Calvin. History and Reception of a Reformation Week 1. Calvin's Life Sequence 1. The concept of Reformation Hello. My name is Michel Grandjean and I teach the History of Christianity at the University of Geneva. Welcome to today's sequence, which will focus on the concept of Reformation and include a brief overview of a few reform movements across Europe. Calvin did not lead <i>the</i> Reformation, but <i>a</i> Reformation. There is a reason why we chose to name our course "Calvin, History and Reception of a Reformation," using the word "a" and not "the." Let's start by defining the concept of Reformation itself. Here is something Marc Venard, the great historian of the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century, wrote a few years ago: "To write history means, to a large extent, projecting a vocabulary of organization onto the disarray of reality." This is the historian's task, then. Reality is complex, disorganized. We try to impose words on this reality. The concept of Reformation is one of these words. What does this mean? First of all, we must realize that Calvin never woke up one morning -- nor, indeed, did any other reformer -- with the conscious awareness that he was inventing what we now refer to as a reformation of the Church. Granted, Calvin spoke on numerous occasions of "reforming" the Church. In 1549, he published a book on the "True Reformation of the Church" ("Vera Christianae pacificationis et Ecclesiae reformandae ratio"). Yet we must realize that, in the 16th century, the concept of reformation was anything but new. In fact, it had been widely discussed and written about, within the Latin Church, for several centuries already. What does it mean to "reform"? To answer, we look to the Latin word "reformare." "Reformare" means to form anew; to rebuild; to restore something to its original state; to correct a thing in any of its aspects that may be defective. "Reformare" -- to reform -- would apply to a wall that's on the verge of collapsing. A pipe with a hole in it, or a leaking roof, would similarly need to be "reformed." By extension, then, we get the medieval Latin expression "reformare pacem," meaning to restore the peace, as well as "reformare ecclesiam" -- and now we enter more relevant territory -- meaning to reform the Church. <font color="#FFFFFF" size="8.5" face="Tahoma">From the 11th century onwards, there were countless ecclesiastical reform movements. Starting in the second half of the 11th century, popes such as Leo IX, Gregory VII and Urban II implemented reformations of the Church. Monastic orders were often targets of reform. In the 12th century, for instance, Bernard of Clairvaux, the great Cistercian theologian, attempted -- with the help of his Cistercian brothers -- to reform the Benedictine order. In the 13th century, when Louis IX ("Saint Louis") decided to reform his kingdom, he named a certain number of "general reformers," to whom he granted full authority. A century before Calvin, when the Council of Constance was held from 1414 to 1418, it had but one objective: to reform the Church. A century later, the Fifth Council of the Lateran was similarly convened so as to reform the Church "in capite et in membris" -- in its head and its members. In Geneva itself, in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the term "Ecclesiastical Reformation" referred, as expertly demonstrated by the historian Louis Binz, to initiatives by the Bishop of Geneva consisting in visits to his various parishes. The concept of reformation, then, was as commonplace as they come. Two things we must take note of right away: 1. There is nothing specifically Protestant about reformation. An everyday, commonplace notion, "reformation" was on everyone's lips at the time, and specifically the idea of reforming the Church. 2. Any notion of reformation assumes the existence of an earlier, better state of affairs. In an ecclesiastical sense, reforming the Church means expressing a desire to return to the original Church, to the Church as it is described in certain passages of the Acts of the Apostles in particula, a Church assumed to be pure and perfect because of its historical proximity to the beginnings of the Gospel itself. We see, therefore, that reformation, as an ideal, is one whose proponent is turned towards the past. In this regard, reformation is opposed to progress to a certain extent. Progress hopes for a better future, whereas reformation assumes a past that is better than the present and towards which we should turn. "John Calvin, History and Reception of a Reformation." <i>A</i> reformation, as we've seen, because there were indeed many. And among these reformations were several Protestant reformations, throughout the 16th century, which I'd like to talk about for a few moments so we can place Calvin in his proper context. When we say "the Reformation," with a capital R and in the singular, this generally refers to the movement started by the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, in Saxony, between 1515 and 1517. Martin Luther lived quite far from Geneva. On this map, a black dot shows the town in which he served as a university professor: Wittenberg. This is the intellectual point of origin of Luther's Reformation. Between 1500 and 1600, reformation -- which includes all the Protestant reformations, but also the reform of the Roman Catholic Church with the Council of Trent -- was indisputably the single most transformative phenomenon in Europe,
