Calvin and the Reformers and their animosities

article submitted by Edward T. Babinski author of Leaving the Fold

"The Reformers" [not simply Luther and Calvin, but other Reformation leaders as well] sometimes employed degrees of theological and personal recriminations toward each other that might shock not a few readers who have never studied that particular phase of “Christian” history. (Which also makes me suspect that at least one attraction of “Christianity” or “Islam” or other such faiths is the fact that people can call each other neat sounding theological names like “heretic,” and also threaten each other with “God’s wrath” without such speech ever going to court. But then "Communism" also had it's own ideological code words of reprobation, like "decadent.")

The passages below are drawn from "History of the Life, Works, and Doctrines of John Calvin" by J. M. V. Audin, translated by Rev. John McGill (Louisville: B. J. Webb & Brother, 1850). Citations for each quotation can be found at the bottom of each page in Audin’s work.

[Audin, p. 158-159]
[On Jan. 12, 1538] Calvin [wrote] in a confidential letter to his friend, Bucer. “If Luther can, in the same embrace, bind us and our confusion, my heart will be overwhelmed with joy; but there is no one but himself in the church of God...What are we to think of Luther? In truth, I know not: I believe that he is a pious man; I would wish only that they are mistaken in representing him as they do (and the testimony is that of his friends,) as foolishly obstinate; and his conduct is well calculated to accredit these suspicions. They inform me that he boasts of having compelled all the churches of Wittenberg to recognize his lying doctrine; strange vanity! If he be tormented by so great a desire of glory, all serious hope of peace in the truth of the Lord must be renounced; with him there are not only pride and wickedness, but ignorance and hallucination the most gross. How absurd was he at first with his bread, which is the true body!

If now he believes that the body of Christ is enveloped in the material substance, it is a monstrous error. Ah! If they wish to inculcate such absurd doctrines to our Swiss, what a beautiful path to concord do they prepare! If, therefore, thou hast over Martin any influence, labor to chain to Christ, rather than to the doctor, all those souls with whom he has so unfortunately contended: let Martin at length give a hand to the truth which he has manifestly betrayed. As to myself, I can well render testimony, that, from the day on which I first tasted the word of truth, I have not been abandoned by God, to the point of not comprehending the nature of the sacraments and the sense of the Eucharistic institution.”

[Audin, p. 403-408]
At the death of Zwingli, the church of Zurich was divided into various sects: the Significatives, theTropists, the Energicals, the Arhabonarians, the Adessenarians, the Metaphorists, the Iscariotists, and the Nothingarians. The dispute for the moment tranquilized, was revived again on the slightest historical accident. Melanchthon vainly endeavoured to appease his master [Luther]. Luther declared, that, as long as there remained a drop of blood in his veins, or sufficient ink in his inkstand to fill his pen, he would wage war against the Sacramentarians. In 1543, he wrote to Foschauer, that the Saxon church could not live in peace with the heretical church of Zurich. And in his annotations on Genesis, published the year following, he acted the part of the Eternal Judge, and condemned [his fellow Protestant Reformers] Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and their adherents, to eternal flames…

The Zurichers commenced the contest with a pamphlet, the whole venom of which is in the title: “A summary of the teaching of the evangelists of Zurich, chiefly regarding the Lord’s Supper, against the calumnies, theoutrages, and the insolence of doctor Martin."…

Luther did not take up the gauntlet; but…some days prior to his death, he wrote: “Happy the man who has not walked in the counsel of the Sacramentarians, who has not been found in the ways of the Zwinglians, who has not seated himself in the chair of the Zurichers.”

Calvin for a moment flattered himself with the hope of reconciling divided minds by means of his hermaphrodite system. Farel advised his friend [Calvin] to go to Zurich, where his word, sustained by the Holy Ghost, would operate a reconciliation…

Calvin is tormented in contemplating this "son of Peleus," as he calls Luther, who listens to no advice, and marches upon his path, without fear of thickets and mountains. He would have Luther approximate to Zwingli, and to effect this approximation, he believed in the omnipotence of his treatise on the Lord’s Supper, which is welcomed no where.

