Pierre Viret (vee-RAY) was a sixteenth-century Reformer, son of Guillaume Viret, a tailor of Orbe, a small city in present-day French Switzerland. Viret, born in 1511, was two years younger than John Calvin, and one of the great Reformer’s closest friends. These two men worked closely together for many years in Geneva and corresponded regularly when Viret left Geneva to accept a pastorate at Lausanne.
While a pastor at Lausanne, Viret founded a Reformed Academy, the first of its kind in French Switzerland. At a time when Reformed pastors were virtually non-existent, the Academy played a major role in filling the pastoral void by training and equipping young men to carry on the work of the Reformation. Under Viret’s direction the Academy flourished for twenty-two years, turning out thousands of pastors, missionaries, and martyrs. In early 1559, however, trouble with the Bernese lords forced the Lausanne Academy to relocate to Geneva. Within that city the relocated professors and students of Viret’s Academy soon became Calvin’s famous Geneva Academy, which he founded in June of 1559.
After his banishment from Lausanne, Viret worked alongside Calvin in Geneva until 1561. He then, at the advice of his doctors, sought a healthier climate in southern France. Thus began his missionary journeys.
Viret traveled first to Lyon, then to Nimes, where he spent a year strengthening the persecuted Church. He then returned to Lyon, where he remained four years. His preaching was eagerly attended wherever he went, and he often spoke to crowds of thousands. In 1565 Viret was banished from France, and fled to Bearn in Navarre. Jeanne d’Albret then appointed him superintendent at the Academy at Orthez, where he remained until his death in 1571.
Viret’s life was by no means a tranquil one. He was critically wounded by a Catholic priest in the early years of his ministry, and in 1535 was served a bowl of poisoned spinach soup at Geneva. Though he recovered from the attempted murder, the poison ruined his health, and he suffered greatly the rest of his life.
Though a large portion of Viret’s time was consumed with his preaching, letter writing, and managing the Lausanne Academy, he still found time to publish. He authored over fifty books, including his three volume work entitled Christian Instruction in the Doctrine of the Law and the Gospel.