Monday, May 24, 2010

Farel, Boyve, and the Swiss Reformation

I have been enthralled with J.H. Merle D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century (1872) . He wrote like a novelist with the details of the historian he was.

I am reading his account of how Reformation came to the Church in Switzerland in the Sixteenth Century. The Swiss Reformation is divided in to three parts: 1519-1526 with Zurich being the center of the Reformation and mostly of German influence. Ulrich Zwingli is the key reformer for this period. 1526-1532 the movement was centered in Berne with a mixture of German and French influence- Ursinus and Farel being the prime Reformation movers there . And of course, in 1532 Geneva became the focus and was basically French under the leadership of Farel first, but Calvin and Bucer for many years after.

About William Farel. He's the guy responsible for talking Calvin in to coming to Geneva. Years before his historic recruitment of Calvin, however, he was traveling at great risk to his life, all over Switzerland preaching the gospel and promoting Reformation. I just came upon an episode previously unknown to me involving Farel and a man named Anthony Boyve.

The quick context: One of the main points of disagreement the Reformers had with Rome was the Roman Catholic practice of "transubstantiation" in communion (where the elements somehow became the actual body and blood of Christ- something abhorrent and idolatrous to the Reformers). The notion that Christ was somehow re-sacrificed each time the "Mass" was celebrated was symbolic of what Rome had missed about Christ's sufficient, one-time work on the cross, the very heart of the gospel. The most effective method of spreading Reform was the preaching of God's Word with special emphasis on faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This was Farel's simple method as he travelled town to town entering Cathedrals and preaching.

On August 15 of 1529 Farel took with him Anthony Boyve to Valangin, Switzerland with the intention of entering the cathedral there and preaching the gospel. Here is D'Aubigne's account of what happened that day-

Already on all sides the people were thronging to the church; Farel and his companion entered also with a small number of inhabitants who had heard him at Neufchatel. The reformer immediately ascended the pulpit, and the priest prepared to celebrate Mass. The combat began. While Farel was preaching Jesus Christ and His promises, the priest and the choir were chanting the missal. The solemn moment approached: the ineffable transubstantiation was about to take place: the priest pronounced the sacred words over the elements. At this instant the people hesitate no longer; ancient habits, an irresistible influence,draw them towards the altar; the preacher is deserted; the kneeling crowd has recovered it's old worship: Rome is triumphant... Suddenly a young man springs from the throng- traverses the choir- rushes to the altar- snatches the host from the hands of the priest, and cries, as he turns toward the people: "This is not the God whom you should worship! He is above- in heaven- in the majesty of the Father, and not, as you believe, in the hands of a priest." This man was Anthony Boyve.

The Mass was interrupted, the chanting ceased, and the crowd, as if struck by a supernatural intervention, remained silent and motionless...Upon this the priests and choristers with their adherents rushed to the towers, ran up in to the belfry, and sounded the tocsin.

Farel and Boyve were taken out of the city and as one chronicler put it- "the ministers were so beaten that they nearly lost their lives."


Woody Woodward said...

Powerful stuff Pastor! Keep reading and keep posting. All of us newly formed Reformers and being finely informed so we can further perform.

Zach said...

Yep, that sounds like something the Reformers would have done. Classy fellow, those guys. Such ill-mannered delinquents deserved a good thrashing.

Reepicheep said...

As if the matter of idolatry is about manners.

There is one thing the Romanists were good at- giving out thrashings. I'll give you that.

jeff said...

I had a job singing in a Catholic church for a couple years. It was at a time in my life when I was totally NOT concerned with walking with the Lord, or even going to church. Even in the state I was in, I still found it disturbing that they had a special Mass I sang at that was called "Eucharistic Adoration". The priest basicall put a Communion wafer in a gold display and the people sat there kneeling and "adoring" (worshiping) the wafer. Sad.

Zach said...

As if the ends justify the means.

