CALVIN AND GENEVA
John Calvin was born in the French cathedral town of Noyon in Picardy, in 1509; his name was Jean Cauvin. The familiar spelling of his last name is from the Latin form Calvinus. His father, Gerard Cauvin, was a lawyer who had close connections with the cathedral chapter. As a result, the young Calvin received church livings while he was still a boy, and this helped finance his education; furthermore, he started out to study theology. From about 1521, he was at the University of Paris, where he received his master's degree in 1528. At this point his plans were changed by his father, who had come into conflict with the church back at Noyon and as a result now ordered Calvin to turn to the study of law. He completed his legal education at the universities of Orlans and Bourges.
His chief interest in these years, however, was in classical letters, and the death of his father in 1531 set him free to pursue this study. He returned to Paris, and there in 1532 he published his first work, a commentary on the De clementia of Seneca. Calvin deals here with political ethics, a subject which interested him all his life.
By 1534 Calvin had embraced Protestantism, and as a result had to leave France. After a period during which he visited several cities, he came in 1536 to Geneva, where he expected to stay for only a short time. Geneva had just experienced the Reformation. The old church had been abolished and the rule of the bishop repudiated, but the new church had not been organized. The inhabitants of the city were a fun-loving lot, and much remained to be done in the field of public morals. The most active of the reformers of religion in Geneva was the fiery French preacher Guillaume Farel. Hearing of the arrival of Calvin, whom he knew by reputation, Farel came to him and urged him to remain and help in the reorganization and reform of religion. Calvin had no desire for this sort of work, and attempted to decline, but Farel called down the wrath of God upon him if he refused. Calvin was so frightened that he felt compelled to stay, although reluctantly.
Geneva at this time was allied with some of the Swiss cantons. For several centuries it had been ruled by its bishops and by the house of Savoy; indeed, after 1451 the bishops were always members of the house of Savoy. However, in Geneva as in other medieval cities, the desire for self-government had proved impossible to suppress. By 1387, the general assembly of the citizens had acquired the right to elect four syndics and four other officials who were to have cognizance of criminal trials involving laymen. Over time there also grew up, three councils: a Little Council of twenty-five for administrative affairs; a Council of Sixty for diplomacy; and, after 1527, a Council of Two Hundred, which gradually replaced the Council of Sixty. Combined, these councils showed a strong hostility to the house of Savoy with its tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a small number of citizens. After 1530, the Little Council and the Two Hundred elected each other. The general assembly of all the people continued to function. In the decade before Calvin's arrival, Geneva had freed itself from its overlords. In 1526, the city concluded a military alliance with Freiburg and Bern. In 1533 and 1534, it declared itself free from the bishop, and then had to fight to defend itself from the attempts of the bishop and duke of Savoy to overthrow its newly won independence. With the help of Bern, it succeeded. By this time Bern had adopted the Reformation; and Geneva, under Bernese influence and primarily for political reasons, followed suit. The councils took over church property and the control of morals and religion. In February 1536, a comprehensive proclamation was issued for the regulation of moral and religious practices. It prohibited blasphemy and profanity; cards and dice; the protection of adulterers, thieves, vagabonds, and spendthrifts; excessive drinking; and all holidays except Sunday. All inhabitants were ordered to attend sermons, but the Mass and the Roman Catholic sacraments were forbidden. Thus a spirit of intolerance and of strict regulation of private conduct was firmly established before Calvin's arrival. In May 1536, the people of Geneva swore "to live according to the Gospel and the Word of God," and to establish universal primary education, which should be free to the poor.
Calvin began his work in Geneva as one of the ministers, and his genius for organization soon manifested itself. He drew up a catechism and a confession of faith, which were accepted by the city government. In 1537 there was some hint of difficulties to come, when many persons refused to accept the confession of faith. On the matter of church discipline, Calvin ran into more serious trouble. It was his aim to make the church autonomous in disciplinary matters. This involved, first of all, the right of the church to decide who was worthy to be admitted to partake of the Lord's Supper and who should be excluded in other words, the right to excommunicate. The councils had no intention of letting this important power pass into the hands of the ministers; they asserted that the councils alone had the right to settle such questions.
