John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics

John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics

John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics

John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics

Excerpt

It is now almost four centuries since Calvinism was born. John Calvin adopted the Protestant faith sometime between April 1532 and November 1533, and in 1536 he wrote the first edition of his epoch-making treatise, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Today, adherents of Calvinistic churches number in their membership many thousands, and in churches indirectly influenced in form or doctrine by Calvin are many other thousands. Though his theology is in eclipse, it is far from obsolete.

The significance of Calvin's ethics has been neglected in the making of many books upon his theology. Yet even in his own day, the impression made by his moral ideas was probably as great as that made by his doctrine, and it has been more lasting. Through various channels -- mainly French, Dutch, Scotch, and English -- Calvinistic morality made its way to American shores, and the morality of the Protestant portion of the western world still bears its stamp. The Puritan conscience is in large measure the Calvinistic conscience, and in spite of tendencies to decry everything "puritanical," the Puritan conscience, or its effective heritage, persists.

To all but a few of those whose religious or moral ideas have been molded by him, Calvin is but a name. The name connotes usually a shadowy figure -- often a sinister figure -- one who believed in predestination and other strange ideas that nobody now accepts. Yet the thin, imperious theologian who taught predestination and ruled Geneva in the quarter century which spanned the middle of the sixteenth century was one of the strongest personalities of all time. Frail in body, gigantic in intellect, and iron-clad in soul, he laid the stamp of his personality on future Calvinists, and others. He was a man of great faults and great virtues; and these faults and virtues were crystallized into a moral code which after four centuries is still effective in our social order.

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