Category Archives: Calvin


Today is ‘Holy Cross Day’ across the globe.  It’s the day commemorating the ‘discovery’ of the ‘true cross’ by Helen in her little trip to the ‘Holy Land’…

So many bits of the ‘true cross’ were scattered across Europe that in the day of Calvin, in France, they were carried in processions and venerated by the faithful and treated with contempt by Calvin himself –

‘Here comes the true cross!’ Again there was a rushing and shouting, citizens and strangers crushing one another.—‘It is not the only one,’ said the reformer, ‘there is no petty town or paltry church where they do not show you pieces; and if all were collected together, there would be a load for a great barge, and three hundred men could not carry it.’

His biographer goes on to remark more fully

In 1544 he published a little treatise which he calls “An Admonition,” showing the advantages which Christendom might derive from an Inventory of Relics. It is one of his most popular productions and affords unlimited range for his powers of irony and sarcasm.

He begins by saying it would be a good thing to catalogue all the relics which are said to exist in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and other countries, and he suggests that as the monks have very little to do they might employ their time usefully in making such a catalogue. He himself has no complete knowledge, but he is aware that if all the relics throughout Christendom were catalogued, it would be seen that every apostle had four bodies at least, and every saint two or three. The relics of Christ are very numerous.

Besides the teeth and hair, the monks of Charrox give out that they have the piece of skin cut off at His circumcision. His natural blood is shown at a hundred places, sometimes in drops and sometimes in goblets-full. In Rome there is the manger in which He was laid at His birth, the linen in which He was swaddled, His cradle, and His shirt, and the altar on which He was presented in the temple. Elsewhere may be seen the waterpots of Cana, the wine with which they were filled, the bread used at the Last Supper, the dish in which the Paschal Lamb was placed, the knife with which it was cut up and the towel used to wipe the disciples’ feet. No less than fourteen nails are shown as the nails used in the crucifixion. What remains of the crown of thorns would make a substantial hedge, and what remains of the true cross would fill a ship.

The purple robe in which Christ was exhibited to the people is shown at two places. Relics of the saints are even more numerous. There are the milk of the Virgin Mary, the shoes of Joseph, the sword with which the Baptist was beheaded, and so on. Anna, mother of the Virgin, has one of her bodies at Apte in Provence, and another in the Church of St. Mary Insulan at Lyons. Besides, she has one of her hands at Treves, another at Turin, and a third at a town in Thuringia which takes its name from it. Lazarus likewise has three bodies, one at Marseilles, another at Austum, and a third at Avallon.

The entire body of Petronilla, St. Peter’s daughter, lies in the church at Rome dedicated to her father, but there are some separate remains in the Church of St. Barbara, and there is another of her bodies in the possession of the people of La Maine. It is alleged to cure fevers. What evidence can be produced to show which if any of these relics is genuine? At present you may be worshipping the bones of a horse or a dog when you believe that you are worshipping those of a saint. Nor can the ring and comb and girdle of the Virgin Mary be revered without the risk of discovering that the articles in question were really some part of the dress of a strumpet. For those who profess the name of Christ the best thing is to abolish the heathenish custom altogether as a thing that leads to idolatry and that is offensive to God.*

The absurdity of relic adoration is plain for all to see if they but have one good eye.

*Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin: His Life, Letters, and Work (London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), 212–213.

Quote of the Day

Peace is not to be purchased by the sacrifice of truth. – John Calvin

Calvin to Bullinger About Servetus

On 7 September, Calvin wrote Bullinger, in part

The Council will send you, ere long, the opinions of Servetus in order to have your advice. It is in spite of us that you have this trouble forced on you; but the folks here have come to such a pass of folly and fury that they are suspicious of all we say. Did I declare that there was daylight at noon, I believe they would question it. Brother Walter [Bullinger’s son-in-law] will tell you more [of the state of affairs here].

I know how you feel, John.  I feel ya, brother…

Calvin: on Facing Adversity

I’ve always found this passage from Calvin’s Institutes quite good:

Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death.

For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger? Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death. Go on board a ship, you are but a plank’s breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling of a foot endangers your life. Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roofs is a source of danger. If a sharp instrument is in your own hand, or that of a friend, the possible harm is manifest.

All the savage beasts you see are so many beings armed for your destruction. Even within a high walled garden, where everything ministers to delight, a serpent will sometimes lurk. Your house, constantly exposed to fire, threatens you with poverty by day, with destruction by night. Your fields, subject to hail, mildew, drought, and other injuries, denounce barrenness, and thereby famine. I say nothing of poison, treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us abroad.

Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck? It may be said that these things happen seldom, at least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they were to befall us.

What can you imagine more grievous than such trepidation? Add that there is something like an insult to God when it is said, that man, the noblest of the creatures, stands exposed to every blind and random stroke of fortune. Here, however, we were only referring to the misery which man should feel, were he placed under the dominion of chance.

