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§ 56. John Calvin. His Life and Character.
I. Works and Correspondence of Calvin.
Joannis Calvini. Opera quæ supersunt omnia, ed. G. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss, theologi Argentoratenses. Brunsvigæ, 1863 sqq. (in the Corp. Reform.). So far (1884) 27 vols. 4to. The most complete and most critical edition.
Older Latin ed., Geneva, 1617, in 12 vols. folio, and Amstelod. 1671, 9 vols. fol.
An English edition of Calvin's Works, by the 'Calvin Translation Society,' Edinburgh, 1842–1853, in 52 vols.
Convenient editions of Calvin's Institutes, by Tholuck (Berol. 1834 and 1846); the Commentaries on Genesis, by Hengstenberg (Berol. 1838), on the Psalms (Berol. 1830–34), on the New Testament (except the Apocalypse, 1833–38, in 7 vols.), by Tholuck.
His most important works were also written in French.
A German translation of his Institutes, by Fr. Ad. Krummacher (1834), of his Comment., by C. F. L. Matthieu (1859 sqq.).
The extensive correspondence of Calvin was first edited in part by Beza and Jonvillers (Calvin's secretary), Genevæ, 1575, and other editions; by Bretschneider (the Gotha Letters), Lips. 1835; by A. Crottet, Genève, 1850; then much more completely by Jules Bonnet, Lettres Françaises, Paris, 1854, 2 vols.; an English translation (from the French and Latin) by D. Constable and M. R. Gilchrist, Edinburgh and Philadelphia (Presbyt. Board of Publ.), 1855 sqq., in four vols. (the 4th with an index), giving the letters in chronological order (till 1558). The last and best edition is by the Strasburg Professors in Calvini Opera, Vol. X. Part II. to Vol. XV., with ample Prolegomena on the previous editions of Calvin's Letters and the manuscript sources.
Compare, also, A. L. Herminjard: Correspondance des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française, (beginning with 1512). Genève and Paris, 1866, sqq., 5th vol. 1883. A most important work, with many new letters from and to the Reformers, illustrated by historical and biographical notes; the correspondence of Calvin begins Tome II. p. 278.
II. Biographies of Calvin.
Th. de Bèze: Histoire de la vie et la mort de J. Calvin, Genève, 1564; second French ed. enlarged and improved by Nic. Colladon, 1565, recently republished by A. Franklin, Paris, 1864; Latin ed. by Beza, as an introduction to Calvin's Letters, 1575, reprinted in Tholuck's ed. of Calvin's Commentaries. There are also German, English, and Italian translations. The second French and the Latin editions should be consulted. This work of Beza, together with Calvin's Letters and Works, furnishes the chief material for an authentic biography.
Hieron. Bolsec (a Carmelite monk, then physician at Geneva, expelled on account of Pelagian views and opposition to Calvin, 1551, returned to the Roman Church 1563): Histoire de la vie de Jean Calvin, Paris, 1577 (Genève, 1835); then in Latin: De J. Calvini magni quondam Genevensium ministri vita, moribus, rebus gestis, studiis ac denique morte, Coloniæ, 1580. 'A mean and slanderous libel,' inspired by feelings of hatred and revenge. See Schweizer, Centraldogmen, Vol. I. p. 205.
Jacques Le Vasseur (R.C.): Annales de l’église cathédrale de Noyon, Paris, 1633. Contains some notices on the youth of Calvin.
Jacques Desmay (R.C.): Remarques sur la vie de J. Calvin hérésiarque tirées des Registres de Noyon, Rouen, 1657.
Drelincourt: La défense de Calvin contre l’outrage fait à sa mémoire, Genève, 1667; in German, Hanau, 1671. A refutation of the slanders of Bolsec.
Paul Henry (pastor of a French Reformed Church in Berlin): Das Leben Johann Calvins des grossen Reformators, etc., Hamburg, 1835–44, 3 vols.; also abridged in one vol., Hamburg, 1846. English translation by Stebbing, London and New York, 1854, in 2 vols. The large work is a valuable collection rather than digestion of material for a full biography by a sincere admirer.
E. Stähelin (Reformed minister at Basle): Johannes Calvin; Leben und ausgewählte Schriften, Elberfeld, 1863, 2 vols. (in Väter und Begründer der reform. Kirche, Vol. IV. in two parts). Upon the whole the best biography, though not as complete as Henry's, and in need of modification and additions from more recent researches.
T. H. Dyer: Life of Calvin, London, 1850. 'Valuable and impartial' (Fisher).
Felix Bungener: Calvin, sa vie, son œuvre et ses écrits, Paris, 1862; English translation, Edinb. 1863.
F. W. Kampschulte (a liberal Roman Catholic, Professor of History at Bonn, died an Old Catholic, 1871): Joh. Calvin, seine Kirche und sein Staat in Genf, Leipzig, 1869, Vol. I. (Vols. II. and III. have not appeared). A most able, critical, and, for a Catholic, remarkably fair and liberal work, drawn in part from unpublished sources.
Guizot (the great historian and statesman, a descendant of the Huguenots, d. at Val Richer, Sept. 12, 1874): St. Louis and Calvin, London, 1868. Comp. also his sketch in the Musée des protestants célèbres.
The work of the Roman Catholic Audin: Histoire de la vie, etc., de Calvin, Paris, 1841, 5th ed., 1851, in 2 vols. (also in English and German), is mostly a slanderous caricature, based upon Bolsec.
III. Biographical Sketches and Essays.
H. Mignet: Mémoire sur l’établissement de la réforme et sur la constitution du Calvinisme à Genève, Paris, 1834.
J. J. Herzog: Joh. Calvin, Basel, 1843; and in his Real-Encyklop. Vol. II. p. 511.
E. Renan: Jean Calvin, in Études d’histoire réligieuse, 5th ed., Paris, 1862; English translation by O. B. Frothingham (Studies of Religious History and Criticism, New York, 1864, pp. 285–297).
Philip Schaff: John Calvin, in the Bibliotheca Sacra, Andover, 1857, pp. 125–146.
Henry B. Smith: John Calvin, in Appleton's American Cyclopædia, New York, Vol. IV. (1859) pp. 281–288.
James Anthony Froude: Calvinism, an Address delivered to the Students of St. Andrew's, March 17, 1871 (In his Short Studies on Great Subjects, Second Series, New York, 1873, pp. 9–53).
A. A. Hodge (of Alleghany, son of Dr. Charles Hodge of Princeton): Calvinism, in Johnson's Universal Cyclopædia (New York, 1875 sqq.), Vol. I. pp. 727–734.
Lyman H. Atwater: Calvinism in Doctrine and Life, in the Presbyt. Quarterly and Princeton Review, New York, Jan. 1875, pp. 73–106.
IV. Histories of the Reformation in Geneva.
Abr. Ruchat (Professor in Lausanne): Histoire de la réformation de la Suisse, Genève, 1727 sqq. 6 vols.; new edition, with appendices, by Prof. Vulliemin, Nyon, Giral. 1835–1838, 7 vols.
C. B. Hundeshagen (Professor in Berne, afterwards in Bonn, d. 1872): Die Conflicte des Zwinglianismus, Lutherthums und Calvinismus in der Bernischen Landeskirche von 1532–1558. Nach meist ungedruckten Quellen. Bern, 1842.
J. Gaberel (ancien pasteur): Histoire de l’église de Genève depuis le commencement de la réforme jusqu’en 1815. Genève, 1855–63, 3 vols.
P. Charpenne: Histoire de la réforme et des réformateurs de Genève. Paris, 1861.
Amad. Roget: L'église et l’état à Genève de vivant Calvin, 1867; and Histoire du peuple de Genève depuis la réforme jusqu’à l’escalade. Genève, 1870.
Merle d’Aubigné (Professor of Church History at Geneva, d. 1872): History of the Reformation in Europe in the time of Calvin (from the French), New York, 1863–1879, 8 vols. (the second division of his general history of the Reformation. The last two volumes were edited from the author's MSS. They carry the history down to the middle of the 16th century.
