Theodore Beza: Super Calvinist

Biographical Sketch of Theodore Beza

(1519–1605)

by Lindsey Lamay

theodore-de-beze-2

Summary of Life:

Early Life/Pre-Conversion

He was born on June 24, 1519 in France to Pierre de Beze (the royal governor of Vezelay) and Marie Bourdelot

He was the youngest of 7 kids.

1522: His mother dies and he goes to live with his rich uncle in Paris ( he was three years old).

1528: He is sent to study under Melchior Wolmar in Orleans.

1539: Graduates at the age of 20 from the University of Orleans with a degree in law and moves to Paris, surrounding himself with humanists.

1544: He was secretly married to Claudine Denosse because of her lower class

Life as a Christian

1548: Juvenilia is published.

Beza fell ill and was close to death. It is in light of this peril that he recognized his spiritual depravity and was converted to faith in Christ. While he was still recovering, he packed up his life and moved to Geneva with Claudine so that he could openly profess his faith. It is here that he openly acknowledged his marriage to Claudine.

1549: He became a professor of Greek at the Lausanne academy

Beza spent several years utilizing his high position to defend the Protestant movement and those who were being persecuted because of their Protestant faith.

1558: Beza resigns his position at Lausanne and returns to Geneva to assume the position of Greek professor at the academy which Calvin had founded in Geneva.

1559: He went to Heidelberg to defend the Huguenots (members of the French Reformed Church)

He also defended Calvin against Joachim Westphal.

1562-1563: A war began between The Prince of Conde and the Duke of Guise during which Beza was the almoner and treasurer of the Huguenot army for seven months.

1564: Calvin died and Beza preached his funeral sermon.

Beza became the moderator of the Company of Pastors in Geneva, assumed the chair of theology at the academy, after the death of Calvin.

1572: Throughout France there was a massacre of Protestants. They began to seek refuge in Geneva and Beza welcomed them with open arms.

1586: A conference is held at Montbeliard to try and reconcile differences between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. Here Beza clearly articulated the Calvinist position and though he reached out to the Lutheran delegate, Andrea, his gesture was rejected and the tension between the two parties remained unresolved.

He gives up his daily preaching and only preached once a week until 1600.

1588: Claudine dies

Beza debated the Lutheran representative Samuel Huber at the Bern Colloquy. Beza won the debate.

1595: Beza resigns his post as a professor at the academy.

He began to lose his hearing and memory.

1600: He rendered his last services to the Academy and preached his last sermon. It was the only sermon to be preached in the seventeenth century by a sixteenth century reformer.

Beza died on October 13, 1605 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Influence and Recognition:

Influenced by:

  • Melchior Wolmar was a humanist who taught Beza during his childhood before Beza’s father made him go off to law school. Wolmar became involved in the reformed movement and was responsible for teaching Beza Greek and Latin and educating Beza in the reformed beliefs. At the time, Beza rejected the theology of the reformation because he refused to give up Catholicism, but he later acknowledged how foundational Wolmar’s teaching was in his salvation process. Beza dedicated his writing stating the grounds for his faith to Wolmar. Wolmar also taught John Calvin in Calvin’s young adulthood.
  • John Calvin: Beza adopted Calvin’s theology and was and advocate for it until his death. Beza even expounded upon some of Calvin’s doctrines. He was Calvin’s understudy and successor. The affection shared between these two men is sometimes equated to the love between Paul and Timothy.
  • Latin poets

Influenced:

  • Beza’s editions of the Bible were used by the King James’ revisers.
  • William Perkins, a theologian from Cambridge.

Key Theological Ideas:

  • Supralapsarianism is the belief that God ordained that some people be predestined salvation and the rest to damnation before Adam and Eve fell and that the fall was ordained by God.
  • He would not budge on Calvin’s view if the Lord’s Supper or baptism.
  • He polished Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper by arguing that the bread and wine should be considered in their relation to Christ’s flesh and blood.

Known for:

  • Being John Calvin’s successor in Geneva
  • Teaching Calvin’s theology clearly and expounding upon it. Some believe that he took Calvin’s beliefs too far.
  • Being an influential writer and defender of the Reformation
  • Defending the French Protestants (Huguenots). He even asked Queen Elizabeth I to aid him in this effort.

Works:

Biography:

  • The Life of Calvin (1567)

Poetry:

  • Juvenilia (1548): This work brought him recognition as one of the best writers of Latin poetry

Articles/Treaties

  • De Jure Magistratum (On the Rights of the Magistrate, 1572)
  • De vera excommunicatione et Christiano presbyterio (1590)
  • Du droit des Magistrats sur leurs subjets (1574) was published anonymously after the massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day. He claims in it that all authority comes from God and that rulers are to care for the people under them.
  • Theological Treatises

Books:

  • Summa totius Christianismi (1555) was his major work on Supralapsarianism.
  • Tractationes Theologicae (1582) is recognized as one of Beza’s greatest works. In it he explains the Calvinistic view of the sovereignty of God.
  • Confession de la foi chrétienne (1559) is an explanation of the Calvinist beliefs.
  • A Little Book of Christian Questions and Responses
  • Abraham sacrifiant (a play)
  • Histoire Ecclesiastique des Eglises Reformes au Royaume de France (1580)
  • Codex Bezae

Other:

  • Edition of the Greek New Testament (1582).
  • French translation of the New Testament (with Calvin)

Secondary Sources:

  • Baird, Henry Martyn. Theodore Beza, The Counsellor of the French Reformation. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899. Print.
  • Baum, Johann Wilhelm. Theodor Beza nach handschriftlichen Quellen dargestellt. Leipzig, 1843.
    • This is the most thorough and scholarly work on Beza’s life.
  • Heppe, Heinrich, Theodor Beza, Leben und ausgewahlte Schriften. Elberfelt, 1861.
  • Schlosser, F. C., Leben des Theodor de Beza und des Peter Martyr Vermili. Heidelberg, 1809.

Bibliography:

  • Baird, Henry Martyn. Theodore Beza, The Counsellor of the French Reformation. New    York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899. Print.
  • F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian     Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 199.
  • Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. Vol. 1. New        York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Schaff, Philip, and David S. Schaff. 1949. History of the Christian Church. Vol. 8. Grand   Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1949.
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodore-Beza

 

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