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§ 85. Calvin in Strassburg.


I. Calvin’s correspondence from 1538–1541 in Opera, vols. X. and XI.; Herminjard, Vols. V. and VI.; Bonnet-Constable, Vol. I. 63 sqq. Beza: Vita Calv., in Op. XXI. 128 sq.—Ann. Calv., Op. XXI. 226–285. Contains extracts from the Archives du chapitre de St. Thomas de Strasbourg.

II. Alf. Erichson: L’Église française de Strasbourg au XVIe siècle, d’après des documents inédits. Strasb. 1885. Comp. also his other works on the History of the Reformation in the Alsace.—C. A. Cornelius: Die Rückkehr Calvin’s nach Genf. München, 1889.—E. Doumergue (Prof. of the Prot. Faculty of Montauban): Essai sur l’histoire du Culte Réformé principalement au XIXe Siècle. Paris, 1890. Ch. I., Calvin à Strasbourg, treats of the worship in the first French Reformed Church, the model of the churches of France.—Eduard Stricker: Johannes Calvin als erster Pfarrer der reformirten Gemeinde zu Strassburg. Nach urkundlichen Quellen. Strassburg (Heitz & Mündel), 1890 (65 pp.). In commemoration of the centenary of the church edifice of the French Reformed congregation (built in 1790) by its present pastor.

III. Henry, I. ch. X.—Stähelin, I. 168–283.—Kampschulte, I. 320–368.—Merle D’Aubigné, bk. XI. chs. XV.–XVII. (vol. VI. 543–609).


Calvin felt so discouraged by his recent experience that he was disinclined to assume another public office, and Conrault approved of this purpose. He therefore refused the first invitation of Bucer to come to Strassburg, the more so as his friend Farel was not included. But he yielded at last to repeated solicitations, mindful of the example of the prophet Jonah. Farel gave his hearty assent.

Strassburg496496    Or Strasbourg in French. Argentoratum was a Roman military station in the time of Augustus. was since 1254 a free imperial city of Germany, famous for one of the finest Gothic cathedrals, large commerce, and literary enterprise. Some of the first editions of the Bible were printed there. By its geographical situation, a few miles west of the Upper Rhine, it formed a connecting link between Germany, France, and Switzerland, as also between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism. It offered a hospitable home to a steady flow of persecuted Protestants from France, who called Strassburg the New Jerusalem. The citizens had accepted the Reformation in 1523 in the spirit of evangelical union between the two leading types of Protestantism. Bucer, Capito, Hedio, Niger, Matthias Zell, Sturm, and others, labored there harmoniously together. Strassburg was the Wittenberg of South-western Germany, and in friendly alliance with Zürich and Geneva.

Martin Bucer, the chief Reformer of the city, was the embodiment of a generous and comprehensive catholicity, and gave it expression in the Tetrapolitan Confession, which was presented at the diet of Augsburg in 1530.497497    See vol. VI. 571 and 718. He afterwards brought about, in the same irenic spirit, the Wittenberg Concordia (1536), which was to harmonize the Lutheran and Zwinglian theories on the Lord’s Supper, but conceded too much to Luther (even the participation of the body and blood of Christ by unworthy communicants), and therefore was rejected by Bullinger and the Swiss Churches. He wrote to Bern in June, 1540, that next to Wittenberg no city in Germany was so friendly to the gospel and so large-hearted in spirit as Strassburg. He ended his labors in the Anglican Church as professor of theology in the University of Cambridge in 1551. Six years after his death his body was dug up, chained upright to a stake and burned, under Queen Mary; but his tomb was rebuilt and his memory honorably restored under Queen Elizabeth. His colleague Fagius shared the same fate.

The Zürichers, in a letter to Calvin, call Strassburg "the Antioch of the Reformation;" Capito, "the refuge of exiled brethren;" the Roman Catholic historian, Florimond de Raemond, "the retreat and rendezvous of Lutherans and Zwinglians under the control of Bucer, and the receptacle of those that were banished from France."498498    "C’était le réceptacle des bannis de la France." Hist. de la naissance de l’herésie, p. 838. Among the distinguished early refugees from France were Francis Lambert, Farel, Le Févre, Roussel, and Michel d’Arande. Unfortunately, Strassburg did not long occupy this noble position, but became a battlefield of bitter sectarian strife and, for some time, the home of a narrow Lutheran orthodoxy. The city was conquered by Louis XIV. and annexed to Roman Catholic France in 1681, to the detriment of her Protestant character, but was reconquered by Emperor William I. and incorporated with united Germany as the capital of Alsace and Lorraine in 1870. The university was newly organized and better equipped than ever before.499499    It will take some time before the irritating question of language and nationality can be settled. When last in Strassburg, I asked, first, a shopkeeper whether the people speak more French or German, and received the prompt and emphatic answer: "On parle toujours français àStrasbourg." The next person, in answer to the same question, replied: "Man spricht mehr deutsch." At last, a market-woman told the truth: "Man spricht dietsch." The Alsatian dialect prevails at home, the French in society, the high German in the university, among the government officials and soldiers.

