Friday, September 11, 2009

Protestant "Reformer" Theodore Beza (1519-1605): His Clandestine Marriage or "Secret Engagement"



I've already documented fellow "reformer" Zwingli's sexual indiscretions and have dealt with a similar famous scandal of the "Reformation": Luther's & Melanchthon's Duplicity & Sanctioning of Bigamy for King Henry VIII & Philip of Hesse. For a basic biography of Beza, see his entry at Answers.com. Bolded portions below were added. Desnoz has also been spelled variously as Denosse or Desnosze.

When Calvin and Beza attempted to enforce sexual morality in Geneva, we see that they frowned upon sex during the engagement period, and also upon secret "marriages" -- as documented in the book Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Vol. 1: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage (John Witte, Jr. & Robert M. Kingdon, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, MI: 2005); available in part online, to peruse.

My main purpose is to illustrate yet another example of Protestant moral laxity, even among its leaders, in order to counter the common myth that these men were of a much higher moral calibre than the "papists" they so decried and despised as moral scoundrels. Along these lines, see my paper, Martin Luther: Protestants' "Manner of Life" No Better Than That of the "Papists".

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That he did not escape contamination he has himself confessed, but that he sinned grossly he has as plainly denied. In 1544 he made in the presence of two friends, Laurent de Normandie and Jean Crespin, eminent jurists, an irregular alliance with Claudine Denosse, a burgher’s daughter, and at the time declared that when circumstances favored he would publicly marry her. His motive in making a secret marriage was his desire to hold on to his benefices. But he was really attached to the woman, and was faithful to her, as she was to him; and there was nothing in their relationship which would have seriously compromised him with the company in which he lived. The fact that they lived together happily for forty years shows that they followed the leading of sincere affection, and not a passing fancy.

(Philip Schaff [Protestant], History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, chapter, 19, § 167. Life of Beza to his Conversion)

Between the higher and the lower motives, the struggle in Beza’s soul was severe and protracted. I pass on to the events in which the conflict issued.

Of these the first was his secret marriage.. . .

Claudine Desnoz was the name of the young woman upon whom Beza’s choice fell. She was of a reputable family, but, as Beza himself admits, of a family inferior in station to his own. In view of the fact that her husband, who was by no means indifferent to matters of the kind, has nothing to say of her gentle birth, we may well dismiss as pure fictions such statements as that she was the daughter of an advocate of Paris, or the sister of a bishop of Grenoble. Be this, however, as it may, the marriage took place apparently at some time in the year 1544, and the witnesses were two of Beza’s most intimate and honorable friends, both of them jurists of distinction, Laurent de Normandy and Jean Crespin. Of the latter I shall have more to say presently. As to the marriage itself, much as the secrecy with which it was entered into must be condemned, the union, duly ratified as it was four years later in a public ceremonial, proved a harmonious and congenial one that lasted until the death of Claudine.

(Henry Martyn Baird [Protestant], Theodore Beza: The Counsellor of the French Reformation, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1899, chapter II)


See also:

The Reformation, Williston Walker [Protestant] (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900; p. 275: "secret marriage");

David C. Steinmetz [Protestant], Reformers in the Wings: from Geiler von Kaysersberg to Theodore Beza (Oxford University Press, 2001; p. 115: "secretly engaged").

To learn more about absurdly hostile and fanciful polemical treatments of the clandestine marriage (particularly by Bolsec), see: Irena Dorota Backus, Life Writing in Reformation Europe: Lives of Reformers by Friends, Disciples and Foes, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2008, pp. 164 ff.

24 comments:

Adomnan said...

As far as I can tell, Jerome-Hermes Bolsec's life of Calvin has never been translated into English. That's a shame, because Bolsec was an eye-witness of the Genevan police state and knew Calvin personally. Even if he reports rumors, he is a first-hand source for information about Calvin and about what those who dealt with him thought of him.

Apart from his life of Calvin, Bolsec is known for his dispute with the Calvinist party over predestination, after which he was expelled from Geneva.

Alister McGrath, in his biography of Calvin, writes: "Calvin, according to Bolsec, was irredeemably tedious and malicious, bloodthirsty and frustrated. He treated his own words as if they were the word of God, and allowed himself to be worshipped as God."

Well, that at least seems fairly accurate.

Jordanes said...

Honestly, when I look at Calvin's Geneva, which was essentially a religious totalitarian dictatorship, to me it resembles very strongly some of these modern cult communes under the sway of a self-appointed leader who claims to be God's special mouthpiece or instrument.

Dave Armstrong said...

It sure does. Scary stuff.

Martin said...

I don't get it. Why is a secret marriage a scandal?

