Theodore Beza


Theodore Beza : biography

June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605

About the same time he published Passavantius, , a satire directed against Pierre Lizet, the former president of the Parliament of Paris, and principal originator of the "fiery chamber" (chambre ardente), who, at the time (1551) was abbot of St. Victor near Paris and publishing a number of polemical writings.

Of a more serious character were two controversies in which Beza was involved at this time. The first concerned the doctrine of predestination and the controversy of Calvin with Jerome Hermes Bolsec. The second referred to the burning of Michael Servetus at Geneva Oct. 27, 1553. In defense of Calvin and the Genevan magistrates, Beza published in 1554 the work De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis (translated into French in 1560).

Journeys on behalf of the Protestants

In 1557, Beza took a special interest in the Waldensians of Piedmont, who were being harassed by the French government. On their behalf, he went with William Farel to Bern, Zürich, Basel, and Schaffhausen, then to Strasburg, Mömpelgard, Baden, and Göppingen. In Baden and Göppingen, Beza and Farel made a declaration concerning the Waldensians’ views on the sacrament on May 14, 1557. The written declaration clearly stated their position and was well received by the Lutheran theologians, but was strongly disapproved of in Bern and Zurich.

In the autumn of 1558 Beza undertook a second journey with Farel to Worms by way of Strasburg in the hopes of bringing about an intercession by the Evangelical princes of the empire in favor of the persecuted brethren at Paris. With Melanchthon and other theologians then assembled at the Colloquy of Worms, Beza proposed a union of all Protestant Christians, but the proposal was decidedly denied by Zurich and Bern.

False reports reached the German princes that the hostilities against the Huguenots in France had ceased and no embassy was sent to the court of France. As a result, Beza undertook another journey with Farel, Johannes Buddaeus, and Gaspard Carmel to Strasburg and Frankfort, where the sending of an embassy to Paris was resolved upon.

Settles in Geneva

Upon his return to Lausanne, Beza was greatly disturbed. In union with many ministers and professors in city and country, Viret at last thought of establishing a consistory and of introducing a church discipline which should apply excommunication especially at the celebration of the communion. But the Bernese would have no Calvinistic church government. This caused many difficulties, and Beza thought it best (1558) to settle at Geneva.

Here he was given chair of Greek in the newly established academy, and after Calvin’s death also that of theology. He was also obliged to preach.

He completed the revision of Pierre Olivetan’s translation of the New Testament, begun some years before. In 1559 he undertook another journey in the interest of the Huguenots, this time to Heidelberg. At about the same time, he had to defend Calvin against Joachim Westphal in Hamburg and Tilemann Heshusius.

More important than this polemical activity was Beza’s statement of his own confession. It was originally prepared for his father in justification of his actions and published in revised form to promote Evangelical knowledge among Beza’s countrymen. It was printed in Latin in 1560 with a dedication to Wolmar. An English translation was published at London 1563, 1572, and 1585. Translations into German, Dutch, and Italian were also issued.

Events of 1560-63

In the mean time things took such shape in France that the happiest future for Protestantism seemed possible. King Anthony of Navarre, yielding to the urgent requests of Evangelical noblemen, declared his willingness to listen to a prominent teacher of the Church. Beza, a French nobleman and head of the academy in the metropolis of French Protestantism, was invited to Castle Nerac, but he could not plant the seed of Evangelical faith in the heart of the king.