Wednesday, June 19, 2019

John Calvin Had 58 People Executed in Geneva?

Here's a John Calvin tidbit found on a number of web-pages:
From 1541 to 1546, John Calvin caused 58 people to be executed and seventy six were exiled. His victims ranged in age from 16 to 80 (source).
In this snippet, John Calvin is painted as being the direct cause for fifty-eight executions, including young adults as well as the elderly. Various versions of these facts can be found across the Internet. For instance, a web-page hosting Fr. Leonel Franca's Calvin the Tyrant of Geneva states these statistics were the result of the "the religious persecutions of Calvin." A website dedicated to biographies states the executions and banishments were all due to religious beliefs: "In the first five years of John Calvin's rule in Geneva, 58 people were executed and 76 exiled for their religious beliefs." says Calvin "acted as a virtual dictator from 1541 until his death," then shows the following results of this dictatorship:
There were some ugly moments in theocratic Geneva. During these years 58 people were executed and 76 banished in order to preserve morals and discipline. Like most men of his century, the reformer was convinced that believing wrongly about God was so heinous a crime that not even death could expiate it.
These are only a few examples of the dissemination of this information. Many more could easily be provided. Did Calvin actually have fifty-eight people executed? Was Calvin having people executed due to his religious intolerance? Were the Genevans being lined up like a row of Servetus's, being executed at the whim of the dictator John Calvin, simply because they defied his theology? Let's take a closer look.

The majority of web-pages using these facts do not provide documentation. Many are simply of the "I hate John Calvin" ilk. There are though a few reputable English sources that do mention these facts. For instance, the old Catholic Encyclopedia repeats the same facts, but does not provide helpful documentation.  Probably the most reputable English source (and perhaps that which helped popularize the information) is Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church. Schaff states,
The official acts of the Council from 1541 to 1559 exhibit a dark chapter of censures, fines, imprisonments, and executions. During the ravages of the pestilence in 1545 more than twenty men and women were burnt alive for witchcraft, and a wicked conspiracy to spread the horrible disease. From 1542 to 1546 fifty-eight judgments of death and seventy-six decrees of banishments were passed.4 During the years 1558 and 1559 the cases of various punishments for all sorts of offences amounted to four hundred and fourteen — a very large proportion for a population of 20,000.
4. According to Galiffe, as quoted by Kampschulte, I. 425.
First, Schaff  says his information came from "The official acts of the Council from 1541 to 1559." What was "the Council"? That's not an easily explained answer, for Geneva's legal system was complicated. Schaff explains it here. I have an explanation of it here. On a fundamental level: the "official acts of the Council" does not mean the official acts of the Genevan church or John Calvin. Certainly religion was infused into Genevan polity, but the "Council" does not mean "church council." Second, it does not appear that Schaff actually consulted this source. Rather, he provides a footnote to his chosen source: "According to Galiffe, as quoted by Kampschulte." Since it appears that the later was that which Schaff ultimately utilized, let's treat it first. According to Schaff, "Kampschulte"refers to:
F. W. Kampschulte (a liberal Roman Catholic, Professor of History at Bonn, died an Old Catholic, 1872): Joh. Calvin, seine Kirche und sein Staat in Genf.  Leipzig, 1869, vol. I. (vols. II. and III. have not appeared).  A most able, critical, and, for a Catholic, remarkably fair and liberal work, drawn in part from unpublished sources. (source)
Here then is Kampschulte's comment which Schaff utilized:

This appears to be Schaff's primary source for this information. It's basically a repeat of the bald facts of fifty-eight executions and seventy-six banishments. What is revealing is that Kampschulte does not go as far as saying Calvin directly caused the execution of fifty-eight people (as if Calvin was in a courtroom looking at the accused and passing the verdict: "take him away for execution"). Rather, Kampschulte insinuates it was Calvin's overall preaching influence on the Genevan judicial system which caused it. Schaff, a careful scholar, made sure to document where the information originated from, noting that Kampschulte himself relied on a source for this information: Galiffe-