Calvin arrived at Strassburg in the first days of September, 1538.500500    Not at the end of September, as Stähelin has it. See Stricker, p. 11, note, where he shows that Calvin preached his first sermon at Strassburg on the 8th of September. He spent there three years in useful labors. He was received with open arms by Bucer, Capito, Hedio, Sturm, and Niger, the leading men in the Church, and appointed by the Council professor of theology, with a moderate salary. He soon felt at home, and in the next summer bought the citizenship, and joined the guild of the tailors.501501    July 30, 1539. Some historians err in stating that the citizenship was presented to him. See Stricker, 44, and Annal. XXI. fol. 250: "Uff den 30 tag Julij Anno 39 ist Johannes Calvinus uff unser Herren der statt Straszburg Saal erschinnen, und sich angeben lut der Ordnung und will dienen mit den schnydern."

The sojourn of Calvin in this city was a fruitful episode in his life, and an education for more successful work in Geneva. His views were enlarged and deepened. He gained valuable experience. He came in contact with the Lutheran Church and its leaders. He learned to understand and appreciate them, but was unfavorably impressed with the want of discipline and the slavish dependence of the clergy upon the secular rulers. He labored indefatigably and successfully as professor, pastor, and author. He informed Farel (April 20, 1539) that, when the messenger called for copy of his book (the second edition of the Institutes), he had to read fifty pages, then to teach and to preach, to write four letters, to adjust some quarrels, and was interrupted by visitors more than ten times.502502    Herminjard, V. 286 sq.; Opera, X., Pars II. 337.

It is in the fitness of things that three learned professors of the University of Strassburg, who lived during the French and German régime, and were equally at home in the language and theology of both nations, should give to the world the last and best edition of Calvin’s works.

Calvin’s economic condition during these three years was very humble. It is a shame for the congregation and the city government that they allowed such a man to struggle for his daily bread. For the first five months he received no pay at all, only free board in the house of a liberal friend. His countrymen were poor, but might have done something. He informed Farel, in April, 1539, that of his many friends in France, not one had offered him a copper, except Louis Du Tillet, who hoped to induce him to return. Hence he declined.503503    "Cum innumeros aliquando amicos in Gallia habuerim, nemo fuit qui assent mihi obtulerit; et tamen si fecissent, poterant frui gratuita beneficentiae jactantia: nihil enim illis constitisset offerre quod acceptassem. Exciderat mihi Ludovicus [Du Tillet]; ille unus fuit qui obtulit; sed ipse quoque suam largitionem nimis magno venditabat: siquidem me tantum non ad recantandum hortabatur." Herminjard, V. 291 sq. See the letter of Du Tillet from Paris, Oct. 20, 1538, in which he offers him to furnish "assez àtoute vostre necessité" (ibid. p. 107). The city paid him a very meagre salary of fifty-two guilders (about two hundred marks) for his professorial duties from May, 1539.504504    May 1, 1539: "Joannes Calvinus so ein gelährter frommer Gesell sein soll und zu Zeiten auch in Theologia lese, zudem auch zu den Reuwern französisch predige, haben die Herren ... ist beschlossen dasz man demselben nuhn fürter ein Jar lang die 52 fl. alsz ein zuhelffer geben und soll prima Maij angehen." From the Thomas-Archiv, in Annal. fol. 246. His books were not profitable. When the Swiss heard of his embarrassment, they wished to come to his aid, and Fabri sent ten ducats to Farel for Calvin.505505    "Decem coronatos." Libertet (Christophe Fabri) to Farel, May 8, 1539, in Herminjard, V. 307. But he preferred to sell his greatest treasure—the library—which he had left in Geneva, and to take students as boarders (pensionnaires). He trusted to God for the future.506506    "It is very agreeable to me," he wrote to Farel, who had communicated to his colleagues Calvin’s wants, "I confess, that my brethren entertain such a regard for me, that they are ready to supply my wants from their own means. It could not be otherwise than that I must be greatly delighted with such a testimony of their love (quin tali amoris testimonio delecter). Nevertheless, I have determined to abstain from putting both your kindness and theirs in requisition, unless a greater necessity shall compel me. Wendelin [Wendelin Rihel], the printer, to whom I intrusted my book [the second edition of the Institutio] to be printed, will provide me with as much as will be sufficient for any extraordinary expenses. From my books which yet remain at Geneva, there will be enough to satisfy my landlord till next winter. As to the future, the Lord will provide." (Herminjard, l.c.)

With all his poverty he was happy in his independence, the society of congenial friends, and his large field of usefulness.



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