In 1538 the issue came to a head. First the councils voted that the Lord's Supper could not be refused to anyone who presented himself; that was, of course, contrary to the ideas of Calvin and Farel. In the elections of that year, magistrates were chosen who were opposed to Calvin and the ministers, and the same was true of the majority of members of the councils. The crisis came when the ministers were ordered to administer the Supper in the manner used at Bern, that is, with unleavened bread; the ministers preferred it leavened. The real issue, of course, was whether the church should be ruled by the councils or by the ministers. When the Sunday came for the communion service, Calvin refused to administer the sacrament at all, on the grounds that the people were not in the proper mood and that, therefore, it would be a desecration of the sacrament if they received it. The upshot of it all was that Calvin and Farel were exiled.
At this time, Farel was still the most prominent of the pastors, and one of the political factions that had arisen in the city was named the Guillermins after him. The banishment of the two pastors was precipitated by the fact that the 1538 elections had gone against Farel's party; the pastors had proceeded to preach against the new government and, as a result, had been warned to stay out of politics. Thus it was a mixture of political and religious factors that led to the dismissal and banishment of Farel and Calvin.
Calvin left Geneva hoping never to see it again. He was invited to Strasbourg by Martin Bucer, and he spent most of the next three years there in work that was much more congenial to his tastes. He preached and directed the French church, besides teaching theology. He revised the order of public worship, introducing congregational singing and extemporaneous prayer and laying great stress on the sermon. He also did a good deal of writing. In 1540, he married Idelette de Bure, a widow with two children. Calvin had no children who survived, and his wife died in 1549.
In Geneva, factional struggles continued at a high pitch, aggravated by deteriorating relations with Bern. For a time, in fact, war threatened. Within the city, mob violence took place. The organization of the church had not made satisfactory progress, and public morals were still low. By 1540, the Guillermins were back in power. Farel, now in Neuchtel, was invited to return, as was Calvin. Farel refused. Calvin abhorred the thought of going back to Geneva, which he referred to as a "cross" and a "torture chamber." Again, however, he yielded to what he became convinced was the will of God. In 1541 he left Strasbourg with tears in his eyes and returned to Geneva. There he was to live the rest of his life and to stamp the city for all time with his name. On his return to Geneva, Calvin was afforded an opportunity to put his ideas into effect in the ordering of the religious life of the city. He did not, however, have everything his own way. His Ecclesiastical Ordinances were subjected to revision by the councils before being adopted by the general assembly of all the citizens. Nevertheless, in their essentials they represent his ideas of the proper ecclesiastical polity and discipline. In the church there were to be four classes of officeholders: pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. Candidates for the position of pastor must pass an examination with respect to both doctrine and moral character. They must be chosen by the ministers, presented for approval to the Little Council, and finally submitted to "the common consent of the company of the faithful."
Geneva was divided into three parishes. Throughout the week there were to be seventeen sermons held not only on Sunday but on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as well. On Sunday at midday children were to be catechized in all three churches.
The work of the teachers, the second class of officeholders, was "the instruction of the faithful in true doctrine." In providing for this office, Calvin showed his concern for proper education. The highest position among the teachers was to be held by two lecturers in theology, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. "But because it is only possible to profit from such lectures if first one is instructed in the languages and humanities," and for other reasons, a college should be set up to prepare children for the ministry and for civil government. It was many years, however, before an effective educational system was established in Geneva.
As for the elders, "their office is to have oversight of the life of everyone." There were to be twelve of them, chosen from the members of the three councils, "to keep an eye on everybody." They were to form the Consistory, which would be joined by the ministers and which was to meet weekly. This was the body that exercised disciplinary authority in the church. It had no power to impose any other penalties than purely ecclesiastical ones, the most severe being excommunication, which was to be invoked only after private admonition had failed. For temporal punishment the Consistory had to turn the case over to the councils. Even in the matter of excommunication, as it turned out, the Consistory was for many years restricted by the councils, and was not really free until 1555.
The Consistory has generally been associated with Calvin and regarded as his instrument for the tyrannical supervision of the lives of the people of Geneva. This characterization is not altogether just. It is no doubt true that Calvin regarded the regulation of private life and morality as a legitimate sphere for the activity of the church, but he was in no way unique. There had been regulation of private morality, both in Geneva and elsewhere before Calvin's time, and even after the establishment of the Consistory the greatest severity was that of the councils.
The work of the deacons was to administer funds for the poor and the sick and to look after the maintenance of the public hospital. Provision was also made for medical care for the poor in their own homes. Begging was strictly forbidden. A hospital recently established for travelers passing through the town was also to be maintained. There was a separate hospital for the plague.
