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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 18 — Calvin's labors for union

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Misfortunes of Protestantism in Germany—Death of Paul III.—Election of Julius III.—The Conclave—Jubilee—The Golden Hammer—Francis I. Dies—Henry II.—He Looks Two Ways at Once—Calvin Turns with Hope to England—Edward VI. on the Throne—What Calvin Judged Necessary for England's Reformation—Scotland—Spain—Philip II.—All Things being Shaken—Calvin's Labors for the Union of the Church— The Eucharist the Point of Division—Zwingli's and Calvin's Views— They are Substantially One—The Consensus Tigurinis—Its Teaching Accepted by Switzerland, France, and England—Germany Stands Aloof—Theodore Beza Arrives at Geneva—His Youth and Studies— Becomes Calvin's Associate in Labor—Distinguished Group around Calvin—Outer and Wider Group—The Man at the Center.

DURING these years, while an abyss was opening at Geneva, the grave, as it seemed, of Calvin and his work, the battle was going against the Reformation all over Europe. Luther was sleeping in the Schloss-kirk, and the arms of the emperor were overrunning Protestant Germany. The theological school at Wittenberg was broken up; the Schmalkald League was dissolved, and its two chiefs, the captives of Charles, were being carried about in chains, in the wake of the emperor. The Interim had replaced the Confession of Augsburg, the Protestant ministers had been driven away, and their flocks scattered; the free cities had capitulated, and in many of them the mass was being substituted for the sermon. The noble edifice which the hands of Luther had reared appeared to be falling into ruins. He who was to become Philip II., but who had not yet assumed the title, or opened his career of blood, was making a progress through the towns of Flanders, in company of his father; and the emperor, in the hope of perpetuating his mighty despotism, was exacting from the cities of the Low Countries an oath of allegiance to Philip. [1]

In Italy, Paul III., the worthy successor of Borgia, had just died (1549), and his feet, extended through an iron grating, had been duly kissed by the Roman populace. All Rome was yet ringing with a terrible book which had just been published, containing the life of the defunct Pope, when the cardinals assembled in that city to elect his successor, the ceremony usual on such occasions being carefully observed. Duly morning by morning each cardinal came from his darkened chamber, with its solitary taper, and after mass and prayer, wrote the name of the person for whom he gave his vote upon a bit of paper, and folding it up, dropped it into the silver chalice upon the crimson-covered table before the altar of the chapel. This was repeated day by day, till a majority of two-thirds of the votes were recorded in favor of one candidate. Our own Cardinal Pole was just on the point of being elected, but the suspicion of Lutheranism which attached to him, caused him the misfortune or the happiness of missing the tiara. On the 7th of February, 1550, [2] John Maria de Monte, who had presided in the Council at Trent, and afterwards at Bologna, when the cardinals crossed the mountains, was elected, and ascended the Papal chair under the title of Julius III. It was the year of Jubilee, for although, when first instituted by Boniface VIII., A.D. 1300, that great festival was ordained to be held only on the first year of each century, the period had since been shortened, and the Jubilee came round once every half-century. Paul III. had earnestly desired to see that great day of grace, but the grave closed over him before it came. That festival was reserved to signalize the opening of his successor's Pontificate. Rome was full of pilgrims from all countries, who had come to share in the inestimable benefits which the year of Jubilee brings with it to the faithful. Two days after his election, Julius III., with the golden hammer in his hand, proceeded to the golden gate, and broke it open, that the imprisoned flood of celestial virtues and blessings might freely flow forth and regale the expectant and rejoicing pilgrims.

The golden hammer, with which the new Pope had broken open the gate— ever a much-coveted treasure—was this year bestowed on the Bishop of Augsburg. On being jocularly interrogated by some of his friends what use he meant to make of the gift, the bishop replied "that he intended to knock the Lutherans on the head with that hammer." [3] The other pilgrims carried back to their distant homes, as the record of the cost and toil of their journey, besides the forgiveness of their sins, "bits of the lime and rubbish" of the demolished gate, to be kept as "precious jewels." [4]