But 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.  Institutes I,17,10-11.

A Bit of Calvin to Start Your Day

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God. – Calvin

Calvin’s Return to Geneva and the Preparations for His Arrival

calvin4‘On Monday, August 26, thirty-six écus were voted by the Council to Eustace Vincent, equestrian herald, to go for Master Calvin, the preacher, at Strasburg.’ It was announced in the Council, August 29, that Master Calvin was to arrive one of these days.

They talked of the lodgings which must be assigned to him, and propositions rapidly succeeded each another. At first they thought of the house which was occupied by the pastor Bernard, whom they would remove to the house of la Chantrerie. Then, September 4, there was further discussion. ‘La Chantrerie, being opposite to St. Peter’s church, is most suitable,’ they said, ‘for the abode of Master Calvin, and some garden (curtil) will be provided for him.’ On the 9th it was announced in the Council that he was to arrive the same evening. The houses in question being, doubtless, in an unfit state, orders were given to Messieurs Jacques des Arts and Jean Chautemps to make ready for him the house of the Sieur de Fréneville, situated in the Rue des Chanoines, between the house of Bonivard, on the west, and that of the Abbé de Bonmont, on the east. But after all it was in another house, the fourth proposed, that he was to he received.

It does not appear that Calvin had himself announced to the Council the day of his arrival; nor are we acquainted with any document which in a clear and positive manner indicates this date, worthy of remark though it be. All that we know is that on the 13th he was there, and appeared before the Council. Instead of the 9th he may have arrived on the 10th, the 11th, or even the 12th. We may suppose that Calvin wished the Genevese not to know the day of his arrival, fearing lest they should give him a rather noisy reception.*

Calvin’s return was more stupendous than his earlier departure. And now he was here to stay, and to exert enormous influence.

*J. H. Merle D’aubigné D.D. and William L. R. Cates, History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin (vol. 7; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1876), 61–62.


The knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God—John Calvin

So true.

John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian theology, was a master intellect (and had a profound sense of spirituality). Calvin emphasized the importance of knowledge of the world, but always with the reminder, “that the knowledge of all that is most excellent in human life is said to be communicated to us through the Spirit of God.” Knowledge is a gift from God, just like school. So kids, parents and grandparents, learners everywhere, study away. It’s God’s gift. And as the poem below suggests, keep your eyes open, for you might even see God. 

Fun Facts From Church History: Calvin Had Servetus Arrested As Soon as He Found Out Servetus Was in Town

Here’s how the story goes-

Calvin arguing with the first Emergent- Servetus

Calvin arguing with the first Emergent- Servetus

ON arriving at Geneva, Servetus alighted at the inn of the Rose, and there, according to his own declaration, kept himself carefully concealed, that he might not be recognised, waiting an opportunity to procure a boat to proceed by the lake to Zurich, and thence to the kingdom of Naples.  But notwithstanding of this assertion, it is probable that in the inn where he preserved his incognito, he was not without some communication with those in the city.

Certain it is, that in spite of the precautions which he had taken, or rather because he did not remain so completely secluded as he pretends, his presence in Geneva was discovered, the alarm was given, and himself identified. If we may believe a contemporary narrative, he had taken a fancy to be present at a sermon preached in one of the churches, and it was there he was discovered, and denounced even before the sermon was concluded. It is certain that they were members of the ministerial body who established his identity, and that his arrest took place on the Lord’s-day, 13th of August, 1553.

Calvin was the instigator. The instant he was informed by his colleagues of the discovery which they had made, in consequence, no doubt, of instructions formerly received, he applied to one of the Syndics to obtain from him the imprisonment of Servetus, in virtue of the power attached to his office by the Criminal Edicts.  The magistrate immediately granted the request, and Calvin never dissembled the part which he took in the imprisonment of the heretic. “I do not wish to deny,” he said, “that it was on my suit that he was made prisoner.”

This move of the Reformer was perfectly natural, after he had been informed of the presence of Servetus in his domain. Under pain of abdication, he must do everything rather than suffer by his side in Geneva a man whom he considered the greatest enemy of the Reformation; and the critical position in which he saw it, in the bosom of the Republic, was one motive more to remove, if it was possible, the new element of dissolution which the free sojourn of Servetus would have created.*

For Calvin, the presence of Servetus was the presence of a cancer. And that cancer had to be cut out before it could spread and destroy the entire city. Calvin could no more apologize or feel guilty for the arrest, conviction, and execution of Servetus than a physician could apologize for or feel guilty about the removal of a tumor.
*W. Tweedie, Calvin and Servetus: the reformer’s share in the trial of Michael Servetus (pp. 85–87).

