Author Archives: AnnSechrist

Clamming up Instead of Rising up

My mom’s birthday was today. I don’t know if it was the fact that it is her birthday, or just some other thoughts I’ve had lately about womanhood and motherhood, but something put it in me that I should be thanking and praising her more.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” I saw this verse in new light today. This isn’t just the pro-activeness of the mother’s virtues that somehow causes “you are blessed” to burble out of her children like fizz in an elementary classroom volcano. No, this rising up is the initiation of the kids, in response to their mother’s virtue. They rise up, call people’s attention with the clink of a glass, “Ahem, ahem, ladies and gentlemen,” and speak of the virtuous facets of their mother.

Except I wasn’t quite that bold. The restaurant was noisy and full of people. I don’t make speeches very well in front of my family. So, into the gift I gave her, I slipped a card on which I had put some scribblings of what I hoped were thoughtful praises. She opened it and read it, that permanent, sweet smile on her face that always shows up when there is the least bit of a reason to be glad. The table was silent as they watched her read. After glancing over her shoulder, my dad explained to everyone else that I had “written her an essay.” That awkwardness that always arises when someone reads in front of you something you wrote, suddenly bubbled and boiled over, and I slurped on my straw for good measure. Unfortunately, the Lord saw fit to place no water in my straw except for some ill-begotten droplets, which went immediately into my lungs, which gave me the lucky role of hacking and coughing and spewing and barking until every droplet rued the day it ended up in my straw. I’ve never been good at filling a silence. My mom got to the end of the card, and thanked me for it with shining violet eyes.

I don’t know if it said everything I wanted it to say. It probably didn’t. I don’t know if it said anything that she needed to hear. It might have. I do know that it’s been much too long since I’ve tried to tell her thank you. And I do hope, and will intentionally try, to not clam up so much when I should be rising up.

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Satisfied, Satisfied, Christ Has Satisfied

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A new editing project has been fed my way, so it will be another week before I can really dig into more research on John Calvin’s marriage. This editing project is a workbook accompaniment to a video series on mentorship and success. The audience is Christian students who are ready to launch out into the world and are trying to choose a path. What I love about this project is the focus it has on seeking God first, because many of the more specific particulars of our future will be added to us once we have sought God. (“Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”)

This also fits perfectly with a chapter I just read in C. S. Lewis’s book on the Psalms. I don’t have it here with me; I’m in the library and could probably find it here if I really wanted to, but let me try to sum it up from memory. Lewis speaks of a thirst for God as if we are a parched land that soaks up water because water is the one solution to all its other problems. He talks about the rambunctious, indecently raucous praise of God that the Psalmist indulges in. This is the God of feasting, noisemaking, dancing, party poppers, and uncontrollable laughter. This is the God we seek and desire, not as a stuffy, starched-collar ascetic, but as a child who just woke up on Christmas morning and saw that it had snowed and that his parents were downstairs all rosy and jolly and full of love.

And, to round up everything I’ve read still further under one blanket topic, I recently came across a video post by Steve DeWitt called, Dealing with Disappointment When You’re Single. His main point was that he had “done” all that could be done, as a righteous man, to prepare for marriage. He was a pastor, he had prayed for his wife since he was 18, he truly wanted to be content while at the same time wanting to be married. Many married people tried to encourage him, like Job’s friends tried to encourage Job– not really helpful, not very truthful– with all their solutions. Finally the reigning glory and the thought that overcame his loneliness was that God had provided Jesus Christ for his salvation, and with Him, has He not freely provided him all things? Rather than it being a promise that he would get married, Steve took it as a promise that God was ultimately the satisfaction of all desires. Whether He provided marriage or not, He would, and did, satisfy.

This was a blessing to me. It is not wrong to want marriage and to look for it, but in the cosmic order of things, Jesus Christ Himself has been provided for my satisfaction and happiness. Nothing else will give it.

And just so I wouldn’t forget the lesson, one more reminder was given to me—this time in a sermon by Barry Cooper on Ecclesiastes 2. Believe it or not, the topic was on the Search for Satisfaction, and verse by verse Barry listed every reason that Solomon had to be satisfied… and yet he wasn’t. “One of the things that spoils our pleasures is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give. They weren’t designed to bring ultimate satisfaction. They were designed to point to Someone who can. …The problem is that we are far too easily pleased.”

Solid joys and lasting pleasure,

None but Zion’s children know.

John Calvin’s Personality – “I assure you that by nature I am shy and timid.”

