For reasons of practical political expediency, he exhorted his readers not to mock and enrage people needlessly, especially important political officials. Besides, he argued, the way to win people is not to insult and anger them but to show them by good example and all modesty how a Christian ought to live.1


. . . it is necessary to understand that nothing ought to be accepted in matters of religion which has not been taken expressly from the Holy Scriptures.2


Viret readily admitted that there were true Christians in a diversity of groups and that not all true believers had to agree in every detail with the Reformed Church. He had a high regard for the Lutheran movement and unhesitatingly included Lutherans in the "true Church."3


The Church will not be reformed; she shall not truly be the Church until the day when she will be emancipated from the civil power, when the authority of the minister will be recognized, when she will be disciplined according to the Gospel, and when she will clearly confess, by her faith and by her works, the name of the glorious Savior.4


To be sure, Viret could not conceive of an absolutely pure local assembly even when the strictest entrance requirements were observed, but he felt that the number of hypocrites within the local group could be kept at a minimum by observing rigorous entrance requirements and carefully screening each applicant for church membership. . . . after the individual desiring church membership made a solemn public profession of faith and pledged absolute adherence to Reformed faith and practice, he was required to sign a confession of faith and church discipline. This made him a member in good standing of the local Reformed Church.5


[Viret] advocated a simple representative system with the local church as the fundamental and basic unit in the ecclesiastical machinery of the Reformed Church. If he had had his way, the Discipline of 1559 of the French Reformed Church would have been even more democratic and republican than it was. He had advocated a more local church-centered discipline, but the ecclesiastical regulations which were finally adopted evidently were modified in the years following Viret’s disappearance from the scene. In the end, the "official text" of the Discipline of the Reformed Church of France reflected more the ideas of Calvin and Beza than it did the thinking of Viret.6

PETER: Do you think we act in mercy if, after a wolf has eaten the sheep, we have pity and compassion on him, and save him that he might eat still others?

NATHANIEL: It seems to me that this would rather be a great cruelty. For this would be to murder the sheep to save the wolves, and abuse the mercy which it is fitting to exercise toward the sheep.

PETER…. There are many who, in matters of justice, employ such love and forgiveness, in tolerating the wicked who deserve punishment, and leaving them to trample the righteous and innocent, instead of punishing them as the ought. The same also oft times happens in the Church, when we tolerate far too much the scandalous, and pay no heed to the great damage they bring to the entire Church.”

Discipline is thus the line which couples the two poles of Reformed orthodoxy: doctrinal faithfulness and conformity of life to this doctrine. Viret believed that the Church must be purified both of heretics as well as the lecherous and immoral: “The dogs and swine must be cast out of the assemblies of the Church: Those who declare themselves dogs and swine by their life must be treated in the same manner as those who declare themselves such by their doctrine.”

Pierre Viret, Instruction chrestienne en la doctrine de la loi et de l’Evangile… Tome I(Geneva, 1564), 91


I have entitled this dialogue ‘The Persecutors" because in it I show that the true religion and the true Church are never able to be ruined by the force and violence of men nor the persecution of tyrants, as violent and unceasing as they are able to make it; and the persecutors are not gaining anything, but instead of pushing back the course of the Gospel, they are advancing it and instead of destroying the Church, as they claim, they are augmenting it and confirming its advantage.7


Perhaps the reason that Viret was inclined toward the congregational form of church government and discipline was because of his own personal preference for an independent course of action. Years of finding ways and means of ignoring or evading political pressure from Berne designed to make him conform to the Bernese religious settlement for the Pays de Vaud had conditioned him for it. Also, his great personal prestige with the common people, and his intimate friendship with John Calvin and many of the other leaders of the Reformation in western Europe helped win for him a freedom from formal ecclesiastical control that few other Reformed pastors enjoyed. Although he long had adhered to the Calvinist party line theologically, he had never been inclined to follow the strict dictates of Calvinist organization consistently.8

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1 Robert Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret (Geneva, 1964), page 115

2 Ibid., page 55

3 Ibid., page 65

4 Jean-Marc Berthoud, Des Actes de L’Eglise (L’Age d’Homme, 1993), page 50

5 Ibid., pages 67, 72-73

6 Ibid., page 69

7 Ibid., page 150

8 Ibid., page 80

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Books Available

Pierre Viret The Angel of the Reformation by R.A. Sheats

Pierre Viret by Jean-Marc Berthoud