Theodore Beza

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Theodore Beza : biography

June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605

Theodore Beza (Latin Theodorus Beza’, French Théodore de Bèze or de Besze) (June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605) was a French Protestant Christian theologian and scholar who played an important role in the Reformation. A member of the monarchomaque movement who opposed absolute monarchy, he was a disciple of John Calvin and lived most of his life in Switzerland.

Biography

Early life

Theodore Beza was born at Vezelay, in Burgundy, France. His father, Pierre de Beze, royal governor of Vezelay, descended from a Burgundian family of distinction; his mother, Marie Bourdelot, was known for her generosity. Beza’s father had two brothers; Nicholas, who was member of Parliament at Paris; and Claude, who was abbot of the Cistercian monastery Froimont in the diocese of Beauvais.

Nicholas, who was unmarried, during a visit to Vezelay was so pleased with Theodore that, with the permission of his parents, he took him to Paris to educate him there. From Paris, Theodore was sent to Orléans in December 1528 to receive instruction from the famous German teacher Melchior Wolmar. He was received into Wolmar’s house, and the day on which this took place was afterward celebrated as a second birthday.

Young Beza soon followed his teacher to Bourges, where the latter was called by the duchess Margaret of Angoulême, sister of Francis I. At the time, Bourges was the focus of the Reformation movement in France. In 1534, after Francis I issued his edict against ecclesiastical innovations, Wolmar returned to Germany. Beza, in accordance with the wish of his father, went back to Orléans to study law, and spent four years there (1535–39). The pursuit of law had little attraction for him; he enjoyed more the reading of the ancient classics, especially Ovid, Catullus, and Tibullus.

He received the degree of licentiate in law August 11, 1539, and, as his father desired, went to Paris, where he began to practice. To support him, his relatives had obtained for him two benefices, the proceeds of which amounted to 700 golden crowns a year; and his uncle had promised to make him his successor.

Beza spent two years in Paris and gained a prominent position in literary circles. To escape the many temptations to which he was exposed, with the knowledge of two friends, he became engaged in the year 1544 to a young girl of humble descent, Claudine Denoese, promising to publicly marry her as soon as his circumstances would allow it.

In 1548 he published a collection of Latin poetry, Juvenilia, which made him famous, and he was widely considered one of the best writers of Latin poetry of his time. Some cautioned against reading biographical details in his writings. Philip Schaff argued that it was a mistake to "read between his lines what he never intended to put there" or to imagine "offences of which he was not guilty even in thought."

Shortly after the publication of his book, he fell ill and his illness, it is reported, revealed to him his spiritual needs. Gradually he came to accept salvation in Christ, which lifted his spirits. He then resolved to sever his connections of the time, and went to Geneva, the French city of refuge for Evangelicals (adherents of the Reformation movement), where he arrived with Claudine on October 23, 1548.

Teacher at Lausanne

He was received by John Calvin, who had met him already in Wolmar’s house, and was married in the church. Beza was at a loss for immediate occupation, so he went to Tübingen to see his former teacher Wolmar. On his way home he visited Pierre Viret at Lausanne, who brought about his appointment as professor of Greek at the academy there (Nov., 1549).

Beza found time to write a Biblical drama, Abraham Sacrifiant ,published at Geneva, 1550; Eng. transl. by Arthur Golding, London, 1577, ed., with introduction, notes, and the French text of the original, M. W. Wallace, Toronto, 1906 in which he contrasted Catholicism with Protestantism, and the work was well received. In June, 1551, he added a few psalms to the French version of the Psalms begun by Clément Marot, which was also very successful.