Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Once upon a time John Calvin wrote an academic rejection letter…

So there I was, gentle reader. In the midst of finals week grading, I decided to snatch a few moments to bolster my sanity by reading from Calvin’s correspondence. It has been my wont for the past few years to read a volume of Calvin’s correspondence over the summer. This year I reach the fourth and final volume in the Tracts and Letters collection, alas. In any case, I’m happy to be in a stable academic position. Many of my fellow holders of PhDs in theology are not so fortunate. But applying for positions is still very much a pressing aspect of life in my social circles. And part of the application process these days is the rejection letter: sorry, good try, maybe next time (and those are the good ones!). So imagine my delightful surprise to find a personal rejection letter written by Calvin back in 1559!

Reading this letter, I was struck by two thoughts: first, how nice it would be to receive such personal and solicitous rejection; second, no matter how many things change with the academic job market, the basic dynamics stay the same. I’ll leave it to you, gentle readers, to tease out that sentiment. I leave you, then, with Calvin’s letter. It is written to Francis Boisnormand, then serving as one of the chaplains to the King of Navarre.

John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Volume 7: Letters, Part 4, 1559–1564 (Banner of Truth, 2009); 35–36.

I do not wonder, most excellent brother, that the burden which you sustain appears to you heavy and irksome, and that labours full of innumerable vexations and dangers, should so diversely distract your mind as to make you sign for their termination and a deliverance from them. I rather wonder how you have been able hitherto to cope with such severe trials, under which you must have sunk a hundred times unless, miraculously supported from on high, you had not risen superior to what mere human strength can perform. But amid these commencements which promise something beyond vulgar expectation, we dare not tear you away from your post. When seven or eight months ago our senate had decided to appoint professors of three languages, the brethren were desirous to call you hither, provided a suitable successor could be readily found for you. While these things were under discussion among us, a report brought us respecting Emmanuel Tremelli broke off our purpose. For he himself indeed had written twice or thrice that nothing would be more consonant to his wishes than if he obtained permission to come and settle here. The prince of Deux Ponts gave us a courteous reply, that he could not possible part with Tremelli except to the great detriment of his academy. Meanwhile, as we were still in suspense, took place the calamity of the church of Lausanne, the tidings of which it is probably have penetrated as far as you. Thus, then, on the present occasion was elected Anthony Chevallier, Tremelli’s son-in-law; at least, Chevallier’s wife is a step-daughter of Tremelli. This I wished briefly to inform you of, that you might not suppose that you had been slighted by us, who, as you see, adopted a decision from a sudden and unexpected circumstance, for both religion and a sense of decorum urged us to provide for a pious brother who had been so cruelly ejected.* And in that appointment both the authority of our academy and the expressed wishes of Chevallier were satisfied. But for this circumstance the situation had been destined for you. Now that you have been deprived of this opportunity, weigh well whether it would be expedient that you should abandon the post in which God so advantageously employs your labours, unless the brethren who consider you as in some sort bound up with them should council you so to do. Neither is it just moreover, nor do we desire that matters should be exposed to peril to comply with our wishes. Thus it will be better for you on that matter to deliberate with the brethren, and if you listen to me you will do well if above all you comply with the advice of our friend Henry, since he has always faithfully and actively assisted you, shared with you all his vows and connected himself so closely with you, that it were wrong to have any separate counsels from him. Excuse the brevity of this letter, since the quartan ague still has its hold on me, debilitating me excessively, and other symptoms give me no little uneasiness. May the Lord always stand by you, govern and sustain you, and shield you and your wife with his safe protection. Many salutations I pray you to the brethren.

*Ed. note: a number of ministers and faculty from the academy in Lausanne, including Viret, Beza, and this Chevallier, were fire and exiled by Berne because of their support for Calvin’s doctrine.

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