History of the Reformation, vol. 3


History of the Reformation—Volume 3


A spirit of examination and inquiry is in our days continually urging the literary men of France, Switzerland, Germany, and England to search after the original documents which form the basis of Modern History. I desire to add my might to the accomplishment of the important task which our age appears to have undertaken. Hitherto I have not been content simply with reading the works of contemporary historians: I have examined eye-witnesses, letters, and original narratives; and have made use of some manuscripts, particularly that of Bullinger, which has been printed since the appearance of the Second Volume of this Work in France. HRSCV3 305.1

But the necessity of having recourse to unpublished documents became more urgent when I approached (as I do in the Twelfth Book) the history of the Reformation in France. On this subject we possess but few printed memoirs, in consequence of the perpetual trials in which the Reformed Church of that country has existed. In the spring of 1838 I examined, as far as was in my power, the manuscripts preserved in the public libraries of Paris, and it will be seen that a manuscript in the Royal Library, hitherto I believe unknown, throws much light on the early stages of the Reformation; and in the autumn of 1839 I consulted the manuscripts in the library belonging to the consistory of the pastors of Neufchatel, a collection exceedingly rich with regard to this period, as having inherited the manuscripts of Farel’s library; and through the kindness of the Chatelain of Meuron I obtained the use of a manuscript life of Farel written by Choupard, into which most of these documents have been copied. These materials have enabled me to reconstruct an entire phasis of the Reformation in France. In addition to these aids, and those supplied by the Library of Geneva, I made an appeal, in the columns of the Archives du Christianisme, to all friends of history and the Reformation who might have any manuscripts at their disposal; and I here gratefully acknowledge the different communications that have been made to me, in particular by M. Ladeveze, pastor at Meaux. But although religious wars and persecutions have destroyed many precious documents, a number still exist, no doubt, in various parts of France, which would be of vast importance for the history of the Reformation; and I earnestly call upon all those who may possess or have any knowledge of them, kindly to communicate with me on the subject. It is felt now-a-days that these documents are common property; and on this account I hope my appeal will not be made in vain. HRSCV3 305.2

It may be thought that in writing a general History of the Reformation, I have entered into an unnecessary detail of its first dawnings in France. But these particulars are almost unknown, the events that form the subject of my Twelfth Book, occupying only four pages in the Histoire Ecclesiastique des Eglises reformees au Royaume de France, by Theodore Beza; and other historians have confined themselves almost entirely to the political progress of the nation. Unquestionably the scenes that I have discovered, and which I am now about to relate, are not so imposing as the Diet of Worms. Nevertheless, independently of the christian interest that is attached to them, the humble but heaven-descended movement that I have endeavoured to describe, has probably exerted a greater influence over the destinies of France than the celebrated wars of Francis I and Charles V. In a large machine, not that which makes the greatest show is always the most essential part, but the most hidden springs. HRSCV3 305.3

Complaints have been made of the delay that has taken place in the publication of this third volume; and some persons would have had me keep back the first until the whole was completed. There are, possibly, certain superior intellects to which conditions may be proscribed; but there are others whose weakness must give them, and to this number the author belongs. To publish a volume at one time, and then a second whenever I was able, and after that a third, is the course that my important duties and my poor ability allow me to take. Other circumstances, moreover, have interposed; severe afflictions have on two occasions interrupted the composition of this third volume, and gathered all my affections and all my thoughts over the graves of beloved children. The reflection that it was my duty to glorify that adorable Master who addressed me in such powerful appeals, and who vouchsafed me such Divine consolation, could alone have given me the courage required for the completion of my task. HRSCV3 305.4

I thought these explanations were due to the kindness with which this Work has been received both in France and England, and especially in the latter country. The approbation of the Protestant Christians of Great Britain, the representatives of evangelical principles and doctrines in the most distant parts of the world, is most highly valued by me; and I feel a pleasure in telling them that it is a most precious encouragement to my labors. HRSCV3 306.1

The cause of truth recompenses those who embrace and defend it, and such has been the result with the nations who received the Reformation. In the eighteenth century, at the very moment when Rome thought to triumph by the Jesuits and the scaffold, the victory slipped from her grasp. Rome fell, like Naples, Portugal, and Spain, into inextricable difficulties; and at the same time two Protestant nations arose and began to exercise an influence over Europe that had hitherto belonged to the Roman-catholic powers. England came forth victorious from those attacks of the French and Spaniards which the pope had so long been stirring up against her, and the Elector of Brandenburg, in spite of the wrath of Clement XI, encircled his head with a kingly crown. Since that time England has extended her dominion in every quarter of the globe, and Prussia has taken a new rank among the continental states, while a third power, Russia, also separated from Rome, has been growing up in her immense deserts. In this manner have evangelical principles exerted their influence over the countries that have embraced them, and righteousness hath exalted the nations (Proverbs 14:34). Let the evangelical nations be well assured that to Protestantism they are indebted for their greatness. From the moment they abandon the position that God has given them, and incline again towards Rome, they will lose their glory and their power. Rome is now endeavouring to win them over, employing flattery and threats by turns; she would, like Delilah, lull them to sleep upon her knees, but it would be to cut off their locks, that their adversaries might put out their eyes and bind them with fetters of brass. HRSCV3 306.2

Here, too, is a great lesson for that France with which the author feels himself so intimately connected by the ties of ancestry. Should France, intimating her different governments, turn again towards the papacy, it will be, in our belief the signal of great disasters. Whoever attaches himself to the papacy will be compromised in its destruction. France has no prospect of strength or of greatness but by turning towards the Gospel. May this great truth be rightly understood by the people and their leaders! HRSCV3 306.3

It is true that in our days popery is making a great stir. Although laboring under an incurable consumption, she would by a hectic flush and feverish activity persuade others and herself too that she is still in full vigor. This a theologian in Turin has endeavoured to do in a work occasioned by this History, and in which we are ready to acknowledge a certain talent in bringing forward testimonies, even the most feeble, with a tone of candor to which we are little accustomed, and in a becoming style, with the exception, however, of the culpable facility with which the author in his twelfth chapter revives accusations against the reformers, the falsehood of which has been so authentically demonstrated and so fully acknowledged. HRSCV3 306.4

As a sequel to his Biography of Luther, M. Audin has recently published a Life of Calvin, written under the influence of lamentable prejudices, and in which we can hardly recognize the reformers and the Reformation. Nevertheless, we do not find in this author the shameful charges against Calvin to which we have alluded; he has passed them over in praiseworthy silence. No man that has any self-respect can now venture to bring forward these gross and foolish calumnies. HRSCV3 306.5

Perhaps on some other occasion we shall add a few words to what we have already said in our First Book on the origin of popery. They would here be out of place. HRSCV3 306.6

I shall only remark, in a general way, that it is precisely the human and very rational causes that so clearly explain its origin, to which the papacy has recourse to prove its divine institution. Thus christian antiquity declares that the universal episcopacy was committed to all the bishops, so that the bishops of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, Carthage, Lyons, Arles, Milan, Hippo, Caesarea, &c., were interested and interfered in all that took place in the christian world. Rome immediately claims for herself that duty which was incumbent on all, and reasoning as if no one but herself were concerned in it, employs it to demonstrate her primacy. HRSCV3 306.7

Let us take another example. The christian churches, established in the large cities of the empire, sent missionaries to the countries with which they were connected. This was done first of all by Jerusalem; then by HRSCV3 306.8

Antioch, Alexandria, and Ephesus; afterwards by Rome: and Rome forthwith concludes from what she had done after the others, and to a less extent than the others, that she was entitled to set herself above the others. These examples will suffice. HRSCV3 307.1

Let us only remark further, that Rome possessed alone in the West the honor that had been shared in the East by Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Antioch, and in a much higher degree by Jerusalem; namely, that of having one apostle or many among its first teachers. Accordingly, the Latin Churches must naturally have felt a certain respect towards Rome. But the Eastern Christians, who respected her as the Church of the political metropolis of the empire, would never acknowledge her ecclesiastical superiority. The famous General Council of Chalcedon ascribed to Constantinople, formerly the obscure Byzantium, the same privileges (ta isa presbeia) as to Rome, and declared that she ought to be elevated like her. And hence when the papacy was definitively formed in Rome, the East would not acknowledge a master of whom it had never heard mention; and, standing on the ancient footing of its catholicity, it abandoned the West to the power of the new sect which had sprung up in its bosom. The East even to this day calls herself emphatically catholic and orthodox; and whenever you ask one of the Eastern Christians, whom Rome has gained by her numerous concessions, whether he is a catholic? “No,” replies he directly, “I am papistian (a papist).” HRSCV3 307.2

If this History has been criticized by the Romish party, it seems also to have met with others who have regarded it in a purely literary light. Men for whom I feel much esteem appear to attach greater importance to a literary or political history of the Reformation, than to an exposition grounded on its spiritual principles and its interior springs of action. I can well understand this way of viewing my subject, but I cannot participate in it. In my opinion, the very essence of the Reformation is its doctrines and its inward life. Every work in which these two things do not hold the chief place may be showy, but it will not be faithfully and candidly historical. It would be like a philosopher who, in describing a man, should detail with great accuracy and picturesque beauty all that concerns his body, but should give only a subordinate place to that divine inhabitant, the soul. HRSCV3 307.3

There are no doubt great defects in the feeble work of which I here present another fragment to the christian public; and I should desire that it were still more copiously imbued with the spirit of the Reformation. The better I have succeeded in pointing out whatever manifests the glory of Christ, the more faithful I shall have been to history. I willingly adopt as my law those words, which an historian of the sixteenth century, a man of the sword still more than of the pen, after writing a portion of the history of that Protestantism in France which I do not purpose narrating, addresses to those who might think of completing his task: “I would give them that law which I acknowledge myself: that, in seeking the glory of this precious instrument, their principal aim should be that of the arm whichhas prepared, employed, and wielded it at His good pleasure. For all praise given to princes is unseasonable and misplaced, if it has not for leaf and root that of the living God, to whom alone belong honor and dominion for ever and ever.” HRSCV3 307.4