Calvin and Idelette Suffered Much Loss

It was far more common in John Calvin’s day than in our own for children to die at birth or in the early years of life. This, however, does not lessen the grief of loss. Three times in their short marriage, Calvin and Idelette experienced the pain of losing a child.

Bitter domestic afflictions came upon Calvin and his wife. The second year of their marriage, in the month of July, 1542, Idelette had a son. But, alas! this child, for whom they had devoutly returned thanks to God, and offered so many fervent prayers, was soon taken from them by death. The churches of Geneva and of Lausanne showed the parents marks of sympathy. Feeble mitigation of so heavy a trial! It is easier to imagine than to express the grief of a mother’s heart. Calvin lets us see his sorrow and that of his companion, in a letter addressed, the 10th of August, 1542, to Peter Viret: ‘Salute all our brethren,’ says he, ‘salute also your wife, to whom mine presents her thanks for her tender and pious consolations. . . . She would like to answer them with her own hand, but she has not even the strength to dictate a few words. The Lord has dealt us a grievous blow, in taking from us our son; but He is our Father, and knows what is meet for his children.’ Paternal affection and Christian resignation are both displayed in Calvin’s letters at this time. In 1544, a new trial of this kind afflicted the hearts of these parents. A daughter was born to them; she lived only a few days, as we see in a letter addressed in 1544 to the pastor Viret. Again a third child was taken from them. Idelette wept bitterly; and Calvin, so often tried, sought his strength from the Lord; and the thought occurred to him that he was destined only to have children according to the faith. So he said to one of his adversaries, who had been base enough to reproach him with his domestic losses: ‘Yes,’ replied Calvin, ‘the Lord has given me a son; he has taken him from me. Let my enemies, if they see proper, reproach me for this trial. Have not I thousands of children in the Christian world?’

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 176–77.

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