Many people have categorized John Calvin as a particularly severe and judgmental man.  Their insights are based not so much on the many eyewitness accounts or on Calvin’s own perception of himself, but on the multitude of misconceptions about his theology. This is crazy. Why not go to the people who knew him to find out what he was really like? And it wouldn’t hurt to look at what he thought of himself, too.

  • “a bow that was always tightly strung.” -Wolfgang Musculus, a minister and professor
  • “of a rather timid disposition” -Theodore Beza, personal friend and biographer of Calvin
  • “I assure you that by nature I am shy and timid.” -Calvin
  • “a person rather overmuch attentive, not to say troublesome, in the frequency of my correspondence.” -Calvin
  • “[his preaching was] marked by much grace, strength and simplicity and yet was completely lacking in ostentation.” – Theodore Beza
  • “every day I talk to all those who need to see me, even the youngest and the poorest.” -Calvin
  • “He was constantly filled with a great sense of compassion, as if he could see for himself the distress which overtook the churches and the dreadful massacres perpetrated against the poor believers.” – Beza
  • “His only difficulty was that his body had trouble keeping up with his mind, although at times he tried hard to make it do so.” -Beza, p. 95
  • “even when we thought he was resting, he continued to give himself unstintingly to the work.” -Beza
  • “God had bestowed upon him such a measure of wisdom and discernment that no one was ever any the worse for having followed his advice.” – Beza
  • “He sat supporting his head with one hand, as he often did.” -Beza
  • “You could see from his face how he was rejoicing in the Lord with the whole congregation.” -Beza
  • “Besides a temperament that was by nature prone to anger, there were a number of things that tended to make him irritable and difficult to get on with. These included, for example, his own lively mind, the lack of discretion on the part of many of those around him, and the many varied affairs he had to deal with concerning the church of God. …But he was far from seeking to make excuses for this failing. On the contrary, no one was more aware of it, or more conscious of its importance, than he was himself.” -Beza
  • “…his remarkable affability, which meant that he could meet the very young on their own level when the need arose.” -Beza
  • “gentleness in bearing with the weaknesses and failings of others” -Beza
  • “in what way was he any different from the rest of us, except that he surpassed all of us in humility and went to a lot more trouble than any of us?” -Beza
  • “Some have accused Calvin of being short-tempered. I do not want to make this man out to be an angel. However, I cannot fail to mention the remarkable extent to which God made use of the very forcefulness of his character.” -Beza
    Drawing of John Calvin by one of his students.

    This drawing of John Calvin was done by one of Calvin’s students while Calvin was teaching.

    Was Calvin aloof? Disapproving? So cranial that he had no heart?

    Not at all. He was always accessible and eager to converse. He wrote more letters than any other protestant reformer, and at a guess from what I’ve read so far, I’d say 70% of those or more were to good friends who he retained his entire life, in spite of theological differences. His letters are full of relational content. He apologizes for the lateness of the letter. He inquires about the health of the family. He explains in great detail how he hoped not to offend. He begs a recently widowed friend to come for a visit and a change of pace. He includes greetings from his wife to his friends’ wives. He congratulates a father on the marriage of his daughter, and sends condolences when a man loses his child to the plague. Also, the hospitality of John Calvin’s home was famous in all of protestant Christendom.

    From Calvin’s own admission, it’s true that Calvin had an occasional temper flare-up. The trigger seemed to be when there was a particularly erroneous statement made about essential doctrines of the faith, and none of Calvin’s peers detected it, but instead embraced it without looking into it. That was what angered him. But most of the time he was able to discuss theological differences with gracious and elegant rhetoric, but occasionally the foolishness of others got the better of him. When this happened, nothing worked better to calm him and bring him back into the room after he had stormed out, than the famed “architect of subtleties,” reformer Martin Bucer. This gentle man was especially gifted in peacemaking, and as a good friend of Calvin’s, could always bring peace to the situation.

    We find all kinds of personality synopsis for Calvin on the internet. Some say he was a crazed control-freak who burned up people who didn’t believe the same thing as him. This is far from the truth. Initially, he had to be forcibly put into a position of authority by an older man who needed his help in Geneva. Calvin was well known by the Council of Pastors as well as the Consistory in Geneva (the ruling bodies of the church and state, respectively), as shunning control and deferring to others’ judgment, though he readily gave his advice when they asked. All major decisions that were made in Geneva were made by a ruling body, not by Calvin. The “burning” incident was the heretic Servetus, who Calvin had, for many years, attempted to reconcile, or at least to convince Servetus to stop preaching his heresy. The decision for Servetus to be put to death was not Calvin’s alone, and Calvin begged his fellow pastors to give Servetus a more merciful death. Calvin was the one who visited Servetus in prison, and spent much of the night before his death with him, to try to convince him to come back to the truth. If anything, Calvin was the most merciful Genevan authority involved in this situation. But because his name is tied with everything Geneva, he frequently gets bad-mouthed over this.

