Fun Facts From Church History: Calvin’s Foes and the Ends they Went to In Order to Discourage Him

calvin4It took ten years constant and vigilant police oversight with combined moral and spiritual education to secure to Calvin his triumph over the intrigues of parties and the hatred of base born men. From 1545 to 1555 he felt the utmost venom of their opposition.

At one time he almost despaired and, December 14, 1547, wrote to Farel: “Affairs are in such a state of confusion that I despair of being able longer to retain the Church, at least by my own endeavors.” His opponents were of the same crowd who drove him away in 1538, and though they afterwards submitted, and in the case of one or two, even joined in the invitation for his return, yet under the fretting of his harsh discipline they began serious and offensive resistance.

They nicknamed him “Cain,” and named dogs after him; they threatened him in the pulpit, and fired guns off under his windows; even trying on one occasion to wrest from his hands the sacred elements at the Eucharist. Only an extraordinary man could have resisted the pressure.*

Just remember that the next time your Elders or Deacons call you up and tell you you’re a failure.  At least they aren’t naming their dogs after you… or…. are they?

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RT Stevenson, John Calvin: The Statesman, p. 137.

Calvin On Those Who Lie About Faith

zwingli_calvinHow does [John] prove that they are liars who boast that they have faith without piety? even by the contrary effect; for he has already said, that the knowledge of God is efficacious. For God is not known by a naked imagination, since he reveals himself inwardly to our hearts by the Spirit. Besides, as many hypocrites vainly boast that they have faith, the Apostle charges all such with falsehood. –  John Calvin

It’s not hard to imagine what Calvin would say about Trump, Moore, Falwell Jr, Metaxas, White, and the rest of Trump’s religious advisory council…

Quote of the Day

calvin87We must carefully notice these two things—that a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies.*

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*John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, 1:20.

Calvin the Impatient

calvin_budapestAlas, it is true that with none of my great and numerous shortcomings have I wrestled harder than with such impatience.  Yes, I am making some progress but I have never reached the point yet of keeping this wild beast completely under control. — John Calvin

Zwingli and Others on Harlots and Harlotry

Is it not a disgraceful thing to sleep with a woman and next morning hold mass? Answer: Can one not also do that if he has stayed with a harlot? If we had not conscience otherwise than that we so far forgetting God and ourselves should be inclined to such wickedness…  – H. Zwingli

I am now come to speak of adultery, which is a sin whereby the husband goeth to another woman, or the wife turneth aside after another man, to whom they make common the use of their bodies, which are not their own bodies now, but their mates in wedlock. Some there are that flatter themselves, and are of opinion, that they are not culpable of adultery, if they have the company of any unbetrothed maiden, or one that is unmarried; or if a woman play the harlot with an unwedded man: they will have it (in God’s name) to be fornication, and not adultery. But the scripture teacheth the contrary. Thou goest to another woman, thou art an adulterer: thou breakest thy faith, thou art forsworn: thy body is not thine, but thy wife’s; when therefore thou bestowest thy body on another, thou committest adultery. If thou, being wedded, dost lie with a married wife, thou doublest the sin of thine adultery. – H. Bullinger

… all know that no seed is so fertile in propagating mankind as the sacerdotal: for to such a degree has the untamed lust of almost all monks and popish priests burst forth, that he is justly deemed chastest who is satisfied with a harlot in his house. — J. Calvin

Never has a heathen, never a Turk, never a pope, never an emperor, and never any human being on earth made or enforced a law that anyone should be put to death because of marriage.  It is a new, unheard-of thing, begun by you new bishops, who are the greatest endowment robbers, harlot keepers, and whore hunters on earth in your chapters.  Nor do you do it for the sake of chastity, but all because others will not practice harlotry and unchastity, as you do, for you let them go unpunished. No one can believe that you conscientiously intend chastity with this penalty, since there are no greater enemies of chastity anywhere than you are, for you pursue it in your own bodies with all lewdness most shamefully, without letup. – M. Luther

Today With Calvin: In Dispute With Hesshuss

On November 28, 1554 Calvin published a tract against one Hesshuss of Westphalia who had involved himself in dispute with the Reformer on the subject of the sacraments. That was a pretty bad idea on the part of Mr Hesshuss- for Calvin noted in the Preface:

It is the property of Satan to slander, to darken the light; and as the father of contention, to destroy peace, and break the unity of the faith. Such being the characteristics of this babbler, nothing remains for us but to designate him a child of the devil.”*

Yes, it’s a bad idea to annoy Calvin, known to many as ‘Mr I-Won’t-Put-Up-With-Any-Of-Your-Nonsense!’  I like that about him.