"Galiffe" refers to Jean-Barthelemy Galiffe. Interestingly, particularly in light of his favorable comments about Kampschulte,  Schaff notes Galiffe was a Protestant scholar "but very hostile to Calvin and his institutions, chiefly from the political point of view").  "Nouvelles" refers to his book, Nouvelles pages d’histoire exacte soit le procès de Pierre Ameaux, Genève. Page 97 states,

This text basically says the same thing, that during the period in question there were fifty-eight executions and seventy-six banishments. There is an admission though that the statistics in questions were compiled by Galiffe, using the Registers of the Council of Geneva from the period in question. The bones are finally gaining some meat: Galiffe  goes on to provide actual data to back up his statistics. The data for the executions begins on page 100.  He says thirty were men, twenty-eight were women. Of these, thirteen people were hanged, ten were decapitated,  and thirty-five burned alive. Of these fifty-eight executions, twenty were for ordinary crimes: murder, robbery, counterfeit money, forgery, political offenses, etc.  These twenty people were men. The other thirty-eight did involve women, and they were cases involving questioning through torture, most notably in regard to the spread of the plague. There were also some involving witchcraft and divination, but almost all of them were in regard to the spreading of the plague.

The statistic of fifty-eight executions strongly appears to find its genesis from Galiffe. It was he that went through the old Genevan registers and counted. Galiffe was no fan of Calvin. Read Schaff's description of Galiffe here. See also this descriptionRichard Stauffer points out that Galiffe was from an "old Genevese family" extremely bitter towards Calvin "not only as a foreigner, but also as an intruder and usurper in the life of the old city." Stauffer includes him as presenting a picture of Calvin in which the Reformer isn't recognizable. Schaff notes that the Galiffe's (father and son scholars) viewed Geneva as "independent and free" until Calvin came along.  In Galiffe's presentation, the emphasis is that whatever evils may have been present in Geneva, Calvin made them much worse once he arrived.

It appears to me that Galiffe's research suffers from the logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Everything that happened in Geneva once Calvin arrived was the fault of John Calvin. As far as I can tell from going through Galiffe's research, there is not a direct line of evidence that Calvin "caused fifty-eight people to be executed." Nor is their a direct line of evidence that those executed suffered for theological reasons or for some disagreement with Calvin's theology. Most telling is that twenty of the number were executed for the ordinary sort of crimes that were punishable during this time period. These executions were not something out of the ordinary in western Europe during this time period.

But what about those other thirty-eight who died as the result of questioning through torture?  The Genevan judical system operated like other sixteenth century judicial systems: through the process of inquisition. Robert Kingdon explains,
The basic principle of this system is a procedure known as inquisition process. It assumes that the real truth of any criminal charge is most likely to emerge from intensive, and repeated questioning of the parties involved.  
Kingdon details the entire process that operated in Geneva, much of which preceded Calvin's arrival. He points out that during the progressive process of questioning, the Genevan system allowed for torture along with the interrogation. It was a detailed horrible process, a process not invented by Calvin, but not repudiated by Calvin either. it was the established judicial system of the day, a system that Calvin accepted as being part of the government, not the church. One would wish that Calvin repudiated the system, but he did not. That he didn't repudiate it settles the matter for many that are opposed to Calvinism. Others, like myself, try to put people in their historical contexts and understand them in the world they lived in. 

Most interesting is that the event of the plague in Geneva appears to play a strong factor in many of these executions, not Calvin's theology.  There was a pervading fear that swept through Geneva when the plague hit, causing hysteria. Why was the plague here? Who is causing it? There were accusations against people of being deliberate plague spreaders, and these people wound up as victims of the inquisition process. Satan and those who were his sorcerers in Geneva were said to also actively be spreading the plague. Calvin, of course, was certainly in favor of having these people stopped as well.  A helpful overview can be found in Bernard Cottret's, Calvin, a Biography, pp. 178-181. He points out:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Luther's High Regard for John Calvin?

What did Martin Luther think of John Calvin? Here's a curious comment from the Table Talk in which Luther appears to consider Calvin highly:
NOT all are able to bear tribulations alike; for, if an human creature were merely flesh without bones, then the body would fall into a lump, or bunch; the bones and sinews do keep up the flesh, etc. Even so it is in the Christian congregation. some must be able to bear a blow of the devil; as we three, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, and myself; therefore we pray continually in the church ; for it is prayer that must do the deed.
Now that's quite a compliment! Or is it? Maybe not. The original sources say something different.

