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THERE were almost from the beginning two very different classes of men engaged in the Reformation—the men of movement and of action, and the men of organisation and of policy. The first class were, in the most radical sense, reformers—those who broke through the old bonds of superstition, and, by a process of disturbance and disintegration, prepared the way for a new creative epoch in the relations of human society and the forms of religious life; the second were characteristically theologians and ecclesiastics as well as reformers—those who, having accepted the principles of the reformed movement, sought to mould them into new expressions of Christian thought and life. The former were heroes heading a great insurrection in human history, which had not yet taken to itself a well-defined shape, but was moving onwards rather under the sway of an irresistible spiritual impulse than of clear regulative ideas; the latter were thinkers and legislators, whose aim it was to impress a dogmatic and constitutional character upon the disturbing elements that had been set in motion. As Luther is 178the greatest of the first class, so Calvin is, beyond all comparison, the greatest of the second class. In each case, however, there is a group of contrasted characters around the central figure—Melanchthon, Camerarius, and others, around Luther; and Lefevre and Farel around Calvin.

When we turn our gaze from Germany to France in the beginning of the sixteenth century, we find both Lefevre and Farel actively at work in the cause of religious reform. Farel particularly is seen labouring with fiery zeal, and a self-sacrificing and heroic temper. An enthusiastic priest of Dauphiny, he had, in his earlier. career, exhausted almost every device of sacerdotalism with a determined self-devotion, and only reached the truth after severe spiritual struggles; with a powerful and restless energy he gave himself, so soon as his own heart was quickened, to a life of religious adventure—to the kindling of a spirit of reform wherever he travelled,—in Dauphiny, in Basle, in Geneva. He is beyond doubt the most notable of the early reformers of France and even before Luther, in his famous theses, had sounded that note of war which soon awakened all Germany, and propagated itself to France and England, Farel had in Paris raised his voice against the papal authority, and begun his evangelical labours. He wins our sympathy from something of the same frank, bold, and careless character which distinguishes the great German, bearing on his front, like him, the impress of an ever-fresh enthusiasm, and the scars of many a hard conflict. He stands, however, at a great distance from the hero of Worms. There was in all Farel’s fiery earnestness too little comprehension and 179firm persistence to have enabled him to carry out in any great and enduring shape the impulse which he himself communicated. It was necessary that some master-mind should arise within the sphere of the Gallic reform movement, in order to consolidate it into a distinctive spiritual power, and to impart to it a lasting social result.

Such a master-mind was Calvin, who represents most strikingly the converging influences of the Swiss and the French Reformations. Both may be fairly regarded as summed up in him, in so far as they enunciated principles and entered as a controlling influence into the history of the world. In this sense he is the most comprehensive representative of each and of both together, although he must yield the palm of priority and of active heroism in the one case to Zwingli, and in the other case to Farel. Into their labours he entered in a somewhat similar way as Melanchthon entered into the labours of Luther; and so far he takes his place beside Melanchthon in the second class of reformers. His theological and didactic qualities and personal sympathies, moreover, ally him with the friend and supporter of Luther, rather than with Luther himself. But there are other and most important respects in which, as we shall see, he occupies a position not only above Melanchthon, but above Luther—a position singular in moral grandeur, and in the vigorous and widely extending influence which spread around from it.

The life of Calvin, in contrast with that of the German reformer, presents but few dramatic aspects. In 180merely biographic interest it is not nearly so rich, although there is a great consistency and purpose in its several parts, which invest it with a powerful charm to some minds.6060   Calvin has been hitherto (1860) unfortunate in biographers,—there not being a single life of him with which we are acquainted at once adequate in its comprehension of the man and his work, fair and critical in its estimate, and interesting in its composition. The work of Dyer, published in this country some years ago, is sufficiently readable and well composed, but without the pretension of grasping the whole subject, and judging it from any comprehensive point of view. The work of Henry, in three massive German volumes, and translated, without the appendices, into two large English octavos by Dr Stebbing, is, either in German or in English, a somewhat unreadable book, with certain glimpses of critical insight here and there, but without coherence or biographical finish. It is, however, the most adequate, as a whole,—being animated by a higher, although scarcely a more impartial, spirit than that of Dyer, and embodying, as it does, the main contents of the reformer’s correspondence,—which happily remain to the student, the most instructive and complete sources of his history. Two volumes of Bonnet’s complete edition of the correspondence, containing the French letters, have already appeared. Two volumes, containing a selection both from the French and Latin letters translated into English, have been published by Mr Constable of Edinburgh. Besides a full edition of the Letters, Bonnet promised, so long ago as 1854, “Une étude sur Calvin, formant une histoire du Reformateur d’après les documents originaux et authentiques;” but Bonnet’s promised “Study” is still, so far as we know, a promise.
   Since the last edition of this volume, M. Bungener has issued a life of Calvin, which has been translated into English (Edin., 1863). A new edition of his works, edited by G. Baum, E. Cunitz, and E. Reuss, is in course of publication; vol. xxvi. has appeared (1883); and at length there is a new life in German by E. Stähelin, adequate to the subject—Johannes Calvin: Elberfeld, 1863 (2 vols.)
It may be conveniently divided for our purpose into three periods of unequal duration: First, From his birth in 1509 to his completion of the ‘Institutes’ in their first shape in 1536. This, like the corresponding period in Luther’s life, 181may be called the period of his education. Second, From his first appearance in Geneva in the same year, 1536, onwards to the incidents of his expulsion and residence at Strasburg to September. 1541, when he re-entered and finally settled in Geneva. Third, From this latter date to his death in 1564. We can only sketch in each of these epochs, as we rapidly glance through them, such features as are absolutely necessary to start before us some picture of the man, and to enable us to comprehend the meaning of the great aims for which he lived, and towards which he wrought.

Calvin was born at Noyon, in Picardy, on the 10th of July 1509: he was thus twenty-six years the junior of Luther. His father, Gerard Cauvin or Calvin, was Procureur-Fiscal of the district of Noyon, and Secretary of the Diocese. He was a man of ability, distinguished by success in his profession, and the favour and friendship of the influential families in his neighbourhood.6161   “Erat is Gerardus,” says Beza, “non pauci judicii et consilii homo, ideoque nobilibus ejus plerisque carus.”—Calv. Vita, Hanoviæ, 1597. His mother, Jane Lefranc, was a native of Cambray, and is reported to have been beautiful, and of a strongly religious spirit. Calvin was one of six children, four sons and two daughters. One of his sisters, Mary, followed his faith and fortunes, and is occasionally mentioned in his letters. Of his brothers, the eldest was an ecclesiastic, the fourth died young, and the third, also bred an ecclesiastic, ultimately joined the reformer in Geneva. The 182position of the father is the natural explanation of so many of his sons entering into the Church. While our reformer was still only twelve years of age, his father procured for him a chaplaincy in the cathedral church of Noyon, as a means of support during his education—a practice not uncommon in the Galilean, as in all the other churches of the time.

Of Calvin’s youth and earlier education we have but few particulars. We get no hearty glimpses of his home and school-days, as in the case of Luther. We only know that, in contrast with the rough and picturesque boyhood of the German, he was nurtured tenderly, and even in an aristocratic atmosphere. The noble family of Mommor, in the neighbourhood, to some extent adopted the boy, and his studies were pursued in conjunction with those of the young members of this family. Beza narrates his precocity of mental power, and the grave severity of his manners, even at this early age. His companions, it is said, surnamed him the “Accusative.”6262   This is mentioned by D’Aubigné, vol. iii. p. 631, upon the evidence of Levasseur, a canon of Noyon. Having received the rudiments of his education in his native town, he went in his fourteenth year to Paris, still in the company of the children of the Mommor family. There he was entered as a pupil in the College de la Marche, under the regency of Mathurin Cordier—a name still familiar to boys entering upon their Latin studies, under its classical form of Corderius. It was under this distinguished master that Calvin laid the foundation of his own wonderful mastery of the Latin language. From the College de la Marche he passed to the College 183Montaigu, where he was initiated into the scholastic philosophy under the guidance of a learned Spaniard. In his eighteenth year he was appointed to the living of Marteville, and this, too, while he had only as yet received the tonsure, and was not admitted to holy orders.6363   He never seems to have been ordained in the Romish Church, notwithstanding the several ecclesiastical positions he held.—Beza, Calv. Vita.

About this time his professional views underwent a change. The law appeared to his father somewhat as to Luther’s, to offer a more tempting worldly prospect than the Church;6464   Beza. and he resolved accordingly to turn the studies of his son in the direction of the former profession. He sent him with this view to the university of Orleans, then adorned by Pierre de l’Etoile, one of the most famous jurists of his day, and afterwards President of the Parliament of Paris. In taking this step, however, Calvin did not resign his Church living; and it appears to have been after this time that, by the kind patronage of a member of the same family who had hitherto so befriended him, he effected the exchange of the living of Marteville for that of Pont l’Evêque, where he is said occasionally to have preached. It is a singular enough picture of the times which is presented to us by this conduct both of Calvin and his father. His justification in the case, if any such be needed considering his youth, is the prevalence of the practice in an age in which the ecclesiastical office had become too frequently a mere material convenience, or transmitted guild.


Of his life at Orleans we know something more than of his previous life at Noyon or Paris, although it is still only very vague glimpses we get. Beza has told us, on the authority of some of Calvin’s fellow-students, that his life was here marked by a rigorous temperance and devotion to study that, after supping moderately, he would spend half the night in study, and devote the morning to meditation on what he had acquired,—thus laying the foundation of his solid learning, but, at the same time, of his future ill-health. His talents were already so generally recognised, that, in the absence of some of the professors, he was called upon to do their duty. It was here that for the first time he became acquainted with the Scriptures, in the translation of a relative of his own, Pierre Robert Olivetan. Here also he formed the friendship of two young men, Francis Daniel, an advocate, and Nicholas du Chemin, a schoolmaster, who seem already to have imbibed the reformed opinions. His earliest extant letter, in which he details the illness and approaching death of his father, and which bears the date of 14th May 1528, is addressed to the latter of these friends and a brief series of letters, on to the year 1536, is addressed to the former. We cannot say as yet that Calvin’s traditionary opinions were unfixed, still less that he had embraced with any decision the Protestant views which were spreading everywhere. Beyond doubt, however, the first impulse to the new faith, which was soon to seize him and mould his whole sentiments, was imparted at Orleans, under the influences and amid the companionships we have mentioned.

From Orleans he went, still in prosecution of his 185legal studies, to Bourges, where for the first time he acquired the knowledge of Greek under the tuition of a learned German, Melchior Wolmar, to whom he has recorded his obligations.6565   Preface to Commentary on Second Epistle to Corinthians. The spiritual impulse received at Orleans seems to have been confirmed and promoted by this distinguished teacher, to whose piety and admirable abilities Beza, also one of his pupils, bears tribute. His convictions became deepened and settled to such a degree that he now began openly to preach the reformed doctrines. Slowly but surely he passed over to the Protestant ranks, in a manner entirely contrasted with that of Luther, even as his mind and character were wholly different. We trace no struggling steps of dogmatic conviction—no profound spiritual agitations—no crisis, as in the case of the German reformer. We only learn that, from being an apparently satisfied and devoted adherent of Popery, he adopted, with a quiet but steady and zealous faithfulness, the new opinions. He himself, indeed, in his preface, when commenting on the Psalms, speaks of his conversion being a sudden one; and to his own reflection afterwards it may have seemed that the clear light began to dawn upon him all at once; but the facts of his life seem rather to show it in the light in which we have presented it, as a gradual and consistent growth under the influences which surrounded him, first at Orleans and then at Bourges.

In accordance with this new growth of spiritual conviction, he returned to the study of theology, or rather took it up for the first time with real earnestness. Not only so, but he soon became an instructor 186and authority in the reformed doctrine. “Not a year had passed over,” he says in the same preface to the Psalms, “when all those who had any desire for pure learning came to me, inexperienced as I was, to gain information. I was naturally bashful, and loved leisure and privacy, hence I sought retirement; but even my solitary place became like a public school.”

He proceeded to Paris (1533), which already, under the teaching of Lefevre and Farel, and the influence of the Queen of Navarre, the sister of Francis I., had become a centre of the reformed faith. The university had become strongly infected with the “new learning.” There was great excitement and rising discontent with the old religion at once in the court, among the bishops,6666   See D’Aubigné’s interesting narrative of the struggles, aims, and fall of Briçonnet, bishop of Meaux, vol. iii. and even in the Sorbonne. The presence of Calvin, whose great powers had already made him extensively known,6767   As an evidence of the fame for abilities and learning he had already acquired, it deserves to be mentioned that he was one of the Continental divines consulted about Henry VIII.’s divorce. operated vigorously to increase this excitement. One Nicolas Cop, a physician, happened to be rector, and in this capacity had to deliver a discourse on the festival of All Saints, for the composition of which he is said to have been indebted to Calvin. Instead of the usual traditionary orthodoxy on such an occasion, the discourse boldly entered upon the subject of religion, and advocated the doctrine of justification by faith. The attack was too obvious to pass unnoticed; the ancient spirit of the Sorbonne revived; and Cop was summoned to answer for the heresy. Aware of his peril, he fled to Basle; and Calvin, whose 187share in the offence became speedily known, also fled. There are various stories as to his flight—as, for example, that he was let down from his window by means of his sheets, and escaped in the habit of a vine-dresser, an acquaintance, to whose house he had repaired. Beza simply states that when the officers went to seize him, he was not to be found,6868   “Quo forte domi non reperto.”—Calv. Vita, &c. and that the Queen of Navarre subsequently interposed in his behalf.

Repairing to Noyon after this event, he is now said to have resigned his ecclesiastical offices; and henceforth for a year or two he seems to have led a wandering life. We find him first at Saintonge, then at Nerac, the residence of the Queen of Navarre, where for the first time he made the personal acquaintance of Lefevre, who is said to have recognised in the pale young student the future apostle of the Reformation, in France. Subsequently he spent some time in retirement at Angouleme with his friend Louis du Tillet, his letters to whom afterwards, when Tillet felt himself impelled to rejoin the Roman Church, are among the most interesting of his early correspondence, marked as they are by an unusual freedom and affectionateness of feeling. It was during this retirement that he is supposed to have made the first sketch of his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion.’ Again, in 1533, we find him for a brief while at Paris, strangely enough expecting a meeting with Servetus, who had expressed a desire to see and confer with him. He did not, however, keep his appointment. Not yet were they destined to meet,—the stern reformer and the enthusiastic speculator! Had they done so now in the warmth of 188comparative youth, and while the dogmatism of both was not yet hardened, we may please ourselves with the imagination that their later and darker meeting might have been avoided, and a great crime have been spared to the progress of the Reformation.

Persecution now raged fiercely against the adherents of the Reformation in France. The agitation of the Anabaptist insurrection in Germany had spread across the Rhine, and even into England. There was alarm and excitement everywhere. All reformers were confounded as disturbers of social order. Calvin felt that he was no longer safe in Paris, nor even in France, and he prepared to take refuge at Basle. Previously, however, he published at Orleans a treatise against one of the peculiar tenets of the Anabaptists, as to the sleep of the soul, under the title of ‘Psychopannychia.’ This was his second literary labour. Two years before, he had first appeared as an author in a commentary on Seneca’s treatise ‘De Clementia.’ What is chiefly remarkable about these works is their scholarly and intellectual character. They are, even the treatise against the Anabaptists, more like the exercitations of a student than the productions of a mind strongly moved by religious reforming zeal.