G. P. Fisher: The Reformation. New York, 1873, Ch. VII. pp. 192–241.
For the political history of Geneva preceding and during the time of Calvin are to be compared Fr. Bonnivard: Les Chroniques de Genève, edited by Dunant (Gen. 1831, 4 vols.); Galiffe: Matériaux pour l’histoire de Genève; J. P. Bérenger: Histoire de Genève jusqu’en 1761 (1772, 6 vols.); and the Mémoires et documents publiés par la Société d’histoire et d’archéologie de Genève (1840 sqq.).
After the death of Zwingli and the treaty of Cappel (1531), the progress of the Reformation was checked in German Switzerland, but only to make a more important conquest in French Switzerland, and from thence with the course of empire to move westward to France, Holland, beyond the Channel, and beyond the seas.
The supremacy passed from Zurich to Geneva. Providence had silently prepared the person and the place. The 'little corner' on the borders of Switzerland and France, known since the days of Julius Caesar, was predestinated, by its location and preceding history, for a great international mission, and has nobly fulfilled it, not only in the period of the Reformation of the Church, but also in the nineteenth century on the field of international law and peaceful arbitration. After varying fortunes, Geneva became an independent asylum of civil and religious freedom, and furnished the best base of operation for John Calvin, who, though a Frenchman by birth and a Swiss by adoption, was a cosmopolitan in spirit, and acted as the connecting link between the Germanic and Latin races in the work of reform. Farel, Viret, and Froment had destroyed the power of Popery, but to Calvin was left the more difficult task of reconstruction and permanent organization.
John Calvin,790790 The Latinized form of the French Chauvin or Cauvin. He sunk, even in name, his nationality in his catholicity. the greatest theologian and disciplinarian of the giant race of the Reformers, and for commanding intellect, lofty character, and far-reaching influence one of the foremost leaders in the history of Christianity, was born at Noyon, in Picardy, July 10, 1509. His father, Gerard Chauvin, a man of severe morals, was secretary to the Bishop of Noyon; his mother, a beautiful and devout, but otherwise not remarkable woman. He received his first training with the children of a noble family (de Mommor), to which he was gratefully attached. His ambitious father destined him for the clerical profession, and secured him even in his twelfth year the benefice of a chaplaincy of the cathedral—an abuse not infrequent in those days of decay of ecclesiastical discipline. He received the tonsure, but not the ordination for the priesthood; while Zwingli and Knox were once priests, and Luther both priest and doctor, in the Church they were called to reform. His elder brother, Charles, became a priest at Noyon, and died a libertine and an infidel in the same year in which John proclaimed his faith to the world (1536)—as if to repeat the startling contrast of Esau and Jacob, reprobation and election, from the same womb.791791 Guizot (pp. 153, 155): 'Evidently Charles Calvin lived and died a dissolute man and an unbeliever, and at the same time remained chaplain of the Catholic church of his native town. The sixteenth century abounds in similar instances. . . . The same thing was going on every where; unbelievers and fervent Christians, libertines and men of the most austere lives, were springing up and living side by side. Two contrary winds were blowing over Europe at that period, one carrying with it skepticism and licentiousness, while the other breathed only Christian faith and the severest morality. One of these arose chiefly from the revival of the ancient literature and philosophy of Greece and Rome; the other sprang from the struggles made in the Church itself, and in its councils, to arrive at a reform which was at the same time greatly desired and fiercely opposed. . . . It was, in short, the age which produced Erasmus and Luther in Germany, and Montaigne and Calvin in France.' Merle d'Aubigné (Vol. V. p. 455) conjectures that Charles Calvin became a convert to Protestantism on his death-bed, for which the infuriated priests had him buried by night between the four pillars of a gibbet. Another remarkable coincidence is the fact that the Reformer studied scholastic philosophy under the same Spanish instructor of the College de Montaigu at Paris in which a few years afterwards Ignatius Loyola, the famous founder of Jesuitism—the very opposite pole of Calvinism—laid the foundation of his counter-reformation.792792 Kampschulte, Vol. I. p. 223.
Calvin received the best education which France could afford, in the Universities of Orleans, Bourges, and Paris, first for the priesthood, then, at the request of his father, for the law.793793 It seems (according to Jacques Le Vasseur, 1.c. 1153 sqq., as quoted by Kampschulte, Vol. I. p. 226) that Gerard Chauvin became involved in difficulty with his ecclesiastical superiors, and was even excommunicated. Kampschulte conjectures that this was probably the reason why he ordered his son to exchange the study of theology for that of law. But Calvin himself (in his Commentary on the Psalms) assigns a different motive: 'Mon père m’avoit destiné à la Théologie; mais puis après, d’autant qu’il considéroit que la science des Loix communément enrichit ceux qui la suyvent, ceste espérance luy fait incontinent changer d’avis.' The study of the law was of great use to Calvin in the organization and control of Church and State in Geneva. He early distinguished himself by excessive industry, which undermined his constitution, severe self-discipline, and a certain censoriousness, for which he was called by his fellow-students 'the Accusative Case.'794794 A notice of Jacques Le Vasseur, which agrees with Beza's statement that he was 'tenera ætate mirum in modum religiosus' and 'severus omnium in suis sodalibus vitiorum censor.' He made rapid progress. Even as a student of nineteen he was often called to the chair of an absent professor, so that (as Beza says) he was considered a doctor rather than an auditor. When he left the university he was the most promising literary man of the age. He might have attained the highest position in France, had not his religious convictions undergone a radical change.
Protestant ideas were then pervading the atmosphere and agitating the educated classes of France even at the court, which was divided on the question of religion. Two of Calvin's teachers, Cordier (or Corderius, who afterwards followed him to Geneva) and Wolmar, were friendly to reform, and one of his relatives, Olivétan, became soon afterwards (1534) the first Protestant translator of the Bible into French. He seems, however, to have exerted as much influence on them as they exerted on him.795795 According to Beza and Stähelin (Vol. I. p. 88), Calvin took part even in the first edition of Olivétan's French New Testament (1534). But this seems to be an error; see Reuss, Révue de Theologie, 1866, No. III. p. 318, and Kampschulte, p. 247. He revised, however, the second edition, which included the Old Testament (1535), and wrote the preface (see Stähelin, pp.89 sq.).
His first work was a commentary on Seneca's book on Mercy, which he published at his own expense, April, 1532.796796 'L. Annei Se- | necæ, Romani Senato- | ris, ac philosophi clarissi- | mi, libri duo de Clementia, ad Ne- | ronem Cæsarem: | Joannis Calvini Noviodunæi commentariis illustrati. | Parisiis . . . 1532.' Reprinted from the ed. princeps in the new edition of the Opera, Vol. V. (1866), pp. 6–162. The commentary is preceded by a dedicatory epistle, and a sketch of the life of Seneca. It moves in the circle of classical philology and moral philosophy, and reveals a characteristic love for the nobler type of Stoicism, great familiarity with Greek and Roman literature, masterly Latinity, rare exegetical skill, clear and sound judgment, and a keen insight into the evils of despotism and the defects of the courts of justice, but makes no allusion to Christianity. Hence it is quite improbable that it was an indirect plea for toleration and clemency intended to operate on the King of France in dealing with his Protestant subjects.797797 As is asserted by Henry, Herzog, Dorner (p. 375), and also by Guizot (p. 162), but justly denied by Stähelin (Vol. I. pp. 14 sqq.) and Kampschulte (p. 238). The work is not dedicated to Francis I., but to Claude de Hangest, the Abbot of St. Eloy (Eligius), afterwards Bishop of Noyon, his former schoolmate; and the implied comparison of the French king with Nero, and the incidental mention of the Neronian persecution ('quum Nero diris suppliciis impotenter sæviret in Christianos,' Opera, Vol. V. p. 10), would have been fatal to such an apologetic aim. Calvin sent a copy to 'Erasmus, and called him 'the honor and the chief delight of the world of letters'—literarum alterum decus ac primæ deliciæ (see his letter to Claude de Hangest, April 4, 1532, in Herminjard, Tom. II. p. 411). His earliest letters, from 1530 to 1532, are likewise silent on religious subjects, and refer to humanistic studies, and matters of friendship and business.798798 They were recently brought to light by Jules Bonnet and Herminjard. They are chiefly addressed to his fellow-student, Francis Daniel, an advocate of Orleans, who acknowledged the necessity of the Reformation, but remained in the Church of Rome. See the Edinburgh edition of Calvin's Letters, by Bonnet, Vol. I. p. 3; Herminjard, Vol. II. pp. 278 sqq.; and Opera, Vol. X. Pt. II. pp. 3 sqq. His first letter to Daniel is dated 'Melliani (i.e. Meillant, south of Bourges, not Meaux, as the Edinburgh edition misunderstands it), 8 Idus Septembr.,' and is put by Herminjard and the Strasburg editors in the year 1530 (not 1529).