“But of what terrible malady is your Pericles ill?” Calvin wrote to Melanchthon [i.e., "Pericles" being a reference to Luther]. “Whom has he [Luther] induced to think with him, by all his tumults of words? Let him play his real game of a furious fool. Certes [i.e., Melanchthon], I revere him, but he does me wrong. And what is most unfortunate is, that no person is found to repress, or even to calm an impetuosity so insolent.” [Calvin to Melanchthon, Jan. 28, 1545]

The Genovese reformer [Calvin] was still more confidential with Bullinger, because he was acquainted with the dispositions of his correspondent. He has no fear now that his revelations will be abused; he [Calvin] writes:

“I learn that Luther, with his insolent petulance, attacks us all together: I cannot decently hope that you will observe silence; for, after all, it is not just to be treated so badly, and not dare defend oneself. I acknowledge that Luther is a man of fine genius, that he has received extraordinary gifts from heaven, that he has an admirable fortitude of soul, a constancy above all trial, and that to this day he has combated the Antichrist. I have frequently said, that, were he to treat me as an incarnate demon, I would still not the less rank him as a great servant of Christ, but also great for his faults. Would to God he had employed against the enemies of the truth that bile, which he does not cease to pour out against the servants of Christ.” [Calvin to Bullinger, Nov. 25, 1544]

During ten years the private opinion of Calvin regarding Luther had undergone no variation. Already, in 1538, he [Luther] was a man of vanity and falsehood, laboring under gross hallucination, an absurd doctor, who maintained that material bread is the body of Christ; an insolent opponent of the truth. [Calvin to Bucer, Geneva, Jan. 12, 1538]

But language changes with circumstances. It happens that Calvin needs Luther’s patronage for his book against the Nicodemites; now, the writer’s words [Calvin’s words] are sweet as honey...

This morose monk [Luther] died, bequeathing to Leo Judae, Calvin, and the Sacramentarians the following testament, written in his [Luther’s] own hand:

“Seeing the heresies heaped upon heresies on every side, and that the devil puts neither limit nor term to his rage and fury, in order that after my death they may not be able to make use of my writings to defend the errors of the Sacramentarians, as has already been done by some brainless fellows, corrupters of the supper of the Lord and of baptism; I have desired, before God, and before men, to make my confession, in which, with the Lord’s aid, I wish to persevere and present myself before the tribunal of Jesus Christ…- I say likewise, of the Lord’s Supper; that in it, the true body and the true blood of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine, is eaten and drunk, even though those who give and those who receive it have lost faith, or abuse the sacraments…and if, in the struggle of my death, temptation should force from my mouth anything contrary to this, I disavow it, and by the confession which I make, I protest that such thing can only come from satan: So help me God. Amen.” [Luther in 3 parte de caena – Tran. De FL. De Remond]

Protestants would have us believe that, before his death, Luther denied some of his dogmas, and especially his formulary respecting the real presence; they stand in need of this apostacy in order to exalt Calvin. In default of official testimony, they have culled from an obscure writer an anecdote, which they quote in order to prove that Luther did not regard Calvin as a heretic. We ask nothing better than to recount this little story. [The "little story" is a bit too long to repeat here along with Audin’s comments. – Ed. Babinski]...

But the spectacle of those intestine divisions [amongst Protestant Reformers], doctrinal transformations, antilogies, of those prodigies of variations, retractations, and contradictions, does not in the least alarm Protestant historians, who, with great coolness, propound the statement:

That there is unity between the two churches, the reformed and the protestant church, if not of teaching, at least of faith in Jesus Christ. But then we will ask Calvin’s last biographer, to explain to us the anger of John of Noyan against Westphalius, Pighius, and Gentilis, all Protestants, who apparently believed in Jesus Christ and in the merits of his blood?

[Audin, p. 84-85]
We have beheld Luther at Marbourg, at the colloquy imagined by Philip of Hesse, refuse to give the kiss of peace to the Sacramentarians, whom Calvin represents, and in leaving for Wittenberg, devote them to the wrath of God and men...

Has not Luther just torn out the page in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion -- where Calvin speaks of the bread and wine of the Eucharist as mere emblems -- as a page inspired by the evil spirit?...

If King Francis I embraces the symbol of Calvin, Luther threatens the King with reprobation. If the King listens to Luther, Calvin damns him irremediably, for allowing himself to be seduced by “the detestable error of the Real Presence.” Apostles of the Lord agree then among yourselves. You both tell me, take and read, here is the book of life, the bread of truth, the manna of the desert. I listen to you, and your word throws my soul into an abyss of doubts. – Who then will cause to shine “that first star of day,” as Calvin calls his gospel.
    “I will” says Osiander, “but accept my essential justice.”
    “I will,” says Calvin, “but reject the justice of the heretic Osiander,and accept my gratuitous justice.”
    “I will,” says Melanchthon, “but remain in the papacy, for the church
    must have a visible head.”
    “I will,” says Calvin, “but reject the pope, the prince of darkness, theanti-christ of flesh and bone.”
    “I will,” says Luther, “but believe that with your lips you receive thebody and blood of Christ.”
    “I will,” says Calvin, “but believe that your mouth only touches thesymbols of the flesh and blood, and that faith alone has the power totransform them into reality.”

Where then did the first star of day stop in its course?

    “At Zurich,” says Zwingli.
    “At Bale,” says Oecolampadius.
    “At Strasbourg,” says Bucer.
    “At Wittenberg,” says Luther.
    “At Neuchatel,” says Farel.

But in what Bible shall I read the word of God?
    “In Luther’s Bible,” says Hans Lufft, his printer.
    “In the Geneva Bible,” say Calvin and Beza.
    “In the Bible of Zurich,” exclaims Leo Judae.
    “In the Bible of Bale,” answers Oecolampadius.
    “In truth,” says Beza, “the translation of Bale is pitiful, and in manypassages offensive to the Holy Spirit.”
    “Cursed be the Geneva translation,” says the colloquy of Hamptoncourt, “it is the worst that exists.”
    “Be on your guard,” says Calvin, “against the Bible of Zwingli, it is poison; for Zwingli has written “that Paul did not recognize his epistles as holy, infallible scripture, and that immediately after they had been written, they had no authority among the Apostles.”

[Audin, p. 486-487]
All who have known him withdraw from him [Calvin], because they are unable to endure his arrogant speech, his bilious egotism, his bursts of vanity, and his immeasurable pride. Melanchthon reproaches him with a moroseness that nothing can bend. Bucer, with the disease of evil speaking which has passed into the very blood, like the virus of a mad-dog. Papire Masson, with an insatiable pride and thirst for blood, under the mask of modesty and simplicity; Balduinus, with an intolerable self sufficiency of which every one complains.

If he be such as his [Calvin’s] admiring biographers represent him to us, how did it happen, that one by one he lost all his friends, even the most devoted? Caroli, at the disputation of Lausanne, had tendered him [Calvin] the noblest pledges of devotedness. And Caroli, whom at first he had lauded, at length was nothing better than “a mad dog.” The reason, is that Caroli was unwilling to sell his liberty to the reformer. Castalion was one of his beloved disciples, whom he had placed at the head of the college of Geneva; but Castalion falls into disgrace with Calvin, because he understands the descendit ad infers of the Athanasian creed differently from him…Pighius, whose learning he [Calvin] has admired, is transformed into a beardless scholar, as soon as he questions the reformer’s authority. Bucer is compelled one day to explain: “thou [Calvin] lovest and thou hatest without any other motive than that insupportable
self-love, which annoys all that are acquainted with thee.” Luther, whom at first he regarded as an angel [after first reading Luther’s works], soon becomes a wicked woman, who would do much better to employ the fist she has received from God in correcting her own faults, than to be sustaining her shameless blasphemies of the “real presence.” Search all the pages of Protestant or Reformation biography, and you will not encounter a single reputation that he [Calvin] has not attacked, torn to pieces, vilified. He calls, “Luther, in ridicule, the Pericles of Germany;

Melanchthon, an inconstant person and a coward; Osiander, an enchanter, a seducer, a savage beast; Augiland, minister at Montebeliard, proud, strife making, wrathful; Capmulus, a nobody; Heshus, a stinking babbler; Staincer, an Arian; Memnon, a miserable Manichean.” Hence they were wont to say at Geneva: “better be in hell with Beza, than in paradise with Calvin.” [Beza thought ill of the same people and ideas that Calvin did. After Calvin died, Beza became Calvin’s biographer. But the saying went in Geneva that even “being in hell with Beza was better than being in heaven with Calvin.” -- Ed Babinski]

