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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 12 — Calvin at strasburg — Rome draws near to Geneva

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Farel at Neuchatel — Calvin at Strasburg — His Labors there — Disorders at Geneva — Calvin's Poverty — Efforts of Rome to Retake Geneva — Cardinal Sadoleto — His Letter to the Genevans — Who shall Reply to it? — Calvin does so — Rising Tide of the Reformation — Ebb of Romanism — Conference between the Protestants and Romanists at Frankfort — Calvin goes thither — No Fruit of the Conference — Calvin and Melancthon's Interviews — Calvin's Confidence in Melancthon — His tender Love for him — Calvin and Luther never Meet — Luther placed amid the Teutonic Peoples, Calvin amid the Latin Nations — Wisdom of this Arrangement.

WITH steps slow and sad, and looks cast behind — for it was hard to relinquish all hope of a city on which they had bestowed so much labor — did the two banished ministers pursue their uncertain way. After an ineffectual attempt on the part of Bern and Zurich to compose the quarrel, Farel went to Neuchatel, which became the field of his future labors, and thus he completed the building of which he had laid the foundations in years gone by. Calvin, journeying by way of Basle, and halting awhile in a city which he loved above all others, ultimately repaired to Strasburg, to which he had been earnestly invited by the two pastors of that city, Bucer and Capito. Three years of honorable labor awaited him in Strasburg.

Distinguished foreigners, exiles for the Gospel, gathered round him; the French refugees, said to be about 15,000 in number, forming themselves into a congregation, made him their pastor; and the Town Council, appropriating the Church of the Dominicans to his use, appointed him to give lectures on the Scriptures. His audience was a more erudite and polished one than any Geneva could then furnish, for only through Calvin was Geneva to become learned. The love of Strasburg was as balm to the smitten and wounded heart of the exile. [1]

The expulsion of the two ministers did not calm the tempest that raged in the little State on the banks of the Leman. The Council, perhaps to show that they could govern without Calvin, published some new edicts for the reformation of manners; but, alas! moral power had departed with the ministers, and the commands of the magistrates were unheeded. The more distant the retreating steps of Farel and Calvin, the louder grew the disorders in the city they had left. The preachers, Marcourt and Morand, who now occupied the vacated pulpits, were simply objects of contempt. [2] They soon quitted the city in disgust. The Council thought to make the two rectors of the school which Farel had opened for though there were 900 priests there was not a schoolmaster in Geneva — supply their place. The two teachers rose up and shook the dust from their feet, and the school was closed. The dominant faction had demanded "liberty," and now, left without either religious guide or secular instructor, they were in a fair way of being as free as their hearts could wish, and eminently pious to boot, if there be truth in the maxim that "ignorance is the mother of devotion. [3]

Calvin, in his new sphere at Strasburg, preached four times a week, and discharged all the other duties, private and public, of a faithful pastor. He lectured every day on theological science to the students of the Academy, taking as his text-book the Gospel of St. John and the Epistle to the Romans, which he expounded. The fame of his lectures drew students from other countries, and Strasburg promised to rival Wittemberg as a school of theology. [4] The Reformer had asked no salary from the magistrates, and they were in no haste to assign him one, and now he was in deep poverty: He appears to have been still in receipt of a small sum from his paternal inheritance, which he strove to supplement by the sale of his books. Painful it must have been to him to part with these, but he had no alternative, for we find him writing to Farel at this time that he "did not possess a farthing." The Senate of Strasburg afterwards appointed him a stipend, but so small that it did not suffice for his wants. But we return to Geneva.

Calvin being gone, the Pope now drew near. He had been watching the ripening of the pear for some time, and now he deemed it fit to be plucked. Cardinal Sadoleto was employed to write a letter to the people of Geneva, which, it was thought, was all that was needed to make them re-enter the old fold. Than Sadoleto no fitter man could have been found for this task. Having passed his youth at the court of Leo X., he was quite as much a son of the Renaissance as a son of the Church. He overflowed with that mild tolerance which, bred of indifferentism, is sometimes mistaken for true liberality. He could write any number of fine sentiments in the purest Latin. He was of irreproachable life. The Protestants sometimes thought that he was about to become one of themselves. But no: he loved the calm of letters, and the aesthetic delights of art. Above all, he rejoiced in the security and comfort of an infallible Church. It saved the toil of inquiry and the torment of doubt.

