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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 3 — The reform commenced in Lausanne and established in Morat and Neuchatel

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Geneva on the Road to Liberty – Her Advance – There needs the Sword of the Spirit to Conquer her Highest Liberty – Farel – No Second Field of Kappel – Farel goes to Aigle – Acts as Schoolmaster – Begins to Preach – Commotion – Retires from Aigle – Leaves behind him a little Reformed Church – Goes to Morat–Then an Important Town – Eventually won to the Gospel – Attempts Lausanne – Goes to Neuchatel – Crowds flock to his Preaching – Plants the Reformed Faith at Meiry in the neighbouring Jura – Returns to Neuchatel – Carries its Reformation by a Coup.

GENEVA had gone a long way towards independence. It had chased the duke across the mountains to return no more. It had formed an alliance with Bern and Friburg without waiting for the consent of its prince-bishop; this was in effect to hold his temporal authority null, and to take the sovereignty into its own hands. Liberty had advanced a stage on its road. Free Europe had enlarged its area; and that of bond Europe had, to the same extent, been circumscribed: Rome saw the outposts of Progress so much nearer her own gates. The Pope beheld bold and spirited citizens ignoring the scepter of their prince-bishop, converting it into a bauble; and the thought must have suggested itself to him, might not the day come when his own more powerful rod would be plucked from his hand, and broken in pieces, like that of his vassal-bishop in Geneva?

But though on the road, Geneva had not yet arrived at the goal. She was not yet crowned with the perfect liberty. A powerful oppressor had her in his grip, namely, Rome. The tyrant, it is true, had been compelled to relax his hold, but he might tighten his grasp unless Geneva should succeed in entirely disengaging herself. But she had not yet got hold of the right weapon for such a battle. Berthelier assailed Rome on the ground of ancient charters; Bonivard hurled against her the shafts of a revived learning; Levrier maintained the fight with the sword of justice; but it needed that a more powerful sword, even that of the Word of the living God, should be unsheathed, before the tyrant could be wholly discomfited and the victory completely won. That sword had been unsheathed, and the champions who were wielding it, advancing in their victorious path, were every day coming nearer the gates of Geneva. When this new liberty should be enthroned within her, then would her light break forth as the morning, the black clouds which had so long hung about her would be scattered, and the tyrants who had plotted her overthrow would tremble at her name, and stand afar off for fear of that invisible Arm that guarded her. Let us turn to the movements outside the city, which, without concert on the part of their originators, fall in with the efforts of the champions of liberty within it for the complete emancipation of Geneva.

We have already met Farel. We have seen him, a mere lad, descending from the mountains of Dauphine, entering himself a pupil in that renowned seminary of knowledge and orthodoxy, the Sorbonne – contracting a close friendship with its most illustrious doctor, Lefevre, accompanying him in his daily visits to the shrines of the metropolis, and kneeling by the side of the venerable man before the images of the saints. But soon the eyes both of teacher and pupil were opened; and Farel, transferring that ardor of soul which had characterised him as a Papist to the side of the Reformation, strove to rescue others from the frightful abyss of superstition in which he himself had been so near perishing. Chased from France, as we have already related, he turned his steps toward Switzerland.

It is the second Reformation in Switzerland that we are now briefly to sketch. The commencement and progress of the first we have already traced. Beginning with the preaching of Zwingle in the convent of Einsiedein, the movement in a little time transferred itself to Zurich; and thence it rapidly spread to the neighboring towns and cantons in Eastern Helvetia, extending from Basle on the frontier of Germany on the north, to Choire on the borders of Italy on the south. The Forest Cantons, however, continued obedient to Rome. The adherents of the old faith and the champions of the new met on the bloody field of Kappel. The sword gave the victory to Romanism. The bravest and best of the citizens of Zurich lay stretched upon the battle-field. Among the slain was Zwingle. With him, so men said and believed at the moment, had fallen the Reformation.