deeply reshaping the continent as a whole. It would subsequently contribute to the emergence of what we call modernity -- a theme we will address in more detail a few weeks from now. I've mentioned the name Luther, and we have no choice but to say a few words about him. Luther was born in 1483, so about a quarter-century before Calvin. At the heart of Luther's undertaking was something that worried him. What worried Luther was not being able to give a good account of himself before God, being declared unworthy by God and therefore sentenced to hell for all eternity. In 1928, Lucien Febvre, the great historian of the Annales School, wrote about Luther: "What mattered to Luther between 1505 and 1515 was not reforming the Church, but Luther. Luther's soul, Luther's salvation. And nothing else." What Luther is all about, first and foremost, is the desire to fundamentally rethink the relationship between human beings and God. In his youth -- if we are to believe what he would report later in life -- Luther was virtually obsessed with fear of God's judgment. The realization that came as a liberation to him was to conceive God's justice not as an affliction or sentence that threatens and condemns us, but as a gift from God to human beings. For Luther, to speak of God's justice is to speak of the ways in which God declares us to be just, in which God makes us just, despite the fact that we are inherently unjust. Theologians -- who tend to use somewhat complicated terminology -- call this principle "justification by faith." Absent this principle, there is no such thing as the Protestant Reformation. We will be looking at several instances that illustrate the extent to which this principle pervades all of Calvin's work. "It is the sovereign principle of our faith," he wrote in 1539. Yet Calvin's conception of justification by faith presents minor variations from Luther's, which is something we'll explore in more detail later. Calvin never met Luther in person. Calvin did not speak a word of German; Luther not a word of French. Yet, had they met, they could certainly have conversed in Latin. In fact, they wrote to each other in Latin and read each other's works in Latin. There is a letter written by Luther to Bucer in 1539, in Strasbourg. As we'll see, Calvin happened to be in Strasbourg at that very time. Luther ends his letter by asking Bucer to give his regards to John Calvin, "whose works [he has] read with great pleasure." Six years later, in January 1545, Calvin sent two of his books to Luther and wrote essentially the following (here I am translating from the Latin): "I would like to meet with you so that we can discuss certain matters. But since this will not be granted to us here on Earth, I hope that it may happen, not too long from now, in the kingdom of God." And indeed, Luther died only a year later, in 1546. So that's the Lutheran Reformation. Zurich was the focal point of another Protestant reformation movement, led by Zwingli, whom Calvin never got to meet. Indeed, Zwingli died on the battlefield in 1531,
when Calvin was just a young man of 22. Calvin did, however, come to know and appreciate Zwingli's successor, Heinrich Bullinger, with whom Calvin maintained a sustained correspondence throughout his later years. After the Zurich-based reformation's spread to Bern, in 1528, Bern would become Geneva's most significant and powerful political ally and champion. There is one last reformation that also needs to be mentioned: the humanist reform in France. It was led by Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, a native of Normandy who has been called the "French Erasmus," and Guillaume Briçonnet, bishop of the town of Meaux. Among these reformers was a certain Guillaume Farel, who put his intellectual training and abilities at the service of the movement. Guillaume Farel would subsequently take part in the Bern movement, before moving to Geneva and becoming a friend of John Calvin. These are all things we will be exploring in more detail later on. We've reached the end of our first sequence. Thank you for your attention.