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§ 170. Beza at the Colloquy of Poissy.12871287    Baum, II. 168-419, Heppe, 104-148, Baird (Rise of the Huguenots), I. 493-577, give full, accurate, and interesting accounts of the famous Colloquy of Poissy, to which the reader is referred. Only the briefest mention can be made in this place.

Beza was now considered by all the French Reformed as their most distinguished orator, and next to Calvin their most celebrated theologian. This commanding position he had attained by many able services. When, therefore, the queen-mother Catherine determined to hold a discussion between the French prelates and the most learned Protestant ministers, the Parisian pastors, seconded by the Prince of Condé, the Admiral Coligny, and the king of Navarre, implored Beza to come, and to him was committed the leadership. At first he declined. But in answer to renewed and more urgent appeals he came, and on Aug. 22, 1561, he was again in Paris, for the first time since his precipitate flight, in October, 1548—thirteen years before. The preliminary meeting was in the famous château of St. Germain-en-Laye, on the Seine, a few miles below Paris. There, on Aug. 23, he made his appearance. On the evening of that day he was summoned to the apartments of the king of Navarre, and in the presence of the queen-mother and other persons of the highest rank, he had his first encounter in debate with Cardinal Lorraine. The subject was transubstantiation. The Cardinal was no match for Beza, and after a weak defence, yielded the floor, saying that the doctrine should not stand in the way of a reconciliation. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, 1561, the parties to the Colloquy assembled in the nuns’ refectory at Poissy, some three miles away. It was soon evident that there was not to be any real debate. The Catholic party had all the advantages and acted as sole judges.12881288    The entirely proper request of the Protestants that the bishops should not be at the same time parties and judges, that the questions in debate should be decided solely by the Word of God in the originals, and that the minutes should not be accepted unless signed by the secretary on each side, had been refused. With studied indignity the Protestant ministers, who numbered twelve, all distinguished men, were required to appear as culprits brought to the bar, for they were separated by a railing from the prelates and courtiers. It was a foregone conclusion that the verdict was to be given to the Catholic party, whatever the arguments might be. Nevertheless, Beza and his associates went through the form of a debate, and courageously held their ground. In characteristic fashion they first knelt, and Beza prayed, commencing his prayer with the confession of sins used in the Genevan liturgy of Calvin. He then addressed the assembly upon the points of agreement and of disagreement between them, and was quietly listened to until he made the assertion that the Body of Christ was as far removed from the bread of the Eucharist as the heavens are from the earth. Then the prelates broke out with the cry "Blasphemavit! blasphemavit!" ("he has blasphemed"), and for a while there was much confusion. Beza had followed the obnoxious expression with a remark which was intended to break its force, affirming the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist; but the noise had prevented its being heard. Instead, however, of yielding to the clamor the queen-mother insisted that Beza should be heard out, and he finished his speech. The Huguenots claimed the victory, but the Roman Catholics spread the story that they had been easily and decidedly beaten. The prelates requested the points in writing, and it was not till Sept. 16 that they made a reply. The Cardinal of Lorraine was the spokesman. No opportunity was given the Protestants to rejoin, as they were ready to do at once.

On Sept. 24 a third conference was held, but in the small chamber of the prioress, not in the large refectory, and a fourth in the same place on Sept. 26. But the Colloquy had degenerated into a rambling debate, and its utterly unprofitable character was manifest to all. The queen-mother did, it is true, flatter herself that there might be an agreement, and zealously labored to produce it. But in vain. Her expectation really showed how shallow were her religious ideas.

Beza stayed at St. Germain until the beginning of November,12891289    His leave of absence from Geneva had been much extended in answer to the request of the king of Navarre, Condé, and Coligny. Heppe, 161. and then, worn out, and threatened with a serious illness, he sought rest in Paris. There he had a visit from his oldest step-brother, and also a pressing and affectionate letter from his father, who had learned to what honor his son had come, forgave him for his persistence in heresy, and expressed a great desire to see him. Beza started for Vezelay, but on the way met a courier with the intelligence that the Protestants required his instant attendance to help them at a crisis in their affairs, because acts of violence against them had taken place in all parts of France. And Beza, ever subordinating private to public duties, turned back to Paris, and no further opportunity of seeing his father ever came to him.12901290    Cf. the touching account of these events in Heppe, 158-61.

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