3. Dedicatory epistle to Reformed Confession of Faith, addressed to Philip II,
Explanatory Comment: In the period 1559-1561 Reformed Protestants in France, Scotland and the Low Countries framed confessions of faith. These succinct statements of the Calvinist creed were addressed to both the recent converts and the persecuting authorities. In this dedicatory epistle the author(s), among whom Guy de Brès may be counted, take as their model Calvin's dedication of the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) to Francis I. Just as Calvin had emphasised that the evangelicals of his day had nothing in common with the Anabaptist excesses at Münster, so the authors of this epistle sought to re-assure Philip II that his Calvinist subjects were in all respects law-abiding members of the body politic. At the same time De Brès wanted to persuade the King of the folly and injustice of the policy of persecution.
The composition of the letter and the confession, here not reproduced, followed a period of turmoil in Valenciennes and Tournai where De Brès ministered. The radicals among the substantial Calvinist communities in these towns had recently taken to the streets. These psalm-singing demonstrations, often accompanied by threats to the local Catholic clergy, greatly alarmed the authorities. Though De Brès disapproved of such provocative acts, he may have intended by this letter and the statement of faith to ward off the inevitable persecution. If so, his hopes were in vain for within a few weeks the Calvinist church at Tournai was severely disrupted by the flight from Tournai of the ministers and members of the consistory.
The Faithful in the Low Countries who Desire to Live according to the True Reformation of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Invincible King Philip their Sovereign Lord.
If we had been permitted, most gracious Lord, to appear before your Majesty to defend ourselves against the charges which have been laid against us, we would not have resorted to this clandestine means to bring to your notice the lamentations of your people, sending you a dumb request or a written confession. But our enemies have stopped your ears with so many false accusations and reports that we are not only prevented from appearing before you, but driven from your territories, murdered and burnt wherever we may be. Therefore grant us at least, most gracious Lord, in the name of God that which no one can deny even to the animals, namely to hear from afar our cries. If your Majesty, having heard us, judges us to be guilty, let the burnings increase and the tortures and torments multiply throughout your kingdom. And contrariwise, if our innocence is manifest to you, may you be for us a support and refuge against the violence of our enemies.
But alas, most gracious Lord, if it is sufficient merely to make accusations and if the accused is deprived of an opportunity to defend himself against the charges, who would be found righteous? Whose innocence would be safe among men? We are, it is alleged, disobedient rebels, intent only on the destruction of civil government, throwing the world into confusion and disorder, bent only on breaking free from your authority and power, indeed on snatching the sceptre from your hands. Crimes unworthy of our confession, unworthy of a Christian, indeed unworthy of any man, but crimes which justify that ancient saying of the Tyrants: the Christians to the lions. But it is not enough to accuse; the charges must be proved. The Prophets, the Apostles and even the members of the primitive Church of Jesus Christ were accused, indeed to outward appearances and in the carnal opinion of man, overwhelmed with similar calumnies. But just as these in their day publicly testified and protested, so also do we protest and testify before God and His angels that we desire nothing but to live in obedience to the magistrates with clear consciences, to serve God, to reform our lives in conformity with His Word and holy commandments.
Besides the secret witness of our consciences, those who sit in judgement at our trials, and pass sentence on us, shall testify truly they have never found in us any inclination to disobey, to conspire against your Majesty or to disturb the public peace. On the contrary, they have discovered that in our assemblies we pray for earthly kings and princes and especially for you, most gracious Lord, and for those whom you have charged with the regiment and the government of your countries, provinces and lordships. For we are instructed both by the Word of God and by the continual teaching of our ministers that kings, princes and magistrates are ordained of God and that whoever resists the authorities, resists the ordinance of God and shall be condemned. We own and acknowledge that by God's eternal wisdom kings rule and princes dispense justice; in short, that they have come [to their office] not by usurpation or by tyranny, but by God's own ordinance. And to prove that this is not only professed with our lips but imprinted and engraved in our hearts, who among us has ever refused to pay the tribute or tolls laid on by you, most gracious Lord? On the contrary, we have been as prompt to obey as the ordinance to pay. What weapons, what plots have ever been uncovered, even though we have been so cruelly tortured and tormented by those who cover themselves with your name and authority in order that they might commit all manner of cruelties which would be enough to provoke the patience of the kindest and gentlest and bring about rage and despair? But we thank our God that the blood shed by our brethren for our cause and suit, or rather for the cause of Jesus Christ cries out in witness to the truth. The banishments, prisons, racks, exiles, tortures and countless other persecutions plainly demonstrate that our desire and conviction is not carnal, for we would lead a far easier life if we did not embrace and maintain this doctrine. But having the fear of God before our eyes, and being in dread of the warning of Jesus Christ, who tells us that He shall forsake us before God and His Father if we deny Him before men, we suffer our backs to be beaten, our tongues to be cut, our mouths to be gagged and our whole body to be burnt, for we know that he who would follow Christ must take up his cross and deny himself. A reasonable man would never suppose, unless he were purblind and robbed of his senses, that those who leave their own country, their family and friends in order to live in peace and tranquillity would seek to throw everything into confusion; or that those who die for the gospel, where it is written, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's' would ever attempt to take the crown from the King, or engage in any conspiracy against him. While they offer and submit their bodies and property to the King, they humbly pray his Majesty that they may be permitted to render to God what He requires and what we cannot properly refuse because He has made us His own and bought us for a very high price.
