Beza (Theodore De Beze)
Beza (Theodore De Beze)
one of the most eminent of the Reformers, the friend and coadjutor of Calvin, was born at Vezelai, in the Nivernais, June 24,1519. He passed the first years of his life with his uncle, Nicholas de Beza, counsellor in the Parliament of Paris, who sent him, before he was ten years old, to study at Orleans, where his preceptor was Melchior Wolmar, a convert to Protestantism. Beza accompanied Wolmar to the University of Bourges, and remained, in the whole, for seven years under his tuition. During this time he became an excellent scholar, and he afterward acknowledged a deeper obligation to his tutor for having "imbued him with the knowledge of true piety, drawn from the limpid fountain of the Word of God." In 1535 Wolmar returned to Germany, and Beza repaired to Orleans to study law; but his attention was chiefly directed to the classics and the composition of verses. His verses, published in 1548, under the title. Juvenilia, were chiefly written during this period of his life, and their indecency caused him many a bitter pang in after life. Beza obtained his degree as licentiate of civil law in 1539, upon which he went to Paris, where he spent nine years. He was young, handsome, and of ample means; for, though not in the priesthood, he enjoyed the proceeds of two good benefices, amounting, he says, to 700 golden crowns a year. The death of a brother added to his income, and an uncle, who was abbot of Froidmond, expressed an intention of resigning that preferment, valued at 15,000 livres yearly, in his favor. Thus, in a city like Paris, he was exposed to strong temptation, and his conduct has incurred great censure. That his life was grossly immoral he denies; but he formed a private marriage with a woman of birth, he says, inferior to his own. He was to marry her publicly as soon as the obstacles should be removed, and, in the mean time, not to take orders, a thing entirely inconsistent with taking a wife. Meanwhile his relatives pressed him to enter into the Church; his wife and his conscience bade him avow his marriage and his real belief; his inclination bade him conceal both and stick to the rich benefices which he enjoyed; and in this divided state of mind he remained till illness brought him to a better temper. On his recovery he fled to Geneva, at the end of October, 1548, and there publicly solemnized his marriage and avowed his faith. After a short residence at Geneva, and subsequently at Tubingen, Beza was appointed Greek professor at Lausanne. During his residence there he took every opportunity of going to Geneva to hear Calvin, at whose suggestion he undertook to complete Marot's translation of the Psalms into French verse. Marot had translated 50, so that 100 Psalms remained: these were first printed in France, with the royal license, in 1561. Beza, at this time, employed his pen in support of the right of punishing heresy by the civil power. His treatise De Haereticis a Civili Magistratu puniendis is a defense of the execution of Servetus at Geneva in 1553. Beza was not singular in maintaining this doctrine; the principal churches of Switzerland, and even Melancthon, concurred in justifying by their authority that act which has been so fruitful of reproach against the party by whom it was perpetrated. His work De Jure Magistratuum, published at a much later time in his life (about 1572), presents a curious contrast to the work De Haereticis, etc. In this later work he asserted the principles of civil and religious liberty, and the rights of conscience; but, though he may be considered as before most men of his age in the boldness of his opinions as to the nature of civil authority, his views of the sovereign power are confused and contradictory. During his residence at Lausanne, Beza published several controversial treatises, which his biographer, Antoine la Faye, confesses to be written with a freer pen than was consistent with the gravity of the subject. To this part of Beza's life belongs the translation of the N.T. into Latin, completed in 1556, and printed at Paris by R. Stephens in 1557. It contains the commentary of Camerarius, as well as a copious body of notes by the translator himself. For this edition he used a manuscript of the four Gospels, which in 1581 he gave to the University of Cambridge. It is generally known as Beza's Codex, and a facsimile edition of it was published in 1793. After ten years' residence at Lausanne, Beza removed to Geneva in 1559, and entered into holy orders. At Calvin's request he was appointed to assist in giving lectures in theology; and when the University of Geneva was founded he was appointed rector upon Calvin declining that office. At the request of some leading nobles among the French Protestants, he undertook a journey to Nerac in hope of winning the King of Navarre to Protestantism. His pleading was successful, and he remained at Nerac until the beginning of 1561, and, at the King of Navarre's request, attended the Conference of Poissy, opened in August of that year, in the hope of effecting a reconciliation between the Catholic and Protestant churches of France. Beza was the chief speaker on behalf of the French churches. He managed his cause with temper and ability, and made a favorable impression on both Catherine of Medicis and Cardinal Lorraine, who said, "I could well have wished either that this man had been dumb or that we had been deaf." Catharine requested him to remain in France on the plea that his presence would tend to maintain tranquillity, and that his native country had the best title to his services. He consented, and after the promulgation of the edict of