His letter "to the Senate and People of Geneva" was such as might have been expected from such a man. He began by protesting his ancient affection for them; he praised their many noble qualities; and he "drowned his page" with his poignant grief at their misfortunes. Alas! that they had suffered themselves to be seduced into Protestantism, which, however, he was good enough to say contained a modicum of truth. And so, tasking the elegance of his pen to the

utmost, he coined some glowing compliments in praise of Holy Writ, of Christ as the sole Author of salvation, and of the doctrine of justification by faith. In thus expressing himself, Sadoleto had not the remotest intention of becoming a disciple of the Protestant faith; he was only beckoning back the Genevans to repose beneath the tiara. In an infallible Church only could they find escape from such storms as the exercise of private judgment had let loose upon them.

The letter had the very opposite effect from that which it was expected to produce. It helped to show the men of Geneva the brink to which they were drawing nigh. Are we then, they said to themselves on reading the cardinal's letter, so near to Rome that the Pontiff believes he has only to open the gates in order that we may come in? Moreover it made them feel the loss they had sustained in the banishment of Calvin; they looked around for a man to reply to Sadoleto, for they felt that his letter must not remain unanswered, but they looked in vain. One name was on every lip as that of the man who alone was adequate to the task of replying, but with the ink not yet dry in which the banishment of the man who bore that name was written, they dared not utter it. This showed, however, that the tide had begun to turn. Calvin meanwhile got a copy of the cardinal's letter at Strasburg, and without waiting to be asked by the Genevans he answered it forthwith, and in such fashion that Sadoleto made no second attempt of the sort. [5] Calvin's reply to Sadoleto was the work of six days, and it remains a monument of his genius. He begins by paying a fine compliment to the cardinal's learning and eloquence, and goes on to express his wonder at the "singular love and goodwill" which Sadoleto, an entire stranger to the people of Geneva, had so suddenly conceived for them, "of which nevertheless no fruit ever appeared." "If," continues Calvin, "it was ambition and avarice," as Sadoleto had hinted, which moved him in separating from Rome, what a blunder had he fallen into! "Certain it is," said he, "if I had paid regard to my personal advantage, I should never have separated from your faction." "Was not," he asks, "our shortest way of attaining to wealth and honours to accept from the first the conditions which you have offered us?" Apostates you call us, says Calvin. "The men of Geneva, extricating themselves from the slough of error in which they were sunk, have returned to the doctrine of the Gospel, and this thou callest abandoning the truth of God. They have withdrawn from Papal tyranny, and this thou sayest is to separate from the Church!" "We contradict the Fathers!" exclaims the Reformer, adverting to another charge the cardinal had brought against the Protestants, "we are more nearly in agreement with antiquity than you our opponents, as thou knowest, Sadoleto, and we ask for nothing else than to see restored that ancient face of the Church which has been torn to pieces and almost destroyed by the Pope and his faction." And after reminding the cardinal of what his learning made him well acquainted with, namely, the condition of the Church during the days of both the Greek and the Latin Fathers, Calvin asks him, "Wilt thou call that man an enemy of antiquity who, full of zeal for ancient piety, longs to restore in their first splendor the things which are now corrupted? With what right are we accused of having subverted the ancient discipline by the very party that has abolished it?"

With a few strokes Calvin next draws a picture of the state in which the Reformers found the schools and the pulpits: nothing taught in the first but "pure sophistries," "tangled and twisted scholastic theology," "a kind of secret magic." And as for the pulpits, "there were no sermons from which foolish old women did not learn more dreams than they could relate in a month by their own fireside." Was it a crime to have replaced that rubbish by a theology drawn from the Word of God, and to have silenced the monks by filling the pulpits with preachers of the ancient Gospel? There follow some noble passages on justification by faith, on Christ's sole mediatorship, on worship, the Lord's Supper, the ministry, the Church, and then comes the close, in which the Reformer reproduces, though in a contrary sense, Sadoleto's prosopopaeia. The cardinal had cited Calvin and his brethren as criminals before the judgment-seat of God.

Calvin obeys this trumpet-summons. He comes to the dread tribunal to which the cardinal had cited him, and he thus pleads: "I saw Christ cast into oblivion, and become unprofitable; what was I to do? I saw the Gospel stifled by superstition; what was I to do? I saw the Divine Word voluntarily ignored and hidden; what was I to do? If he is not 'to be reputed a traitor who, seeing the soldiers dispersed and scattered, raises the captain's ensign, rallies them, and restores their order,' am I a traitor for having raised amid the disbanded Church the old banner of Jesus Christ? For it is not a new and 'strange ensign which I have unfurled, but thy noble standard, O Lord!'" He adds, with reference to Sadoleto's taunt that they had broken the peace, "Did they [the Romanists] not most suddenly and furiously betake themselves to the sword and the gibbet? Did they not think that their sole resource was in arms and cruelty?" They have given us in default of other consecration that of tribulation and of blood. We know what we have done, and in whom we have believed, and "heaven grant, Sadoleto, that thou and thine may one day be able to say as much sincerely." [6]

Thus did Calvin, though banished, continue to

cover Geneva with his shield. The writing ran quickly through Europe. Luther read it and was delighted beyond measure with it. His eye at once discerned its freedom, strength, and majesty. "Here," said he, "is a writing which has hands and feet. I rejoice that God raises up such men. They will continue what I have begun against Antichrist, and by the help of God they will finish it."

