Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beza on Calvin’s Workload and Partnership with Farel and Viret

In continuing through my relatively new set of Calvin’s Tracts and Letters, I am now reading Beza’s Vita Calvini in the first volume. Amazingly, I have never read it before. I likely put it off until now because I knew it to contain unreliable biographical information, especially of Calvin’s early life, and didn’t want to fill my head with such things. But I feel as though I have a sound enough grasp of Calvin now to risk it and, besides, it repays in many other ways – not least of which is by providing nice tidbits like the following. 

In this passage, Beza begins by describing what a typical work-week for Calvin looked like. He does so specifically in connection to Calvin’s return to Geneva in the early 1540s, but it may well be that he is describing Calvin’s schedule as Beza personally observed it at some later point since it does not fit exactly with some of the conclusions about such things made by Elsie McKee on the basis of archival research (which I heard about in classes with her, and may be remembering wrongly; I’m not aware that she has published about it anywhere yet). In the same vein, I think the Consistory (what Beza calls the Presbytyry, I believe) met only every other week generally. “The Congregation” was a meeting of the pastors and whoever else wanted to participate, wherein one of them would preach a more theological sermon and then it would be discussed. Anyway, Beza goes on to comment on the close working relationship of Calvin with Farel and Viret, concluding with a rather touching albeit loaded sentiment. 

Theodore Beza’s “Life of Calvin” in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 1.xxxix.
What his [i.e., Calvin’s] labours at this time were will be seen from the following statement. During the week he preached every alternate and lectured every third day, on Thursday he met with the Presbytery, and on Friday attended the ordinary Scripture meeting, called ‘The Congregation,’ where he had his full share of the duty. He also wrote most learned Commentaries on several of the books of Scripture, besides answering the enemies of religion, and maintaining an extensive correspondence on matters of importance. Any one who reads these attentively, will be astonished how one many could be fit for labours so numerous and so great. He availed himself much of the aid of old Farel and Viret, while, at the same time, he was also of great service to them. This friendship and intimacy was not less hateful to the wicked than delightful to all the pious, and, in truth, it was a most pleasing spectacle to see and hear those three distinguished men, carrying on the work of God so harmoniously, and yet differing so much from each other in the nature of their gifts. Farel excelled in a certain sublimity of mind, so that nobody could either hear his thunders without trembling, or listen to his most fervent prayers without feeling almost as it were carried up into heaven. Viret possessed such wining eloquence, that his entranced audience hung upon his lips. Calvin never spoke without filling the mind of the hearer with most weighty sentiments. I have often thought that a preacher compounded of the three would have been absolutely perfect.

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