Pierre Viret

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Pierre Viret

Pierre Viret (1511 – 4 May 1571) was a Swiss Reformed theologian.

Early Life and Conversion (1511-1531)[edit]

Pierre (Peter) Viret (vee-ray) was born in 1511 in Orbe, a small town in the Canton of Vaud (present-day Switzerland), to a devout Roman Catholic family. His father Guillaume was a draper and tailor. Pierre, however, had no desire to follow in his father’s trade; even as a young boy he found himself seeking after God. "I was naturally given to religion," he noted later, "of which however I was then ignorant."[1] His schoolteacher, Marc Romain, was a follower of Luther, and it is quite likely that, while still a boy in his little village of Orbe, Viret was exposed to the teachings of the Reformation.[2] Viret’s parents soon noticed the child’s aptitude for learning, and, after the boy completed his studies at the village school, they sent him to Paris to study for the priesthood. He attended the College de Montaigu at the same time Calvin was also enrolled there as a student. It was while at college that Viret was converted to the Protestant Faith. The young man rejected Roman Catholicism and, fleeing the Roman Catholic stronghold of Paris, returned to his hometown, Orbe. [3]

Ministry at Orbe (1531-1534)[edit]

At his return to his native Orbe, Viret, at the age of 20, was implored by Guillaume (William) Farel to become pastor of the town Church. Viret, of a naturally "timid and modest disposition,"[4] was at first unwilling to accept such a post. However, at Farel’s continued prodding, Viret at last conceded. He preached his first sermon May 6, 1531. Crowds flocked to hear the young preacher, and marveled at the eloquence and wisdom of the man they had known from childhood. Viret’s preaching was well-attended, received with both admiration and joy by the common people. Many souls were converted under Viret’s preaching, but of greatest importance to the young pastor was the conversion of his two Roman Catholic parents. As he noted later, "I have much occasion to give thanks to God in that it hath pleased him to make use of me to bring my father and mother to the knowledge of the Son of God. . . . Ah! If he had made my ministry of no other use, I should have had good cause to bless him."[5] The small gathering of Reformed believers in Orbe quickly multiplied under Viret’s preaching, so much so that by Passover of the following year (1532) Viret administered communion to seventy-seven believers, including both his parents. Throughout the next three years Viret traveled to several of the surrounding villages to further the work of the Reformation. Accompanied by William Farel, he journeyed first to Grandson, a small town just north of Orbe, which was quickly won to the Gospel under the Reformers’ preaching. Later that year Viret moved to Payerne, a small village bordering the Catholic canton of Fribourg. It was perhaps here that the young preacher met with his deadliest opposition. The city was strongly Roman Catholic, and violently protested the preaching of the "new Faith." Viret declared that his teaching was no more than the truth of the Word of God, and begged for a public disputation, in which both Catholics and Reformers would be permitted to argue their case from Scripture. The Council of Payerne at last acceded to this request, and a date was fixed.[6] The night before the disputation, however, as Viret was returning home, he was ambushed by a priest from the Payerne Abbey, who awaited the Reformer in a solitary field. The priest dealt the young preacher several blows in the back with a sword and left him for dead. Discovered by his friends, Viret, half-dead, was slowly nursed back to health, though he bore the scars of the encounter the rest of his life. It was perhaps this night which Viret had in mind some years later when he addressed the Catholics at the Dispute of Lausanne, "We much prefer that you speak publicly to us, . . . instead of waiting in the fields to murder us, of which our backs bear testimony.[7]" [8]

Reformation of Geneva (1534-1536)[edit]

