Vol. 8, Chapter XI. Calvin in Germany. From 1538-1541

85. Calvin in Strassburg

I. Calvin’s correspondence from 1538-1541 in Opera, vols. X. and XI.; Herminjard, Vols. V. and VI.; Bonnet-Constable, Vol. I. 63 sqq. Beza: Vita Calv., in Op. XXI. 128 sq. — Ann. Calv., Op. XXI. 226-285. Contains extracts from the Archives du chapitre de St. Thomas de Strasbourg.

II. Alf. Erichson: L’Église française de Strasbourg au XVIe siècle, d’après des documents inédits. Strasb. 1885. Comp. also his other works on the History of the Reformation in the Alsace. — C. A. Cornelius: Die Rueckkehr Calvin’s nach Genf. Muenchen, 1889. — E. Doumergue (Prof. of the Prot. Faculty of Montauban): Essai sur l’histoire du Culte Réformé principalement au XIXe Siècle. Paris, 1890. Ch. I., Calvin à Strasbourg, treats of the worship in the first French Reformed Church, the model of the churches of France. — Eduard Stricker: Johannes Calvin als erster Pfarrer der reformirten Gemeinde zu Strassburg. Nach urkundlichen Quellen. Strassburg (Heitz & Muendel), 1890 (65 pp.). In commemoration of the centenary of the church edifice of the French Reformed congregation (built in 1790) by its present pastor.

III. Henry, I. ch. X. — Staehelin, I. 168-283. — Kampschulte, I. 320-368. — Merle D’Aubigné, bk. XI. chs. XV.-XVII. (vol. VI. 543-609).

Calvin felt so discouraged by his recent experience that he was disinclined to assume another public office, and Conrault approved of this purpose. He therefore refused the first invitation of Bucer to come to Strassburg, the more so as his friend Farel was not included. But he yielded at last to repeated solicitations, mindful of the example of the prophet Jonah. Farel gave his hearty assent.

Strassburg was since 1254 a free imperial city of Germany, famous for one of the finest Gothic cathedrals, large commerce, and literary enterprise. Some of the first editions of the Bible were printed there. By its geographical situation, a few miles west of the Upper Rhine, it formed a connecting link between Germany, France, and Switzerland, as also between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism. It offered a hospitable home to a steady flow of persecuted Protestants from France, who called Strassburg the New Jerusalem. The citizens had accepted the Reformation in 1523 in the spirit of evangelical union between the two leading types of Protestantism. Bucer, Capito, Hedio, Niger, Matthias Zell, Sturm, and others, labored there harmoniously together. Strassburg was the Wittenberg of South-western Germany, and in friendly alliance with Zürich and Geneva.

Martin Bucer, the chief Reformer of the city, was the embodiment of a generous and comprehensive catholicity, and gave it expression in the Tetrapolitan Confession, which was presented at the diet of Augsburg in 1530. He afterwards brought about, in the same irenic spirit, the Wittenberg Concordia (1536), which was to harmonize the Lutheran and Zwinglian theories on the Lord’s Supper, but conceded too much to Luther (even the participation of the body and blood of Christ by unworthy communicants), and therefore was rejected by Bullinger and the Swiss Churches. He wrote to Bern in June, 1540, that next to Wittenberg no city in Germany was so friendly to the gospel and so large-hearted in spirit as Strassburg. He ended his labors in the Anglican Church as professor of theology in the University of Cambridge in 1551. Six years after his death his body was dug up, chained upright to a stake and burned, under Queen Mary; but his tomb was rebuilt and his memory honorably restored under Queen Elizabeth. His colleague Fagius shared the same fate.

The Zürichers, in a letter to Calvin, call Strassburg “the Antioch of the Reformation;” Capito, “the refuge of exiled brethren;” the Roman Catholic historian, Florimond de Raemond, “the retreat and rendezvous of Lutherans and Zwinglians under the control of Bucer, and the receptacle of those that were banished from France.” Among the distinguished early refugees from France were Francis Lambert, Farel, Le Févre, Roussel, and Michel d’Arande. Unfortunately, Strassburg did not long occupy this noble position, but became a battlefield of bitter sectarian strife and, for some time, the home of a narrow Lutheran orthodoxy. The city was conquered by Louis XIV. and annexed to Roman Catholic France in 1681, to the detriment of her Protestant character, but was reconquered by Emperor William I. and incorporated with united Germany as the capital of Alsace and Lorraine in 1870. The university was newly organized and better equipped than ever before.

Calvin arrived at Strassburg in the first days of September, 1538. He spent there three years in useful labors. He was received with open arms by Bucer, Capito, Hedio, Sturm, and Niger, the leading men in the Church, and appointed by the Council professor of theology, with a moderate salary. He soon felt at home, and in the next summer bought the citizenship, and joined the guild of the tailors.

The sojourn of Calvin in this city was a fruitful episode in his life, and an education for more successful work in Geneva. His views were enlarged and deepened. He gained valuable experience. He came in contact with the Lutheran Church and its leaders. He learned to understand and appreciate them, but was unfavorably impressed with the want of discipline and the slavish dependence of the clergy upon the secular rulers. He labored indefatigably and successfully as professor, pastor, and author. He informed Farel (April 20, 1539) that, when the messenger called for copy of his book (the second edition of the Institutes), he had to read fifty pages, then to teach and to preach, to write four letters, to adjust some quarrels, and was interrupted by visitors more than ten times.

It is in the fitness of things that three learned professors of the University of Strassburg, who lived during the French and German régime, and were equally at home in the language and theology of both nations, should give to the world the last and best edition of Calvin’s works.

Calvin’s economic condition during these three years was very humble. It is a shame for the congregation and the city government that they allowed such a man to struggle for his daily bread. For the first five months he received no pay at all, only free board in the house of a liberal friend. His countrymen were poor, but might have done something. He informed Farel, in April, 1539, that of his many friends in France, not one had offered him a copper, except Louis Du Tillet, who hoped to induce him to return. Hence he declined. The city paid him a very meagre salary of fifty-two guilders (about two hundred marks) for his professorial duties from May, 1539. His books were not profitable. When the Swiss heard of his embarrassment, they wished to come to his aid, and Fabri sent ten ducats to Farel for Calvin. But he preferred to sell his greatest treasure — the library — which he had left in Geneva, and to take students as boarders (pensionnaires). He trusted to God for the future.

