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CHURCH HISTORY 02

May 27, 2005

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This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings

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>> Clearly the movements of the Protestants continued after Zwingly's death. Just look at all the divisions that exist now. Who succeeded Zwingly as the theological leader of the Reformed?

>> There were many successors to Zwingly among the Reformed in the sense of theological leadership. Most particularly in Zurich, the man who emerged as the theological leader in Zurich was Heinrich Bullinger. And he was an important figure for many decades following in the Reformed branch of Protestantism.

But clearly in Reformed Christianity, generally, the name you want to remember among the second generation of Protestant reformers is John Calvin. Really, after Martin Luther, John Calvin is the most important of the Protestant theologians and church reformers, really for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his powerful and effective presentation of Protestant ideas in his various and voluminous writings.

So I think at this point perhaps I should give a little bit of background to Calvin and his significance. Calvin is not Swiss. In spite of the fact that he's associated with Geneva, he's not Swiss in background at all. In fact, he's a Frenchman. And he grew up and was educated in France. And it was really only in the course of the Reformation that he came to take up his residence in Geneva and become the great reformer of that city.

Now, I called him before a second generation reformer, and I think that's important to realize. Calvin was born in 1509. Accordingly, when the Reformation began in 1517 with the posting of the 95 Theses, Calvin was really only a boy. In fact, by the time Calvin actually became a Protestant in the early 1530s, not only had Luther made his great confession at the Diet of Worms, the Lutherans had already made their own collective great confession at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530.

And then by the time that Calvin actually began his successful career as a reformer in Geneva, that was 1541, Luther was only about five years away from his death. So clearly already by the time Calvin becomes a reformer, he's an heir of much of what has gone before him. He's an heir of Erasmus and Luther and to a certain extent Zwingly, also.

Now as in the case of Zwingly, when you talk about Calvin, you need to realize that in many respects, he was similar to Luther. Although in a course like this, we're going to focus on the differences, we don't want the differences to get in the way of our understanding that in many respects, he was a disciple of Luther.

In fact, Calvin had a tremendous amount of respect for Luther and spoke of him very highly. In one letter, for example, he had this to say about Martin Luther, "Remember what a great man Luther is, how marvelous are his gifts, how bravely, how firmly, how ably, how scholarly, how effectively he has constantly labored in the destruction of anti Christ. I hold to what I have repeatedly said. Even if Luther would call me a devil, I would yet honor him and call him an excellent servant of God."

So, Calvin, in many respects, followed Martin Luther. Like Luther, he holds to the scriptural authority principle, justification by faith, salvation by grace alone for the sake of Christ. Like Luther, he believes in the priesthood of all believers. Like Luther, he believes that there are two Biblical sacraments, and there's a way in which he even will hold that these sacraments are authentic means of grace.

Nonetheless, as we'll also see, there are some profound differences; and these differences, as in the case of Zwingly, will be seen particularly in his doctrine of the sacraments, especially the Lord's Supper.

But now let's do a little background on Calvin. Where is he from? What was his education like? He's from a small cathedral city, a bishop city of Nighon in France, which is just about 60 miles northeast of Paris in that part of France which is known as Picardie. His father was a respected member of the middle class, really kind of a church lawyer and bureaucrat. He served in many church institutions, and the church dominated the city of Nighon. Really, as a result of his father's connections, John was able to get a pretty good education and, interestingly, be the recipient of church income for really all of his teenage years. Now, this meant he was being groomed, if you will, for a career within the church.

As a matter of fact, after his education locally, his father saw to it that he went off to the University of Paris. Now, the University of Paris was one of the oldest universities in Europe and was especially renowned for its theological faculty, the Sorbonne.

But, of course, before you studied theology, you had to do your basic liberal arts program, and John Calvin did that in the college of Montague. This was the same college that many years ago    many years before, Erasmus had studied at. And it would be the same college that Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was studying at, just about the same time as Calvin, though there's no evidence at all that the two men knew each other.

Well, once in Paris and studying at the university, Calvin found himself not only studying the old Medieval scholastic curriculum but also becoming increasingly interested in humanism, the newer intellectual currents that were making themselves felt in Paris, as well. And you know what we mean by humanism. That's this Renaissance culture, this interest in the language and the literature of antiquity, the Romans and the Greeks and to a certain extent also in Christian antiquity, the New Testament and the church fathers.

But initially, at any rate, it seems that Calvin fell under the spell of the Classics and was increasingly interested in studying the Classics and in writing about the Classics.

Now, after he completed his preliminary work at the university, received his bachelor's and master's and ought to have gone into the School of Theology, his father had a change of heart and decided that instead of studying theology, he ought to study law. Now, we don't know precisely why his father changed his mind. It might have been on account of the Reformation, thought maybe a career in the church wasn't as secure as a career in law. Or it might have been on account of his father's own falling out with the church, which occurred in these years, as well.

But whatever the case, the father put the son to work in studying law. And this meant that Calvin would study at additional institutions. Not only Paris, but also Orleans and then Bourges.

But at any rate, he did well. He received his first degree in law within a couple of years so that he was actually able to practice law, although there is no evidence that he ever did practice law. But I suppose it's not unimportant to realize that in addition to his basic formal education in the arts curriculum, the Medieval schools, Calvin was also educated as a lawyer.

During all of these years, though, Calvin is associating with the French humanists. We know a number of his friends and associates in these years, men who later on, some of them, at any rate, would become associated with the Protestant Reformation, so that clearly in Calvin's circle of acquaintances, humanism and Protestantism are overlapping. And men who are interested in the Classics are also interested in the reform of Christianity. And Calvin undoubtedly was having conversations and reading to that same effect.

