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(Winter and Spring.)
There was in Italy, as we have said in another place,[763] a city in which the love of letters flourished, and where the Gospel found a firm support: that city was Ferrara. It was embellished by a university, bishop's palace, and cathedral; by the castle of the ancient dukes, the palace of Este; but its fairest ornament was Renée of France. That princess, daughter of King Louis XII., wife of the duke of Este, was not more distinguished by the graces of her mind and her learning, than by the love of holiness which shone in her, like a divine flame, according to the testimony of one of the most learned Christians of Italy.[764] For some time she had turned her attention towards heavenly science and theological studies, and had attracted successively to Ferrara the most eminent Christians of Italy—Curione, Occhino, Flaminio, and
Peter Martyr. Two young Frenchmen arrived in their turn some time before the events we have just described. One was called Charles d'Espeville and the other Louis de Haulmont. They soon made their arrival known to the duchess, who was expecting them; and Renée, whose heart had remained French, was happy to possess in her palace two such distinguished fellow-countrymen. She knew that they had left their homes on account of that Gospel of Christ which she herself had learnt to love in the society of her dear cousin, Margaret of Angoulême, the king's sister. She lodged them in the Palace del Magistrato, situated in the Piazza del Duomo, and adjoining the castle.[765]
Louis de Haulmont was an amiable young man, pious but timid, still undecided as to the road he should take, and the victim of fierce struggles. His companion, Charles d'Espeville, was a man of humble appearance: his eyes were lively and piercing, his manner serious and firm, and everything in him indicated a soul of a different stamp from that of his friend. Haulmont's true name was Louis du Tillet; he was a canon and archdeacon of Angoulême; Charles d'Espeville was none other than John Calvin. As these two Frenchmen were about to sojourn in the states of a prince, a vassal of the pope, they were compelled (says Muratori) to appear under a false name and in a costume different from what they usually wore.[766]
Renée, whose compassionate heart had been so often touched by the recital of the terrible punishments and victorious faith which animated the evangelicals, could not look upon one of them who had escaped a dungeon and the scaffold, without experiencing towards him the feelings of a mother and a sister. 'She was struck with
Calvin's fine genius,' says a catholic historian,[767] and the perfection with which he spoke and wrote the French language. She presented her two countrymen to the duke, as men of letters who had come to visit the brilliant Italy: this was a better claim to the favor of the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. than their condition as reformers.
Ferrara presented many subjects of interest to Calvin. The duke of Este liked to play the Medici: Bernard Tasso, a poet not without imagination, was secretary to the duchess; and his son, the illustrious author of the 'Jerusalem Delivered,' was soon to fill the court of Ferrara with his genius, his sorrows, his despair and folly, caused (it is supposed) by his unhappy passion for the beautiful Leonora, daughter of Renée, and even to expiate by a seven years' captivity in a madhouse the crime of having loved a granddaughter of Louis XII. and Lucrezia Borgia. Celio Calcagnini, canon, poet, orator, mathematician, and antiquary, who guided in the land of the Muses the footsteps of the youthful Anne of Este, who afterwards became duchess of Guise, and her friend Olympia Morata, was then also at the court of Este. A year sooner, the author of 'The Institutes of the Christian Religion' might have met the author of the 'Orlando Furioso;' but the somewhat discordant individualities of Calvin and Ariosto were not destined to be found side by side.
