Volume 8, Chapter XIX. Theodore Beza

Sources: Beza’s Correspondence, mostly unprinted, but many letters are given in the Beilagen zu Baum’s Theodor Beza (see below), and in Herminjard’s Correspondance des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française (vols. VI. sqq.); and his published works (the list to the number of ninety is given in the article “Bèze, Théodore de,” in Haag, La France Protestante, 2d ed. by Bordier, vol. II., cols. 620-540). By far the most important of them are, his Vita J. Calvini, best ed. in Calvin’s Opera, XXI., and his Tractationes theologicae (1582). He also had much to do with the Histoire ecclesiastique des églises reformées au royaume de France, best ed. by Baum, Cunitz, and Rodolphe Reuss (the son of Edward Reuss, the editor of Calvin), Paris, 1883-1889. 3 vols. small quarto.

Antoine de La Faye: De vita et obitu Th. Bezae, Geneva, 1606. — Friedrich Christoph Schlosser: Leben des Theodor de Beza und des Peter Martyr Vermili, Heidelberg, 1809. — *Johann Wilhelm Baum: Theodor Beza nach handschriftlichen Quellen dargestellt, Leipzig, I. Theil, 1848, with Beilagen to bks. I. and II. II. Theil, 1861, with Anhang die Beilagen enthaltend, 1862 (unfortunately this masterly book only extends to 1663). — *Heinrich Heppe: Theodor Beza. Leben und ausgewaehlte Schriften, Elberfeld, 1861 (contains the whole life, but is inferior in style to Baum). — Art. Beza by Bordier in La France Protestante.

Jerome Bolsec: Histoire de la vie, moeurs, doctrine, et déportements de Theodore de Bèze, Paris, 1682; republished by an unnamed Roman Catholic in Geneva, 1836, along with Bolsec’s “Life of Calvin,” to counteract the effect of the celebration of the third centennial of the Reformation. It has no historical value, but is a malignant libel, like his so-called “Life of Calvin,” as this specimen shows: “Bèze, toute so jeunesse, a été un trèsdébauché et dissolu, sodomite, adultère et suborneur de femmes mariées [Bolsec elsewhere asserts that Claudine Denosse was married when Beza seduced her], larron, trompeur, homicide de so propre géniture, traître, vanteur, cause et instigateur d’infinis meurtres, guerres, invasions, brûlemens de villes, palais et maisons, de saccagemens de temples, et infinies autres ruines et malheurs (ed. 1835, p. 188).

Much use has been made of the allusions to Beza in Henry M. Baird’s Rise of the Huguenots (New York, 1879), and Huguenots and Henry of Navarre (1886), also of the article on “Bèze, Theodore de,” in Haag, La France Protestante, mentioned above. See also Principal Cunningham: The Reformers, Edinburgh, 1862; “Calvin and Beza,” pp. 345-413 (theological and controversial).


167. Life of Beza to His Conversion

Illustration, Theodore Beza.

The history of the Swiss Reformation would not be complete without an account of Calvin’s faithful friend and successor, Theodore Beza, who carried on his work in Geneva and France to the beginning of the seventeenth century.

In the ancient duchy of Burgundy is the village of Vezelay. It was once the scene of a great gathering, for to it in 1146 came Louis VII. and his vassals, to whom Bernard preached the duty of rescuing the Holy Sepulchre from the infidels so convincingly, that the king and his knights then and there took the oath to become crusaders. Four and forty years later (1190), in the same place, Philip Augustus of France and Richard the Lionheart of England, under similar pleadings, made the same vow.

The village clusters around the castle in which, in 1519, lived the rich Pierre de Besze, the bailiff of the county, a descendant of one of the proudest families of the duchy. His wife was Marie Bourdelot, beloved and renowned for her intelligence and her charities. They had already two sons and four daughters, when on the 24th of June in that year, 1519, another son was born who was destined to render the name illustrious to the end of time. This son was christened Theodore. Thus the future reformer was of gentle birth a fact which was recognized when in after years he pleaded for the Protestant faith before kings, and princes, and members of the nobility and of the fashionable world.

But the providential preparation for the part he was destined to play extended far beyond the conditions of his birth. Gentle breeding followed. His mother died when he was not quite three years old, — but already was he a stranger to his father’s house; for one of his uncles, Nicolas de Besze, seigneur de Cette et de Chalonne, and a councillor in the Parliament of Paris, had taken him with him to Paris and adopted him, so great was the love he bore him, and when the time came he was put under the best masters whom money and influence could secure. The boy was precocious, and his uncle delighted in his progress. One day at table he entertained a guest from Orleans, who was a member of the royal council. The conversation turned upon the future of Theodore, whereupon the friend commended Melchior Wolmar, the famous Greek scholar at Orleans, who was also the teacher of Calvin, as the best person to educate the lad. The uncle listened attentively, and sent Theodore thither and secured him admission into Wolmar’s family. This was in 1528, when Theodore was only nine years old. With Wolmar he lived till 1535, first at Orleans and then at Bourges, and doubtless learned much from him. Part of this learning was not at all to the mind of his father or his uncle Claudius, the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Froimont in the diocese of Beauvais, who, on the death of his brother Nicolas, on Nov. 29, 1532, had undertaken the pious duty of superintending the boy’s education; for Wolmar, in common with many sober-minded scholars of that day, had broken with the Roman Church and taken up the new ideas inculcated by Luther, and which were beginning to make a stir in France. Indeed, it was his known adherence to these views which compelled his flight to Germany in the year 1535. Thus the future reformer, in his tenderest and most susceptible years, had impressed upon him the doctrine of justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ, heard much of the corrupt state of the dominant Church, and was witness to the efforts of that Church to put to death those who differed from her teaching.

