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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 83. The Reformers introduce Order and Discipline.


Confession de la Foy laquelle tous les bourgeois et habitans de Genève et subjectz du pays doyvent jurer de garder et tenir; extraicte de l’instruction dont on use en l’église de la dicte ville, 1537. Confessio Fidei in quam jurare cives omnes Genevenses et qui sub civitatis ejus ditione agunt, jussi sunt. The French in Opera, vol. IX. 693–700 (and by Rilliet-Dufour, see below); the Latin in vol. V. 355–362. See also vol. XXII. 5 sqq. (publ. 1880).

Le Catéchisme de l’Eglise de Genève, c’est à dire le Formulaire d’instruire les enfans la Chretienté fait en manière de dialogue ou le ministre interrogue et l’enfant respond. The first edition of 1537 is not divided into questions and answers, and bears the title Instruction et Confession de Foy dont on use en l’Eglise de Genève. A copy of it was discovered by H. Bordier in Paris and published by Th. Dufour, together with the first ed. of the Confession de la Foy, at Geneva, 1878 (see below). A copy of a Latin ed. of 1545 had been previously found in the Ducal library at Gotha.

Catechismus sive Christianae religionis institutio, communibus renatae nuper in evangelio Genevensis ecclesiae suffragiis recepta et vulgari quidem prius idiomate, nunc vero Latine etiam in lucem edita, Joanne Calvino auctore. The first draft, or Catechismus prior, was printed at Basel, 1538 (with a Latin translation of the Confession of 1537). Reprinted in Opera in both languages, vol. V. 313-364. The second or larger Catechism appeared in French, 1541, in Latin, 1545, etc.; both reprinted in parallel columns, Opera, vol. VI. 1–160.

(Niemeyer in his Coll. Conf. gives the Latin text of the larger Cat. together with the prayers and liturgical forms; comp. his Proleg. XXXVII.–XLI. Böckel in his Bekenntniss-Shriften der evang. Reform. Kirche gives a German version of the larger Cat., 127–172. An English translation was prepared by the Marian exiles, Geneva, 1556, and reprinted in Dunlop’s Confessions, II. 139–272).

Calvin had a hand in nearly all the French and Helvetic confessions of his age. See Opera, IX. 693–772.

*Albert Rilliet and Théophile Dufour: Le Catéchisme français de Calvin publié en 1537, réimprimé pour la première fois d’après un exemplaire nouvellement retrouvé, et suivi de la plus ancienne Confession de Foi de l’Église de Genève (avec un notice sur le premier séjour de Calvin à Genève, par Albert Rilliet, et une notice bibliographique sur le Catéchisme et la Confession de Foi de Calvin, par Théophile Dufour), Genève (H. Georg.), and Paris (Fischbacher), 1878, 16°. pp. cclxxxviii. and 146; reprinted in Opera, XXII.

Schaff: Creeds of Christendom, I. 467 sqq. Stähelin, I. 124 sqq. Kampschulte, I. 284 sqq. Merle D’Aubigné, VI. 328–357.


Geneva needed first of all a strong moral government on the doctrinal basis of the evangelical Reformation. The Genevese were a light-hearted, joyous people, fond of public amusements, dancing, singing, masquerades, and revelries. Reckless gambling, drunkenness, adultery, blasphemy, and all sorts of vice abounded. Prostitution was sanctioned by the authority of the State and superintended by a woman called the Reine du bordel. The people were ignorant. The priests had taken no pains to instruct them and had set them a bad example. To remedy these evils, a Confession of Faith and Discipline, and a popular Catechism were prepared, the first by Farel as the senior pastor, with the aid of Calvin;476476    Beza treats the Confession as a work of Calvin, but the Strassburg editors defend the authorship of Farel. Opera, XXII. Suppl. col. 11-18. Beza says (XXI. 126): "Tunc [i.e. after the disputation at Lausanne, 1536] edita est a Calvino Christianae doctrinae quaedam veluti formula, vixdum emergentie papatus sordibus Genevensi ecclesiae accomodata. Addidit etiam Catechismum, non illum in quaestiones et responsiones distributum, quem nunc habemus, sed alium multo breviorem praecipua religionis capita complexum." But the Catechism appeared two months before the Confession."lam vero confessionem non sine ratione adjungendam curavimus." Calv., Opera, V. 319. Rilliet, l.c. p. IX.: "La Conf. de Foy n’a paru que quelques mois plus tard." The Confession is an extract from the Catechism, as the title says. Merle d’Aubigné (VI. 337) regards the confession as the joint work of Calvin and Farel. the second by Calvin. Both were accepted and approved by the Council in November, 1536.477477    Annal., 206, "Nov. 10. La confession acceptée. Vers la même époque première edition du catéchisme."

