Line drawing of John Calvin, published in 1892 bookThis is the second of my posts on “great Christians” of history (and in case you didn’t know it, that “great” is intended as facetious). My first post in this series was on the conniving Cyril of Alexandria. This time I’ll go over John Calvin, that mighty reformer of Geneva and one of the chief figures of the Reformation. I already covered him in a prior post, which dealt with Christians who actually believe him to be someone to be emulated, and whose 500th birthday must be celebrated by all good Christians. I will therefore crib from my own prior remarks on this vicious, cruel, and murderous creature:

Folks, let me be brutally honest with you about Calvin. He was above all else a theocrat.

That’s right … a theocrat. He was invited to help reform the church in Geneva (in modern Switzerland), and stayed long enough not only to reform its church, but to make its church into the city’s government. By 1541 he was essentially the city’s dictator — ruling with absolute authority — and remained so until his death.

During his career he encountered enemies, and he destroyed them methodically. Despite his popularity in Geneva, there was a party opposed to him, which he called “the libertines” (because they believed God’s grace had freed them from ecclesiastical control). He spent years plotting against individual “libertines,” sometimes getting them prosecuted for what might otherwise have been minor infractions — and in a couple of cases, for fabricated infractions — until their resistance to him was worn down. …

Perhaps Calvin’s shining moment came in his dealings with another ecclesiastical reformer — though of a different sort than Calvin himself — Michael Servetus of Spain. The two had conducted a brief debate via correspondence, which lapsed after Calvin gave up on it, having decided Servetus was an outrageous heretic (mainly because the Spaniard was anti-trinitarian). Servetus, trying to re-establish contact with Calvin, in 1547 offered to venture to Geneva himself to resume their debate in person. Servetus’s own problems with the Church, plus Calvin’s failure to grant him safe-conduct, meant this visit was put off for several years.

But in 1553 Servetus finally did arrive in Geneva — and Calvin made sure that was the end for him. Servetus was arrested, and Calvin arranged for him to be prosecuted by one of his few remaining “libertine” opponents. Since the city of Geneva itself, by then, was pro-Calvin and decidedly anti-Servetus, the libertine had no choice but to press the matter … but Servetus was popular elsewhere in Europe, and having to prosecute him jeopardized the libertines’ relations with other cities. Late that year, Servetus was condemned and burnt at the stake, and the libertines’ fortunes fell further.

Calvin, you see, used one opponent to destroy another, forcing them to damage each other, and leaving him standing even taller. Yes, indeed, that is the sort of Christian John Calvin was.

Christians … you can emulate Calvin if you want, but if you wish to be morally upright and obedient to the God who said (among other things) “turn the other cheek,” “hand over your shirt and your cloak,” and “walk two miles instead of one” … well … I’d advise against it. (But then, what would I — a godless agnostic heathen — know about being a humble and obedient Christian?)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.