Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 6
“JEAN CAUVIN et SON AMI FLAMBEE“ (That’s French for John Calvin and his toasted friend.)
Luther lost control of “his” reformation and pretty much everybody in Europe lost control of everything. The peasants of Germany decided to celebrate their new found Christian freedom by slaughtering the landowners to whom they had owed a feudal obligation. They figured if the priests no longer needed popes and bishops who needed landlords? So in 1525, the peasants rose up to throw off their shackles and establish the kingdom of God on Earth. This was not what Fr. Luther had in mind, so he wrote a tract to the German nobility asking for their help. It has the charming title “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants” which urged the nobility to treat the rebels like mad dogs. Allow me to quote : “Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel... For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul;” Thus Luther.
The German nobility were only to happy to help out. They slaughtered about 100,000 peasants and thus began a century of war in Europe that, when it ended in 1652, had taken between 8 and 10 million lives. This figure counts the English Civil Wars (Why do they call wars “civil”?) in which the followers of Calvin tried to stamp out the last vestiges of Catholicism in the British Isles. That meant 200,000 dead in Scotland and England, and 618,000 in Ireland or about 40% of that island’s population, The total population of Europe in 1600 was 78 million, so “reformation” was accomplished by the death of one out ten people. The death toll in Germany was more like 1 out of every 3. They certainly took Luther seriously when he told them “smite, slay and stab.” (Oddly enough Spain was the safest place to be at the time. The Spanish Inquisition hadn’t let the lunacy get a foothold and not one person died in religious wars in Spain.)
Between his failure to control the reformation and his cooperation with Phillip of Hesse’s odd marital situation, Luther lost the initiative. Father Ulrcih Zwingli (1484-1531) was the pastor of the parish church in Einsiedeln, Switzerland. He thought Luther hadn’t gone far enough. There should be no mass, no saints, no bishops no vestments, not no how. Eventually he died with sword in hand at the battle of Kappel in 1531, aged only 47. The mantle of reform was taken up by a recent immigrant to Switzerland, a Frenchman named Jean Cauvin, or as we call him John Calvin (1509-1564). Like Luther, Calvin was trained as a lawyer. He broke from the Catholic Church around 1530. (To put things in perspective In 1530 Luther was 47 years old, Calvin a lad of 21, and the reformation had been rolling along for ten years and the death toll was only up to 100,000. After a violent reaction against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland. There he was recruited by William Farel to help reform the Church in Geneva. Calvin created new forms of Church government and liturgy, and wrote his masterwork, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. He taught five central points that can be remembered by the acronym T-U-L-I-P:
Total depravity (Good name for a punk rock band)
Unlimited election (Sounds like Chicago politics)
Limited atonement (Sounds like the fine print in a car warranty)
Irresistible Grace (Sounds like something from a beauty pageant)
Perseverance of the Saints (Sounds like a New Orleans football game)
Perhaps I should define a little more precisely.
Total depravity: there is nothing left of the divine image in humanity.
Unconditional election: God created us to go to heaven in order to show His mercy and created you to go to hell to show his justice. (Us and You in the equation depends on whose Church we’re talking about.) In other words some people were designed for eternal suffering. The whole concept makes Hitler look like a Campfire Girl.
Limited atonement: Jesus only died for the saved.
Irresistible grace: You have no free will. God’s grace is so great that if he chooses to save you, you are powerless to resist.
Perseverance of the saints: Once saved, always saved. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)
In addition to his T-U-L-I-P, Calvin taught that each congregation was a Church in itself and needed no pope or bishop and that each individual inspired by the Holy Spirit was sufficient to interpret the Scriptures. In other words, each church its own denomination and everyone his own pope. And so 500 years after the reformation we have 30 or 40 thousand different kinds of Christianity. Thank you, Monsieur Calvin.