Arrived at Basle in 1535, the spirit of the reformer may be said to have awakened in him for the first time in full strength. The famous preface to the Institutes, it is certain, was written here in this year. It bears the date of Basle, August 1, 1535. The concentrated vigour of this address—its intensity of feeling rising into indignant remonstrance, and at times a pathetic and powerful eloquence—make it one of the 189most memorable documents in connection with the Reformation. It shows the vehement desire of Calvin’s mind no less than of Luther’s to exonerate the religious movement from the social excesses that had sprung up in its progress—to prove that the latter had in reality no connection with the former, whose legitimate tendency was everywhere to strengthen the moral stability of society, and to increase dutifulness and loyalty in subjects. It is throughout a noble defence of the righteous character of the reformed doctrines, and their support alike in Scripture and in history. The energetic decisiveness and moral zeal of the future teacher and legislator of Geneva speak in every page of it.

A dispute exists as to whether there was any corresponding edition of the Institutes in 1535. On the one hand, the presumption is strong that there must have been such an edition, and Beza distinctly states that the work first appeared in that year; but, on the other hand, all research has failed to discover any edition before 1536. Dr Henry’s conjecture is, that the edition of both the work and preface in the earlier year was in French; but this again is contradicted by certain expressions in a letter of Calvin to Francis Daniel, of date 15th October 1536, which lead us to suppose that he was then busy for the first time with the French version of his work. The dispute is not really important save in a bibliographical point of view. At this period,—whether in 1535 or the beginning of 1536,—Calvin, beyond doubt, completed at Basle the first sketch of his great dogmatic scheme. Now, before he had entered at all upon his special 190career as a reformer, the great lines of thought were laid down, and the principles, both dogmatical and ecclesiastical, enunciated, which were to guide and stamp all his labours. He put forth, as it were, the charter of the great movement, to which he was destined to give theological ‘consistency and moral triumph. He showed himself already the master-spirit who was fitted to guide and consolidate the agitated elements of religious thought and life around him.

After this residence at Basle, and completion of the Institutes, Calvin made a short visit to Italy, to Renée, the Duchess of Ferrara, of which we know very little. He then once more is found at Noyon, settling the paternal estate which had fallen to him on the death of his eldest brother; and finally bidding it adieu in company with his younger brother Anthony and his sister Mary. His attention appears to have been to proceed to Strasburg; but the direct way being rendered dangerous by the armies of Charles V., which had penetrated into France, he sought a circuitous route through Savoy and Geneva.

He arrived at Geneva late in the summer of 1536. He meant merely to sojourn a single night in the city, and then advance on his journey. He had no thoughts of anything but of some quiet refuge in which to pursue his studies. “I was wholly given up to my own intense thoughts and private studies,” he afterwards said. But his old friend Tillet, now in Geneva, discovered him, and apprised Farel of his discovery. Situated as Farel then was, almost alone, with the Reformation but partially accomplished, and the elements of disturbance smouldering around him, the 191advent of Calvin seemed to him an interposition of Divine Providence. He hastened to see him, and set before him his claims for assistance, and the work of God so obviously awaiting him. But Calvin was slow to move. He urged his desire to study, and to serve all Churches, rather than to attach himself to any one Church in particular. He would fain have yielded to the intellectual bias so strong in him; the still stronger instinct for practical government that lay behind his intellectual devotion, was not yet owned by him. By some strange insight, however, Farel penetrated to the higher fitness of the young stranger who stood before him, and he ventured, in the spirit of that daring enthusiasm which characterised him, to lay the curse of God upon him and his studies if he refused his aid to the Church in her time of need. This, which seemed to Calvin a divine menace, had the desired effect. “It was,” he said, “as if God had seized me by His awful hand from heaven.” He abandoned his intention of pursuing his journey, and joined eagerly with Farel in the work of reformation.

In order to understand this work, it is necessary to know something of the previous history of Geneva. Without this knowledge it is impossible to apprehend, and still more impossible to estimate, the part which Calvin now acted. Geneva was nominally a free city of the Empire, but had in reality been governed for some centuries by its own bishop, associated with a committee of lay assessors, and controlled by the general body of the citizens, in whose hands the ultimate power of taxation, and of election of the magistrates, and regulation of the police, rested. The prince-bishop 192did not exercise his temporal jurisdiction directly, but through an officer called the Vidomme (vice-dominus), whose rights had in the fifteenth century become hereditary in the dukes of Savoy. These rights appear to have been exercised without any considerable attempt at encroachment till the beginning of the following century, when Charles III. succeeded to the ducal crown (1504). To his ambition the bishop, John, a weak and willing tool of the Savoy family, to which he was nearly allied, ceded everything; and the result was a tyrannical attempt to destroy the liberties of the Genevese. The Assembly of the citizens rose in arms; a bitter and sanguinary contest ensued between the Eidgenossen or Patriot party on the one side, and the Mamelukes or monarchical party on the other side. By the help of the free Helvetian states, particularly Berne and Friburg, the Patriots triumphed, the friends of Savoy were banished, the Vidommate abolished, and its powers transferred to a board of magistrates.

The conduct of the bishops in this conflict—not only of John, but of his successor Peter de la Baume, who to his misgovernment added gross personal profligacy—helped greatly, as may be imagined, to shake the old hierarchical authority in Geneva; and when, in 1532, Farel first made his appearance in the city, he found a party not indisposed to join him in his eager and zealous projects of reform. He had a hard fight for it, however, and was at first obliged to yield, and leave the city for a time; and it was not till August 1535 that he and Viret and Froment succeeded in abolishing the mass, and establishing the Protestant faith. During the year’s interval he had prosecuted his work 193without ceasing, amidst many difficulties, and Calvin’s arrival found him still struggling with the popish priests in the neighbouring villages, and aiming to lay a broader foundation for the Reformed Church.

Calvin was immediately elected Teacher of Theology. In the following year he assumed the office of Preacher, which at first apparently he had declined, and produced such an impression by his first sermon, that it is said multitudes followed him home to testify their enthusiasm. In conjunction with Farel, he drew up a confession of faith in twenty-one articles, which was submitted to the Council of Two Hundred, the lowest of the representative governing boards of the city,6969   Political power rested ultimately, as we have stated in the text, in the whole body of the citizens, who were entitled to meet in general assembly. A representative body of this council, however, composed of sixty members, was constituted in 1457, in order to avoid the turbulence arising out of too frequent meetings of all the burgesses or citizens. In 1526, after the alliance of Friburg and Berne, a more extended representative Council of Two Hundred was appointed, in imitation of the constitution of these cities. There was, besides, an ordinary executive council, who, in conjunction with the four magistrates or syndics of the year, practically administered the government of the city. and by them ordered to be printed, and proclaimed in the cathedral church of St Peter’s, as binding on the whole body of the citizens. One of the articles related to the right of excommunication claimed by the ministers; and this, along with the general conduct of Farel and Calvin, and the severity with which they reproved the vices of all classes of the community, soon awoke a storm of opposition. Calvin, however, was firm; he threatened to leave the city unless the powers which he supposed necessary 194to his work were yielded to him; and for the present he prevailed.

A marvellous change, in the course of a short time, was wrought upon the outward aspect of Geneva. A gay and pleasure-loving people, devoted to music and dancing, the evening wine-shop, and card-playing, found themselves suddenly arrested in their usual pastimes. Not only were the darker vices of debauchery, which greatly prevailed, punished by severe penalties, but the lighter follies and amusements of society were laid under imperious ban; all holidays were abolished except Sunday; the innocent gaieties of weddings, and the fashionable caprices of dress, were made subjects of legislation: a bride was not to adorn herself with floating tresses,7070   Registres de la Répub., 20 Mai 1537—quoted by Henry, Dyer, &c. and her welcome home was not to be noisy with feasting and revelry. The convent bells which had rung their sweet chimes for ages across the blue waters of the Rhone, and become associated with many evening memories of love and song, had been previously destroyed and cast into cannon.7171   This event in reality took place before the arrival of Calvin in 1534—Registres, 17 Juillet 1534. It was impossible that a change so sudden and severe as this could be lasting, all at once. A strong opposition, partly composed of political malcontents, and of the lovers of a more free and social life, was gradually formed; and after various struggles they succeeded in their resistance to the clergy, and banished them the city.

It is difficult to characterise the party which now temporarily prevailed against the Calvinistic discipline 195in Geneva, and finally, in a later and memorable struggle, was thwarted and crushed by the influence of the great reformer. It has descended to us under the name of the Libertines; but this was in reality its nickname, given to it by its enemies, and beyond doubt it serves greatly to misrepresent it. The Libertines, rightly so called, were a spiritual sect which sprang up in the course of the Reformation, a kind of offshoot of Anabaptism. It is not pretended by any that the anti-Calvinist party in Geneva were mainly, or even to any considerable extent, composed of the adherents of this spiritual libertinism, although some of its leaders may have shared in certain tenets of the sect, and even been in affiance with it. This was probably the position of some of the Favre family, afterwards so signally associated with the anti-Calvinist reaction. There seems good reason to believe, however, that the main nucleus of the party was the Eidgenossen, or band of really liberal patriots, who had formerly rescued their native city from a foreign yoke, and who now and afterwards were animated, as we shall find, by very strong feelings, but by very mixed and indefinite views, in the part which they acted.

On his expulsion from Geneva, Calvin proceeded with Farel to Berne, where a series of negotiations were set on foot with a view to the conciliation of the Genevese and the return of the reformers. Previously, while the disputes were still going on, the Bernese had taken a friendly part in them, and it was hoped that by their present mediation they might be still accommodated. But their efforts, thwarted by the bitter 196dislike of some of the Bernese ministers to Calvin, and by the obstinacy of the Genevese, were fruitless. The decree of banishment was confirmed, and the reformers driven to seek some other sphere for their labours. Calvin repaired first to Basle, his old place of refuge, and then to Strasburg by the invitation of Bucer. Here he settled in the end of 1538, and became the pastor of a congregation of French refugees, who were exiles, like himself, from their native country on account of their faith.

Here Calvin spent the next three years, amongst the happiest, or at least the quietest and most honourable, of his life. At no time does he appear more admirable than during those years of exile. His magnanimity and single-minded earnestness come out, strongly tempered by a certain patience, moderation, and sadness, that we seem to miss elsewhere. Relieved from power, he was also relieved from its wounding irritations, which were apt to chafe his keen spirit, and we see only the simple grandeur, wonderful capacity, and truthful feeling of the man. They were years of busy interest and activity, political, domestic, and theological.

We find him engaged in the three great conferences at Frankfort, Worms, and Ratisbon, co-operating with Bucer, and counselling with Melanchthon. Not less anxious than either for a comprehensive peace which should embrace all the Churches, he yet saw, with a clearer eye than they did, the difficulties in the way of union. His various letters on the subject to Fuel are full of sound wisdom and sense—moderate and conciliatory, yet clear-sighted and earnest for the truth. We 197see him farther the centre of a private series of negotiations in connection with Caroli, a singular impostor of the time, who is strangely mixed up with the history of the Reformation. This person had previously rendered himself notorious for his enmity to Calvin and Farel, both of whom he had accused of Arianism; and afterwards, when he failed to establish his reputation at their expense, he had rejoined the Church of Rome. He now sought a reconciliation with the reformers, and seems to have imposed upon the good-nature of Farel. Calvin, however, was not so easily moved; and his letters to Farel, in which he takes him to task for his softness in the matter, especially one of 8th October 1539, give a curious self-unveiled glimpse of the reformer's vehemence of temper.7272   “They appointed a meeting with me together at the house of Mathias, when I might explain fully what it was that distressed me. There I sinned grievously in not having been able to keep within bounds; for so had the bile taken entire possession of my mind, that I poured out bitterness on all sides. There was certainly some cause for indignation, if moderation had only been observed in the expression of it. . . . In the conclusion of my speech, I stated my resolution rather to die than to subscribe this. Thereupon there was so much fervour on both sides, that I could not have been more rude to Caroli himself had he been present. At length I forced myself out of the supper-room, Bucer following, who, after he had soothed me by his fair speeches, brought me back to the test. I said that I wished to consider the matter more fully before making any further reply. When I got home I was seized with an extraordinary paroxysm, nor did I find any other solace than in sighs and tears.”—Letters, vol. i. p. 136.

In the midst of these negotiations, public and private, he was induced to think of marriage. “I am so much at my ease,” he says, in a spirit approaching to jocularity,” as to have the audacity to think of taking 198a wife.”7373   Letter to Farel, Sept. 1540, vol. i. p. 149. He had, in fact, a year before, written to Farel on the subject, and various projects of union were in the meantime set on foot by his friends—which, however, came to nothing. The truth is, that he was himself but a reluctant suitor, and if it had not been for the urgency of Bucer particularly he would probably never have taken any step in the matter. “I am none of those insane lovers,” he says, “who embrace also the vices of those they are in love with, when they are smitten at first sight with a fine figure. The beauty that allures me in a wife is that she is chaste, not too nice or fastidious, economical, patient, and that there is hope she will be interested about my health.”7474   Ibid., p. 117. There is a naïveté amusing, if it were not so cold, in the manner in which he narrates to Farel how one matrimonial project failed, and another was vigorously taken up by him. “A certain damsel of noble rank has been proposed to me, and with a fortune above my condition. Two considerations deterred me from that connection—because she did not understand our language, and because I feared she might be too mindful of her family and education. Her brother, a very devout person, urged the connection; his wife also, with a like partiality; so that I would have been prevailed to submit with a good grace, unless the Lord had otherwise appointed. When I replied that I could not engage myself unless the maiden would undertake to apply her mind to the learning of our language, she requested time for de, liberation. Thereupon, without further parley, I sent my brother to escort here another, who, if she answers 199her repute, will bring a dowry large enough without any money at all.”7575   Letter to Farel, Sept. 1540, vol. i. p. 150.

The person here referred to—undowried, save in character and reputation—was Idelette de Bures, the widow of an Anabaptist whom he had converted; and to her he was married on the following August (1540). We learn but little of her. Calvin never unveils his domestic life as Luther does. We never catch the warm firelight of his family hearth kindling in any of his letters no touches of playful portraiture relieve their gravity; and Idelette de Bures remains, consequently, but a dim personality beside Catherine von Bora. All that we know of Calvin’s wife, however, points to a somewhat elevated, if not very interesting character. He himself speaks of her as “a woman of rare qualities”; and the account which he has given of her deathbed (their union only lasted nine years) is deeply touching in the picture of simple affection, and absorbed, if somewhat unmoved, piety, which it presents.7676   Letters, vol. ii. pp. 203, 204. No breath of unhappiness seems to have rested on a union which, if uninspired by passion, was at the same time free from all sordidness. She was mother of several children by her previous husband; to Calvin she had only one child, whose early loss was a profound grief to the reformer. “My wife,” he writes to Farel, “sends her best thanks for your friendly and holy consolations. The Lord has indeed inflicted a grievous and a bitter wound in the death of our little son.”7777   Ibid., vol. i. p. 320.

The most remarkable of his theological labours at 200this time was his elaboration of the Institutes into the extended edition which is familiar to us, and which appeared at Strasburg in 1539. There were improvements and further extensions in subsequent editions, even to the last, issued from the press of Robert Stephens at Geneva in 1559; but the work remained substantially the same after this. Among the most marked enlargements of the Strasburg edition was the detailed exhibition of his ecclesiastical system. His thoughts had been naturally turned to this subject by his experience in Geneva; and, consistently with the bent of his intellectual character, he was led not to modify his views, but to work them out into a more thorough and consistent shape. A scarcely less important contribution to theological literature was furnished by him, in the same year, in his Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans—the first of that noble series of exegetical works which, apart from all other claims to distinction, have placed his name in the highest rank of Christian authors.