    Who was he? A genius, an introvert, a man who could remember and quote everything he read, a good friend, a passionate disposition that occasionally erupted, and very much a human.

Accessibility

I’m at the Denver Seminary Library right now, my favorite place to work because they have secluded desks and aisles upon aisles of delicious books, including all of Calvin’s letters and many compilations of his other writings. At this very moment they’re pumping cinnamon roll smell from the coffee shop into every nook and cranny. But I must stay focused, as much as I’d like to take my English tea and a book and be done with writing for the day. Anyway, I just came across this quote from Calvin in Beza’s biography of him, that shows how accessible he was, to everyone.

He says, “M. de Farges boasts of having talked with princes and kings, whereas I refused to speak to him. Speaking for myself, I do not boast of having talked to great noblemen. I will simply say that every day I talk to all those who need to see me, even the youngest and the poorest.”

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My nephew and I. This little child is easy to love.

Take a moment to think what this means. Though the theology Calvin wrote about penetrated through centuries of heresy to establish most of the doctrines that the evangelical church holds to today, Calvin himself wasn’t so busy being visionary that he couldn’t talk to little people with little minds and little finances. Beza describes his great gentleness in bearing with the weaknesses and failings of others, and his remarkable affability in meeting the young on their own level.

To be able to explain great doctrines to both children and seminary students would be incredible, except that it is a characteristic that many great minds have had. C. S. Lewis was just as influential (perhaps more so) in his Narnia stories to the children as he was to the Oxford pupils he tutored, or to the adults who read Mere Christianity.  And Jesus rebuked his disciples for them turning children away from Him, saying “Let the little children come to Me.” Of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Are you convicted a little bit? Do you think more highly of your conversations than Calvin did? What would happen if we took a moment to talk with the “least of these,” to listen compassionately to the incessant woes of the widow, to explain what it means to get along with siblings to an eight-year-old, to “every day” talk to those who need to see you, “even the youngest and the poorest”? I don’t know what that would look like, but I think it would be good.

It’s interesting that his dying words included an admonition to the young, to beware of this very thing.

“Let the young retain a sense of modesty without wanting to press too far ahead, for youth always entails an element of boasting, which seeks to exalt oneself and look down on others.”

Hospitality in John Calvin’s Home

Calvin and Idelette’s home was famous for its hospitality. One guest to their home wrote to the couple, “Your hospitality in the name of Christ is not unknown to anybody in Europe.” One of Calvin’s personal friends, Theodore Beza, recounts several times in which Calvin invited people with disputes or questions into his home fora meal. As they relaxed and enjoyed their meals, they would inevitably end up talking about whatever it was that had troubled them, and usually in a peaceable manner. Friendship extended over a table of steaming platters did much to soothe a troubled heart. Beza describes Calvin’s “remarkable affability,” revealed in how “he could meet the very young on their own level when the need arose,” and how he demonstrated great “gentleness… in bearing with the weaknesses and failings of others.”Image

He was also a fascinating conversationalist because of his great knowledge and memory. “If someone brought up the subject of particular things that he had witnessed in the past, whether in France, Italy, or Germany, [Calvin] would be able to talk about them, mentioning people and places by name and turning the discussion to good account.”

One preacher who enjoyed the hospitality of the Calvin house was John Knox, the famous reformer of Scotland. He greatly admired Calvin and had many questions for him, especially about his opinion on women in a civil office of authority. He was also astonished to find that “the Theologian” Calvin liked to play a game of “clef” after dinner! When all the dishes were cleared from the table, two objects—books or bottles perhaps—were set up at the opposite end of the table as “goal posts.” Each player was to slide a key across the table so it went between the two objects but did not fall off the other side of the table. Local lore also holds that he enjoyed playing lawn bowling too. This was a simple game of rolling a ball across the lawn, attempting to hit or touch a certain object.

Sometimes Calvin and Idelette took their visiting friends on a tour of the countryside, introducing them to other friends along the way. Writing to his friend Viret, Calvin dangles a tempting itinerary, hoping he’ll stay.

