Tag Archive - Letters

The Love of Calvin for His Wife

Some have considered Calvin to be a completely cool, collected, and compassionate individual, but from his letters one sees that his care and love for people often ran deep. For instance, when he heard that the plague had broken out in Strasburg where his wife Idelette was staying while he was away at the diet convened at Worms, Calvin wrote, “I try…to resist my grief—I resort to prayer and to holy meditations, that I may not lose all courage.”(1) Clearly, Calvin shows his great concern for his wife and her welfare, such that he fears losing all courage. Truly the words of a passionate man with deep love for his bride.

(1)Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 172.

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What do you look for in a wife?

I’m currently 32 years old and have been married for 10 of those years. At age 30 John Calvin was still not married. While trying to find a suitable woman to marry, Calvin penned a letter to his good friend Farel who was trying to help him find a wife. In the letter Calvin describes the type of wife he desired.

In a letter addressed to Farel in May, 1539, (he was then thirty years old), Calvin sketches his ideal of a wife. “Remember,” he says to his friend, “what I especially desire to meet with in a wife. I am not, you know, of the number of those inconsiderate lovers who adore even the faults of the woman who charms them. I could only be pleased with a lady who is sweet, chaste, modest, economical, patient, and careful of her husband’s health. Has she of whom you have spoken to me these qualities? Come with her …, if not let us say no more.”

Thomas Smyth, Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 168-69.

What are you looking for in a spouse?

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All Calvin Did Was Worth Nothing

In reading through John Calvin’s last letter to the ministers at Geneva, I was struck by the following paragraph.

I have had many infirmities which you have been obliged to bear with, and what is more, all I have done has been worth nothing. The ungodly will greedily seize upon this word, but I say it again that all I have done has been worth nothing, and that I am a miserable creature. But certainly I can say this that I have willed what is good, that my vices have always displeased me, and that the root of the fear of God has been in my heart; and you may say that the disposition was good; and I pray you, that the evil be forgiven me, and if there was any good, that you conform yourselves to it and make it an example.

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 375.

I wonder what Calvin meant by “all I have done has been worth nothing.” Surely Calvin was aware of his great contributions to the reformation and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I almost expected him conclude that statement with something like “compared to the surpassing greatness of what God has done for us in Christ.” But he does not. However, I can only assume that is what he means. He indicates such when he points out that the “ungodly will greedily seize upon this word.”

In death, Calvin in short words reminds us that he, and we, are miserable creatures when compared to the greatness of God’s kindness in Christ.

John Calvin’s Health Prior to Death

John Calvin, in a dictated letter to the ministers of Geneva, shares some final words with them prior to his death. Among all that is recorded, we see the fragility of Calvin’s final state before his death, shared in his own words.

It may be thought that I am too precipitate in concluding my end to be drawing near, and that I am not so ill as I persuade myself; but I assure you, that though I have often felt myself very ill, yet I have never found myself in such a state, nor so weak as I am. When they take me to put me in bed, my head fails me and I swoon away forthwith. There is also this shortness of breathing, which oppresses me more and more. I am altogether different from other sick persons, for when their end is approaching their senses fail them and they become delirious. With respect to myself, true it is that I feel stupefied, but it seems to me that God wills to concentrate all my senses within me, and I believe indeed that I shall have much difficulty and that it will cost me a great effort to die. I may perhaps lose the faculty of speech, and yet preserve my sound sense; but I have also advertised my friends of that and told them what I wished them to do for me, and it is for this very reason I have desired to speak with you before God call me away; not that God may not indeed do otherwise than I think; it would be temerity on my part to wish to enter into his counsel.

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 373.

John Calvin’s Last Will and Testament

I came across John Calvin’s will the other day. It was fascinating (and encouraging) to see the degree that more than half of Calvin’s will is devoted to honoring God’s grace in the gospel. I was reminded of Philippians 1:20b “but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

IN the name of God, be it known to all men by these presents that in the year 1564, and the 25th day of the month of April, I Peter Chenelat, citizen and sworn Notary of Geneva, have been sent for by Spectable John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, and burgess of the said Geneva, who, being sick and indisposed in body alone, has declared to me his intention to make his testament and declaration of his last will, begging me to write it according as it should be by him dictated and pronounced, which, at his said request, I have done, and have written it under him, and according as he hath dictated and pronounced it, word for word, without omitting or adding anything—in form as follows:

In the name of God, I John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the Church of Geneva, feeling myself reduced so low by diverse maladies, that I cannot but think that it is the will of God to withdraw me shortly from this world, have advised to make and set down in writing my testament and declaration of my last will in form, as follows:

In the first place, I render thanks to God, not only because he has had compassion on me, his poor creature, to draw me out of the abyss of idolatry in which I was plunged, in order to bring me to the light of his gospel and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was altogether unworthy, and continuing his mercy he has supported me amid so many sins and short-comings, which were such that I well deserved to be rejected by him a hundred thousand times—but what is more, he has so far extended his mercy towards me as to make use of me and of my labour, to convey and announce the truth of his gospel; protesting that it is my wish to live and die in this faith which he has bestowed on me, having no other hope nor refuge except in his gratuitous adoption, upon which all my salvation is founded; embracing the grace which he has given me in our Lord Jesus Christ, and accepting the merits of his death and passion, in order that by this means all my sins may be buried; and praying him so to wash and cleanse me by the blood of this great Redeemer, which has been shed for us poor sinners, that I may appear before his face, bearing as it were his image.

