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§ 162. Calvin’s Influence upon the Reformed Churches of the Continent.


Calvin’s moral power extended over all the Reformed Churches, and over several nationalities—Swiss, French, German, Polish, Bohemian, Hungarian, Dutch, English, Scotch, and American. His religious influence upon the Anglo-Saxon race in both continents is greater than that of any native Englishman, and continues to this day.12281228    It is interesting to read the judgment on Calvin’s influence by a highly accomplished lady, who moved in the best society of England and the Continent. The Baroness Bunsen, whose husband was successively Prussian Ambassador in Italy, Switzerland, and England, writes in one of her letters (Aug. 19, 1865): "I read in the winter a life of Calvin by Bungener, and a very painful book it is, but the subject is of grand effect from the display of moral power almost unequalled .... The merit of Calvin is his own, and he has been the creative instrument of the strength of England, of Scotland, of the United States of America, not to speak of the Protestants of France, who have been scattered abroad to sow good seed in every country into which they fled, as not being suffered to build up their own."


Calvin and France.


Calvin never entered French soil after his settlement in Geneva, and was not even a citizen of the Republic till 1559; but his heart was still in France. From the time he wrote that eloquent letter to Francis the First, in dedicating to him his Institutes, he followed the Protestant movement with the liveliest interest. He was the head of the French Reformation and consulted at every step. He was called as pastor to the first Protestant church in Paris, but declined. He gave to the Huguenots their creed and form of government. The Gallican Confession of 1559, also called the Confession of Rochelle, was, in its first draft, his work, and his pupil Antoine de la Roche Chandieu (also called Sadeel) brought it into its present enlarged shape, in which it was presented by Beza to Charles IX. at the Colloquy at Poissy, 1561, and signed at the Synod of La Rochelle, 1571, by the Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre; her son, Prince Henry of Navarre (Henry IV.); Prince Condé; Prince Louis, Count of Nassau; Admiral Coligny; Chatillon; several nobles, and all the preachers present.12291229    Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. I 490-501.

The history of French Protestantism down to 1564 is largely identified with Calvin’s name. He induced the Swiss Cantons and the princes of the Smalkaldian League to intercede for the persecuted Huguenots. He sent messengers and letters of comfort to the prisoners. "The reverence," says one of his biographers, "with which his name was mentioned, the boundless confidence reposed in his person, the enthusiasm of the disciples who hastened to him, or came from him, surpasses all the usual experience of men. Congregations appealed to him for preachers; princes and noblemen for decisive counsel in political complications; those in doubt for instruction; the persecuted for protection; the martyrs for exhortation and encouragement in cheerful suffering and dying. And as the eye of a father watches over his children, Calvin watched with untiring care of love over all these relations in their manifold ramifications, and sought to be the same to the great community of his brethren in France what he was to the little Republic at home."12301230    Stähelin, I. 607.

Roman Catholic writers have made Calvin responsible for the civil wars in France, as they have made Luther responsible for the Peasants’ War and the Thirty Years’ War. But the Reformers preached reformation by the word and the spirit, not revolution by the sword. The chief cause of the religious wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the intolerance of the papacy. Bossuet charges Calvin with complicity in the conspiracy of Amboise, which was a political coup d’état to check the power of the Guises (1560). Calvin was indeed informed of the plot, but warned against it, first privately, then publicly, and predicted its disastrous failure. He constantly upheld the principle of obedience to the rightful magistrate, and opposed violent measures. "The first drop of blood," he said, "which we shed will cause streams of blood to flow. Let us rather a hundred times perish than bring such disgrace upon the name of Christianity and the cause of the gospel."12311231    See Letters in Bonnet, II. 382-391; his letter to Bullinger, May 11, 1560; Basnage, Hist. de la Religion des Égl. réf. II. 192-200; Henry, III, 546 sqq.; Dyer, 478 sqq.; Stähelin, I. 615-619. Afterwards when a war in self-defence was inevitable, he reluctantly gave his consent, but protested against all excesses.12321232    Stähelin, I. 626 sqq.

