Archive for the ‘Calvin’ Category

Foxe gets it about right in the Calvin/Servetus affair

February 14, 2011

It has long been the delight of both infidels and some professed Christians, when they wish to bring odium upon the opinions of Calvin, to refer to his agency in the death of Michael Servetus. This action is used on all occasions by those who have been unable to overthrow his opinions, as a conclusive argument against his whole system. “Calvin burnt Servetus!–Calvin burnt Servetus!” is a good proof with a certain class of reasoners, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true-that divine sovereignty is Antiscriptural,–and Christianity a cheat.

We have no wish to palliate any act of Calvin’s which is manifestly wrong. All his proceedings, in relation to the unhappy affair of Servetus, we think, cannot be defended. Still it should be remembered that the true principles of religious toleration were very little understood in the time of Calvin. All the other reformers then living approved of Calvin’s conduct. Even the gentle and amiable Melancthon expressed himself in relation to this affair, in the following manner. In a letter addressed to Bullinger, he says, “I have read your statement respecting the blasphemy of Servetus, and praise your piety and judgment; and am persuaded that the Council of Geneva has done right in putting to death this obstinate man, who would never have ceased his blasphemies. I am astonished that any one can be found to disapprove of this proceeding.” Farel expressly says, that “Servetus deserved a capital punishment.” Bucer did not hesitate to declare, that “Servetus deserved something worse than death.”

The truth is, although Calvin had some hand in the arrest and imprisonment of Servetus, he was unwilling that he should be burnt at all. “I desire,” says he, “that the severity of the punishment should be remitted.” “We endeavored to commute the kind of death, but in vain.” “By wishing to mitigate the severity of the punishment,” says Farel to Calvin, “you discharge the office of a friend towards your greatest enemy.” “That Calvin was the instigator of the magistrates that Servetus might be burned,” says Turritine, “historians neither anywhere affirm, nor does it appear from any considerations. Nay, it is certain, that he, with the college of pastors, dissuaded from that kind of punishment.”

It has been often asserted, that Calvin possessed so much influence with the magistrates of Geneva that he might have obtained the release of Servetus, had he not been desirous of his destruction. This however, is not true. So far from it, that Calvin was himself once banished from Geneva, by these very magistrates, and often opposed their arbitrary measures in vain. So little desirous was Calvin of procuring the death of Servetus that he warned him of his danger, and suffered him to remain several weeks at Geneva, before he was arrested. But his language, which was then accounted blasphemous, was the cause of his imprisonment. When in prison, Calvin visited him, and used every argument to persuade him to retract his horrible blasphemies, without reference to his peculiar sentiments. This was the extent of Calvin’s agency in this unhappy affair.

It cannot, however, be denied, that in this instance, Calvin acted contrary to the benignant spirit of the Gospel. It is better to drop a tear over the inconsistency of human nature, and to bewail those infirmities which cannot be justified. He declared he acted conscientiously, and publicly justified the act.

It was the opinion, that erroneous religious principles are punishable by the civil magistrate, that did the mischief, whether at Geneva, in Transylvania, or in Britain; and to this, rather than to Trinitarianism, or Unitarianism, it ought to be imputed.

Foxes Book of Martyrs, CHAPTER XIII

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Calvin: “The heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish”

January 27, 2011

In his commentary on John 3:16, Calvin wrote, “There is no calm haven where our minds can rest until we come to God’s free love. The whole substance of our salvation is not to be sought anywhere else than in Christ, and so we must see by what means Christ flows to us and why He was offered as our Saviour. Both points are clearly told us here—that faith in Christ quickens all and that Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish. . . . He has used a general term [whosoever], both to invite indiscriminately all to share in life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such also is the significance of the term ‘world’ which he had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God’s favour, He nevertheless shows He is favourable to the whole world when he calls all without exception to the faith of Christ, which is indeed an entry into life”

Calvin

What does it mean when we read that God ‘repented’?

November 24, 2009

What, therefore, does the word ‘repentance’ mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God to us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity (ad captum) so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry towards sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word ‘repentance’ than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves. Therefore, since every change among men is a correction of what displeases them, but that correction arises out of repentance, then by the word ‘repentance’ is meant the fact that God changes with respect to his actions. Meanwhile neither God’s plan nor his will is reversed, nor his volition altered; but what he had from eternity foreseen, approved and decreed, he pursues in uninterrupted tenor, however sudden the variation may appear in men’s eyes.

John Calvin, Inst. I.17.13

The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that, being content with the frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain

October 29, 2009

The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that, being content with the frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field so partake of its yearly fruits that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence, but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. . . . Moreover, that this economy . . . with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved.

Calvin, Commentary on Genesis

men were created to employ themselves in some work, and not lie down in inactivity and idleness

October 29, 2009

Moses now adds, that the earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation. Whence it follows that men were created to employ themselves in some work, and not lie down in inactivity and idleness. This labor, truly, was pleasant, and full of delight, entirely exempt for all trouble and weariness; since however God ordained that man should be exercised in the culture of the ground, he condemned in his person, all indolent repose. Wherefore, nothing is more contrary to the order of nature, than to consume life in eating, drinking, and sleeping meantime we propose nothing to ourselves to do.

John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 66-67 [Genesis 2:15]

What does it mean when we read that God ‘repented’?

October 7, 2009

What, therefore, does the word ‘repentance’ mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God to us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity (ad captum) so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry towards sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word ‘repentance’ than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves. Therefore, since every change among men is a correction of what displeases them, but that correction arises out of repentance, then by the word ‘repentance’ is meant the fact that God changes with respect to his actions. Meanwhile neither God’s plan nor his will is reversed, nor his volition altered; but what he had from eternity foreseen, approved and decreed, he pursues in uninterrupted tenor, however sudden the variation may appear in men’s eyes.

John Calvin, Inst. I.17.13

Yet there is, as the eminent pagan says, no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God

October 7, 2009

Yet there is, as the eminent pagan says, no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God…There is within the human mind, and by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity.

Calvin, Inst. 1:43-44

For what nation or what tribe of men is there but possesses untaught some ‘preconception’ of the gods?

Cicero, De Natura Deorum I. xvi.43

Satan… can do nothing without the command of God, to whose dominion he is subject

October 4, 2009

Satan… can do nothing without the command of God, to whose dominion he is subject.

Calvin

Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries

September 21, 2009

Gratitude of mind for the favourable outcome of things,patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from every worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge…ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.

Calvin, Institutes 1.17.7, 11

God’s Omniscience

September 12, 2009

Now, if the infinity of numbers cannot be beyond the limits of the knowledge of God which comprehends it, who are we little men that we should presume to put limits to His knowledge?…The fact is that God, whose knowledge is simple in its multiplicity and one in its diversity, comprehends all incomprehensible things with an incomprehensible comprehension.

Augustine, City of God, XII, 19

Whatever can be produced or thought or said by a creature and also whatever God himself can produce, all is known by God, even if it is not actually existing. In this sense it can be said that he has knowledge even of non-existing things.

Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia. 14.9

Concerning repentance, we ought so to hold that it is no more chargeable against God than is ignorance.

Calvin, Institutes, I, 17, 12