In the thought of Calvin, state and church were distinct, but each in its proper sphere was to cooperate with the other in their great common purpose: to serve and glorify God. By the end of his career he had achieved a complete dominance of Geneva, which makes it possible for us to see what his full program was. All inhabitants had to renounce the Roman faith on penalty of expulsion from the city. Nobody could possess images, crucifixes or other articles associated with the Roman worship. Fasting was prohibited, together with vows, pilgrimages, prayers for the dead, and prayers in Latin. Nobody could say anything good about the pope. It was forbidden to give non-Biblical names to children. In 1555, a man who had been found lighting a candle before the body of his dead child was called before the Consistory.
Attendance at sermons was compulsory. In addition, one had to arrive on time, remain, and pay attention. In 1547, a man who left during the sermon and made too much noise about it was imprisoned. From 1545, there were domiciliary visits, which were put on a regular semiannual basis in 1550. The homes of the citizens were visited in order to ascertain the state of the family's morals. A great many spies were maintained, to report on matters of conduct and behavior. Dramatic performances were suppressed, except for plays given by schoolboys. Sexual immorality was frequently practiced and frequently chastised. One of the offenses considered particularly serious was criticism of the ministers and especially Calvin.
From 1546, cards and dice were forbidden. There were to be no taverns; instead, places were provided for eating and drinking, in which pious behavior would be encouraged. In these nurseries of righteousness, a Bible in French was to be displayed, religious conversation encouraged, and excessive drinking, indecent songs, cursing, cards, dice, and dancing forbidden. They were to close at nine in the evening. This experiment lasted three months, during which people did not come to these places, and then the taverns were opened once more. It was many years before all these regulations were put into effect; as a matter of fact, opposition to Calvin was quite serious for several years after his return in 1541. His opponents were not necessarily wicked and immoral, although there were persons of that description among them. There were very strong political motives impelling hostility to his regime. The foreign refugees who poured into the city and strongly supported Calvin appeared as a threat to the native citizens. Though there were some who disagreed with Calvin's doctrines, his enemies were not Catholics but supporters of the Reformation. Some of them were members of prominent Geneva families, who defied Calvin's strict moral regulations, possibly under the erroneous impression that their social status would protect them.
The most serious aspect of the situation, from Calvin's point of view, was that his enemies were gaining seats in the councils and were being elected as syndics. There was friction between Calvin and the councils, which also took over more and more control of church affairs. In 1553 his opponents secured a majority in the council and tried to deprive the Consistory of the power to excommunicate. Calvin's courageous resistance to this attempt helped to turn the tide in his favor, and the year 1553 marks the turning point in the struggle with his enemies.
This same year saw the trial and death of Michael Servetus, which helped to strengthen Calvin's hold on the city. Servetus is the most famous, though not the first, of the opponents of Calvin whose conflict with him was based on theological grounds. An earlier one was Sebastian Castellio, who will be discussed later. There was also Jerome Bolsec, who ventured to deny the doctrine of predestination and was banished in 1551. Had it not been for restraining opinions from other cities, Bolsec might have been executed. There were many at the time, in Geneva and elsewhere, who held the opinion that men ought not to die for their views on even so vital a topic as predestination. In fact, this reaction was so strong that in 1552 when a man named Troillet contradicted the same doctrine, the council refused to punish him, in spite of Calvin's feelings in the matter. The two men were later reconciled.
The fate of Servetus was more harsh. Michael Servetus was born in 1511 in Spain, of a noble family. As a student at the French University of Toulouse, he became deeply interested in the Bible. Being a Spaniard, he was naturally concerned with the question of the conversion of the Jews and Mohammedans to Christianity. The great obstacle was the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, which to Jews and Moslems smacked of polytheism. In his studies at Toulouse, Servetus became convinced that the Bible contains no support for this doctrine, which he, therefore, decided was erroneous.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the radicalism or the danger of such a position in the sixteenth century. On this issue there was no controversy between the Church of Rome and the founders of the great Reformed churches: Luther, Zwingli, Calvin. All held to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as basic to their conceptions of the Christian faith. To deny the divinity of Christ was considered one of the worst of all heresies.
