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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 13 — From Rise of Protestantism in France (1510) to Publication of the Institutes (1536)

Chapter 10 — Calvin at Paris, and Francis negotiating with Germany and England

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The Death of the Martyr not the Death of the Cause – Calvin at Noyon – Preaches at Pont l'Eveque – His Audience – How they take his Sermon – An Experiment – Its Lessen – Calvin goes to Paris – Paris a Focus of Literary Light – The Students at the University – Their Debates – Calvin to Polemics adds Piety – He Evangelises in Paris – Powers of the World – Spain and France kept Divided – How and Why – The Schmalkald League holds the Balance of Power – Francis I. approaches the German Protestants – Failure of the Negotiation – Francis turns to Henry VIII. – Interview between Francis and Henry at Boulogne – Fetes – League between the Kings of France and England – Francis's Great Error

BERQUIN, the peer of France, and, greater still, the humble Christian and zealous evangelist, was no more. Many thought they saw in him that assemblage of intellectual gifts and evangelical virtues which fitted him for being the Reformer of his native land. However, it was not so to be. His light had shone brightly but, alas! briefly; it was now extinguished. Of Berquin there remained only a heap of ashes, over which the friends of Protestantism mourned, while its enemies exulted. But it was the ashes of Berquin merely, not of his cause, that lay around the stake. When the martyr went up in the chariot which, unseen by the crowd, waited to carry him to the sky, his mantle fell on one who was standing near, and who may be said to have seen him as he ascended. From the burning pile in the Place de Greve, the young evangelist of Bourges, whose name, destined to fill Christendom in years to come, was then all but unknown, went forth, endowed with a double portion of Berquin's spirit, to take up the work of him who had just fallen, and to spread throughout France and the world that truth which lived when Berquin died.

How Calvin came to be in Paris at this moment we have already explained. Tidings that his father had died suddenly called him to Noyon. It cost him doubtless a wrench to sever himself from the work of the Gospel which he was preaching, not in vain, in the capital of Berry and the neighboring towns; still, he did not delay, but set out at once, taking Paris in his way. The journey from Paris to Noyon was performed, we cannot but think, in great weariness of heart. Behind him was the stake of Berquin, in whose ashes so many hopes lay buried; before him was the home of his childhood, where no father now waited to welcome him; while all round, in the horizon of France, the clouds were rolling up, and giving but too certain augury that the Reformation was not to have so prosperous a career in his native land as, happily, at that hour it was pursuing in the towns of Germany and amid the hills of the Swiss. But God, he tells us, "comforted him by his Word."

Calvin had quitted Noyon a mere lad; he returns to it on the verge of manhood (1529), bringing back to it the same pale face and burning eye which had marked him as a boy. Within, what a mighty change! but that change his townsmen saw not, nor did even he himself suspect its extent; for as yet he had not a thought of leaving the communion of Rome. He would cleanse and rebuttress the old fabric, by proclaiming the truth within it. But an experiment which he made on a small scale at Noyon helped doubtless to show him that the tottering structure would but fall in pieces in his hands should he attempt restoration merely.

The fame of the young scholar had reached even these northern parts of France, and the friends and companions of his youth wanted to hear him preach. If a half-suspicion of heresy had reached their ears along with the rumor of his great attainments, it only whetted their eagerness to hear him.

The Church of Pont l'Eveque, where his ancestors had lived, was opened to him. When the day came, quite a crowd, made up of his own and his father's acquaintances, and people from the neighboring towns, filled the church, all eager to see and hear the cooper's grandson. Calvin expounded to them the Scriptures. [1] The old doctrine was new under that roof and to those ears. The different feelings awakened by the sermon in different minds could be plainly read on the faces clustered so thickly around the pulpit. Some beamed with delight as do those of thirsty men when they drink and are refreshed. This select number embraced the leading men of the district, among whom were Nicholas Picot. On that day he tasted the true bread, and never again turned to the husks of Rome. But the faces of the most part expressed either indifference or anger. Instead of a salvation from sin, they much preferred what the "Church" offered, a salvation in sin. And as regarded the priestly portion of the audience, they divined but too surely to what the preacher's doctrine tended, the overthrow namely of the "Church's" authority, and the utter drying-up of her revenues.

Many a rich abbacy and broad acre, as well as ghostly assumption, would have to be renounced if that doctrine should be embraced. Noyon had given a Reformer to Christendom, but she refused to accept him for herself. The congregation at Pont l'Eveque was a fair specimen of the universal Roman community, and the result of the sermon must have gone far to convince the preacher that the first effect of the publication of the truth within the pale of the "Church" would be, not the re-edification, but the demolition of the old fabric, and that his ultimate aim must point

to the rearing of a new edifice.