The Confession of Faith consists of twenty-one articles in which the chief doctrines of the evangelical faith are briefly and clearly stated for the comprehension of the people. It begins with the Word of God, as the rule of faith and practice, and ends with the duty to the civil magistracy. The doctrine of predestination and reprobation is omitted, but it is clearly taught that man is saved by the free grace of God without any merit (Art. 10). The necessity of discipline by admonition and excommunication for the conversion of the sinner is asserted (Art. 19). This subject gave much trouble in Geneva and other Swiss churches. The Confession prepared the way for fuller Reformed Confessions, as the Gallican, the Belgic, and the Second Helvetic. It was printed and distributed in April, 1537, and read every Sunday from the pulpits, to prepare the citizens for its adoption.478478    Reg. du Cons. 17 and 27 avril, 1537. It had been previously examined and adopted in manuscript.

Calvin’s Catechism, which preceded the Confession, is an extract from his Institutes, but passed through several transformations. On his return from Strassburg he re-wrote it on a larger scale, and arranged it in questions and answers, or in the form of a dialogue between the teacher and the pupil. It was used for a long time in Reformed Churches and schools, and served a good purpose in promoting an intelligent piety and virtue by systematic biblical instruction. It includes an exposition of the Creed, the Decalogue, and the Lord’s Prayer. It is much fuller than Luther’s, but less adapted for children. Beza says that it was translated into German, English, Scotch, Belgic, Spanish, into Hebrew by E. Tremellius, and "most elegantly" into Greek by H. Stephanus. It furnished the basis and material for a number of similar works, especially the Anglican (Nowell’s), the Palatinate (Heidelberg), and the Westminster Catechisms, which gradually superseded it.

Calvin has been called "the father of popular education and the inventor of free schools."479479    Among others by George Bancroft, in his Lit. and Hist. Miscellanies, p. 406: "Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools." But he must share this honor with Luther and Zwingli.

Besides the Confession and Catechism, the Reformed pastors (i.e. Farel, Calvin, and Courault) presented to the Council a memorial concerning the future organization and discipline of the Church of Geneva, recommending frequent and solemn celebration of the Lord’s Supper, at least once a month, alternately in the three principal churches, singing of Psalms, regular instruction of the youth, abolition of the papal marriage laws, the maintenance of public order, and the exclusion of unworthy communicants.480480    Memoire de Calvin et Farel sur l’organisation de l’église de Genève. In the Registers of the Council, it is called "les articles donnés par MeG. Farel et les aultres predicans." The document was recently brought to light by Gaberel (Histoire de l’église de Genève, 1858, Tom. I. 102), reprinted in Opera, vol. X. Part I. 5-14. A summary is given by Merle d’Aubigné, VI. 340 sqq. They regarded the apostolic custom of excommunication as necessary for the protection of the purity of the Church, but as it had been fearfully abused by the papal bishops, they requested the Council to elect a number of reliable, godly, and irreproachable citizens for the moral supervision of the different districts, and the exercise of discipline, in connection with the ministers, by private and public admonition, and, in case of stubborn disobedience, by excommunication from the privileges of church membership.

