Theodore Beza

1519-1605. Calvin's successor in Geneva as the head of Reformed Protestantism. Born at Vezelay, Burgundy, of a lesser noble family, his formal education was made possible by his uncle Nicholas, counselor to the Parlement of Paris. In 1534 he went to Orleans to study law, which licentiateship he received in 1539. He then went to Paris to practice law and there pursued his affinity for the classics. In 1548 he published a book of poems, Poemata Juvenilia, which reflected his interest in classicism and humanism. Later in life he edited these poems, expurgated some, and reissued the volume. While in Paris he was under some pressure from his family to be ordained, but his involvement with Claude Desnoz (whom he had privately married) complicated his situation.

After a severe illness in 1548-a physical as well as a spiritual crisis-he renounced Catholicism, became a Protestant, went to Geneva, and there publicly married Claude. In Lausanne he visited Pierre Viret,* who got him the position of professor of Greek in the academy there. Beza taught and wrote extensively for the next decade. He sided with Calvin against Bolsec* on the doctrine of predestination, and came to Calvin's defense after the death of Servetus* in the pamphlet Haeriticiss a civili Magistratu Puniendus (Concerning Heretics Who Should Be Punished by the Magistrate, 1554). In 1556 he published an annotated Latin translation of the Greek NT. He was to continue this interest in biblical textual problems throughout his life. During 1557 he visited, with Farel,* the Waldensians* and other Protestant groups, hoping to help them gain some security through intercessions of the German princes with the king of France.

Upon the invitation of Calvin, Beza went to Geneva in 1558 as a professor of Greek. In 1559 he was named rector and eventually taught theology in the Genevan Academy.* Earlier Calvin had suggested to Beza that he might complete Marot's translation of the Psalms into French, and in 1561 after translating about a hundred Psalms, they were published. In that same year he represented the French Protestants at the Colloquy of Poissy,* and later supported and advised the Huguenots during the wars of religion in France. He returned to Geneva in 1563, and on the death of Calvin (1564) the full weight of Calvin's responsibility came upon Beza. Beza was the head of the academy, a teacher there, moderator of the Company of Pastors, a powerful influence with the magistrates of Geneva, and the spokesman and defender of the Reformed Protestant position.

Throughout his life he maintained wide interests. In 1565 he published a Greek text of the NT, to which he added the Vulgate and his own translation. This biblical textual interest is further seen in his use of Codex Bezae and Codex Claromantus. He continued to defend the Reformed position as evidenced by his vigorous polemics with Ochino, Castellio, Morel, Ramus, the Zwinglians, Arminius, and others. He continued his activities in the Huguenot movement by serving as an adviser, and in 1571 by presiding over the National Synod of La Rochelle. After the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre* in 1572, he published De Jure Magistratu which argued for the right of the inferior magistrates to revolt against the government. In 1580 he published a history of the Reformed movement in France, and in 1582 he again published a work dealing with textual criticism, his second edition of the Greek NT. His biblical criticism influenced the King James Version of 1611. His works appeared in French, Latin, and English and had a wide and deep impact upon the Reformation movement during the last half of the sixteenth century. His strong defense of double predestination, biblical literalism, church discipline, and other Calvinistic ideas did much to harden the movement, and to begin the period of Reformed Scholasticism.

F. Aubert et al. (eds.), Correspondence de Theodore de Beze (1960-); H.M. Baird, Theodore Beza, the Counsellor of the French Reformation (1899); F.L. Gardy and A. Dufour, Bibliographie des oeuvres theologiques (1960); P. Geisendorf, Theodore de Beze (1967); R.M. Kingdon, Geneva and the Consolidation of the French Protestant Movement 1564-1572 (1967).