It was not the men of learning, however, whom the young theologian had come to see: it was the duchess herself. That princess, who had already received in France a few rays of evangelical light, did not yet possess a sufficient knowledge of Christian truth: she felt this, and was determined to seek above all things peace with God. She therefore had frequent interviews with Calvin. Holy Scripture was the subject of their conversation; the reformer explained to Renée one
passage by another, and the light of heaven beaming from all these passages of Holy Writ, carried brightness and warmth into the princess's heart. The young doctor spoke with simplicity and modesty, but at the same time with affection and decision. 'If I address you, madam,' he said, 'it is not from rashness or presumption, but pure and true affection to make you prevail in the Lord. When I consider the pre-eminence in which He has placed you, I think that, as a person of princely rank, you can advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ.' But even this consideration was not necessary to arouse the zeal of the evangelist of Noyon. The princess's noble character and her love for the Gospel touched him deeply. 'I observe in you,' he added, 'such fear of God, and such a real desire to obey Him, that I should consider myself a castaway if I neglected the opportunity of being useful to you.'[768] Calvin was the most profound and most earnest commentator of Holy Scripture; and Renée embraced with her whole heart the truths that he proclaimed, so that the reformer was able to say to her some time later: 'It has pleased God, madam, to enlighten you with the truth of His holy Gospel. Let us now confess that if God has withdrawn us from the depths of darkness, it is in order that we should follow the light straightforwardly, turning neither to this side nor to that.'[769] The duchess profited by this advice. 'Calvin,' says Muratori, 'so infected Renée with his errors that it was never possible to extract from her heart the poison she had drunk.'[770]
An open Christian walk was difficult at a court where
popery and worldliness ruled together. Hence Renée felt keenly the need of directions in harmony with the Word of God; and in her difficulties and agonies, at the times when she was about to faint, 'as if she was sunk in water almost over her head,' she had recourse to the evangelical theologian. Calvin then invited her always to walk 'forwards, in order that the gifts of God might increase in her.' 'The main point,' as he wrote to her some time after, 'is that the holy doctrine of our Master should so transform us in mind and heart, that His glory may shine forth in us by innocence, integrity, and holiness.'[771]
Some of the most illustrious divines of Roman-catholicism have been, in France and other countries, the directors of princes; but there was a great difference between them and the reformer. That practical evangelist, whom Romish controversialists and others have reproached with speaking of nothing but doctrines, urged the daughter of Louis XII. to 'seek after innocence, integrity, and holiness.'
The relations of Calvin with the duchess lasted all his life, and they were always marked with frankness and respect. Touched with a zeal so Christian and so pure, she loved and honored him, 'as long as he lived,' says Theodore Beza, 'as an excellent instrument of the Lord.'[772] Even when he could no longer hold a pen on account of his extreme weakness, Calvin, borrowing the hand of his brother, wrote to her; and to her were addressed the last three French epistles of the reformer.[773]
The duchess of Ferrara was not the only person whom Calvin called at that time to a Christian life. 'Many
others, especially among those about her person, were seduced,' says Muratori; that is to say, brought over to evangelical truth.[774] These conversions, probably, must not be ascribed solely to Calvin: some, like Renée, had already enjoyed a certain knowledge of the Gospel; others were afterwards strengthened in their faith; but all received something from the young reformer. Soon after his arrival at the court of Ferrara, Calvin had remarked a lady of great intelligence and learning, who was one of its principal ornaments. This was Anne de Parthenay, first lady of honor to the duchess, and wife of Antoine de Pons, count of Marennes, first gentleman to the duke. The countess of Marennes was a great musician, and often sang in the duchess's apartments, where she was admired for the beauty of her voice.[775] But Anne busied herself with more serious labors. Not satisfied with studying the Latin authors, she had a taste for Greek, and 'intrepidly' translated the poets and prose writers.[776] That eminent woman did more: she read books of divinity, and even took a particular pleasure in 'discussing almost every day with the theologians the matters of which they treated.'[777] She therefore talked with Calvin on these subjects, and before long the pure and living faith of the reformer gave a new direction to her soul. Hitherto she had been somewhat of a 'blue-stocking,' but now she 'ceased to have any confidence in herself,' and sought in the holy books and in her Saviour the means of quenching the thirst for knowledge and the divine life which tormented her. From that hour she became a new creature and a 'good huguenot.' She even won over her husband to the convictions that were
dear to herself, and, so long as the countess lived, the latter showed himself a great lover of virtue and of truth.[778]
Adjoining the hall of Aurora, where Renée and her court usually assembled, was a chapel adorned by the pencil of Titian. Until now Calvin had only spoken in the duchess's apartments, and respect naturally prevented the servants (according to the historians of the Roman church) 'from inquiring too curiously into what occurred there.'[779] But ere long Renée began to think that she ought not to keep for herself only and a few court favorites the words of life and light which fell from the lips of the French divine. While listening to them, she had felt the bitterness of sin and the fear of God's judgments; but she had at the same time tasted the sweets of pardon and eternal life. Ought not others to enjoy them also? Should she prevent those from entering who desired to enter?