Well, in 1531, Calvin's father died. This meant that Calvin was more or less free to decide for himself what career he was going to follow. And instead of going into the practice of law, or indeed instead of returning to the career of theology, he decided to devote himself to his humanist studies. And it was not too long later that in 1532, he actually published his first work. Really didn't have anything to do with theology. It was a commentary on a work from antiquity by the great Roman stoic writer, Seneca.

But then something interesting happens. In one of his later writings, a commentary on the Psalms, Calvin tells us that he underwent a sudden conversion. He talks about having resisted this for a while, but then God overwhelmed him and turned him from his involvement with Medieval Catholicism to the light of the Gospel that is the Protestant religion. He describes this as a sudden conversion. We'd like to know more about that, but Calvin doesn't tell us any more than that about it. We know approximately when it happened. We assume that it took place after he wrote his commentary on Seneca and before he gave up all of his ecclesiastical or church money and income that he had had for all of these years. So we think it's somewhere between 1532 and 1534. But we really don't know any of the details.

Our assumption is that like others of the time and period, that he had become involved in reading about these new issues, this new approach to Christianity being promoted by people like Erasmus or Luther, for that matter, on the basis of what the Bible taught. And so just as the humanists had pointed Calvin's attention to works of antiquity from the pagan Romans and the Greeks, so now others had pointed his attention to works from antiquity dealing with the Christian religion, especially the Scriptures, the New Testament, the religion of Christ and the apostles.

So, Calvin becomes a Protestant. But now what's he going to do with his life? Well, the answer is he's going to do basically what he's doing before, and it is study and write. But this time not about pagan classics but about Christian classics, especially the New Testament.

Now, at this point I have to shift gears a little bit and talk about the political situation in France, because that situation will determine where it is that Calvin will undertake his work of writing about the Protestant religion. And the man whom I need to mention here is the King of France, that is Francis I.

Now, Francis is one of the great monarchs of Europe, who fancy themself something of an intellectual and a humanist; and to a certain extent, he was open to ideas of reform. But what he wasn't open to were ideas of Protestantism. And when his authority was challenged very directly by some would be Protestant reformers in France, Francis cracked down.

A good instance of this occurred just about the time Calvin was becoming a Protestant; that is, in 1534, this is something known as the Affair of the Placards. Some Protestant Evangelicals, concerned that there was no religious change in France as opposed to places in the empire, even England, by this time, decided to take some direct action and to put up all over Paris on a Saturday evening placards, placards in which the doctrine of the Mass was denounced, denounced as superstition and paganism and antithetical to true Christianity. So that the good citizens of Paris, as they were getting up on Sunday morning, would be able to read this Protestant statement on the Mass even as they were going to attend Mass.

Well, one of these placards even made it to the bedroom door of the king. Didn't happen to be sleeping in that bedroom that night, but nonetheless, it was striking pretty close to home.

So Francis I was incensed by these placards, and he ordered the officials of church and state to crack down on these Protestant dissenters. Well, this crackdown, if you will, resulted in imprisonments and even deaths of some of the Protestants and also was a signal to other Protestants like John Calvin to get out of town. So Calvin did. And in 1535 1536, we find him in Basel in Switzerland. That's actually the place where Erasmus was living the last year of his life. It was also where Oecolampadius, the man we mentioned in connection with the Marburg Colloquy, had done a good job of leading the church there in a reform Protestant direction.

Well, it was in Basel that Calvin was able to begin one of the works that would characterize his entire life as a reformer, and that was his "Institutes of the Christian Religion." That work, which he'd probably been working on for a little while already, came to completion while he was in Basel. And the first edition of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" was published in 1536.

Now this work, which is one    as I said, one of Calvin's great works and upon which he would continue to work over the course of his lifetime, the last great Latin edition being published finally in 1559, is a compendium of Protestant theology, of Protestant doctrine. And it marks one of the great contributions of Calvin to the history of Protestant thought in the 16th Century. It's really a dogmatics book, if you will, a doctrine book in which Calvin systematically treats all of the doctrines of the Christian religion from a Biblical point of view, but expresses it very clearly and persuasively. This is evident already in the first edition of 1536 and even more so in his edition of 1559.

Lutherans will be especially interested in the fact that the 1536, the first edition, seems to reflect the influence of Luther. So, for example, in its organization, it's organized the way Luther organizes the catechism. Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord's prayer, Sacraments. Calvin also adds a section on government and obedience to the state.

It's interesting that he added that last section, because one of his purposes in writing "The Institutes" was to show to the world that Protestant Christians were obedient to their government. And he wanted to show this because the king of France had been spreading the statement or idea that Protestants were all rebels and that he had had to persecute the Protestants of France because they were rebels and dissenters and so forth. And Calvin wanted to prove that wasn't true. He also wanted to show in "The Institutes" just what it was that Protestants believed and that they didn't hold to some of the more radical ideas that were being taught by some kind of marginal members of the movement.

So it had a polemical purpose as well also kind of an instructive purpose. But clearly for our purposes, the instruction of the Institutes is probably the more important thing.

Now over the years, this instructive purpose comes to overwhelm, I think, the polemical purpose, and it becomes a manual for thorough introduction to the Christian religion from the Protestant reform direction.

And so from 1559, as I said, we have really a compendious volume in which Calvin presents in a good, persuasive, thorough fashion what it means to be a Protestant or Evangelical Christian.

By that time, I need to add, the Luther influence is less than in the first edition; but nonetheless, as I said at the outset, in many respects, in many doctrines, Calvin will continue to teach the way Luther teaches.


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This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings

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