Beza, Theodore

, one of the chief promoters of the Reformation, was born at Vezelai, a small town of Nivernais, in France, June 24, 1519. His father was Peter Beza, or cle Beze, bailiff of the town, and his mother Mary de Bourdelot. He passed his first years at Paris, with his uncle Nicholas, a counsellor of parliament, who sent him to Orleans, at the age of six, for education. His master, Melchior Wolmar, a man of greater learning, and particularly eminent as a Greek scholar, and one of the first who introduced the principles of the reformation into France, having an invitation to become professor at Bourges, Beza accompanied him, and remained with him until 1535. Although at this period only sixteen, he had made very uncommon progress in learning and in the ancient languages, and having returned to Orleans to study law, he took his licentiate’s degree in 1539. These four last years, however, he applied less to serious studies than to polite literature, and especially Latin poetry; and it was in this interval that he wrote those pieces which were afterwards published under the title of “Poemata Juvenilia,” and afforded the enemies of the reformation a better handle than could have been wished to reproach his early morals.

On his return to Paris he was presented to the priory of Longjumeau, and another benefice; and one of his uncles, who possessed a rich abbey, had an intention to resign in his favour. Beza thus enjoying an ample revenue, with the prospect of an easy increase, joined too freely in the amusements and dissipations of youth, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his parents and friends: and although in the actual possession of benefices, had not yet taken orders, nor for some years did he associate with persons of the reformed religion, although he could not forget the progress that it had made in his mind when under the tuition of Wolmar. Here he contracted an attachment to a young woman, who, some say, was of a noble family, others, of inferior birth, to whom he secretly promised marriage, but was prevented from accomplishing this, through fear of losing his promotions. At leng:h, however, in 1548, when recovering from a severe illness, he resigned his priory, and went to Geneva, and married the lady to whom he had now been engaged about four years. At the same time he abjured popery, and alter a short stay | at Geneva, went to Tubingen, to his old master, Wolmar, for whom he always had the sincerest esteem.

The following year he was appointed Greek professor at Lausanne, where he remained for ten years, and published several works which extended his reputation. His French tragedy of “Abraham’s Sacrifice,” was translated into Latin, and became very popular. In 1556, he published his translation of the New Testament, of which a number of editions afterwards appeared, with alterations and corrections; but, of all his works, while he was at Lausanne, that which was accounted the most remarkable, was his apology for, or defence of the burning of Servetus for heresy, in answer to a work apparently on the other side of the question by Sebastian Castalio, who took the liberty to doubt whether it was just or useful to put heretics to death. Beza’s answer was entitled “De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis,” and as at that time the principles of the reformation were legal heresies, we cannot be surprised that the enemies of the reformation should wish to turn Beza’s arguments against him.

In 1558, Beza endeavoured to induce some of the German princes to intercede with the king of France for toleration of the Protestants, who were then very cruelly persecuted in that kingdom. Next year he left Lausanne to settle at Geneva, where he was admitted a citizen, at the request of Calvin. In Geneva at this time, much pains were taken to promote learning, and diffuse a taste for the sciences, and an academy being about to be formed, Calvin refused the title of rector, offered to himself, and recommended it to be given to Beza, who was also to teach divinity. About the same time, the persons of rank in Fiance who had embraced the reformed religion, perceiving that they would need the support of a crowned head, cast their eyes on Beza, as the proper person to convert the king of Navarre, and confer with him on other matters of consequence respecting the reformation. In this Beza had complete success, and the reformed religion was publicly preached at Nerac, the residence of the king and queen of Navarre. A church was built, and in the course of the following year, 1560, such was the zeal of the queen of Navarre, that she ordered all the churches monasteries of Nerac to be destroyed. | Beza remained at Nerac until the beginning of 1561, when the king signified his pleasure that he should attend at the conference of Poissi, to which the senate readily consented. At this conference, appointed for reconciling the disputes between the Popish and Protestant divines, the princes, cardinals, and many of the nobility attended, and the king presided. It was opened Sept. 9, 1561, by the chancellor De l’Hospital, who declared that the king’s intention in assembling them was to discover, from their sentiments, a remedy for the disorders which religious disputes had occasioned in his kingdom that -they should therefore endeavour to correct such things as required it, and not separate until they had put an end to all differences by a sincere reconciliation. In his speech he also honoured this conference with the name of the National Council, and compared it to the provincial synods of Orleans, Aries, and Aix, which the emperor Charlemagne had caused to be held. The conference lasted two months, and many points were eagerly debated. The Protestant clergy, and particularly Beza, spoke with great freedom. Beza, to much learning, added a facility of expression which gave him much advantage he had also from his earliest years a ready wit, which in those years he had employed on subjects perhaps not unsuitable to it, and could not afterwards restrain in controversy on more serious points, nor could he repress the zeal and fervour of his mind when he had to contend for the reformed religion. In this conference some strong expressions he used respecting the eucharist, and against transubstantiation, occasioned an unusual clamour, and a cry of blasphemy! from the adherents to that opinion. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add, that the purposes of all these debates were not accomplished.

