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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 8 — Rome falls and Geneva rises

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New Foothold for Protestantism – Conditions Necessary in it – Friburg and Bern Abandon Geneva – Resolution of the Citizens – The Bishop Removes his Court – Geneva assumes its own Government – Castle of Peney – Atrocities – Attempt to Poison the Protestant Ministers – Conversion of the Franciscan Monks – Public Disputation – Miracles – Discoveries – Bodies of St. Nazaire etc. – Relics – Souls from Purgatory.

MUCH, we may say everything, depended on the battle now raging around the little town on the shores of the Leman Lake. Unless Geneva were won to Protestantism, the victories already gained by the Reformation would be but of small account; many of them would melt away and be lost. In Germany the spiritual principle of the Reformation was becoming overshadowed by the political. The princes, with their swords, were putting themselves in the van; and the Reformers, with the Bible, were falling into the rear. This was to reverse the right order. It was clear that the German Reformation had passed its prime. It was necessary to seek a new foothold for Protestantism – some spot where the SPIRITUAL, planted anew, might unfold itself, segregated from the political; and where, unfettered and unaided by the temporal power, it would, in virtue of its own heavenly might, continue to wax in stature and spreading wide its boughs cover the nations with its grateful shadow, and solace them with its precious fruits. It was not necessary to select, as its seat, a great empire or a renowned capital; a little town such as this at the foot of the Alps would serve the purpose better than a more conspicuous and more expansive stage. The territory selected must be separated from the other countries of Christendom, Popish and Reformed, and yet it must be near to them; and not near only, but in the midst of them. Moreover, it must in some way be protected from external violence while working out its great problem. If around it there rises no massy bulwark frowning defiance on the foe; if there musters at its gates no powerful army to do battle with the invader; if the great mountains are too remote to serve as walls and ramparts to it; if earthly defense it has none, all the more evident will it be that it owes its safety to an Invisible Arm that is stretched out in its behalf, and that it is environed by ramparts which the foe is unable to see, and equally unable to scale.

Here will stand the true "Threshold of the Apostles." The doors of this shrine will open to the holy only; it will be visited by enlightened and believing hearts from every land; and its highways will be trodden and its portals thronged, not by dissolute and superstitious crowds, but by the confessors and exiles of Christ. Here Christianity, laid in its grave at Rome a thousand years before, with crowned Pontiffs and lordly hierarchs keeping watch around its corpse, shall have its resurrection. Rising from the tomb to die no more, it will attest, by the order, the liberty, the intelligence, and the virtue with which it will glorify its seat, that it has lost none of its power during its long entombment, but that, on the contrary, it returns with invigorated force for the execution of its glorious mission, which is that of making all things new. Will such a spot be found in Geneva? Shall the bishop and the duke be chased from it, that it may be given to the men in whom are found the embodiment of the highest ideal, intellectual and spiritual, of Protestantism? This is the question which is to receive its answer from the conflict now waging on the shores of the Leman. The issue of that conflict is at hand.

We left Geneva reduced to the last extremity. Roman Catholic Friburg had terminated its alliance with the Lutheran town, after a friendship of eight years. The reflection of Scultetus on the dissolution of the treaty between the two States is striking and suggestive. "The love of liberty," says he, "had united the two towns in the closest bonds; but liberty opened the door for religion, and its influence separated chief friends! But what is most remarkable is, that the alliance lasted so long as the independence of Geneva required it, and ceased when its dissolution helped to promote the Reformation.

While its allies are drawing off from the little town on the one side, its enemies are approaching it on the other. Every day they are redoubling their efforts to take it, and it would seem as if, left to fight its great battle alone, its fall were inevitable.

