THE RIGHT TO HERESY
OR, HOW JOHN CALVIN KILLED A CONSCIENCE Castellio Against Calvin
Calvin's Seizure of Power
ON Sunday, May 21, 1536, the burghers of Geneva, formally summoned by a trumpet blast, assem bled in the principal square and, raising their right hands, unanimously declared that thenceforward they would live exclusively "selon l'Evangile et la parole de Dieu."
It was by referendum (an ultra-democratic institution which is still in vogue in Switzerland) and in the former episcopal palace that the reformed religion was thus declared to be the only valid and permitted faith in Geneva to be the faith of the city-State. A few years had sufficed, not merely to drive the old Catholic faith from the town beside the Rhone, but to pulverize it and completely to ex tirpate it. Amid a menacing mob, the last priests, canons, monks, and nuns were expelled from the cloisters, while the churches, without exception, were purified of graven images and other tokens of "superstition." Then at length came this May Festival to seal the triumph. From that date, in Geneva, Protestantism had not merely the upper hand, but held exclusive sway.
This radical and unrestricted establishment of the re formed religion in Geneva was mainly the work of one zealot, Farel the preacher. A man of fanatical temperament, with a narrow brow, domineering and relentless. "Never in my life had I seen so presumptuous and shameless a crea ture," says the gentle Erasmus. This "French Luther" ex erted an overwhelming influence upon the masses. Small of stature, ugly, with a red beard and untidy hair, he thun dered at them from the pulpit, and the fury of his violent nature aroused an emotional storm in the populace. Like Danton, a revolutionist in politics, so Farel, a revolutionist in the religious field, was able to combine the scattered and hidden instincts of the crowd and to kindle them to a united onslaught. A hundred times before the victory Farel had ventured his life, being threatened in the countryside with stoning, and arrested and put under the ban by the authorities; but with primitive energy and singlemindedness he forcibly broke down resistance. Attended by a body guard of storm troops, he burst into a Catholic church while the priest at the altar was celebrating mass; he forced his way into the pulpit and, amid the acclamations of his sup porters, fulminated against Antichrist. He organized the street arabs into a second army at his service, inciting gangs of children to raid the cathedral at service time, and to disturb the devotions of the Catholics by screams, a quack ing noise like that of ducks, and outbursts of laughter. At length, emboldened by the growing number of his ad herents, he mobilized his guards for the last attack, and in structed them to violate the monasteries, tear down the images of saints from the walls, and burn these idols. This method of brute force was successful. A small but active minority can intimidate the majority by showing excep tional courage, and by readiness to use the methods of a terror--provided that the majority, however large, is slack. Though the Catholics complained of these breaches of the peace, and tried to set the Town Council to work, on the whole they sat quietly in their houses until, in the end, the bishop handed over his see to the victorious Reformation and ran away without striking a blow.
But now, in the day of triumph, it became apparent that Farel was a typical uncreative revolutionist, able by im petus and fanaticism to overthrow the old order, but not competent to bring a new one into being. He was an adept at abuse, but devoid of formative talent; a disturber, not a constructor. He could rail against the Roman Church, could incite the dull-witted masses to hatred for monks and nuns; with sacrilegious hands he could break the tables of the law. Having done this, he contemplated with hope less perplexity the ruin he had made, for he had no goal in view. Now, when new principles were to be established in Geneva to take the place of the Catholic religion which had been driven out, Farel was a failure. Being a purely de structive spirit, he could only make a vacancy; for a street corner revolutionist is never of the intellectually constructive type, destruction ends his task; another must follow in his footsteps to undertake the work of rebuilding.