His conversion to the cause of the Reformation seems to have taken place in the latter part of 1532, about one year after the death of Zwingli.799799 Stähelin puts his conversion in the year 1533 (Vol. I. p. 21). But we have a familiar letter from Calvin to Martin Bucer, dated Noyon, 'pridie nonas Septembres,' probably of the year 1532, in which he recommends a French refugee, falsely accused of holding the opinions of the Anabaptists, and says: 'I entreat of you, Master Bucer, if my prayers, if my tears are of any avail, that you would compassionate and help him in his wretchedness. The poor is left in a special manner to your care—you are the helper of the orphan. . . . Most learned Sir, farewell; Thine from my heart (Tuus ex animo): Calvin' (J. Bonnet's Letters, Vol. I. pp. 9–11; the Latin in Opera, Vol. X. Pt. II. p. 24). Kampschulte (Vol. I. p. 231) infers even an earlier acquaintance of Calvin with Bucer, from a letter of Bucer to Farel, May 1, 1528, in which he mentions a juvenis Noviodunensis studying Greek and Hebrew in Strasburg (Herminjard, Vol. II. p. 131, and Opera, Vol. X. Pt. II. p. 1); but this youth was probably his relative Olivétan, who was likewise a native of Noyon (Herminjard, Vol. II. p. 451). Besides, there were several places in France of the name Noviodunum. In a letter of Oct., 1533, to Francis Daniel (Bonnet, Vol. I. p. 12, and Opera, Vol. X. Pt. II. p. 27), Calvin first speaks openly of the Reformation in Paris, the rage of the Sorbonne, and the satirical comedy against the Queen of Navarre. The precise date and circumstances are unknown. It was as he himself characterizes it, a sudden change (subita conversio) from Papal superstition to the evangelical faith, yet not without previous struggles. He tenaciously adhered to the Catholic Church until he was able to disconnect the true idea and invisible essence of the Church from its outward organization. Like Luther, he strove in vain to attain peace of conscience by the methods of Romanism, and was driven to a deeper sense of sin and guilt. 'Only one haven of salvation is left for our souls,' he says, 'and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace—not by our merits, not by our works.' After deep and earnest study of the Scriptures, the knowledge of the truth, like a bright light from heaven, burst upon his mind with such force that there was nothing left for him but to abjure his sins and errors, and to obey the will of God. He consulted not with flesh and blood, and burned the bridge after him.800800 He alludes to his conversion only twice, and briefly, namely, in the remarkable Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms, and in his answer to Cardinal Sadolet (Opera, Vol. V. pp. 389–411 sq.). In the latter he describes his mental conflicts and terrors of conscience.
There never was a change of conviction purer in motive, more radical in character, more fruitful and permanent in result. It bears a striking resemblance to that still greater event near Damascus, which transformed a fanatical Pharisee into an apostle of Jesus Christ. And indeed Calvin was not unlike St. Paul in his intellectual and moral constitution; and the apostle of sovereign grace and evangelical freedom never had a more sympathetic expounder than the Reformer of Geneva.
With this step Calvin renounced all prospects of a brilliant career, upon which he had already entered, and exposed himself to the danger of persecution and death.801801 He says (Ad Sadoleti Epistolam, Opera, Vol. V. p. 389) that if he had consulted his personal interest he would never have left the Roman Church, where the way to honor would have been very easy to him. Audin, in tracing Calvin's conversion to wounded ambition, exposes (as Kampschulte justly observes, p. 242) his utter ignorance of Calvin's character, whose only ambition was to serve God most faithfully. Though naturally bashful and retiring, and seeking one quiet hiding-place after another, he was forced to come forward. He exhorted and strengthened the timid believers, usually closing with the words of St. Paul: 'If God be for us, who can be against us?' There is no evidence that he ever was ordained by human hands to the ministry of the gospel; but he had an extraordinary call, like that of the prophets of old, and the Apostle of the Gentiles. This was felt by his brethren, and about a year after his conversion he was the acknowledged leader of the Protestant party in France.
For awhile matters seemed to take a favorable turn at the court. His friend, Nicholas Cop, a learned physician, was even elected Rector of the University of Paris.802802 Bulæus, Historia universitatis Parisiensis, Vol. VI. p. 238; Kampschulte, Vol. I. p. 243. At his request Calvin prepared for him an inaugural address on Christian philosophy, which Cop delivered on All-Saints' Day, in 1533, in the Church of the Mathurins, before a large assembly. He embraced this public occasion to advocate the reform of the Church on the basis of the pure gospel.803803 The incomplete draft of this address has recently been discovered by J. Bonnet among the manuscripts of the Geneva library. In it Calvin explains the great difference between the law and the gospel, and charged the Sophists, as he called the scholastic theologians, Nihil de fide, nihil de amore Dei, nihil de remissione peccatorum, nihil de gratia, nihil de justificatione, nihil de veris operibus disserunt; aut si certe disserunt, omnia calumniantur, omnia labefactant, omnia suis legibus, hoc est sophisticis coërcent. Vos rogo, quotquot hic adestis, ut has hæreses, has in Deum contumelias numquam æquo animo feratis.' See Kampschulte, p. 244. Such a provocation Catholic France had never before received. The Sorbonne ordered the address to be burned. Cop was warned, and fled to Basle; Calvin—as tradition says—escaped in a basket from a window, and left Paris in the garb of a vine-dresser, scarcely knowing whither he was going. A few months afterwards the king himself took a decided stand against the Reformation, and between Nov. 10, 1534, and May 3, 1535, twenty-four Protestants were burned alive in Paris, while many more were condemned to less cruel sufferings.804804 This is recorded with some satisfaction by a Catholic writer in the Journal du Bourgeois de Paris, quoted by Guizot, p. 168. That Francis I. was present at these horrible executions is denied by Michelet, Martin, and Guizot.