[Audin, p. 530-532]
Pope Paul III, when dying, forgave all his enemies after the example of the Saviour on his cross…including all those who had caused him to suffer in this life: without this evangelical wish, the Catholic priest never would say to the soul: Depart, Christian soul. Calvin treated Pope Paul III as Luther did Henry VIII, covering his face with mud. [And] Calvin in his last hour, pardoned nobody. Would Beza, who undertakes to describe the last moments of his friend; have forgotten to record the words of mercy which he should have heard?...On the 27th of May, 1564 [Calvin]…had ceased to breathe. “On that day,” says Beza, “the sun went down, and the greatest
luminary that ever came into the world for the direction of the church of God was withdrawn into heaven. On that night and the following day, there were great lamentations throughout the city: the prophet of the Lord was no more.” [Beza, The Life of Calvin] Beza adds, “There were many strangers who came from a distance and marvelously desired to see him [Calvin], dead as he was, and urged to be allowed this…But, to prevent all calumny, he was taken away about 8 in the morning, and about two hours before noon, he was borne in the usual the common burial place...” This “calumny” of which Beza here speaks was public rumor, which recounted strange things regarding the last moments of the Reformer. It was said that no one had been allowed to enter the death chamber, because the body of the deceased bore traces of a desperate struggle with death, and showed a decomposition in which the eye would have seen visible signs of divine anger, or marks of an infamous disease; also, they had hastened to veil the face of the corpse with a black cloth, and to bury it before the rumor of his death had been spread through the city, so great fear had they of indiscreet looks [at the face and body]. But it chanced that a young student, having glided into the chamber of the dead man, lifted the cloth, and beheld the mysteries which it was their interest to keep concealed. No one had asked him to reveal the secret. He wrote: “Calvin died, smitten by the hand of an avenging God; the victim of a shameful disease which ended in despair.” [Joann. Harennius, apud Pet. Cutzenum.]

This student was Harennius, who had come to Geneva to attend the lessons of the reformer.

[Audin, p. 550]
When at a later period, thanks to the efforts of the synod of Dort, thought was allowed to scrutinize the Genevese Confession [i.e., The Confession of Faith that Calvin authored for the people of Geneva when Calvin was the chief preacher and spiritual authority there], see how, each day, some one or other of the articles of the Confession has been given up, till of all Protestant cities Geneva has become the least Calvinistic...However the Reformation may seek to hide itself beneath the mantle of Zwingli, of Luther, of Calvin, of Oecolampadius, or of Knox, it cannot enjoy a dogmatic existence except by the favor of princes: its kingdom is of this world.

[Audin, p. 548-549]
Calvin's word, having been brought to the low countries [Holland, et al] and subjected to examination, had been found insufficient...Each city of Holland had an "apostle sent by God"...[and] of all of Calvin's books the only one that they considered the work of the Lord was Calvin's Treatise Concerning the Duty of Public Magistrates to Punish Heretics, which each Protestant sect translated in order to put it in practice against those who dissented.* Bogermann, professor of Fancker, wrote comments on the pamphlet, and added some new texts to prove that the civil power has the right to put to death the blasphemer of God's name. He called every one a blasphemer who did not think with him on the subject of grace. [Two Protestants] Jacob Arminius and Franz Gonar, revived the subjects of dispute that had occupied Luther [a Protestant] and Erasmus [a Catholic]. Franz Gomar damned Arminius, who maintained the liberty of the will; Arminius doomed to the flames Fanz Gomar, who preached the doctrine of serf-will. There were intolerants and tolerants, rigid Calvinists and moderate Calvinists, lapsarians and supralapsarians.
    [*Footnote by Audin at the bottom of page 549, "We refer those of our readers, desirous to become acquainted with the variations of the Reformation, to the German book of Hoeninghaus, _My Excursion Through Protestantism, or the Necessity of a Return to the Catholic Church, Demonstrated Exclusively by the Avowals of Protestant Theologians and Philosophers_. It is one of the finest books of the epoch, unfortunately almost unknown in France."]

To learn more about the mutual animosities of the Protestant Reformers visit this link

Pageviews this week: