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§ 97. Survey of Calvin’s Activity.


Calvin combined the offices of theological professor, preacher, pastor, church-ruler, superintendent of schools, with the extra labors of equal, yea, greater, importance, as author, correspondent, and leader of the expanding movement of the Reformation in Western Europe. He was involved in serious disciplinary and theological controversies with the Libertines, Romanists, Pelagians, Antitrinitarians, and Lutherans. He had no help except from one or more young men, whom he kept in his house and employed as clerks. When unwell he dictated from his bed. He had an amazing power for work notwithstanding his feeble health. When interrupted in dictation, he could at once resume work at the point where he left off.643643    Beza (XXI. 169): "Ut ... inter dictandum saepe aliquot horas interturbatus statim ad dictata nullo commonefaciente rediret." He indulged in no recreation except a quarter or half an hour’s walk in his room or garden after meals, and an occasional game of quoits or la clef with intimate friends. He allowed himself very little sleep, and for at least ten years he took but one meal a day, alleging his bad digestion.644644    Beza (XXI. 160): "Per decem minimum annos prandio abstinuit, ut nullum omnino cibum extra statam coenae horam sumeret, ut eum mirum sit phthisim effugere tam diu potuisse." Farther on (fol. 169) Beza says of Calvin: "Victu sic temperato, ut a sordibus et ab omni luxu longissime abesset: cibi parcissimi, ut per multos annos semel quotidie cibum sumpserit, ventriculi imbecillitatem causatus." Sometimes he abstained for thirty-six hours from all food. At the advice of his physician, he ate an egg and drank a glass of wine at noon. No wonder that he undermined his health, and suffered of headache, ague, dyspepsia, and other bodily infirmities which terminated in a premature death.

Luther and Zwingli were as indefatigable workers as Calvin, but they had an abundance of flesh and blood, and enjoyed better health. Luther liked to play with his children, and to entertain his friends with his humorous table-talk. Zwingli also found recreation in poetry and music, and played on several instruments.

A few years before his death, Calvin was compelled to speak of his work in self-defence against the calumnies of an ungrateful student and amanuensis, François Baudouin, a native of Arras, who ran away with some of Calvin’s papers, turned a Romanist, and publicly abused his benefactor. "I will not," he says, "enumerate the pleasures, conveniences, and riches I have renounced for Christ. I will only say that, had I the disposition of Baudouin, it would not have been very difficult for me to procure those things which he has always sought in vain, and which he now but too greedily gloats upon. But let that pass. Content with my humble fortune, my attention to frugality has prevented me from being a burden to anybody. I remain tranquil in my station, and have even given up a part of the moderate salary assigned to me, instead of asking for any increase. I devote all my care, labor, and study not only to the service of this Church, to which I am peculiarly bound, but to the assistance of all the Churches by every means in my power. I so discharge my office of a teacher, that no ambition may appear in my extreme faithfulness and diligence. I devour numerous griefs, and endure the rudeness of many; but my liberty is uncontrolled by the power of any man. I do not indulge the great by flattery; I fear not to give offence. No prosperity has hitherto inflated me; whilst I have intrepidly borne the many severe storms by which I have been tossed, till by the singular mercy of God I emerged from them. I live affably with my equals, and endeavor faithfully to preserve my friendships."645645    Responsio ad Balduini Convicia (Geneva, 1562), in Opera, vol. IX. 561-580. Baudouin was an able lawyer, but a turncoat in religion. He died in 1573. On this personal controversy see Responsio, etc., Opera, VIII. 321 A, and Henry, vol. III. 549 sqq. Luther had a similar experience with John Agricola (Eisleben), his pupil and trusted friend, who publicly attacked him, and stirred up the Antinomian controversy.

Beza, his daily companion, thus describes "the ordinary labors" of Calvin, as he calls them: "During the week he preached every alternate, and lectured every third day; on Thursday he presided in the meetings of Presbytery (Consistory); and on Friday he expounded the Scripture in the assembly which we call ’the Congregation.’ He illustrated several sacred books with most learned commentaries, besides answering the enemies of religion, and maintaining an extensive correspondence on matters of great importance. Any one who reads these attentively, will be astonished how one little man (unicus homunculus) could be fit for labors so numerous and great. He availed himself much of the aid of Farel and Viret,646646    Who came to Geneva occasionally, the former from Neuchâtel, the latter from Lausanne. while, at the same time, he conferred greater benefits on them. Their friendship and intimacy was not less hateful to the wicked than delightful to all the pious; and, in truth, it was a most pleasing spectacle to see and hear those three distinguished men carrying on the work of God in the Church so harmoniously, with such a variety of gifts. Farel 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 being almost carried up to heaven. Viret possessed such suavity of eloquence, that his hearers were compelled to hang upon his lips. Calvin filled the mind of the hearers with as many weighty sentiments as he uttered words. I have often thought that a preacher compounded of the three would be absolutely perfect. In addition to these employments, Calvin had many others, arising out of circumstances domestic and foreign. The Lord so blessed his ministry that persons flocked to him from all parts of the Christian world; some to take his advice in matters of religion, and others to hear, him. Hence, we have seen an Italian, an English, and, finally, a Spanish Church at Geneva, one city seeming scarcely sufficient to entertain so many nests. But though at home he was courted by the good and feared by the bad, and matters had been admirably arranged, yet there were not wanting individuals who gave him great annoyance. We will unfold these contests separately, that posterity may be presented with a singular example of fortitude, which each may imitate according to his ability."647647    Vita Calv. in Opera, XXI. l32.

We shall now consider this astounding activity of the Reformer in detail: his Church polity, his theological system, his controversies, and his relation to, and influence on, foreign churches.




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