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*The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer Volume 2 (281). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.

Motivation For Your Day From Calvin

The ungodly are indeed, on account of their evil deeds, visited by God’s judgment with [spiritual] blindness; but if we seek for the source of their ruin, we must come to this, that being accursed by God, they cannot by all their deeds, sayings, and purposes, get and obtain anything but a curse.  –  John Calvin

This Is How You Start a Book Review When The Book is Terrible…

There has come to my notice the foolish writing of a worthless individual, who nevertheless presents himself as a defender and vindicator of the glory of God, because he contests the principle that God rules the world so that nothing happens but by his secret counsel. This wretched fellow does not see that, by snatching at false pretexts for excusing the justice of God, he thereby subverts his power. This is just as if he were to try to rend God himself in pieces. For the rest, to give colour to his sacrilege, with as much malice as wickedness he remarks in his preface that God is not the cause of evil, nor wills sin. As if, when we attribute supreme dominion to God, we call him the author of sin!

So Calvin in a refutation titled Brief Reply in refutation of the calumnies of a certain worthless person.

That’s how you write a book review.  Oh for the good old days.

Danger all Around- But Providence Intervenes

NB- If Calvin were alive today he would add ‘being shot by random strangers at hospitals, schools, synagogues, clubs, and out on the street’ to his list of perils…

For what else can you say of it, when neither cold nor heat in any considerable degree can be endured without danger? Now whithersoever you turn, all the objects around you are not only unworthy of your confidence, but almost openly menace you, and seem to threaten immediate death. Embark in a ship; there is but a single step between you and death. Mount a horse; the slipping of one foot endangers your life. Walk through the streets of a city; you are liable to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. If there be a sharp weapon in your hand, or that of your friend, the mischief is manifest. All the ferocious animals you see are armed for your destruction. If you endeavour to shut yourself in a garden surrounded with a good fence, and exhibiting nothing but what is delightful, even there sometimes lurks a serpent.

Your house perpetually liable to fire, menaces you by day with poverty, and by night with falling on your head. Your land, exposed to hail, frost, drought, and various tempests, threatens you with sterility, and with its attendant, famine. I omit poison, treachery, robbery, and open violence, which partly beset us at home, and partly pursue us abroad.

Amidst these difficulties, must not man be most miserable, who is half dead while he lives, and is dispirited and alarmed as though he had a sword perpetually applied to his neck? You will say that these things happen seldom, or certainly not always, nor to every man, but never all at once. I grant it: but as we are admonished by the examples of others, that it is possible for them to happen also to us, and that we have no more claim to exemption from them than others, we must unavoidably dread them as events that we may expect.

What can you imagine more calamitous than such a dread? Besides it is an insult to God to say that he hath exposed man, the noblest of his creatures, to the blindness and temerity of fortune. But here I intend to speak only of the misery which man must feel, if he be subject to the dominion of fortune. —  John Calvin

Quote of the Day

Whenever, therefore, those things present themselves to us which would lead us away from resting in God alone, let us make use of this sentiment as an antidote against them, that we have sufficient cause for being contented, since he who has in himself an absolute fullness of all good has given himself to be enjoyed by us. In this way we will experience our condition to be always pleasant and comfortable; for he who has God as his portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to constitute a happy life. — John Calvin

November 12, 1537- The Day All Genevans Had to Swear Fidelity to Calvin’s Confession of Faith

Nothing could check the zeal of Calvin. On October 30 he presented himself to the council, and set forth various grievances. ‘The hospital,’ he said, ‘is very poorly furnished, and the sick are suffering in consequence. Geneva has a Christian school, and nevertheless some children go to the school of the papacy. Lastly it is to be feared that dissensions will arise between the citizens, for while some have taken the oath as to the manner of living, others have not done so.’ The sick, the young, and peace among the citizens, these were the matters which occupied the mind of the reformer, subjects well worthy of his attention. The council decreed—‘The hospital shall be supplied; all children shall be bound to go to the Christian school, and not to the papistical; and the confession shall be required of all who have not yet made it.’

