May 28: John Calvin, Theologian, 1564

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John Calvin was the premier theologian and leader of the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation.

Calvin was born in France in 1509 and reared in a devout Roman Catholic family. He excelled at his studies and by the age of 19 he had earned a master’s degree. His father wanted him to study law, which he did for a time, but Calvin’s own passions were theology, languages, rhetoric and the literary sciences. Around 1534, he underwent a major conversion experience, left the Roman Church, and devoted the rest of his life to the evangelical cause of the Protestant Reformation.

Calvin’s greatest work is The Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536, but repeatedly updated and revised until its final edition in 1559. Unlike Luther and Zwingli, whose theological writings were “situational” in the sense of addressing particular conflicts, Calvin’s Institutes were a more systematic treatment of the whole of Reformed evangelical theology. By taking up his reforming agenda fifteen years after Luther and Zwingli, Calvin was able to write in a more reflective and considered mode, beyond the crossfire and immediacy of the early years of the Reformation. Standard themes in Reformed theology—the sovereignty of God, election and predestination, the true nature of the Christian life, and the proper understanding of the authority of Scripture—even now bear strong Calvinist qualities. The Institutes continue to be an accessible window into the Reformed theology of the sixteenth century.

Calvin was also interested in theological principles controlling the civil state by imposing moral discipline on the people. His efforts in Geneva to establish such a theocratic moral code enjoyed periods of modest success but were met with resistance as well. Positively, Calvin’s theocratic principles of public life led to the creation of hospitals, care for the poor, orphans, widows and the infirm, provisions for better sanitation, and the creation of new industries to employ the people. Calvin’s Geneva was also a safe haven for John Knox and other Protestants of the Reformed tradition during times of unrest and exile.


I.    Sovereign and holy God, who didst bring John Calvin from a study of legal systems to understand the godliness of thy divine laws as revealed in Scripture: Fill us with a like zeal to teach and preach thy Word, that the whole world may come to know thy Son Jesus Christ, the true Word and Wisdom; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, ever one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

II.    Sovereign and holy God, you brought John Calvin from a study of legal systems to understand the godliness of your divine laws as revealed in Scripture: Fill us with a like zeal to teach and preach your Word, that the whole world may come to know your Son Jesus Christ, the true Word and Wisdom; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, ever one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Psalm 119:1–8

Joel 2:1–2,12–14

Romans 9:18–26

John 15:1–11

Preface of Trinity Sunday

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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63 thoughts on “May 28: John Calvin, Theologian, 1564

  1. In January 1645, followers of this heretic’s cult judicially murdered, by beheading, the Archbishop of Canterbury; four years later, they did the same to the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, all the while desecrating and defacing virtually every church and cathedral in the country, It beggars belief that this man have a festival day in the calendar.

    • You mean that they thought that the King was equal under the Law and before God? Shocking, and deeply heretical.
      The executions of both Laud and Charles the First had as much to do with the will to power of Cromwell as they did theology. UNless you forget, the Scottish Presbyterians objected to the execution of the King, and many found the way Laud was treated to be troublesome. Do not blame Calvin, or even all Calvinists, for the Round Head excesses.

  2. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Collect, Lections, and Proper Preface) are new.

  3. Bio: Great ‘Who he is’ and ‘Why he is important’ statement. Thanks! Now a statement regarding his death in 1564 to make it complete.

  4. Beyond the atrocities noted a by J Morrell, there is the theological question of Predestination in the work of Calvin. He taught double predestination: to salvation and to damnation. Somehing to the effect that not every person is created with the same destiny but some are foreordained to eternal life and some for
    eternal damnation. This is the working out of God’s general prov idence !? While it seems inconsistent with the larger thrust of the Gospel , I am not clear that it is heresy, as such. Even so, I am not willing to
    give this man a place in our calander, any more than I would to Arius.

  5. I see two problematic issues in the biography. The first has to do with the implication that Calvin’s theological style was a product of his later context (compared to Luther and Zwingli). To suggest the 1540s and 1550s were less contentious theologically than the 1520s is flat out wrong. Calvin’s style was a product of his educational background, including humanism, and his personality. He was a systematizer in ways that Luther or Zwingli were not, nor could be (although Zwingli’s late Ratio fidei moves in that direction).

    The second problem is the term “theocratic.” It’s at best misleading but ignores the complexity of the relationship between Calvin and the Geneva City Council. He was never able to dictate laws or public behavior. He didn’t even become a citizen of the city until fairly late. His entire career was characterized by intense conflict with the City Council. He saw himself as a prophet whose task was to call the community to faithfulness.

