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Nor was the king forgotten. The light must reach him. The court must be gained to Christianity, if possible. The bishop sent to Margaret (now the Duchess of Alencon) 'the epistles of St. Paul translated and splendidly illuminated, most humbly entreating her to present them to the king, which cannot but be the most pleasing from your hands.' Thus, probably, the word of God was placed under the eyes of Francis 1. and his mother Louisa. If they opened it, they closed it without receiving any lesson for their hearts. Perhaps too much was hoped from the conversion of the king, should he avow himself the patron of Christianity.
'The gospel is already gaining the hearts of the great, and of the people,' said Lefevre one day, in the fervour of his heart, when certain of the Romanists were talking with him and Farel. 'In a short time, spreading all over France, it will everywhere throw down the inventions of men.'
On a sudden, a Franciscan monk, named Roma, started up to resist the animated doctor, whose eyes sparkled, and his worn-out voice grew musical with the promise of refreshing times.
'Then I and all the other religioners will preach a crusade,' cried Roma. 'We will raise the people; and if the king permits the preaching of your gospel, we will expel him from his kingdom by his own subjects.'
It might have been ill for the monk, but well for the truth, had the knightly king heard this last threat. He might have taught Roma a lesson on loyalty. No reformer was proposing to drive the monarch from his throne, if he did not favour the gospel. If such a threat was a crime, where were Beda and Duprat? If they were on the hunt for an offence, there was one far greater than any committed by the reformers. The Franciscans applauded the words of Roma. They began to feel alarm; their craft was in danger; their livings were reduced; they could not shear the sheep; and their convents were in need of supplies. They went about, mourning and clamouring, as if their fall was a sign that the world was coming to an end. They tried to rouse the people against the new teachers. Then, with bolder face, they went to the bishop and impudently declared to him: 'Crush this heresy, or else the pestilence, which is already destroying the city of Meaux, will spread over the kingdom.'
The bishop at first stood like an oak against the storm. He had a contempt for the selfish monks, who sought to lord it over him. He went into the pulpit and defended the aged Lefevre, and called the monks Pharisees and hypocrites. It had been well for his name had he been slain at the very onset of this gathering battle, and buried as the first Protestant who fell in France. But his courage failed. He trembled, wavered, and became a frail reed in the wind. He was only a bishop, and the monks could crush him. He took alarm when he saw them posting off to the capital, to lay their complaints before the higher powers. They entered Paris; they were closeted with Beda and his gang; they were a joy to Duprat; and they easily gained the ear of Parliament. They charged the bishop with the immense mischief done at Meaux. His palace was a fountain of heresy, and it must be sealed. The Sorbonne and the Parliament agreed in waging a war upon the reformers.
Poor Briconnet! holding out a flag of truce at the very hour when a victory was at hand. He would not surrender everything, but he would yield enough to satisfy Rome. He would keep the gospel, but give up Luther's writings. He would allow Mary to be invoked, along with Christ. The compromise was made. In 1523 he issued three mandates; the first enjoined prayers for the dead and the invocation of the saints; the second one forbade any one to buy, borrow, read, or carry about with him, any of Luther's works, and ordered them to be torn in pieces, scattered to the winds, or burnt; the third asserted the doctrine of purgatory. But this was not enough. If he would save himself, he must sacrifice those who had trusted him, and whom he had sheltered. It was hinted that the gospel-teachers must not be allowed to leave Meaux, for they would only carry their doctrines into other places. An end must be made of them. This was too-horrible a work for the bishop, and it was thought best to entrust it to surer hands. He was asked to forbid their preaching in the parishes, and he did it. He also began to visit the churches, in company with Andrew Verjus, the first president of the Parliament of Paris, so that this zealous dignitary might see and hear for himself. It was hard, but the bishop laboured to 'weed out the heresies that were there shooting up.' Verjus and his brother deputies returned to the capital, fully satisfied. Briconnet had fallen. They said he had returned to the faith, and risen to his proper place in the Church.
The aim was now taken at the faithful Lefevre. His writings were searched by Beda and his detective police. They pointed out intolerable heresies to the Sorbonne. * Does he dare to recommend all the faithful to read the Scriptures? Does he not tell therein, that whoever loves not Christ's word is not a Christian? and that the word of God is sufficient to lead to eternal life?' The Church must never endure this, for it puts all her interests in danger. Romanism cannot stand if the Bible be the book of the people.
The secret whisperings in the Sorbonne, the plots of their detectives, and the noise of the monks, were of little avail unless the king would give the order to crush the heresies, and force men into the faith of the Church. And what did Francis say to all this uproar? He appointed a commission to investigate the matter. Lefevre appeared before it, justified himself, and came off from this attack with victory on his banners of truth. Yet flight was wisdom, and he soon after left Meaux for a time. It seems, however, that he returned, and was secretly harboured by the bishop.
Farel could not hope for protectinn, since his host had turned against the invited guests. He left the city where there were still many firm adherents to the gospel, and where martyrs were soon to seal their testimony with blood. It seems that he went at first to Paris, and with unsparing words attacked the errors of Rome, until he put his life in jeopardy. Thence he probably went to Dauphiny, anxious to bear the good news to his native land. It has been supposed, however, that he spent several months at Metz, where the gospel standard was being lifted high, and to it were gathering some of the most worthy chieftains of the French Reformation. Let us see them flocking to this ancient city, the old Divodurum of Tacitus, built where the Seille adds its waters to the blue Moselle.
Before the bishop fell, and his chief guests departed, the Lord raised up a lowly disciple to be a pastor to the little flock at Meaux. John Leclerc heard his fellowwool-carders talk of the gospel, and hid the good word in his heart; for it must not be mentioned at home to his father, who was blindly led by the monks. His mother and his brother Peter joined with him on the side of the new preachers. He read the Bible and the 'little books;' he grew strong under the teachings of Lefevre and Farel, and became a ready expounder of the Scriptures. When the teachers were exiled, the Christians looked to him as their shepherd.
This wool-carder went from house to house comforting the disciples. His zeal outran his prudence, and he sought to give Popery such a blow as only a Luther had strength to inflict. He wrote a proclamation against the Pope, declaring that the Lord was about to destroy Antichrist by the breath of His mouth. He took the 'placards,' and boldly posted them on the gates of the cathedral. Hundreds gathered on the spot to read the strange words. Soon all were in confusion: the disciples were amazed; the priests were angry; the monks were outrageous, and they demanded that at least one example should be made to terrify the people. Who would be a better one than this wool-carder? The king would not call him 'one of his learned men,' and treat him with favour. Leclerc was cast into prison.
He was hurried through a trial, under the eyes of the fallen bishop. He was condemned to be whipped through the streets of the city on three days; and to wind up the cruelty, his forehead was to be branded with the mark of a heretic. No time was to be lost. The poor carder was led through the city, with his hands bound and his shoulders bare, while the blows fell and the blood flowed. An immense crowd followed in the gory tracks of the victim: some yelled with rage against the heretic; others gave clear signs of their tender com