Francis I. of France had gone to the grave. Literature, war, gallantry, had engaged him by turns. Today he snubbed the monks, tomorrow he burned the Lutherans. The last years of his reign were disgraced by the horrible massacre of the Vaudois of Provence, and embittered by the painful disease, the result of his vices, which carried him to the grave in his fifty-fifth year. His son, Henry II., brought to the throne, which he now filled, all the evil qualities of his father, and only some of the good ones. He was the husband of Catherine de Medici, Pope Clement VII.'s niece, but the wife was the real sovereign. The Protestant princes of Germany, with Maurice of Saxony at their head, besought his aid in the war they were then waging with the emperor, Charles V. He entered into alliance with them, but before setting out for the campaign he lighted up his capital with the lurid blaze of Lutheran martyr-piles. This was his way of notifying to the world that if he was the enemy of the emperor, he was nevertheless the friend of the Pope; and that if he was the confederate of the German Protestants in arms, he was not a partaker with them in heresy. [5] In the direction of France, then, there was no clearing of the sky. The air was thick

with tempest, which in coming years was to strew the soil of that land with more terrible wrecks than any that had as yet disfigured it.

The only quarter of the heaven to which the eye of Calvin could turn with any pleasure was England. There, during the years we speak of, there was a gleam of sunshine. Henry VIII. now slept in "dull cold marble." His "sweet and gracious" son, Edward VI., succeeded him. The clouds that had overhung the realm during all the reign of the father, and which let fall, at times, their tempests, and ever and anon threatened to burst in more furious storms, were dispersed by the benign rule of the son. With Edward VI. on the throne, the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of the Kingdom, in the Cabinet, and Archbishop Cranmer in the Church, the Reformation of England was advancing at a rate that promised to give it precedence of both France and Germany, and make its Church one of the bright stars in the heavens of Protestantism. The counsel of Calvin was sought by the Protector and the Primate, and the frankness, as well as fidelity, with which it was given, shows the interest the Reformer took in the Church of England, and the hopes he rested on its Reformation. In his letter to Somerset, June, 1548, he expounds his views on the transformation needed to be wrought on England. First, it must adopt the principle, the only fruitful one, of justification by faith; secondly, this principle, in order to become fruitful, must thoroughly permeate the people, which could only be by living and powerful preaching; thirdly, the Word of God must be the rule as regards what is to be retained and what abolished, otherwise the Reformation is not the work of God, but the work of man, and would come to nothing; and fourthly, means must be taken for reducing morals into harmony with faith. After the fall of the Protector, Calvin corresponded with the young monarch, who, notwithstanding the loss of his able and faithful adviser, continued to prosecute vigorously the Reformation of his kingdom. The seed sown by Wicliffe two centuries before was springing rapidly up, and promised an abundant harvest. But the clouds were to return after the rain.

The young prince went to his grave. With Mary came a swift and terrible reaction. The Reformers of the previous reign became the martyrs of the succeeding one, and a night thick with gloom and lurid with fire closed in once more around the realm of England.

Scotland was awakening. The stakes of Hamilton and Wishart had already lighted up its skies. But its Reformation was too little advanced, and the country too remote, to fix the eye of the great Reformer. John Knox had not yet crossed the sea, or entered the gates of Geneva, to sit at Calvin's feet, and on his return continue in his native land the work which Calvin had begun in Geneva. But Scotland was not to be veiled for ever in the northern mist, and the yet denser shadow of Papal superstition. The Gospel, that mighty mother of civilization, was to enter it, and lead thither her fair daughters, letters, science, arts, and liberty. The culture which Rome failed to give it, Scotland was to receive from Geneva.

We turn for a moment to Spain. Worn with toil and care, and sick of grandeur, Charles was about to lay down the Empire. Fortune, like a fickle maiden, had deserted him, so he complained, for younger soldiers. He would show that he could bear the slight, by turning his back on a world which was turning its back on him. He made partition of his goods. The magnificent Empire of Spain was to be given to his son Phililp. This man was fated to develop into a Nero. this little finger was to be bigger than his father's loins. The astute ambition of Charles, the sanguinary violence of Henry, the ferocious bigotry of Francis, were all to be forgotten in the monstrous combination of cruelty, bigotry, and blood which was about to reveal itself to the world in Philip II. Alas for the Protestantism of Spain! It was to have ten brief years of flourishing, and when about to "shake with fruit," and fill the realm of Iberia, it was to be mowed down by the scythe of the Inquisition, and garnered in the burning-grounds of Valladolid, of Madrid, of Seville, and of other cities.

