John Calvin’s Geneva: A Little Reminder of What It’s Like to Live in a World Where Church and State are Combined

I’m kind of weirded out by people who express nostalgia for John Calvin, and call themselves admirers of his. I think it a useful correction to this nostalgia to actually recall what it was like, exactly, to live in John Calvin’s Geneva in the 16th century. Here’s the historian Will Durant (from his book, The Reformation, 1957, pp. 478-479) on an incident of high religious tension in the city:

On June 27, 1547, Calvin found attached to his pulpit a placard reading:

“Gross hypocrite! You and your companions will gain little by your pains. If you do not save yourselves by flights, nobody shall prevent your overthrow, and you will curse the hour when you left your monkery. . . . After people have suffered long they avenge themselves. . . . Take care that you are not served like M. Verle [who had been killed]. . . . We will not have so many masters. . . .”

Jacques Gruet, a leading Libertin, was arrested on suspicion of having written the placard; no proof was adduced. It was claimed that he had, some days previously, uttered threats against Calvin. In his room were found papers, allegedly in his handwriting, calling Calvin a haughty and ambitious hypocrite, and ridiculing the inspiration of the Scriptures and the immortality of the soul. He was tortured twice daily for thirty days until he confessed—we do not know how truthfully—that he had affixed the placard and conspired with French agents against Calvin and Geneva. On July 26, half dead, he was tied to a stake, his feet nailed to it, and his head was cut off.

You can’t turn the other cheek if you don’t have a head, can you? In any event, this is the kind of “George Bush” Christianity that John Calvin practiced. (Oh, maybe that’s what people mean when they say that they admire John Calvin. He was like George Bush. Okay then. Never mind.)

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to John Calvin’s Geneva: A Little Reminder of What It’s Like to Live in a World Where Church and State are Combined

  1. christianclarityreview says:

    Ah. Good ‘ol Will Durant.

    From Wikipedia:

    “In 1900, Durant was educated by the Jesuits in St. Peter’s Preparatory School and, later, Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey. ” He was not a historian, he was a mouthpiece for anti-Christ as Rome.

    That says it all. A group of persons set on controlling the world with the lie of human free will writes a ‘history’ about a new creature in Jesus Christ who perfectly understood that the will is not free and thus portrays Calvin as a tyrant. There is probably no mention in that book of how many thousands of those who were practicing true Christianity as non-free will religion as God did it through them were murdered by the Jesuit lead Catholics and what you are reading is at the least an outrage over Roman Catholic excess to protect their lies of what reality is and is not.

    We do however have the comfort that when God “bringeth back again what was past” He brings back the real thing, not the lies of historians colored with zealousness for their own outlook on reality that denies God as He actually Is.

    Proverbs 29:25-27 The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe. Many seek the ruler’s favour; but every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD. An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.


    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

  2. Pingback: John Calvin: Jesus’s Bulldog? « Prometheus Unbound

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