« Prev Calvin's Work. His Theology and Discipline. Next »

§ 57. Calvin's Work.

Of Calvin it may be said, without exaggeration, that he 'labored more' than all the other Reformers.

He raised the little town of Geneva to the dignity and importance of the Protestant Rome.848848   The eminent French historian, H. Martin (in his Histoire de France depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’en 1789, Tom. VIII. p. 325 of the fourth edition, Par. 1860), thus speaks of what Calvin did for the city of Geneva: 'Calvin ne la sauve pas seulement, mais conquiert à cette petite ville une grandeur, une puissance morale immense. Il en fait la capitale de la Réforme, autant que la Réforme peut avoir une capitale, pour la moitié du monde protestante, avec une vaste influence, acceptée ou subie, sur l’autre moitié. Genève n’est rien par la population, par les armes, par le territoire: elle est tout par l’esprit. Un seul avantage matériel lui garantit tous ses avantages moraux: son admirable position, qui fait d’elle une petite France républicaine et protestante, indépendante de la monarchie catholique de France et à l’abri de l’absorption monarchique et catholique; la Suisse protestante, alliée necessaire de la royauté française contre l’empereur, couvre Genève par la politique vis-à-vis du roi et par l’épée contre la maison d’Autriche et de Savoie.'

From this radiating centre he controlled, directly or indirectly, through his writings and his living disciples, the Reformed, yea, we may say, the whole Protestant movement; for, wherever it had not already taken root, as in Germany and Scandinavia, Protestantism assumed a Calvinistic or semi-Calvinistic character.849849   Kampschulte, Vol. I. p. xii.: Der romanische Reformator zählte seine Anhänger in der romanischen, germanischen und slavischen Welt und zeigte sich überall, wo nicht das Lutherthum in dem deutschen Character eine Stütze fand, diesem überlegen.' He quotes the fact that in Bohemia, which borders on Germany, the Slavonian Protestants nearly all profess Calvinism, while Lutheranism is confined to the Germans. The same is still more the case with the Anglo-Saxon race in England, America, and Australia, and in the mission fields among the heathen. In Italy and Spain, too, the Waldenses and the evangelical Churches are, both in doctrine and discipline, much more Calvinistic than Lutheran; but so far Protestantism has a very feeble hold on the Latin races, which are more apt to swing from popery to infidelity, and from infidelity to popery, than to adopt the via media either of Lutheranism or Calvinism or Anglicanism.

His heart continued, indeed, to beat warmly for his native land, which he reluctantly left to share the fortunes of truth exiled, and he raised the cry which is to this day the motto of his faithful disciples: 'France must be evangelized to be saved.' But his true home was the Church of God. He broke through all national limitations. There was scarcely a monarch or statesman or scholar of his age with whom he did not come in contact. Every people of Europe was represented among his disciples. He helped to shape the religious character of churches and nations yet unborn. The Huguenots of France, the 445Protestants of Holland and Belgium, the Puritans and Independents of England and New England, the Presbyterians of Scotland and throughout the world, yea, we may say, the whole Anglo-Saxon race, in its prevailing religious character and institutions, bear the impress of his genius, and show the power and tenacity of his doctrines and principles of government.850850   'In his vast correspondence we find him conversing familiarly with the Reformers—Farel, Viret, Beza, Bullinger, Bucer, Grynæus, Knox, Melanchthon—on the most important religious and theological questions of his age; counseling and exhorting Prince Condé, Jeanne D'Albret, mother of Henry IV., Admiral Coligny, the Duchess of Ferrara, King Sigismund of Poland, Edward VI. of England, and the Duke of Somerset; respectfully reproving Queen Marguerite of Navarre; withstanding libertines and the pseudo-Protestants; strengthening the martyrs, and directing the Reformation in Switzerland, France, Poland, England, and Scotland. He belongs to the small number of men who have exerted a moulding influence, not only upon their own age and country, but also upon future generations in various parts of the world; and not only upon the Church, but indirectly also upon the political, moral, and social life. The history of Switzerland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the United States for the last three hundred years bears upon a thousand pages the impress of his mind and character. He raised the small republic of Geneva to the reputation of a Protestant Rome. He gave the deepest impulse to the Reform movement, which involved France, his native land, in a series of bloody civil wars, which furnished a host of martyrs to the evangelical faith, and which continues to live in that powerful nation in spite of the horrid massacre of St. Bartholomew and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the dragoonades and exile of hosts of Huguenots, who, driven from their native soil, carried their piety, virtue, and industry to all parts of Western Europe and North America. He kindled the religious fire which roused the moral and intellectual strength of Holland, and consumed the dungeons of the Inquisition and the fetters of the political despotism of Spain. His genius left a stronger mark on the national character of the Anglo-Saxon race and the Churches of Great Britain than their native Reformers. His theology and piety raised Scotland from a semi-barbarous condition, and made it the classical soil of Presbyterian Christianity, and one of the most enlightened, energetic, and virtuous countries on the face of the globe. His spirit stirred up the Puritan revolution of the seventeenth century, and his blood ran in the veins of Hampden and Cromwell, as well as Baxter and Owen. He may be called, in some sense, the spiritual father of New England and the American republic. Calvinism, in its various modifications and applications, was the controlling agent in the early history of our leading colonies (as Bancroft has shown); and Calvinism is, to this day, the most powerful element in the religious and ecclesiastical life of the Western world.'—From the author's Essay on Calvin, in the Bibl. Sacra for 1857.

From him proceeded the first Protestant missionary colony in the newly discovered American Continent.851851   On the interesting French colony in Brazil, 1556, consisting of two clergymen and about two hundred members of the Church of Geneva, see Stähelin, Vol. II. pp. 234 sqq. The colony was broken up by the interference of the French government and by Papal intrigues. But it was a harbinger of the later emigrations of persecuted Huguenots in several parts of North America, who enriched the Presbyterian, Dutch, and German Reformed and other Churches.

He conceived the idea of a general Evangelical Alliance which, though impracticable in his age, found an echo in Melanchthon and 446Cranmer, and was revived in the nineteenth century (1846) to be realized at no distant future.852852   Comp. Stähelin, Vol. II. pp. 198, 241.

His work and influence were twofold, theological and ecclesiastical. With him theory and practice, theology and piety, were inseparably united. Even when, soaring beyond the limits of time, he dared to lift the veil of the eternal decrees of the omniscient Jehovah, he aimed at a strong motive for holiness, and a firm foundation of hope and comfort. On the other hand, his moral reforms are all based upon principles and ideas. He was thoroughly consistent in his views and actions.


