John Calvin arrived in Geneva in July, 1536, intending only to stop for the night. But Pastor William Farel found him and wouldn’t let him leave, threatening to curse him “with the curse of Almighty God” if he didn’t remain as his assistant. Geneva, population 12,000, seemed ripe for Reformation, and Calvin began his labors in September.
Farel trusted Calvin with many responsibilities, confident of the young man’s industry and genius. Calvin, in turn, remained respectful and affectionate toward Farel. No jealousy ever clouded their relationship.
Other clouds, however, were forming. Geneva wasn’t ready for the sobriety Calvin and Farel sought to impose. It was a light-hearted city, full of singing and dancing. It also brimmed with gambling, adultery, prostitution, and vice. Farel and Calvin led the City Council to issue laws prohibiting immorality, gambling, Sabbath-breaking, and foolish singing. The council further ordered all citizens to embrace the Confession of Faith, and on November 12, 1537, it voted to banish everyone who didn’t.
Unrest formed over the city like storm clouds, and loud complaints rocked a November 15 meeting of the general assembly. In local elections the following February, the Libertine party gained ground. Calvin and Farel, continuing to thunder from their pulpits, were warned not to meddle in politics. They meddled anyway.
The storm struck on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1538. Calvin preached in one church, Farel in another. Both refused to administer the Lord’s Supper, saying the city could not possibly partake of Communion under such conditions. Pandemonium broke out, men drawing their swords, women gasping, children crying. The preachers were hustled home under protection of friends. The next day, April 22, 1538, the City Council met, fired both ministers, and ordered them to leave town within three days.
“Very well,” said Calvin, “it is better to serve God than man.” He fled to Strasburg, married Idelette, and pastored a group of French evangelicals until the tide again shifted in Geneva. By 1541 the time was ripe for Calvin and the Reformation to return, this time for good.
I pray to you, Lord. So when the time is right, answer me and help me with your wonderful love. Don’t let me sink in the mud, but save me from my enemies and from the deep water. Don’t let me be swept away by a flood or drowned in the ocean or swallowed by death. (Psalm 69:13-15)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Apr. 22.