Beza did not return to Geneva when the conference ended: being a Frenchman, queen Catherine de Medicis would have him stay in his own country, where he preached frequently before the king of Navarre, and the prince of Conde, in Paris. The king of Navarre, though of the religion of the Protestants, declared himself against them, in order to preserve the title of viceroy; but the prince of Conde, the illustrious family of Coligny, and others, more zealous for the reformation, began to excite the Protestants to arm in their defence. Opposed to this party, was a league formed by the pope, the emperor, the king | of Spain, and the catholic Swiss cantons. This soon brought on the civil war, in the course of which Beza attended the prince of Conde, and was at the battle of Dreux, in 1562, in which the generals of both armies were taken prisoners and during the imprisonment of the prince of Conde, Beza remained with admiral Coligny, and did not return to Geneva, until after the peace of 1563, when he Tesumed his place in the academy or college which Calvin bad founded. That celebrated reformer died in the following year, and Beza succeeded him in all his offices, and was now considered as the ostensible head and main support of the reformed party both in France and Geneva. In 1570 he returned again to France to be present at the synod of Kochelle. The queen of Navarre and the admiral Coligny had requested the council of Geneva to permit bim to take this journey, and when he arrived at Rochelle he was unanimously chosen president of the synod, which was a kind of general assembly of deputies from all the reformed churches in France. He was afterwards frequently interrupted in his academical business at Geneva, particularly in 1574, when sent on an important negociation to Germany, and he frequently assisted at conferences on religious points both in Germany and Swisserland.

In 1588 his wife died, and although now seventy years old, he married, a few months after, a young woman whom he called his Shunamite. His health and spirits were wonderfully preserved for many years after this, nor did he discontinue his lectures until 1600. He lived five years after this, considerably weakened by age and infirmities, retaining the memory of things long past, but almost totally deprived of that faculty in continuing a conversation. At intervals, however, he evinced his steady adherence to the religion to which he said he had been early called, lamented the years he had passed in folly and dissipation, and gave many suitable and affecting exhortations to his friends. He died Oct. 13, 1605, in the eighty-seventh year of his age.

Theodore Beza’s character has been variously represented, as might be expected from the age in which he lived, and the conduct which he pursued. His talents, his eminence, his important services in the cause of the reformation, must make his memory as dear to Protestants, as it was obnoxious to their enemies. In what follows, however, of his character, we shall chiefly follow an authority | that will not be suspected of religious partiality at least. Beza’s reputation has been often attacked, and it is scarcely possible that it could have been otherwise. He had but just embraced the reformed religion, when he took a part in every dispute and every controversy. He wrote incessantly against the Roman catholics, against the Lutherans, and against all who were unfriendly to the character or opinions of his friend Calvin, and although such a disputant would be in any age exposed to frequent attacks, in his time religious controversies were carried on with peculiar harshness and strong resentments. Beza’s first writings, his poems, gave occasion for just reproach, and although he had long repented, and confessed his error in this respect, his enemies took the most effectual method to harass his mind, and injure his character, by frequently reprinting these poems. This measure, however, so unfair, and discreditable to his opponents, might have lost its effect, if he had not in some of his controversial pieces, employed his wit with too much freedom and extravagance. We cannot wonder, therefore, that such raillery should produce a corresponding sense of irritation in those who hated his principles, and felt the weight of his talents. It would be unnecessary to repeat all the calumnies, some of the most gross kind, which have been gravely advanced against him, because they now seem to be given up by the general consent of all modern writers but we may advert to one accusation still maintained by men of considerable note. Poltrot, who assassinated the duke of Guise, that merciless persecutor of the protestants, declared in his first examination that he was set on by Beza, and although this appeared at the time wholly groundless, and Poltrot retracted what he had said, and persisted to his last moments, to exculpate our reformer, yet Bossuet, while he does not accuse Beza of having directly encouraged the assassin, still endeavours to impute his crime to Beza’s preaching, and deduces Beza’s consent, from the joy he and his party expressed on hearing of the death of their implacable enemy, a consequence which it is surely unfair to draw from such premises. He has also been accused of having, on many occasions, excited the French protestants to take up arms, and to have thus had a considerable hand in the civil wars of France. But, although the oppressions suffered by the French protestants, then a very numerous body, had unquestionably excited his zeal in promoting resistance, the | history of the times shew that these civil wars were not occasioned by this course only, far less by any desire the reformed had to propagate their principles by force. The Ablest writers are agreed that in those days there was more of discontent than protestantism in the case; “plus de malcontentement que de Huguenoterie.” It would be unjust, therefore, to consider Beza, and the other preachers of the reformation, as the sole cause of these commotions. It is much more probable that they were occasioned in a great measure by the rival contests of the Guises and the princes of the blood. Without, therefore, exculpating Beza from having that share in the civil wars which did not very well become a preacher of the gospel of peace, it may be safely affirmed that he was not one of the chief causes. The same assassin Poltrot, who accused Beza, accused also the admiral Coligny, whose character never was stained with a blemish, unless in the bigoted mind of Bossuet, who yet cannot bring a single circumstance in proof; and as far as regards Beza, we may add that the accusation never obtained any belief among his contemporaries.

Beza’s zeal was much tempered in his latter days and when, during an interview with Henry IV. in 1599, in a Tillage of Savoy near Geneva, that prince asked him what he could do for him, Beza expressed no wish but to see peace restored in France. His last will bears the same sentiments, with much expression of regret for his early errors. Beza was an elegant writer, and a man of great learning. His long life, and the enthusiasm with which he inspired his followers, made him be called the Phenix of his age. As a divine, controversialist, and on many occasions, as a negociator, he displayed great abilities, and a faithful adherence to his principles. His numerous writings are now perhaps but little consulted, and his translation of the Psalms into French verse, which was begun by Marot, are no longer in use in the reformed churches but as a promoter of literature, he still deserves high praise, on account of the great diligence and success with which he superintended the college of Geneva for forty years of his life. When on one occasion the misfortunes of the times rendered it necessary to dismiss two of the professors, for whose maintenance there were no longer any funds, Beza, then at the age of seventy, supplied both their places, and gave lectures for more than two years. He was in fact the founder of that college which for the last two | centuries has produced so many eminent men; he prescribed its statutes, and left his successors an example which may be said to have descended to our own times. Bayle’s account of Beza, in his usual rambling style, is principally taken from the Latin life published in 1606 by Antonius Fayus, or La Faye. Noel Taillepied, Bolsec, and a doctor of the Sorbonne, named Lainge, or Laingeus, have also written lives of this reformer. Other authorities will be subjoined in the note.