After a two months' stay Calvin quitted his native place. Noyon continued to watch the career of her great citizen, but not with pride. In after-days, when Rome was trembling at his name, and Protestant lands were pronouncing it with reverence, Noyon held it the greatest blot upon her escutcheon that she had the misfortune to have given birth to him who bore that name. Calvin had to choose anew his field of labor, and he at once decided in favor of Paris. Thither accordingly he directed his steps.

France in those days had many capitals, but Paris took precedence of them all. Besides being the seat of the court, and of the Sorbonne, and the center of influences which sooner or later made themselves felt to the extremities of the country, Paris had just become a great focus of literary light. Francis I., while snubbing the monks on the one hand, and repelling the Protestants on the other, kneeled before the Renaissance, which was in his eye the germ of all civilization and greatness. He knew the splendor it had lent to the house of Medici, and he aspired to invest his court, his kingdom, and himself with the same glory. Accordingly he invited a number of great scholars to his capital: Budaeus was already there; and now followed Danes and Vatable, who were skilled, the former in Greek and the latter in Hebrew, [2] the recovery of which formed by far the most precious of all the fruits of the Renaissance. A false faith would have shunned such a spot: it was the very fact of the light being there that made Calvin hasten to Paris with the Gospel.

A great fermentation, at that moment, existed among the students at the university. Their study of the original tongues of the Bible had led them, in many instances, to the Bible itself. Its simplicity and sublimity had charms for many who did not much relish its holiness: and they drew from it an illumination of the intellect, even when they failed to obtain from it a renovation of the heart. A little proud it may be of their skill in the new learning, and not unwilling to display their polemical tact, they were ready for battle with the champions of the old orthodoxy wherever they met them, whether in the courts of the university or on the street. In fact, the capital was then ringing with a warfare, partly literary, partly theological; and Calvin found he had done well, instead of returning to Bourges and gathering up the broken thread of his labors, in coming to a spot where the fields seemed rapidly ripening unto harvest.

And, indeed, in one prime quality, at all times essential to work like his, but never more so than at the birth of Protestantism, Calvin excelled all others. In the beautiful union of intellect and devotion which characterised him he stood alone. He was as skillful a controversialist as any of the noisy polemics who were waging daily battle on the streets, but he was something higher. He fed his intellect by daily prayer and daily perusal of the Scriptures, and he was as devoted an evangelist as he was a skillful debater. He was even more anxious to sow the seed of the Kingdom in the homes of the citizens of Paris, than he was to win victories over the doctors of the Sorbonne. We see him passing along on the shady side of the street. He drops in at a door. He emerges after awhile, passes onward, enters another dwelling, where he makes another short stay, and thus he goes on, his unobtrusiveness his shield, for no one follows his steps or suspects his errand. While others are simply silencing opponents, Calvin is enlightening minds, and leaving traces in the hearts of men that are imperishable. In this we behold the beginnings of a great work – a work that is to endure and fill the earth, when all the achievements of diplomacy, all the trophies of the battle-field, and all the honors of the school shall have passed away and been forgotten.

Leaving the evangelist going his rounds in the streets and lanes of Paris, let us return for a little to the public stage of the world, and note the doings of those who as the possessors of thrones, or the leaders of armies, think that they are the masters of mankind, and can mould at will the destinies of the world. They can plant or they can pluck up the Reformation – so they believe. And true it is, emperors and warriors and priests have a part assigned them which they are to do in this great work. The priests by their scandals shook the hierarchy: the kings by their ambitions and passions pulled down the Empire; thus, without the world owing thanks to either Pope or Kaiser, room was prepared for a Kingdom that cannot be removed. The greatest monarchy of the day was Spain, which had shot up into portentous growth just as the new times were about to appear. The union of some, dozen of kingdoms under its scepter had given it measureless territory; the discovery of America had endowed it with exhaustless wealth, and its success; in the field had crowned its standards with the prestige of invincible power. At the head of this vast Empire was a prince of equal sagacity and ambition, and who was by turns the ally and the enemy of the Pope, yet ever the steady champion of the Papacy, with which he believed the union of his Empire and the stability of his power were bound up. Charles V., first and chiefly, the Protestants had cause to dread.

But a counterpoise had been provided. France, which was not very much less powerful than Spain, was made to weigh upon the arm of Charles, in order to deaden the blow should

he strike at Protestantism. He did wish to strike at Protestantism, and sought craftily to persuade Francis to hold back the while. In the spring of 1531 he sent his ambassador Noircarmes to poison the ear of the King of France. Do you know what Lutheranism is? said Noircarmes to Francis one day. It means, concisely, three things, he continued – the first is the destruction of the family, the second is the destruction of property, and the third is the destruction of the monarchy. Espouse this cause, said the Spanish ambassador, in effect, and you "let in the deluge." [3] If Noircarmes had substituted "Communism" for "Lutheranism," he might have been regarded as foretelling what France in these latter days has verified.