Today With Calvin: Troubles with the Libertines

calv_luther_zwiCalvin and the libertines were frequently at odds.  Indeed,

The two parties became more and more enraged against each other. Calvin’s eloquence gave him a decided superiority in the little republic. On the 24th of July 1547 he wrote to Viret:

—“I continue to employ my usual severity while laboring to correct the prevailing vices, and especially those of the young. The right-thinking tell me of the dangers by which I am surrounded, but I take no heed of this, lest I should seem too careful for my personal safety. The Lord will provide such means of escape for me as He sees good.”

The families which belonged to the libertine party took a very formidable position; but Calvin remained master of the field, and never ceased to avail himself of his office as a preacher to attack his opponents. Somewhat later, that is August 21, 1547, he states in a letter to Farel that

–“letters were daily brought him from Lyons, from which he learned that he had been killed ten times over.” “Amadeus is in France; his wife is with her father, where she plays the Bacchanal according to her usual fashion. We besought the council that, if she showed true repentance, all the past might be forgotten. But this has not occurred, and she is so far gone as to have cut off all hopes of pardon. I will seek Penthesilea, when the season for administering the Lord’s Supper arrives.”*

Sadly Calvin eventually lost the war against the Libertines and so did Luther and Zwingli.  There are more of them than there are the faithful to this very day.

*The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer (Vol. 2, p. 61).

Calvin Wasn’t Bendy

“I continue to employ my usual severity while laboring to correct the prevailing vices, and especially those of the young. The right-thinking tell me of the dangers by which I am surrounded, but I take no heed of this, lest I should seem too careful for my personal safety. The Lord will provide such means of escape for me as He sees good.”  — Calvin to Viret, 1547.

Calvin would never be invited to speak at a PCUSA church nowadays.  Never.

If Your Church has a ‘Praise Band’ or ‘Orchestra’…

Calvin has something to say-

“With respect to the tabret, harp, and psaltery, we have formerly observed, and shall find it necessary afterwards to repeat the same remark, that the Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been His will to train His people, while they were as yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ.

But now, when the clear light of the Gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law, and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the Prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time.

From this it is apparent that the Papists have shewn themselves to be very apes in transferring it to themselves.”


“Paul allows us to bless God in the public assembly of the saints only in a known tongue. (1. Cor. 14:16.) The voice of man, although not understood by the generality, assuredly excels all inanimate instruments of music; and yet we see what St. Paul determines concerning speaking in an unknown tongue.”

The Fool…

Calvin’s observations on Psalm 14:1 are worth re-hearing:

As the Hebrew word נבל, nabal, signifies not only a fool, but also a perverse, vile, and contemptible person, it would not have been unsuitable to have translated it so in this place; yet I am content to follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness.

David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God.

It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God.


calvin_operaThose who think that the authority of the doctrine [of the Church] is impaired by the insignificance of the men who are called to teach, betray their ingratitude; for among the many noble endowments with which God has adorned the human race, one of the most remarkable is, that he deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice to be heard in them. — John Calvin

The Foes of Truth…

…  find great difficulty in refuting the enemies of pure and sound doctrine: possessed of serpentine lubricity, they escape by the most artful expedients, unless they are vigorously pursued, and held fast when once caught.  — John Calvin

Preach it, John!  Or, put in language that our precious teens can grasp, the enemies of truth are slippery and evasive and sneaky and they do whatever they can to escape when cornered by the facts.  They have to be held down by force.

Think, for example, of David Barton.

Quote of the Day

[Calvin seemed to have] a peculiar penchant … for detesting lax and cavalier methods of treating texts;  methods such as those he saw exhibited by medieval exegetes and arguably by Lutheran exegetes as well.  — Jon Balsarak

So true!

Praying with Calvin

Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only provided for thine ancient Church, by choosing JEREMIAH as thy servant, but hast also designed that the fruit of his labours should continue to our age,

—O grant that we may not be unthankful to thee, but that we may so avail ourselves of so great a benefit, that the fruit of it may appear in us to the glory of thy name; may we learn so entirely to devote ourselves to thy service, and each of us be so attentive to the work of his calling, that we may strive with united hearts to promote the honour of thy name, and also the kingdom of thine only-begotten Son, until we finish our warfare, and come at length into that celestial rest, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thine only Son. Amen.

The Earliest Involvements of Calvin in Reform

It is the year 1523. Young Calvin had just arrived from Noyon. De Berquin had translated something of Luther into the French. Thoroughly ill at ease the Sorbonne had accused him before the Parlement. His books and papers39) had been seized, examined, condemned. He was locked up in the Square Tour of the Palace. At the moment when the sentence of death is expected, the Court intervenes. He is freed August 8, 1523.

