He was a prolific writer and one of the most published and appreciated in the generation after Calvin. Besides translations, musical arrangements, poetry, and devotional and historical works, his production includes theological, political, and medical treatises. Goulart understood God’s Word to be the only current revelation of God to humanity.
In 1595, Simon Goulart joined the company of famous preachers who angered powerful women. The woman in this case was Gabrielle d’Estrée, mistress of King Henry IV of France, who persuaded the Protestant king to turn Roman Catholic in order to promote unity in their country. While he was at it, Goulart preached against the magistrates in Geneva who had condemned an innocent woman while allowing the guilty party to walk away free with an unsoiled reputation.
The sermon was shocking, but the church elders should have known what was coming. He had given his resignation from his post a month earlier precisely because he knew he couldn’t in good conscience keep quiet. But they kept insisting.
As expected, the civil authorities imprisoned him for a week – a mild punishment, according to the incensed French ambassador. But the Genevan government laid out some conditions: Goulart had to ask for forgiveness, promise he would stay in Geneva, and submit to the judgement of his church elders and fellow-pastors. The fact that he was asked to stay shows how much he was valued.
The outline of Goulart’s early life is typical of the lives of many scholars in his day. Born in 1543 in the town of Senlis, in the north of France, he started out studying law but in 1566, after becoming a Protestant, moved to Geneva where he could safely follow a different course of studies.
The Reformer Theodore Beza, then head of the Academy of Geneva, was so impressed by the young man’s faith and abilities that he appointed him pastor of the nearby village churches of Chancy and Cartigny. There, Goulart married a fifteen-year old girl, Suzanne Picot, daughter of a local city councilor. Together, the couple had nine children (although three died in infancy).
In 1571, Goulart was assigned to the city’s parish of Saint Gervais, where he preached his shocking sermon and where he spent most of his life.