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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 171. Beza as the Counsellor of the Huguenot Leaders,


On the 20th of December an assembly of notables, including representatives from each of the parliaments, the princes of the blood, and members of the Council, had been called to suggest some decree of at least a provisional nature upon the religious question. It was January, 1562, before it convened. It enacted on Jan. 17 the famous law known as the "Edict of January," whereby the Huguenots were recognized as having certain rights, chief of which was that of assembling for worship by day outside of the walled cities.12911291    Baird, I. 576 sq. The churches which they had seized were, however, not restored to them, and they were forbidden to build others.

Beza counselled the Protestants to accept the edict, although it gave them very much less than their rights; and they obeyed.

On Jan. 27, 1562, he was again at St. Germain by command of Catherine, to argue with Catholic theologians upon the use of images and the worship of saints. As before, the gulf between Protestants and Roman Catholics stood revealed, and the conference did no good except to show that the Protestants had some reason, at all events, for their opinions. Yet they did entertain hopes of maintaining the peace, when the news that on March 1 the Duke of Guise had massacred hundreds of defenceless Protestants, in a barn at Vassy, while engaged in peaceful worship, spread consternation far and wide. The court was then at Monceaux, and there Beza appeared as deputy of the Protestants of Paris to demand of the king of Navarre punishment for this odious violation of the Edict of January. The queen-mother received the demand graciously and promised compliance, but the king responded roughly and laid all the blame on the Protestants, who, he declared, had excited the attack by throwing stones at the Duke of Guise. "Well then," said Beza, "he should have punished only those who did the throwing." And then he added these memorable words: "Sire, it is in truth the lot of the Church of God, in whose name I am speaking, to endure blows, and not to strike them. But also may it please you to remember that it is an anvil that has worn out many hammers."12921292    "Sire, c’est àla vérite àl’Église de Dieu, au nom de laquelle je parle, d’endurer les coups, et non pas d’en donner. Mais aussi vous plaira-t-il vous souvenir que c’est une enclume qui a usébeaucoup de marteaux." Quoted by Baird, II. 28; cf. Baum, II. 567.

Civil war now broke out, Condé on one side and the Guises on the other; and Beza, although so unwilling, was fairly involved in it.

In a lull in the strife the third national Synod of the Reformed Church was held at Orleans on April 25. Beza was present, and his translation of the Psalms was sung upon the streets.

On May 20, 1562, the Prince of Condé sent a memorable answer to the petition of the Guises that King Charles would take active measures to extirpate heresy in his domains. The reply was really the work of Beza, and is a masterpiece of argument and eloquence.12931293    Baum says (II. 642) that it may with confidence be placed by the side of the most eloquent passages in the French language. A judgment in which Baird (II. 61) concurs.

The necessity of securing allies induced Condé to send Beza to Germany and Switzerland. He went first to Strassburg, then to Basel, and at length on Friday, Sept. 4, he arrived at Geneva. How earnest must have been the conversations between him and Calvin! How glad must his many friends have been to welcome back home the leader of French Protestantism!

Beza resumed his former mode of life. Two weeks passed and he had just begun to feel himself able in peace to carry out his plans for the Academy and the Genevan churches, when a messenger riding post haste from D’Andelot, a brother of Coligny, and his fellow-deputy to the German princes, announced the fresh outbreak of trouble in France. Beza was at first inclined to stay at home, mistrusting the necessity of his presence among the Huguenot troops, but Calvin urged him to go, and so he went, and for the next seven months Beza was with the Huguenot army. He acted as almoner and treasurer. He followed Condé to the battle of Dreux, Dec. 19, 1562, at which Condé was taken prisoner. It was made a matter of reproach that he took an active part in the battle. He did indeed ride in the front rank, but he denied that he struck a blow. He was in citizen’s dress. He then retired to Normandy with Coligny. The expected help from England did not arrive, and it was determined to send him to London. So utterly sick was Beza of the military life that he seriously meditated going directly back to Geneva from London. But the Pacification Edict of March 12, 1563 freed Condé and ended hostilities, and Beza did not make his contemplated English journey.

This unexpected turn in his affairs was brought about by an untoward event. On the 18th of February, 1563, the Duke of Guise was assassinated by a poor fanatical Huguenot wretch, who, under torture, accused Beza of having instigated him by promising him Paradise and a high place among the saints if he died for his deed.12941294    Baum, II. 711; Baird, II. 105. The calumny was afterwards denied by the man who had made it, but Beza considered himself obligated to make a formal reply. He called upon all who had heard him to declare if he had ever favored any other than strictly legal measures against the late Duke. And as for his alleged promise, he said that he was too good a Bible student to declare that any one could win Paradise by works.12951295    Baum, II. 714, 716.

Peace having come, Beza was at liberty to return home. But his heart was heavy because the affairs in France were in a very unsatisfactory condition. Still, there was nothing to be accomplished by staying, and so, loaded down with thanks and praises from the leading Huguenots for his invaluable services in the field, in the camp, at the council-board, and in the religious assembly, surrounded with the leaders of the Huguenot army and the preachers and nobles, amid shouts and sighs, Beza, on Tuesday, March 30, 1563, took his departure from Orleans. On the Sunday before, he had preached his farewell sermon, in which he expressed his disappointment that the Edict of Pacification had brought the Huguenots so little advantage.12961296    Baird, II. 118.

On his way back he passed through Vezelay. His father was dead, but there must have been many associations of childhood which endeared the place to him. Here he learned that his wife was safe at Strassburg with Condé’s mother-in-law. Bending his steps thither, he rejoined her, and together they made the journey home, where they arrived May 5, 1563.12971297    Referring to the entire length of service in France, Baum says: "He had been absent twenty-two months. They were the most wearing and the most perilous, but also the most fruitful months in his life. For during that period, with courage and dignity, with learning and acuteness, with penetrating force and charming eloquence, he had before princes and kings preached the gospel and exalted the name of Christ. As the representation in this work has abundantly shown, amid incessant struggles against unwise or faint-hearted friends, against cunning and powerful foes, many times and most daringly at the risk of his own life, he developed into one of the great leaders who procured for the Reformed Church of France its soul-liberty, which, though, it is true, less than it claimed should have been given, was still secured to it by law." With these words Baum (II. 731) closes his authoritative but, alas, unfinished work upon Beza.

As they journeyed they knew that they were in perpetual danger, but they did not know that some of their enemies were looking for them to turn towards the Netherlands. But so it was. In June of that year a rumor was circulated at Brussels that there had been a quarrel between him and Calvin, and that in consequence he would not return to Geneva. Margaret of Parma, then regent of the Netherlands, thought to do a splendid deed, and gave orders that if he entered her domains he was to be taken, dead or alive, and offered to his capturer or murderer a thousand florins. But there having been no such break, Beza, on the contrary, took the shortest practicable route for Geneva.12981298    Baird, II. 388. In the regent’s proclamation, Beza was described as "homme de moïenne stature, ayant barbe àdemy blanche, et le visage hault et large."



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