For more than two years Calvin wandered a fugitive evangelist, under assumed names, from place to place. We find him at Angonlême with his learned friend, the young canon Louis du Tillet, using his excellent library, and probably preparing his 'Institutes;' then at the court of Queen Margaret of Navarre, the sister of Francis I., where he met Le Fèvre d’Estaples (Faber Stapulensis), the aged patriarch of French Protestantism, and Gérard Roussel, her chaplain, who advised him 'to purify the house of God, but not to destroy it;' at Noyon (May, 1534), where he parted with his ecclesiastical benefices; at Poictiers, where he celebrated, with a few friends, for the first time, the Lord's Supper according to the evangelical rite, in a cave near the town, called to this day 'Calvin's Cave;' at Orleans, where he published his first theological work, a tract against the Anabaptist doctrine of the sleep of the soul between death and the resurrection, using exclusively Scriptural arguments with rare exegetical and polemical skill;805805 Psychopannychia, in Opera, Vol. V. pp. 165–232. The Preface is dated 'Aureliæ, 1534.' The second edition appeared in Basle, 1535. This work forms a contrast to his commentary on Seneca as great as exists between the classics and the Bible. In matters relating to the future world. Calvin allows no weight to reason and philosophy, but only to the Word of God. On the merits of this book, see Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 36 sqq. again (towards the close of 1534) at Paris, where he met for the first time the unfortunate Michael Servetus, and challenged him to a disputation on the Trinity. But the persecution then breaking out against the Protestants forced him to forsake the soil of France. With his friend Du Tillet he fled to Strasburg, where he arrived utterly destitute, having been robbed by an unfaithful servant, and formed an intimate friendship with Bucer. Thence he went to Basle, where he quietly studied Hebrew with Capito and Grynæus, and published the first edition of his 'Institutes' (1536). In the spring of 1536 he spent a short time at the court of the Duchess Renée of Ferrara, the daughter of Louis XII., a little, deformed, but highly intelligent, noble, and pious lady, who gathered around her a circle of friends of the Reformation, and continued to correspond with him as her guide of conscience.806806 Guizot, speaking at some length of this correspondence, makes the remark (p. 207): 'I do not hesitate to affirm that the great Catholic bishops, who in the seventeenth century directed the consciences of the mightiest men in France, did not fulfill the difficult task with more Christian firmness, intelligent justice, and knowledge of the world than Calvin displayed in his intercourse with the Duchess of Ferrara. And the Duchess was not the only person towards whom he fulfilled this duty of a Christian pastor. His correspondence shows that he exercised a similar influence, in a spirit equally lofty and judicious, over the consciences of many Protestants.' Returning from Italy, where he was threatened by the Inquisition,807807 He took the route of Aosta and the Great St. Bernard. His short labors and persecution in Aosta were, five years later (1541), commemorated by a monumental cross and inscription—'Calvini fuga'—which was restored in 1741, and again in 1841, and stands to this day. See Gaberel, Vol. I. p. 100; Stähelin, Vol. I. p. 110; Guizot, p. 209: and Merle d'Aubigné, Vol. V. p. 454. he paid a flying visit to Noyon, and had the pleasure to gain his only remaining younger brother Anthony and his sister Mary to the Reformed faith. With them he proceeded to Switzerland, intending to settle at Basle or Strasburg, and to lead the quiet life of a scholar and an author, without the slightest inclination to a public career. But God had decreed otherwise.
Passing through Geneva in August, 1536, where he expected to spend only a night, Calvin was held fast by William Farel, the fearless evangelist, who threatened him with the curse of God if he preferred his studies to the work of the Lord. 'These words,' says Calvin (in the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms), 'terrified and shook me, as if God from on high had stretched out his hand to stop me, so that I renounced the journey which I had undertaken.'808808 According to Beza (Vita), Farel used these words: 'At ego tibi studia, prætexenti denuntio, omnipotentis Dei nomine, futurum, ut, nisi in opus istud Domini nobiscum incumbas, tibi non tam Christum quam te ipsum quærenti Dominus maledicat.' Beza adds that Calvin was 'territus hac terribili denuntiatione.' Merle d'Aubigné gives a very dramatic account of this scene, Vol. V. pp. 456 sqq. Farel, a French nobleman, twenty years older than Calvin, and like him driven by persecution to Switzerland, where he destroyed the strongholds of idolatry with the zeal of a prophet, did a great work when 'he gave Geneva to the Reformation,' but a still greater one when 'he gave Calvin to Geneva.'
This was the turning-point in Calvin's life. Once resolved to obey the voice from heaven, the timid and delicate youth shrunk from no danger. Geneva was then a city of only twelve or fifteen thousand inhabitants, but within its narrow limits it was to become 'the scene of every crisis and every problem, great or small, which can agitate human society.'809809 Guizot, p. 210. It then represented 'a tottering republic, a wavering faith, a nascent Church.' Calvin felt that a negative state of freedom from the tyranny of Savoy and Popery was far worse than Popery itself, and that positive faith and order alone could save the city from political and religious anarchy. He insisted on the abolition of immoral habits, the adoption of an evangelical confession of faith and catechism, the introduction of a strict discipline, Psalm singing, and monthly celebration of the Lord's Supper, with the right of excluding unworthy communicants.810810 Mémoire de Calvin et Farel sur l’organisation de l’église, de Genève, recently brought to light by Gaberel (Hist. de l’église de Genève, 1858, Tom. I. p. 102), and in the Strasburg edition of the Opera, Vol. X. Pt. I. pp. 5–14. See a summary in Kampschulte, Vol. I. pp. 287 sqq.
The magistrate refused to comply, and forbade Calvin and Farel the pulpit; but they, preferring to obey God rather than men, preached at Easter, 1538, to an armed crowd, and declared their determination not to administer the holy communion, lest it be desecrated. On the following day they were deposed and expelled from the city by the great Council of the Two Hundred.
Calvin, again an exile, though now for the principle of authority and discipline rather than doctrine, spent three quiet and fruitful years (1538–41) with Bucer at Strasburg, as teacher of theology and preacher to a congregation of several hundred French refugees.811811 Guizot says fifteen hundred. On Calvin's life and labors in Strasburg, see especially the full accounts of Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 168–318, and Kampschulte, Vol. I. pp. 320–368. Here he became acquainted with the German Reformation, for Strasburg was the connecting link between Germany and France, as also between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism. But he was disagreeably impressed with the want of Church discipline, and the slavish dependence of the German clergy on the secular rulers. His French congregation was admired for its activity and order. In Strasburg he wrote his tract on the Lord's Supper, his Commentary on the Romans, his masterly answer to Cardinal Sadolet's letter to the Genevese, and his revision of Olivétan's French translation of the Bible. Some of these books attracted the favorable notice of Luther, whom he never met in this world, but always esteemed, with a full knowledge of his faults, as one of the greatest servants of Christ.812812 Luther wrote to Bucer: 'Greet Calvin, whose little works I have read with remarkable pleasure;' and Melanchthon wrote: 'Calvin is in high favor here (magnam gratiam iniit).' See. Calvin to Farel, Dec. 12, 1539; Stähelin, Vol. I. p. 226; and De Wette's edition of Luther's Letters, Vol. V. p. 210. Calvin wrote to Bullinger, when the latter was provoked by the last rude assault of Luther upon the Zwinglians (1544): 'I implore you never to forget how great a man Luther is, and by what extraordinary gifts he excels. Think with what courage, what constancy, what power and success he has devoted himself to this day to the overthrow of the reign of Antichrist and the spreading of the doctrine of salvation far and near. As for me, I have often said, and I say it again, though he should call me a devil, I would still give him due honor, and recognize him, in spite of the great faults which obscure his extraordinary virtues, as a mighty servant of the Lord.' See Henry, Vol. II. p. 351; Stähelin, Vol. I. p. 204; Guizot, p. 243; Opera, Vol. XI. p. 774.
In September, 1540, he married Idelette de Bure (a little town in Gueldres), a grave, pious, modest, amiable, and cultivated widow, with three children, whose first husband he had converted from Anabaptism to the orthodox faith. She was in delicate health, but very devoted to him, and satisfied all his desires. He lived with her in perfect harmony nine years, and she bore him one child, a son who died in infancy. He seldom alludes to her in his correspondence, but always in terms of respect and love; and in informing his friend Viret of her departure, he calls her 'the best companion, who would cheerfully have shared with me exile and poverty, and followed me unto death; during her life she was to me a faithful assistant in all my labors; she never dissented from my wishes even in the smallest things.' Seven years afterwards, in a letter of consolation to a friend (Rev. Richard de Valeville, of Frankfort), he says: 'I know from my own experience how painful and burning is the wound which the death of thy wife must have inflicted upon you. How difficult it was for me to become master of my grief. . . . Our chief comfort, after all, is the wonderful providence of God, which overrules our affliction for our spiritual benefit, and separates us from our beloved only to reunite us in his heavenly kingdom.' His grief at her death, and at the death of his child, reveals a hidden spring of domestic affection which is rare in men of his austerity of character and absorption in public duty. He remained a widower the rest of his life.813813 Comp. the beautiful tribute to Idelette de Buren, by Jules Bonnet, in the fourth volume of the Bulletin pour l'histoire du protestantisme français (1860), and Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 274–283.