In the grave of its most eloquent preacher and its most courageous defender lay inferred the hopes of Swiss Protestantism. But though the calamity of Kappel arrested, it did not extinguish, the movement; on the contrary, it tended eventually to consolidate and quicken it by impressing upon its friends the necessity of union. In after years, when Geneva came to occupy the place in the second Helvetian movement which Zurich had done in the first, the division among the Reformed cantons which had led to the terrible disaster of 1531 was avoided, and there was no second field of Kappel.

Arriving in Switzerland (1526), Farel took up his abode at Aigle, and there commenced that campaign which had for its object to conquer to Christ a brave and hardy people dwelling amid the glaciers of the eternal mountains, or in fertile and sunny valleys, or on the shores of smiling lakes. The darkness of ages overhung the region, but Farel had brought hither the light. "Taking the name of Ursin," says Ruchat, "and acting the part of schoolmaster, [1] he mingled, with the elements of secular instruction, the seeds of Divine knowledge. Through the minds of the children he gained access to those of the parents; and when he had gathered

a little flock: around him, he threw off his disguise, and announced himself as 'William Farel,' the minister." Though he had dropped from the clouds the priests could not have been more affrighted, nor the people more surprised, than they were at the sudden metamorphosis of the schoolmaster. Farel instantly mounted the pulpit. His bold look, his burning eye, his voice of thunder, his words, rapid, eloquent, and stamped with the majesty of truth, reached the conscience, and increased the number of those in the valley of Aigle who were already prepared to take the Word of God for their guide. But not by one sermon can the prejudices of ages be dispelled. The cures were filled with wrath at the bold intruder, who had entered their quiet valley, had shaken their authority, till now so secure, and had disturbed beliefs as ancient, and as firmly founded, the mountaineers believed, as the peaks that overhung their valleys.

The priests and people raised a great clamor, being supported by the cantonal officials, in particular by Jacob de Roverea, Lord of Cret, and Syndic of Aigle. Hearing of the opposition, the Lords of Bern, whose jurisdiction comprehended Aigle and its neighborhood, sent a commission to Farel empowering him to explain the Scriptures to the people. [2] The mandate was posted up on the church doors, [3] but instead of calming the tempest this intervention of authority only stirred it into fourfold fury. It would seem as if the Gospel would conquer alone, or not at all. The priests burned with zeal for the safety of those flocks to whom before they had hardly ever addressed a word of instruction; [4] the Syndic took their side, and the placards of the magistrates of Bern were torn down.

"That cannot be the Gospel of Christ," said the priests, "seeing the preaching of it does not bring peace, but war." This enlightened logic, of a piece with that which should accuse the singing of the nightingale in a Swiss valley as the cause of the descent of the avalanches, convinced the mountaineers. The inhabitants of the four districts into which the territory of Aigle was divided – namely, Aigle, Bex, Ollon, and the Ormonds – as one man unsheathed the sword. [5] The shepherds who fed their flocks beneath the glaciers of the Diablerets, hearing that the Church was in danger, rushed like an avalanche to the rescue. The herdsmen of the Savoy mountains, crossing the Rhone, also hastened to do battle in the good old cause. Tumults broke out at Box, at Ollon, and other places. Farel saw the tempest gathering, but remained undismayed. Those who had received the Gospel from him were prepared to defend him; but were it not better to prevent the effusion of blood, to which the matter was fast tending, and go and preach the Gospel in other parts of this lovely but benighted land?

This was the course he adopted; but, in retiring, he had the satisfaction of thinking that he had planted the standard of the cross at the foot of the mighty Dent de Morcles, and that he left behind him men whose eyes had been opened, and who would never again bow the knee to the idols their fathers had served, [6] Soon thereafter, Aigle and Bex, by majorities, gave their voices for the Reform; but the parishes that lay higher up amid the mountains declared that they would abide in the old faith.

Whither should Farel go next? Looking from the point where the Rhone, rolling under the sublime peaks of the Dent du Midi and the Dent de Morelos, pours its discoloured floods into the crystal Leman, one espies, on the other side of the lake, the vine-clad hill on which Lausanne is seated. In Popish times this was a city of importance. Its tall cathedral towers soared aloft on their commanding site, while the lovely region held fast in the yoke of the Pope slumbered at their feet. Lausanne had a bishop, a college of rich canons, and a numerous staff of priests. It had besides an annual fair, to which troops of pilgrims resorted, to pray before the image of "Our Lady," and to buy indulgences and other trinkets: a traffic that enriched at once the Church and the towns-people. But though one could hardly stir a step in its streets without:meeting a "holy man" or a pious pilgrim, the place was a very sink of corruption. [7] There was need, verily, of a purifying stream being turned in upon this filthy place. Farel essayed to do so, but his first attempt was not successful, and he turned away upon another tack. [8]

Repulsed from Lausanne, Farel traversed the fertile country which divides the Leman from the Lake of Neuchatel, and arrived at Morat. This, in our day, insignificant place, was then a renowned and fortified town. It had sustained three famous sieges, the first in 1032 against the Emperor Conrad, the second in 1292 against the Emperor Rodolph of Hapsburg, and the third in 1476 against Charles, last Duke of Burgundy. Situated between France and Germany, the two languages were spoken equally in it. Farel brought with him an authorisation from the Lords of Bern empowering him to preach, not only throughout the extent of their own territories, but also in that of their allies, provided they gave consent. [9]

Here his preaching was not without fruit; but the majority of the citizens electing to abide still by Rome, he retraced his steps, and presented himself a second time before that episcopal city that overlooks the blue Leman, and which had so recently driven him from its gates. He was ambitious of subduing this stronghold of darkness to the Savior. This time he brought with him a letter from the Lords of Bern, who had jurisdiction in those parts, and naturally wished to see their allies of the same faith with themselves;

but even this failed to procure him liberty to evangelist in Lausanne. The Council of Sixty read the letter of their Excellencies of Bern, and civilly replied that "It belonged not to them, but to the bishop and chapter, to admit preachers into the pulpits." The Council of Two Hundred also found that they had no power in the matter. [10] Farel had again to depart and leave those whom he would have led into the pastures of truth to the care of shepherds who knew so in to feed but were so skillful to fleece their flocks.

Again turning northwards, he made a short halt at Morat. This time the victory of the Gospel was complete, and this important town was placed (1529) in the list of Protestant cities. [11] Farel felt that a mighty unseen power was travelling with him, opening the understandings, melting the hearts of men, and he would press on and win other cities and cantons to the Gospel. He crossed the lovely lake and presented himself in Neuchatel, which had lately returned under the scepter of its former mistress, Jeanne de Hochberg, the only daughter and heiress of Philip, Count of Neuchatel, who died in 1503. [12] She regained in her widowhood the principality of Neuchatel, which she had lost in the lifetime of her husband, Louis d'Orleans, Duke of Longueville. No one could enter this city without having ocular demonstration that religion was the dominant interest in it – meaning thereby a great cathedral on a conspicuous site, with a full complement of canons, priests, and monks, who furnished the usual store of pomps, dramas, indulgences, banquetings, and scandals. In the midst of a devotion of this sort, Neuchatel was startled by a man of small stature, red beard, glittering eye, and stentorian voice, who stood up in the market-place, and announced that he had brought a religion, not from Rome, but from the Bible.

The men with shaven crowns were struck dumb with astonishment. When at length they found their voices, they said, "Let us beat out his brains." "Duck him, duck him," cried others. [13] They fought with such weapons as they had; their ignorance forbade their opposing doctrine with doctrine. Farel lifted up his voice above their clamor. His preaching was felt to be not an idle tale, nor a piece of incomprehensible mysticism, but words of power – the words of God. Neuchatel was carried by storm. [14] It did not as yet formally declare for Reform; but it was soon to do so.

