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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 14 — Rise and Establishment of Protestantism at Geneva

Chapter 9 — Establishment of Protestantism in Geneva

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Symbol of St. Francis – Monstrous Figure in the Dominican Convent – Mass Forbidden by the Council – Interview of Syndics with the Canons, etc. – Edict of the Reformation – Wrath of the Duke of Savoy – Blockades Geneva – Friburg Breaks its Treaty with Geneva – Bern also Forsakes it – The City nearly Taken – Successful Sorties of the Besieged – Bern comes to the Help of the Genevans – The Savoyard Army Retreats – The Duke Deprived of his Kingdom by Francis I. – Geneva Completes its Reformation – Farel and the Council – Sermons – Social Regulations – School – Oath of the Citizens – City Motto – Tablet of Brass – Greatness of the Victory.

THERE came discoveries of another kind to crown with confusion the falling system. In the Convent of the Cordeliers de la Rive a tablet was discovered on which St., Francis of Assisi, the patriarch of the order, was represented under the figure of a great vine, with numerous boughs running out from it in the form of Cordeliers, and having underneath the inscription, "John 15:1: I am the vine, ye are the branches." [1] This showed a faculty for exegesis of a very extraordinary kind. The schoolmen might have relished it as ingenious: the Genevans, who had begun to love the simplicity of the Scriptures, condemned it as blasphemous.

It was not a little curious that at that same hour, when the Papacy was tottering to its fall in Geneva, another tablet, also highly suggestive, should have been drawn from the darkness in the Convent of the Dominicans. It represented a monster, with seven heads and ten horns, in the act of being delivered of a horrible brood of Popes, cardinals, and monks, which were being dropped into a huge cauldron, round which flames circled and devils danced. Underneath was a prophecy in Latin rhyme, to the effect that the hour was approaching when God would destroy the power and glory of Rome and cause its name to perish. The picture was in all likelihood made by Jacques Jaqueri, of the city of Turin, in the year 1401. He is supposed to have been a Waldensian, who probably had had to do penance in the Inquisition for this exercise of his art, and hence the fact that the picture was found in one of the convents of the Dominicans, the order to which, as is well known, this department of the Church's work had been assigned. [2]

The hour was now fully come. The enormities of the Genevan priesthood had first awakened indignation against the Papacy; subsequent revelations of the cheats to which the system had stooped to uphold itself, had intensified that indignation; but it was the preaching of Farel and his companions that planted the Reformation – that is, converted the movement from one of destruction to one of restitution. On the 10th of August, 1535, the Council of Two Hundred assembled to take into consideration the matter of religion. Farel, Viret, and many of the citizens appeared before it. With characteristic eloquence Farel addressed the Council, urging it no longer to delay, but to proclaim as the religion of Geneva that same system of truth which so great a majority of the Genevans already professed. He offered, for himself and his colleagues, to submit to death, provided the priests could show that in the public disputation, or in their sermons, he and his brethren had advanced anything contrary to the Word of God. [3]

After long discussion the Council saw fit to lay its commands on both parties. The Protestants were forbidden to destroy any more images, and were considered as bound to restore those they had already displaced, whenever the priests should prove from Holy Scripture that images were worthy objects of religious veneration. The Roman Catholics, on their part, were enjoined to cease from the celebration of mass until the Council should otherwise ordain. So stood the matter on the 10th of August. The step was a small one, but the gain remained with the Reformation.