    Oh, and on double predestination: In the earlier editions of the Institutes, predestination was discussed in the early chapters, under God’s providence. In the 1559 edition, Calvin moved his discussion of the topic, dealing with it as one of the ways in which God’s grace saves us.

    • If nothing else, Calvin has to deal with more factions. He not only had to deal with the older, Medieval Papal Church and it’s baggage, but also the emerging Lutheran, Roman Catholic (which is different from what came before if only in terms of uniformity of practice and a narrowing of theological horizons), Zwinglian, and Anabaptist thought. Some of the reason why his Eucharistic theology seems so odd to many Anglicans is because he was not trying to define his position over and against Transubstantiation alone, but also the Zwinglian/Anabaptist definitions. He is remarkably less polemical, and less interested in self promotion (for lack of a better term).
      He saw himself as the messenger, and not he Message. We see very little of his personality come out in the Institutes or the Commentaries. He even requested to be buried in an unmarked grave so as to not create some sort of shrine.

  6. “Positively, Calvin’s theocratic principles of public life….” And the “negatively” would be…?

    “Calvin was also interested in theological principles controlling the civil state by imposing moral discipline on the people.” In other words, Sharia.

    It’s true that Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination is not formally heretical, inasmuch as it has never been formally condemned as such by the ecumenical church. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t seriously wrong, contrary to the Gospel, and destructive of Christian faith. I’m willing to cut Luther some slack despite his faults because of his positive effects in the life of the western church. Calvin, not so much.

    Yes, he’s historically very important, even more so than Torquemada.

    (Yes, I have read the Institutes. There’s some good stuff in there. But there’s also….)

    I vote no.

  7. Maybe Calvin was predestined to be in Holy Women and Holy Men, in which case it was his manifest destiny. Ha!

  8. If everyone whose followers committed atrocities was eliminated from consideration, we should all give it up and go home . . . Christ would certainly be high on the list of “most atrocities committed in his name” (past and present and probably future).
    People need to know who Calvin is and what he taught even if we don’t believe the same things he did.
    Still don’t understand the change in date placement . . . but then so many of the entries don’t list dates that perhaps it doesn’t matter any more who we commemorate when (Bertha & Ethelbert don’t seem to have any connection to May 27th, but Calvin certainly does . . .)

  9. Snarky comments — please skip this paragraph if you are a John Calvin fan: I leave others to talk about the appropriateness of this commemoration, but I’ll just chime in that I think he is a proponent of heresy whose beliefs were destructive to the wider church and to the souls of many who have followed him down his errant path. I certainly will not make use of this commemoration: his theology is antithetical to the gospel and his personal life leaves much to be desired.

    But, if it must stay: In the bio,

    Master’s degree in what?

    “Literary sciences” — really? We can’t just say literature?

    “Major conversion experience”? Moving from RC to Protestantism is a “conversion”? That puts a whole new spin on the ecumenical movement…and here I was thinking it was all the same religion

    The history of the Institutes as being “non-situational” is, as mentioned by others above, a very peculiar interpretation of those years…

    I don’t quite get the point of this sentence: Standard themes in Reformed theology—X,Y,&Z—even now bear strong Calvinist qualities. Are we saying that Calvinist theology is Calvinist? That seems tautological. (And I would argue that all of the points X,Y,Z given as examples (except for predestination) are also central to the Catholic Tradition. We just happen to disagree with Mr. Calvin on what “the proper authority of Scripture” is!

    Anyone else find the lauding of Calvin’s “controlling the civil state by imposing moral discipline on the people” a fascinating discussion point the day after Ethelbert who gets props for not really ever forcing anyone to do anything?

    The word “godliness” in the collect seems a little peculiar: I would have to imagine that there is some better word for God’s laws than godly. It’s like calling my comments “Michaely”…

    Second day in a row the collects now end with “in glory everlasting”. Is there a precedent for this new ending or has it come, like Athena, fully formed from the head of Dr. Ruth Meyers?

    Snark back on And a final note, do we really want God to “Fill us with a like zeal”? That seems to have turned out pretty destructively last time around Snark off

    • I’d just like to thank all those who posted after me — your comments gave a much needed corrective to my historical picture of Calvin. I’m still no Calvin fan for theological reasons, but I freely admit I was much harsh in my assessment of his personal life and politics.

  10. The postings says nothing that I can see about Calvin and the eucharist. His position, a real spiritual presence of Christ in the eucharist, has informed a good deal of Protestant thinking about the eucharist. He was NOT a memorialist as was Zwingli. If you read Calvin on the eucharist and then Hooker, you can see a rather significant link, perhaps because of their common source, Martin Bucer.

    The text is correct to separate Calvin from Calivinism. His 17th century followers tighten up many of his ideas, and moved the nature of Predestination from begin a pastoral concern to a part of the nature of God. Calivn NEVER say Predestination as an attribute of God. Theodore Beza did!