It bears repeating that the Table Talk is not actually something Luther wrote. It's a collection of second hand comments written down by Luther's friends and students published after his death. It often falls on deaf ears when I point out to detractors that Luther didn't write the Table Talk. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written. The Table Talk, therefore, contains something Luther may have said, but not necessarily

This particular comment comes from the oldest English edition of the Table Talk:

Here's where it becomes tedious and tricky, but necessary, to understand Luther's alleged mention of John Calvin in this utterance. This version of the Table Talk was translated from German into English by Captain Henry Bell (1652): Dris Martini Lutheri Colloquia Mensalia: Or, Dr Martin Luther's Divine Discourses at His Table, etc. This English version of Luther's second-hand comments begins with a strange (and at times seemingly fictional) tale of how Captain Bell came across the Table Talk (found here). The saga begins with the destruction of Luther's Table Talk due to persecution from the Papacy and Empire, but one copy managed to be hidden away, fortunately discovered before being destroyed. In a flowery tale, Bell describes why and how he translated it¾ at the prompting of an angelic vision ¾ along with the perils of getting it published. Preserved Smith's critical study of Luther's Table Talk refers to Bell's account as "such a tissue of mistakes and improbabilities that it is hardly worth serious criticism,and also, "The whole thing has the air of being invented to heighten the interest of the translation." On the other hand, Gordon Rupp scrutinized Bell's story in his book, The Righteousness of God (New York: The Philosophical Library, Inc., 1953), pp. 56- 77, and deems aspects of Bell's story plausible. Even if the background story has elements of fiction, this does not necessarily deem Bell's work inferior or suspect (that will be discussed below). The book is an actual translation of Luther's Table Talk and has served the English speaking world for hundreds of years, particularly in its revision by William Hazlitt..

When the German text of the Table Talk is consulted for the quote under scrutiny, here is what appears:

One doesn't need to know German is to see that the name "John Calvin" does not appear in the text. Rather, the text says "ich, Philippus Melanchthon und Doctor Pommer." Was "Doctor Pommer" simply another way of referring to John Calvin. No. "Doctor Pommer" refers to Luther's associate, Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558), of Pomerania, whom Luther dubbed, " Doctor Pomeranus."

Luther was not referring to John Calvin in this Table Talk quote. Why did Captain Bell insert Calvin's name?  According to Rupp, Bell may have have made changes to the German text when translating into English to appease the Parliamentary committee that examined the translation. I've documented one of these changes before: Bell's translation has Luther admitting his error of the real presence in the Lord's Supper! Note these words from the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons in Bell's edition:

I suspect Bell's insertion of Calvin's name was similar to doctoring Luther's theology on the Lord's Supper.     

Addendum #1
Some years back I put together Luther and Calvin... Friends or Enemies? There isn't much in the record in regard to Luther's view of Calvin. In the entry I present the sparse few mentions of Calvin in Luther's writings.

Addendum #2
The Table Talk utterance under scrutiny can be found in WATR 3:36, and was not included in LW 54. Hazlitt though included an English revision.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Luther: I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer

A recent email asks,

I know you love chasing sources for Luther quotes. I know he's widely quoted as saying "I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer", but I can't find a source for it. I thought I'd flick you an email to see if you've ever tried tracking a source for this one down. Have you?