From the Strasburg period dates also his intimate friendship with Melanchthon, which was not broken by death, and is the more remarkable in view of their difference of opinion on the subject of predestination and free-will. He met him at religious conferences with Romanists, at Frankfort (1539), at Worms (1540), and at Regensburg (Ratisbon, 1541), which he attended as delegate from Strasburg. Their correspondence is a noble testimony to the mind and heart of these great men, so widely different in nationality, constitution, and temper—the one as firm as a rock, the other as timid as a child—and yet one in their deepest relations to Christ and his salvation. They represent the higher union of the Lutheran and Reformed, the Teutonic and the Romanic types of Protestantism. This truly Christian friendship was touchingly expressed by Calvin a year after the death of the Preceptor of Germany (1561): 'O Philip Melanchthon! for it is upon thee that I call, upon thee, who now livest with Christ in God, and art there waiting for us, until we shall also be gathered with thee to that blessed rest! A hundred times, worn out with fatigue and overwhelmed with care, thou didst lay thy head upon my breast, and say, "Would to God that I might die here, on thy breast!" And I, a thousand times since then, have earnestly desired that it had been granted us to be together. Certainly thou wouldst have been more valiant to face danger, and stronger to despise hatred, and bolder to disregard false accusations. Thus the wickedness of many would have been restrained, whose audacity of insult was increased by what they called thy weakness.'814814 This passage occurs on the first page of his book against the fanatical Lutheran, Heshusius (Opera, Vol. IX. p. 461): 'O Philippe Melanchthon! Te enim appello, qui apud Deum cum Christo vivis, nosque illic expectas, donec tecum in beatam quietem colligamur. Dixisti centies, quum fessus laboribus et molestiis oppressus caput familiariter in sinum meum deponeres: Utinam, utinam moriar in hoc sinu. Ego vero millies postea optavi nobis contingere, ut simul essemus. Certe animosior fuisses ad obeunda certamina, et ad spernendam invidiam, falsasque criminationes pro nihilo ducendas fortior. Hoc quoque modo cohibita fuisset multorum improbitas, quibus ex tua mollitie, quam vocabant, crevit insultandi audacia.' Comp. on the relation of Calvin to Melanchthon, the full discussion of Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 230–254; also Guizot, p. 246.
'It would be difficult,' says Guizot, 'to reconcile truth, piety, and friendship more tenderly.'
In the mean time the Genevese had been brought by sad experience to repent of the expulsion of the faithful pastors, and to feel that the Reformed faith and discipline alone could put their commonwealth on a firm and enduring foundation. The magistrate and people united in an urgent and repeated recall of Calvin. He reluctantly yielded at last, and in September, 1541, after passing a few days with Farel at Neufchatel, he made a triumphant entry into the beautiful city on lake Leman.815815 The date is variously given—Sept. 10 by Roget, Sept. 12 by Guizot, Sept. 13 by Kampschulte (following Beza). The magistracy provided for him a house and garden near the Cathedral of St. Pierre, broadcloth for a coat, and, in consideration of his generous hospitality to strangers and refugees, an annual salary of five hundred florins,816816 'Worth about 3600 francs, or £150 at the present time.'—Guizot, p. 257. A syndic received only one fifth of this sum; but Calvin's house was a home for poor refugees of faith from France and other lands, the widows and orphans of martyrs, so that he had often not a penny left. See Stähelin, Vol. II. p. 391, and Hagenbach, Kirchengesch. Vol. III. p. 581. twelve measures of wheat, and two tubs of wine. The rulers of Strasburg, says Beza, stipulated that he should always remain a burgess of their city, and requested him to retain the revenues of a prebend which had been assigned as the salary of his professorship in theology, but they could not persuade him to accept so much as a single farthing.
This second settlement was final. Geneva was now wedded to Calvin, and had to sink or swim with his principles.817817 Well says Kampschulte (Vol. I. pp. 385 sq.): 'Genf war im Herbst 1541 den geistlichen Tendenzen Calvins dienstbar geworden, es war an den Siegeswagen des Reformators gefesselt und musste ihm folgen trotz allen Sträubens, trotz aller Auflehnungsversuche, die später nicht ausgeblieben sind. Nicht anders fasste Calvin selbst seine Stellung von vorne herein auf. Für ihn ergab sich sein Herrscherrecht über Genf aus dem wunderbaren Gange der letzten Ereignisse mit der Zweifellosigkeit eines von Gott selbst erklärten Glaubenssatzes. Schimpflich vor drei Jahren vertrieben, sah er sich mit den grössten Ehren auf den Schauplatz zurückgeführt, den ihm Farel einst in ernster Stunde "im Namen des allmächtigen Gottes" angewiesen: mit Jubel wurde er von demselben Volke begrüsst, das ihm unversöhnlichen Hass geschworen! . . . Calvin fühlte sich fast nur noch als Werkzeug in der Hand Gottes, durch den ewigen göttlichen Rathschluss, ohne jedes persönliche Zuthun, für Genf bestimmt, um des Herrn Willen, wie er ihn erkannt, auf diesem wichtigen Fleck der Erde ohne Furcht und Scheu zu verkündigen, jenes Programm, welches er in der christlichen Institution niedergelegt, hier zur Ausführung zu bringen, dem Herrn hier ein christliches Geschlecht zu sammeln, das der übrigen Welt als Leuchte diene.' He continued to labor there, without interruption, for twenty-three years, till his death, May 27, 1564: fighting a fierce spiritual war against Romanism and superstition, but still more against infidelity and immorality; establishing a model theocracy on the basis of Moses and Christ; preaching and teaching from day to day; writing commentaries, theological and polemical treatises; founding an academy, which in the first year attracted more than eight hundred students, and flourishes to this day; attending the sessions of the consistory and the senate; entertaining and counselling strangers from all parts of the world; and corresponding in every direction. He was, in fact, the spiritual head of the Church and the republic of Geneva, and the leader of the Reformed movement throughout Europe. And yet he lived all the time in the utmost simplicity. It is reported that Cardinal Sadolet, when passing through Geneva incognito, and calling on Calvin, was surprised to find him residing, not in an episcopal palace, with a retinue of servants, as he expected, but in a little house, himself opening the door. The story may not be sufficiently authenticated, but it corresponds fully with all we know about his ascetic habits.818818 This fact is related by Drelincourt in his Defense de Calvin (1667), and Bungener (p. 503), and is believed in Geneva, but doubted by Guizot, p. 237, for chronological reasons which are not conclusive (Sadolet died 1549). 'Se non e vero, e ben trovato.' For years he took but one meal a day.819819 Beza: 'Per decem minimum annos prandio abstinuit, ut nullum omnino cibum extra statam cœnæ horam sumeret.' Sometimes he abstained for thirty-six hours from all food. He refused an increase of salary and presents of every description, except for the poor and the refugees, whom he was always ready to aid. He left, besides his library, only about two hundred dollars, which he bequeathed to his younger brother Anthony and his children.820820 See his testament in Beza's Vita. When Pope Pius IV. heard of his death, he paid him this high compliment: 'The strength of that heretic consisted in this, that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants, my dominions would extend from sea to sea.'821821 Quoted by Guizot, p. 361.
His immense labors and midnight studies,822822 'Somni pene nullius,' says Beza in his closing remarks. the care of all the churches, and bodily infirmities—such as headaches, asthma, fever, gravel—gradually wore out his delicate body. He died, in full possession of his mental powers, in the prime of manhood and usefulness, not quite fifty-five years of age, leaving his Church in the best order and in the hands of an able and faithful successor, Theodore Beza. Like a patriarch, he assembled first the syndics of Geneva, and afterwards the ministers, around his dying bed, thanked them for their kindness and devotion, asked humbly their pardon for occasional outbursts of violence and wrath, and affected them to tears by words of wisdom and counsel to persevere in the pure doctrine and discipline of Christ. It was a sublime scene, worthily described by Beza,823823 With Beza's account of his parting addresses (in the French and Latin edition of the Vita) should be compared the official copy, which Bonnet published in the Appendix to the French Letters, Tom. II. p. 573, and the Strasburg editors at the close of the 9th vol. of the Opera (Discours d’adieu aux membres du Petit Conseil, pp. 887–890, and Discours d’adieu aux ministres, pp. 891–894). Comp. also Stähelin. Vol. II. pp. 462–468. and well represented by a painter's skill.824824 Hornung's picture of Calvin on his death-bed.