Farel did not stand alone in his uncertainty at this critical moment. In Germany, likewise, and in other parts of Swit zerland than Geneva, the leaders of the Reformation were disunited, hesitant, and perplexed at the mission history had assigned them. What Luther and Zwingli had originally planned was nothing else than a purification of the existing Church, a leading back of the faithful from the authority of the pope and the councils to the forgotten evangelical doctrine. For them the Reformation signified at the outset that the Church was to be re-formed, that is to say, was to be bettered, purified, restored to its primitive integrity. Since, however, the Catholic Church stubbornly held to its views and would make no concessions, they were faced by the need for working outside the Catholic Church in stead of within--and forthwith, for when it is necessary to pass on beyond the destructive to the productive, there is a parting of the ways. Of course, there could have been noth ing more logical than that the religious revolutionists, Lu ther, Zwingli, and the other theologians of the Reformation, should have united in brotherly fashion upon a unified creed and a unified practice for the new Church. But when have the logical and the natural swayed the course of his tory? Instead of a worldwide and united Protestant Church, a number of petty Churches sprang up all over the place. Wittenberg would not hear a word of the theology of Zurich. Geneva repudiated the practices of Berne. Each town wished to have a Reformation of its own, in the Zu rich, Bernese, or Genevese fashion. In every crisis the na tionalist arrogance of the European States was prophetically foreshadowed on a small scale in the arrogance of the cantonal spirit. In acrimonious disputations, in theological hair-splittings and tracts, Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bucer, Carlstadt, and the rest of them now proceeded to squander the energies which had served, so long as they held together, to undermine the gigantic structure of the Ecclesia Universalis. Farel was absolutely impotent in Geneva when he contemplated the ruins of the old order; this being the typical tragedy of one who has embraced the mission assigned to him by history, but is unequal to the duties that are imposed on him as a consequence of acceptance.
It was in a happy hour that the man who had been so luckless as to triumph heard, by chance, that Calvin, the famous Jehan Calvin, was staying for a day in Geneva on his way home from Savoy. Farel hastened to call at the inn where Calvin put up, to ask the leader's advice and help as regards the work of reconstruction. For although Calvin was no more than twenty-six, being thus two decades younger than Farel, he already had uncontested authority. The son of an episcopal tax-gatherer and notary, born at Noyon in Picardy, educated (as Erasmus and Loyola had been) under the strict disciplines of Montaigu College, being first intended for the priestly caste and then switched off in the direction of a legal career, Jehan Calvin (or Chau vin) had at the age of twenty-four to flee from France to Basle, owing to his advocacy of Lutheran doctrines.
Most refugees forfeit their internal energies when they leave their homeland, but to Calvin what happened in this respect proved advantageous. At Basic, where two of the main roads of Europe crossed one another, and where the various forms of Protestantism encountered and conflicted with one another, Calvin, having penetrating insight and being a profound logician, recognized the weighty sig nificance of the hour. More and ever more radical theses had split away from the core of evangelical doctrine; pan theists and atheists, enthusiasts and zealots, were beginning to dechristianize and to superchristianize Protestantism. The dreadful tragi-comedy of the Anabaptists of Munster had already come to a bloody and awesome close; the Reformation was in danger of breaking up into separate sects, and of becoming national instead of establishing itself as a universal power like its counterpart, the Roman Church.
With the self-confidence of an inspired prophet, this man of twenty-five immediately realized what steps must be taken to prevent such a split in the reformed faith. The new doctrine must be spiritually crystallized in a book, a schema, a programme; the creative principles of evangelical dogma needed to be formulated. Aglow with the courage of youth, Calvin, an unknown jurist and theologian, recognized these necessities from the first. While the accepted leaders were still disputing about details, he looked resolutely towards the whole, producing in a year his Institutio religionis Chris tianae (1535), the first publication to contain the principles of evangelical doctrine, so that it became the primer and guide-book, the canonical work, of Protestantism.
This lnstitutio is one of the ten or twenty books in the world of which we may say without exaggeration that they have determined the course of history and have changed the face of Europe. It was the most important deed of the Reformation after Luther's translation of the Bible, and immediately began to influence Calvin's contemporaries by its inexorable logic and resolute constructiveness--qualities which made its influence decisive. Spiritual movements need a genius to initiate them and another genius to bring them to a close. Luther, the inspirer, set the stone of the Reformation rolling; Calvin, the organizer, stopped the movement before it broke into a thousand fragments. In a sense it may be said, therefore, that the lnstitutio rounded off the religious revolution, as the Code Napoleon rounded off the French. Both, drawing decisive lines, summed up what had gone before; both of them deprived a stormy and raging movement of the fiery impetus of its beginning, in order to stamp upon it the forms of law and stability. Thus arbitrariness became dogma, and freedom led to the birth of dictatorship, while spiritual ardour was rigidly shackled. Of course, whenever a revolution is bridled, it forfeits a good deal of its dynamic power. This is what happened to the Reformation in Calvin's hands; but the upshot was that thenceforward the Catholic Church as a spiritually unified and worldwide entity was contraposed by a Protestant Church occupying a similar position.
