Nothing Comes Between Me and My Calvin

by Lorette C. Luzajic
Part 14 of the
Pillars of Faith series

Fall from Grace

My personal “fall from grace” began with John Calvin. I was participating in Buy Nothing Christmas last year, and for Dad’s free gift, I decided to write about his hero Calvin. Neither of us was expecting a lengthy piece called A Tremendous Blasphemy. This was a pivotal moment — my rabbit hole. To quote Johnny Cash, I went out walking with a Bible and gun… I examined the messengers of my family’s truth, only to see the immorality throughout our pillars of faith. Now you know how this journey for me began.

Calvin was born Catholic in France in 1509. His father encouraged his intelligence. John began college at 14, and excelled in theology, law and Greek. Calvin was critical of holes in the Catholic faith, and he began to study Scripture for answers. By 27, he wrote the Institutes of Christian Religion. This epic work of doctrine became a kingpin of the Reform movement, propelling Calvin to its forefront.

A Change is Gonna Come

Pullquote: God preordained a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.
John Calvin

Calvin rejected the primacy of the papacy. He declared the Eucharist was symbolic — the bread did not really transubstantiate, or become Christ’s flesh. But his central idea was that to know God, you must study the Bible. He would not reveal himself through the church or through the world, but through the word.

Images of God were idols. There was no salvation in works or the church, but only justification through faith. But even if you want faith, you can’t if God didn’t want you to. This was Calvin’s infamous “predestination” theory. As he put it, “God preordained … a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”

Branded a heretic of the church, Calvin fled, ultimately to Geneva, where he became a church leader and revolutionary. His contributions to free the grip of Rome are well known. That he preached passionately even in sickness is legendary. He wrote prolifically. He also spoke against slavery and built many schools for ex-Catholic refugees.

But for all the trumpeted freedom and reason Calvin brought, unspeakable atrocities are glossed over or swept under the rug.

Those Evil Catholics

Pullquote: On occasion, the decapitated heads of those Calvin had condemned were paraded victoriously through the streets to warn others.

Calvin’s theocracy in Geneva had councils banishing rosaries, card games, theater, fancy clothing, entertainment, and taverns. These things weren’t just poo-pood-punishments, for those offenses ranged from fines to torture to exile to death. Flash mobs of Calvinist vandals raged through convents and churches, ransacking “idolatrous” crucifixes and priceless artwork of saints, humiliating nuns, destroying and burning artifact, scourging clerics and priests.

Disobedient children were hung at the gallows by their feet as stern warnings. The press was censored. Muslims, Jews, and Catholics were exiled. To question Calvin’s doctrine was forbidden — just like the papacy he hated. It was Calvin himself who had a law passed that decreed anyone questioning his authority to be executed. On occasion, the decapitated heads of those he had condemned were paraded victoriously through the streets to warn others. Famously, one execution was of Calvin’s close friend, Servetus, who questioned the preacher’s trinity doctrine.

Oo, Oo, Witchy Woman

Pullquote: The Bible teaches us that there are witches and they must be slain. This law of God is a universal law.
John Calvin

And lest we forget: the witches. The Protestants and Catholics share equal guilt for The Burning Times, and witch sport was a favorite of Calvin. He expounded on woman’s romping with various demonic beasts. Some of the symptoms of witchcraft included owning pets, an easy birth, a difficult birth, a failed crop, and a suggestion of equality with men. “The Bible teaches us that there are witches and they must be slain. This law of God is a universal law,” Calvin said.

Calvin called menstruation “a foul disease,” he abhorred nuns their chastity for robbing men of their due, he advised battered women to stay with their husbands, and he claimed that women who used birth control were guilty of murdering a man’s sons.

Justification Through Faith

There are many apologists for Calvin’s nasty side, and Dad is their champion. Same old, same old: it was the times; he could have been worse; popular beliefs of the day; he didn’t have as much authority as critics say; Reform could not have happened without force; he did some good; etc.

But the scariest apologists say Calvin was right in all of these things. Apparently, the problem with Christianity is that we need to get back to the firm foundations of Calvinist doctrine and stop apologizing for the bad stuff in the good book.

Lorette C. Luzajic writes about all kinds of interesting people at Fascinating People.

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