Discipline in Calvin's Geneva

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Many reformed are less than truthful scholars when it comes to their heroes and they do not so much as produce biographies as they do hagiographies. Simply put, many reformed are unreliable scholars due to an effort to white-wash their heroes.

Despite disagreeing with much of what Perg says on this thread (I for one have no problem with mandatory church attendance believing it to be required by the fourth commandment and useful for facilitating the preaching of the gospel), he is correct on this point. Carl Trueman and other historians have made similar statements as well. All too often, biographies written by Reformed writers are hagiographies and not objective accounts of their subject. This sort of thing is propaganda, not objective history. It also does not sit well with a Reformed view of indwelling sin in the regenerate.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
The half-truths and outright falsehoods appear to be multiplying.

Future readers of this thread, I ask that you not accept the claims that you find here as anything approaching historical precision.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
All too often, biographies written by Reformed writers are hagiographies and not objective accounts of their subject. This sort of thing is propaganda, not objective history. It also does not sit well with a Reformed view of indwelling sin in the regenerate.
Are there any books you have in mind? Especially biographies of John Calvin, as that is most relevant to the thread.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Future readers of this thread, I ask that you not accept the claims that you find here as anything approaching historical precision.
You've made several terse, broad-brush denials of apparently everything that has been discussed here. For clarity and others' benefit, could you at least outline your own beliefs as to what is historically accurate regarding the subject-matter at hand?
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
could you at least outline your own beliefs as to what is historically accurate regarding the subject-matter at hand?
Speaking for myself, I would think the posts by James Swan and Reverend Buchanan have been adequate to show that there are a lot of false stories swirling around John Calvin. Please refer to those for the answer to your question, as the thread is nearing the shut down point.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Speaking for myself, I would think the posts by James Swan and Reverend Buchanan have been adequate to show that there are a lot of false stories swirling around John Calvin. Please refer to those for the answer to your question, as the thread is nearing the shut down point.

If my various posts haven't already made it clear, I would substantially agree with what James and Bruce have said. They provide the positive side of Calvin's Geneva. Others have brought balance by pointing out some of the negative aspects. Yet I believe a remark as nebulous as the one I noted calls for clarification by its author.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
If my various posts haven't already made it clear, I would substantially agree with what James and Bruce have said. They provide the positive side of Calvin's Geneva. Others have brought balance by pointing out some of the negative aspects. Yet I believe a remark as nebulous as the one I noted calls for clarification by its author.
If the things the others have pointed out are false then they haven’t brought balance. I think everyone’s position on the thread has been made perfectly clear.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
If the things the others have pointed out are false then they haven’t brought balance.
Yes, that is self-evident but begs the question.

I think everyone’s position on the thread has been made perfectly clear.
I would respectfully disagree. I think it would be truly beneficial to the discussion for Tom to clarify his broadly stated opposition as it might relate to specific points that have been brought up. Of course it is the prerogative of moderators to shut down a thread as deemed fit, but I hope he's at least given ample opportunity to speak for himself.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Moderating. There is nothing wrong with sifting this out as long as everyone does so respectfully. The point on whitewashed histories is certainly valid, whether it is so in Calvin's case is not my area. That Presbyterian history has suffered from such, is very true.
Yes, that is self-evident but begs the question.


I would respectfully disagree. I think it would be truly beneficial to the discussion for Tom to clarify his broadly stated opposition as it might relate to specific points that have been brought up. Of course it is the prerogative of moderators to shut down a thread as deemed fit, but I hope he's at least given ample opportunity to speak for himself.
If the things the others have pointed out are false then they haven’t brought balance. I think everyone’s position on the thread has been made perfectly clear.
You've made several terse, broad-brush denials of apparently everything that has been discussed here. For clarity and others' benefit, could you at least outline your own beliefs as to what is historically accurate regarding the subject-matter at hand?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
You've made several terse, broad-brush denials of apparently everything that has been discussed here. For clarity and others' benefit, could you at least outline your own beliefs as to what is historically accurate regarding the subject-matter at hand?
Not denials of everything, no. I just don't like bad history. It ought to be done right.

I pointed out early in the thread that a number of historically inaccurate comments had been made. I have been pressing the user who made the comments to take greater care to acquaint himself with the historical circumstances.