If you Google search it, you'll get numerous hits. This source from 1896 states,
Martin Luther, upon being asked one time by a friend what his plans were for the following day, replied, "Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer" (c.f.  18711880).
Other variants of this rendering state, "Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer." One lengthier variation reads,
Martin Luther famously said, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business, I cannot go without spending three hours daily in prayer."
Spurgeon Not Luther?
So where did this quote come from? There were a flurry of variants and usages of it in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. I suspect the quote was popularized via the publication of C.H. Spurgeon's writings. Note this secondary source quoting Spurgeon:
PRAYING AND WORKING. I Like that saying of Martin Luther, when he says, "I have so much business to do to-day, that I shall not be able to get through it with less than three hours' prayer." Now, most people would say, "I have so much business to do to-day, that I have only three minutes for prayer; I cannot afford the time." But Luther thought that the more he had to do, the more he must pray, or else he could not get through it. That is a blessed kind of logic: may we understand it! "Praying and provender hinder no man's journey." If we have to stop and pray, it is no more hindrance than when the rider has to stop at the farrier's to have his horse's shoe fastened; for if he went on without attending to that it may be that ere long he would come to a stop of a far more serious kind.—C. H. Spurgeon.
There were a number of sources similarly citing this snippet from Spurgeon. The snippet  appears to come from Spurgeon's sermon 1865 sermon, Degrees of Power Attending the Gospel (pdf).  The date  of the sermon is relevant in trying to determine where Spurgeon took the quote from. Spurgeon's primary language was English. During this time period, there was only a limited pool of Luther's writings available in English. I think it's safe to rule out Spurgeon reading Luther in German; Spurgeon's education was limited, and I don't think he knew German. This is not to imply that Spurgeon was not intelligent or intellectual. I've read that he may have had a photographic memory. This website states, "Spurgeon had no formal education beyond Newmarket Academy, which he attended from August 1849 to June 1850, but he was very well-read in Puritan theology, natural history, and Latin and Victorian literature." Christian History says he was tutored in Greek and "his personal library eventually exceeded 12,000 volumes." Spurgeon's autobiography states his study of Latin began in 1845. So, it's possible Spurgeon could have read Luther in Latin.  

I suspect though,  Spurgeon was simply working from memory in his sermon and not citing Luther directly.  The quote, as has been popularized, may simply be Spurgeon's recollection of what he recalls reading Luther to have said.

I have not found any evidence that Martin Luther penned or uttered the exact words of the variants posted above. Interestingly,  Luther's Table Talk does say,
"I have every day enough to do to pray" (source
"I," said Luther, "have every day enough to do to pray; and when I lay me down to rest and sleep, and pray the Lord's Prayer, and afterwards take hold of two or three sentences out of the Bible, and so take my sleep, then I am satisfied." (source)  (source)
This could very well be what Spurgeon was recalling, coupled with the fact that Luther was known to spend much time in prayer.  I found this review helpful: Martin Luther on Prayer. The author presents a detailed look on Luther's view on prayer. It's probably the case that Luther did not utter this saying, but it would in fact be in harmony with his view of prayer.

Did Luther really pray three hours a day? According to Luther's friend Viet Dietrich, he did. Writing to Melanchthon in 1530, Dietrich wrote: "Nullus abit dies, quin ut minimum tres horas, easque studiis aptissimas in orationibus ponat." He goes on to describe Luther's prayers (source):

This is a revision of an earlier blog entry. The original can be found here.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Did Calvin Think Monasticism was Holy and Legitimate?

It's hard to imagine a time in which monasticism was one of the hottest topics of the day. The pens of the Reformers were busy attacking this well-established societal institution, intending to tear it to shreds. Like the other magisterial Reformers, John Calvin was highly critical of monasticism. He presented a lengthy exposition against it in his Institutes, referring to its adherents as "hooded sophists" who put forth fabrications and blasphemy (IV.13.14). Part of his argumentation though is curious; he hearkens back, with seeming approval, to a golden age of monasticism found in the ancient church. He then uses this ideal era of monasticism to pummel what he saw as the corrupted current strain that was provoking such intense societal controversy.

Take a moment to read Calvin's positive assessment of early monasticism found in The Institutes IV.13.8-9. He utilizes and summarizes a lengthy passage from Augustine which describes an almost Utopian monastics life: a group of people denying "the allurements of this world" spending their time "living in prayers, readings, and discussions, not swollen by pride, not disorderly through stubbornness, nor livid with envy." They lack possessions, but do so in such a was so as to not burden anyone else. They eat only what they need so as to distribute the leftovers to the needy. "Many do not drink wine, yet they do not think themselves defiled by it; for they most humanely provide it for the weaker brethren, and those who without it cannot attain bodily health; and they fraternally admonish some who foolishly refuse it lest out of vain superstition they become weaker rather than more holy." "They meet in and aspire together toward one love. To offend against it is considered as wicked as to offend against God himself." These are only a few of the points made by Augustine via Calvin. (Calvin is summarizing Augustine, see NPNF IV, 59 f).

