Theodore Beza (1519-1605): Poetic gem on his 76th birthday

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On the occasion of his 76th birthday, 24 June 1595, Theodore Beza (1519-1605) wrote a poem to his friend and fellow Swiss Reformed theologian Jean-Jacques (Johann Jakob) Grynaeus (1540-1617). In the poem, Beza, in humble spirit, recalls how a hen he bought had offered him more in the short space of a month than what he has rendered to the Lord in his 76 years on earth so far. Perhaps Beza had Matthew 23:37 or Luke 13:34 in mind when he wrote this poem, but whatever the case may be, this is a true gem. Below is the Latin, followed by my own loose English translation:

Ter quinos Gallina mihi dedit unica pullos

Mense uno, denis assibus empta prius.

Ast ego septenis decies, sexque insuper annis

Quos retuli fructus, Christe benign tibi?

Ah! Quam non quales tibi reddere debuit emptus

Tam care, et tanto tempore cultus ager!

At non degeneres prorsus, seseque negantes

Divini afflatu numinis esse satos.

Sed quorsum haec? unum hoc tribuas, peto, Christe, roganti:

Sis gallina mihi, sim tibi pullus ego!

Own translation:

One hen gave me fifteen chicks

In one month, having earlier been bought for ten coins.

But I, at seven decades and six additional years,

What fruits have I returned to You, benign Christ?

Ah! I have not even returned to you as much as I needed to buy it,

As much value, and as much time as was needed for the cultivation of the field!

But yet I am not altogether degenerate, denying to myself

That the divine inspiration of the Lord is sown in me.

But why do I say all this? Grant this one thing, I pray, O Christ, asking:

That You be a hen to me, and I be a chick to You!

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Theodore Beza (1519-1605): Reconciling the justice and mercy of God

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One of the chief problems in presenting the attributes of God is how to reconcile qualities which often seem to conflict in human experience. In the brief passage below we have a Christological resolution of justice and mercy from the hand of Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Beza, a noted linguist and theologian, became Calvin’s successor at Geneva in 1564. He is often credited with causing “Calvinism” to take the turn toward scholasticism, a thesis which is still subject to debate. This piece comes from a short pamphlet framed in a question-and-answer format and designed to explain the essentials of the faith in a straightforward and intelligible manner:

Q15 So that you may know this, what in God should you chiefly consider?

A15 His perfect justice, and perfect mercy.

Q16 What do you mean by ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’?

A16 They are not in God, as qualities, but through the justice of God, we know to so great an extent is the nature of God perfect, that He especially hates and most severely will punish all injustice. By the term ‘perfect mercy’ we mean that whatever is bestowed upon us comes entirely from His free grace, especially the gift of eternal life.

Q17 Yet, these things seem to contradict. For how can He be the most severe punisher of them whom He condones by His free grace?

A17 The Father has revealed to us that these things agree perfectly in His Son, who paid the penalty for our sins completely, and was freely given to us by the Father.”

– Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Questions and Responses, Qs 15-17

Theodore Beza (1519–1605) on how Christ is present with us after his ascension

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“We understand that glorification brought immortality to the body of Jesus Christ, besides sovereign glory; but this did by no means change the nature of His true body, a body confined to one certain space and having bounds (Luke 24:39; John 20:25; Acts 1:3). For this reason, He took away into Heaven, from our midst, His human nature, His true body (Acts 1:9-11; 3:21). There He shall remain until He comes to judge the living and the dead.
But, with regard to the efficacy of His Holy Spirit, as to His Divinity, (by which we are made partakers not only of half of Christ, but of all of Him and all His goods, as will be said soon), we acknowledge that He is and shall be with His own until the end of the world (Matt 28:20; John 16:13; Eph. 4:8). This is what Jesus Christ said regarding Himself-, ‘The poor you will have always with you, but Me you will not have always.’ (Matt 26:11); again, after His Ascension, the angels say to the Apostles: ‘Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven shall so come as you saw Him go away into Heaven.’ (Acts 1:11). And St Peter says to the Jews that Heaven must hold Him until the time of the restoration of all things. (Acts 3:21). For the same reason, St Augustine, following Scripture, has well said that it is necessary to guard oneself from stressing the Divinity to the point of coming to deny the truth of the body; the body is in God, but it is not necessary to draw the conclusion that it is everywhere, as God is everywhere.”

