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§ 61. Farel at Geneva. First Act of the Reformation (1535).


On their return from Piedmont, Farel and Saunier stopped at Geneva, Oct. 2, 1532. Zwingli had previously directed the attention of Farel to that city as an important field for the Reformation. Olivetan was there to receive them.

The day after their arrival the evangelists were visited by a number of distinguished citizens of the Huguenot party, among whom was Ami Perrin, one of the most ardent promoters of the Reformation, and afterwards one of the chief opponents of Calvin. They explained to them from the open Bible the Protestant doctrines, which would complete and consolidate the political freedom recently achieved. They stirred up a great commotion. The Council was alarmed, and ordered them to leave the city. Farel declared that he was no trumpet of sedition, but a preacher of the truth, for which he was ready to die. He showed credentials from Bern, which made an impression. He was also summoned to the Episcopal Council in the house of the Abbé de Beaumont, the vicar-general of the diocese. He was treated with insolence. "Come thou, filthy devil," said one of the canons, "art thou baptized? Who invited you hither? Who gave you authority to preach?" Farel replied with dignity: "I have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and am not a devil. I go about preaching Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification. Whoever believes in him will be saved; unbelievers will be lost. I am sent by God as a messenger of Christ, and am bound to preach him to all who will hear me. I am ready to dispute with you, and to give an account of my faith and ministry. Elijah said to King Ahab, ’It is thou, and not I, who disturbest Israel.’ So I say, it is you and yours, who trouble the world by your traditions, your human inventions, and your dissolute lives." The priests had no intention to enter into a discussion; they knew and confessed, "If we argue, our trade is gone." One of the canons exclaimed: "He has blasphemed; we need no further evidence; he deserves to die." Farel replied: "Speak the words of God, and not of Caiaphas." Hereupon the whole assembly shouted: "Away with him to the Rhone! Kill the Lutheran dog!" He was reviled, beaten, and shot at. One of the syndics interposed for his protection. He was ordered by the Episcopal Council to leave Geneva within three hours.

He escaped with difficulty the fury of the priests, who pursued him with clubs. He was covered with spittle and bruises. Some Huguenots came to his defence, and accompanied him and Saunier in a boat across the lake to a place between Morges and Lausanne. At Orbe, Farel found Antoine Froment, a native of Dauphiné, and prevailed on him to go to Geneva as evangelist and a teacher of children (November, 1532); but he was also obliged to flee.

In this critical condition the Roman party, supported by Freiburg, called to their aid Guy Furbity, a learned Dominican doctor of the Sorbonne. He preached during advent, 1533, against the Protestant heresy with unmeasured violence. In Jan. 1, 1534, the bishop forbade all preaching without his permission.

Farel returned under the protection of Bern, and held a public disputation with Furbity, Jan. 29, 1534, in the presence of the Great and Small Councils and the delegates of Bern. He could not answer all his objections, but he denied the right of the Church to impose ordinances which were not authorized by the Scriptures, and defended the position that Christ was the only head of the Church. He used the occasion to explain the Protestant doctrines, and to attack the Roman hierarchy. Christ and the Holy Spirit, he said, are not with the pope, but with those whom he persecutes. The disputation lasted several days, and ended in a partial victory for Farel. Unable to argue from the Scriptures, Furbity confessed:, What I preached I cannot prove from the Bible; I have learned it from the Summa of St. Thomas"; but he repeated in the pulpit of St. Peter’s his charges against the heretics, Feb. 15, and was put in prison for several years.

Farel continued to preach in private houses. On March 1, when a monk, Francis Coutelier, attacked the Reformation, he ascended the pulpit to refute him. This was his first public sermon in Geneva. The Freiburgers protested against these proceedings, and withdrew from the coburghery (April 12). The bishop pronounced the ban over the city (April 30); the Duke of Savoy threatened war. But Bern stood by Geneva, and under her powerful protection, Farel, Viret, and Froment vigorously pushed the Reformation, though not without much violence.