As a scientific theologian, Calvin stands foremost among the Reformers, and is the peer of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. He has been styled the Aristotle of Protestantism. Melanchthon, 'the Teacher of Germany,' first called him 'the Theologian,' in the emphatic sense in which this title was given to Gregory of Nazianzen in the Nicene age, and to the inspired Apostle John. The verdict of history has confirmed this judgment. Even Rationalists and Roman Catholics must admit his pre-eminence among the systematic divines and exegetes of all ages.853853   The Strasburg editors of Calvin's Works, though belonging to the modern liberal school of theology, thus characterize him as a theologian (Opera, Vol. I. p. ix.): 'Si Lutherum virum maximum, si Zwinglium civem Christianum nulli secundum, si Melanthonem præceptorem doctissimum merito appellaris, Calvinum jure vocaris theologorum principem et antesignanum. In hoc enim quis linguarum et literarum præsidia, quis disciplinarum fere omnium non miretur orbem? De cujus copia doctrinæ, rerumque dispositione aptissime concinnata, et argumentorum vi ac validitate in dogmaticis; de ingenii acumine et subtilitate, atque nunc festiva nunc mordaci salsedine in polemicis, de felicissima perspicuitate, sobrietate ac sagacitate in exegeticis, de nervosa eloquentia et libertate in paræneticis; de prudentia sapientiaque legislatoria in ecclesiis constituendis, ordinandis ac regendis incomparabili, inter omnes viros doctos et de rebus evangelicis libere sentientes jam abunde constat. Imo inter ipsos adversarios romanos nullus hodie est, vel mediocri harum rerum cognitione imbutus vel tantilla judicii præditus æquitate, qui argumentorum et sententiarum ubertatem, proprietatem verborum sermonemque castigatum, stili denique, tam latini quam gallici, gravitatem et luciditatem non admiretur. Quæ cuncta quum in singulis fere scriptis, tum præcipue relucent in immortali illa Institutione religionis Christianæ, quæ omnes ejusdem generis expositiones inde ab apostolorum temporibus conscriptas, adeoque ipsos Melanthonis Locos theologicos, absque omni controversia longe antecellit atque eruditum et ingenuum lectorem, etiamsi alicubi secus senserit, hodieque quasi vinetum trahit et vel invitum rapit in admirationem.' To this we add a remarkable tribute of a liberal Roman Catholic historian who abhors Calvin's doctrine of absolute predestination, and yet becomes eloquent when he speaks of the literary merits of his 'Institutes.' 'Sein Lehrbuch der christlichen Religion,' says Kampschulte (Vol. I. p. xiv.), 'bringt die kirchliche Revolution in ein System, das durch logische Schärfe, Klarheit des Gedankens, rücksichtslose Consequenz, die vor nichts zurückbebt, noch heute unser Staunen und unsere Bewunderung erregt.' Ibid. p. 274: 'Calvin's Lehrbuch der christlichen Religion ist ohne Frage das hervorragendste und bedeutendste Erzeugniss, welches die reformatorische Literatur des sechszehnten Jahrhunderts auf dem Gebiete der Dogmatik aufzuweisen hat. Schon ein oberflächlicher Vergleich lässt uns den gewaltigen Fortschritt erkennen, den es gegenüber den bisherigen Leistungen auf diesem Gebiete bezeichnet. Statt der unvollkommenen, nach der einen oder andern Seite unzulänglichen Versuche Melanchthon's, Zwingli's, Farel's erhalten wir aus Calvin's Hand das Kunstwerk eines, wenn auch nicht harmonisch in sich abgeschlossenen, so doch wohlgegliederten, durchgebildeten Systems, das in allen seinen Theilen die leitenden Grundgedanken widerspiegelt und von vollständiger Beherrschung des Stoffes zeugt. Es hatte eine unverkennbare Berechtigung, wenn man den Verfasser der Institution als den Aristoteles der Reformation bezeichnete. Die ausserordentliche Belesenheit in der biblischen und patristischen Literatur, wie sie schon in den früheren Ausgaben des Werkes hervortritt, setzt in Erstaunen. Die Methode ist lichtvoll und klar, der Gedankengang streng logisch, überall durchsichtig, die Eintheilung und Ordnung des Stoffes dem leitenden Grundgedanken entsprechend; die Darstellung schreitet ernst und gemessen vor und nimmt, obschon in den späteren Ausgaben mehr gelehrt als anziehend, mehr auf den Verstand als auf das Gemüth berechnet, doch zuweilen einen höheren Schwung an. Calvin's Institution enthält Abschnitte, die dem Schönsten, was von Pascal und Bossuet geschrieben worden ist, an die Seite gestellt werden können: Stellen, wie jene über die Erhabenheit der heiligen Schrift, über das Elend des gefallenen Menschen, über die Bedeutung des Gebetes, werden nie verfehlen, auf den Leser einen tiefen Eindruck zu machen. Auch von den katholischen Gegnern Calvin's sind diese Vorzüge anerkannt und manche Abschnitte seines Werkes sogar benutzt worden. Man begreift es vollkommen, wenn er selbst mit dem Gefühl der Befriedigung und des Stolzes auf sein Werk blickt und in seinen übrigen Schriften gern auf das "Lehrbuch" zurückverweist.'


The appearance of his Institutes of the Christian Religion854854   The full title of the first edition is 'Christia- | næ Religionis Insti- | tutio totam fere pietatis summam et quic | quid est in doctrina salutis cognitu ne- | cessarium, complectens: omnibus pie- | tatis studiosis lectu dignissi- | mum opus, ac re- | cens edi- | tum. | Præfatio ad Chri- | stianissimum Regem Franciæ, qua | hic ei liber pro confessione fidei | offertur. | Joanne Calvino | Nouiodunensi authore. | Basileæ, | M.D.XXXVI.' The dedicatory Preface is dated 'X. Calendas Septembres' (i.e. August 23), without the year; but at the close of the book the month of March, 1536, is given as the date of publication. The first two French editions (1541 and 1545) supplement the date of the Preface correctly: 'De Basle le vingt-troysiesme d’Aoust mil cinq cent trente cinq.' The manuscript, then, was completed in Aug. 1535, but it took nearly a year to print it. The eighth and last improved edition from the pen of the author bears the title: 'Institutio Chri- | stianæ Religionis, in libros qua- | tuor nunc primum digesta, certisque distincta capitibus, ad aptissimam | methodum: aucta etiam tam magna accessione ut propemodum opus | novum haberi possit. | Joanne Calvino authore. | Oliva Roberti Stephani. | Genevæ. | M.D.LIX.' (first in Latin, then in French) marks an epoch in the history of theology, and has all the significance of an event. This book belongs to those few uninspired compositions which never lose their interest and power. It has not only a literary, but an institutional character. Considering the youth of the author, it is a marvel of intellectual precocity. The first edition even contained, in brief outline, all the essential elements of his system; and the subsequent enlargements to five times the 448original size were not mechanical additions to a building or changes of conviction,855855   'In doctrina,' says Beza, towards the close of his Vita Calv., 'quam initio tradidit ad extremum constans nihil prorsus immutavit, quod paucis nostra memoria theologis contigit.' Bretschneider was quite mistaken when he missed in the first edition the doctrine of predestination, which is clearly though briefly indicated, pp. 91 and 138. See Kampschulte, p. 256. but the natural growth of a living organism from within.856856   The Strasburg editors devote the first four volumes to the different editions of the Institutes in both languages. Vol. I. contains the editio princeps Latina, of Basle, 1536 (pp. 10–247), and the variations of six editions intervening between the first and the last, viz., the Strasburg editions of 1539, 1543, 1545, and the Geneva editions of 1550, 1553, 1554 (pp. 253–1152); Vol. II. the editio postrema of 1559 (pp. 1–1118); Vol. III. and IV. the last edition of the French translation, or free reproduction rather (1560), with the variations of former editions. The question of the priority of the Latin or French text is now settled in favor of the former. See Jules Bonnet, in the Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire du protestantisme français for 1858, Vol. VI. pp. 137 sqq., Stähelin, Vol. I. p. 55, and the Strasburg editors of the Opera, in the ample Prolegomena to Vols. I. and III. Calvin himself says expressly (in the Preface to his French ed. 1541) that he first wrote the Institutes in Latin ('premièrement l’ay mis en latin') for readers of all nations, and that he translated them afterwards for the special benefit of Frenchmen. In a letter to his friend, Francis Daniel, dated Lausanne, Oct. 13, 1536, he writes that he began the French translation soon after the publication of the Latin (Letters, ed. Bonnet, Vol. I. p. 21), but it did not appear till 1541, bearing the title 'Institution de la religion Chrestienne composée en latin, par Jean Calvin, et translatée en français par luymesme.' The erroneous assertion of a French original, so often repeated (by Bayle, Maimbourg, Basnage, and more recently by Henry, Vol. I. p. 104; III. p. 177; Dorner, Gesch. der protest. Theol. p. 375; H. B. Smith, 1.c. p. 283; and Guizot, p. 176, who assumes that the first French ed. was published anonymously), arose from confounding the date of the Preface in the French editions (23 Aug. 1535) with the later date of publication (1536). It is quite possible, however, that the dedication to Francis I. was first written in French, and this would most naturally account for the earlier date in the French editions. On the difference of the several editions, comp. also J. Thomas, Histoire de l’instit. chrétienne de J. Calv., Strasb. 1859, and Köstlin, Calvin's Institutio nach Form und Inhalt, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1868.

