Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Calvin to Bullinger on Luther

Continuing with excerpts from Calvin’s correspondence, today’s tidbit comes from a letter that he wrote to Heinrich Bullinger in 1544. For those of you who don’t know, Bulliner was the chief pastor at Zurich, taking over after Zwingli’s death in the battle of Kappel in 1531. Bullinger was about 5 years older than Calvin, and he outlived Calvin by about a decade. He was the more established and influential during their lifetimes, although Calvin has eclipsed Bullinger in the most recent centuries. 

In any case, in this letter Calvin writes to Bullinger in an attempt to sooth the Zurich pastors. Why are they upset? Because Luther was being himself. Luther had written another treatise on the Lord’s Supper, criticizing Zwingli severely post mortem. The Zurichers took this as quite the insult, as one might expect given that their church’s faith and order was built on Zwingli’s foundation (although, we must remember that Bullinger and Calvin managed to get the Consensus Tigurinus together in the late 1540s). Calvin plays the role he learned from Bucer here, namely, that of mediator between the various reformational camps. He urges Bullinger and the Zurichers to remember Luther’s immense significance and temper their anger. In the process, he has some fun things to say about Luther…

Letter of John Calvin to Heinrich Bullinger in November of 1544, as represented in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 4.432-4.
I hear that Luther has at length broken forth in fierce invective, not so much against you as against the whole of us. On the present occasion, I dare venture to ask you to keep silence, because it is neither just that innocent persons should thus be harassed, nor that they should be denied the opportunity of clearing themselves; neither, on the other hand, is it easy to determine whether it would be prudent for them to do so. But of this I do earnestly desire to put you in mind, in the first place, that you would consider how eminent a man Luther is, and the excellent endowments wherewith he is gifted, with what strength of mind and resolute constancy, with how great skill, with what efficiency and power of doctrinal statement, he had hitherto devoted his whole energy to overthrow the reign of Antichrist, and at the same time to diffuse far and near the doctrine of salvation. Often have I been wont to declare, that even although he were to call me a devil, I should still not the less hold him in such honour that I must acknowledge him to be an illustrious servant of God. But while he is endued with rare and excellent virtues, he labours at the same time under serious faults. Would that he had rather studied to curb this restless, uneasy temperament which is so apt to boil over in every direction. I wish, moreover, that he had always bestowed the fruits of that vehemence of natural temperament upon the enemies of the truth, and that he had not flash his lightning sometimes also upon the servants of the Lord. Would that he had been more observant and careful in the acknowledgement of his own vices. Flatterers have done him much mischief, since he is naturally too prone to be over-indulgent to himself. It is our part, however, so to reprove whatsoever evil qualities may beset him, as that we may make some allowance for him at the same time on the score of these remarkable endowments with which he has been gifted. This, therefore, I would beseech you to consider first of all, along with your colleagues, that you have to do with a most distinguished servant of Christ, to whom we are all of us largely indebted…

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1 comment:

TJ said...

Calvin bullying Luther. That's just great.