Vol. 8, Chapter XIII (Cont’d) – The Leaders of the Libertines and Their Punishment: — Gruet, Perrin, Ameaux, Vandel, Berthelier

We shall now give sketches of the chief Patriots and Libertines, and their quarrels with Calvin and his system of discipline. The heretical opponents — Bolsec, Castellio, Servetus — will be considered in a separate chapter on the Doctrinal Controversies.

1. Jacques Gruet was the first victim of Calvin’s discipline who suffered death for sedition and blasphemy. His case is the most famous next to that of Servetus. Gruet was a Libertine of the worst type, both politically and religiously, and would have been condemned to death in any other country at that time. He was a Patriot descended from an old and respectable family, and formerly a canon. He lay under suspicion of having attempted to poison Viret in 1535. He wrote verses against Calvin and the refugees which (as Audin says) were “more malignant than poetic.” He was a regular frequenter of taverns, and opposed to any rules in Church and State which interfered with personal liberty. When in church, he looked boldly and defiantly into the face of the preacher. He first adopted the Bernese fashion of wearing breeches with plaits at the knees, and openly defied the discipline of the Consistory which forbade it. Calvin called him a scurvy fellow, and gives an unfavorable account of his moral and religious character, which the facts fully justified.

On the 27th of June, 1547, a few days after the wife of Perrin had defied the Consistory, the following libel, written in the Savoyard patois, was attached to Calvin’s pulpit in St. Peter’s Church: — 

“Gross hypocrite (Gros panfar), thou and thy companions will gain little by your pains. If you do not save yourselves by flight, nobody shall prevent your overthrow, and you will curse the hour when you left your monkery. Warning has been already given that the devil and his renegade priests were come hither to ruin every thing. But after people have suffered long they avenge themselves. Take care that you are not served like Mons. Verle of Fribourg. We will not have so many masters. Mark well what I say.”

The Council arrested Jacques Gruet, who had been heard uttering threats against Calvin a few days previously, and had written obscene and impious verses and letters. In his house were found a copy of Calvin’s work against the Libertines with a marginal note, Toutes folies, and several papers and letters filled with abuse of Calvin as a haughty, ambitious, and obstinate hypocrite who wished to be adored, and to rob the pope of his honor. There were also found two Latin pages in Gruet’s handwriting, in which the Scriptures were ridiculed, Christ blasphemed, and the immortality of the soul called a dream and a fable.

Gruet was tortured every day for a month, after the inhuman fashion of that age. He confessed that he had affixed the libel, and that the papers found in his house belonged to him; but he refused to name any accomplices. He was condemned for religious, moral, and political offences; being found guilty of expressing contempt for religion; of declaring that laws, both human and divine, were but the work of man’s caprice; and that fornication was not criminal when both parties were consenting; and of threatening the clergy and the Council itself.

He was beheaded on the 26th of July, 1547. The execution instead of terrifying the Libertines made them more furious than ever. Three days afterwards the Council was informed that more than twenty young men had entered into a conspiracy to throw Calvin and his colleagues into the Rhone. He could not walk the streets without being insulted and threatened.

Two or three years after the death of Gruet, a treatise of his was discovered full of horrible blasphemies against Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Prophets and Apostles, against the Scriptures, and all religion. He aimed to show that the founders of Judaism and Christianity were criminals, and that Christ was justly crucified. Some have confounded this treatise with the book “De tribus Impostoribus,” which dates from the age of Emperor Frederick II., and puts Moses, Christ, and Mohammed on a level as religious impostors.

Gruet’s book was, at Calvin’s advice, publicly burnt by the hangman before Gruet’s house, May 22, 1550.

2. Ami Perrin (Amy Pierre), the military chief (captain-general) of the Republic, was the most popular and influential leader of the Patriotic party. He had been one of the earliest promoters of the Reformation, though from political rather than religious motives; he had protected Farel against the violence of the priests, and had been appointed deputy to Strassburg to bring Calvin back to Geneva. He was one of the six lay-members who, with the ministers, drew up the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1542, and for some time he supported Calvin in his reforms. He could wield the sword, but not the pen. He was vain, ambitious, pretentious, and theatrical. Calvin called him, in derision, the stage-emperor, who played now the “Caesar comicus,” and now the “Caesar tragicus.”

