Guillaume Farel 1489-1565

                  The Elijah of the French Reformation


“A dynamic man of action who gave his whole life to the spreading of the gospel of Christ”


A fitting epitaph to a man whose belief in the truth of scripture led to persecution which forced him to flee his native France for Switzerland.



With a style of preaching that was described as being full of fire and fury Guillaume Farel was a committed iconoclast to whom pictures and relics were heathen idols which must be destroyed like the idols of the Canaanites. The Pope was “the Antichrist” and the Mass idolatrous.


Though he had not been regularly ordained Farel felt himself to have been divinely called just like the Prophets of old, to break down idolatry at to clear the way for the spiritual worship of God according to his revealed word unto man as contained in the Holy Scriptures.


Guillaume Farel was born at Gap, a small town in the Alps of Dauphine in South-East France where the religious views of the Waldensens were once widely spread, His faith came down to him from his parents and was he said more “Popish than Popery”.

Whilst studying in Paris his principal teacher was one of the pioneers of the reformation in France, Jacques Lefevre  d’Etaples who was responsible for introducing Farel to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.


Farel acquired the degree of “Master of Arts” and was appointed to teach at the college of Cardinal Le Moine, however the influence of Lefevre and studying the bible gradually brought him to the conclusion and conviction that salvation could only be found through Christ, taking the word of God as the only rule to his faith, leading to his reaching the conclusion that Roman traditions and rites were merely the inventions of man with no basis in biblical truth.

Upon his studying the scriptures he was appalled that he could find nowhere in the New Testament any traces of justification for the Pope or of a religious hierarchy, of Indulgences, Purgatory, the Mass, of the Seven Sacraments, of Sacerdotal Celibacy or of the worship of Mary and all the Saint.


His mentor Lefevre was charged with heresy by the Sorbonne and retired in 1521.

Farel followed Lefevre to Meaux and was authorised to preach in the diocese, where he proved to be far too radical for the mild Bishop of Meaux and therefore on the 12th of April 1523 he was forbidden to preach in the diocese any more.


Guillaume returned home to Gap where he made converts to his beliefs including four of his own brothers.

However at this period in time it became very dangerous to be an exponent of the Reformed Faith in France and as a result of the onset of serious persecution it was no longer safe for anyone who thought and believed as Farel did to live anywhere in France.

Farel once an ardent Papist became even more ardent in his Protestant beliefs and so he had to flee France. He went first to Basel and then on to Geneva.


It was in Western Switzerland where as a travelling evangelist he was to labour incessantly in preaching, always in motion. Full of faith and fire he was as bold and fearless as Luther but far more radical in his religious beliefs.


Opposition to Farel’s teaching from the Bishop of Geneva forced him to leave Geneva in 1532 but he was to return in 1533 to lead a Public disputation between the exponents of Roman Catholicism and the Reformed Faith. The result of the disputation was in favour of the Reformed Faith and in 1535 the Geneva Town Council formally proclaimed the adoption of the Reformed Faith.


Farel was no stranger to persecution and violence, though he never resorted to either himself. On one occasion he was fired upon but the gun burst. Farel said to the perpetrator “I am not afraid of your shots”.

Indeed, persecution and violence only led him to greater exertions in his preaching.

His contemporaries describe Farel’s preaching as being thunderous in its eloquence; he was described as being the scourge of priests.


It was in Geneva where Farel became good friends with another French Reformer, John Calvin with whom he worked from 1537 Calvin having persuaded Farel to remain in the city. Eventually Geneva came to be known as the Protestant Rome.

It was only through the steadfastness of their beliefs in the face of threats and persecution both physical and spiritual that Guillaume Farel and others were able to lay the foundations for the reformation throughout Europe.

Through his study of the bible he came to the conclusion that the dogmas of the Church of Rome were not based on biblical truths but the spurious whims of fallible man.

Farels objections to the beliefs and rituals of the Church of Rome are a constant to the principles adhered to by the Orange Institution now in the 21st century.


Farel and Calvin along with Theodore de Beze and John Knox are the figures represented on the Reformation Wall in Geneva.


Guillaume Farel died in Neuchatel, Switzerland on the 13th of September 1565.

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