A Martyr in Rome
On September 9, 1560, in the city of Rome itself, and before the very eyes of the Pope, Pius IV, there was put to death for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ one Jean Louis Pascale of Piedmont, a young pastor in the Waldensian colonies in Calabria and Apulia, in the South of Italy.
For a year the zealous youth had endured the honors of the filthy, disease-ridden prisons in the several cities along the way from his bereaved flock in Calabria to that great city Babylon, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, in whose blood-stained streets he must be slain. But truly he was sustained by the grace of God. Through all that miserable period of captivity, bound with lacerating cords, burdened by a heavy weight of irons, and fed not so much with bread as with the constant taunts of the priests and their daily attempts to bring him to recant, he not only persevered faithfully in the truth, but maintained a steadfast attitude of godly joy in Christ. He could not be swayed, not even by his brother, nor could he be cast down in spirit. Comforting letters somehow continued to find their way from his cold, damp cell to his sorrowing friends and to his beloved Camilla, speaking with happy submission of the death he knew awaited him.
The day had come at long last; the crowds were thick as on a festival day, the papal entourage was seated in exalted splendor. A hush fell as the young minister came to a stand before the pile of fagots and turned to say a few words to the foes round about him. Just imagine him standing there, alone before the Bishop of Rome, whose name was the fear of the whole world, the enemy of the church of Christ through all the long centuries. Not many at all have had the awful privilege of confessing their Savior before the face of this dragon in that dark seat of his power. Pascale spoke but little; his confession bore that same boldness it ever had. He declared his steadfastness of faith in the only Savior, Jesus Christ, and hesitated not to denounce the Pope enthroned before him as being quite evidently the very Antichrist! This was enough: the command of death was given even as the Pope and his companions ground their teeth in rage. Pascale, calling upon God, Who had so marvelously upheld him in the strife, expired, his last breath wrung from him and his emaciated body given to the fire’s burning heat.
His people had not long to grieve his loss, for the Inquisitor, with fierce wrath against Christ, had within weeks utterly destroyed the once flourishing colonies of the Vaudois, and hunted down their fleeing citizens across the plains, through the forests, to the mountaintops, while hundreds of miles away, deep among the wild valleys and soaring crags of the Cottian Alps, a young Piedmontese woman mourned for the young Jean Louis Pascale, to whom she had been engaged only days before he had answered that dangerous call to labor in the shadow of dread Rome. So full of joy and zeal and youthful vigor her betrothed had then been, and now in but a short time, he was dead, his ashes mixing with the Tiber’s current, and making their pell-mell way out to the wide sea.
Was It Worth It?
Was it worth it? Is doctrine so important that it is worth dying for, worth sacrificing everything for, as Louis Pascale and his Camilla did? Should we hold the doctrines of Scripture in such high regard that we are willing to chose faithfulness to them over all else? For countless thousands in the days of the Reformation and throughout the history of the church, the answer has been a decided “Yes.” Our fathers have clung to sound doctrine with a devotion that amazes and shames us who have a calling to walk in their footsteps. Their consuming zeal for sound doctrine is almost completely alien in our day of tolerance and ecumenicity. Does it not seem strange to us at times that fierce controversies raged and hundreds, even thousands, died over such a seemingly minute question as the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? Are we not tempted at times to question the necessity of the debate over the unconditionality of God’s covenant? Did the Splits of 1924 and `53 really need to happen, or were they shameful squabbles over a couple of hair-splitting points of abstract theology?
Is truth more important than unity? It is. The argument is simple.
To know God in Jesus Christ is our life.