Perrin’s wife, Francesca, was a daughter of François Favre, who had taken a prominent part in the political struggle against Savoy, but mistook freedom for license, and hated Calvin as a tyrant and a hypocrite. His whole family shared in this hatred. Francesca had an excessive fondness for dancing and revelry, a violent temper, and an abusive tongue. Calvin called her “Penthesilea” (the queen of the Amazons who fought a battle against the Greeks, and was slain by Achilles), and “a prodigious fury.”

He found out too late that it is foolish and dangerous to quarrel with a woman. He forgot Christ’s conduct towards the adulteress, and Mary Magdalene.

A disgraceful scene which took place at a wedding in the house of the widow Balthazar at Belle Rive, brought upon the family of Favre, who were present, the censure of the Consistory and the punishment of the Council. Perrin, his wife and her father were imprisoned for a few weeks in April, 1546. Favre refused to make any confession, and went to prison, shouting: “Liberty! Liberty! I would give a thousand crowns to have a general council.” Perrin made an humble apology to the Consistory. Calvin plainly told the Favre family that as long as they lived in Geneva they must obey the laws of Geneva, though every one of them wore a diadem.

From this time on Perrin stood at the head of the opposition to Calvin. He loudly denounced the Consistory as a popish tribunal. He secured so much influence over the Council that a majority voted, in March, 1547, to take the control of Church discipline into their own hands. But Calvin made such a vigorous resistance that it was determined eventually to abide by the established Ordinances.

Perrin was sent as ambassador to Paris (April 26, 1547), and was received there with much distinction. The Cardinal du Bellay sounded him as to whether some French troops under his command could be stationed at Geneva to frustrate the hostile designs of the German emperor against Switzerland. He gave a conditional consent. This created a suspicion against his loyalty.

During his absence, Madame Perrin and her father were again summoned before the Consistory for bacchanalian conduct (June 23, 1547). Favre refused to appear. Francesca denied the right of the court to take cognizance of her private life. When remonstrated with, she flew into a passion, and abused the preacher, Abel Poupin, as “a reviler, a slanderer of her father, a coarse swine-herd, and a malicious liar.” She was again imprisoned, but escaped with one of her sons. Meeting Abel Poupin at the gate of the city she insulted him afresh and “even more shamefully than before.”

On the 27th of June, 1547, Gruet’s threatening libel was published. Calvin was reported to have been killed. He received letters from Burgogne and Lyons that the Children of Geneva had offered five hundred crowns for his head.

On his return from Paris, Perrin was capitally indicted on a charge of treason, and of intending to quarter two hundred French cavalry, under his own command, at Geneva. His excuse was that he had accepted the command of these troops with the reservation of the approval of the government of Geneva. Bonivard, the old soldier of liberty and prisoner of Chillon, took part against Perrin. The ambassadors of Bern endeavored to divert the storm from the head of Perrin to the French ambassador Maigret the Magnifique. Perrin was expelled from the Council, and the office of captain-general was suppressed, but he was released from prison, together with his wife and father-in-law, Nov. 29, 1547.

The Libertines summoned all their forces for a reaction. They called a meeting of the Council of Two Hundred, where they expected most support. A violent scene took place on Dec. 16, 1547, in the Senate house, when Calvin, unarmed and at the risk of his life, appeared in the midst of the armed crowd and called upon them, if they designed to shed blood, to begin with him. He succeeded, by his courage and eloquence, in calming the wild storm and preventing a disgraceful carnage. It was a sublime victory of reason over passion, of moral over physical force.

The ablest of the detractors of Calvin cannot help paying here an involuntary tribute to him and to the truth of history. This is his dramatic account.

“The Council of the Two Hundred was assembled. Never had any session been more tumultuous; the parties, weary of speaking, began to appeal to arms. The people heard the appeal. Calvin appears, unattended; he is received at the lower part of the hall with cries of death. He folds his arms, and looks the agitators fixedly in the face. Not one of them dares strike him. Then, advancing through the midst of the groups, with his breast uncovered: ‘If you want blood,’ says he, ‘there are still a few drops here; strike, then!’ Not an arm is raised. Calvin then slowly ascends the stairway to the Council of the Two Hundred. The hall was on the point of being drenched with blood; swords were flashing on beholding the Reformer, the weapons were lowered, and a few words sufficed to calm the agitation. Calvin, taking the arm of one of the councillors, again descends the stairs, and cries out to the people that he wishes to address them. He does speak, and with such energy and feeling, that tears flow from their eyes. They embrace each other, and the crowd retires in silence. The patriots had lost the day. From that moment, it was easy to foretell that victory would remain with the Reformer. The Libertines, who had shown themselves so bold when it was a question of destroying some front of a Catholic edifice, overturning some saint’s niche, or throwing down an old wooden cross weakened by age, trembled like women before this man, who, in fact, on this occasion, exhibited something of the Homeric heroism.”