As the great chief of Protestantism looked from his narrow foot-hold, he beheld around him a world groaning and travailing in pain to be delivered from the bondage of the old, and admitted into the liberty of the new. All Christendom was in agony. The kingdoms were moved; monarchs were falling; there was distress of nations; the sea and the waves roaring. But Calvin knew that these were but the shaking of those things which are destined to be removed, in order that those things which cannot be removed may be introduced. If the old was passing away, it was the more necessary to lay the foundations of that kingdom which was to long outlast the Empire of Charles and of Francis, and to stretch its scepter to tribes and nations which theirs had never reached. It was now that he engaged in attempts to promote the union of the Church.

In the great and blessed work of union Calvin began at home. His first aim was to unite the Churches of Geneva and Zurich. In prosecuting this endeavor, however, he studied to frame such a basis of agreement as might afterwards serve as a platform for a greater union. His aims reached forth to the Lutherans of Germany, whom he wished to comprehend in visible fellowship with the Churches of France and England, and so draw together into one body all the Churches of Protestantism. His hopes of ultimately reaching this grand result were strengthened when

he reflected that the Churches were divided mainly by one point—a misunderstanding touching the Lord's Supper. There is a real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, said they all; but they differed in their answer to the question, In what manner is he present? He is present bodily, said Luther, who attributed ubiquity or indefinite extension to our Lord's humanity. So far from a bodily presence, said Zwingli, the Eucharist is only a memorial and sign of Christ. No, said Calvin, it is more; it is a seal as well as a sign.

So stood the matter; and such, in brief, were the distinctive opinions of the three clusters of Protestant Churches, when Calvin, rousing himself from his great sorrow for Idelette, and setting out with Farel in the fine spring days of 1549, arrived in Zurich to confer with the ministers there—the first step toward the rallying of the whole protestant Church around its one standard, the Bible; and its centralization in its one Head, even Christ. A far longer way would the Reformer have been willing to go, if it could have promoted the cause on which his heart was so deeply set. "I am ready to cross ten seas,"hie wrote to Cranmer, "for the union of the Church."

Between the views of Calvin and those of Zwingli on the Eucharist there was really, after all, no essential difference. Zwingli indeed, by way of removing himself to the farthest distance from Rome, and of getting rid of all her unintelligible mysticism on that head, had called the Eucharist an "empty sign "—that is, a sign not filled by the material body of Christ.

But Zwingli's teaching regarding the Lord's Supper logically covers all that Calvin held. It is the "commemoration" of Christ's death, said Zwingli, but the character and significance of that "commemoration" are determined by the character and significance of the event commemorated. Christ's death was a death endured for mankind, and is the ground on which God bestows the benefits of the New Covenant. When, therefore, we commemorate that death, we do an act, not of simple remembrance, or mere commemoration, but of appropriation. We express by this commemoration our acceptance of the benefits of the New Covenant, and we receive the Eucharist as God's attesting sign or seal of his bestowal of these benefits upon us: and in so doing we have real communion with Christ, and a real participation in all the blessings of his death. "Christ," said Calvin, "unites us with himself in one life."

These were substantially the explanations put before the Pastors of Zurich by Calvin. The conference, which was held in the presence of the Civic Council, continued several days. A formulary was drawn up, known as the Consensus Tigurinis, or Zurich Confession, [6] on which the Churches of Geneva and Zurich united. This Confession was afterwards subscribed by all the Churches of Helvetia and of the Grisons. It was communicated to the Reformed in France, and to Bucer in England, and in both countries was hailed with joy. The faithful in Switzerland, France, and England had now been brought to be of one mind on the doctrine of the Eucharist; their union had been virtually established, and Calvin was comforted after his great sorrow. [7]

But the greater union Calvin was not to see. The Lutherans of Germany still held aloof, and the Protestant world still continued to present the appearance as of two armies. Melancthon, as the result of his interview with the Reformer at Worms (1540), had come into somewhat close agreement with Calvin on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. The Consensus of Zurich, he acknowledged, shed a yet clearer light on the question, and had brought him still nearer to the Genevan Reformer. [8]

But the more zealous spirits of the party, such as Flaccius, Osiander, and especially Westphal, clung to the consubstantiation of Luther with even greater tenacity than when its great expounder was alive, and both Melancthon and Calvin saw with sorrow a union, which would have closed a source of weakness in the Protestant ranks, and made patent to the whole world the real Catholicism of the Reformation, postponed to a day that has not even yet fully come.

