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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 94. Calvin’s Recall to Geneva.


Literature in § 93, especially the Correspondence and Registers.


Calvin did not forget Geneva. He proved his interest in her welfare by his Answer to Sadolet. But he had no inclination to return, and could only be induced to do so by unmistakable indications of the will of Providence.

He had found a place of great usefulness in a city where he could act as mediator between Germany and France, and benefit both countries; his Sunday services were crowded; his theological lectures attracted students from France and other countries; he had married a faithful wife, and enjoyed a peaceful home. The government of Strassburg appreciated him more and more, and his colleagues wished to retain him.

Melanchthon thought he could spare him less at the Colloquies of Worms and Ratisbon than anybody else. Looking to Geneva he could, from past experience, expect nothing but severe and hard trials. "There is no place in the world," he wrote to Viret, "which I fear more; not because I hate it, but because I feel unequal to the difficulties which await me there." 608608    March 1, 1541 (from Ulm on his journey to Ratisbon): "Non aliter respondeo quam quod semper solitus sum: Nullum esse locum sub caelo quem magis reformidem, non quia oderim, sed quoniam tot difficultates illic mihi propositas video, quibus superandis sentio me longe esse imparem. Quoties superiorum temporum subit recordatio, facere nequeo quin toto pectore exhorrescam, si cogar me iterum antiquis illis certaminibus objicere. Si mihi cum ecclesia illa tantum esset negocium, animo essem quietiore; certe minus terrerer. Sed vicinos [allusion to Bern] cogita, qui mihi olim tantum molestiae exhibuerunt." Opera, XI. 167; Herminjard, VII. 43. He called it an abyss from which he shrank back much more now than he had done in 1536. Indeed, he was not mistaken in his fears, for his subsequent life was an unbroken struggle. We need not wonder then that he refused call upon call, and requested Farel and Viret to desist from their efforts to allure him away.609609    Dyer (p. 121) and Kampschulte (I. 370) suspect, without any reason, that Calvin, in his repeated refusals, was influenced by the unworthy motive to humble the pride of the Genevese. What more could they do than bombard him with petitions and deputations? And this they did months before he accepted the call.

At the same time, he was determined to obey the will of God as soon as it would be made clear to him by unmistakable indications of Providence. "When I remember," he wrote to Farel, "that in this matter I am not my own master, I present my heart as a sacrifice and offer it up to the Lord."610610    "Cor meum velut mactatum Domino in sacrificium offero." Oct. 24, 1540. Opera, XI. 100; Herminjard, VI. 339. Henry has appropriately chosen this sentence as the motto for his biography. A very characteristic sentence, which reveals the soul of his piety. A seal of Calvin bears this motto, and the emblem is a hand presenting a heart to God. Seventeen years later, when he looked back upon that critical period of his life, he expressed the same view. "Although the welfare of that Church," he says, "was so dear to me, that I could without difficulty sacrifice my life for it; yet my timidity presented to me many reasons of excuse for declining to take such a heavy burden on my shoulders. But the sense of duty prevailed, and led me to return to the flock from which I had been snatched away. I did this with sadness, tears, and great anxiety and distress of mind, the Lord being my witness, and many pious persons who would gladly have spared me that pain, if not the same fear had shut their mouth."611611    Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms (written in 1557), Opera, XXXI. 27. He mentions especially Martin Bucer, "that excellent servant of Christ," who threatened him with the example of Jonah; as Farel, on Calvin’s first visit to Geneva, had threatened him with the wrath of God.

His friends in Geneva, the Council and the people, were convinced that Calvin alone could save the city from anarchy, and they made every effort to secure his return. His recall was first seriously discussed in the Council early in 1539, again in February, 1540, and decided upon Sept. 21, 1540. Preparatory steps were taken to secure the co-operation of Bern, Basel, Zürich, and Strassburg. On the 13th of October, Michel Du Bois, an old friend of Calvin, was sent by the Large Council with a letter to him, and directed to press the invitation by oral representation. Without waiting for an answer, other petitions and deputations were forwarded. On the 19th of October the Council of Two Hundred resolved to use every effort for the attainment of that object. Ami Perrin and Louis Dufour were sent (Oct. 21 and 22) as deputies, with a herald, to Strassburg "to fetch Master Calvin." Twenty dollars gold (écus au soleil) were voted, on the 27th, for expenses.612612    Annal. 266 sqq.; Herminjard, VI. 331-335. The Registres of that month are full of actions concerning the recall of "the learned and pious Mr. Calvin." No more complete vindication of the cause of the Reformers could be imagined.

