Thursday, February 10, 2011

John Calvin's Geneva

Calvin and Feral first attempted to reform the church in Geneva in 1536.[1] Not everyone was ready to follow Calvin and Feral in their efforts at reform. The main sticking point was excommunication of unrepentant sinners. The bourgeoisie who then controlled the local government refused to allow this stating it was unnecessary rigorism.[2]

Calvin’s return to Geneva in 1541 saw an imposition of restrictions Dr. Diemer described including curfews, eliminating consumption of alcohol and dancing, etc.[3] Holy living as determined by Calvin and Feral was the order of the day. The local government was placed mostly under the control of the Consistory which was a body made up of pastors and lay elders who usually followed Calvin’s advice.[4] Calvin’s Geneva was noted for religious dogmatism in which people were expelled from the city and one in this week’s reading was even burned at the stake for being a heretic.

One should remember to keep the times in which Calvin lived in mind when considering this question. The Middle Ages had just passed and it would still be many years before the separation of church and state would ultimately become a reality in Europe.

One need not conceive of such a society today as a hypothetical because it clearly exists in many countries in the modern Middle East where Islam is the religion completing the marriage of church and state. Occasionally there are news stories of those who are imprisoned or worse for violating some religious code. After centuries of church and state more or less being the same, there is little wonder in the mind of this seminarian why there is such strong opposition to this in many parts of the world today. Even in our own country there seems to be an attempt to ban religion from the public square all together.

[1] González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985), 64-66.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lesson 5 Lecture video. Dr. Diemer first describes Calvin and Feral’s unsuccessful attempts to limit the liberal lifestyle advocated by the Libertines who succeeded in essentially running Calvin out of town in 1538. Though Feral was invited to remain, he joined his friend. The return three years later was at the request of the town council who knew what they would be getting but thought it was better than the direction Geneva was heading.

[4] González, 67.

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