In the meantime, during these years the state of things at Geneva had greatly altered. After the first outburst of their triumph, and the most riotous manifestation of their hostility to the expelled reformers, the party of the Libertines soon began to feel the inherent weakness springing out of the want of any fixity or determination in their principles and aims. Some had sought political, some only personal liberty, and not a few had joined in the movement from mere negative motives—dislike of Calvin and of the French, and of all effective moral or civil restraints. In such 201a party there were no elements of a continued constructive opposition to the ecclesiastical rule and discipline which they had overthrown. The hand of authority was relaxed, and licence worse than that of the old Catholic times returned. Two of the syndics who had taken a lead in the expulsion of the ministers perished by a violent death, and two were exiled for the miscarriage of some embassy in which they engaged. The new reforming clergy were destitute of any ability or energy of character to meet the disorders that sprang up on all sides, and left the city a prey to the weakness at once of faction and of immorality. In these circumstances it is not to be wondered at that the friends of the reformers should have gradually gathered something of their former influence, and that in the course of two years’ experience of an unsettled and disorderly civic condition, a very different spirit should have begun to manifest itself towards the exiled clergy. The conduct of Calvin, moreover, helped greatly to quicken this returning feeling. Although the Genevese had driven him with ignominy from their city, he did not cease to cherish a warm interest in its welfare; and when Sadolet, bishop of Dauphiny—a man of acknowledked merits, who had recently received a cardinal’s hat from Rome—turned his attention to Geneva, and thought to improve the opportunity of its dissensions to the advantage of his Church by addressing a letter to the Council and burgesses inviting them to return within its bosom, Calvin took up the pen against him, and powerfully vindicated the religious interests of his former fellow-citizens. The result of all was, 202that before the end of 1540 the Council and new syndics sent a letter to the reformer imploring him to return, and reassume his old position of authority, The letter is very interesting, as showing the complete revulsion of feeling that had occurred in the city, and how naturally all eyes turned to Calvin in the circumstances. “On the part,” it bears, “of our lesser and greater councils (which hereupon have strongly admonished us), we pray you earnestly that you would transfer yourself hitherward to us, and return to your old place and former ministry; and we hope, with the help of God, that this shall be a great benefit, and fruitful for the increase of the holy evangel, seeing that our people greatly desire you among us, and will conduct themselves towards you in such sort that you shall have occasion to rest content.”7878   Letters, vol. i. p. 190.

Calvin, however, did not return to Geneva till the 13th of September 1541. He was in no hurry to respond to the call made to him, not from any motives of pique or affectation, but from the double reason that he could not all at once quit his pastoral engagements at Strasburg, and that he needed some evidence of the sincere willingness of the Genevese to submit to the re-establishment of the reformed discipline. Convinced at length, he embraced their invitation, and re-entered upon his old duties. With a steadier comprehension and increased vigour he began again the great work of practical reformation which had been rudely interrupted three years before, and never henceforth swerved or yielded in it.

We shall afterwards consider at length the merits 203of Calvin’s ecclesiastical discipline; but we must here sketch the machinery by which he established and worked it, and, to some extent, the character of the results which followed it.

Calvin’s general views of Church government, as expounded in the fourth book of the Institutes, are sufficiently well known. In no respect, perhaps, are they more remarkable than in a certain comprehensiveness and catholicity of tone, which to many will appear strangely associated with his name. But Calvin was far too enlightened not to recognise the grandeur of the Catholic idea which had descended through so many ages: this idea had, in truth, for such a mind as his, special attractions, and his own system, we shall find, mainly sought to give to the same idea a new and higher form. The narrowness and intolerance of his ecclesiastical rule did not so much spring out of the general principles laid down in the Institutes, as from his special interpretation and application of these principles.

The Calvinistic plan of Church government is represented by doctors and pastors, and certain assessors, under the name of Elders. These are merely office-bearers for the general Christian community or church, which is composed alike of laity and clergy, with no radical or hereditary distinction of priesthood. The doctor is the learned interpreter of Scripture and teacher of theology. The function of the pastor is not merely to preach, but, by the practical administration of discipline in conjunction with the elders, to reprove, warn, and punish. The civil power is recognised as distinct from the ecclesiastical, but as bound to support the 204latter in carrying out its authority in the repression of vice and offences against religion, such as idolatry and blasphemy. There is some conception of the right general principle here as elsewhere, but in practice it was utterly confused and misapplied, and could not help being so in conjunction with the notions which then universally prevailed as to the moral jurisdiction of the magistrate.

This mode of Church government expressed itself in two main courts in Geneva, as follows:—

1. There was a college of pastors and doctors under the name of “The Venerable Company.” This college was composed of all the clergy of the State, both those of the city and of the rural parishes, with the teachers of theology, and to it belonged the general supervision of Church affairs, especially of all connected with the education, qualification, and appointment of persons to the ministry. It selected and determined, in the first place, as to all candidates, and the fitness of their ordination to special charges, and the people were finally invited to sanction the nomination, or “if there be any one who is aware of aught to object to in the life or doctrine of the person nominated, to come and declare it to one of the syndics before the next following Sunday, on which day also it may be presented, to the end that no one be inducted to the ministry except with the common consent of the whole church.” A sufficiently fair and seemly order!—the rights of authority on the one hand asserted, and the rights of the people on the other hand recognised: but there seems to have been no adequate provision for a conciliating adjustment of the conflicting rights so soon as actual 205collision should arise. The future difficulties of presbytery thus lay concealed in its very origin.

2. There was a consistorial court of discipline of far more practical and living authority than the general college of pastors and doctors. This court was constituted by the five pastors of the city parishes and twelve elders. These elders were selected from the two representative councils of the city—two from the Council of Sixty, and the remainder from the Council of Two Hundred. Their nomination lay with the ordinary council, in conjunction with the Company. The consistory was thus chiefly composed of lay members but the influence of the clergy, although, numerically reckoned, it appears small, was in reality strongly secured in the mode of appointment of the elders, which was annual, besides being so far under the direct control of the clergy. The clerical element was comparatively fixed, the lay element varied from year to year.

This consistorial court became the great engine of Calvin’s power. He is supposed to have by-and-by assumed the permanent presidency of it,7979   The evidence is an entry in the Registers of Geneva, sixteen years after his death, which the reader may consult in Henry’s Life, vol. i. p. 469—Geneva. although this constitutionally belonged to one of the syndics. It extended its jurisdiction over all social usages, as well as offences against morality and religion. It was a court of practical ethics, in the widest sense—the Church in that repressive disciplinary aspect which had such a charm for Calvin’s mind, and in which it alone seemed to him to rise to its right character and use. Its only direct weapon of authority was excommunication; 206but where this proved unavailing or inadequate, the culprit was transferred to the council, which inflicted on him any measure of civil punishment, even to death.

The great code8080   Ordinances Ecclesiastiques de l’Eglise—Geneva, 1577. of ecclesiastical and moral legislation, which guided both the consistory and council, was the production of Calvin: It was sworn to by the whole of the people in a great assembly in St Peter’s, on the 20th of November 1541. It not only laid down general rules, but entered with the most rigorous control into all the affairs of private life. “From his cradle to his grave,” “the Genevese citizen was pursued by its inquisitorial eye.”8181   See an admirable article, “Calvin in Geneva,” West Rev., July 1858. Ornaments for the person, the shape and length of the hair, the modes of dress, the very number of dishes for dinner,8282   “Item, que nul faisant nopces, banquets ou festins n’ait à faire au service d’iceux plus haut d’une venue ou mise de chairs ou de poisson et de cinq plats au plus, honnestes et raissonables en ce non compenrises les mesmes entrées, et huict plats de tout dessert et q’au dit dessert y n’ait pastisserie, ou pièce de four, sinon une tourt seulement, et cela en chacune table de dix personnes.” It is a singular and instructive fact that, amid the long-continued decay of religious Protestantism in Geneva, the memory of the rigour of Calvin’s sumptuary laws remains a kind of popular tradition at once ludicrous and melancholy. An old man, who pointed out to the writer the supposed resting-place of the reformer, seemed to have little other idea of Calvin than as the man who limited the number of dishes at dinner! were subjected to special regulation. Wedding presents are only permitted within limits; and at betrothals, marriages, or baptisms, bouquets must not be encircled with gold or jewelled with pearls, or other precious stones. “Est défendu de donner aus dites 207fiancailles, nopces, ou baptisailles, des bouquets liés d’or ou canetilles, ou garnis de grénats, perles, et autres pierreries.

The registers of Geneva remain to show with what abundant rigour these regulations were carried out. It is a strange and mournful record, with ludicrous lights crossing it here and there. A man hearing an ass bray, and saying jestingly, “Il chante un beau psaume,” is sentenced to temporary banishment from the city. A young girl in church singing the words of a song to a psalm-tune is ordered to be whipped by her parents. Three children are punished because, during the sermon, instead of going to church, they remained outside to eat cakes. A man, for swearing by the “body and blood of Christ,” is condemned to be fined, and to sit in the public square in the stocks. Light reading, in the shape of ‘Amadis de Gaul'—as dear to the lovers of romance then as the treasures of, the circulating library are to the modern reader—is peremptorily forbidden, and the book ordered to be destroyed.8383   Registres, Mars 1559. And there are darker colours far in the picture, at which we shrink as their shadow still falls across three centuries upon us. A child for having struck her parents was beheaded in 1568. Another lad of sixteen, for having only threatened to strike his mother, was condemned to death.8484   Henry, vol. p. 361—English. Henry seems only to see in these examples “great beauty in the earnestness with which parental authority was defended.” They strongly show the judicial spirit of Calvin, and his confusion of the temporary legalism of the Old Economy with the spirit and requirements of the New. If we think of what even mothers, alas! sometimes are, and how temporary 208and trivial are often the worst of such domestic collisions—momentary bursts of childish passion without moral instinct of any kind—it makes one’s blood run chill to think of an arbitrary death inflicted for such offences.

A system of such a character could only maintain itself on an absolute divine right—a right nowhere, indeed, formally set forth by Calvin, yet distinctly asserted in all the spirit and practice of his ecclesiastical legislation. The consistorial discipline, for example, when the Favres begin to rebel against it, is declared to be “the yoke of Christ.”8585   Letters, vol. ii. p. 49. The ordinances and laws of Geneva, and the whole system of polity of which Calvin himself remained the centre, is carried back to Scripture, and presumed to rest upon express divine command. This was the only valid plea and justification of a system which applied itself in such a direct and authoritative manner to the regulation of human life. It could only stand as a special embodiment of the divine will—as a declared Theocracy.

Henceforth Calvin’s life in Geneva does not present any very varied course of incident. It is mainly a succession of earnest labours in defence of the truth, and of earnest struggles against its enemies. His activity was indefatigable, and his keen spirit knew scarcely what it was to rest day by day. His ordinary duties are thus described by Beza:—“During the week, he preached every alternate and lectured every third day; on Thursday he met with the presbytery, and on Friday attended the ordinary 209Scripture meeting called ‘the congregation,’ where he had his full share of the duty.” His Commentaries, on which he now continued to work regularly, and his unceasing correspondence, filled up a measure of industry which we contemplate with astonishment. No man certainly was ever less self-indulgent; and if he was severe in his exactions from others, he was no less unsparing with himself. Viret continued temporarily associated with him at Geneva; but he was soon left to bear the main burden of ecclesiastical rule himself, as his permanent colleagues enjoyed comparatively little esteem.

More than anything else, the subsequent tenor of the reformer’s life is marked by the successive controversies in which he was engaged. Caroli again appears for a brief space upon the scene, but disappears finally in deserved obscurity and disgrace—closing a life of scandalous imposture by a death of infamy in a Roman hospital. Then in succession the names of Pighius, Castellio, Bolsec, and, farther on, Westphal and Heshusius, besides the well-known names of Servetus and Amy Perrin at the head of the Libertines, are among the most prominent that mark the controversial epochs into which his history now runs. We shall, as we advance, glance slightly at the successive points of interest and conflict which these names suggest, in one or two instances touching only in the most cursory way on what by itself might lead into wide discussion.

Pighius was a zealous Papist of the Cologne school, a pupil of Adrian, and tutor of Charles V. He published, about the time Calvin returned to Geneva, 210an elaborate treatise on the old subject of Free Will and Predestination, in opposition to the views of the reformers. Calvin, as soon as the pressure of his labours permitted, replied in a volume which he dedicated to Melanchthon. He discusses the arguments of Pighius in detail, and vindicates the reasoning of Luther, while he admits the hyperbolical character of his language in certain cases. What is particularly remarkable is his generous appreciation of Luther’s character and talents, as indeed this appears elsewhere in his Letters.8686   Letters (to Bullinger especially), vol. i. p. 409. So far as the merits of the controversy are concerned, it cannot be said that he is any more successful than the German reformer. He is here and everywhere more simple and cautious in his statements, but his cold reiterations and evasions really no more touch the obvious difficulties than Luther’s heated paradoxes. A point of interest connected with the dispute is the tradition that Calvin’s work was successful in converting Pighius to predestinarian views. This seems to rest on so slender a foundation, however, that it is contended, on the other hand, that Pighius was dead before Calvin’s work appeared. He is said to have died in December 1542, while the reply of the reformer was not published till the following year. Calvin himself says somewhat summarily that “Pighius died a little after my book was published, wherefore, not to insult a dead dog, I applied myself to other lucubrations.”

The dispute with Sebastian Castellio was of a more painful and prolonged character. Calvin had become 211acquainted with Castellio at Strasburg. They seem at first to have warmly attracted one another, and Calvin was beyond all doubt for some time very zealous in his friendliness to the poor scholar, whose ingenious spirit and classical acquirements had won his regard. On his return to Geneva he invited him thither, and procured for him the appointment of regent or tutor in the gymnasium of the city. In reality, however, there were but few points of sympathy between the two men. Castellio’s learning was intensely humanistic; his classical tastes and somewhat arbitrary criticism moulded all that he did; and, especially as he aspired to be a theologian, and to carry this spirit into his Scriptural studies, he soon came into conflict with Calvin. The first indications of disagreement between them are to be found in a letter of Calvin’s to Farel in September 1542, in which he speaks of the freaks of “our friend Sebastian, which may both raise your bile and your laughter at the same time.”8787   Letters, vol. i. p. 326. These freaks relate to Castellio’s notions of Scriptural translation, and his refusal of Calvin’s offer to revise his version, while offering to come and read it to him. Then subsequently, in February 1544, there appears in a further letter to Farel, and in the Council Registers, evidence that Castellio had desired to enter into the ministry, but that Calvin had advised the Council that this was not expedient, on account of some peculiar opinions which he held. These were certain rationalistic views as to the authenticity and character of the Song of Solomon, the descent 212of Christ into hell, and also about election. Still at this date Calvin speaks kindly of him, and recommends him strongly to the patronage of Farel. He seems to have left Geneva at this time for Lausanne, but to have returned shortly; and, irritated probably by disappointment, he now vehemently attacked Calvin. After a violent scene in church, which is painted, perhaps, with some exaggeration by the reformer,8888   Letter to Farel, vol. i. p. 396. he was forced to leave the city. The two old friends, now declared enemies, did not spare each other henceforth. Castellio retired to Basle, and among his other employments busied himself with the free criticism of the Calvinistic doctrines; and particularly, nearly ten years after this, a tract appeared on the death of Servetus and the subject of toleration, which was at once imputed to him by Calvin and Beza. Both replied in no measured terms. Later still, an anonymous publication, attacking with keen logic and covert and ingenious sarcasm the Genevan theology, was supposed to proceed from his pen; and the reformers, in their answer in the preface to their version of the New Testament, stigmatise him as a “deceiver and vessel of Satan.” It is but a melancholy spectacle of polemical hatred on both sides; but the truculence of the theologians, it must be confessed, bears off the palm. Castellio was no match for them in strength of argument or firm consistency of purpose. He lived on in great poverty at Basle, cultivating his garden with his own hands, and without the means of keeping himself warm, as he sat up 213at night to finish his translation of the Scriptures. He died in want, in 1563, the same year as Calvin; and Montaigne8989   Essais, lib. i. c. 34. has given vent to his expressions of shame for his age, that one so distinguished should have been left to die so miserably. Regretful and touching memories linger around his blameless scholarly life, pinching poverty, and sad death, and especially the incident of his gathering from the banks of the Rhine pieces of drift-wood for fuel. The incident is painful in its associations as well as affecting in its simplicity. Calvin and Beza did not hesitate to circulate against him the calumnious charge that he had stolen the wood—a fact sufficient to prove the disgraceful spirit in which these controversies were conducted, and how deservedly they are consigned to oblivion.

