Calvin is famous for his slightly misattributed and grossly misunderstood “five points of Calvinism” – I’ve got a reputation for being “not a five point Calvinist” mostly because I don’t like hyper-Calvinism. Calvin was mostly terrific – having done some research though I can’t say I’m fully on board with his philosophy of government.
Here are some things I learned about Calvin this week that I thought were interesting.
- Calvin wrote some stuff under a pen name to avoid persecution from the established Catholic church – including Charles d’Es-perville, Martianus Lucanius, Carolus Passelius, Alcuin, Depercan, and Calpurnius – these would be good names to consider for your children or characters in a novel if you’re staunchly, but secretly, reformed.
- Calvin was, by nature, incredibly humble – he wanted a life of quiet scholarship. He requested an unmarked grave. He was pastorally sacrificial. He submitted all things to the sovereignty of God. He championed a doctrine that made human agency incredibly small. He instituted a political system in the city whose church he lead removing power and authority from the church and putting it in the hands of the people. The idea of having a theological movement named after him would have been an anathema. It seems to me that this aspect of his character is in stark contrast to the pillars of the “new Calvinism”.
- Calvin was, by nature, incredibly arrogant. He was so incredibly confident in his personal views on scripture and Government – and did not particularly like opposition. God seems to prefer to work through guys who are an incredible paradox of confidence and humility – I’m not sure that humility and arrogance are the polar opposites people suggest. They seem to be two separate characteristics with related distinctives.
- Calvin was politically savvy enough to know when not to be political. This greatly enhanced his influence on the political sphere.
He was expelled from Geneva the first time round because he wouldn’t pander to the rich and powerful (by serving them communion). He was brought back to reform the political structure of the city a few years later. But he didn’t use this as an opportunity to grandstand or point score (at least from the pulpit)… To quote the helpful biography of Calvin I linked to the other day:
When Calvin returned to St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1541, he unceremoniously but symbolically resumed his pulpit activity by expounding the Scriptures at the exact verse where he left off prior to his exile.
Several days earlier, Calvin had consulted with the Small Council, the real political powerhouse of the day, and encouraged them to make important reforms. They were so willing to help him in the Reformation of Geneva that they not only approved his proposals to revise the protocols for church order, but they also appointed him to a committee to design a constitution for the Republic of Geneva.
- Calvin’s post-reformation political realignment of Geneva pioneered the separation of church and state, and the separation of powers. His restructuring of Geneva’s government removed power from the head of the church to a church council, and to a separately elected government in the city. These groups functioned as checks and balances. He separated government of the city from the church to protect the church from the interference of the government and the wealthy – not the other way around.
He was, however, not a fan of government being “secular” – his philosophy of government, or theology of government, revolved around the government acting in a Christian manner. Again, a couple of insightful quotes from that biography…
Calvin practiced what he preached. A consistency of ideals, both in church and state, permeated his thought and action. He was prudent enough to realize that the best way to reform the culture was an indirect one, i.e., to first reform the church.
”With the publication of the Ordinances, Geneva created a unique Christian commonwealth whereby church and state cooperated in preserving religion as the key to their new identity.”