And now we begin to see the good fruits reaped by Christendom from the disastrous battle of Pavia. It came just in time to counteract the machinations of Charles with the French monarch. The defeat of Francis on that field, and the dreary imprisonment in Madrid that followed it, planted rivalries and dislikes between the two powerful crowns of France and Spain, which kept apart two forces that if united would have crushed the Reformation. Inspired by hatred and dread of the Emperor Charles, not only had the insinuations of his ambassador the less power with Francis, but he cast his eyes around if haply he might discover allies by whose help he might be able to withstand his powerful rival on the other side of the Pyrenees. Francis resolved on making advances to the Protestant princes of Germany. He was all the more strengthened in this design by the circumstance that these princes, who saw a tempest gathering, had just formed themselves into a league of defense. In March, 1531, the representatives of the Protestant States met at Schmalkald, in the Electorate of Hesse, and, as we have elsewhere related, nine princes and eleven cities entered into an alliance for six years "to resist all who should try to constrain them to forsake the Word of God and the truth of Christ."

The smallest of all the political parties in Christendom, the position of the Schmalkalders gave them an influence far beyond their numbers; they stood between the two mighty States of France and Spain. The balance of power was in their hands, and, so far at least, they could play off the crowns of Spain and France against one another.

Accordingly next year Francis sent an ambassador – it was his second attempt – to negotiate an alliance with them. His first ambassador was a fool, [4] his second was a wise man, Du Bellay, [5] brother to the Archbishop of Paris, than whom there was no more accomplished man in all France.

Du Bellay did what diplomatists only sometimes do, brought heart as well as head to his mission, for he wished nothing so much as to see his master and his kingdom of France cast off the Pope, and displaying their colors alongside those of Protestant Germany, sail away on the rising tide of Protestantism. Du Bellay told the princes that he had his master's express command to offer them his assistance in their great enterprise, and was empowered "to arrange with them about the share of the war expenses which his majesty was ready to pay." This latter proposal revealed the cloven foot. What was uppermost in the mind of the King of France was to avenge the defeat at Pavia; hence his eagerness for war. The League of Schmalkald bound the German princes to stand on the defensive only; they were not to strike unless Charles or some other should first strike at them. Luther raised his powerful voice against the proposed alliance. He hated political entanglements, mistrusted Francis, had a just horror of spilling blood, and he protested with all his might that the Protestants must rest the triumph of their cause on spiritual and not on carnal weapons; that the Gospel was not to be advanced by battles, and that the Almighty did not need that the princes of earth should vote him succors in order to the effectual completion of his all-wise and Divine plan. The issue was that the stipulation which Du Bellay carried back to Paris could not serve the purposes of his master.

Repulsed on the side of Germany, the King of France turned now to England. This was a quarter in which he was more likely to succeed. Here he had but one man to deal with, Henry VIII. To Henry, Protestantism was a policy merely, not a faith. He had been crossed in his matrimonial projects by the Pope, and so had his special quarrel with Clement VII., as Francis had his with Charles V. The French king sent a messenger across the Channel to feel the pulse of his "good brother" of England, and the result was that an interview was arranged between the two sovereigns – Henry crossing the sea with a brilliant retinue, and Francis coming to meet him with a train not less courtly. Taking up their quarters at the Abbot's Palace at Boulogne (October, 1532), the two monarchs unbosomed to each other their grievances and displeasures, and concerted together a joint plan for humiliating those against whom they bore a common grudge. While Francis and Henry were closeted for hours on end, amusement was found for their courtiers. Balls, masquerades, and other pastimes common in that age occupied that gay assemblage, and helped to conceal the real business which was proceeding all the while in the royal closet. That business eventually found issue in a league between the Kings of France and England, in which they engaged to raise an army of 50,000 men, ostensibly to attack the Turk; but in reality to begin a campaign against the emperor and the Pope. [6] Now, thought Francis, I shall wipe out the disgrace of Pavia; and I, said Henry, shall chastise the insolence of Clement.

But both were doomed to disappointment. This league which looked so big, and promised so much, came to nothing. Had this great army been assembled it would have shed much blood, but it would have enlightened no consciences, nor won any victories for truth. It might have humbled the Pope, it would have left the Papacy as strong as ever.

While Francis I. was looking so anxiously around him for allies, and deeming it a point of wisdom to lean on the monarch who could bring the largest army into the field, there was one power, the strength of which he missed seeing. That power had neither fleets nor armies at its service, and so Francis shunned rather than courted its alliance. It was fated, in his opinion, to go to the abyss, and should he be so imprudent as to link his cause With it, it would drag him down into the same destruction with itself. This was a natural but, for Francis, a tremendous mistake. The invisible forces are ever the strongest, and these were all on the side of Protestantism. But it is the eye of faith only that can see these. Francis looked with the eye of sense and could see nothing; and, therefore, stood aloof from a cause which, as it seemed to him, had so few friends, and so many and so powerful enemies. Francis and France lost more than Protestantism did.


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