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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 89. Calvin at the Colloquies of Frankfurt, Worms, and Regensburg.


Calvin: Letters from Worms, Regensburg, and Strassburg, in Opera, XI., and Herminjard, vols. VI. and VII. His report on the Diet at Regensburg (Les Actes de la journée impériale en la cité de Regenspourg), in Opera, V. 509–684.—Melanchthon: Report on the Colloquy at Worms, in Latin, and the Acts of the Colloquy at Regensburg, in German, 1542.

See his Epistolae, ed. Bretschneider, IV. 33–78, and pp. 728 sqq.—Sturm: Antipappus.—Sleidan: De Statu Eccles. et Reipublicae Carolo V. Caesare, Lib. XIII.

Henry, Vol. I. ch. XVII.—Dyer, pp. 105 sqq.—Stähelin, I. 229–254. Kampschulte, I. 328–342.—Stricker, pp. 27 sqq.—Ludwig Pastor (Rom. Cath.): Die kirchlichen Reunionsbestrebungen während der Regierung Karls V. Aus den Quellen dargestellt. Freiburg-i.-B., 1879 (507 pp.). He notices Calvin’s influence, pp. 194, 196, 212, 230, 245, 258, 266, 484, but apparently without having read his correspondence, which is one of the chief sources; he only refers to Kampschulte.


Calvin was employed, with Bucer, Capito, and Sturm, as one of the commissioners of the city and Church of Strassburg, on several public colloquies, which were held during his sojourn in Germany for the healing of the split caused by the Reformation. The emperor Charles V. was anxious, from political motives, to reconcile the Protestant princes to the Roman Church, and to secure their aid against the Turks. The leading theological spirits in these conferences were Melanchthon on the Lutheran, and Julius Pflug on the Roman Catholic side. They aimed to secure the reunion of the Church by mutual concessions on minor differences of doctrine and discipline. But the conferences shared the fate of all compromises. Luther and Calvin would not yield an inch to the pope, while the extreme men of the papal party, like Eck, were as unwilling to make any concession to Protestantism. A fuller account belongs to the ecclesiastical history of Germany.

Calvin, being a foreigner and a Frenchman, ignorant of the German language, acted a subordinate part, though he commanded the respect of both parties for his ability and learning, in which he was not inferior to any. Having no faith in compromises, or in the sincerity of the emperor, he helped to defeat rather than to promote the pacific object of these conferences. He favored an alliance between the Lutheran princes of the Smalkaldian League with Francis I., who, as the rival of Charles V., was inclined to such an alliance. He was encouraged in this line of policy by Queen Marguerite, who corresponded with him at that time through his friend Sleidan, the statesman and historian.528528    Herminjard, VII, 198 sqq.; Opera, XI. 62 sqq. He did succeed in securing, after repeated efforts, a petition of the Lutheran princes assembled at Regensburg to the French king in behalf of the persecuted Protestants in France (May 23, 1541).529529    Herminjard, VII. 126-128; Opera, XI. Ep. 311, p. 220. Comp. Epp. 302, 307, 309. Calvin was not satisfied with the success."Quantum ad fratres attinet," he wrote to Farel (July 6, 1541), "qui ob evangelium laborant, non feci quod volui." Melanchthon incurred the displeasure of the emperor for favoring the French Protestants. Herminjard, VII. 179, note 16. But he had no more confidence in Francis I. than in Charles V. "The king," he wrote to Farel (September, 1540), "and the emperor, while contending in cruel persecution of the godly, both endeavor to gain the favor of the Roman idol."530530    "Nihil hic novi audimus, nisi quod Rex et Caesar, certatim in pios saeviendo, idolum Romanum sibi demereri student." Herminjard, VI. 316, comp. note 8. He placed his trust in God, and in a close alliance of the Lutheran princes among themselves and with the Protestants in France and Switzerland.

He was a shrewd observer of the religious and political movements, and judged correctly of the situation and the principal actors. Nothing escaped his attention. He kept Farel at Neuchâtel informed even about minor incidents.

Calvin attended the first colloquy at Frankfurt in February, 1539, in a private capacity, for the purpose of making the personal acquaintance of Melanchthon and pleading the cause of his persecuted brethren in France, whom he had more at heart than German politics.

The Colloquy was prorogued to Hagenau in June, 1540, but did not get over the preliminaries.

