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§ 118. Calvin as a Controversialist.


Calvin was involved in several controversies, chiefly on account of his doctrine of predestination. He displayed a decided superiority over all his opponents, as a scholar and a reasoner. He was never at a loss for an argument. He had also the dangerous gift of wit, irony, and sarcasm, but not the more desirable gift of harmless humor, which sweetens the bitterness of controversy, and lightens the burden of daily toil. Like David, in the imprecatory Psalms, he looked upon the enemies of his doctrine as enemies of God. "Even a dog barks," he wrote to the queen of Navarre, "when his master is attacked; how could I be silent when the honor of my Lord is assailed?"872872    This characteristic expression he uses repeatedly; for instance, in the work on the Necessity of Reforming the Church, in Opera, VI. 503: "Canis, si quam suo domino violentiam inferri viderit, protinus latrabit: nos tot sacrilegiis violari sacrum Dei nomen taciti aspiceremus? Et ubi esset illud: Opprobria exprobantium tibi ceciderunt super me (Ps. 69:9)?" And, again in the same book (fol. 507), with the addition, that a dog would rather risk his life than be silent. He treated his opponents—Pighius, Bolsec, Castellio, and Servetus—with sovereign contempt, and called them "nebulones,873873    In applying the epithet nebulo to Castellio, he translates it by the French un brouillon, which means a confused and turbulent fellow (not a scamp). Schweizer renders it Wirrkopf (I. 212). nugatores, canes, porci, bestiae. Such epithets are like weeds in the garden of his chaste and elegant style. But they were freely used by the ancient fathers, with the exception of Chrysostom and Augustin, in dealing with heretics, and occur even in the Scriptures, but impersonally.874874    Isa. 56:10; Matt. 7:6; Phil. 3:2; Rev. 22:15. His age saw nothing improper in them. Beza says that "no expression unworthy of a good man ever fell from the lips of Calvin." The taste of the sixteenth century differed widely from that of the nineteenth. The polemical writings of Protestants and Romanists alike abound in the most violent personalities and coarse abuse. Luther wielded the club of Hercules against Tetzel, Eck, Emser, Cochlaeus, Henry VIII., Duke Henry of Brunswick, and the Sacramentarians. Yet there were honorable exceptions even then, as Melanchthon and Bullinger. A fiery temper is a propelling force in history; nothing great can be done without enthusiasm; moral indignation against wrong is inseparable from devotion to what is right; hatred is the negative side of love. But temper must be controlled by reason, and truth should be spoken in love, "with malice to none, with charity for all." Opprobrious and abusive terms always hurt a good cause; self-restraint and moderation strengthen it. Understatement commands assent; overstatement provokes opposition.



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