The priests, monks, and nuns gradually left the city, and the bishop transferred his see to Annecy, an asylum prepared by the Duke of Savoy. Sister Jeanne de Jussie, one of the nuns of St. Claire, has left us a lively and naive account of their departure to Annecy. "It was a piteous thing," she says, "to see this holy company in such a plight, so overcome with fatigue and grief that several swooned by the way. It was rainy weather, and all were obliged to walk through muddy roads, except four poor invalids who were in a carriage. There were six poor old women who had taken their vows more than sixteen years before. Two of these, who were past sixty-six, and had never seen anything of the world, fainted away repeatedly. They could not bear the wind; and when they saw the cattle in the fields, they took the cows for bears, and the long-wooled sheep for ravaging wolves. They who met them were so overcome with compassion that they could not speak a word. And though our mother, the vicaress, had supplied them all with good shoes to save their feet, the greater number could not walk in them, but hung them at their waists. And so they walked from five o’clock in the morning, when they left Geneva, till near midnight, when they got to St. Julien, which is only a little league off." It took the nuns fifteen hours to go a short league. The next day (Aug. 29) they reached Annecy under the ringing of all the bells of the city, and found rest in the monastery of the Holy Cross. The good sister Jussie saw in the Reformation a just punishment of the unfaithful clergy. "Ah," she said, "the prelates and churchmen did not observe their vows at this time, but squandered dissolutely the ecclesiastical property, keeping women in adultery and lubricity, and awakening the anger of God, which brought divine judgment on them."348348    Le commencement de l’hérésie en Gènève. Grénus, Fragments historiques, pp. 199-208; Le Chroniqueur, 147-150. Ruchat (III. 383, ed. Vulliemin) doubts the simplicity of these good sisters, and suspects them of occasional communication with the Franciscans through subterranean passages: "Il y a pourtant quelque lieu de douter si ces religieuses étaient aussi simples que la soeur de Jussi voudrait nous le faire accroire. Les chemins souterrains qu’on découvrit après leur départ sous leur couvent (et qui conduissaient àcelui des Cordeliers qui était a quelques pas de là), donnent tout lieu de soupçonner qu’elles recevaient de temps en temps des visites de ces bons frères, et qu’ainsi elles n’étaient pas tant novices dans les affaires du monde."

In Aug. 27, 1535, the Great Council of Two Hundred issued an edict of the Reformation, which was followed by another, May 21, 1536. The mass was abolished and forbidden, images and relics were removed from the churches. The citizens pledged themselves by an oath to live according to the precepts of the Gospel. A school was established for the elementary religious education of the young at the Convent de Rive, under the direction of Saunier. Out of it grew, afterwards, the college and academy of Calvin. A general hospital was founded at St. Claire, and endowed with the revenues of old Catholic hospitals. The bishop’s palace was converted into a prison. Four ministers and two deacons were appointed with fixed salaries payable out of the ecclesiastical revenues. Daily sermons were introduced at St. Pierre and St. Gervais; the communion after the simple solemn fashion of Zürich was, to be celebrated four times a year; baptism might be administered on any day, but only in the church, and by a minister. All shops were to be closed on Sunday. A strict discipline, which extended even to the headdress of brides, began to be introduced.

This was the first act in the history of the Reformation of Geneva. It was the work of Farel, but only preparatory to the more important work of Calvin. The people were anxious to get rid of the rule of Savoy and the bishop, but had no conception of evangelical religion, and would not submit to discipline. They mistook freedom for license. They were in danger of falling into the opposite extreme of disorder and confusion.

This was the state of things when Calvin arrived at Geneva in the summer of 1536, and was urged by Farel to assume the great task of building a new Church on the ruins of the old. Although twenty years older, he assumed willingly a subordinate position. He labored for a while as Calvin’s colleague, and was banished with him from Geneva, because they demanded submission to a confession of faith and a rigorous discipline. Calvin went to Strassburg. Farel accepted a call as pastor to Neuchâtel (July, 1538), the city where he had labored before.



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