In case you haven't noticed, Calvinists have the unenviable reputation of being arrogant and, well, mean. Sure, they may be hyper-logical (maybe even right about certain things) but who wants to be like them, for heaven's sake?

Now, I know from personal experience that, although there is some truth to the reputation (as I've experienced first-hand here at the hands of your more exuberant commenters), some of the most wonderful Christians in the world are Calvinists. But when you, as a Calvinist pastor, approvingly tout such stories as this, you do nothing but lend credence to the ugly reputation.

From the tone of your post, I can only assume that you and your flock think it's a great thing that your forebears barged into a rival church, disrupted and attempted to hijack the worship, stole the host, and mocked those present. After all, you were right and they were wrong, eh?

Granted, you probably wouldn't recommend that Calvinists do such things nowadays, but I'm glad to see that you don't let that stop you from slapping each other on the back and congratulating yourselves on having such a virile faith! Huzzah!

Reepicheep said...

I concede there are many arrogant Calvinists. Unfortunately I am often times among them, for which I am ashamed and ask for God's forgiveness.

As for this account that I cite, the times were different and the agregious nature of the Roman Church's idolatry was such that many of the godly were prompted to beg for reform only to have their requests fall on deaf ears. The appeal of many of the priests, doctors, and lay people was not without biblical reason and great concern. Systematically however, the Papists and Roman Hierarchy was unwilling to consider Reform. In the times of Farel and Calvin there was constant threat of death by the Romanists and their ungodly alliance with Charles V and other "princes". Indeed, thousands of friends of the Reformation died at the hands of the Romanists simply because they opposed the Roman Church's practices.

Those practices according to the conviction of many of the Godly were a mockery to Christ and His finished work. You can disagree with their conviction, but it's not like they were out in left field theologically. The 16th Century was a time of a hideously sick priesthood flowing form a sick Papacy. Yes Calvinists can tend toward arrogance, but they certainly do not have anything on the Papacy of the 16th Century. Much of Rome's insistence on anti-reform is born from arrogance. If you cannot see that, you have not read Trent in it's full reactive context.

Of course I would not advocate interrupting another church (or religions) practice, because we have opportunity to worship aright in our own places and congregations. There is no need in America for such an act. But in those days there was only one church where the people could come for the Word and Sacraments. Years of request to reform went unheard in Switzerland. Still, almost as an "in your face" to those who sought reform, lavish celebrations of the Mass went on. I failed to mention about Farel's "tour". In most places priests or monks invited him to come to preach. He didn't just run up the aisle and take the pulpit. The churches were split about Reformation. In the end, despite military attack from Rome and her mercenaries, Switzerland sided with Reformation.

I look upon this instance as an example of the deep conviction that drove men to risk death so the message of Christ alone could be clearly heard by people. I'm sorry if you use such a case (which was relatively rare, even in the 16th Century) as a way to cast a general characterization on the Reformers, but I would ask you to re-think such an approach. Appreciate their times and their dilemma, whether you agree or not.

Finally, the Reformers were by and large very peaceful and diplomatic. This quarter of Switzerland and the portion of the Reformation under Zwingli wasn't wise in all ways, and Zwingli paid with his life in an awful way. Otherwise the invitation to openly discuss and debate matters of reform was the regular approach. Quite frankly, however, when you read how these debates go, you can see what centuries of no bible training for the Roman doctors did. They didn't fair well against most of the Reformers.

I'm in the midst of reading thousands of pages on the Reformation, the Reformers, and Rome. Sorry if my posts are heavy in that direction for a while. It's not meant against you, but just as in those days, there are many of us who feel the cause of Reform was right. They understood what was at stake, and prayerfully and humbly, I hope we do to.

May God bless your studies of His Word.

Woody Woodward said...

Very well spoken on all sides. Speaking truth and doing so in love is not an option, it’s a mandate.
Zach, I do so appreciate your passion and your ability to carefully and lovingly articulate your thoughts.
Standing for truth and refusing to bend, I too have been called arrogant and intolerant. And like Pastor Tony shared, sometimes I am very guilty as charge. God forgive me when I allow pride to stand before serving. Without regard for self, allow me to serve gladly.

mikey said...

