History of the Rise of the Huguenots Volume I Part 8
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But, in spite of dissimilarity of character, Lefevre and Farel lived together in close friendship. Together they frequented the churches, and united in the pious work, as they regarded it, of decking out with flowers the pictures of the saints, to whose shrines they made frequent pilgrimages. Lefevre was scrupulously exact in the performance of his religious duties, and was especially punctual in attendance on the mass.
In his zeal for the church, he had even undertaken as a meritorious task to compile the lives of the saints whose names appear on the Roman calendar, and had actually committed to the press an account of those whose feast-days fell within the months of January and February. On the other hand, Farel was so sincere an adherent of the current faith, that, to employ his own forcible description, he had become "a very Pantheon, full of intercessors, saviors and gods, of whom his heart might have passed for a complete register." The papacy had so entrenched itself in his heart, that even the Pope and papal church _were not so papal as he_. The man who came to him with the Pope's endorsement appeared to him like a god, while he would gladly have overwhelmed in ruin the sacrilegious wretch that dared to say a word against the Roman pontiff and his authority.
[Sidenote: Lefevre's commentary on the Pauline Epistles.]
But the enthusiastic devotion of Lefevre and his more impetuous disciple to the tenets of the Roman church was to be shaken by a closer study of the Scriptures. In 1508 Lefevre completed a Latin commentary upon the Psalms. In 1512 he published a commentary in the same language on the Pauline Epistles--a work which may indeed fall short of the standard of criticism established by a subsequent age, but yet contains a clear enunciation of the doctrine of justification by faith, the cardinal doctrine of the Reformation.
[Sidenote: Foresees the coming reformation.]
Thus, five years before Luther posted his theses on the doors of the church at Wittemberg, Jacques Lefevre had proclaimed, in no equivocal terms, his belief in the same great principles. But Lefevre's lectures in the college and his written commentary were addressed to the learned.
Consequently they produced no such immediate and startling effect as the ninety-five propositions of the Saxon monk. Lefevre was not himself to be an active instrument in the French reformation. His office was rather to prepare the way for others--not, perhaps, more sincere, but certainly more courageous--to enter upon the hazardous undertaking of attempting to renovate the church. His faithful disciple, indeed, has preserved for us a remarkable prophecy, uttered by Lefevre at the very time when he was still assiduous in his devotion to the Virgin Mary and the saints.
Grasping Farel by the hand, the venerable doctor more than once addressed to him the significant words, which made a deep impression on the hearer's mind: "Guillaume, the world is going to be renewed, and you will behold it!"
[Sidenote: Controversy with Beda.]
[Sidenote: The Sorbonne's declaration.]
Lefevre did not intermit his biblical studies. In 1518 he published a short treatise on "the three Marys," to prove that Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and "the woman which was a sinner," were not one and the same person, according to the common belief of the time.
Unfortunately, the Roman church, by the lessons set down for the feast-days, had given its sanction to the prevalent error. Now, the fears and suspicions of the theologians of the Sorbonne had, during the past year, been aroused by the fame of Martin Luther's "heresy," and they were ready to resent any attempt at innovation, however slight, either in doctrine or in practice, as evidence of heretical proclivities. Natalis Beda, the ignorant but pedantic syndic of the theological faculty, entered the lists as Lefevre's opponent, and an animated dispute was waged between the friends of the two combatants. Of so great moment was the decision regarded by Poncher, Bishop of Paris, that he induced Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, to write an essay in refutation of the views of Lefevre. But the Sorbonne, not content with this, on the ninth of November, 1521, declared that he was a heretic who should presume to maintain the truth of Lefevre's proposition. Lefevre himself would probably have experienced even greater indignities at the hands of parliament--whose members were accustomed to show excessive respect to the fanatical demands of the faculty--had not Guillaume Petit, the king's confessor, induced Francis to interfere in behalf of the Picard professor.
[Sidenote: Briconnet, Bishop of Meauz.]
