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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 172. Beza as the Successor of Calvin, down to 1586.


Beza received his warmest welcome from Calvin, who was already under the shadow of death. There was no one else whom the great Reformer could so confidentially take into his counsels. And as the time of his departure drew near, he relied more and more upon him. Their friendship was based upon respect and affection and was never disturbed. The relation of the two men resembled that between Zwingli and Bullinger, and was most useful to the Church.

It was of course perfectly understood by Beza that he was to be Calvin’s successor, so the year which passed before Calvin died was a year of preparation for the new duties. At last the time came, and Calvin passed away. Beza conducted the funeral, and shortly after wrote his classical life of his patron, friend, and predecessor. The city Council elected him Calvin’s successor; the Venerable Company of Pastors, as the presbytery of Geneva called itself, elected him their moderator, and continued him in this office till 1580, when he compelled them to allow him to retire. So he continued Calvin’s leadership in city and church affairs. He preached and lectured to the students. He received the fugitives from France, and the visitors from other lands. He gave his advice and opinion upon the innumerable things which turned up daily. He conducted an enormous correspondence. And every now and then he had to enter the field of controversy and repel "heretics," like Ochino and Castellio, or Lutherans like Andreä and Selnecker.

Nor could this leadership have fallen into better hands. For Beza, although inferior to Calvin in theological acquirements and acumen, was his superior in knowledge and experience of court life and in grace of manner. He was eminently fitted to be the host of the Protestant scholars and martyrs, who flocked or fled to Geneva from every quarter. And so the theological school became under him the most famous of its kind in the world, and the little republican city was the virtual capital of Continental Protestantism.

Incessantly occupied as he was by public affairs, but bearing his burdens with courage and faith, he was suddenly called upon to transact delicate business of a private nature. In 1568 the plague entered Geneva and carried off his stepbrother Nicolas,12991299    Also called by some Pierre. who had succeeded his father as bailiff of Vezelay, joined the Huguenots, and come as a fugitive to Geneva with his wife, Perrette Tribolé, when Vezelay fell into Roman Catholic hands. He had been only a few days in the city when he died. Beza felt it incumbent upon him to go to Burgundy to see whether he could not save at least a part of their inheritance for his two nephews; and this errand, after a great deal of trouble, he accomplished successfully.

In 1571, after an absence of some eight years, he was again summoned to France, this time by Coligny and the young Prince de Béarn, to attend the seventh national Synod of the Reformed Church of France convened in La Rochelle. The Venerable Company of Pastors would not part with him without a protest, but yielded to the express wish of the Syndics of the Republic. Beza himself was reluctant to go, and indeed had declined a previous summons; but the crisis demanded an authoritative expression of the views of the Swiss Churches upon the proposed reforms in the discipline of the Church, and so he went. The Synod lasted from the 2d to the 17th of April. He was elected its moderator. A revised Confession of Faith was drawn up, and a vigorous reply made to the demand for increased authority on the part of the temporal chiefs. On his way back to Geneva he took part in another Synod, held at Nismes, and was specially charged with the refutation of the opponents to the established discipline.

On St. Bartholomew’s Day, Sunday, Aug. 24, 1572, very many Protestants were murdered in Paris, and for days thereafter the shocking scenes were repeated in different parts of France.13001300    The whole number of the massacred is reckoned at about thirty thousand. Cf. the monograph of Henri Bordier: La Saint-Barthélemy et la critique moderne. Genève et Paris, 1879. On the 1st of September the first company of fugitives, many covered with wounds, made their appearance in Geneva. A day of fasting and prayer was ordered, and Beza exhorted his Swiss hearers to stand firm and to provide all needed help to their stricken brethren. Four thousand livres were collected in Geneva, and the wants of the crowd of sufferers attended to.13011301    Heppe, 248. Baird (II. 554-557) gives a graphic description of the Genevese reception of the refugees, and shows how the city for so doing was exposed to the revenge of Charles IX.

In 1574 Beza met Henry of Condé by appointment at Strassburg, and successfully undertook the negotiations which resulted in enlisting John Casimir to come with an army to the succor of the Huguenots.

But Beza’s advice was not always considered prudent by the city authorities, who were more alive than he to the great risk the city ran of reprisals in view of its connivance with the Huguenot schemes. Thus in December of this year, 1574, Beza countenanced a bootless military errand in the direction of Mâcon and Châlons, and the magistrates gently but firmly called him to account, and plainly told him that he should never act so imprudently.13021302    Baird, The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, I. 50.

On Nov. 26, 1580, the Peace of Fleix brought rest to France for a little while. Beza showed his courage and fidelity on this occasion by writing to King Henry of Navarre, the Protestant leader, a letter in which he candidly informed the king that he himself and his court stood in great need of reformation. It is proof of the respect in which the Reformer was held that the king received the rebuke in good part, and of the king’s light-mindedness that he did not attempt to reform.13031303    Baird, ibid., I. 213 sq.



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