Calvin did not live to weep over the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew’s day, nor to rejoice over the Edict of Nantes; but his spirit accompanied "the Church of the Desert," whose motto was the burning bush (Ex. 3:2); and every Huguenot who left France for the sake of his faith, carried to his new home in Switzerland, or Brandenburg, or Holland, or England, or America, a profound reverence for the name of John Calvin.


Calvin and the Waldenses.


The Waldenses are the only mediaeval sect which survives to this day, because they progressed with the Reformation and adhered to the Bible as their rule of faith.12331233    The cognate Bohemian Brethren continued under a new name in the Moravian Brotherhood (Unitas Fratrum, Brüdergemeinde). They sent a deputation of two of their pastors, in 1530, to Oecolampadius at Basel, Bucer and Capito at Strassburg, and Berthold Haller at Bern, for information concerning the principles of the Reformation, and made common cause with the Protestants.12341234    Creeds of Christendom, I. 565 sqq. See also a report of conversations which Calvin had at Strassburg with Matthias Czervenka, a Bohemian, about the Bohemian Brethren in Gindely, Quellen zur Gesch. der böhmischen Brüder, Wien, 1859, p. 68, quoted in Annal. Calv. XXI. 260 sqq. Calvin objected to the Waldenses at that time, that they claimed merit and did not leave room for the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. They were distinguished for industry, virtue, and simple, practical piety, but their heresy attracted the attention of the authorities. They were cited before the Parliament at Aix, and the heads of their families were condemned to death in November, 1540. The execution of the atrocious sentence was delayed till the king’s wishes should be ascertained. In February, 1541, Francis granted them pardon for the past, but required them to recant within three months. They adhered to their faith. On the 28th of April, 1545, a fiendish scheme of butchery—under the direction of Baron d’Oppède, military governor of Provence, and Cardinal Tournon, the bigoted and bloodthirsty archbishop of Lyons—was carried out against these innocent people. Their chief towns of Merindol and Cabrières, together with twenty-eight villages, were destroyed, the women outraged, and about four thousand persons slaughtered.

Great numbers of the Waldenses sought refuge in flight. The noble and humane Bishop Sadolet of Carpentras, received them kindly, and interceded for them with the King. Four thousand went to Geneva. Calvin started a subscription for them, provided them with lodging and employment at the fortifications, and made every effort to get the Swiss Cantons to intercede with King Francis in behalf of those Waldenses who remained in France. He travelled to Bern, Zürich, and Aarau for this purpose. He even intended to go to Paris, but was prevented by sickness. The Cantons actually wrote to the king in the strongest terms, but he rebuked them for meddling with his affairs. Viret visited the French court with letters of recommendation from the Swiss Cantons and the Smalkaldian League, but likewise without result.12351235    Baum, Beza, I. 240 sqq.; Stähelin, I. 609-512; Dyer, 193-198.

Since that time there has been a fraternal intercourse between the Waldenses and the French Swiss, and many of their most useful pastors were educated at Geneva and Lausanne. The Waldensian Confession of 1655 is Calvinistic and based upon the Gallican Confession of 1559.12361236    Creeds of Christendom, III. 767-770 (French and English). After many persecutions in their mountain homes in Piedmont, the Waldenses obtained freedom in 1848, and since that time, and especially since 1870, they have become zealous evangelists in the united kingdom of Italy, with a church even in Rome and a flourishing theological college in Florence.


Calvin in Germany.


Calvin labored three years in Germany; he felt closely allied to the Lutheran Church; he had the profoundest regard for Luther, in spite of his infirmities; he was the intimate friend of Melanchthon; he attended three colloquies between Lutheran and Roman Catholic divines; he once signed, the Augsburg Confession (1541), as understood, explained, and improved by its author. He followed the progress of the Reformation in Germany step by step with the warmest interest, as is shown in his correspondence and various writings.

