Farel, Guillaume

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FAREL, GUILLAUME (14891565), was an early Protestant reformer of western Switzerland. Born in Gap in the Alps of southeastern France of a poor but noble family, Farel studied in Paris and there came under the influence of the Christian humanist Jacques Lefèvre. Through Lefèvre, Farel was introduced to Paul's epistles and to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Lefèvre and his students left Paris for Meaux, where they had the support of Bishop Briçonnet, a mild reformer and also a student of Lefèvre, and of Marguerite of Navarre. Farel and others were authorized to preach in the surrounding territory. Neither Briçonnet nor Lefèvre saw a need to renounce Catholicism, and Farel's ideas and preaching were soon forbidden as too radical.

After leaving Meaux, Farel became acquainted with most of the leading reformers. In 1526 he settled in Aigle under the control of Bern, taking part in that city's religious reformation, and in 1529 he introduced the Reformation to Neuchâtel. In 1532 he visited the Waldensians and was present at the synod when they adopted the principles of the Protestant Reformation and began their alignment with Reformed Protestantism.

Farel's most significant work for the future of Protestantism took place in Geneva, which he first visited in 1532. Opposition to the Reformation was strong, but Farel persisted under the protection of Bern. Geneva came to a full acceptance of the Reformation on Sunday, May 21, 1536.

Expelled, along with Calvin, in 1538 from Geneva, Farel returned to Neuchâtel and devoted the last twenty-seven years of his life to building up this church. He continued his preaching missions in neighboring territories almost to the time of his death in 1565. It remained for Calvin, whom Farel had compelled to serve the Reformation in Geneva, to make that city the center of Reformed Protestantism.

Farel's primary contribution was that of a preacher and advocate of the Reformation. He was an intense man of passionate conviction and a powerful preacher who commanded the attention of audiences and elicited opposition as well as conviction. He is best known for his work in Geneva and the support he gave to Calvin until the latter's death. As a writer, he left 350 to 400 letters that, together with those of other reformers, played an important part in the Reformation. He was also the author of various polemical and practical tracts. His liturgy, "The Manner Observed in Preaching When the People Are Assembled to Hear the Word of God," was, according to Bard Thompson in his Liturgies of the Western Church, the "first manual of evangelical worship in the French language." Farel's best and most important work was Sommaire: C'est une brieve declaration d'aucuns lieux fort nécessaires a un chacun chrestien pour mettre sa confiance en Dieu et a ayder son prochain, the first summary of the evangelical faith in the French language. It was published in six editions during Farel's lifetime; the last was corrected and completed in conformity with Calvinist theology.


Guillaume Farel, 14891565: Biographie nouvelle écrite d'après les documents originaux (Paris, 1930) is an outstanding volume published by a committee of Farel scholars with many collaborators. Two English translations of lives of Farel by nineteenth-century biographers are available: Melchior Kirchhofer's The Life of William Farel, the Swiss Reformer (London, 1837) and Frances A. Bevan's William Farel, 5th ed. (London, 1880). An extended account of Farel's work can be found in Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, Modern Christianity: The German Reformation and the Swiss Reformation (1910; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1974) and in Williston Walker's biography, John Calvin: The Organizer of Reformed Calvinism, 15091564 (1906; reprint, New York, 1969).

John H. Leith (1987)