Notwithstanding this triumph, Calvin did not trust enemies, and expressed in letters to Farel and Viret even the fear that he could no longer maintain his position unless God stretch forth his hand for his protection.

A sort of truce was patched up between the contending parties. “Our çi-devant Caesar (hesternus noster Caesar),” Calvin wrote to Farel, Dec. 28, 1547, “denied that he had any grudge against me, and I immediately met him half-way and pressed out the matter from the sore. In a grave and moderate speech, I used, indeed, some sharp reproofs (punctiones acutas), but not of a nature to wound; yet though he grasped my hand whilst promising to reform, I still fear that I have spoken to deaf ears.”

In the next year, Calvin was censured by the Council for saying, in a private letter to Viret which had been intercepted, that the Genevese “under pretence of Christ wanted to rule without Christ,” and that he had to “combat their hypocrisy.” He called to his aid Viret and Farel to make a sort of apology.

Perrin behaved quietly, and gained an advantage from this incident. He was restored to his councillorship and the office of captain-general (which had been abolished). He was even elected First Syndic, in February, 1549. He held that position also during the trial of Servetus, and opposed the sentence of death in the Council (1553).

Shortly after the execution of Servetus, the Libertines raised a demonstration against Farel, who had come to Geneva and preached a very severe sermon against them (Nov. 1, 1553). Philibert Berthelier and his brother François Daniel, who had charge of the mint, stirred up the laborers to throw Farel into the Rhone. But his friends formed a guard around him, and his defence before the Council convinced the audience of his innocence. It was resolved that all enmity should be forgotten and buried at a banquet. Perrin, the chief Syndic, in a sense of weakness, or under the impulse of his better feelings, begged Farel’s pardon, and declared that he would ever regard him as his spiritual father and pastor.

After this time Calvin’s friends gained the ascendency in the Council. A large number of religious refugees were admitted to the rights of citizenship.

Perrin, then a member of the Little Council, and his friends, Peter Vandel and Philibert Berthelier, determined on rule or ruin, now concocted a desperate and execrable conspiracy, which proved their overthrow. They proposed to kill all foreigners who had fled to Geneva for the sake of religion, together with their Genevese sympathizers, on a Sunday while people were at church. But, fortunately, the plot was discovered before it was ripe for execution. When the rioters were to be tried before the Council of the Two Hundred, Perrin and several other ringleaders had the audacity to take their places as judges; but when he saw that matters were taking a serious turn in favor of law and order, he fled from Geneva, together with Vandel and Berthelier. They were summoned by the public herald, but refused to appear. On the day appointed for the trial five of the fugitives were condemned to death; Perrin, moreover, to have his right hand cut off, with which he had seized the bâton of the Syndic at the riot. The sentence was executed in effigy in June, 1555.

Their estates were confiscated, and their wives banished from Geneva. The office of captain-general was again abolished to avoid the danger of a military dictatorship.

But the government of Bern protected the fugitives, and allowed them to commit outrages on Genevese citizens within their reach, and to attack Calvin and Geneva with all sorts of reproaches and calumnies.

Thus the “comic Caesar” ended as the “tragic Caesar.” An impartial biographer of Calvin calls the last chapter in Perrin’s career “a caricature of the Catilinarian conspiracy.”

3. The case of Pierre Ameaux shows a close connection between the political and religious Libertines. He was a member of the Council of Two Hundred. He sought and obtained a divorce from his wife, who was condemned to perpetual imprisonment for the theory and practice of free-lovism of the worst kind. But he hated Calvin’s theology and discipline. At a supper party in his own house he freely indulged in drink, and roundly abused Calvin as a teacher of false doctrine, as a very bad man, and nothing but a Picard.

For this offence he was imprisoned by the Council for two months and condemned to a fine of sixty dollars. He made an apology and retracted his words. But Calvin was not satisfied, and demanded a second trial. The Council condemned him to a degrading punishment called the amende honorable, namely, to parade through the streets in his shirt, with bare head, and a lighted torch in his hand, and to ask on bended knees the pardon of God, of the Council, and of Calvin. This harsh judgment provoked a popular outbreak in the quarter of St. Gervais, but the Council proceeded in a body to the spot and ordered the wine-shops to be closed and a gibbet to be erected to frighten the mob. The sentence on Ameaux was executed April 5, 1546. Two preachers, Henri de la Mare and Aimé Maigret, who had taken part in the drinking scene, were deposed. The former had said before the Council that Calvin was a good and virtuous man, and of great intellect, but sometimes governed by his passions, impatient, full of hatred, and vindictive.” The latter had committed more serious offences.