Nothing was further from the mind of the father and uncle, and also from that of Theodore himself, than that he should be an advocate of the new views. The career marked out for him was that of law, in which his uncle Nicolas had been so distinguished. To this end he was sent to the University of Orleans. Although very young, he attracted attention. He joined the German nation — for the students in universities then were divided into factions, according to their ancestry, and Burgundy was accounted part of Germany — and rapidly became a favorite. But he did not give himself up to mere good-fellowship. He studied hard, and on Aug. 11, 1539, attained with honor the degree of licentiate of the law.

His education being thus advanced, Beza, now twenty years old, came to Paris, there, as his father desired, to prosecute further law studies; but his reluctance to such a course was pronounced and invincible, so much so that at length he won his uncle to his side, and was allowed by his father to pursue those literary studies which afterwards accrued so richly to the Reformed Church; but at the time he had no inkling of his subsequent career. By his uncle Claudius’ influence the possessor of two benefices which yielded a handsome income, and enriched further by his brother’s death in 1541, well-introduced and well-connected, a scholar, a wit, a poet, handsome, affable, amiable, he lived on equal terms with the best Parisian society, and was one of the acknowledged leaders.

That he did not escape contamination he has himself confessed, but that he sinned grossly he has as plainly denied. In 1544 he made in the presence of two friends, Laurent de Normandie and Jean Crespin, eminent jurists, an irregular alliance with Claudine Denosse, a burgher’s daughter, and at the time declared that when circumstances favored he would publicly marry her. His motive in making a secret marriage was his desire to hold on to his benefices. But he was really attached to the woman, and was faithful to her, as she was to him; and there was nothing in their relationship which would have seriously compromised him with the company in which he lived. The fact that they lived together happily for forty years shows that they followed the leading of sincere affection, and not a passing fancy. In 1548 he published his famous collection of poems — Juvenilia. This gave him the rank of the first Latin poet of his day, and his ears were full of praises. He dedicated his book to Wolmar. It did not occur to him that anybody would ever censure him for his poems, least of all on moral grounds; but this is precisely what happened. Prurient minds have read between his lines what he never intended to put there, and imagined offences of which he was not guilty even in thought. And what made the case blacker against him was his subsequent Protestantism. Because he became a leader of the Reformed Church, free-thinkers and livers and the adherents of the old faith have brought up against him the fact that in the days of his worldly and luxurious life he had used their language, and been as pagan and impure as they.

The book had scarcely begun its career, and the praises had scarcely begun to be received, ere Beza fell seriously sick. Sobered by his gaze into the eyes of death, his conscience rebuked him for his duplicity in receiving ecclesiastical benefices as if he was a faithful son of the Church, whereas he was at heart a Protestant; for his cowardice in cloaking his real opinions; for his negligence in not keeping the promise he had voluntarily made to the woman he had secretly married four years before; and for the general condition of his private and public life. The teachings of Wolmar came back to him. This world seemed very hollow;. its praises and honors very cloying. The call to a higher, purer, nobler life was heard, and he obeyed; and, although only convalescent, leaving father and fatherland, riches and honors, he fled from the city of his triumphs and his trials, and, taking Claudine Denosse with him, crossed the border into Switzerland, and on Oct. 23, 1548, entered the city of Geneva. He was doubtless attracted thither because his intimate friend Jean Crespin, one of the witnesses of his secret alliance, was living there, likewise a fugitive for religion’s sake — and there lived John Calvin.

From being the poet of the Renaissance, bright, witty, free, Beza, from the hour he joined the Reformed Church, became a leader in all its affairs and one of the chiefs of Protestantism.


168. Beza at Lausanne and as a Delegate to the German Princes

Beza’s earliest business after greeting Calvin was to marry in church Claudine Denosse. Then he looked around for an occupation that would support him. He considered for a time going into the printing business with Crespin, but on his return from a visit to Wolmar at Tübingen he yielded to the persuasions of Pierre Viret, who entertained him as he was passing through Lausanne, and on Nov. 6, 1549, became professor of Greek in the Academy there,and entered upon a course of great usefulness and influence. He showed his zeal as well as biblical learning by giving public lectures on the Epistle to the Romans and on the Epistles of Peter; and that he still was a poet, and that, too, of the Renaissance, only in the religious and not usual sense (of regeneration and not renascence), by continuing the translation of the Psalms begun by Clement Marot, and by publishing a drama, classically constructed, on the Sacrifice of Abraham. All these performances were in the French language.

