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II. The Situation at Geneva and Calvin’s Proposals.

The movement to evangelize the French-speaking parts of Switzerland was undertaken by the powerful German-speaking canton of Bern. Having considerable dependencies in the French-speaking territory, Bern naturally wished them 8 to follow its lead in adopting the Reformed faith, and sent to them a band of zealous missionaries, of whom William Farel was the chief. In this way the beginnings of reform in French-speaking Switzerland bore the impress of the Zwinglian type that characterized the movement at Bern, and which Bern itself in its turn had received from Zurich. When Calvin came to Geneva, in July, 1536, the Reformation was already acknowledged there. Under Farel’s leadership, the mass had been discontinued, all holy days except Sunday abolished, the altars and images, and even the baptismal fonts, removed from the churches. But the work of constructing a Reformed Church on the ground thus cleared for it had hardly begun. In Calvin’s own words:77Calvin’s Farewell Address to the Ministers of Geneva. Th: Beza, Vita Calvini: in Ioannis Calvini Opera, ed. Baum et al., 1863 seq., vol. xxi, col. 167. Cf. Opera, vol. ix, 891.

“On my first arrival in this city, the gospel was indeed preached, but things were in the greatest disorder. It was as though Christianity consisted in nothing more than the overturning of images.”

Farel was keenly conscious of the situation, and recognized in Calvin the constructive gifts which he himself lacked; and when he had persuaded Calvin to remain at Geneva, the virtual leadership passed at once into Calvin’s hands.

Farel had not, however, come to Geneva quite unprepared in the matter of setting up Reformed worship in the French language. He had published at Neuchâtel in 1533 his La maniere et fasson quon tient en baillant le sainct baptesme ... es lieux que Dieu de sa grace a visités.88Reprinted by J. W. Baum, Strasburg, 1859. For full title in facsimile see Emile Doumergue, Jean Calvin: les hommes et les choses de son temps. Paris, 1899 seq., vol. ii, 154. This was the Order of Worship which Farel introduced at Geneva.99A. L. Herminjard, Correspondance des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française, etc. Geneva and Paris, 1866 seq., vol. iv, p. 191, note. The principal Sunday service consisted of a general prayer closing with the Lord’s Prayer, and followed by the sermon. 9 After the sermon came the commandments, confession of sins, the Lord’s Prayer again, the Apostles’ Creed, with a final prayer and benediction. In this Order the most striking feature is the entire absence of church song. This reflected the usage of Zurich and of Bern, but it does not necessarily imply any personal objection on Farel’s part to congregational singing. His Order of Worship was nothing more than a diffuse rendering into French of the Order already established at Bern.1010In a letter undated, but before May, 1837, Calvin wrote to Gaspard Megander, a minister at Bern: “We have compared your little liturgical directory (libellum tuum cæremonialem), translated by Merelet at our request, with our own, and we discover no difference except that it is more concise.” Opera, vol. xb, 87. Its introduction at Geneva involves no more than Farel’s compliance1111See Doumergue, op cit., vol. ii, p. 498. to that extent with the well-known desire of the Council of Bern to impress its own usages upon all the cantons.1212See Herminjard, op cit., vol. ii, p. 130.

Coincident with the publication at Neuchâtel, in 1533, of Farel’s Manière et fasson, which was the first Order of Reformed worship in French, there was a movement to provide the French-speaking Swiss with Protestant songs. In the same year and from the same Neuchâtel presses appeared two song-tracts; the one entitled Chansons nouvelles démonstrants plusieurs erreurs et faulsetés, containing five songs, the other containing nineteen, entitled, Belles et bonnes chansons que les chrestiens peuvent chanter en grande affection de cueur.1313Doumergue, op cit., vol. ii, p. 506. These were followed by a tract of twenty-four songs, entitled simply Noelz nouueaulx.1414F. Bovet, Histoire du Psautier des Eglises Réformées, Neuchâtel, 1872, p. 322, (but cf. Doumergue, ut supra). For specimens of these early songs, see O. Douen, Clément Marot et le Psautier Huguenot, Paris, 1878, 1879, vol. i, pp. 274-277. There is hardly room to doubt that the same influences were behind the songs and the Order of Worship, and that both alike emanated from Farel and his circle. These songs may not have been introduced into the stated public prayers and 10 preaching at Neuchatel, but taken in connection with what followed they strengthen the impression that the mind of Farel was predisposed to follow Calvin’s leadership rather than Zwingli’s in the matter of Church Song.

As to Calvin’s own mind we are more fully informed. He had no sympathy with the suppression of congregational praise, whether at Bern or at Geneva. He had already formed that project of introducing congregational singing into the public services which was to become his most distinctive contribution to Reformed worship.

The position Calvin was to take was clearly foreshadowed in the first edition of his Institutio, published before coming to Geneva.1515Basle, March, 1536. The third chapter dealt with Prayer. He gives equal recognition to two types of public prayer, the one in which the words are spoken, the other in which they are sung. Neither type has any value unless it proceed from the deep affection of the heart. But, on the other hand, neither is to be condemned so long as it follows the affection of the mind and is subservient to it.1616Opera, vol. i, 88.

