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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 63. Peter Viret and the Reformation in Lausanne.


Biographies of Viret in Beza’s Icones, in Verheiden’s Imagines et Elogia (with a list of his works, pp. 88–90), by Chenevière (1835), Jaquemot (1856), C. Schmidt (1860). References to him in Ruchat, Le Chroniqueur, Gaberel, Merle D’Aubigné, etc.


Farel was aided in his evangelistic efforts chiefly by Viret and Froment, who agreed with his views, but differed from his violent method.

Peter Viret, the Reformer of Lausanne, was the only native Swiss among the pioneers of Protestantism in Western Switzerland; all others were fugitive Frenchmen. He was born, 1511, at Orbe, in the Pays de Vaud, and educated for the priesthood at Paris. He acquired a considerable amount of classical and theological learning, as is evident from his writings. He passed, like Luther and Farel, through a severe mental and moral struggle for truth and peace of conscience. He renounced Romanism before he was ordained, and returned to Switzerland. He was induced by Farel in 1531 to preach at Orbe. He met with considerable success, but also with great difficulty and opposition from priests and people. He converted his parents and about two hundred persons in Orbe, to whom he administered the holy communion in 1532. He shared the labors and trials of Farel and Froment in Geneva. An attempt was made to poison them; he alone ate of the poisoned dish, but recovered, yet with a permanent injury to his health.

His chief work was done at Lausanne, where he labored as pastor, teacher, and author for twenty-two years. By order of the government of Bern a public disputation was held Oct. 1 to 10, 1536.353353    The acts of this disputation are printed in Vulliemin’s Chroniqueur en l’an 1536, No. 17, pp. 315-326. The chapter of Lausanne protested, pp. 316, 325. Viret, Farel, Calvin, Fabri, Marcourt, and Caroli were called to defend the Reformed doctrines. Several priests and monks were present, as Drogy, Mimard, Michod, Loys, Berilly, and a French physician, Claude Blancherose. A deputy of Bern presided. The discussion was conducted in French. Farel prepared ten Theses in which he asserts the supremacy of the Bible, justification by faith alone, the high-priesthood and mediatorship of Christ, spiritual worship without ceremonies and images, the sacredness of marriage, Christian freedom in the observance or non-observance of things indifferent, such as fasts and feasts. Farel and Viret were the chief speakers. The result was the introduction of the Reformation, November 1 of the same year. Viret and Pierre Caroli were appointed preachers. Viret taught at the same time in the academy founded by Bern in 1540.

Caroli stayed only a short time. He was a native of France and a doctor of the Sorbonne, who had become nominally a Protestant, but envied Viret for his popularity, took offence at his sermons, and wantonly charged him, Farel, and Calvin, with Arianism. He was deposed as a slanderer, and at length returned to the Roman Church.354354    See his letter of submission to Pope Paul III., June, 1537, in Herminjard, IV. 248 sqq.

In 1549 Beza was appointed second professor of theology at the academy, and greatly strengthened Viret’s hands. Five young Frenchmen who were trained by them for the ministry, and had returned to their native land to preach the gospel, were seized at Lyons and burned, May 16, 1553, notwithstanding the intercession of the Reformed Cantons with King Henry II.

Viret attempted to introduce a strict discipline with the ban, but found as much opposition as Calvin at Geneva and Farel at Neuchâtel. Bern disapproved the ban and also the preaching of the rigorous doctrine of predestination. Beza was discouraged, and accepted a call to Geneva (September, 1558). Viret was deposed (Jan. 20, 1559). The professors of the academy and a number of preachers resigned. Viret went to Geneva and was appointed preacher of the city (March 2, 1559). His sermons were more popular and impressive than those of Calvin, and better attended.

With the permission of Geneva, he labored for a while as an evangelist, with great success, at Nismes, Montpellier, and Lyons. He presided as Moderator over the fourth national Synod of the Huguenots, August, 1563. He accepted a call from Jeanne d’Albret to an academy at Orthez, in Bearn, which she founded in 1566. There, in 1571, he died, the last of the triumvirate of the founders of the Reformed Church in French Switzerland. He was twice married, first to a lady of Orbe (1538); a second time, to a lady of Geneva (1546). He was small, sickly, and emaciated, but fervent in spirit, and untiring in labor.

Viret was an able and fruitful author, and shows an uncommon familiarity with classical and theological literature. He wrote, mostly in the form of dialogues, expositions of the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, a summary of Christian doctrine, polemical books against the Council of Trent, against the mass and other doctrines of Romanism, and tracts on Providence, the Sacraments, and practical religion. The most important is The Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Gospel and the Law, and in the true Philosophy and Theology both Natural and Supernatural (Geneva, 1564, 3 vols. fol.). His writings are exceedingly rare.355355    C. Schmidt, in his monograph on Viret, pp. 56-71, gives a list of them with extracts. Comp. Phil. Godet, l.c. 70 sqq.



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