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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 87. The Liturgy of Calvin.


I. La forme des prieres et chantzs ecclesiastiques, avec la maniere d’administrer les sacremens et consacrer le marriage, selon la coutume de l’Eglise ancienne, a.d. 1542. In Opera, VI. 161–210 (from a copy at Stuttgart; the title is given in the old spelling without accents). Later editions (1543, 1545, 1562, etc.) add: "la visitation des malades," and "comme on l’observe à Genève." An earlier edition of eighteen Psalms appeared at Strassburg, 1539. (See Douen, Clément Marot, I. 300 sqq.) An edition of the liturgy with the Psalms was printed at Strassburg, Feb. 15, 1542. (See Douen, l.c. 305, and 342 sqq.) A copy of an enlarged Strassburg ed. of 1545, entitled La forme des prieres et chantzs ecclesiastiques, was preserved in the Public Library at Strassburg till Aug. 24, 1870, when it was burnt at the siege of the city in the Franco-German War (Douen, I. 451 sq.).

II. Ch. d’Héricault: Ouvres de Marot. Paris, 1867.—Felix Bovet: Histoire du psautier des églises réformées. Neuchâtel, 1872.—O. Douen: Clément Marot et le Psautier Huguenot. Étude historique, littéraire, musicale et bibliographique; contenant les mélodies primitives des Psaumes, etc. Paris (à’imprimerie national), 1878 sq. 2 vols. royal 8vo. A magnificent work published at the expense of the French Republic on the recommendation of the Institute. The second volume contains the harmonies of Goudimel.


Farel published at Neuchâtel in 1533, and introduced at Geneva in 1537, the first French Reformed liturgy, which includes, in the regular Sunday service, a general prayer, the Lord’s Prayer (before sermon), the Decalogue, confession of sins, repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, a final exhortation and benediction.513513    Republished by Baum at Strassburg, 1859. Douen, l.c. I. 346. It resembled the German liturgy of Bern, which was published in 1529, and which Calvin caused to be translated into French by his friend Morelet.514514    In a letter to Gaspard Megander, an influential minister at Bern (probably from Feb. 20, 1537), Calvin writes: "Libellum tuum ceremonialem a Mauro [Maurus Musaeus, Morelet de Museau], rogatu nostro, versum, cum nostro contulimus, a quo nihil penitus nisi brevitate differt." Herminjard (vol. IV. 191) adds the following note: "La liturgie usitée dans l’église genevoise était, selon toutes les vraisemblances, celle de Farel, publiée àNeuchâtel, le 29 août 1533, sous le titre suivant: ’La Manière et Fasson qu’on tient en baillant le sainct baptesme ... ès lieux que Dieu de sa grâce a visites.’ Nous avons constatéque la liturgie bernoise offre les plus grands rapports avec ’La Manière et Fasson,’ et qu’elle en diffère seulement par la brièveté." Of Farel’s liturgy only the form of marriage survived. The rest was reconstructed and improved by Calvin in the liturgy which he first introduced in Strassburg, and with some modifications in Geneva after his return.

Calvin’s liturgy was published twice in 1542. It was introduced at Lausanne in the same year, and gradually passed into other Reformed Churches.

Calvin built his form of worship on the foundation of Zwingli and Farel, and the services already in use in the Swiss Reformed Churches. Like his predecessors, he had no sympathy whatever with the Roman Catholic ceremonialism, which was overloaded with unscriptural traditions and superstitions. We may add that he had no taste for the artistic, symbolical, and ornamental features in worship. He rejected the mass, all the sacraments, except two, the saints’ days, nearly all church festivals, except Sunday, images, relics, processions, and the whole pomp and circumstance of a gaudy worship which appeals to the senses and imagination rather than the intellect and the conscience, and tends to distract the mind with the outward show instead of concentrating it upon the contemplation of the saving truth of the gospel.

He substituted in its place that simple and spiritual mode of worship which is well adapted for intelligent devotion, if it be animated by the quickening presence and power of the Spirit of God, but becomes jejune, barren, cold, and chilly if that power is waiting. He made the sermon the central part of worship, and substituted instruction and edification in the vernacular for the reading of the mass in Latin. He magnified the pulpit, as the throne of the preacher, above the altar of the sacrificing priest. He opened the inexhaustible fountain of free prayer in public worship, with its endless possibilities of application to varying circumstances and wants; he restored to the Church, like Luther, the inestimable blessing of congregational singing, which is the true popular liturgy, and more effective than the reading of written forms of prayer.

The order of public worship in Calvin’s congregation at Strassburg was as follows: —

The service began with an invocation,515515    "Nostre aide soit au nom de Dieu, qui a faict le Ciel et la terre. Amen." Opera, VI. 173. a confession of sin and a brief absolution.516516    This confession is still in use and may be favorably compared with the confession in the Anglican liturgy. It is as follows (in modern spelling):—
   "Mes frères, qu’un chacun de nous se présente devant la face du Seigneur, avec confession de ses fautes et péchés, suivant de son coeur mea paroles.

   "Seigneur Dieu, Père éternal et tout-puissant, nous confessons [et reconnaissons] sans feintise, devant ta Sainte Majesté, que nous sommes pauvres pécheurs, conçus et nés en iniquitéet corruption, enclins àmal faire, inutiles àtout bien, et que par notre vice, nous transgressons sans fin et sans cesse tes saints commandements. En quoi faisant, nous acquérons, par ton juste jugement, ruine et perdition sur nous.

   "Toutefois, Seigneur, nous avons déplaisir en nous-mêmes, de t’avoir offensé, et condamnons nous et nos vices, avec vraie repentance, désirant que to grâce [et aide] subviennent ànotre calamité.