He did not labor for a separate Reformed Church in Germany, but for a free confederation of the Swiss and Lutheran Churches. But the fanatical bigotry of such men as Flacius, Westphal, and Heshusius produced a reaction and drove a large part of the moderate or Melanchthonian Lutherans into the Reformed communion.

The Reformed Church in the Electoral Palatinate was the result of a co-operation of Melanchthonian and Calvinistic influences under the pious Elector, Frederick III. The Heidelberg Catechism is the joint work of Ursinus, a pupil of Melanchthon, and Olevianus, a pupil of Calvin. It appeared in 1563, three years after Melanchthon’s death, one year before Calvin’s death, and became the leading symbol of the Palatinate and the Reformed Churches in Germany and Holland.12371237    See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. I. pp. 529 sqq. It gives the best expression to Calvin’s views on the Lord’s Supper, and on Election, but wisely omits all reference to an eternal decree of reprobation and preterition; following in this respect Calvin’s own catechism. The well-known first question is a gem and presents the bright and comforting side of the doctrine of Election: —


"What is thy only comfort in life and in death?"

"That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him."


The influence of Calvinism and Presbyterian Church government extended, indirectly, also over the Lutheran Church and was modified in turn by Lutheranism.

John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, and ancestor of the Kings of Prussia and Emperors of Germany, adopted the Calvinistic faith in a moderate form (1613).12381238    Creeds of Christendom, I. 555 sqq. Frederick William, "the great Elector," the proper founder of the Prussian Monarchy, secured the legal recognition of the Reformed Church in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and answered the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) by a hospitable invitation of the persecuted Huguenots to his country, where they settled in large numbers. King Frederick William III. introduced, at the third centenary of the Reformation (1817), the Evangelical Union of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of Prussia; and among the chief advocates of the union was Schleiermacher, the son of a Calvinistic minister, the pupil of the Moravians, and the renovator of German theology, which itself is the result of a commingling of Lutheran and Reformed elements with a decided advance upon narrow confessionalism.

We may add that, while Calvin’s rigorous doctrine of predestination in its dualistic form will never satisfy the German mind, his doctrine of the sacraments has made great progress in the Lutheran Church and seems to offer a solid basis for a satisfactory theory on the mystery of the spiritual real presence and fruition of Christ in the Holy Supper.


Calvin and Holland.


The Netherlands derived the Reformation first from Germany, and soon afterwards from Switzerland and France. The Calvinists outnumbered the Lutherans and Anabaptists, and the Reformed Church became the State religion in Holland.

Two Augustinian monks were burned for heresy in Brussels in 1523, and were celebrated by Luther in a stirring hymn as the first evangelical martyrs. This was the fiery signal of a fearful persecution, which raged during the reigns of Charles V. and Philip II., and resulted at last in the establishment of national independence and civil and religious liberty. During that memorable struggle of eighty years, more Protestants were put to death for their conscientious belief by the Spaniards than Christians suffered martyrdom under the Roman Emperors in the first three centuries. William of Orange, the hero of the war and a liberal Calvinist, was assassinated by an obscure fanatic (1584).12391239    Motley (The Rise of the Dutch Republic, III. 617) thus characterizes William of Orange, the Washington of Holland: "He was more than anything else a religious man. From his trust in God, he ever derived support and consolation in the darkest hours. Implicitly relying upon Almighty wisdom and goodness, he looked danger in the face with a constant smile, and endured incessant labors and trials with a serenity which seemed more than human. While, however, his soul was full of piety, it was tolerant of error. Sincerely and deliberately himself a convert to the Reformed Church, he was ready to extend freedom of worship to Catholics on the one hand, and to Anabaptists on the other, for no man ever felt more keenly than he that the Reformer who becomes in his turn a bigot is doubly odious." His second son, Maurice, a strict Calvinist (d. 1625), carried on and completed the conflict (1609). The horrible barbarities practised upon men, women, and unborn children, especially during the governorship of that bloodhound, the Duke of Alva, from 1567–1573, are almost beyond belief. We quote from the classical history of Motley: "The number of Netherlanders who were burned, strangled, beheaded, or buried alive, in obedience to the edicts of Charles V., and for the offences of reading the Scriptures, of looking askance at a graven image, or of ridiculing the actual presence of the body and blood of Christ in a wafer, have been placed as high as one hundred thousand by distinguished authorities, and have never been put at a lower mark than fifty thousand. The Venetian envoy Navigero placed the number of victims in the provinces of Holland and Friesland alone at thirty thousand, and this in 1546, ten years before the abdication, and five before the promulgation of the hideous edict of 1550."12401240    J. L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, vol. I. p. 114. Of the administration of the Duke of Alva, Motley says: "On his journey from the Netherlands, he is said to have boasted that he had caused eighteen thousand six hundred inhabitants of the provinces to be executed during the period of his government. The number of those who had perished by battle, siege, starvation, and massacre, defied computation … . After having accomplished the military enterprise [in Portugal] entrusted to him, he fell into a lingering fever, at the termination of which he was so much reduced that he was only kept alive by milk which he drank from a woman’s breast. Such was the gentle second childhood of the man who had almost literally been drinking blood for seventy years. He died on the 12th of December, 1582."12411241    Ibid. vol. II. 497. Comp. the description of Alva’s cruelties and the sufferings of the Protestants under his reign of terror on pp. 503 sq., and B. ter Haar’s History of the Reformation (German translation from the Dutch), II. 86 sqq. and 127 sqq.

