Monday, December 5, 2011

John Calvin - Huguenots

A year after Luther's translation of the New Testament into German; Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples published the New Testament in the French language. Lefevre's translation of the New Testament was published in 1523 two years prior to Tyndale's English translation. By 1530, the whole Bible was available and became known as the Antwerp Bible. Pierre Robert Olivetan published another translation in 1535 which was revived in 1557 and became the basis for the Geneva Bible.

In 1534, John Calvin, a French Protestant, was twenty-five when he met with his cousin Robert Olivetan and Lefevre – translator of the Bible. After leaving the Roman church in Noyon, France, he was briefly put into prison. Assuming a disguise, Calvin chose to live in Paris upon his release from prison and worshiped secretly in homes and wooded groves utilizing passwords. He eventually fled to Germany and then to Geneva which is situated near Lake Leman in Switzerland.

Geneva, Switzerland officially voted to become Protestant as a result of the preaching and influence of Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli became the founder of the Protestant movement in Switzerland while Luther founded the Protestant church in Germany. Zwingli served as chaplain to the Swiss army. Tragically, he died in a battle in 1531.

Calvin wrote his infamous Institutes of Christian Religion in 1536. The Council of Geneva ordered John Calvin to do something which he felt he could not obey without violating his conscience. He was banished from Geneva upon which he traveled to Strasbourg where he became the pastor of a congregation which was comprised of French refugees. He continued to pastor the church in Strasbourg for three years and met a French refugee named Idelette whom he married.

Calvin was invited by the Council to return to Geneva in 1541 where he authored “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” The Ecclesiastical Ordinances included policies for physical health, safety of citizenry, education, sanitation requirements, and policies for jails.

Rosalie Slater states in her work “Teaching and Learning America's Christian History” 

“No writing of the Reformation era was more feared by Roman Catholics, more zealously fought against and more hostilely pursued, than Calvin's Institutes.”

J. H. Merle d'Aubigne wrote in his History of the Reformation:

“The renovation of the individual, of the church, and of the human race, is his theme...”

“The reformation of the sixteenth century restored to the human race what the middle ages had stolen from them; it delivered them from the traditions, laws, and despotism of the papacy; it put an end to the minority and tutelage in which Rome claimed to keep mankind forever; and by calling upon man to establish his faith not on the words of a priest, but on the infallible Word of God, and by announcing to every one free access to the Father through the new and saving way – Jesus Christ, it proclaimed and brought about the hour of Christian manhood.”

“An explanation is, however, necessary. There are philosophers in our days who regard Christ as simply the apostle of political liberty. These men should learn that, if they desire liberty outwardly, they must first possess it inwardly...”

“There are, no doubt, many countries, especially among those which the sun of Christianity has not yet illuminated, that are without civil liberty, and that groan under the arbitrary rule of powerful masters. But, in order to become free outwardly, man must first succeed in being free inwardly...

“The liberty which the Truth brings is not for individuals only; it affects the whole of society. Calvin's work of renovation, in particular, which was doubtless first of all an internal work, was afterwards destined to exercise a great influence over nations.”

The citizens of Geneva, through Calvin's encouragement,worked hard to make their city a model of Biblical government.

Calvin established the first Protestant university known as the Geneva Academy. Theodore Beza became the rector of the academy. Geneva became a haven for French Huguenots seeking refuge from the tyranny in France. Furthermore, it became a refuge and haven for Protestants throughout Europe. Geneva became a training center for French Huguenots and European protestants seeking refuge. Huguenot is a German word which means “Confederate.”

The Huguenots experienced severe oppression and persecution but continued to thrive until 1553. In 1553, five Huguenots were burned at the stake. This event actually failed in the attempt to quench the Protestant movement in France. Within four years a third of all Frenchmen (300,000) were Protestants.

After two years passed, a Confession of Faith of the Reformed Churches was composed by a national synod meeting in Paris. Consequently, the Pope issued an edict which made reading the Bible illegal!

Three years would pass and in 1562 the number of Protestant Churches grew from 300 to 2000 throughout France. The French Huguenots formed a political alliance to protect their religious freedom because of severe violations against their freedom of worship.

30,000 Protestants were massacred as they worshiped on St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572. The French Huguenots became convinced of the need to defend themselves by force if necessary. The Biblical foundation of their position was articulated in Vindicae Contra Tyrannos (A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants) which was published in1579. It is believed that Philippe DuPlessis Mornay was the author of Vindicae. His reasoning was drawn from the wellspring of Calvin's writings. The document also became a precedent for the American colonists during the American War for Independence.

France was plunged into civil war between Protestants and Catholics and finally ended with the Edict of Toleration of 1598. The edict guaranteed both political and religious freedom to certain partitioned areas of France.

J. H. Merle d'Aubigne declared: 

“Lastly, Calvin was the founder of the greatest of republics. The pilgrims who left their country in the reign of James I and, landing on the barren shores of New England, founded populous and mighty colonies, are his sons, his direct and legitimate sons; and that American nation which we have seen growing so rapidly boasts as its father the humble reformer on the shores of the Leman.”

An old Huguenot song proclaims: 

“Spirit who made them live, awaken their children, so that they may know how to follow them.”

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