Friday, June 15, 2018

Calvin's Geneva: A High Percentage of Illegitimate Children, Abandoned Infants, Forced Marriages, and Sentences of Death

A person going by the moniker "Clement Li" contends John Calvin was "a serial killer, mass murderer and a terrorist." Here's an example of one of the facts entered as supporting evidence:
In Geneva,there was little distinction between religion and morality. The existing records of the Council for this period reveal a high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages, and sentences of death. 
This is but one fact among many (part of a cumulative case line of reasoning). The assumption appears to be that Calvin's presence in Geneva was so negative, it resulted in illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages, and the final coup de grâce, death.

"Clement Li" thinks facts like these demonstrate John Calvin was "a psychopath." Subsequently, "Calvinist followers" should "pick up a book and do a little research on their spiritual leader they would know that they’re following the beliefs of a serial killer, mass murderer and a terrorist." Those "Calvinist followers" may be "decent people," but, says Li,  "I don’t think Calvinists are Christian."

I did not locate any information as to exactly who this person is. Ironically, the phrase "Clement Li" has an entry in the online Urban Dictionary,  "Clement Li: One who exaggerates all things to the highest degree. Exaggeration cannot pass this point, because it is at max." I mention this at the outset because perhaps this person's written corpus is intended to be farcical (if so, the spirit of Andy Kaufman lives on).

Well then, let's pick up the book this fact is said to come from and do a little research as directed. We'll see with this quote, finding the exact genesis of these facts is not an easy task. We'll see also, the "high percentage" aspect was a later addition.

Documentation for the quote is provided: Will Durant, The Reformation, pp. 472-476  (a few links are also provided, but are not relevant to this specific quote). There's a blatant irony to this documentation. "Clement Li" didn't actually put this documentation together, but rather plagiarized it word-for-word from another web-page. In fact, every historical tidbit (in the exact order) that "Clement Li" put forth in the blog entry was plagiarized from another web page. The blatant irony, therefore, is that Calvinists are being directed to pick up a book and do a little research by someone who didn't bother to pick up a book and do a little research.

The quote (or at least part of it) is found in Durant's book on page 476. Durant first cites an eyewitness account in favor of Genevan society:
Cursing and swearing, unchastity, sacrilege, adultery, and impure living, such as prevail in many places where I have lived, are here unknown. There are no pimps and harlots. The people do not know what rouge is, and they are all clad in seemly fashion. Games of chance are not customary. Benevolence is so great that the poor need not beg. The people admonish one another in brotherly fashion, as Christ prescribes. Lawsuits are banished from the city, nor is there any simony, murder, or party spirit, but only peace and charity. On the other hand, there are no organs here, no voice of bells, no showy songs, no burning candles or lamps [in the churches], no relics, pictures, statues, canopies, or splendid robes, no farces or cold ceremonies. The churches are quite free from idolatry.
 Durant counters this positive presentation by saying,
The extant records of the Council for this period do not quite agree with this report: they reveal a high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages, and sentences of death. (47) Calvin's son-in-law and his stepdaughter were among those condemned for adultery.(48)
(47) Beard, The Reformation, 252; Muir, John Knox, 108.
(48) Smith, Reformation, 174-
For the "extant records of the Council for this period," Durant does not directly cite the extant records of the Council for this period. Rather, he first cites Charles Beard, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1885), p. 252. There isn't anything specific to verify the "high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages, and sentences of death" on this page,  other than a footnote which sort of says the same thing:

Beard's footnote is citing a biography of Calvin, Paul Henry, Das Leben Johann Calvins des grossen Reformators, Volume 2, p. 78, not the extant records. The English translation of this page from Henry's text can be found here. When one consults Henry, this author is not relying on the extant records, but is rather summarizing a comment from the preface (xv) of Jacques Augustin Galiffe Notices généalogiques sur les familles Genevoises vol. III (Genealogical Notices of Genevan Families) (this footnote is not found in the English translation of Henry).  That text says,