BTW: Chincoteague is beautiful in the AM.

Dave Armstrong said...

He was being unethical in holding onto his benefices, and marriage is supposed to be a public, sacramental undertaking: a community celebration, not something done under a rock.

Dave Armstrong said...

Moreover, if it wasn't a sacramental marriage in the first place, according to Catholic teaching (and to a lesser extent, Protestant) it was no marriage at all; thus a state of fornication.

Hence we see Protestant sources referring to it in less than approving terms.

Ben M said...
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Dave Armstrong said...

Excellent, Ben. Thanks much for this comment. Yep, that hits the nail on the head. A lot of this sort of sexual license was going on among the early Protestants, unfortunately. Not that Catholic morality was better (not my point), but it illustrates how the Protestants were at least as bad in practice and worse insofar as certain sins were starting to be sanctioned or winked at.

These were not paragons of virtue, coming in to rescue the poor ignorant, semi-pagan unregenerate Catholic masses of folks. The exact opposite of that picture was more likely to be true.

One of my jobs as an apologist (one that I rather enjoy) is to be a mythbreaker. People get awful mad about that, too, though, if you happen to hit one of their sacred cows.

Martin said...

Ah, first I had to look up "benefices". I take it the he was accpting monies from the Catholic (?) Church that would have been denied should he marry?

Second, I had to tweak my brain back to the 1600's. His act sounded to my modern ears like someone who wnt to the Justice of Peace to get married but didn't want to tell the family until he was ready.

So i'll pound my only drum here and say the 1960's were the fruit of the 1560's and the weapon we have is the doctrine of the PVM (i'm sure this is not original with me but don't remember where I saw it-here?)

Martin said...

Oh, and the point is not that men are immoral but that Luther, and others left the Church to teach that this behavior is moral. No priest, however corrupt, could get away with teaching that his sins are white as snow.

Randy said...

Catholic church leaders were engaging in immoral acts. That is a fact often cited to justify the reformation. But did the situation improve after the reformation was over? Not really. Long term it certainly didn't. Even in the short term it is debatable whether protestant leaders were any holier.

The idea that you split the church when your leadership is bad is obvious to most protestants. But it is not biblical and historically it has not improved things very much for very long. So the best is to leave the church intact and pray for better leadership.

Ben M said...
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Dave Armstrong said...

ROFL

I chuckled today when I found some guy writing about me: "I haven't read much of Dave Armstrong but I do know that he is a tad bit controversial."

LOLOL Well, so were the prophets and Paul and Jesus. Controversy in and of itself proves exactly nothing about truthfulness or not. So it's almost as if this guy is saying nothing at all; like saying, "I haven't read much of Dave Armstrong but I do know that he writes [theology]."

The statement has no content. WHAT is controversial? WHAT are the objections? Do they carry any force of argument or weight? Etc.

Dave Armstrong said...

You're a popular guy, Ben!:

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2009/09/luther-engaged-couples-may-have-sex.html

The closer you get to me, you become the target of the person who is obsessed with everything I write . . .

Dave Armstrong said...

One of the small traditional Lutheran denominations that still remains, has a big disagreement with Luther. What to him is equivalent to marital sex, is to them grave sin:

http://www.wels.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?1518&cuTopic_topicID=33&cuItem_itemID=23322

Ben M said...
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Jordanes said...

Catholic church leaders were engaging in immoral acts. That is a fact often cited to justify the reformation. But did the situation improve after the reformation was over? Not really. Long term it certainly didn't. Even in the short term it is debatable whether protestant leaders were any holier.

On balance, we simply must conclude that they weren't any holier, and many of them were less holy.

You know, one thing I've noticed as I've researched my genealogy is that VERY soon after the Protestant Reformation, among those of my ancestors who became Protestants (i.e., almost all of them on my mom's side), there seem to be a good number of first cousins marrying -- something that never happened before, since it had been forbidden by the Church.

Ben M said...
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Ben M said...
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Adomnan said...

John Knox, another of that Calvinist crew, wasn't as bad as Farel, but he did marry a "Lolita," a girl of 17, when he was 50. It was his second marriage after his first wife died. So much for Paul's instruction to Timothy and Titus that a bishop or presbyter should be the husband of one wife, that is, not remarry.

Sometimes Calvinism could be a walk on the wild side.

Dave Armstrong said...

Men are men, huh? Calvinist or no . . .

Ben M said...
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Adomnan said...

Ben: … so, uh, where exactly does one, sign up for this, uh, Calvinist gig (just asking for a “friend")? ;) ;)

Adomnan: In Knox's case, regrettably, it was an instance of "to the victor go the spoils." It wasn't his charm.

Ben M said...
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