Calvin was ready. Renée invited him to preach in Titian's chapel. Had he not preached in the catholic churches of Noyon, Angoumois, and Poitou? The duchess threw open the doors of that service to all who desired to take part in it. The count of Marennes and his wife, the youthful Jean de Parthenay, seigneur of Soubise and brother to the countess, with other members of that family, the count of Mirambeau, Anne of Beauregard, Clement Marot, and Leon Jamet, the ex-clerk of finance, who had fled from Paris after the affair of the Placards—were all present at these meetings.
The charms which French people found in a French service might excuse these assemblies in the eyes of the duke of Este. But they were soon joined by learned Italians, friends of the Gospel, and among others by Giovanni Sinapi and his brother, as well
as by the pious, sprightly, and beautiful Francesca Baciro, whom Giovanni Sinapi married two years later.[780] At this epoch so glorious for Italy, when Curione taught at Pavia, protected by the admiration of his hearers; when Aonio Paleario at Sienna glorified Jesus Christ, 'the king of every people;' when Mollio at Bologna commented on the Epistles of Saint Paul to the great scandal of the pope; when Juan Valdes, Peter Martyr, and Occhino filled Naples with the Gospel; when Christ's truth seemed to be gliding even into Rome itself, a Frenchman, under the patronage of a French princess, was announcing in Ferrara the same Gospel, but with a voice even more distinct. What a future for Italy, if Rome had not extinguished these lights! There was gathered around the preacher a serious and friendly audience in the chapel of the castle of Ferrara.
Calvin, full of the truths he had just set forth in his Institutes, 'put forward that Word of the Lord whose majesty by a holy violence constrains souls to obey it,' and showed that this 'Gospel, whose smallness many folks despised, as if it crouched at their feet, so far surpassed the range of the human mind that the greatest geniuses lift their eyes in vain, for they can never see the top.'[781]
Among the persons whose heart sought after God was the beautiful Anne of Beauregard, who, though still very young, had accompanied Renée to Ferrara. Being betrothed, and all radiant with the joy of her youth, she was soon to be called to other altars than those of marriage. Falling ill, she profited by the Word she had heard, and, content with Christ alone, despised the world. Death cut down that beautiful flower. Renée regretted her bitterly; all the court wept with her;
and Marot, who was then at Ferrara, wrote these melancholy lines upon her tomb:
De Beauregard, Anne suis, qui d'enfance,
Laissai parents, pays, amis et France,
Pour suivre ici la duchesse Renée;
Laquelle j'ai depuis abandonnée,
Futur époux, beauté, fleurissant âge;
Pour aller voir au ciel mon héritage.
Laissant le monde avec moins de souci
Que laissai France, alors que vins ici?[782]
The count of Marennes, a man of no decision of character, often attended Calvin's preaching. He was rather afraid that the duke, his master, would be displeased; still the duchess herself had arranged these meetings. The countess, his wife, whose humble servant he was, asked him to join them; his brother-in-law, Soubise, also invited him; Marennes, therefore, followed the others to chapel, being urged from without and not from within.