The controversy with Bolsec carries us on to 1551, and, both in its special object and in the character of the man, presents a marked contrast to the preceding. Bolsec was originally a Carmelite monk, but he had thrown aside the habit and betaken himself to the practice of medicine. He came to Geneva in the above year, and settled as a physician. There is no reason to doubt the integrity of his character, although Beza has thrown out insinuations against it. What were his previous relations to Calvin we are not informed, but he began to question his great doctrine of predestination. He made it the subject of discussion and attack among his friends. This no sooner reached Calvin’s ears than he called him to account; summoned him first to a private interview, then before 214the consistory, and made him understand that he was not at liberty to question the Genevan doctrine. In a letter to Cristopher Libertet, Calvin has given a description of the manner in which Bolsec sought to vindicate himself, and how he was dealt with by him and the other clergy. The picture is not a very amiable one, and the poor heretic excites our sympathy even in the narrative of his great adversary. “He was called before our Assembly, when, in spite of his cavils, I dragged him from his hiding-place into the light. Besides the fifteen ministers, other competent witnesses were present; and all know that, if he had had a single drop of modesty, he would have been immediately convicted. At first he used trifling and puerile cavils; but being more closely pressed he threw aside all shame. Sometimes he denied what he had twice or thrice conceded, and then admitted what he had questioned; he not only vacillated, but entirely abandoned his principles, and kept working in the same circle without measure or aid.”9090   Epis. Beza, ed. Hanov., 1597, p. 166. No wonder! To be baited by fifteen ministers, with Calvin at their head, must have been more than enough to disturb the consistency and weaken the resolution even of the boldest heretic. The matter did not end here. On the occasion of a sermon in St Peter’s on the subject of predestination, Bolsec was so foolish as to step forth and take up the argument against the preacher, a certain John de St André. Calvin had entered the church unobserved during Bolsec’s address, and suddenly presenting himself before the heretic, overwhelmed him with quotations from Scripture, and Augustine Farel 215joined in the discussion, and the police terminated it by apprehending Bolsec for abuse of the clergy and disturbance of the public peace. It became a somewhat serious question how to deal with so daring an offender. Negotiations were entered into with the Bernese and French ministers on the subject, the moderation of whose counsels does not seem to have been particularly pleasing to the reformer. It has been insinuated, but on a very slender foundation, that he would not have been disinclined to proceed to the last extremity against one so hardened. There was no warrant, however, for any extreme procedure. The churches all advised moderation in the view of the abstruseness and darkness of the subject of controversy; and Bolsec was merely sentenced to banishment from the city whose doctrinal quietude he had disturbed. He afterwards revenged himself, in a somewhat dastardly way, by writing a life of Calvin in a spirit of slanderous detraction, which effectually destroys all sympathy with him, or interest in his sufferings.

The Sacramentarian controversies with Westphal and Heshusius extend to the very close of Calvin’s life. No feature in the internal history of the Reformation is at once more painful and perplexing than that which is unfolded in these controversies: the subtlety, and in truth unintelligibility, of the distinctions contended for, the sacredness of the topic, and the fierce violence of the contention, all make a picture which even the polemic theologian of modern times can scarcely delight to contemplate, and which is apt to inspire the historical student with mere weariness and disgust. We have already in our former sketch seen with what 216vehemence Luther maintained his ground on this subject against the Swiss divines at Marburg. He never got reconciled to them, and to the last his language was that of uncompromising and disrespectful opposition to their supposed doctrine. Melanchthon, on the other hand, so soon as he was brought into personal contact with Calvin, especially at the Diet of Ratisbon, began to incline to his opinion of the Eucharist, which, denying the reality of a local presence as asserted by the Lutherans, maintained the reality of a spiritual presence in the elements, and a true participation of the very body and blood of Christ by the faithful. Through the influence of Calvin mainly, an agreement or “consensus” of sacramental doctrine was established at Zurich in the close of 1549. It was fondly hoped that the result of this might be to promote a general harmony on the subject, not only in all the reformed Churches, but, moreover, between them and the Lutheran Church; or at least to open up the way for such a comprehensive union. Never was hope more utterly disappointed. The abated zeal of Luther, as the sadness of those last years was fast bearing him to the grave, had no beneficial effect upon some of his followers. They took up the controversy with increased bitterness and a yet more narrow intolerance. Without the excuse of those traditionary associations which clung to his great mind, and from which he could never set himself free, the men, such as Flacius and Osiander, and Westphal and Heshusius, who embraced what they supposed to be the strict type of Lutheran doctrine, showed a polemical spirit equally violent and mean, which at once hardened the excesses of the reformer’s 217dogmatism, and covered it with the contempt of their own weakness. There is not anywhere in theological history a set of men more factious in temper, less amiable in character, or even less respectable in strength, than the Lutheran divines who now occupy the field, and darken and confuse it with their controversial din. Well might Melanchthon say that “he lived as in a wasp’s nest,” and pray to be delivered from the “rabies theologorum.” They embittered his last moments by their furious and unmeaning contests, and made him sigh for a rest above, undisturbed by controversial clamour. Well might Calvin say, “Ah, would that Luther were still alive! These people have none of his virtues, but they think to prove themselves his disciples by their cries.”

Westphal, a pastor at Hamburg, takes his rank among most violent of these Lutheran divines. In the hands of this man the sacramental “concordat” of Zurich became a nucleus of more embittered controversy than ever. Instead of “being softened to concord"9191   Preface to Second Defence of the Sacraments. “by that temperate simplicity of doctrine, he seized upon the very name of agreement as a kind of furies’ torch to rekindle the flame”—a flame which continued to burn in the Lutheran Church till it ate all the heart of Christian life out of it, and which, by the antagonistic spirit. it provoked, became a source of weakness and disgrace to the Protestant cause in genera1.9292   As Calvin himself said, “The enemies of Jesus Christ are delighted at seeing us fighting together, as if it were a kind of cockfight.”—Preface to “Exposition of Zurich Consensus,” 1554. Calvin first of all replied with some mildness 218to this “foolish fellow,” refusing to name him, or to enter into personal conflict with him. But when, instead of being silenced, “he flamed forth with much greater impetuosity,” it became necessary, he says, “to repress his insolence”; and he wrote and published with incredible haste, in 1556, his “Second Defence of the Sacraments, in Answer to the Calumnies of Westphal.” The heat and rapidity with which he composed this treatise may be held in some degree to excuse the vehemence of its expressions, as he himself urges to Bullinger. Moreover, the conduct of Westphal in his cruel treatment of John A’Lasco and a company of reformed brethren, who, having been driven from England on the accession of Mary, sought refuge in Denmark, had justly kindled the keen sensitiveness and warm feelings which Calvin ever showed towards the oppressed. Yet, making every allowance, it must be admitted that here, as too often, Calvin “answered a fool according to his folly.” Invective, Contempt, and scorn he pours upon him as from a full vial, overwhelming him at once with logic and abuse. “If I have used in some cases too strong expressions,” he says in the preface addressed to “all honest ministers of Christ,” “you must consider, according to your wisdom, how he has goaded me to this. His book appears written with no other object than that of casting us down to hell, and overwhelming us with curses. What could I do otherwise than act according to the proverb, ‘the bad ass must have a bad driver,’ to prevent him indulging too complacently in his savage temper?” Westphal retorted, complaining that Calvin had treated him worse than the Anabaptists, 219Libertines, and Papists; and Calvin replied in a “last admonition to Joachim Westphal.”

In the meantime, many still smaller names had entered the field—“petulant, dishonest, and rabid men, as if they had conspired together” to make the reformer “the special object of their virulence”—“a foul apostate of the name of Staphylus,” one named Nicolas le Coq, and lastly, Tilleman Heshusius; and finally, in one more publication,9393   Beza, accustomed to service of this kind, took up the cause when his friend dropped it. on the “True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ,” the reformer made a rejoinder to these attacks. His old strength is not abated, but there is mingling with traces of the former violence a nobler spirit of aspiration for peace from the weary contentions which now, in 1560, were fast wearing him out. This gathers around the name of Melanchthon, just departed, in an affectionate and touching appeal, wherein we can read a depth of tender warmth amid all his proud and flaming zeal. “O Philip Melanchthon, for I appeal to thee who art now living in the bosom of God, where thou waitest for us till we be gathered together with thee to a holy rest! A hundred times halt thou said, when, wearied with labour and oppressed with sadness, thou didst lay thyself familiarly on my breast, ‘Would that I could die on this breast!’ Since then I have a thousand times wished that it had been our lot to be together.”

Well might Calvin be weary of controversy! And yet we have still to notice the two most memorable struggles in which he was engaged—viz., his final contest 220with the Libertines, with Amy Perrin at their head, and the sad affair of Servetus.

The renewed contest with the Libertines was protracted during a long period, and was beyond doubt the central contest of Calvin’s existence—waged hand to hand, and for life or death, through many strange turns and changes. It did not terminate till about two years after the death of Servetus, and this latter event is in some degree mixed up with it; but it will be more convenient to complete our view of it, before passing to consider the circumstances connected with the trial and execution of Servetus. It is only its most general outline that we can trace; and indeed, amid the confusion in which, to some extent, the subject has been left by all the historians of Geneva, as well as the biographers of Calvin, it is not easy to describe the various influences under which it was so long prolonged, now in Calvin’s favour, and now in favour of his opponents, while yet terminating in what appears a contemptible émeute, leaving Calvin victor of the field.

Amy Perrin had at first been a friend of Calvin—one of those who solicited his return, and to whom, in conjunction with the reformer, had been committed the preparation of the ecclesiastical ordinances. Ambitious himself, however, and united to a family both the male and female members of which seem to have cherished a natural dislike to the reformer, he soon began to chafe under the pride and rigour of the Calvinistic rule, and gradually attached himself to the mixed liberal party, whose principle of fusion was mainly hostility to Calvin. Personal causes served 221to embitter the animosity—scandals too dark and wretched for us to rake from their forgotten hiding-places. The picture which the reformer has drawn of the whole Favre family in his letters is coloured with a grim harshness, and vivid with touches of the most biting sarcasm. The intensity of his temper—sparing no folly, and exposing with a kind of zest all the details of their disgrace—comes out strongly. He fixes their several features by some ludicrous or opprobrious epithet, concentrating at once his scorn and their absurdity or baseness. Speaking, for example, of a marriage in the family, which had been conducted, in his view, with a flagrant mockery of religion, and the consequences of which were deservedly humiliating, he writes to Viret:9494   Ep. Beza Ep. 69. “Proserpine [supposed to be wife of Francis Favre, the head of the family], the day before they received the spouse with such honours, beat the mother-in-law in such a manner that she bled profusely; her whole countenance was disfigured with wounds, and her head covered with dirt. You know the old woman’s temper; she was heard through the whole street calling on God and man to assist her. We cited her before the consistory, but she escaped to her sisters: Penthesilea [Perrin’s wife] will certainly have to be reprimanded stoutly; she patronises the worst causes and defends herself furiously in short, her every word and deed betray her utter want of modesty.” Another marriage at the house of a widow was celebrated with dancing, at which the same Penthesilea had distinguished herself, and the opportunity of reprimanding her could not be 222passed over. She seems, however, to have been almost a match for Calvin, for, according to his own confession, she “abused him roundly,” while he answered her as she deserved. “I inquired,” he continues “whether their house was inviolably sacred—whether it owed no subjection to the laws? We already detained her father in prison, being convicted of one act of adultery; the proof of a second was close at hand; there was a strong report of a third; her brother had openly contemned and derided the Senate and us. Finally, I added, that if they were not content to submit to us here under the yoke of Christ, they must build another city for themselves, for that so long as they remained at Geneva, they would strive in vain to elude the laws, and that if each person’s head in the house of Favre wore a diadem, it should not prevent the Lord from being superior.”9595   Letters, vol. ii. p. 39.

All this occurred at an early period of the struggle in 1546. The execution, in the year following, of Gruet, a leader among the spiritual Libertines, whose opinions are represented as of an impious and flagrant character, increased the bitterness of the factions. Calvin stretched his power to the utmost. Slashed breeches, in which the young Libertines had delighted as a symbol of their party, were prohibited—“not that we cared about the thing itself,” he says, “but because we saw that, through the chinks of those breeches, a door would be opened to all sorts of profusion and luxury.” The Libertines in their turn carried their licence to the extent of publicly insulting Calvin, and threatening to cast him into the Rhone. He professed 223to laugh at their threats as only “the froth of the pride of Moab, whose ferocity must at length fall with a crash.” Things continued in this state through various alternations, Perrin being now imprisoned, with his wife and father-in-law, and now again, through a change of fortune, not only elevated to the magistracy, but made chief syndic. This took place in 1549, and Calvin ridicules unsparingly his attempts at statesmanship, calling him now the “Comic Cæsar,” and now the “Tragic Cæsar.”

The execution of Servetus in 1553 gradually drew the contest on to a dénouement. The deep feeling which in various quarters was excited by this event, and the vehemence with which it was directed against Calvin, seemed to encourage the Libertine party to action. One Berthelier tried to wrest from the consistory its right of excommunication, and to force admission to the Lord’s Supper, from which he had been excluded. But Calvin’s firmness baffled him, and even awed Perrin. In the beginning of 1554 there was a sudden truce, and things assumed a quieter look. But there was no sincerity of reconciliation on either side, and the contention soon broke out more fiercely than ever. Calvin’s power seemed to totter in his hands. He wrote to an old friend, whose name is not given, “If you knew but a tenth part of the abuse with which I am wounded, feelings of humanity would make you groan at sufferings to which I am myself grown callous. Dogs bark at me on all sides.” At length, in 1555, the crisis came—a confused and disorderly affair, the account of which reads more like a street riot than anything else. Perrin, 224with his fellow-leaders Berthelier and Peter Vandel, had probably planned a regular rising of the populace, which. was to be directed against the French in the city, for the cries heard in the tumult took something of this shape. Their own confusion, however, or the apathy of the citizens, converted it into a ridiculous failure. They then tried to make light of the affair, but the Council of Two Hundred assembled and took a very different view of it; and, apprehensive for their safety, the agitators fled from the city. Sentence was pronounced against them in absence. They were condemned to lose their heads and be quartered, and special tortures were to be inflicted on Perrin. The sentence was executed in effigy; and the city permanently delivered from commotion.

Thus terminated the long struggle with the Libertines, in which, whatever be our judgment of particular points of Calvin’s conduct, we must admire his heroism, and moreover rejoice in his triumph. For it was undoubtedly the triumph of moral order against a liberalism which, resting on no basis of principle, and conserved by no bonds of moral feeling, must have speedily dissolved in its own success, and left Geneva a sure prey to internal factions and weakness. As it was, Geneva became, strange as it may seem, the stern cradle of liberty, an asylum of Protestant independence against the gathering storms of despotism on all sides. Freedom of thought and action were crushed for the time under an iron sway, but in behalf of a moral spirit which, nursed by such rough discipline, was to grow into potency till it became more than a match for Jesuitical state-craft in many lands, 225and, from the very limitations of its infancy, only expanded into higher and healthier forms of development.

