During this week’s conference, we have been looking into the past at the lives and contributions of some of the leaders during the Protestant Reformation. We have looked at the Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin. We have seen how they have helped us to understand that we are saved by grace through faith, what it means when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and a vision for the effective working of the church.
We have told many old stories this week, some of which may have been familiar to you, but I hope that at least a few were new.
The quest for the usable past
Continue reading Always Reforming: The Ongoing Significance of the Protestant Reformation
Here is the selection from Calvin’s preface on the psalms that we read together on Saturday morning. Click through to read the whole thing, which is fascinating in what it includes (and for what it doesn’t tell us) about Calvin’s life.
This selection is taken from Denis R. Janz, ed., A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, Second Edition. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 247–254.
Continue reading Calvin’s Autobiographical Note
Jean Calvin at fifty-three years old by René Boyvin (from Wikimedia Commons)
Calvin was born July 10, 1509 in Lyons which is 60 miles north-east of Paris. We know very little about his youth. In his commentary on the Psalms he gives us a brief glimpse in the Preface. T. H. L. Parker said in his biography of Calvin (1975; 2005) that Calvin’s theology was “so old-fashioned, that it seemed a novelty.” He was an ironic figure who stood for unity and yet saw the first of the religiously motivated civil wars. Calvin lost his mother at an early age. His father did remarry. Calvin was a tender and emotional man. His father sent him to Paris to study for the priesthood. He was always obedient to his father. For some reason his father later changed his mind, and asked him to study law. This he did, studying at Paris, Orléans, and Bourges. We are not certain why his father requested this change of field. We know that his father wanted him to get a good job. One speculation is that Calvin’s father got wind of Luther and thought that the church would soon fall, becoming no longer a lucrative position.
The Reformation in France never really took off. Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples was one humanist writer who incited talk of reform. Calvin was influenced by this theme in France, and interacted with groups who desired reform. At some point along the way he was converted, but we are not certain when this occurred. It seems that there is a point in time that Calvin marked as his conversion. This is unlike Luther, who developed his understanding gradually over time. Also unlike Luther, he did not seem to struggle for a long time. He recognized the truth, changed his mind, and never contemplated going back. In 1532, he published his first book, A Commentary on De Clementa, a work on Seneca. At some point he came into contact with a man named Nicolas Cop who had been converted to the gospel. Asked to give a speech, Cop called for reform. There is some question whether Calvin actually wrote the speech. Calvin and Cop were kicked out of the school, and were ostracized because they were associated with the Reformation. He had to flee France, and seems to have gone to Italy and Switzerland.
Continue reading “What God has Joined, Let No One Separate”: John Calvin and the Doctrine of the Church
Early Modern Switzerland
Switzerland: Cantons and Towns
Around the same time that Luther was carrying out intellectual reforms in the German universities, a similar reform gripped the Swiss confederation. Unlike the centralized government of the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland was composed of thirteen autonomous cantons loosely organized together. Heinze notes that “although they were able to cooperate in the face of a common enemy, such as their ancient adversary the Hapsburgs, the regions that made up the confederation had very little in common, not even a common language.”
A democratic form of government enabled many of these cantons to enact civil reforms that reflected the ideals of the Reformation preachers. Because the area was politically independent, interventions by external authorities like the Roman Church were more difficult, costly, and ineffective than elsewhere. Geographical and political isolation, as much the result of a rugged high-altitude location as of other factors, was such a reality for the Swiss that many made fortunes supplying mercenary troops to the European states. Several important cities were governed by oligarchies. The cities were prosperous, and many of the clergy were corrupt.
Continue reading “This Do in Remembrance of Me”: Huldrych Zwingli and the Lord’s Supper
An Abbreviated Biographical Sketch
Roland Bainton opens his classic biography of Luther with these words:
Continue reading “The Just Shall Live by Faith”: Martin Luther and Salvation by Faith Alone
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther announced his intention to debate this and other statements to the scholarly world of his day. He probably did not imagine the fierce storm of consequences his ninety-five debate theses would unleash. But he was prepared to stand for the truth he found in Scripture, and as we all know, the world was transformed as a result. Ironically, it appears as though this debate never itself took place. Yet unbeknownst to Luther, these theses would provoke such controversy that the world would never be the same.
Continue reading An Entire Life of Repentance: The Need for Reformation