I protest also that I have endeavoured, according to the measure of grace he has given me, to teach his word in purity, both in my sermons and writings, and to expound faithfully the Holy Scriptures; and moreover, that in all the disputes I have had with the enemies of the truth, I have never made use of subtle craft nor sophistry, but have gone to work straight-forwardly in maintaining his quarrel. But alas! the desire which I have had, and the zeal, if so it must be called, has been so cold and so sluggish that I feel myself a debtor in everything and everywhere, and that, were it not for his infinite goodness, all the affection I have had would be but as smoke, nay, that even the favours which he has accorded me would but render me so much the more guilty; so that my only recourse is this, that being the Father of mercies he will show himself the Father of so miserable a sinner.

Moreover, I desire that my body after my decease be interred in the usual manner, to wait for the day of the blessed resurrection.
Touching the little earthly goods which God has given me here to dispose of, I name and appoint for my sole heir, my well beloved brother Antony Calvin, but only as honorary heir however, leaving to him the right of possessing nothing save the cup which I have had from Monsieur de Varennes, and begging him to be satisfied with that, as I am well assured he will be, because he knows that I do this for no other reason but that the little which I leave may remain to his children. I next bequeath to the college ten crowns, and to the treasure of poor foreigners the same sum. Item, to Jane, daughter of Charles Costan and my half-sister, that is to say, by the father’s side, the sum of ten crowns; and afterwards to each of my nephews, Samuel and John, sons of my aforesaid brother, forty crowns; and to each of my nieces, Anne, Susannah, and Dorothy, thirty crowns. As for my nephew David their brother, because he has been thoughtless and unsettled, I leave to him but twenty-five crowns as a chastisement. This is the total of all the property which God has given me, according as I have been able to value and estimate it, whether in books, furniture,6 plate, or anything else. However, should the result of the sale amount to anything more, I mean that it should be distributed among my said nephews and nieces, not excluding David, if God shall have given him grace to be more moderate and staid. But I believe that on this subject there will be no difficulty, especially when my debts shall be paid, as I have given charge to my brother on whom I rely, naming him executor of this testament along with the spectable Laurence de Normandie, giving them all power and authority to make an inventory without any judicial forms, and sell my furniture to raise money from it in ordér to accomplish the directions of this testament as it is here set down in writing, this 25th April, 1564.
Witness my hand,
JOHN CALVIN.

Jules Bonnet, Dr., vol. 4, Letters of John Calvin. Vol. I-IV (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 365-68.

Calvin and the Wine Bribe

Reading more of Calvin in His Letters I came across a fun piece where John Calvin uses a cask of wine to try and lure a friend to join him in Geneva. I couldn’t help laughing as this seems like the sort of trick I might use to get a friend to join me (or that could be used on me).

When he would induce his friend M. de Falais to come to Geneva and take up his abode there, he slyly adds that he has laid in a cask of good wine for his benefit. “I wish very much that it may please God to bring you hither to drink of the wine upon the spot and that soon. If the bearer had left this earlier in the morning, you might have had a flask of it. If there were any means of sending you the half of it, I should not have failed to do so, but when I inquired, I found that it could not be done.” Calvin, we see, had some very human traits.

Henry Henderson, Calvin in His Letters (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 27.

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John Calvin the Match Maker

I was reading Calvin in His Letters the other day. This truly fascinating book serves as a guide to the Letters of John Calvin. It was interesting to see such personal correspondences, like this one where Calvin is assisting a friend in the hunt for a wife for a friend. Calvin writes:

Think of what you are going to do, and then write to me again what resolution you have come to. The more we inquire, the more numerous and the better are the testimonies with which the young lady is honoured. Accordingly, I am now seeking to discover the mind of her father. As soon as we have reached any certainty I will let you know. Meanwhile, do you make yourself ready. This match does not please Perrin, because he wishes to force upon you the daughter of Rameau. That makes me the more solicitous about pre-occupying the ground in good time, lest we be obstructed by having to make excuses. To-day, as far as I gather, he will enter upon the subject with me, for we are both invited by Corna to supper. I will gain time by a civil excuse. It would tend to promote the matter if I, with your permission, should ask her. I have seen her twice: she is very modest, with an exceedingly becoming countenance and person. Of her manners, all speak so highly that John Parvi lately told me he had been captivated by her. Adieu; may the Lord govern you by His counsel, and bless us in an undertaking of such moment

Henry Henderson, Calvin in His Letters (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 93-94.

Just a simple (and interesting) reminder that Calvin wasn’t stuck at his desk studying and writing all the time. He even tried his hand at being a match maker from time to time.

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To the Ministers of the Church of Basle

Here is the opening of a letter John Calvin wrote to the ministers of the church of Basle regarding the persecution in France.

GENEVA, 13th November 1537. The urgent business on account of which we have thought it right to send this person by express to you may be stated in few words. A new outbreak of the cruel rage of the ungodly has burst forth at Nismes, as the place is now called, no mean city, a town of Languedoc, against the unhappy brethren who reside there, scattered up and down, and that at a time when we might have suspected nothing of the kind. Not very long ago we had obtained letters from the town councils of Strasbourg and Basle, by which the safety and personal security of all those, who were then imprisoned throughout France on account of religion, was commended to the care of Count William. That eminent person, as was reported, had obtained of the king that they should all be set at liberty. We rested secure in this expectation, until word was brought to us, that the fire of persecution was again raging in that quarter. Two persons have been burnt, concerning the manner of whose death you will hear from the eye-witness himself, for he can relate to you in Latin what he has narrated in detail to us. Continue Reading…

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