The Reformer died with the setting sun. 'Thus,' says Beza, 'God withdrew into heaven that most brilliant light, which was a lamp of the Church. In the following night and day there was immense grief and lamentation in the whole city; for the republic had lost its wisest citizen, the Church its faithful shepherd, the academy an incomparable teacher—all lamented the departure of their common father and best comforter next to God. A multitude of citizens streamed to the death-chamber, and could scarcely be separated from the corpse. Among them also were several foreigners, as the distinguished English embassador to France, who had come to Geneva to make the acquaintance of the celebrated man. On the Lord's day, in the afternoon, the remains were carried to the common graveyard on Plainpalnis, followed by all the patricians, pastors, professors, and teachers, and nearly the whole city, in sincere mourning.'
Calvin expressly forbade the erection of any monument over his grave.825825 Beza, however, wrote a suitable poem, in Latin and French, which might have been inscribed on the tomb. See his Vita, at the close, and Opera, Vol. V. pp. xxvi. sqq. (with three other French sonnets); a German translation in Stähelin, Vol. II. p.470. The stranger asks in vain even for the spot which covers his mortal remains in the cemetery of Geneva. Like Moses, he was buried out of the reach of idolatry. The Reformed Churches of both hemispheres are his monument, more enduring than marble. On the third centenary of his death (1864), his friends in Geneva, aided by gifts from foreign lands, erected to his memory the Salle de la Réformation—a noble building, founded on the principles of the Evangelical Alliance, and dedicated to the preaching of the pure gospel and the advocacy of every good cause.
CALVIN'S PERSONAL CHARACTER.
Calvin was of middle, or rather small stature (like David and
Paul), of feeble health, courteous, kind, grave and dignified in deportment. He
had a meagre and emaciated frame, a thin, pale, finely chiseled face, a well-formed
mouth, a long, pointed beard, black hair, a prominent nose, a lofty forehead,
and flaming eyes. He was modest, plain, and scrupulously neat in dress, orderly
and methodical in all his habits, temperate and even abstemious, allowing
himself scarcely nourishment and sleep enough for vigorous work. His physical
tent barely covered the mighty spirit within. Conscience and logic, a commanding
mind and will, shone through the thin veil
of mortality.826826 See different portraits of
Calvin—in Henry (small biography), in first volume of the Opera, in Stähelin, in
first volume of Merle d'Aubigné; also Hornung's Calvin on his death-bed, and the
medallion portrait made at the festival of the Geneva Reformation.
[In technical disregard of Calvin's wish the large mural monument was erected in Geneva, 1917, commemorating the Reformation and containing figures of Calvin, Luther, etc.—Ed.]
How different Luther and Zwingli, with their strong animal foundation, and their abundance of flesh and blood! Calvin seemed to be all bone and nerve. Beza says he looked in death almost the same as alive in sleep.827827 Beza thus tersely describes him (at the close of the Vita): 'Statura fuit mediocri, colore subpallido et nigricante, oculis ad mortem usque limpidis, quique ingenii sagacitatem testarentur: cultu corporis neque culto neque sordido, sed qui singularem modestiam deceret: victu sic temperato, ut a sordibus et ab omni luxu longissime abesset: cibi parcissimi, ut qui multos annos semel quotidie cibum sumpserit, vintriculi imbecillitatem causatus: somni pæne nullius: memoriæ incredibilis, ut quos semel aspexisset multis post annis statim agnosceret, et inter dictandum sæpe aliquot horas interturbatus statim ad dictata nullo commonefaciente rediret, et eorum, quæ ipsum nosse muneris sui causa interesset, quantumvis multiplicibus et infinitis negotiis oppressus, nunquam tamen oblivisceretur. Judicii, quibuscunque de rebus consuleretur, tam puri et exacti, ut pæne vaticinari sæpe sit visus, nec aberasse meminerim, qui consilium ipsius esset sequutus. Facundiæ contemptor et verborum parcus, sed minime ineptus scriptor, et quo nullus ad hunc diem theologus (absit verbo invidia) purius, gravius, judiciosius denique scripsit, quum tamen tam multa scripserit, quam nemo vel nostra vel patrum memoria.'
His intellectual endowments were of the highest order and thoroughly disciplined. He had more constructive, systematizing, and organizing genius than any other Reformer, and was better adapted to found a solid, compact, and permanent school of theology. He was not a speculative or intuitive philosopher, but a consummate logician and dialectician. Luther and Zwingli cut the stones from the quarry; Calvin gave them shape and polish, and erected a magnificent cathedral of ideas with the skill of a master architect. His precocity and consistency were marvelous. He did not grow before the public, like Luther and Melanchthon, and pass through contradictions and retractations, but when a mere youth of twenty-six he appeared fully armed, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, and never changed his views on doctrine or discipline. He had an extraordinary and well-stored memory, a profound, acute, and penetrating intellect, a clear, sound, and almost unerring judgment, a perfect mastery over the Latin and French tongues. His Latin is as easy and elegant, and certainly as nervous and forcible, as Cicero's, yet free from the pedantic and affected purism of a Bembo and Castalio.828828 Who would substitute respublica for ecclesia, genius for angelus, lotio for baptismus, etc. He is one of the fathers of modern French, as Luther is the father of modern German. His eloquence is logic set on fire by intense conviction. His Preface to the 'Institutes,' addressed to the King of France, is reckoned as one of the three immortal prefaces in literature (to which only that of President De Thou to his French History and that of Casaubon to Polybius can be compared); and his 'Institutes' themselves, as has been well said, are 'in truth a continuous oration, in which the stream of discussion rolls onward with an impetuous current, yet always keeps within its defined channel.'829829 Fisher, The Reformation, p. 198.
He surpassed all other Reformers (except Beza) in classical culture and social refinement. He was a patrician by education and taste, and felt more at ease among scholars and men of high rank than among the common people. Yet he was quite free from aristocratic pride, despised all ostentation and display, and esteemed every man according to his real worth.
History furnishes, perhaps, no example of a man who with so little personal popularity had such influence upon the people, and who with such natural timidity and bashfulness combined such strength and control over his age and future generations. Constitutionally a retiring scholar and a man of thought, he became providentially a mighty man of action and an organizer of churches.
His moral and religious character is impressed with a certain majesty which keeps the admirer at a respectful distance.830830 This was the judgment of the magistrate of Geneva, expressed in these words (June 8, 1564): 'Dieu, lui avait imprimé un charactère d’une si grande majesté.' He has often been compared to an old Roman Censor or Stoic; but he resembles much more a Hebrew Prophet. Severe against others, he was far more severe against himself, and was always guided by a sense of duty. Fear of God, purity of motive, spotless integrity, single devotion to truth and duty, unswerving fidelity, sincere humility are the prominent traits of his character. Soaring high above the earth, he was absorbed in God—who alone is great—and looked down upon man as a fleeting shadow. The glory of the Lord and the reformation of the Church constituted the single passion of his life. His appropriate symbol was a hand offering the sacrifice of a bleeding heart to God.831831 'Cor meum velut mactatum Domino in sacrificium offero.' Subscribed below his autograph in the frontispiece of Henry's smaller biography.
It must be admitted that this kind of greatness, while it commands our admiration and respect, does not of itself secure our affection and love. There is a censoriousness and austerity about Calvin and his creed which repelled many good men, even among his contemporaries.832832 His ungrateful enemy, Balduin, started the saying among the Genevese, 'Rather with Beza in hell than with Calvin in heaven.' And yet they obeyed and revered him. Beza, it should be remembered, was the perfection of a French gentleman; yet his theological system was even more severe than that of Calvin, and he carried the dogma of predestination to the extreme of supralapsarianism. I have met with not a few French, Scotch, and American Christians who, in the combination of severity and purity, gravity and kindliness of character, reminded me strongly of Calvin and Beza. I may mention Gaussen, Malan, Merle d'Aubigné, Pio ie Adolph Monod, and Guizot. He looked more to the holiness than to the love of God. His piety bears more the stamp of the Old Testament than that of the New. He represents the majesty and severity of the law rather than the sweetness and loveliness of the gospel, the obedience of a servant of Jehovah rather than the joyfulness of a child of our heavenly Father.
Yet even this must be qualified. He sympathized with the spirit of David and Paul as much as with the spirit of Moses and Elijah, and had the strongest sense of the freedom of the gospel salvation. Moreover, behind his cold marble frame there was beating a noble, loving, and faithful heart, which attracted and retained to the last the friendship of such eminent servants of God as Farel, Viret, Beza, Bucer, Bullinger, Knox, and Melanchthon. 'He obtained,' says Guizot, 'the devoted affection of the best men and the esteem of all, without ever seeking to please them.'833833 Page 362. John Knox, his senior in years, sat at his feet as a humble pupil, and esteemed him the greatest man after the Apostles. Farel, in his old age, hastened on foot from Neufchatel to Geneva to take leave of his sick friend, and desired to die in his place. Beza, who lived sixteen years on terms of personal intimacy with him, revered and loved him as a father. And even Melanchthon wished to repose and to die on his bosom. His familiar correspondence shows him in the most favorable light, and is a sufficient refutation of all the calumnies and slanders of his enemies.
He lacked the good-nature, the genial humor, the German Gemüthlichkeit, the overflowing humanity of Luther, who for this reason will always be more popular with the masses; but he surpassed him in culture, refinement, consistency, and moral self-control. Both were equally unselfish and unworldly. Both were headstrong and will-strong; but Calvin was more open to argument and less obstinate. Both had, like St. Paul, a fiery and violent temper, which was the propelling force in their hard work, and in fierce battles with the pope and the devil. Hegel says somewhere that 'nothing great can be done without passion.'834834 'Nichts Grosses geschieht ohne Leidenschaft.' It is only men of intense convictions and fearless courage that make deep and lasting impressions upon others. But temper is a force of nature, which must be controlled by reason and regulated by justice and charity. Luther came down like a thunder-storm upon his opponents, and used the crushing sledge-hammer indiscriminately against Eck, Cochlæus, Henry VIII., Erasmus, the Sacramentarians, and Zwinglians; while Calvin wielded the sharp sword of irony, wit, scorn, and contempt in defense of truth, but never from personal hatred and revenge. 'Even a dog barks,' he says, 'when his master is attacked; how could I be silent when the honor of my Lord is assailed?'835835 The strongest terms of Calvin against ferocious enemies are canes, porci, bestial, nebulones (with reference, no doubt, to Scripture usage— Isa. lvi. 10; Matt. vii. 6; Phil. iii. 2; Rev. xxii. 15); but they are mild compared to the coarse and vulgar epithets with which Luther overwhelmed his opponents, without expressing any regret afterwards, except in the case of Henry VIII., where it was least needed, and made the matter worse. He confessed, however, in a letter to Bucer, and on his death-bed, that he found it difficult to tame 'the wild beast' of his wrath, and humbly asked forgiveness for his weakness. He had no children to write to, and to play with around the Christmas-tree, like Luther, but he appears to better advantage in his relations with men and women. He treated them, even the much younger Beza, as equals, overlooked minor differences, and in correcting their faults expected the same manly frankness from them in return; while Luther, growing more irritable and overbearing with advancing years, made even Melanchthon tremble and fear. But we should charitably remember that the faults of these truly great and good men were only the long shadows of their extraordinary virtues.836836 Calvin, though fully aware of the defects of Luther, often expressed his admiration for him (see p. 430), and in January, 1545 (a year before Luther's death), he sent him a letter (which Melanchthon was afraid to hand to the old lion on account of his excited state of feeling against the Swiss), closing with these touching words: 'If I could only fly to you and enjoy your society, even for a few hours! . . . But since this privilege is not granted to me on earth, I hope I may soon enjoy it in the kingdom above. Farewell, most illustrious man, most excellent minister of Christ and father [pater, al. frater], forever venerable to me. May the Lord continue to guide you by his Spirit to the end for the common good of his Church.' Opera, Vol. XII. p. 8.
It may be found strange that Calvin never alludes to the paradise of nature by which he was surrounded on the lovely shores of Lake Leman, in sight of the lofty Alps that pierce the skies in silent adoration of their Maker. But we look in vain for descriptions of natural scenery in the whole literature of the sixteenth century; and the proper appreciation of the beauties of Switzerland, as well as of other countries, is of more recent date. Calvin had no special organ nor time for the enjoyment of the beautiful either in nature or in art, but he appreciated poetry and music.837837 Guizot says (p. 164): 'Although Calvin was devoted to the severe simplicity of evangelical worship, he did not overlook the inherent love of mankind for poetry and art. He himself had a taste for music, and knew its power. He feared that, in a religious service limited to preaching and prayer only, the congregation, having nothing else to do than to play the part of audience, would remain cold and inattentive. For this reason he attached great importance to the introduction and promotion of the practice of Psalm-singing in public worship. "If the singing," he said, "is such as befits the reverence which we ought to feel when we sing before God and the angels, it is an ornament which bestows grace and dignity upon our worship; and it is an excellent method of kindling the heart, and making it burn with great ardor in prayer. But we must at all times take heed lest the ear should be more attentive to the harmony of the sound than the soul to the hidden meaning of the words" (Instit. Ch. XX.). With this pious warning, he strongly urged the study of singing, and its adaptation to public worship.' Comp. Gaberel, Vol. I. p. 353. He insisted on the introduction of congregational singing in Geneva, and wrote himself a few poetic versions of the Psalms, and a hymn of praise to Christ, which are worthy of Clement Marot and reveal an unexpected vein of poetic fervor and tenderness.838838 These poetic pieces were recently discovered, and published in the sixth volume of the new edition of his 0pera (1867), pp. 212–224. His Salutation à Jésus-Christ was translated into German by Stähelin, and into English by Mrs. Smith, of New York, for Schaff's Christ in Song, London edition, p. 549. His Epinicion Christo cantatum is a polemic poem in Latin hexameters and pentameters, composed during the Conference at Worms, 1541, in which he describes the Romish polemics Eck, Cochlæus, Nausea, and Pelargus as dragged after the chariot of the victorious Redeemer. Opera. Vol. V. pp. 417–428. The following specimen must suffice:
'I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust, and Saviour of my heart!
Who so much toil and woe
And pain didst undergo,
For my poor, worthless sake:
We pray thee, from our hearts,
All idle griefs and smarts
And foolish cares to take.
'Thou art the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast thou, and no bitterness:
Make us to taste and prove,
Make us adore and love,
The sweet grace found in thee;
With longing to abide
Ever at thy dear side,
In thy sweet unity.
'Poor, banished exiles, wretched sons of Eve,
Full of all sorrows, unto thee we grieve;
To thee we bring our sighs,
Our groanings, and our cries:
Thy pity, Lord, we crave;
We take the sinner's place,
And pray thee, of thy grace,
To pardon and to save.'
TRIBUTES TO CALVIN.
I add some estimates of Calvin's character, which represent very different stand-points.839839 We omit Henry and Stähelin, from whom it would he difficult to select passages in praise of Calvin. See especially the entire Seventh Book of Stähelin, Vol. II., pp. 365–393: Calvin als Mensch und als Christ.
Beza, who knew Calvin best and watched at his death-bed, concludes his biography with these words:
'Having been an observer of Calvin's life for sixteen years, I may with perfect right testify that we have in this man a most beautiful example of a truly Christian life and death, which it is easy to calumniate but difficult to imitate.'840840 'Ego historiam vitæ et obitus ipsius, cujus spectator sedecim annos fui, bona fide persequutus testari mihi optimo jure posse videor, longe pulcherrimum vere Christianæ tum vitæ tum mortis exemplum in hoc homine cunctis propositum fuisse, quod tam facile sit calumniari, quam difficile fuerit æmulari.'
'Let us not give him praise which he would not have accepted. God alone creates; a man is great only because God thinks fit to accomplish great things by his instrumentality. Never did any great man understand this better than Calvin. It cost him no effort to refer all the glory to God; nothing indicates that he was ever tempted to appropriate to himself the smallest portion of it. Luther, in many a passage, complacently dwells on the thought that a petty monk, as he says, has so well made the Pope to tremble, and so well stirred the whole world. Calvin will never say any such thing; he never even seems to say it, even in the deepest recesses of his heart: every where you perceive the man, who applies to all things—to the smallest as to the greatest—the idea that it is God who does all and is all. Read again, from this point of view, the very pages in which he appeared to you the haughtiest and most despotic, and see if, even there, he is any thing other than the workman referring all, and in all sincerity, to his Master. . . . But the man, in spite of all his faults, has not the less remained one of the fairest types of faith, of earnest piety, of devotedness, and of courage. Amid modern laxity, there is no character of whom the contemplation is more instructive; for there is no man of whom it has been said with greater justice, in the words of an apostle, "he endured as seeing him who is invisible."'
