Friday, October 19, 2012

Calvin to Melanchthon on Luther

The situation for the present piece of correspondence is very much like that in the previous installment: Luther had written polemically against Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper and the Zurichers were up in arms (figuratively, not literally). Here Calvin writes to Melanchthon about the situation. He has enclosed a letter to Luther himself, a very gentle one characterized by all Calvin’s political and linguistic subtlety, but Melanchthon never delivered it for fear of souring Luther on Calvin. In the present letter, Calvin likewise gently but firmly speaks the truth to Melanchthon, urging him to make a statement of his own on the issue. To the best of my knowledge, his wheedling did not succeed. But we get a few fun lines to read out of the bargain. 

Calvin here refers to Luther with the name “Pericles,” an acknowledgement of Luther’s great significance and polemical power. Pericles was an immensely important Athenian statesman / orator who lived between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. That whole period is sometimes called the “Age of Pericles.” Calvin considers Luther to be the Pericles of his age.  




Letter of John Calvin to Philip Melanchthon in June of 1545, as represented in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 4.466-8.
If the matter stands as the Zurichers say it does, then they have just occasion for their writing. Your Pericles allows himself to be carried beyond all due bounds with his love of thunder, especially seeing that his own case is by no means the better of the two. We all of us do acknowledge that we are much indebted to him. Neither shall I submit myself unwillingly, but be quite content, that he may bear the chief sway, provided that he can manage to conduct himself with moderation. Howbeit, in the Church we must always be upon our guard, lest we pay too great a deference to men. … But, you will say, his disposition is vehement, and his impetuosity is ungovernable; --as if that very vehemence did not break forth with all the greater violence when all shew themselves alike indulgent to him, and allow him to have his way, unquestioned. … Consider, besides, whether the Lord may not have permitted you to be reduced to these straits in order that you may be brought to a yet fuller confession upon this very article. It is indeed most true, as I acknowledge it to be, that which you teach, and also that hitherto, by a kindly method of instruction, you have studiously endeavoured to recall the minds of men from strife and contention. I applaud your prudence and moderation. While, however, you dread as you would some hidden rock, to meddle with this question from the fear of giving offence, you are leaving in perplexity and suspense very many persons who require from you somewhat of a more certain sound, on which they can repose. … Perhaps, therefore, it is now the will of God thus to open up the way for a full and satisfactory declaration of your own mind, that those who look up to your authority may not be brought to a stand, and kept in a state of perpetual doubt and hesitation. These, as you are aware, amount to a very great number of persons.

==================================

Thursday, October 04, 2012

October Book ‘O the Month

After taking a month off of this Book ‘O the Month deal due to a general semester slow-down, I’m happy to present to you October’s entry: Bernard Lohse’s, A Short History of Christian Doctrine: From the First Century to the Present. This is quite simply my go-to text for basic history of doctrine needs. Lohse has published two equally valuable books on Luther that have also been translated into English (see here and here), but in this volume he deals with such topics as the formation and function of dogma, the canon, the creeds, the Trinity, the sacraments, christology, soteriology (from a couple different angles), and more. There are also “chronological tables” of important dates in the development of the various doctrinal topics. These are a very handy quick reference. It truly is an excellent work and I like it so much that I will likely be listing it as recommended reading on all my syllabi in the Christian tradition.


I leave you with the following quote from his discussion of christological development. I've always liked it:

Bernard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine: From the First Century to the Present, 95.
If the christological controversy of the fifth century is viewed from a purely political point of view it is apparent that victory belonged neither to the Patriarch of Constantinople nor to the Patriarch of Alexandria but to the eastern emperors, who knew how to subject the church to their authority. As a result, however, the national passions of Egypt and Syria were enflamed. Both defended themselves against a creed which had been forced upon them by the emperor, and tried to free themselves from Byzantine overlordship.

==================================