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Reviewed by:
  • Registres du Consistoire de Genève au temps de Calvin, Tome II (1545–1546)
  • William Monter
Registres du Consistoire de Genève au temps de Calvin, Tome II (1545–1546). Edited by Thomas A. Lambert, Isabella M. Watt, and Wallace McDonald under the direction of Robert M. Kingdon. [Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance, No. CCCLII.] (Geneva: Librairie Droz. 2001. Pp. xxx, 416.)

If the first volume of this impressive series documented the Genevan Consistory's abrupt shift from matrimonial court to early instrument of confessionalization,1 its successor (following a lacuna of over a year) illustrates how it overcame some early challenges to its authority. The materials from October, [End Page 550] 1545, through December, 1546, still contain several vestiges of the Consistory's struggle against Catholic practices: some Genevan residents continued to recite Latin prayers, especially the Ave Maria (pp. 82, 89, 149, 207, 251), and Genevans still sold such relics of ydollatrie as wax candles (p. 287) or Paternosters (p. 315). One old artisan, a citizen of Geneva for a quarter-century, told the Consistory that "he was still the way he was thirty years ago" (p. 93). Other Genevans occasionally visited their emigré nuns in Savoy (p. 285); more of them still made pilgrimages to the regional shrine of St. Claude (pp. 87, 95, 317, 321). This latter custom led to a scandal in August, 1546, when two women re-baptized a child "Claude" after the pastor had specifically refused the parental request and named him "Abraham" (pp. 271f., 279f.).

By 1546, the most frequent items of business before Calvin's Consistory (it was indeed Calvin's: he attended almost every meeting and was often the only pastor present) involved fornication and its consequences; one exceptional case, involving one woman and forty-six men, merits an appendix (pp. 371-378). But this tribunal also began to investigate magical superstitions (pp. 65, 66, 107, 141, 166, 261), including a "familiar devil" in a mandragola root (p. 86). One finds trace elements of such other mid-1540's religious issues as Anabaptism (p. 14), the massacre of Waldensians in Provence (p. 26), or the local rural witchcraft panic (p. 154). There are "local celebrities," familiar to historians of Geneva: the last appearances of Pierre Ameaux, protagonist of Robert Kingdon's investigation of divorce in Geneva,2 and the first appearances of Jacques Gruet, admirer of Étienne Dolet, soon to be burned like his hero but by Protestant rather than Catholic authorities.

However, the major business of this second volume revolved around a seemingly minor incident, dancing after a wedding, in April, 1546. Its real significance was that the dancers came from Geneva's governing elite, including Amblard Corne, one of the syndics named to head the Consistory. Their prosecution became a test case for the Consistory's ability to dispense ecclesiastical discipline even-handedly to everyone in Geneva. At first, to Calvin's enormous frustration, all the defendants stonewalled and told barefaced lies. On April 15, with Corne's syndical colleague presiding, Corne himself had to listen to reprimands that the Consistory "would not tolerate [misbehavior by] the great as well as the small, and that everyone had lied last week, and if he had been present, the others wouldn't have dared to lie." The Syndic responded humbly, adds the register, thanking them for their good admonition, according to the Word of God and governmental edicts (pp. 195-196). Actions speak louder than words. Starting on April 22, when he was reinstated on the Consistory in order to pronounce judgment on fourteen of his fellow dancers (including his own wife), Corne presided at thirty of its next thirty-six sessions. The Consistory's moral legitimacy was permanently established—at least until Voltaire's time.

William Monter
Northwestern University (emeritus)


1. See my review ante, LXXXIII (April, 1997), 332–333.

2. R. M. Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995).



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