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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 27 — The Academy of Geneva

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Foundation of the Academy—Subscriptions—Its Opening—Its Literary Equipment—Its Subsequent Renown—Its Library—What it Suggests— Calvin's Simplicity of Life—Sadoleto Visits him—The Cardinal's Surprise—Calvin's Poverty—His Charity—He Declines the Aid of the Council.

IN the wake of the Gospel, learning and the arts, Calvin held, should ever be found. Geneva had become, in the first place, a fountain of Divine knowledge to the surrounding countries; he would make it, in the second place, a fountain of science and civilization. In Italy, letters came first; but in England, in Bohemia, in Germany, and now in Geneva, the Divine science opened the way, and letters and philosophy followed. It was drawing towards the evening of his life, when Calvin laid the foundations of the Academy of Geneva. Next to the Reformation, this school was the greatest boon that he conferred on the republic which had only lately enrolled his name among its citizens. It continued long after he was dead to send forth distinguished scholars, in every department of science, and to shed a glory on the little State in which it was planted, [1] and where previous to the Reformation scarcely one distinguished man was to be found.

The idea of such an institution had long been before the mind of Calvin, and he wished not to die till he had realised it. Having communicated his design to the Council, it was approved of by their Excellencies, and in 1552 a piece of ground was purchased on which to erect the necessary buildings. But money was lacking. Geneva was then a State of but from 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. Its burdens were numerous. It had to exercise hospitality to from one to two thousand refugees. It had to endure the expenses of war in a time of peace, owing to the continual rumors set on foot that the city was about to be assaulted. After satisfying these indispensable demands, the citizens had not much money to spare. For six years the ground on which the future college was to stand lay untouched; not a sod was turned, not a stone was laid.

Impatient at this delay, and thinking that he had waited long enough on the Council, Calvin now set on foot a public subscription, and soon he found himself in possession of 10,000 florins. This was little for the object, but much for the times. He immediately laid the foundations of the edifice. He marked with joy the rising walls; tearing himself from his studies, he would descend from the Rue des Chanoines to the scene of operations, and though enfeebled by quartan-ague he might be seen dragging himself over the works, speaking kindly words now and again to the workmen, and stimulating them by expressing his satisfaction at their progress. Two edifices were rising at the same moment under the eye of the Reformer. The organization of the French Protestant Church and the building of the Academy went on together. On the 5th of June, 1559, just eleven days after the meeting of the National Synod in Paris, the college was ready to receive both masters and pupils. The inauguration was celebrated by a solemn service in St. Peter's, at which the senators, the ministers, and the burgesses attended. After prayer by Calvin, and a Latin address by Beza, the laws and statutes of the college, the confession to be subscribed by the students, and the oath to be taken by the rector and masters were read aloud. Theodore Beza was appointed rector; five masterships—Calvin had asked seven—one of Hebrew, one of Greek, one of philosophy, and two of theology, were instituted. In 1565, a year after the death of the Reformer, there was added a lectureship in law. With her Academy—which, however, was but the top-stone of a subsidiary system of instruction which was to prepare for the higher—Geneva was fitter than ever for the great spiritual and moral sovereignty which Calvin intended that she should exercise in Europe. [2]

Bungener's description of this memorial is as touching as his reflections are just. "After their venerable cathedral," says he, "no building is dearer to the Genevese; if you go upstairs to the class-rooms, you are in the rooms of the library—full of memorials yet more living and particular. There you will be shown the books of Calvin's library, the mute witnesses of his vigils, his sufferings, and his death; there you will turn over the leaves of his manuscripts, deciphering, not without difficulty, a few lines of his feverish writing, rapid as his thoughts; and, if your imagination will but lend itself to the breathing appeals of solitude and silence, there he himself is; you will behold him gliding among those ancient walls, pale, but with a sparkling eye—feeble and sickly, but strong in that inner energy, the source of which was in his faith. There also will appear to you, around him, all those of whom he was to be the father—divines, jurists, philosophers, scholars, statesmen, and men of war, all filled with that mighty life which he was to bequeath to the Reformation, after having received it from her. And if you ask the secret of his power, one of the stones of the college will tell it you in a few Hebrew words, which the Reformer had engraved upon it. Come into the court. Enter beneath that old portico which supports the great staircase, and you will read—The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And it is neither on the wall nor on one of the pillars that these words are engraved. Mark well: it is on the key-stone. What an emblem! and what a lesson!" [3]

The position which Calvin now filled was one of greater influence than perhaps any one man had exercised in the Church of Christ since the days of the apostles. He was the counsellor of kings; he was the adviser of princes and statesmen; he corresponded with warriors, scholars, and Reformers; he consoled martyrs, and

organised Churches; his admonitions were submitted to, and his letters treasured, as marks of no ordinary distinction. All the while the man who wielded this unexampled influence, was in life and manners in nowise different from an ordinary citizen of Geneva. He was as humbly lodged, he was as simply clothed, and he was served by as few attendants as any burgess of them all. He had been poor all his days, and he continued so to the end. One day a cardinal of the Roman Church, Sadoleto, who happened to be passing through Geneva, would pay him the honor of a visit. He was conducted to No. 122, Rue des Chanoines, and told to his surprise that this was the house of the Reformer. A yet greater surprise awaited the cardinal, he knocked for entrance: there was no porter at the gate; no servant in livery gave him admission: it was Calvin himself that opened the door.

His enemies, more just to him then than they have been since, acknowledged and admired his indifference to money. "That which made the strength of that heretic," said Plus IV., when told of his death, "was that money was nothing to him." The Pontiff was correct in his fact, but at fault in his philosophy. Calvin's strength was rooted in a far higher principle, and his indifference to riches was but one of the fruits of that principle; but how natural the reflection on the part of one who lived in a city where all men were venal, and all things vendible!

The Reformer's wants were few. During the last seven years of his life he took only one meal a day, sometimes one in the thirty-six hours. [4] His charities were great; the Protestant exiles were ever welcome to his table; kings, sometimes, were borrowers from him, and his small stipend left him often in pecuniary difficulties. But he never asked the Council for an increase of his emoluments; nay, he positively refused such when offered.

"Satisfied with my humble condition," was the witness which he bore to himself, in the place where he lived, and before the eyes of all, a little while before his death, "I have ever delighted in a life of poverty, and am a burden to no one. I remain contented with the office which the Lord has given me." [5] The Registers of the Council of Geneva bear to this day the proofs of his disinterestedness and forgetfulness of self. In January, 1546, the Council is informed of the sickness of M. Calvin, "who hath no resources." The Council votes him ten crowns, but; M. Calvin sends them back. The councillors buy with the ten crowns a cask of good wine, and convey it to Calvin's house. Not to give offense, the Reformer accepts their Lordships' gift, but lays out ten crowns of his salary "for the relief of the poorest ministers." In the winter of 1556 the Council sent him some firewood. Calvin appeared with the price, but could not induce the Council to accept of it. [6] The Registers of 1560 inform us of another cask of wine sent to M. Calvin, "seeing that he has none good." [7] The Reformer this time accepts; and yet, because he received these few presents in the course of a ministry of twenty-six years, there have not been wanting men who accused him of coveting such gifts, and of parading his ailments, of which indeed he seldom or never spoke, in order to evoke these benefactions. "If there are any," said he, in his Preface to the Psalms, "whom, in my lifetime, I cannot persuade that I am not rich and moneyed, my death will show it at last." In his last illness he refused his quarter's salary, saying that he had not earned it. [8] After his death it was found that his whole possessions did not exceed in value 225 dollars, [9] and if his illness had been prolonged, he would have had to sell his books, or receive the money of the republic. On the 25th of April, about a month before his death, the Reformer made his will. Luther's will was highly characteristic, Calvin's is not less so. It exhibits the methodical and business habits that marked his whole life, mingled with the humble, holy hope that filled his heart. Having disposed of the 225 crowns, and of some other small matters pertaining to the world he was leaving, he thus breaks out:—

"I thank God that he has not only had mercy on his poor creature, having delivered me from the abyss of idolatry, but that he has brought me into the clear light of his Gospel, and made me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy; yea, that his mercy and goodness have borne so tenderly with my numerous sins and offenses, for which I deserved to be cast from him and destroyed."

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