Calvin's extraordinary strength is shown by the fact that he never mitigated or modified the rigidity of his first formulations. Subsequent editions of his book were expan sions, but never corrections, of his first decisive judgments. At twenty-five, like Marx and Schopenhauer, before gain ing any experience, he logically thought out his philosophy to its conclusion. The remainder of his life was destined to witness the transplantation of this philosophy from the ideal world to the real one. He never altered an important word in what he had written; he never retraced a footstep, and never made a move in the direction of compromise with an adversary. Those who have to do with such a man must either break him or be broken by him. Half-measures either for him or against him are futile. Unless you repudiate him, you must subjugate yourself to him without reserve.
Farel (and therein is shown Farel's greatness) became aware of this at the first meeting, during the first conver sation. Though so much older in years, from that hour he subordinated himself unreservedly to Calvin. He regarded Calvin as his leader and master, himself becoming a servant, a slave of that master. Never, during the next thirty years, did Farel venture to contradict a word uttered by his junior.
In every struggle, in every cause, he took Calvin's side, hastening to join Calvin at any summons, to fight for him and aid him. Farel was the first disciple to tender that un questioning, uncritical, and self-sacrificing obedience on which Calvin, a fanatical subordinator, insisted as being the supreme duty of every disciple. Only one request did Farel ever make of Calvin, and this was at the opening of their acquaintance. He wanted Calvin, as the sole competent re ceiver, to take over the spiritual leadership of Geneva, where the master, with his outstanding powers, would up build the Reformation in a way which had been beyond Farel's own strength.
Calvin disclosed later how long and how stubbornly he had refused to comply with this amazing call. For those who are children of the spirit rather than children of the flesh, it will always be a very responsible decision when they are asked to leave the sphere of pure thought in order to enter the obscure and disturbed regions of political realism. Such a secret dread mastered Calvin for a while. He hesitated, vacillated, said he was too young and too in experienced. He begged Farel to leave him quietly in the world of books and problems. At length Farel lost patience at this obstinate renunciation of a call and, with the sublime force of one of the Old Testament prophets, he thundered: "You plead the importance of your studies. In the name of Almighty God I declare unto you that his curse will light on you if you refuse your help in the Lord's work, and seek anything else in the world than Christ."
This emotional appeal moved Calvin and decided his ca reer. He declared himself ready to upbuild the new order in Geneva. What he had hitherto been sketching and drafting in words and ideas was now to become deeds and works. Instead of stamping the form of his will upon a book, he would henceforward try to impress it upon a city and a State.
The people who know least about an historical epoch are those who live in it. Moments of supreme importance clam our vainly for their attention; and hardly ever do the de cisive hours of an era receive adequate notice from its chroniclers. Thus in the minutes of the Town Council of Geneva for the sitting of September 5, 1536, we read of Farel's proposal to appoint Calvin "lecteur de la Sainte Escripture," but the minute-taker did not trouble to in scribe the name of the man who was to make Geneva fa mous throughout the world. The secretary aridly records in his minutes how Farel proposed that "iste Gallus"-that Frenchman--was to continue his activities as preacher. That is all. Why bother to inquire the right spelling of the man's name, and enter the name in the minutes? We seem to be reading about an unimportant resolution to give this foreign preacher a small Salary. For the Town Council of
Geneva did not believe it had done anything more than ap / point a subordinate official who would perform his duties as obediently as any other minor official, an usher, for in stance, or a sidesman, or an executioner.
It can hardly be said that the worthy councillors were men of learning. In their spare time they did not read the ological works, and we cannot suppose for a moment that any one of them had even fluttered the pages of Calvin's lnstitutio religionis Christianae. Had they been scholars, they would certainly have been alarmed at the plenitude of powers assigned to "iste Gallus," to this French preacher, within the congregation: "Here may be specified the pow ers with which the preachers of the Church are to be equipped. Since they are appointed as administrators and proclaimers of the divine word, they must venture all things, and must be ready to compel the great and the mighty of this world to bow before the majesty of God and to serve Him. They have to hold sway over the highest and the lowest; they have to enforce God's will on earth and to destroy the realm of Satan, to safeguard the lambs and to extirpate the wolves; they have to exhort and to in struct the obedient, to accuse and to annihilate the refrac tory. They can bind and they can loose; they can wield lightnings and scatter thunders, but all in accordance with Holy Writ." These words of Calvin, "the preachers have to hold sway over the highest and the lowest," must un questionably have been ignored by the members of the Town Council of Geneva, for had they marked the words, they would not have thrust unlimited power into the hands of a man who made such sweeping claims. Never suspect ing that the French refugee whom they appointed preacher at their church had determined from the outset to become lord of the city and State, they gave him office and salary and dignity. Thenceforward their own powers were at an end, for, thanks to his resistless energy, Calvin would grasp the reins, would ruthlessly realize his totalitarian ambitions, and thus transform a democratic republic into a theocratic dictatorship.
The initial steps taken by Calvin show his far-seeing logic and his clearly thought out aim. "When I first came into this Church," he wrote subsequently, "the Reformation was at a standstill in Geneva. People preached there, and that was all. They got the images of the saints together and burnt them. But there was no Reformation worthy of the name. Everything was in disorder." Calvin was a born organizer, and detested disorder. His nature was mathe matically precise, so that he was revolted by whatever was irregular and unsystematic. Anyone who wishes to educate people to accept a new faith must make them understand what they already believe and avow. They must be able to distinguish clearly between what is allowed and what is forbidden; every spiritual realm needs, no less than does every temporal realm, its visible boundaries and its laws. Within three months Calvin submitted to this same Town Council a catechism all complete, for in its twenty-one ar ticles the principles of the new evangelical doctrine were formulated in the most precise and comprehensible bald ness; and this catechism, this Confession, which was to be, so to say, the decalogue of the new Church, was in prin ciple accepted by the Council.
But Calvin was not a man to be satisfied by lukewarm acceptance. He insisted upon unreserved obedience down to the last punctuation mark. It was not enough for him that the doctrine should be formulated, since that might still leave the individual a certain amount of liberty to de cide whether and to what extent he would comply. Calvin was not one who would ever tolerate freedom in respect of doctrine or of daily life. There was not to be a jot of give-and-take in religious and spiritual matters; there must be no truce with individual convictions; the Church, as he re garded it, had not merely the right but the duty to impose unquestioning obedience upon all men, to impose it by force, and to punish laodiceanism as savagely as it punished open resistance. "Others may think otherwise, but I do not myself believe our office to be confined within such narrow limits that, it may be supposed, when we have preached a sermon, we have done our duty to the full and may fold our arms and let things take their course." His catechism not merely laid down guiding lines for true believers, but formulated the laws of the State. He demanded of the Council that the burghers of the city of Geneva should be officially compelled to acknowledge their acceptance of this Confession publicly, by oath, one after another. By tens the burghers were to be brought before the elders, like schoolboys before a master, betaking themselves to the cathedral, and there, with uplifted hands, they were to swear unreserved acceptance of the catechism after it had been read aloud to them by the secretary of State. Any who should refuse to take the oath were immediately to be expelled from the town. This signified plainly and once for all that no burgher from that day on was to live within the walls of Geneva and venture in spiritual matters to diverge by a hair's breadth from the demands and views of Calvin. An end had been made in the canton of what Luther demanded: the "Christian man's freedom" to regard religion as a matter for individual conscience. The logos had gained a victory over the ethos, the law over the spirit, of the Reformation. There was to be no more liberty in Geneva, now that Calvin had entered the city. One will was to rule all.
Dictatorship is unthinkable and untenable without force. Whoever wants to maintain power must have the instru ments of power in his hands; he who wants to rule must also have the right of inflicting punishment. Now the reso lution to which Calvin owed his appointment did not give him any right to expel burghers from Geneva for ecclesias tical offences. The councillors had appointed him "lecteur de la Sainte Escripture" that he might interpret Holy Writ to the faithful; they had appointed him preacher that he might preach, and might guide the congregation to walk in the true faith. They considered that they had retained within their own hands the power of inflicting punishment, and that they, not Calvin or any preacher, were responsible for the behaviour of the burghers. Neither Luther nor Zwingli, nor any other of the reformers, had hitherto tried to take over such rights or powers, which were reserved to the civil authority. Calvin, being of an authoritarian na ture, at once set to work to make the Council no more than the executive organ of his commands and ordinances. Since he had no legal right to do anything of the kind, he established a right for himself by introducing excommuni cation. By a stroke of genius he transformed the religious mystery of the Last Supper into a means for promoting his personal power and of exercising pressure on his adver saries. The Calvinist preacher, in due time, decided to ad mit to the Lord's Supper only those whose moral behaviour seemed satisfactory. But if the preacher refused to admit anyone to the Lord's Supper, the person thus banned would be banned also in the civic sense. Herein lay the intolerable might of the new weapon. No one was permitted any longer to speak to the offender, who was, as schoolboys say, sent to Coventry; no one could sell to him or buy from him; thus what had appeared at the outset to be a purely ecclesiastical instrument placed at the disposal of the spirit ual authorities was transformed into a social and business boycott. If the person against whom a boycott was declared would not capitulate, and refused to make public acknowl edgment of wrongdoing, Calvin gave him short shrift, and commanded his banishment. An adversary of Calvin, though the most respectworthy of citizens, could no longer, once he had fallen into Calvin's disfavour, go on living in Geneva. One who differed openly from the preacher had his very existence as a citizen destroyed.
These fearsome powers enabled Calvin to annihilate any who ventured to resist. With one bold stroke he took both thunder and lightning into his hands, acquiring unchal lengeable supremacy such as the bishop of Geneva had never wielded. For within the Catholic Church there was an endless hierarchy of authorities proceeding from lower to higher and the highest place. Many appeals could be made before the Church definitively decided to expel one of its adherents. Excommunication was a supra-personal act, completely beyond the arbitrary power of an individ ual. But Calvin, having a clearer aim and being more ruth less in the exercise of his will-to-power, recklessly forced this right of expulsion into the hands of the preachers and the Consistory. He made the terrible threat of excommuni cation a regular punishment, thus intensifying beyond bounds his personal power. Being a psychologist, he had calculated the effects of such a terror, and guessed the anx iety of those who had occasion to dread such a fate. With great labour the Town Council managed to secure the ad ministration of holy communion only once a quarter, in stead of, as Calvin demanded, once a month, but Calvin never allowed this strongest of weapons to be snatched from him, the weapon of excommunication and consequent expulsion. Only by the use of that weapon could he begin the struggle to which he had from the first looked forward, the struggle for totality of power.
A considerable time usually elapses before a nation per ceives that the temporary advantages of dictatorship, of a rigid discipline with consequent increase of combative energy, must be paid for by the forfeiture of many individ ual rights; and that inevitably the new law impinges upon ancient freedoms. In Geneva, as the years went by, this gradually became plain to the popular consciousness. The citizens gave their assent to the Reformation, voluntarily assembling in public as independent persons, to signify, by raising their hands, that they recognized the new faith. But their republican pride revolted against being driven through the town like convicts, herded together by bailiffs and compelled to swear obedience in the Church to every edict issued by my lord Calvin. They had not approved a rigid moral reform in order that they might find themselves threatened with outlawry and exile merely for having up lifted their hearts in song when made merry by a glass of wine, or because they had worn clothes which seemed too bright of hue or too sumptuous to Master Calvin or Master Farel. People began to ask who were these fellows that as sumed such commanding ways. Were they Genevese? Were they descendants of the old settlers, of those who had helped to create the greatness and the wealth of the city; were they tried and trusted patriots, connected for cen turies by blood or marriage with the best families? No, they were new-comers, refugees from France. They had been hospitably accepted, provided with maintenance, shel ter, lucrative positions; and now this tax-gatherer's son from a neighbouring country, having made a warm nest for himself, had sent for his brother and his brother-in-law, and he actually ventured to rail against and to browbeat burghers of standing. He, the French émigré, the man whom they had appointed to his new post, presumed to lay down the law as to who might and who might not live in Geneva!