To these two actors in the drama of the French reformation a third must now be added. Guillanme Briconnet, Bishop of Meaux, stood in the front rank of aspiring and fortunate churchmen. His father, commonly known as the Cardinal of St. Malo, had passed from the civil administration into the hierarchy of the Gallican Church. Rewarded for services rendered to Louis the Eleventh and Charles the Eighth by the gift of the rich abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres and the archbishopric of Rheims, he had, in virtue of his possession of the latter dignity, anointed Louis the Twelfth at his coronation. As cardinal, he had headed the French party in the papal consistory, and, more obedient to his sovereign than to the pontiff, when Louis demanded the convocation of a council at Pisa to resist the encroachments of Julius the Second, the elder Briconnet left Rome to join in its deliberations, and to face the dangers attending an open rupture with the Pope. The cardinal was now dead, having left to Guillaume, born previously to his father's entrance into orders, a good measure of the royal favor he had himself enjoyed. The younger Briconnet had been successively created Archdeacon of Rheims and Avignon, Abbot of St. Germain-des-Pres, and Bishop of Lodeve and Meaux. His title of Count of Montbrun gave him, moreover, a place in the nobility. Meantime a reformatory tendency had early revealed itself in the efforts made by the young ecclesiastic to enforce the observance of canonical discipline by the luxurious friars of the monastery of St. Germain. Here, too, he had tasted the first fruits of the opposition which was before long to test his firmness and constancy.
Briconnet had been appointed Bishop of Meaux (March 19, 1516) about the same time that Francis the First despatched him as special envoy to treat with the Pope. It would seem that the intimate acquaintance with the papal court gained on this occasion, confirming the impressions made by a previous diplomatic mission in the time of Louis the Twelfth, convinced Briconnet that the church stood in urgent need of reform; and he resolved to begin the work in his own diocese.
[Sidenote: Lefevre and Farel invited to Meaux.]
Weary of the annoyance and peril arising from the ignorance and malice of his enemies, the theologians of the Sorbonne, Lefevre d'etaples longed for a more quiet home, where he might reasonably hope to contribute his share to the great renovation descried long since by his prophetic glance. He was now invited by Briconnet, to whom his learning and zeal were well known, to accompany him to Meaux, where, at the distance of a little more than a score of miles from the capital, he would at least be rid of the perpetual clamor against Luther and his doctrines that assailed his ears in Paris. He was accompanied, or followed, to Meaux by his pupil, Farel. Over the views of the latter a signal change had come since he entered the university, full of veneration for the saints, and an enthusiastic supporter of the mass, of the papal hierarchy, and of every institution authorized by ecclesiastical tradition. After a painful mental struggle, of which he has himself given us a graphic account, Farel had been reluctantly brought to the startling conviction that the system of which he had been an enthusiastic advocate was a tissue of falsehoods and an abomination in God's sight. It required no more than this to bring a man of so resolute a character to a decision. Partly by his own assiduous application to study, especially of the Greek and Hebrew languages and of the Church Fathers, partly through the influence of Lefevre, he had become professor of philosophy in the college of the Cardinal Le Moine.
This advantageous position he resigned, in order that he might be able to second the labors of Lefevre in the new field which Bishop Briconnet had thrown open to him. Other pupils or friends of the Picard doctor followed--Michel d'Arande, Gerard Roussel, and others, all more or less thoroughly imbued with the same sentiments.
[Sidenote: The king's mother and sister encourage the preaching of the reformers.]
A new era had now dawned upon the neglected diocese of Meaux. Bishop Briconnet was fully possessed by his new-born zeal. The king's mother and his only sister had honored him with a visit not long after Lefevre's arrival, and had left him confident that in his projected reforms, and especially in the introduction of the preaching of the Word of God, he might count upon their powerful support. "I assure you,"
Margaret of Angouleme wrote him a month later, "that the king and madame are entirely decided to let it be understood that the truth of God is not heresy." And a few weeks later the same princely correspondent declared that her mother and brother were "more intent than ever upon the reformation of the church." With such flattering prospects the reformation opened at Meaux.
[Sidenote: Immediate results.]
