A few weeks before the disputation convened, Farel affixed his "Ten Theses" affixed to the doors of all the churches in the cities and towns surrounding Lausanne. The theses were entitled “Conclusions which are to be discussed at Lausanne, a new province of Berne.” (Merle 237) “On Sunday, October 1, all the bells were set a-going and a great crowd filled the cathedral.” (Merle) Farel ascended the pulpit and delivered the opening sermon which he concluded with these words:
While Satan leads the sheep astray in order to destroy them, our Lord seeks to bring them back to his holy flock in order to save them. We shall never attain real unity except by means of the truth. A safe-conduct has therefore been given all, to go and come, to speak and to hear, as shall seem good to them, for the truth must not be hidden. May it be the truth that wins the day! (Merle 238)Since all the officials before whom the disputation was to take place had not yet arrived in Lausanne, the proceedings were adjourned after Farel’s sermon to resume the following morning.
Monday at 7:00am, officials assembled in the cathedral and “presidents were chosen from among the men of Berne and Lausanne. Then Farel rose and read his first thesis, which treated man’s justification before God, developed and proved it. When he had finished, the vice-bailiff of Lausanne said aloud, ‘If any man has aught to say against these first conclusions, let him come forward and we shall willingly listen to him.’” (Merle 239)
Rather than engage Farel’s first proposition on theological grounds, the Roman Catholic canons of the cathedral raised a procedural objection to the disputation as an improper forum for the determination of doctrinal controversies. Canon Perrini asserted as grounds for his “Motion to Dismiss” that “when doubts arise respecting the faith, they must be resolved according to the true sense of the Scriptures. Now that is lawful [according to Canon Law] only to the Church Universal [i.e. an ecumenical council] which is not liable to error. Therefore, we, the provost and canons of this church do solemnly protest against this controversy and refer it to the next council.” (Merle 240)
Farel opposed the canon’s argument for dismissal of the proceedings citing both Biblical and patristic authorities, as well as the examples of “provincial councils and all their [Roman Catholic] schools and Sorbonnes, in which they hold conferences for the research of truth. (Merle) Having thus established the procedural validity and jurisdiction of the disputation as a forum for doctrinal inquiry, the participants engaged, one after another, the substantive issues presented by Farel’s theses.
On the following day, one of the lay advocates for Rome addressed the assembly. His name was Dr. Blancherose, a physician by profession, who is described in the record as it tenait de la lune (“something of a lunatic”) (Merle 242) Blancherose is worthy of note, not so much for his novel analogies for the Trinity, but because Calvin would speak directly to him in his first discourse two days later.
The third day’s proceedings began with Farel’s second thesis affirming “Jesus Christ . . . as the only chief and true priest, sovereign mediator and true advocate of his Church.” (Cochrane 115) To this proposition no one raised objection. (Merle 245) While some naïve observer might have suspected a complete concession to all ten theses at this point, the battle was just about to break loose as Farel stood to present his third proposition concerning the true Church and the “corporeal presence” of Christ in heaven. (Cochrane)
The initial volley from Blancherose, however, was pure folly. He “began to speak of the sun and all sorts of things,” and then “undertook to prove the doctrine of transubstantiation by the example of an egg, which converted into a chick, which chick is afterwards eaten by a man.” (Merle 245) Viret’s sharp wit responded, “That proof reverses the order of things. To make it applicable, it would be necessary for the priest to sit on the object transformed, as hens sit on their eggs.” (Merle) Such exchanges likely only exacerbated the attitudes on both sides of the aisle.
On the fifth day, Mimard, a serious and thoroughly prepared speaker for Rome’s Cause, rose to present his manuscripted argument containing thirteen distinct grounds for the real presence of Christ in the host. (Merle 246) His case, however, was built principally upon the bald assertion that “St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Gregory, … all believed in the real presence.” (Merle) Farel relied to each of Mimard’s thirteen arguments in turn, well-supported by notes from his associated, Calvin who, it is said:
Rejoiced to hear his friends defending the true doctrine and who by reason of his youth and his modesty has kept silent till that time…For four days he had sat without speaking, contenting himself with the part of a hearer. But he had a brave heart. That Ambrose, that Augustine, those other doctors, he was well acquainted with them. He knew their words by heart… He could not be silent any longer; he felt impelled to defend the principles which were brought to light by the Reformation. But he also wished to restore to those great men of Christian antiquity, and above all to his beloved Augustine, the honor which was due to them. (Merle 246-47)The full text of Calvin’s two discourses at the Lausanne Disputation, the first presented on Thursday, October 5, and the second, brief discourse delivered on Saturday, October 7, have been published in English translation in The Library of Christian Classics in a volume entitled Calvin: Theological Treatises, translated by J.K.S. Reid. (Copies of the relevant pages thereof are appended to this paper; J.K.S. Reid 38-46).
Calvin began his discourse with a humble acknowledgement of the sufficient replies that had already been advanced by Farel and Viret. (J.K.S. Reid 38) He then turned succinctly to a thorough refutation of Mimard’s “groundless accusation.” He did not, however, have at his disposal the voluminous works of the Church Fathers, but rather cited not only Scripture but also Cyprian, Tertullian, Chrysostom and six separate passages from Augustine from memory. (Merle 248) Next, he addressed himself to Dr. Blancherose’s erroneous interpretation of Psalm 139 and finally concluded by taking the arguments of the Roman Catholics, founded upon the words of institution, and turned them on their heads. (J.K.S. Reid 43-45)
From his first extemporaneous discourse it became clear that Calvin “knew how to capture the attention of his audience, how to hold them attentive to his words, how to appeal to their deepest fears and loftiest expectations, how to spin an argument of fine and simple beauty, how to move and compel them to action. In short, Calvin was . . . one of the grandest French orators of his time, a reputation that has since earned him the title “founder of modern French eloquence.” (Jones 12; quoting Francis Higman, Calvin the Writer manuscript, 1989) Furthermore, his first discourse demonstrated that Calvin could turn the arguments of his opponents against themselves. In so doing, he exhibited his own facility with rhetorical skills and logical analysis that he had learned from Alicati and Bude. (Jones 33)
In his second brief discourse on the seventh day of the disputation, Calvin refuted the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation by resort to a tract by Cardinal Beno that provided ready fodder for blasting Pope Gregory VII’s original formulation of that dogma. (J.K.S. Reid 45,46) Here Calvin displayed, in a concise manner, his rhetorical skills at an even more refined level. In these few words, he used “voices from the past” to buttress his own position – a notable rhetorical technique in its own right. But, Calvin did not feel constrained to use these “voices” as they had previously been used. “Rather, keeping his won discursive agenda ever before him, he assessed them in terms of their pragmatic usefulness and employed them only insofar as they served to promote what he considered to be sound teaching.” (Jones 34)