Two days after, the Council summoned before them the Cordeliers, the Dominicans, and the Augustines, and having read to them a summary of the disputation held in the city a few days previously, they asked them what they had to say to it. They answered, one after the other, that they had nothing to object. The Council next offered that, provided they made good the truth of their dogmas and the lawfulness of their worship from the Word of God, their Church should be re-established in its former glory. They declined the challenge, and submitted themselves to the Council, praying to be permitted to live as their ancestors in times past had lived. [4]

The same day after dinner three syndics and two councillors, by appointment of the Senate, waited on the grand-vicar of the bishop, the canons, and the parochial cures. Briefly recounting the religious conflicts which had disturbed the city these ten years past, they made the same offer to them which they had made to the monks in the morning. But the prospect of rendering Romanism once more supreme in Geneva, could not tempt them to do battle for their faith; they had no desire, they said, to hear any more sermons from Farel; nor, indeed, could they dispute on religions matters without leave from their bishop. They craved only to be permitted to exercise their religion without restraint. The deputation announced to them the order of Council that they should cease to say mass, and then retired. [5]

From that day mass ceased to be said in the churches and convents, and on the 27th of August a general edict was issued, enjoining public worship to be conducted according to the rules of the Gospel, and prohibiting all "acts of Popish idolatry." From that day forward Farel and his two colleagues preached, dispensed the Sacraments

of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, celebrated marriages, and performed all other religious acts freely. [6] The monastery of La Rive was converted into a public school, and the convent of St. Claire into an hospital. The goods of the Church, and of the religious houses, due provision having been made for existing incumbents, were applied to the maintenance of the Protestant clergy, of schools, and of the poor. [7]

The priests, monks, and nuns were very courteously treated. It was entirely in their own choice to remain within the city or to leave it. The nuns of St. Claire, whom Sister Jussie's narrative has made famous, chose to withdraw to Anneci. They had been haunted by the terrible idea of being compelled to marry, and thought it better to "flee temptation" than remain in Geneva. Some of the sisters had not been outside the walls of their convent for thirty years. To them, every sight and sound of the country was strange; and it is impossible to withhold a smile in perusing Ruchat's account of their journey, and thinking of the terrors into which the good sisters were thrown at the sight of the sheep and oxen in the fields, which they mistook for lions and bears. [8]

From the 27th of August, 1535, the Popish faith ceased to be the religion of Geneva. But the victory, though great, did not terminate the war, or justify the Genevans in thinking that they had placed their liberties on an impregnable basis. On the contrary, never, apparently, had they been in greater danger than now, for the step of proclaiming themselves Protestant had filled up their cup in the eyes of their enemies. The duke, roused to fury by this daring affront on the part of a city that had scarcely a soldier to defend it, and that was without an ally in Europe, resolved to make this handful of burghers repent of their madness. He would concentrate all his power in one terrible blow, and crush a heresy that was so full of insolence and rebellion in the ruins of the city in which it had found a seat. He blockaded Geneva on the land side by his army, and on the side of the lake by his galleys. The gates that would not open to his soldiers must open to famine, and he would see how long these haughty burghers would hold fast their heresy and rebellion when they had not bread to eat. And, in sooth, the prospects of the little city seemed desperate. The blockade was so strict that it was hardly possible to bring in any provisions, and no one could go or come but at the risk of being waylaid and killed. The bare and blackened zone outside the city walls, so recently a rich girdle of stately villa and flourishing garden, was but too exact an emblem of its political nakedness, now entirely without allies. Even Bern, in this, the hour of Geneva's sorest need, stood afar off. Every day the stock of provisions in the beleaguered city was growing less. The citizens could count the hours when gaunt famine would sit at every board, and one by one they would drop and die. Well, so be it! They would leave the duke to vanquish Geneva when, from a city of patriots, it had become a city of corpses. This was the illustrious triumph they would prepare for him. Their resolve was as unalterable as ever. Be it a nation or be it an individual, every truly great and noble career must have its commencement in an act of self-sacrifice. It was out of this dark night that the glorious day of Geneva sprang.