The confession was that penned by Calvin.  And those who had not sworn to it July 29 of that year were ordered to do so November 12, or leave the city.

Calvin wasn’t one to mess around…

In Which Calvin Describes America’s Politicians

Weird how Calvin saw what America’s politicians would be like 500 years beforehand, but here’s what he says about ‘magistrates’ like those our Country is burdened with:

Some princes, careless about all their duties on which they ought to have been intent, live, without solicitude, in luxurious sloth; others, bent on their own interest, venally prostitute all rights, privileges, judgments, and enactments; others pillage poor people of their money, and afterwards squander it in insane largesses; others act as mere robbers, pillaging houses, violating matrons, and slaying the innocent; many cannot be persuaded to recognise such persons for princes, whose command, as far as lawful, they are bound to obey.

For while in this unworthy conduct, and among atrocities so alien, not only from the duty of the magistrate, but also of the man, they behold no appearance of the image of God, which ought to be conspicuous in the magistrate, while they see not a vestige of that servant of God, who was appointed to be a praise to the good and a terror to the bad, they cannot recognise the ruler whose dignity and authority Scripture recommends to us. And, undoubtedly, the natural feeling of the human mind has always been not less to assail tyrants with hatred and execration, than to look up to just kings with love and veneration.  –  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Yup, those are our politicians…

Evil Instruments of God

[So] while by means of the wicked God performs what he had secretly decreed, they are not excusable as if they were obeying his precept, which of set purpose they violate according to their lust. — John Calvin

Quote of the Day

The great and boundless licentiousness which I see everywhere throughout the world, constrains me to beseech you, that you would earnestly turn your attention to keeping men within the restraint of sound and wholesome discipline. That, above all, you would hold yourself charged, for the honour of God, to punish those crimes of which men have been in the habit of making no very great account. I speak of this, because sometimes larcenies, assault, and extortions are more severely punished, because thereby men are wronged, whereas they will tolerate whoredom and adultery, drunkenness, and blaspheming of the name of God, as if these were things quite allowable, or at least of very small importance. Let us hear, however, what God thinks of them.  Letters of John Calvin, vol. 2, 182.

Fear and Faith

When once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God.

This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power—so governs them at will by his nod—so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favour, and entrusted to the care of his angels neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to permit.

For thus sings the Psalm, “Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday” &c. (Ps. 91:2–6).

Hence the exulting confidence of the saints, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me.” “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Ps. 118:6; 27:3; 23:4).  —  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

Nicholas Cop’s Address and Calvin With Some Sheets…

Calvin’s friend Nicolas Cop had been elected rector of the University of Paris, and was to deliver his inaugural oration on All Saints’ day, November 1, 1533. At his request Calvin prepared his oration. This oration was at once an attack on the scholastic theologians of the day as sophists and obscurantists, and a plea for a reformation on a New Testament basis. Both the Sorbonne and the Parliament regarded this academic oration as an attack on the church. In consequence both Cop and Calvin were forced to flee. Calvin is said to have escaped in the garb of a vine-dresser with a hoe on his shoulder, after having been let down from a window by the use of sheets.*

You can read Cop’s address in Bd 1 of the Calvin studienausgabe.

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*Thomas Cary Johnson, John Calvin and The Genevan Reformation: A Sketch. (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1900), 19.

‘Reformation Day’? Nope. ‘Reformations Days’? Yup.

‘Reformation Day’  Nope!’

‘The Reformation’ is a misnomer if ever there were one, for in fact there was no ‘one’ Reformation any more than there was just one Reformer. ‘The Reformation’, when used by students and the general public, usually refers to the Reformation of Martin Luther which commenced at the end of October in the year of our Lord, 1517.

Even then, though, Luther’s intent wasn’t as earth-shattering as later ages took it to be. For Luther, the placement of a series of theses in Latin on the Church Door at Wittenberg Castle was nothing more than an invitation to debate. In other words, Luther didn’t see his act as the commencement of a revolution; he saw it as an academic exercise.

‘The Reformation’ is, then, little more than a label derived from historical hindsight gazing mono-focularly at a series of events over a period of time across a wide geographical landscape. Each Reformer had roots sunk in fertile ground and their work was simply the coming to fruition of generations of shift in the Roman Catholic Church.