– Theodore Beza (1519–1605), The Christian Faith (Confession De Foi Du Chretien), p. 13-14

* Note: This doctrine – that Christ is omnipresent with regard to his Divinity but not with regard to his humanity (i.e. He is present with us through the Spirit) – is central to understanding the differences in the view of the Lord’s Supper between the Reformed (pneumatic presence), Roman Catholics (transubstantiation) and Lutherans (sacramental union).

Theodore Beza (1519-1605) on why it is necessary that Christ be both God and man

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Theodore Beza (1519-1605) here speaks of the necessity of Christ being both God and man, in many ways resonating the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 6. These quotes are from Beza’s The Christian Faith (Confession De Foi Du Chretien), p. 11-12:

Why it was necessary that Jesus Christ be true man in nature, in His body and in His soul, but without any sin:

“It was necessary that the Mediator of this covenant and this reconciliation be true man, but without any stain of original sin or any other, for the following reasons:

Firstly, since God is very righteous and man is the object of His wrath, because of natural corruption (1 Tim 2:5; John 1:14; Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:2-4; 1 Cor. 1:30), it was necessary in order to reconcile men with God, that there be a true man in whom the ruins caused by this corruption would be totally repaired.
Secondly, man is compelled to fulfill all the righteousness which God demands from him in order to be glorified (Matt 3:15; Rom 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would perfectly fulfill all righteousness in order to please God.
Thirdly, all men are covered with an infinite number of sins, as much internal as external; that is why they are liable to the curse of God (Rom 3:23-26; Is 53: 11, etc). It was therefore necessary that there be a man who would fully satisfy the justice of God in order to pacify Him.
Finally, no corrupt man would have been able, in any way, to even begin to fulfill the least of these actions. He would first of all have had need of a Redeemer for himself (Rom 8:2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 2:1-2). So much was necessary for himself before he could buy back the others, or could do anything pleasing or satisfying to God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6). It was therefore necessary that the Mediator and Redeemer of men be true man in his body and in his soul, and that he be, nevertheless, entirely pure and free from all sin.”

Why it was necessary that Jesus Christ be true God:

“It was necessary that this same Mediator be true God and not only man (John 1:14, etc); at the very least for the following reasons:
Firstly, if He was not true God, He would not be Saviour at all, but would himself have need of a Saviour (Is 43:11; Hos. 13:4; Jer. 17:5-8).
Secondly, it is necessary, from the justice of God, that there be a relationship between the crime and its punishment. The crime is infinite, for it is committed against One whose majesty is infinite. Therefore there is here need of an infinite satisfaction; for the same reason, it was necessary that the One who would accomplish it as true man be also infinite, that is to say, true God.
Thirdly, the wrath of God being infinite, there was no human or angelic strength known which could bear such a weight without being crushed (John 14:10,12,31; 16:32; 2 Cor. 5:19). He who was to live again, after having conquered the devil, sin, the world and death united to the wrath of God, had to be therefore not only perfect man, but also true God.
Lastly, in order to better manifest this incomprehensible goodness, God did not wish that His grace should only equal our crime; He willed that where sin abounds, grace superabounds (Rom 5:15-21). For this reason, while he was created in the image of God, the first Adam, author of our sin, was earthly, as his frailty showed well (1 Cor. 15:45-47). Jesus Christ, on the contrary, the second Adam, through whom we are saved, while being true and perfect man, is nevertheless the Lord come from Heaven, that is to say, the true God. For, in essence, all the fullness of divinity dwells in Him (Col. 2:9). If the disobedience of Adam made us fall, the righteousness of Jesus Christ gives us more security than we had previously. We hope for life procured by Jesus Christ, better than that which we lost in Adam; even more so as Jesus Christ surpasses Adam.”

Theodore Beza (1519-1605): How God has turned the sin of man to His own glory

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“There would remain nothing more for the whole world, except to go to its ruin (Rom 3:19). But God, being not only very righteous, but also very merciful, had according to His infinite wisdom, eternally established a way to turn all the evils to His great glory: to the greater manifestation of His infinite goodness (Rom 3:21-25), towards those whom He has chosen eternally so as to be glorified in their salvation (Rom 8:29; 9:23). And, on the other side, He has turned the sin of man to the manifestation of His sovereign power and His wrath, by the just condemnation of the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:22; Ex. 9: 6). As St. Augustine well says; ‘If all were saved, the wages of sin demanded by justice would be hidden. If none were saved, no-one would see what grace bestows’.”

– Theodore Beza (1519-1605), The Christian Faith (Confession De Foi Du Chretien), p. 9