In the meantime, it must be confessed, as we turn to gaze upon the picture presented to us in the trial and death of Servetus, it is difficult to trace the germs of liberty in the Genevan theocracy. We shall not attempt to enter into the endless polemics that surround this affair. The main facts are palpable, and not only not denied, but gloried in by Calvin and the other reformers—for they all share almost equally with him the undying disgrace which, under all explanations, must for ever attach to the event. The wise Bullinger defended it,9696   Original Letters, Parker Society, part ii. p. 742. and even the gentle Melanchthon could only see cause for gratitude in the hideous tragedy. The special blame of Calvin in the whole matter is very much dependent upon the view we take of his previous relation to the accusation and trial of Servetus by the Inquisition at Vienne. If the evidence, of which Dyer has made the most, were perfectly conclusive, that the reformer, through a creature of his own of the name of Trie, was really the instigator from the beginning of the proceedings against Servetus—that from Geneva, in short, he schemed with deep-laid purpose the ruin of the latter, who was then quietly prosecuting his profession at Vienne—and, from MSS. that had privately come into his possession, furnished the Inquisition with evidence of the heretic’s opinions,—if we were compelled to believe all this, then the atrocity of Calvin’s conduct would stand unrelieved by the sympathy of his fellow-reformers, and would not 226only not admit of defence, but would present one of the blackest pictures of treachery that even the history of religion discloses. The evidence is not satisfactory, although there are admitted facts which raise suspicion. There can be no doubt that Calvin was so far privy through Trie to the proceedings of the Inquisition, and that he heartily approved of them. Nor is there further any reason to doubt that he contemplated from the first the death of Servetus as a stern necessity, should he ever come to Geneva, as he had offered to do. In the well-known letter on the subject, which is not printed in Beza’s collection, but has since been published, he tells Farel that he was unwilling that Servetus should trust to him—for he adds, “If he should come, and my authority be of any avail, I will never suffer him to depart alive.”9797   “Sed nolo fidem meam interponere. Nam si venerit, modo valeat mea authoritas, vivum exire nunquam patiar.”—Letters, vol. ii. p. 19.

Having escaped from Vienne,9898   Servetus had led a wandering kind of life. Born in 1509 (the same year as Calvin), at Villeneuve in Arragon, he had passed into France; and in this respect too, like his great adversary, had first devoted himself to the study of the civil law at Toulouse. He appears to have here taken to the study of the Scriptures, and imbibed his peculiar notions of the Trinity. Excited by the movement of the Reformation, he set out for Germany, and sought interviews with Œcolampadius at Basle, and Bucer and Capito at Strasburg. About this time, viz., in 1531, he prepared and published his first book, entitled ‘De Trinitatis Erroribus libri septem.’ In the following year he published a further volume on the same subject, ‘Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo,’ in which he reviews and to some extent retracts his previous opinions—not as false, but as imperfect. It was not till more than twenty years after this that his more elaborate work, which formed the ostensible ground of his condemnation, appeared at Vienne anonymously, under the title of ‘Christianismi Restitutio.’ In the interval he had corresponded with Calvin, and furnished him with various statements of his views, and even offered to come to Geneva.
   It is difficult to give any intelligible account of his peculiar views. While an anti-Trinitarian, he cannot be regarded in any modern sense as a mere Humanitarian or Unitarian. The following exposition by Emile Saisset (‘Revue des deux Mondes,’ Mars 1848) may interest, but can scarcely enlighten the reader. “God, indivisible in Himself, divides Himself in ideas; ideas divide themselves in things. God is the absolute unity which creates all—the pure essence which essentiates all. Essence and unity descend from God to ideas, and from ideas to everything else. He is an eternal ocean of existence, of which ideas are the currents and things the waves. Ideas, regarded in their entire essence, are the untreated light, or the Word of God. So they all emanate from one general and superior type, which is the type of human nature, the primitive model of all beings. This central idea in which all ideas unite, this sun of the world of ideas, this superior and primitive type, this eternal model of human nature, is Christ;”—a kind of German transcendentalism born out of time, rather than any mere phase of Trinitarian heresy.
before the completion of his trial, about the 7th of April, Servetus is 227found in Geneva about four months later. His intention appears to have been to proceed to Italy, although Calvin represents him as having come from Italy—a fact which he himself denied in the course of his examination. In any case, it seems to have been something like infatuation on the part of the heretic to put himself in the way of Calvin, of whose disposition towards him he could scarcely be ignorant. The reformer seemed to recognise a sort of judicial blindness in his conduct. “I know not what to say of him,” he remarked, “except that he was seized by a fatal madness to precipitate himself on destruction.”

It is a deeply pathetic picture, as we look back and try to realise it,—that of the homeless and persecuted man entering the theocratic city on foot and alone in the middle summer of 1553, taking up his residence in a small inn by the side of the lake, and 228entering into frank and humorous talk with his host—more like a man of the world than a speculative enthusiast; and finally, after he had dined, wandering into the church where his great adversary was preaching,—a fatal audacity which led to his discovery. Some one recognised and immediately reported the fact to Calvin; and just as the wanderer had made his arrangements to leave for Zurich, and hired a boat to carry him across the lake, he was arrested and conveyed to prison.9999   These are the undoubted features of the story. The particular circumstances and dates are involved in some obscurity. The common statement given both by Henry and Dyer is that he arrived in Geneva in the middle of July, and remained nearly a month incognito. Mr Gordon, in his ingenious and, upon the whole, very fair pamphlet on ‘Calvin and Channing,’ London, 1854, shows that there is good reason to doubt this. The point is not of much consequence, but the single contemporary statement quoted by Mr Gordon, and to which we have already referred, is quite decisive ("Postea se vinculis clam elapsus esset venit Genevam, et eodem die, videlicet Dominico, audivit concionem post prandium”), while neither Henry nor Dyer furnish any evidence for the story of the incognito during a month. As to Calvin’s statement of his wanderings in Italy for four months (per Italiam erravit fere quatuor menses), which would of course carry on his arrival in Geneva from July to August, I do not think that much can be made of this, as Calvin appears to have been in error about his visit to Italy altogether. Upon the whole, the probability is against the story of the incognito for a month or for any considerable time. The alleged fact of his going to church has also been disputed.—See Impartial Hist. of Servetus, p. 82. Calvin takes to himself all the merit of this step, and the character and circumstances of the trial were mainly arranged by him.

The particulars are full of interest. At first a young man,100100   Nicolas de la Fontaine. Calvin’s secretary, undertook the office of accuser, and prepared an indictment against him of thirty-eight 229articles, enumerating various forms of heresy and of insulting offences against the reformers, and especially Calvin. It was found that the young champion of orthodoxy was no match for the veteran polemic who had vexed his brain so long with every species of theological subtlety; and Calvin himself and the other clergy then entered the lists personally against him. Encouraged probably by some feeling that there was a party in Geneva prepared to back him, Servetus gave way at first to great insolence of manner, and dared his adversaries in a very contemptuous way. In reference to some charge about contradicting Moses’ account of the Holy Land in his notes on Ptolemy, which he considered very paltry, he wiped his mouth and said, “Let us go on,”—a proceeding which deeply offended Calvin. The most violent and abusive language was used on both sides. Servetus addressed the reformer as a “pitiful wretch,” a “disciple of Simon Magus,” a “liar,” and even a “murderer.” Calvin retorted on him as an “obscene dog” and “perfidious villain,” and publicly devoted him to eternal fire. The trial, nevertheless, proceeded in a regular and formal manner, on through August and September. The advice of the churches of Zurich and Berne was asked, while the unhappy prisoner, complaining bitterly of the hardships of his confinement,101101   His language on this subject is very pitiable, and, if entirely to be credited, reflects infinite disgrace on his persecutors. “Les poulx me mangent tout vif, mes chauses sont descirées, et nay de quoy changer, ni perpoint ni chamise, que une mechante.”—Impartial History of Servetus, p. 120. begged to have his case appealed from the ordinary Council to that of the Two Hundred. In 230this Amy Perrin supported him, more with the view of turning the event to his own advantage against Calvin than from any pity to the heretic. There is no evidence that the reformer urged the Council to any summary violence, or that his influence swayed with them, especially in the judgment to which they came. They seem to have taken the course of proceedings very much into their own hands. But there is just as little doubt of the conclusion to which Calvin’s advice and movements pointed all along, and—confirmed in their own feelings by his authority and that of Bullinger, Farel, and others—they passed sentence on Servetus on the 26th of October, condemning him to death by fire. To do Calvin justice, he appears to have used his exertions to have the mode of the heretic’s death alleviated, but without success.

On the very next morning after the sentence was pronounced, Servetus was led out of the city to his dreadful doom. The spot where he suffered is an extended eminence of the name of Champel—about two miles off,—from which the eye can trace the encircling ridges of the Jura as they rise like frowning battlements around the scene, and the clear windings of the Arve as it pours its “snow-grey” waters into the bright azure stream of the Rhone. There the wretched man was fastened to a stake surrounded by heaps of oak wood and leaves, with his condemned book and the MS. he had sent to Calvin attached to his girdle; and while with choked utterance he could only say, “Oh God! oh God!” the fire was kindled. The wood was green, and did not burn readily. Some persons ran and fetched dry fagots, while his piercing shrieks 231rent the air, and—exclaiming finally (in words which, with a strange perversity, have been supposed to indicate his persistence in his heresy to the last), “Jesus, thou Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me!”—he passed from the doom of earth to a higher and fairer tribunal.

It is needless to indulge in reflective commonplace on this memorable crime. To the reformers, on the principles they avowed and advocated, it scarcely needed any apology. To us, looking back upon it from this point of time, it can receive no palliation, and they are but poor and unfaithful sons of Protestantism who have sought for a moment to defend it. Whatever apology it may admit of from the spirit of the age, and the supposed (blasphemous) character of the charge, it can admit of no apology on any intelligibly Protestant ground. In so far as the reformers were concerned in it, they were simply untrue to their own position, and ignorant of their own only rational weapon of defence. To the benefit of this inconsistency and ignorance they are entitled, but to nothing more. The act must bear its own doom and disgrace for ever; and if it stirs the heart more with pity for the long darkness of human mistake than with indignation for the harshness of human cruelty, it yet remains a mournful and unhappy blot upon the history of the Reformation.

Ater the expulsion of the Libertines in 1555, Calvin’s power in Geneva was thoroughly consolidated. He had still his controversies with Westphal and others, but the life-and-death struggle at his door had ceased, and none any more sought to question his supremacy as the master-spirit and governor of the 232city. Beza—a lively, meddlesome, serviceable, but by no means great man—became his active coadjutor in the last years of his life, and in his faithful reverence for his master’s traditions, and ardent and affectionate admiration of his genius, was a man after Calvin’s own heart. The great struggle that was proceeding in France during these years, between the hierarchical party, with the Guises at their head, and the Protestants led by Condé and Coligny, deeply interested both. In the somewhat unintelligible conspiracy of Amboise in 1560, the aim of which was to wrest the power from the hands of the Guises and bring them to trial, Calvin was supposed to have been implicated. He has himself confessed that he knew about it, but that he disapproved of it, and did all he could to hinder its execution. This is a more likely version of the fact, for Calvin’s political opinions were never of an active and violent character. He had no love for political revolution of any kind, and was not likely to have advised it.

About 1561, Calvin’s long-continued bad health greatly increased. Abstemious to an unnatural degree, and overwrought by his many labours, he was, towards the close of this year, seized with gout. Unable to walk, he was transported to church in a chair to continue his preaching, from which he would not desist. His sufferings became aggravated during the next three years. Not one but numerous disorders, bred by his unhealthy habits of study, laid waste his frame. On the 6th of February 1564 he preached his last sermon. He was henceforth only able, when carried occasionally to church, to say a few words to the people. He is 233said to have been very uncomplaining,—only the cry would sometimes come from him, “How long, O Lord?” On the 2d April, Easter-day, he was for the last time carried to church, and received the sacrament from the hands of Beza; but after this was still able to address a long discourse to the members of the Council who came to his house. On the 28th he received the clergy, and boldly encouraged them to persevere in the great work which he had begun. Farel, himself tottering to the grave, came from Neufchatel to visit him,102102   Farel was now in his eightieth year, and in very feeble health. He sent beforehand intimation of his visit; and the brief letter in which Calvin sought to dissuade him from his intention, the last probably he ever wrote, is very touching: “Farewell, my best and most right-hearted brother, and since God is pleased that you should survive me in this world, live mindful of our friendship, of which, as it was useful to the Church of God, the fruit still awaits us in heaven. I would not have you fatigue yourself on my account. I draw my breath with difficulty, and am daily waiting till I altogether cease to breathe. It is enough that to Christ I live and die; to His people He is gain in life and death. Farewell again, not forgetting the brethren. At Geneva, 11th May 1564.”—Beza, Vita Calv. and the old fellow-labourers, after one more conference, parted, only to meet in a less disturbed state of existence. He lingered on during May, and had even another meeting of the clergy in his house. Then on the 27th of the month, as summer was flushing over those bright scenes amidst which he had lived untouched by their beauty, he peacefully fell asleep. Beza had quitted him only for a moment, and on his return the reformer lay calm in death. “At the same time with the setting sun,” says his admiring friend, “was this great luminary withdrawn.”

He was buried without ostentation, but amidst the 234profound regret of the citizens, in the common cemetery of Plein Palais outside of the city, on the banks of the Rhone. He had especially enjoined that no monument should mark his resting-place. His severe simplicity turned away from all such honours. His biographerHenry. accordingly says that his grave continues unknown. In point of fact, however, a plain stone, with the letters “J. C.” upon it, is now pointed out to the stranger as marking it, although on what authority we do not know. Whether his remains lie in that particular spot or elsewhere, the simple and rude stone, as the meditative visitant stands beside it and looks round upon many imposing tablets raised over comparatively unmemorable dust, seems no unfitting memorial of the man—starting by its very nakedness associations all the more sublime.

Thus lived and died Calvin, a great, intense, and energetic character, who, more than any other of that great age, has left his impress’ upon the history of Protestantism. Nothing, perhaps, more strikes us than the contrast between the single naked energy which his character presents, and of which his name has become symbolical, and the grand issues which have gone forth from it. Scarcely anywhere else can we trace such an imperious potency of intellectual and moral influence emanating from so narrow a centre.

There is in almost every respect a singular dissimilarity between the Genevan and the Wittenberg reformer. In personal, moral, and intellectual features, 235they stand contrasted—Luther with his massive frame and full big face, and deep melancholy eyes; Calvin, of moderate stature, pale and dark complexion, and sparkling eyes, that burned nearly to the moment of his death.103103   Beza, Vita. Calv. Luther, fond and jovial, relishing his beer and hearty family repasts with his wife and children; Calvin, spare and frugal, for many years only taking one meal a day, and scarcely needing sleep.104104   Ibid. In the one, we see a rich and complex and buoyant and affectionate nature touching humanity at every point in the other, a stern and grave unity of moral character. Both were naturally of a somewhat proud and imperious temper, but the violence of Luther is warm and boisterous, that of Calvin is keen and zealous. It might have been a very uncomfortable thing, as Melanchthon felt,105105   See Note, Calvin’s Letters, vol. i. p. 409, and the expression quoted by Hallam from Epis. Melanchthon, p. 21—of the harshness of which, however, too much must not be made.—Lit. of Europe, vol. i. p. 492. to be exposed to Luther’s occasional storms; but after the storm was over, it was pleasant to be folded once more to the great heart that was sorry for its excesses. To be the object of Calvin’s dislike and anger was something to fill one with dread, not only for the moment, but long afterwards, and at a distance, as poor Castellio felt when he gathered the pieces of drift-wood on the banks of the Rhine at Basle.