While at Lausanne, Beza was taken sick with the plague. Calvin in writing of this to Farel, under date of June 15, 1551, thus pays his tribute to the character of Beza: “I would not be a man if I did not return his love who loves me more than a brother and reveres me as a father: but I am still more concerned at the loss the church would suffer if in the midst of his career he should be suddenly removed by death, for I saw in him a man whose lovely spirit, noble, pure manners, and open-mindedness endeared him to all the righteous. I hope, however, that he will be given back to us in answer to our prayers.”

Lausanne was then governed by Bern. It was therefore particularly interested in Bern’s alliance with Geneva, and when this was renewed in 1557, after it had been suffered to lapse a year, Beza considered it very providential. In the spring of that year, 1557, persecution broke out against the neighboring Waldenses, and on nomination of the German clergy and with special permission of Bern, Beza, and Farel began a series of visits through Switzerland and upon the Protestant princes of Germany in the interest of the persecuted. The desire was to stir up the Protestants to unite in an appeal to the king of France. Beza was then thirty-eight years old and had been for eight years a successful teacher and preacher. He was therefore of mature years and established reputation. But what rendered the choice of him still more an ideal one was his aristocratic bearing and his familiarity with court life. He accepted his appointment with alacrity, as a man enters upon a course particularly suited to him. Thus Beza started out upon the first of the many journeys which furnished such unique and invaluable services to the cause of French Protestantism.

The two delegates made a favorable impression everywhere. The Lutherans especially were pleased with them, although at first inclined to look askance upon two such avowed admirers and followers of Calvin. But when they had returned full of rejoicing that they had accomplished their design and that the Protestant princes and cantons would unite in petitioning the French king on behalf of the persecuted Waldenses, albeit to small effect, alas! they were called to sharp account because at Goeppingen on May 14, 1557, they had defined their doctrine of the Eucharist in terms which emphasized the points of agreement and passed by those of disagreement. This was in the interest of peace. They rightly felt that it would be shameful to shipwreck their Christian attempt upon the shoals of barren controversy. But the odium theologicum compelled their home friends to charge them with disloyalty to the truth! Calvin, however, raised his voice in defence of Beza’s conduct, and the strife of tongues quickly ceased,

How little Beza had suffered in general reputation, or at least in the eyes of the powerful Calvin, was almost immediately manifest.

On the evening of the 4th of September, 1557, three or four hundred Protestants in Paris who had quietly assembled in the Rue St. Jaques to celebrate the Lord’s Supper were set upon by a mob, and amid insults and injuries haled to prison. Their fate deeply stirred the Protestants everywhere, and Beza with some companions was again sent to the Protestant cantons and princes to invoke their aid as before, and because the princes were quicker at promising than performance he went again the next year. But Henry II. paid small attention to the note of the Protestant powers.


169. Beza at Geneva

In 1558 the city of Geneva established a high school, and Beza was called, at Calvin’s suggestion, to the Greek professorship. Much to the regret of Viret and his colleagues, he accepted. He was influenced by various considerations, the chief of which were his desire to escape from the trouble caused by Viret’s establishment of the Genevan church discipline, which had led to a falling out with Bern, Lausanne’s ruler, and from the embarrassments still resulting from his well-meant attempts at union among the Protestants, and probably still more by his desire to labor at the side of Calvin, whom he so greatly revered and whose doctrines he so vigorously and honestly defended. He was honorably dismissed to Geneva and warmly commended to the confidence of the brethren there. When on June 5, 1559, the Academy was opened, he was installed as rector. Thus, in his fortieth year, he entered upon his final place of residence and upon his final labors. Henceforward he was inseparable from the work of Calvin, and however far and frequently he might go from Geneva, it was there that he left his heart.

On Calvin’s nomination, Beza was admitted to citizenship at Geneva, and shortly afterwards (March 17, 1559) he succeeded to the pastorate of one of the city churches. But each new labor imposed upon him only demonstrated his capacity and zeal. The Academy and the congregation flourished under his assiduous care, and Calvin found his new ally simply invaluable. There was soon a fresh call upon his diplomacy. Anne Du Bourg, president of the Parliament of Paris, boldly avowed his Protestantism before Henry II., and was arrested. When the news reached Calvin, he despatched Beza to the Elector Palatine, Frederick III., to interest this powerful prince. The result of his mission was a call on Du Bourg from the Elector to become professor of law in his university at Heidelberg. But the intervention availed nothing. Du Bourg was tried, and executed Dec. 23, 1559.