While the fundamental purpose of creation is the glory of God, it has pleased God, for the glory of His great name, to make Himself known to us His chosen people, and that not in cloudy obscurities or cold formalities, but in all the warmth and beauty of His own gracious covenant of loving fellowship. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”(John 17:3). Here we must make clear that the pleasure of God is not that we know about Him, but that we know Him. If we can recite the entire Catechism from memory, that is wonderful, commendable, but not by itself of any value. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me…” (Jer. 9:23). The highest glory of heaven is not the absence of grief and trouble or the reuniting of parted friends, but this, that “The tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). Then will come the final, eternal perfection of the everlasting covenant of grace, then “shall I know, even as also I am known” (I Cor. 13:12). “This is life eternal”!
To know God we must know about Him, through His revelation in Scripture.
Truth is not, >may not be an end in itself, but it is absolutely essential if we are to know our God. For as with any human case of “knowing someone,” of experiencing a personal relationship with someone, there must be a basis for it—contact, whether it be seeing someone or shaking hands, or getting to know them by correspondence. While we do not have physical contact with Him, we do have contact with him in somewhat the same way we do with someone we know by mail. He has written us a letter, a whole book of letters, in which he makes himself known to us, and tells us of His power and great majesty as our creator, shows us our natural sinfulness and misery, and reveals in all its radiant loveliness and glory the salvation that he has wrought for us through Christ Jesus. But this is not a cold note we find waiting for us one morning in the mailbox. The Holy Spirit works its truth in our hearts, through the diligent study of it, but more especially, and that with saving power (Rom. 1:16), by the faithful preaching of the gospel.
This gospel is therefore our treasure, more valuable far than unity, than peace, even than life itself, since “to live apart from God is death” (Psalter 203:5).
As the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim.3:15), so the church’s foundation is the truth revealed to her by Jesus Christ through his apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Her foundation is the gospel! Readers, your foundation, and mine, is the gospel of our Lord and only Savior Jesus Christ, what Luther called in the Ninety-Five Theses the “true treasure of the Church” (emphasis mine). It is not unity that is our “true treasure,” no, better to know God with one or two, than to go a whoring from Him with those three and twenty thousand that fell in one day (I Cor. 10:8). And it is only this gospel, the true, pure gospel that is our foundation and treasure. As for the heresies, the false doctrines, the devil’s gospels (and he has them in plenty), God curses them all in his unquenchable fury (see Gal. 1:6-9). Such abominations trouble the saints. They rob the people of God of precious comfort and solid confidence in the God of our salvation, and they rob God of his glory. (If it is taught that the covenant is conditional, though the teaching be cloaked in vague qualifications, what will happen to our trust in Christ alone? Will it not be withered, and a proud shoot of self-confidence instead spring up in one case, and in another dark despair creep in over the soul?)
By now it should be clear why one would chose to lose his life rather than stray from the pure truth of the word of God. For the sake of our souls, for the sake of the church, for the glory of God’s name—are we as concerned for God’s glory as our fathers were?—we must not seek peace with the lie, for there is no peace (Jer. 6:14; 8:11)! Until the heavens are rolled up as a scroll and the elements are burnt with fervent heat, there is perpetual battle between the woman in white linen and the woman in scarlet and purple. Zion’s foundation is the truth: let no crack appear in her bulwarks! Her peace is only through constant warfare: let not the weapons of our spiritual warfare rest, or grow dull! “In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us” (Neh. 4:20). Let us study the Scriptures, know them, and so know him, who is our refuge and our mighty fortress (Psalm 91:2). Then his truth will be our shield and buckler (v. 4), and as those who “do know their God” (Dan. 11:32), we “shall be strong, and do exploits”!
Jean Louis Pascale knew his God, and how many in glory will be rewarded for bearing valiant testimony to Jesus Christ even in the very teeth of the Pope of Rome, in the heart of that great whore of the seven mountains? No, it was not in vain, for while indeed, “the body they may ki11,” as they had that of the young pastor of Calabria, yet through it all, “God’s truth abideth still.” That is the truth for which Louis Pascale and a multitude more died, not to save it, (God forbid!) but because it had saved them (Romans 1:16), and so they loved it—not their lives—unto the death (Rev. 12:11).
May we so love it!