With all his poverty he was happy in his independence, the society of congenial friends, and his large field of usefulness.


86. The Church of the Strangers in Strassburg

Calvin combined the offices of pastor and professor of theology in Strassburg, as he had done in Geneva. The former activity kept him in contact with his French countrymen; the latter extended his influence among the scholars in Germany.

He organized the first Protestant congregation of French refugees, which served as a model for the Reformed Churches of Geneva and France.

The number of refugees amounted at that time to about four hundred. Most of them belonged to the “little French Church.” His first sermon was delivered in the Church of St. Nicholas, and attracted a large crowd of Frenchmen and Germans. He preached four times a week (twice on Sunday), and held Bible classes. He trained deacons to assist him, especially in the care of the poor, whom he had much at heart. The names of the first two were Nicholas Parent, who afterwards became pastor at Neuchâtel, and Claude de Fer or Féray (Claudius Feraeus), a French Hellenist, who had fled to Strassburg, taught Greek, and died of the pestilence in 1541, to the great grief of Calvin.

He introduced his favorite discipline, and as he was not interfered with by the magistracy he had better success than at Geneva during his first sojourn. “No house,” he says, “no society, can exist without order and discipline, much less the Church.” He laid as much stress upon it as Luther did upon doctrine, and he regarded it as the best safeguard of sound doctrine and Christian life. He excluded a student who had neglected public worship for a month and fallen into gross immorality, from the communion table, and would not admit him till he professed repentance.

Not a few of the younger members, however, objected to excommunication as a popish institution. But he distinguished between the yoke of Christ and the tyranny of the pope. He persevered and succeeded. “I have conflicts,” he wrote to Farel, “severe conflicts, but they are a good school for me.”

He converted many Anabaptists, who were wisely tolerated in the territory of Strassburg, and brought to him from the city and country their children for baptism. He was consulted by the magistrates on all important questions touching religion. He conscientiously attended to pastoral care, and took a kindly interest in every member of his flock. In this way he built up in a short time a prosperous church, which commanded the respect and admiration of the community of Strassburg.

Unfortunately, this Church of the Strangers lasted only about twenty-five years, and was extinguished by the flames of sectarian bigotry, though not till after many copies had been made from it as a model. An exclusive Lutheranism, under the lead of Marbach, obtained the ascendency in Strassburg, and treated the Calvinistic Christians as dangerous heretics. When Calvin passed through the city on his way to Frankfort, in August, 1556, he was indeed honorably received by John Sturm and the students, who respectfully rose to their feet in his presence, but he was not allowed to preach to his own congregation, because he did not believe in the dogma of consubstantiation. A few years later the Reformed worship was altogether forbidden by order of the Council, Aug. 19, 1563.


87. The Liturgy of Calvin

I. La forme des prieres et chantzs ecclesiastiques, avec la maniere d’administrer les sacremens et consacrer le marriage, selon la coutume de l’Eglise ancienne, a.d. 1542. In Opera, VI. 161-210 (from a copy at Stuttgart; the title is given in the old spelling without accents). Later editions (1543, 1545, 1562, etc.) add: “la visitation des malades,” and “comme on l’observe à Genève.” An earlier edition of eighteen Psalms appeared at Strassburg, 1539. (See Douen, Clément Marot, I. 300 sqq.) An edition of the liturgy with the Psalms was printed at Strassburg, Feb. 15, 1542. (See Douen, l.c. 305, and 342 sqq.) A copy of an enlarged Strassburg ed. of 1545, entitled La forme des prieres et chantzs ecclesiastiques, was preserved in the Public Library at Strassburg till Aug. 24, 1870, when it was burnt at the siege of the city in the Franco-German War (Douen, I. 451 sq.).

II. Ch. d’Héricault: Ouvres de Marot. Paris, 1867. — Felix Bovet: Histoire du psautier des églises réformées. Neuchâtel, 1872. — O. Douen: Clément Marot et le Psautier Huguenot. Étude historique, littéraire, musicale et bibliographique; contenant les mélodies primitives des Psaumes, etc. Paris (à l’imprimerie national), 1878 sq. 2 vols. royal 8vo. A magnificent work published at the expense of the French Republic on the recommendation of the Institute. The second volume contains the harmonies of Goudimel.

Farel published at Neuchâtel in 1533, and introduced at Geneva in 1537, the first French Reformed liturgy, which includes, in the regular Sunday service, a general prayer, the Lord’s Prayer (before sermon), the Decalogue, confession of sins, repetition of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, a final exhortation and benediction. It resembled the German liturgy of Bern, which was published in 1529, and which Calvin caused to be translated into French by his friend Morelet. Of Farel’s liturgy only the form of marriage survived. The rest was reconstructed and improved by Calvin in the liturgy which he first introduced in Strassburg, and with some modifications in Geneva after his return.

Calvin’s liturgy was published twice in 1542. It was introduced at Lausanne in the same year, and gradually passed into other Reformed Churches.

Calvin built his form of worship on the foundation of Zwingli and Farel, and the services already in use in the Swiss Reformed Churches. Like his predecessors, he had no sympathy whatever with the Roman Catholic ceremonialism, which was overloaded with unscriptural traditions and superstitions. We may add that he had no taste for the artistic, symbolical, and ornamental features in worship. He rejected the mass, all the sacraments, except two, the saints’ days, nearly all church festivals, except Sunday, images, relics, processions, and the whole pomp and circumstance of a gaudy worship which appeals to the senses and imagination rather than the intellect and the conscience, and tends to distract the mind with the outward show instead of concentrating it upon the contemplation of the saving truth of the gospel.

He substituted in its place that simple and spiritual mode of worship which is well adapted for intelligent devotion, if it be animated by the quickening presence and power of the Spirit of God, but becomes jejune, barren, cold, and chilly if that power is wanting. He made the sermon the central part of worship, and substituted instruction and edification in the vernacular for the reading of the mass in Latin. He magnified the pulpit, as the throne of the preacher, above the altar of the sacrificing priest. He opened the inexhaustible fountain of free prayer in public worship, with its endless possibilities of application to varying circumstances and wants; he restored to the Church, like Luther, the inestimable blessing of congregational singing, which is the true popular liturgy, and more effective than the reading of written forms of prayer.

