Book 12 - The French (1500-1526)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 12 – The French (1500-1526)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 1

“Universality is one of the essential aspects of Christianity.” There have been other religions which cater to specific people, but Christianity is the only one that is for all humankind. It begins with explaining the horrors of sin against a holy God, and this plight is not restricted to any sect of humanity, but affects all. It exerts itself in every period of history, and is commanded by Christ to extend to the utter most parts of the earth.

In France the Reformation not only opposed infidelity and superstition, but it had to rise up against a new foe of immorality. The sin in this regard in the Church in France was vast. Such wickedness rose from the peasant to the throne itself. In the Alps of that country lived a family named Farel, who, amidst the immorality, a reformer would emerge.

William Farel was born in the Alps with his three brothers and one sister. His parents were devoted Catholics and brought up their children in the same. William was gifted as a fervent and passionate young man, filled with great zeal and ardent fire. Whatever he did, these qualities pressed him on, and as he grew up in a superstitious home, so this was his passion. This kind of superstition for Farel destroyed morality and true belief in the God of the Bible. They were as much captive to the dictates of the Pope as all others at that time. However, being in the Alps, William was akin to nature and it raised his soul to heaven as he contemplated the things of God. He asked permission to study religion and it was granted. The priests of his hometown were little help to him since he surpassed them in knowledge and decided, by permission, which was granted by his parents, to go to study at Pairs.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 2

In 1510 Farel arrived in Paris. Here Louis the XII had called the French clergy to meet at Tours. The conference was to decide if Louis should wage war on the Pope and enforce the decrees made at the council of Basle. The spirit of conversation all through the universities rose upon this topic, and Farel, being in the midst of that, must have been sorely influence by these thoughts at the timing of the Reformation.

Louis had two relatives in his court that are of note: Francis of Angoulene, the Duke of Valois, and his sister Margaret of Brantome. Louis spared no expense on her education, and the most well-known men in the Kingdom attended her learning. However, the skill of these doctors who were called to Paris to also teach her, were not as equipped to serve the Reformation as Luther had been in Germany or Zwingli in Switzerland.

Among the doctors of the university there was one who stood out among the crowd. His name was Lefevere. He had received a “mean” education, but his masterful intellect overcame this where the education cut him short. He was a very devoted man and Farel desired to know him well because of his practical piety and great learning. As a result of this union, Farel began to have notoriety as a zealous man. However, the more that Farel was studying, his piety decreased, and his superstitions grew since he was so devoted to the Pope and his doctrines. Yet, Lefevere began studying the epistles of Paul and conveyed his findings to his students. Justification by faith alone was finally proclaimed at Sorbonne. Farel, listened to this new doctrine and began to be won over to sovereign election and justification – the cornerstones of the Reformation.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 3

As Lefevere taught, so Farel listened and the Gospel was opening up to him. His conversion took place not long afterwards, and he describes it as scales falling from his eyes. As a result of this conversion, he threw off the yoke of Rome, and found consolation in reading the Bible and studying Greek and Hebrew. And among all the Reformers Luther and Farel seem to be the two who passed through the greatest inner struggles before coming to faith.

At the time Luther was in a cloister performing monkery, Lefevere was proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world through his students. D’Aubigne calls him the one who first preached Christ at that time. The Reformation was not foreign and then imported into France after Luther had begun nailing his Theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Rather, in each successive country the Sovereignty of God placed various men at various times in the path to discovering the truth of Christ and the salvation offered in his blood. If we are looking for a specific date that the Reformation may have started, we could not look at Germany or Switzerland, but to France.

Though Lefevere was the first preacher of the formal Reformation, Luther still remained the great workman of the Reformation. Lefevere is not as well rounded as either Luther, Calvin or Farel. In a sense, then, he remains more a mediator for the Gospel, humanly speaking, in order to speak to one of the great Reformers of the time, William Farel. Luther, then, had Germany, Zwingli and Calvin would have Switzerland, and Farel would come out of France.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 4

It was under the reign of Francis I who succeeded Louis XII that the country moved from being in the dark ages to modern times. Francis had the possibilities of being a good king. Though infidelity rose like a wave through France, the Reformation would bring that into check at this time of a new king.

Margaret, the cousin of the king, was a very poised, moral and a handsome young woman. She wrote tenderly and had great virtues amidst the wickedness of the social climate. She would be the first in high courts to be converted in France and take hold of the Reformation. It happened through a nobleman named William of Montburn who resided at the court, and decided to enter the church after his wife died. He went to Rome and resided there under holy orders for a time, but returned to study at Paris. He became bishop, but was able to receiving teaching at the university at the hands of Lefevere. Through the conversion of William, the Gospel made its way into the court and ultimately to Margaret. Lefevere and Briconnet also had influence there through William.

Margaret found sustenance in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amidst the immorality, the Lord Jesus Christ was her Strong Tower. After a while, she conversed with Farel, Lefevere and Roussel and was overwhelmed by their characters and morality. Margaret even recorded in her own poetry the movements of her soul towards the light of the Gospel through these varied influences at the court of Francis I. Many accused her of heresy, and she was ridiculed before Francis, but Francis refused to believe it. The nobles welcomed the Gospel though her influence, but he King stayed loyal to Rome.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 5

Though the Gospel flourished in the lives of Lefevere, Margaret, Farel and Briconnet, the enemies of the Gospel were also rising up to stop the Word of God from going forth. Louisa of Savoy, the mother of both Francis and Margaret, was an immoral woman who desired to stop the preaching of the Word. She possessed a huge influence over her son that made her dangerous. She had Anthony Duprat nominated as chancellor and he, also being a horrible man, was more opposed to the Gospel than she was. Both Louisa and Anthony held allegiance to the Pope and desired to set themselves against the heretics of Protestantism by shedding their blood. They first attempted to deliver the entirety of France over to the Pope. A concordant was drawn up and ratified between both Leo X and Francis, and the power of the papacy grew, although Francis was assured that such an act of treachery would lead him into hell.

Scholastics at Sorbonne and a dissolute court rose up against those who would confess the Gospel. The leader was Noel Bedier, commonly called Beda, said to be the most schismatic man of his day. He was educated as a scholastic, but continued to spew forth his ideas at the university in contempt of any who would disagree with him about anything. He persecuted Lefevere to the extent that he left under the asylum of Briconnet.

At this time a man named Louis de Berquin, a gentle man of Artois and a member of the court of Francis I, arose to the scene as the most learned noble. He inquired after the truth, found it in the Gospel, and aligned himself with Margaret, Farel and Lefevere immediately.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 6

Briconnet visited all of the parishes in his area as Bishop and inquired into their lives to see if they were actually living out the Gospel and proper preachers to conduct the affairs of the people. He found this most lacking and called a meeting of all the clergy in the area. Out of one hundred and twenty seven, only fourteen were acceptable ministers in his sight. He published a mandate against the priests and their lascivious lifestyles. He began a university at Meaux and needed to gather in good doctors to teach sound truths.

In having such difficult times in Paris, Briconnet invited Farel and the others to come to Meaux to join Lefevere and the ability to preach the Gospel. Margaret was becoming saddened at the loss of her friends and went to visit with her mother’s sister, Philberta. She learned of the grace of God but was too immature to really defend the faith where Margaret needed a strong Christian friend. Philberta died at the age of twenty six even before she was able to give her consent to the Reformation. Margaret found no consolation with all of her friends leaving her and wrote to Briconnet a number of times in hopes of some encouragement. Though Briconnet wrote back and exchanged letters, she still found it difficult, almost impossible, to live on in the midst of those who hate the Gospel.

Though the Gospel made it through to the court of Francis and into the highest places of the land, it seemed only to arouse the enemies of the Gospel rather than become strengthened by an overwhelming amount of neophytes to the cause of the Gospel. Unfortunately this was not the case, though key men were converted for other victories yet to await them in other cites, and even countries.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 7

The theological school in Meaux was successful in many ways. Its motto was “The Word of God is Sufficient.” Lefevere preached this and exegeted it faithfully. On October 30, 1522 he published a French translation of the four Gospels so that the people could read the Bible in their own language. A month later the rest of the New Testament was published, and then subsequently the Psalms. Many people in France attained the knowledge of God in reading the Bible in their own language. Briconnet even sent a Bible to Margaret to strengthen her, which encouraged her greatly.

The city of Meaux was divided between those who lived the new doctrines of the Reformation, and those who hated it and kept to Rome. It was the place where the Gospel was to emanate and stretch forth, not Paris. Enemies of the Gospel rose up here, such as Jacobin monk named Roma who heckled Briconnet with threats that he would have the consent of the king to banish the bishop from his city altogether and put a stop to the Gospel being preached in this new way. Briconnet was upset by this outburst and attack, but did not give into it. Lefevere was also attacked and the special object of hostility since he was the principle teacher at Meaux, and the fountain of the translation of the Bible in French. His writings were denounced in the university of Paris, as well as before Francis, but Francis saw this as only theological debate.

At this time, Francis Lambert quitted France and traveled to Wittenberg to see Luther. He had been a monk beginning at age fifteen, but hated the debauchery of the monks, and so left. He read Luther’s works, was converted by the Gospel and left France to go where the Gospel was flourishing in Germany.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 8

The differences between the Lutheran and Reformed churches are important to note. Though Luther resurrected the priesthood of all believers, it was the Reformed church that actually carried this doctrine out and applied it in the churches. The Lutheran churches had all authority run through the office of the minister, where the Reformed Churches allowed their system of church government more akin to the communities of the apostles in the early church. This led some in France to see gifts of ministry given to both the pastor and the laymen. Such practical outworking is seen in the preaching of Lefevere as a doctor of theology to the people of God and the future ministers, and down to Leclerc, a wool-comber who wrote vehemently against the Antichrist of Rome.

Leclerc was cast into prison by the Franciscans who hated his preaching. He had taken placards and posted them around the cathedral of the city saying that God would destroy it for the rejection of the Gospel. He was sentenced to be whipped and then burned, but because of the his mother who cried “Glory to Jesus Christ and to his witnesses”, out before the sentence was carried out, the enemies of the Gospel were thrown into confusion and Leclerc was set free. Later he was caught again and burned slowly at the stake for Gospel in Menz. He was the first martyr in France.

Another who was persecuted was Berquin. Beda and Duchesne pronounced him a heretic spreading blasphemy against the Catholic Church, gathered a mob together, and entered Berquin’s house while he was studying. Beda confiscated the Reformation works he found there and told Berquin his eye was upon him. He was later arrested, brought from court to court for trial, but was set at liberty by the king Francis’ edict.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 9

Persecution was flowing through France. People were being put to death for adhering to the Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Grace found in the Bible. Many in the North were persecuting the Gospel where it had sprung up, but the South was about to give way to it. Farel was laboring for the Gospel among his brothers and all of them were won for the truth. They would give up life, property, country, anything for Jesus Christ. Farel also moved throughout Gap and the neighboring town to spread the Gospel.

Farel decided to go from house to house and from school to school teaching the Bible. Many were concerted who took up their mouth or their pens to spread the good news throughout the land. Among these was Anemond of Coct who wrote in both Latin and French, but did not have the sober and serious mind of a man like Calvin who remained at the other extreme of the intellectual pole of religion in France. Farel and Coct desired to see a man in these regions pick up the gauntlet of the Gospel and become a solid leader. Peter Sebville, a priest who preached the Gospel lucidly, arose and Farel and Coct thought this would be the man for the job, and so they moved on.