The Genevans found a messenger expert enough to escape detection and carry tidings to Bern. The powerful Bern, at ease as regarded its own safety, listened in philosophic calmness to the tale of Geneva's perils, [9] but after some days it thought right to interfere so far in behalf of its former companion in the battles of liberty and religion as to open negotiations with the duke. The duke was willing to receive any number of protocols, provided only the Bernese did not send soldiers. While their Lordships of Bern were negotiating, famine and the duke were steadily advancing upon the doomed city. But now it happened that the Bernese were themselves touched, and their eyes opened somewhat roughly to the duke's treachery and the folly of longer indulging in the pastime of negotiation. The Lord of Savoy had taken the Chatelain of Muss, a titled freebooter, into his service. The Chatelain, with his band of desperadoes, made an irruption into the districts of Orbe, Grandson, and Echelous, which were the common property of Bern and Friburg, and spoiled them in the duke's name. Bern hesitated no longer. She declared war against the Duke of Savoy, thinking it better to fight him at Geneva than wait till he had come nearer to her own gates. [10]

Having at length resolved to act, Bern, it must be confessed, did so with vigor. On the 13th of January, 1536, the Council came to the resolution of declaring war. The following day they sent notice of their determination to the Swiss cantons, praying them to unite their arms with theirs in what, beyond question, was the common cause of the Confederacy, the repulsion of a foreign tyranny. On the 16th they issued their proclamation of war; on the 22nd their army of 6,000 began their march. They gave its command to Jean Franqois Naeguli, who had served with honor in the wars in Italy. On the 2nd of February the Bernese army arrived at the gates of Geneva. [11] The joy their appearance caused and the welcome accorded them may be easily imagined.

Meanwhile the dangers within and outside Geneva had thickened. Despite the necessities of the citizens, certain rich men kept their granaries closed. This led

to disorders. On the 14th of January the Council assumed possession of these stores, and opened them to the public, at the same time fixing the price at which the corn was to be sold, and so too did they as regarded the wine and other necessaries. The dangers outside were not so much in the control of the Council.

The Savoyard army had resolved to attempt scaling the walls, the same night, at three points. The assault was made between nine and ten. One party advanced on the side of St. Gervais, where the city was defended only by a palisade and ditch; the others made their attempt on that of the Rive and St. Victor. The latter, having crossed the ditch, were now at the foot of the wall with their ladders, but the Genevans, appearing on the top, courageously repelled them, and forced them to retire. On the 16th of January came the good news, by two heralds, that Bern had declared war in their behalf, this re-animated the Genevans; though weakened by famine they made four sorties on the besiegers. In one of these, 300 Genevans engaged double that number of Savoyards. The duke's soldiers were beaten. First the duke's cavalry gallopped off the field, then the infantry lost courage and fled. Of the Savoyards 120 were slain and four taken prisoners. The Genevans did not lose a man; one of their number only was hurt by the falling of his horse, which was killed under him. [12]

This was only the beginning of disasters to the duke's army. A few days thereafter, the Bernese warriors, who had continued their march, despite that the five Popish Cantons had by deputy commanded them to stop, appeared before Geneva. They rested not more than a single day, when they set out in search of the enemy. The Savoyard army was already in full retreat upon Chambery. The Bernese pushed on, but the foe fled faster than they could pursue. And now came tidings that convinced the men of Bern that the farther prosecution of the expedition was needless. Enemies had started up on every side of the duke, and a whole Iliad of woes suddenly overtook him. Among others, the King of France chose this moment to declare war against him. Francis I. had many grudges to satisfy, but what mainly moved him at this time against the duke was his desire to have a road to Milan and Italy. Accordingly, he moved his army into Savoy, wrested from the duke Chambery, the cradle of his house, chased him across the Alps, and, not permitting him to rest even at Turin, took possession of his capital. Thinking to seize the little territory of Geneva, the duke had lost his kingdoms of Savoy and Piedmont. he retired to Vercelli, where, after seventeen years of humiliation and exile, he died. [13] How many tragedies are wrapped up in the great tragedy of the sixteenth century!