The order of public worship in Calvin’s congregation at Strassburg was as follows: — 

The service began with an invocation, a confession of sin and a brief absolution. Then followed reading of the Scriptures, singing, and a free prayer. The whole congregation, male and female, joined in chanting the Psalms, and thus took an active part in public worship, while formerly they were but passive listeners or spectators. This was in accordance with the Protestant doctrine of the general priesthood of believers. The sermon came next, and after it a long general prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. The service closed with singing and the benediction.

The same order is substantially observed in the French Reformed Churches. Calvin prepared also liturgical forms for baptism and the holy communion. A form for marriage and the visitation of the sick had been previously composed by Farel. The combination of the liturgical and extemporaneous features continue in the Reformed Churches of the Continent. In the Presbyterian churches of Scotland and most of the Dissenting churches of England, and their descendants in America, the liturgical element was gradually ruled out by free prayer; while the Anglican Church pursued the opposite course.

Baptism was always performed before the congregation at the close of the public service, and in the simplest manner, according to the institution of Christ; without the traditional ceremony of exorcism, and the use of salt, spittle, and burning candles, because these are not commanded in the Scriptures, nourish superstition, and divert the attention from the spiritual substance of the ordinance to outward forms. Calvin regarded immersion as the primitive form of baptism, but pouring and sprinkling as equally valid.

The communion was celebrated once a month in a simple but very solemn manner by the whole congregation. Calvin required the communicants to give him previous notice of their intention, that they might receive instruction, warning, or comfort, according to their need. Unworthy applicants were excluded.

The introduction of the Psalter in the vernacular was a most important feature, and the beginning of a long and heroic chapter in the history of worship and Christian life. The Psalter occupies the same important place in the Reformed Church as the hymnal in the Lutheran. It was the source of comfort and strength to the Huguenot Church of the Desert, and to the Presbyterian Covenanters of Scotland, in the days of bitter trial and persecution. Calvin, himself prepared metrical versions of Psa_25:1-22, Psa_36:1-12, Psa_43:1-5, Psa_46:1-11, Psa_91:1-16, Psa_113:1-9, Psa_120:1-7, Psa_138:1-8, Psa_142:1-7, together with a metrical version of the Song of Simeon and the Ten Commandments. He afterwards used the superior version of Clément Marot, the greatest French poet of that age, who was the poet of the court, and the psalmist of the Church (1497-1544). Calvin met him first at the court of the Duchess of Ferrara (1536), whither he had fled, and afterwards at Geneva (1542), where he encouraged him to continue his metrical translation of the Psalms. Marot’s Psalter first appeared at Paris, 1541, and contained thirty Psalms, together with metrical versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelic Salutation, the Creed, and the Decalogue. Several editions, with fifty Psalms, were printed at Geneva in 1543, one at Strassburg in 1545. Later editions were enlarged with the translations of Beza. The popularity and usefulness of his and Beza’s Psalter were greatly enhanced by the rich melodies of Claude Goudimel (1510-1572), who joined the Reformed Church in 1562, and died a martyr at Lyons in the night of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. He devoted his musical genius to the Reformation. His tunes are based in part on popular songs, and breathe the simple and earnest spirit of the Reformed cultus. Some of them have found a place among the chorals of the Lutheran Church.


88. Calvin as Theological Teacher and Author

The Reformers of Strassburg, aided by leading laymen, as Jacob Sturm and John Sturm, provided for better elementary and higher education, and founded schools which attracted pupils from France as early as 1525. Gérard Roussel, one of the earliest of the refugees, speaks very highly of them in a letter to the bishop of Meaux. A Protestant college (gymnasium), with a theological department, was established March 22, 1538, and placed under the direction of John Sturm, one of the ablest pedagogues of his times. It was the nucleus of a university which continued German down to the French Revolution, was then half Frenchified, and is now again German in language and methods of teaching. The first teachers in that college were Bucer for the New Testament, Capito for the Old, Hedio for history and theology, Herlin for mathematics, and Jacob Bedrot or Pedrotus for Greek. A converted Jew taught Hebrew.

Calvin was appointed assistant professor of theology in January, 1539. He lectured on the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Romans, and other books of the Bible. Many students came from Switzerland and France to hear him, who afterwards returned as evangelists. He speaks of several students in his correspondence with satisfaction. In some cases he was disappointed. He presided over public disputations. He refuted in 1539 a certain Robertus Moshamus, Dean of Passau, in a disputation on the merits of good works, and achieved a signal victory to the great delight of the scholars of the city.

But he had also an unpleasant dispute with that worthless theological turncoat, Peter Caroli, who appeared at Strassburg in October, 1539, as a troubler in Israel, as he had done before at Lausanne, and sought to prejudice even Bucer and Capito against Calvin on the subject of the Trinity.

With all his professional duties he found leisure for important literary work, which had been interrupted at Geneva. He prepared a thorough revision of his Institutes, which superseded the first, and a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, which opened the series of his invaluable exegetical works. Both were published at Strassburg by the famous printer Wendelin Rihel in 1539. He had been preceded, in the commentary on Romans, by Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, but he easily surpassed them all. He also wrote, in French, a popular treatise on the Lord’s Supper, in which he pointed out a via media between the realism of Luther and the spiritualism of Zwingli. Both parties, he says towards the close, have failed and departed from the truth in their passionate zeal, but this should not blind us to the great benefits which God through Luther and Zwingli has bestowed upon mankind. If we are not ungrateful and forgetful of what we owe to them, we shall be well able to pardon that and much more, without blaming them. We must hope for a reconciliation of the two parties.

At the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 he had, with the other Protestant delegates, to subscribe the Augsburg Confession. He could do so honestly, understanding it, as he said expressly, in the sense of the author who, in the year before, had published a revised edition with an important change in the 10th Article (on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper).

Of his masterly answer to Sadolet we shall speak separately.

His many letters from that period prove his constant and faithful attention to the duties of friendship. In his letters to Farel he pours out his heart, and makes him partaker of his troubles and joys, and familiar with public events and private affairs even to little details. Farel could not stand a long separation and paid him two brief visits in 1539 and 1540.


89. Calvin at the Colloquies of Frankfurt, Worms, and Regensburg

Calvin: Letters from Worms, Regensburg, and Strassburg, in Opera, XI., and Herminjard, vols. VI. and VII. His report on the Diet at Regensburg (Les Actes de la journée impériale en la cité de Regenspourg), in Opera, V. 509-684. — Melanchthon: Report on the Colloquy at Worms, in Latin, and the Acts of the Colloquy at Regensburg, in German, 1542.

See his Epistolae, ed. Bretschneider, IV. 33-78, and pp. 728 sqq. — Sturm: Antipappus. — Sleidan: De Statu Eccles. et Reipublicae Carolo V. Caesare, Lib. XIII.

Henry, Vol. I. ch. XVII. — Dyer, pp. 105 sqq. — Staehelin, I. 229-254. Kampschulte, I. 328-342. — Stricker, pp. 27 sqq. — Ludwig Pastor (Rom. Cath.): Die kirchlichen Reunionsbestrebungen waehrend der Regierung Karls V. Aus den Quellen dargestellt. Freiburg-i.-B., 1879 (507 pp.). He notices Calvin’s influence, pp. 194, 196, 212, 230, 245, 258, 266, 484, but apparently without having read his correspondence, which is one of the chief sources; he only refers to Kampschulte.

Calvin was employed, with Bucer, Capito, and Sturm, as one of the commissioners of the city and Church of Strassburg, on several public colloquies, which were held during his sojourn in Germany for the healing of the split caused by the Reformation. The emperor Charles V. was anxious, from political motives, to reconcile the Protestant princes to the Roman Church, and to secure their aid against the Turks. The leading theological spirits in these conferences were Melanchthon on the Lutheran, and Julius Pflug on the Roman Catholic side. They aimed to secure the reunion of the Church by mutual concessions on minor differences of doctrine and discipline. But the conferences shared the fate of all compromises. Luther and Calvin would not yield an inch to the pope, while the extreme men of the papal party, like Eck, were as unwilling to make any concession to Protestantism. A fuller account belongs to the ecclesiastical history of Germany.

Calvin, being a foreigner and a Frenchman, ignorant of the German language, acted a subordinate part, though he commanded the respect of both parties for his ability and learning, in which he was not inferior to any. Having no faith in compromises, or in the sincerity of the emperor, he helped to defeat rather than to promote the pacific object of these conferences. He favored an alliance between the Lutheran princes of the Smalkaldian League with Francis I., who, as the rival of Charles V., was inclined to such an alliance. He was encouraged in this line of policy by Queen Marguerite, who corresponded with him at that time through his friend Sleidan, the statesman and historian. He did succeed in securing, after repeated efforts, a petition of the Lutheran princes assembled at Regensburg to the French king in behalf of the persecuted Protestants in France (May 23, 1541). But he had no more confidence in Francis I. than in Charles V. “The king,” he wrote to Farel (September, 1540), “and the emperor, while contending in cruel persecution of the godly, both endeavor to gain the favor of the Roman idol.” He placed his trust in God, and in a close alliance of the Lutheran princes among themselves and with the Protestants in France and Switzerland.

He was a shrewd observer of the religious and political movements, and judged correctly of the situation and the principal actors. Nothing escaped his attention. He kept Farel at Neuchâtel informed even about minor incidents.

Calvin attended the first colloquy at Frankfurt in February, 1539, in a private capacity, for the purpose of making the personal acquaintance of Melanchthon and pleading the cause of his persecuted brethren in France, whom he had more at heart than German politics.

The Colloquy was prorogued to Hagenau in June, 1540, but did not get over the preliminaries.

A more important Colloquy was held at Worms in November of the same year. In that ancient city Luther had made his ever memorable declaration in favor of the liberty of conscience, which in spite of the pope’s protest had become an irrepressible power. Calvin appeared at this time in the capacity of a commissioner both of Strassburg and the dukes of Lueneburg. He went reluctantly, being just then in ill health and feeling unequal to the task. But he gathered strength on the spot, and braced up the courage of Melanchthon who, as the spokesman of the Lutheran theologians, showed less disposition to yield than on former occasions. He took a prominent part in the discussion. He defeated Dean Robert Mosham of Passau in a second disputation, and earned on that occasion from Melanchthon, and the Lutheran theologians who were present, the distinctive title “the Theologian” by eminence.

He also wrote at Worms, for his private solace, not for publication, an epic poem in sixty-one distichs (one hundred and twenty-two lines), which celebrates the triumph of Christ and the defeat of his enemies (Eck, Cochlaeus, Nausea, Pelargus) after their apparent and temporary victory. He was not a poetic genius, but by study he made up the defects of nature.

The Colloquy of Worms, after having hardly begun, was broken off in January, 1541, to be resumed at the approaching Diet of Regensburg (Ratisbon) in presence of the emperor on his return.

The Diet at Regensburg was opened April 5, 1541. Calvin appeared again as a delegate of Strassburg and at the special request of Melanchthon, but reluctantly and with little hope of success. He felt that he was ill suited for such work, and would only waste time. After long and vexatious delays in the arrival of the deputies, the theological Colloquy was opened and conducted on the Roman Catholic side by Dr. John Eck, professor at Ingolstadt (who had disputed with Luther at Leipzig and promulgated the papal bull of excommunication), Julius Pflug, canon of Mainz (afterwards bishop of Naumburg), and John Gropper, canon and professor of canon law at Cologne; on the Protestant side by Melanchthon of Wittenberg, Bucer of Strassburg, and Pistorius of Nidda in Hesse. Granvella presided in the name of the emperor; Cardinal Contarini, an enlightened and well-disposed prelate, who was inclined to evangelical views and favored a moderate reformation, acted as legate of Pope Paul III., who sent, however, at the same time the intolerant Bishop Morone as a special nuncio. Calvin could see no difference between the two legates, except that Morone would like to subdue the Protestants with bloodshed, Contarini without bloodshed. He was urged to seek an interview with Contarini, but refused. He speaks favorably of Pflug and Gropper, but contemptuously of Eck, the stentorian mouthpiece of the papal party, whom he regarded as an impudent babbler and vain sophist. The French king was represented by Du Veil, whom Calvin calls a “busy blockhead.” There were present also a good many bishops, the princes of the German States, and delegates of the imperial cities. The emperor, in an earnest speech, exhorted the divines, through an interpreter, to lay aside private feelings and to study only the truth, the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the peace of the empire.