This comment from Galiffe is also not providing statistics from the extant records. Galiffe is saying he could build a negative case against Calvin and the success of Geneva, mentioning some of the key phrases found in Durant's quote. Galiffe says,
To those who imagine that Calvin did nothing but good, I could produce our registers, covered with records of illegitimate children, which were exposed in all parts of the town and country; hideous trials for obscenity; wills, in which fathers and mothers accuse their children not only of errors but of crimes; agreements before notaries between young women and their lovers, in which the latter, even in the presence of the parents of their paramours, make them an allowance for the education of their illegitimate offspring; I could instance multitudes of forced marriages, in which the delinquents were conducted from the prison to the church; mothers who abandoned their children to the hospital, whilst they themselves lived in abundance with a second husband; bundles of law-suits between brothers; heaps of secret negotiations; men and women burnt for witchcraft; sentences of death in frightful numbers; and all these things among the generation nourished by the mystic manna of Calvin. [link]
The next source referenced is Edwin Muir, John Knox, Portrait of a Calvinist, 108. This appears to be the source Durant used for "sentences of death." The author states, "Yet, between the years 1542 and 1546, fifty-eight people were executed in it and seventy-six banished... In sixty years one hundred and fifty heretics were burnt in Geneva." Durant again is citing a biography, not the extant records. Muir also says the following, without any documentation;
The severity of this rule, which made Geneva the admiration of the faithful and earned for it the name of ‘The City of God,’ had the disadvantage of making new crimes spring up wherever an old one was eradicated. Vice concealed itself and throve underground; in spite of the magistrates’ watchfulness there was an inexplicably large number of illegitimate children whom their horrified mothers were forced by terror to expose in the streets; while through fear or sycophancy many people added to the general tyranny: fathers and mothers accused their children not of minor offences merely, but of crimes, and informers were everywhere. 
I suspect Muir's source for these words was also Galiffe. His work was popular among those that were against Calvinism. For instance, Jean M. Vincent Audin, a Roman Catholic author, quotes from the same pages here. Audin states, "M. Galiffe, who intends to die in the bosom of Protestantism will be believed, at least! Behold how he already, with the whole energy of his soul, rejects all communion with that mean, bastard, intolerant reformation which Calvin sought to impose on his fellow citizens!"

Audin may be wrong about "the bosom of Protestantism." This source claims Galiffe converted to Roman Catholicism. Interestingly, while Paul Henry (sympathetic to Calvin)  utilizes Galiffe, elsewhere in his biography of Calvin he alludes to him as a tainted source against Calvin. Others say likewise. This source includes his work on Calvin with those whose interpretation "is replete with unhistorical orientation."

I know Durant is considered a fine historian. Look though at the trail that had to be followed. Durant cited Beard. Beard cited Henry. Henry cited Galiffe. Most of Durant's comment originated from Galiffe, and Galiffe was not actually providing evidence from the extant records to prove his point. In Durant's second reference (Muir), no actual proof or documentation is put forth.  

One thing also to notice is a comparison of Durant's version with all the suspected original source, Galiffe. Durant says the extant records "reveal a high percentage." He may have taken this from Muir who says, "inexplicably large number." I suspect Muir also used Galiffe's comment. Galiffe though uses neither description. 

Neither source cited by Durant had definitive proof for to solidify Durant's assertions. Neither cites the extant records when making their specific points. Sure, they allude to the Genevan records in their respective books, but not at the specific places Durant cited them. While certainly Calvin had influence in Geneva, how is it possible to prove that the "high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages and sentences of death" were the necessary and direct result of Calvin? Simply because Durant wrote it (he simply did the equivalent of a cut-and-paste from other sources, some hostile sources) doesn't make it true.   

If, according to "Clemet Li" the mere presence of John Calvin resulted in high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages and sentences of death, the burden of proof falls on the person making the assertion, to prove a necessary connection.  Quoting attributes of Genevan society (via Durant) and linking them necessarily to Calvin is not good history. The error is known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The reasoning is "Because Calvin was in Geneva, therefore all these things happened." Well, maybe some of the things were the direct influence of Calvin, maybe they were not.  If it was Calvin's influence in Geneva that produced all of those unfortunate things, then so be it. However, I would need to see a bit more proof. Certainly Calvin had influence in Geneva. Certainly Calvin believed in capital punishment. Certainly Calvin was concerned about the morality of Geneva. Certainly Calvin believed in maintaining Genevan laws. To blame him though for illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages...  these are charges that require more than, "this historian said this... this historian said that..."

No comments: