. The syndics, desiring at any price to extract a sound from them, ordered the monks to be called up one after the other. Chapelain, a brother of St. Dominic, was called first. 'We are simple people,' he said, 'who cannot answer for want of knowledge. We are accustomed to live as our fathers lived and to believe as the Church does. Do not ask us about matters beyond our reach.' The other monks were unanimous in requesting that they might be permitted not to inquire into such questions. Monkery fell in Geneva amid universal astonishment and indignation.
But after the monks came the priests. Monseigneur de Bonmont, vicar-episcopal, had, at the request of the council, assembled the canons and the secular clergy at his house. The same day (12th August) in the afternoon, a distinguished deputation of syndics and councillors, wishing to honor the church, went to the grand-vicar, instead of making him come to the hôtel-de-ville like the monks. The wise and pious Savoye, who had been elected spokesman, informed the priests that a summary of the great disputation having been drawn up, it was about to be read to them, 'that they might come to a better decision.' The latter displayed less weakness than the monks. Indignant that laymen should presume to catechise the priesthood, they replied haughtily: 'We do not want to hear your debate, and we do not care what Farel said. We wish to live as we have hitherto done, and beg you will leave us in peace.' As the priests rejected the opportunity given them of justifying their doctrines, the representatives of the state interdicted them from celebrating mass until
further orders. Some days later the council ordered them 'to worship God according to the Gospel,' and forbade them to perform 'any act of popish idolatry.'[587]
A great and salutary revolution was thus carried out. The Romish priests, seeing their vast temples now silent, their rich abbeys now bare, and themselves reduced to silence, determined to quit Geneva. The fear of being detained made them have recourse to various expedients. In the evening or early in the morning they stole out of the city, or else, hiding in some corner during the day, they fled during the night. Priests, laymen, women holding their children's hands, bade adieu to the cheerful city, to the shores of the beautiful lake, and to its smiling hills. They loved Rome and Rome was sufficient for them. On the 13th of August a cry of alarm was heard in the council: 'Geneva,' it was said, 'by losing a part of its population, will lose its importance.' But it was the contrary that happened. Confessors of the Gospel compelled to quit their country in the cause of faith, and especially Frenchmen, were to fill up the void made by the adherents of the pope.
The exodus continued day and night, but not without difficulty. Jean Regis, a priest, and two of his colleagues crept one dark night to the back of St. Victor's convent, entered the stables, and took out three horses. They were preparing to mount them when they were arrested. The council assembled at two hours after midnight, and sent to prison the priests who were running away on stolen horses.[588] The council prevented the clergy from laying hands upon what did not belong to them, but not from going wherever they pleased.
A great number of ecclesiastics and laymen succeeded, however, in gaining the states of the Duke of Savoy, and wherever they went they stirred up the anger of the catholics against Geneva. The storm that was brewing
became more threatening. It was not enough for the Genevans to see their fields laid waste, they learnt from Savoy that the city itself was going to be destroyed. The citizens thrilled with anger: 'As the attack is to take place in favor of popery,' they said, 'it is right that popery should pay for the defence.' The council, therefore, decided that the church jewels should be devoted to the necessities of the state. The priests of St. Germain, St. Gervais, and other parishes brought their reliquaries and vessels; but the proctors of the Madeleine appeared empty-handed at the hôtel-de-ville, and said: 'By what right do you demand our treasures?' At the same time the ex-syndic, Jean Balard, and other catholics, seizing the opportunity, exclaimed: 'Why do you deprive us of our masses?' But the council was firm, and the priests of the Madeleine, quite broken-hearted, were obliged to bring their chalices and other vessels to aid in combating the defenders of their faith. As the value of these ornaments did not exceed three hundred crowns, those of St. Pierre were added to them.[589]
It was time for Geneva to be on its guard. At the beginning of September 1535, the ambassador from the duke of Savoy, prince of Piedmont, informed the pope (on behalf of his master) of what had taken place and asked for prompt repression. He told the pontiff that 'on the 10th of August the wretched Lutherans had abolished religion; that they had entered the churches, had thrown out the relics and the images, had proclaimed the mass to be an abuse, and had set the ministers preaching.' Paul III. was thunderstruck; but true to his silent habits, he only expressed his surprise by signs. He shrugged his shoulders, said the ambassador, as if a thrill of horror had run through him. Then bowing his head he sighed gently, and said in a low tone: 'Holy Virgin! Holy Virgin!' and sank
into a deep silence. But if his lips were dumb and his body motionless, his mind, full of activity, was agitated and sought some means of conjuring the evil. At last, breaking silence, he turned to the ambassador: 'Tell the duke that he has behaved like a good servant of the Church. He has done all in his power to prevent this disaster. Let him persevere in the same course.'[590] The duke understood him, and, secure of the support of the pope and of his brother-in-law the emperor, he continued his preparations against Geneva.
