Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Humor of John Calvin

That would be a very short book. John Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformed Church, is a crab. It's true. He's a great theologian, and a great scholar, and a wonderful commentator on scripture, and, more than anyone else, the father of modernity (really!), but he just ain't very charming. Everyone considers him a monster. Well, he had irritable bowel syndrome, or something, and he was so damn smart that everybody bugged him. Poor guy.

He gets the worst press in the world. He gets dumped on for everything. The poor suck. He gets mistreated by pundits and ignored by historians. The public school curriculums have been telling students for years that we get democracy from Athens, when actually we get it from Geneva. Oh well.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson considers herself a Calvinist. She lives in Iowa; there are many Calvinists in Iowa. I consider myself a Calvinist. Am I the only Calvinist in Park Slope? I don't think my wife is a Calvinist.

Right now I am reading Calvin on the Gospel of John in preparation for my sermon this coming Sunday. And I've been laughing out loud. He's the Don Rickles of theology. This is what he writes, and tell me if you don't think it's hilarious:

John 14, v. 12. Verily, verily, I say unto you. All that he had hitherto told his disciples about himself, so far as it regarded them, was temporal; and therefore, if he had not added this clause, the consolation would not have been complete; particularly since our memory is so short, when we are called to consider the gifts of God. On this subject it is unnecessary to go to others for examples; for, when God has loaded us with every kind of blessings, if he pause for fourteen days, we fancy that he is no longer alive.


Matt said...

Hey, I stumbled on here after doing some research for my history dissertation on Woodrow Wilson. I also found that Calvin was a bit of an insult comic, too! Here's what I found so far, both from Institutes:

I, XI, 4: “For whence came the beginning of idols but from the opinion of men? Most just is that profane poet’s mockery: ‘Once I was a little fig tree trunk, a useless bit of wood, when the workman, in doubt whether he should make a stool, preferred that I be a god,’ etc.”

I, XIV, 1: “When a certain shameless fellow mockingly asked a pious old man what God had done before the creation of the world, the latter aptly countered that he had been building hell for the curious.”

polymathis said...

Here's some more from Calvin500 blog:

“I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

“Man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God, as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony.”