In 1534 Viret journeyed to Geneva to assist Farel in the spread of the Reformation in that city. Geneva was at first quite hostile to the teaching of the new preachers, and the young men’s lives were often in danger. At the instigation of the Catholic authorities in the city, one woman, Antonia Vax, was persuaded to eliminate both Farel and Viret, as well as their companion Froment, by serving them a poisoned spinach soup. Froment was called away just as he sat down to eat, and Farel, declaring the soup to be too thick, asked for something else to eat. Viret, still pale and weak from the sword wound received from the Catholic priest in Payerne, was assured by Antonia Vax that the soup would aid in the restoration of his health. Thus assured, Viret dutifully ate an entire bowl of the poisoned dish. He grew dangerously ill, and for some time lay at the point of death. Upon hearing the news, the townspeople of Geneva mourned the impending loss of their beloved Viret, exclaiming, "Must the Church be robbed of such a pearl? . . . Poor Viret! Poor reformers! . . . Sword-cuts in the back, poison in front. . . . Such are the rewards of those who preach the Gospel!"[9] This episode, though so detrimental to the Reformers, also brought much damage to their adversaries, for many now looked with suspicion and contempt upon the men who could stoop to such a base crime. Little more than a year later, on May 21, 1536, the General Council of Geneva officially accepted the Reformation. The news was received with joy and thanksgiving by the Reformers, who finally began to see the fruit of their many labors. Two months later John Calvin entered Geneva, planning simply to remain for the night. Farel, however, had other plans for the young Reformer and, with Viret, he visited Calvin’s lodgings and persuaded him to remain and preach in the city which had been newly-won to the Reformation. It was this threesome—Viret, Farel, and Calvin—this Triumvirate, as these three Reformers were often termed, that God used mightily to further His work among French-speaking Switzerland.[10]

Lausanne Disputation (1536-1559)[edit]

Soon after Calvin accepted his post in Geneva, Viret came to the city of Lausanne, capital of the Pays de Vaud, which had just come under the authority of Bern, a Protestant canton of Switzerland.[11] A public disputation took place in which the principal elements of the Faith would be discussed. All Catholic clergy were required to be in attendance. The defense for the Reformed was offered primarily by Farel and Viret; Calvin spoke twice throughout its course. At the close of the week-long disputation, Lausanne declared for the Reformation, and Viret was appointed pastor of the city. Compelled by Farel, Calvin accepted the post of pastor in Geneva. Viret was therefore free to further the Reformation elsewhere. He was soon providentially brought to the city of Lausanne, which had just come under the authority of Bern. Lausanne, the capital of the Pays de Vaud, was a key city to be won for the Reformation, but it was heavily steeped in Roman Catholicism, and Viret found his work as a Protestant pastor rife with difficulties. While at Lausanne the Bernese magistrates founded a Reformed Academy at the Cathedral. The new academy boasted many renowned theologians as professors, including Theodore de Beze, the man who was later chosen to succeed Calvin at Geneva. Some of the students trained at Viret’s academy were Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism of 1562, and Guido de Bres, author of the first Reformed Confession, the Belgic Confession of 1561. Robert Linder notes the importance of Viret’s Lausanne Academy,

As time passed, the school played an increasingly important part in the Reformation in the French speaking areas of Europe. Ex-priests and former monks studied for the Reformed ministry there and many students began to come to the Academy from outside the Pays de Vaud.[12]

A year after the commencement of the Lausanne Academy, Viret met with a singular joy when he married. On Sunday, October 6, 1538, Viret and Elisabeth Turtaz, a lady of Orbe, were married. Guillaume Farel presided over the ceremony. Just two months later, on December 31, Viret was recalled to Geneva after Calvin had been banished from that city. Viret’s loving spirit and gentle character made him a favorite among the Genevans, and they longed to again have him as their pastor. As Jean Barnaud states, Viret worked "to rebuild the ruins, to dress the wounds, to reconcile the divers and opposing elements. With his benevolent and peaceful character, Viret was admirably qualified for this undertaking, which, moreover, he carried out successfully."[13] Viret remained in the city for a year, during which time he urged the Council upon several occasions to recall the exiled Calvin. "‘Master Pierre Viret,’ says the register at the date of the 28th February, ‘hath showed that it would be very meet to write again to Master Calvin. Ordered that he be written to.’"[14] At last, at Viret’s continued appeals, the Council hearkened to his pleadings and sent on May 1 to call their former pastor home. However, Calvin was in no way eager to return to the trials and troubles that awaited him at Geneva, and at first rejected Viret’s proposal to return, writing to him on May 9, "I had to laugh at that part of the letter where you show yourself so concerned for my health. Would I prosper in Geneva (of all places)? Why not rather be crucified right now? It was more than enough to have perished there once; why would I want to be racked with that torture again? Therefore, my Viret, if you want the best for me, forget about that idea."[15]

