Theodore Beza


Theodore Beza : biography

June 24, 1519 – October 13, 1605

His activity was great. He mediated between the compagnie and the magistracy; the latter continually asked his advice even in political questions. He corresponded with all the leaders of the Reformed party in Europe. After the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), he used his influence to give to the refugees a hospitable reception at Geneva.

In 1574 he wrote his De jure magistratuum (Right of Magistrates), in which he emphatically protested against tyranny in religious matters, and affirmed that it is legitimate for a people to oppose an unworthy magistracy in a practical manner and if necessary to use weapons and depose them.

To sum up: Without being a great dogmatician like his master, nor a creative genius in the ecclesiastical realm, Beza had qualities which made him famous as humanist, exegete, orator, and leader in religious and political affairs, and qualified him to be the guide of the Calvinists in all Europe. In the various controversies into which he was drawn, Beza often showed an excess of irritation and intolerance, from which Bernardino Ochino, pastor of the Italian congregation at Zurich (on account of a treatise which contained some objectionable points on polygamy), and Sebastian Castellio at Basel (on account of his Latin and French translations of the Bible) had especially to suffer.

With Reformed France Beza continued to maintain the closest relations. He was the moderator of the general synod which met in April, 1571, at La Rochelle and decided not to abolish church discipline or to acknowledge the civil government as head of the Church, as the Paris minister Jean Morel and the philosopher Pierre Ramus demanded; it also decided to confirm anew the Calvinistic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (by the expression: "substance of the body of Christ") against Zwinglianism, which caused a very unpleasant discussion between Beza and Ramus and Heinrich Bullinger.

In the following year (May, 1572) he took an important part in the national synod at Nîmes. He was also interested in the controversies which concerned the Augsburg Confession in Germany, especially after 1564, on the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the sacrament, and published several works against Westphal, Hesshusen, Selnecker, Johannes Brenz, and Jakob Andrea. This made him, especially after 1571, hated by all those who adhered to Lutheranism in opposition to Melanchthon.

The Colloquy of Mömpelgard

The last polemical conflict of importance Beza encountered from the Lutherans was at the Colloquy of Mömpelgard, Mar. 14-27, 1586, to which he had been invited by the Lutheran Count Frederick of Württemberg at the wish of the French-speaking and Reformed residents as well as by French noblemen who had fled to Mömpelgard. As a matter of course the intended union which was the purpose of the colloquy was not brought about; nevertheless it called forth serious developments within the Reformed Church.

When the edition of the acts of the colloquy, as prepared by Jakob Andrea, was published, Samuel Huber, of Burg near Bern, who belonged to the Lutheranizing faction of the Swiss clergy, took so great offense at the supralapsarian doctrine of predestination propounded at Mömpelgard by Beza and Musculus that he felt it to be his duty to denounce Musculus to the magistrates of Bern as an innovator in doctrine. To adjust the matter, the magistrates arranged a colloquy between Huber and Musculus (September 2, 1587), in which the former represented the universalism, the latter the particularism, of grace.

As the colloquy was resultless, a debate was arranged at Bern, Apr. 15-18, 1588, at which the defense of the accepted system of doctrine was at the start put into Beza’s hands. The three delegates of the Helvetic cantons who presided at the debate declared in the end that Beza had substantiated the teaching propounded at Mömpelgard as the orthodox one, and Huber was dismissed from his office.

Last days

After that time Beza’s activity was confined more and more to the affairs of his home. His faithful wife Claudine had died childless in 1588, a few days before he went to the Bern Disputation. Forty years they had lived happily together. He contracted, on the advice of his friends, a second marriage with Catharina del Piano, a Genoese widow, in order to have a helpmate in his declining years. Up to his sixty-fifth year he enjoyed excellent health, but after that a gradual sinking of his vitality became perceptible. He was active in teaching until January 1597.