Friday, January 16, 2009

Calvin vs. the Forgotten Reformers

This is the 500 anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. A lot of things will be done this year to celebrate the occasion. In fact for those who are interested at least one month of the Reformed Herald will be dedicated to Calvin if my memory serves me correctly. I am sure the blogosphere will likewise be filled with tributes and things to Calvin, who was without a doubt a great man with a lasting influence.

However, I will be taking the opposite tact. I will be discussing the “Unknown Reformers” and occasionally talking about why Calvin gets too much credit. Now to be clear and up front, I like John Calvin. He is magnificent. His Institutes are a must read. So let no man say that I am opposed to Calvin. I simply think that the Reformed church as a whole is hurt by not knowing more of the founding fathers of the Reformation, many of which I believe play a more significant role than Calvin.

I will of course be trying to back this up as the year continues in several posts, but let me start by showing the need to see more than just Calvin in the Reformation. First, think of the Reformers. Who do you think of first? Luther? Calvin? Knox? Well, those are all bad answers. The Reformation Wall in France has large statues of Luther, Farel, Calvin, and Knox. Now, Luther should not be considered as part of the Reformed Reformation. He was after all Lutheran and in his own words thought the Reformers were “off a different spirit”. I agree with that assertion. Knox did a lot to Reform Scotland, but also did a lot to hinder England. And in the end, his reformation of Scotland was incomplete and Episcopal in nature. It had to be completed by Andrew Melville later. Farel, I could grant as he did a lot as the Barnabas of the Reformation, but in the end, his home was with the Waldenseans and other than that he was run out of a lot of places, including Geneva. And Calvin, well that is a longer subject, but it is always important to remember that while the Reformation was doing the hard work of getting started, he was yet to even write his work on Seneca much less his works on God.

I will write some posts on why we ought to revere Zwingli more and the others whose names are forgotten. Do we even know who John Oecomlampadius is? We should. What of Matthew Zell or Wolfgang Capito? We might know Henry Bullinger but we ought to hold him in higher view. And we would be remiss if we left off Jan Laski, whose influence stretches far and wide; from Poland to England.

In the end, it is important to remember that Calvin did not actually introduce the Reformation anywhere. Geneva was already convinced Romanism was wrong by the time Farel forced Calvin to stay. France was reforming long before Calvin, and Switzerland as a whole protected Geneva so that Calvin could do his work. They protected Geneva because they were already a generation into their Reformation. Do we even know who brought the Reformation to Geneva? Farel did as did Antione Fremont. When was the last time you heard anything about Fremont? Then they got Pierre Viret. Do you remember Viret? Did you know that Geneva paid Viret more than they paid Calvin? Apparently Viret was a better preacher. He was in Geneva before Calvin as well.

We put Calvin on this high pedestal, but I think it clouds our historical view. Calvin did great things. His commentaries are great, his Institutes are great. His work shows his faith. Yet, there were other men of similar great faith and who had many great works, but we forget them. So I am going to take this 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth to highlight those that laid the foundation and paved the road upon which Calvin trod.


Matt Powell said...

I think Calvin himself would appreciate your approach, and would dislike being treated as the be-all and end-all of the Reformation. Looking forward to your series.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Hey, don't forget the English guys. Those embers burned just as hot for Reformed guys wearing a collar:)

Peace to you,


Anonymous said...

The Decades of Heinrich Bullinger (4 Vols.) is now available for pre-order from Logos Bible Software. I thought you may be interested!

The Decades of Heinrich Bullinger (4 Vols.)

Frank Brito said...

How can I get access to these people's writings? I live in Brazil which makes it even harder. I'd translate to portuguese if I could. Any pdfs available?