Pierre Viret: the angel of the Reformation
R. A. Sheats
Zurich Publishing, 324 pages, $22
Star Rating : 4
Rebecca Sheats’ book presents the life and work of the Swiss reformer, who sadly has been overshadowed by Calvin, his Genevan colleague and friend.
Viret’s life (1511-1571) was momentous and full of conflict — he even survived a Catholic poison attempt that ruined his health. His work, written in French, was voluminous; he authored nearly 50 books, with an average of 500 pages each.
The locations of his ministry included Lausanne, where he founded the academy before being expelled, Geneva, Lyon, Nimes, Montpellier and the Béarn. His influence on the growing Reformed churches in France was considerable. Known for his irenic attitudes toward his opponents and his encouragements to believers suffering persecution, he stands out for his peaceable nature at a time characterised by religious violence.
This book is to be recommended for several reasons. Firstly, it makes Viret known to an English speaking audience largely ignorant of his work because of the language barrier, and so fills a vacuum.
Rebecca Sheats translates many quotations and the titles of Viret’s works and therefore makes him accessible in English for the first time since the sixteenth century, when such volumes as his A Christian Instruction, conteyning the law the Gospell were translated (1573). The result is that Calvin no longer stands as an isolated giant, but becomes one among other figures of stature.
Secondly, the fine presentation, with a good many maps, historical plates and views of geographical locations, brings the faces and places of Viret’s ministry to life. Perhaps a chapter on Viret’s theology would have been a helpful addition, but the reader can consult Jean-Marc Berthoud’s Pierre Viret: A forgotten giant of the Reformation, published by the same editor in 2010.
Finally, this is no academic treatise, but a piece of lively writing that constantly brings to the fore the way God’s providence works through historical circumstances, for the good of his servants and people. As such, it is edifying in a way fitting to the subject matter and it leads us to pray that the Lord would again raise up such leaders in his church.