Friendship with John Calvin[edit]

While tenaciously refusing to return to the troubled city of Geneva, Calvin was at the same time harboring hopes of the city’s reformation after learning of Viret’s arrival there. Writing to Farel in February of 1541, he expressed his assurance of the beneficial effects of Viret’s influence on the tumultuous population, “It was a singular joy for me to learn that the Church of Geneva is endowed with the arrival of Viret. . . . I now foresee that the matter is out of danger.”[16] Despite Calvin’s adamant refusals, Viret was not to be dissuaded from his course, and continued to plead with his friend to return to his position in Geneva. "You cannot imagine," he wrote to Calvin, "the attentiveness with which they listen to my discourses, and what a crowd of men they attract. . . . such tranquility reigns in the republic, it is completely transformed, and has taken on an entirely new appearance." Bernard also used his influence with the reluctant Calvin, writing to assure him, "Geneva is a new nation, renewed, with the help of God, by the work of Viret."[17] After many such appeals, Calvin was at last persuaded to return to the city. Viret joyfully assisted him in his reentrance. As Michael Bruening notes, "Viret’s presence in Geneva at that time was essential in overcoming Calvin’s initial reluctance to return to the city and in assisting him in his reform efforts once he arrived."[18] The Geneva which met Calvin’s eyes upon his return was not that which he had left. As an eyewitness noted, it was "a new Geneva, regenerated by the work of Master Viret." Viret—in characteristic humility—referred the credit to another source: "All are constrained to recognize and admit that this is the hand of the Lord."[19] When Calvin was again settled in Geneva, Viret desired to return at once to his pastorate in Lausanne, but he was persuaded to remain for several months in Geneva to aid Calvin. Farel, writing to the pastors of Zurich, notes the importance of Viret’s presence in the city of Geneva at that crucial time, "If Viret is recalled [to Lausanne], then surely Calvin and the Church of Geneva shall fall again into ruins!"[20] Calvin also shared this opinion, as is noted by Michael Bruening, "After a long delay, which necessitated a six-month extension of Viret’s leave of absence [from Lausanne], Calvin finally returned to Geneva in September 1541. Viret had helped to turn the Genevan church around, making it possible for Calvin to set about the task of implementing his reforms immediately upon his arrival. Faced with this daunting task, he insisted that Viret remain at his side to help. Three days after his return, Calvin told Farel, "I have also kept Viret with me, whom I absolutely would not allow to be taken away from me." Now it was Calvin who sought to persuade Viret that he was needed in Geneva. He explained to Farel, "If Viret leaves me, I am completely finished; I will not be able to keep this church alive. Therefore, I hope you and others will forgive me if I move every stone to ensure that I am not deprived of him." Calvin is hardly known for emotional outbursts; this language, therefore, indicated how precious a resource he considered his friend during his first months back in Geneva."[21]

Viret, after completing his work at Geneva, returned to Lausanne in 1542. His absence had been very detrimental to the health of the church, which he found in a terrible state. He wrote to Calvin upon his return, "I came, I saw, I was dumbfounded (veni, vidi, obstupui). If only what we had heard about the state of this church were not so true."[22] Viret went on to describe to his friend the desperate straits into which the Church had fallen. Calvin, responding to the letter, expressed his concern lest Viret perish under the weight of his troubles. In a brotherly fashion he begged Viret to take care of himself and keep Calvin apprised of his health and condition, "Claudius Francus greatly desires that you come to his wedding which will be celebrated Sunday the eighth; but I would rather you wait, in order that you can recuperate a little from these concerns and sorrows that torment you. . . . I confess that I am in fear when I think of you. I beseech you to allow no one to come here without bringing letters from you or something to let me know how you are."[23]

