GUILLAUME FAREL - WILLIAM FAREL

1489 - 1565

 

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Introduction:

Guillaume Farel, one of the most active promoters of the Reformation in Switzerland, was born in the year 1489 in Dauphine. He studied at Paris, and was at first distinguished by his extravagant zeal for the practices of the Catholic Church. 'Truly,' says he in one of his letters, 'the papacy itself was not so papistical as my heart.' Intercourse with the Waldenses, and with his friend Lefevre d'Etaples, induced him to study the Scriptures; the result was his conversion to Protestantism, and Farel, who was by nature vehement even to indiscretion, immediately commenced to proselytise. The chief scene of his labours was France and Switzerland. At Basel, 15th February 1524, he opened his career of controversy and evangelisation by publicly sustaining 30 theses on the points in dispute between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In less than two months, he was compelled to leave, mainly on account of a quarrel between himself and Erasmus, whom, on account of his moderate or trimming policy, Farel had compared to Balaam. Farel next went to Strasbourg, and afterwards to Montbeliard, where his iconoclastic way of preaching the gospel excited the alarm of his friends, several of whom, CEcolampadius among others, censured him sharpely for his violence. His zeal was next manifested in the canton of Bern. It was also chiefly through his exertions that the towns of Aigle, Bex, Olon, Morat, and Neuchatel followed the example of Bern in embracing the Reformation. In 1532, he went to Geneva, where his success was at first so great, that on account of the agitation excited, he had to leave the city. He returned in 1533, was again compelled to withdraw, but once more entered it in 1534. This was his year of triumph; the Reformers filled the churches, and the Catholic clergy, who had made themselves odious to the citizens by abetting the despotic schemes of the Duke of Savoy, retired to Lausanne and Fribourg. In August 1535, the town council of Geneva formally proclaimed the Reformation. Farel, however, was a missionary, not a legislator, and the organisation of the Genevan Church passed into the hands of Calvin. The severity of the new ecclesiastical discipline produced a reaction, and in April 1538, the two reformers were expelled from the city. Farel took up his residence at Neuchatel, where the reformed church was in a state of deplorable disorder. He composed its differences, and drew up a constitution, which it accepted, after long and stormy debates, in 1542. In September of the same year, we find him fighting the battle of the Reformation at Metz. After his return to Neuchatel, he frequently visited Calvin, whose authority in Geneva had been completely restored. It was on one of these occasions that he was present at the burning of Servetus, and though not, comparatively speaking, a bigoted Calvinist, he allowed his orthodoxy on that occasion to choke his humanity, exclaiming, as the unhappy heretic uttered his last prayer to God from the flames: 'See what power the devil has over one who has fallen into his hands.' In 1557, along with Beza, he was sent to the Protestant princes of Germany, to implore their aid for the Waldenses, and on his return - inexhaustible in his activity - he sought a new sphere of evangelistic labour in the regions of the Jura Mountains. When trembling upon threescore-and-ten, he married a young wife, very much to Calvin's disgust, who sarcastically speaks of him under the circumstances as 'our poor brother.' But neither his newly formed domestic ties, nor the infirmities of age, could quench his missionary zeal. In 1560-1561, he proceeded to his native Dauphine, and passed several months at Gap, preaching against Catholicism with all the ardour of his youth. In November 1561, he was thrown into prison, but was shortly after rescued by his friends. In 1564, he paid a visit to the dying Calvin; his strength, however, was now nearly exhausted, and on the 13th September 1565 he expired at Neuchatel, leaving a son named Jean, who survived him only by three years. Farel was a man of extensive scholarship, and wrote largely, but his works very inadequately represent the genius of the man.

 

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UPDATED: 18 April 2014

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