Category Archives: 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.

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…

Luther: On Love of the Bible- Or, How a Theologian is Made

Once when he was a young man he [Martin Luther] happened upon a Bible. In it he read by chance the story about Samuel’s mother in the Books of the Kings. The book pleased him immensely, and he thought that he would be happy if he could ever possess such a book. Shortly thereafter he bought a postil; it also pleased him greatly, for it contained more Gospels than it was customary to preach on in the course of a year.

When he became a monk he gave up all his books. Shortly before this he had bought a copy of the Corpus iuris and I do not know what else. He returned these to the bookseller. Besides Plautus and Vergil he took nothing with him into the monastery. There the monks gave him a Bible bound in red leather. He made himself so familiar with it that he knew what was on every page, and when some passage was mentioned he knew at once just where it was to be found.

“If I had kept at it,” he said, “I would have become exceedingly good at locating things in the Bible. At that time no other study pleased me so much as sacred literature. With great loathing I read physics, and my heart was aglow when the time came to return to the Bible. I made use of the glossa ordinaria. I despised Lyra, although I recognized later on that he had a contribution to make to history. I read the Bible diligently. Sometimes one important statement occupied all my thoughts for a whole day. Such statements appeared especially in the weightier prophets, and (although I could not grasp their meaning) they have stuck in my memory to this day. Such is the assertion in Ezekiel, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ etc. [Ezek. 33:11].”  [Luther’s Table Talk].

And that, good reader, is how a theologian is made. If your theology is empty and soulless (or Emergent and Seeker Sensitive) or your Pastor’s preaching more fluff than substance (or cute stories than the development of exegetical themes), the reason lies in unfamiliarity from and disinterest in the Bible.

Luther was the theologian he was (and the same can be said of Calvin and Zwingli, Oecolampadius and Melancthon, Bullinger and Bucer) because he (and they too) was (were) biblical scholar(s) in the truest sense of the phrase.

Tomorrow is the Birth Anniversary of the 5th Most Important Reformer

  1. Zwingli is the most important because he was the smartest and best thinker.
  2. Calvin is the second most important because he was good but not as good as Zwingli.
  3. Hus is the third most important because he’s the only East European.
  4. Wycliffe is the fourth most important because he was ok, but not really great.
  5. Luther is the fifth most important because he didn’t really reform anything that was papist.  He didn’t.  Really.  The mass was still the mass and confession was still confession and Mary-olotry was still Mary-olotry and the only thing he changed was the allegiance of Germany away from Rome.  He was a German Henry VIII.  That’s all.

But he’s cool so tomorrow I’ll wish him a happy birthday anyway.  Even though he’s bland as Barth but not as wicked (because he never went to the mountains with his secretary [and Barth’s followers HATE it when you remind them of that.  They HATE it and even write you emails telling you not to do it because they’re concerned for your well being…]).

Calvin On the Restraint of Power

We know how insatiable are the desires of kings, inasmuch as they imagine that all things are lawful to them. Therefore, although the royal dignity may be splendid, God would not have it to be the pretext of unrestrained power, but restricts and limits it to legal bounds. — John Calvin

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.

______________
*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.

On Reformation Day Tomorrow Don’t Read ABOUT the Reformers, Read the Reformers

Hop over here and read Zwingli. And here you can read Calvin. And over here, Luther. It’s well and good to read about the Reformers in secondary sources. But there’s nothing like reading the Reformers themselves, in their own words. Nothing.

The Reformers’ Hierarchy

Luther was the best writer

Calvin was the best systematizer

Zwingli was the best exegete

The Full Text of My ‘Reformation Day’ Post

The good folk at Logos asked if I might write a brief piece on the Reformers in preparation for ‘Reformation Day’ five years ago, way back in 2012.  They published my piece back then, in an edited version (shortened).  Naturally they are free to edit as they see fit and I’m happy enough with the result.

Nonetheless- here’s the full piece:

‘Reformation Day?  No!’

‘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.

Quote of the Day: Or, Why Was Calvin so Contentious?

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. — John Calvin

The Day Jerome Bolsec Began Spewing His Heresy

At a general meeting, held October 16, 1551, the minister of Jussy, Jean de Saint André, in preaching from the words of St. John, (8:47,) “He that is of God heareth God’s words …,” took occasion to develop the doctrine of eternal election, declaring that “those who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God, continue in a state of rebellion even to the end, because obedience is a gift accorded only to the elect.” He had scarcely finished speaking when one of the hearers rose up, and pronounced this doctrine false and impious, accompanying his discourse with coarse abuse of those who make God the author of sin, and exhorted the people to guard against this new doctrine as a detestable piece of folly.

