Monasticism for all

“John Calvin was no monastic.” Matthew Myer Boulton states the obvious ( Life in God: John Calvin, Practical Formation, and the Future of Protestant Theology , 28). Calvin is a critic of the monasticism of his time, and even criticizes the withdrawal of monks in earlier, better times.

What’s not so obvious is how much Calvin’s program is a transposition of the “paideutic tradition” of monasticism into a new key: “Calvin’s project of religious and civic reform in Geneva amounts to an attempt to retrieve for all the ascetic, disciplinary, and paeideutic approach to Christian life, and in particular to retrieve the distinctive practices that in his view constitute the paedeia of the early church. Scripture reading, prayer regimes, psalm singing, moral surveillance and accountability, mystical union with God via the Lord’s table – each one of these disciplines, along with the integrated program they constitute together, is refigured and returned in Calvin’s life-forming work of every Christian . . . . for Calvin, the Genevan reformation meant not so much the closing of the cloister as its grant re-opening, in effect reclaiming the challenges and privileges of the monastic office – like the priestly one – as appropriate and available for ‘all believers.’”

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