Sunday, May 03, 2020

Bucer: "Calvin is a true mad dog. The man is wicked, and he judges of people according as he loves or hates them"

Here's a John Calvin tidbit that's made the cyber-rounds for a number of years:
Despite theological affinities, Bucer had quite a low opinion of Calvin: "Calvin is a true mad dog. The man is wicked, and he judges of people according as he loves or hates them."  (113;v.1:467)
This quote popped on my radar recently when it was presented in an on-line discussion group focusing on "debate" between Rome's defenders and the Reformation. The quote has traveled around the Internet for a number of years (at least twenty). Previous to that, it was very popular in nineteenth-century Roman Catholic polemical writings.

The quote is historically intriguing: it purports some sort of animosity between two prominent sixteenth century Reformers, Martin Bucer and John Calvin.  Basic Reformation history paints a much different picture: Bucer and Calvin had a cordial relationship,  a close and friendly relationship, especially during the period in which Calvin was on hiatus from Geneva, living in Strasbourg in the direct company of Bucer.

Which historical narrative is correct? Did Bucer criticize Calvin as "a true mad dog" judging people "as he loves or hates them," or did he have an amiable relationship with him? Or was it... both? Did Bucer think negatively on Calvin even while having a cordial relationship with him? Did he happen to disagree with Calvin on something, if only temporarily? Was Bucer having the proverbial "bad day"?  Let's trace back this quote for some answers. We'll see there's a good possibility Martin Bucer never said it. We'll see specifically there's no credible primary source that historically documents this Bucer comment. Rome's defenders have once again, not gone deep into history.

The documentation I was provided with was "113;v.1:467." A basic Google search leads to the probable cyber-source: a Roman Catholic apologetics web-page documenting, in part, the sixteenth century "intolerance" aspect of the Reformers against each other.  "113" corresponds to an entry in a web-page bibliography:  "Spalding, Martin J. {Archbishop of Baltimore}, The History of the Protestant Reformation, 2 vols., Baltimore: John Murphy, 1876." This information is accurate, as far as it goes, but unfortunately, it doesn't go that far to the actual primary source. Here is volume 1:467.

Spalding, a Roman Catholic,  included it as part of a litany of character assaults against Calvin. That's not such a strange occurrence: Spalding lived during a period of deep polemical interactions between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It's not uncommon to find books from both sides during that period attempting to point out the atrocities and inconsistencies of the other, coupled with character assaults (has anything really changed?).

As with many books from this period, documentation is sparse. It isn't odd then that Spalding does not document his source for the quote in question. A careful reader will notice that Spalding goes on to glowingly mention one of Calvin's enemies (Baudouin) immediately after citing the quote we're examining.  François Baudouin (1520–1573), will play a major role in the authenticity of this quote as we go on in our investigation.

One source that Spalding does cite elsewhere in his text is Jean François Marie Trévern, An Amicable Discussion on the Church of England and on the Reformation in General. This was an immensely popular book(s) at the time, particularly used by many Roman Catholic polemical writers. The quote we're examining is also found in Trévern's book in the exact English form, but also without documentation.  I suspect the English form of this quote may have directly come from the translation of Trévern's book from French into English (even if Spalding didn't utilize Trévern for it). The earliest use of the English version I located in my cursory search was an 1828 English edition of Trévern. It's not possible to know precisely, but that the English renderings are so consistent leads me to suspect this popular source as ground zero for the English-speaking world.

Trévern's book was originally in French. The edition I checked also did not document the quote. What's interesting is that searching the French phrase "chien enragé" ("mad dog") along with "Calvin" provides deeper historical roots into the seventeenth century for our quote. Here was one of the interesting hits:

