Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember William Farel and his role in the Genevan Reformation.

It is the 13th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


I figured it was appropriate, being that this is a podcast production of 1517 that I scour dates and names to pick up Reformation-era characters that may have been passed over in the first four and a half years of this podcast.

And today our man is one who is often passed over, which is partly due to the accidents of history- he was a preacher and theologian known primarily for his stirring sermons- none of which survive. He was Guillaume Farel- anglicized as “William” Farel. In Geneva today, there is a monument to 4 preeminent Reformers- John Calvin, naturally, his right-hand man Theodore Beza, the thundering Scot John Knox who studied there, and then William Farel- to which many would reply: “Who?”

But it would be fair to say that the Reformation in France took place in large part because of him, and the Genevan Reformation may well have never occurred if not for a conversation between Farel and Calvin.

Farel was born in Gap, in the Southeast of France, in 1489. He studied at the University of Paris and became a pupil and friend of the Humanist Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples. D’Etaples arranged a teaching job for the young scholar who was turned on to the early teachings of Luther. Despite not being a priest, he would evangelize in the diocese of Meaux, eventually making his way to Basel. In Basel, his condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church led to his expulsion.

He went to Montbeliard, where he was “ordained” by proclamation by Johannes Oecolampadius and the Duke of Württemberg. He would preach and write the first Reformation tracts in French. His “Our Father” followed a template of Luther’s by explaining the Lord’s Prayer while explicating Reformation doctrines. He would also be responsible for the first statement of faith in French and the first French Reformed liturgy. His theology was a hodge podge of Reformation teachings with influence from Luther, Zwingli, and later Calvin. After implementing the Reformation in Neuchatel in Switzerland, he made his way to Geneva. But Geneva wasn’t ready for Reform, and he was chased out in 1532.

He would work with the Waldensians- those proto-Protestants condemned by the Catholic Church as far back as the 13th century. He arranged for the first Bible to be printed in French and eventually made his way back to Geneva, where one of the great chance meetings in history would forever change the shape of the Reformation.

John Calvin has recently been implicated in his native France in writing a pro-Reformation public address for the Rector of the University of Paris. Calvin had recently published his first edition of his Institutes, which made him popular amongst Reformers. And Calvin was on the run, attempting to find a quiet place to live his life as a scholar. He stopped over one night late in 1536 in Geneva, and Farel sought him out. He told Calvin that he needed to stay in Geneva, take a position as a pastor, and assist him in leading a Reformation. Calvin declined, and Farel told him that if he rejected this pastoral call for a life of study, he would be cursed by God. In Calvin’s telling, this greatly troubled him, and he stayed.

The two would work together on a church order- the Ecclesiastical Ordinances and Confession of Faith of 1537 and urged the City Council to require all citizens to sign it- this proved unpopular, and Calvin and Farel were chased out of the city (this is the second time Farel barely got out) and while Calvin would later be invited back Farel made his way back to Neuchatel where he would serve for the remaining 27 years of his life.

He would realize that his own statement of Reformed doctrine was inferior to Calvin’s, and he would recommend Calvin’s work to his own. He would remain not only a popular preacher but arranged for printing presses to be procured for Reformation pamphlets and books to be printed and ministered to and assisted French refugees fleeing persecution.

Eclipsed by other characters and his sermons never printed or, if so, never survived, and so William Farel would be something of a forgotten reformer. He would die on this, the 13th of September in 1565- born in 1489, he was 76 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary- one of my favorite Psalms- 121 and from my favorite, the Scottish Metrical Psalter.

1  I to the hills will lift mine eyes,

       from whence doth come mine aid.

 2  My safety cometh from the Lord,

       who heav'n and earth hath made.


 3  Thy foot he'll not let slide, nor will

       he slumber that thee keeps.

 4  Behold, he that keeps Israel,

       he slumbers not, nor sleeps.


 5  The Lord thee keeps, the Lord thy shade

       on thy right hand doth stay:

 6  The moon by night thee shall not smite,

       nor yet the sun by day.


 7  The Lord shall keep thy soul; he shall

       preserve thee from all ill.

 8  Henceforth thy going out and in

       God keep for ever will.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who likes Farel- especially that “Get Happy” song from the Minions- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who today is in Upsalla- looking for an Ikea, maybe some meatballs, blasting Abba in my headphones- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.

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