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If it excelled in theology, how low must have been the standard of theological attainments! The principal department of theology was called the Sorbonne. The "true lamp of the church" must have been too dim for an eclipse to be possible, when its doctors "looked upon the study of Greek and Hebrew as the most deadly heresy.'' They had declared to the parliament that "Religion is ruined, if you permit the study of Greek and Hebrew.'' They must have agreed with the monks, who asserted that '' all heresies arose from those two languages, and particularly from the Greek." And, why this hatred to these two languages? Because, in them the Bible was written. If they were studied, the Bible would be read, and the errors of their church exposed. One of them was bold to say,—"The New Testament is a book full of serpents and thorns. Greek is a new and recently invented language, and we must be upon our guard against it. As for Hebrew, my dear brethren, it is certain that all who learn it immediately become Jews!''
But, in spite of the Sorbonne, there was in Paris a revival of learning, and the man who led the advance was a proof of the saying, "The last shall be first." Who had supposed that the young William Budoeus, "giving the rein to his passions, fond of the chase, and living only for his hawks, his horses and his hounds," would ever cherish in himself, and awaken in others, a thirst for a purer literature? Yet, there was a rein upon him, held in the unseen hand of God. "On a sudden, at the age of twenty-three, he stopped short, sold his hunting-train, and applied himself to study with the zeal he had formerly displayed in scouring the fields and forests with his dogs." It was his honour to be the chief cause of the revival under Francis the First. So devoted was he to his studies, that he seemed to have little memory for anything else. Even on the very day of his 27
marriage lie forgot what was expected of him. The hour for the wedding came, but he did not appear. A messenger was sent to tell him that the affair could not proceed unless he was present, and he was found absorbed in writing his Commentaries. But he consented to drop his pen and be married to one who could sympathize with him in his pursuits, and aid his memory. His wife was of great assistance to him in his studies, and used to find aut and mark the various passages suitable to his purpose. In a rare book, in the British museum, is another anecdote about his literary devotion. One day the servants came running to him, in a great fright, crying out,— '' Sir, sir, the house is on fire!''
"Why do you not tell your mistress of it?" replied Budoeus, coolly. "You know I never trouble myself about the house."
This man, no doubt, did much to call attention to Erasmus, who, toiling up from obscure orphanage, had given all his time to learning, spent his money, when he could get any, upon Greek authors; entered a convent, but soon left it in disgust; come to Paris and studied at the University, and was soon to bring out his edition of the Greek Testament. Budoeus'may have aided the influence of John Reuchlin, who had passed through the same university, and was preparing to do for the Old Testament what Erasmus was doing for the New. The art of printing came just in time for the publication of the Bible, a proof that God was managing the forces of truth for a great reformation. Whatever the Sorbonne might think, religion was not to be ruined by the study of the sacred languages. It was to be revived and. raised from the dead by the voice of Christ, borne to the hearts of men by the word of God.
William Farel, leaving home for the capital city, was going forth upon a wide, wild sea of opinions; but he was to be guided to the true landing place, not by the university, as a public lighthouse, with its brightening lamp of literature, but by the private torch of a man, walking, in meditative mood, along the shore. This man was seeking for the pearl of great price, and, because of the deep moral darkness, he held his trembling light so carefully, that it could not fail to catch the watchful eye of the young student from the mountains of Dauphiny.
Among the learned men of the university, was one of very small stature, mean appearance, humble origin, and poor advantages in early life. His name was James Lefevre, and he was born about 1445, at Etaples, a village of Picardy, the country of Calvin. His early education would have been rude and scanty, had he not depended upon his genius rather than upon his masters. He struggled up into knowledge, like one clambering a mountain to see the sun gilding the peaks of an Alpine range, and hence his nobleness of soul drew admiration from his friends, who cherished hopes of his greatness. He travelled abroad, even into Asia and Africa, became a doctor of divinity, and in 1493 a professor of the University of Paris, where Erasmus put him in the first rank of scholars. His intellect, learning, and eloquence had a wonderful attraction for all who heard him. He soon saw work enough to be done, and earnestly assumed the task. He must reform the evil practices of the Romish church, for he loved the church of his birth too well to see it in error. He must attack "the barbarism then prevailing in the University," and join in reviving the study of languages and learned antiquity. The classics must not crowd out the Bible. Philosophy must give way to religion. Therefore he began at the only point where a reformation can properly begin. He went to the heart of the Bible, so that it might go to the heart of man.
No man was more captivating in his artless, earnest, and familiar ways of teaching. Serious in the pulpit, he was genial with his students. "He loves me exceedingly," wrote one of them to his friend Zwingle. "Full of candour and kindness, he often sings, prays, disputes, and laughs at the follies of the world with me." Thus he drew a great number of disciples, from almost every country, to sit at his feet. They saw that he passed quite as much time in the churches as in his study," and were likely to imitate his devotion. Because the church was in error, he did not abandon it, for if the ship was in a storm and the officers drunk, there was all the better reason for every sailor to be at the post of duty and of danger. He regarded himself as a child in the church, rather than a doctor over it, and because willing to search, he was certain to find the truth which would save.
Lefevre was a reformer before the reformation. He protested against error before there was any system of Protestantism. Five years must yet pass before Luther would nail his theses to the door of the old church in Wittemberg. Luther had but just found the chained Bible in the convent of Erfurth, and had not heard the good Staupitz say, "If thou wouldst be really converted, follow not these mortifications and penances. Love him who first loved you. God is not against thee, but thou art averse to God. Remember that Christ came hither for the pardon of sins. Cast thyself into the arms of the Redeemer. Trust in him, in the righteousness of his life, in the expiatory sacrifice of his death." Could Lefevre have heard such words, he would have found much sooner the treasure which he sought on the shores of truth.
In the year 1510, Luther was on his way to Rome, to witness its abominations, and William Farel was on the way to Paris to study in the University, and to find in Lefevre a friend among strangers, a guide to the truth, and a father in Christ, for by the private light of this man, the young provincial was to make sure his landing upon the Eternal Rock of salvation.
On the walls of most Romish Churches are hung pictures of different scenes in the sufferings and death of our Lord. The worshippers begin at the first, and pass around to the last, kneeling before each one, and repeating the words of their penance or prayers. These kneeling-places are called stations on the way of the cross. To make the circuit is a pilgrimage.
William Farel had not come to Paris to stroll through the streets, nor to lock himself up in his room and pore night and day over his books. He was a close student, but he did not neglect his religious devotions. He took time for a regular attendance at church, and made it a matter of conscience to visit the stations along the way of the cross. What a privilege to the young villager to kneel before better pictures than he had seen at home, and confess toa more accomplished priest.
One day, when on his pious pilgrimage, he saw an aged man going the rounds, all absorbed in his devotions. He prostrated himself at the stations and lingered, repeating his prayers. He seemed the model of fervour and contrition; as the tears fell, the lips quivered,* and the voice rose full and clear in the responses of the public service. There was much in his manner to charm the young stranger, and he could not forget the earnestness of the good old man, saying of him years afterward, "Never had I seen a chanter of the mass sing it with greater reverence." This little, unpretending, aged man, of the tearful eye and kind face was the eloquent popular and beloved Lefevre. To become acquainted with him was now the student's most ardent wish, and without it he could not be happy.