The number of false statements, as I said, have multiplied. To begin with, they had to do mostly with Calvin as some kind of dictatorial legislator of Geneva. This reflects a profound misunderstanding of the political and religious situation in the city. The lie has its origins in nearly 500-year-old calumnies against Calvin.

Other accusations surfaced. I asked for primary sources and none were produced. Let me say that, very often, I will recommend looking at solid secondary sources. For the general reader this will suffice.

However, John Calvin has been subject to more abuse than most historical personages. The utmost care is required here. We need to dig up the sources of the secondary authors. Plenty of Calvin's contemporaries bore grudges against him, and many who came later hated him violently. Slander swirls around the very name of Calvin to this day.

So, in short, if anyone's going to make inflammatory comments on the internet, he ought to do a little digging first.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
In addition to the case histories so carefully addressed by James Swan, a rather famous one is the one from @NaphtaliPress regarding the often-repeated-as-fact claim that Calvin was observed bowling for leisure on the Lord’s day. Chris traces this out in the essay that can be found online, “Calvin in the Hands of the Philistines.” That title is apt. Those who dislike (to say the least) historic, confessional Presbyterian doctrine seem to be the widest perpetrators of fables about the man. A lot of careful tracing out of history went into Chris’s article and obviously the same can be said for James Swan’s work. At the least, one should be very careful not to be complicit in sharing stories that could fall into the category of “unsubstantiated.” Any negative tale about Calvin not confirmed by anything Calvin himself said or by those closest to him who knew and loved him should be viewed as suspect. It’s what we always do for the brethren we love and appreciate, is it not?
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
There is no doubt historical giants like Calvin draw proportional attention from all sides. I am a huge advocate of searching out primary sources to the extent possible, and carefully evaluating the inevitable biases of secondary sources before reaching any conclusions.

I wholly concur that some of Calvin's harshest opponents have been dishonest with the facts, and are at times outright slanderous. Some supporters, in my opinion, tend to whitewash history by ignoring known facts in seeming attempts to portray him as almost perfect. The truth surely lays somewhere in between, and I genuinely value when specific claims are shown to be either credible or not.

I've already stated my high esteem of John Calvin. I believe much can and needs to be learned from both the virtues and faults of all great Christian leaders like him.

With that said, I'll retire from the thread. Pax.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Some supporters, in my opinion, tend to whitewash history by ignoring known facts in seeming attempts to portray him as almost perfect.
Before you're completely gone Phil :))), could you provide an example of this? Do you think this has happened in this thread?
 

James Swan

Puritan Board Freshman
Will Durant is also a respected historian and he also writes:

So... this may be construed as a tangent or nitpicking:

Wil Durant was a poor Reformation historian whose bias is blatant. If you're going to rely on Durant for an accurate picture of Calvin, you will end up with a caricature of Calvin. See my comments about Durant above in this discussion. Durant appears to have simply utilized secondary sources, some quite biased. I've come across no instances thus far of Durant actually doing primary research into the extant historical documents of Geneva. Rather, Durant quotes this person or that person, that may have actually looked at the primary material.

Lest this be interpreted to be white-washing Calvin by downplaying a historian (Durant) that did sub-standard work: I have no problem with Calvin having sins, faults, or having a negative impact on some of the particulars of Genevan society. Durant though is not the source to utilize for Reformation history. There are much better sources available for the serious student of Reformation history.

JS
 
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
could you provide an example of this?

I primarily have in mind various articles, websites and such that I've read over the years. I've not made hard notes or saved any specific links.

Do you think this has happened in this thread?

Not to any offensive degree. Some have almost exclusively focused on one side, some on the other, but such can still be conducive to an overall profitable discussion.
 
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RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Despite disagreeing with much of what Perg says on this thread (I for one have no problem with mandatory church attendance believing it to be required by the fourth commandment and useful for facilitating the preaching of the gospel), he is correct on this point. Carl Trueman and other historians have made similar statements as well. All too often, biographies written by Reformed writers are hagiographies and not objective accounts of their subject. This sort of thing is propaganda, not objective history. It also does not sit well with a Reformed view of indwelling sin in the regenerate.

Albert Martin said that biographers tend to be blinded by their subjects. You don't hear about Calvin or Whitefield or Lloyd-Jones at their worst moments. The exhortation they didn't make, the truth they watered down, whether there was a tendency to snappiness, the times when they really did sin in their preaching or oversight.... We ought to take these men seriously when they talk about feeling, like Edwards, that their heart is an infinite abyss which only the eye of God could fathom to its bottom. Because it is true. But we probably tend to see them as committing a holy class of sins, like self-destructive overworking.

