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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 159. Calvin’s Catholicity of Spirit.


Calvin was a Frenchman by birth and education, a Swiss by adoption and life-work, a cosmopolitan in spirit and aim.

The Church of God was his home, and that Church knows no boundaries of nationality and language. The world was his parish. Having left the papacy, he still remained a Catholic in the best sense of that word, and prayed and labored for the unity of all believers. Like his friend Melanchthon, he deeply deplored the divisions of Protestantism. To heal them he was willing to cross ten oceans. Thus he wrote, in reply to Archbishop Cranmer, who had invited him (March 20, 1552), with Melanchthon and Bullinger, to a meeting in Lambeth Palace for the purpose of drawing up a consensus creed for the Reformed Churches.12221222    See Cranmer’s letter of invitation in Calvin’s Opera, XIV. 306. After expressing his zeal for the Church universal, he continues (Oct. 14, 1552):—


"I wish, indeed, it could be brought about that men of learning and authority from the different churches should meet somewhere, and after thoroughly discussing the different articles of faith, should, by a unanimous decision, deliver down to posterity some certain rule of doctrine. But amongst the chief evils of the age must be reckoned the marked division between the different churches, insomuch that human society can hardly be said to be established among us, much less a holy communion of the members of Christ, which, though all profess it, few indeed really observe with sincerity. But if the clergy are more lukewarm than they should be, the fault lies chiefly with their sovereigns, who are either so involved in their secular affairs, as to neglect altogether the welfare of the Church, and indeed religion itself, or so well content to see their own countries at peace as to care little about others; and thus the members being divided, the body of the Church lies lacerated.

"As to myself, if I should be thought of any use, I would not, if need be, object to cross ten seas for such a purpose. If the assisting of England were alone concerned, that would be motive enough with me. Much more, therefore, am I of opinion, that I ought to grudge no labor or trouble, seeing that the object in view is an agreement among the learned, to be drawn up by the weight of their authority according to Scripture, in order to unite Churches seated far apart. But my insignificance makes me hope that I may be spared. I shall have discharged my part by offering up my prayers for what may have been done by others. Melanchthon is so far off that it takes some time to exchange letters. Bullinger has, perhaps, already answered you. I only wish that I had the power, as I have the inclination, to serve the cause."12231223    "Quantum ad me attinet, si quis mei usus fore videbitur, ne decem quidem maria, si opus sit, ob eam rem trajicere pigeat. Si de juvando tantum Angliae regno ageretur, jam mihi ea satis legitima ratio foret. Nunc cum quaeratur gravis et ad Scripturae normam probe compositus doctorum hominum consensus, quo ecclesiae procul alioqui dissitae inter se coalescant, nullis vel laboribus vel molestiis parcere fas mihi esse arbitror. Verum tenuitatem meam facturam spero, ut mihi parcatur. Si votis prosequar, quod ab aliis susceptum erit, partibus meis defunctus ero. D. Philippuslongius obest, quam ut ultro citroque commeare brevi tempore literae queant. D. Bullingerustibi forte jam rescripsit. Mihi utinam par studii ardori suppeteret facultas!" See Opera, XIV. 312 sqq.; Cranmer’s Works (Parker Soc. ed.), vol. II. pp. 430-433.


This noble project was defeated or indefinitely postponed by the death of Edward VI. and the martyrdom of Cranmer, but it continues to live as a pium desiderium. In opposition to a mechanical and enforced uniformity, Calvin suggested the idea of a spiritual unity with denominational variety, or of one flock in many folds under one shepherd.12241224    John 10:16, μία ποίμνη(not αὐλή), εἷς ποιμήν The E. V., following the Latin Vulgate, wrongly translates, " one fold," which suggests the Roman idea of one external organization, like the papacy. This idea was taken up in our age by the Evangelical Alliance, the Pan-Anglican Council, the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance, the Pan-Methodist Conference, the Young Men’s Christian Associations, the Christian Endeavor Societies, and similar voluntary associations, which bring Christians of different churches and nationalities together for mutual conference and co-operation, without interfering with their separate organization and denominational preferences.

A lasting monument of Calvin’s catholicity is his immense correspondence, which fills ten quarto volumes of the last edition of his works, and embraces in all no less than forty-two hundred and seventy-one letters. He left to Beza a collection of manuscripts with discretionary power to publish from it what he deemed might promote the edification of the Church of God. Accordingly, Beza edited the first collection of Calvin’s letters eleven years after his death, at Geneva, 1575. This edition was several times republished, and gradually enriched by letters discovered in various libraries by Liebe, Mosheim, Bretschneider, Crottet, Jules Bonnet, Henry, Reuss, and Herminjard.

No theologian has left behind him a correspondence equal in extent, ability, and interest. In these letters Calvin discusses the profoundest topics of religion; he gives advice as a faithful pastor; administers comfort to suffering brethren; pours out his heart to his friends; solves difficult political questions, as a wise statesman, in the complications of the little Republic with Bern, Savoy, and France. Among his correspondents are all the surviving Reformers—Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Farel, Viret, Cranmer, Knox, Beza, Peter Martyr, John à Lasco; crowned heads—Queen Marguerite of Navarre, the Duchess Renée of Ferrara, King Sigismund Augustus of Poland, the Elector Otto Heinrich of the Palatinate, Duke Christopher of Würtemberg; statesmen and high officers, like Duke Somerset, the Protector of England, Prince Radziwil of Poland, Admiral Coligny of France, the magistrates of Zürich, Bern, Basel, St. Gall, and Frankfort; and humble confessors and martyrs to whom he sent letters of comfort in prison.



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