January, 1562, often preached publicly in the suburbs of Paris. He soon after greatly distinguished himself at the Conference of St. Germains, where the queen-mother summoned a number of Romanist and Protestant divines to discuss the subject of images. In a memorial to the queen, he discussed the question with a force and vigor never surpassed. "In reply to the customary argument that honor is not directed to the image, but to that which the image represents, Beza triumphantly inquired (and the inquiry has never yet been answered) why then is any local superiority admitted? Why is one image considered more holy and more potent than another? Why are pilgrimages made to distant images, when there are others, perhaps of far better workmanship, near at hand? Again, is it tolerable that in a Christian Church an image of the Virgin Mary should be addressed in terms appropriate solely to the Almighty Father, 'omnibus es omnia!' If the Virgin were yet alive and on earth, how would the humility and lowliness of heart, which she ever so conspicuously evinced, be shocked by the hourly impious appeals to her supposed maternal authority over her blessed Son: 'Roga Patrem, jube Natum!' 'Jure Matris impera!' Then, adverting to the reputed miracles performed by images, he contended that, by the evidence of judicial inquiries, most of them had been indisputably proved impostures; and even with regard to such as remained undetected, it was detracting honor from God, the sole author of miracles, to attribute any hidden virtue or mystic efficacy to wood or stone. Passing on to a review of the long controversy about images maintained in the Greek Church, he concluded by affirming that not less idolatry might be occasioned by crucifixes than by images themselves. The propositions appended to this document were that images should be altogether abolished; or, if that measure were thought too sweeping, that the king would consent to the removal of all representations of the Trinity or its separate Personages; of all images which were indecorous, as for the most part were those of the Virgin; of such as were profane, as those of beasts and many others, produced by the fantastic humors of artists; of all publicly exhibited in the streets, or so placed at altars that they might receive superstitious veneration; that no offerings or pilgrimages should be made to them; and finally, that crucifixes also should be removed, so that the only representation of the passion of our Lord might be that lively portrait engraved on our hearts by the word of Holy Scripture.
"Beza had converted the king of Navarre so far as to make him a partisan of Calvinism; but the royal convert remained as profligate when a Calvinist as he had been when he professed Romanism, and the court soon found means to bring him back once more to the established church. His hostility to Beza was shown at an audience Beza had with the queen-mother, when deputed by the Huguenot ministers to lay their complaint before her with reference to the violations which had occurred of the edict of January, to which allusion has been made before. The king of Navarre, sternly regarding Beza, accused the Huguenots of now attending worship with arms. Beza replied that arms, when borne by men of discretion, were the surest guarantee of peace; and that, since the transactions at Vassy (where a fracas had taken place between the retainers of the duke of Guise and a Huguenot congregation, the duke's people being the aggressors), their adoption had become necessary till the Church should receive surer protection-a protection which he humbly requested, in the name of those brethren who had hitherto placed so great dependence on his majesty. The cardinal of Ferrara here interrupted him by some incorrect representation of the tumult at St. Medard, but he was silenced by Beza, who spoke of those occurrences as an eye-witness, and then reverted to the menacing advance of the duke of Guise upon Paris. The king of Navarre declared with warmth that whoever should touch the little finger of 'his brother,' the duke of Guise, might as well presume to touch the whole of his own body. Beza replied with gentleness, but with dignity; he implored the king of Navarre to listen patiently, reminded him of their long intercourse, and of the special invitation from his majesty in consequence of which he had returned to France in the hope of assisting in its pacification. ' Sire,' he concluded in memorable words, 'it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that THE CHURCH IS AN ANVIL WHICH HAS WORN OUT MANY A HAMMER.' Well would it have been if Beza and his partisans had always remembered this, and, instead of taking up arms to defend their cause, had maintained it like the primitive Christians by patient suffering. Perhaps they would then have led to the gradual reformation of the Church of France, whereas now they took the sword, and perished by the sword. Each party armed. With the leaders of the Protestants Beza acted, and he was kept by the prince of Conde near his person; but the leaders, for the most part, abstained from encouraging the cruelties of their followers, although they excited the people to rise up in arms against the government. Beza continued with the insurgents, following the prince of Conde in all his marches, cheering him by his letters when in prison, and reanimating the Huguenots in their defeats, until his career as a herald of war was terminated by the battle of Dreux. At that battle, fought on the 19th of December, 1562, in which the Huguenots were defeated, Beza was present; but he did not engage in the battle, he was merely at hand to advise his friends.