4. Pierre Vandel was a handsome, brilliant, and frivolous cavalier, and loved to exhibit himself with a retinue of valets and courtesans, with rings on his fingers and golden chains on his breast. He had been active in the expulsion of Calvin, and opposed him after his recall. He was imprisoned for his debaucheries and insolent conduct before the Consistory. He was Syndic in 1548. He took a leading part in the conspiracy of Perrin and shared his condemnation and exile.

5. Philibert Berthelier (or Bertelier, Bertellier), an unworthy son of the distinguished patriot who, in 1519, had been beheaded for his part in the war of independence, belonged to the most malignant enemies of Calvin. He had gone to Noyon, if we are to believe the assertion of Bolsec, to bring back scandalous reports concerning the early life of the Reformer, which the same Bolsec published thirteen years after Calvin’s death, but without any evidence. If the Libertines had been in possession of such information, they would have made use of it. Berthelier is characterized by Beza as “a man of the most consummate impudence” and “guilty of many iniquities.” He was excommunicated by the Consistory in 1551 for abusing Calvin, for not going to church, and other offences, and for refusing to make any apology. Calvin was absent during these sessions, owing to sickness. Berthelier appealed to the Council, of which he was the secretary. The Council at first confirmed the decision of the Consistory, but afterwards released him, during the syndicate of Perrin and the trial of Servetus, and gave him letters of absolution signed with the seal of the Republic (1553).

Calvin was thus brought into direct conflict with the Council, and forced to the alternative of submission or disobedience; in the latter case he ran the risk of a second and final expulsion. But he was not the man to yield in such a crisis. He resolved to oppose to the Council his inflexible non possumus.

On the Sunday which followed the absolution of Berthelier, the September communion was to be celebrated. Calvin preached as usual in St. Peter’s, and declared at the close of the sermon that he would never profane the sacrament by administering it to an excommunicated person. Then raising his voice and lifting up his hands, he exclaimed in the words of St. Chrysostom: “I will lay down my life ere these hands shall reach forth the sacred things of God to those who have been branded as his despisers.”

This was another moment of sublime Christian heroism.

Perrin, who had some decent feeling of respect for religion and for Calvin’s character, was so much impressed by this solemn warning that he secretly gave orders to Berthelier not to approach the communion table. The communion was celebrated, as Beza reports, “in profound silence, and under a solemn awe, as if the Deity himself had been visibly present among them.”

In the afternoon, Calvin, as for the last time, preached on Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian Elders (Act_20:31); he exhorted the congregation to abide in the doctrine of Christ, and declared his willingness to serve the Church and each of its members, but added in conclusion: “Such is the state of things here that this may be my last sermon to you; for they who are in power would force me to do what God does not permit. I must, therefore, dearly beloved, like Paul, commend you to God, and to the Word of his grace.”

These words made a deep impression even upon his worst foes. The next day Calvin, with his colleagues and the Presbytery, demanded of the Council to grant them an audience before the people, as a law was attacked which had been sanctioned by the General Assembly. The Council refused the request, but resolved to suspend the decree by which the power of excommunication was declared to belong to the Council.

In the midst of this agitation the trial of Servetus was going on, and was brought to a close by his death at the stake, Oct. 27. A few days afterwards (Nov. 3), Berthelier renewed his request to be admitted to the Lord’s Table — he who despised religion. The Council which had condemned the heretic, was not quite willing to obey Calvin as a legislator, and wished to retain the power of excommunication in their own hands. Yet, in order to avoid a rupture with the ministers, who would not yield to any compromise, the Council resolved to solicit the opinions of four Swiss cantons on the subject.

Bullinger, in behalf of the Church and magistracy of Zürich, replied in December, substantially approving of Calvin’s view, though he admonished him privately against undue severity. The magistrates of Bern replied that they had no excommunication in their Church. The answers of the two other cantons are lost, but seem to have been rather favorable to Calvin’s cause.

