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Calvin's critics

John Calvin -- like Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards many years later -- would be loved by many, and also abhorred by many. Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, recorded the various tributes to Calvin after his death. It is fascinating to note the praises of his critics contrast with the stereotypes many modern Protestants have of the man.

For example, a statement of a prominent Roman Catholic of his day...

"Calvin had morals better regulated and settled than ____, and shewed from early youth that he did not allow himself to be carried away by the pleasures of sense… With a dry and attenuated body, he always possessed a fresh and vigorous intellect, ready in reply, bold in attack; even in his youth a great faster, either on account of his health, and to allay the headaches with which he was continually afflicted, or in order to have his mind more disencumbered for the purposes of writing, studying, and improving his memory. Calvin spoke little; what he said were serious and impressive words; he never appeared in company, and always led a retired life. He had scarcely his equal; for during twenty-three years that he retained possession of the bishopric of Geneva, he preached every day, and often twice on Sundays. He lectured on theology three times a week; and every Friday he entered into a conference which he called the Congregation. His remaining hours were employed in composition, and answering the letters which came to him as to a sovereign pontiff from all parts of heretical Christendom.... Calvin had a brilliancy of spirit, a subtlety of judgment, a grand memory, an eminent erudition, and the power of graceful diction.... No man of all those who preceded him has surpassed him in style, and few since have attained that beauty and facility of language which he possessed." --Florimond De Ræmond (1540–1602): Counseiller du Roy au Parlement de Bordeaux. A Roman Catholic.


A century later, Joseph Scaliger (1640–1609), an accomplished scholar (knowing thirteen languages, and a master of philology, history, chronology, philosophy, and theology, as well as a severe critic of Calvin), had this to say:


"Calvin is an instructive and learned theologian, with a higher purity and elegance of style than is expected from a theologian. The two most eminent theologians of our times are John Calvin and Peter Martyr; the former of whom has treated sound learning as it ought to be treated, with truth and purity and simplicity, without any of the scholastic subtleties. Endued with a divine genius, he penetrated into many things which lie beyond the reach of all who are not deeply skilled in the Hebrew language, though he did not himself belong to that class. ... O how well Calvin apprehends the meaning of the Prophets! No one better … O what a good book is the Institutes! ... Calvin stands alone among theologians."

And this from James (Jacob) Arminius (1560–1609), the founder of Arminianism, who has nothing of the vitriol that modern-day Arminians have toward Calvin. Arminius writes,

"Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men."




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