On Jan. 16, 1537, the Great Council of Two Hundred issued a series of orders forbidding immoral habits, foolish songs, gambling, the desecration of the Lord’s Day, baptism by midwives, and directing that the remaining idolatrous images should be burned; but nothing was said about excommunication.481481    Annal. Calv. 206 sq. This subject became a bone of contention between the pastors and citizens and the cause of the expulsion of the Reformers. The election of syndics, Feb. 5, was favorable to them.

The ministers were incessantly active in preaching, catechising, and visiting all classes of the people. Five sermons were preached every Sunday, two every week day, and were well attended. The schools were flourishing, and public morality was steadily rising. Saunier, in a school oration, praised the goodly city of Geneva which now added to her natural advantages of a magnificent site, a fertile country, a lovely lake, fine streets and squares, the crowning glory of the pure doctrine of the gospel. The magistrates showed a willingness to assist in the maintenance of discipline. A gambler was placed in the pillory with a chain around his neck. Three women were imprisoned for an improper head-dress. Even François Bonivard, the famous patriot and prisoner of Chillon, was frequently warned on account of his licentiousness. Every open manifestation of sympathy with popery by carrying a rosary, or cherishing a sacred relic, or observing a saint’s day, was liable to punishment. The fame of Geneva went abroad and began to attract students and refugees. Before the close of 1537 English Protestants came to Geneva to, see Calvin and Farel."482482    Bullinger’s letter to Farel and Calvin, Nov. 1, 1537 (in the Simler collection of Zürich), and in Op. X., Pt. I. 128, also in Herminjard, IV. 309. Bullinger recommends three worthy English students of the Bible, "Eliott, Buttler, and Partridge," who had spent some time in Zürich. Bullinger had made the acquaintance of Farel at the disputation in Bern, January, 1528, and of Calvin in Basel, February, 1536.

On July 29, 1537, the Council of the Two Hundred ordered all the citizens, male and female, to assent to the Confession of Faith in the Church of St. Peter.483483    Annal. 213: "De la confession: que l’on donne ordre faire que tous les dizenniers ameneront leurs gens dizenne par dizzenne en l’église S. Pierre et la leur seront leuz les articles touchant la confession en dieu et seront interrogués s’ils veulent cela tenir; aussi sera faict le serment de fidelitéàla ville." A dizennier is a tithingman, or headborough. It was done by a large number. On Nov. 12, the Council even passed a measure to banish all who would not take the oath.484484    Annal. 216 from Reg. du Cons. Tom. 31, fol. 90. But the order could not be executed. Not one from the rue des Allemands would subscribe to the Confession. Even Saunier was opposed to the imposition of a personal pledge.

The Confession was thus to be made the law of Church and State. This is the first instance of a formal pledge to a symbolical book by a whole people.

It was a glaring inconsistency that those who had just shaken off the yoke of popery as an intolerable burden, should subject their conscience and intellect to a human creed; in other words, substitute for the old Roman popery a modern Protestant popery. Of course, they sincerely believed that they had the infallible Word of God on their side; but they could not claim infallibility in its interpretation. The same inconsistency and intolerance was repeated a hundred years later on a much larger scale in the "Solemn League and Covenant" of the Scotch Presbyterians and English Puritans against popery and prelacy, and sanctioned in 1643 by the Westminster Assembly of Divines which vainly attempted to prescribe a creed, a Church polity, and a directory of worship for three nations. But in those days neither Protestants nor Catholics had any proper conception of religious toleration, much less of religious liberty, as an inalienable right of man. "The power of the magistrates ends where that of conscience begins." God alone is the Lord of conscience.

The Calvinistic churches of modem times still require subscription to the Westminster standards, but only from the officers, and only in a qualified sense, as to substance of doctrine; while the members are admitted simply on profession of faith in Christ as their Lord and Saviour.485485    The Congregational or Independent and Baptist churches, however, while they disown the authority of general confessions, and hold to the voluntary principle, usually have local or congregational creeds and covenants which must be assented to by all applicants for membership. In this respect the Presbyterian churches are more liberal.



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