In the early days of a dictatorship, before the free spirits have been clubbed into submission and other persons of independent mind have been expelled, the forces of re sistance hold their own for a while, and show a considerable amount of passion. So now in Geneva, persons with re publican inclinations declared that they would not allow themselves to be treated "like pickpockets." The inhabitants of whole streets, above all those of the rue des Allemands, refused to take the oath. They murmured rebelliously, de claring that they would never obey the commands of a French starveling, would never at his beck and call leave their homes. Calvin did, indeed, succeed in inducing the Little Council, which was devoted to his cause, to support his decree of expulsion against those who refused to take the oath; but he did not as yet hazard the enforcement of so unpopular a measure, while the result of the new elec tions showed plainly that the majority of the burghers in Geneva were beginning to turn against Calvin's arbitrary decrees. In February 1538, his immediate followers no longer commanded a majority in the Town Council, so that once more the democrats in Geneva were able to maintain their will against the authoritarian claims of Calvin.
Calvin ventured too far and too fast. Political ideologists are likely to underestimate the strength of mental inertia, fancying that decisive innovations can be established in the real world as quickly as within their own excogitations. Calvin found it necessary to go more slowly until he had won the secular authorities to his support. He adopted milder ways, for his position was insecure. All the same, the newly elected Council, while keeping a sharp eye on him, was not actively hostile. During this brief respite even his most strenuous adversaries had to recognize that the ground work of Calvin's fanaticism was an unconditional fervour for morality; that this impetuous man was not driven along his course by personal ambition, but by love of a great ideal. His comrade at arms, Farel, was the idol of the young people and the mob, so that tension could easily be relaxed if Calvin consented to show a little diplomatic shrewdness, and adapted his revolutionary claims to the less extreme views of the burghers in general.
But here an obstacle was encountered in Calvin's granite nature and iron rigidity. Throughout life, nothing could be further from this thoroughpaced zealot than a willingness for conciliation. He never understood the meaning of a middle course. For him there existed but one course--his own. All or nothing; he must have supreme authority or re nounce his whole claim. Never would he compromise, being so absolutely convinced of the rightness of Jehan Cal vin's standpoint that he simply could not conceive an opponent might believe in the rightness of another cause, and from a different point of view be as right as Master Calvin. It became an axiom for the latter that his business was to teach and other people's business was to learn. With per fect sincerity and imperturbable conviction, he announced: "I have from God what I teach, and herein my conscience fortifies me." Possessing terrific and sinister self-assurance, he compared his own views with absolute truth, and said: "Dieu m'a fait la grace de declarer ce qu'est bon et mauvais" -(God has been gracious enough to reveal unto me good and evil). Yet again and again this man, who suffered from a sort of demoniacal possession by his own self, grew em bittered and was genuinely outraged when another person with equal confidence maintained a contrary opinion. Dis sent brought on in Calvin a nervous paroxysm. His mental sensibility affected the workings of his body. When he was crossed, his stomach revolted and he vomited bile. The an tagonist might offer the most reasonable objections. That mattered nothing to Calvin, who was concerned only with the fact that another ventured to hold different views, and must consequently be regarded as an enemy, not only of Jehan Calvin, but of the world at large, and of God him self. "Hissing serpents," "barking dogs," "beasts," "rascals," "Satan's spawn"-such were the names showered in private life by this overwrought and arrogant man upon the leading humanists and theologians of his day. To differ from Cal vin was to detract from "God's honour" in the person of His servant. Even if the difference was purely academic, the "Church of Christ was threatened" as soon as anyone ventured to declare that the preacher of St.-Pierre was dic tatorially minded. So far as Calvin was concerned, what he meant by argument was that the other party to it must ad mit himself to have been wrong and must come over to Calvin's side. Throughout life this man, who in other re spects showed so much clear-sightedness, was never able to doubt that he alone was competent to interpret the word of God, and that he alone possessed the truth. But thanks to this overweening self-confidence, thanks to this prophetic exaltation, to this superb monomania, Calvin was able to hold his own in actual life. It was to a petrified imperturba bility, to an icy and inhuman rigidity, that he owed his victory on the political stage. Nothing but such an intoxica tion with the self, nothing but so colossally limited a self-satisfaction, makes a man a leader in the domain of uni versal history. People are prone to accept suggestion, not when it comes from the patient and the righteous, but from monomaniacs who proclaim their own truth as the only possible truth, and their own will as the basic formula of secular law.
