Theodore Beza

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Theodore Beza : biography

June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605

In the year following (1561), Beza represented the Evangelicals at the Colloquy of Poissy, and in an eloquent manner defended the principles of the Evangelical faith. The colloquy was without result, but Beza as the head and advocate of all Reformed congregations of France was revered and hated at the same time. The queen insisted upon another colloquy, which was opened at St. Germain Jan. 28, 1562, eleven days after the proclamation of the famous January edict which granted important privileges to those of the Reformed faith. But the colloquy was broken off when it became evident that the Catholic party was preparing (after the Massacre of Vassy, Mar. 1) to overthrow Protestantism.

Beza hastily issued a circular letter (Mar. 25) to all Reformed congregations of the empire, and went to Orléans with the Huguenot leader Conde and his troops. It was necessary to proceed quickly and energetically. But there were neither soldiers nor money. At the request of Conde, Beza visited all Huguenot cities to obtain both. He also wrote a manifesto in which he argued the justice of the Reformed cause. As one of the messengers to collect soldiers and money among his coreligionists, Beza was appointed to visit England, Germany, and Switzerland. He went to Strasburg and Basel, but met with failure. He then returned to Geneva, which he reached September 4. He had hardly been there fourteen days when he was called once more to Orléans by D’Andelot. The campaign was becoming more successful; but the publication of the unfortunate edict of pacification which Conde accepted (Mar. 12,1563) filled Beza and all Protestant France with horror.

Calvin’s successor

The [[Reformation Wall in Geneva. From left: William Farel, John Calvin, Beza, and John Knox]]

For twenty-two months Beza had been absent from Geneva, and the interests of school and Church there and especially the condition of Calvin made it necessary for him to return. For there was no one to take the place of Calvin, who was sick and unable longer to bear the burden resting on him. Calvin and Beza arranged to perform their duties jointly in alternate weeks, but the death of Calvin occurred soon afterward (May 27, 1564). As a matter of course Beza was his successor.

Until 1580 Beza was not only moderateur de la compagnie des pasteurs, but also the real soul of the great institution of learning at Geneva which Calvin had founded in 1559, consisting of a gymnasium and an academy. As long as he lived, Beza was interested in higher education. The Protestant youth for nearly forty years thronged his lecture-room to hear his theological lectures, in which he expounded the purest Calvinistic orthodoxy. As a counselor he was listened to by both magistrates and pastors. Geneva is indebted to him for the founding of a law school in which François Hotman, Jules Pacius, and Denys Godefroy, the most eminent jurists of the century, lectured in turn (cf. Charles Borgeaud, L’Academie de Calvin, Geneva, 1900).

Course of events after 1564

[[Woodcut of Theodore Beza]] As Calvin’s successor, Beza was very successful, not only in carrying on his work but also in giving peace to the Church at Geneva. The magistrates had fully appropriated the ideas of Calvin, and the direction of spiritual affairs, the organs of which were the "ministers of the word" and "the consistory", was founded on a solid basis. No doctrinal controversy arose after 1564. The discussions concerned questions of a practical, social, or ecclesiastical nature, such as the supremacy of the magistrates over the pastors, freedom in preaching, and the obligation of the pastors to submit to the majority of the campagnie des pasteurs.

Beza obtruded his will in no way upon his associates, and took no harsh measures against injudicious or hot-headed colleagues, though sometimes he took their cases in hand and acted as mediator; and yet he often experienced an opposition so extreme that he threatened to resign. Although he was inclined to take the part of the magistrates, he knew how to defend the rights and independence of the spiritual power when occasion arose, without, however, conceding to it such a preponderating influence as did Calvin.