This man was the old Carmelite monk, Jerome Bolsec, a physician, preacher, and poet, who, wandering by turns in France and Italy, had retired to Geneva some months previously, where he had already frequently attacked the doctrines of Calvin. Unnoticed in the crowd, the Reformer, whom Bolsec had thought absent, immediately rose up, and by a succession of testimonies borrowed from the writing of Augustine, eloquently refuted his adversary.

Arrested on account of the temerity of his language, and interrogated by the magistrate, Jerome refused to retract, and was thrown into prison. The case was brought before the Council, where he boldly maintained his opinion, adding, besides, that many of the Swiss ministers shared in his sentiments. Before pronouncing a judgment, which the ministers of Geneva earnestly desired, the magistrates wrote concerning the subject to three reformed towns, namely, Zurich, Berne, and Basle, furnishing them with a list of the errors of Bolsec, and asking their advice as to how they should treat him.*

Later Calvin wrote this letter (in the name of the reformed pastors of the city) to the Reformed ministers of Switzerland (and it’s rather long, but very much worth the read) :

There is one Jerome here, who, having thrown off the monk’s cowl, is become one of those strolling physicians, who, by habitual deception and trickery, acquire a degree of impudence which makes them prompt and ready in venturing upon anything whatever. He made an attempt, eight months ago, in a public assembly of our church, to overthrow the doctrine of God’s free election, which, as received from the word of God, we teach in common with you.

Then, indeed, the impertinence of the man was regulated by some degree of moderation. He ceased not afterwards to make a noise in all places, with the intention of shaking the faith of the simple in this all-important doctrine. At length he openly disgorged what poison was in him. For when one of our brethren, not long since, was expounding, after our ordinary custom, that passage in John where Christ declares that those who do not hear God’s words are not of God; he remarked that as many as have not been born again of the Spirit of God, continue in a state of stubborn resistance to God, even to the end, inasmuch as the gift of obedience is peculiar to the elect of God, on whom it is bestowed.

That worthless wretch rose up, and affirmed that the false and impious opinion, that the will of God is the cause of all things, took its rise during the present century from Laurentius Valla; but that in this he acted wrongly, for he charged God with the blame of all evils, and falsely imputed to Him a tyrannical caprice, such as the ancient poets fancifully ascribed to their Jove. He then took up the second head, and affirmed that men are not saved because they have been elected, but that they are elected because they believe; that no one is condemned at the mere pleasure of God; that those only are condemned who deprive themselves of the election common to all. In dealing with this question, he inveighed against us with a great deal of violent abuse. The chief magistrate of the city, on hearing of the matter, imprisoned him, especially as he had been tumultuously haranguing the common people not to allow themselves to be deceived by us.

On being brought before the Senate for trial, he proceeded to defend his error with no less obstinacy than audacity. He, moreover, made it his boast that a considerable number of the ministers of the other churches sided with him; on which we requested the Senate not to give its final decision until, having heard from your church, it should ascertain how this worthless wretch had wickedly abused your name by making you sanction his error. Overcome by shame, he at first did not decline the decisions of the churches, but began to jest about having good reason to mistrust you from your familiar intimacy with our brother Calvin.

The Senate, however, according to our request, resolved upon consulting you. Besides, and in addition to this, he was implicating your church. For while denouncing Zwingli above all others, he said that Bullinger was of precisely the same opinion with himself. He has craftily watched for a handle of discord among the Bernese ministers. We are really anxious to have this plague so removed from our church, that it may not infect our neighbours when we have got rid of it ourselves. Although it is of very great importance to us and to the public tranquility, that the doctrine which we profess should meet with your approval; yet we have no reason to entreat your confidence in many words.

The Institutes of our brother Calvin, against which he is especially directing his attacks, is not unknown among you. With what reverence and sobriety he has therein discussed the secret judgments of God, it is not for us to record: the book is its own bright witness. Nor in truth do we teach anything here but what is contained in God’s holy word, and what has been held by your church ever since the light of the Gospel was restored. That we are justified by faith, we all agree; but the real mercy of God can only be perceived when we learn that faith is the fruit of free adoption, and that, in point of fact, adoption flows from the eternal election of God.

But not only does this impostor fancy that election depends upon faith, but that faith itself is originated as much by man himself as by divine inspiration. There can be no doubt, on the other hand, that when men perish, it must be imputed to their own wickedness. But by the case of the reprobate whom God, from His own mysterious council, passes by and neglects as if unworthy, we are taught a striking lesson of humility.

Yet such is this Jerome, that he will not admit that God does anything justly unless he has palpable evidence of it. In fine, this much is fixed and conceded by us all, that when man sins, God must not be regarded as having any share in the blame, nor that the word sin can in any sense be applied to Him. Yet this does not hinder Him from exercising His power, in a wonderful and incomprehensible way, through Satan and the wicked, as if they were the instruments of His wrath, to teach the faithful patience, or to inflict merited punishment on His enemies. This profane trifler cries out that we bring an impeachment against God when we allege that He governs all things by His providence.