In the meantime matters assumed a more promising aspect. On Jan. 1, 1554, at a grand dinner given by the Council and judges, Calvin being present, a desire for peace was universally expressed. On the second of February the Council of Two Hundred swore, with uplifted hands, to conform to the doctrines of the Reformation, to forget the past, to renounce all hatred and animosity, and to live together in unity.

Calvin regarded this merely as a truce, and looked for further troubles. He declared before the Council that he readily forgave all his enemies, but could not sacrifice the rights of the Consistory, and would rather leave Geneva. The irritation continued in 1554. The opposition broke out again in the conspiracy against the foreigners and the council, which has been already described. The plot failed. Berthelier was, with Perrin, condemned to death, but escaped with him the execution of justice by flight.

This was the end of Libertinism in Geneva.


110. Geneva Regenerated. Testimonies Old and New

The final result of this long conflict with Libertinism is the best vindication of Calvin. Geneva came out of it a new city, and with a degree of moral and spiritual prosperity which distinguished her above any other Christian city for several generations. What a startling contrast she presents, for instance, to Rome, the city of the vicar of Christ and his cardinals, as described by Roman Catholic writers of the sixteenth century! If ever in this wicked world the ideal of Christian society can be realized in a civil community with a mixed population, it was in Geneva from the middle of the sixteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century, when the revolutionary and infidel genius of Rousseau (a native of Geneva) and of Voltaire (who resided twenty years in the neighborhood, on his estate at Ferney) began to destroy the influence of the Reformer.

After the final collapse of the Libertine party in 1555, the peace was not seriously disturbed, and Calvin’s work progressed without interruption. The authorities of the State were as zealous for the honor of the Church and the glory of Christ as the ministers of the gospel. The churches were well filled; the Word of God was preached daily; family worship was the rule; prayer and singing of Psalms never ceased; the whole city seemed to present the aspect of a community of sincere, earnest Christians who practised what they believed. Every Friday a spiritual conference and experience meeting, called the “Congregation,” was held in St. Peter’s, after the model of the meetings of “prophesying,” which had been introduced in Zürich and Bern. Peter Paul Vergerius, the former papal nuncio, who spent a short time in Geneva, was especially struck with these conferences. “All the ministers,” he says, “and many citizens attend. One of the preachers reads and briefly explains a text from the Scriptures. Another expresses his views on the subject, and then any member may make a contribution if so disposed. You see, it is an imitation of that custom in the Corinthian Church of which Paul speaks, and I have received much edification from these public colloquies.”

The material prosperity of the city was not neglected. Greater cleanliness was introduced, which is next to godliness, and promotes it. Calvin insisted on the removal of all filth from the houses and the narrow and crooked streets. He induced the magistracy to superintend the markets, and to prevent the sale ofunhealthy food, which was to be cast into the Rhone. Low taverns and drinking shops were abolished, and intemperance diminished. Mendicancy on the streets was prohibited. A hospital and poor-house was provided and well conducted. Efforts were made to give useful employment to every man that could work. Calvin urged the Council in a long speech, Dec. 29, 1544, to introduce the cloth and silk industry, and two months afterwards he presented a detailed plan, in which he recommended to lend to the Syndic, Jean Ami Curtet, a sufficient sum from the public treasury for starting the enterprise. The factories were forthwith established and soon reached the highest degree of prosperity. The cloth and silk of Geneva were highly prized in Switzerland and France, and laid the foundation for the temporal wealth of the city. When Lyons, by the patronage of the French crown, surpassed the little Republic in the manufacture of silk, Geneva had already begun to make up for the loss by the manufacture of watches, and retained the mastery in this useful industry until 1885, when American machinery produced a successful rivalry.

Altogether, Geneva owes her moral and temporal prosperity, her intellectual and literary activity, her social refinement, and her world-wide fame very largely to the reformation and discipline of Calvin. He set a high and noble example of a model community. It is impossible, indeed, to realize his church ideal in a large country, even with all the help of the civil government. The Puritans attempted it in England and in New England, but succeeded only in part, and only for a short period. But nothing should prevent a pastor from making an effort in his own congregation on the voluntary principle. Occasionally we find parallel cases in small communities under the guidance of pastors of exceptional genius and consecration, such as Oberlin in the Steinthal, Harms in Hermannsburg, and Loehe in Neudettelsau, who exerted an inspiring influence far beyond their fields of labor.

Let us listen to some testimonies of visitors who saw with their own eyes the changes wrought in Geneva through Calvin’s influence.

