Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John Calvin Disses Lutheranism and Describes it as "Evil"

By Dave Armstrong (12-18-07)

John Calvin wrote:
I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means, believe me, for checking the evil would be that confession written by me . . .

(Letter to Heinrich Bullinger, July 2, 1563; in John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co. / Anchor Books, 1971, p. 76; emphasis added)
The same statement is noted in Lester de Koster's book, Light For the City: Calvin's Preaching, Source of Life and Liberty, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004, p. 49), in identical words, excepting "that evil" instead of "the evil." The primary source provided is Letters, IV, 322 (J. Bonnet, Edinburgh: Constable: 1855-1858; see his page 132). The author observes:
Calvin's letters carry complaints of Lutheran "persecutions" against his adherents, worse than that of the Catholics, he says . . . increasingly, Calvin has been unable to ignore the ugly gap between the Lutherans and his own adherents.

(p. 49)
Two pages later de Koster makes reference to "Calvin's growing disinclination to promote Lutheranism until he sets himself against it altogether."

See this quotation also in another source book of Calvin's letters (this one has "the evil" like Dillenberger does).

In a letter to his friend Farel, from August 1557, Calvin refers to his controversies with the Hamburg pastor Joachim Westphal and other Lutherans:
With regard to Westphal and the rest it was difficult for me to control my temper and to follow your advice. You call those "brethren" who, if that name be offered to them by us, do not only reject, but execrate it. And how ridiculous should we appear in bandying the name of brother with those who look upon us as the worst of heretics.

(in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, section 132)

Writing to Bullinger at roughly the same time, Calvin wrote about the Lutherans in Saxony:
I have indeed, not hesitated cheerfully and fearlessly to provoke the fury of those beasts against me, because I am confident that it will be pleasing to God!

(in Thomas Henry Dyer, The Life of John Calvin, New York: Harper & Bros., 1850, 337)
Yet in a letter to Pastor Schaling of Ratisbon, earlier that year (April 1557) Calvin had lamented Protestant divisions:
It is indeed, to be lamented, that we who profess the same gospel should be distracted by different opinions on the subject of th Lord's Supper, which ought to be the chief bond of union among us. But what is by far more atrocious, we contend with as much hostility as if we had no Christian connection; and the greater part of those who differ from us, I know not from what impulse, boil over as intemperately against us as if our religion were wholly different . . . I will always take care that the churches shall not be torn and divided through my fault, nor that any one shall be injured by me, unless he professedly attacks me.

(in Dyer, ibid., 337; italics in Dyer)
The author then makes this scathing (and dead-on) criticism of Calvin:
It is difficult to reconcile a passage like this with the declarations before quoted, or to consider it as sincere. The last avowal it contains is striking. After enumerating and dwelling upon the causes and the blessings of peace, and lamenting the want of union as contrary to the spirit of Christianity, Calvin declares himself ready to renounce all these excellent precepts the moment he is personally attacked, and to descend into a contest of virulence and abuse with the first intemperate adversary that may assail him. Did it never occur to him that the conduct and example of a Christian minister may be at least as efficacious for good as the most methodical and elaborate arguments, or the choicest vituperation in the very best Latin?

(Ibid., 337-338)
In August 1554 he wrote condescendingly to Sleidan about his friend Philip Melanchthon: then the leader of Lutheranism:
How far I should congratulate myself on Philip's agreeing with me on one point I know not, when in the chief heads of doctrine he either sells himself to the philosophers and opposes the truth or, lest he should excite the anger of certain persons against him, cunningly, or, at all events, disingenuously conceals his opinions.

(Ibid., 339)

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