Shortly after his return, Beza was sent forth again, July 20, 1560. The occasion was, however, quite different. The Prince de Condé, shorn of his power by the Guises, had fled to Nérac. He desired to attach to the Protestant party his brother, Antoine de Bourbon-Vendôme, king of Navarre. Calvin had already, by letter, made some impression on the irresolute and fickle king, but Condé induced his brother to send for Beza, who, with his eloquence and his courtly bearing, quite captivated the king, who declared that he would never hear the mass again, but would do all he could to advance the Protestant cause. His zeal was, however, of very short duration; for no sooner did his brother, the cardinal of Bourbon, arrive, than he and his queen, Jeanne d’Albret, who afterwards was a sincere convert to Protestantism, heard mass in the convent of the Cordeliers at Nérac. Beza, seeing that Antoine would not hold out, but was certain to fall into the power of the Catholic party, quietly left him, Oct. 17, and after many dangers reached Geneva early in November. The journey had taken three weeks, and had, for the most part, to be performed at night.


170. Beza at the Colloquy of Poissy

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. 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, 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.


171. Beza as the Counsellor of the Huguenot Leaders

On the 20th of December an assembly of notables, including representatives from each of the parliaments, the princes of the blood, and members of the Council, had been called to suggest some decree of at least a provisional nature upon the religious question. It was January, 1562, before it convened. It enacted on Jan. 17 the famous law known as the “Edict of January,” whereby the Huguenots were recognized as having certain rights, chief of which was that of assembling for worship by day outside of the walled cities. The churches which they had seized were, however, not restored to them, and they were forbidden to build others.

Beza counselled the Protestants to accept the edict, although it gave them very much less than their rights; and they obeyed.

On Jan. 27, 1562, he was again at St. Germain by command of Catherine, to argue with Catholic theologians upon the use of images and the worship of saints. As before, the gulf between Protestants and Roman Catholics stood revealed, and the conference did no good except to show that the Protestants had some reason, at all events, for their opinions. Yet they did entertain hopes of maintaining the peace, when the news that on March 1 the Duke of Guise had massacred hundreds of defenceless Protestants, in a barn at Vassy, while engaged in peaceful worship, spread consternation far and wide. The court was then at Monceaux, and there Beza appeared as deputy of the Protestants of Paris to demand of the king of Navarre punishment for this odious violation of the Edict of January. The queen-mother received the demand graciously and promised compliance, but the king responded roughly and laid all the blame on the Protestants, who, he declared, had excited the attack by throwing stones at the Duke of Guise. “Well then,” said Beza, “he should have punished only those who did the throwing.” And then he added these memorable words: “Sire, it is in truth the lot of the Church of God, in whose name I am speaking, to endure blows, and not to strike them. But also may it please you to remember that it is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”

Civil war now broke out, Condé on one side and the Guises on the other; and Beza, although so unwilling, was fairly involved in it.

In a lull in the strife the third national Synod of the Reformed Church was held at Orleans on April 25. Beza was present, and his translation of the Psalms was sung upon the streets.

On May 20, 1562, the Prince of Condé sent a memorable answer to the petition of the Guises that King Charles would take active measures to extirpate heresy in his domains. The reply was really the work of Beza, and is a masterpiece of argument and eloquence.

The necessity of securing allies induced Condé to send Beza to Germany and Switzerland. He went first to Strassburg, then to Basel, and at length on Friday, Sept. 4, he arrived at Geneva. How earnest must have been the conversations between him and Calvin! How glad must his many friends have been to welcome back home the leader of French Protestantism!

Beza resumed his former mode of life. Two weeks passed and he had just begun to feel himself able in peace to carry out his plans for the Academy and the Genevan churches, when a messenger riding post haste from D’Andelot, a brother of Coligny, and his fellow-deputy to the German princes, announced the fresh outbreak of trouble in France. Beza was at first inclined to stay at home, mistrusting the necessity of his presence among the Huguenot troops, but Calvin urged him to go, and so he went, and for the next seven months Beza was with the Huguenot army. He acted as almoner and treasurer. He followed Condé to the battle of Dreux, Dec. 19, 1562, at which Condé was taken prisoner. It was made a matter of reproach that he took an active part in the battle. He did indeed ride in the front rank, but he denied that he struck a blow. He was in citizen’s dress. He then retired to Normandy with Coligny. The expected help from England did not arrive, and it was determined to send him to London. So utterly sick was Beza of the military life that he seriously meditated going directly back to Geneva from London. But the Pacification Edict of March 12, 1563 freed Condé and ended hostilities, and Beza did not make his contemplated English journey.

This unexpected turn in his affairs was brought about by an untoward event. On the 18th of February, 1563, the Duke of Guise was assassinated by a poor fanatical Huguenot wretch, who, under torture, accused Beza of having instigated him by promising him Paradise and a high place among the saints if he died for his deed. The calumny was afterwards denied by the man who had made it, but Beza considered himself obligated to make a formal reply. He called upon all who had heard him to declare if he had ever favored any other than strictly legal measures against the late Duke. And as for his alleged promise, he said that he was too good a Bible student to declare that any one could win Paradise by works.