“Someone told me that you are inclined to come to Geneva. I have seized the hope with as much fervor as if you were already here. If such is truly your intention, come Saturday. Your arrival could not be more timely. You will preach for me Sunday morning in the city so that I can preach at Jussy, and join me after dinner. We’ll take a visit to Monsieur de Falais; then, crossing the lake, we’ll enjoy the pleasures of the country together at the home of our friends Pommier and Delisle, and we shan’t return until Thursday. The day following, if you’d like to go to Tournay or Bellerive, I’ll accompany you. Above all, you can count on the warmest reception.” (“Les Amitiés de Calvin,” Bulletin de la Société de L’Histoire du Protestantisme Français (Paris, 1864), page 93. Author’s translation.)

The warmest reception. Those who know little of Calvin’s theology and even less of the man himself assume that he was austere, judgmental, and scared people away. Yet both those who disagreed with him and those who were his closest friends were invited into his home for a warm meal, invigorating and affirming conversation, with games on the lawn to finish off the day.

John Calvin and Hospitality in Geneva

It’s well known that John Calvin the bachelor practiced active hospitality before he was married, and that during the first months of his marriage to Idelette, many guests and boarders enjoyed John and Idelette’s home for both long and short periods of time. Calvin believed that hospitality was not a question of personal preference, but of obedience to the command to show kindness to “strangers within your gates.” Hospitality has “nearly ceased to be properly observed among men,” Calvin writes, “for the ancient hospitality celebrated in histories is unknown to us, and inns now supply the place of accommodation for strangers.” (Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), p. 340)

Calvin was especially hospitable to religious refugees, teaching others in his congregation that “no duty can be more pleasing or acceptable to God” than to provide kind hospitality to religious refugees.

“Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, ‘He is a stranger;’ but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that He forbids you to despise your own flesh (Isa. 58:7, Vg.). Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless;’ but the Lord shows him to be one to who He has deigned to give the beauty of His image. Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to Himself. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.” (Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.7.6.)

Calvin’s preaching on hospitality influenced more than his own home and congregation. During Calvin’s years in Geneva, the city’s population more than doubled! Most were refugees looking for a place to safely raise their families, and with Geneva being just a few miles from the border of anti-Protestant France, Geneva was a practical and nurturing “city of refuge.” We find numerous letters of Calvin’s inviting his friends and friends of friends to Geneva. He loved having all his friends near him, and he loved adding people he had not met yet to his circle of friends.

One modern-day visitor to Geneva described some of the homes from Calvin’s era that still carry a visible mark of the incredible hospitality the Genevans practiced during the reformation. With the streets in Geneva narrowly winding in a tightly-cramped city and the surrounding gardens being very small, there was no place to expand a house’s square footage, but up! So roofs were literally lifted off these homes and another floor or two was added onto the upper story in order to accommodate more guests. The roof was then put back on the highest story, and the house was twice as accommodating than before. Like a high water-mark in a river, these homes show a high point in Geneva’s history. (Rev. Mark Englund-Krieger, “Report to the Presbytery, May 22, 2012,” on Carlisle Executive Presbyter, <http://markekrieger.blogspot.com/2012/05/report-to-presbytery-may-22-2012.html> accessed on June 16, 2012.)

Calvin was also known to have established the “5% rule” amongst local businessmen in order to obtain loans for foreign refugees in Geneva. He personally requested that banks loan refugees what the refugees would need to start a life and a business in Geneva, and to only charge them 5% interest, with no increases. This request was not a civil or pastoral command, but more of a challenge and encouragement to the business owners of Geneva. As a result of this wise “hospitable” strategy of Calvin’s, the city’s economy boomed, bringing in more still more merchants and business owners.

Calvin Writes on the Role of Beauty and Attraction in Choosing a Wife

When Calvin was 32 years old and had ended up in peaceful Strasbourg after a tumultuous attempt at ministry in Geneva, he was ready to get married. Calvin’s friend Farel was eager to help, and had all sorts of ladies to suggest. In response, Calvin reminded Farel that he was “not one of those insane lovers who embraces also the vices of those they are in love with, where they are smitten at first sight by a fine figure.” Evidently he was not waiting to be captivated by external beauty, or swept off his feet by some sort of magical chemistry beyond his control. 

Some could easily misinterpret Calvin’s meaning if they only looked at this letter to determine his thoughts on beauty and physical attraction. Though Calvin did not give high priority to physical attraction when finding his own marriage partner, he certainly condoned it as an important aspect in the equation of a good marriage. 

