Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday John Calvin

John Calvin was born 500 years ago today. I mentioned the anniversary of his death a couple of months ago, and the rise of the "New Calvinism" here.

It might seem odd that an anarchist who opposes capital punishment would have any affection for Calvin. But I'm an anarchist because I believe in predestination and providence.

If I were to travel back in time to 16th century Geneva, I might well be executed by Calvin. But if he were to travel through time to the 21st century, and look back on the last 5 centuries, I'm confident I could convince Calvin that the State is not a "divine institution." And we would have a stimulating discussion on the subject of usury.

Many modern Calvinists seem to focus solely on Calvin's theology. Those in the Reconstructionist stream appreciate Calvin's opposition to tyranny, even if they have too much appreciation for Calvin's belief that God wants men to form governments.

The Calvin Quincentenary and American Liberty | Vision Forum Ministries

The Stream of Liberty from Calvin to the Founders | Vision Forum Ministries

Other items from the past few weeks on the Quincentenary, some of which help counter many of the myths and rumors about Calvin being a dour dictator:

Even at 500, Calvin Inspires Today's Reformers Christian History Blog

Faithful and Welcoming - FWC Sponsored luncheon at General Synod

Decline of John Calvin | The Australian

500th birthday of 'Great Reformer' John Calvin nears -

Hundreds Kick Off Calvin Quincentenary Celebration in Geneva |

Hundreds Flock to Boston to Celebrate 500th Calvin Anniversary |

Reformed Leader Urges Church to Mine Calvin's Legacy | page 2

Calvin and the Scots-Irish in America | Vision Forum Ministries

The Calvin Quincentenary and the Transformation of Christendom | Dr. Roger Schultz | The Chalcedon Foundation - Faith for All of Life

Man of His Time for All Times | Christianity Today

RNS Feature: "Even at 500, Calvin isn’t slowing down"

John Calvin: Man of Contradictions, Shaper of Modernity. Age? 500 This Week - BCNN1

A toast to this most maligned of theologians | Times Online

American exceptionalism predestined by John Calvin's birth 500 years ago

Calvin's writings also had an implicit anti-statism. Since fundamental law comes from God, obeying the law means obeying God, not necessarily the state. Rebellion against an unlawful state act, led by "lesser magistrates" such as local leaders, is really a justifiable maintenance of true law. One Calvin disciple in 1579 wrote Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos ("Vindication Against Tyrants"), which emphasized the limits of power.

AFP: Divided Geneva marks 500 years of Calvinist rigour

Calvin and American Exceptionalism - Damon Linker, New Republic.

Perpetuates the myth of Calvin and Puritans "formulating a sternly ascetic version of Christian piety." Calvin and the Puritans were against asceticism. Oxford Scholar C.S. Lewis writes:

Puritanism, as I have defined it, splits off from general Pro-
testantism in the second half of the sixteenth century. Stow
traces the word puritan to about the year 1567.* Originally
coined by certain Anabaptists to describe themselves, it came
to be used as a hostile term (though they sometimes accepted
it) for those Protestants who believed that the Elizabethan
Church was insufficiently reformed and wished to make her
more like the Protestant churches on the continent; especially
like that of Geneva. The puritans were so called because they
claimed to be purists or purifiers in ecclesiastical polity: not
because they laid more emphasis than other Christians on
'purity 5 in the sense of chastity. Their quarrel with the Church
of England was at first rather ecclesiastical than theological.
In Hooker Anglicanism is, indeed, already beginning to be
marked off from other species of Protestantism by its greater
respect for human reason and for tradition. But the specifically
Anglican faith defined itself less rapidly and neatly than the
puritan and chiefly under the pressure of puritan attacks.
Neither can be understood apart from the original Protestant
experience in which both were rooted, though puritanism more
exclusively. To that experience I must now turn. The very word
experience perhaps makes clear the angle at which I approach
it. Some social or economic historians treat the Reformation
solely from the point of view of their own disciplines, regarding
its spiritual and even its intellectual side as mere epipheno-
mena; perhaps as 'rationalizations' by which men explained
to themselves behaviour whose real causes were of quite a
different kind. Fortunately there is no need to discuss the cor-
rectness of this view: for even if it were wholly correct it would
not much concern the historian of literature. His business is
with the past not as it 'really' was (whatever 'really' may mean
in such a context) but with the past as it seemed to be to those
who lived in it: for of course men felt and thought and wrote
about what seemed to be happening to them. The economic or
social historian's 'appearances' may be the literary historian's
Tacts'. We want, above all, to know what it felt like to be an
early Protestant