Peace having come, Beza was at liberty to return home. But his heart was heavy because the affairs in France were in a very unsatisfactory condition. Still, there was nothing to be accomplished by staying, and so, loaded down with thanks and praises from the leading Huguenots for his invaluable services in the field, in the camp, at the council-board, and in the religious assembly, surrounded with the leaders of the Huguenot army and the preachers and nobles, amid shouts and sighs, Beza, on Tuesday, March 30, 1563, took his departure from Orleans. On the Sunday before, he had preached his farewell sermon, in which he expressed his disappointment that the Edict of Pacification had brought the Huguenots so little advantage.

On his way back he passed through Vezelay. His father was dead, but there must have been many associations of childhood which endeared the place to him. Here he learned that his wife was safe at Strassburg with Condé’s mother-in-law. Bending his steps thither, he rejoined her, and together they made the journey home, where they arrived May 5, 1563.

As they journeyed they knew that they were in perpetual danger, but they did not know that some of their enemies were looking for them to turn towards the Netherlands. But so it was. In June of that year a rumor was circulated at Brussels that there had been a quarrel between him and Calvin, and that in consequence he would not return to Geneva. Margaret of Parma, then regent of the Netherlands, thought to do a splendid deed, and gave orders that if he entered her domains he was to be taken, dead or alive, and offered to his capturer or murderer a thousand florins. But there having been no such break, Beza, on the contrary, took the shortest practicable route for Geneva.


172. Beza as the Successor of Calvin, Down to 1586

Beza received his warmest welcome from Calvin, who was already under the shadow of death. There was no one else whom the great Reformer could so confidentially take into his counsels. And as the time of his departure drew near, he relied more and more upon him. Their friendship was based upon respect and affection and was never disturbed. The relation of the two men resembled that between Zwingli and Bullinger, and was most useful to the Church.

It was of course perfectly understood by Beza that he was to be Calvin’s successor, so the year which passed before Calvin died was a year of preparation for the new duties. At last the time came, and Calvin passed away. Beza conducted the funeral, and shortly after wrote his classical life of his patron, friend, and predecessor. The city Council elected him Calvin’s successor; the Venerable Company of Pastors, as the presbytery of Geneva called itself, elected him their moderator, and continued him in this office till 1580, when he compelled them to allow him to retire. So he continued Calvin’s leadership in city and church affairs. He preached and lectured to the students. He received the fugitives from France, and the visitors from other lands. He gave his advice and opinion upon the innumerable things which turned up daily. He conducted an enormous correspondence. And every now and then he had to enter the field of controversy and repel “heretics,” like Ochino and Castellio, or Lutherans like Andreae and Selnecker.

Nor could this leadership have fallen into better hands. For Beza, although inferior to Calvin in theological acquirements and acumen, was his superior in knowledge and experience of court life and in grace of manner. He was eminently fitted to be the host of the Protestant scholars and martyrs, who flocked or fled to Geneva from every quarter. And so the theological school became under him the most famous of its kind in the world, and the little republican city was the virtual capital of Continental Protestantism.

Incessantly occupied as he was by public affairs, but bearing his burdens with courage and faith, he was suddenly called upon to transact delicate business of a private nature. In 1568 the plague entered Geneva and carried off his stepbrother Nicolas, who had succeeded his father as bailiff of Vezelay, joined the Huguenots, and come as a fugitive to Geneva with his wife, Perrette Tribolé, when Vezelay fell into Roman Catholic hands. He had been only a few days in the city when he died. Beza felt it incumbent upon him to go to Burgundy to see whether he could not save at least a part of their inheritance for his two nephews; and this errand, after a great deal of trouble, he accomplished successfully.

In 1571, after an absence of some eight years, he was again summoned to France, this time by Coligny and the young Prince de Béarn, to attend the seventh national Synod of the Reformed Church of France convened in La Rochelle. The Venerable Company of Pastors would not part with him without a protest, but yielded to the express wish of the Syndics of the Republic. Beza himself was reluctant to go, and indeed had declined a previous summons; but the crisis demanded an authoritative expression of the views of the Swiss Churches upon the proposed reforms in the discipline of the Church, and so he went. The Synod lasted from the 2d to the 17th of April. He was elected its moderator. A revised Confession of Faith was drawn up, and a vigorous reply made to the demand for increased authority on the part of the temporal chiefs. On his way back to Geneva he took part in another Synod, held at Nismes, and was specially charged with the refutation of the opponents to the established discipline.

On St. Bartholomew’s Day, Sunday, Aug. 24, 1572, very many Protestants were murdered in Paris, and for days thereafter the shocking scenes were repeated in different parts of France. On the 1st of September the first company of fugitives, many covered with wounds, made their appearance in Geneva. A day of fasting and prayer was ordered, and Beza exhorted his Swiss hearers to stand firm and to provide all needed help to their stricken brethren. Four thousand livres were collected in Geneva, and the wants of the crowd of sufferers attended to.

In 1574 Beza met Henry of Condé by appointment at Strassburg, and successfully undertook the negotiations which resulted in enlisting John Casimir to come with an army to the succor of the Huguenots.