Thus Calvin was not in the least shaken to find that the majority of the newly elected Town Council was adverse to him, politely requesting him to abstain, for the sake of the public peace, from his threats and excommunications, and to adopt the milder views of the Bernese synod. But concession and compromise are impossible to such a man as Calvin; and at the very time when the Town Council was contradicting him, he, who demanded from others absolute subordination to authority, would heedlessly rise in revolt against what for him should have represented constituted authority. From his pulpit he hurled invectives against the Little Council, declaring that "he would rather die than fling the holy body of the Lord for dogs to devour." Another preacher declared in open church that the Town Council was "an assembly of topers." Thus Calvin's ad herents formed a rigid bloc in their defiance of authority.
The Town Council could not tolerate so provocative a revolt. At first it was content to issue an unmistakable hint to the effect that the pulpit must not be used for political purposes, since the business of those who held forth in the pulpit was simply and solely to expound the word of God. But when Calvin and his followers disregarded this official instruction, the Council, as a last resort, forbade the preach ers to enter the pulpit; and the most insubordinate of them, Courtauld, was arrested for his incitations to rebellion. This implied open war between the powers of the Church and the powers of the State. Calvin promptly took up the gaunt let. Attended by his supporters, he forced his way into the cathedral of St.-Pierre, sturdily mounted the steps of the proscribed pulpit, and, since representatives of the parties began to crowd into the Church sword in hand, one side determined to support the interdicted preacher, and the other side to prevent him from making himself heard, a riot ensued, so that the Easter celebrations very nearly ended in massacre.
Now the Town Council's patience was exhausted. The Great Council of the Two Hundred, the supreme author ity, was summoned and was asked to dismiss Calvin and the other 'preachers who defied the municipal authorities. A general assembly of the citizens was called, and, by an over whelming majority, on April 23, 1538, the rebel preachers were deprived of their positions and were ordered to leave the town within three days. A sentence of expulsion, of ex ile, which during the last eighteen months Calvin had fulminated against so many Genevese burghers, was now passed on himself.
Calvin's first attempt to take Geneva by storm had failed. But in the life of a dictator reverses are of small moment. Indeed, it is almost essential that the ascent to a position which will give such a man uncontrolled power should be marked at the outset by dramatic defeat. For arch-revolu tionists, exile, imprisonment, outlawry have never been hindrances to their popularity, but helps. One who is to be idolized by the masses must first have been a martyr. Persecution by a detested system alone can create for a leader of the people the psychological prerequisites of sub sequent whole-hearted support by the masses. The more a would-be leader is tested, the more is the populace likely to regard him as mystically appointed. Nothing is so essential to the role of a leading politician as that he should pass into the background, for temporary invisibility makes his figure legendary. Fame envelops his personality in a luminous cloud, an aureole of glory; and when he emerges from it, he is able to fulfil expectations which have been multiplied a hundredfold, in an atmosphere which has formed without his stirring a finger on its behalf. It was in exile that many remarkable persons acquired an authority that is wielded only by those who have won affection and inspired confi dence. Caesar in Gaul, Napoleon in Egypt, Garibaldi in South America, Lenin in the Urals, became stronger through absence than they would have been had they remained pres ent. So was it, too, with Calvin.