Hence, it would be more appropriate to speak of ‘Reformations’ in the same way that we now speak of ‘Judaisms’ and ‘Christianities’. The Reformation was no monolith.

Who, then were the Reformers who gave birth to the Reformations most closely associated with them? They were Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, in just that order.

In 1515 while he was Pastor of the village Church in Glarus, Huldrych Zwingli began to call into question the dependence of the Church on the teachings of the Scholastics. He also questioned the value of the Vulgate for preaching and began earnest study of the Greek New Testament. There, memorizing the letters of Paul (in Greek) he discovered the Gospel which would come to feature so prominently in his Reforming efforts: Salvation is by grace, through faith, and not through works as proclaimed by the Scholastic theologians. By 1519, when he moved to Zurich to become the Pastor of the Great Minster, Zwingli was already well on his way to Reforming the worship of the Church and the administration of the ‘Sacraments’. In short order, within a few years, the Mass was abandoned and replaced by the ‘Lord’s Supper’ and the fixation of the Church on images was denounced and those images removed in due course.

Zwingli’s Reformation was carried out with the cooperation of the City government, which is why Zwingli, along with Luther and Calvin, were to be known to history as ‘Magisterial Reformers’. Not because they were ‘Magisterial’ but because each had the support of their city’s magistrates.

North of Zurich, in Wittenberg, Luther’s Reformatory efforts were coming to full steam around the same time. In 1520 he broke with Rome irrevocably with the publication of his stunning ‘On The Babylonian Captivity of the Church’. From there, there was to be no turning back. And here we must remind ourselves that at this juncture Luther was not dependent on the work of Zwingli, nor was Zwingli dependent on the work of Luther. Both were pursuing reform along parallel tracks, separately.

Further to the West of Switzerland a decade later John Calvin, an exile from France, a lawyer by training and a theologian by training and desire, began his own efforts at Reform. Several years after Zwingli’s death and long after Luther’s demise Calvin plodded away in Geneva attempting manfully to bring that raucous city to heel under the power of the Gospel.

Each of these Reformers were ‘Fathers’ of their own Reformation. Each was, originally, independent of the other and in many ways they tried very hard to retain that independence even when their common foe, the Church of Rome, was the target as their common enemy. Each contributed to ‘The Reformation’ in their own unique way.

If, then, we wish to honor their memory and their efforts, it behooves us to set aside our preconceptions or our beliefs that ‘The Reformation’ began on October 31, 1517. It didn’t. It began in 1515 in Glarus. And it began in 1517 in Wittenberg. And it began in Geneva in 1536.

Happy Reformations Days.

At the End of the Day, Theologians are Guard Dogs

I see a sect the most execrable and pernicious that ever was in the world. I see that it does much harm, and is like a fire kindled for the general desolation and destruction, or as a contagious disease to infect the whole earth, unless some remedy is applied.

Since, then, our Lord has called me to that office, my conscience constrains me to resist it so far as it is possible for me. And, more than that, with strong and earnest entreaties, I am seriously importuned by the poor believers, who see with concern the Netherlands of the Emperor altogether corrupted, that as soon as possible, and without delay, I put my hand to the work. Nevertheless, even after such requests, I have put off a whole year, to see whether the malady would be lulled asleep by silence.

If any one should allege that, I could well, indeed, write against the wicked doctrine, letting the individuals alone, I have my more than reasonable excuse; it is that, considering what ruin Messieur Antony Pocquet has spread in the country of Artois and of Hainault, according to the relation of the brethren who have come hither expressly on that account, having heard the same repeated here; and considering that Quintin pretends no other object than to draw the poor simple souls to that more than brutal sect, and not so much by the report of others as having heard with my ears, understanding that they are always very bitter in opposing the doctrine of holiness, to draw poor souls into perdition, to beget in the world a despising of God, judge, Madame, whether it would have been lawful for me to dissemble?

A dog barks and stands at bay if he sees any one assault his master. I should be indeed remiss, if, seeing the truth of God thus attacked, I should remain dumb, without giving one note of warning, I am quite persuaded that it is not your mind, that in order to favour you I must betray the Evangel which God has committed to me. Wherefore I do beseech you, Madame, not to be offended, if, being constrained by the duty of my office, under penalty of incurring the offence of God, I have not spared your servants, without, however, addressing yourself.  — John Calvin