It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.—Proverbs 20.25.

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The Life of Theodore Beza,

Who Died Anno Christi 1605.

As Published in

The Marrow of Ecclesiatical Historie,

By Samuel Clark.

LONDON: 1650.

THeodore Beza was born at Veselia, Anno Christi 1519: As soon as he was weaned, he was sent for by his Uncle to Paris, who was a Counsellor in the Parliament there, and by him carefully educated, and at five years old, he placed him with Volmarus a famous Schoolmaster, with whom he lived seven years, and in that time learned Latin, Greek, and {434} all the Liberal Arts; yea, and the Law too: but that which was the principal, he instructed him in the true Religion.  Afterwards he went to Aurelia to study the Civil Law, but disliking their barbarous language, he left those, and betook himself to more Polite Studies.  He also affected Poetry very much, and made all his Poëms before he was twenty years old: and imitating Catullus, and Ovid therein, he wrote more wantonly than afterwards he approved of; and endeavored to have suppressed his Poems, but the Papists hating him for his Religion, often printed them, seeking thereby his disgrace all that possibly they could. 

Anno Christi 1539 he went to Paris, where he was entertained by his friends with much love and respect: and having an Abbot to his Uncle, he designed him for his Successor, the profits of which place were worth above 5000 Crowns per Annum, besides two Benefices belonging to the same good value.  There, abounding with money, credit, and friends, he began to be drawn aside to idleness, and pastimes: but those seeds of piety that were sown in him in his childhood began to appear afresh, so that discerning his danger, and the Snares of Satan, he made a vow to renounce the errors of Popery, and privately married a wife; and yet the world heaping more honors and profits upon him by the death of his elder brother, and the Abbot his Uncle giving him all his goods, he was long in resolving what to do, and slower in performing his Vow than he should have been.

But whilst he thus delayed, the Lord struck him with a sore disease that he almost despaired of life, and it {435} continued long upon him.  He was at last humbled by it, and abhorred himself for his delays, and with many tears begged pardon of God for the same, saying, Lord bring my soul out of Prison that I may praise thy name, [Psalm 142.7]: and the Lord heard, and restored him.  And as soon as ever he had recovered his health, he took his wife, and leaving friends, honors, riches, and country, he went to Geneva, Anno Christi 1548; and not knowing what course to betake himself to for his maintenance, God’s Providence so ordered it, that he was sent for to Lusanna to be the Greek Professor in that University, where he found many excellent men, Viret the Pastor, Ribbit the Divinity Professor, Merlin the Hebrew Professor, &c. by all whom, he was kindly entertained, and dearly beloved.  And always, when he had leisure, he went to Geneva to converse with Calvin, by whom he was much quickened to improve his parts for the Church’s good.  And whereas many godly men and women flocked out of France to Lusanna, Beza, besides his Greek Lectures, expounded to them the Epistle to the Romans; and afterwards the two Epistles of Peter.  About that time, the Plague waxing hot in Lusanna, Beza fell sick of it, but Christ (who intended him as an instrument of his glory in his Church’s good,) restored him to health again.  Shortly after he wrote a book de Hæreticis à Magistratus puniendis, occasioned by the aspersions raised by Lælius Socinus against Calvin, and the Magistrates of Geneva for burning of Servetus for his Heresy, and blasphemy.

Anno Christi 1557, when the Sorbonists in Paris had raised that persecution against the Church of Christ {436} wherein four hundred of them being met together in the night to hear the word, and receive the Lord’s Supper, seven of them were afterwards burn’t in the fire, and the rest cast into chains, and prisons: the best means thought on to procure their release was, by obtaining the Protestant German Princes to become intercessors for them to Henry the 2d of France.  And thereupon Beza with some others, was sent to those German Princes to engage them herein, which also he obtained from them, though it proved to little purpose, in regard of the implacable malice of the French Courtiers against the servants of Christ.  In that journey he grew acquainted with Melancthon, and they took much delight in the society each of other.

Having spent ten years at Lusanna, he went from thence to Geneva Anno Christi 1559, and lived with Calvin, and not long after was chosen Pastor there, in the place of Claudius Pontanus lately deceased.  He was also chosen the first Rector of the School at Geneva.  After the death of Francis King of France, whom Charles the 9th succeeded, there was by the mutual consent of the Queen Mother, the King of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, and other of the Peers, a Conference appointed between the Papists and Protestants for the composing of the differences in Religion, and for preserving of the peace of the Kingdom; unto which Beza amongst many other famous Divines was invited, and by their mutual consent when they met there, he was chosen the Prolocutor.  He was courteously entertained by the Queen-Mother and the rest.  But after divers days conference, and disputation, it was by the power, and {437} policy of the Popish party broken off without any good issue.  And when the other Divines had leave to return home, the Queen-mother enjoined Beza to stay still, though he was earnestly sent for, and much desired by his people, and friends at Geneva.  Whilst he continued there, he preached often, and in January following there was an Edict procured, that the Protestants might freely meet together about the Service of God in the Suburbs.  This provoked the Guisian faction by all means to seek the hindrance of it; but the first thing they attempted, was to draw the King of Navarre to their party; which Beza suspecting, and finding him wavering, he sought by all means to confirm, and keep him in the true Religion, to whom the King answered, Quod Pelago se non ità commissurus esset quin, quando liberet, pedem referre poſsit, That he would not lance so far into the Sea, but that when he pleased, he might return safe to the shore again.