Soubise, on the contrary, an independent man, of noble, decided, and energetic character, went with his whole heart, and, after Renée, was the best conquest of the Gospel at Ferrara. In that fanatical age it was choosing a hard and miserable life; but the Gospel Word had conquered him, and he was determined to walk among the thorns. 'John of Soubise, a hero of the sixteenth century,' says Moreri, 'suffered himself to be perverted at the court of the duke of Ferrara, when Renée of France received there certain doctors of the pretended reformed religion.'[783] He had been trained for the profession of arms; he now found at Calvin's side the sword of the Word of God, and returning into France courageously 'occupied himself in defending the truths he had believed.'[784] A gentleman of the king's
chamber, a knight of the Order, having had command of the French army in Italy, a man of great resources and great service, 'having effected a hundred masterstrokes,' he was, above all, very zealous for God; and, without neglecting the important affairs of the kingdom, he sought the salvation of the humblest tenant on his estates. A good old pastor, Mulot des Ruisseaux, 'impelled by the singular virtue of the lord of that place' (Soubise), used to leave his house at the approach of night—the only time when evangelical Christians dared meet together—and visit the adjoining districts, everywhere teaching the Scriptures. More than once, on hearing the signal of alarm, he had to hide in the woods and pass the night there. In a short time a great part of the people had forsaken mass.[785] Soubise even desired to convert Catherine de Medicis, and with that view held long conversations with the queen,[786] and the crafty Italian woman led him to hope for a moment that she was on the point of turning Protestant. The trouble that he had taken was not entirely lost. The duchess of Bourbon Montpensier, 'a woman of virile character and of wisdom beyond her sex,' as De Thou describes her,[787] being present at Soubise's conversations with Catherine de Medicis, received the truths which he was explaining to another; and somewhat later two of that lady's daughters, the duchess of Bouillon and the princess of Orange, bravely professed the doctrines of the Reformation.
By his only daughter, Catherine of Parthenay, Soubise was grandfather of the celebrated duke of Rohan.
It was not only among his compatriots at Ferrara that Calvin was a fisher of men. The traditions of certain families of the peninsula place several eminent
Italians[788] among the number of those who heard and received light from him. One of them was a Neapolitan nobleman, the duke of Bevilacqua, then at Ferrara. His ancestors, who descended from the Boileaux, barons of Castelnau, a family which in France has produced many distinguished men, were of Languedocian origin, and had been compelled by the persecutions directed against the Vaudois and Albigenses in the thirteenth century to take refuge in the kingdom of Naples.[789] Bevilacqua discovered at Ferrara, in Calvin's teaching, the truth for which his forefathers had been compelled to leave France.
Another Italian, more eminent still, who used to attend these evangelical assemblies, was Titian, then about the age of fifty-eight. That great painter, who had decorated the castle of duke Alphonso of Este, was again at Ferrara. Possessing a calm, solid, judicious, and truth-loving mind, devoted to nature, and seeking to represent her in all her truth, Titian was naturally struck with the pure and living religion which Calvin preached. The great artist was no stranger to the deep affections of the soul, and the sublimest heroism in his eyes was the devotedness of the Christians, who sacrificed their lives for their faith. There are no scenes more terrible and pathetic than those represented in his pictures of martyrs. Nurtured with the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and other great men of Italy, who had shown themselves opposed to the abuses of the popes and their adherents, Titian could applaud the opposition led by the young Frenchman against the papacy. But if at that time he greeted evangelical truths with
admiration, there is no evidence that they sank very deeply into his heart. It would appear that Bevilacqua asked him to paint Calvin's portrait; but however that may be, the portrait still exists in the palace of the duke of Bevilacqua at Naples.[790] There is no indication that Titian preserved the impressions he received at Ferrara. 'Among those who seem touched by the beauty of the Gospel,' says Calvin, 'there is scarcely one out of ten in whose heart the Word of God is not stifled.' Titian was, no doubt, an instance of the truth of the fact indicated by the Reformer.
Calvin had been a faithful and active workman in his Master's vineyard, yet he did not always meet with friendly and docile hearers, even in Ferrara. Among the persons forming the duchess's court, he had noticed a cringing person with insinuating manners, whose look and expres............
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