In 1531 Servetus published his book De Trinitatis Erroribus (On the Errors of the Trinity), which aroused opposition in all quarters. The two Protestant cities of Basel and Strasbourg, in both of which Servetus had lived, forbade the sale of the book. Luther and Melanchthon were opposed to it, and the Catholics were no less antagonistic. Jerome Aleander called it "nauseating." The Spanish Inquisition tried to lure him back to Spain for trial but failed. The Inquisition in Toulouse included his name in a decree of 1532 among forty persons who were to be apprehended.
Thus he was a marked man, in danger from both Protestants and Catholics. For a long time he lived in France under an assumed name and engaged in a variety of activities, including the study and practice of medicine. He knew something of the circulation of the blood and is thus a precursor of William Harvey. He lectured on geography and astrology. He did editorial work for a printing firm, in which capacity he expressed dangerous opinions; for instance, he emphasized the historical sense of Old Testament passages in place of their customary interpretation as containing references to Christ. During most of his time in France, about a dozen years from the early 1540s to 1553, Servetus lived and worked in Vienne, a suburb of Lyon, both as an editor and as a physician. He was unable to keep silent, however, on the great religious questions that agitated him, and so he began work on a book to be entitled the Christianismi Restitutio (Restitution of Christianity). This work, while containing a restatement of his earlier views, also shows the new influences of Neoplatonism and Anabaptism. Some of his statements seemed pantheistic and his condemnation of infant baptism was very strong. During the writing of the Restitutio, in 1546 and 1547, Servetus carried on a correspondence with Calvin, which served to reveal the great differences between them. It roused the bitter hatred of Calvin, who not only objected to the unorthodox views of Servetus but who also was probably enraged by Servetus's tone of superiority not unmixed with personal abuse. Servetus opposed Calvin's views on the Trinity, justification by faith, the depravity of man, and infant baptism. When Calvin sent him a copy of the Institutes, Servetus returned it with insulting criticisms. He also sent Calvin a part of his Restitutio, which Calvin kept along with the letters Servetus had sent him. Eventually Calvin broke off the correspondence. He wrote Farel that if Servetus came to Geneva, he would try to keep him from getting out of the city alive.
Servetus was able to find a publisher for his book at Vienne; it was printed in great secrecy, with no indication of the identity of the author or printer, except for the initials M.S.V. (Michael Servetus Villanovanus). The thirty letters Servetus had written to Calvin were incorporated in the volume, which appeared early in 1553. Some copies were sent to Geneva. In February, a French refugee of Geneva, Guillaume Trie, wrote a letter to a Catholic cousin at Lyon who had tried to win him back to the old faith and had reproached Geneva for lack of ecclesiastical discipline and order. In writing to his Catholic cousin, the Protestant turned his reproach against him by pointing out that in Lyon a dangerous heretic, Servetus, was allowed to live and print blasphemous books. He enclosed some leaves from Servetus's book.
This led to the questioning of Servetus by the Inquisition, but this questioning revealed nothing. In order to get evidence, a letter was sent to Trie in Geneva, who in reply sent several sheets in Servetus's handwriting, which had been in Calvin's possession and which, he said, he had obtained from Calvin only with difficulty. Calvin is thus seen to have supplied material to the Inquisition for the purpose of trapping Servetus. Later he denied having any part in this. Early in April Servetus was arrested, examined, and imprisoned. A couple of days later he escaped. He was tried in absentia and burned in effigy.
In August, he appeared in Geneva on his way to Italy. Here he was recognized, and the news of his presence was conveyed to Calvin, who had him arrested. On the basis of charges preferred by Calvin, Servetus was put on trial. The trial was carried on by the civil authorities, but the accusations were all based on Servetus's writings and theology. Much of the proceedings consisted of direct encounters between Servetus and Calvin himself, during which Calvin was not always fair or just. The same can be said of the civil authorities, who refused Servetus's request for counsel and kept him imprisoned under filthy and uncomfortable conditions.
On October 26, he was condemned to death for decrying the doctrine of the Trinity and infant baptism in other words, as a heretic. This means that he was to be burned at the stake. Calvin tried to get the sentence changed to death by the sword, but failed. On his way to the stake, Servetus was privileged to enjoy the company of Farel, who was in Geneva at the time. Servetus was bound to the stake and the fire was lighted. According to some accounts, the wood did not burn quickly, and he suffered horrible agonies. Before he died, he cried out, "O Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me!" Thus in his last moments of suffering he witnessed to his convictions, refusing to recognize the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity by applying the adjective "Eternal" to Jesus.