The duke off the scene, the movement at Geneva now resumed its march. The edict of the 27th August, 1535, which had dropped somewhat out of sight amid sieges and battles, and the turmoil of war, came again to the front. That edict proclaimed Protestantism as the religion of Geneva. But Farel did not deceive himself with the fiction that the decree which proclaimed Geneva Protestant had really made it so. The seat of religion, he well knew, is the hearts and understandings of a people, not the edicts of a statute-book; and the great task of making the people really Protestant was yet to be done. There were in Geneva a goodly number who loved the Gospel for its own sake, and it was the strength of these men which had carried them through in their great struggle; but the crown had yet to be put upon the work by making the lives, as well as the profession, of the people Protestant.

This great labor was undertaken jointly by Farel and by the Council. The temporal and spiritual powers, yoked together, drew lovingly the car of the Reform, and both having one aim – the highest well-being of the people– neither raised those questions of jurisdiction, or felt those rivalries and jealousies, which subsequent times so plentifully produced. There is a time to set landmarks, and there is a time to remove them.

Farel, occupying the pulpit, sent forth those expositions of the Reformed doctrine which were fitted to instruct the understandings and guide the consciences of the Genevans: while the Council in the Senate-house framed those laws which were intended to restrain the excesses and disorders into which the energetic and headstrong natures of the citizens were apt to impel them. This, all will admit, was a tolerably fair division of the labor.

Farel's teaching laid a moral basis for the Council, and the Council's authority strengthened Farel, and opened the way for his teachings to reach their moral and spiritual ends. A close examination of the matter, especially under the lights of modern science, may, it is true, result in disclosing instances in which the Council did the work of Farel, and Farel did the work of the Council; but we ought to bear in mind that modern society was then in its infancy; that toleration was only in its dawn; and that punctiliousness would have marred the work, and left Geneva a chaos.

Not only was the standard of Protestantism displayed in the August preceding again raised aloft, but the moral and social regulations which had accompanied it, in order to render it a life as well as a creed, were brought into the foreground. There never was a class of men who showed themselves more anxious to join a moral with a doctrinal Reformation than the Reformers of the sixteenth century. The separation which at times has been seen between the two is the error of a later age. Re-entering this path, the first labor of the Council

and Farel was to establish a perfect concord and unity among the citizens. Of those even who were with the Reform, and had fought side by side against the duke, there were two parties – the zealous and the lukewarm. Hates and mutual reproaches divided them. On the 6th of February, 1536, the Council-General – that is, the whole body of the citizens – assembled, and passed an edict, promising by oath to forget all past injuries, to cease from mutual recriminations, to live henceforward in good brotherhood, and submit themselves to the Syndics and Council. [14]

Next came the matter of public worship, The number, place, and time of the sermons were fixed. Four ministers and two deacons were selected to preach on the appointed days. Moderate stipends were assigned them from the ecclesiastical property. The Sunday was to be religiously observed, and all the shops strictly closed. On that day, besides the other services, there was to be sermon at four in the morning, for the convenience of servants. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was to be dispensed four times in the year. Baptisms were to take place only in the church at the hours of public worship. Marriage might be celebrated any day, but the ceremony must be in public, and after three several notifications of it. [15]

Last of all came the rules for the reformation of manners. Since the beginning of the century Geneva had been, in fact, a camp, and its manners had become more than rough. It was necessary, in the interests of morality, and of liberty not less, to put a curb upon the wild license of former days. They had banished the duke, they must banish the old Geneva. The magistrates forbade games of chance, oaths and blasphemies, dances and lascivious songs, and the farces and masquerades in which the people had been wont to indulge. They enjoined all persons to attend the sermons, and other exercises of religion, and to retire to their homes at nine o'clock at night. They specially commanded the masters of hotels and cabarets to see that their guests observed these regulations. That no one might plead ignorance, these rules were frequently proclaimed by sound of trumpet.