In intellect, as in personal features, the one was grand, massive, acid powerful, through depth and comprehension of feeling, a profound but exaggerated insight, and a soaring eloquence; the other was no 236less grand and powerful, through clearness and correctness of judgment, rigour and consistency of reasoning, and weightiness of expression. Both are alike memorable in the service which they rendered to their native tongue,—in the increased compass, flexibility, and felicitous mastery which they imparted to it. The Latin works of Calvin are greatly superior in elegance of style, symmetry of method, and proportionate vigour of argument. He maintains an academic elevation of tone, even when keenly agitated in temper; while Luther, as Mr Hallam has it, sometimes descends to mere “bellowing in bad Latin.” Yet there is a coldness in the elevation of Calvin, and in his correct and well-balanced sentences, for which we should like ill to exchange the kindling though rugged paradoxes of Luther. The German had the more rich and teeming—the Genevan the harder, more serviceable, and enduring mind. When interrupted in dictating for several hours, Beza tells us that he could return and commence at once where he had left off; and that amidst all the multiplicity of his engagements, he never forgot what he required to know for the performance of any duty.

As preachers, Calvin seems to have commanded a scarcely less powerful success than Luther, although of a different character—the one stimulating and rousing, “boiling over in every direction”—the other instructive, argumentative, and calm in the midst of his vehemence.106106   Beza, Vita Calv. Luther flashed forth his feelings at the moment, never being able to compose what might be called a regular sermon, but seizing the principal subject, 237and turning all his attention to that alone. Calvin was elaborate and careful in his sermons, as in everything else. The one thundered and lightened, filling the souls of his hearers now with shadowy awe, and now with an intense glow of spiritual excitement:107107   The description which Beza has given of Farel’s preaching seems to indicate a resemblance in this as in other respects between the fiery Dauphinese and the great German. “Farel,” he says, “excelled in a certain sublimity of mind, so that nobody could either hear his thunders without trembling, or listen to his most fervent prayers without feeling as it were almost carried up to heaven.” He adds, “Viret possessed such winning eloquence, that his entranced audience hung upon his lips. Calvin never spoke without filling the mind of the hearer with most weighty sentiments. I have often thought that a preacher compounded of the three would have been absolutely perfect.”—Vita Calv. the other, like. the. broad daylight, filled them with a more diffusive though less exhilarating clearness.

Altogether, it is sufficiently easy to fix the varying characteristics, however difficult it may be to measure the relative greatness of the two chief reformers: moral and intellectual power assumes in the one an intense, concentrated, and severe outline,—in the other, a broad, irregular, and massive, yet child-like expression. The one may suggest a Doric column, chaste, grand, and sublime in the very simplicity and inflexibility of its mouldings; the other a Gothic dome, with its fertile contrasts and ample space, here shadowy in lurking gloom, and there riant in spots of sunshine, filled through all its amplitude with a dim religious awe, and yet, as we leisurely pause and survey it, traced here and there with grotesque and capricious imagery—the riotous freaks, as it were, of a strength 238which could be at once lofty and low, spiritually grand, yet with marks of its earth-birth everywhere.

Simplicity is beyond doubt the main feature of Calvin’s character; yet it is not the simplicity of nature—but of an even and orderly spiritual development. Earnest from the first, looking upon life as a great and stern reality, a hard yet noble discipline, his moral purpose is everywhere clear and definite—to live a life of duty, to shape circumstances to such divine ends as he apprehended, and in whatever sphere he might be placed to work out the glory of God. Protestantism changed the direction, but probably very little the principle, of his energies. As Romanist or Protestant he must have equally led a life of intense devotion and spiritual work. For there were no elements of lawless affection in him, no excesses of youthful passion, and, moreover, no impulses of mere selfish desire that could have ever drawn him aside to the service of the flesh or the world. He was naturally fitted as well as divinely trained for the special work which he had to do. He found his career, or rather it found him, with a singular felicity, amid the exciting strifes into which he. was born. Before his arrival in Geneva, he appeared very much the mere scholar and theologian. Intellectual study seemed not unlikely to divert and absorb his energies. But so soon as he settled there, his great practical and administrative qualities were drawn forth, and intellectual interest became henceforth subservient to that which he felt to be his peculiar mission,—the reorganisation of the divine kingdom in the world, as he saw and believed in it.


Combined with this strict simplicity of aim in Calvin there is a wonderful grandeur of endurance and power. Nowhere lovely, he is everywhere strong. Strength looks upon us with a naked glance from every feature of his life and work. He is stern and arbitrary and cruel when it suits him, but never weak. He seldom mistakes, and as seldom fails. Confident in his own conclusions, and inflexible in his resolutions, he never goes back upon his practical policy, nor upon his theological views,108108   Beza has noticed this, Vita CaIv. “In the doctrine which he delivered at the first, he persisted steadily to the last, scarcely making any change.” for revisal or modification, but always forward in expansive and consistent development. He never wavers, and has no scruples. In all his pained and worn countenance you cannot trace a quivering of feebleness, scarce a spark of sensitiveness,—only the forward and steady gaze of resolved and imperious duty, whatever it might cost him.

As to the more social aspects of his character, it becomes a very difficult task to be at once just and critical. On the one hand, even in the face of his acknowledged harshness in many cases, it is impossible to adopt the representations of some, and regard him as destitute of all warmth of affection. Many of his letters are marked, on the contrary, by an affectionate interest, which, if not very warm or tender, is yet considerate and kindly. Then his relations with Farel, and Viret, and Bucer, and still more Melanchthon, from whom in many points he differed, sufficiently show that there was something in him lovable and capable of love, fitted both to engage 240sincere and deep regard, and to respond with an affectionate faithfulness to the friendly emotions which he excited. We have seen how his weary spirit clung to that of Melanchthon, removed beyond the contentions of theological strife; and there is something peculiarly affecting in’ his long and sometimes very trying and delicate relations with Farel, terminated by that last kind and tender memorial which he sent him from his deathbed. On the other hand, it appears to us altogether a misinterpretation of character to read these tokens of friendly sympathy as being what have been called “the overflowings of a heart filled with the deepest and most acute sensibility.”109109   Preface to ‘Letters’—Constable. Overflowing of any kind is exactly what you never find in Calvin, even in his most familiar letters. His strongest expressions of affection are always calm and measured. When he condoles with Viret and Knox, for example, on the death of their wives, there is no impulsive trembling or sensitive fulness in his tones, but only a becoming and regulated expression of grief.110110   His words to Knox, quoted by M‘Crie, are—“Viduitas tua mihi, ut debet, tristis et acerba est. Uxorem nactus eras cui non reperiuntur passim similes.” His letters to Viret indicate perhaps more warmth of feeling (vol. ii. pp. 22-24). Then it cannot be forgotten that there are some of his letters full of fierce expressions of hatred and anger, which one can only read now with pity and sorrow.111111   See especially a brief letter to Madame de Cany, vol. ii. p. 323. Affectionate and even hearty to his friends let us admit him to have been, and capable of unbending so far as to play with the syndics at the game of the key (whatever that may 241have been), on a quiet evening; but Calvin was certainly not in the least a man of genial and overflowing sensibility. His temper was repressive and not expansive, concentrated and not sympathetic, and his heart burned more keenly with the fires of polemic indignation, than it ever glowed with the warmth of kindly or tender emotion.

There are nowhere in all his letters any joyous or pathetic exaggerations of sentiment; there is nothing of that play of feeling or of language which in Luther’s letters makes us so love the man. All this he would have thought mere waste of breath—mere idleness, for which he had no time. The intensity of his purpose, the solemnity of his work, prevented him from ever looking around or relaxing himself in a free, happy, and outgoing communion with nature or life. Living as he did amid the most divine aspects of nature, you could not tell from his correspondence that they ever touched him—that morning with its golden glories, or evening with its softened splendours, as day rose and set amid such transporting scenes, ever inspired him. The murmuring rush of the Rhone, the frowning outlines of the Jura, the snowy grandeur of Mont Blanc, might as well not have been, for all that they seemed to have affected him. No vestige of poetical feeling, no touch of descriptive colour, ever rewards the patient reader. All that exquisitely conscious sympathy with nature, and varying responsiveness to its unuttered lessons, which brighten with an ever-recurring freshness the long pages of Luther’s letters, and which have now wrought themselves as a commonplace into literature, are unknown, and would have been unintelligible 242to him. No less strange to him is the fertile interest in life merely for its own sake—its own joys and sorrows—brightness and sadness; the mystery, pathos, tenderness, and exuberance of mere human affection, which enrich the character of the great German. There is nothing of all this in Calvin; no vague yearnings or sentimental aspirations ever touched him. Luther, in all things greater as a man, is infinitely greater here. And in truth this element of modern feeling and culture is Teutonic rather than Celtic in its growth. It springs out of the comparative rich and genial soil of the Saxon mind,—deeper in its sensibilities and more exuberant in its products.

On the whole, simplicity, grandeur, and consistency of purpose, mark out Calvin from his fellows, and constitute the main elements of his greatness and influence. The same kind of consistency which we shall meet with in his theological system appears in his character—a consistency not of manifold adaptation, but of stern compression. As in the former the complexities of Christian doctrine are not merely evolved and laid side by side, but crushed into a unity, so in the latter there is uniqueness and symmetry at the expense of richness and interest, and a whole and hearty humanity. His theology and life alike must be judged in reference to the exigencies which called them forth, and the work that they accomplished. Human progress needed both of them assuredly, although it is a melancholy and saddening reflection that it did so. It was a hard and bad world that needed Calvin as a reformer. And when we think of the Institutes in comparison with the Gospels, we cannot 243help acknowledging how far man was then, and alas is still, below his blessings—how infinitely higher is the reach of divine truth than the response of human desire or the capacity of human understanding!

An impression of majesty and yet of sadness must ever linger around the name of Calvin. He was great, and we admire him. The world needed him, and we honour him; but we cannot love him. He repels our affections while he extorts our admiration; and while we recognise the worth, and the divine necessity, of his life and work, we are thankful to survey them at a distance, and to believe that there are also other modes of divinely governing the world, and advancing the kingdom of righteousness and truth.

According to what we have already said, the great distinction of Calvin, as we see him appearing within the sphere of the Reformation, is that in him the movement found its genius of order. He is from the outset of his career not at all, like Luther, the head of an onward. struggle, but the representative of a new organisation of the disturbing forces, spiritual and social, that were spreading all around in France and. Switzerland. While, therefore, Luther is characteristically the hero, Calvin is characteristically the legislator. He feels that the insurrectionary movement, which has been proceeding vigorously and fiercely for a quarter of a century, needs a guide—some one, not indeed to beat back and check it, but to rein it in,112112   This is the very light in which, Beza tells us, he himself saw his work. “He saw how needful it was to put bridles in the jaws of the Genevese.” 244to impress upon it a definite constitution, and to bring it under discipline. Unless such an one should arise, the movement seemed likely to spend itself, on the one hand, in the most extravagant forms of social disturbance, through the spread of Anabaptism and other forms of pseudo-Christian Communism; or, on the other hand, in intellectual unbelief, like that of Servetus and others. With a view to what seemed the probable development of such tendencies, Calvin was just as much the master of the occasion as Luther was of a very different occasion: or, to speak in other language, the instrumentality of divine Providence was manifested equally in the rise of the Genevan as in that of the German reformer. The elements of religious thought and social liberty let loose by Luther, and within more limited spheres by Zwingli and Farel, and which required, as eminently in the case of Luther they found, a heroic impulsion of character and a strength of popular and enthusiastic zeal to represent and carry them forward to triumph,—now in 1536 demanded the influence of a quite different character, and a strength of intellectual and moral, rather than of popular earnestness—an aristocratic, in short, rather than a democratic power, to direct and control them.

Calvin was the impersonation of this spirit of order in the surging movement of the sixteenth century. He was so in two distinct and important respects, closely connected with one another, but separately so important that it is difficult to say in which point of view he appears most as a genius and master. He was so, first as the great theologian of the Reformation; 245and secondly, as the founder of a new religious and social organisation—a new order of Church polity—which did more than anything else to consolidate the dissipating forces of Protestantism, and to oppose, if not a triumphant, yet an effectual front to the old Catholic organisation, now beginning to gather life again after its first rude shocks. His influence in both these respects not only survived himself, but from the small centre of Geneva was propagated through France and Holland and Scotland, and to a large extent England, in a manner which, as we look back upon it, exalts him to the highest rank of great men, who, by the concentration and intensity of their thought and will, have ever swayed the destinies of their race. Limited, as compared with Luther, in his personal influence, apparently less the man of the hour in a great crisis of human progress, he towers far above Luther in the general influence over the world of thought and the course of history, which a mighty intellect, inflexible in its convictions and constructive in its genius, never fails to exercise.

In briefly speaking of Calvin as a theologian, we shall not attempt to criticise in detail his religious opinions. This would be altogether foreign to the purpose of these sketches. We shall try, however, to seize the spirit and general character of his dogmatic system, as they serve to explain his historical position, and as they came in contact with the spiritual tendencies then most active, not only in France, but in other countries.

When Calvin turned his keen glance upon the spiritual atmosphere around him, he saw at once the 246necessity, not so much of charging it with any new impulses, as of introducing clearness, intelligibility, and arrangement into those already in operation. This was the task that he essayed; and he brought to this task no new spirit or principles, but simply learning, faith, and vigour of mental conception. Novelty of purpose or of doctrine was as far as possible from his thought. The famous preface to the Institutes is mainly a powerful protest against any such view. What he really contemplated, and what he accomplished in the Institutes, first in a comparatively slight, and then in a more elaborate and definite form, was to reconstruct on a professed Biblical basis those doctrinal ideas which, disengaged from the old Catholic tradition by the powerful preaching of the earlier reformers, had not yet assumed, at least to the Gallic mind, any consistent expression. The primitive Christian character of these ideas is the great point which he tries to force upon the attention of Francis I., in view of the calumnies which the enemies of the Reformation had widely spread abroad. Novelty or even originality in doctrinal conception would have been repelled by him as a shameful accusation, and in fact was so when, under the misrepresentation of Caroli and others, he was accused of Arianism. Nothing in his early career moved him more, or gave him more pain. In the very face of all such views, it was his single aim to set anew in a Scriptural framework the old truth—to rebuild in its purity and completeness the old dogmatic edifice which had been overlaid and disfigured by the corruptions of Popery.


It arose from the very nature of the case, that this could only be done in the abstract and systematic spirit in which he attempted it. It was necessary to meet system with system—theory by theory. The old Catholic tradition, notwithstanding all that had happened, and the vigorous rents that had been made in it by the attacks of the reformers, had a power not merely of resistance but of successful reaction to the “new” opinions, in the mere coherence and apparent unity which it seemed to present in contrast with the latter, so long as these could at all be regarded as the mere opinions of individual teachers. To show, in a systematic method, that they could not rightly be so regarded, but that they were in reality the revival of the primitive Christian teaching—to raise thus a coherent front of Scriptural dogmatism, in opposition to the old ecclesiastical dogmatism, and thereby at once save the principles of the Reformation from licence, and strengthen and consolidate them against Popery,—such was Calvin’s great work as a theologian.113113   See his own description of his design, in his address to the reader from the edition of 1559.—Tholuck’s edit., p. 24.