We have seen one companion fall by the side of the Reformer, we are now to see another raised up to fill the vacant place. Within a month after the death of Idelette de Bure, eight French gentlemen, whom persecution had driven from their native land, arrived at the gates of Geneva. One of them, in particular, was distinguished by his noble mien and polished manners. Calvin recognised in him an acquaintance of his youthful years. This was Theodore Beza, of Vezelay, in Burgundy. Beza had enjoyed the instructions of Melchior Wolmar, first at Orleans, and next at Bourges, and he had acquired from him, not only a knowledge of Greek, but some taste for the Reformed doctrine, which, however, was overlaid for the time by a gay and worldly spirit. Not unlike to Calvin's had been his course of study. His first devotion was law; but his genius inclined him more to the belles lettres. He was a great admirer of the Latin poets, he read them much, and composed verses in imitation of them. After the manner of the times he followed his models somewhat too freely, and his Popish chroniclers have taken occasion, from the lascivious phrases of his verse, to assail his life, which, however, they have never been able to prove to have been other than pure. His uncle procured him a living in the Church, and to preserve himself from the vices into which others had fallen, he contracted a private marriage, in the presence of Laurence de Normandie and Jean Crespin. An illness, which brought him to the brink of the grave, awoke his conscience, and now it was that the religious impressions which his early preceptor had made upon him revived.


back from the grave, Beza renounced Popery, openly avowed his marriage, quitted France, and setting out for Geneva, presented himself, as we have seen, before Calvin. He discharged for a short time the office of Greek professor and theological lecturer at Lausanne. Returning to Geneva, he became from 1552 the right hand of Calvin, for which his talents, his eloquence, his energy, and his courage admirably fitted him; and when the great chief of the Reformation was laid in the grave, no worthier than Beza could be found to succeed him.

Beza did not stand alone by the side of Calvin. A brilliant group was now gathering round the Reformer, composed of men some of whom were of illustrious birth, others of distinguished scholarship, or of great talent, or of venerable piety. Among them may be mentioned Galeaceo Caracciolo, Marquis of Vico, who had forsaken house and lands, wife and children, for the Gospel's sake; and Peter Martyr Vermili, whom Calvin called the "Miracle of Italy." [9] But the exiles are to be counted, not in hundreds only, but in thousands, of whom there scarce was one but contributed to brighten, by his rank, or genius, or learning, that galaxy of glory which was gathering round Geneva. Each brought his stone to that intellectual and spiritual edifice which was rising on the shores of the Leman.

Others there were, nearer or farther off, who acknowledged in Calvin their center, and who, though parted from him and from one another by mountains and oceans, formed one society, of which this sublime spirit was the center. There was Melancthon, and the group of which he was the chief, and who, although they bore the name of Lutheran, felt that they were in spirit one with those who were styled Reformed, and especially with the Catholic-hearted man who stood at their head. There was Bullinger in Zurich, and the group around him, which embraced, among many others, Pellicanus, and the fervent, loving Musculus. There was the peace-loving Bucer in England, and John 'a Lasco, the learned and accomplished Pole. [10] And among the men of those days, who looked up to Calvin and sought his counsel, we must likewise rank the young monarch and the venerable Primate of England. There were the Turretinis of Italy, and the Colignys of France, representative men. There were Margaret, Queen of Navarre, her great daughter Jeanne d'Albret, and Renee, Duchess of Ferrara. [11] There were thousands and thousands, humble in station but elevated in character, spread over all countries and speaking many tongues, but forgetting diversity of country, of rank, and of speech, in the cause that made them all of one heart and one mind. We behold in this great multitude a refined, an intellectual, a holy fellowship, than which there never perhaps existed sublimer on earth. Verily, the man who formed the center of this brilliant assemblage, who kept his place in the presence of so many men so dignified in rank and so powerful in intellect; whom all confessed to be first, and whom all loved and reverenced as a father, must have been, whatever his enemies may affirm to the contrary, a man of many sides. He must have possessed varied as well as great qualities; he must have been large of heart, and catholic in sentiment and sympathy; he must have been rich in deep, tender, and loving sensibilities, though these may often have been repressed by labor or veiled by sorrow, and could be seen only by those who stood near to him; while those who were farther off could but mark the splendor of those gifts that shone in him as the Reformer, and of which the world was continually receiving new proofs, in the expositions and defences of Protestant truth, which he was almost daily sending forth. But whether near or afar off, all who stood around the Reformer, from the inner-most to the most distant circle, were ever ready to confess that he was as inflexible in principle as he was colossal in intellect, that he was as unselfish in aim as he was grand in conception, and as untiring in patience as he was unconquerable in energy and courage.

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