The University students, elated over this, and more zealous than prudent, celebrate the occasion. They do so by staging “La Farce des théologastres.” The story of the play is evidence of the fact that by 1523 the name of Luther was generally known in Paris, and that it was associated with the progressive group over against the Nachtschule of the Sorbonne. Now since the Thirteenth Century the so-called morality plays had been presented on the stage. Out of twenty-one collected by M. Picot only one was found to have been written by an out and out loyal Catholic. The “Farce des théologastres” was one in line with the tradition of l’ancien théâtre français therefore. It was written by a friend of de Berquin. The title speaks for itself. The play itself heckles the reactionary spirit of the Sorbonne and the Collège de Montaigu. There are six characters: Théologastres, Fratrez, Foy, Raison, Le Texte de Saincte Escripture, Le Mercure d’Allemagne. Louis de Berquin is identified with the last, the messenger from Germany.*

These are the very kinds of things which worried the establishment about Reform. Was it a legitimate desire to reform Church life or was it an attempt to undermine authority? At this stage, no government could really tell.
*John Calvin: a study in French humanism (p. 28).

Calvin: As Equally Gifted as Luther and in Many Respects Moreso

I must patiently submit to this condition which providence has assigned me, that petulant, dishonest and furious men, as if in conspiracy, pour out their virulence chiefly upon me. Other most excellent men indeed they do not spare, assailing the living and wounding the names of the dead; but the only cause of the more violent assault they make on me is because the more Satan, whose slaves they are, sees my labours to be useful to the Church of Christ, the more he stimulates them violently to attack me. I say nothing of the old pettifoggers, whose calumnies are already obsolete. A horrible apostate of the name of Staphylus has lately started up, and without a word of provocation has uttered more calumnies against me than against all the others who had described his perfidy, bad morals, and depraved disposition. From another quarter one named Nicolas Le Coq, has begun to screech against me. At length from another sink comes forth Tileman Heshusius. Of him I would rather have the reader form a judgment from the facts and his own writings than express my own opinion.


I shall not quote the bitter words with which you have lately censured me. While you are indulgent to yourself, you represent me as by far too rigid; and yet if you fancy that the easy good nature which you aim at is commended by all, you are greatly mistaken. For there are grave and moderate men, who complain that you are weak and remiss, and are indignant that your other remarkable virtues should be tarnished by this blot. You grant, too, that since the natural temper of all is not alike, it is just that we should promote friendship by mutual forbearance. But here you furnish me with a just reason for expostulating with you, for whatever persons accuse my severity are sure without exception to gain their cause with you as if they were unblamable; and even though you perceive that the fault is on their side, yet am I without any distinction deprived of the advantages of your good word. You mention only three individuals, as if indeed there were not in your territory numberless enraged dogs, who cease not by all the ways in their power to snap at me. I am aware that sometimes you have refuted their calumnies, but you have always contrived to leave along with your refutation the sting of some unfavourable remark behind.

On The Assurance of Salvation: Calvin’s Observation

If we doubt whether Christ has received us into his charge and custody, he obviates this doubt, by freely offering himself as our Shepherd, and declaring that if we hear his voice, we shall be numbered among his sheep. We therefore embrace Christ, thus kindly offered to us and advancing to meet us; and he will number us with his sheep, and preserve us enclosed in his fold.

Today With Calvin: In Which He Describes a Truly Perfidious Wretch

In his preface to the commentary on Jeremiah, dedicated to a certain German Prince, Calvin writes, on 23 July, 1563,

calvino-1All know how basely you have been deceived by that most audacious and unprincipled man, at the same time vile, proud, and perfidious—in short, a monster, made up of a mass of filthy materials, even Francis Baldwin, and yet a skilful collector of the Civil Law.

For having been in THE NETHERLANDS, and having, under the pretext of the Gospel, been received under your patronage, and being made a Professor of the Civil Law through your liberality in THE UNIVERSITY OF HEIDELBERG, he ought to have considered himself as altogether bound by kindness to so munificent a Prince; but he regarded his elevation as advantageous to him to seek, after his own manner, a new situation. Hence, as soon as hope appeared, he deserted his station, having despised the honourable office which he had fraudulently attained, and passed over to the enemies of true and pure Religion, the name of which he had assumed.

And first indeed (as though he retained some portion of shame) he went on stealthily in a clandestine manner, he discussed some secret treacheries with The Cardinal of Lorraine, into whose favour he had insinuated himself. The object of the whole was to subvert the CHURCHES OF FRANCE by means of a spurious doctrine and a mixture of ceremonies.

calvin_bookBut as there appeared no reward for masked and hidden perfidy, he not only rushed headlong into open defection, but so insolently boasted of his wickedness, that he has surpassed similar apostates in canine wantonness.

It is however well, that the perfidy of one unprincipled man does not stop the course of your kindness towards others; and you have some recompense for your perseverance, for among the ornaments of your University are to be found some foreigners well known for their high character, whom it is unnecessary for me to name.

Now THAT’S how you name names and call a thing what it is.