The Colloquy passed slightly over the doctrines of original sin and the slavery of the will, where the Protestants were protected by the authority of St. Augustin. The Catholics agreed to the evangelical view of justification by faith (without the Lutheran sola), and conceded the eucharistic cup to the laity, but the parties split on the doctrine of the power of the Church and the real presence. Calvin was especially consulted on the last point, and gave a decided judgment in Latin against transubstantiation, which he rejected as a scholastic fiction, and against the adoration of the wafer which he declared to be idolatrous. He was displeased with the submissiveness of Melanchthon and Bucer, although he did not doubt the sincerity of their motives. He loved truth and consistency more than peace and unity. “Philip,” he wrote to Farel (May 12, 1541), “and Bucer have drawn up ambiguous and varnished formulas concerning transubstantiation, to try whether they could satisfy the opposite party by giving them nothing. I cannot agree to this device, although they have reasonable grounds for doing so; for they hope that in a short time they would begin to see more clearly if the matter of doctrine be left open; therefore they rather wish to skip over it, and do not dread that equivocation (flexiloquation) than which nothing can be more hurtful. I can assure you, however, that both are animated with the best intentions, and have no other object in view than to promote the kingdom of Christ; only in their method of proceeding they accommodate themselves too much to the times …. These things I deplore in private to yourself, my dear Farel; see, therefore, that they are not made public. One thing I am thankful for, that there is no one who is fighting now more earnestly against the wafer-god, as he calls it, than Brentz.” All the negotiations failed at last by the combined opposition of the extreme men of both parties.

The emperor closed the Diet on the 28th of July, and promised to use his influence with the pope to convene a General Council for the settlement of the theological questions.

Calvin had left Regensburg as soon as he found a chance, about the middle of June, much to the regret of Bucer and Melanchthon, who wished to retain him.

His sojourn there was embittered by the ravages of the pestilence in Strassburg, which carried away his beloved deacon, Claude Féray (Feraeus), his friends Bedrotus and Capito, one of his boarders, Louis de Richebourg (Claude’s pupil), and the sons of Oecolampadius, Zwingli, and Hedio. He was thrown into a state of extreme anxiety and depression, which he revealed to Farel in a melancholy letter of March 29, 1541. “My dear friend Claude, whom I singularly esteemed,” he writes, “has been carried off by the plague. Louis (de Richebourg) followed three days afterwards. My house was in a state of sad desolation. My brother (Antoine) had gone with Charles (de Richebourg) to a neighboring village; my wife had betaken herself to my brother’s; and the youngest of Claude’s scholars [probably Malherbe of Normandy] is lying sick in bed. To the bitterness of grief there was added a very anxious concern for those who survived. Day and night my wife is constantly present to my thoughts, in need of advice, seeing that she is deprived of her husband. … These events have produced in me so much sadness that it seems as if they would utterly upset the mind and depress the spirit. You cannot believe the grief which consumes me on account of the death of my dear friend Claude.” Then he pays a touching tribute to Féray, who had lived in his house and stuck closer to him than a brother. But the most precious fruit of this sore affliction is his letter of comfort to the distressed father of Louis de Richebourg, which we shall quote in another connection.


90. Calvin and Melanchthon

The correspondence between Calvin (14 letters) and Melanchthon (8 letters), and several letters of Calvin to Farel from Strassburg and Regensburg.

Henry, Vol. I. chs. XII. and XVII, — Staehelin, I. 237-254. — Merle D’Aubigné, bk. XI. ch. XIX. (vol. VII. 18-22, in Cates’ translation).

One of the important advantages which his sojourn at Strassburg brought to Calvin and to the evangelical Church was his friendship with Melanchthon. It has a typical significance for the relationship of the Lutheran and Reformed Confessions, and therefore deserves special consideration.

They became first acquainted by correspondence through Bucer in October, 1538. Melanchthon brought Calvin at once into a friendly contact with Luther, who read with great pleasure Calvin’s answer to Sadolet (perhaps also his Institutes), and sent his salutations to him at Strassburg.

Luther never saw Calvin, and probably knew little or nothing of the Reformation in Geneva. His own work was then nearly finished, and he was longing for rest. It is very fortunate, however, that while his mind was incurably poisoned against Zwingli and Zürich, he never came into hostile conflict with Calvin and Geneva, but sent him before his departure a fraternal greeting from a respectful distance. His conduct foreshadows the attitude of the Lutheran Church and theology towards Calvin, who had the highest regard for Luther, and enjoyed in turn the esteem of Lutheran divines in proportion as he was known.

Melanchthon was twelve years older than Calvin, as Luther was thirteen years older than Melanchthon. Calvin, therefore, might have sustained to Melanchthon the relation of a pupil to a teacher. He sought his friendship, and he always treated him with reverential affection. In the dedication of his commentary on Daniel, he describes Melanchthon as “a man who, on account of his incomparable skill in the most excellent branches of knowledge, his piety, and other virtues, is worthy of the admiration of all ages.” But while Melanchthon was under the overawing influence of the personality of Luther, the Reformer of Geneva was quite independent of Melanchthon, and so far could meet him on equal terms. Melanchthon, in sincere humility and utter freedom from jealousy, even acknowledged the superiority of his younger friend as a theologian and disciplinarian, and called him emphatically “the theologian.”

They had many points of contact. Both were men of uncommon precocity; both excelled, above their contemporaries, in humanistic culture and polished style; both devoted all their learning to the renovation of the Church; they were equally conscientious and unselfish; they agreed in the root of their piety, and in all essential doctrines; they deplored the divisions in the Protestant ranks, and heartily desired unity and harmony consistent with truth.