Some notice yet remains to be taken of Beza’s principal works, and their different editions: 1. “Poemata juvenilia,Paris, by Conrad Badius, 1548, 8vo, but we question whether this was the first edition. It is thought that a 12mo edition, without a date, “Ad insigne capitis mortui,” was long prior to this, and we suspect the only edition which Beza printed. Those of 156 1576, and 1594, the two former in 8vo, and the latter in 4to, contain only a part of these poems, the offensive ones being omitted. In 1599, an edition was printed at Geneva, 16mo, with his translation of the Song of Solomon. They were also reprinted with the poems of Muret and Jean Second, Paris, by Barbou, 1757, 12mo, and under the title of “Amoenitates Poeticae,” &c. 1779, 12mo. 2. “Tragedie Franchise du Sacrifice d’ Abraham,Lausanne, 1550, 8vo, Paris, 1553, and Middleburgh, 1701, 8vo, and often since; yet it gives no very favourable idea of Beza’s talent for French poetry. 3. “Confessio Christiana? fidei, cum Papisticis haeresibus, ex typ. I. Bonoe fidei,1560, 8vo. 4. “De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis sub Oliva Rob. Stephani,1554. This is the original edition, but Colladon’s French translation, Geneva, 1560, 8vo, is, for whatever reason, in more request. 5. “Comedie du Pape malade, par Thrasibule Phenice,Geneva, 1561, 8vo, 1584, 16mo. 6. “Traduction en vers Franais des Pseaumes omis par Marot,Lyons, 1563, 4to, often reprinted with those of Marot, for the use of the Protestant churches. 7. “Histoire de la Mappemonde papistique, par Fragidelphe EscorcheMesses,” Luce-Nouvelle (Geneva), 1567, 4to. 8. “Le Reveilmatin des Francois et de leurs voisin, par Eusebe Philadelphe,Edinburgh, 1574, 8vo. 9. De peste quaestiones duse explicate una, sitne contagiosa 1 altera, an et quatenus sit Christianis per secessionem vitanda?“Geneva, 1570, 8vo; Leyden, 1636, 12mo. This is one of the scarcest of Beza’s works. 10.” Histoire | ecclesiastique des Eglises reformees au royaume de France, depols Tan 1521 jusqu’en 1563,“Antwerp (Geneva), 1580, 3 vols. 8vo. 11.” Icones Virorum Illustrium,“1580, 4to, translated into French, by Simon Goulet, under the title of” Vrais Pourtraits, &c.“Geneva, 1581, 4to. 12.” Tractatio de Repudiis et Divortiis accedit tractatus de Polygamia,“Geneva, 1590, 8vo. 13.” Epistola magistri Passavantii ad Petrum Lysetum," a satire on the latter. 14. His translation of the New Testament, with the original texts and notes, often reprinted. The best edition is that of Cambridge, 1642, fol. a work still in much estimation. He had also a share in the Geneva translation of the Bible, 1588, fol. Several of his controversial and practical tracts were translated into English, and printed here in the time of queen Elizabeth, of which the titles may be found in Ames. Among the Greek Mss. of the university of Cambridge, is one of the Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, presented by Beza, which is supposed to be of the third or fourth century at least, if not more ancient. In 1787, the university appointed the rev. Dr. Kipling, deputy regius professor of divinity, to superintend the publication of a fac simile of this valuable manuscript, which accordingly appeared in 1793, 2 vols. fol. a splendid and accurate work. The Latin epistle which Beza sent with this manuscript, and which is prefixed to it in his own hand-writing, may be seen in the note .*


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"Quatuor Evangeliorumet Aclorum Apostolicorum Graeco-Latinum exemplar ex S Irenaei conobio Lugdunensi ante aliquot annos nactns, tnutilum quidem ill ml, et neque satis emendate ab initio ubique descriptum, neque ita ut oportuit habitum, skut ex paginis quibusdam diverse charactere insertis, et indocti cujuspiam Graeci Calogeri barbaris adscriptis alicubi notis apparet, vestrae potissimum Academiae, ut inter vere Christianas vetustissimae, plurimisque hominibus celeberrimse, dicandum exist imavi, reverendi Domini et Patres, in cnjus sacrario tanturu hoc venerandae, nisi ferte fallor, vetustatis monimentum collocetur. Etsi vero nulli melius, quam vos ipsi, qnae sit huic enemplari fides habenda, sestiinarent, hac de re tamen vos admonendos duxi, tantam a me in Lucas pracsertim Evangelio repertam esse inter hunc codicem et cseteros quantumvis discrepantiam, ut vitaiidae quorundam oifensioni asservandum potius quam publicandnm existimem. In hao tamen non sententiarum sed vocurn diveisitate nihil profecto eomperi unde suspicari potuerim, a veteribus illis biereticis fuisse depravatum. Imo multa mihi videor deprehendisse magna obserratione digna. Quaedam etiam sic a recepta Scriptura discrepantia, ut tamen cum veterum quorundam et Graecorum et l.atinorum PatrumScriptis consentiant; non pauca denique, quibus vetusta Latina editio corroboratur quaa omnia pro ingenii mei


modulo inter se comparata, et cum Syra et Arabioa editione collata, in majores meas annotationes a me nuper emendatas, et brevi, Deo favente, prodituras congessi. Sed agre, res hæc tota vestn, sicuti par est, judicii esto. Tantum a vobis peto, reverendi Domini et Patres, ut hoc qu.alecunque summæ, in vestram amplitudinem ob servantiae meae veluti mon’unentnm, ab nomine vestri studiosissimo prefec tum, æqui bonique consulatis. D. Jesus Servator noster, et universè vobis omnibus, et privatim singulis, totique adeo Christianissimæ Anglorum genti, magis ac magis pro bonitate singula sua benedicat.

"Genevae viii. Idus Dec’ris anno Domini ⅭⅠↃ,ⅠↃ,ⅬⅩⅩⅠ [1481].

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Theodorus Bexa.


Lives mentioned in the text. — Biog. Uuiversclic, an article of great candour and accuracy. — Oen. Dict. — Moreri. — Two letters on his poems, Gent, Maj. vol. LXVII.-r-—Saxii Onomasticon.