One thing is certain. It felt very unlike being a 'puritan' such
as we meet in nineteenth-century fiction. Dickens's Mrs. Clen-
nam, trying to expiate her early sin by a long life of voluntary
gloom, was doing exactly what the first Protestants would have
forbidden her to do. They would have thought her whole con-
ception of expiation papistical. On the Protestant view one
could not, and by God's mercy need not, expiate one's sins.
Theologically, Protestantism was either a recovery, or a develop-
ment, or an exaggeration (it is not for the literary historian to
say which) of Pauline theology. Hence in Buchanan's Fran-
ciscanus ad Fratres the Friars' prophylactic against it is to keep
clear of the 'old man from Tarsus' (Tarsensis fuge scripta senis).
In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind of St. Paul
himself, this theology was by no means an intellectual construc-
tion made in the interests of speculative thought. It springs
directly out of a highly specialized religious experience; and
all its affirmations, when separated from that context, become
meaningless or else mean the opposite of what was intended.
Propositions originally framed with the sole purpose of praising
the Divine compassion as boundless, hardly credible, and utterly
gratuitous, build up, when extrapolated and systematized, into
something that sounds not unlike devil-worship. The experience
is that of catastrophic conversion. The man who has passed
through it feels like one who has waked from nightmare into
ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done
nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such
astonishing happiness. Never again can he 'crow from the dung-
hill of desert*. All the initiative has been on God's side; all has
been free, unbounded grace. And all will continue to be free,
unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would
be as helpless to retain the joy as they would have been to
achieve it in the first place. Fortunately they need not. Bliss is
not for sale, cannot be earned. 'Works' have no 'merit', though
of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into
works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of
love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone
that has saved him: faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this
buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good
resolutions, anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the
Protestant doctrines originally sprang.

For it must be clearly understood that they were at first
doctrines not of terror but of joy and hope: indeed, more than
hope, fruition, for as Tyndale says, the converted man is already
tasting eternal life. The doctrine of predestination, says the
XVIIth Article, is 'full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable
comfort to godly persons'. But what of ungodly persons? Inside
the original experience no such question arises. There are no
generalizations. We are not building a system. When we begin
to do so, very troublesome problems and very dark solutions
will appear. But these horrors, so familiar to the modern reader
(and especially to the modern reader of fiction), are only by-
products of the new theology. They are astonishingly absent
from the thought of the first Protestants. 1 Relief and buoyancy
are the characteristic notes. In a single sentence of the Tischreden
Luther tosses the question aside for ever. Do you doubt whether
you are elected to salvation? Then say your prayers, man, and
you may conclude that you are. It is as easy as that.

It follows that nearly every association which now clings to
the word puritan has to be eliminated when we are thinking of
the early Protestants. Whatever they were, they were not sour,
gloomy, or severe ; nor did their enemies bring any such charge
against them. On the contrary, Harpsfield (in his Life of More)
describes their doctrines as 'easie, short, pleasant lessons' which
lulled their unwary victim in 'so sweete a sleepe as he was euer
after loth to wake from it'. For More, a Protestant was one
'dronke of the new must of lewd lightnes of minde and vayne
gladnesse of harte' (Dialogue, in. ii). Luther, he said, had made
converts precisely because 'he spiced al the poison' with 'liber-
tee' (ibid. m. vii). Protestantism was not too grim, but too glad,
to be true; 'I could for my part be verie wel content that sin
and pain all were as shortlye gone as Tyndale telleth us' (Con-
futation). Protestants are not ascetics but sensualists. They will
not fast (Dialogue , iv. i). They teach and use 'more sensual and
licentious liuing then euer did Makomet' (ibid. rv. ix). And it is
certainly true that in their own writings we find a strong bias
against asceticism. Even when we pass on from the first Pro-
testants to Calvin himself we shall find an explicit rejection of
'that vnciuile and froward philosophy' which 'alloweth vs in
no vse of the creatures saue that which is needful, and going
about (as it were in enuie) to take from vs the lawful enioyment
of God's blessings, yet can neuer speede vnless it should stoppe
vp all a man's senses and make him a verie block'. When God
created food, 'He intended not only the supplying of our neces-
sities but delight and merriment' (hilaritas). Clothes serve not
only for need but also for 'comelinesse and honesty'; herbs,
trees, and fruits, 'beside their manifold commodity', for 'good-
linesse, brauery, and sweete smelling sauour'. A comparison of
the whole passage (Institutio, m. x. 2) with, say, the sermons of
Fisher, will correct many misapprehensions. When Newman in
his Letter to X T professed an 'abstract belief in the latent sensu-
ality of Protestantism', he was, in my opinion, dreadfully mis-
taken; but at least, like More and Harpsfield, he was making
the right mistake, the mistake that is worth discussing. The
popular modern view of the matter does not reach that level.
To be sure, there are standards by which the early Protestants
could be called 'puritanical'; they held adultery, fornication,
and perversion for deadly sins. But then so did the Pope. If that
is puritanism, all Christendom was then puritanical together.
So far as there was any difference about sexual morality, the
Old Religion was the more austere. The exaltation of virginity
is a Roman, that of marriage, a Protestant, trait.

Video: How Calvin has influenced WORLD Magazine | WORLD Magazine | Community | Blog Archive

Sticking by the Bible | Marvin Olasky | WORLD Magazine | Jul 04, 09

Liberty’s champion | Marvin Olasky | WORLD Magazine | Jul 04, 09

Video: Calvin and politics | WORLD Magazine | Community | Blog Archive

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