  11. While I’ll grant that Calvinists (the third and fourth generation particularly) are a truly nasty lot, and I’ll grant that a lot in Calvin’s theology allowed the absurdity of a TULIP bubble to grow, I think that we have to recognize that the theology of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century (episcopal) anglicanism is as firmly rooted in Calvin as was that of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century (presbyterian) anglicanism. It is impossible to make any sense of Cranmer and Hooker (and Donne and Herbert) without recognizing that they drunk deeply from Calvin. Indeed, people like Bob Daly, SJ, claim that Calvin was the most catholic theologian of the sixteenth century–more so than Cardinal Bellarmine, for example.

    I’d actually like to see the term “Prophetic Witness” added to the title, frankly. The problem is that like most prophetic witnesses, Calvin wasn’t always precise and moderate in his views. In fact, we might want to ask ourselves if any of the prophetic witnesses, so called, in HWHM can engage as much spleen as Calvin. If not, then they probably aren’t prophetic witnesses but merely liberal icons, which I propose as a new title in HWHM.

    I would like to see a footnote justifying the claim that the Institutes are Calvin’s greatest work. Vastly more important and influential, at least until the late 19th century and the rise of American (calvinist) fundamentalism, were his biblical commentaries, his liturgical thought (some of which is in the Institutes), and particularly his part in the creation of the metrical psalter. It’s also worth noting that while Calvin worked on the concept of double predestination, I don’t think he ever embraced it. There are places in the last version of the Institutes as well as in other late writing, where he essentially pushed to a position that verged on universalism, i.e., that the set of persons predestined before their creation to eternal punishment must be empty, because otherwise it would violate God’s attribute of justice.

    So rag all you want on Calvinists. But don’t confuse Calvin with a thuggish, bagpipe-playing Scottish highlander who might justifiably see most 17th-century English bishops as an abomination before the Lord.

    • As I pointed out in my own posts, the Fundamentalists can only use Calvin selectively. The Genesis commentary pretty much says that we have to use the common grace given by God to explore the creation when he endorsed Copernicus. Kirk Cameron and his bananas don’t find their home in Calvin.

  12. If we have to do away with predestination there goes Augustine and Luther. Since so many Episcopalians embrace the formal heresy of Pelagious as a “cool thing” I’m not surprised. Since they prefer the ideas of that nasty Welsh hyper moralist who denounced the idea of Grace as violating the moral law of God, the idea of unmerited election is, no doubt, offensive.

    Almost all of these posts also reflect the intellectually lazy and overly emotional tendency in those same circles to blame everything bad on Calvin, and Calvinism. The majority of the “no” comments seem to be driven by that.

    Historians point to Calvin for his aiding in the concepts of Democracy. He wrote extensively on economics, not the out of control crony capitalism of today, but of ending bastard feudalism once and for all and freeing those help in virtual slavery as “bondsmen” or servants with little to no rights. Equality under the law as a reflection of equality before God is also one of the precepts found in the Institutes. That was a part of the reason for the English Civil War: was the King subject to the laws of England? The other, far more important part, had to do with the Cromwell families desire for power. To blame Calvin, who argued against rebellion, for the actions of the Lord Protector is sort of like blaming Hitler of Luther: emotionally satisfying, but vastly over simplified.

    Another note before we get to far into this: Calvin did not denounce the Copernican discovery of the Earths orbit, regardless of Bertrand Russell and others. That shaggy dog story can be traced to Fredrick William Farrar, Archdeacon of Canterbury, in what is a typical example of a reference without citation. A reading of his Commentary on Genesis actually has an endorsement of the use of reason, and what we would now call “science,” to find out more about the universe since, as he put it “[The author of Genesis] wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.”
    That last part alone should qualify for some credit against the knee jerk reactions.

  13. Interesting comments above. Everyone seems to agree that there is at least some good in the Institutes. I don’t think I can pray the collect with any sincerity, however: “Sovereign and holy God, you brought John Calvin from a study of legal systems to understand the godliness of your divine laws as revealed in Scripture: Fill us with a like zeal to teach and preach your Word, that the whole world may come to know your Son Jesus Christ, the true Word and Wisdom; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, ever one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” I hope not many of us have a “like zeal” to punish, or allow to be punished so severely. those who disagree with us, excusing such cruelty in the name of Christ. It may be that other people on our calendar, like Thomas Cranmer, went along with the practice of the age in punishment of those considered heretics by torture and burning; but I don’t think Cranmer went about it “zealously.” And applying a study of legal systems to the workings of the church is not, I think, improved by “zeal.” The emotions that produce “zeal” can blind one to other important considerations, especially in bringing people to Christ.