William Farel, who knew better than any other man the state of Geneva under Roman Catholic rule, and during the early stages of reform before the arrival of Calvin, visited the city again in 1557, and wrote to Ambrosius Blaurer that he would gladly listen and learn there with the humblest of the people, and that “he would rather be the last in Geneva than the first anywhere else.”

John Knox, the Reformer of Scotland, who studied several years in Geneva as a pupil of Calvin (though five years his senior), and as pastor of the English congregation, wrote to his friend Locke, in 1556: “In my heart I could have wished, yea, I cannot cease to wish, that it might please God to guide and conduct yourself to this place where, I neither fear nor am ashamed to say, is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion to be so seriously reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place besides.”

Dr. Valentine Andreae (1586-1654), a bright and shining light of the Lutheran Church of Würtemberg (a grandson of Jacob Andreae, the chief author of the Lutheran Formula of Concord), a man full of glowing love to Christ, visited Geneva in 1610, nearly fifty years after Calvin’s death, with the prejudices of an orthodox Lutheran against Calvinism, and was astonished to find in that city a state of religion which came nearer to his ideal of a Christocracy than any community he had seen in his extensive travels, and even in his German fatherland.

“When I was in Geneva,” he writes, “I observed something great which I shall remember and desire as long as I live. There is in that place not only the perfect institute of a perfect republic, but, as a special ornament, a moral discipline, which makes weekly investigations into the conduct, and even the smallest transgressions of the citizens, first through the district inspectors, then through the Seniors, and finally through the magistrates, as the nature of the offence and the hardened state of the offender may require. All cursing and swearing gambling, luxury, strife, hatred, fraud, etc., are forbidden; while greater sins are hardly heard of. What a glorious ornament of the Christian religion is such a purity of morals! We must lament with tears that it is wanting with us, and almost totally neglected. If it were not for the difference of religion, I would have forever been chained to that place by the agreement in morals, and I have ever since tried to introduce something like it into our churches. No less distinguished than the public discipline was the domestic discipline of my landlord, Scarron, with its daily devotions, reading of the Scriptures, the fear of God in word and in deed, temperance in meat and drink and dress. I have not found greater purity of morals even in my father’s home.”

A stronger and more impartial testimony of the deep and lasting effect of Calvin’s discipline so long after his death could hardly be imagined.


Notes. Modern Testimonies

The condemnation of Calvin’s discipline and his conduct toward the Libertines has been transplanted to America by two dignitaries of the Roman Church — Dr. John McGill, bishop of Richmond, the translator of Audin’s Life of Calvin (Louisville, n. d.), and Dr. M. S. Spalding, archbishop of Baltimore (between 1864 and 1872), in his History of the Protestant Reformation (Louisville, 1860), 8th ed., Baltimore, 1875. This book is not a history, but a chronique scandaleuse of the Reformation, and unworthy of a Christian scholar. Dr. Spalding devotes twenty-two pages to Calvin (vol. I. 370-392), besides an appendix on Rome and Geneva, and a letter addressed to Merle D’Aubigné and Bungener (pp. 495-530). He ignores his Commentaries and Institutes, which have commanded the admiration even of eminent Roman Catholic divines, and simply repeats, with some original mistakes and misspellings, the slanders of Bolsec and Audin, which have long since been refuted.

“Calvin,” he says, “crushed the liberties of the people in the name of liberty. A foreigner, he insinuated himself into Geneva and, serpent-like, coiled himself around the very heart of the Republic which had given him hospitable shelter. He thus stung the very bosom which had warmed him. He was as watchful as a tiger preparing to pounce on its prey, and as treacherous … . His reign in Geneva was truly a reign of terror. He combined the cruelty of Danton and Robespierre with the eloquence of Marat and Mirabeau …. He was worse than ‘the Chalif of Geneva,’ as Audin calls him — he was a very Nero!… He was a monster of impurity and iniquity. The story of his having been guilty of a crime of nameless turpitude at Noyon, though denied by his friends, yet rests upon very respectable authority. Bolsec, a contemporary writer, relates it as certain …. He ended his life in despair, and died of a most shameful and disgusting disease which God has threatened to rebellious and accursed reprobates.” The early Calvinists were hypocrites, and “their boasted austerity was little better than a sham, if it was not even a cloak to cover enormous wickedness. They exhibit their own favorite doctrine of total depravity in its fullest practical development!” The archbishop, however, is kind enough to add in conclusion (p. 391), that he “would not be understood as wishing to reflect upon the character or conduct of the present professors of Calvinistic doctrines, many of whom are men estimable for their civic virtues.”