From the year 1521, when the ardent friends of religious progress made their appearance in the city, the pulpits, rarely entered by the curates or by the mendicant monks unless to demand a fresh contribution of money, were filled with zealous preachers. The latter expounded the Gospel, in place of rehearsing the stories of the "Golden Legend;" and the people, at first attracted by the novelty of the sound, were soon enamored of the doctrines proclaimed. These doctrines stood, indeed, in signal opposition to those of the Roman church. By slow but sure steps the advocates of the Reformation had come to assume a position scarcely less unequivocal than that of Luther in Germany. In 1514, two years after the publication of the commentary in which he had clearly enunciated the Protestant doctrine on one cardinal point, Lefevre would seem still to have been unsurpassed in his devotion to pictures and images. Two years later he was regarded by Luther as strangely deficient in a clear apprehension of spiritual truths which, nevertheless, he fully exemplified in a life of singular spirituality and sincerity. And it was not until 1519 that, by the arguments of his own pupil, Farel, he was convinced of the impropriety of saint-worship and of prayers for the dead. But now there could be no doubt respecting Lefevre's attitude. Placed by Bishop Briconnet in charge of the "Leproserie," and subsequently entrusted with the powers of vicar-general over the entire diocese, he exerted an influence not hard to trace. A contemporary, when chronicling, a few years later, that "the greater part of Meaux was infected with the false doctrines of Luther," made the cause of all the trouble to be one Fabry (Lefevre), a priest and scholar, who rejected pictures from the churches, forbade the use of holy water for the dead, and denied the existence of purgatory.
[Sidenote: Gerard Roussel and Mazurier.]
The mystic Gerard Roussel, an eloquent speaker, whom the bishop appointed curate of St. Saintin, and subsequently treasurer and canon of the cathedral, was prominent among the new preachers, but was surpassed in exuberant display of zeal by Martial Mazurier, Principal of the College de St. Michel in Paris, who now fulfilled the functions of curate of the church of St. Martin at Meaux.
[Sidenote: Apprehension of the monks aroused.]
[Sidenote: De Roma's threat.]
It was not long before the apprehension of the monastic orders was aroused by the great popularity of the new teachers. The wool-carders, weavers, and fullers accepted the novel doctrine with delight as meeting a want which they had discovered in spite of poverty and ignorance. The day-laborers frequenting the neighborhood of Meaux, to aid the farmers in harvest-time, carried back to their more secluded districts the convictions they had obtained, and themselves became efficient agents in the promulgation of the faith elsewhere. If the anticipations of a speedy spread of the reformation throughout France were brilliant in the minds of its early apostles, the determination of its opponents was equally fixed. An incident occurred about this time which might almost be regarded as of prophetic import. Farel, who was present, is our sole informant. On one occasion Lefevre and a few friends were engaged in conversation with some warm partisans of the old abuses, when the old doctor, warming at the prospect he seemed to behold, exclaimed, "Already the Gospel is winning the hearts of the nobles and of the common people alike! Soon it will spread over all France, and cast down the inventions which the hand of man has set up." "Then," angrily retorted one De Roma, a Dominican monk, "Then I, and others like me, will join in preaching a crusade; and should the king tolerate the proclamation of the Gospel, we shall drive him from his kingdom by means of his own subjects!"
The Dominican friar stood forth at that moment the embodiment of the monastic spirit speaking defiance to the nascent reform. The church of the state, with its rich abbeys and priories, its glorious old cathedrals, and boundless possessions of lands and houses, was not to be resigned without a struggle so terrific as to shake the foundations of the throne itself. The germ of the Guises and the League, with Jacques Clement and Ravaillac, was already formed, and possessed a prodigious latent vitality.
[Sidenote: Briconnet's activity.]
Bishop Briconnet was himself active in promoting the evangelical work, preaching against the most flagrant abuses, and commending to the confidence of his flock the more eloquent preachers whom he had introduced. The incredible rumor even gained currency that the hot-headed prelate went through his diocese casting down the images and sparing no object of idolatrous worship in the churches. But, however improbable it may be that Briconnet ever engaged in any such iconoclastic demonstrations, it is a strong Roman Catholic partisan who has preserved the record of this significant warning given by the prelate to his flock, and elicited either by the consciousness of his own moral feebleness, or by a certain vague premonition of danger: "Even should I, your bishop, change my speech and teaching, beware that you change not with me!"