During this time the houses of the priests who remained in the city, and the aisles of the almost deserted cloisters, resounded with wailings. This was particularly the case in the convent of St. Claire.
. . . Penitusque cavæ plangoribus ædes
Femineis ululant.[591]
That convent was the only one worthy of any interest: the reformers wished to attempt to introduce a little light into it. The Sunday of the Octave after the Visitation of the Virgin, the syndics, with Farel, Viret, one of the monks who had embraced the reform, and about a dozen notables of the city, made their appearance there about ten o'clock. When the sisters were assembled, Farel took for his text the gospel of the day: 'Maria abiit cum festinatione in civitatem Judæ:' 'Mary went with haste into a city of Juda,'[592] and tried to enlighten the nuns. 'You see,' he said, 'the Virgin Mary did not lead a solitary life; she was diligent in aiding others, and went to the town where her cousin, who was older than herself, lived, in order to do her a service. God said in the days of the Creation: It is not good that the man should be alone. Why then should man contradict
this law of God? The Lord is unwilling that any restraint should be imposed upon the conscience, since he has given it liberty. The service rendered to God in the cloisters is therefore a diabolical tyranny.' At these words the mother-vicar, a violent woman, rose hastily, left her seat, went and put herself between the sisters and the heretics, and said sharply to the latter: 'Be off, for you will gain nothing here!'—'Return to your place,' said the syndics; but the mother replied: 'I will do nothing of the sort.' Consequently they turned her out.
Farel continued: 'What is this monastic life that is substituted for holy matrimony and liberty? It is a life full of great abuses, monstrous errors, and carnal corruption.' At these words the sisters began to cry out, 'It is a falsehood,' and spat at the reformer in their wrath.[593] But Farel, who had suffered worse things than this, said to the confessor: 'We know that many of these poor young women would willingly come to the truth and liberty, if you and the old ones did not keep them so close.' While saying these words he was stopped by loud blows which prevented his being heard. It was the mother-vicar, who had been listening to him; she struck against the partition with her fists, and cried out: 'Hah! you wretched, cursed man! You are wasting your coaxing words. Bah! you will make nothing of them!' She then backed up her words by a terrible drumming upon the panels.[594] Some of the sisters stopped their ears with wax, so as not to hear Farel's sermon. The latter, calling to mind the saying, Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, retired, and the deputation went down the staircase. The monk who had embraced the Reform was the last of the file; one of the sisters walked behind him, thumping him on the shoulders with her fists, and saying: 'Wretched apostate,
out of my sight!' 'But this fine fellow did not seem to notice them,' says Jeanne, who was present; 'he said not a word, his tongue was palsied.'[595] The same could not be said of the mother-vicar, and some others, who kept on vociferating and thumping. Farel returned no more to the convent.
One nun, however, had opened her heart to the Gospel. Claudine Levet, who had a sister named Blaisine Varembert, in the cloister, had often visited her, had given her a New Testament, and prayed night and day to God that Blaisine might be enlightened. The latter was touched with the love of the Saviour, of which Claudine had spoken to her; and on the festival of Corpus Christi she refused to adore the holy sacrament. Three of the sisters fell upon her, 'and bruised her all over.' They put her in prison, and tied her hands and feet. 'Ah!' said Blaisine, 'you keep me in prison, because I reproach you for making good cheer and living in strife with one another day and night.'[596]
Claudine Levet and some other Genevan ladies, with Baudichon de la Maisonneuve and Pierre Vandel, went to the convent with the intention of liberating the poor girl. The mother-vicar 'stood upright on her feet,' and said: 'Gentlemen, consider well what you are about to do, for if any man comes near, either he or I shall die upon the spot.'[597] Upon this, the men remaining in the background, two or three ladies approached the prisoner. The latter, standing by the side of her sister, declared that she desired to serve God purely, according to Holy Scripture, and added that she was detained in the convent against her will. 'In that case you are free,' said De la Maisonneuve. To no purpose did the
mother-vicar rush impetuously forward, wishing to detain her by force, and several nuns did the same; Blaisine left the convent without saying a word, entered a neighboring house, took off her religious dress, and went in plain garments to her sister's.[598]
Claudine and Blaisine could not, however, make up their minds to abandon the poor recluses. Possessing the Word of God, and the salvation that it announces, they desired to share their good things with them. The Genevese ladies, attached to the Gospel, had much faith and activity. The two sisters, therefore, returned to the convent on Saturday, 28th, and Sunday, 29th August, and Dame Claude began to speak; but the nuns tossed their heads, a............
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