The best answer to such a caricature, which turns the very truth into a lie, is presented in the facts of this chapter. With ignorance and prejudice even the gods contend in vain. But it is proper, at this place, to record the judgments of impartial historians who have studied the sources, and cannot be charged with any doctrinal bias in favor of Calvinism. Comp. other testimonies in § 68.

Gieseler, one of the coolest and least dogmatic of church historians, says (K. G. III. P. I. p. 389): “Durch Calvin’s eiserne Festigkeit wurden Genf’s Sitten ganz umgewandelt: so dankte die Stadt der Reformation ihre Freiheit, ihre Ordnung, und ihren aufblühenden Wohlstand.”

From the Article “Calvin” in La France Protestante (III. 530): “Une telle Organisation, un pareil pouvoir sur les individus, une autorité aussi parfaitement inquisitoriale nous indignent aujourd’hui; c’était chose toute simple avec l’ardeur religieuse du XVIe siècle. Le consistoire atteignit le but que Calvin s’était proposé. En moins de trois générations, les moeurs de Genève subirent une métamorphose complète. A la mondanité naturelle succéda cette austérité un peu raide, cette gravité un peu étudiée qui caractérisèrent, dans les siècles passés, les disciples du réformateur. L’histoire ne nous offre que deux hommes qui aient su imprimer à tout un peuple le cachet particulier de leur génie: Lycurgue et Calvin, deux grands caractères qui offrent plus d’une analogie. Que de fades plaisanteries ne s’est-on pas permises sur l’esprit genevois! et Genève est devenue un foyer de lumières et d’émancipation intellectuelle, même pour ses détracteurs.”



Marc-Monnier was born in Florence of French parents, 1829, distinguished as a poet and historian, professor of literature in the University of Geneva, and died 1885. His “La Renaissance de Dante à Luther” (1884) was crowned by the French Academy.

From “La Réforme, de Luther à Shakespeare” (Paris, 1885), pp. 70-72.

“Calvin fut done de son temps comme les papes, les empereurs et tons les rois, méme François 1er, qui brûlèrent des hérétiques, mais ceux qui ne voient dans Calvin que le meurtrier de Servet ne le connaissent pas. Ce fut une conviction, une intelligence, une des forces les plus étonnantes de ce grand siècle: pour le peser selon son mérite, il faut jeter dans la balance autre chose que nos tendresses et nos pitiés. Il faut voir tout l’homme, et le voir tel qu’il fut: ‘un corps frêle et débile, sobre jusqu’à l’excès,’ rongé par des maladies et des infirmites qui devaient l’emporter avant le temps, mais acharné à sa tâche, ‘ne vivant que pour le travail et ne travaillant que pour établir le royaume de Dieu sur la terre; devoué à cette cause jusqu’à lui tout sacrifier:’ le repos, la santé, la vie, plus encore: les études favorites, et avec une infatigable activité qui épouvantait ses adversaires, menant de front, à brides abattues, religion, morale, politique, législation, littérature, enseignement, prédication, pamphlets, oeuvres de longue haleine, correspondance énorme avec le roi et la reine de Navarre, la duchesse de Ferrare, le roi François 1er, avec d’autres princes encore, avec les réformateurs, les théologiens, les humanistes, les âmes travaillées et chargées, les pauvres prisonnières de Paris. Il écrivait dans l’Europe entière; deux mille Églises s’organisaient selon ses idées ou celles de ses amis; des missionnaires, animés de son souffle, partaient pour l’Angleterre, l’Écosse, les Pays-Bas, ‘en remerciant Dieu et lui chantant des psaumes.’ En même temps cet homme seul, ce malade surmené s’emparait a Genève d’un peuple allègre, raisouneur, indiscipliné, le tenait dans sa main et le forçait d’obéir. Sans étre magistrat ni même citoyen (il ne le devint qu’aux dernières années de sa vie), sans mandat officiel ni titre reconnu, sans autre autorité que celle de son nom et d’une volonté inflexible, il commandait aux consciences, il gouvernait les maisons, il s’imposait, avec une foule de réfugiés venus de toute part, à une population qui n’a jamais aimé les étrangers ni les maîtres; il heurtait enfin de parti pris les coutumes, les traditions, les susceptibilités nationales et il les brisait. Non seulement il pesait sur les consciences et les opinions, mais aussi sur les moeurs, proscrivait la luxure et même le luxe, la bijouterie, la soie et le velours, les cheveux longs, les coiffures frisées, la bonne chère: toute espèce de plaisir et de distraction; cependant, malgré les haines et les colères suscitées par cette compression morale, ‘le corps brisé, mais la tête haute,’ il gouverna longtemps les Genevois par l’autorité de son caractère et fut accompagné à sa tombe par le peuple tout entier. Voilà l’homme dont il est facile de rire, mais qu’il importe avant tout de connaitre.