    • Quite frankly, the Geneva of Calvin’s day was known for being tolerant, as compared to the rest of Europe. That is why Cervetus went there. The City Council was responsible for the “cruelty” done in Geneva, and Calvin spent a good deal of effort trying to curb their excesses, which were tame compared to what was going on in, say, England at the time.

      The Council had to break into Calvin’s study to find evidence to prove that the man they had arrested was Cervitus. They then compelled Calvin to testify and and used his temper to get him to denounce the Unitarianism presented by the writings of Cervitus. He then tried to get the City to behead, rather than burn, the convicted man since, at the time, it was considered more humane.

      More to the point, blaming Calvin for the actions of a civic government he had limited influence over, is unfair. There was no Theocracy in Geneva, per se, and Calvin would go so far as to say that the Church’s government and that of the city should be separated, except on the level that the Church would be the conscience of the State, and the State would maintain good order.

  14. Adding Calvin to the calendar is cerrtainly contoversial, in spie of the good thingd Michael Ramsey said about him tn he Gospel and the Catholic Church, Since to many of us Calvanism is a dirty word, it is hard to separate John calvin as a Theologian from Puritanism and the other typical expressions of English Speaking Calvinism. Good luck!

  15. John–I think Geneva had to work at convincing Calvin to come, and that Calvin insisted that his theology be taken very seriously if he were to “take the job” there. That supports what you and others say about its being the state, not the theologian, which “carried out” the implications of his theology. You say above that Calvin’s temper in denouncing Servetus’s teaching helped inflame the state’s zeal. I had not realized that Calvin tried to curb the excessive zealotry of the state. –I see that 1553, the year that Servetus was in Geneva, was the year that Mary’s reign began in England and I imagine her policies against protestants began about that time. Are you implying, perhaps, that Geneva’s severity against perceived heretics was partly in response to Mary’s persecutions? Or was that just the temper of the times?

    • (You seem to see “zeal” as a bad thing.)

      Well, Bucer and (I Think) Beze had to talk him into going there instead of his real wish, which was to stay in Basel and write. After he got to Geneva, the City Council ( Petit Council) was sort of backed into hiring him by the Council General . This would begin a long and tempestuous relationship, involving at least one exile. In the end, the Petit Council was in charge of the government, and Calvin couldn’t even vote in elections. The Servitus affair kind of shows the relationship. In a coldly calculated move, the Council chose a Prosecutor who knew Calvin well enough to get him to angrily denounce Servetus’ theology. There was no “zeal” except in Calvin’s desire to defend the Doctrine of the Trinity. The prosecutor phrased his questions in such a way as to rile up Calvin’s temper, and he fell for it. That passion was used to convict Servitus. The Council then applied the sentence that was already on him from a trail in Spain: burning at the Stake. Calvin tried to get what was seen as a more “humane” form of execution, but the Petit Council basically said “Why depart from tradition?” and he was burned.
      The Council was acutely aware that they were getting a reputation for being an “Open” city and decided to use Servitus as a way to prove to the Lutherans and Roman Catholics that they were as tough as the rest of the Big Boys, as it were.
      I’m not trying to draw a strait line between Bloody Mary and the events in Geneva, but it is telling that all three of Henery VIII have a massive body count, and the Geneva of the same period was pretty bloodless.
      By the way: Cramner was extremely “zealous” in the prosecution/persecution of people he didn’t like.

  16. A couple of blinding glimpses of the obvious: a) a big difference between Calvin and Calvinists b) in my own study of Donne and Herbert I would say that the influence of Calvinism is quite over-stated, admitting that several scholars argue for it.

    • I see it differently. There are signs of Calvin’s influence in both writers. The thing is that it is bigger in the likes of Hooker, Laud, and others is very clear, not to mention the Prayer Book.

  17. Like it or not, there’s a fair dollop of Calvin in the Anglican Communion’s DNA. As Pitt the Elder observed, “We have a Calvinistic creed, a Popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy.”
    As noted above, Calvin’s Geneva was an outpost of (relative) tolerance in an intolerant age, and none of the firgures of his time — neither Luther, nor Cranmer, nor Laud — would pass muster by modern standards of political or theological correctness. But look at fruits which Calvinism eventually bore: Harvard, Yale, the Huguenots, the Presbyterian Church, the UCC, and what Allen Coffey called “‘Virginia Churchmanship’ — a resolute, austere, orthodox, and scholarly form of American Anglicanism, tinctured with Calvinism, Methodism, and Puritanism.”