Don’t think for a moment that Calvin, believed that everyone was entitled to his opinion. You were only entitled to Calvin’s opinion. If you disagreed with Calvin you were exiled from Geneva or worse. Once a man said publicly that he didn’t care what Calvin taught, he was sure that he himself had free will, he was quickly tried and sentenced to exile. He promised he would believe what Calvin taught, but please don’t send him away from wife, children and home. Calvin magnanimously allowed him to stay if he did public penance by walking through the streets of Geneva in his undershirt carrying a lighted candle, begging Calvin’s forgiveness.
Fun was pretty much outlawed in the New and Reformed Geneva, drinking frowned on, singing and dancing and the like. Calvin banned plays and tried to introduce religious pamphlets and psalm singing into Geneva's taverns. At one point Calvin closed the taverns and replaced them with “evangelical refreshment places” where moderate drinking was allowed, but only when accompanied with Bible reading. There were laws against certain clothes and work or pleasure on Sunday. Those found guilty of wild dancing were severely punished. Those condemned for “bawdy singing” had their tongues pierced. (I wonder what Calvin would have made of the tongue piercing craze of our times. Would he have become a body piercing enthusiast? He seems to have liked piercing but disapproved of jewelry.)
Calvin rediscovered the Old Testament which clearly calls for strict punishments. Jesus’ dialogue with the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you? Neither, then, do I” does not seem to cross Calvin’s mind or heart. Idolatry, as Calvin defined it, rosaries, religious images and the like, was punished with death, as was blasphemy. As in the Law of Moses, to curse or strike a parent, should be punished with death and so Calvin once had a child executed for striking his parent. The penalty for adultery is, of course, death. Calvin had his own stepdaughter, among others, burned at the stake for adultery as well as her husband, his son-in-law, in a separate incident.
But the icing on the Calvinist cake is the death of Michael Servetus. Servetus was a Unitarian. He did not believe in the Trinity and so fled the Inquisition in his native Spain. Calvin was an old acquaintance, and Servetus assumed he would be safe in Geneva’s anti-Papist republic. Calvin and Servetus had written about thirty letters to each other, debating doctrine until Calvin got angry and stopped corresponding. The greatest offense was that Servetus had sent Calvin a copy of Calvin’s own Institutes of the Christian Religion with corrections in the margins pointing out Calvin’s errors. Servetus decided to visit Geneva with Calvin’s permission in 1547. Calvin, however wrote a letter to Farel, his aforementioned collaborator, saying that if Servetus came to Geneva there would be trouble, “for if he came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive.” On his way to Italy, Servetus was dumb enough to pass through Geneva where he attended one of Calvin's sermons. Calvin had him arrested. After a long trial designed by Calvin’s opponents to irritate him, the town council, at Calvin’s bidding, condemned Servetus to death as a heretic. Calvin had a moment of pity and asked that Servetus be beheaded instead of burnt. No Luck. Servetus was burnt on a pyre of his own books.
Calvin was the consummate work-aholic. He wrote night and day corresponding with his followers from Poland in the east to England in the west. One of his most important correspondents was the Duke of Somerset, the regent of England for the boy king, Edward Tudor, son of Henry VIII. In 1546 in a letter to Somerset, he expounded on his theory about the right of punishment taught in the Law of Moses, which threatened stiff-necked people with death, just what of England wanted to hear.
Somerset raised his nephew, King Edward, as a strict Calvinist and thus set the stage for the English civil wars. When Edward died at age 15, his very Catholic sister, Mary, decided to bring England back to the Catholic church. Like rats from a sinking ship, Protestant leaders fled England. Calvin was more than happy to shelter English exiles in Geneva starting in 1555 Eventually, they formed their own reformed churches under the tutelage of John Knox and William Whittingham and so carried Calvin's ideas back to England and Scotland, and thence to the whole English speaking world. Before we can move on to the Pilgrims and their progress, we need to take a side trip to figure out just how Calvin took the Merry out of Merry Olde England.
Next week: HENRY VIII THE INVENTOR OF THE NO FAULT, NO HEAD DIVORCE