“Calvin détruisit Genève pour la refaire à son image et, en dépit de toutes les révolutions, cette reconstitution improvisée dure encore: il existe aux portes de la France une ville de strictes croyances, de bonnes études et de bonnes moeurs: une ‘cité de Calvin.’ “

A remarkable tribute from a scholar who was no theologian, and no clergyman, but thoroughly at home in the history, literature, manners, and society of Geneva. Marc-Monnier speaks also very highly of Calvin’s merits as a French classic, and quotes with approval the judgment of Paul Lacroix (in his ed. of select Oeuvres françoises de J. Calvin): “Le style de Calvin est un des plus grands styles du seizième siècle: simple, correct, élégant, clair, ingénieux, animé, varie de formes et de tons, il a commencé à fixer la langue française pour la prose, comme celui de Clement Marot l’avait fait pour les vers.”


George Bancroft

George Bancroft, the American historian and statesman, born at Worcester, Mass., 1800, died at Washington, 1891, served his country as secretary of the Navy, and ambassador at London and Berlin, with the greatest credit.

“A word on Calvin, the Reformer.” From his Literary and Historical Miscellanies (New York, 1855), pp. 405 sqq.

“It is intolerance only, which would limit the praise of Calvin to a single sect, or refuse to reverence his virtues and regret his failings. He lived in the time when nations were shaken to their centre by the excitement of the Reformation; when the fields of Holland and France were wet with the carnage of persecution; when vindictive monarchs on the one side threatened all Protestants with outlawry and death, and the Vatican, on the other, sent forth its anathemas and its cry for blood. In that day, it is too true, the influence of an ancient, long-established, hardly disputed error, the Constant danger of his position, the intense desire to secure union among the antagonists of popery, the engrossing consciousness that his struggle was for the emancipation of the Christian world, induced the great Reformer to defend the use of the sword for the extirpation of heresy. Reprobating and lamenting his adhesion to the cruel doctrine, which all Christendom had for centuries implicitly received, we may, as republicans, remember that Calvin was not only the founder of a sect, but foremost among the most efficient of modern republican legislators. More truly benevolent to the human race than Solon, more self-denying than Lycurgus, the genius of Calvin infused enduring elements into the institutions of Geneva, and made it for the modern world the impregnable fortress of popular liberty, the fertile seed-plot of democracy.

“We boast of our common schools; Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools. We are proud of the free States that fringe the Atlantic. The pilgrims of Plymouth were Calvinists; the best influence in South Carolina came from the Calvinists of France. William Penn was the disciple of the Huguenots; the ships from Holland that first brought colonists to Manhattan were filled with Calvinists. He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty.

“If personal considerations chiefly win applause, then, no one merits our sympathy and our admiration more than Calvin; the young exile from France, who achieved an immortality of fame before he was twenty-eight years of age; now boldly reasoning with the king of France for religious liberty; now venturing as the apostle of truth to carry the new doctrines into the heart of Italy, and hardly escaping from the fury of papal persecution; the purest writer, the keenest dialectician of his century; pushing free inquiry to its utmost verge, and yet valuing inquiry solely as the means of arriving at fixed conclusions. The light of his genius scattered the mask of darkness which superstition had held for centuries before the brow of religion. His probity was unquestioned, his morals spotless. His only happiness consisted in his ‘task of glory and of good;’ for sorrow found its way into all his private relations. He was an exile from his country; he became for a season an exile from his place of exile. As a husband he was doomed to mourn the premature loss of his wife; as a father he felt the bitter pang of burying his only child. Alone in the world, alone in a strange land, he went forward in his career with serene resignation and inflexible firmness; no love of ease turned him aside from his vigils; no fear of danger relaxed the nerve of his eloquence; no bodily infirmities checked the incredible activity of his mind; and so he continued, year after year, solitary and feeble, yet toiling for humanity, till after a life of glory, he bequeathed to his personal heirs, a fortune, in books and furniture, stocks and money, not exceeding two hundred dollars, and to the world, a purer reformation, a republican spirit in religion, with the kindred principles of republican liberty.”