[Sidenote: Lefevre translates the New Testament.]
Under Briconnet's protection Jacques Lefevre assumed a task less restricted in its influence than preaching, in which he probably took a less active part than his coadjutors. The Bible was a closed book to the common people in France. The learned might familiarize themselves with its contents by a perusal of the Latin Vulgate; but readers acquainted with their mother tongue alone were reduced to the necessity of using a rude version wherein text and gloss were mingled in inextricable confusion, and the Scriptures were made to countenance the most absurd abuses. The best furnished libraries rarely contained more than a few detached books of the Bible, and these intended for ornament rather than use. Lefevre resolved, therefore, to apply himself to the translation of the Sacred Scriptures from the Latin Vulgate into the French language. In June, 1523, he published a version of the four gospels, and in the autumn of the same year he gave to the world the rest of the New Testament. Five years later he added a translation of the Old Testament. It was a magnificent undertaking, prompted by a fervent desire to promote the spiritual interests of his countrymen. In its execution, the inaccuracies incident to so novel an enterprise, and the comparative harshness of the style, can readily be forgiven. For, aside from its own merits, the version of Lefevre d'etaples formed the basis for the subsequent version of Robert Olivetanus, itself the groundwork of many later translations.
[Sidenote: The translation eagerly bought.]
[Sidenote: Delight of Lefevre.]
Lefevre and his associates had not erred in anticipating remarkable results from the publication of the Scriptures in the language of the people. The copies of the New Testament no sooner left the press than they were eagerly bought. They penetrated into obscure hamlets to which no missionary of the "new doctrines" could find access. By the wool-carders of Meaux the prize thus unexpectedly placed within reach was particularly valued. The liberality of Bishop Briconnet is said to have freely supplied copies to those who were too poor to afford the purchase-money. The prelate introduced the French Scriptures into the churches of Meaux, where the unparalleled innovation of reading the lessons in an intelligible tongue struck the people with amazement. "You can scarcely imagine," wrote the delighted Lefevre to a distant friend, "with what ardor God is moving the minds of the simple, in some places, to embrace His word since the books of the New Testament have been published in French, though you will justly lament that they have not been scattered more widely among the people. The attempt has been made to hinder the work, under cover of the authority of parliament; but our most generous king has become in this matter the defender of Christ's cause, declaring it to be his pleasure that his kingdom shall hear the word of God freely and without hinderance in the language which it understands. At present, throughout our entire diocese, on feast-days, and especially on Sunday, both the epistle and gospel are read to the people in the vernacular tongue, and the parish priest adds a word of exhortation to the epistle or gospel, or both, at his discretion."
There did, indeed, seem to be amply sufficient ground for the "exultation" expressed by the worthy Picard at the rapid progress of the Reformation throughout Europe and the flattering prospects offered in France itself. Everything seemed for a time to promise success at Meaux. Bishop Briconnet received with delight the advice of the Swiss and German reformers. The letters of colampadius, from Basle, in particular so deeply impressed him, that he commissioned Gerard Roussel to read in the French language and explain the meaning of the Pauline Epistles every morning to a promiscuous gathering of persons of both sexes, and chose out the most evangelical preachers to perform similar duty in all the more important places in his diocese.
[Sidenote: Enmity of the Franciscans.]
[Sidenote: Weakness of Bishop Briconnet.]