The 'Institutes' are by far the clearest and ablest systematic and scientific exposition and vindication of the ideas of the Reformation in their vernal freshness and pentecostal fire. The book is inspired by a heroic faith ready for the stake, and a glowing enthusiasm for the saving truth of the gospel, raised to a new life from beneath the rubbish of human additions. Though freely using reason and the fathers, especially Augustine, it always appeals to the supreme tribunal of the Word of God, to which all human wisdom must bow in reverent obedience. It abounds in Scripture-learning thoroughly digested, and wrought up into a consecutive chain of exposition and argument. It is severely logical, but perfectly free from the dryness and pedantry of a scholastic treatise, and flows on, like a Swiss river, through green 449meadows and sublime mountain scenery. It overshadowed all previous attempts at a systematic treatment of Protestant doctrines, not only those of Zwingli and Farel, but even Melanchthon's Loci theologici, although Calvin generously edited them twice in a French translation with a complimentary preface (1546).857857   See the Preface in Opera, Vol. IX. pp. 847–850. It is written in excellent taste, and with profound respect and affection for Melanchthon, whose work, he concludes, 'conduit à la pure verité de Dieu, à laquelle it nous convient tenir, nous servant des hommes pour nous aider à y parvenir.'

No wonder that the 'Institutes' were greeted with enthusiastic praises by Protestants, which are not exhausted to this day.858858   See the eulogies of Bucer, Beza, Sainte-Marthe, Thurius, Blunt, Salmasius, John von Müller, and others, quoted by Henry and Stähelin (Vol. I. pp. 59 sqq.). To these may be added some more recent testimonies. Guizot says (1.c. p. 173): 'The Institutes were and are still the noblest monument of the greatness of mind and originality of idea which distinguished Calvin in his own century. More than that, I believe this book to be the most valuable and enduring of all his labors; for those churches which are specially known as the Reformed Churches of France, Switzerland, Holland, Scotland, and the United States of America received from Calvin's Institutes the doctrine, organization, and discipline which, in spite of sharp trials, grave mistakes, and claims which are incompatible with the progress of liberty, have still, for more than three centuries, been the source of all their strength and vitality.' Hase (in his Kirchengeschichte) calls the Institutes 'die grossartigste wissenschaftliche Rechtfertigung des Augustinismus voll religiösen Tiefsinns in unerbittlicher Folgerichtigkeit der Gedanken.' G. Frank (Gesch. der Protest. Theol. Vol. I. p. 74): 'Wie Melanchthon hat auch Calvin seinen Glauben zusammengefasst in einem besonderen Werke, der Inst. rel. chr., nur methodischer, folgerichtiger, überlegner, die grösste Glaubenslehre des 16 Jahrh. ist sie wie ein hochgewölbter, dunkler Dom, darin der Ernst der Religion in andächtigem Schauer sich über die Seele legt.' H. B. Smith (1.c. p. 288): 'It is the most complete system [of theology] which the 16th century produced, nor has it been supplanted by any single work.' Baur (Dogmengeschichte, Vol. III. p. 27) calls it 'in every respect a truly classical work, distinguished in a high degree by originality and acuteness of conception, systematic consistency, and clear, luminous method.' To many editions of the Institutes the well-known distich of the Hungarian Paul Thurius is affixed:
   'Præter apostolicas post Christi tempora chartas, Huic peperere libro sæcula nulla parem.'
They created dismay among Romanists, were burned at Paris by order of the Sorbonne, and hated and feared as the very 'Talmud' and 'Koran of heresy.'859859   Florimond de Ræmond, Histoire de la naissance, progrez et decadence de l’hérésie de ce siècle, pp. 838, 883, quoted by Kampschulte (p. 278), who adds: 'Seine Schrift des Reformationszeitalters ist von den Katholiken mehr gefürchtet, eifriger bekämpft und verfolgt worden, als Calvin's Christliche Institution.' See his own judgment quoted on pp. 446 sq., note. In spite of severe prohibition, they were translated into all the languages of Europe, and passed through innumerable editions. Among the Protestants of France they acquired almost as much authority as Luther's Bible in Germany, and comforted the martyrs in 450prison. In England, after the accession of Elizabeth, they were long used as the text-book of theology; and even the moderate and 'judicious' Hooker prized them highly, and pronounced Calvin 'incomparably the wisest man that ever the French Church did enjoy.'

This remarkable work was originally a defense of the evangelical doctrines against ignorant or willful misrepresentation, and a plea for toleration in behalf of his scattered fellow-Protestants in France, who were then violently persecuted as a set of revolutionary fanatics and heretics. Hence the dedicatory Preface to Francis I. As the early Apologists addressed the Roman emperors to convince them that the Christians were innocent of the foul charges of atheism, immorality, and hostility to Caesar, so Calvin appealed to the French monarch in defense of his equally innocent countrymen, with a manly dignity, frankness, force, and pathos never surpassed before or since. It is a sad reflection that such a voice of warning should have had so little effect, and that the noble French nation even this day would rather listen to the revolutionary 'Marseillaise' of Voltaire and Rousseau than to the reformatory trumpet of Calvin.

The 'Institutes,' to which this dedication to the French monarch forms the magnificent portal, consist of four books (each divided into a number of chapters), and treat, after the natural and historical order of the Apostles' Creed, first of the knowledge of God the Creator (theology); secondly, of the knowledge of God the Redeemer (christology); thirdly, of the Holy Spirit and the application of the saving work of Christ (soteriology); fourthly, of the external means of salvation, viz., the Church and the Sacraments.860860   The first edition of the Institutes contains only six chapters: 1. De lege, with an explanation of the Decalogue; 2. De fide, with an exposition of the Apostles' Creed; 3. De oratione, with an exposition of the Lord's Prayer; 4. Of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; 5. Of the other so-called Sacraments; 6. Of Christian liberty, Church-government, and discipline.

The most prominent and original features of Calvin's theological system, which have left their impress upon the Reformed Creed, are the doctrine of Predestination and the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. By the first he widened the breach between the Reformed and the Lutheran Church; by the second he furnished a basis for reconciliation.