After a few months’ observation of the Genevan situation Calvin drew up certain Articuli de regimine ecclesiæ, setting forth the things most essential to a rightly ordered church. These Articles were presented to the “Small Council” by Farel, and, with its approval, came before the “Council of the Two Hundred” on January 16, 1537. This document has the special interest of revealing the reforms Calvin had most at heart. It constitutes also the fundamental documentary source for the history of Psalmody in the Reformed Churches.

The earlier part of the Articles deals with the Holy Supper of our Lord and with the establishment of such discipline as should safeguard its purity. The Articles then proceed:


“The other part concerns the psalms, which we desire to be sung in the church, after the example of the ancient Church, and according to St. Paul’s testimony, who said that it was a good thing to sing in the assembly with mouth and heart. We cannot conceive the improvement and edification which will come from this until after we have tried it. In our present practice, certainly, the prayers of the faithful are so cold as to reflect much discredit and confusion. The psalms would move us to lift up our hearts to God, and excite us to fervor in invoking him and in exalting by our praises the glory of his name. By this means, moreover, men would discover of what benefit and what consolation the pope and his partisans have deprived the Church, in that they have appropriated the psalms, which ought to be true spiritual songs, to be mumbled between them without any understanding of them.”1717Opera, vol. xa, 12.

Calvin had thought out the most practicable method of proceeding toward an end so desirable. The succeeding paragraph of the Articles suggested that a beginning should be made with the children. They were to be trained in some sober ecclesiastical song, and were to sing it loudly and distinctly while the people listened, following it in their hearts, until little by little they should grow accustomed to sing together as a congregation.

The entire unpreparedness of the people thus becomes evident, and we are made to feel how radical, then and there, the simple proposal to sing Psalms really was.

The “Council of the Two Hundred” expressed a general approval of the Articles, but it is unlikely that Calvin was allowed to proceed in his Psalmody project. His influence was being undermined by Caroli’s charges of heresy, and his own views and methods rapidly produced discontent and strife, and brought him into strained relations with both the people and the government.

Moreover the institution of Psalm singing at Geneva would involve, as has been said, a definite departure from the Bernese model of Reformed worship; and for that the time was unfavorable. Bern, which had aided Geneva to gain her independence, was anxious to bring the city within the scope of her own authority, and as a step to closer political union, sought to bring the Genevan church into closer conformity. While Calvin wished to develop the worship of the Genevan church on its own lines, the Council of Bern and a 12 large party of sympathizers within Geneva urgently pressed the importance of uniformity of worship in both churches. The issue was framed in a demand of Bern that Geneva should join with all the French-speaking cantons in conforming to certain liturgical usages which prevailed at Bern, but which the somewhat more radical reformation by Farel at Geneva had rejected.1818The usages in question were, the use of fonts, placed at the entrance of churches, in baptism; the use of unleavened bread in the Holy Supper; and the observance annually of four festival days. Herminjard, vol. iv, p. 413.

In the end the Council of Geneva resolved (March 11, 1538) to introduce the usages of Bern into the Genevan church. The step was taken without even consulting Calvin or Farel, and left them in a difficult position. To accept the liturgical usages imposed by the Council involved their assent to the proposition that the Church had no voice in the regulation of its own ritual, but must accept it from the hands of the civil authorities. For this the reformers were not ready, and their refusal to conform immediately was made the occasion of banishing both from Geneva (April 23, 1538), whose people found the yoke of their strict discipline intolerable, and welcomed an opportunity to rid themselves of the disciplinarians.

Calvin and Farel appealed their case to the Synod which met at Zurich on April 29, 1538, and presented a paper drawn up by Calvin, under fourteen heads, of the terms upon which they were willing to return to Geneva.1919Opera, vol. xb, 190-192. In the matter of ecclesiastical discipline they were not prepared to yield very much. But the matter of the liturgical usages of Bern was more indifferent. The use of the font in baptism, the use of unleavened bread and the observance of festival days might be conceded, but on two points they stood firm: First, that the Holy Supper should be administered more frequently; second, that the singing of Psalms should be made a part of public worship.2020“Alterum ut ad publicas orationes psalmorum cantio adhibeatur.”


The second of these provisos in such a connection is surely noteworthy. We have to remember that liturgical uniformity had only just been attained; that Psalm-singing had so far no precedent in French-speaking churches; and that the way for making it practicable had not been cleared, the materials for employing it were not at hand. It excites a certain surprise that Calvin should refer to his project at all under such circumstances of personal humiliation. But that at such a crisis in church affairs he should make the inauguration of Psalmody the sine qua non of his return to Geneva and the resumption of his work of upbuilding the Reformed Church there—this reveals unmistakably that congregational Psalmody, which to Zwingli was a mere ceremony at the best to be winked at, was in the judgment of Calvin an ordinance essential to the right ordering of the Church of Christ. The earnestness of this conviction in Calvin’s mind was the foundation of the Psalmody of the Reformed Churches, and in spite of all difficulties he at once proceeded to build upon it.

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