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Meaux begin their rounds. A single preacher will visit four or five parishes in a day, always delivering the same sermon, not to feed the souls of his hearers, but to fill his mouth, his purse, and his convent. When their, wallets are replenished, their end is gained; there are no more sermons, and the people see the priests no more in the churches until the next pay-day comes.'
'These shepherds make it their only business to shear the sheep,' declares the bishop, who pities the shorn flocks, and is indignant against the monks. 'But where are these hirelings?'
'They get their money, and then go to Paris to spend it,' reply the parishioners.
'Alas! are they not traitors who thus desert the service of Jesus Christ?'
The bishop resolved upon a sifting process. He called all his clergy together in 1519, and took account of them. Many, who cared for little else than the charms of Paris, urged that they had employed curates to tend their flocks while they enjoyed the city. What, then, of these curates? Were they as bad as the priests who held the livings? One hundred and twenty-seven of them were examined, and only fourteen of them were approved by the bishop! The rest were weak, ignorant, worldly, and selfish.
The next year the bishop published a mandate, in which he declared ' traitors and deserters all those pastors who, by abandoning their flocks, show plainly that what they love is the fleece;' selected others, who were found to be qualified, and set them over the sheep, ransomed by the most holy blood of Jesus Christ. He now was convinced that, if he would have able ministers in his diocese, he must train them himself. He therefore resolved to establish a theological school at Meaux, under the direction of pious and learned doctors. He must find good teachers; and, without meaning it, Beda was providing them.
Lefevre had left Farel and the Bible-band at the capital, hunted everywhere by the secret detective police of the Sorbonne. Farel did not preach, for he was not yet ordained; but he talked with students and citizens, argued with professors and priests, and boldly proclaimed the cause of the Reformation at the university and in the city. Some, however, fired by his example, openly preached the gospel. Martial Mazurier, president of St. Michael's college, and eloquent in the pulpit, threw aside all reserve, and painted the disorders of the times in the darkest but the truest colours. It was almost impossible to resist the wisdom with which this earnest Stephen spake. Beda and his recruits were raised to the highest pitch of anger, and declared: 'If we tolerate these innovators, they will invade the whole body, and all will be over with our teaching, our traditions, our places, and the respect felt towards us by France and the whole of Christendom.'
All had, indeed, been over long ago, with the respect which the Sorbonnists claimed. They had forfeited it by their bigotry and intolerance. They stood accused, before all true Christendom, of the great crime of persecuting the men who would have saved France from darkness and blood. On them was fixed the lasting dishonour of having refused the true light, because their deeds and doctrines were evil. They were blinding their own eyes, and were fighting against God. To them, these excellent men, of whom Paris was not worthy, might have said, as Paul and Barnabas declared to certain
persecutors: 'It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but, seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.' Never was there a more solemn hour for that capital city, in which was concentrated all France. Never were the destinies of that nation more delicately hinged on an event, small in the eyes of men, but great in the sight of God. That event was the persecution of those who held forth the word of life! Paris then decided her history for centuries: she sent Christianity into exile; she set up Romanism in her heart, and there it has remained, causing in one age a St. Bartholomew's day of blood, and in another an infidel revolution of horror.
The bishop of Meaux learned how fierce was the enmity against Farel, the Roussels, Mazurier, and their co-labourers, and how all their zealous efforts were thwarted. He entreated them to come and join Lefevre. They saw only a hopeless conflict before them if they remained, and thought it important to be united together in one solid and sacred phalanx for the triumph of the truth. They accepted the bishop's invitation, and went to Meaux. They went into the neglected parishes, to feed the flocks that had been fleeced by the priests and curates. They laid no tax upon the rich; they gave generously to the poor. The bishop was like that ancient 'son of consolation' who laid his money at the apostles' feet. 'His fortune equalled his zeal. Never did man devote his wealth to nobler uses, and never did such noble devotedness promise, at first, to bear such glorious fruits.' The new teachers gathered a goodly company around them, and Meaux has the honour of being the first city in France in which grew up a Protestant congregation. In this ' cradle of the French reform' a Protestant church was established in 1546. Beza wrote of it: 'The little flock of Meaux has not only served as an example to all the churches of France, but has also begotten to the Lord several other churches, and that, too, of the greatest. What is more, it may boast of having offered martyrs to God as its first fruits, since the restoration of the gospel.'
The voice of Lefevre was heard crying aloud, 'Kings, princes, nobles, people! all nations should think and aspire after Christ alone. Every priest should resemble that archangel whom John saw in the Apocalypse flying through the air, holding the everlasting gospel in his hand, and carrying it to every people, nation, tongue, and kindred. Come near, ye pontiffs; come, ye kings; come, ye generous hearts! . . . Nations, awake to the light of the gospel, and inhale the heavenly life I The word of God is all-sufficient.'
This all-sufficient word must be in all houses, in all hands, under all eyes, and become the book of the people. Lefevre wished to see it read by every ctass, and in every language. During the next three years (1522-1525) he published the entire New Testament in French, and a version of the Psalms. In private and in families the Bible was read; conversations- about its truths became more frequent and public; and the Holy Word proved itself to be from God, by the light which it cast into the corrupt heart and the dark home.
Erasmus, by publishing the Greek Testament, reached chiefly the learned; and this was a result too great for time to estimate. Lefevre, by publishing the French version, not only drew educated minds to the Bible, but he sent it into the abodes of the poor, the lowly, the illiterate, and the toiling. The city of Meaux was largely inhabited by artisans and dealers in wool, the fullers and weavers, says an old chronicler, 'took no other recreation, as they worked with their hands, than to talk with each other of the word of God, and to comfort themselves with the same. Sundays and holidays especially were devoted to the reading of Scripture, and inquiring into the good pleasure of the Lord.' The bishop was delighted to see the good work thus going on, for piety was taking the place of superstition in his diocese. An old Romish annalist lays a heavy charge upon Lefevre, for using his great learning to 'so cajole and circumvent Messire Guillaume Briconnet with his plausible talk, that he caused him to turn aside grievously; so that it has been impossible, up to this day (1560), to free the city and diocese of Meaux from that pestilent doctrine, where it has so marvellously increased. The misleading of that good bishop was a great injury, as, until then, he had been so devoted to God and to the Virgin Mary.'
Not only into the factories, but into the fields, went the glad tidings, and thence still further out into the world. Near to the city Were rich crops, and at the harvest time a crowd of labourers came from the surrounding regions. They reaped until they needed rest; and then, while resting, they talked with the town people about other seed-times, other soils, and other harvests. When their work was ended, they went home with the gospel in their hearts. They told the wonderful news; and in one instance the peasants of Landouzy carried back with them the gospel, and persevered until an evangelical church was formed in their district; and it still stands, we believe, as one of the oldest Protestant churches in France. Thus * in this diocese an image of the renovated Church was seen to shine forth.'