All the Reformers of the sixteenth century, including even the gentle Melanchthon and the compromising Bucer, under a controlling sense of human depravity and saving grace, in extreme antagonism to Pelagianism and self-righteousness, and, as they sincerely believed, in full harmony not only with the greatest of the fathers, but also with the inspired St. Paul, came to the same doctrine of a double predestination which decides the eternal destiny of all men. Nor is it possible to evade this conclusion on the two acknowledged premises of Protestant orthodoxy—namely, the wholesale condemnation of men in Adam, and the limitation of saving grace to the present world. If the Lutheran theology, after the Formula of Concord (1577), rejected Synergism and Calvinism alike, and yet continued to teach the total depravity of all men and the unconditional election of some, it could only be done at the expense of logical consistency.861861   Schleiermacher, the greatest divine of the nineteenth century, has defended Calvinism as the only consistent system on the basis of the orthodox anthropology and eschatology (though he runs it out into a final, unscriptural universalism); and his pupil, Alexander Schweizer, of Zurich (in his Glaubenslehre der evang. reform. Kirche, Vol. I. pp. 79 and 81), thus clearly and sharply states the logical aspect of the case: 'Der reformirte Lehrbegriff, consequent gegründet auf das Materialprincip schlechthiniger Abhängigkeit von Gott und von da aus das menschliche Thun beleuchtend, ohne dessen willensmässige Natur zu verkleinern, ist weniger durch seinen Determinismus anstössig geworden, als durch das dualistisch Particularistische der auf die Prädestination angewandten Weltansicht. Gerade dieses aber gehört der Weltansicht aller damaligen Confessionen gleich sehr an and folgt wirklich aus der Vorstellung, dass unser ewiges Loos beim irdischen Sterben entschieden sei, nur hienieden Erlöste selig werden, alle Andern aber verdammt bleiben. . . . Das Harte am reformirten Lehrbegriff ist der dualistische Particularismus, der aber allen Confessionen gemein durch die reformirte Consequenz nur heller in’s Licht gestellt wird, wodurch allein, falls er irrig wäre, die Förderung zur Wahrheit angebahnt ist. 1. Dualistischer Particularismus ist die Idee, dass in der Menschen- und Engelwelt die einen selig werden, die andern ewig verdammt. Diess war die Ansicht aller kirchlichen Confessionen, indem der Universalismus, die Beseligung aller rationalen Kreaturen in allen drei Confessionen, als hæretische Irrlehre abgewiesen wurde. 2. Liegt im Particularismus Hartes, die Güte Gottes Beschränkendes, so ist es ungerecht, darüber nur die reformirte Confession anzugehen, die weiter nichts gethan, als gelehrt hat: Das Weltergebniss müsse dem Weltplan entsprechen, somit habe Gott ewig grade diese Welt mit diesem Ergebniss gewollt und eine particularistische Prädestination bei sich beschlossen, wovon nun alle Weltentwicklung einfach die Ansführung sei; denn dass alles anders herauskomme, als Gott es gewollt, heisse Gott von den Kreaturen abhängig machen, die Kreaturen zu Göttern machen, Gott aber zum Ungott.' Comp. also Baur, Dogmengeschichte, Vol. III. (1867), pp. 144 sqq.

Yet there were some characteristic differences among the Reformers. Luther started from the servum arbitrium, Zwingli from the idea of 452an all-ruling providentia, Calvin from the timeless or eternal decretum absolution. Calvin elaborated the doctrine of predestination with greater care and precision, and avoided 'the paradoxes' of his predecessors. He made it, moreover, the corner-stone of his system, and gave it undue proportion. He set the absolute sovereignty of God over against the mock sovereignty of the Pope. It was for him the 'article of the standing or falling Church;' while Luther always assigned this position to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In this estimate, both were mistaken, for the central place in the Christian system belongs only to the person and work of Christ—the incarnation and the atonement. Finally, the Augustinian and Lutheran predestinarianism is moderated by the sacramentarian principle of baptismal regeneration; while the Calvinistic predestinarianism confines the sacramental efficacy to the elect, and turns the baptism of the non-elect into an empty form.

Predestination, according to Calvin, is the eternal and unchangeable decree of God by which he foreordained, for his own glory and the display of his attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation. The decree is, therefore, twofold—a decree of election to holiness and salvation, and a decree of reprobation on account of sin and guilt.862862    'Præscientiam quum tribuimus Deo, significamus omnia semper fuisse ac perpetuo mamere sub ejus oculis; ut ejus notitiæ nihil futurum aut præteritum, sed omnia sint præsentia, et sic quidem præsentia, ut non ex ideis tantum imaginetur (qualiter nobis obversantur ea quorum memoriam mens nostra retinet), sed tanquam ante se posita vere intueatur ac cernat. Atque hæc præscientia ad universum mundi ambitum et ad omnes creaturas extenditur. Prædestinationem vocamus æternum Dei decretum, quo apud se constitutum habuit, quid de unoquoque homine fieri vellet. Non enim pari conditione creantur omnes; sed aliis vita æterna, aliis damnatio æterna præordinatur. Itaque, prout in alterutrum finem quisque conditus est, ita vel ad vitam, vel ad mortem prædestinatum dicimus.' Instit. Lib. III. c. 21, § 5 (Opera, Vol. II. pp. 682, 683). Comp. his Articuli de prædest., first published from an autograph of Calvin, Vol. IX. p. 713. The latter is the negative counterpart, which strict logic seems to demand, but against which our better feelings revolt, especially if it is made to include multitudes of innocent children, for their unconscious connection with Adam's fall. Calvin himself felt this, and characteristically called the decree of reprobation a 'decree horrible, though nevertheless true.'863863   'Iterum quæro, unde factum est ut tot gentes una cum liberis eorum infantibus æternæ morti involveret lapsus Adæ absque remedio, nisi quia Deo ita visum est? Hic obmutescere oportet tam dicaces alioqui linguas. Decretum quidem horribile, fateor; infitiari tamen nemo poterit quin præsciverit Deus, quem exitum esset habiturus homo, antequam ipsum conderet, et ideo præsciverit, quia decreto suo sic ordinarat. In præscientiam Dei si quis hic invehatur, temere et inconsulte impingit. Quid enim, quæso, est cur reus agatur cœlestis judex quia non ignoraverit quod futurum erat? In prædestinationem competit, si quid est vel justæ vel speciosæ querimoniæ. Nec absurdum videri debet quod dico, Deum non modo primi hominis casum, et in eo posterorum ruinam prævidisse, sed arbitrio quoque suo dispensasse. Ut enim ad ejus sapientiam pertinet, omnium quæ futura sunt esse præscium, sic ad potentiam, omnia manu sua regere ac moderari.' Instit. Lib. III. c. 23, § 7 (Vol. II. p. 704). All he could say was that God's will is inscrutable, 453but always holy and unblamable. It is the ultimate ground of all things, and the highest rule of justice. Foreordination and foreknowledge are inseparable, and the former is not conditioned by the latter, but God foresees what he foreordains. If election were dependent on man's faith and good works, grace would not be free, and in fact would cease to be grace. Man's holiness is not the cause or condition, but the effect of God's election. The unequal distribution of gospel privileges can be traced only to the secret will of God. All men are alike corrupt and lost in Adam; some are saved by free grace, others, who are no worse by nature, reject the gospel. These are undeniable every-day facts, and admit of no other explanation within the limits of the present life; and as to the future world, we know nothing but what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.

Calvin carried the doctrine of the divine decrees beyond the Augustinian infralapsarianism, which makes the fall of Adam the object of a permissive or passive decree, and teaches the preterition rather than the reprobation of the wicked, to the very verge of supralapsarianism, which traces even the first sin to an efficient or positive decree, analogous to that of election. But while his inexorable logic pointed to this abyss, his moral and religious sense shrunk from the last inference of making God the author of sin, which would be blasphemous, and involve the absurdity that God abhors and justly punishes what he himself decreed. Hence his phrase, which vacillates between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism: 'Adam fell, God' providence having so ordained it; yet he fell by his own guilt.'864864   'Lapsus est enim primus homo, quia Dominus ita expedire censuerat; cur censuerit, nos latet. Certum tamen est non aliter censuisse, nisi quia videbat, nominis sui gloriam inde merito illustrari. Unde mentionem gloriæ Dei audis, illic justitiam cogita. Justum enim esse oportet quod laudem meretur. Cadit igitur homo, Dei providentia sic ordinante, sed suo vitio cadit. . . . Propria ergo malitia, quam acceptrat a Domino puram naturam corrupit; sua ruina totam posteritatem in exitium secum attraxit.' Instit. Lib. III. c. 23, § 8 (Vol. II. p. 705). The difference between the supralapsarians and infralapsarians was not agitated at the time of Calvin, but afterwards during the Arminian controversy in Holland. Both schools appealed to him. The difference is more speculative than moral and practical. In creating man free, God created him necessarily temptable and liable to fall, but the fall itself is man's own act and abuse of freedom. God decreed sin not efficiently but permissively, not as an actual fact but as a mere possibility, not for its own sake but for the sake of the good or as a negative condition of redemption. Besides, sin has no positive character, is no created substance, bat it is privative and negative, and consists simply in the abuse of faculties and gifts essentially good.