But they were differently constituted. Melanchthon was modest, gentle, sensitive, feminine, irenic, elastic, temporizing, always open to new light; Calvin, though by nature as modest, bashful, and irritable, was in principle and conviction firm, unyielding, fearless of consequences, and opposed to all compromises. They differed also on minor points of doctrine and discipline. Melanchthon, from a conscientious love of truth and peace, and from regard for the demands of practical common sense, had independently changed his views on two important doctrines. He abandoned the Lutheran dogma of a corporal and ubiquitous presence in the eucharist, and approached the theory of Calvin; and he substituted for his earlier fatalistic view of a divine foreordination of evil as well as good the synergistic scheme which ascribes conversion to the co-operation of three causes: the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the will of man. He conceded to man the freedom of either accepting or rejecting the Gospel salvation, yet without giving any merit to him for accepting the free gift; and on this point he dissented from Calvin’s more rigorous and logical system.

The sincere and lasting friendship of these two great and good men is therefore all the more remarkable and valuable as a testimony that a deep spiritual union and harmony may co-exist with theological differences.

Calvin and Melanchthon met at Frankfurt, Worms, and Regensburg under trying circumstances. Melanchthon felt discouraged about the prospects of Protestantism. He deplored the confusion which followed the abolition of the episcopal supervision, the want of discipline, the rapacity of the princes, the bigotry of the theologians. He had allowed himself, with Luther and Bucer, to give his conditional assent to the scandalous bigamy of Philip of Hesse (May, 1540), which was the darkest blot in the history of the German Reformation, and worse than the successive polygamy of Henry VIII. His conscience was so much troubled about his own weakness that, at Weimar, on his way to the Colloquies at Hagenau and Worms, he was brought to the brink of the grave, and would have died if Luther had not prayed him out of the jaws of the king of terrors. What a contrast between Melanchthon at Worms in 1540, and Luther at Worms in 1521! At the Diet of Regensburg, in 1541, he felt no better. His son was sick, and he dreamed that he had died. He read disaster and war in the stars. His letters to intimate friends are full of grief and anxious forebodings. “I am devoured by a desire for a better life,” he wrote to one of them. He was oppressed by a sense of the responsibility that rested upon him as the spokesman and leader of the Reformation in the declining years of Luther, who had been formerly his inspiration and strength. It is natural that in this condition of mind he looked for a new support, and this he found in Calvin. We can thus easily understand his wish to die in his arms. But Calvin himself, though more calm and composed in regard to public affairs, was, as we have seen, deeply distressed at Regensburg by news of the ravages of the pestilence among his friends at Strassburg, besides being harassed by multiplying petitions to return to Geneva. These troubles and afflictions brought their hearts nearer to each other.

In their first personal interview at Frankfurt on the Main, in February, 1539, they at once became intimate, and freely discussed the burning questions of the day, relating to doctrine, discipline, and worship.

As to doctrine, Calvin had previously sent to Melanchthon a summary, in twelve articles, on the crucial topic of the real presence. To these Melanchthon assented without dispute, but confessed that he had no hope of satisfying those who obstinately insisted on a more gross and palpable presence. Yet he was anxious that the present agreement, such as it was, might be cherished until at length the Lord shall lead both sides into the unity of his own truth. This is no doubt the reason why he himself refrained from such a full and unequivocal public expression of his own view as might lead to a rupture in the Lutheran Church. He went as far as he deemed it prudent by modifying the tenth article of the Augsburg Confession, and omitting the anti-Zwinglian clause (1540).

As to ecclesiastical discipline, Melanchthon deplored the want of it in Germany, but could see no prospect of improvement, till the people would learn to distinguish the yoke of Christ from the papal tyranny.

As to worship, Calvin frankly expressed his objection to many ceremonies, which seemed to him to border too closely on Judaism. He was opposed to chanting in Latin, to pictures and candles in churches, to exorcism in baptism, and the like. Melanchthon was reluctant to discuss this point, but admitted that there was an excess of trifling or unnecessary Roman Catholic rites retained in deference to the judgment of the Canonists, and expressed the hope that some of them would be abandoned by degrees.

After the Colloquy at Regensburg the two Reformers saw each other no more, but continued to correspond as far as their time and multiplicity of duties would permit. The correspondence of friendship is apt to diminish with the increase of age and cares. Several letters are preserved, and are most creditable to both parties.

The first letter of Calvin after that Colloquy, is dated Feb. 16, 1543, and is a lengthy answer to a message from Melanchthon.

“You see,” he writes, “to what a lazy fellow you have intrusted your letter. It was full four months before he delivered it to me, and then crushed and rumpled with much rough usage. But although it has reached me somewhat late, I set a great value upon the acquisition …. Would, indeed, as you observe, that we could oftener converse together were it only by letters. To you that would be no advantage; but to me, nothing in this world could be more desirable than to take solace in the mild and gentle spirit of your correspondence. You can scarce believe with what a load of business I am here burdened and incessantly hurried along; but in the midst of these distractions there are two things which most of all annoy me. My chief regret is, that there does not appear to be the amount of fruit that one may reasonably expect from the labor bestowed; the other is, because I am so far removed from yourself and a few others, and therefore am deprived of that sort of comfort and consolation which would prove a special help to me.

“But since we cannot have even so much at our own choice, that each at his own discretion might pick out the corner of the vineyard where he might serve Christ, we must remain at that post which He Himself has allotted to each. This comfort we have at least, of which no far distant separation can deprive us, — I mean, that resting content with this fellowship which Christ has consecrated with his own blood, and has also confirmed and sealed by his blessed Spirit in our hearts, — while we live on the earth, we may cheer each other with that blessed hope to which your letter calls us that in heaven above we shall dwell forever where we shall rejoice in love and in continuance of our friendship.”

There can be no nobler expression of Christian friendship.

In the same letter Calvin informs Melanchthon that he had dedicated to him his “Defence of the Orthodox Doctrine on the Slavery and Deliverance of the Human Will against the Calumnies of Albert Pighius,” which he had urged Calvin to write, and which appeared in February, 1543. After some modest account of his labors in Geneva, and judicious reflections on the condition of the Church in Germany, he thus concludes: — 

“Adieu, O man of most eminent accomplishments, and ever to be remembered by me and honored in the Lord! May the Lord long preserve you in safety to the glory of his name and the edification of the Church. I wonder what can be the reason why you keep your Daniel a sealed book at home. Neither can I suffer myself quietly, without remonstrance, to be deprived of the benefit of its perusal. I beg you to salute Dr. Martin reverently in my name. We have here with us at present Bernardino of Siena, an eminent and excellent man, who has occasioned no little stir in Italy by his secession. He has requested me that I would greet you in his name. Once more adieu, along with your family, whom may the Lord continually preserve.”