The Bible, with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, was the spiritual guide of the Protestants, and inspired them with that heroic courage which triumphed over the despotism of Spain, and raised Holland to an extraordinary degree of political, commercial, and literary eminence.12421242    Motley, who was a Unitarian, does at least this justice to the practical effects of Calvinism in Holland and elsewhere: "The doctrine of predestination, the consciousness of being chosen soldiers of Christ, inspired those Puritans who founded the commonwealths of England, of Holland, and of America with a contempt of toil, danger, and death which enabled them to accomplish things almost supernatural. No uncouthness of phraseology, no unlovely austerity of deportment, could, except to vulgar minds, make that sublime enthusiasm ridiculous, which on either side the ocean ever confronted tyranny with dauntless front, and welcomed death on battlefield, scaffold, or rack with perfect composure. The early Puritan at least believed. The very intensity of his belief made him—all unconsciously to himself, and narrowed as was his view of his position—the great instrument by which the widest human liberty was to be gained for all mankind." History of the United Netherlands, vol. IV. 548.

The Belgic Confession of 1561 was prepared by Guido de Brès, and revised by Francis Junius, a student of Calvin. It became the recognized symbol of the Reformed Churches of Holland and Belgium.

In the beginning of the seventeenth century, Arminianism rose as a necessary and wholesome reaction against scholastic Calvinism, but was defeated in the Synod of Dort, 1619, which adopted the five knotty canons of unconditional predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints. The Dutch Reformed Church in the United States still holds to the Canons of Dort. But Arminianism, although. temporarily expelled, was allowed to return to Holland after the death of Maurice, and gradually pervaded the national Church. It largely entered the Church of England under the Stuarts. It assumed new vigor through the great Methodist Revival, which made it a converting and missionary agency in both hemispheres, and the most formidable rival of Calvinism in the Anglo-American Churches. A greater man and more abundant in self-denying and fruitful apostolic labors has not risen in the Protestant churches since the death of Calvin than John Wesley, whose "parish was the world." But he was aided in the great Anglo-American Revival by George Whitefield, who was both a Calvinist and a true evangelist.

Calvinism emphasizes divine sovereignty and free grace; Arminianism emphasizes human responsibility. The one restricts the saving grace to the elect: the other extends it to all men on the condition of faith. Both are right in what they assert; both are wrong in what they deny. If one important truth is pressed to the exclusion of another truth of equal importance, it becomes an error, and loses its hold upon the conscience.

The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism, and more divine than Arminianism, and more Christian than either of them.12431243    See Creeds of Christendom, I. 602 sqq. and 508 sqq.



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