The duke is raising army after army to force an entrance into it. The bishop is fighting against it with both spiritual and temporal arms. Pierre de la Baume had fulminated the greater excommunication against it, and published it in all the churches and convents of the neighboring provinces. [1]

The Pope had added his heavier anathema; and now, in the eyes of the inhabitants of the towns and villages around, Geneva was a "dwelling of devils," and all were ready to assail, burn, or lay waste a place which the bishop and the Pontiff had cursed. To crown the misfortunes of the Genevans, the emperor, unsheathing his great sword and holding it over their heads, demanded that they should open their gates and receive back their bishop. What was to be done? Shall they crouch down under the old yoke? They had obtained a glimpse of a new world, and their former slavery appeared more horrible than ever. To go back to it was the most dreadful issue which their imaginations could picture. Come victory and life, or come defeat and death, they could not go back; they must and would advance with firm step in the path on which they had entered.

The

same cause which had repelled the Popish Friburg from Geneva, as narrated above, will draw the Protestant Bern closer to its side; so one would think. Yet no! the threatening attitude of the Popish powers, and its own complications, made Bern shy of giving open aid to Geneva in its fight for liberty and the Reformed faith. [2] Some Bernese ambassadors, won by the gracious manners of the duke, and forgetting in the lighter matters of courtesy the greater matters of liberty, went to Geneva, and counselled the citizens to send away their preachers, and take back their bishop.

Astounded at. such a proposal from the men of Bern, the Council of Geneva replied, "You ask us to abandon our liberties and the Gospel of Jesus Christ." At its sorest need the little State was forsaken of every earthly aid. But this only serves to show how rapidly the tide of devotion to the Reformed faith was rising within its walls. It was its religion that saved it. But for it, Geneva never would have won its liberty. "We are resolved," said the Council to the Bernese ambassadors, "to sacrifice our property, our honors, our very children, and our own lives for the Word of God. Tell the duke we will rather with our own hands set fire to the four corners of our city, than part with the Gospel."

Meanwhile, the number of the Reformed within the city was daily increasing, partly from conversions from Popery, and partly from the numerous disciples chased from France by the storms of persecution, and now daily arriving at the gates of Geneva. On the other hand, those Romanists who disliked or feared to dwell in a place cursed by the Church, and hourly sinking deeper in the gulf of heresy, quitted Geneva in considerable numbers. Thus the proportion between the two parties was growing every day more unequal, and the quiet of the city more assured.

The bishop, moreover, by way of visiting the Protestants with a special mark of his displeasure, did them a signal favor. He removed his episcopal council and his judicial court from Geneva to Gex, in the dominions of the Duke of Savoy. [3] Thereupon the Council of Geneva met and resolved, "That, as the bishop had abandoned the city to unite himself with its most deadly foe, and had undertaken divers enterprises against it, even to the length of levying war, they could no longer regard him as the pastor of the people." They declared the see vacant. [4] Before taking this step, however, they invited the canons to elect a new bishop; this the canons declined to do. They next lodged an appeal at Rome; but the Pope gave them no answer. This observance of forms greatly strengthened the legal position of the Council. The Vatican would not interfere, the canons would neither elect a new bishop nor bring back the old one; the city was without a ruler, and the Council was by no means sorry to step into the vacant office. To the last the Council followed rather than preceded the people and the preachers The political situation, so full of dangers, made it imperative that they should weigh every step, and especially that they should be satisfied that the Reformation had established itself in the hearts of the people before establishing it by edict.

If the number of malcontents who were leaving the city lessened the difficulties within the walls, it greatly increased the dangers without. The Castle of Peney, on the precipitous banks of the Rhone, about two leagues from Geneva, belonged to the bishop. It was a strong and roomy place, and now it swarmed with men breathing vengeance against the city they had left. From this nest of brigands there issued every day ferocious bands, who laid waste the country around Geneva, cut off the supplies coming to its markets, waylaid its citizens, and, carrying them to their stronghold, tortured them in its dungeons, and then beheaded or otherwise dispatched them. A former Knight of Malta, Peter Goudet, a Frenchman, who, having embraced Protestantism, had found refuge in Geneva, was entrapped by these bandits, carried to their den, and, after a mock trial, burned alive. [5] Nor were these ruffians alone in their barbarities and cruelties. The gentry of Savoy and of the Pays de Vaud, following their worshipful example, armed their retainers, and, scouring the country around, showed that they equalled in zeal, by equalling in atrocity, the free-booters of Peney. [6]

