Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Geneva Connection - England, Scotland, America and The Waldensians

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The Calvin Auditory, Geneva - John Knox led the English Church in Geneva in this building from 1555. They shared it with the Italian Protestant Church. Today, it is linked to the Waldensian Church.

In Britain and America today, most of us have a tenuous grasp of our historic connections to the Reformation but, in fact, this link affects almost everything in our history from The Founding Fathers of America, the history of Scotland, music in churches to the English Civil War, non conformism, society, politics and law. What started in a small chapel in Geneva, in 1555, among a small group of exiled men caused a religious and cultural earthquake, its aftershock still affecting our lives today.

The English Psalter
Before the Reformation, only priests and choirs were allowed to sing in church but Jean Calvin, a theologian and lawyer from Noyen in France encouraged congregational singing of Psalms. So William Shakespeare, born in 1664 the year Calvin died, sang from the English metrical psalter of Sternhold and Hopkins (published 1562) which was a version of the Genevan Psalter. These were psalms in English rhyme set to Renaissance music by Loys Bourgeois and also developed in harmonic four-part by Claude Goudimel who died in the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants in Paris in 1572, later by Jan Sweelinck. Shakespeare also owned and read a Geneva Bible into which the English Psalter was often bound. The rhyming ‘common metre’ of the English Psalter may have irritated a born poet, but the English Psalter remained in widespread use in all churches, until around 1800. On some Scottish islands, like Lewis, the Gaelic Psalter is used for unaccompanied congregational psalm singing today and the Genevan Psalter is widely used in reformed churches on the Continent.

Marian exiles
The link to the Psalter and Geneva is the Marian exiles, the English-speaking Protestant exiles who had fled the persecutions of hyper Catholic Mary 1st to Europe. Those left behind included Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley who died at the stake. Some exiles fled to Frankfurt, Zurich, Basle and Padua and some fled to Geneva, where Jean Calvin had been teaching the Reformation for twenty years. The Council in Geneva gave the Marian exiles a small chapel for their worship (St Marie La Neuve) alongside the main Cathedral Church of Saint Pierre where Calvin preached. St Marie La Neuve later became the first home of Calvin’s Geneva University. Today, it is called ‘The Calvin Auditory’. The Calvin Auditory had been used for early morning theology lectures by Calvin from 1536; during the 1550s, it was shared by the Marian exiles and the Italian Protestant congregation. John Knox ministered here to the Marian congregation and subsequently,  it was used by The Waldensians who had joined the Reformation (though their theology and faith preceded it). The name of the Waldensians remains outside it, today.

First publication of the Marian exiles
As Marian exiles came and left, there was a steady congregation of about 200 English speakers. A register of members and ministers was kept known as Livre des Anglois which is held in The Geneva State Archives. The whole atmosphere around Calvin was scholarly producing a flurry of translations of the Bible including in Italian and Spanish. The first publication by the British Marian Church  was in 1556 entitled The forme of prayers and ministration of the Sacraments etc used in the English Congregation at Geneva: and approved, by the famous and godly learned man, John Calvin’. It contained:
  • the Confession of Faith in English
  • the Liturgy of the English Congregation in Geneva
  • an English metrical version of fifty-one psalms, together with accompanying music
  • Calvin’s catechism in English.
The Marian exiles sang the Genevan Psalms to the English metric versions by Sternhold in Geneva. These became the basis of the hymn book for all church worship during the reign of Elizabeth 1st, published in 1562.

The Geneva Bible
Their next publication was The Geneva Bible translated by William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, Lawrence Humphrey, Miles Coverdale (former Bishop of Exeter), Christopher Goodman and Thomas Sampson. It is based on the Great Bible for the Old Testament and on Whittingham’s revision of William Tyndale’s (1534) edition of the New Testament.  The scholars who produced the Geneva Bible had access to the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts including Theodore Beza’s Codex.  The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to be illustrated, annotated and divided into verses. Italics denoted which words were added to clarify the text. There were more than 140 editions of the Geneva Bible between 1560 and 1644. It was the Geneva Bible that those on the Mayflower took to America in 1620. Its printing in Geneva was overseen and financed by wealthy merchant, from Exeter, John Bodley, who was the father of Thomas Bodley who set up the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The printer was Rowland Hall. Bodley named his printing works back in London ‘The Halfe Eagle and Keye’ after the arms of Geneva and borrowed its motto ‘Post tenebras lux(“After darkness, I hope for Light” from Job 17.12).

The half eagle, key and motto of Geneva and Calvin ("Post Tenebras Lux") Public Domain,
On her accession to the English throne on 17 November, 1559, Queen Elizabeth 1st appointed many of the Marian exiles to key positions and she carried on supporting Geneva. Scholars from England and Scotland taught at Calvin’s College. Some British nobility sent their sons to Geneva to study theology, law and the humanities to ensure they had a definite Protestant education.

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