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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 95. Calvin’s Return to Geneva. 1541.


In the middle of June, Calvin left Regensburg, before the close of the Colloquy, much to the regret of Melanchthon; and after attending to his affairs in Strassburg, he set out for Switzerland. The Genevese sent Eustace Vincent, a mounted herald, to escort him, and voted thirty-six écus for expenses (Aug. 26).

The Strassburgers requested him to retain his right of citizenship, and the annual revenues of a prebend, which they had assigned him as the salary of his theological professorship. "He gladly accepted," says Beza, "the former mark of respect, but could never be induced to accept the latter, since the care of riches occupied his mind the least of anything."

Bucer, in the name of the pastors of Strassburg, gave him a letter to the Syndics and Council of Geneva, Sept. 1, 1541, in which he says: "Now he comes at last, Calvin, that elect and incomparable instrument of God, to whom no other in our age may be compared, if at all there can be the question of another alongside of him." He added that such a highly favored man Strassburg could only spare for a season, on condition of his certain return.616616    The letter is in Latin with a French translation by Viret, Opera, X. 271 Herminjard, VII. 231-233. "Venit tandem ad vos Calvinus, eximium profecto el rarissimum, cui vix secundum, si tamen secundum ultum, organum Christi hodie extat …. Venit ergo, dimissus ratione ea quam noster senatus perscribit, ut nimirum redeat." The Council of Strassburg wrote to the Council of Geneva on the same day, expressing the hope that Calvin may soon return to them for the benefit of the Church universal.617617    Herminjard, VII. 227-230, in Latin and French. The Senate of Geneva, in a letter of thanks (Sept. 17, 1541), expressed the determination to keep Calvin permanently in their city, where he could be as useful to the Church universal as at Strassburg.618618    Herminjard, VII. 253-255; Opera, XI. 208.

Calvin visited his friends in Basel, who affectionately commended him to Bern and Geneva (Sept. 4).619619    Opera, XI. 274. Bern was not very favorable to Calvin and the clerical ascendency in Geneva, but gave him a safe-conduct through her territory.

At Soleure (Solothurn) he learned that Farel was deposed, without a trial, by the magistracy of Neuchâtel, because he had attacked a person of rank from the pulpit for scandalous conduct. He, therefore, turned from the direct route, and spent some days with his friend, trying to relieve him of the difficulty. He did not succeed at once, but his efforts were supported by Zürich, Strassburg, Basel, and Bern; and the seignory of Neuchâtel resolved to keep Farel, who continued to labor there till his death.620620    See the correspondence in Herminjard, VII. 242 sqq.

Calvin wrote to the Council of Geneva from Neuchâtel on Sept. 7, explaining the reason of his delay.621621    Herminjard, VII. 239. The letter was received at Geneva, Sept. 12. See Herminjard’s note 6 on p. 240. The next day he proceeded to Bern and delivered letters from Strassburg and Basel.

He was expected at Geneva on the 9th of September, but did not arrive, it seems, before the 13th. He wished to avoid a noisy reception, for which he had no taste.622622    He says, in the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms: "I have no intention of showing myself, and making a noise in the world." Kampschulte goes beyond the record when he asserts (I. 380, 381): "Für den Empfang eines Fürsten hätte nicht mehr Theilnahme bewiesen werden können …. Am 13tenSept. hielt er unter dem Jubel der Bevölkerung seinen feierlichen Einzug in Genf." Perhaps he followed here Stähelin, who says (I. 316): "Mit unglaublicher Begeisterung, wie im Triumphe, wurde er von dem Folk und dem Magistrate empfangen." There is no record of such a triumphant public entrance. See Beza and Colladon in the next note. Roget and Merle d’Aubigné (VII. 62 sq.) deny the fact of a popular ovation. But there is no doubt that his arrival caused general rejoicing among the people.623623    Beza (XXI. 131): "Calvinus XIII. Septembris anno Domini MDXLI Genevam regressus est, summa cum universi populi ac senatus inprimis singulare Dei erga se beneficium serio tum agnoscentis congratulatione." Colladon (XXI. 64): "Calvin fut tellement receu de singulière affection par ce poure peuple recognoissant so faute, et qui estoit affaméd’ouir son fidele Pasteur, qu’on ne cessa point qu’il ne fut arrestépour tousiours."