In a historical point of view we cannot think that any will deny the distinguished success with which he accomplished this work. Never did man, perhaps, more truly measure his powers to the exact task for which they were fitted, and then bring them to bear with a more steady and adequate energy upon the achievement of that task. Seizing with a powerful and comprehensive grasp the whole scheme of Christian doctrine, he analysed and exhibited it step by 248step in all its parts, and set it forth in an order most imposing and effective. Melanchthon had previously systematised the reformed tenets, but without the same confident grasp and mastery of logic. The German theologian possessed a more delicate perception, and a more subtle insight into many points; but this very fineness of spiritual texture unfitted him for the more bold and compact dogmatic handiwork that was then required: it gave indecision and apparent feebleness to many of his views. Calvin did not know the meaning of dogmatic indecision. His intellectual penetration and directness overmatched all scruples and doubts, and enabled him at almost every point to maintain a firm footing—to show his readers, as he himself says, “how to pursue and hold without wandering the good and right way.” And this mere strength of intellectual consistency, traversing the whole ground of Christian truth—mapping it out, and arranging it territory to territory, so as to present a great whole was the primary, as it was among the most powerful, means of giving to his work the influence which it secured; it met exactly one of the most urgent wants of the Reformation.

When we bring into view the prominent Scriptural ground on which this consistency was made to rest, we recognise a further important element of Calvin’s success. It was not merely the coherence of a great logical method which was presented in the Institutes, but the method seemed to identify itself at every point with Scripture, and appropriately express its truth. “He who makes himself master of the method which I have pursued,” he says, “will surely understand 249what he should seek for in Scripture.” The logical framework, in all its well-ordered parts, was clothed with the living garment of the divine Word. Even now it is difficult to disentangle the two; for Calvin, with all the theologians of his century, and of the succeeding century as well, does not quote Scripture merely in support of his view, so that you can see the view distinctly, and then the Scriptural warrant for it, but he everywhere blends undistinguishably his own reasoning and Scripture, so that it is often very difficult indeed to say where you have the human reasoner, and where the divine Teacher. He applies Biblical language, moreover, as all his compeers did, with comparatively little regard to its historical connection, taking a statement at random from any book of the Old, or from any book of the New Testament, as bearing with equally conclusive force upon his argument. The result of this is to exhibit the outline of his system as representing, in all its successive evolutions, a strikingly Scriptural aspect. The argument at every point, even in the first book, “De Cognitione Dei Creatoris,” takes up Scriptural phrase, and drapes itself in it as a sure vesture fitted to it closely, and with great skill. This prominence of Biblical statement, worked into every phase of his dogmatic scheme, and disguising its mere abstract propositions, constituted, and constitutes to this day with many minds, the greatest success of Calvin’s work. The philosopher is hidden in the divine—the dogmatist in the Scripturist.

But it was a still farther characteristic of Calvin’s system that may be said to have completed its triumph. 250He not merely apprehended the Christian scheme as a whole, and set it forth with the rare logical and Scriptural consistency we have described, but he apprehended it with clear and firm vision, in the view of a great central truth, which shed light, darkened indeed, but intense in its very darkness, upon all its relations. The great moving-spring of the Reformation, we formerly saw, was the principle of individual religion—the assertion of the immediate relation of the soul to God expressed in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Calvin seized this great truth with the same clearness, if not with the same intensity, as Luther. He saw with an equal force that God is the only source of all good in man—that human righteousness can only spring out of the free act and communication of the divine grace, and that therefore the supposed merit of any human work, even of the noblest piety, as recognised by the Catholic tradition, was a mere delusion, ensnaring to the soul. He laid down this as a distinctive article of faith with his usual lucidity and coherence, bringing out the Scriptural proportions of his own view against what he considered to be the perversion of an eminent Lutheran teacher, Osiander.114114   Third Book, chap. xi. But beyond this special aspect of the principle of the free and immediate relation of the soul to God in the doctrine of Justification, Calvin saw a still higher and more comprehensive aspect of it in the doctrine of Predestination. If there be no veil between the soul and God, so that the former finds all its life and righteousness only in the latter—the human in the divine Personality—it is but a mere step from this to apprehend 251the Divine Being as not only freely but sovereignly, “of His mere good pleasure,” bestowing life and righteousness. Not only is justification of God alone, but an act of the divine sovereignty—definite, immutable, irrefragable—has determined from all eternity the objects of justification. Only then do we fully recognise free grace in all its grandeur, when we recognise it in this shape as the eternal election of God—when we acknowledge the divine act of clemency: and not merely so, but, moreover, the divine act of reprobation, as eternally consummated in certain persons without any reference to their conduct. The whole of human life and of human history, the good and evil that are in them, are gathered up by Calvin into a single point in the abyss of eternity, from which all their complicated threads go forth in a double series of undeviating demarcation. The divine is apprehended not only on its positive but on its negative side, as working out not only a progressive kingdom of righteousness, but also a retrogressive kingdom of evil, and in each case equally for its own glory. And this moral dualism is applied with a fearless and untrembling hand. It is in no sense a mere theory—the mere blank category of a transcendental philosophy—but a living principle which he brings to bear without flinching upon all the mysteries of human existence. He confesses, indeed, that it is a “horrible decree”;115115   “Decretum quidem horribile fateor.”—Third Book, chap. xxiii. but its clear and undeniable proof seems to him to lie in the simple statement which follows up this confession: “God must have foreseen the special destiny of each individual before He created him, and He only foresaw 252this as having ordained it.”116116   Inficiari tamen nemo poterit quin præsciverit Deus, quem exitum esset habiturus homo, antequam ipsum conderet et ideo præsciverit, quia decreto suo sic ordinarat. This was the highest triumph of his system. Even a logic such as Calvin’s could go no farther than this.

In what degree this confident audacity in carrying out the great principle of the Reformation helped to give permanence to its general doctrines, and to make them dominant not only over the learned but over the popular minds that came within its sway, is a question far too wide and important to take up here. But none can doubt, looking merely at the most obvious facts, that it had a very powerful influence, not only in virtue of its own logical vigour, and the craving there then was, in all minds astir about religious truth, for some great theory or absolute idea into which to fit and harmonise their floating conceptions; but especially in virtue of the profound spiritual instinct out of which the theory sprang, and which it long continued and even continues to express to many deeply religious minds. The feeling of direct and devout dependence upon God—of tracing all to Him, and finding all in Him—of emptying the creaturely will wholly in the Creative will—of bending low before the Majesty of heaven, and rejoicing that our very weakness and misery are its strength and glory;—this deep instinct of humility appeared to many merely sublimed in the doctrine of Predestination, and, apart from its own argumentative consistency and hardihood, it thus carried with it the energy and triumph of a lofty spirituality.


As we look back, therefore, upon this great system in conjunction with the spirit not only of the century which produced it, but of that which followed, we can well understand the success with which it maintained its ground, and the conquest which it won against rival systems. Viewed as systems—as exhaustive logical generalisations of Christian truth—Calvinism is the natural victor of Arminianism in this very thoroughness and higher consistency of system which it presents, in its greater Scriptural earnestness, and in the superior boldness and directness with which it carried out the great fundamental principle of the Reformation. Arminianism—no less infected than Calvinism by a mere logical zeal, having no more than the latter any apprehension of a higher method than that of argumentative definition even in the highest region of spiritual truth—yet paltered and sophisticated in its logic everywhere. It had neither the courage to lay aside logic and confess its weakness, nor yet the vigour to carry it out. And so it patched at every point, and covered the last mystery, into which Calvinism rushed with daring footing, with its thin glosses—glosses so feebly transparent now when we examine them, that it seems strange they should have ever satisfied any minds, and least of all minds of such acuteness as some of those that professed to rest on them.

The higher Scriptural congruity of Calvinism was especially apparent on the dogmatical principle of interpretation then common. It mirrored far more profoundly the spiritual depths of the Epistles, and took up more naturally and directly the great keynotes 254of their language. It was more true, as a whole, to the vast and shadowy outlines of thought which meet us everywhere on the surface of Scripture, and especially concentrate themselves in certain deep utterances of the letters of St Paul over which criticism has long hung perplexed.

While thus claiming for Calvinism a higher Scriptural character, it would yet be too much to say that Calvinism, any more than Lutheranism, or Arminianism, was primarily the result of a fresh and living study of Scripture. Calvin everywhere appealed to Scripture,—he is the greatest Biblical commentator, as he is the greatest Biblical dogmatist, of his age. But his dogmas, for the most part, were not primarily suggested by Scripture; and as to his distinguishing dogma, this is eminently the case. Like Luther, he had been trained in the scholastic philosophy, and been fed on Augustine; and it was no more possible for the one than for the other to get beyond the scholastic spirit or the Augustinian doctrine. An attentive study of the Institutes reveals the presence of Augustine everywhere; and great as Calvin, beyond doubt, is in exegesis, his exegesis is mainly controlled by Augustinian dogmatic theory. As to the question of predestination—so apt to be identified with his name in theology—Calvin is not merely indebted to Augustine, but he verbally reproduces him at great length; and it is a favourite plan with him, when hard pushed by the dilemmas which his own acuteness or the representations of opponents suggest, to retreat behind the arguments of his great prototype, and to suppose himself strong within the cover of assertions not less 255startling and inadmissible, though more venerable than his own. In fixing anew, therefore, this keystone in the Christian arch, he was merely repeating, as elsewhere, an old work; and strangely enough,—as is so often the case in all such reactions,—the chief weapon which he employed against the degraded scholasticism of his day was tempered in the very forge which it was meant to extinguish.

This appeal to an earlier Catholicity on the part of the Reformed theologies—this support in Augustine—beyond doubt greatly contributed to their success in their day. For few then ventured to doubt the authority of Augustinianism, and the theological spirit of the sixteenth century hardly at any point got beyond it. It was a natural source of triumph to the great Protestant confessions against the unsettled unbelief or more superficial theologies which they encountered, that they wielded so bold and consistent a weapon of logic, and appealed so largely to an authoritative Scriptural interpretation. Calvinism could not but triumph on any such modes of reasoning or of Biblical exegesis as then prevailed; and so long as it continued to be merely a question of systems, and logic had it all its own way, this triumph was secure. But now that the question is changed, and logic is no longer mistress of the field; now, when a spirit of interpreting Scripture, which would have hardly been intelligible to Calvin, generally asserts itself—a spirit which recognises a progress in Scripture itself—a diverse literature and moral growth in its component elements—and which, at once looking backward with reverence and forward with faith, has learned a new audacity, or a new 256modesty. as we shall call it, according to our predilections: and while it accepts with awe the mysteries of life and of death, refuses to submit them arbitrarily to the dictation of any mere logical principle—now that the whole sphere of religious credence is differently apprehended, and the provinces of faith and of logical deduction are recognised as not merely incommensurate, but as radically distinguished,—the whole case as to the triumphant position of Calvinism, or indeed any other theological system, is altered. An able writer117117   Mansel, in his Bampton Lecture. has shown with convincing power what are the inevitably contradictory results of applying the reasoning faculty with determining sway to the settlement of religious truth. The conclusions of this writer, sufficiently crushing as directed by him against all rationalistic systems, are to the full as conclusive against the competency of all theological systems whatever. The weapon of logical destructiveness which he has used with such energy, is a weapon of offence really against all religious dogmatism. What between the torture of criticism, and the slow but sure advance of moral idea, this dogmatism is losing hold of the most living and earnest intelligence everywhere. And it seems no longer possible. under any new polemic form, to revive it. Men are weary of heterodoxy and of orthodoxy alike, and of the former in any arbitrary and dogmatic shape. still more intolerably than of the latter. The old Intitutio Christianæ Religionis no loner satisfies, and a new Institutio can never replace it. A second Calvin in theology is impossible. Men thirst not less for spiritual truth, but they no longer 257believe in the capacity of system to embrace and contain that truth, as in a reservoir, for successive generations. They seek for it themselves afresh in the pages of Scripture and the ever-dawning light of the spiritual life of humanity. The age of tradition is gone beyond recall, and the most venerated creeds, no less than the most novel religious theories, must submit to the tests of an expanding historical and moral judgment.

In the endless conflict of systems, and the mutual destructiveness of their opposing principles, there is a lesson to be learned, but it is by no means the lesson which the Bampton lecturer draws. The uncertainty of reason in all religious matters, and the contradictoriness of its vaulting theories, should teach us a greater trust in revelation, but a trust in its spiritual unity and simplicity, rather than in the dogmatic meanings assumed to represent it. If the intellect be a helpless arbiter in religious questions, and everywhere starts more difficulties than it suggests solutions, our appeal must be to Scripture, and we thank God for it but to Scripture in its historical connection, and the critical and literary conditions which its several books present, rather than to traditionary conclusions drawn from these books—to the Divine Spirit, in short, that speaks in Scripture under the necessary limitations of human language and a progressive development of moral thought.118118   It appears singular that a writer of the acuteness and power of Mr Mansel should find any satisfaction in the positions which he has laid down in his last Lecture. The views there propounded of the overbearing authority of what he calls moral miracles, and of the absolute dogmatic virtue of all parts of Scripture alike, supposing the student to have satisfied himself on the subject of the external evidences, are alike untenable and destructive,—ignoring, as they do, the obvious conditions of historical criticism, and, by leaving the individual judgment helpless before confessed difficulties, simply casting it into the arms of the first authority, dogmatic or catholic, to which it may incline. The very idea of moral miracle is a preconception of the worst kind, and untenable on any grounds of enlightened Christian reason. It disappears entirely before the principles of modern exegesis, now almost universally accepted, which recognises a progress in the ideas of Scripture both intellectual and moral, and accounts for the moral difficulties of the Old Testament in a natural historical manner.


We have still to consider Calvin in what appears to us his most creative capacity—as an ecclesiastical legislator; and in order to do this, we must understand yet more fully the historical necessities of his position, and of the Reformation as represented by him.

After the first spiritual impulse of the Reformation had spent itself, great difficulties and dangers arose on all sides. Not only did the unsettled elements of Christian doctrine require a master-mind to mould and reconstruct them into an authoritative shape, but the same process of reconstruction was still more urgently demanded in the sphere of social life. With the overthrow of the old Catholic polity and discipline there was left a great opening for moral laxity, and the dissolution of the bonds of society. Corrupt as that polity was in its deeper springs, it remained a machinery highly conservative of social and national existence. Intolerable in its unspirituality and oppressiveness, it operated as a vast social and political agency, touching life everywhere, and binding it together in all its relations. Gradually it had grown to be this. Augustine’s grand idea of a civitas Dei—of a divine commonwealth had developed itself till the 259hierarchy sketched by him covered the whole of the western world, and not merely placed itself in contact with human activity at every point, but directly held within its embrace all the intricacies of personal, family, and national relation. Starting as the most individual of all religions, and seizing, by its primary influence, not on man’s outward condition, but on his deepest inward sensibilities, Christianity had taken the place of the old imperial authority as the latter decayed, and become a religion in the strictest sense—a great system of political as well as moral government. At first, slowly pushing its way in conflict with the immoralities of paganism, and the spurious ethics alike of Gnostical and Epicurean philosophy, it had grown in the course of five centuries into a vast Power, extending its control over all the interests of human existence within its reach. Christianity had become the Church: spiritual individualism had developed into Catholic Authority. Augustine stood on the verge of this great change, recognised it, gloried in it—and, by his great work, helped to forward it.

