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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 18 — First disciples of the Gospel in Paris

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Calvin now the Center of the Movement — Shall he enter Priest's Orders? — Hazard of a Wrong Choice — He walks by Faith — Visits Noyon — Renounces all his Preferments in the Romish Church — Sells his Patrimonial Inheritance — Goes to Paris — Meets Servetus — His Opinions — Challenges Calvin to a Controversy — Servetus does not Keep his Challenge — State of things at Paris — Beda — More Ferocious than ever — The Times Uncertain — Disciples in Paris — Bartholemew Millon — His Deformity — Conversion — Zeal for the Gospel — Du Bourg, the Draper — Valeton, of Nantes — Le Compte — Giulio Camillo — Poille, the Bricklayer — Other Disciples — Pantheists — Calvin's Forecastings — Calvin quits Paris and goes to Strasburg.

WE return to Calvin, now and henceforward the true center of the Reformation. Wherever he is, whether in the library of Du Tillet, conversing with the mighty dead, and forging, not improbably, the bolts he was to hurl against Rome in future years, or in the limestone cave on the banks of the rivulet of the Clain; dispensing the Lord's Supper to the first Protestants of Poictiers, as its Divine Founder had, fifteen centuries before, dispensed it to the first disciples of Christianity, there it is that the light of the new day is breaking.

Calvin had come to another most eventful epoch of his life. The future Reformer again stood at "the parting of the ways." A wrong decision at this moment would have wrecked all his future prospects, and changed the whole history of the Reformation.

We left Calvin setting out from Poictiers in the end of April, 1534, attended by the young Canon Du Tillet, whose soul cleaved to the Reformer, and who did not discover till two years afterwards, when he began to come in sight of the stake, that something stronger than even the most devoted love to Calvin was necessary to enable him to cleave to the Gospel which Calvin preached. Calvin would be twenty-five on the 10th of July. This is the age at which, according to the canons, one who has passed his novitiate in the Church must take the first orders of priesthood. Calvin had not yet done so, he had not formally broken with Rome, but now he must take up his position decidedly within or decidedly without the Church. At an early age the initiatory mark of servitude to the Pope had been impressed upon his person. His head had been shorn. The custom, which is a very ancient one, is borrowed from the temples of paganism. The priests of Isis and Serapis, Jerome informs us, officiated in their sanctuaries with shorn crowns, as do the priests of Rome at this day. Calvin must now renew his vow and consummate the obedience to which he was viewed as having pledged himself was performed upon himself when the rite of tonsure was performed upon him. He must now throw off the fetter entirely, or be bound yet more tightly, and become the servant of the Pope, most probably for ever.

His heart had left the Church of Rome, and any subjection he might now promise could be feigned only, not real. Yet there were not wanting friends who counselled him to remain in outward communion with Rome. Is it not, we can imagine these counsellors saying to the young cure, is it not the Reformation of the Church which is your grand aim? Well, here is the way to compass it. Dissemble the change within; remain in outward conformity with the Church; push on from dignity to dignity, from a curacy to a mitre, from a mitre to the purple, and from the purple to the tiara; what post is it to which your genius may not aspire? and once seated in the Papal chair, who or what can hinder you from reforming the Church?

The reasoning was specious, and thousands in Calvin's circumstances have listened to similar persuasion, and have been undone. So doubtless reasoned Caraffa, who, as a simple priest, was a frequenter of the evangelical re-unions in Chaija at Naples, but who, when he became Paul IV., restored the Inquisition, and kindled, alas! numerous stakes at Rome. Those who, listening to such counsel, have adopted this policy, have either never attained the dignities for which they stifled the convictions of duty, or they found that with loftier position had come stronger entanglements, that honors and gold were even greater hindrances than obscurity and poverty, and that if they had now the power they had not the heart to set on foot the Reformation they once burned to accomplish.

Calvin, eschewing the path of expediency, and walking by faith, found the right road. He refused to touch the gold or wear the honors of the Church whose creed he no longer believed. "Not one, but a hundred benefices would I give up," he said, "rather than make myself the Pope's vassal." [1] Even the hope of one day becoming generalissimo of the Pope's army, and carrying over his whole force to the camp of the enemy in the day of battle, could not tempt him to remain in the Papal ranks. He arrived in Noyon in the beginning of May. On May 4th, 1534, in presence of the officials, ecclesiastical and legal, he resigned his Chaplaincy of La Gesine, and his Cursoy of Pont l'Eveque, and thus he severed the last link that bound him to the Papacy, and by the sale of his paternal inheritance at the same time, [2] he broke the last tie to his birth-place.

Calvin, "his bonds loosened," was now more the servant of Christ than ever. In the sale of his patrimony he had "forgotten his father's house," and he was ready to go anywhere — to the stake should his Master order him. He longed to plant the standard of

the cross in the capital of a great country, and hard by the gates of a university which for centuries had been a fountain of knowledge. Accordingly, he turned his steps to Paris, where he was about to make a brief but memorable stay, and then leave it nevermore to return.

It was during this visit to Paris that Calvin met, for the first time, a man whom he was destined to meet a second time, of which second meeting we shall have something to say afterwards. The person who now crossed Calvin's path was Servetus. Michael Servetus was a Spaniard, of the same age exactly as Calvin, [3] endowed with a penetrating intellect, highly imaginative genius, and a strongly speculative turn of mind. Soaring above both Romanism and Protestantism, he aimed at substituting a system of his own creation, the corner-stone of which was simple Theism. He aimed his stroke at the very heart of Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity. [4]

Confident in his system, and not less in his ability, he had for some years been leading the life of a knight-errant, having wandered into Switzerland, and some parts of Germany, in quest of opposers with whom he might do battle. [5] Having heard of the young doctor of Noyon, he came to Paris, and threw down the gage to him. [6] Calvin felt that should he decline the challenge of Servetus, the act would be interpreted into a confession that Protestantism rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and so was corrupt at the core. It concerned the Reformers to show that Protestantism was not a thing that tore up Christianity by the roots under pretense of removing the abuses that had grown up around it. This consideration weighed with Calvin in accepting, as he now did, Servetus' challenge. The day, the hour, the place — a house in the suburb of St. Antoine — were all agreed upon.

Calvin was punctual to the engagement; but Servetus — why, was never known — did not appear. [7] "We shall not forget," says Bungener, "when the time comes, the position into which the Spanish theologian had just thrutst the leaders of the Reformation, and Calvin in particular. By selecting him for his adversary on the question of the Trinity, upon which no variance existed between Romanism and the Reformation, he, in a measure, constituted him the guardian of that doctrine, and rendered him responsible for it before all Christendom. It was this responsibility which nineteen years afterwards kindled the pile of Servetus.' [8]

Let us mark the state of Paris at the time of Calvin's visit. We have already had a glimpse into the interior of the palace, and seen what was going on there. Francis I. was trying to act two parts at once, to be "the eldest son of the Church," and the armed knight of the Reformation. He had gone in person to Marseilles to fetch the Pope's niece to the Louvre, he had sent William du Bellay to negotiate with the German Protestants; not that he cared for the doctrines, but that he needed the arms of the Lutherans. And, as if the King of France had really loved the Gospel, there was now a conference sitting in the Louvre concocting a scheme of Reform. Councils not a few had labored to effect a Reformation of the Church in its head and members; but not one of them had succeeded. It will indeed be strange, we can hear men saying, if what Pisa, and Constance, and Basle failed to give to the world, should at last proceed from the Louvre. There were persons who really thought that this would happen. But Reformations are not things that have their birth in royal cabinets, or emerge upon the world kern princely gates. It is in closets where, on bended knee, the page of Scripture is searched with tears and groans for the way of life, that these move. ments have their commencement. From the court let us turn to the people.

We have already narrated the sudden turn of the tide in Paris in the end of 1533. During the king's absence at Marseilles the fiery Beda was recalled from exile. His banishment had but inflamed his wrath against the Protestants, and he set to work more vigorously than ever to effect their suppression, and purge Paris from their defilement. The preachers were forbidden the pulpits, and some three hundred Lutherans were thrown into the Conciergerie. Not content with these violent proceedings, the Parliament, in the beginning of 1534, at the instigation of Beda, passed a law announcing death by burning against those who should be convicted of holding the new opinions on the testimony of two witnesses. [9] It was hard to say on whom this penalty might fall. It might drag to the stake Margaret's chaplain, Roussel; it might strike down the learned men in the university — the lights of France — whom the king had assembled round him from other lands. But what mattered it if Lutheranism was extinguished? Beda was clamoring for a holocaust. Nevertheless, despite all this violence the evangelisation was not stopped. The disciples held meetings in their own houses, and by-and-by when the king returned, and it was found that he had thrown off the Romish fit with the air of Marseilles, the Protestants became bolder, and invited their neighbors and acquaintances to their reunions. Such was the state in which Calvin found matters when he returned to Paris, most probably in the beginning of June, 1534. There was for the moment a calm. Protestant conferences were proceeding at the Louvre; Beda could not provide a victim for the stake, and the Sorbonne was compelled meanwhile to be tolerant. The times, however, were very uncertain; the sky at any moment might become overcast, and grow black with tempest.

Calvin, on entering Paris, turned into the Rue St. Denis, and presented

himself at the door of a worthy tradesman, La Forge by name, who was equally marked by his sterling sense and his genuine piety. This was not the first time that Calvin had lived under this roof, and now a warm welcome waited his return. But his host, well knowing what was uppermost in his heart, cautioned him against any open attempt at evangelising. All, indeed, was quiet for the moment, but the enemies of the Gospel were not asleep; there were keen eyes watching the disciples, and if left unmolested it was only on the condition that they kept silence and remained in the background. To Calvin silence was agony, but he must respect the condition, however hard he felt it, for any infraction of it would be tantamount to setting up his own stake. Opportunities of usefulness, however, were not wanting. He exhorted those who assembled at the house of La Forge, and he visited in their own dwellings the persons named to him as the friends of the Gospel in Paris.

The evangelist showed much zeal and diligence in the work of visitation. It was not the mansions of the rich to which he was led; nor was it men of rank and title to whom he was introduced; he met those whose hands were roughened and whose brows were furrowed by hard labor; for it was now as at the beginning of Christianity, "not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God hath chosen the poor of this world." It is all the better that it is so, for Churches like States must be based upon the people. Not far from the sign of the "Pelican," at which La Forge lived, in the same Rue St. Denis, is a shoe-maker's shop, which let us enter. A miserable-looking hunchback greets our eyes. The dwarfed, deformed, paralysed figure excites our compassion. His hands and tongue remain to him; his other limbs are withered, and their power gone. The name of this poor creature is Bartholomew Millon. Bartholomew had not always been the pitiably misshapen object we now behold him. He was formerly one of the most handsome men in all Paris, and with the gifts of person he possessed also those of the mind. [10] But he had led a youth of boisterous dissipation. No gratification which his senses craved did he deny himself. Gay in disposition and impetuous in temper, he was the ring-leader of his companions, and was at all times equally ready to deal a blow with his powerful arm, or let fly a sarcasm with his sharp tongue.

But a beneficent Hand, in the guise of disaster, arrested Bartholomew in the midst of his mad career. Falling one day, he broke his ribs, and neglecting the needful remedies, his body shrunk into itself, and shrivelled up. The stately form was now bent, the legs became paralysed, and on the face of the cripple grim peevishness took the place of manly beauty. He could no longer mingle in the holiday spirit or the street brawl. He sat enchained, day after day, in his shop, presenting to all who visited it the rueful spectacle of a poor deformed paralytic. His powers of mind, however, had escaped the blight which fell upon his body. His wit was as sharp as ever, and it may be a little sharper, misfortune having soured his temper. The Protestants were especially the butt of his ridicule. One day, a Lutheran happening to pass before his shop, the bile of Millon was excited, and he forthwith let fly at him a volley of insults and scoffs. Turning round to see whence the abuse proceeded, the eye of the passer- by lighted on the pitiful object who had assailed him. Touched with compassion, he went up to him and said, "Poor man, don't you see that God has bent your body in this way in order to straighten your soul? [11] and giving him a New Testament, he bade him read it, and tell him at an after-day what he thought of it.

The words of the stranger touched the heart of the paralytic: Millon opened the book, and began to read. Arrested by its beauty and majesty, "he continued at it," says Crespin, "night and day." He now saw that his soul was even more deformed than his body. But the Bible had revealed to him a great Physician, and, believing in his power to heal, the man whose limbs were withered, but whose heart was now smitten, cast himself down before that gracious One. The Savior had pity upon him. His soul was "straightened." The malignity and spite which had blackened and deformed it were cast out. "The wolf had become a lamb." [12] He turned his shop into a conventicle, and was never weary of commending to others that Savior who had pardoned sins so great and healed diseases so inveterate as his.

The gibe and the scoff were forgotten; only words of loving-kindness and instruction now fell from him. Still chained to his seat he gathered round him the young, and taught them to read. He exerted his skill in art to minister to the poor; and his powers of persuasion he employed day after day to the reclaiming of those whom his former example had corrupted, and the edification of such as he had scoffed at aforetime. He had a fine voice, and many came from all parts of Paris to hear him sing Marot's Psalms. "In short," says Crespin, "his room was a true school of piety, day and night, re-echoing with the glory of the Lord."

Let us visit another of these disciples, so humble in station, yet so grand in character. Such men are the foundation-stones of a kingdom's greatness. We have not far to go. At the entrance of the same Rue was a large shop in which John du Bourg carried on, under the sign of the "Black Horse,"

[13] the trade of a draper. Du Bourg, who was a man of substance, was very independent in his opinions, and liked to examine and judge of all things for himself. He had imbibed the Reformed sentiments, although he had not associated much with the Protestants. He had gone, as his habit of mind was, directly to the Scriptures, and drawn thence his knowledge of the truth. That water was all the sweeter to him, that he had drunk it fresh from the fountain. He did not hoard his treasure. He was a merchant, but not one of all his wares did it so delight him to vend as this. "This fire," said his relations, "will soon go out like a blaze of tow." They were mistaken. The priests scowled, his customers fell off, but, says the old chronicler, "neither money nor kindred could ever turn him aside from the truth." [14]

It consoled Du Bourg to see others, who had drunk at the same spring, drawing around him. His shop was frequently visited by Peter Valeton, a receiver of Nantes. [15] Valeton came often to Paris, the two chief attractions being the pleasure of conversing with Du Bourg, and the chance of picking up some writing or other of the Reformers. He might be seen in the quarter of the booksellers, searching their collections; and, having found what he wanted, he would eagerly buy it, carry it home under his cloak, and locking the door of his apartment, he would begin eagerly to read. His literary wares were deposited at the bottom of a large chest, the key of which he carried always on his person. [16] He was timid as yet, but he became more courageous afterwards.

Another member of this little Protestant band was Le Compte, a disciple as well as fellow-townsman of the doctor of Etaples, Lefevre. He had a knowledge of Hebrew, and to his power of reading the Scriptures in the original, he added a talent for exposition, which made him in no small measure useful in building up the little Church. The membership of that Church was farther diversified by the presence of a dark-visaged man, of considerable fame, but around whom there seemed ever to hover an air of mystery. This was Giulio Camillo, a native of Italy, whoin Francis I. had invited to Paris. The Italian made trial of all knowledge, and he had dipped, amongst other studies, into the cabalistic science; and hence, it may be, the look of mystery which he wore, and which struck awe into those who approached him. Hearing of the new opinions, on his arrival in France, he must needs know what they were. He joined himself to the Protestants, and professed to love their doctrine; but it is to be feared that he was drawn to the Gospel as to any other new thing, for when the time came when it was nccessary to bear stronger testimony to it than by words, Camillo was not found amongst its confessors.

Humbler in rank than any of the foregoing was Henry Poille, also a member of the infant Church of Paris. Poille was a bricklayer, from the neighborhood of Meaux. Around him there hung no veil, for he had not meddled with the dark sciences; it was enough, he accounted it, to know the Gospel. He could not bring to it what lie did not possess, riches and renown; but he brought it something that recommended it even more, an undivided heart, and a steadfast courage; and when the day of trial came, and others fled with their learning and their titles, and left the Gospel to shift for itself, Poille stood firmly by it. He had learned the truth from Briconnet; but, following a Greater as his Captain, when the bishop went back, the bricklayer went forward, though he saw before him in the near distance the lurid gleam of the stake.

Besides these humble men the Gospel had made not a few converts in the ranks above them. Even in the Parliament there were senators who had embraced at heart that very Lutheranism against which that body had now recorded the punishment of death; but the fear of an irate priesthood restrained them from the open confession of it. Nay, even of the priests and monks there were some who had been won by the Gospel, and who loved the Savior. Professors in the university, teachers in the schools, lawyers, merchants, tradesmen — in short, men of every rank, and of all professions — swelled the number of those who had abjured the faith of Rome and ranged themselves, more or less openly, on the side of the Reformation. But the most part now gathered round the Protestant standard were from the humbler classes. Their contemporaries knew them not, at least till they saw them at the stake, and learned, with some little wonder and surprise, what heroic though misguided men, as they thought them, had been living amongst them unknown; and, as regards ourselves, we should never have heard their names, or learned aught of their history, but for the light which the Gospel sheds upon them. It was that alone which brought these humble men into view, and made them the heirs of an immortality of fame even on earth; for so long as the Church shall exist, and her martyr-records continue to be read, their names, and the services they did, will be mentioned with honor.

Living at the house of La Forge, such were the men with whom Calvin came into almost daily contact. But not these only: others of a different stamp, whose inspiration and sentiments were drawn from another source than the Scriptures, did the future Reformer occasionally meet at the table of his host. The avowal of pantheistic and atheistic doctrines would, at times, drop from the mouths of these suspicious-looking strangers, and startle Calvin not a little. It seemed strange that the

still dawn of the evangelic day should be deformed by these lurid flashes; yet so it was. [17]

The sure forecast of Calvin divined the storms with which the future of Christendom was pregnant, unless the Gospel should anticipate and prevent their outburst. We have already said that from the days of Abelard the seeds of communistic pantheism had begun to be scattered in Europe, and more especially in France. Dining the cold and darkness of the centuries that followed Abelard's time, these seeds had lain silently in the frozen soil, but now the warm spring-time of the sixteenth century was bringing them above the surface. The tares were springing up as well as the wheat. The quick eye of Calvin detected, at that early stage, the difference between the two growths, and the different fruits that posterity would gather from them. He heard men who had stolen to La Forge's table under color of being favorers of the new age, avow it as their belief that all things were God — themselves, the universe, all was God — and he heard them on that dismal ground claim an equally dismal immunity from all accountability for their actions, however wicked. [18] From that time Calvin set himself to resist these frightful doctrines, not less energetically than the errors of Rome. He felt that there was no salvation for Christendom save by the Gospel; and he toiled yet more earnestly to erect this great and only breakwater. If, unhappily, others would not permit him, and if as a consequence the deluge has broken in, and some countries have been partially overflowed, and others wholly so, it is not Calvin who is to blame.

In the meantime Calvin quitted Paris, probably in the end of July, 1534. It is possible that he felt the air thick with impending tempest. But it was not fear that made him depart; his spirit was weighed down, for almost every door of labor was closed meanwhile; he could not evangelise, save at the risk of a stake, and yet he had no leisure to read and meditate from the numbers of persons who were desirous to see and converse with him. He resolved to leave France and go to Germany, where he hoped to find "some shady nook," [19] in which he might enjoy the quiet denied him in the capital of his native land. Setting out on horseback, accompanied by Du Tillet, the two travelers reached Strasburg in safety. His departure was of God; for hardly was he gone when the sky of France was overcast, and tempest came. Had Calvin been in Paris when the storm burst, he would most certainly have been numbered among its victims. But it was not the will of God that his career should end at this time and in this fashion.

Humbler men were taken who could not, even had their lives been spared, have effected great things for the Reformation. Calvin, who was to spread the light over the earth, was left. He served the cause of the Gospel by living, they by dying.


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Tuesday, June 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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