Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6- Calvin Retires

February 6- Calvin’s Retirement

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days come when you say ‘I have no enjoyment in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12)

Calvin: “I have had many faults that you had to tolerate, and all that I accomplished was of little significance. The evil minded will take advantage of this confession, but I repeat that all that I have done is of little significance, and I am a poor creature. My faults have always displeased me and the root of the fear of the Lord has always been in my heart. As for my doctrine, I have taught faithfully, and God has given me grace to write, which I have done faithfully, as I could; and I have not corrupted [or mutilated] one single passage of Scripture nor twisted it as far as I know; and when in a position to arrive at an artificial meaning through subtlety, I have put all that under my feet, and have always aimed at being simple. I have written nothing out of hatred against anyone, but have always set before me what I thought was for the glory of God.” (CR, 9,893b- said to pastors in the week before his death).

It was February 6, 1564 (445 years ago to this day) that Calvin preached his last sermon at St. Pierre. “He was preaching on the Harmony of the Gospels when the cough seized him. This time he could not stop it, the blood was hot in his mouth. Slowly, reluctantly he came down the circular staircase , his sermon unfinished. In anxious silence, the congregation watched. The Wednesday before he had preached his last weekday sermon on the Book of Kings. And in the academy, on the same day, he had given his last lecture on Ezekiel.” (Van Halsema, “This Was John Calvin” p. 211).
So Calvin retired at 54. There was no retirement ceremony. No watch was given. No banquet held. There is no evidence of a pension for him. He continued to come to church until April 20 (Easter Sunday). He died May 27 of malignant tuberculosis. He also suffered from quartan fever (that he had contracted in 1558- a kind of malaria), asthma, migraines, ulceratice hemorrhoids, arthritis, gum disease, and pleurisy. There is a temptation to think Calvin did not live long. By today’s standards that would be so (we think an average age as 75+). But in his day, the average person lived to be about 42. Kings and Queens lived longer with special care and good food. Antibiotics and the whole concept of bacteria and germs keep us alive longer. I believe many of the advances of modern medicine are answers to thousands of prayers of those who suffered (like Calvin).
Calvin’s last writing (post retirement) was called, “Farewell to the Ministers.” He recounted his sufferings, and reaffirmed his calling. Calvin saw himself as a scholar pressed into the ministry. He also was anxious to see his work continue. He had discipled many over the years, and was ready to pass the reigns on to Theodore de Beza in Geneva. But he could also count his influence on so many- John Knox in Scotland (he returned there from Geneva in 1559), Bullinger in Zurich, Many in England claimed his influence (Bucer, Vermigli, Peter Martyr), the Netherlands, and France followed Calvin, as well as half of Hungary. The Palatinate adopted Calvinism as its official religion, and fostered the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism the year before Calvin’s death. McGrath says that after Luther’s death (1546) and the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League (1547) Lutheranism went into a malaise that opened the door for Calvin’s influence. Calvin’s willingness to shelter Protestant refugees (despite some protests from the Genevans) his multitude of letters, correspondence, sermons, and writings, made sure that his thoughts were conveyed to the next generation. By 1591 Calvinism was a force to be reckoned with having much influence beyond its official churches.
One of the questions I have is what room is there for old age in Calvinism? Calvinism is so associated with capitalism, productivity, and the Protestant work ethic that this is a good question. There is no doubt, however, that those who lived to an old age were held in honor by Calvinists. The Puritans let the elderly sit in the front pews in a place of honor. Some accused colonial and early America of being an oligarchy- a place ruled by the older adults. But as noted earlier, there were not as many older adults. When the older adults refused to pass on the baton-holding onto control, land, and power- the younger or middle adults eventually rebelled. Calvin’s idea seemed to be (by his example) go until you cannot go any farther. That is be as productive as you can within God’s providential calling. In retirement, Calvin sought, even in sickness, to pass on what he had learned with letters, and conversation. Today retirees are very valuable to the church for their volunteerism and wisdom. It is important for those who are younger to value the older. It is important for those who are older to see their mission as passing the reins to the next generation.

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