Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nelson Price's attack on John Calvin. III

So we come to Price's misrepresentation of Calvin's first period in Geneva, passed over in a few lines packed with mistakes.
The house of Savoy had ruled over Geneva for years. When the local populace overthrew that government locals invited John Calvin, a lawyer, in to help reform the local church and government.

This is another example of oversimplification to the extent that it has become misleading. Note that John Calvin's conversion from Romanism has been completely overlooked. The impression is given that he was asked to come to Geneva as a lawyer.
In fact he had already been converted, and had begun to preach. The first edition of the Institutes had already been published (in 1536), and he had left France in 1535 to escape persecution for the sake of the Gospel.
Calvin, still in his mid-twenties, was staying over in Geneva on a journey when the senior minister of Geneva, William Farel (already himself unpopular due to his opposition to the sins of the townsfolk), having discovered that he was in the town, put pressure on him to stay in Geneva. Calvin himself, a lover as he put it of "le recoy et la tranquilitié," in fact intended to devote himself to the private study of Scripture. Farel would have none of it. "I speak to you in the Name of Almighty God. You make the excuse of your studies. But if you refuse to give yourself to this work of the Lord, God will curse you, for you are seeking yourself rather than Christ." This "dreadful imprecation" Calvin himself said was the reason why he stayed in Geneva. He did not want to stay, he had no desire to rule, but he sought instead a private place where he could study!
So it was not "locals" who invited Calvin at all, but another French preacher, William Farel. Nor was Calvin 'invited' (we would hardly describe being threatened with the curse of God as an invitation, but there you go) as a lawyer but as a preacher. As a lawyer he was totally unknown, but the young author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion would be quite a gain as a minister.
For another thing, the Genevan government was not being reformed. Geneva in 1536 presented the appearance of a young democracy. After the expulsion of the Bishop and the creatures of Savoy (see below) the city was ruled by a democratically elected council with no one head of state. The Genevan government was not perfect, but then what government of men is? The fact remains that the people of Geneva HAD reformed their government, and neither wanted nor needed the aid of a young Frenchman to do it!

To say that 'The House of Savoy had ruled over Geneva for years' is also rather misleading. Medieval Geneva was a city-state nominally ruled by its Bishop (note that Church and state were therefore already confused in Geneva before Calvin). It passed into the hands of Savoy through Pope Felix V, formerly Amadeus VIII, duke of Savoy, in 1444. Felix V. appointed himself Bishop of Geneva in that year, and when he resigned the papacy in 1449 he made it a condition that he should remain Bishop of Geneva. From that point on the Bishops were mere appointees of Savoy, and answered to the Duke. One Bishop was seven years old when appointed, another eleven, whilst yet another was the illegitimate son of a previous Bishop.
Geneva was legally a free city, and with the Bishops being mere creatures of Savoy, the city council grew in power and tried to shake off the tyranny of Savoy, which trampled on their ancient liberties. Final liberty came through the Reformation.

The citizens soon found themselves under an even more tyrannical leader than the Pope had been. They rebelled and drove Calvin out of town.

This statement is what is known as a lie. By not actually reading anything other than biased accounts by his own side and by theological liberals and unbelievers, Price has created a very misleading picture. Most of the trouble came from the fact that Church and state were still intermingled in Geneva. The vast majority even of protestants at that time simply could not conceive of anything else. The Papacy was founded on the principle of the church (by which was meant the hierarchy) ruling the state. The Lutheran states were firmly Erastian, with the civil rulers acting as bishops. The idea of a free Church in a free state was something Calvin began to develop, but even he could not achieve it. When all the citizens of a state are treated as Church members, then they are all expected to live as Christians under Church discipline. What was more, under the rule of Savoy's puppet-bishops morality in Geneva had decayed to a shocking extent. Any attempt to enforce morality is bound to be unpopular, whether in the church or the state. Calvin and Farel sought to keep immoral persons from the Lord's Table. Who will dare to say that the Lord's Table should be open to all? Yet the Council of Geneva insisted that should be the case! They tried to impose ceremonies on the Church, and when Calvin and Farel spoke against this state interference in the worship of God they were ordered to cease preaching, an order they ignored. The Council then ordered them to leave the city.
The final reason why Farel and Calvin were kicked out of Geneva in 1538 was that they refused to admit the Erastian abuses of the Genevan state when it sought to dictate to the Church. They were expelled for ignoring tryanny, not for committing it! We ask Dr. Price if he would cease preaching should the government tell him to stop on pain of imprisonment? Of course not! But it was for that very offence that Calvin and Farel were expelled!

Next time, God willing, we shall continue with this defence

1 comment:

Rhett said...

Highland Host,

Please email me at rhettswhips at yahoo.com.

Price has responded to the email i posted on my blog. I think you should see it.