Undaunted, Viret continued his ministry as pastor, as well as teaching at the Academy. His life, however, was soon to be disturbed by an even greater tragedy. In 1545 Viret’s wife Elisabeth fell ill and, despite Viret’s desperate efforts to revive her failing health, she died in March of the following year. Writing of her death to a dear friend, Viret wrote, "The Lord has dealt me such a painful blow . . . in the death of my well-beloved wife. He has taken half of myself; He has deprived me of a faithful companion, an excellent mother, a spouse so well suited to my habits, tastes, and ministry. I am so afflicted by this blow that I appear to myself a stranger in my own house. But this seemed good to the Lord, whose will is always just, and to whom I have appeared unworthy to enjoy any longer such comfort, . . . she never troubled my ministry; on the contrary, she honored it by her faith, her piety, her integrity, and other rare virtues which God gave her."[24] Viret’s sorrow was so great that his friends feared he would not recover from the blow. Indeed, a rumor was soon spread throughout Geneva that he had indeed succumbed to his grief, and had returned to his hometown Orbe to die.[25] Geneva was thrown into an uproar, and Calvin’s consternation was indescribable. But the same day the rumor reached them, a letter arrived from Viret, assuring its readers of the falsity of the report. In profound relief Calvin wrote to his friend, exclaiming, “I rejoice that we were not constrained to pass a single night in mourning, for I could never have endured it.”[26] Despite the falsity of the rumor, Calvin was greatly concerned for his friend, and wrote, begging Viret to come to Geneva for a time: “Come to distract yourself, not only from your sorrow, but also from all your troubles. You need not fear that I will impose any work on you. I will take care that you enjoy your own pleasure in tranquility. And if anyone bothers you, I will deal with them.”[27] Despite Calvin’s touching letter, Viret could not pull himself from his work in Lausanne. Calvin, however, was not to be dissuaded, and wrote again, pleading with Viret to come. This time he went so far as to send a horse to carry Viret to Geneva, that he might not tire himself on the road. Thus pressed by his dear friend, Viret could refuse no longer, and, leaving Lausanne for a short time, he journeyed to Geneva to enjoy the company and consolation of his fellow reformer. Later that same year Viret was again called upon to return to Geneva to mediate in two separate conflicts involving Calvin and certain dissenters. Viret’s mediation skills were often called into use throughout his ministry, and he was called upon to journey to many cities to mediate in quarrels among brethren. Viret’s peacemaking skills were especially beneficial to Calvin, who frequently employed his close friend in this role throughout his turbulent ministry in Geneva and elsewhere. Writing to Viret of one such quarrel in 1547, Calvin begged Viret’s aid, exclaiming, "Those who wish to quiet the affair without tumult hope that you will be the providential peacemaker. The opposing faction themselves want you."[28] Even Viret’s enemies called for his aid, knowing that they would find in him a just and impartial judge.[29]

Battles with the Bern Magistrates[edit]

