Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Empathizing with Calvin

I don’t have a lot to say about Jean Calvin this time around. His Institutes of the Christian Religion makes for a generally unpleasant experience for me each year, and I’d rather not dwell on it for long. But I must say that I appreciate the very difficult position he was in, a strait that probably fully justifies his dour truculence. On the one side, he was beset by the Catholics, who were “superstitious and lascivious devil-worshipers.” On the other side, the Anabaptists assailed him with their “malicious perversions of scripture.” Calvin quotes Michael Servetus extensively in the ten percent of the tome I read last week, and I can see from these quotations why Calvin’s Geneva government had to execute Servetus: he had biblical arguments for adult baptism. (In this passage, Calvin doesn’t display any distaste for Servetus’s non-Trinitarian theology – small potatoes, I guess.) “Repent and be baptized” doesn’t mention infants, so of course it’s clear to anyone with any hold on reason, Calvin points out, that this call applies only to those capable of repentance and so has nothing to say to infants, who clearly should receive the sacrament. The Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, occupies a completely different situation. Paul’s injunction to Christians that they examine themselves before partaking clearly applies only to those capable of examination and so has nothing to say to infants, who obviously are not to receive the sacrament. In one case the lack of mention of babes obviously indicates their inclusion, while in the other the lack of mention obviously indicates their exclusion. The difference is so clear, even Servetus should have seen it. But, alas. Off with his head.

As understandable as it all is, though, I still didn’t enjoy reading in the Institutes this year. But I want to have read all of it, and just one annual assignment remains. So I’ll keep going. And I suppose I’ll blog about it once more next summer. Until then, if you, my reader, have any inclination to click the comment link and scold me for my observations today, I wish you wouldn’t. I’ve just received enough abuse from Calvin’s pen, having been called in the last week “rash,” “childish,” “frenzied,” “malicious,” “blind,” “barbarian,” “foolish,” and “depraved.”

[Note added in July: After puzzling over whether Ann Coulter delivered her diatribe on soccer with tongue in cheek, I'm concerned now that people won't discern the prominent bulge in my own cheek. I don't, in fact, empathize with Calvin in his severe judgmentalism. I don't believe Catholics are devil-worshipers. And I don't think Michael Servetus needed to be executed for holding his theology, any more than I think Ann Coulter needs to be executed for not hating soccer – or for loving soccer – or for whatever she thinks about soccer, no matter how indiscernible her opinion may be.]

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