The Council provided for the Reformer a house and garden in the Rue des Chanoines near St. Peter’s Church,624624    It was the house of Sieur de Fresneville, between the house of Bonivard, on the west, and that of Abbé de Bonmont, on the east, where Calvin lived from 1543 till his death. But as this house was not ready on his arrival, he lodged for a while in an adjoining house of the abbot of Bonmont, which was rebuilt in 1708 (No. 13 Rue des Chanoines, now called Rue de Calvin) and passed into the possession of Adrien Naville, president of the Société Évangélique. The second house (No. 11) remained a Reformed parsonage till 1700; in 1834 it was acquired by the Roman Catholic clergy, who assigned it to the Sisters of Mercy of Vincent de Paul, but it is now owned by the State. See Th. Heyer, De la maison de Calvin, in the "Mémoires d’Archéologie," IX. 391-408. I have consulted Mr. Ed. Naville and Mr. Ed. Favre of Geneva, who confirmed the above statements. and promised him (Oct. 4), in consideration of his great learning and hospitality to strangers, a fixed salary of fifty gold dollars, or five hundred florins, besides twelve measures of wheat and two casks of wine.625625    "Cinq cens florins, douze coppes de froment et deux bossot de vin." Annal. 284. Five hundred florins of Geneva were equivalent to about four thousand francs at the present standard of value. This is the estimate of Franklin and of Merle d’Aubigné, VII. 69. Galiffe (Quelq. pages d’Hist. p. 89, as quoted by Kampschulte, I. 388, note 3) estimates Calvin’s annual income at 9 to 10,000 francs of our money ($2000). A syndic at that time received only 100, a counsellor 25 francs, according to the same authority. It also voted him a new suit of broadcloth, with furs for the winter. This provision was liberal for those days, yet barely sufficient for the necessary expenses of the Reformer and the claims on his hospitality. Hence the Council made him occasional presents for extra services; but he declined them whenever he could do without them. He lived in the greatest simplicity compatible with his position. A pulpit in St. Peter’s was prepared for him upon a broad, low pillar, that the whole congregation might more easily hear him.

The Council sent three horses and a carriage to bring Calvin’s wife and furniture. It took twenty-two days for the escort from Geneva to Strassburg and back (from Sept. 17 to Oct. 8).626626    Herminjard, VII. 289, note: "On paya au voiturier, Emoz Daiz, pour 22journées 7florins, 4sols."

On the 13th of September Calvin appeared before the Syndics and the Council in the Town Hall, delivered the letters from the senators and pastors of Strassburg and Basel, and apologized for his long delay. He made no complaint and demanded no punishment of his enemies, but asked for the appointment of a commission to prepare a written order of church government and discipline. The Council complied with this request, and resolved to retain him permanently, and to inform the Senate of Strassburg of this intention. Six prominent laymen, four members of the Little Council, two members of the Large Council,—Pertemps, Perrin, Roset, Lambert, Goulaz, and Porral,—were appointed to draw up the ecclesiastical ordinances in conference with the ministers.627627    Reg. du Conseil, vol. XXXV. 324, quoted in Annal. 282, and by Herminjard; Calvin’s letter to Farel, Sept. 16, 1541, in Opera, XI. 281, and Herminjard, VII. 249-250.

On Sept. 16, Calvin wrote to Farel: "Thy wish is granted, I am held fast here. May God give his blessing."628628    "Quod bene vertat Deus, hic retentus sum, ut volebas. Superest ut Viretum quoque mecum retineam, quem a me avelli nullo modo patiar. Tuae quoque omni unique fratrum partes me hic adjuvare, nisi vultis me frustra excruciari, ac sine commodo esse miserrimum." Herminjard, VII. 249.

He desired to retain Viret and to secure Farel as permanent co-laborers; but in this he was disappointed—Viret being needed at Lausanne, and Farel at Neuchâtel. By special permission of Bern, however, Viret was allowed to remain with him till July of the next year. His other colleagues were rather a hindrance than a help to him, as "they had no zeal and very little learning, and could not be trusted." Nearly the whole burden of reconstructing the Church of Geneva rested on his shoulders. It was a formidable task.

Never was a man more loudly called by government and people, never did a man more reluctantly accept the call, never did a man more faithfully and effectively fulfil the duties of the call than John Calvin when, in obedience to the voice of God, he settled a second time at Geneva to live and to die at this post of duty.

"Of all men in the world," says one of his best biographers and greatest admirers,629629    Merle d’Aubigné, VII. 70. "Calvin is the one who most worked, wrote, acted, and prayed for the cause which he had embraced. The coexistence of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man is assuredly a mystery; but Calvin never supposed that because God did all, he personally had nothing to do. He points out clearly the twofold action, that of God and that of man. ’God,’ said he, ’after freely bestowing his grace on us, forthwith demands of us a reciprocal acknowledgment. When he said to Abraham, "I am thy God," it was an offer of his free goodness; but he adds at the same time what he required of him: "Walk before me, and be thou perfect." This condition is tacitly annexed to all the promises. They are to be to us as spurs, inciting us to promote the glory of God.’ And elsewhere he says, ’This doctrine ought to create new vigor in all your members, so that you may be fit and alert, with might and main, to follow the call of God.’ "630630    Comments on 2 Cor. 7:1; Gen. 17:1.



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