May our enemies not so abuse your goodness and patience that you are obliged to listen to them when they tell you that only our small numbers restrain us from rebellion, as if each of us were in his heart disobedient and seditious and were only awaiting larger numbers to wage war, to assail you and to give free rein to his fury. Let them misrepresent matters to their heart's desire, but we assure you, most gracious Lord, that more than one hundred thousand men in these your Low Countries hold and follow the Religion, whose confession we now present to you, and yet you see none of these making preparations for rebellion, or even hear a word from them of that sort. We do not mention, most gracious Lord, the large number of our brethren in order to frighten or intimidate in any way your officers and servants, but merely to refute the calumnies of those who would render us odious by their lies and also to move you to compassion. For, alas, if you extend your arm to imbrue and to wash it in the blood of so many men, good God, what destruction shall you inflict on your subjects, what wounds on your own people, what crying, groaning and sobbing from women, children, family and friends? What eye could remain dry and look on without weeping while so many honourable burghers, esteemed by all and hated by none, are, after a dark and hideous confinement and after enduring the rack and persecution, delivered to a shameful death and torment, which is the cruellest and most barbaric any pagan and unholy tyrant could devise? And meanwhile their wives, if they have already escaped, wander in foreign parts, going from door to door to beg for bread with their children about their necks. Most gracious Lord, let not posterity describe your reign as cruel and bloody, let it not be said that the honour of your forefathers, the greatness of your father and your own virtues were overshadowed by cruelty, a cruelty, I say, which may be natural in beasts but which is beneath the dignity of man and most unworthy of, indeed foreign to, a Prince whose greatness and chief virtue lies above all in mercy and gentleness, which qualities distinguish a true king from a tyrant.
And because we are persecuted as if we were not only enemies of your throne and the commonwealth, but also enemies of God and His Church, we humbly pray you to judge this by the Confession of faith, which we lay before you and which we are ready and willing, if necessary, to seal with our own blood. From this Confession we trust that you will see that we are wrongly called schismatics, promoters of disunity, rebels and heretics, for we not only uphold and profess the chief heads of the Christian faith, comprehended in the Symbolum or Creeds, but also the whole teaching, revealed by Jesus Christ, for our life, justification and salvation, proclaimed by the evangelists and apostles, sealed with the blood of so many martyrs and preserved pure and complete by the primitive Church until at length it was perverted through the ignorance, greed and ambition of her ministers with human inventions and additions, contrary to the purity of the gospel. Our opponents shamelessly deny that this Gospel is the power of God, bringing salvation to all who believe, when they condemn and kill us because we do not uphold what is not found there [in the Gospel]. However they cannot excuse their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by saying that all the treasures of God's wisdom and all the means, which are more than sufficient for our salvation, are not contained in the Old and New Testaments, but that their inventions are necessary and that anyone who does not consider these to be of like or greater worth to the Gospel is damned, unworthy of human society, his body to be destroyed and his soul to be cast into the abyss of hell. Our weak flesh trembles at such words, terrified by the threats of those who have the power to reduce us to ashes. But from the other side we hear what the Apostle says: 'Though an angel were to descend from heaven and to preach anything other than the Gospel, let him be accursed' [Gal. 1. v. 8]. We hear St.John who concluded his prophecy with these words: 'For I warn every man that hears the prophecies in this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God shall add to him the plagues described in this book' [Rev. 22 v. 18]. In short, we see that we are bidden to follow only the Word of God and not what we think fit, and that we are forbidden to add or subtract anything from the holy commandments of Almighty God. Jesus Christ tells us that He has imparted to us everything which He had heard from His Father. If he concealed nothing from the Apostles on account of their weakness, which He had promised to reveal to them (by the Holy Spirit, which He would send to them), we may be certain that He, who is Truth itself, has kept His promise. Therefore the mysteries are contained in the Gospel and the writings of the Apostles, which were written after the said promise and the reception of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore evident that those who interpret the 'mystery' which the Apostles could not bear to name to mean their ceremonies and vain superstitions, contrary to the Word of God, abuse the words of the evangelist. We would offer to show this -- as we easily could -- from the testimony of the scriptures, were we, being mindful of the form and brevity proper to an epistle, not afraid of troubling your Majesty. We humbly pray you in the name of He who has established and maintained you in your kingdom that you do not suffer those who are carried away by greed, ambition and other wicked affections to use your power, authority and dominion to satisfy their own appetites in order to defile and gorge themselves with the blood of your subjects while they bury all good zeal, inspired by the fear of God and piety, under the words 'sedition', 'rebellion', 'scandal' and such like in order to bring your wrath upon us. But alas, most gracious Lord, remember that the world has always hated the light and rebelled against the truth. Is he who has the word of truth in his mouth a rebel merely because he is opposed by men? On the contrary, rebelliousness and scandal should be imputed to him who is the implacable enemy of God and men, namely the Devil, who in order not to lose his own kingdom, which consists in idolatry, false worship, fornication and countless other vices, that the Gospel has excised, stirs up rebellion and tumult to hinder the advance [of the Word of truth]. In addition there is the ingratitude of the world, which, instead of receiving thankfully the Word of its Master, Shepherd and God, sets itself against the same for no other reason than that it has lived for a long time in error. By making this appeal to the prescription of time the world tries to withstand Him who made the world and all times and to Whom all things are present. It is your duty, most gracious Lord, to take cognisance of these matters, to oppose error, no matter how deeply rooted by the passage of time, and to defend the innocence of those who have hitherto been oppressed, rather than heard, by the courts.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine on you and protect and maintain you in all prosperity. Amen.
Source. Based on French and Dutch versions in De
Nederlandse belijdenisgeschriften, ed. J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink (2nd. ed. Amsterdam,
1976) pp. 62-69. A modernized Dutch text, in J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, Protestantse
pleidooien, II (Kampen, 1962), pp. 153-59, has also been consulted.