Birthplace: Gap, Dauphiné, France
Location of death: Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: French Reformer, influenced Calvin
French reformer, born of a noble family near Gap in Dauphiné in 1489. His parents meant him for the military profession, but his bent being for study he was allowed to enter the University of Paris. Here he came under the influence of Jacobus Faber (Stapulensis), on whose recommendation he was appointed professor in the college of Cardinal Lemoine. In 1521, on the invitation of Bishop Briçonnet, he repaired to Meaux, and took part in efforts of reform within the Roman communion. The persecuting measures of 1523, from which Faber found a refuge at Meaux, determined Farel to leave France. John Oecolampadius welcomed him to Basel, where in 1524 he put forth thirteen theses sharply antagonizing Roman doctrine. These he defended with great ability, but with so much heat that Erasmus joined in demanding his expulsion from the city. He thought of going to Wittenberg, but his first halt was at Strasbourg, where Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito received him kindly. At the call of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg he went as preacher to Montbéliard. Displaying the same qualities which had driven him from Basel, he was forced to leave Montbéliard in the spring of 1525.
He retraced his steps to Strasbourg and Basel; and, at the end of 1526, obtained a preacher's post at Aigle, then a dependency of Bern. Deeming it wise to suppress his name, he adopted the pseudonym Ursinus, with reference to his protection by Bern. Despite strenuous opposition by the monastic orders, he obtained in 1528 a licence from the authorities to preach anywhere within the canton of Bern. He extended his labors to the cantons of Neuchâtel and Vaud. His vehement missionary addresses were met by mob violence, but he persevered with undaunted zeal. In October 1530 he broke into the church of Neuchâtel with an iconoclastic mob, thus planting the Reformation in that city. In 1532 he visited the Waldenses. On the return journey he halted at Geneva, then at a crisis of political and religious strife. On the 30th of June 1532 the council of two hundred had ordained that in every church and cloister of the city "the pure Gospel" should be preached; against this order the bishop's vicar led the opposition. Reaching Geneva in October 1532, Farel (described in a contemporary monastic chronicle as "un chétif malheureux prédicant, nommé maistre Guillaume") at once began to preach in a room of his lodging, and soon attracted "un grand nombre de gens qui estoient advertis de sa venue et déjà infects de son hérésie."
Summoned before the bishop's vicar, his trial was a scene of insult and clamor, ending in his being violently thrust from the court and bidden to leave the city within three hours. He escaped with difficulty to Orbe by boat. Through the intervention of the government of Bern, liberty of worship was granted on the 28th of March 1533 to the Reformation party in Geneva. Farel, returning, achieved in a couple of years, a complete supremacy for his followers. On New Year's Day 1534 the bishop interdicted all preaching unauthorized by himself, and ordered the burning of all Protestant Bibles. This was the signal for public disputations in which Farel took the leading part on the Reformation side, with the result that by decree of the 27th of August 1535 the mass was suppressed and the reformed religion established. John Calvin, on his way to Basel for a life of study, touched at Geneva, and by the importunity of Farel was there detained to become the leader of the Genevan Reformation. The severity of the disciplinary measures which followed procured a reaction under which Farel and Calvin were banished from the city in 1538. Farel was called to Neuchâtel in July 1538, but his position there was made untenable, though he remained at his post during a visitation of the plague. When (1541) Calvin was recalled to Geneva, Farel also returned; but in 1542 he went to Metz to support the Reformation there. It is said that when he preached in the Dominican church of Metz, the bells were rung to drown out his voice, but his voice outdid the bells, and on the next occasion he had three thousand hearers. His work was checked by the active hostility of the Duke of Lorraine, and in 1544 he returned to Neuchâtel. No one was more frequently and confidentially consulted by Calvin. When the trial of Michael Servetus was in progress (1553), Calvin was anxious for Farel's presence, but he did not arrive until sentence had been passed. He accompanied Servetus to the stake, vainly urging him to a recantation at the last moment. A coolness with Calvin was created by Farel's marriage, at the age of sixty-nine, with a refugee widow from Rouen, of unsuitable age. By her, six years later, he had one son, who died in infancy. The vigor and fervency of his preaching were unabated by length of years. Calvin's death, in 1564, affected him deeply. Yet in his last year he revisited Metz, preaching amid great enthusiasm, with all his wonted fire. The effort was too much for him; he left the church exhausted, took to his bed, and died at Metz on the 13th of September 1565.
Farel wrote much, but usually in haste, and for an immediate purpose. He takes no rank as a scientific theologian, being a man of activity rather than of speculation or of much insight. His Sommaire was re-edited from the edition of 1534 by J. G. Baum in 1867. Others of his works (all in French) were his treatise on purgatory (1534), on the Lord's Prayer (1543), on the Supper (1555). He was "remarkable for boldness and energy both in preaching and prayer" (M. Young, Life of Paleario). As an orator, he was denunciatory rather than suasive; thus while on the one hand he powerfully impressed, on the other hand he stimulated opposition. A monument to him was unveiled at Neuchâtel on the 4th of May 1876.
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