You would have thought that if anyone deserved a hagiography it would be Abraham, as he is the paradigm of faith. Yet how honest is God about Abraham's failings.

One good reason to only imitate virtues, but never compare ourselves by ourselves. Judgment Day will correct and fill in the blanks in all biographies and personal impressions.

Even the ones we pose here on PuritanBoard.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Are there any books you have in mind? Especially biographies of John Calvin, as that is most relevant to the thread.

There are some books that I have in mind. One of which is J. L. Porter's biography of his father-in-law, The Life & Times of Henry Cooke, which another Irish Presbyterian contemporary described as falling into "a form of idolatry." I am of the view that many 19th-century accounts of Reformed history were influenced by Romanticism and especially the Carlylean notion of hero-worship.

As for John Calvin specifically, I cannot think of a hagiographical account of his life off the top of my head. If you wish to understand Calvin's life, you obviously need to read a responsible (peer-reviewed and with footnote/endnote references) biography or a monograph looking at specific aspects of his life and ministry.
 

Minh

Puritan Board Freshman
I for one have no problem with mandatory church attendance believing it to be required by the fourth commandment and useful for facilitating the preaching of the gospel

Brother, perhaps we can wholeheartedly agree on implementing the law of God on moral and civil matters, but I respectfully disagree on this part for a good reason. It would be outrageous to compel unbelievers into the communion of believers to worship God when their hearts are at enmity with God, and such mandate can led to a wrong impression of the Christian religion as bondage and legalistic in the unregenerate minds. This is my experience as a non-Christian in Romanist school where they require us to attend the mass every month regardless of our non-Popish faiths.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Brother, perhaps we can wholeheartedly agree on implementing the law of God on moral and civil matters, but I respectfully disagree on this part for a good reason. It would be outrageous to compel unbelievers into the communion of believers to worship God when their hearts are at enmity with God, and such mandate can led to a wrong impression of the Christian religion as bondage and legalistic in the unregenerate minds. This is my experience as a non-Christian in Romanist school where they require us to attend the mass every month regardless of our non-Popish faiths.
What alternative do you propose? Permission for willful avoidance of corporate worship?

In a Christian state, such a thing would be unthinkable.
 

Minh

Puritan Board Freshman
Permission for willful avoidance of corporate worship?

If you are speaking that in case of believers then I can agree that we should have some discipline since believers are obliged to obey the 4th commandment in worshipping God.

But what about unbelievers? I'm not saying they cannot attend in churches if they desire for free salvation in Christ. But to compel these people to worship God in the congregation of believers would also be unthinkable as well.
 
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Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
What alternative do you propose? Permission for willful avoidance of corporate worship?

In a Christian state, such a thing would be unthinkable.
There is no such thing as a Christian State. Coerced worship is false worship and the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth. We are not Catholic integralists.
 

Seeking_Thy_Kingdom

Puritan Board Sophomore
There is no such thing as a Christian State. Coerced worship is false worship and the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth. We are not Catholic integralists.
Would you be equally opposed to the Government using its legislative power to close all commerce and recreational facilities, so that the Christian community could worship God unhindered on the Lords day?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
If you are speaking that in case of believers then I can agree that we should have some discipline since believers are obliged to obey the 4th commandment in worshipping God.

But what about unbelievers? I'm not saying they cannot attend in churches if they desire for free salvation in Christ. But to compel these people to worship God in the congregation of believers would also be unthinkable as well.
You would compel believers to attend church, but on what basis? Their profession? Meanwhile professed pagans, heretics and atheists would be exempted? Do you see the problem here? That Geneva was a Christian state ought to be borne in mind. But perhaps that is where a more basic disagreement lies.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
There is no such thing as a Christian State.
Tell that to the Reformers, Puritans, and Scottish Presbyterians.

Here's the Psalmist on the subject:

Now, therefore, kings, be wise; be taught,
ye judges of the earth:
Serve God in fear, and see that ye
join trembling with your mirth.

Kiss ye the Son, lest in his ire
ye perish from the way,
If once his wrath begin to burn:
bless'd all that on him stay.

(Psalm 2:10-12 in the Scottish Psalter)
 
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