Viret did his utmost to turn the Catholic populace in Lausanne into a Christian people. The political structure of the times added great difficulty to this task. The Council of Bern—the political head of Lausanne—reserved to itself much of the Church’s jurisdiction. One matter of constant concern to Viret was church discipline. Throughout his pastorate at Lausanne Viret made numerous journeys to Bern to request the magistrates to cede him the discipline necessary to establish and build the Church. Viret pled with the Bernese lords, assuring them that a true Church must be permitted to govern its members. Bern, desirous of retaining its omnipotence, refused to relinquish such authority to the Church, declaring that it was the State’s prerogative to govern all. Viret knew well that a lack of discipline would result in no Church at all. “Discipline,” he noted, “can be abandoned, if the administration and use of the Word of God and the sacraments are also abandoned, for the Word and the sacraments cannot be properly administered without it.”[30] Despite the continued appeals, Bern refused to allow Viret to exercise church discipline or restrict the Lord’s Table. They stated that all must be permitted to participate, and any pastor who refused to administer communion was to be immediately discharged. The Lausanne pastors sent numerous letters to Bern in which they stated their obligation to follow God rather than men. The dispute finally came to a head in 1558. As Christmas communion approached, Viret announced that he could not in good conscience administer the sacrament without first being permitted to examine and instruct those who wished to partake. Going before the Council of Lausanne, he begged a seven-day postponement of the communion service to provide the time necessary to examine the communicants. After much debate, the Council agreed to grant the pastors the stipulated time. When news of the ruling reached Bern, however, the magistrates were outraged at this usurpation of their authority. They sent immediately to Lausanne to countermand the decision of the Council and to dismiss and expel Viret and his colleagues. Thus ousted, Viret and his associates were ordered pack their belongings and leave the city. A refuge was soon found in the neighboring town of Geneva, where Calvin welcomed his friend with the warmest affection. After Viret’s dismissal, Bern appointed other ministers in his stead, but those nominated to fill his place refused, preferring rather to join Viret in exile than submit to Bern’s demands. Numerous professors and students of the Academy also followed the expelled ministers, vastly swelling the numbers of the exiles. Johannes Haller, a contemporary, noted that “over a thousand people migrated from Lausanne to Geneva.”[31] The significance of this exodus from the city of Lausanne can scarcely be overstated, for the city’s population at the time was little more than five thousand. Of the host of distinguished refugees exiting Lausanne, many of the professors found a work prepared for them upon arrival in Geneva. Within five months of their displacement Calvin founded his Genevan Academy, employing as its core faculty the outcasts who fled Lausanne. Thus the Lausanne Academy of twenty-two years was relocated, becoming the world-acclaimed Genevan Academy.[32]

Back in Geneva (1559-1561)[edit]

Geneva’s joy at receiving their old pastor back after a “loan” of twenty-two years to Lausanne can scarcely be expressed. The city welcomed the exiled Viret with acclamation and open arms. On March 2nd the Council met and declared that Viret would be “received as a minister here and given 400 florins a year and two casks of wine.”[33] Viret was immediately assigned the Church of St. Germain to preach in, but the multitudes that pressed in to hear his sermons were so numerous that a new location had to be found to accommodate the crowds. The Council therefore determined in June to move Viret’s preaching to the larger church of St. Pierre, which would provide ample room for the masses desirous of attending the sermons.[34] Viret’s time in Geneva was cut short, however, due to a serious illness. In April of 1561 he fell dangerously ill, and, fearing that this sickness would soon bring him to the grave, Viret drew up his last will and testament on April 12.[35] Concerning this illness he wrote, "I fell into an illness whereby my body was so debilitated and brought so low that in my judgment I could not expect anything else but to be lowered into the grave. For I had never before had a sickness that had brought me so close to the grave, not even when I was poisoned by the art and cunning of the enemies of the Gospel."[36] During the summer months Viret’s health was partially restored, but as winter again approached, his doctors urged him to seek a warmer climate in southern France. Viret therefore left Geneva in September and journeyed to France. His reputation was so great that he was given immediate authority in the French churches wherever he chose to go. "Offers poured in requesting Viret to come to such places as Orleans, Avignon, Montauban and Montpellier."

Viret’s Ministry in France (1561-1571)[edit]

