On this episode, we are talking about the “angel of the Reformation.” Do you know who that is? If you give up, I’ll be glad to tell you. It is Pierre Viret. He was born in 1511, and he grew up in a little village just about fifty miles north of Geneva, in French-speaking Switzerland. His father was a tailor and noticed his son’s penchant for studying and interest in theology and religion, so he set young Pierre off to study at the University of Paris.
Viret was sent there to study to become a Roman Catholic priest, but while there, he was converted after being exposed to the gospel and the doctrines of the Reformation. He was brought from darkness into the knowledge of the faith. After his studies, he needed to leave Paris to escape persecution, and he made his way back to his hometown.
At this time, his hometown was in a total uproar and conflict between the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and the new teachings of the Reformation. William Farel, who played a role in the Swiss Reformation, and certainly a role in Calvin’s life, also played a role in the life of Pierre Viret. Farel convinced Viret to stand up and preach in his hometown, and Viret did it. He preached his first sermon there in 1531. He was all of twenty years old. Immediately, that sermon and his subsequent preaching had an impact. So, I guess Farel’s instincts were right— Viret was the right man for the job.
As we look at Viret’s career as a Reformer, we can mention four things. First, he suffered for the gospel. At one point, Viret was attacked by a monk with a sword. Viret was traveling at night, and the monk attacked him, slashed him, and left him by the side of the road for dead. He was found and he was nursed back to health. He was put on trial a few times. He was captured and held in a castle by Roman Catholic forces. At one point, he was even poisoned. Someone came into his house under the guise of being a Huguenot, won him over, and then tried to kill him by poisoning him. He suffered greatly for it for a few months. They weren’t sure he was going to live, and he suffered for the rest of his life from that time of being poisoned. So, one of the things we see in this angel of the Reformation is that he suffered for the gospel.
Secondly, he was known as the “Reformer of Lausanne.” As Calvin was to Geneva, Viret was to the Swiss city of Lausanne. He preached in the church there, and not only did he preach to the congregation, but he trained a whole generation of ministers. He established the Academy there in 1537. Calvin would go on to use it as a model for his Academy at Strasbourg, and then later at Geneva. The Academy taught theology, Greek and Hebrew, philosophy, literature, ethics, and mathematics. For decades, the Academy trained students and sent them all over Europe, and the doctrines of the Reformation went with them.
Thirdly, Viret was known as the “Angel of the Reformation.” This was due to his winsomeness, his preaching ability to almost mesmerize a crowd with his handling of the truth, and it was also because he was able to bring peace to challenging situations.
And fourthly, Pierre wrote a catechism. In 1563, he published a large, three-volume work entitled Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Law and the Gospel. A year later, he boiled all that down and reduced it down to a handy little catechism that he published in 1564. This is long before the Westminster Catechism, but here’s what Viret asks in the very first question, “What is the chief purpose why God created man in His image and likeness?” Answer, “To be worshiped and honored by him.” Then he asks, “What is the honor in worship which He requires of man?” Answer, “True obedience to his holy will.” That’s the catechism of Pierre Viret, the angel of the Reformation.