Having kindled the fire, and knowing that all the efforts of the priests would not succeed in extinguishing it, Farel departed to evangelise in the mountains and valleys which lie around the smiling waters of Morat and Neuchatel. It was winter (January, 1530), and cold, hunger, and weariness were his frequent attendants. Every hour, more-over, he was in peril of his life. The priests perfectly understood that if they did not make away with him he would make away with "religion" – that is, with their tithes and offerings, their processions and orgies. They did all in their power to save "religion." They suspended their quarrels with one another, they stole some hours from their sleep, they even stole some hours from the table in their zeal to warn their flocks against the "wolf," and impress them with a salutary dread of what their fate would be, should they become his prey. On one occasion, in the Val de Ruz, in the mountains that overhang the Lake of Neuchatel, the Reformer was seized and beaten almost to death. [15]

Nothing, however, could stop him. He would, at times, mount the pulpit while the priest was in the act of celebrating mass at the altar, and drown the chants of the missal by the thunder of his eloquence. This boldness had diverse results. Sometimes the old bigotry would resume its sway, and the audience would pull the preacher violently out of the pulpit; at other times the arrow of conviction would enter. The priest would hastily strip himself of stole and chasuble, and cast the implements of sacrifice from his hands, while the congregation would demolish the altar, remove the images, and give in their adhesion to the new faith. In three weeks' time four villages of the region had embraced the Reformed faith. The first of these was the village of Kertezers, the church of which had been given in the year 962 to the Abbey of Payerne, by Queen Berthe, wife of Rodolph II., King of Burgundy, foundress of the abbey. Since that time – that is, during 568 years – the religious of Payerne had been the patrons of that church, the cure of which was their vicar. As the Reformed were no longer served by him, they petitioned their superiors at Bern for a Reformed pastor. Their request was granted, and it was arranged that the Popish cure and the Protestant minister should divide the stipend between them. [16] The cups, pictures, marbles, and other valuables of the churches were sold, and therewith were provided stipends for the pastors, hospitals for the poor and sick, schools for the youth, and if aught remained it was given to the State. [17] The zeal of the citizens of Meiry outran their discretion. They overturned the altars and images before the Reformation had obtained a majority of votes. This furnished occasion to the Lords of Friburg to complain to those of Bern that their subjects in the Jura were infringing the settlement that regulated the progress of the Protestant faith. A few weeks, however, put all right, by giving a majority of votes in Meiry to the Reformation. Thus did the Gospel cast down the strongholds of error, and its preacher, in the midst of weakness, was triumphant. The spring and summer sufficed to establish the Reformed faith in great part of this region.

The Protestant

hero Farel was now advancing to complete his conquest of Neuchatel. During his absence the Reformation had been fermenting. He entered the city at the right moment. Despite the opposition of the princess, of George de Rive, her deputy, and the priests, who sounded the tocsin to rouse the people, the magistrates, after deliberation, passed a decree opening the cathedral to the Reformed worship; and the citizens, forming round Farel, and climbing the hill on which the cathedral stood, placed him in the pulpit, notwithstanding the resistance of the canons. The solemnity of the crisis hushed the vast congregation into stillness. Farel's sermon was one of the most powerful he had ever delivered, and when he closed, lo a mighty wind, felt though it could not be seen, passed over the people! They all at once cried out, "We will follow the Protestant religion, both we and our children; and in it will we live and die."

Having restored the Gospel with its sublime doctrines and its worship in the spirit, the Neuchatelans felt that they had no longer need of those symbols by which Popery sets forth its mysteries, and through which the material worship of its votaries is offered. They proceeded forthwith to purge the church: they dismantled the altars, broke the images, tore down the pictures and crucifixes, and carrying them out, cast them down from the summit of the terrace on which the cathedral stands. At their feet slept the blue lake, beyond was the fertile champaign, and afar, in the south, a chain of glittering peaks, with the snowy crown of Mont Blanc rising grandly over all; but not an eye that day was turned on this glorious panorama. They had broken from their own and their children's neck an ancient yoke, and were intent only on obliterating all the signs and instruments of their former slavery. In perpetual remembrance of this great day, the Neuchatelans inscribed on a pillar of the cathedral the words – ON THE 23RD OCTOBER, 1530, IDOLATRY WAS OVERTHROWN AND REMOVED FROM THIS CHURCH BY THE CITIZENS. [18]

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