Aug 28, 2014

Pierre Viret, The Forgotten Protestant Leader

Viret is largely forgotten in history because of the Jesuit led massacre of French Protestants (the Huguenots) in France. in the 16th century.  Had the reformation been allowed to continue it's growth in France as it did in Germany, Holland and England, Viret likely would have been remembered alongside Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

Pierre Viret Ordered Out of France
Pierre Viret was the most popular preacher in sixteenth century France. Among the cities which invited him to preach were Paris, Orleans, Avignon, Montauban, and Montpellier. He was established at Nimes at the time. Pierre accepted Montpellier's offer, believing Christ wanted him there; and he converted almost the whole faculty of the city's medical college to Reformation Christianity. But unlike Calvin, Knox and other reformers, Pierre Viret's name gets almost no recognition today.
Curiously enough, he was not even a Frenchman. He was born in the little Swiss town of Orbe in 1511. His parents were poor, but Pierre took advantage of a free education to begin his life of scholarship. Eventually he attended the University of Paris. As in Switzerland, some of his teachers were Lutheran sympathizers and he became a convert to Reformation faith.

William Farel, the same man who later convinced John Calvin to become a preacher, convinced Pierre too. From then on, his whole life was dedicated to godliness and spreading the gospel. He was so effective that Catholic enemies tried to stab him to death; he was severely wounded. Later, Catholics poisoned his spinach. He survived, but he suffered stomach problems ever afterward.
A beautiful thing about Pierre was that these ugly attacks and the riots that accompanied his sermons, did not warp his spirit. To the contrary, he preached just as lovingly to his enemies as ever. Although he was staunchly Protestant, he labored to bring about reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants.

For many years he worked in Lausanne and Geneva before beginning his work in France. Thousands attended his sermons. Whole regions came to Christ under his teaching. Although we often describe the Huguenots as French Calvinists, many were actually converts to Pierre's slightly different teachings. (For instance, he viewed the Lord's Supper as more symbolic than Calvin did.) When Pierre was at Lyons in Southern France, Catholics regained control of that region. On this day, August 27, 1565 Pierre received a notice telling him to get out. He went to Navarre which was ruled by the Protestant queen, Jeanne d'Albret.

A few years later, Pierre and eleven other ministers were captured by the Catholics. Seven were executed. Pierre, however, was allowed to live because the commander had heard so much good about him from other Catholics.

Pierre suffered many things in his life. His first wife and his children by her died of plague. His second wife and two children also died of plague. These griefs made him a sympathetic figure to those with similar sufferings. Despite ill health, Pierre preached countless sermons and wrote about fifty books. He died at the age of sixty, worn out with hard work and suffering.

  1. Linder, Robert D. "Forgotten Reformer." Christian History.
  2. "Viret, Pierre." Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation.
  3. Various internet articles.
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