Calvin. History and Reception of a Reformation Week 1. Calvin's Life Sequence 4. Calvin's First Stay in Geneva (1536-1538) Welcome to this sequence, which will focus on Calvin's first stay in Geneva, between the years 1536 and 1538. As you remember, Calvin was living in Basel, where, in 1536, he published a work promised to an exceptional destiny, "Institutio Christianae Religionis". Immediately upon the publication of this work -- which we will be discussing in greater detail later in this course -- Calvin undertook a series of trips, the first of which was to Ferrara, Italy, in the court of Renée of France, daughter of king Louis XII and half-sister of Francis I, who was known as a supporter of the evangelical cause. Ferrara, however, turned out to be a dangerous place for evangelicals. They were threatened with arrest, torture and execution. Calvin did not stay long in Ferrara, returning to Basel before, in all likelihood, traveling home to Noyon to settle a few domestic matters. He then returned to Basel and expressed the desire to travel to Strasbourg, which turned out not to be possible because the roads were impracticable, as was often the case during the 16th century. War was raging between France and the Empire. The Lorraine region, through which Calvin wanted to travel, was completely impassable. And thus he made an enormous detour by the south, ending up in Geneva. Calvin only intended to spend one night in Geneva, but he was recognized by Farel, and so the two met up. There, Farel, who'd been in Geneva for some time already, used all of his powers of persuasion and authority to convince Calvin to stay. A few years later, in the preface to his "Commentary on the Psalms," Calvin described the episode as follows: "Farel (who burned of a marvelous zeal to advance the Gospel) did all he could to retain me. (...) When he saw that his prayers had gained him nothing, he proceeded to utter an imprecation that God would curse my retirement, and the tranquility of the studies which I sought, if I
should withdraw and refuse to give assistance, when the necessity was so urgent. By this
imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had
undertaken." Calvin thus gave up on going to Strasbourg. Did this exchange really take place? Well, why not? Although we cannot know for sure. What we do know is that the episode has often been represented quite dramatically, as illustrated by this well-known and frequently reproduced 19th century engraving by van Muyden. For Calvin, Geneva served as a sort of Reformation laboratory. It was in Geneva that Calvin started to work towards giving the Reformation depth and consistency. He was hired as preacher (or pastor) by the Council of Geneva and we know that he taught a class on the Epistles to the Romans. For Calvin, however, the major event of 1536 took place not in Geneva but about 60 kilometers away, in Lausanne, a city that had recently been taken over by Bern. In October 1536, Lausanne hosted an important Disputation concerning which religion to choose. What exactly was a Disputation? In the late Middle Ages, it was a well-known type of debate, common in universities and other academic institutions, where people would argue for or against a given thesis. In the 16th century, the Disputation expanded beyond the confines of the academic world and into the public place. Disputations were no longer carried out in Latin, but in the local vernacular. Thus, our Disputation in Lausanne was held in the cathedral and in French. The matter to be resolved: the Reformation, for or against? As was often the case, the dice were loaded. In other words, the winner of the Disputation was known ahead of time, for two main reasons: first, political support was on the side of Bern, which had recently conquered the territory of Vaud and taken possession of all its land, having wrested it away from Savoy. Bern's objective was to impose the Reformation. Political momentum was thus on the side of the Reformation, because Bern was in favor of it. There was a second reason that made a victory by the Reformers the likeliest outcome (had there been any wagers to be made, in early October, the smart money would no doubt have been on a win for the Reformation and its supporters). The second reason was that the Reformation side possessed among its members certain "champions of theology." Among them: Guillaume Farel, Pierre Viret (from Vaud) and Pierre Caroli, about whom we will learn more in a few moments. And also a young man, brought along by Farel, named John Calvin. On the other side of the Disputation, the Roman Catholic side, no one was really up to the task. The bishop happily found a thousand reasons not to attend. Nor did any priests take part. Only a few willing followers turned up to defend the Roman Church. Among them, a doctor by the name of Blancherose, who, despite the best of intentions, was unable to even properly define what a sacrament was. A few others, preachers and religious people, also tried to enter the fray. Nonetheless, the Disputation was not a fraudulent debate, as it still involved the presentation of actual arguments. What we must understand is that Disputations were governed by clearly-established regulations, and that the losing side -- in this case the Catholics -- were to be neither threatened nor harmed. The Disputation was an intellectual exercise that had acquired a social dimension, but which never carried with it any kind of threat, penal or political. A record of the Disputation has been preserved; it is a document of considerable size, totaling 400 pages. I'm not going to narrate the entire event, but there is one thing in particular that stands out. Here I am indebted to an excellent article by Francis Higman, which brings attention to the specific moment in the Disputation when the momentum clearly shifted. Arguments had been presented by both sides concerning the Eucharist, the presence of Christ in the sacraments, but they had been very complex. Farel himself had gone on and on in what seemed like an endless diatribe. Then came the time for our young man to take the floor. Let's listen to the words of Calvin in what was his first ever public address: "I have refrained from speaking until this moment, and had decided to refrain until the end." Now, this is a clever rhetorical device by Calvin: anyone who says "I had decided not to speak, yet I am addressing you now" is bound to capture the attention of his audience. Calvin continued: "But the reproach which you have made concerning the holy doctors of Antiquity constrains me to say one word to remonstrate briefly how wrongly and groundlessly you accuse us
in this connection!" You have wrongly accused us and I am going to prove it -- Calvin then went on to quote several Church Fathers from memory: Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, and others. And as he expounded his argument, many in the audience started seeing things more clearly. But the real drama came when one of Calvin's opponents, Jean Tandy, a Franciscan Friar, Jean Tandy, took the floor and declared (in essence): " Brothers, in accordance with what I have just heard, I confess to having been in error for a very long time. I believed I was serving God
and his commandments, but having now heard the truth, I wish to live as a Christian
and no longer as a Friar." This defection effectively turned the tide. It was as if a player switched from one team to the other right in the middle of a game. What is important here is that Friar Tandy was convinced not by Farel, Viret or any other of the orators, but by John Calvin -- a clear illustration of the impressive rhetorical and intellectual abilities of the young author of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion." Let's now go back to Geneva, the laboratory of the Reformation. Geneva's problem was a problem of inheritance: the temporal and spiritual authority associated with the bishop, who had abandoned his post, was left unattended. To whom, then, did the power and responsibility of regulating the "way of life," as it was called, rightfully belong? And to whom did the power to excommunicate, in particular, rightfully belong? Who was to be empowered with deciding matters of religion? In short: both the civil powers-that-be and the Church laid claim to the bishop's inheritance. These competing claims led to a prolonged conflict, between 1536 and 1538, between Geneva's Small Council and the pastors, who counted among them Calvin and Farel. The Council's registry, which has recently been published, is an extremely rich source of information on the day-to-day development of the Reformation in Geneva. It documents the Council's attempts to legislate piety, for instance by banning the sale of pious objects such as rosaries. It also documents the educational efforts undertaken by the pastors -- Farel, Calvin, etc. Calvin published a Confession of Faith to which, he argued, every citizen of Geneva should swear. Calvin and Farel also authored articles regarding ecclesiastical discipline, an area that was being claimed as its own prerogative by the magistrature. In his "Commentary on the Psalms," which we've just mentioned, Calvin evokes this period of "sedition" (by which is meant tumult, upheaval). He recounts various attacks by various parties. Among them, an attack by the Council against Geneva (we'll come back to this later), as well as an attack by his former friend, Pierre Caroli, who, though an ally at the Lausanne Disputation, later turned against
Calvin -- for reasons not entirely honorable --, accusing him of being an enemy of the Trinity. There were also disputes with Anabaptists who had come to Geneva. Anabaptists were opposed to infant baptism, and for this were attacked by both the Small Council and Calvin. The biggest source of discord, however, was the growing dissension between Calvin and his fellow pastors, on the one hand, and the civil authorities on the other. In 1538, all four newly-elected syndics (mayors) in Geneva were hostile to Calvin. Calvin wanted to endow the Church with the wherewithal to firmly and effectively establish the Reformation; he even wanted to give the Church control, if necessary, over the decisions of the magistrature. In particular, he demanded that the power of excommunication be attributed to the pastors. His demand was denied by the Council. Both sides camped on their respective positions, adopting an attitude of intransigence. Calvin, in this regard, proved to be underwhelming as a diplomat and politician -- an area in which he would improve later in his career. Iin the mid-1530s, however, he was still a very rigid person, who preferred confrontation with the Council. Despite several warnings, he continued to criticize the magistrature. Though specifically forbidden from doing so by the Council, he administered communion on Easter Day, in April of 1538, together with Farel. This led to his banishment. According to the Council's registry, upon learning of his banishment, Calvin said: "So be it! Had we been serving men, we should have been poorly rewarded indeed. But we serve a great Lord, who shall reward us." Thus, Calvin left Geneva with, among others, Guillaume Farel. Whereas Farel stayed in Neuchâtel, Calvin continued his journey all the way to Strasbourg. To summarize the situation: Geneva was in a position of political weakness, caught between Bern, Savoy and France. It was also in a position of great theological weakness. From the point of view of the traditional Catholic Church, then, Geneva seemed an easy prey, one that would not be too difficult to recapture. For Calvin, his initial stay in Geneva ended up being no more, in the words of François Wendel, than "an unfortunate and short-lived episode." Calvin's intention, upon leaving Geneva, was to resume his theological work in an atmosphere of intellectual serenity, and generally to stay as far away from the fray as possible. As you have surely surmised, this was not to be. We've reached the end of this sequence. Thank you for your attention.