This combination of civil and ecclesiastical authorities, of Catholics and Protestants, in hounding to death one radical thinker is generally agreed to be one of the unloveliest episodes in the history of the Reformation. It did not go uncondemned even in its own day. In fact, it aroused so much opposition that Calvin felt compelled to issue a defense in both Latin and French versions in 1554; here he argued for the right to put to death those who dishonored God by teaching false doctrine.
In 1554, at Basel, there was published a work entitled Concerning Heretics, Whether They Are to Be Persecuted. The author's name was given as Martin Bellius. His real name was Sebastian Castellio, and his book makes him one of the most illustrious defenders of the idea of religious toleration. Castellio, a native of Savoy, was an accomplished scholar who had been a follower of Calvin and for a time the head of the school at Geneva. His desire to become a minister in the city was thwarted, however, because of his disagreement with Calvin on points of Biblical and doctrinal interpretation. From Geneva he went to Basel, where, among other things, he published his own Latin and French translations of the Bible, each with a dedication containing a plea for religious liberty. He pointed out that in religion it is so difficult to be certain of knowing the truth that, in persecuting religious dissenters, there is a danger of destroying the innocent with the guilty. Many prophets and apostles, thousands of martyrs, and even the Son of God have been put to death under color of religion, and the world today is no better or wiser or more clear-seeing than it has been in the past. To use earthly weapons for the sake of religion is far from the teaching of Christ who commanded us to turn the other cheek and return good for evil.
In 1553 he was appointed professor of Greek at the University of Basel. In the same year Servetus was burned at the stake, and Castellio published his work on the persecuting of heretics, in both Latin and French versions. It consisted of a number of passages from the works of the church fathers and modern writers including Calvin against persecution. There were also passages by Martin Bellius, George Kleinberg, and Basil Montfort, all of whom were no doubt Castellio himself. He brings out vividly the idea that purity of life is more important than the doctrinal orthodoxy for a Christian, and that it is a horrible thing for men to kill each other over doctrinal points in the name of Christ, who commanded them to love each other. Meanwhile, he finds that no attention is being paid to the charity and holiness enjoined on Christians, but that instead of this men are fighting over such matters as the Trinity, predestination, free will, "and other similar things, which it is not greatly necessary to know to acquire salvation by faith." If anybody takes the commands of Christ seriously and tries to lead a pure Christian life, all the others rise against him with one consent and destroy him. And, worst of all, they cover all this with the robe of Christ and claim to be serving His will by these cruelties.
Theodore Beza, Calvin's friend and later successor, wrote an answer to Castellio which attempted to prove that the magistrates have the duty of punishing heretics, and may put them to death. To this Castellio paid no particular attention, though he wrote a book against Calvin's defense of the execution of Servetus. Castellio's freedom of expression was somewhat curtailed thereafter, but he lived on in Basel until his death in 1563.
The execution of Servetus helped to solidify Calvin's hold on Geneva. In 1555, his friends were victorious in the elections, and a riot gave an excuse for crushing his enemies, some of whom fled while others were put to death. From 1555 to his death in 1564, Calvin was supreme in the city. Not only in the church but also in the state was his influence dominant; the councils treated him with great reverence and respect, granted his requests, and consulted him on matters of public policy. In 1559 he was asked to accept citizenship in Geneva, which he had previously refrained from doing to avoid the appearance of self-seeking. One of the most significant signs of his victory was that the right of excommunication was acknowledged to belong to the Consistory. This was something that Calvin had wanted since his first appearance in Geneva; until this time, however, the council had always insisted on taking part. From now on, the Consistory received the wholehearted cooperation of the civil authorities and the full Calvinist regime, as described earlier, was imposed on the citizens. Regulations were made more strict: For example, ministers were to have their dwellings throughout the city, in order to watch over vice more effectively. In 1558, edicts were issued that closely regulated clothing and food, to repress the extravagance that had prevailed in these areas. In 1561, the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of the Church of Geneva of 1541 were revised in such a way as to conform more closely to Calvin's wishes. The press was censored by the ministers. Crosses that remained on the church spires were removed. The number of excommunications rose. There had been eighty in the four years from 1551 54; in 1555 there were nearly a hundred; in 1556, the number reached one hundred forty; and in 1559 over three hundred were excommunicated. Another result of Calvin's ascendancy after 1555 was the greater hospitality of Geneva toward refugees. In earlier years, as we have seen, there had been resentment of their growing numbers and influence, and it had not been easy for them to become citizens. Now they were welcomed, and by 1557 the immigrant citizens considerably outnumbered those who were natives.