The education of the youth of the State was an object of special care to the magistrates, who desired that they should be early grounded in the principles of virtue and piety, as well as in a knowledge of the classical tongues, and the belles lettres. For this end they erected a school or academy, with competent professors, to whom they gave suitable salaries. There was a school in Geneva in Popish times, but it was so badly managed that it accomplished nothing for the interests of education. The Council-General, by a decree of May 21st, 1536, established a new seminary in the convent of the Cordeliers on the Rive, and appointed as headmaster Antony Saunier, the countryman and friend of Farel. The latter sought, in divers places, for learned men willing to be teachers in this school. [16]

On the same 21st of May there was witnessed a solemn sight at Geneva. The whole body of the citizens, the magistrates and ministers at their head, assembled in the Cathedral of St. Peter, and with uplifted hands swore to renounce the doctrine of the Roman Church, the mass and all that depends upon it, and to live according to the laws of the Gospel. This national vow included the regulations we have just enumerated, which were regarded as necessary deductions from the great Christian law. Soon after this Farel composed, in conjunction with Calvin, who by this time had joined him, a brief and simple Confession of Faith, in twenty-one articles, [17] which was sworn to by all the citizens of the State, who appeared before the Council in relays of tens, and had the oath administered to them. This was in the November following. [18]

To mark the laying of the foundations of their Protestant State, and the new age therewith introduced, the Genevans struck a new coin and adopted a new motto for their city. In the times of paganism, being worshippers of the sun, they had taken that luminary as their symbol. Latterly, retaining the radical idea in their symbol, they had modified and enlarged it into the following motto: Post tenebras spero lucem – i.e., "After the darkness I hope for the light:" words which look like an unconscious prophecy of a time of knowledge and truth in the future. Having established their Reformation, the Genevans changed their motto once more. Post tenebras lucem – "After darkness, light" – was the device stamped on the new money of the State, as if to intimate that the light they looked for was now come. [19]

Finally, as an enduring monument of this great event, the citizens placed a tablet of brass in front of the Town-house, with the following inscription engraven on it: –

Quum Anno M. D. Xxxv.
Romani Antichristi
Abrogatisque Ejus Superstitionibus
Sacrosancta Christi Religio
Hic In Suam Puritatem
In Melioirem Ordinem
Slngulari Dei Beneficio Reposita;
Et Simul
Pulsis Fugatisque Hostibus,
Urbs Ipsa In Suam Libertatem
Non Sine Insigni Miraculo
Restituta Fuerit:
Senatus Populusque Genevensis
Monumentum Hoc Perpeture Memoriae
Atque Hoc Loco Erigi
Quo Suam Erga Deum Gratitudi-Nem
Ad Posteros Testatam
Faceret. [20]

Never did

more modest tablet record greater victory. That victory was too great, in truth, to be represented by any monument of marble. No pomp of words, no magnificence of art, could express its value. Protestantism, now planted on this spot, which the struggles, the blood, and the prayers of believing men had won for it in the midst of Christendom, rising aloft in its own majesty, and shining by its own splendor, must be its own monument; or, if other memorial it is to have, it must be just such simple record of accomplished facts as this tablet contains.

But, in truth, when the Genevans placed their memorial-stone in the front of their Senate-house, they did not know half the worth of the victory they had won. No man, at that day, could even guess at the many brilliant triumphs which lay folded up in this one triumph. It required a century to evolve them. What is it that the men of Geneva have done, according to their own account? They have rescued a little city from tyranny and superstition, and consecrated it to liberty and pure Christianity. This does not seem much. Had it been a great throne, or a powerful realm, it would have been something; but a third-rate town, with only a few leagues of territory, what is that? Besides, Geneva may be lost to-morrow. May not Spain and France come in any hour and extinguish its liberties? They believe they may, and they make the attempt, but only to find that while their armies are melting away, and their empires dissolving, the sway of the little Protestant town is every year widening. Very diminutive is the spot; but the beacon-light does not need a continent for a pedestal; a little rock will do; and while the winds howl and the billows shake their angry crests, and roll their thundering surges around its base, its ray still burns aloft, and streaming far and wide over the waves, pierces the black night, and guides the bark of the mariner. What was it the ancient sage demanded in order to be able to move the world? Only a fixed point. Geneva was that fixed point. We shall see it in the course of time become the material basis of a great moral empire.

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