And so we continue with Dr. Price's scurrilous attack on John Calvin
"Calvin’s theocratic government believed every sin was a crime and practiced excommunication. Such applied even to persons who wore what was considered inappropriate clothes or engaged in work or pleasure on Sunday. Persons guilty of “wild dancing” or “bawdy singing” were severely punished. The latter ones had their tongues pierced.
As we have seen, the consistory alone could excommunicate. In England under Elizabeth the state excommunicated. This was not simply "Calvin's theocratic government", it was common in all Europe. Since Calvin was never a member of the government, he could pass no laws. Indeed, most of the laws Price refers to here were in existence before Calvin came to Geneva, and were acted on during his exile. For instance, in 1537, after Calvin had been expelled from Geneva and when we can reasonably suppose his opponents were in power, a man found gambling was hanged for the offence. In 1539 a group of young people were arrested for "singing indecent songs, dancing, blaspheming God and running naked about the streets."
Now we think that people doing such things would probably be arrested today (and are most weekends in British cities). We have laws, less strict of course, governing appropriate clothing and behaviour. Dr. Price, we suspect, agrees that such laws ought to be in place. He would not want young people in his town "running naked about the streets" (though we suspect that some clothing worn to nightclubs today would have exposed its wearer to the charge in the sixteenth century).
Every nation has laws that govern acceptable behaviour, and while we may disagree with them, we recognise that "the past is another country, they do things differently there."
"Such actions resulted in excommunication and many persons being banished from the city."
Again we marvel at Dr. Price's ability to misrepresent matters. He implies that excommunication and banishment were closely linked, whilst in fact most people excommunicated in Geneva remained in the city. Banishment was reserved for more serious offences than dancing!
Secondly these punishments were given by different courts. Excommunication was an ecclesiastical punishment and therefore meted out by the Consistory, while Banishment was a civil punishment inflicted by the civil magistrate. True, those who were banished from Geneva were generally (but not always) excommunicated, but that was because the crime for which they were banished was also a cause for church censure (just as a church member found guilty of a crime today will be put under church discipline as well as punished by the court). As we have said, Calvin never presided over a court in his life, he was never more than a member of the Company of Pastors. If he was treated as first among equals it was due to his moral stature, not to physical force.
"Calvin’s reprehensible approval of torture is an issue most modern day Calvinists do not deny but do disavow."
Exactly. Although ahead of his age in many ways, in others Calvin was a man of his age. It was an age when torture was an accepted part of judicial procedure. But can we really claim to stand higher than him when the bestial practice of 'waterboarding' or simulated drowning is approved by the President of the United States? Our forefathers (and some of our modern political leaders) thought torture was an acceptable method of obtaining information. We disagree, and add our voice to those of our fellow Calvinists in disavowing Calvin's approval.
We must remember that Calvin was approving something already in existence. A visit to the Tower of London will be enough to demonstrate that the use of torture was widespread in Europe in Calvin's day, and continued to be for some time after Calvin's death. It is a pity he did not see that it is cruel and an unsafe way of obtaining information.
"Calvin professed to believe in separation of church and government. However members of the consistory and church formed judicial boards that imposed theocratic law."
Once again, the consistory was a Church court! Members of the consistory were ecclesiastical, not civil, rulers! Price has not bothered to read up on Geneva in Calvin's day, and so he has turned the church court into a civil tribunal. Now this is all the more inexcusable when some of the proceedings of this court are actually available in print at the present time!
This is not to say that the Genevan Church and state were as separated as Calvin wished. confusion of church and state was general in Medieval Europe and especially in Geneva, where the Bishop had been head of state. The Council appointed its own members as Elders, and this did tend to the confusion of Church and State, especially as the president of the consistory was always an elder and therefore a civil magistrate. Calvin wished for a greater separation than then existed, but he was thwarted by the desires of the Council. In France, where the civil government remained Romanist, Calvin's dream of a free church was realised in the face of terrible persecution.
"They closed taverns and replaced them with “evangelical refreshment places” where alcohol could be consumed but only with Bible reading. This practice was short lived."
We do hope that this is merely a record of a fact (these 'Abbeyes' were meant to replace the taverns in which drunkenness was rife). It was a laudable aim to replace the taverns with places where Bible reading and Christian fellowship were encouraged. No-one in the sixteenth century (and certainly not a Frenchman like Calvin!) was teetotal. Everyone drank alcohol for the simple reason that the water was not safe to drink!
God willing, we shall continue next time