A yet darker crime stains the attempt to uphold the Roman Catholic cause in Geneva. The sword of the duke had failed: so had the excommunication of the bishop, although backed by that of the Pope. Other means must be thought of. A plot was laid to cut off Farel, Viret, and Froment, all three at once, by poison. The circumstance that they lodged together in the same house, that of Claude Bernard, an intelligent and zealous friend of the Gospel, favored the design. A woman, a native of Bresse, was suborned to leave Lyons, on pretense of religion, and come to Geneva. She entered the service of Bernard, with whom the preachers lived. She began, it is said, by poisoning her mistress. A few days thereafter she mixed poison with the soup which had been prepared for the ministers' dinner. Happily only one of them partook of the broth. Farel was indisposed, and did not dine that day, Froment made his repast on some other dish, and Viret alone ate of the poisoned food. He was immediately seized with illness, and was at the point of death. He recovered, but the debilitating effects of the poison remained with him to the end of his days. The wretched woman confessed the crime, but accused a canon and a priest of having instigated her to it. The two ecclesiastics were permitted to clear themselves by oath, but the woman was condemned to

death on the 14th April, and executed. [7]

This wickedness, which was meant to extinguish the movement, was closely connected with its final triumph. To guard against any second attempt at poison, the three preachers had apartments assigned them by the Council in the Franciscan Convent de Rive. The result of the Reformers being lodged there was the conversion of nearly all the brethren of the convent, and in particular of James Bernard, a citizen of good family, and brother of Claude mentioned above. The latter had been one of the more ardent champions of Popery in Geneva, and, as his change of mind was now complete, he thought it would be well, at this crisis, to hold a public disputation on religion, similar to those which had taken place elsewhere with such good results. His design was approved by the Reformers to whom he had communicated it. It was further sanctioned by the Council.

Accordingly Bernard offered to maintain the following propositions against all who chose publicly to impugn them: [8] –

1st. That we are to seek justification in Jesus Christ alone, and not in our good works.

2nd. That we are to offer our worship to God only, and that to adore the saints and images is idolatry.

3rd. That the Church is to be governed by the Word of God alone, and that human traditions and the constitutions of the Church, which ought rather to be styled Roman or Papal ordinances, are not only vain, but pernicious.

4th. That Christ's oblation is the sole and sufficient satisfaction for sin, and that the sacrifice of the mass and prayers to the saints are contrary to the Word of God, and avail nothing for salvation.

5th. That Jesus Christ is the one and only Mediator between God and man. [9]

It was the foundations of the two faiths that were to be publicly put on their trial.

The Town Council made the arrangements for the discussion. They had the theses printed and published. Copies of them were affixed to the doors of the churches of the city, and of all the churches of the neighborhood. They were, moreover, posted up in the towns of Savoy that were under the jurisdiction of Bern, and messengers were dispatched to placard them in the distant cities of Grenoble and Lyons. Men of learning, generally, whether lay or clerical, were invited; all were assured of safety of person and liberty of speech; eight members of Council were appointed to preside; and four secretaries were to take down all that was said on both sides.

The disputation opened on the 30th of May in the grand hall of the Convent de Rive. It continued four weeks without intermission, and ended on the 24th of June. Bernard himself took the lead, assisted by Farel and Viret. The two opposing champions were Peter Careli, a doctor of the Sorbonne, and John Chapuis, a Dominican of Geneva. These days of combat were days of joy to the friends of the Gospel. Each day some old idol was dethroned. The ancient cloud was lifting, and as fold after fold of the murky vapor rolled away, Truth came forth in her splendor, and showed herself to eyes from which she had long been hidden.