This second phase of Christianity had now worked itself out. The radical Christian spirit was not and could not be extinguished under all the compression of the Catholic system; and it had now, after many partial and ineffectual efforts, risen up against it in might. For a thousand years the system had dominated over all expressions of individual energy, fitting itself into human history, and so far constituting that history in its successive manifestations. Now, however, it was broken up. The warm breath of a living Gospel had dissolved it, and men were cast loose from 260the bonds which had so long controlled them. The old spirit of individualism, which in primitive Christianity had gone forth with triumphant success into pagan society, had once more awakened as from a long slumber, and rent with sundering force the repressive machinery which had bound without destroying it.

Such an awakening as this, in the very nature of the case, soon began to run into many extravagant issues. In the first feeling of liberty men did not know how to use it temperately; and Anabaptism in Germany and Libertinism in France testified to the moral confusion and social licence that everywhere sprang up in the wake of the Reformation. We can now but faintly realise how ominous all this seemed to the prospects of Protestantism. It appeared to many minds as about to terminate in mere anarchy. The religious revival seemed likely to become mere social disorder. At the very best, the new life was every where obscured by the disorder which spread alongside of it, and was apt to be confounded with it.119119   Sir William Hamilton, in his notes about Luther (Discussions, p. 499 et seq.), has indicated a very strong opinion as to the dissolution of manners following the Reformation in Germany. There is, however, considerable arbitrariness in his assertions, without any clear and definite background of evidence. It were well if his notes about Luther and the history of Lutheranism, of which he is understood to have had a large collection, were in some shape given to the public.

To add to the exigency thus arising out of the circumstances of the Reformation itself, there were signs now at length (1536) showing themselves in all directions of a reviving strength in Romanism. With that singular vitality which it had so often 261previously, and has so often since, displayed, it now, after the first shock of the Reformation, took a new and more powerful start than in any of its preceding developments. Jesuitism arose as the formidable and well-matched opponent of Protestantism; the highest craft, subtlety, and energy, the consummate immorality and persistent cruelty of the Romish system, received in this marvellous agency a fresh and vigorous birth; and it is only when we apprehend and bring clearly into view its peculiar working and influence, that the later history of the Reformation becomes intelligible.

This, then, was the historical position which Calvin occupied. He surveyed and realised it as no other mind of his time did. He naturally hated every species of disorder. His whole character and mind were constructive and legislative. Protestant by religious conviction, he was conservative and Catholic by natural instinct; and accordingly he was no sooner within the reformed movement, than he aimed to fix it. Especially did the great idea, which had been originally expressed in the Catholic Church, but had’ become degraded into an unspiritual hierarchy—the idea of a divine state—hold possession of his mind. The unity and completeness which it presented charmed Calvin. He felt, moreover, that it was only by the resurrection of this idea in some new form that the reactionary strength of the Catholic polity could be met and withstood. He saw clearly that unless the moral intensity which had broken forth in the Reformation, and separated itself from the old ecclesiastical forms, could be turned into some new disciplinary 262institution, it would spend itself and disappear. In the nature of things it was unable to propagate itself merely by its own force. Already in Germany it was failing to do so. A controversial interest there was fast beginning to swallow up the spiritual life out of which the Reformation had sprung; and with all his own strong polemical tendencies, Calvin sufficiently discerned the evil that would come from such a spirit—the negation and deadness to which it would give rise. He was himself too practically earnest, and he had far too deep a feeling of the wants of human nature, and the divine education through which alone it can be trained to strength and goodness, not to aim at something higher than the mere settlement of controversial dogma. Argumentative as he was, he was yet more the legislator than the dialectician; and it was an institutional instinct and capacity, still more than a philosophical or dogmatical interest, that directed all his activity. His mind, therefore, could not rest short of a new Church organisation and polity—of a new order of moral discipline, which, planting itself in the heart of Protestantism, should at once conserve its life, and enable it to confront the re-collecting forces and still powerfully repressive energy of the Roman hierarchy. Strongly impressed by its necessity, he aimed to impart to Protestantism a new social as well as doctrinal expression—to reconstitute, in short, the divine commonwealth, the civitas Dei.

There are two distinct views that may be taken of this part of Calvin's work. It presents itself, on the one hand, as a moral influence—a conservative spiritual 263discipline suited to the time, as it was called forth by it; and on the other hand, as a new theory, or definite reconstitution, of the Church. In the first point of view, it is almost wholly admirable; in the second, it will be found unable to maintain itself any more than the Catholic theory which it so far displaced.

The general principle of Calvin’s polity was simply the reassertion of a divine order amid the confused activities of the time—of the majesty, right, and peacefulness of divine Law. That there is a kingdom of God in the world; that man is God’s creature and subject, and that there is life for human society, and happiness for the human race only in recognising and acting upon this idea; the consequent obligation of self-sacrifice, and the duty of subordination and combination among all the members of a common State,—these were the old truths applied by Calvin to the reconstruction of the Christian community. Any one who reads the opening chapter of the fourth book of the Institutes will at once see how deeply he was struck and penetrated with the idea of the Church visible as well as invisible, and with the necessity of a due and becoming relation of authority among its various constituents. His consistorial scheme of government was to him the appropriate expression of this authority; and whatever may be our critical judgment of this scheme, we are not to forget, in reference even to its most extreme and misdirected efforts, the absolute lawlessness with which it came in contact. Such an order, though of the most stern and repressive kind, was better than no order; and in truth we may 264believe it was only through such a system of iron repression—a system which, in the nature of the case, and in all the circumstances of the period, sometimes confounded mere liberty with wrong, and mere folly with crime, and cast its restraining presence into the very heart of the family as well as the bosom of the Church—that the moral life of the Reformation could have been saved, or at any rate strengthened and hardened for the fearful contest that was before it. The more any one studies the facts of this great crisis, the more will he be forced to see that no mere aesthetic spirit of freedom could have then maintained its ground Against the dark perjuries and malice of the reactionary interest. It required a moral spirit nurtured in hardness, and made strong-limbed by strenuous and daring exercise, to encounter the supple deceit and Satanic persistence of the Jesuit faction, spread into every land, and working by the most dexterous and disguised communications.

And when we contemplate for a moment the actual results of Calvin’s discipline, all this plainly appears. It was the spirit bred by this discipline which, spreading into France and Holland and Scotland, maintained by its single strength the cause of a free Protestantism in all these lands. It was the same spirit which inspired the early, and lived on in the later Puritans; which animated such men as Milton and Owen and Baxter which armed the Parliament of England with strength against Charles I., and stirred the great soul of Cromwell in its proudest triumphs; and which, while it thus fed every source of political liberty in the old world, burned undimmed in the gallant crew of the 265“Mayflower”—the pilgrim-fathers—who first planted the seeds of civilisation in the great continent of the West. A stern and unyielding reverence for law and duty, combined with a high resistance to the encroachments of mere selfish tyranny; an intense love of the Bible, and an undoubting and indiscriminating application of its examples to the business of life and the affairs of state; all the moral heroism in Puritanism which awes us by its grandeur, though it may fail to win our sympathy or enlist our love,—had its wellspring in Geneva, and reflects a lineal glory on the name of Calvin. Linked not only spiritually but formally with the Genevan polity, it was from thence it received the great theocratic idea which it prominently embodied, and launched forth once more with such triumph into the history of the world. That man, as the creature of God, is near to God, and under the control and sanctity of the divine influence, not only in some, but in all expressions of his manifold activity—that he is bound in all by a relation to the divine will—that as there is no individual goodness, so there can be no social blessing, and no real civil grandeur apart from God;—that the civitas Dei, therefore, is no dream of mere enthusiasm or of sacerdotal ambition, but a true idea resting on the everlasting relations of things, and all other ideas of the nation or society rather the dreams and shows of which this is the reality;—all this, of which Puritanism was conspicuously the renewed powerful expression, germinated in the small state of Geneva, and from this narrow centre went forth to mingle in the increase, and to add moral stability to the ambition, of the 266highest forms of modern civilisation. Saving for this new and grand development given to Protestantism—in which Germany had no share—it would have fared ill with it in the great crisis through which it had to pass; for it was only this profound belief in a divine society and state,—in a kingdom of truth and righteousness in the world,—that was able to encounter the falsehoods of state-craft and the immoralities of mere arbitrary power. It was only Puritanism that proved a match for Jesuitism, and held it in check; and while other phases of Protestantism were shrinking into mere formality or dying out in weakness, this was not merely holding its own in a stern struggle with Romish intrigue, but, through many strange aberrations and internal contradictions, was working out in a higher form the principles both of religious and of civil liberty.

It is a very different subject that is before us when we turn to contemplate the theocracy of Calvin, in its formal expression and basis as a new and definite outline of Church government. In this respect he made more an apparent than a real advance upon the old Catholic theocracy. He took up the old principle from a different and higher basis, but in a scarcely less arbitrary and external manner. There is a kingdom of divine truth and righteousness, he said, and Scripture, not the priesthood, is its basis. The divine Word, and not Roman tradition, is the foundation of the spiritual commonwealth. So far, all right; so far, Calvin had got hold of a powerful truth against the corrupt historical pretensions of Popery. But he at once went much farther than this, and said, not tentatively, 267or in a spirit of rational freedom, but dogmatically, and in a spirit of arbitrariness tainted with the very falsehood from whose thraldom he sought to deliver men, “This is the form of the divine kingdom presented in Scripture.” Not the presence of certain spiritual qualities, but the presence of certain external conditions, which I have fixed and determined, constitute the Church. Scripture absolutely demands this and forbids that in reference to the organisation and order of the Christian Society. This idea of going back to Scripture not merely as a historical starting-point, but de novo and entirely, for all the elements of an ecclesiastical polity, was one peculiar to Calvin, and all who more or less embraced or were influenced by his principles. Luther had no perception of it,—it was, in fact, strongly distasteful to his concrete and historical sympathies. He sought rather to preserve the inherited Catholic machinery in every respect, so far as it was not plainly opposed to Scripture. He wished to amend and rectify, but not to abolish and re-institute. He strenuously resisted the pretence of Scriptural simplicity by which Carlstadt urged forward his pseudo-Puritanism. The old Catholic usages were not to be wantonly touched; under all the corruptions which had overlaid them, they remained dear to his affection and beautiful to his imagination. But Calvin felt no such ties to the past, and could never understand the influence of them on others. It was his constant complaint against the Lutherans that they preserved so many ceremonies; and his contempt for the tolerabiles ineptias120120   Letters, vol. ii. pp. 341, 342. of English Protestantism 268is well known. With no imagination, and but cold feelings, and a meagre sympathy with traditional associations—with a sphere, moreover, singularly cleared for his activity in the small state of Geneva—he was led to indulge to the full his legislative bias, and to plan and rearrange, according to his own arbitrary convictions, a “religious constitution.”

The vigour of this religious constitution sufficiently showed itself in the approbation which it commanded, and the manner in which it spread itself wherever the popular will had scope in moulding the progress of the Reformation. Presbyterianism became the peculiar Church order of a free Protestantism, carrying with it everywhere, singularly enough, as one of the very agencies of its free moral influence, an inquisitorial authority resembling that of the Calvinistic consistory. It rested, beyond doubt, on a true divine order, else it never could have attained this historical success. But it also contained from the beginning a source of weakness in the very way in which it put forth its divine warrant. It not merely asserted itself to be wise and conformable to Scripture, and therefore divine, but it claimed the direct impress of a divine right for all its details and applications. This gave it strength and influence in a rude and uncritical age, but it planted in it from the first an element of corruption. The great conception which it embodied was impaired at the root by being fixed in a stagnant and inflexible system, which became identified with the conception as not only equally, but specially divine. The ritual thus once more preceded the moral,—the accidental, the essential,—external uniformity, moral unity; and 269Calvin himself, seduced by this radical mistake, sought by the mere rigour of the consistory, and the most trivial details of over-legislation, to touch the heart of life, and mould it to a holy and peaceful order. Never was there a greater mistake. All the richest qualities and most genuine aspirations of life forbid the attempt. However temporarily strengthened, they cannot healthily grow under such a system. The kingdom of righteousness can only flourish in an atmosphere of freedom; it is never helped but truly injured by any species of external compulsion; divine society is only held together by inner bonds; it lives along lines of spiritual communication, and not of legal enactment; in its essence, in short, it is not “of this world,” while yet necessarily taking to itself, according to circumstances, some definite outward shape. In so far as Presbyterian Puritanism came short of all this—nay, in many respects contradicted it—it failed to realise the only divine principle of moral government; and the theocratic idea accordingly, in its renewed assertion, fell back once more into its old mistake and confusion. The garments of Judaism still clung to it; the idea had not yet worked itself clear from the beggarly elements that haunt it as its shadow, and are everywhere ready to supplant and degrade it.

But were not these “elements,” some will say, really Biblical?—did not Calvin establish his Church polity and Church discipline upon Scripture?—and is not this a warrantable course? Assuredly not, in the spirit in which he did it. The fundamental source of the mistake is here: The Christian Scriptures are a 270revelation of divine truth, and not a revelation of Church polity. They not only do not lay down the outline of such a polity, but they do not even give the adequate and conclusive hints of one. And for the best of all reasons, because it would have been entirely contrary to the spirit of Christianity to have done so; because the very vitality of Christian principle and the conditions of human progress do not admit of the imposition of any unvarying system of government, ecclesiastical or civil. The system adapts itself to the life, everywhere expands with it or narrows with it, but is nowhere in any. particular form the absolute condition of life. A definite outline of Church polity, therefore, or a definite code of social ethics, is nowhere given in the New Testament; and the spirit of it is entirely hostile to the absolute assertion of either the one or the other. Calvin, in truth, must have felt this sufficiently in his constant appeal to the spirit and details of the Old Testament legislation. The historical confusion, in this respect, in which he and all his age shared, was a source of fruitful error here as elsewhere.

But what of the Church, then, and Church authority? Do they not disappear altogether in such a view as that suggested? No; not in the least. They appear, on the contrary, in their only true and divine light, as resting on Scripture, but not as absolutely contained and defined in it. There is and ought to be in both a rightful conformity with Scripture, as with the growth of the Christian Reason in history. The Church is everywhere a positive divine institution resting on these two bases—on the latter not less than the former, 271as constituting no less, really and practically, a jus divinum. For the renewed assertion of the positive character and educational necessity of the Church, and for the fresh element of strength thus imparted to Protestantism, we are indebted to Calvin; but his special theory of the Church is not more authoritative than any other theory. Neither his Church nor any Church is necessarily and absolutely the divine institution. Turn some arbitrary ritual element in front, whether Romanistic or Calvinistic, and make it the divine, and you invert the truly divine method. This always turns the moral elements in front—the rights of faith, the rights of reason and of charity; and the ritual follows as a fitting and shifting vestment. The spirit, in short, dominates, the form serves; and it was Calvin’s great error—and is, alas! by no means an extinct error of Protestantism—to forget this fundamental law of the divine, which we can never alter save at our peril.

While claiming this divine freedom, without which truth can nowhere live, it becomes us at the same time to remember that the highest freedom is always bound fast in moral law. This, the essential spirit of Puritanism, is eternal, whatever may be the temporary character of its dogmatical or ‘ecclesiastical machinery. These may perish, as they seem in many of their forms decaying; but the earnestness, righteousness, purity, and resoluteness, which were the highest meaning of Puritanism, and the really valuable growth of Calvinism, can never decay without moral and social ruin. Amid all the expansions and refinements of modern thought and life, let us hope, therefore, that we shall 272never lose these genuine elements of the Calvinistic spirit; and while we open our minds to the higher and more comprehending expressions of divine truth that meet us everywhere, and learn a nobler wisdom and tolerance amid all our differences, let us, at the same time, always remember that there is no strength of good save in the Gospel of old, and that the highest dignity and beauty of human life are in Him “who did no sin.”

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