   "Veuille donc avoir pitiéde nous, Dieu et Père très bénin, et plein de miséricorde, au nom de ton Fils Jésus-Christ, notre Seigneur; effaçant donc nos vices et macules, élargis nous et augmente de jour en jour les grâces de ton Saint-Esprit, afin que, reconnaissant de tout notre coeur notre injustice, nous soyons touches de déplaisir, qui engendre droite pénitence en nous: laquelle nous mortifiant àtous péchés produise en nous fruits de justice et innocence qui te soient agréables par ice-lui Jesus-Christ. Amen."

   After this confession the Strassburg Liturgy adds a form of absolution, which was afterwards omitted:—

   "Ici, dit le ministre quelques paroles de l’Écriture pour consoler les consciences, et fait l’absolution en cette manière:

   "Un chacunde vous se reconnaisse vraiment pécheur, s’humiliant devant Dieu, et croie que le Pare céleste lui veut étre propice en Jésus-Christ. A tous ceux qui, en cette manière se repentent, et cherchent Jésus-Christ pour leur salut, je dénonce l’absolution au nom du Père, du Fils, et du Saint-Esprit. Amen."
hen followed reading of the Scriptures, singing, and a free prayer. The whole congregation, male and female, joined in chanting the Psalms, and thus took an active part in public worship, while formerly they were but passive listeners or spectators. This was in accordance with the Protestant doctrine of the general priesthood of believers.517517    In this respect Calvin followed the example of the Lutheran churches. Gérard Roussel, who was one of the earliest refugees at Strassburg, reported to Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux, that the singing of Psalms, translated from the Hebrew, was there a prominent feature of worship, and that "le chant des femmes, se mêlant àcelui des hommes, produit un effet ravissant." Herminjard, I. 404-408. In another letter, he speaks also of the congregational chanting of the Apostles’ Creed and the Kyrie Eleison at the communion. Ibid. I. 411-413. Doumergue, pp. 8, 9. The sermon came next, and after it a long general prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. The service closed with singing and the benediction.518518    An interesting description of the Reformed worship at Strassburg, by a French student in 1545, was first published in 1885 by Erichson, p. 7, and is given by Doumergue, l.c. p. 15 sq. He speaks of daily preaching and chanting of Psalms by the whole congregation ("tant homine que femme avec un bel accord") from a tune book (un livre de musique), which each member had in his hand.

The same order is substantially observed in the French Reformed Churches. Calvin prepared also liturgical forms for baptism and the holy communion. A form for marriage and the visitation of the sick had been previously composed by Farel. The combination of the liturgical and extemporaneous features continue in the Reformed Churches of the Continent. In the Presbyterian churches of Scotland and most of the Dissenting churches of England, and their descendants in America, the liturgical element was gradually ruled out by free prayer; while the Anglican Church pursued the opposite course.

Baptism was always performed before the congregation at the close of the public service, and in the simplest manner, according to the institution of Christ; without the traditional ceremony of exorcism, and the use of salt, spittle, and burning candles, because these are not commanded in the Scriptures, nourish superstition, and divert the attention from the spiritual substance of the ordinance to outward forms. Calvin regarded immersion as the primitive form of baptism, but pouring and sprinkling as equally valid.519519    He says, Instit. IV. ch. XV. Par. 19: "Whether the person who is baptized be wholly immersed, and whether thrice or once, or whether water be only poured or sprinkled upon him, is of no importance; churches ought to be left at liberty in this respect, to act according to the difference of countries. The very word baptize, however, signifies to immerse; and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient Church."

The communion was celebrated once a month in a simple but very solemn manner by the whole congregation. Calvin required the communicants to give him previous notice of their intention, that they might receive instruction, warning, or comfort, according to their need. Unworthy applicants were excluded.

The introduction of the Psalter in the vernacular was a most important feature, and the beginning of a long and heroic chapter in the history of worship and Christian life. The Psalter occupies the same important place in the Reformed Church as the hymnal in the Lutheran. It was the source of comfort and strength to the Huguenot Church of the Desert, and to the Presbyterian Covenanters of Scotland, in the days of bitter trial and persecution. Calvin, himself prepared metrical versions of Psalms 25, 36, 43, 46,520520    The same Psalm furnished the key-note to Luther’s immortal hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott." Calvin’s version begins:—
   " Nostre Dieu est ferme appuy,

   Vertue, fortresse et seur confort,

   Auquel aurons en notre ennuy,

   Présent réfuge et très bon port."
91, 113, 120, 138, 142, together with a metrical version of the Song of Simeon and the Ten Commandments.521521    They were printed at Strassburg, 1539, and republished, together with an original hymn (Salutation à Jesus-Christ), from an edition of 1545, in Opera, VI. 212-224. He afterwards used the superior version of Clément Marot, the greatest French poet of that age, who was the poet of the court, and the psalmist of the Church (1497–1544). Calvin met him first at the court of the Duchess of Ferrara (1536), whither he had fled, and afterwards at Geneva (1542), where he encouraged him to continue his metrical translation of the Psalms. Marot’s Psalter first appeared at Paris, 1541, and contained thirty Psalms, together with metrical versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelic Salutation, the Creed, and the Decalogue. Several editions, with fifty Psalms, were printed at Geneva in 1543, one at Strassburg in 1545. Later editions were enlarged with the translations of Beza. The popularity and usefulness of his and Beza’s Psalter were greatly enhanced by the rich melodies of Claude Goudimel (1510–1572), who joined the Reformed Church in 1562, and died a martyr at Lyons in the night of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. He devoted his musical genius to the Reformation. His tunes are based in part on popular songs, and breathe the simple and earnest spirit of the Reformed cultus. Some of them have found a place among the chorals of the Lutheran Church.



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