'Among the martyrs, with whom Calvin constantly conversed in spirit, he became a martyr himself; he felt and lived like a man before whom the whole earth disappears, and who tunes his last Psalm, his whole eye fixed upon the eye of God, because he knows that on the following morning he may have to ascend the stake.'
Ernest Renan, once educated for the Romish priesthood, then a skeptic, with all his abhorrence of Calvin's creed, pays the following striking tribute to his character:843843 In his article on Jean Calvin, above quoted, pp. 286, etc. The translation is by O. B. Frothingham, a radical Unitarian in New York.
Calvin was one of those absolute men, cast complete in one mould, who is taken in wholly at a single glance: one letter, one action suffices for a judgment of him. There were no folds in that inflexible soul, which never knew doubt or hesitation. . . . Careless of wealth, of titles, of honors, indifferent to pomp, modest in his life, apparently humble, sacrificing every thing to the desire of making others like himself, I hardly know of a man, save Ignatius Loyola, who could match him in these terrible transports. . . . It is surprising that a man who appears to us in his life and writings so unsympathetic should have been the centre of an immense movement in his generation, and that this harsh and severe tone should have exerted so great an influence on the minds of his contemporaries. How was it, for example, that one of the most distinguished women of her time, Renée of France, in her court at Ferrara, surrounded by the flower of European wits, was captivated by that stern master, and by him drawn into a course that must have been so thickly strewn with thorns? This kind of austere seduction is exercised by those only who work with real conviction. Lacking that vivid, deep, sympathetic ardor which was one of the secrets of Luther's success, lacking the charm, the perilous, languishing tenderness of Francis of Sales, Calvin succeeded, in an age and in a country which called for a reaction towards Christianity, simply because he was the most christian man of his generation.'
'Calvin is great by reason of his marvelous powers, his lasting labors, and the moral height and purity of his character. . . . Earnest in faith, pure in motive, austere in his life, and mighty in his works, Calvin is one of those who deserve their great fame. Three centuries separate us from him, but it is impossible to examine his character and history without feeling, if not affection and sympathy, at least profound respect and admiration for one of the great Reformers of Europe and of the great Christians of France.'
Prof. Kahnis, of Leipzig, whose personal and theological sympathies are with Luther, nevertheless asserts the moral superiority of Calvin above the other Reformers:845845 Die Lutherische Dogmatik, Vol. II. pp. 490, 491.
'The fear of God was the soul of his piety, the rock-like certainty of his election before the foundation of the world was his power, and the doing of the will of God his single aim, which he pursued with trembling and fear. . . . No other Reformer has so well demonstrated the truth of Christ's word that, in the kingdom of God, dominion is service. No other had such an energy of self-sacrifice, such an irrefragable conscientiousness in the greatest as well as the smallest things, such a disciplined power. This man, whose dying body was only held together by the will flaming from his eyes, had a majesty of character which commanded the veneration of his contemporaries.'
Prof. Dorner, of Berlin, the first among the theologians of the age, distinguished by profound learning, penetrating thought, rare catholicity of spirit, and nice sense of justice and discrimination, says:
'Calvin was equally great in intellect and character, lovely in social life, full of tender sympathy and faithfulness to friends, yielding and forgiving towards personal offenses, but inexorably severe when he saw the honor of God obstinately and malignantly attacked. He combined French fire and practical good sense with German depth and soberness. He moved as freely in the world of ideas as in the business of Church government. He was an architectonic genius in science and practical life, always with an eye to the holiness and majesty of God.'846846 Geschichte der Protest. Theologie, pp. 374 and 376. I add his considerate judgment of Calvin in full: 'Die nach Zwingli's and Œcolampad's Tode verwaiste reformirte Kirche erhielt am Johann Calvin, gleich gross an Geist und Character, einen festen Mittelpunkt und eine ordnende Seele für Lehre und Kirchenverfassung. Durch ihn wurde Genf statt Zürichs die neue reformirte Metropole; und dieses Gemeinwesen bewies eine wunderbare, weithin erobernde Kraft. . . . Calvin's persönliche Erscheinung war die eines altrömischen Censors; er war von feinem Wuchs, blass, hager, mit dem Ausdruck tiefen Ernstes und einschneidender Schärfe. Der Senat von Genf sagte nach seinem Tode, er sei ein majestätischer Charakter gewesen. Liebenswürdig im socialen Leben, voll zarter Theilnahme und Freundestreue, nachsichtig und versöhnlich bei persönlichen Beleidigungen, war er unerbittlich streng, wo er Gottes Ehre in Hartnäckigkeit oder Bosheit angegriffen sah. Unter seinen Collegen hatte er keine Neider, aber viele begeisterte Verehrer. Französisches Feuer und praktischer Verstand schienen mit deutscher Tiefe und Besonnenheit einen Bund geschlossen zu haben. War er auch nicht spekulativen oder intuitiven Geistes, so war dagegen sein Verstand und sein Urtheil um so eindringender und schärfer, sein Gedächtniss umfassend; und er bewegte sich ebenso leicht in der Welt der Ideen und der Wissenschaft, wie in den Geschäften des Kirchenregiments. Zwar ist er nicht ein Mann des Volkes, wie Luther, sondern in seiner Sprache mehr der Gelehrte, und seine Wirksamkeit als Prediger und Seelsorger kann daher mit der Luthers nicht verglichen werden. Dagegen ist er mehr ein architektonischer Geist und zwar sowohl im Gebiete der Wissenschaft als des Lebens. Beide sind ihm in ihrer Wurzel eins, und seine dogmatischen Constructionen, so kühn sie in der Folgerichtigkeit ihrer Gedanken sind, behalten ihm doch immer zugleich erbaulichen Charakter. Auch wo er verwegen in die göttlichen Geheimnisse der Prädestination einzudringen sucht, immer leitet ihn der praktische Trieb, der Heiligkeit und Majestät Gottes zu dienen, für das Gemüth aber den ewigen Ankergrund zu finden, darin es im Bewusstsein der Erwählung durch freie Gnade sicher ruhen könne.'
'When we look at his extraordinary intellect, at his culture—which opponents, like Bossuet, have been forced to commend—at the invincible energy which made him endure with more than stoical fortitude infirmities of body under which most men would have sank, and to perform, in the midst of them, an incredible amount of mental labor; when we see him, a scholar naturally fond of seclusion, physically timid, and recoiling from notoriety and strife, abjuring the career that was most to his taste, and plunging, with a single-hearted, disinterested zeal and an indomitable will, into a hard, protracted contest; and when we follow his steps, and see what things he effected, we can not deny him the attributes of greatness. . . . His last days were of a piece with his life. His whole course has been compared by Vinet to the growth of one rind of a tree from another, or to a chain of logical sequences, He was endued with a marvelous power of understanding, although the imagination and sentiments were less roundly developed. His systematic spirit fitted him to be the founder of an enduring school of thought. In this characteristic he may be compared with Aquinas. He has been appropriately styled the Aristotle of the Reformation. He was a perfectly honest man. He subjected his will to the eternal rule of right, as far as he could discover it. His motives were pure. He felt that God was near him, and sacrificed every thing to obey the direction of Providence. The fear of God ruled in his soul; not a slavish fear, but a principle such as animated the prophets of the Old Covenant. The combination of his qualities was such that he could not fail to attract profound admiration and reverence from one class of minds, and excite intense antipathy in another. There is no one of the Reformers who is spoken of, at this late day, with so much personal feeling, either of regard or aversion. But whoever studies his life and writings, especially the few passages in which he lets us into his confidence and appears to invite our sympathy, will acquire a growing sense of his intellectual and moral greatness, and a tender consideration for his errors.'
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