John importance of studying the Bible in their original

John
Calvin:  Geneva Ordinances and Letter Concerning
Pious Woman

            John Calvin was born on July 10,
1509 in Noyon, France.  He attended the
University of Paris from 1521 to 1528 and then continued his education at
schools of law in Orleans and Bourges till 1533.  Some of his greatest influences were:  Jacques Lefevre d’Estaples, Guillume Bude,
and Erasmus.  Calvin owed his fascination
with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to them, as well as the importance of studying
the Bible in their original languages and, the church fathers.  Because of his influencers he turned in a
reformist direction, and called for a church renewal on biblical foundations.  While he learned the principals of classical
rhetoric and many other things, in 1533 their paths diverged.  Calvin was the successor of Martin
Luther.  Unlike Martin Luther, John
Calvin was viewed as a tyrant, an inflexible moralist, and a humorless
preacher.  Calvin was more of a reticent
man, meaning he did not express himself in the first person singular, which
contributed to his reputation of being humanly unapproachable, cold, and
intellectual.  However, the other side of
John Calvin, that was only recently discovered showing that he was filled with
self-doubt, inner contradictions, and vulnerability.  Today, Calvin is credited as the most
important figure in the second generation of the Protestant Reformation.  In the two readings that I am going to analyze,
the transition of Calvin being “cold” to having self-doubt will be present.  The two readings that I will be analyze are Geneva Ordinances and Letter Concerning a Pious Woman.

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            The first reading I am going to
analyze is Geneva Ordinances.  One thing that Calvin despised was
“disorderly living.”  When Calvin
returned to Geneva in 1541 he was determined more than ever to regulate every
aspect in life in accordance to “God’s law.” 
His attempt to Christianize the social order became a lifelong struggle
in the face of resistance.  For each
ordinance Calvin states, there are rules beneath that go along with it.  The rules that Calvin covers range from those
that deal with daily conduct (fornication, drunkenness, and personal conflicts)
to facets of Christian life (baptisms and sermons).  The ordinances are very straightforward and leave
little to no room for interpretation; the line between not following and following
the rules is unmistakably clear.  Calvin
had a balance between judicial and social forms of regulations.  First time offenders were given a warning,
and admonished by their family and the Church. 
The most common judicial punishments for failure to comply with the
ordinances was a fine.  Fines were
typically three sous, but would increase with the severity of the infraction.  The violations that were more sever, such as
contradiction of the Word or blasphemy, were dealt with at the discretion of
the provincial lordships.  Calvin’s
ordinances did more than just criticize Catholic traditions.  He pictured a society of Christians who acted
out their faith in every aspect of their lives. 
People were expected to be at Church on time every week.  “Everyone in each house is to come on
Sundays, unless it be necessary to leave someone behind to take care of
children or animals,”1 the ordinance on sermons
makes it very clear that everyone including man- or maid-servants are to be
present, if not there will be a penalty. 
Everyone should be able to attend church, not just the wealthy and
intelligent.  Not only were people
expected to be at Church every week, they were also expected to act accordingly
outside of sermons.  For Calvin this
meant following rules regarding how one spent their leisure time, particularly
regarding sex and alcohol.  “If anyone be
found drunk, he is to pay for the first time three sous and be brought before
the consistory; the second time he must pay five sous; and the third ten sous
and be put in prison.”2  People should carry the same mannerism in and
outside of church.  This way of living
was not a choice but an obligation. 
Calvin and his associates believed that this way of living was a change
from Catholic led society because it removed centuries of tradition founded on
the decision of men.  At first, the
emphasis on monetary fines seems like a similarity to the Catholic Church, who
at the time focused greatly on gaining wealth. 
The main difference is that Calvin does not want to collect the fines.  The price of penalties was so high, that
would cost a full day of work for an averaged artisan.  The main purpose of Calvin’s large fines was not
to fill the Church’s secretary, but to guide the citizens towards a biblical
lifestyle.  Therefore, Calvin’s
regulations were an improvement over the practices of the Catholic Church.  The Geneva
Ordinances written by Calvin are so strict and straightforward, that it led
many to believe that he was a cold, tyrant.

            The second reading source I am going
to analyze is a letter written by John Calvin on July 22, 1552, addressed to a
woman who is seeking marriage advice.  It
is important to remember that this woman is feeling helpless in the
sixteenth-century society, because of her gender and marital status.  Letter Concerning
Pious Woman was the response written by Calvin to a woman who wants to
leave her husband, but feels that she is bound to him and God would not approve
of it.  The woman was, “treated badly by
her husband and subjected to cruel and harsh servitude.”3  Calvin tries to come up with a good solution
for this woman, but finds it difficult. 
She wants to leave her husband, but it is obvious that she is committed
to her faith and him.   If the woman were
to try and blame this misfortune on her religion then it would have been
blasphemy, but of course she would not consider doing this because of her
devotion to faith.  The woman reaching
out to Calvin is an example of her devotion to religion and faith.  John Calvin attempts to use reasoning from the
Bible and Saints to console the woman, but he contradicts himself by doing
so.  One of the first pieces of advice
Calvin gives to the woman is, “it is especially fitting for the Christian wife
to double her efforts to be submissive to her husband”4 and “No matter how great
his obstinacy might be, she must not let herself be diverted from faith; rather
she mist affirm it with constancy and steadfastness-whatever the dangers might
be.”5  These two quotes go along with the ordinance
of Fornication, which states that if adultery takes place then a punishment
will be served.  The woman knows about
the ordinance and is conflicted with what to do.  Leaving her husband is sin, but also him
treating her badly with cruel and harsh servitude is sin on his part.  He tells the woman to pray for God to
strengthen her, and fight with all she has to show her husband that she is of
faith and committed to him, doing so in a humility and gentleness, explaining
to him that she will not offend God to please him.  Calvin took marriage very seriously and
believed that it is a lifelong commitment, but he has a little bit of doubt
with what he advises the woman to do next. 
Calvin presents the woman with other options to leave her husband if he is
not persecuting her and if he is not one of faith.  Calvin ultimately states that if she is not
able to have the faith to stay with her husband, “then she is free to exercise
that liberty which our Lord grants all to his own, i.e., to flee ravenous
wolves.”6  This one statement contradicts what Calvin
advised the woman to do in the beginning of the letter.  Calvin uses the same word of God to tell the
woman to stay and leave.  Is there a
reason why Calvin is giving the woman two options?  Perhaps he is testing her; is she as devoted
to religion and faith as it seems, perhaps Calvin was unsure, or maybe he was
covering himself in case the advice he had given turned out badly.  I believe that Calvin is testing the woman.  He knows that if we put all our trust and
faith in God, good things will happen.  He
wants the woman to rely on God and put all of her faith in him, because he is
the one who determines everything.

            The Geneva Ordinances and Letter
concerning a Pious Woman, show a different side of John Calvin.  In the first reading, Calvin comes off as a
very serious, cold tyrant.  The
ordinances, rules, and fines are very straightforward, leaving no room for
interpretation.  While his letter to the
pious woman shows an uncertain side of Calvin. 
The advice he gives the woman is contradicting.  He says she should stay, but then later says
that she should leave him.  From these
two readings, one can see the transition of Calvin being an overly confident
man to a man who has some self-doubt.

1 Denis
R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
256-257

2
Denis R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
259

3
Denis R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
261

4
Denis R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
261

5
Denis R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
261

6
Denis R. Janz, A Reformation Reading,
262

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