Calvin to Farel on Melanchthon, Bucer, Ecclesiastical Ceremonies, and Ecumenics

Some of you may remember that I recently purchased a 7-volume set of Calvin’s tracts and correspondence. I’ve been reading through the first correspondence volume as a sort of summer vacation treat (and to prepare for teaching a Reformation course in the Fall…), and it has been a lot of fun. I came across the following passage and decided to post it since (a) it is interesting on a number of levels, and (b) I knew that Tim Butler would be interested in seeing it (he’s in the early stages of a doctoral program aimed at writing on Bucer). It might also be of interest to friend-of-the-blog Jason Ingalls, who has worked on the influence of Calvin on early Anglican theology. So, here we go…

Calvin was very involved in the political and theological maneuvering within the Holy Roman Empire during his stay in Strasbourg. Bucer had recognized Calvin’s talent early on, and tended to keep him nearby if disputations were in the works. As far as I can tell, this letter’s context are preparations undertaken by the Protestants to establish some basic unity between themselves before the coming HRE diet (held in 1541at Regensburg, otherwise known as Ratisbon; this diet both continued and supplanted some more restricted conferences at Worms the previous year; it was also with respect to Calvin’s work at Regensburg that Melanchthon referred to him as “the Theologian”). In the course of this epistolary extract, Calvin takes on a number of less than flattering opinions concerning Melanchthon and Bucer.

Letter of John Calvin to William Farel in April of 1539, as represented in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 4.136-7. As always, emphasis is mine.

Of late, I have plainly told Philip [Melanchthon] to his face how much I disliked that overabounding of ceremonies; indeed, that it seemed to me the form which they observe was not far removed from Judaism. When I pressed him with argument, he was unwilling to dispute with me about the matter, but admitted that there was an over-doing in these either trifling or superfluous rites and ceremonies. He said, however, that it had been found necessary to yield in that matter to the Canonists, who are here the stumbling-block in the way; that, however, there was no part of Saxony which is not more burdened with them than Wittenberg, and even there much would be retrenched by degrees from such a medley. But he made a small reservation, to the effect that the ceremonies which they have been compelled to retain were not more approved of by Luther than was our sparing use of them. I wish that our excellent friend N. could behold how much sincerity there is in Philip. All suspicion of double-dealing would entirely vanish. Besides, as to Bucer’s defence of Luther’s ceremonies, he does not do so because he eagerly seeks them, or would endeavor to introduce them. But no means can he be brought to approve of chanting in Latin. Images he abhors. Some other things he despises, while others he cares nothing at all about. There is no occasion to fear that he would be for restoring those things which have been once abolished; only he cannot endure that, on account of these trifling observances, we should be separated from Luther. Neither, certainly, do I consider them to be just causes of dissent.



Unknown said…
Thanks for the link, Travis. I like the fact that Calvin didn't think the observances were something to be separated over. Good for him.
I figured you would. ;-)

Popular Posts

So, You Want to Read Wolfhart Pannenberg? A guest post by Andrew Hollingsworth

Brief Book Note: Peter Brown’s “Ransom of the Soul”

Abortion, Authoritarian Self-Deception, Evangelicals, and Trump: a collected Twitter essay from Christopher Stroop

The Significance of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones: A Humorous Interlude

Sarah Coakley defines Systematic Theology