  18. John–I read the first part of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography of Cranmer. That’s where I got the idea that Cranmer wasn’t a zealous persecutor, but where he thought he had to defend the realm–for instance, against the group of which the Maid of Kent was a part–they were trying to smear Anne Boleyn’s reputation, if I remember correctly–he acted reluctantly but firmly. (And when Henry started to believe what Cranmer thought were lies about Anne, he did what he could to temper the monarch and help him see things the way they were–but he did not succeed). MacCulloch is at pains, at least in the part that I read, to encourage Henry VIII in the things he (Cranmer) thought were right (like reading the BIble at Mass, and encouraging reading the Bible in general–but on the other hand, dissuading Henry from insisting at times on what he (Henry) thought was the “plain meaning of the text” wasn’t always so plain. The type of “evangelical” which MacCulloch said Cranmer represented was different from the type of “evangelical” which Calvin represented, although there were some similarities.

    • Well, since Calvin didn’t believe in the “plain meaning” of the text, in particular he was at pains to try and make it clear that he thought that the 6 day creation narrative was written in such a way that the first readers would have understood. If anything, and people tend to not like this idea, Calvin was the first theologian since Jerome to encourage serious scholarship when it came to the Scriptures.
      I read the McCulloch bio and I was impressed by just how political Cramner could be, when he chose so to be. I’ll yield to your memory on the point. His theology was mostly Zwinglian, but still Reformed. The term “evangelical” is very difficult to use as a label since what is meant by the word shifts over time. We tend to use it to stand in for “Fundamentalist” in many occasions. Tow hit, they are (and most Anglicans are) Reformed. To be exact, we are a Reformed Catholic Church, and not Evangelical (in either the more generic Lutheran meaning nor the more modern sense of “soft Fundamentalist.”

      • Calvin was the first theologian since Jerome to encourage serious study of Holy Writ? That doesn’t seem quite right: could you perhaps clarify this a little?

      • I should have said in a systemic and critical sense. Modern Biblical Scholarship has its roots in Calvin more than any other, than perhaps Erasmus, since both men collected and collated Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. It is Clavin’s insistence upon not just handing out the Bible willy nilly to the whole Church, but to make sure that one of the roles of an educated clergy is to then educate the laity that gives us our own tradition (now sadly under attack) of well educated Clergy and well read laity.

      • Thank you for the clarification; I wasn’t aware of Calvin’s manuscript work, only that of Erasmus and Beza in assembling the TR. I’m certainly all for a well-educated clergy and laity so I will definitely think highly of Mr. Calvin for that.

  19. Correction above: “MacCulloch is at pains…to show that Cranmer encouraged Henry, etc.”

  20. I, for one, am very glad to see Jean Calvin proposed for inclusion in HWHM. He was far too important a theologian not to be included even if there are many who might not agree with how later generations tried to work out Reformed theology in practical every day life, both civil and religous. Jean Calvin was not the author of the Massachusetts Bay Colony or even the colony of Newark in New Jersey. These colonists and settlers were several generations from the time Calvin wrote, though they were trying to figure out how one lived a righteous faith-filled life as a community. And they thought that religious conformity was necessary for a communiity. The laws of the communiity should be founded on the Bible and some colonial statute books begin with the 10 commandents. These Puritans learned the limitations of creating a theocracy 350 years ago. (It is a shame that those who want to impose sharia do not learn from history.)

    We as American are deeply indebted to Calvin’s idea of the equality of all humankind before God , even though he did purpetuate the idea of woman as intrinsically inferior to men. Even the governance of the Episcopal Church in the United States can be thought of as a byproduct of Jean Calvin’s ideas of the church as a spiritual republic. Otherwise the Episcopal Church would be solely under the direction of appointed bishops. God not the Archbishop of Canterbury is the supreme ruler of the church.

    Though I think that the banishment of organs and other instruments from the church service was a great loss during worship, the Refomed notion that singing should have a biblical basis gave us an incredibly rich tradition of metrical psalms. This is another example of how Calvin’s writings were translated into practical use, not by Calvin himself but worked out by various poets in French, Dutch, and English.. Calvin did not have Luther’s gift for music. And a review of the Hymnal 1982 indices will remind one of the importance of the Genevan Psalter and other psalm based hymn books.

    As for the collect, the phrase “brought John Calvin from a study of legal systems” adds nothing and makes the collect difficult to read aloud. Unfortunately I have tired writing collects and I have no skill so I would leave it to others far more gifted than I to re-write the collect. I think the writer is trying to get to the point of saying that Calvin reminds us all of the importance of authority of the Bible as we preach the Word in our life and by our words.

    And for Jean Calvin, I am truly thankful, though he has the shortcomings and limitations of being human and living in the 16th century. None of the persons honored in HWHM is perfect

    • Opps, I may have “tired” in my efforts to write collects, but what I really did was “try” without much success.

