Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wednesday January 7, 09 Calvin's Centennary

January 7 Calvin and civil law
Ezekiel 11:20Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is a third year law student at the University of South Carolina. Calvin had a law degree, and his father did too. When Calvin snuck back into Paris France (6/2/1536) to settle his father’s estate he described himself as “Jehan Cauvin licentiate in the law.” Halsema said of Calvin that he began his Institutes by defending the Protestants of every accusation like a lawyer before a judge. I think Calvin’s law degree brought him a sense of fairness and moderation as well as helped him think clearly and logically.
Calvin lived in a day in which many different thoughts were coming out. Some Protestants were saying do away with clergy and with government altogether (notably some Anabaptists). Calvin had this to say about the purpose of government- it is pretty good- I think: Now we wish it to be understood that to think of doing away with [civil government] is outrageous barbarity. Its function among people is no less than that of bread, water, sun, and air; indeed, its place of honor is far more excellent for it provides that people eat, drink, and are kept warm…it also prevents public offenses against religion; it prevents the public peace from being disturbed; it provides that each one may keep their property safe and sound; that people may carry on blameless interaction among themselves; that honesty and modesty may be preserved…The Lord has not only testified that the office of magistrate is approved by and acceptable to him, but he also set out its dignity with the most honorable titles and marvelously commends it to us. (Inst. IV 7,8)
Calvin had a healthy respect for government and law. He did not rebel against it. He could have. He could have sought to fight against the Sorbonne when they sought to arrest him. He could have fought against the Duke in Ferrara when he sought to persecute him. He could have gathered supporters and started a civil war in Geneva when they tried to exile him. This is where Calvin differed from a Zwingli. Calvin did not encourage the use of force or violence. Rather he sought to change the world by the spread of the gospel and the sharing of ideas. It is also an interesting concept that government is seen by Calvin to preserve modesty and honesty as well as keeping the public persecution of religion at bay. It appears to me that many in government do not see these things as a part of the purpose of government.

There are lots of lawyer jokes out there. To my friends in law, remember one of the greatest Christians saw himself as a lawyer.
The picture today is of Calvin the lawyer (sitting) arguing with his cousin about religion.

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