But Beza’s advice was not always considered prudent by the city authorities, who were more alive than he to the great risk the city ran of reprisals in view of its connivance with the Huguenot schemes. Thus in December of this year, 1574, Beza countenanced a bootless military errand in the direction of Mâcon and Châlons, and the magistrates gently but firmly called him to account, and plainly told him that he should never act so imprudently.

On Nov. 26, 1580, the Peace of Fleix brought rest to France for a little while. Beza showed his courage and fidelity on this occasion by writing to King Henry of Navarre, the Protestant leader, a letter in which he candidly informed the king that he himself and his court stood in great need of reformation. It is proof of the respect in which the Reformer was held that the king received the rebuke in good part, and of the king’s light-mindedness that he did not attempt to reform.


173. Beza’s Conferences with Lutherans

The bitter theological differences between Lutherans and Reformed had long been a disgrace. Beza had in early life brought trouble upon himself by minimizing them, as has been already recorded, but in his old age he made one more attempt in that direction. Count Frederick of Würtemberg, a Lutheran, but a friend of reconciliation, called a conference at Montbéliard (or Moempelgard), a city in his domains in which were many Huguenot refugees, with whom the Lutherans would not fraternize. The count hoped that a discussion between the leaders on each side might mend matters. Accordingly he summoned Beza, confessedly the ablest advocate of Calvinism. On March 21, 1586, the conference began. It took a wide range, but it came to nothing. Beza showed a beautiful spirit of reconciliation, but Andreae, the Lutheran leader, in the very spirit of Luther at the famous Marburg Conference with Zwingli (1529), refused to take Beza’s hand at parting (March 29).

Undeterred by this churlish exhibition, Beza left Montbéliard for another round of visits at German courts to induce them once more to plead with France to restore to the Huguenots their rights of worship; for the Peace of Fleix had not lasted long, and the country was again plunged in the horrors of civil war.

The Montbéliard conference had an echo in the Bern Colloquy of April 15th to 18th, 1588, in which Samuel Huber, pastor at Burgdorf, near Bern, a notorious polemic, and Beza represented the Lutheran and Calvinist parties, respectively. It was Beza’s last appearance as a public disputant, and the hero of so many wordy battles once more carried off the palm. In fact, his victory was much more decided than such contests were usually, as the Bernese Council condemned Huber for misrepresenting Beza and Calvinism generally.

Beza had left Geneva with a heavy heart because his faithful and beloved wife had just died, and when he returned, found public matters in a critical condition. The magistrates had felt themselves compelled by the condition of the city treasury to economize as much as possible, and had dismissed two of the professors in the Academy, and contemplated other retrenchments. Beza knew that these extreme measures would probably greatly cripple the institution, and so, old as he was, and failing, he undertook to give a full course of instruction in theology, and persisted with it for more than two years, — until the crisis was passed, — and for these extra duties he would not take any compensation.


174. Beza and Henry IV

In the course of his long life Beza had few joys, aside from the abiding one of his religion, and many sorrows. His heart was bound up with the fortunes of the Reformed Church in France, and they were usually bad. Still he took courage every time a little improvement was noticeable. Much hope had he cherished in consequence of the accession of Henry of Navarre (1589), because he was a Protestant. But early in the summer of 1593, the news reached Geneva that the king, upon whom religion and morality sat very lightly, in the interests of peace and national prosperity, was determined to abjure the Protestant faith. Alas for all their hopes! Beza was greatly moved, and addressed the monarch a letter in which he set forth the eternal consequences of the change the king was about to make. He felt assured, however, that Henry would be delivered from the machinations of his and their enemies, and not take the fatal step. But ere Beza’s letter reached him the deed was done. In the ancient abbey church at St. Denis on the morning of Sunday, July 25, 1593, King Henry of Navarre, the son of Jeanne d’Albret, the only Huguenot who ever sat upon the throne of France, abjured his faith, and took a solemn oath to protect the Roman Catholic, and Apostolic religion.

Beza was deeply grieved at this apostasy. But when he learned that the king favored his old co-religionists in many ways, and especially, when in 1598, he published the Edict of Nantes, which put the Protestants on a nearly common footing with the Roman Catholics in France, Beza took a more hopeful view of the king’s condition. In 1599 the king, in the course of a war with Charles Emmanuel, approached near Geneva. The city saw in this a chance to obtain from the king the promise of his protection, especially against the Duke of Savoy, who had built a fort called St. Catherine, quite near Geneva. To effect this the city sent a delegation headed by Beza, and the interview between the monarch and the reformer was honorable to both. The king gladly gave his promise, and the next year the fort was destroyed. He also came to Geneva and received its hospitality.


175. Beza’s Last Days

Beza’s life was now drawing to its close. The weight of years had become a grievous burden. His bodily powers gradually deserted him. He partially lost his hearing. His memory became so enfeebled that the past only remained to him, while recent events made no lasting impression. It was the breaking up of an extraordinarily vigorous constitution, which had so supported him for sixty-five years that he had scarcely known what it was to be sick. Then he took the prudent course of giving up one by one the duties which he had so long discharged. In 1586 he was excused from preaching daily, and henceforth till 1600 preached only on Sunday. In 1598 he retired from active duty in the Academy, and sold his library, giving part of the proceeds, which were considerable, to his wife, and part to the poor. In 1600 he rendered his last public services in the Academy, and preached his last sermon — the only one preached in the seventeenth, by a reformer of the sixteenth, century.