Viret’s call to France was in the middle of the times of the French Wars of Religion. Viret’s ministry in France stretched for a decade from 1561 to 1571. He was never able to settle in one location because of the constant persecution of the French Catholic authorities. His ten years of ministry in France carried him to many cities in the southwestern and southeastern part of the country which the strongholds of the French Reformed Protestants. "His activity in France was extraordinary, especially given his illness earlier in the year. When Viret arrived in France, churches from all over the country sought him out. The churches in Nimes and Paris even sent delegates to Geneva to ask officially for his services."[37] Viret traveled first to Lyon, then Nimes. The city of Nimes received Viret with the greatest warmth. The churches were not large enough to contain the crowds that sought to hear him, and Viret was compelled to preach in the fields and pastures. The multitudes responded eagerly to the Word of God, and on January 4, 1562, in a service lasting from 10:00 to 4:00, Viret administered communion to over 8,000 believers. Friend and foe alike were drawn to the sweetness and gentleness of Viret’s preaching. As he preached one day in a field in Vaunage, the very prior and monks of the abbey themselves came to listen to the man’s words. Viret explained to his listeners the wonders of the Gospel and the blessedness of the Redeemer and, as the Scripture promised, his words did not return to him void. As Lichtenberger wrote, “The success was complete. The priests, the officers, . . . became Protestant, and the abbey consecrated half its revenues to evangelization, and the other half to aid the poor.”[38] While in Nimes Viret preached every Sunday and Wednesday to increasingly swelling crowds. He was also employed as a professor of theology at the local Academy, as well as doubling as a peace-maker in several church squabbles. As Viret’s leave of absence from Geneva neared its conclusion, the Council of Nimes grew terrified of losing their pastor. In an effort to retain him they sent a delegation to the Genevan Council in December, writing, “The harvest surpasses belief, and the famine is intolerable. . . . We need reapers. . . . In the name of the God you honor, we beseech and beg with our greatest affection that you leave [Viret] with us.”[39] Despite the obvious desperation of the letter, the Council of Geneva did not grant the request. Indeed, they were so flooded with letters begging for Viret’s presence that they at last decided to let Viret himself decide where to proceed. Requests poured in from Montpellier, Montauban, Orleans, and even Paris. Viret at length decided upon Montpellier, where the need for a Reformed pastor was great indeed; he entered that city in February of 1562. As with Nimes, Viret’s efforts met with exceptional success in Montpellier. “Spectacular results followed with large numbers being won to the side of the Reform including nearly the entire faculty of the famous medical college of Montpellier.”[40] After a short stay in Montpellier, Viret accepted a call to Lyon in late May, where he remained for the next three years. The City Council of Lyon, in writing to the Council of Geneva, expressed their indebtedness to Viret in November of 1562, “We derive more support and help from his learned and godly discourses than from our whole army. . . .”[41] “Without his presence it would be impossible for us to hold our soldiers to their duty.” During his ministry in Lyon Viret chanced to pass through Valance, which was at the time under the authority of the Protestant leader Francois de Beaumont. While there Viret became aware of the intended execution of Edmond Auger, a Jesuit. Leaping upon the scaffold and interposing his very life to save the man, Viret persuaded the authorities to show clemency to the heretic, and thus rescued his enemy from imminent death. In March of 1563 Viret’s ministry was severely threatened by the issuance of a Royal Edict forbidding all foreign-born pastors from ministering in France. Despite the edict, however, Viret was exempted by request of the Catholics themselves. Although the work of the ministry demanded much of Viret’s time, he still found opportunity to write. His scholarly production was immense; he was a prolific author, writing over fifty books. His works were bestsellers in his day, and were translated into many languages, including German, Italian, English, Dutch, and Latin. Though Viret’s works display great depth in their treatment of theological subjects, yet he wrote in such an informal, easy-to-understand style that the simplest ploughman could understand his words. Indeed, his simplistic style of treating deep theological truths made his books beneficial to both the newest convert and the deepest theologian. As Swiss historian Emile Doumergue noted of Viret’s Christian Instruction, “[Viret] wrote ‘for the poor people,’ he wasn’t afraid ‘to be childish with the children, to use rusticity with the rustics.’”[42] While at Lyon Viret completed his greatest literary work, his three-volume Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Law and the Gospel, a work that rivals Calvin’s Institutes. However, though the work is indeed a profound theological masterpiece, the book is written in Viret’s easy-going style and, as Viret himself noted in his preface to the tome, "this ‘very familiar exposition’ addresses ‘the poor simple-minded and the most ignorant . . . most clearly, familiarly, and popularly as would be possible for me. . . When it is a question of teaching the most simple, it is better to be longer and clearer than brief and obscure.’"[43] Viret’s ministry in Lyon was cut suddenly short by an unexpected turn of events. Edmond Auger, the Jesuit Viret rescued two years previously, moved to Lyon in 1565 and worked indefatigably to expel Viret from France. The Jesuit’s schemes proved successful, and on August Viret was ordered by royal decree to leave France within eight days. His friends, furious at the way Auger had repaid Viret’s kindness, expressed their rage to the reformer. In his customary style Viret replied, “What men mean for evil, God means for good.”[44] Viret fled France and took refuge in Orange, which was then under the authority of William of Nassau. However, Viret’s enemies continued to pursue him, and he was forced to leave Orange near the end of 1566. He journeyed to Bearn, where he was cordially received by Jeanne d’Albret, who appointed Viret superintendent of the Church of Bearn. In 1568 the third French civil war broke out. Viret, with eleven other Reformed ministers, were captured by Catholic forces at Pau in March of 1569 and imprisoned in the castle of Chabanay.[45] Most of the ministers were executed, but the Catholics spared Viret, "largely because of the positive reputation he enjoyed even among his ecclesiastical enemies." Viret was rescued a short time later (August), and returned to his ministry in Bearn.