Calvin has now become, or is very soon to become, the center of the movement, whose present position in Christendom is somewhat perilous. A crisis had arrived in the great conflict between Romanism and Protestantism. It was clear to both parties that the breach that divided them must be healed now, and that if a settlement was much longer delayed the controversy would grow into an embittered and sanguinary war, prolonged from decade to decade, and it might be for a still longer period. During the years that Calvin resided at Strasburg, the Popish and Protestant worlds assembled in not fewer than four successive conventions, to try whether it was not possible to frame a basis on which the two Churches might come together, and peace be restored to Christendom. The initiative of these conferences was taken by the emperor on the part of the Romanists; and indeed of the two parties it was the latter that had the stronger reasons for holding out the olive-branch.

Twenty-five years had now passed away in their efforts to put down Protestantism, and instead of being able to recount a series of victories, they had little to show save a list of defeats. All things worked contrariwise for them. If they held a disputation, it was only to expose the weakness of their champions; if they convoked a synod, it was only to hear a Protestant Confession; if they held a conference, it was to have some new concession wrung from them; if they planted stakes, they found they were but sowing the seed of new martyrs; if they leagued among themselves in order to strike a combined blow, some untoward event fell out, some ally betrayed them, or the ominous figure of the Turk started up, and so their plans came to nothing. The bow broke just as the arrow was about to be let fly.

And, then, what at this hour was the attitude of the several nations as regarded their obedience to the Papal chair? One half of the European States had placed themselves, or were hastening to do so, beneath the banner on which was inscribed: "An open Bible and a free conscience."

The two Saxonys, Prussia, Hesse-Cassel, Wurtemberg, with some smaller States, and a multitude of free cities, were now ranged round the great PROTEST. The better half of Switzerland was lost to Rome. Few, save the herdsmen of the mountains, now received her pardons and sent their money in return. Denmark and Sweden had revolted. The powerful kingdoms of England and France were at that hour trembling in the balance.

Everywhere men were kicking against Rome's ancient and sacred sway, and soon, on the north of the Alps, few subjects would remain to her. Parliaments were passing laws to check her usurpations; her bulls were dis-honored; palls were at a discount; tithes, annats, reservations, and expectatives were but as the gleanings after the harvest; palmers and anchorets were disappearing from her highways; men were burying her relics instead of worshipping them; the cowl and frock were being abandoned for the garb of honest labor; schools and hospitals were replacing monasteries and convents; the reading of the Scriptures was supplanting the counting of beads, and the preaching of the Gospel the chanting of litanies and masses.

And then, in addition to all these losses, when the Romanists looked at the other side they could not conceal from themselves the strength of the Protestant position. Not only did the Reformation divide Christendom — not only did it receive the support of States, princes, and free cities — but, further, it had created a multitude of agencies, which were continually at work multiplying its adherents, and extending still farther its area.

Foremost among these were the Sacred Oracles in the mother-tongue of the nations. In the rear of this Divine instrumentality came nearly all the men of thought, of letters, and of eloquence which the age could boast. Ever and anon Luther's pen was darting flashes of light over Europe.

Recently had come that magnificent demonstration, the Institutes. That work was moving up and down in Christendom, an embattled phalanx of argument, compared with which the legions of the emperor were as weakness. Around the two great chiefs, Luther and Calvin, were a hundred keen and disciplined intellects ready to expose a sophism, to confront a falsehood, to laugh at folly, and to castigate hypocrisy and arrogance. Moreover, the habit of free inquiry, and the art of combining — of which the Schmalkald League furnished an example, which was not lost upon its opponents — had come to the aid of that cause which had given them birth. In fine, among the forces on the side of Protestantism, not the least was the spirit of its disciples. They could face the dungeon and the rack, the scaffold and the stake, and not quail; and in the room of those who were burned to ashes to-day, hundreds would start up to-morrow to grasp the falling standard, and bear it onward to victory. These considerations could not but force themselves upon the minds of the Romanists, and weigh with them in the overtures they now made to the Protestants. From the far-off banks of the Tagus came a letter full of not unfriendly professions. Writing in the Alcazar at Toledo, the 25th of November, 1539, the emperor invited the Protestant princes of Germany to meet and try whether they could not devise measures of conciliation. [7] Charles intimated at the same time that the King of France, with whom he was then

at peace, was equally solicitous on this point with himself.

