Theodore Beza

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BEZA, THEODORE (15191605), Reformed theologian and successor to John Calvin as moderator of the Venerable Company of Pastors in Geneva, Switzerland. Born Théodore de Bèze and raised in Paris, he was trained as a lawyer (at Orléans) but preferred the company of humanists. His first publication, Poemata, evidenced considerable poetic talent. Upon his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism in 1548, Beza fled France and, as a professor of Greek, joined Pierre Viret at the academy in Lausanne, Switzerland. Meanwhile, the French Parlement declared Beza an outlaw, confiscated his goods, and burned his effigy in Paris. It was at Lausanne that Beza wrote A Tragedie of Abraham's Sacrifice (1559; Eng. trans., 1575), the first biblical tragedy (a genre later utilized by Racine), as well as his theologically significant Tabula praedestinationis (1555), translated the following year as A Briefe Declaraccion of the Chiefe Poyntes of the Christian Religion, Set Forth in a Table of Predestination. The subject of predestination created such heated disputes that Viret and Beza left Lausanne in 1558. John Calvin then appointed Beza rector of the newly founded Academy of Geneva, a post that he held formally from 1559 to 1562, but Beza effectively directed the academy until he retired as professor of theology in 1599. Beza began three other significant works in Lausanne, which he continued in Geneva: the completion of the translation of the Book of Psalms, begun by the French poet Clément Marot; his New Testament commentaries; and his Confession of the Christian Faith (Fr., 1559; Lat., 1560). Beza's confession of faith was translated into every major European language and had a wide influence as a simple expression of Reformed belief.

In 1561, Beza was the primary spokesman for the French Reformed churches at the Colloquy of Poissy, summoned by Catherine de Médicis in the vain hope of preventing the bloody Wars of Religion, which broke out in 1563. In 1564, the dying Calvin designated Beza to succeed him as moderator of the Venerable Company of Pastors in Geneva, and Beza began his long career as the most influential pastor of the Genevan church and therefore of the Reformed French churches, for which Geneva trained pastors. From 1564 to 1599, Beza held the only regular chair in theology at the academy. His work included lectures, sermons, polemical and systematic publications, and numerous colloquies with Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Beyond his professorial and pastoral duties in Geneva, Beza advised the French Huguenot leaders, including Henry of Navarre (Henry IV), traveled to defend Reformed theology and church discipline, and, almost singlehandedly, kept the academy functioning during the sieges of Geneva by Savoy.

Out of his efforts to assist the Huguenots came his On the Right of Magistrates (1574), an important treatise for the history of political theory that supported the God-given right of the people through their magistrates to rebel against royal leaders if these latter were seriously misleading and mistreating the people. While with the Huguenot troops, Beza discovered what was at that time considered the oldest extant New Testament manuscript (the Codex Bezae), which Beza later sent to Cambridge University in an effort to gain Queen Elizabeth's support for the Huguenots and for plague-ridden and besieged Geneva.

As has been true of Calvin studies, Beza scholars dispute the degree to which the doctrine of predestination underlies all of Beza's theology. Scholars also disagree on the influence of Beza's work on the development of Reformed scholasticism in the seventeenth century. Beza's original contribution regarding the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, in which he taught the presence of Christ through the category of "relation" rather than of "substance," went unnoticed until the 1960s. Beyond dispute, however, is the contribution Beza made to the stability of the church and the Academy of Geneva for nearly forty years following Calvin's death.


Beza's works are largely unavailable except as rare books. Most of his major treatises were rapidly translated into English and can be found in sixteenth-century editions. Beza collected his own most significant theological treatises in three volumes: collectively titled Theodori Bezae Vezelii, they are Vol. tractationum theologicarum (Geneva, 1570); Vol. alterum tractationum theologicarum (Geneva, 1573); and Vol. tertium tractationum theologicarum, 3 vols. in 1 (Geneva, 1582). Beza's correspondence is being meticulously edited in Geneva and published by Librairie Droz, 24 vols. to date (Geneva, 1960).

A bibliography of Beza's works, which omits his biblical commentaries, has been gathered in Frédéric L. Gardy's Bibliographie des œuvres théologiques, littéraires, historiques et juridiques de Théodore de Bèze (Geneva, 1960). The standard biography is Paul F. Geisendorf's Théodore de Bèze (Geneva, 1967).

Jill Raitt (1987)

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John calvin's chief assistant and successor as leader of Reformed protestantism; b. Vézelay, France, June 25, 1519; d. Geneva, Oct. 13, 1605. Beza was born of a minor Burgundian noble family and received an excellent education in classical literature and law at Orléans, Bourges, and Paris; he was awarded several benefices while a student. In 1548 he moved to Geneva, announced his conversion to Protestantism, and married. Beza served the Reformed Church as professor of Greek at the Lausanne Academy (154958), professor of theology (155999) and first rector (155963) of the Geneva Academy, and pastor of the Geneva church (15591605) and moderator of its company of pastors (156480). He also served his church in a number of diplomatic missions to Protestant Germany, Protestant Switzerland, and France. He headed the Protestant delegation at the Colloquy of poissy (1561), an attempt to reconcile Catholics and Protestants under royal auspices, and saw it founder over disagreements on eucharistic theology. He was an adviser to the princes who led the huguenot armies in the French wars of religion. He fought successfully for tighter ecclesiastical discipline at several national synods of the French Reformed Church, over one of which he presided (La Rochelle, 1571). Beza probably served his church most effectively, however, with his voluminous and varied publications, many of them distinguished by substantial erudition and an elegant Latin style. His writings include (1) several editions of an annotated New Testament, based on an important manuscript Greek text (the Codex Bezae), rather freely translated into Latin, with extensive notes providing a Calvinist interpretation of the text; (2) translations of the Psalms into French, prepared jointly with Clément Marot, widely used in Reformed liturgies then and since; (3) polemical tracts, vehemently defending key Calvinist doctrines on such issues as double predestination, the Eucharist, and the necessity of persecuting heretics, against adversaries of Catholic, Lutheran, and Sacramentarian persuasions; (4) popular works, including anti-Catholic satirical pieces and short biographies, such as one of Calvin; (5) political tracts, notably Du droit des magistrats, a defense of the right to resist and even overthrow governments for religious reasons; (6) collections of Latin poems, some of them quite secular in tone; and (7) manuals for the study of Greek and French. Many of these works were published in both Latin and French, and a good number were also translated into other vernacular languages. They provide further evidence of Beza's great contemporary influence not only in his native France and in Switzerland, but also in England, the Protestant Netherlands, parts of Rhenish Germany, and parts of central Europe. Altogether he made the Reformed movement more tightly organized, more active in politics, more intellectual, and more rigid.

Bibliography: t. beza, Correspondence, ed. f. aubert et al. (Geneva 1960 ). m. h. vicaire, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, j. hofer and k. rahner eds., 10 v. (2d new ed. Freiburg, 195765) 2:331332. o. e. strasser, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:1117. h. m. baird, Theodore Beza (New York 1899). p. f. geisendorf, Théodore de Bèze (Geneva 1949). f. gardy and a. dufour, Bibliographie des oeuvres de Théodore de Bèze (Geneva 1960).

[r. m. kingdon]

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Beza, Theodore (1519–1605). French-born successor to Calvin in Geneva as the leader of Reformed Protestantism (see REFORMATION). Educated for a legal career, he renounced Roman Catholicism after a severe illness in 1548. Academically, he devoted himself to biblical study, especially to study of the Greek text. During the wars of religion (1560–98) he provided a theological argument and basis for resistance to usurped political authority. His strong defence of biblical literalism, double predestination and firm church discipline laid deep foundations for Calvinism and initiated what has been called ‘Reformed Scholasticism’. However, the precise connection of Beza with this has been much disputed.