Occasionally something of the old wit flashed forth. As when he made his reply to the silly rumor that he had yielded to the argumentation of François de Sales and had gone over to Rome. The facts are these: François came to Geneva in 1597 with the express purpose of converting Beza. He was then thirty years old, very zealous, very skilful, and in many other cases had been successful. But he met his match in the old Reformer, who however listened to him courteously. What argument failed to accomplish, the priest thought money might do, and so he offered Beza in the name of the pope a yearly pension of four thousand gold crowns and a sum equal to twice as much as the value of all his personal effects! This brought matters to a climax, and Beza dismissed him with the polite but sarcastic and decisive rebuke, “Go, sir; I am too old and too deaf to be able to hear such words.”

But from some quarter the report got abroad that Beza had yielded. This was added to as it passed along until it was confidently asserted that Beza and many other former Genevan Protestants were on their way to Rome to enter the papal fold. Their very route was told, and on an evening in the middle of September, 1597, the faithful people of Siena waited by the gate of their city to receive the great leader! But for some reason he did not come. Then it was said that he was dead; but that ere he died he had made his peace with the Church and had received extreme unction.

When the friends of Beza heard these idle tales, they merely smiled. But Beza concluded to give convincing proof of two facts: first, that he was not dead, and second, that he was still a Protestant of the straitest Calvinistic school; and so quite in the old manner he nailed the lie by a biting epigram.

When in 1600 François would hold a public discussion with the Genevans, Beza, knowing how unprofitable such discussions were, forbade it. Whereupon it was given out that the Reformers were afraid to meet their opponents!

Another flare of the old flame of poetry was occasioned by the visit from King Henry IV., already alluded to. It was a poem of six stanzas, Ad inclytum Franciae et Navarrae regem Henricum IV. (“to the renowned King of France and Navarre, Henry IV.”) “It was his last, his swan song.”

Wearied by the vigils of a perilous and exciting time, Beza had long anxiously looked for his final rest. He had fought a good fight and had kept the faith and was ready to receive his crown. On Sunday, Oct. 13, 1605, he died.

In his will Beza ordered his burial to be in the common cemetery of Plain Palais, where Calvin was buried, and near the remains of his wife. But in consequence of a Savoyard threat to carry off his body to Rome, by order of the magistrates, he was buried in the cloister of the cathedral of St. Peter, in the city of Geneva.

Of the six great Continental Reformers, — Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza, — Beza was the most finished gentleman, according to the highest standard of his time. He was not lacking in energy, nor was he always mild. But he was able to hold court with courtiers, be a wit with wits, and show classical learning equal to that of the best scholars of his age. Yet with him the means were only valued because they reached an end, and the great end he had ever in mind was the conservation of the Reformed Church of Geneva and France.

His public life was an extraordinary one. Like the Apostle Paul he could say that he had been “in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches” (2Co_11:26-28). It was indeed a brilliant service which this versatile man rendered. Under his watchful care the city of Geneva enjoyed peace and prosperity, the Academy flourished and its students went everywhere preaching the Word, while the Reformed Church of France was built up by him. Calvin lived again and in some respects lived a bolder life in his pupil and friend.

It is pleasant to get glimpses of Beza’s home life. Men like him are seldom able to enjoy their homes. But Beza had for forty years the love and devotion of the wife of his youth. They had no children, but his fatherly heart may have found some expression in adopting his wife’s niece Genevieve Denosse, whom he educated with great care, and also in his parental solicitude for his brother’s children. It is perhaps to be taken as indicative of the domestic character of the man that, on the advice of friends, within a year after his wife died (1589), he married Catherine del Piano, a widow of a Genevese. He also adopted her grand-daughter. It is probable that he always lived in some state; at all events his will proves that he had considerable property.


176. Beza’s Writings

Beza’s name will ever be most honorably associated with biblical learning. Indeed, to many students his services in this department will constitute his only claim to notice. Every one who knows anything of the uncial manuscripts of the Greek New Testament has heard of the Codex Bezae, or of the history of the printed text of the New Testament has heard of Beza’s editions and of his Latin translation with notes. The Codex Bezae, known as D in the list of the uncials, also as Codex Cantabrigiensis, is a manuscript of the Gospels and Acts, originally also of the Catholic Epistles, dating from the sixth century. Its transcriber would seem to have been a Gaul, ignorant of Greek. Beza procured it from the monastery of St. Irenaeus, at Lyons, when the city was sacked by Des Adrets, in 1562, but did not use it in his edition of the Greek Testament, because it departed so widely from the other manuscripts, which departures are often supported by the ancient Latin and Syriac versions. He presented it to the University of Cambridge in 1581, and it is now shown in the library among the great treasures.