Another Disputation was appointed by the Queen Mother about Images, the result of which was, that the Popish Doctors condemned the making of the Images of the Trinity, or of the Father, or holy Ghost; and agreed that all Images should be removed out of the Churches but that of the Cross; & that no Images should be worshipped.  But presently after, the Civil War began to break forth, which was occasioned by this means: Whereas many protestants were met together at Vassiac to hear the Word preached, some of the Guisian party set upon them, slew 45 of them, and wounded many more.  Hereof Beza made complaint, but without any redress; {438} whereupon both parties betake themselves to Arms, and the prince of Conde by his importunity prevailed with Beza to stay with him in those dangerous times.  Beza’s earnest longings to be with his people dissuaded him; but the earnest desires of so godly a prince prevailed, so that he stayed with him all those first Civil Wars. 

And Aurelia was the chiefest place of the Protestants’ refuge: and for the better regulating of Ecclesiastical Discipline in those troublesome times, a Synod was called in that City, at which Beza was present.  Shortly after, the pestilence waxing hot in the City, (whereof Badius one of the pastors died, and had always been most dear to Beza) yet he intermitted not his publick preaching, nor private visiting of the sick. 

A few months after fell out that memorable Battle at Druiden fields where Beza was present, and by his prayers and exhortations did much encourage the soldiers, yet they lost the day, and the prince of Conde was taken prisoner, whom Beza by his letters much comforted, and exhorted the rest not to give way to despondency, but to persevere in the defence of the Cause, and to commit the success of it unto God.  But not long after, peace ensuing, Beza got leave to go back to Geneva, from which he had been absent 22 months, in which time he had gone through many troubles, and dangers both of body and mind.

At his return to Geneva he fell upon his former employment in the Schools, and in the Church: Calvin undergoing the burden one week, and he the other; and they continued in those mutual labors, till Calvin’s death, and then he had Nicolas Collodonus for his {439} Colleague, and after him Lambertus Danæus, and after him Anthony Faius.

Anno Christi 1571 he was sent for by the Queen of Navarre, the Admiral, and the general vote of the Churches of France to Rupella to a Synod, where he was made the Moderator, and at which, the Confession of Faith of the French Churches was confirmed, and subscribed by the Queen of Navarre, her son (afterwards King Henry the 4th,) and the Prince of Conde.  And the year after he was sent for to Namures to another Synod, where the book of the French-Church-Discipline was established.

Anno Christi 1572, after that bloody Massacre at Paris, many of the godly that escaped fled to Geneva, amongst whom were the Pastors of fifty Churches that were wholly dispersed.  These being stripped of all, and in great want, Beza, by his letters into Germany, and England, procured such relief for them, that for three years space in which they lived there, they were plentifully, and comfortably provided for.  Shortly after, the plague breaking forth in Geneva, Beza was much afflicted for the sad condition of the Common-wealth, yet he cheered up himself much with the hearty, and sincere love, and society which he had with all the Pastors thereof, whose unity, and unanimity, was a great means under God to preserve the happiness of Geneva.

Anno Christi 1586, [Mar. 21st to 26th] there was a Disputation appointed at Mompelgard between the German, and Helvetian Divines about the difference betwixt them in some points,[1] unto which Beza was sent for, and the whole Dispute was betwixt Dr. [Jakob] Andreas, and him.  But in conclusion nothing was effected by it, yet they parted {440} lovingly without bitterness.  This was afterward published by Beza

The year after, his wife died, with whom he had lived with much comfort forty years, which was a great grief to him; yet afterwards by the advice of his friends he married another, one Catherine Plania, a godly matron, who was a great comfort to him all his life after.

Anno Christi 1589, France being full of broils, Geneva also was molested by the same; whereupon public prayers were appointed twice a week extraordinary, which burden Beza willingly took upon himself, whereupon the other Pastors freed him from his daily Sermons, which he used to preach before: only he preached once on Sabbath mornings betwixt eight and nine o’clock.

Not long after, he began to be troubled with a dizziness in his head, insomuch as being to preach on Whitsonday Anno Christi 1597, before the Sacrament, as soon as he had made Confession of Sins after their usual manner, he was fain to give over, and come out of the pulpit, whose place Faius presently supplied.  The like happened to him the week following also, whereupon he gave over publick preaching, only now and then praying publickly.  The last Sermon that he preached was in January, Anno Christi 1600, and of his Age 81, upon the third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.  He had in his mouth often that saying of Vespasian, Imperatorem decet stantem mori.  Not long after, being present at a Consistory, [Meeting of Church Session or Council], he invited all his brethren to supper.  They at first refused, because there was to be a public Fast that week, and the Magistrates had forbidden all Feasting: whereupon he told {441} them that he would get leave of the Magistrates; and that he intended not a feast, but a frugal supper, rather to feast their minds with their mutual love, and society, than their bodies with dainties: whereupon they all assented, and were entertained by him with all the expressions of brotherly love that could be.

Many Noblemen and others that came from other countries to study at Geneva, would always desire to sojourn with him, that they might enjoy his society.  That year there was a rumor spread abroad all over Europe by the Jesuits, that Beza was dead, and that he turned Papist before his death: which lie, the Pastors of Geneva, and himself also by publick writings confuted: and discoursing with his friends of it he said, That the Jesuits, and he, had both one desire, but not for the same end: the Jesuits, said he, wish my end, but for an evil end: I wish for it also, but that by death I may pass to eternal life, purchased for me by the merits of Christ.

Anno 1599, the King of France, and the King of Navarre lying in siege before a Castle in Savoy near to Geneva, Beza went to visit them, and was entertained with abundance of courtesy by them.  About that time he began to be much troubled with want of sleep, but lying awake in the nights, he deceived the time with holy meditations: and speaking to his friends of it, he used that speech, Psalm 16.7-8, My reins also instruct me in the night season; I have set the Lord always before me, in whose favor is life.  And that of Psalm 63, My soul is filled as with marrow and fatness, when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee {442} in the night watches.  Many came out of the King’s Camp to Geneva to see the City which was now so famous, but especially Beza; all whom he courteously entertained with holy, and savoury discourses, and so dismissed them well pleased.

Anno Christi 1602, Maurice the Landgrave of Hesse came to Geneva to see him, but disguised, for which Beza was very sorry after, that he had not known him.  Finding himself to draw near to his end, he revised his Will, and so easing his mind of all worldly thoughts, he wholly betook himself to expect the time of his departure, which he much longed for.  He often used that saying of the Apostle, We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works.  And that of Augustine, Diu vixi, diu peccavi, sit nomen Domini benedictum: I have lived long, I have sinned long, Blessed be the name of the Lord.  And that also, Domine, quod cæpisti perfice, nè in portu naufragium accidat, Lord perfect that which thou hast begun, that I suffer not shipwreck in the haven: and that of Bernard, Domine sequemur te, per te, ad te: te, quia veritas; per te, quia via; ad te, quia vita: Lord we follow thee, by thee, to thee: thee, because thou art the truth, by thee, because thou art the way, to thee, because thou art the life.

Anno 1605, there came some noble, and learned men from Borussia to see him, with whose society he was much pleased.  But diseases increasing upon him, the Pastors of Geneva agreed amongst themselves, that every day two of them should visit him by turns, and sometimes all of them came together, and prayed most fervently with him.  Octob. 13, being the Sabbath-day, {443} he rose in the morning, and prayed with his family, and then desiring to go to bed again, he sat him down on the side of his bed, and asked if all things were quiet in the City.  They answered him yea: but perceiving that he was near to his end, they ran for a Minister, who immediately coming, whilst he was praying with him, without the least pain, or groaning, he quietly yielded up his spirit unto God, Anno Christi 1605, and of his Age 86, and of his Ministry 46.  He was a thick set man, and of a strong Constitution, insomuch that he used to say, that he never knew what it was to have his head ache.  He was of an excellent wit, an accurate judgment, a firm memory, very eloquent, affable, and courteous: so that he was called the Phœnix of his time.

In his Testament he gave thanks

  1. That God at sixteen years old had called him to the knowledge of the Truth, though for a while he walked not answerable to it, till the Lord in mercy brought him home, and carried him to Geneva, where under that great Calvin, he learned Christ more fully.

  2. That being infected with the Plague at Lausanna, and aspersed with grievous calumnies, the Lord had delivered him from that both.

  3. That coming back to Geneva, he was there chosen Pastor, when as he deserved not to have been one of the sheep.

  4. That not long after he was made Colleague to that excellent man John Calvin in reading Divinity. {444}

  5. That being called into France in the first Civil War, and tossed there, up and down for twenty-two months, God had preserved him from six hundred dangers, &c.

A Papist objecting to him his youthly Poems: This man (saith Beza) vexeth himself because Christ hath vouchsafed to me his grace.


Footnotes:

1. This was a disputation between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches occasioned by territorial changes.  The points discussed included: (1) The Lord’s Supper, (2) The Person of Christ, (3) Pictures and Ceremonies, (4) Baptism, and (5) Election.  According to A. Schweizer both parties claimed victory in the dispute, and no effect resulted except a deepening of differences.


Editor’s Note:

Theodore Beza is well known for his publications on the subjects of Predestination, Election, and Grace.  The following may serve as examples:

  1. The Chief Points of the Christian Religion, set forth in a Table: On Predestination and Perseverance.

  2. Thirty-Eight Aphorisms for Stopping the Mouths of the Slanderous: On Predestination and Providence, Against Castalio.