Calvin defended this doctrine against all objections with consummate skill, and may be said to have exhausted the subject on his side of the question. His arguments were chiefly drawn from the Scriptures, especially the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; but he unduly stretched passages which refer to the historical destiny of individuals and nations in this world, into declarations of their eternal fate in the other world; and he escaped the proper force of opposite passages (such as John i. 29; iii. 16; 1 John ii. 2; iv. 14; 1 Tim. ii. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 9) by a distinction between the secret and revealed or declared will of God (voluntas arcani and voluntas beneplaciti), which carries an intolerable dualism into the divine will.

The motive and aim of this doctrine was not speculative, but practical. It served as a bulwark of free grace, an antidote to Pelagianism and human pride, a stimulus to humility and gratitude, a source of comfort and peace in trial and despondency. The charge of favoring license and carnal security was always indignantly repelled by the Pauline 'God forbid!' It is moreover refuted by history, which connects the strictest Calvinism with the strictest morality.

The doctrine of predestination, in its milder, infralapsarian form, was incorporated into the Geneva Consensus, the Second Helvetic, the French, Belgic, and Scotch Confessions, the Lambeth Articles, the Irish Articles, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards; while the Thirty-nine Articles,865865   There is a dispute about the precise meaning of Art. XVII.; but, as Prof. Fisher says (The Reform. p. 335), 'the article can not fairly be interpreted in any other sense than that of unconditional election; and the cautions which are appended, instead of being opposed to this interpretation, demonstrate the correctness of it." the Heidelberg Catechism, and other German Reformed Confessions, indorse merely the positive part of the free election of believers, and are wisely silent concerning the decree of reprobation, leaving it to theological science and private opinion.

Supralapsarianism, which makes unfallen man, or man before his creation (i.e., a non ens, a mere abstraction of thought), the object of 455God's double foreordination for the manifestation of his mercy in the elect, and his justice in the reprobate, was ably advocated by Beza in Geneva, Gomarus in Holland, Twisse (the Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly) in England, Nathaniel Emmons (1745–1840) in New England, but it never received symbolical authority, and was virtually or expressly excluded (though not exactly condemned) by the Synod of Dort, the Westminster Assembly, and even the 'Formula Consensus Helvetica' (1675).866866   Can. IV.: 'Ita Deus gloriam suam illustrare constituit, ut decreverit, primo quidem hominem integrum creare. tum ejusdem lapsum permittere, ac demum ex lapsis quorundam misereri, adeoque eosdem eligere, alios vero in corrupta massa Relinquere, æternoque tandem exitio devovere.' This does not go beyond the limits of Augustinianism. Van Oosterzee errs when he says (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I. p. 452) that the Form. Cons. Hel. asserts the supralapsarian view; while Hodge errs on the other side when he says (Syst. Theol. Vol. II. p. 317) that this document contains 'a formal repudiation of the supralapsarian view.' All Calvinistic Confessions, without exception, trace the fall to a permissive decree, make man responsible and justly punishable for sin, and reject, as a blasphemous slander, the charge that God is the author of sin. And this is the case with all the Calvinistic divines of the present day.867867   Dr. Hodge, who best represents the Old School Calvinism in America, rejects supralapsarianism and defends infralapsarianism, which he defines thus (Syst. Theol. Vol. II. pp. 319 and 320): 'According to the infralapsarian doctrine, God, with the design to reveal his own glory—that is, the perfections of his own nature—determined to create the world; secondly, to permit the fall of man; thirdly, to elect from the mass of fallen men a multitude whom no man could number as "vessels of mercy;" fourthly, to send his Son for their redemption; and, fifthly, to leave the residue of mankind, as he left the fallen angels, to suffer the just punishment of their sins.'


Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, on which he spent much deep and earnest thought, is an ingenious compromise between the realism and mysticism of the Lutheran, and the idealism and spiritualism of the Zwinglian theory. It aims to satisfy both the heart and the reason.

He retained the figurative interpretation of the words of institution, and rejected all carnal and materialistic conceptions of the eucharistic mystery; but he very strongly asserted, at the same time, a spiritual real presence and fruition of Christ's body and blood for the nourishment of the soul. He taught that believers, while they receive with their mouths the visible elements, receive also by faith the spiritual realities signified and sealed thereby, namely, the benefit of the atoning sacrifice on the cross, and the life-giving virtue of Christ's glorified 456humanity in heaven, which the Holy Ghost conveys to the soul in a supernatural manner; while unbelieving or unworthy communicants, having no inward connection with Christ, receive only bread and wine to their own judgment. He thus sought to avoid alike the positive error of Luther and the negative error of Zwingli (whose view of the Eucharist he even characterized as 'profane'), and to unite the elements of truth advocated by both in a one-sided and antagonistic way. Luther and Zwingli always had in mind a corporeal or dimensional presence of the material substance of body and blood, and an oral manducation of the same by all communicants—which the one affirmed, the other denied; Calvin substituted for this the idea of a virtual or dynamic presence of the psychic life-power and efficacy of Christ's humanity, and a spiritual reception and assimilation of the same by the organ of faith, and therefore on the part of believing communicants only, through the secret mediation of the Holy Spirit.868868   Calvin taught his view of the Eucharist in the first edition of his Institutes (cap. 4, De Sacramentis, pp. 236 sqq., in the new ed. of the Opera, Vol. I. pp. 118 sqq.; comp. Ebrard, Das Dogma v. heil. Abendmahl, Vol. II. p. 412), and in the Confessio fidei de eucharistia. (1537); then more fully in the later editions of the Institutes, 1.c. Lib. IV. cap. 17, 18; in his two Catechisms (1538 and 1542); in his admirable tract De Cœna Domini (first in French, 1541, then in Latin, 1545; see Opera, Vol. V. pp. 429–460); in the Consensus Tigurinus (1549); and he defended it in several polemical treatises against Westphal (1555–1557) and Heshusius (1561).

Calvin's doctrine of the Eucharist was substantially approved by Melanchthon in his later period, although from fear of Luther and the ultra-Lutherans he never fully committed himself. It passed into all the leading Reformed Confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and must be regarded as the orthodox Reformed doctrine. Zwingli's theory, which is more simple and intelligible, has considerable popular currency, but no symbolical authority.869869   See, on this whole subject, the very elaborate exposition of Ebrard, Das Dogma v. heil. Abendmahl, Vol. II. pp. 402–525; Baur, Geschichte der christl. Kirche, Vol. IV. pp. 398–402; and Nevin's article on the Reformed Doctrine of the Lord's Supper, in the Mercersburg Review for Sept. 1850, pp. 421–548 (in defense of his 'Mystical Presence'). Dr. Nevin has clearly and correctly stated Calvin's doctrine of the Eucharist and abundantly fortified it with quotations from all the symbolical standards, in entire harmony with Ebrard (who indorsed him in the Studien und Kritiken). After rejecting both the dogma of transubstantiation and consubstantiation, he says (p. 429): 'In opposition to this view, the Reformed Church taught that the participation of Christ's flesh and blood in the Lord's Supper is spiritual only, and in no sense corporal. The idea of a local presence in the case was utterly rejected. The elements can not be said to comprehend or include the body of the Saviour in any sense. It is not there, but remains constantly in heaven, according to the Scriptures. It is not handled by the minister and taken into the mouth of the communicant. The manducation of it is not oral, but only by faith. It is present in fruition accordingly to believers only in the exercise of faith; the impenitent and unbelieving receive only the naked symbols, bread and wine, without any spiritual advantage to their own souls. Thus we have the doctrine defined and circumscribed on both sides; with proper distinction from all that may be considered a tendency to Rationalism in one direction, and from all that may be counted a tendency to Romanism in the other. It allows the presence of Christ's person in the sacrament, including even his flesh and blood, so far as the actual participation of the believer is concerned. Even the term real presence Calvin tells us he was willing to employ, if it were to be understood as synonymous with true presence; by which he means a presence that brings Christ truly into communion with the believer in his human nature as well as in his divine nature. The word real, however, was understood ordinarily to denote a local, corporal presence, and on this account was not approved. To guard against this, it may be qualified by the word spiritual; and the expression will then be quite suitable to the nature of the doctrine as it has been now explained. A real presence, in opposition to the notion that Christ's flesh and blood are not made present to the communicant in any way. A spiritual real presence, in opposition to the idea that Christ's body is in the elements in a local or corporal manner. Not real simply, and not spiritual simply, but real and yet spiritual at the same time. The body of Christ is in heaven, the believer on earth; but by the power of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless, the obstacle of such vast local distance is fully overcome, so that in the sacramental act, while the outward symbols are received in an outward way, the very body and blood of Christ are at the same time inwardly and supernaturally communicated to the worthy receiver, for the real nourishment of his new life. Not that the material particles of Christ's body are supposed to be carried over, by this supernatural process, into the believer's person. The communion is spiritual, not material. It is a participation of the Saviour's life; of his life, however, as human, subsisting in a true bodily form. The living energy, the vivific virtue, as Calvin styles it, of Christ's flesh, is made to flow over into the communicant, making him more and more one with Christ himself, and thus more and more an heir of the same immortality that is brought to light in his person.'