One of the great achievements of Calvin's last years was the founding of an academy at Geneva in 1559. Calvin's high regard for the importance of good education is shown in his provision for a special rank of teachers in his church in the Ecclesiastical Ordinances of 1541. However, his educational plans were not fully realized, despite his constant efforts, for eighteen years. Since the council could not supply money out of public revenues to build the new building he wanted, he raised funds by soliciting gifts and legacies from private individuals. Calvin modeled his school on the famous one at Strasbourg developed by the humanist Johann Sturm, where Calvin himself had lectured. In accordance with this model, the school at Geneva consisted of two parts: the college (schola privata), and the academy itself (schola publica), which was a university, devoted chiefly to training ministers. Work in law and medicine was contemplated, but not actually offered during Calvin's lifetime.
The training in the college was specifically humanistic. The pupils were thoroughly grounded in reading the Greek and Latin classics, and in speaking and writing good Latin. Attention was paid also to religious instruction. The teachers were charged with seeing that the students learned to love God and hate vice. Students in the higher school, or academy, were generally free from this discipline, although they had to subscribe to the confession of faith to be admitted. The humanist influence remained strong in the academy, which had professors of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Theodore Beza, who had just come from Lausanne, was made first rector, or head, of the new establishment. The school was a great success. It started with 162 pupils, mostly French, and in about six years it had ten times as many, with students from all over Europe.
Calvin's activities, in fact, were by no means circumscribed by the boundaries of Geneva. He was very eager for Protestant unity. As far as the Lutherans were concerned, he failed, in spite of his close friendship with Melanchthon. Unfortunately, it was Melanchthon's Lutheran opponents, who were far less conciliatory, who got the upper hand, and the result was a permanent split between the Lutheran and the Reformed churches. Calvin was more successful in Switzerland; in 1549 he and Bullinger, the successor of Zwingli, reached agreement, embodied in the Zurich Consensus, which in time was accepted throughout Protestant Switzerland.
Geneva also became the center of a great missionary activity. One reason for the founding of the academy was a desire to send out pastors to other countries. Many requests came from France, and so many ministers were sent there that in 1561 the French king, Charles IX, protested in a letter to Geneva, accusing these preachers of causing religious disturbance and inciting sedition. Calvin's widespread correspondence attempted to influence governments in favor of his cause. In England he wrote to the young Edward VI, to Somerset, and to Cranmer. He failed to ingratiate himself with Queen Elizabeth, who associated him with John Knox. He dedicated works to the kings of Denmark and Sweden. He remonstrated unsuccessfully with Henry II of France over the latter's persecution of the Huguenots. In 1561, Beza represented him at the Colloquy of Poissy.
Calvin died on May 27, 1564, to the great sorrow of the councils, the ministers and the people of Geneva. He was then, and has remained, the object of great admiration and intense devotion on the one hand, of bitter dislike and even hatred on the other. One fault that Calvin himself admitted and deplored was his violent temper. Toward those who disagreed with him he could express himself with the bitter vituperation that was characteristic of controversy in his day. He was extremely sensitive to any personal criticism or any sign of disrespect. After he had gained ascendancy in Geneva, the citizens were punished or reprimanded for criticizing his preaching or even for greeting him without calling him "Master." He displayed a vindictiveness toward his enemies, which did not rest until they were crushed and humiliated.
His devotion to what he conceived to be his mission was heroic. He accomplished in his lifetime a stupendous quantity of work. Although harassed with countless practical cares, he wrote and revised several times his masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. He published commentaries on every book of the New Testament except the Apocalypse, and on several books of the Old Testament. He wrote many other works of theology, of religious instruction, of controversy. He wrote thousands of letters. Every week he regularly gave three lectures on theology and preached several times. He was the leading figure in the Consistory, and generally gave an address every Friday at the regular meeting of the Company of Pastors, of which he was moderator, or presiding officer. This amazing activity was not the work of a man bursting with health and energy. From his thirties, he was plagued with a variety of illnesses, and only an indomitable will enabled him to go on working under all conditions. His numerous ills no doubt contributed to his bad temper, as Beza said. He did not use his ill health as an excuse to spare himself: He slept little and took little recreation. He completed his final edition of the Institutes while sick and not sure that he would survive. Even during his last illness he continued to work. He lived very simply. His salary was not large, and he gave away in charity much of what he did receive. He refused additional sums of money offered by the council. Like Luther, he did not benefit financially from his writings. He was known for his hospitality in entertaining visitors to Geneva. At his death, he left very little money or property. In appearance, he was slight and frail. In temperament, he was basically timid and reserved, and like other men of this sort, he did not show the softer or more informal side of his nature to many people. Nevertheless, such a side did exist.
He considered himself to be tenderhearted. To be reproached by a friend, as he once was by Bucer, agitated him and kept him awake at night. To his friends he could be kind and affectionate, taking a deep personal interest and helping them in their affairs. He found servants, jobs, and wives for friends who needed any of these. He enjoyed laughter and was a witty conversationalist. He responded to the beauty of nature and the pleasures of the countryside, feeling that these were God's gifts and that men should accept them gratefully and enjoy them. His marriage was happy, and his grief at the death of his wife was profound. It has been suggested by some scholars that the sweeter side of Calvin's nature is more apparent in his youth, and that as time passed the sterner features became ascendant.
Perhaps some of the qualities of the man are reflected in his theology. No account of Calvin would be adequate without some discussion of his theology. It may be conveniently summarized by following the order of topics in the last edition of the Institutes.
In writing the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin produced a systematic, comprehensive, and lucid statement of Christian theology. The first edition in Latin was published in 1536, and later Calvin produced a French version. He continued to revise and enlarge the book until a few years before his death; the final Latin version appeared in 1559. In its impact on its age and later ages, Calvin's Institutes must be considered one of the most significant books of the sixteenth century. He begins by emphasizing the greatness and goodness of God and the depravity of man. Men should submit to Him and trust His paternal care. Everywhere we look, there are signs of God's glory. To these, because we need a better help to direct us to Him, He has added the light of His Word. The most important proof that God is the author of Scripture is the testimony of the Spirit in our hearts.
Original sin, which is explained in Book II, Calvin defines as a hereditary corruption of man's nature, which renders us worthy of God's wrath. Our nature is not only destitute of all good, but also ceaselessly fertile in all evils. As a result of the Fall, man's will is no longer free but in bondage to sin. Only divine grace can change the will from bad to good and perform good works in us. Grace is given only to the elect, and purely gratuitously, not because of man's merits or works. Calvin's doctrine of Christ follows traditional orthodoxy. Christ became man for our sakes, possessed the nature of God and the nature of man, overcame death for us, and opened the way to the kingdom of Heaven. Book III deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing grace to men. Faith is the chief work of the Spirit. Calvin follows Luther on justification by faith. Man is justified by faith through the righteousness of Christ, and we must not have confidence in works, because they cannot justify us in the eyes of God.
It is also in Book III that Calvin takes up the crucial doctrine of predestination, by which every man is chosen for either eternal life or eternal death. Election that is, being chosen for salvation does not depend on merit; it is a purely gratuitous gift of divine grace. According to Calvin, this doctrine does not, as many assert, diminish the need for moral exhortation and a good life. Since we do not know who is predestined, we must desire and work for the salvation of all, leaving the rest to God. Book IV, the final book of the Institutes, deals with the church. In the church the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered, both for our faith. Outside the church there is no salvation. The pope's church is not a true church but the kingdom of Antichrist. Calvin devotes several chapters to an attack on the papacy.
As for the sacraments, Calvin accepts baptism and the Eucharist. Like the other Reformers, he defends infant baptism, though he denies that baptism is necessary for salvation. In discussing the Lord's Supper, he rejects the Real Presence in both the Catholic and Lutheran forms, but maintains that, by faith, we actually partake of the real body of Christ.
The Institutes conclude with a long chapter on civil government. Christian liberty does not, as some contend, mean throwing off the restraints of civil government, which, in the present state of things, is one of the necessities of man. Magistrates have their offices from God, and they are His vicegerents. Their calling is the most sacred and honorable of all. Calvin, who shared the distrust of monarchy held by some of his most distinguished contemporaries, prefers either aristocracy or a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. No one polity is suitable for all countries.
