Calvin’s observations on Psalm 14:1 are worth re-hearing:
As the Hebrew word נבל, nabal, signifies not only a fool, but also a perverse, vile, and contemptible person, it would not have been unsuitable to have translated it so in this place; yet I am content to follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness.
David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God.
It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God.
On August 12, 1535,
… the people [of Geneva] were freed from their bonds, and the performance of [the] mass was prohibited by law. The reformation edict of the 27th of the same month set aside the authority of the papacy; the bishop removed to Gex, and his see was declared vacant by a decree of the senate: at the same time the monasteries were put down.
Farel preached to the nuns of St. Claire, on the text, “Mary went to the hill country to Elizabeth,” in order to show that Christian women are not deprived of freedom, and that the blessed Virgin was not obliged to shut herself up to preserve her purity.
The nuns, with few exceptions, all left the city. They had borne the character of great simplicity: it created no slight surprise therefore, that after they were gone a subterraneous passage was discovered leading from their convent to a neighboring monastery; they were suspected from this of not being altogether indifferent to earthly vanities.*
It’s not surprising. There are always ways to fulfil desire when there’s a desire. The Genevan nuns had the will and the monks had a way.
*The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer (Vol. 1, p. 97).
Those who think that the authority of the doctrine [of the Church] is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them. — John Calvin
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only provided for thine ancient Church, by choosing JEREMIAH as thy servant, but hast also designed that the fruit of his labours should continue to our age,
—O grant that we may not be unthankful to thee, but that we may so avail ourselves of so great a benefit, that the fruit of it may appear in us to the glory of thy name; may we learn so entirely to devote ourselves to thy service, and each of us be so attentive to the work of his calling, that we may strive with united hearts to promote the honour of thy name, and also the kingdom of thine only-begotten Son, until we finish our warfare, and come at length into that celestial rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. Amen.
I must patiently submit to this condition which providence has assigned me, that petulant, dishonest and furious men, as if in conspiracy, pour out their virulence chiefly upon me. Other most excellent men indeed they do not spare, assailing the living and wounding the names of the dead; but the only cause of the more violent assault they make on me is because the more Satan, whose slaves they are, sees my labours to be useful to the Church of Christ, the more he stimulates them violently to attack me. I say nothing of the old pettifoggers, whose calumnies are already obsolete. A horrible apostate of the name of Staphylus has lately started up, and without a word of provocation has uttered more calumnies against me than against all the others who had described his perfidy, bad morals, and depraved disposition. From another quarter one named Nicolas Le Coq, has begun to screech against me. At length from another sink comes forth Tileman Heshusius. Of him I would rather have the reader form a judgment from the facts and his own writings than express my own opinion.
I shall not quote the bitter words with which you have lately censured me. While you are indulgent to yourself, you represent me as by far too rigid; and yet if you fancy that the easy good nature which you aim at is commended by all, you are greatly mistaken. For there are grave and moderate men, who complain that you are weak and remiss, and are indignant that your other remarkable virtues should be tarnished by this blot. You grant, too, that since the natural temper of all is not alike, it is just that we should promote friendship by mutual forbearance. But here you furnish me with a just reason for expostulating with you, for whatever persons accuse my severity are sure without exception to gain their cause with you as if they were unblamable; and even though you perceive that the fault is on their side, yet am I without any distinction deprived of the advantages of your good word. You mention only three individuals, as if indeed there were not in your territory numberless enraged dogs, who cease not by all the ways in their power to snap at me. I am aware that sometimes you have refuted their calumnies, but you have always contrived to leave along with your refutation the sting of some unfavourable remark behind.
It is the year 1523. Young Calvin had just arrived from Noyon. De Berquin had translated something of Luther into the French. Thoroughly ill at ease the Sorbonne had accused him before the Parlement. His books and papers39) had been seized, examined, condemned. He was locked up in the Square Tour of the Palace. At the moment when the sentence of death is expected, the Court intervenes. He is freed August 8, 1523.
The University students, elated over this, and more zealous than prudent, celebrate the occasion. They do so by staging “La Farce des théologastres.” The story of the play is evidence of the fact that by 1523 the name of Luther was generally known in Paris, and that it was associated with the progressive group over against the Nachtschule of the Sorbonne. Now since the Thirteenth Century the so-called morality plays had been presented on the stage. Out of twenty-one collected by M. Picot only one was found to have been written by an out and out loyal Catholic. The “Farce des théologastres” was one in line with the tradition of l’ancien théâtre français therefore. It was written by a friend of de Berquin. The title speaks for itself. The play itself heckles the reactionary spirit of the Sorbonne and the Collège de Montaigu. There are six characters: Théologastres, Fratrez, Foy, Raison, Le Texte de Saincte Escripture, Le Mercure d’Allemagne. Louis de Berquin is identified with the last, the messenger from Germany.*
These are the very kinds of things which worried the establishment about Reform. Was it a legitimate desire to reform Church life or was it an attempt to undermine authority? At this stage, no government could really tell.
*John Calvin: a study in French humanism (p. 28).