Destroying, in short, in this way, all distinction between causes as remote and concealed, on the one hand, and as near and patent on the other; rendering it impossible to regard the sufferings to which holy Job was subjected as the work of God, but that He may be held as equally guilty with the Devil, the Chaldeans, and the Sabæan robbers.

Our mutual relationship, therefore, demands that you will not consider it troublesome to uphold and maintain, by your countenance, that doctrine of Christ which has been outraged by the profanity of a wanton and ill-disposed man. As we confidently trust that you will do this gladly and of your own accord, we consider it useless to ply you with anxious and earnest requests; and, on the other hand, should our services be at any time of advantage to you, you will ever find us prepared to discharge every brotherly duty.

—Adieu, most beloved and esteemed brethren. May God guide you by His Spirit, bless your labours, and defend your church!*

_________________________
* J. Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin-IV (Vol. 1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Why Donald “Saul” Trump is President

farel_telling_calvin_genevaI admit, indeed, that God often acts in the reprobate by interposing the agency of Satan; but in such a manner, that Satan himself performs his part, just as he is impelled, and succeeds only in so far as he is permitted. The evil spirit that troubled Saul is said to be from the Lord (1 Sam. 16:14), to intimate that Saul’s madness was a just punishment from God. Satan is also said to blind the minds of those who believe not (2 Cor. 4:4). But how so, unless that a spirit of error is sent from God himself, making those who refuse to obey the truth to believe a lie? According to the former view, it is said, “If the prophet be deceived when he has spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet,” (Ezek. 14:9). According to the latter view, he is said to have given men over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28), because he is the special author of his own just vengeance; whereas Satan is only his minister (see Calv. in Ps. 141:4).

Ponder that…

Calvin and Death: RefoThursday

A great entry in the series by Herman Selderhuis:

John Calvin saw death daily.  In his day people regularly died in the streets, many babies died at birth, and dead bodies could be seen carted away in the city or left lying where they fell on European battlefields.

More significant for Calvin himself, however, was the death of his mother, Jeanne, in 1515, leaving him motherless at six. The death of a six-year-old’s mother has an enormous emotional impact, whether the child lives in the twenty-first century or in the sixteenth century.

Read it all.

Quote of the Day

All theology, when separated from Christ, is not only vain and confused, but is also mad, deceitful, and spurious. – John Calvin

Looking For Calvin’s Grave

In case you didn’t know- Calvin was buried in an unmarked grave; Zwingli was hacked to bits and his body burned and the ashes scattered, and Luther was buried in the Church. So we know where Luther’s buried, we know where the Papists slaughtered and dismembered Zwingli, but we don’t know where Calvin was laid to rest. So this is an interesting foray into the quest for Calvin’s grave:

Quote of the Day

Since It’s ‘Marburg Colloquy’ Day, And I’m Thinking About the Meaning of the Lord’s Supper…

Let’s hear what Calvin said on the matter in 1559- 30 years after the colloquy-

The presence of Christ in the Supper we must hold to be such as neither affixes him to the element of bread, nor encloses him in bread, nor circumscribes him in any way (this would obviously detract from his celestial glory); and it must, moreover, be such as neither divests him of his just dimensions, nor dissevers him by differences of place, nor assigns to him a body of boundless dimensions, diffused through heaven and earth.

Right!

Calvin’s Explanation of the ‘Nones’

Calvini_Opera_OmniaThese … are the mighty works of the Lord, perfected to his desires, and so wisely perfected that, when the angelic and human creation had sinned, that is had done not what God willed but what it itself willed, even through the same creaturely will by which was done what the Creator did not wish, he fulfilled what he willed, as the supreme good using even evil deeds well, for the damnation of those whom he justly predestined to punishment, and for the salvation of those whom he graciously predestined to grace. As regards themselves, they did what God did not will; as regards God’s omnipotence, they were by no means able to prevail against it. In this itself they did what was against the will of God; yet through them God’s will was done. — John Calvin

Fun Facts From Church History: Geneva to Zurich, on Servetus

To the Burgomaster and Council of Zürich.
Geneva, September 22, 1553.

High and mighty Lords!—We know not if your Lordships are aware that we have in hand a prisoner, Michael Servetus by name, who has written and had printed a book containing many things against our religion. This we have shown to our ministers; and, although we have no mistrust of them, we desire to communicate the work to you, in order that, if it so please you, you may lay it before your clergy, together with the replies and rejoinders that have been made in connection therewith. We therefore pray you to be good enough to submit the documents now sent to your ministers and request them to give us their opinion of their merits, to the end that we may bring the business, to which they refer, to a close.

Zurich (that is, Bullinger) responded in agreement with Geneva: the heresy must be expunged along with the heretic.