I don't understand all this apologizing. Paul didn't ask for foregiveness from the Judaizers when he suggested that they emmasculate themselves.

Swilliams said...

I know you grew up in the Catholic Church way past the traditional times and well into the "progressive" usurpation of the Church so I think that you may have missed the kind of early education and practice that I, as your elder, experienced. And I get the "reformed" perspective of your education and of the PCA Church. (Despite my high regard for Dr. Kennedy I did get a bit put off when watching D. James celebrate Reformation Day and the anti-Catholic sermon that went with it on the Coral Ridge program.)

Anyway, the idea that Catholics were idol worshipping a wafer is well, misplaced. The Eucharistic mystery comes from Scripture (and you know your reliance on sola scriptura), and the Last SUpper when he took the bread and broke it and said take ye and eat, this is my body... likewise the wine, this is my blood ... do this in remembrance of me.

In many religious and spiritual traditions there are practices whereby the individual seeks union with the Divine - a Buddhist in deep meditation, a Sufi in his whirling dance, certain Hindus and sex acts, whatever, (oh this will make Zach apoplectic).

The second part of the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist, is a very solemn part of the service. And yes, Catholics, at least in theory, believe in the transubstantiation and when receiving the Host spend time in quiet prayer at this moment of union with Christ prior to the end of the Mass. This is a very complex and deeply misunderstood belief and serves as the basis for many severe criticisms by Protestants. Here is a sweet and simple piece by a Catholic Mom who I think says it very nicely:

Now, you know I have little regard for the modern Roman Catholic Church, not because of the Eucharist, the statues, the candles or sacred tradition, but rather for its descent into moral relativism and its ill placed devotion to social justice, and heck, its near total abandonment of its spiritual mission. (Check out Visitation in KC MO - not a Catholic Church but lists itself as a Catholic Community - the horizontal not the vertical.)

I will admit that I do find some practices kind of creepy, like relic veneration, and guys prancing around in colorful garb like European royals. But this focus on the Church as though it were still the Dark Ages with the Pope as a centralized Ruler is nonsense. While I may have separated myself from the RC Church and have done so with great conviction the one thing I do miss is the Host and those moments of peace.

With regard to the Reformers - they were zealots. Zealots provide a service, but they do some pretty crazy and sometimes dangerous things in the process. Zealots serve a purpose but in the case of the Reformers they did not change Rome as they sought so to do. Now there are so many denominations of Christian churches it is dizzying. Was that a good result? If I don't like this I'll just pick up my marbles and go start my own thing. Don't know, you will argue this ad infinitum I suspect. But while you are deluged in the Reformation I hope you will study Catholicism from its perspective so you are exposed to the unbiased facts.

And no, I am not an apologist for the RC Church, far from it. I just believe in examining the evidence from all perspectives.

Reepicheep said...


I wasn't intending to make this a debate about RC doctrine so much as to describe an instance that occured in the 16th Century.

I will take your advice about reading more of the RC primary sources. The unit I am in is Reformation heavy, although for my study on the papacy I used RC only stuff. Anyways...

I think the Reformers were zealous for sure, but not only zealots. I commend Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion to all. You will find more than a zealot there. You will find exactly what Augustine started to envisioned...

Swilliams said...

Oh yes, I know. I just kept picturing these fellows bursting into a church at communion... Mainly, I see some huge misconceptions by non-Catholics about Catholic beliefs and practices that could be cleared up by research and dialogue, whatever you end up choosing to accept in the end. What is so neat is your exuberance about your studies and how it creates a learning opportunity for those who enjoy your writings. You're a real special guy Tony and your family and Redeemer are so lucky to have you.

Rick Calohan said...

However, Tony, you are a Heretic and Schismatic according to Trent and a Separated Brethren according to Vatican II.