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§ 175. Beza’s Last Days.
Beza’s life was now drawing to its close. The weight of years had become a grievous burden. His bodily powers gradually deserted him. He partially lost his hearing. His memory became so enfeebled that the past only remained to him, while recent events made no lasting impression. It was the breaking up of an extraordinarily vigorous constitution, which had so supported him for sixty-five years that he had scarcely known what it was to be sick. Then he took the prudent course of giving up one by one the duties which he had so long discharged. In 1586 he was excused from preaching daily, and henceforth till 1600 preached only on Sunday. In 1598 he retired from active duty in the Academy, and sold his library, giving part of the proceeds, which were considerable, to his wife, and part to the poor. In 1600 he rendered his last public services in the Academy, and preached his last sermon—the only one preached in the seventeenth, by a reformer of the sixteenth, century.13061306 Heppe, 307.
Occasionally something of the old wit flashed forth. As when he made his reply to the silly rumor that he had yielded to the argumentation of François de Sales and had gone over to Rome. The facts are these: François came to Geneva in 1597 with the express purpose of converting Beza. He was then thirty years old, very zealous, very skilful, and in many other cases had been successful. But he met his match in the old Reformer, who however listened to him courteously. What argument failed to accomplish, the priest thought money might do, and so he offered Beza in the name of the pope a yearly pension of four thousand gold crowns and a sum equal to twice as much as the value of all his personal effects! This brought matters to a climax, and Beza dismissed him with the polite but sarcastic and decisive rebuke, "Go, sir; I am too old and too deaf to be able to hear such words."13071307 Ibid. 314.
But from some quarter the report got abroad that Beza had yielded. This was added to as it passed along until it was confidently asserted that Beza and many other former Genevan Protestants were on their way to Rome to enter the papal fold. Their very route was told, and on an evening in the middle of September, 1597, the faithful people of Siena waited by the gate of their city to receive the great leader! But for some reason he did not come. Then it was said that he was dead; but that ere he died he had made his peace with the Church and had received extreme unction.
When the friends of Beza heard these idle tales, they merely smiled. But Beza concluded to give convincing proof of two facts: first, that he was not dead, and second, that he was still a Protestant of the straitest Calvinistic school; and so quite in the old manner he nailed the lie by a biting epigram.
When in 1600 François would hold a public discussion with the Genevans, Beza, knowing how unprofitable such discussions were, forbade it. Whereupon it was given out that the Reformers were afraid to meet their opponents!
Another flare of the old flame of poetry was occasioned by the visit from King Henry IV., already alluded to. It was a poem of six stanzas, Ad inclytum Franciae et Navarrae regem Henricum IV. ("to the renowned King of France and Navarre, Henry IV.") "It was his last, his swan song."13081308 Heppe, 310.
Wearied by the vigils of a perilous and exciting time, Beza had long anxiously looked for his final rest. He had fought a good fight and had kept the faith and was ready to receive his crown. On Sunday, Oct. 13, 1605, he died.
In his will13091309 Given at length in a German translation by Heppe, 304-306. Beza ordered his burial to be in the common cemetery of Plain Palais, where Calvin was buried, and near the remains of his wife. But in consequence of a Savoyard threat to carry off his body to Rome, by order of the magistrates, he was buried in the cloister of the cathedral of St. Peter, in the city of Geneva.
Of the six great Continental Reformers,—Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza,—Beza was the most finished gentleman, according to the highest standard of his time. He was not lacking in energy, nor was he always mild. But he was able to hold court with courtiers, be a wit with wits, and show classical learning equal to that of the best scholars of his age. Yet with him the means were only valued because they reached an end, and the great end he had ever in mind was the conservation of the Reformed Church of Geneva and France.
His public life was an extraordinary one. Like the Apostle Paul he could say that he had been "in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own countrymen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:26–28). It was indeed a brilliant service which this versatile man rendered. Under his watchful care the city of Geneva enjoyed peace and prosperity, the Academy flourished and its students went everywhere preaching the Word, while the Reformed Church of France was built up by him. Calvin lived again and in some respects lived a bolder life in his pupil and friend.
It is pleasant to get glimpses of Beza’s home life. Men like him are seldom able to enjoy their homes. But Beza had for forty years the love and devotion of the wife of his youth. They had no children, but his fatherly heart may have found some expression in adopting his wife’s niece Genevieve Denosse, whom he educated with great care, and also in his parental solicitude for his brother’s children. It is perhaps to be taken as indicative of the domestic character of the man that, on the advice of friends, within a year after his wife died (1589), he married Catherine del Piano, a widow of a Genevese. He also adopted her grand-daughter. It is probable that he always lived in some state; at all events his will proves that he had considerable property.
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