'In the following February the duke of Guise, the lieutenant general of the kingdom, was assassinated before Orleans. When the assassin was seized, he accused Beza, among other leading Huguenots, as having been privy to his design. Beza declared that, notwithstanding the great and general indignation aroused against the duke of Guise on account of the massacre at Vassy, he had never entertained an opinion that he should be proceeded against otherwise than by the methods of ordinary justice. He admitted that since the duke had commenced the war, he had exhorted the Protestants, both by letters and sermons, to use their arms, but he had at the same time inculcated the utmost possible moderation, and had instructed them to seek peace above all things next to the honor of God." After the peace of 1563, Beza returned to Geneva, and in 1564, upon the death of Calvin, was called to succeed to all his offices. Beza did not return to France till 1568, when he repaired to Vezelai on some family business. He visited his native country again to attend and preside over a Huguenot synod which assembled at La Rochelle in 1571. Never had any Huguenot ecclesiastical meeting been attended by so many distinguished personages as graced this synod. "There were present," says the report of its acts, "Joane, by the grace of God, queen of Navarre; the high and mighty prince Henry, prince of Navarre; the high and mighty prince Henry de Bourbon, prince of Conde; the most illustrious prince Louis, count of Nassau; Sir Gaspar, count de Coligni; the admiral of France, and divers other lords and gentlemen, besides the deputies who were members of the Church of God." At this assembly the Huguenot confession of faith was confirmed, and two copies of it were taken, one of which was deposited at Rochelle, the other in the archives of Geneva. After the execrable massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, Beza honorably exerted himself to support those of the French whom the fear of death drove from their native land; he interested in their behalf the princes of Germany. He also founded a French hospital at Geneva.
In 1572 he assisted at an assembly of the Huguenots at Nismes, where he opposed John Morel, who desired to introduce a new discipline. The prince of Conde caused him to come to him at Strasburg in the year 1574, to send him to prince John Casimir, administrator of the palatinate. In 1586 he was employed in the conference of Montbeliard against John Andreas, a divine of Tubingen. He died at the age of eighty-six, October 13th, 1605. Among his numerous works may be specified—
1. Confessio Christianme fidei (1560): —
2. Histoire Ecclesiastique des Eglises Reformees du royaume de France, from 1521 to 1563 (1580, 3 vols. 8vo): —
3. Icones virorum illustrium (1580, 4to): —
4. Tractatio de repudiis et divortiis, accedit iractatus de polygamia (Geneva, 1590, 8vo): —
5. Novum D. N. Jesu Christi Testamentum (often reprinted): —
6. Annotationes ad Novum Testamentum (best edition that of Cambridge, 1642, fol.).
Beza was a man of extraordinary quickness and fertility of intellect, as well as of profound and varied learning. His life has been often written, e.g. by Bolzec (Paris, 1577); Taillepied (Paris, 1577); Zeigenbein (Hamb. 1789); Schlosser (Heidelb. 1809); the latest and most elaborate is Theodor Beza nach handschriftlichen und anderen gleichzeitigen Quellen, by Professor Baum, of Strasburg (1843-1851, 2 vols.), but it only extends to 1563. See also Haag, La France Protestante, 2, 259-284. Perhaps no one of the reformers has been more foully and constantly calumniated by the Romanists than Beza.
Beza took a lively interest in the affairs of the Church of England, and his letters were (and still are) very unpalatable to the High-Church party there. Dr. Hook quotes largely from his letters to Bullinger and "Grindal to prove that Beza "regarded the Church of England in Elizabeth's time as Popish." In his letter to Grindal, dated June 27, 1566, he complains that he has heard of "divers ministers discharged their parishes by the queen, the bishops consenting, because they refused to subscribe to certain new rites; and that the sum of the queen's commands were, to admit again not only those garments, the signs of Baal's priests in popery, but also certain rites, which also were degenerated into the worst superstitions — as the signing with the cross, kneeling in the communion, and such like; and, which was still worse, that women should baptize, and that the queen should have a power of superintending other rites, and that all power should be given to the bishop alone in ordering the matters of the Church; and no power, not so much as that of complaining, to remain to the pastor of each church; that the queen's majesty, and many of the learned and religious bishops, had promised far better things; and that a great many of those matters were, at least as it seemed to him, feigned by some evil-meaning men, and wrested some other way; but withal he beseeched the bishop that they two might confer a little together concerning these things. He knew, as he went on, there was a twofold opinion concerning the restoration of the Church: first, of some who thought nothing ought to be added to the apostolical simplicity; and so that, without exception, whatsoever the apostles did ought to be done by us; and whatsoever the Church that succeeded the apostles added to the first rites were to be abolished at once; that, on the other side, there were some who wire of opinion that certain ancient rites besides ought to be retained, partly as profitable and necessary, partly, if not necessary, yet to be tolerated for concord sake; that he himself was of opinion with the former sort; and, in fine, that he had not yet learned by what right (whether one looks into God's Word or the ancient canons) either the civil magistrate of himself might super-induce any new rites upon the churches already constituted, or abrogate ancient ones; or that it was lawful for bishops to appoint any new thing without the judgment and will of their presbytery." — Eng. Cyc.; Bib. Sac. 1850, p. 501; Cunningham, Reformers, Essay 7 (Edinb. 1862, 8vo); Hook, Eccles. Biog. 2, 384 sq.