But the bishop had excited the active enmity of a resolute and suspicious foe. In forbidding the Franciscan monks entrance to any pulpit within his jurisdiction, he had, even before the advent of Lefevre and the reformed teachers, incurred their violent animosity. The new movement, while arousing their indignation, gave them the opportunity they coveted for invoking the power of the university and of parliament. At first the bishop was bold enough to denounce the doctors of the Sorbonne as Pharisees and false prophets, while in his private correspondence he stigmatized the clergy as "the estate _by the coldness of which all the others are frozen_," or even as "_that which is the ruin of all the rest_." But, frightened by the incessant clamor and attacks of his enemies, he began gradually to waver, and presently lost all courage. In the end he yielded so far as to suffer to be published in his name official documents which were intended to overturn from the foundation the very fabric he had been striving to rear. In one of these, a "Synodal Decree" addressed to the faithful of his diocese, the bishop was made to condemn the books of Martin Luther, and to denounce Luther himself as one who was plotting the overthrow of "the estate which _keeps all the rest in the path of duty_." Quite another description of the clergy this from either of the descriptions which he gave to Margaret of Angouleme! The other document was a letter to the clergy of his diocese, warning them against certain preachers "brought in by himself to share his pastoral cares," who, under cover of proclaiming the Gospel, had "dared, in defiance of the evangelical truth, to preach that purgatory does not exist, and that, consequently, we must not pray for the dead, nor invoke the very holy Virgin Mary and the saints."
The precise time of Briconnet's pusillanimous defection, as marked by the publication of these pastoral letters, is involved in some obscurity; for assuredly the date affixed to the transcripts that have come down to us conflicts too seriously with the well-known facts of history to be accepted as correct.
Later Roman Catholic historians have asserted that the act was a voluntary one; that Briconnet had never in reality sympathized with the religious views of reformers whom he had invited to Meaux simply because of his admiration for learning; that no sooner did he discover the heretical nature of their teachings than he removed them from the posts to which they had been assigned; and that he spent the residue of his life in the vain endeavor to retrieve the fatal consequences of his mistake. But this view is confirmed by nothing in the prelate's extant correspondence. Everywhere there is evidence that until his courage broke down, Briconnet was in full accord with the reformers.
His first step may possibly have been justified at the bar of conscience by the plausible suggestion that, since the anger of the Sorbonne had been directed specially against Meaux, the evangelical preachers could be more serviceable elsewhere. But, from the mere withdrawal of support to positive measures of repression, the transition was both natural and speedy.
[Sidenote: He is cited to appear before the Parliament.]
Unsatisfied by Bishop Briconnet's merely negative course, the Parliament of Paris at length cited him to appear and answer before a commission consisting of two of its own counsellors. The information thus obtained was next to be submitted to the judges delegated by the Pope, a tribunal of the institution of which an account will be given in another chapter. To this secret investigation Briconnet objected, and begged to be tried in open court by the entire body of parliament;
but his petition was rejected, and his examination proceeded before the inquisitorial commission. What measures were there taken to influence him is not known. To Martial Mazurier, lately an enthusiastic preacher of the "Lutheran" doctrines, who had himself, through fear, receded from his advanced position, the doubtful honor is ascribed of having been prominent in exertions to overcome the prelate's lingering scruples.
However this may be, when Briconnet had given sufficient guarantees to satisfy the Sorbonne that no apprehension need be entertained of a repetition in Meaux of the dangerous experiment of the public instruction of the people in the Holy Scriptures, there was nothing to be gained by his condemnation. He was accordingly acquitted of all charge of heresy, although condemned to pay the sum of two hundred livres as the expense of bringing to trial the "heretics" whom he had himself helped to make such. Hereupon he is said to have returned to his diocese, and, having convened a synod, to have prohibited, as we have seen, the circulation of Luther's writings, reintroduced the ecclesiastical practices that had been condemned or discarded, and given to the persecution now set on foot his unequivocal sanction.
[Sidenote: Dispersion of the reformed teachers.]
The teachers whom Briconnet had so cordially invited to assist him were compelled one by one to abandon Meaux. Among the earliest to leave was Farel. His was no faint heart. If he gave up his activity in Brie, it was only to return to his native Dauphiny, where a young nobleman, Anemond de Coct, and a preacher, Pierre de Sebeville, were among the leading men whose conversion was the fruit of his indefatigable exertions. After a visit to Guyenne, of which little is known, he passed into German Switzerland, and labored successively in Basle, Strasbourg, and Montbeliard.