Farel’s aid was also solicited. With incomparable self-denial he pardoned the ingratitude of the Genevese in not recalling him, and made every exertion to secure the return of his younger friend, whom he had first compelled by moral force to stop at Geneva. He bombarded him with letters. He even travelled from Neuchàtel to Strassburg, and spent two days there, pressing him in person and trying to persuade him, as well as Capito and Bucer, of the absolute necessity of his return to Geneva, which, in his opinion, was the most important spot in the world.

Dufour arrived at Strassburg in November, called upon the senate, followed Calvin to Worms, where he was in attendance on the Colloquy, and delivered the formal letter of invitation, dated Oct. 22, and signed by the syndics and Council of Geneva. It concludes thus: "On behalf of our Little, Great, and General Councils (all of which have strongly urged us to take this step), we pray you very affectionately that you will be pleased to come over to us, and to return to your former post and ministry; and we hope that by God’s help this course will be a great advantage for the furtherance of the holy gospel, seeing that our people very much desire you, and we will so deal with you that you shall have reason to be satisfied." The letter was fastened with a seal bearing the motto: "Post tenebras spero lucem."

Calvin was thus most urgently and most honorably recalled by the united voice of the Council, the ministers, and the people of that city which had unjustly banished him three years before.

He was moved to tears by these manifestations of regard and confidence, and began to waver. But the deputies of Strassburg at Worms, under secret instruction from their government, entered a strong protest against his leaving. Bucer, Capito, Sturm, and Grynaeus, when asked for advice, decided that Calvin was indispensable to Strassburg as the head of the French Church which represented Protestant France; as a theological teacher who attracted students from Germany, France, and Italy, to send them back to their own countries as evangelists; and as a helper in making the Church of Strassburg a seminary of ministers of the gospel. No one besides Melanchthon could be compared with him. Geneva was indeed an important post, and the gate to France and Italy, but uncertain, and liable to be involved again in political complications which might destroy the evangelical labors of Calvin. The pastors and senators of Strassburg, urged by the churches of Zürich and Basel, came at last to the conclusion to consent to Calvin’s return after the Colloquy of Worms, but only for a season, hoping that he may soon make their city his final home for the benefit of the whole Church.613613    See the letters signed by Capito, Hedio, Bucer, Sturm, Bedrotus, Grynaeus (probably written by Bucer), October and November, 1540, in Herminjard, VI. 335 and 356 sqq., and the letter of the Council of Strassburg to the Council of Geneva, Sept. 1, 1541, vol. VII. 227.

Thus two cities, we might almost say, two nations, were contending for the possession of "the Theologian." His whole future life, and a considerable chapter of Church history, depended on the decision. Under these circumstances he could make no definite promise, except that he would pay a visit to Geneva after the close of the Colloquy, on condition of getting the consent of Strassburg and Bern. He also prescribed, like a victorious general, the terms of surrender, namely, the restoration of Church discipline.

He had previously advised that Viret be called from Lausanne. This was done in Dec. 31, 1540, with the permission of Bern, but only for half a year. Viret arrived in Geneva Jan. 17, 1541. His persuasive sermons were well attended, and the magistrates showed great reverence for the Word of God; but he found so much and such difficult work in church and school, in the hospital and the poorhouse, that he urged Calvin to come soon, else he must withdraw or perish.

On the 1st of May, 1541, the General Council recalled, in due form, the sentence of banishment of April 23, 1538, and solemnly declared that every citizen considered Calvin, Farel, and Saunier to be honorable men, and true servants of God.614614    "Pour gens de bien et de Dieu." Annal. 278. On the 26th of May the senate sent another pressing request to Strassburg, Zürich, and Basel to aid Geneva in securing the return of Calvin.615615    See the letters of the Council of Geneva to the Pastors of Zürich in Opera, XI. 220 sqq., and in Herminjard, VII. 129 sqq.

It is astonishing what an amount of interest this question of Calvin’s return excited throughout Switzerland and Germany. It was generally felt that the fate of Geneva depended on Calvin, and that the fate of evangelical religion in France and Italy depended on Geneva. Letters arrived from individuals and corporations. Farel continued to thunder, and reproached the Strassburgers for keeping Calvin back. He was indignant at Calvin’s delay. "Will you wait," he wrote him, "till the stones call thee?"



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