Geneva Conference Reports

An Appreciation

Not For Burning: The Marion Exiles in 16th Century Europe
3rd Tyndale Conference Geneva, Switzerland 24-26 October, 2003.

Mary Clow, Vice-Chairman, Tyndale Society
November 2003.

Snow glinted on the surrounding peaks as delegates arrived in Switzerland for the Tyndale Geneva Conference. Once again this was held at the Cartigny Conference Centre, a few miles outside the city in a charming rural setting where tinkling cowbells signalled an adjacent Swiss dairy herd. Tyndale Journal editor, Valerie Offord, had convened an impressive line-up of academic excellence, plus cultural delights relevant to our study of The Marian Exiles in 16th Century Europe.

We began immediately with a tour of the Patek Philippe Museum, a world-famous collection of watches stretching back to their original invention in the16th century. Superficially these breath-taking objects of every kind of fantastic design, richly jewelled, custom-made for tsars, tyrants, autocrats and millionaires seemed distant from the subject of the conference, until we learned that the skilled workforce was led by religious refugees - Huguenots and other Protestants. Calvin forbade jewellery, but encouraged watch-making as a useful, practical industry, which is how Geneva became the universal centre it still is today.

Back at Cartigny, after a Welcome reception and dinner, we trooped across the courtyard to the beautiful simple whitewashed chapel for a presentation by the former Director of the Geneva Institute for the History of the Reformation, Prof. Francis Higman, who was aided by choir members from Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Geneva, and their organist, Keith Dale. ‘The Geneva Psalter and Music Contemporary to the Exiles’ was illustrated with sung examples showing how Calvin’s comment that ‘music is the chief form of delight given us by God’ put the psalms at the centre of reformed worship with over 30,000 copies of the Psalter published in Geneva by 1562.

Saturday was the principal day of the Conference. We began with a lecture from Prof. Andrew Pettegree, Director of the Reformation Studies Institute, University of St Andrews, Scotland, on ‘The Marian Exiles and the European Book World’. He described to a packed room how crucial the five years’ exile had been for the development of English Protestantism and the consequences for English intellectual life of engagement with the Continent. Based on his own original research on period printing he showed charts to demonstrate the importance of different European printing centres, with England a technical backwater.

Prof. Francis Higman returned to speak on ‘Calvin and the Anglican Liturgy’. He told a story of quarrels among the Marian exiles, all appealing to Calvin (who spoke no English) as arbitrator. They discussed liturgy more than theology, Calvin protested, and after his death all sides claimed him for their own.

Prof. John McDiarmid, of the University of South Florida, took up the tale with ‘Sir John Cheke and the Marian Exiles in Padua’. Cheke was the first Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, an earnest Reformer and tutor to the young King Edward VI. He was permitted to go into voluntary exile on Queen Mary’s accession, but he became miserably homesick abroad, hating Italy and missing his wife. He moved nearer to the channel ports, was arrested and brought back as a prisoner. Cheke recanted his beliefs with great damage to the Protestant cause, and died shortly before the Queen herself.

A short paper followed by Eleanor Merchant, an Oxford classics graduate currently working on a PhD at the University of London - ‘Voluntarium in Germania exilium’ - aspects of exile in the works of Lawrence Humphrey’. A Fellow of Magdalen, Humphrey adapted well to exile in Zurich where he lived with other like-minded English scholars ‘as if at an Oxford College’.

Dr Antoinina Bevan Zlatar, currently teaching English Literature at Zurich University, next spoke on ‘Protestant versus Protestant’, exploring the satirical writings of Anthony Gilby. Gilby came back from exile and objected strongly to the return by Queen Elizabeth of the English church to the ‘Romish rags’ of surplice, gown and cap. His witty Pleasaunt Dialogve sets out the vestment controversy in popular terms, and had us all laughing.

Prof. David Daniell ended the day with ‘The Forgotten Genius of the Geneva Bible Translators’. He passionately related the lost story of the Geneva Bible, prepared by 12 Marian exiles, published in 1557 (NT) and 1560 complete, and 1 million sold by 1640. It was so much the familiar, loved text that Miles Smith (chairman of the committee for the 1611 ‘King James’) actually quotes from the Geneva Bible in his preface! Prof. Daniell left us all convinced that its suppression and substitution by the ‘King James’ was a political act.

The long, packed day was rounded out by dinner at a high quality Swiss restaurant.

On Sunday morning most of the delegates joined the congregation at Holy Trinity, Geneva, the English church which descends from that established by the 16th century Marian exiles. Appropriately it was Bible Sunday and readings were from Wycliffe (OT) and Tyndale (NT). David Daniell preached movingly on Paul’s letter to Timothy.

Lunch in the church hall was followed by a guided walk round Geneva.

Once again Valerie Offord and her team had arranged a thoughtfully integrated programme in which individual speakers referred back to each other, complementing previous papers. Delegates left with a freshly vivid awareness of a watershed period in English-speaking intellectual and religious development.

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