Anemond decided to leave France, as Paul left the Jews, because of their rejection of the Gospel. He visited with Luther and hoped he would affect some change in his native country. Luther explained the difficulties of this that all of popery would need to be overthrown, yet Anemond insisted on at least writing something to help. Luther did. He wrote a letter to the king, but it is unknown if anything great had come of it. Anemond then wrote Farel and told him of the move of God in Germany and Switzerland and prompted him to come over. Farel did in 1524.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 10

When Farel arrived in Switzerland his reputation preceded him as a champion of the Gospel. He was taken to Oecolampadius and they became friends. Farel lodged with him and was introduced to all Oecolampadius’ friends. However, when he was invited to go see Erasmus, he refused and would not. Farel did not believe, as with Luther, that Erasmus was a true theologian at heart, for Erasmus shrunk back from true reform. Erasmus was quite taken back at Farel’s insolence, for even Luther took the time to talk with him and write him. Erasmus became so agitated at this that he complained about it to everyone and wrote Melancthon about the insolence of such a man. It is reported that Farel, at this time, also called Erasmus “Balaam.”

Farel desired to spread the motto of Meaux to the universities of Switzerland but the council of Basle would not allow it. They held a formal council and Oecolampadius and Farel spoke, demonstrating the truth that the Word of God is the only all-sufficient authority. The priests there had nothing to say, though they were called repeatedly by both Farel and Oecolampadius to reply. The people, then, began to detest the cowardice of the priests and their unlearned stature.

Farel was then seen as one of the Reformers and an accomplice the propagation of the Gospel in Switzerland among some of the most celebrated divines of the time. He was fully accepted by them. He visited Zwingli, Hedio, Capito, and Bucer. It seems though he did not make it to Germany to see Luther.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 11

Farel had not been formally called to the ministry, but here, the time when he went to Switzerland, he exemplifies that he is fully equipped for the position. Oecolampadius prompted Farel to consider giving himself full time to preaching and the ministry. After much personal deliberation, he decided it was God’s will to do so.

After Farel was ordained to the ministry, he left with Esch to go to Montbeliard. This was to be his new post. He began his ministry there preaching with great fervency, so much so that Erasmus wrote to the French saying one their Frenchman was making trouble in these regions.

In France, Margaret began to show more resolve, and had Michael d’Arande at her side as a friend and encourager in the Gospel. Michael was bold for the Gospel and preached everywhere, especially with the nobles. Margaret also had Anthony Papillon translate Luther’s works into French from Latin so she would be able to read them. More were raised up in Lyons and helped with the spread of the Gospel there. Michael did not rest only in Lyons with the Gospel, but desired to bring it to all the cities and town where it had not been heard yet, and with Margaret’s name, he did so.

Persecution had not stopped though many in France were spreading the flame of the Reformation. Peter Sebville, the leader that Farel and Coct were happy God had raised up, was silenced by threatenings. He went to Lyons where he was able to preach the Gospel more freely.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 12

The persecution in France was growing, and those in high places were threatening to be more forceful in stopping the Gospel from being preached. The darkness was growing and Farel, Anemond, Esch, Toussaint and their friends formed a society in Switzerland with the goal of helping their native country in some way from the darkness of popery, and to advance the Gospel. They began to write forceful letters to king in order to sway him to turn to the light or be enveloped in the wickedness of the antichristian monster of Rome.

The French refugees were exceedingly thankful for the stand that the Swiss brothers were taking on behalf of their country. Anemond sent Farel all sorts of books that may be helpful to the French bothers, but it was God’s Word that Farel wanted disseminated thoroughly. Vaugris desired someone to revise the French translation of the New Testament for the French people and made this known to Farel if he could find someone to do it. Lefevere had already published it in pieces, but they desired an entire Bible be made in order that it would be distributed it to eager souls.

With all the work being done for the brothers in France, even in opposition to the Roman Church rising up and persecuting it, we find a Bible society, a tract society and an association of brothers who desired to stand together for the edification of the French brethren who were persecuted for the faith.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 13

Though Farel had his attention on France, that did not dissuade him from his duties in Montbeliard. The people and priests of the town wondered what this Frenchman was doing preaching in the manner he was. Toussaint, came to visit and found the town in commotion about the preaching of Farel. The Franciscans had arisen to counter the work that Farel was doing. Farel did not mind this opposition and it excited him to greater diligence. Oecolampadius wrote to Farel exhorting him not to resort to any kind of public demonstration or violence and simply to preach and allow God to work in drawing men to the truth. But Farel was exceedingly troubled that the people were given over to image worship all through the city. He watched, one day, a procession go by where the priests held some of the saints as idols. He snatched them up and cast them over the bridge into the water and began to preach to them about their wickedness. They remained silent for a time, until one in the crowd said the image was drowning. The crowd turned into a frenzy and Farel escaped their clutches. Farel had to leave there and went to Oecolampadius and remained at Basle. However, he stayed only a time and ultimately went to Strasburg to stay with Capito and Bucer.

The labors of Farel reported as far as France and Sorbonne. Toussaint was also on the list to be ridiculed. The Cardinal of Lorraine spoke against him, being such a learned man, and yet wedding himself with men like Oecolampadius for the cause of the heresies that were spreading though Europe. Would Toussaint go back into France? Would he stay in Switzerland? Oecolampadius sent him to live with an obscure priest for a time while the heated remarks against him subsided.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 14

Margaret thought Francis would receive the Word of God with eagerness, but the exploits of Beda and others still hindered the work in the highest of courts. Even her mother Louisa was still in the thrall of persecuting a few Frenchmen in order to win the favors of the Pope. Francis was taken prisoner at Pavia, and his mother took this as a political coo on her part to take possession of some political authority.

Briconnet seem to give up on the church and even attacked her by siding with Rome and offering his submission to her dictates. He never seemed to have the full resolve of Luther or Farel, and did not further the Reformation in France as he could have done. But this is more an issue of the heart, than simply of politics. He gave into a compromise with the Roman Church and fell from his place of helpfulness to the Reformation, to siding with the devil. The fall of Briconnet is one of the most memorable failures in the history of the Reformation. This man was exceedingly close to becoming a stalwart Reformer in the beginning of his political and religious authority, and yet, he ended poorly; yes, even wickedly. It does not matter how one begins, but how they end.
Lefevere was placed under condemnation by the Roman courts in Meaux after Briconnet’s fall to Rome. He fled and went to Strasburg under a false name, and there he joined with his friends under the banner of Reformation. Others rose up at Meaux to combat Beda, but they were not resolved under Reformation principles, rather just those who desired to debate. Thus, many in France left to go to Germany and Switzerland where the Gospel was moving over the country.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 12, Chapter 15

In Noyon the Reformation would gain its greatest theologian. The name of the young man was John Calvin. He first studied under Mathurin Cordier at the college of Marche, and, as many of the Reformers, was brought up in the superstitions of popery. However, he was very aware of his sin, and found it ominously hovering over him as a blanket ready to suffocate him. He had a remarkable capacity to learn and could comprehensively grasp entire ideas at a time in order to see them all in their intricate parts.

Gerald Calvin desired to see his children receive the very best education they could, and with his connections sent John to the college in Capettes. Calvin was a very pious young man, and this exemplified it early on in the discipline of his devotional life. Seeing such a temper in the child, and being as poor as Gerald was spending most of his earning on Calvin’s education, acquired for him a chaplainry when he was but twelve years old. Later, at fourteen he left his father’s house and lived with uncle Richard in Paris. Sometimes John Cauvin is wrongly associated with John Calvin and Cauvin was a boisterous boy who brought upon himself many ill reports that sometimes have been attributed to Calvin by those of Rome. This is confusing the real facts.

While Calvin was growing up, being a second-generation reformer, the flames of persecution were still burning through Paris. In the absence of the king many harsh blows were taken against the Reformation. Many were thrown in prison, such as Berquin and Toussaint, and others such as Farel, Lefevere and Roussel were in exile. Even Margaret fled to Spain to avoid the disruptions seen by the absence of her brother.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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