What's fascinating about this excerpt is this old writer mentions a source for the quote we're looking for: the quote is said to come from a letter from Bucer to Calvin, but, according this author, the only person to have actually physically seen the letter is Calvin's enemy, François Baudouin! This old biography of Calvin explains that Baudouin was initially friendly with Calvin and was granted access to his library and papers. He then is said to have taken some of Calvin's papers, particularity a letter from Martin Bucer that was supposedly harsh toward Calvin. He ran off with the documents to France. Baudouin then used the documents to attack Calvin.  This contemporary source states that Baudouin eventually admitted he had never seen Bucer's letter, only a reply of Calvin to Bucer.  This old source similarly says Baudouin admitted to not actually seeing Bucer's letter, and adds a lot of detail, including Calvin's denial of Bucer's words:
Francis Baudouin, who lodged with Calvin, gave out, that, in Bucer's judgment, Calvin kept no measure either in his love or hatred; or that he either raised people above the heavens, or sunk them down to hell. But Calvin solemnly protested, that Bucer had never censured him in that manner. "I call GOD and his angels to witness, (says Calvin,) that what Baudouin recites of that matter, is a wicked fiction of his own. May GOD so prosper me, as I never heard any such thing from Bucer: On the contrary, Bucer, whom I revere as a father, cultivated a mutual brotherly friendship with me, with so much affection, that it grieved him very much when I left Strasburg. It is certain, he strove to the utmost to retain me by any means whatsoever. There is also a letter of his to our senate, wherein he complains that I was recalled hither to the great loss of the whole church; and in short goes so far, that he says, I am inferior to none of the ministers of sound doctrine, and have but few equals." Baudouin confesses, in his answer, that he had not seen what Bucer had wrote to Calvin; but he brags he had Calvin's answer to Bucer. Theodore Beza wrote to Baudouin, and made the following apology for Calvin; "You say Calvin cursed himself if ever he heard any such thing from Bucer: But why do you omit what is most to the purpose? For these are Calvin's words: "Baudouin says, that Bucer once told me that I kept no measure in my hatred or love; but was a man of that vehemence, that I either extolled a man above the skies, or debased him to hell." You see manifestly, though you are so blind with rage or hatred that you can see nothing, that what you wrote obscurely of Bucer's rebuke, Calvin under'stood as of some conversation; and, therefore, remembering the sweet and uninterrupted friendship that had been between him and Bucer, did not rashly break out into that expression; so that this is nothing at all to the letter, which you have corrupted too; for Bucer, whose letter I have in his own hand-writing, did not write, you judge as you love,  but we judge as we love, whereby he comprehended himself in the number, and deplored a  common fault of mankind.' Beza also remarks, that those two great men soon altered their style in writing to each other; and that there are letters of Bucer to Calvin of a later date, and full of mildness.
The above synopsis closely follows that done in Bayle's Dictionary. Bayle says, "There has been much Talk of a Letter which [Bucer] wrote to Calvin." Similarly, Bayle records that Calvin vehemently denied the contents of the alleged Bucer letter. Again, Baudouin is indicted for admitting he had actually not seen Bucer's letter, but only Calvin's letter to Bucer. Then Bayle similarly puts forth Beza's remarks.

Bayle cites only, "You judge according as you love, or according as you hate; or you love and hate from meer Fancy." Many of the older citations of this quote focus more on the sentence "he judges of people according as he loves or hates them" rather than the "mad dog" line.  As Beza implied above, the line from Bucer was actually,  "Our judgment depends on our love or our hate," but this line is only known through the debates back and forth between Calvin,  Baudouin, and Beza's testimony.

It appears some of the English quote in which Bucer calls Calvin a "mad dog" et al. does date back to the sixteenth century, but not to an actual verifiable context from Bucer.  To my knowledge, no such letter has ever been recovered in which Bucer is said to have written, "Calvin is a true mad dog. The man is wicked, and he judges of people according as he loves or hates them." It was the unproven and eventually retracted statement from Calvin's polemical enemy, François Baudouin. Only his testimony serves as the basis of this quote in the historical record.

There are some loose ends to this brief investigation. First, I've not come across any helpful information of how the words "true mad dog" entered the historical record. Second, I've not actually located exactly which source Baudouin originally claimed to know the contents of Bucer's letter.  Third, I've not actually provided any actual assessments of the relationship between Bucer and Calvin. According to this source,  there was disagreement, but not of the personal animosity level  that the polemical quote suggests. 

Regardless of these loose ends,  I'm confident that Roman Catholic polemicists are those ultimately responsible to substantiate the claim that "Bucer had quite a low opinion of Calvin." The proof they've used thus far, a spurious quote devoid of context, put forth by Calvin's known enemy, fails as evidence. 


Jesse said...

Hey James,

I was wondering what you thought of these posts of mine pertaining to Sola Fide:

TommyK said...

Though Calvin differed on the Supper somewhat from Luther; he was closer to Luther than Zwingli for sure; and Calvin's views on free-will were the same as Luther when it comes to salvation, etc. I do not know much about Bucer and his relationship with Calvin. Thanks for covering this topic as Rome once again works to impose its Counter-Reformation. Keep up the work in contending for the faith (Jude 3). Tommy

James Swan said...

I was wondering what you thought of these posts of mine pertaining to Sola Fide:

Hi Jesse,

Yes those are good responses, Rome's defenders try to interpret Paul according to ceremonial law, but their arguments are not ultimately supported by the contexts. I recall a number of James White's debates on justification got into this.

Thanks for sharing!

James Swan said...

Hi Tommy: Thanks for the kind words!