Notre Dame: The Reformed View Does Not Weep at the Loss of Idols

William Farel

Everyone needs a mentor. For John Calvin, it was William Farel. And Farel hated idols. He really, really hated them.

Farel, who went by the first name Guillaume (William) was from the city of Gap in southeastern France. The violent Roman Catholic Inquisition eliminated the sect of the Waldensians in that region, and the vacuum allowed room for Reformation doctrine to grow. Farel went to Rome for his education and considered himself, “more Popish than Popery.” While in Rome, he discovered the teachings of Jacques Lefèvre d’ Étaples, who agreed with Sola Fide but never found the courage to leave the Romish church. This put Farel on the track to Protestantism. From there he went to back to France, and soon after, became a Reformer. From the PCA…

We are told by his contemporaries that he was rather short, always carrying about a gaunt look, and possessing a red and somewhat unkempt beard. He reminded those who saw him of the rough appearance of an Elijah. He was fiery and forceful, not given to the use of tact, impulsive in his actions and preaching, and one who roared against papal abuses. As zealous as he had once been for Romish practices, so zealous and fierce did he become as a promoter of Reformation causes…

He was a man of unsurpassed energy who traveled incessantly until old and worn, he died; always on the move, full of fire and courage, as fearless as Luther, but even more radical than the Wittenburg Reformer…

Farel hated the pope with a passion and despised all papal ceremonies. His mission in life, as he conceived it, was to destroy every remnant of popery in images, ceremonies, and rituals, which were the standard diet of those held in Rome’s chains…

He turned every stump and stone into a pulpit, every house, street, and market-place into a church; provoked the wrath of monks, priests, and bigoted women; was abused, called ‘heretic’ and ‘devil,’ insulted, spit upon, and more than once threatened with death . . . . Wherever he went he stirred up all the forces of the people, and made them take sides for or against the new gospel.” 

But Schaff also writes: “No one could hear his thunder without trembling, or listen to his most fervent prayers without being almost carried up to heaven.”

As a prominent leader in the French Protestant Reformation movement, he was persecuted and had to free to Switzerland’s Geneva. Farel’s focus was on opposing Catholicism and promoting the Protestant Reformation in Basle, Bern, Lausanne and, of course, Geneva. It’s there that several priests tried to assassinate him. When one fired a musket, Farel turned around and said, “I am not afraid of your bullet.”

ReformationSA writes…

On occasion, Farel resorted to his fists to eject the papists and seize their pulpits. It is significant that in the Reformation Wall monument, in Geneva, Farel is the only one of the Reformers depicted with a Bible in his left hand (not his right) and his right hand is in a fist. Fare was ridiculed, beaten, shot at and abused, but he never gave up. Farel was a fighter.

In the summer of 1535, Farel seized the church of La Madeleine and the Cathedral of St. Peter (in Geneva). Farel [preached a sermon against idolatry] and in response, there was a wave of destroying superstitious religious images, statues and idols throughout Geneva. Altars were demolished, the mass was abolished, and images were removed from churches…

He once interrupted a priest who was urging the people to worship Mary more zealously, and became the victim of a mob of women who were bent on tearing him to shreds

Amen and amen.

My personal favorite story of Farel was of him destroying icons of St. Mark and Mary, throwing one off a bridge after having snatched it from the hands of a priest and shattering the other.

It was Farel who famously pronounced a curse of John Calvin should he not remain in Geneva to help lead the Reformers, and it was Farel who Calvin feared enough to submit. And the rest is Reformation history.

Before Farel died, he wrote Calvin and said of him:

“Farewell, my best and truest brother! And since it is God’s will that you remain behind me in the world, live mindful of our friendship, which as it was useful to the Church of God, so the fruit of it awaits us in heaven. Pray do not fatigue yourself on my account. It is with difficulty that I draw my breath, and I expect that every moment will be the last. It is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is the reward of his followers both in life and in death. Again, farewell with the brethren.”

Albert Mohler suggested the Reformers would weep at the loss of Notre Dame. William Farel would have spit upon its ashes.