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THE ALPINE SCHOOLMASTER.
(1527-1528.) on the banks of the Great Water,' a narrow
stream that falls in thunder from the rugged glaciers of the Diablerets, lies the small town
of Aigle? (Ælen), about ten miles from Villeneuve, at the upper end of Lake Leman. A railway now passes through it, and from the train at this point one may see the sublime Dent du Midi rising on the south, and the proud Dent de Morcles on the north, both crowned with snow; and between them, a quiet, smiling valley, whose picture will not soon fade from his memory. There the laurel blooms beside the most exquisite grapes; and yet, hanging almost above them, are vast glaciers, near to which, in summer, the shepherds lead their flocks for pasture. If this be his first gate of entrance, the traveller begins to think that he is amid the grandeur of Switzerland.
To this small town, in December 1526, a man was making his way on foot, and in the rain. He wished to conceal his name, for he was one whom persecution had made an exile from France. He was of middle stature, * The old Latin Aquilea, now containing about 1650 inhabitants.
with red beard, quick eyes, fearless face, and the step of a native mountaineer. If he met any of the villagers, he was likely to give them the whole road, and speak kindly to them, in purer French than they employed; but if he met a haughty priest, he was ready to claim his full share of the path, and look back at him with indignation after he had passed. The wonder is, that he did not tear down some of the crosses along the way, and dash in pieces the images that exacted devotion from the superstitious traveller.
With him walked a single friend. Night closed around them, and the rain fell heavy and cold. They lost their path,-a very dangerous thing for Alpine travellers, on whom the snow might be falling before morning. Drenched and chilled, they sat down almost in despair. "Ah!' said the chief one, ‘God, by showing me my helplessness in these little things, has willed to teach me how weak I am in the greatest without Jesus Christ.'
It is no little thing to be lost,' we imagine the other replying. "We shall perish if we stay here.
‘Let us perish, then, trying to find our way.' Then rising, they bent forward on their dark journey, feeling for stepping-places among the rocks, plunging through bogs, wading through the waters, crossing vineyards, fields, hills, forests, and valleys; and at length, dripping with rain and covered with mud, they reached the village of Aigle.
In this desolate night the exile received a new baptism. His natural energy was somewhat softened. He was so subdued, that he felt more timidity than he needed ; and anxious to be wise, he overstepped his mark. He assumed a new name, hoping, as he afterwards said, 'by pious frauds to circumvent the old serpent that was hissing around him.' He represented himself to be a schoolmaster-Ursinus ; and he waited for a door to be opened, that he might appear as a reformer.
He looked about upon the people, and saw ignorance and degradation as the fruits of Romanism. The priests fleeced the flocks, and then left them to be pastured by curates who played the hireling, and only confirmed the people in their rudeness and turbulence. The best way to bring the priests into watchfulness was to teach the villagers the gospel. Awaken thought among them, and the jealous clergy would rush to the spot to smother it. He cared not, however, how far they kept away from the field.
Ursinus gathered the children, and began his work with no fixed salary. His modest lessons were mingled with new and strange doctrines. His scholars wondered when he told them of the good book, and the great God who gave it ; the true cross, and the Lord of Glory who died upon it. They had something to believe, to tell, to expand their minds and elevate their souls. The teacher was encouraged ; by feeding the Saviour's lambs, he would soon have sheep to feed.
When the day's work was done, Master Ursinus left the schoolroom and the primers, and took refuge in his poorly furnished lodging-place. It became a palace, for the Bible was the light thereof. He applied himself with absorbing interest to the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, and the few works of learned theologians that he had brought with him. The debate between Luther and Zwingle was still going on. He examined anew the entire ground on which they wrestled, and asked to which of these champions he should attach himself. The case was decided; he clung to the Zurich reformer.
Master Ursinus went a step further in his work. He cautiously set about teaching the parents as well as the children. He showed them that purgatory was a mere invention ; there was no such place. Then he exposed the delusion practised in the invocation of the saints. “As for the Pope, he is nothing,' said he, 'or almost nothing, in these parts; and as for the priests, if they annoy the people with that nonsense, which Erasmus knows so well how to turn into ridicule, that is enough for them.'
Thus he went on teaching in a quiet way for some months. A flock gathered around him, loving the good man, who did more for them than any one had dreamed of doing before. If they were puzzled by the thought that one so great should come among them in their outof-the-way corner, it was all explained by his simple goodness of heart. And he told them of Him who descended from heaven to earth ; from the throne to a manger; from the crown to the cross; and they understood and believed. He thought the looked-for moment had come, and he might tell them who he was, and what was his mission.
'I am William Farel, minister of God,' said he one day. The villagers thought none the more nor any the less of him for that. It was to them like any other unheard-of name. But the priests and magistrates were in amazement and terror. They had heard of William Farel. They now saw among them that very man whose name had already become so fearful. They dared not do anything but let him have his way. Nor did he consult with flesh and blood. He had quietly taken the tower; now he would take the town by a bold movement. He ascended the pulpit, and openly preached Jesus Christ to the astonished multitude. The work of Ursinus? was over; Farel was himself again.
The council of Berne, in the month of March, commissioned Farel to explain the Holy Scriptures to the people of Aigle and its neighbourhood, and to preach until the incumbent of the benefices, Nicolas Von Diesbach, should appoint a suitable minister,-a thing that Nicolas was not likely to do. At the same time a fresh order was issued against the immorality of the clergy and laity, and measures were taken to punish offenders. This new order was galling to the priests, who had lived so long in the freest and loosest way, that they could not bear to be restrained. They saw that Farel would have the law on his side, and become bolder than before in attacking the general vices and superstitions. The rich and lazy incumbents, with the poor and ignorant curates, were the first to cry out. If this man continues preaching,' they said one to another, “it is all over with our benefices and our Church.'
The civil power also opposed this first preaching of the pure gospel in these regions. The bailiff of Aigle, and Jacques de Roverea, the governor of the four parishes, Aigle, Bex, Ollon, and the Ormond valleys, felt proud of their brief authority. They would not support their Bernese lords, nor accept the minister they had sent. They took the side of the priests, and said, “The emperor is about to declare war against all innovators. A
· Ursinus, from ursa, the bear; an allusion to the fact that he came as a Bernese. Whether he went from Basle to Berne, and then conferred with Haller and the lords of that city, does not appear. It seems that he took no commission with him ; if so, he did not show it, or thought that the gospel preacher needed no other commission than that of Christ.