Magistrates must be obeyed, honored, and esteemed. But what if they abuse their authority? This brings up the question of obedience to tyrants. Calvin's answer is that tyrants must be obeyed in the same way as good rulers, because they are sent by God to punish the iniquity of the people. Sometimes God raises up some of His servants as public avengers to deliver His people from oppression. Private persons may not undertake vengeance on wicked rulers, but there may be magistrates whose duty is the protection of the people and the moderation of the power of kings. Among these are the assemblies of estates of the various kingdoms.
But obedience to earthly authority must never be allowed to divert us from our supreme allegiance to God. When the magistrates command anything against God, we should pay no attention to it or have any regard to the dignity of magistrates. This may subject us to great danger by exposing us to the wrath of kings, but we should suffer anything rather than deviate from piety. As Peter says, "we ought to obey God rather than men." In Calvin's theology there are ideas that no doubt contained important implications for political thought and action. For him, man lived directly under the command of Almighty God for the purpose of doing His will. Servants of such a Master were not likely to be unduly impressed or overawed by the trappings of mere human power; thus there was something in the constitution of devoted Calvinists that equipped them to defy their rulers when the latter oppressed them. The Calvinistic consciousness of being among the elect armed its possessors with a formidable courage and determination. The history of Calvinism has proved that the armies of the saints, especially when well disciplined and equipped with good weapons, are likely to be well-nigh invincible. Not all of these developments are explicitly provided for in Calvin's thought, but they all proceeded logically from it under the influence of actual historical crises.
An issue that has been much discussed is the relationship between Calvinism and capitalism. The relationship was first postulated by Max Weber in his famous work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1904- 05. Weber found in the capitalistic spirit a duty of the individual to increase this capital, as an end in itself. The summum bonum of this outlook was earning more and more money while avoiding pleasure. Weber finds in Calvinism an important contributing factor in the development of this point of view. According to him, the Calvinists, intensely eager to achieve assurance of salvation, came to the conclusion that this assurance could be best attained through intense worldly activity and a life of good works; thus the believer carried out his true function of glorifying God. Each individual should work incessantly in his own calling. This is a type of worldly asceticism. In practice, private profit came to be considered a sign of a good life, wealth was seen as a result of God's favor, and a sanction was found for the zealous pursuit of profit for the glory of God.
Weber, to be sure, deals with Calvinism rather than with Calvin. Nevertheless, the effect of his ideas was to give to many persons a picture of Calvin as somehow blessing the single-minded acquisition of wealth. This notion is a complete falsification of Calvin's thinking. As far as he was concerned, either riches or poverty might come from God to the faithful, and either one was to be accepted as God's will. Indeed, prosperity was a danger, because it might seduce the soul from God, and the wicked might in this world be more prosperous than the righteous. But since this world is for the believer not his home but a place of exile, its conditions are not of primary importance.
Much has also been made of the fact that Calvin sanctioned, under certain circumstances, the taking of interest, contrary to the Catholics and Luther. In practice, Calvin hardly departs at all on this point from Luther or Thomas Aquinas. He believed in a moderate interest rate not more than 5 percent and insisted on certain other conditions: Interest must not be taken from the poor; the transaction must be carried out on an equitable basis; it must serve the public good; and both borrower and lender must benefit. It is probably true that Calvin was somewhat less conservative than Luther, who never got over his German peasant outlook. Calvin, perhaps because of his urban background and environment, was less antagonistic to business, and recognized that in his day it was not possible to do business without the use of interest. He denied that the Bible contained an absolute prohibition of interest. He also denied the common theory of the Middle Ages that money is barren. Perhaps it may be said that Calvin merely went a bit further in justifying in theory what was being widely done already in practice.
It is quite untrue that Calvin was opposed to all pleasures. The view that would make him out as a grim ascetic is an error. He did work hard though he never made much money; his followers worked hard, and some of them, not surprisingly, did make money. This was not Calvin's primary purpose; if his followers were faithful to his teachings, it was not their primary purpose either.
Whatever Calvin's chief importance was, it was not economic. There is no short way of describing his influence, which has been and is immense and pervasive, but it might be possible to summarize one aspect of it by saying that for Calvin and his followers, human life was exalted and hallowed by the sense that it was lived under God's judgment. No act, no word, no thought or impulse was indifferent; an account must be rendered for all of them to the great Taskmaster whose eye is always upon each one of His servants.