Calvin and Presbyterians rejected the Roman Catholic calendar of pretended holy days

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Calvin and Presbyterians rejected the Roman Catholic calendar of cyclical observances of pretended holy days.

“In 1536 shortly before Calvin’s arrival all the old pretended holy days (feast days) “which were no[t] Sundays” had been outlawed in Geneva.13 Farel had begun the effort to bring Geneva to observe a Sabbatarian week of six days of work with one holy day of worship, the Lord’s Day—a pattern which the Genevan ministers would subsequently continue to seek.14 In this they were acting against the burden of the liturgical calendar as it existed at the time of the Reformation.

‘The Protestant Reformation dramatically restructured liturgical time in sixteenth-century Geneva. The Catholic tradition had organized the liturgical calendar and celebrated the passage of time according to a sequence of church festivals and saint’s days. The Catholic liturgical year was divided into two parts. From late November to June, Catholics observed the ritual enactment of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ through the major feast days of Christmas (preceded by four Sundays of Advent), Epiphany (January 6), Easter (preceded by Ash Wednesday and forty days of Lent), Ascension (forty days after Easter), Pentecost (fifty days after Easter), and Corpus Christi (eleven days after Pentecost). The second half of the year, from late June to late November, contained the majority of saint’s days, including five of the seven major feasts to the Virgin Mary; days commemorating each of the twelve apostles and the fourteen auxiliary saints; as well as the Feast of All Saints (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2). In the region of Savoy and Geneva, festivals dedicated to minor saints such as Saint Claude were especially important. Throughout Catholic Europe, between forty and sixty days a year were set aside as “holy days,” marked by abstaining from work, special processions and Masses, and communal celebrations. In addition to religious festivals, the traditional liturgical year also included several dozen fast days—during Lent and on the eve of festivals—for the purpose of selfmortification and to imitate Christ’s own forty-day fast and temptation in the wilderness. Reformed churchmen attempted to dismantle this ritualistic universe, arguing that prescribed days of feasting and fasting promoted a theology of “works-righteousness,” and encouraged superstition, drunkenness, and idleness.’15

13. Calvin, Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1–7, text in French, introduction in English, ed. Willem Balke and Wilhelmus H.Th. Moehn, Supplementa Calviniana, v. 8 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag des Erziehungsvereins, 1994), ix. Elsewhere, Mohen writes similarly, “Even before Calvin arrived in Geneva, those church holidays that were not Sundays had been abolished. Farel and Viret wished to honour only the Sunday as the Lord’s Day. They refused to acknowledge any human institution.” Ioannis Calvini Opera omnia, Series 5, Sermons volume 8, Plusieurs sermons de Jean Calvin, ed. Wilhelmus H. Th. Moehn (Genève: Librairie Droz, 2011), xix.

14. Farel and Calvin wished “to establish the sabbatarian principle as the law of Geneva.” Thomas Lambert, “Preaching, Praying and Policing the Reform in Sixteenth-Century Geneva.” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Wisconsin, 1998), 190. This early Sabbatarianism was not as developed as that of English Puritanism and Scottish Presbyterianism, but it is clear Calvin not only shares a practical agreement with how the Sabbath was to be kept, but stands much closer theologically to the later views than is usually granted. On Calvin’s ‘practical’ Sabbatarianism see John H. Primus, “Calvin and the Puritan Sabbath: A Comparative Study,” in Exploring The Heritage Of John Calvin: Essays In Honor Of John Bratt, ed. David E. Holwerda (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), pp. 40–75; Holy Time: Moderate Puritanism and the Sabbath (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989); and “Sunday: The Lord’s day as a Sabbath—Protestant Perspectives on the Sabbath,” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Tradition, ed. Tamara C. Eskenezi, Daniel J. Harrington, S. J., and William H. Sher (New York: Crossroads, 1991). For an argument that Calvin was closer theologically to later English Puritanism than generally conceded, see Stewart E. Lauer, “John Calvin, the Nascent Sabbatarian: A Reconsideration of Calvin’s View of Two Key Sabbath-Issues,” The Confessional Presbyterian 3 (2007); and reprinted in volume 12 (2016).”

15. Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536–1609, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (Oxford University Press, 2016), 124–125.
Cited from, "In Translatiōne: John Calvin’s Letters to the Ministers of Montbéliard (1543–1544): The Genevan Reformer’s Advice and Views of the Liturgical Calendar," The Confessional Presbyterian 13 (2017): 199–200.
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