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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XVI.
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(Spring, 1536.)
Duke Hercules of Este had remarked that certain changes had taken place since the arrival of the Frenchman. Calvin's discussion with François the chaplain could not be kept secret. Borgia's grandson knew that the pope, under the pretence of heresy, might deprive him of his states; already his father, Duke Alphonso, through being on bad terms with Rome, had passed many years in exile. The Inquisition had a tribunal at Ferrara, and what was going on at court was more than enough to alarm it. A report had been made to the pope; Charles V. had been informed; and Paul III. proposed a treaty to the duke, in which there was a secret article stipulating the removal of all the French then at Ferrara; but there was one among them for whom a severer fate was reserved. The duke, retracting the indulgence he had conceded to his wife, declared
that he was resolved to put an end to the schismatic intrigues of which the court was the theatre; that the count and countess of Marennes, Soubise, the other gentleman, and even Marot, must quit his states; 'and as for M. d'Espeville,' he added, 'know, madam, that if he is discovered, he will forthwith be dragged to punishment on account of religion.'[809]
This order was like a thunderstroke to Renée. Called to leave the land of her ancestors, she had created a little France at Ferrara; and now, all who gave her any comfort in her exile were about to be torn from her. Rome would deprive her of that pious and learned teacher who had given her such good counsel; perhaps he would expiate on an Italian scaffold the crime of having proclaimed the Gospel. All the lords and ladies of the court, and even the satirical Marot, were to leave Ferrara. Leon Jamet seems to have been the only Frenchman permitted to stay; the duchess, who required a secretary, had obtained her husband's permission for this ex-clerk of the treasury to remain with her in that character. Thus the daughter of Louis XII., after the bright days she had enjoyed, was condemned to remain almost alone in her palace, as in a gloomy chamber; her slightest movements were watched; she was tormented by priests whom she despised, and exposed by the grandson of Borgia to unjust harshness. Marot, touched by so many misfortunes, and knowing the part which the queen of Navarre, Renée's cousin, would take in this great trial, addressed her in these touching lines:
Ah! Marguerite, écoute la souffrance
Du noble cœur de Renée de France;
Puis comme cœur, plus fort en espérance,
Tu sais comment hors son pays alla,
Et que parents et amis laissa là;
Mais tu sais quel traitement elle a
En terre étrange![810]
Renée was to suffer a pain still greater than that caused by the dismissal 'beyond the mountains' of her friends from France. That iniquitous institution, decorated with the name of the Holy Office, which was destined a little later to make thousands of martyrs in Spain, the Netherlands, and other countries, desired for the moment to strike the teacher who had excited the greatest terror and hatred at Rome. The Inquisition had discovered Calvin's residence. His name and his crime were inscribed in the black-book of that cruel institution.[811] Heresy was flourishing at the court of Este; the chief culprit was pointed out, and if the others were allowed to depart, he at least must be punished.
Calvin, forewarned of what was going on, was at the palace Del Magistrato, where he and Du Tillet lived, and was hurriedly getting ready for his departure, when the agents of the inquisitors, who were on the watch, arrived, seized the 'pestiferous disturber,' and dragged him away a prisoner.[812] It was not their intention to leave him in a place where the evangelical doctor possessed many influential friends. They determined to have him tried at Bologna, a city in the States of the Pope, not far distant from Ferrara, where they would be entirely the masters. The young Frenchman was therefore placed in the charge of some familiars of the Holy Office, and guarded by them was to proceed to that ancient city which boasted of possessing within its walls the ashes of St. Dominick, the founder of the Inquisition.
Calvin began the journey, surrounded by the men appointed to conduct him. He might then have said of himself, as he afterwards said of another: 'Although he hopes still, he is assailed by a hundred deaths, so that there is not an opening, be it ever so small, for escape.'[813] The tribunal of the Inquisition, which was never tender, would certainly not be so towards a heretic of this kind. The squadron which had him in charge, turning towards the south, crossed a fertile country and proceeded without obstacle towards the city of Bologna.[814] They had already gone more than halfway, when some armed men suddenly made their appearance.[815] They stopped the escort, and ordered them to release their prisoner. We do not know whether there was any resistance; but this much is certain, that the inquisitors, little accustomed to yield, saw the doctor taken from them whom they were conducting to certain death. Calvin was set at liberty[816] and strained every nerve to get out of Italy.
His sojourn in that country, as we read of it in authentic documents, is far from being a blank page, as some have supposed. The last event that we have mentioned, according to Muratori, has even a particular interest. It reminds us of a well-known circumstance in the history of the German reformation, when Luther, returning from Worms, was carried off by horsemen masked and armed from head to foot. But Calvin's case was more serious than that of the Saxon reformer, who was taken to a castle belonging to friends, beyond the reach of danger; while Calvin was left alone, almost in the middle of Italy, and forced to make his way
through a hostile country, where he ran the risk of being arrested again.