On the 11th of May following, Melanchthon thanked Calvin for the dedication, saying: I am much affected by your kindness, and I thank you that you have been pleased to give evidence of your love for me to all the world, by placing my name at the beginning of your remarkable book, where all the world will see it.” He gives due praise to the force and eloquence with which he refuted Pighius, and, confessing his own inferiority as a writer, encourages him to continue to exercise his splendid talents for the edification and encouragement of the Church. Yet, while inferior as a logician and polemic, he, after all, had a deeper insight into the mystery of predestination and free will, although unable to solve it. He gently hints to his friend that he looked too much to one side of the problem of divine sovereignty and human liberty, and says in substance: — 

“As regards the question treated in your book, the question of predestination, I had in Tübingen a learned friend, Franciscus Stadianus, who used to say, I hold both to be true that all things happen according to divine foreordination, and yet according to their own laws, although he could not harmonize the two. I maintain the proposition that God is not the author of sin, and therefore cannot will it. David was by his own will carried into transgression. He might have retained the Holy Spirit. In this conflict there is some margin for free will …. Let us accuse our own will if we fall, and not find the cause in God. He will help and aid those who fight in earnest. Μόνον θέλησον, says Basilius, καὶ θεὸς προαπαντᾶ. God promises and gives help to those who are willing to receive it. So says the Word of God, and in this let us abide. I am far from prescribing to you, the most learned and experienced man in all things that belong to piety. I know that in general you agree with my view. I only suggest that this mode of expression is better adapted for practical use.”

In a letter to Camerarius, 1552, Melanchthon expresses his dissatisfaction with the manner in which Calvin emphasized the doctrine of predestination, and attempted to force the Swiss churches to accept it in the Consensus Genevensis.

Calvin made another attempt in 1554 to gain him to his view, but in vain. On one point, however, he could agree to a certain modification; for he laid stress on the spontaneity of the will, and rejected Luther’s paradoxes, and his comparison of the natural man to a dead statue.

It is greatly to the credit of Calvin that, notwithstanding his sensitiveness and intolerance against the opponents of his favorite dogma, he respected the judgment of the most eminent Lutheran divine, and gave signal proof of it by publishing a French translation of the improved edition of Melanchthon’s Theological Commonplaces in 1546, with a commendatory preface of his own, in which he says that the book was a brief summary of all things necessary for a Christian to know on the way of salvation, stated in the simplest manner by the profoundly learned author. He does not conceal the difference of views on the subject of free will, and says that Melanchthon seems to concede to man some share in his salvation; yet in such a manner that God’s grace is not in any way diminished, and no ground is left to us for boasting.

This is the only example of a Reformer republishing and recommending the work of another Reformer, which was the only formidable rival of his own chief work on the same subject (the Institutes), and differed from it in several points.

The revival of the unfortunate eucharistic controversy by Luther in 1545, and the equally unfortunate controversy caused by the imperial Interim in 1548, tried the friendship of the Reformers to the uttermost. Calvin respectfully, yet frankly, expressed his regret at the indecision and want of courage displayed by Melanchthon from fear of Luther and love of peace.

When Luther came out a year before his death with his most violent and abusive book against the “Sacramentarians,” which deeply grieved Melanchthon and roused the just indignation of the Zwinglians, Calvin wrote to Melanchthon (June 28, 1545): — 

“Would that the fellow-feeling which enables me to condole with you, and to sympathize in your heaviness, might also impart the power in some degree at least to lighten your sorrow. If the matter stands as the Zürichers say it does, then they have just occasion for their writing …. Your Pericles allows himself to be carried beyond all bounds with his love of thunder, especially seeing that his own cause is by no means the better of the two …. We all of us acknowledge that we are much indebted to him. But in the Church we always must be upon our guard, lest we pay too great a deference to men. It is all over with her when a single individual has more authority than all the rest …. Where there is so much division and separation as we now see, it is indeed no easy matter to still the troubled waters, and bring about composure …. You will say he [Luther] has a vehement disposition and ungovernable impetuosity; as if that very vehemence did not break forth with all the greater violence when all show themselves alike indulgent to him, and allow him to have his way unquestioned. If this specimen of overbearing tyranny has sprung forth already as the early blossom in the springtide of a reviving Church, what must we expect in a short time, when affairs have fallen into a far worse condition? Let us, therefore, bewail the calamity of the Church and not devour our grief in silence, but venture boldly to groan for freedom …. You have studiously endeavored, by your kindly method of instruction, to recall the minds of men from strife and contention. I applaud your prudence and moderation. But while you dread, as you would some hidden rock, to meddle with this question from fear of giving offence, you are leaving in perplexity and suspense very many persons who require from you somewhat of a more certain sound, on which they can repose …. Perhaps it is now the will of God to open the way for a full and satisfactory declaration of your own mind, that those who look up to your authority may not be brought to a stand, and kept in a state of perpetual doubt and hesitation ….

“In the mean time let us run the race set before us with deliberate courage. I return you very many thanks for your reply, and for the extraordinary kindness which Claude assures me had been shown to him by you. I can form a conjecture what you would have been to myself, from your having given so kind and courteous a reception to my friend. I do not cease to offer my chief thanks to God, who has vouchsafed to us that agreement in opinion upon the whole of that question [on the real presence]; for although there is a slight difference in certain particulars, we are very well agreed upon the general question itself.”

When after the defeat of the Protestants in the Smalkaldian War, Melanchthon accepted the Leipzig Interim with the humiliating condition of conformity to the Roman ritual, which the German emperor imposed upon them, Calvin was still more dissatisfied with his old friend. He sided, in this case, with the Lutheran non-conformists who, under the lead of Matthias Flacius, resisted the Interim, and were put under the ban of the empire. He wrote to Melanchthon, June 18, 1550, the following letter of remonstrance: — 

The ancient satirist [Juvenal, I. 79] once said, — 

‘Si natura negat, facit indignatio versum.’

“It is at present far otherwise with me. So little does my present grief aid me in speaking, that it rather renders me almost entirely speechless …. I would have you suppose me to be groaning rather than speaking. It is too well known, from their mocking and jests, how much the enemies of Christ were rejoicing over your contests with the theologians of Magdeburg. … If no blame attaches to you in this matter, my dear Philip, it would be but the dictate of prudence and justice to devise means of curing, or at least mitigating, the evil. Yet, forgive me if I do not consider you altogether free from blame …. In openly admonishing you, I am discharging the duty of a true friend; and if I employ a little more severity than usual, do not think that it is owing to any diminution of my old affection and esteem for you …. I know that nothing gives you greater pleasure than open candor …. This is the sum of your defence: that, provided purity of doctrine be retained, externals should not be pertinaciously contended for …. But you extend the distinction of non-essentials too far. You are aware that the Papists have corrupted the worship of God in a thousand ways. Several of those things which you consider indifferent are obviously repugnant to the Word of God …. You ought not to have made such large concessions to the Papists …. At the time when circumcision was yet lawful, do you not see that Paul, because crafty and malicious fowlers were laying snares for the liberty of believers, pertinaciously refused to concede to them a ceremony at the first instituted by God? He boasts that he did not yield to them, — no, not for an hour, — that the truth of God might remain intact among the Gentiles (Gal_2:5) …. I remind you of what I once said to you, that we consider our ink too precious if we hesitate to bear testimony in writing to those things which so many of the flock are daily sealing with their blood …. The trepidation of a general is more dishonorable than the flight of a whole herd of private soldiers …. You alone, by only giving way a little, will cause more complaints and sighs than would a hundred ordinary individuals by open desertion. And, although I am fully persuaded that the fear of death never compelled you in the very least to swerve from the right path, yet I am apprehensive that it is just possible that another species of fear may have proved too much for your courage. For I know how much you are horrified at the charge of rude severity. But we should remember that reputation must not be accounted by the servants of Christ as of more value than life. We are no better than Paul was, who remained fearlessly on his way through ‘evil and good report.’ … You know why I am so vehement. I had rather die with you a hundred times than see you survive the doctrines surrendered by you ….

“Pardon me for loading your breast with these miserable though ineffectual groans. Adieu, most illustrious sir, and ever worthy of my hearty regard. May the Lord continue to guide you by his Spirit, and sustain you by his might. May his protection guard you. Amen.”

We have here a repetition of the scene between Paul and Peter at Antioch, concerning the rite of circumcision; and while we admire the frankness and boldness of Paul and Calvin in rebuking an elder brother, and standing up for principle, we must also admire the meekness and humility of Peter and Melanchthon in bearing the censure.

Melanchthon himself, after a brief interruption, reopened the correspondence in the old friendly spirit, during the disturbances of war between Elector Maurice and the Emperor Charles, which made an end of the controversy about the Adiaphora.

“How often,” wrote Melanchthon, Oct. 1, 1552, “would I have written to you, reverend sir and dearest brother, if I could find more trustworthy letter-carriers. For I would like to converse with you about many most important matters, because I esteem your judgment very highly and know the candor and purity of your soul. I am now living as in a wasp’s nest; but perhaps I shall soon be called from this mortal life to a brighter companionship in heaven. If I live longer, I have to expect new exiles; if so, I am determined to turn to you. The studies are now broken up by pestilence and war. How often do I mourn and sigh over the causes of this fury among princes.”

In a lengthy and interesting answer Calvin says: “Nothing could have come to me more seasonably at this time than your letter, which I received two months after its despatch.” He assures him that it was no little consolation to him in his sore trials at Geneva to be assured of the continuance of his affection, which, he was told, had been interrupted by the letter of remonstrance above referred to. “I have learned the more gladly that our friendship remains safe, which assuredly, as it grew out of a heartfelt love of piety, ought to remain forever sacred and inviolable.”

In the unfortunate affair of Servetus, Melanchthon fully approved Calvin’s conduct (1554). But during the eucharistic controversy excited by Westphal, he kept an ominous silence, which produced a coolness between them. In a letter of Aug. 3, 1557, Calvin complains that for three years he had not heard from him, but expresses satisfaction that he still entertained the same affection, and closes with the wish that he maybe permitted “to enjoy on earth a most delightful interview with you, and feel some alleviation of my grief by deploring along with you the evils which we cannot remedy.”

That wish was not granted. In a letter of Nov. 19, 1558, he gives him, while still suffering from a quartan ague, a minute account of his malady, of the remedies of the doctors, of the formidable coalition of the kings of France and Spain against Geneva, and concludes with these words:

“Let us cultivate with sincerity a fraternal affection towards each other, the ties of which no wiles of the devil shall ever burst asunder …. By no slight shall my mind ever be alienated from that holy friendship and respect which I have vowed to you …. Farewell, most illustrious light and distinguished doctor of the Church. May the Lord always govern you by his Spirit, preserve you long in safety, increase your store of blessings. In your turn, diligently commend us to the protection of God, as you see us exposed to the jaws of the wolf. My colleagues and an innumerable crowd of pious men salute you.”

On the 19th of April, 1560, Melanchthon was delivered from “the fury of the theologians” and all his troubles. A year after his death Calvin, who had to fight the battle of faith four years longer, during the renewed fury of the eucharistic controversy with the fanatical Heshusius, addressed this touching appeal to his sainted friend in heaven: — 

“O Philip Melanchthon! I appeal to thee who now livest with Christ in the bosom of God, and there art waiting for us till we shall be gathered with thee to that blessed rest. A hundred times, when worn out with labors and oppressed with so many troubles, didst thou repose thy head familiarly on my breast and say, ‘Would that I could die in this bosom!’ Since then I have a thousand times wished that it had been granted to us to live together; for certainly thou wouldst thus have had more courage for the inevitable contest, and been stronger to despise envy, and to count as nothing all accusations. In this manner, also, the malice of many would have been restrained who, from thy gentleness which they call weakness, gathered audacity for their attacks.”

Who, in view of this friendship which was stronger than death, can charge Calvin with want of heart and tender affection?