A more important Colloquy was held at Worms in November of the same year. In that ancient city Luther had made his ever memorable declaration in favor of the liberty of conscience, which in spite of the pope’s protest had become an irrepressible power. Calvin appeared at this time in the capacity of a commissioner both of Strassburg and the dukes of Lüneburg. He went reluctantly, being just then in ill health and feeling unequal to the task. But he gathered strength on the spot, and braced up the courage of Melanchthon who, as the spokesman of the Lutheran theologians, showed less disposition to yield than on former occasions. He took a prominent part in the discussion. He defeated Dean Robert Mosham of Passau in a second disputation, and earned on that occasion from Melanchthon, and the Lutheran theologians who were present, the distinctive title "the Theologian" by eminence.531531    Beza (Opera, vol. XXI. 130): "Calvinus ... Domino Philippo Melanchthoni et Gaspari Crucigero beatae memoriae imprimis gratus, adeo ut eum ille saepe ’Theologum’ cognominaverit, hic vero privatum de coena cum eo colloquium habuerit eiusque cognitam sententiam diserte comprobarit." The Report of the Strassburger Kirchenordnung, II. 140, as quoted by Stricker (p. 28, note), says: "Auff welchem Colloquio auch Philippus [Melanchthon], Cruciger und andere furneme Theologi Kundtschafft mit Calvino gemacht, dass sie ihn, per Excellentiam, ’den Theologum’ genannt." Papire Masson (in Vita Calv., as quoted by Herminjard, VII. 26): "Wormatiam missus a civibus excercuit excellentis ingenii vires tanto applausu theologorum Germania, ut judicio Melanchthonis et reliquorum si ngulari privilegio Theologicognomen adeptus sit." A theologian in that eminently theological age meant a great deal more than a doctor of divinity nowadays.

He also wrote at Worms, for his private solace, not for publication, an epic poem in sixty-one distichs (one hundred and twenty-two lines), which celebrates the triumph of Christ and the defeat of his enemies (Eck, Cochlaeus, Nausea, Pelargus) after their apparent and temporary victory.532532    Epinicion ad Christum, in Opera, V. 423-428. Dyer (p. 106), Kampschulte (I. 333), Henry (I. ch. XVIII), and even Merle d’Aubigné (VII. 23), were mistaken in calling this Song of Victory the only poem of Calvin (I. 333). He wrote also metrical versions of a number of Psalms, and a lyric hymn to Christ. See Opera, VI. 212-224. He was not a poetic genius, but by study he made up the defects of nature.533533    As he says himself in the concluding lines:—
   "Quod natura negat, studii pius efficit ardor,

   Ut coner laudes, Christe, sonare tuas."

   He gave the manuscript to a few friends, but did not permit it to be printed till the court of Toulouse, four years afterwards, put the poem in the list of forbidden books, and caused many inquiries after it. Otherwise he would have allowed it to be forgotten. See his preface in Opera, V. 422.

The Colloquy of Worms, after having hardly begun, was broken off in January, 1541, to be resumed at the approaching Diet of Regensburg (Ratisbon) in presence of the emperor on his return.

The Diet at Regensburg was opened April 5, 1541. Calvin appeared again as a delegate of Strassburg and at the special request of Melanchthon, but reluctantly and with little hope of success. He felt that he was ill suited for such work, and would only waste time.534534    "Invitissimus," he wrote to Farel (Feb. 19, 1541, in Herminjard, VII. 26), "Ratisponam trahor: tum quia ipsam profectionem mihi molestissimam prospicio fore: tum quod valde timeo ne diuturna mora futura sit, ut solent saepe numero comitia ad decimum mensem producere: tum quod minime idoneus mihi ad tales actiones videor, quidquid alii judicent. Sed Deum sequar, qui novit cur mihi hanc necessitatem imponat." After long and vexatious delays in the arrival of the deputies, the theological Colloquy was opened and conducted on the Roman Catholic side by Dr. John Eck, professor at Ingolstadt (who had disputed with Luther at Leipzig and promulgated the papal bull of excommunication), Julius Pflug, canon of Mainz (afterwards bishop of Naumburg), and John Gropper, canon and professor of canon law at Cologne; on the Protestant side by Melanchthon of Wittenberg, Bucer of Strassburg, and Pistorius of Nidda in Hesse. Granvella presided in the name of the emperor; Cardinal Contarini, an enlightened and well-disposed prelate, who was inclined to evangelical views and favored a moderate reformation, acted as legate of Pope Paul III., who sent, however, at the same time the intolerant Bishop Morone as a special nuncio. Calvin could see no difference between the two legates, except that Morone would like to subdue the Protestants with bloodshed, Contarini without bloodshed. He was urged to seek an interview with Contarini, but refused. He speaks favorably of Pflug and Gropper, but contemptuously of Eck, the stentorian mouthpiece of the papal party, whom he regarded as an impudent babbler and vain sophist.535535    See his judgment of these persons in the letter to Farel, April 24, 1541, in Herminjard, VII. 89. Of Eck he says: "Nemini dubium est quin Davus ille [referring to the impudent slave in the ancient drama] sua importunitate sit omnia turbaturus." In a letter of May 12 he reports that Eck was struck by apoplexy (May 10), but recovered, adding: "Nondum meretur mundus ista bestia liberari." (Herminjard, VII. 116 sq.) Eck died Feb. 16, 1543. Franz Burckhard, the Saxon Chancellor, gave, in a letter to Pontanus, April 22, 1541, a similar estimate of Pflug, Gropper, and Eck, and calls the last an "ebrius sophista, qui pluris facit Bacchum quam ullam religionem " (Mel. Epist. IV. 185). Mosellanus described Eck, as he appeared at the disputation in Leipzig, as "a big-bodied, broad-shouldered, stout-hearted, and impudent man, who looked more like a town-crier than a theologian." Melanchthon thought that "no pious person could listen without disgust to the sophisms and vain subtleties of that talking mountebank." The French king was represented by Du Veil, whom Calvin calls a "busy blockhead." There were present also a good many bishops, the princes of the German States, and delegates of the imperial cities. The emperor, in an earnest speech, exhorted the divines, through an interpreter, to lay aside private feelings and to study only the truth, the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the peace of the empire.

