Posts Tagged “calvinists”

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)This is the third in my series on “Great Christians” in history. Oliver Cromwell was a warrior-Calvinist who, during the course of the English Civil War, rose to prominence among the Parliamentarians who fought the royal faction; he later led the country in place of the king.

His career began quietly enough with his election to the House of Commons in the late 1620s, after which he seems to have gone through a personal crisis — perhaps a bout of depression. He emerged from it, in the early 1630s, a fervent Calvinist. Like most others of that sect in England, he was convinced the Anglican Church hadn’t sufficiently jettisoned the trappings of Roman Catholicism, and agitated for a “second Reformation” of sorts. At the outbreak of hostilities between Parliament and the Crown in 1642, this supposedly pious man and faithful Christian collected up a cavalry troop of his own, and happily marched to war. Despite having no military training or background to speak of, he scored enough victories that he rose up through the ranks of the Parliamentarian forces. By 1645 he was second-in-command.

As the war continued, Cromwell viewed his military success as a sign that God had “chosen” him to smash the Crown.

The Parliamentarians won in early 1649 with the execution of King Charles I and the creation of the Commonwealth in place of the monarchy. Contention among the anti-royal partisans cropped up almost immediately thereafter. Cromwell had tried to end this infighting, however, it proved too much for him. Seeking another venue in which to express his violent piety, later that year, Cromwell took his army into Ireland. The latter was a Catholic country, and Cromwell hated Catholics even more than he’d hated the king or any of his royal supporters. His campaign in Ireland — which for him lasted only about a year — was as vicious as any of the other campaigns of his career (since it included massacres of civilians) and left a mark on Ireland which is still recalled to this day.

Cromwell ventured into Scotland to fight off Charles II, who hoped to take back the Crown. That campaign, too, was marked by vicious massacres. When the so-called “Rump Parliament” which ruled the Commonwealth proved insufficient for him, Cromwell took matters into his own hands, disbanded that body, and in 1653 essentially forced the creation of a new state, with himself at its head, with the title “Lord Protector.”

That’s when he really went to town with his hyperreligiosity. He set up a mechanism by which the state — rather than the Church — approved and dismissed clergy. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches were outlawed, their hierarchs dispossessed and their property seized.

Over the years of his rule, Cromwell increasingly tried to force dour Calvinistic behavior on the people. Church attendance became mandatory; holidays were outlawed (especially Christmas, but others beside); and so too were gambling and most public entertainments, such as plays and races. And the good, “godly” Cromwell continued to send military forces abroad, not only in Ireland, but in other colonies too, particularly in the Caribbean. This pious, dutiful, obedient Christian remained — contrary to the teachings of Christ himself — a man of war to the end of his days.

Within a couple years after Cromwell’s death, the once-hated monarchy was restored. And never again would Calvinists be permitted to run Britain … that kingdom had learned her lesson, where they were concerned.

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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.

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My home state of Connecticut has a history of Puritan parochiality. The original three colonies which eventually became the single Connecticut colony (Connecticut/River Colony, Saybrook Colony, and New Haven), were all established by Puritans (Pilgrims), who disapproved of many practices of their time … gambling, drinking, observing Christmas, and more. To a Puritan, pretty much everything which wasn’t either work or church attendance was an evil vice to be avoided at all costs. And while they retained political power, they prohibited even non-Puritans living within their domains from engaging in any of these vices — hence Connecticut’s infamous Blue Laws, vestiges of which remain on the books even now. Granted, this state is no longer run by Puritans — and hasn’t been since before the U.S. was founded — but Connecticut nevertheless retains a sometimes-furious Puritanical streak that continuously reasserts itself.

An example of this “modern-day religious Puritanicalism” can be seen in this story about the city of New Haven allowing bars to remain open another hour, every night, in order to ease congestion (as reported by WVIT-TV in Hartford):

People who have partied in the bars along Crown Street in New Haven can tell you what closing time is like. …

To cut down on the chaos, Town Green Special Services District Director Rena Eddy recently floated the idea of letting the bars stay open an hour later, until 3 a.m. …

But staying open later won’t mean more time to drink. If the proposal happens, last call would still be at the same time, but bars would have until 3 am. to serve food and soft drinks, before getting people out the door.

Giving people an hour to get out of the bars rather than just a couple of minutes, seems like a reasonable way of dealing with this congestion and havoc. But the churches of New Haven are having none of this:

At a forum on violence in the Elm City, organized by the Christian Community Comission Brotherhood Leadership Summit, reaction was to the proposal was immediate Wednesday night.

“That’s terrible,” said CCC Executive Director Minister Donald Morris.

Morris doesn’t overtly state that his objection to this is religious, but he does cite a reason which — in the end — has nothing to do with the problem:

Morris said the timing is also bad, given the murder of a Hamden man last month at Sinergy, a Crown Street nightclub.

“You had a young man both shot and killed and another stabbed. We don’t need another bar and we certainly don’t need an extension of bar time,” said Minister Morris.

The reason these things happened was not due to the amount of time the bars were opened, it was due to the fact that people drink in bars and some of those people get into fights. If he’s truly interested in reducing violence among the drunks in New Haven’s bars, that might actually be achieved, if the nightly chaos caused by the mass exodus from the bars were alleviated.

But little things like rationality don’t matter much to would-be Puritan religionists, I guess.

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