Death (1571)[edit]

In April of 1571, after a long and difficult—though exceedingly fruitful—life, Pierre Viret died, at the age of 60. The site of his death and grave are unknown. Historian Jean Cart says, "At the thought of his unknown end, in the land of exile, and of this tomb which we will never see, we confidently repeat the words of Holy Scripture: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints!” (Psalm 116:15) Viret was one of those well-beloved of the Lord, one of those exceptional souls who, after having been vanquished by grace, surrenders their all entirely to their Master, and devotes themselves unreservedly to His service. Love for God—this is the banner of Christ’s soldiers; it is this which, in the day of battle, makes each of them a hero or a martyr."[46]

Theological Legacy[edit]

Although the work of the ministry demanded much of Viret’s time, he still found opportunity to write. His scholarly production was immense; he was a prolific author, writing over fifty books. His works were bestsellers in his day, and were translated into many languages including German, Italian, English, Dutch, and Latin. Though Viret’s works display great depth in their treatment of theological subjects, he nevertheless wrote in an informal, easy-to-understand style. While at Lyons Viret completed his greatest literary work, his three-volume Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Law and the Gospel. Theologian Jean Marc-Berthoud writes of this theological masterpiece, "…if Calvin is incomparable as a dogmatic exegete and polemist, Viret largely surpasses him as ethicist and apologist. His strength was a domain often neglected because of its complexity: the application of the Word of God to every aspect of life. His Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Law and Gospel of 1564 is unquestionably the best commentary on the Ten Commandments that the Christian Church has ever known."[47] Viret found himself in the midst of great conflict, and as a result, much of Viret’s theology was applied to the complicated issues of public and civil life. He fearlessly addressed subjects most moderns avoid, including the civil magistracy, war, law, taxation, and church-state jurisdiction, to name a few. His application of theology to his own generation raised the Biblical standard in addressing matters of culture and society. Here Viret leaves us an example of an uncompromising Reformed theologian whose compelling oratory and words were graced with true Christian charity and written with a theological depth that was applicable to life and to be appreciated for ages to come.[48]

Bas relief of Pierre Viret.