  21. Thanks to Suzanne for the comments above, especially the one about equality before God. –About whether Anglicanism is “evangelical,” John–it certainly is too bad that the word in the minds of many has come to mean “fundamentalist.” Diarmaid MacCulloch called Cranmer an “evangelical,” and the way he used the term made sense to me. The Episcopal priests and bishops who’ve taught me the most and enriched my faith have been “evangelical” (one of them was also Anglo-Catholic). I’d like to see a serious study of the history of the word as it relates to the Anglican tradition. –I imagine Calvin, too, would be called an “evangelical” in the sense that he stressed conversion and emphasized peoples’ reading the Bible for themselves. –Suzanne or John: can you trace the influence of Calvin on John Bunyan?

    • i haven’t read Paradise Lost since I was in university, which was decades ago, but once was probably enough. As Dr. Johnson said of Milton’s masterpiece, “None ever wished it longer than it is.”

  22. Thanks, John and Suzanne. What I remember from Bunyan’s _Pilgrim Progress_: “He that is low need fear no fall; he that is down, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide. I am content with what I have, little it be or much; but, Lord, contentment still I crave because thou savest such.” (The Shepherd Boy Sings in the Valley of Humiliation.” I must admit that although we still have an ancestor’s copy of P.P., I didn’t learn the poem there; it was part of a children’s poetry anthology we had while I was growing up. I think I’ve liked it more each year I’ve read it.

  23. I hope we add Calvin to our calendar even though I don’t dispute or fault the indignation and outrage of those objecting. I’ve repeatedly objected to using “saint” appellatives for our commemorations as inappropriately elevating some and implicitly discounting the baptismal solidarity that unites us in Christ. The subtitle of HWHM itself (“celebrating the saints”) sets us up to think we are somehow discerning the saints and separating them from the merely generic Christians. (My particular gripe is when we talk as if we are canonizing candidates, or acceding to the whole premise that it makes sense (for anyone) to canonize saints.) As the sheep says in the cartoon, “All we, like people, have gone astray.”
    “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” was a book of feasts, but not really fasts. Every commemoration was written as a eulogistic hagiography, filled with praise for the excellence of the person’s always virtuous achievements. Despite the title, none was written as an occasion for fasting in penitential response to (or for) wrongs done by those wielding the power and acting in the name of the church. That, in itself, is naïve of us, — not to mention its being distorting and self-inflating. We’ve addressed matters such as individuals’ treatment of Jews, attitudes towards segregation, support of the Crusades, Inquisition, abuse of native peoples, and even in our blog discussions have not so much gone into internecine killings, executions, banishments, protracted wars between opposing “Christian” factions, or collusion with avaricious nationalistic ambitions, BUT NO SUCH SHORTCOMINGS are ever discussed in the printed narratives! This is a form of self-delusion, and I think suggests why we don’t know what to do with a giant like Calvin! He doesn’t fit our fairy tale formula. We should break out of our self-induced family secrets rather than bend (or excise) reality to maintain our comfort zone.
    I’m sure there are volatile fears attached to printing such frank realities, but look what this position does in the case of Calvin. He, with Luther, is one of two names most strongly associated with the Reformation – and we (presently) ignore him. All liturgical work takes account of how Calvin and Luther handled various matters of liturgical theology and practice – and we (presently) write him out of our commemorations. His theology influences our prayer book and Articles of Religion, and we (presently) turn our back because of objections to his other policies. Biblical commentaries continue to cite his views if not as definitive, at least as landmark. Whole denominational traditions are based on his foundation, and we are too indignant to talk honestly about his life-long attempt to serve as a Christian reformer.
    The proposed collect makes Calvin out to be some ridiculously idealized divinely enlightened Buddah unveiling godly laws revealed (to him) in scripture — a benign guru preaching true word and true wisdom. Give us a break! Nothing in me even LIKES the Calvinistic ethos, but Calvin never named himself sinless – total depravity applied equally to him. I’m irate over this collect with its pious mush and whitewash, but that means we need a collect with basic credence, not a hole to hide our heads in. The same with the narrative – it’s one sided because of the way we assume hagiography is expected to be. We have no need to “do” commemorations that one-sided way! We can credit him as a huge contributor to Western Christian Reformation AND as much of an abuser of power as Roman, English, and other agents of Christian contention have been. We need not be sheepish about it. (“All we, like people, have gone astray.”) We can grieve, repent, and fast in response to our outstanding Christian figures’ outrages. But I think it makes no sense and shows no integrity, if we ignore a figure as large as John Calvin.

