As today is the anniversary of Farel’s death I thought it proper to post this brief snippet of a bio.
In 1509 William Farel left his home at Gap in Dauphine to study in Paris. Under the influence of evangelical scholars Jacques Lefevre (J. Faber Stapulensis) and Cornelius Hoehn, he adopted Protestant views. In 1520 Farel joined other Lefevre pupils in reform efforts at the Meaux diocese outside Paris. Although removed from the circle of Parisian Catholic orthodoxy, increasing pressure from church authorities forced him to leave France in 1523.
In 1524 Farel began reform work in Basel with J. Hussgen (Oecolampadius). Farel’s impetuous championship of the evangelical cause provoked strong opposition. Chased from Basel in 1526, he undertook preaching tours in Switzerland. In 1528 he and Hussgen were successful in the Bern Disputation—a forum which decided that city’s religion.
Consequently, Bern sponsored Farel’s work in the Vaud, in Neuchatel (1530), and in Geneva (1523).
In 1534 Farel and French scholar Pierre Viret began holding regular Protestant worship services in Geneva. By 1535 a theological debate won the sympathetic populace to their side. In 1536 Farel added Calvin to his staff by threatening him with divine judgment should he resist. At this point Geneva was in a state of social and religious turmoil; thus, Farel fully supported Calvin’s new order and discipline. A series of confrontations with city magistrates led to ejection of the pastors in 1538. Unlike Calvin, Farel did not later return to Geneva but lived in Neuchatel. If he lacked the theological depth and consolidating powers of Calvin, Farel was nevertheless fervently dedicated to his evangelistic task.
Farel remained close friends with Calvin, officiating at the marriage of Calvin and Idelette de Bure (1540). Some tension developed when Farel at age sixty–nine married a young woman, a union Calvin strongly disapproved. The two were reconciled, however, before Calvin’s death in 1564.*
Additionally, Philip Schaff makes the following delightful observations concerning Farel:
Farel had some of the best qualities of an orator: a sonorous and stentorian voice, appropriate gesture, fluency of speech, and intense earnestness, which always commands attention and often produces conviction. His contemporaries speak of the thunders of his eloquence and of his transporting prayers. “Tua illa fulgura,” writes Calvin. “Nemo tonuit fortius,” says Beza. His sermons were extemporized, and have not come down to us. Their power lay in the oral delivery. We may compare him to Whitefield, who was likewise a travelling evangelist, endowed with the magnetism of living oratory. In Beza’s opinion, Calvin was the most learned, Farel the most forcible, Viret the most gentle preacher of that age.
The chief defect of Farel was his want of moderation and discretion. He was an iconoclast. His violence provoked unnecessary opposition, and often did more harm than good. Oecolampadius praised his zeal, but besought him to be also moderate and gentle. “Your mission,” he wrote to him, “is to evangelize, not to curse. Prove yourself to be an evangelist, not a tyrannical legislator. Men want to be led, not driven.” Zwingli, shortly before his death, exhorted him not to expose himself rashly, but to reserve himself for the further service of the Lord.
Farel’s work was destructive rather than constructive. He could pull down, but not build up. He was a conqueror, but not an organizer of his conquests; a man of action, not a man of letters; an intrepid preacher, not a theologian. He felt his defects, and handed his work over to the mighty genius of his younger friend Calvin. In the spirit of genuine humility and self-denial, he was willing to decrease that Calvin might increase. This is the finest trait in his character.**
You can read lots of Farel’s works here.
*G. Bromily in Who’s Who in Christian history
**P. Schaff, History of the Christian church