Week 1 of 50 in the Institutes: Much Maligned, Was He!

Since I will be referencing the Reformation 21 blogs from 2009 throughout this fifty week excursion through the Institutes, I feel no compulsion to give an overview or a lot of background, or even to make any profound observations, as if I had any to share, since the scholars and gentlemen over at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals have already done that for every daily assignment (follow the links at the bottom of this entry).  For the first time since the formation of our group, I feel as if I’m along for the ride, and free to share as much, or as little, as comes to mind.

I take great delight in the little tidbits encountered whenever dealing directly with primary sources, and right at the outset we encounter a morsel which I never discovered from any secondary source.  In Calvin’s opening remarks to his readers, first affixed to the Institutes in 1559, we find the following comment (from Beveridge’s translation, bold added):

And truly it would fare ill with me if, not contented with the approbation of God alone, I were unable to despise the foolish and perverse censures of ignorant as well as the malicious and unjust censures of ungodly men. For although, by the blessing of God, my most ardent desire has been to advance his kingdoms and promote the public good,—although I feel perfectly conscious, and take God and his angels to witness, that ever since I began to discharge the office of teacher in the Church, my only object has been to do good to the Church, by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness, yet I believe there never was a man more assailed, stung, and torn by calumny [as well by the declared enemies of the truth of God, as by many worthless persons who have crept into his Church—as well by monks who have brought forth their frocks from their cloisters to spread infection wherever they come, as by other miscreants not better than they.]

To whatever degree Calvin found himself to be much maligned in his own day, it has certainly been multiplied more than a hundredfold over the past five hundred years!  It seems many times people make up things to say against Calvin, without any basis whatsoever.  Many years ago I had the sad experience of hearing a pastor say, from the pulpit, that Calvin didn’t believe in the eternal punishment of unbelievers in hell.  (Obviously he never read the Institutes, 3.25.12, for example).

I appreciate the snippets Jeremy Walker included in An Outline of the Life of John Calvin which show some of the derision Calvin faced in his own day.  Far from having the universal acclaim and esteem of his contemporaries, Calvin found his name used derisively for many of the mutts running through the streets of Geneva, and worse:

The opposition was private and public, political and personal: children referred to him as ‘Cain’ rather than ‘Calvin’; a good number of Geneva’s dogs answered to his name; he was publicly abused whenever he went out, and called the second-ranked devil in hell.

Walker’s citation of Calvin’s reflections in April 1564, a month before his death, is especially telling with regard to the opposition he faced throughout his ministry:

When I first came to this church, I found almost nothing in it. There was preaching and that was all. They would look out for idols it is true, and they burned them. But there was no reformation. Everything was in disorder . . . I have lived here amid continual bickering. I have been from derision saluted of an evening before my door with forty or fifty shots of an arquebuse [musket]. . . . They set the dogs at my heels, crying, Here! here! and these snapped at my gown and legs. . . . though I am nothing, yet know I well that I have prevented three thousand tumults that would have broken out in Geneva. But take courage and fortify yourselves, for God will make use of this church and will maintain it, and assures you that he will protect it.

Along with the Institutes this year, I plan on reading John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life by Selderhuis to gain additional insights on Calvin’s life and times.  I look forward to getting to know Calvin the man, as well as his theology, better in 2015.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Jan 5:  To the Reader

Jan 6:  Prefatory 1-2

Jan 7:  Prefatory 3-4

Jan 8:  Prefatory 5-6

Jan 9:  Prefatory 7-8


1 Comment

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One response to “Week 1 of 50 in the Institutes: Much Maligned, Was He!

  1. Athanasius Contra Mundum

    I was amazed at Calvin’s broad knowledge and use of Church father’s to defend the reformer’s from their catholic accusers in his letter to the king of France. His broad quotes from the councils and patristic writings, given his accuser’s reliance on custom and tradition was very appropriate. I especially appreciated the reference from Hilary that the “the mountains woods lakes prisons and chasms” are safer. I look forward to Book 1 next week! djg

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