Beza was also the possessor of an uncial manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, also dating from the sixth century. How he got hold of it is unknown. He merely says (Preface to his 3d ed. of the N. T., 1582) that it had been found at Clermont, near Beauvais, France. It may have been another fortune of war. After his death it was sold, and ultimately came into the Royal (now the National) Library in Paris, and there it is preserved. Beza made some use of it. Both these manuscripts were accompanied by a Latin version of extreme antiquity.

Among the eminent editors of the Greek New Testament, Beza deserves prominent mention. He put forth four folio editions of Stephen’s Greek text; viz. 1565, 1582, 1589, with a Latin version, the Latin Vulgate, and Annotations. He issued also several octavo editions with his Latin version, and brief marginal notes (1565, 1567, 1580, 1590, 1604).

What especially interests the English Bible student is the close connection he had with the Authorized Version. Not only were his editions in the hands of King James’ revisers, but his Latin version with its notes was constantly used by them. He had already influenced the authors of the Genevan version (1557 and 1560), as was of course inevitable, and this version influenced the Authorized. As Beza was undoubtedly the best Continental exegete of the closing part of the sixteenth century, this influence of his Latin version and notes was on the whole beneficial. But then it must be confessed that he was also responsible for many errors of reading and rendering in the Authorized Version.

Beza was the chief theologian of the Reformed Church after Calvin. Principal Cunningham has shown the part Beza played in bringing about the transition from the original Calvinism to the scholastic form, hard and mechanical, and so unconsciously preparing the way for the great reaction from Calvinism, viz. Arminianism; for Arminius had been a student in the Genevan Academy under Beza. Beza drew up in the form of a chart a curious scheme of a system of theology, and he published it in his Tractationes (mentioned below) along with a commentary, Summa totius Christianismi sive descriptio et distributio causarum salutis electorum et exitii reproborum, ex sacris literis collecta et explicata, pp. 170 sqq. Heppe reprints the chart.

The chief work published by Beza, though not acknowledged by him, is the famous and invaluable Histoire ecclésiastique des Églises Réformées au royaume de France, originally issued at Antwerp in 1580, 3 vols. 8vo. The best edition of which is that by Baum (d. 1881), Cunitz (d. 1886), and Rodolphe Reuss, Paris, 1883-89, 3 vols. small quarto. It is well known to scholars that the first four books are in a great degree composed of extracts from contemporaneous works, especially the Histoire des Martyrs by Crespin, and the Histoire de l’estat de France, attributed to Regnier de la Plancée, but no indication is given whence the extracts are taken. This defect in modern eyes is removed in the edition spoken of. The genesis of the work seems to be this, that Beza received reports from all parts of France in reply to the Synod’s recommendation that the churches write their histories for the benefit of posterity, that he arranged these, and inserted much autobiographical matter, but as he had to employ unknown persons to assist him, he modestly refused to put his name to the book.

Beza’s “Life of Calvin” was written in French, and immediately translated by himself into Latin (Geneva, 1565). It is the invaluable, accurate, and sympathetic picture of the great Reformer by one who knew him intimately and revered him deeply. It has been constantly used in the former chapters of this volume. It is by far the best of the contemporary biographies of any of the Reformers.

Beza collected his miscellanies under the title Tractationes theologicae, Geneva, 1570, 2d ed. 1582, 3 vols. folio. In these volumes will be found united his chief essays, including the De haereticis à civili magistratu puniendis, adversus M. Bellium (I. 85-169), already analyzed. The first part was reprinted as late as 1658 under the new title Opuscula, in quibus pleraque Christianae religionis dogmata adversus haereses nostris temporibus renovatas solide ex verbo Dei defenduntur.

In 1573 he published a curious volume of correspondence on theological subjects, Epistolarum Theologicarum. The letters are written to different persons and are variously dated from 1556 to 1572. The volume is printed in small italics and was so popular that the third edition appeared at Hanover in 1597. But the number of his letters published is greatly exceeded by those still in manuscript.

In 1577 he published Lex Dei, moralis, ceremonialis, et politica, ex libris Mosis excerpta, et in certas classes distributa. This is simply the legal portions of the Pentateuch classified, without note or comment, apparently under the theory that the Mosaic law is still binding.

In 1581 Beza, in connection with Daneau and Salnar, issued the Harmonia Confessionum Fidei, designed to promote Christian union among the evangelical churches.

Mention has already been made of Beza as a poet. His Poëmata, Paris, 1548, commonly called Juvenilia, consists of epigrams, epitaphs, elegies, and bucolics. They are classical in expression, and erotic in sentiment, though not so vicious as such a libeller as Bolsec would have us believe. His Abraham’s Sacrifice, already alluded to, was written in French (Geneva, 1550), and translated into Italian (Florence, 1572), English (London, 1577), and Latin (Geneva, 1597). It was republished along with the Poëmata, Geneva, 1597. Of much more importance is his translation of the Psalms, completing that begun by Clément Marot. It was undertaken at Calvin’s request, and published in sections, and finished at Geneva in 1560.