In pursuance of this letter, the princes assembled next February at Frankfort. Eldo, Archbishop of Lunden, represented the emperor at the conference. Calvin, accompanied by Sturm, went thither, at the urgent solicitations of his brethren, mainly with the view of watching over the interests of the Swiss Churches, and of having the pleasure of meeting and conferring with Melancthon. The debates were long, but the conclusions reached were of no great moment. All resulted in a truce, which was to last for fifteen months, to permit a convention of theologians and learned men to meet and discuss the steps necessary for quieting the religious troubles. Without the truce the members would not have been sure of their heads. Meanwhile, prosecutions against the Protestants in the imperial chamber were to be dropped, and no one on either side was to be disturbed on account of his religion. The Protestants thought they saw the cloven foot in the attempts to confine this agreement to those of the Augsburg Confession. The emperor had the best reasons for excluding the Swiss from its benefits. He knew that should the German and Swiss Reformers combine, and form one Protestant camp, extending from the Baltic to the banks of the Rhone, and the foot of the Pennine mountains, the cause of Rome would be lost north of the Alps, and his own dynastic projects along with it. [8]

We turn with a peculiar pleasure from the chamber of conference, to the yet more sacred chamber where the Reformation's greatest scholar, and its greatest theologian, were about to commune together. From the first moment Melancthon and Calvin understood each other. Of Melancthon's inviolable loyalty at heart to the Protestant creed Calvin had not a doubt. The unwise concessions into which his love of peace at times betrayed him, though they drew forth Calvin's rebuke, never shook his confidence in him. A free interchange of sentiments on the nature of the Eucharist took place, and Calvin, as we learn from his letters to Farel, was delighted to find that Melancthon's opinions nearly approximated to his own, although his veneration for Luther kept him from saying so in public. Future discussions, however showed that the unanimity was not quite so great as Calvin had hoped. Their friendship, nevertheless, continued unbroken throughout their lives, and yielded its fruits to the Church of God. How deep and tender Calvin's love for Melancthon was, is shown by the touching words written after the grave had closed over the latter: "O Philip Melancthon — for it is thou whom I address — thou who now livest at the hand of God with Christ, awaiting us on high till we are gathered with thee into blessed repose — a hundred times hast thou said to me when, wearied with toil and vexation, thou didst lean thy head upon my bosom — Would to God, would to God, that I might die upon that bosom! As for me, later, a hundred times have I wished that it had been granted us to be together. Certainly thou wouldst have been bolder to face struggles, more courageous to despise envy and calumny. Then, also, would have been suppressed the malignity of many whose audacity increased in proportion to what they called thy pusillanimity." [9]

There is one other meeting that would have had greater interest for us than even that which we see now taking place. It was intensely longed for on one side at least. Writing to Luther, Calvin says, "Oh, if I could fly towards thee, and enjoy thy society, were it but for a few hours!" One cannot help asking, had Luther and Calvin met, which would have appeared the greater? Would the breach in the Protestant host have been healed, and the Wittemberg and Genevan camps been merged into one?

Would the splendor of Luther have paled before the calm majesty of Calvin, or would the mighty strength of the latter have bowed before the swift intuition and dazzling genius of the former? But, it was not to be that these two men should ever see one another in the flesh. They were formed to dwell in spheres apart. The impetuous Luther was given to the Teutonic nations, which needed his enthusiasm to kindle them. Calvin was placed amid the excitable and volatile peoples of the South, where his severe logic and love of order helped to curb their tendency to excess and their passion to theorise. Had Luther gone to France — and there was a moment, outside the gate of Augsburg, on the occasion of his flight from Cajetan, when he thought of turning his horse's head in that direction he would have kindled a conflagration by his eloquence, which, after speedily blazing up, would as speedily have sunk down and died out. And had Calvin, when he first visited Strasburg, instead of turning southward to Basle, gone forward to Wittemberg, and made Germany the scene of his labors, as he had some thoughts of doing, he would there doubtless have been able to plant his system of Church order, but without that amount of enthusiasm on the part of those who submitted to it, necessary to give it permanancy, or to carry it over Christendom, while the South would have become a prey to the pantheistic theories of such men as Ochin and Servetus. What a beautiful ordering in the gifts of these two men, in the place assigned to each in the field, and the time when they entered it!

Luther had been the center in the first act of the great drama. That was now closing, and at the center of the second act, which was about to open, Calvin stands up; with an enthusiasm as great, but a logic more severe, to complete and crown the work of his predecessor.

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Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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