What's so wrong with this way of life? If a group of people want to live together to strive for these spiritual ideals, what harm could there possibly be? Wasn't even Calvin here admitting that monasticism was at one time a good and holy enterprise?  Not necessarily. Calvin presented this exercise in compare and contrast as an apolgetic argument, "lest anyone should defend present-day monasticism on the grounds of its antiquity" (IV.13.8):
I merely wish to indicate in passing not only what sort of monks the ancient church had but what sort of monastic profession then existed. Thus intelligent readers may judge by comparison the shamelessness of those who claim antiquity to support present monasticism (IV.13.10).
By this comparison of ancient and present-day monasticism I trust I have accomplished my purpose: to show that our hooded friends falsely claim the example of the first church in defense of their profession—since they differ from them as much as apes from men (IV.13.16).
Doesn't this apologetic argument though beg the question of the validity of the monastic way of life? Given the positive description of the earlier presented monasticism (that Calvin himself brought up!), shouldn't the Reformers have simply put more effort into reforming monasticism back to its purer state? For Calvin, it seems like a blatant contradiction: the old generation of monks had noble ideals and a quest for holiness. Today's batch of monks are soaked in corruption, therefore the monasteries must go. This simply doesn't follow logically and it seems quite at odds with reforming the church.

The answer to this Calvin conundrum is to read the entire context! In The Institutes, Calvin's argumentation is lengthy and detailed (at times, in  my opinion top-heavy). One has to press through from IV.13.8-9 all the way up to IV.13.16 to come across what John T. McNeil's translation heads as "Considerations Against Ancient Monasticism":
Meanwhile, I frankly admit that even in that ancient form which Augustine commends there is something that I do not like very much. I grant that they were not superstitious in the outward exercise of a quite rigid discipline, yet I say that they were not without immoderate affectation and perverse zeal. It was a beautiful thing to forsake all their possessions and be without earthly care. But God prefers devoted care in ruling a household, where the devout householder, clear and free of all greed, ambition, and other lusts of the flesh, keeps before him the purpose of serving God in a definite calling. It is a beautiful thing to philosophize in retirement, far from intercourse with men. But it is not the part of Christian meekness, as if in hatred of the human race, to flee to the desert and the wilderness and at the same time to forsake those duties which the Lord has especially commanded. Though we grant there was nothing else evil in that profession, it was surely no slight evil that it brought a useless and dangerous example into the church (IV.13.16).
Calvin made a related argument in IV.14.14 in arguing against the monasticism of his day:
The facts themselves tell us that all those who enter into the monastic community break with the church. Why? Do they not separate themselves from the lawful society of believers, in adopting a peculiar ministry and a private administration of the sacraments? If this is not to break the communion of the church, what is?
Calvin wasn't looking to the alleged golden age of monasticism to reform it or return it to its former state of glory. It's not simply that the earlier way of monastic life was pure and holy and now needed reformation. Calvin's argument was first a demonstration that the monks of his day were nothing at all like the the monks of old ("they differ from them as much as apes from men").  Then, for Calvin, despite all the positives of monasticism's golden age, it was the monastic fundamental of a lifelong retreat from society and family that discredits it as a way of life.

There is nothing new under the sun, and the wheel has been reinvented! After writing this entry, I came across R. Scott Clark's 2014 blog essay, Did Luther And Calvin Favor Evangelical Monasticism? Clark critiqued an article by "Greg Peters, Associate Professor of Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University," entitled, The New Monasticism Gets Older. Clark covered the same territory I did and arrived at the conclusion I did.  Clark says,
Peters has turned a minor, passing concession, a fine and even technical historical point, into a more general, if qualified, endorsement of monasticism. This reading of Calvin (and Luther) should be criticized.
If evangelicals want to flee to monasteries, that is their business but if they try to take Luther and Calvin with them, they will find themselves saddled with unhappy guests in the new evangelical monastery.
My entry was similarly provoked by an article in which it was being argued Calvin favored earlier monasticism.