"As fair Aurora, in her purple pall,
Out of the east the dawning day doth call,
So forth she comes: her brightness broad doth blaze.
The heaps of people, thronging in the hall,
Do ride each other, upon her to gaze:
Her glorious glittering light doth all men's eyes amaze." [10]

In the end, both Caroli and Chapuis acknowledged themselves vanquished, and declared, in presence of the vast assembly, their conversion to the Reformed faith. [11]

The verdict of the public on the disputation was not doubtful, but Farel and some of the leading citizens wished the Council also to pronounce its judgment;. Three of its four members were now on the Protestant side; nevertheless, it would give no decision. Its policy, for the present, was to curb rather than encourage the popular zeal. It visited with frowns and sometimes with fines the demolition of the images. When asked to give the Magdalen and St. Peter's for the use of the preachers, whose congregations daily increased, its reply was, "Not yet." The Council had not lost sight of the duke and the emperor in the distance, and they knew that the duke and the emperor had not lost sight of them. Meanwhile, to speed on the movement, there came some startling revelations of the frauds by which the falling superstition had been upheld.

It is a doctrine of the Church of Rome that infants dying unbaptised are consigned to limbo, a sort of faubourg of hell. To redeem such wretched babes from so dreary an abode, what would not their unhappy mothers be willing to give! But was such a thing possible? Outside the gates stood the Church of Our Lady of Grace. To this Virgin was ascribed, among other marvellous prerogatives, the power of resuscitating infants for so long as would suffice for their receiving the Sacrament. The corpse was brought to the statue of Our Lady, and being laid at its feet, its head would be seen to:move, or a feather placed on its mouth would be blown away. On this

the monks, to whom an offering had previously been made, would shout out, "A miracle! a miracle!" and ring the great bell of the church, and salt, chrism, and holy water would instantly be brought and the child baptised. The Council ordered an investigation into the miracle, and the verdict returned was the plain one, that it was "a trick of the priests." [12] The syndics forbade all such miracles in time to come.

There came yet another edifying discovery. It was an immemorial belief at Geneva that the bodies of St. Nazaire, St. Celsus, and St. Pantaleon reposed beneath the high altar of St. Gervais. Indeed, the fact could not be doubted, for had not the worthy saints been heard singing and talking together on Christmas Eve and similar occasions? But in an evil hour for this belief the altar was overturned, and the too curious eyes of Protestants peered beneath its foundation-stones. They found not Nazaire and his two venerable companions; they saw, instead, a curious mechanism in the rock, not unlike the pipes of an organ, with several vessels of water, so placed that their contents could be forced through the narrow tubes, making a hollow sound, not unlike the voices of men singing or conversing in the bowels of the earth. The Genevans were hardly in circumstances to make merry; nevertheless, the idea that the saints should amuse themselves below ground by playing upon musical glasses seemed so very odd, that it raised a laugh among the citizens, in which, however, the monks did not join. [13]

This little town on the shores of the Leman had the distinction of possessing the brain of St. Peter, which lay usually upon the high altar. It was examined and pronounced to be a piece of pumice-stone. Again the monks looked grave, while smiles mantled every face around them. The spiritual treasury of the little town was further enriched with the arm of St. Anthony. The living arm had done valorous deeds, but the dead arm seemed to possess even greater power; but, alas! for the relic and for those who had kissed and worshipped it, and especially those who had profired so largely by the homage paid it, it was found, when taken from its shrine, to be not a human arm at all, but part of a stag. Again there were curling lips and mocking eyes. [14] Nor did this exhaust the list of discoveries.

Curious little creatures, with livid points of fire glowing on their bodies, would be seen moving about, at "dewy eve," in the churchyards or in the cathedral aisles. What could they be? These, said the priests, are souls from purgatory. They have been permitted to revisit "the pale glimpses of the moon" to excite in their behalf the compassion of the living. Hasten with your alms, that your mothers, fathers, husbands may not have to return to the torments from which they have just made their escape. The appearance of these mysterious creatures was the unfailing signal of another golden shower which was about to descend on the priests. But, said the Genevans, before bestowing more masses, let us look a little more closely at these visitors. We never saw anything that more nearly resembled crabs with candles attached to them than these souls from purgatory. Ah, yes! the purgatory from which they have come, we shrewdly suspect, is not the blazing furnace below the earth, but the cool lake beside the city; we shall restore them to their former abode, said they, casting them into the water. There came no more souls with flambeaux to solicit the charity of the Genevans. [15]


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Tuesday, December 11th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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