  1. ^ J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, D.D., History of the Reformation in Europe (Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA, 2000), page 220
  2. ^ Robert Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret (Geneva, 1964), page 19
  3. ^ The Pierre Viret Association http://www.pierreviret.org/bio.php
  4. ^ Emile Doumergue, Lausanne au temps de la Reformation (Georges Bridel & Cie Editeurs, Lausanne, 1902), page 11
  5. ^ D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation in Europe, pages 223-224
  6. ^ J. Cart, Pierre Viret, le Reformateur Vaudois (Lausanne, 1864), pages 54-55; see also Jean Barnaud, Pierre Viret: Sa vie et son oeuvre (Saint-Amans, 1911), page 74
  7. ^ Doumergue, Lausanne au temps de la Reformation, page 14
  8. ^ The Pierre Viret Association http://www.pierreviret.org/bio.php
  9. ^ D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation in Europe, Vol. V, page 248
  10. ^ The Pierre Viret Association http://www.pierreviret.org/bio.php
  11. ^ Henri Vuilleumier, L'Eglise Reformee du Pays de Vaud, Tome I (Lausanne: Editions La Concorde, 1927), 118.
  12. ^ Jaquemot, “Viret: Réformateur de Lausanne,” page 21; Antoine Belluc, “Pierre Viret,” Thèse à la Faculté de Théologie Protestante de Montauban (Montauban, July, 1854), page 13
  13. ^ Robert Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret (Geneva, 1964), page 27
  14. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 205
  15. ^ Felix Bungener, Calvin: His Life, His Labours, and His Writings (T. & T. Clark, 1863), page 162
  16. ^ Michael W. Bruening, "Pierre Viret and Geneva," Archive for Reformation History, Volume 99 (2008), page 180
  17. ^ Calvin to Farel, February 19, 1541, quoted in Jaquemot, “Viret: Réformateur de Lausanne,” page 30
  18. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 205
  19. ^ Bruening, “Pierre Viret and Geneva,” page 176
  20. ^ Viret to Calvin, February 8, 1541, quoted in Henri Vuilleumier, Notre Pierre Viret (Librairie Payot & Cie, Lausanne, 1911), page 86; Jaquemot, “Viret: Réformateur de Lausanne,” page 31
  21. ^ Vuilleumier, Notre Pierre Viret, page 87
  22. ^ Bruening, "Pierre Viret and Geneva," page 184
  23. ^ As quoted in Michael W. Bruening, Calvinism’s First Battleground: Conflict and Reform in the Pays de Vaud, 1528-1559 (Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2005), page 179
  24. ^ Calvin to Viret, August 1542, quoted in Jaquemot, “Viret: Réformateur de Lausanne,” page 34, note
  25. ^ Viret to Watteville, March 8, 1546, quoted in Doumergue, Lausanne au temps de la Reformation, page 46
  26. ^ Jaquemot, “Viret: Réformateur de Lausanne,” page 42
  27. ^ Calvin to Viret, quoted in Doumergue, Lausanne au temps de la Reformation, page 46
  28. ^ Calvin to Viret, quoted in Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 315
  29. ^ http://www.pierreviret.org/bio.php
  30. ^ Pierre Viret, Instruction Chretienne (Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 2008), 348
  31. ^ As quoted in Bruening, Calvinism's First Battleground, 254
  32. ^ Meylan, La Haute Ecole, 26
  33. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 322
  34. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 538
  35. ^ Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, page 39
  36. ^ Bruening, "Pierre Viret and Geneva," page 188
  37. ^ Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, page 43
  38. ^ Bruening, "Pierre Viret and Geneva," page 194
  39. ^ Frédéric Lichtenberger, Encyclopédie des sciences religieuses, Tome XII (Paris, 1882), page 407
  40. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, pages 567-568
  41. ^ Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, page 43
  42. ^ Barnaud, Pierre Viret, page 588
  43. ^ Emile Doumergue, Lausanne au temps de la Reformation (Georges Bridel & Cie Editeurs, Lausanne, 1902), page 12
  44. ^ Pierre Viret, Instruction Chrestienne (L’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 2008), page 33
  45. ^ Frédéric Lichtenberger, Encyclopédie des sciences religieuses, Tome XII (Paris, 1882), page 408
  46. ^ Philippe Chareyre
  47. ^ Jean-Marc Berthoud, Des Actes de L'Eglise (Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme, 1993), 54.
  48. ^ Sheats, R. A. "Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation", Zurich Publishing, (2012)

Bibliographic sources[edit]

  • Berthoud, Jean-Marc "Pierre Viret: Forgotten Giant of the Reformation", Zurich Publishing, (2010)
  • Linder, Robert D. "Forgotten Reformer." Christian History.
  • "Viret, Pierre." Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation
  • Procedures Held With Regard to those of the Religion of the Netherlands (1568)
  • Sheats, R. A. "Pierre Viret: The Angel of the Reformation", Zurich Publishing, (2012)
  • Sheats, R.A. "Pierre Viret: The Unknown Reformer.” Faith for All of Life Mar/Apr. 2011: 3-8. Print.

External links[edit]