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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 176. Beza’s Writings.


Beza’s name will ever be most honorably associated with biblical learning. Indeed, to many students his services in this department will constitute his only claim to notice. Every one who knows anything of the uncial manuscripts of the Greek New Testament has heard of the Codex Bezae, or of the history of the printed text of the New Testament has heard of Beza’s editions and of his Latin translation with notes. The Codex Bezae, known as D in the list of the uncials, also as Codex Cantabrigiensis, is a manuscript of the Gospels and Acts, originally also of the Catholic Epistles, dating from the sixth century.13101310    A very full description of it is given by Scrivener, Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 3d ed. 120-127; cf. Gregory, Prolegomena in N. T. Tischendorfianum ed. viii. maior, 369-374; Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, 122-124. Its transcriber would seem to have been a Gaul, ignorant of Greek. Beza procured it from the monastery of St. Irenaeus, at Lyons, when the city was sacked by Des Adrets, in 1562, but did not use it in his edition of the Greek Testament, because it departed so widely from the other manuscripts, which departures are often supported by the ancient Latin and Syriac versions. He presented it to the University of Cambridge in 1581, and it is now shown in the library among the great treasures.

Beza was also the possessor of an uncial manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, also dating from the sixth century. How he got hold of it is unknown. He merely says (Preface to his 3d ed. of the N. T., 1582) that it had been found at Clermont, near Beauvais, France. It may have been another fortune of war. After his death it was sold, and ultimately came into the Royal (now the National) Library in Paris, and there it is preserved.13111311    For full description, see Scrivener, ibid. 163-166; cf. Gregory, ibid. 419-422. Beza made some use of it. Both these manuscripts were accompanied by a Latin version of extreme antiquity.

Among the eminent editors of the Greek New Testament, Beza deserves prominent mention. He put forth four folio editions of Stephen’s Greek text; viz. 1565, 1582, 1589, with a Latin version, the Latin Vulgate, and Annotations. He issued also several octavo editions with his Latin version, and brief marginal notes (1565, 1567, 1580, 1590, 1604).13121312    Schaff, ibid. 237-238, and his tract on the Revision of the N. T., p. 28 sq.

What especially interests the English Bible student is the close connection he had with the Authorized Version. Not only were his editions in the hands of King James’ revisers, but his Latin version with its notes was constantly used by them. He had already influenced the authors of the Genevan version (1557 and 1560), as was of course inevitable, and this version influenced the Authorized. As Beza was undoubtedly the best Continental exegete of the closing part of the sixteenth century, this influence of his Latin version and notes was on the whole beneficial. But then it must be confessed that he was also responsible for many errors of reading and rendering in the Authorized Version.13131313    The late Ezra Abbot, the biblical textual critic, at Dr. Schaff’s request, made a very careful collation of the different editions of Beza with the Authorized Version, and found that "the Authorized Version agrees with Beza’s text of 1589 against Stephen’s of 1550 in about ninety places; with Stephen’s against Beza in about forty; and in from thirty to forty places, in most of which the variations are of a trivial character, it differs from both." Schaff: The Revision of the English Version of the New Testament, New York, 1873 (Introd. p. xxviii). Cf. Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 342, note 3.

Beza was the chief theologian of the Reformed Church after Calvin. Principal Cunningham has shown13141314    See his Reformers (pp. 345-413) mentioned at the head of this chapter. the part Beza played in bringing about the transition from the original Calvinism to the scholastic form, hard and mechanical, and so unconsciously preparing the way for the great reaction from Calvinism, viz. Arminianism; for Arminius had been a student in the Genevan Academy under Beza. Beza drew up in the form of a chart a curious scheme of a system of theology, and he published it in his Tractationes (mentioned below) along with a commentary, Summa totius Christianismi sive descriptio et distributio causarum salutis electorum et exitii reproborum, ex sacris literis collecta et explicata, pp. 170 sqq. Heppe reprints the chart.

The chief work published by Beza, though not acknowledged by him, is the famous and invaluable Histoire ecclésiastique des Églises Réformées au royaume de France, originally issued at Antwerp in 1580, 3 vols. 8vo. The best edition of which is that by Baum (d. 1881), Cunitz (d. 1886), and Rodolphe Reuss, Paris, 1883–89, 3 vols. small quarto. It is well known to scholars that the first four books are in a great degree composed of extracts from contemporaneous works, especially the Histoire des Martyrs by Crespin, and the Histoire de l’estat de France, attributed to Regnier de la Plancée, but no indication is given whence the extracts are taken. This defect in modern eyes is removed in the edition spoken of. The genesis of the work seems to be this, that Beza received reports from all parts of France in reply to the Synod’s recommendation that the churches write their histories for the benefit of posterity, that he arranged these, and inserted much autobiographical matter, but as he had to employ unknown persons to assist him, he modestly refused to put his name to the book.

Beza’s "Life of Calvin" was written in French, and immediately translated by himself into Latin (Geneva, 1565). It is the invaluable, accurate, and sympathetic picture of the great Reformer by one who knew him intimately and revered him deeply. It has been constantly used in the former chapters of this volume. It is by far the best of the contemporary biographies of any of the Reformers.

Beza collected his miscellanies under the title Tractationes theologicae, Geneva, 1570, 2d ed. 1582, 3 vols. folio. In these volumes will be found united his chief essays, including the De haereticis à civili magistratu puniendis, adversus M. Bellium (I. 85–169), already analyzed. The first part was reprinted as late as 1658 under the new title Opuscula, in quibus pleraque Christianae religionis dogmata adversus haereses nostris temporibus renovatas solide ex verbo Dei defenduntur.

In 1573 he published a curious volume of correspondence on theological subjects, Epistolarum Theologicarum. The letters are written to different persons and are variously dated from 1556 to 1572. The volume is printed in small italics and was so popular that the third edition appeared at Hanover in 1597. But the number of his letters published is greatly exceeded by those still in manuscript.

In 1577 he published Lex Dei, moralis, ceremonialis, et politica, ex libris Mosis excerpta, et in certas classes distributa. This is simply the legal portions of the Pentateuch classified, without note or comment, apparently under the theory that the Mosaic law is still binding.

In 1581 Beza, in connection with Daneau and Salnar, issued the Harmonia Confessionum Fidei, designed to promote Christian union among the evangelical churches.13151315    See Schaff, Creeds, I. 354; II. 193 sqq.

Mention has already been made of Beza as a poet His Poëmata, Paris, 1548, commonly called Juvenilia, consists of epigrams, epitaphs, elegies, and bucolics. They are classical in expression, and erotic in sentiment, though not so vicious as such a libeller as Bolsec would have us believe. His Abraham’s Sacrifice, already alluded to, was written in French (Geneva, 1550), and translated into Italian (Florence, 1572), English (London, 1577), and Latin (Geneva, 1597). It was republished along with the Poëmata, Geneva, 1597. Of much more importance is his translation of the Psalms, completing that begun by Clément Marot. It was undertaken at Calvin’s request, and published in sections, and finished at Geneva in 1560.


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