Calvin thus combined his high predestinarianism with a high view of the Church and the Sacraments. Augustine and Luther did the same to a still greater extent, with more prominence given to the sacramental idea. It is the prerogative of great minds to maintain apparently opposite truths and principles which hold each other in check; while with minds less strong and comprehensive, the one principle is apt to rule out the other. In the Catholic and Lutheran Churches the sacramental principle gradually overruled the doctrine of absolute predestination; in the more rigid Calvinistic school, the sacramental principle yielded to the doctrine of predestination. But the authoritative standards are committed to both.


Among the works which have more or less influenced the Reformed Confessions we can not ignore Calvin's commentaries. To expound the Scriptures in books, from the chair, and from the pulpit, was his 458favorite occupation. His whole theology is scriptural rather than scholastic, and distinguished for the skillful and comprehensive working up of the teaching of the Bible, as the only pure fountain of revealed truth and the infallible rule of the Christian faith. As it is systematically comprehended in his 'Institutes,' and defended in his various polemical tracts against Sadolet, Pighius, the Council of Trent, Caroli, Bolsec, Castallio, Westphal, Heshusius, so it is scattered through his Commentaries on the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, and the principal books of the Old Testament, especially the Psalms and the Prophets. He opened this important series of works, during his sojourn at Strasburg, by an exposition of the Epistle to the Romans (1539), on which his theological system is chiefly based.

He could assert with truth on his death-bed that he never knowingly twisted or misinterpreted a single passage of the Scriptures, that he always aimed at simplicity, and restrained the temptation to show acuteness and ingenuity. He regarded it as the chief object of a commentator to adhere closely to the text, and to bring out clearly and briefly the meaning of the writer. He detested irrelevant talk and diffuseness, and avoided allegorical fancies, which substitute pious imposition for honest exposition. He combined in a very rare degree all the necessary hermeneutical qualifications, a fair knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, sound grammatical tact, thorough sympathy with the spirit and aim of the Bible, and aptitude for fruitful practical application. He could easily enter into the peculiar situation of the Prophets and Apostles, as though he had been with them in their trials, and shared their varied experience. He is free from pedantry, and his exposition is an easy, continuous flow of reproduction. He never evades difficulties, but frankly meets and tries to solve them.

With all his profound reverence for the Word of God, to which his reason bows in cheerful obedience, he is not swayed by a peculiar theory of inspiration or dogmatic prejudice, but shows often remarkable freedom and sagacity in discovering the direct historical import of prophecies, in distinction from their ulterior Messianic bearing.870870   In his exposition of Gen. iii. 15, he understands the 'woman's seed' collectively of the human family in its perpetual struggle with Satan, which at last culminates in the victory of Christ, the head of the race. Comp. also his remarks on Isa. iv. 2; vi. 3; Psa. xxxiii. 6; Matt. ii. 15; Heb. ii. 6–8. He 459notices the difference of style and argument in the Second Epistle of Peter as compared with the first, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews as compared with the undisputed Pauline Epistles. He never ventured to explain the mysteries of the Apocalypse. Luther, with an equally profound reverence and enthusiasm for the Word of God, was even much bolder, and passed sweeping judgments on whole books of the canon (as the Epistle of James, the book of Esther, and the book of Revelation), because he could not find enough of Christ in them. Calvin and his followers retained the Canon in full, but excluded more rigidly the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.

The scholastic Calvinism and Lutheranism of the seventeenth century departed from the more liberal view of the Reformers on the mode and degree of inspiration, and substituted for it a rigid mechanical theory which ignored the human and historical aspect of the Scriptures, and reduced the sacred writers to mere penmen of the Holy Ghost. This theory found symbolical expression in the 'Formula Consensus Helvetica' (1675), which advocates even the inspiration of the Hebrew-vowel points, and cuts off all textual criticism.

Upon the whole, Calvin is ' beyond all question the greatest exegete of the sixteenth century,'871871   Reuss: Geschichte der H. Schriften des N. T., 4th edition, p. 564. which of all centuries was the most fruitful in this department of sacred learning. Luther was the prince of translators; Calvin, the prince of commentators. Augustine and Luther had occasionally a deeper intuition into the meaning of difficult passages, and seized on the main idea with the instinct of genius; but Calvin was more accurate and precise, and more uniformly excellent. Modern commentators have made great progress in textual criticism and grammatical and historical exegesis, but do not attain to his religious depth and fervor. His commentaries have stood the test of time, and will always be consulted with profit. Scaliger, who was displeased with all men, said that no scholar had penetrated so deeply into the meaning of the Prophets as Calvin; the Roman Catholic critic Richard Simon admitted that his commentaries would be 'useful to the whole world,' if they were free from declamations against popery; and of all older expounders none is more frequently quoted by the best modern critical scholars than John Calvin.872872   See the frequent references to him in the Commentaries of Tholuck, Hengstenberg, Lücke, Bleek, De Wette, Meyer, Alford; also the Essay of Tholuck, 'Die Verdienste Calvin's als Ausleger der heil. Schrift,' 1831 (reprinted in his Vermischte Schriften, Vol. II. pp. 330–360); Ed. Reuss, Calvin considéré comme exégète (Revue, Vol. VI. p. 223); and Stähelin, Joh. Calvin, Vol. I. pp. 182 sqq. Stähelin says (p. 198): 'Der altlestamentliche wie der neutestamentliche Bibelerklärer, der Lutheraner, wie der Unirte und Reformirte, der wissenschaftliche Exeget, wie der populäre Schriftausleger alle schöpften und schöpfen immer noch aus der Arbeit Calvins bei weitem das Meiste und Beste, was sie von Schrifterklärung aus dem Reformationszeitalter beibringen.' Comp. also Kahnis, Dogmatik, Vol. II. p. 492, and Herzog, Encykl. Vol. II. p. 528.



The practical and ecclesiastical part of Calvin's work is in some respects even more important than his theology, and must be briefly considered in those features which have affected the Calvinistic Confessions. These are the duty of discipline, the principle of lay-representation, and the autonomy of the Church in its relation to the State. In these points Calvinism differs from Lutheranism, and also from Zwinglianism and Anglicanism. Calvin aimed at a moral and social as well as a doctrinal and religious reformation, and succeeded in establishing a model Church, which excited the admiration not only of sympathizing contemporaries, like Farel and Knox,873873   John Knox, the Reformer of Scotland, who studied at the feet of Calvin, though four years his senior, in a letter to his friend Locke, in 1556, called the Church of Geneva 'the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion to be so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place besides.' Farel wrote, in 1557, that he never saw Geneva in such excellent condition before, and that he wonld rather be the last there than the first any where else. There, it was said, the pure gospel is preached in all temples and houses (Calvin himself preached daily, every other week); there the music of psalms never ceases; there hands are folded and hearts lifted up to heaven from morning till night and from night until morning. The Italian refugee, Bernardino Ochino, gives a most favorable description of the moral condition of Geneva. See his Life by Beurath (1875), p. 169. but even of visitors of other creeds long after his death.874874   Dr. Valentine Andreæ of Würtemberg (a grandson of Jacob Andreæ, the chief author of the Formula of Concord), a great and shining light of the Lutheran Church in Germany during the desolations of the Thirty-Years' War (d. 1654), visited Geneva in the early part of the seventeenth century, and held it up as a model of moral purity well worthy of imitation. 'Als ich in Genf war,' he says in his Respublica Christianopolitana, 1619, 'bemerkte ich etwas Grosses, woran die Erinnerung, ja vielmehr, wonach die Sehnsucht nur mit meinem Leben absterben wird. Nicht nur findet sich hier das vollkommene Institut einer vollkommenen Republik, sondern als eine besondere Zierde und Mittel der Disciplin eine Sittenzucht, nach welcher über die Sitten und selbst die geringsten Ueberschreitungen der Bürger wöchentlich Untersuchung angestellt wird, zuerst durch die Viertelsinspectoren, dann durch die Senioren, endlich durch den Magistrat, je nachdem der Frevel der Sache oder die Verhärtung und Verstockung der Schuldigen es erfordern. In Folge dessen sind denn alle Fluchworte, alles Würfel- und Kartenspiel, Ueppigkeit, Uebermuth, Zank, Hass, Betrug, Luxus, u.s.w., geschweige denn grössere Vergehungen, die fast unerhört sind, untersagt. Welche herrliche Zierde für die christliche Religion solche Sittenreinheit, vor der wir mil allen Thränen beweinen müssen, dass sie uns fehlt und fast ganz venachlässigt wird, und alle Gutgesinnten sich anstrengen, dass sie in’s Leben gerufen werde! Mich, wofern mich die Verschiedenheit der Religion nicht abgehalten, hätte die sittliche Uebereinstimmung hier auf ewig gefesselt, und mit allem Eifer habe ich von da an getrachtet, dass etwas Aehnliches auch unserer Kirche zu Theil würde. Nicht geringer als die öffentliche Zucht war auch die häusliche meines Hausherrn Scarron ausgezeichnet durch stetige Gebetsübungen, Lectüre der heiligen Schrift, Gottesfurcht in Worten und Thaten, Masshalten in Speise und Kleidung, dass ich eine grössere Sittenreinheit selbst im väterlichen Hause nicht gesehen.' During the eighteenth 461century his severe system of theology and discipline gave way to the prevailing spirit of Socinianism and the revolutionary spirit of Jean Jacques Rousseau—the counterpart of Calvin; but revived in the nineteenth century, though in a modified form, so that Geneva has become a second time the centre of evangelistic labors in the French-speaking world.875875   The Haldanes repaid the debt of Scotland to Geneva, and, in connection with Cesar Malan, gave the first impulse to a revival which resulted in the establishment of a Free Church, and a school of theology distinguished by the labors of Gaussen, Merle d'Aubigné, Pronier, La Harpe. The old National Church which Calvin founded has likewise undergone a salutary change, though the old rigor can never be restored. In point of literary culture and social refinement, Geneva always retained the first rank among French cities next to Paris.

1. Discipline.—Calvin's zeal for discipline, especially for the honor of the Lord's table, in excluding unworthy communicants, was the cause of his expulsion from Geneva, the cause of his recall from Strasburg, the condition of his acceptance, the struggle and triumph of his life. He had a long and fierce conflict with the ferocious politico-religious party of the Libertines, or 'Spirituals,' as they called themselves, who combined a pantheistic creed with licentiousness and free-lovism, and anticipated the worst forms of modern infidelity to the extent of declaring the gospel a tissue of lies of less value than Æsop's Fables.876876   See Calvin's Instructio adv. fanaticam et furiosam sectam Libertinorum, qui se Spirituales vocant, written first in French, 1544, Opera, Vol. VII. pp. 145–252. Comp. Trechsel's art. Libertiner in Herzog's Real-Encykl., and Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 383 sqq. He regarded them as worse enemies of God and the truth than the Pope. They resorted to personal indignities and every device of intimidation; they named the very dogs of the street after him; they one night fired fifty shots before his bedchamber; they threatened him in the pulpit; they approached the communion table as if to seize the sacred elements, when he cried out, 'You may break these limbs and shed my blood, I would rather die than dishonor the table of my God,' whereupon they left the church. On another occasion he walked into the midst of an excited mob and offered his breast to 462their daggers. It seems incredible that a man constitutionally 'unwarlike and timorous' should have completely overcome at last such a powerful and determined opposition, which reached its height in 1553.

The system of discipline which he established saved Geneva from anarchy, into which the Libertines would have plunged it, and was a training-school of self-government for other Reformed Churches; but it was carried to unwarrantable excesses in the punishment of religious and civil offenses, and even innocent amusements, and entered too much into details of private and domestic life.

2. Presbyterian and Synodical Church Polity.—It rests on the principle of ministerial equality, and the principle of lay-representation by elders or seniors in the government of the Church. This polity, founded by Calvin, was consistently carried out in the Presbyterian Churches of France, Holland, Scotland, England, and the United States; but in German Switzerland and Germany it succeeded only partially, while the Church of England retained the Episcopal hierarchy. Calvin himself, however, was not an exclusive Presbyterian. He allowed modifications of the form of government in different countries. He did not object to Episcopacy or the liturgical worship in England; he only protested against the ecclesiastical supremacy of Henry VIII. and a number of abuses.

3. The Autonomy of the Church.—The German Reformers, including Zwingli, yielded too much authority to the civil rulers in matters of religion. Calvin theoretically made the Church independent in her own sphere, and claimed for her the right of self-government. This leads consistently to a separation of Church and State, where the latter is hostile to the former, as was the case in France and to some extent in Scotland. In recent times the Calvinistic Churches, without changing their creed, tend naturally towards complete freedom, from State control. Yet in practice he had no idea of such a separation. He regarded the civil and the spiritual power as the two arms of God's government in the world, which should co-operate together for the same end—the glory of God and the good of society: the Church by infusing a religious spirit into the State, the State by protecting and promoting the interests of the Church. He established, after the model of the Old Testament, a theocracy at Geneva, and governed it 463by tacit consent as long as he lived, presiding over the 'Venerable Company' of Pastors, and exerting a molding influence upon the civil legislation of the little republic of about 20,000 inhabitants.877877   Kampschulte, Vol. I. p. 471: 'Der Grundgedanke, von dem der Gesetzgeber Genfs ausgeht, ist die Theokratie. Calvin will in Genf den Gottesstaat herstellen. Nur Einer ist ihm König und Herr in Staat und Kirche: Gott im Himmel. In seinem Namen herrscht jede irdische Gewalt. Gottes Herrscherruhm zu verkündigen, seine Majestät zu verherrlichen, seinen heiligen Willen zur Ausführung zu bringen und seine Bekenner zu heiligen, ist die gemeinsame Aufgabe von Staat und Kirche.' Comp. Stähelin, Vol. I. pp. 319 sqq.

Bossuet, Möhler, and other Roman Catholic divines saw in this a return to the hierarchy, with Calvin as its pope. He has sometimes been compared to Hildebrand; and Kampschulte remarks that the dominion of the spiritual sovereignty was more thoroughly carried out in Geneva than by the Gregories and Innocenses in the Middle Ages. But Calvin's theocracy differed essentially from the Roman Catholic by its popular (though by no means democratic) basis: it was not priestcraft ruling over statecraft, but a self-governing Christian commonwealth. Geneva was an aristocratic republic, ruled by the clergy and the people in orderly representation and friendly co-operation. The highest civil and executive power was lodged in the 'Little Council' of twenty-four syndics, the highest ecclesiastical power in the 'Consistory,' composed (at first) of six pastors and double that number of lay-elders.878878   Guizot says of this ecclesiastical organization (p. 265): 'In its origin it was a profoundly Christian and evangelical system; it was republican in many of its fundamental principles and practices, and at the same time it recognized the necessity of authority and order, and originated general and permanent rules of discipline.' Michelet calls the Geneva of Calvin 'the city of the spirit, founded by Stoicism on the rock of predestination;' and Kampschulte (p. 430), 'the metropolis of a grand, sublime, and terrible idea.'


Unfortunately Calvin inherited from the Theodosian Code and the Catholic Church the worst feature of the theocratic system, namely, the principle of appeal to the secular arm for the temporal, and, if necessary, capital punishment of spiritual offenses, as being offenses against the order and peace of society. This principle is inconsistent with liberty of conscience (which Beza called a diabolical dogma), and justifies all manner of persecution, as duty or policy may suggest. With his intense antagonism to the papal tyranny, he might have thrown off this relic of the Middle Ages, if it had not been for his 464conviction of the perpetual validity of the Mosaic civil code and his theocratic theory. He thought that the burning of innocent people by Romanists was no good reason why Protestants should spare the guilty.

It was the misfortune of Calvin that this false theory, which confounds two distinct spheres and ignores the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, was brought to its severest test and explosion under his own eye, and to the perpetual injury of his fair fame. "We mean, of course, the terrible theological tragedy of the Spanish physician Michael Servetus, a restless fanatic, a pantheistic pseudo-reformer, and the most audacious and even blasphemous heretic of the sixteenth century, who attacked the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as tritheistic and atheistic, as the greatest monstrosity, and the source of all corruption in the Church. After being condemned to death, and burned in effigy by the Roman Catholic authorities in France,879879   See the acts of the process of Servetus at Vienne and Lyons (first published by the Abbé d'Artigny, Paris, 1749), in Calvin's Opera, Vol. VIII. pp. 833 sqq. he fled to Geneva, was arrested, tried, and executed at the stake, for heresy and blasphemy, by the civil government, with the full consent of Calvin, except that he made an ineffectual plea for a mitigation of the punishment (by a substitution of the sword for the fagot).880880   For full discussion of the trial and execution of Servetus and Calvin's part in them, see Schaff: Ch. Hist., VII., 680–793. A large boulder has been placed by Swiss and French Protestants at the spot where the Spaniard suffered, to serve as an expiatory monument, expressing regret for the tragedy and at the same time respect for Calvin. On the one side is the record that Michael Servetus of Villeneuve, Aragon, b., Sept. 29, 1511, was executed there, Oct. 26, 1553, and on the other the inscription: Fils respectueux et reconnaissants de Calvin, notre grand Réformateur, mais condamnant une erreur qui fut celle de son siècle et fermement attachés à la liberté de conscience selon les vrais principes de la Réformation et de l’Evangile nous avons élevé ce monument expiatoire, le 27 Octobre, 1903. (We, respectful children of Calvin, our great Reformer, but condemning an error which was the error of his age and firmly attached to liberty of conscience according to the true principles of the Reformation and the Gospel, have erected this expiatory monument, Oct. 27, 1903). Calvin was called by Renan "the most Christian man of his age."—Ed.

Severely as we must condemn the great Reformer, from the standpoint of our modern civilization, for this the saddest mistake of his life, it is evident that even here he acted consistently and conscientiously, and that the blame attaches not to his personal character (for towards sincere and earnest heretics, like Lælius Socinus, he showed 465marked courtesy and leniency), but to his system, and not to his system alone, but to the inherited system of his age, which had not yet emerged from the traditions of the Romish pseudo-theocracy. The burning of Servetus was fully approved by all the Reformers—Beza, Farel, Bucer, Bullinger, even the mild and gentle Melanchthon.881881   It may he questioned whether Zwingli and Luther, had they lived, would have sanctioned the execution; their impulses at least were more liberal. With all his polemic violence in argument, Luther disapproved of the shocking cruelties against the Anabaptists in Germany, and said that 'on this plan, the hangman would be the best theologian.' If Romanists condemned Calvin, they did it from hatred of the man, and condemned him for following their own example even in this particular case. The public opinion of Christendom at that time and down to the eighteenth century justified the right and duty of civil government not only to protect but to support orthodoxy, and to punish heresy by imprisonment, exile, and death; and this right was exercised, with more or less severity, in all countries of Europe, and even in Puritan New England during the colonial period. Protestants differed from Romanists only in their definition of heresy, and by greater moderation in its punishment. Protestants complained of being innocently persecuted in France, Spain, Holland, and under the bloody Mary in England; and Catholics raised the same complaint against the systematic cruelty of the penal code of Queen Elizabeth, which looked to the utter extermination of Romanism and Puritanism alike.

A protest against the principle of persecution, first raised by Justin Martyr and Tertullian in the early Church, but forgotten as soon as the Church ascended the throne of the Cæsars, was revived by heretical Anabaptists and Socinians, who themselves suffered from it, without having a chance to persecute their persecutors, and who thus became martyrs of religious freedom. All honor to them, even to Servetus, for the service they rendered under this view to future generations. Liberty is the sweet fruit of bitter persecution. During the seventeenth century this feeble and isolated protest was considerably strengthened by Arminians, Baptists, and Quakers for the same reason; and during the eighteenth century Christian liberality and philanthropy on the one hand, and religious indifferentism and infidelity on the other, made such progress that the doctrinal foundations of persecution were gradually undermined, and toleration (as it was first patronizingly 466and condescendingly called, and is still called in despotic countries) became the professed policy of civilized governments. But this is not enough: all Christian governments should legally recognize and protect liberty of conscience, as an inherent and inalienable right of every immortal soul; and this requires for its full realization a peaceful separation of Church and State, or an equality of all denominations before the law.

In view of this radical revolution of public opinion on the subject of persecution, it becomes a practical question whether those sections of the Protestant confessions of faith which treat of the relation of Church and State should not be reconstructed and adapted to the principle of religious freedom, all the more since the Papal Syllabus has consistently condemned it, as being one of the errors of modern times. Such a change, at all events, is necessary in the United States, and has actually been made in the American revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, and of the Westminster Confession.

The principle of religious liberty does not necessarily, as was formerly supposed, imply indifference to truth or a weakening of intensity of conviction. It follows legitimately from a sharper discrimination between the secular and spiritual sphere, between the Old and the New Testaments, between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ, and from the spirit and example of Him who said, 'My kingdom is not of this world,' and who commanded the carnal-minded Peter to 'put up his sword into the sheath.' God alone is Lord of the conscience, and allows no one with impunity to interfere with his sovereign right. Religion flourishes best in the atmosphere of freedom, and need not fear error as long as truth is left free to combat it.

It is nevertheless true that Calvinism, by developing the power of self-government and a manly spirit of independence which fears no man, though seated on a throne, because it fears God, the only sovereign, has been one of the chief agencies in bringing about this progress, and that civil and religious liberty triumphed first and most completely in Calvinistic countries. 'Calvin,' says Guizot, 'is undoubtedly one of those who did most towards the establishment of religious liberty.'

« Prev Calvin's Work. His Theology and Discipline. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection