« AnteriorContinuar »
These thorns, how sharp! these wounds of sin, how deep!—
The tramp of the forest explorer calls the hungry lion from his lair; and so the march of these French reformers brought out the most cruel foes to track them along every new path of truth. They needed not to be ferreted out by spies, for these friends were not hiding away, as if ashamed of their doctrines. All was open, and broadly proclaimed. They were well known by the lamps which they held forth in the night of error. By their light we may see who were their bitterest foes.
Louisa, the mother of Margaret and the king, loved her iniquities so well, that she naturally hated the word of God, and all who set it above the traditions of the Romish Church. She was the more to be feared, on account of her great influence over her son. But she had a favourite even worse than herself, whom she had put forward as chancellor of the kingdom; and he was now the cruel power behind the throne. This was Anthony Duprat, represented as 'the most vicious of all bipeds.' He had enriched himself at the expense of justice, and then taken 'holy orders,' so as to get his hands upon the richest livings, and increase his wealth at the expense of religion. Two such depraved characters might well seek to wash away their own lust and avarice in the blood of the 'heretics.' Devoted to the Pope, and pleading for his absolute power over the Church, they sharpened the sword and kindled the fire, and hoped to make short work of the reformers. This was the enmity of the State.
Still more fearful was the enmity of the Church. The dignified Sorbonne joined hands with the profligate court. It furnished bigots of every grade; but our eyes fix on the leader of the gang. The same Picardy that sent forth Lefevre to begin a reformation, also let slip Noel Beda to begin a persecution. He was 'reputed to be the greatest brawler and most factious spirit of his day.' Always restless, he was a torment to all around him. He seemed born to fight; and when he had no foes, he struck at his friends. He loudly declaimed against learning, and tried to make every new idea appear frightful. Many smiled while he blustered; but there were enough to listen, and, by making himself a terror to all who differed from him, he gained a wide sway among the colleges. He 'created heretics before any existed,' and had called for the burning of Merlin, the vicar-general of Paris. 'But when the new doctors appeared, he bounded like a wild beast that suddenly perceives an easy prey within its reach.' The cautious Erasmus wrote: 'In one Beda there are three thousand monks.' But where was the proper victim?
The suspecting eye fell upon Lefevre, for Beda had grown nervous over the renown of his fellow-countryman. To increase his own chance for making a noise, he would gladly have put the aged doctor to silence. He either could not see, or could not lay hold of, the strong points in the new doctrines, and he scented out the grievous heresy of 'the three Magdalenes.' For Lefevre had asserted that Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, and the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus, were three different persons. This set Beda and his host in motion. The whole Church was aroused, and, as a specimen of her infallible judgment, she declared that these were but one person,—an opinion which no priest would be likely now to affirm. Lefevre was condemned by the Sorbonne, and prosecuted by the Parliament as a heretic. But Francis, glad to strike a blow at the Sorbonne, and to humble the monks, rescued him from their violent hands, and saved him from the scaffold. Perhaps the thanks are due to Margaret. Beda was enraged at seeing his victim snatched from his grasp, and he resolved to take more caution with the next one, whom he was about to select from the nobility.
At the court was a gentleman of Artois, about thirty years old, named Louis de Berquin. He was frank and open-hearted, pure in his life, tender toward the poor, warmly attached to his friends, and wished to have no enemies. He had fairly won the title of 'the most learned of the nobles.' He had a horror of everything called heresy by the Church, and devoutly observed the fasts, festivals, confessions, and masses. It created surprise to see so much devotion at court.
There seemed to be nothing to incline such a man toward the new doctrines. But Beda disgusted his generous spirit. Not wishing to injure any one, he could not bear to see others injured. As he did nothing by halves, he spoke freely, wherever he went, about the cruelty of this rough tool of the Sorbonne; and he attacked 'in their very nests, those odious hornets who were then the terror of the world.' Nor did he stop here, as if it were enough to oppose the persecutors. He sought to learn what the persecuted had to say for themselves. He wished to know that Bible which was 'so dear to the men against whom Beda and his creatures were raging, and he scarcely began to read the book before it won his heart.'
Berquin lost no time in seeking admission to the circle of reformers, in which was the delightful company of Margaret, Lefevre, Farel, Brigonnet, and the Roussels. Any one who loved the word of God was now a brother, and all sat at the feet of the Master. Nor was the young noble yet satisfied. He wished all France to know the truth. He showed all the zeal of Beda in the other direction. He began to use the pen in order to resist Beda's sword.
In 1520 the noise about Luther had reached France. His writings came soon after with the east wind. His victory over Dr. Eck gave joy and courage to the company of reformers. Many of the Sorbonne doctors found striking truths in the little books of the monk of Wittemberg. They were watched by their colleagues; and if one of them uttered a reasonable sentiment, the loud cry arose, ' He is worse than Luther.' The more boisterous priests seemed to gain the day, and became the willing recruits of Beda and his satellites. . The more silent doctors read and thought for themselves.
Berquin translated several of Luther's writings. This was too much; he was now one with the German monk who had dared to set himself against the Pope. Death was too good for Luther; it was good enough for his translator; and Beda resolved to bring him to the scaffold. There was this argument: the university had condemned the German writings to be publicly burned. An appeal was sent to Francis, who was then pleasuring through the land. Margaret whispered in his ear. His eyes were opened. He saw that the 'heretics' were simply men of learning. The grave deputies were sent back, crestfallen, and in great wrath, with this reply from the king, ' I will not have these people molested. To persecute those who teach us, would prevent able scholars from coming into our country.'
Among those who were thus shielded were many of Luther's disciples. They had crossed the Rhine in advance of his writings, and found a welcome among all the Bible-readers, whose new doctrines were often called 'the sentiments of men of genius.' 'In a short time,' says a Jesuit author, 'the university was filled with foreigners, who, because they knew a little Hebrew and Greek, acquired a reputation, insinuated themselves into the houses of persons of quality, and claimed an insolent liberty of interpreting the Bible.'
And that the king should allow them to stay! This was an awful calamity to the Church. But if Beda and his troop could not erect scaffolds or pile up the fagots, there was another sort of persecution which might be employed. They could annoy the reformers, vex them, slander them, cry out against them, and make the people believe that the Church was in danger. They might hiss and hound them out of society, or provoke them to say and do things, in self-defence, on which they could found such charges as would bring down the wrath of the king. Beda was bold to declare that he would wage war upon them to the bitter end: if the king consented, well; but if not, his Majesty must make the best of it. The aged Lefevre felt tormented by these ignorant zealots, and began to look for some retreat where he might be free from the strife of tongues. Where should he find it? Where be out of the reach of the man in whom there were three thousand monks?