The Colloquy passed slightly over the doctrines of original sin and the slavery of the will, where the Protestants were protected by the authority of St. Augustin. The Catholics agreed to the evangelical view of justification by faith (without the Lutheran sola), and conceded the eucharistic cup to the laity, but the parties split on the doctrine of the power of the Church and the real presence. Calvin was especially consulted on the last point, and gave a decided judgment in Latin against transubstantiation, which he rejected as a scholastic fiction, and against the adoration of the wafer which he declared to be idolatrous.536536     Calvin to Farel. May 11, 1541, in Herminjard, VII. 111 sq. He was displeased with the submissiveness of Melanchthon and Bucer, although he did not doubt the sincerity of their motives. He loved truth and consistency more than peace and unity. "Philip," he wrote to Farel (May 12, 1541),537537    Herminjard, VII. 115. "and Bucer have drawn up ambiguous and varnished formulas concerning transubstantiation, to try whether they could satisfy the opposite party by giving them nothing.538538    These formulas are printed in Melanchthon’s Epistolae, IV. 262-264. I cannot agree to this device, although they have reasonable grounds for doing so; for they hope that in a short time they would begin to see more clearly if the matter of doctrine be left open; therefore they rather wish to skip over it, and do not dread that equivocation (flexiloquation) than which nothing can be more hurtful. I can assure you, however, that both are animated with the best intentions, and have no other object in view than to promote the kingdom of Christ; only in their method of proceeding they accommodate themselves too much to the times .... These things I deplore in private to yourself, my dear Farel; see, therefore, that they are not made public. One thing I am thankful for, that there is no one who is fighting now more earnestly against the wafer-god,539539    Or, in-breaded God, impanatus Deus. as he calls it, than Brentz."540540    The leading Lutheran divine of Württemberg, who attended the Colloquy. All the negotiations failed at last by the combined opposition of the extreme men of both parties.541541    The popular wit described the failure of the Colloquy in the line: "Sie pflügen (Pflug, Plough), eggen (Eck), graben (Grobber), putzen (Bucer or Butzer), und backen (Pistorius, whose German name was Becker), und richten nichts aus." Corp. Reform. IV. 335.

The emperor closed the Diet on the 28th of July, and promised to use his influence with the pope to convene a General Council for the settlement of the theological questions.542542    Calvin wrote to Viret from Strassburg, Aug. 13, 1541 (Herminjard, VII. 218) "Finis comitiorum talis fuit qualem ego fore semper divinavi. Tota enim pacificationis actio in fumum abiit, cum ad concilium universale rejecta est, vel saltem nationale, si illud brevi obtineri nequeat. Quid enim hoc aliud est quam frustrari?"

Calvin had left Regensburg as soon as he found a chance, about the middle of June, much to the regret of Bucer and Melanchthon, who wished to retain him.543543    Letter to Farel from Strassburg, early in July, 1541, in Herminjard, VII. 176. He gives in this letter an account of the later disputes at Regensburg on confession and absolution, the invocation of saints, and the primacy of the pope.

His sojourn there was embittered by the ravages of the pestilence in Strassburg, which carried away his beloved deacon, Claude Féray (Feraeus), his friends Bedrotus and Capito, one of his boarders, Louis de Richebourg (Claude’s pupil), and the sons of Oecolampadius, Zwingli, and Hedio. He was thrown into a state of extreme anxiety and depression, which he revealed to Farel in a melancholy letter of March 29, 1541.544544    Herminjard, VII. 65 sqq.; Opera, XI. 174 sqq. "My dear friend Claude, whom I singularly esteemed," he writes, "has been carried off by the plague. Louis (de Richebourg) followed three days afterwards. My house was in a state of sad desolation. My brother (Antoine) had gone with Charles (de Richebourg) to a neighboring village; my wife had betaken herself to my brother’s; and the youngest of Claude’s scholars [probably Malherbe of Normandy] is lying sick in bed. To the bitterness of grief there was added a very anxious concern for those who survived. Day and night my wife is constantly present to my thoughts, in need of advice, seeing that she is deprived of her husband.545545    "Mihi dies ac noctes animo obversatur uxor, consilii inops, quia capite suo caret.’ ... These events have produced in me so much sadness that it seems as if they would utterly upset the mind and depress the spirit. You cannot believe the grief which consumes me on account of the death of my dear friend Claude." Then he pays a touching tribute to Féray, who had lived in his house and stuck closer to him than a brother. But the most precious fruit of this sore affliction is his letter of comfort to the distressed father of Louis de Richebourg, which we shall quote in another connection.546546    See below, Par. 92, p. 421.



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