    • Thank you! Jean Calvin’s thinking cannot be easily reduced to three or four paragraphs. He was too great a thinker and writer. Considerations of Calvin’s legacy have to include in the political history and politcal economy of this country, not just confined to the formation of various Christian sects of Reformed denominations.. It is hard to write a few paragraphs about such genius.

  24. To look at the number of responses and their length one thing can surely be said: there is precvious little agreement regarding what Calvin believed, how his folowers acted, and whether or not he should be

  25. I’ve enjoyed this discussion and learned a lot. But ‘m with John LaVoe about the overly pious hagiography in many cases. Maybe bio writers should take a leaf from the BIble. Most of the people discussed there have their faults and sins told as well as the the things they did that were good. Why should we treat the following generations of Christians (all having sinned and come short of the glory of God) any different? Why were they ever treated so differently?

  26. I think that this is over the top as well and just another “feel good” measure on the part of the Episcopal Church. I love our church and don’t get me wrong…I’m a progressive inclusive left of center Anglican but even I have to draw the line somewhere. We’ve come this far, why don’t we add Joseph Smith to our calendar in another 50 years? lol. I think that we need to stay true to our Catholic routes.

    • For one thing Joseph Smith was a flim-flam man and false prophet, where as Calvin was a man deeply concerned with Christian Orthodoxy and who has had a strong effect upon Anglicanism, to the point that it has been, and is, called Reformed Catholicism.
      What would you mean by “Catholic Roots”? Nineteenth century Roman ritual and piety? Some sort of Mediaeval reconstructionism?
      We are a part of the Catholic stream, but we are deeply affected by the Reformation, and the Reformed tradition in particular.

  27. I would like to see a good definition of “our Catholic routes.” I assume you mean roots. I am reminded of a phrase in the 39 Articles, “The Roman Church hath erred.” It seems that one thing is always true of Anglicanism. IT is always shifting and changing with each new generation. The same–by the way–can be said of the Reformed tradition.

  28. If there’s any justice on earth, the execution of Michael Servetus in Calvin’s Geneva, a reprehensible act, should surely exclude Calvin from any listing of Christian worthies in any liturgical book. Commemorating Calvin is indescribably inappropriate. The proposals of the SCLM, which include, if memory serves, various slave owners and at least one Confederate soldier, and now Calvin, simply discredit the Episcopal Church.

    • Craig, your point is taken, but your standard may be too high here. William Dubose whose name is remembered as a conference center for the Episcopal Church in Monteagle to TN was very friendly to the KKK, yet we regard him as one of the Episcopal Church’s most talented theologians. He was a professor of New Testament at the University of the South. He is already in the calendar and is remembered for working out the challenges of the Christian faith in terms of a guided evolution.

      The Servetus matter is extremely complex and Calvin’s role in it is not quite as direct as you suggest.

      • With all due respect, the new Calendar is going to be something astonishing: We already have Luther the anti-Semite (read his Table Talk if you don’t believe me), a soldier of the Confederacy, and now a “talented theologian,” who was close to the KKK!

        Is it really asking too much for the SCLM to exclude figures with blood on their hands, like Calvin, with his vigorous denunciation of Michael Servetus?

      • As has been pointed out, Calvin neither killed, nor was really responsible for the Death of Servitus.
        Did you read all of the posts, or just decide to repeat slander for the sake of being properly disdainful.

    • As has been pointed out else where (up the thread chain), Calvin wasn’t responsible for the execution of, and attempted to save, Servitus. When he failed there, he attempted to have him executed in a more “humane” manner.

      • Multiple sources agree that it was Calvin who had Servetus arrested, and Calvin’s secretary Nicholas de la Fontaine composed a list of accusations that was submitted before the Genevan court, so Calvin put into motion the series of events that led to Servetus’ execution.

        Calvin’s words point to his own responsibility. Quoting Calvin himself:

        ” … after he [Servetus] had been recognized, I thought that he should be detained. My friend Nicolas summoned him on a capital charge . . .”

        “I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.”

        “Posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster,”

      • Craig, I hate to tell you but those quotes are not Calvin. They are words put in his mouth by later writers. Sort of like the specious argument about him denouncing Copernicus, they can be traced to sources with no ultimate citation.
        His study was broken into to find the letters that confirmed that the prisoner the City held was Servitus. He was called tot eh stand as an expert witness, but was not the prosecutor. Since Servitus’ teachings were a formal heresy, he had to answer the affirmative.
        Finally, he tried to turn the cities government to execute Servitus in a more “humane” fashion. Repeating well worn shaggy dog stories, passed around mostly by 18th and 19th century sources with axes of their own to grind, may satisfy that urge in some Episcopalians to detest Calvin, but they serve historiography very little.
        Then again, I doubt any argument could dissuade you from your moral high horse. Calvin MUST be “bad” otherwise we don’t have someone to blame for any theological argument we dislike.

