Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/301

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management of their church affairs. The work of Zwingli as a Reformer, important and thorough though it was, did not concern itself mainly with church polity. Ecclesiastical affairs were, as a matter of course, wholly under the management of the cantonal and municipal authorities, and Zwingli was content that it should be so. The work of Farel, previous to his coming to Geneva, was almost entirely evangelistic, and his first work in Geneva was of a similar character. It was the town council which made arrangements for religious disputations, and provided for the housing and maintenance of the preachers. When Calvin. Calvin, at Farel's invitation, settled in Geneva (1536) the work of reformation became more constructive. “The need of the hour was organization and familiar instruction, and Calvin set himself to work at once.” The first reforms he wished to see introduced concerned the Lord's Supper, church praise, religious instruction of youth and the regulation of marriage. In connexion with the first he desired that the discipline de l'excommunication should be exercised. His plan was partly Presbyterian and partly consistorial. Owing to certain circumstances in its past history, Geneva was notoriously immoral. “The rule of dissolute bishops, and the example of a turbulent and immoral clergy, had poisoned the morals of the city. Even the nuns of Geneva were notorious for their conduct.”[1] Calvin suggested that men of known worth should be appointed in different quarters of the city to report to the ministers those persons in their district who lived in open sin; that the ministers should then warn such persons not to come to the communion; and that, if their warnings were unheeded, discipline should be enforced. It was on this subject of keeping pure the Lord's Table that the controversy arose between the ministers and the town councillors which ended in the banishment of Calvin, Farel and Conrad from Geneva. In 1538 the ministers took upon themselves to refuse to administer the Lord's Supper in Geneva because the city, as represented by its council, declined to submit to church discipline. The storm then broke out, and the ministers were banished (1538).

It may be convenient at this point to consider Calvin's ideal church polity, as set forth in his famous Christianae religionis institutio, the first edition of which was published in 1536. Briefly it was as follows:—

A separate ministry is an ordinance of God (Inst. iv. 3, i. 3).

Ministers duly called and ordained may alone preach and administer the sacraments (iv. 3, 10).

A legitimate ministry is one appointed with the consent and approbation of the people under the presidency of other pastors by whom the final act of ordination (with laying on of hands) shall be performed (iv. 3, 15).

Governors or persons of advanced years selected from the people and associated with the ministers in admonishing and exercising discipline (iv. 3, 8). This discipline is all-important, and is the special business of the governors.

His system, while preserving the democratic theory by recognizing the congregation as holding the church power, was in practice the strictly aristocratic inasmuch as the congregation is never allowed any direct use of power, which is invested in the whole body of elders. His great object was discipline. With regard to the relations between the Church and the civil power, Calvin was opposed to the Zwinglian theory whereby all ecclesiastical power was handed over to the state. Calvin's refusal to administer the sacrament, for which he was banished from Geneva, is important as a matter of ecclesiastical history, because it is the essence of the whole system which he subsequently introduced. It rests on the principles that the Church has the right to exclude those who are unworthy, and that she is in no way subject to the civil power in spiritual matters. During the three years of his banishment Calvin was at Strassburg, where he had been carrying out his ideas. His recall was greatly to his honour. The town had become a prey to anarchy. One party threatened to return to Romanism; another threatened to sacrifice the independence of Geneva and submit to Berne. It was felt to be a political necessity that he should return, and in 1541, somewhat reluctantly, he returned on his own terms. These were the recognition of the Church's spiritual independence, the division of the town into parishes, and the appointment (by the municipal authority) of a consistory or council of elders in each parish for the exercise of discipline.

These terms were embodied in the famous Ordonnances ecclésiastiques de l'église de Genève (1541). The four orders mentioned in the Institutio are recognized: pastors, doctors, elders and deacons. The pastors were to preach, administer the sacraments, and in conjunction with the elders to exercise discipline. In their totality they form the vénérable compagnie. A newly-made pastor was to be settled in a fixed charge by the magistrate with the consent of the congregation, after having been approved as to knowledge and manner of life by the pastors already in office. By them he was to be ordained, after vowing to be true in office, faithful to the church system, obedient to the laws and to the civil government, and ready to exercise discipline without fear or favour. The doctors were to teach the faithful in sound learning, to guard purity of doctrine, and to be amenable to discipline. The elders (Anciens, commis, ou deputez par la seigneurie ou consistoire) were regarded as the essential part of the system. They were the bond of union between Church and state. Their business was to supervise daily life, to warn the disorderly, and to give notice to the consistory of cases requiring discipline. To form the consistory all the elders with the ministers were to meet every Sunday under the presidency of one of the syndics or magistrates. This court could award censures up to exclusion from the sacrament.

Manifestly the arrangement was a compromise. The state retained control of the ecclesiastical organization, and Calvin secured his much-needed system of discipline. Fourteen years of friction and struggle followed, and if there came after them a period of comparative triumph and repose for the great reformer it must still be remembered that he was never able to have his ideal ecclesiastical organization fully realized in the city of his adoption.

The early Presbyterianism of Switzerland was defective in the following respects: (1) It started from a wrong definition of the Church, which, instead of being conceived as an organized community of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, was made to depend upon the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. As these implied a duly appointed minister, the existence of the Church was made to depend upon an organized ministry rather than an organized membership. It calls to mind the Romish formula: “Ubi episcopus ibi ecclesia.” (2) It did not maintain the scriptural right of the people to choose their minister and other office-bearers. (3) Its independence of civil control was very imperfect. (4) And it did not by means of church courts provide for the manifestation of the Church's unity and for the concentration of the Church's influence.

“Calvin,” says Principal Lindsay, “did three things for Geneva all of which went far beyond its walls. He gave its Church a trained ministry, its homes an educated people who could give a reason for their faith, and the whole city an heroic soul which enabled the little town to stand forth as the citadel and city of refuge for the oppressed Protestants of Europe.”[2]


It is pathetic and yet inspiring to study the development of Presbyterianism in France; pathetic because it was in a time of fierce persecution that the French Protestants organized themselves into churches, and inspiring, because it showed the power which scriptural organization gave them to withstand incessant, unrelenting hostility. It would be difficult to exaggerate Calvin's influence. the influence of Calvin upon French Protestantism. His Christianae religionis institutio became a standard round which his countrymen rallied in the work and battle of the Reformation. Though under thirty years of age, he became all over Europe, and in an exceptional degree in France, the leader, organizer and consolidator of the Reformation. The work which the young Frenchman did for his countrymen was immense.[3]

The year 1555 may be taken as the date when French Protestantism began to be organized. A few churches had been organized French Protestantism. earlier, at Meaux in 1546 and at Nîmes in 1547, but their members had been dispersed by persecution. Prior to 1555 the Protestants of France had been for the most part solitary Bible students or little companies meeting together for worship without any organization. But in that year the following incident was the beginning of a great movement. A small company had been accustomed to meet in the lodging of the sieur de la Ferrière in Paris near the Pré-aux-Clercs. At one of the meetings the father of a newly-born child explained that he could not go outside France to seek a pure baptism and that his conscience would not permit his child to be baptized according to the rites of the Romish Church. After prayer the company constituted themselves into a church: chose Jean le Maçon to be their minister, and others of their number to be elders and deacons. It seemed as if all France had been waiting for this event as a signal, for organized churches began to spring up every-

  1. Lindsay, Hist. of the Reform. ii. 90.
  2. Hist. of the Reform. ii. 31.
  3. Ibid. ii. 158.