[Sidenote: Annoyances of those who remain.]
Lefevre and Roussel were among the last to withdraw; but, beset with watchful enemies, they found their position neither safe nor comfortable. It was as difficult to maintain a semblance of friendship with an ecclesiastical system which they detested in their hearts, as to refuse their sympathy and support to the persecuted whose opinions they shared without possessing the courage necessary to suffer in attestation of the common faith. Busy informers at one time found evidence, more than warranting the suspicion that Roussel's manuscripts had furnished the material of which scandalous placards defamatory of the Pope were framed. A little later the proctor of the cathedral drew attention to the irregular conventicles held in the church itself, every Sunday and feast-day, after Roussel had preached. These "combers, carders, and other persons of the same stamp, unlettered folk," brought with them books containing the Epistles of St. Paul, the Gospels, and the Psalms, in flagrant disregard of the prohibitions they had heard respecting the discussion of such topics as faith, the sacraments, the privileges of Rome, and the use of pictures in the churches. It was made the occasion of "charitable rebuke" and then of formal complaint against Roussel by his fellow canons, that he failed to repeat the angelic salutation, according to the orthodox practice, after the exordium of his sermon. To the combined exhortations and threats of his accusers Roussel replied in the chapter that, if he had done wrong, it belonged to the bishop to reprove him, but that as to himself he esteemed the repetition of the Lord's Prayer quite as efficacious as the recital of the Ave Maria.
[Sidenote: Lefevre and Roussel take refuge in Strasbourg.]
[Sidenote: Excessive caution of Roussel.]
At last danger thickened, and Lefevre and Roussel found themselves forced to leave Meaux (October, 1525), and sought refuge within the hospitable walls of Strasbourg; for the persecuting measures adopted by the regent, Louise de Savoie, and the Parliament of Paris, during the king's captivity, as we shall shortly see, had placed the lives of even such prudent reformers in peril. In the free city on the banks of the Rhine, Lefevre met his pupil Farel, and in the midst of cordial greetings was reminded by him that the day of "renovation" which he had long since predicted and desired had really come. But the contrast between the two men had become sharply drawn. The fearless athlete, soon to measure his strength with no puny antagonists at Neufchatel, Lausanne, Geneva, and so many other places in French Switzerland, whose course was to be a succession of rough encounters, discovered that the master from whom he had received the impulse that shaped his entire life, shrank from sundering the last link binding him to the Roman church. And Gerard Roussel was even more timid. The elegant preacher, with fair prospects of preferment, could not bring himself openly to espouse the quarrel of oppressed truth. A mysticism investing his entire belief, and perverting his moral perceptions, led him to imagine that the heart might be kept pure in the midst of many external corruptions, and that the enlightened could worship the Almighty acceptably in spite of superstitious observances, which, while countenancing by apparent acquiescence, they rejected in their hearts. The excellence of the reformation already inaugurated at Strasbourg made a deep and very favorable impression upon Roussel. He wrote to Bishop Briconnet that the daily preaching of a pure doctrine, "without dross or leaven of the Pharisees," the crowds of attentive hearers, the schools presided over by men as illustrious for piety as for letters, and the careful provision for the poor, would delight his correspondent were he to see them. He did not dissemble his own great satisfaction that the monasteries had been changed into educational establishments, the pictures taken away from the churches, and every altar removed except one, on which the communion was celebrated, as nearly as possible, according to the plan of its institution. At the same time he renounced none of his excessive caution. His words were still those he had uttered when urged, a twelvemonth earlier, by Farel, colampadius, and Zwingle, to strike out boldly and by an open dispute on religion compel the attention of the thoughtless world. "The flesh is weak! As my friends, Lefevre and others, urge, the convenient season has not yet come, the Gospel has not yet been scattered sufficiently far and wide. We must not assume the Lord's prerogative for sending laborers into the harvest, but leave the work to Him whose it is, and who can easily raise up a far richer harvest than that for whose safety we are solicitous!"
History of the Rise of the Huguenots Volume I Part 8
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