  29. My goodness, what a distressing amount of ignorance and prejudice is on display here—nothing could make it clearer how overdue his commemoration is, at least if it has an accurate biography. I think in this case that the bio also needs to acknowledge the misinformation that has been spread and attempt to correct it. If the idea of an Anglican calendar has any value at all, Calvin belongs on it, because his influence on the Church of England during its first century and longer was so deep that it is simply impossible to conceive what it would look like if he had never lived. Everyone on both sides of any argument in the 16th and 17th century church claimed his authority for their opinions, and there are still large numbers of Anglicans throughout the world, and in the US, who continue to find his work a fruitful aid to understanding scripture and Christian theology. You don’t have to agree with his conclusions—although if you’ve never read him you’d be surprised at how many of his conclusions you probably share without knowing it—to acknowledge the power of his intellect and the depth of his devotion to our common Lord.

    Concerning the details in the bio:

    ‘Conversion’ is correct. The first couple of generations of Protestants all talk about the ‘blessed change’ they underwent when the truth of justification by faith rather than works really dawned on them. It’s not conversion from one religion to another, but from a dead faith to a living one, and is not unknown to Anglicans of all shades of theological opinion.

    ‘Evangelical’ is correct, because there is still no other word which describes those who judge every teaching and practice of the church, and every aspect of their own Christian life, by Scripture rather than a tradition or theological system. It is a much abused word, and a term of abuse, but any word that means what it means will be equally abused and used equally abusively. Might as well keep this one.

    It’s true that his Scripture commentaries seem to have been more influential, at least in England, than the Institutes, and should be given equal weight in the bio.

    The last paragraph needs the most work, I think. A more effective role for church and state in moral discipline was seen as one of the most pressing needs of the day in many countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, and only in very recent times has the idea that ‘you can’t legislate morality’ made sense to more than a handful of people—and that only because centuries of attempts to do that by one means or another simply haven’t worked. The bio makes it sound like a personal eccentricity of Calvin’s.

    That ‘Calvin’s Geneva was also a safe haven for John Knox and other Protestants of the Reformed tradition during times of unrest and exile’ is true, but hardly the point as far as Anglicans are concerned; it was also a safe haven for hundreds of Church of Engand Protestants during the Marian terror, and it was after the return of those exiles at the accession of Elizabeth that Calvin became a household word in England, rather than a name known mostly to theologians.

    The collect needs work. The business about the study of legal systems is beside the point, and could be removed without loss to the flow of the prayer. I’d also add ‘and live by’ to ‘Fill us with a like zeal to teach and preach your Word’—he was more zealous for that than anything.

    Some of you also need to read some of the recent studies of Cromwell, by the way. But that’s for another day (September 3rd, if you’re interested!).

    • You will have to forgive me if I disagree with you on two points.

      The first is that Calvin taught Justification by GRACE, not faith. Faith is the manner of Sanctification. We are saved by Gods grace first and then we respond to the Grace in faith and so grow in Holiness.

      The second point is that Calvin would point out that sanctified reason must be applied to the reading of scripture, otherwise we would make an idol of Scripture. He outlines this idea in his Commentary on Genesis when defending Copernicus, and later in the Institutes when trying to outline the proper role of Scripture when it seems to collide with what the new learning has to say about the cosmos. Scripture, on it’s own, is not a resource. In that it serves as the Guide to Christ (he uses the metaphor of “Spectacles”) is it a source for theology. He was also far from dismissive of the Tradition of the Church, but that it, like Scripture, had to be tested against the findings of history and the correct use of Scripture. While he wasn’t a “Three legged stool” type person , he most certainly urged the Reasoned use of Scripture and the voice of tradition as a privileged source, but not a Norm.

  30. I find it somewhat funny that so little was said when we had a Stalin apologist (duBoise) and an outright Atheist (Moir) foisted upon us. I suppose they are more palatable to some than an actual theologian whose role in history is complex and who challenges easy theological answers and cheep grace. This says a great deal.

  31. The last time I thought about J. Calvin was at least 40 years ago and then only to pass the quiz in European history. I recently reviewed a book, “Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality” by Belden C. Lane, a prof. at Saint Louis U. It erased the stereotype of Calvin as a killjoy and helped me understand how much of what I had been taught had come from his followers. It’s a beautifully written book, concentrating on Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. Regarding Calvin, Lane writes about the Puritan’s take on “the World as a Theater of God’s Glory” and, further, about Calvin’s influence on the environment through the parentage of people from Teddy Roosevelt to Annie Dillard. Most enlightening.

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