It has been asked who snatched this choice prey from the tribunals of Rome, and even in the states of the pope; whence did the blow proceed?[817] It was bold and rash; it exposed its contrivers and agents to great danger, for the papacy and the Inquisition were all-powerful in Italy. A strong affection, a great respect for the reformer, and boundless devotion to the cause of truth, can alone account for such an audacious adventure. One person only in the Italian peninsula was capable of contriving it and of carrying it out, and that was—is it necessary to say?—the daughter of Louis XII. Everybody ascribed the reformer's liberation to her. It might be expected that the Inquisition, always so suspicious and severe, would be implacable in its vengeance. Renée escaped, at least for the moment. It is possible that Hercules of Este exerted his influence at the pontifical court to hush up the affair, and promised to keep the duchess closer in future. He kept his word but too well.
Calvin did not hesitate to take advantage of this rescue; but from that moment we have no sufficient data about him or his route. To find any traces of him, we must examine local traditions, which ought not to be despised, but which do not supply us with historical certainty. It was natural—the map indicates it—that the fugitive should turn his steps in the direction of Modena. In the environs of that city there lived a celebrated man of letters, Ludovico Castelvetro, who was suspected of heresy. He was an esteemed critic and skilful translator; he had rendered into Italian one of Melanchthon's writings, and when he quitted Italy many years after this, he passed through Geneva, where he visited some friends. When the ancient villa of Castelvetro
was pulled down in the first half of this century, the workmen discovered a sealed chest, which contained the earliest editions of Calvin's works in marvellous preservation.[818] The reformer had no doubt heard this scholar mentioned at the court of Ferrara; but there is nothing to prove that he sought a temporary asylum under the roof of Melanchthon's translator, who does not appear to have made at that time a frank profession of the Gospel.[819]
Tradition relates that Calvin, instead of going northwards towards Switzerland, skirted the Apennines, turned to the west, and reached the Val di Grana, between Saluzzo and Coni, where he preached. It is affirmed that the priests of the village of Carigliano so excited the women of the parish, that with savage cries they stoned the Frenchman out of the place. It is added that Calvin went thence to Saluzzo, and preached there, but with as little success.[820] In our opinion, these traditions are not sufficiently corroborated to deserve a place in history. It seems more likely that Calvin took the shortest road to Switzerland and made for the St. Bernard pass. If he had possessed leisure for evangelical excursions, he might no doubt have gone to the Waldensian valleys, which his cousin Olivetan had visited, and where the latter had conceived the project of translating the Bible, at which he himself also labored and was still to labor. But there is no indication of his having ever visited those mountains. He arrived at the city of Aosta.
The first gleams of the Word of God were beginning, as we have said, to enlighten that cisalpine region which lies at the foot of the St. Bernard, Mont Blanc, and Mont Rosa. Aosta, founded by Augustus, after whom
it was named, had received an evangelical impulse from Switzerland. The Bernese had thought that if the Divine Word crossing the St. Gothard had made conquests near the banks of the Ticino, it might make others in the valley of Aosta by crossing the St. Bernard. Italian, Bernese, and Genevan documents all bear witness alike to the religious fermentation then prevailing in that city. 'The Gospel is spreading beyond the mountains,' wrote Porral, the envoy of Geneva at Berne, 'and it must go forward in despite of princes, for it is from God.' Ere long the Roman hierarchy made use of their customary weapons against those who embraced the Reform, and Porral announced that the Aostans had 'serious questions with their bishop, on account of the excommunications, which they could not bear.'[821] We have told how the Bernese plenipotentiaries went to Aosta in November 1535, to confer with the duke of Savoy. They pleaded there in favor of Geneva, and demanded the liberation of Saunier, then a prisoner at Pignerol.[822] They talked with everybody they met about the great questions then under discussion, and invited them to receive the teaching of Holy Scripture. Some dwellers in the valley, both among the nobility and burghers, welcomed the principles of the Reformation.[823] Among those won to the Gospel were the Seigneurs De la Crète and De la Visière, the pious and zealous Leonard de Vaudan, Besenval, Tillier, Challans, Bovet, Borgnion, Philippon, Gay, and others.[824]
But if there were hearts in the valley of Aosta ready to receive the Gospel, there were others determined to resist it. At the head of its opponents were two eminent men. Among the laity was Count René de Challans, marshal of Aosta, full of enthusiasm for popery and feudalism, and bursting with contempt for the heretics and republicans of Switzerland. Distressed at witnessing the reverses suffered by his master, the duke of Savoy, he had sworn that in Aosta at least he would exterminate the Lutherans. His fellow-soldier in this crusade was Pietro Gazzini, bishop of Aosta, one of the most famous prelates of Italy. Priests and devotees extolled his virtues and his learning, but what distinguished him most was the haughty temper and domineering humor which so often characterizes the priests of Rome. Gazzini was a canon of the Lateran, the first patriarchal church of the west, and served as the channel between the duke and the pope. He was at Rome when evangelical doctrine began to spread in his diocese, and he then tried to manage that the council, which was to put an end to heresy, shoul............
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