Granted that, in the hour of expulsion, it seemed as if all was up with Jehan Calvin. His organization destroyed, his work shattered, there remained nothing but the memory of a fanatical will to impose order, and a few dozen trust worthy friends. He was helped, however, like all those whose disposition leads them to eschew compromise and to withdraw into obscurity at dangerous times, by the errors alike of his successors and of his opponents. When Calvin and Farel, persons of impressive personality, had been cash iered, the municipal authorities found it difficult to drum up one or two servile preachers, who, fearing that resolute action on their part might make them unpopular, were readier to slacken the reins than to draw them tighter. With such men in the pulpit, the Reformation in Geneva, which had been so energetically undertaken by Calvin, soon came to a standstill, and the burghers were confused as to what was right and what was wrong in matters of faith, so that the members of the prohibited Catholic Church gradually regained courage, and endeavoured, through shrewd inter mediaries, to reconquer Geneva for the Roman faith. The situation was critical, and steadily became more so. By de grees the reformers who had thought Calvin too harsh and too strict became uneasy, and asked themselves whether an iron discipline was not, after all, more desirable than im minent chaos. More and more of the burghers, among them some of those who had actively opposed Calvin, now urged his recall, and the municipal authorities could at length see no other course than to comply with the popular will. The first messages and letters to Calvin were no more than cau tious inquiries; but soon they plainly and urgently expressed a desire for the preacher's return. The invitation was in tensified into a passionate appeal. The Town Council no longer wrote to "Monsieur" Calvin asking him to come back and help the town out of its difficulties, but addressed its communications to "Maitre" Calvin. At length the sub servient and perplexed councillors wrote imploring "their good brother and sometime friend" to resume his office as preacher, those who penned this missive declaring them selves "determined to behave towards him in such a way that he would have reason to be satisfied."
Had Calvin been petty, and had a cheap triumph been enough for him, he certainly might have felt satisfied at be ing besought to return to the city which two years ago had expelled him. But one who craves all will never put up with half-measures, and in this sacred cause Calvin was not moved by personal vanity; he wanted to establish the vic tory of authority--his own authority. Not a second time was he willing to allow his work to be interfered with by any secular power. If he returned to Geneva, only one writ must run there, the writ of Jehan Calvin.
Not until Geneva came to him with lettered hands, with a humble and binding declaration of willingness to "sub ordinate" itself, would Calvin consider the negotiations to be on a satisfactory footing. With a disdain which he ex aggerated for tactical reasons, he rejected these urgent offers. "A hundred times rather would I go to my death than resume the distressful struggles of earlier days," he wrote to Farel. He would not move a step towards his op ponents. When at length the municipal authorities, meta phorically speaking, kneeled before Calvin, beseeching him to come back, his closest friend Farel grew impatient and wrote: "Are you going to wait until the stones cry out for your return?" But Calvin stood to his guns until Geneva unconditionally surrendered. Not till the councillors swore to accept the Confession and to establish the requisite "dis cipline" in accordance with his will, not till they sent letters to the town of Strasburg asking their brethren in that city to spare them this indispensable man, not till Geneva had humiliated itself before the world at large as well as before himself, did Calvin give way and declare himself ready to assume his old office, provided he were given plenary powers.
As a vanquished city makes ready for the entrance of the conqueror, so did Geneva prepare to receive Jehan Calvin. Everything possible was done to allay his displeasure. The old and strict edicts were hastily reimposed, that Calvin's demands might be conceded in advance. The Little Council found a suitable house with a garden for the man whose presence was now so greatly desired, and furnished it hand somely. The pulpit in the cathedral of St.-Pierre was re constructed, so that he could preach more effectively, and so that his person should be visible to every member of the congregation. Honour was heaped upon honour. Before Calvin left Strasburg, a herald was dispatched from Geneva to meet him half-way on his journey with greetings from the city; and his family was ceremoniously fetched at the cost of the burghers. At length, on September 13, 1541, a travelling carriage approached the Cornavin Gate. Huge crowds assembled to lead the returned exile into the city amid great rejoicings. Now Geneva was in his hands, to mould as a potter moulds clay; and he would not desist from his task until he had transformed the town to his own way of thinking. From that hour Calvin and Geneva became two inseparable ideas, Calvin and Geneva, spirit and form, the creator and the creature.
Chapter Two: The "Discipline" Return to "HERESY" Table of Contents
HOME | FINNEY LIFE | FINNEY WORKS | TEXT INDEX | SUBJECT INDEX | GLOSSARY | BOOK STORE