Calvin makes clear that having “regard to beauty” is not a fault when choosing a wife, but that beauty in a woman should not be the only factor that compels a man to marry a girl. Look at Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 2:6 (“That the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair, and they took them wives of all whom they chose,”):

“Moses does not deem it worthy of condemnation that regard was had to beauty, in the choice of wives; but that mere lust reigned. For marriage is a thing too sacred to allow that men should be induced to it by the lust of the eyes! For this union is inseparable comprising all the parts of life; as we have before seen, that the woman was created to be a helper of the man. Therefore our appetite becomes brutal, when we are so ravished with the charms of beauty, that those things which are chief are not taken into the account. Moses more clearly describes the violent impetuosity of their lust, when he says, that “they took wives of all that they chose;” by which he signifies, that the sons of God did not make their choice from those possessed of necessary endowments, but wandered without discrimination, rushing onward according to their lust. We are taught, however, in these words, that temperance is to be used in holy wedlock, and that its profanation is no light crime before God. For it is not fornication which is here condemned in the sons of the saints, but the too great indulgence of license in choosing themselves wives. And truly, it is impossible but that, in the succession of time, the sons of God should degenerate when they thus bound themselves in the same yoke with unbelievers. And this was the extreme policy of Balaam; that, when the power of cursing was taken from him, he commanded women to be privily sent by the Midianites, who might seduce the people of God to impious defection. Thus, as in the sons of the patriarchs, of whom Moses now treats, the forgetfulness of that grace which had been divinely imparted to them was, in itself, a grievous evil, inasmuch as they formed illicit marriages after their own host; a still worse addition was made, when, by mingling themselves with the wicked, they profaned the worship of God, and fell away from the faith; a corruption which is almost always wont to follow the former.”

The story of Jacob and Rachel also reveals Calvin’s thoughts on beauty and attraction in choosing a marriage partner, where Calvin warns against the “very culpable want of self-government, when any one chooses a wife only for the sake of her beauty.” “Excellence of disposition ought to be deemed of the first importance,” he says. In this passage, Calvin also acknowledges what we moderns call “falling in love” by giving it the phrase, “a secret kind of affection [that] produces mutual love,” which is often difficult to restrain. But I give you the full text, below, so that you can see the natural progression of Calvin’s thoughts, in his exposition of Genesis 29:18.

“Further, it is not altogether to be deemed a fault that Jacob was rather inclined to love Rachel; whether it was that Leah, on account of her tender eyes, was less beautiful, or that she was pleasing only by the comeliness of her eyes, while Rachel excelled her altogether in elegance of form. For we see how naturally a secret kind of affection produces mutual love. Only excess is to be guarded against, and so much the more diligently, because it is difficult so to restrain affections of this kind, that they do not prevail to the stifling of reason. Therefore he who shall be induced to choose a wife, because of the elegance of her form, will not necessarily sin, provided reason always maintains the ascendancy, and holds the wantonness of passion in subjection. Yet perhaps Jacob sinned in being too self-indulgent, when he desired Rachel the younger sister to be given to him, to the injury of the elder; and also, while yielding to the desire of his own eyes, he undervalued the virtues of Leah: for this is a very culpable want of self-government, when any one chooses a wife only for the sake of her beauty, whereas excellence of disposition ought to be deemed of the first importance.” 

In Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 39:6, the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Calvin uses this opportunity to point out that Joseph’s “elegance of form” caused a unique trial in this case. Perhaps beauty isn’t always a blessing, Calvin seems to be saying here. Have you ever thought of that? 

“‘And Joseph was a goodly person, and well-favored.’ Whereas elegance of form was the occasion of great calamity to holy Joseph, let us learn not greatly to desire those graces of person which may conciliate the favor of the world; but rather let each be content with his own lot. We see to how many dangers they are exposed, who excel in beauty; for it is very difficult for such to restrain themselves from all lascivious desires.”

Nor was Calvin a foreigner to romantic feeling, or at least to understanding the romantic feelings of others. He talks about how “most tender is that love a youth has for a young virgin in the flower of her age.,”

When Calvin looked for his own wife, he believed there were certain practical components that would make a good wife for himself, and evidently he had given beauty some thought as well, though a different sort of beauty than most desire. “This is the only beauty which allures me,” he says, and lists his qualifications, which I will include in a later post on Calvin’s List.