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The Two Republics, or Rome and the United States of America

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    CALVINISM IN GENEVA

    The views of Calvin on the subject of Church and State, were as thoroughly theocratic as the papal system itself. Augustine was his master and model throughout. When at the age of twenty-eight, at the urgent call of Farel, Calvin settled in Geneva, he drew up a condensed statement of Christian doctrine, in fact a synopsis of his “Institutes,” consisting of twenty-one articles which all the citizens were called up in bunches of ten each, “To profess and swear to, as the confession of their faith.” This method of making a Calvinistic city was gone through with, Calvin himself said, “with much satisfaction.” This oath and confession of faith were made as citizens, not particularly as church members. They were not asked whether they were converted; they were not required to be church members; but simply as men and citizens, were required to take the oath and accept this as the confession of their faith.TTR 586.3

    In fact, the oath of allegiance as a citizen, and the confession of faith as a Christian, were identical. This was at once to make the Church and the State one and the same thing with the Church above the State. Yea, more than this, it was wholly to swallow up the civil in the ecclesiastical power; for the preachers were supreme. It was but another man-made theocracy, after the model of the papacy. Indeed, according to Calvin’s “Institutes,” the very reason of existence of the State, is only as the support and the servant of the church; and accordingly, when the magistrate inflicts punishment, he is to be regarded as executing the judgment of God. “What we see on the banks of the Leman is a theocracy; Jehovah was its head, the Bible was the supreme code, and the government exercised a presiding and paternal guardianship over all interests and causes, civil and spiritual.”—Wylie. 21[Page 587] “History of Protestantism,” book xiv, chap. x, last par. but one.TTR 586.4

    Serious difficulty, however, arose, when it came to enforcing the strictness of scriptural morality, and the Calvinistic restrictions regarding the dress and manner of life of the citizens which the two preachers had adopted. 22[Page 587] Id. Everybody had to be at home by nine o’clock at night; and hotel keepers were required to see that this rule was observed by their guests. Rules were made “restraining excess in dress, and profusion at meals:” and everybody was required to attend both preaching and other religious services. All who had been made Christian citizens by the machine method before mentioned, resented it, and desired that the strictness of discipline should be modified. This the preachers looked upon as an attempt of the civil power to dictate in spiritual matters, and they refused to yield in the least degree. The people insisted, and the preachers stood firm. The dissension soon grew so violent that the preachers refused to administer the sacraments to the people; then the people rose up and banished them from the city, A. D. 1539.TTR 587.1

    Calvin went to Strasburg, where he remained two years, during which time much disorder prevailed in Geneva, and the friends of Calvin insisted all the time that if only he were recalled, order could be restored. In 1541 the decree of banishment was revoked, and at “the earnest entreaties of the Genevese, Calvin returned.” He was no less determined than before to have his own way, and to make his will absolute; and the circumstances under which he returned, paved the way for him to execute his will as he was not suffered to do before. “He entered upon his work with a firm determination to carry out those reforms which he had originally purposed, and to set up in all its integrity that form of church policy which he had carefully matured during his residence at Strasburg.” The town was divided into parishes, with an elder or some one appointed by the council of elders, in charge of each parish, to see that discipline was observed.TTR 587.2

    “His system of church polity was essentially theocratic; it assumed that every member of the State was also under the discipline of the church; and he asserted that the right of exercising this discipline was vested exclusively in the consistory, or body of preachers and elders. His attempts to carry out these views brought him into collision both with the authorities and with the populace, the latter being enraged at the restraints imposed upon the disorderly by the exercise of church discipline, and the former being inclined to retain in their-own hands a portion of that power in things spiritual, which Calvin was bent on placing exclusively in the hands so of the church rulers. His dauntless courage, his perseverance, and his earnestness at length prevailed, and he had the satisfaction, before he died, of seeing his favorite system of church polity firmly established, not only at Geneva, but in other parts of Switzerland, and of knowing that it had been adopted substantially by the Reformers in France and Scotland. Nor was it only in religious matters that Calvin busied himself; nothing was indifferent to him that concerned the welfare and good order of the State or the advantage of its citizens. His work, as has been justly said, ‘embraced everything;’ he was consulted on every affair, great and small, that came before the council,—on questions of law, policy, economy, trade, and manufactures, no less than on questions of doctrine and church polity.”—Encyclopedia Britannica. 23[Page 589] Article “Calvin” It was written by W. Lindsay Alexander, D. D., one of the Bible revisers, and in clearly favorable to him.TTR 588.1

    It is plain that when every member of the State was subject to the discipline of the Church, and when this discipline was exercised exclusively by the body of preachers and elders with Calvin at the head of that body, his power was practically unlimited. And by this it is further evident that the system there made and established by Calvin, was but the papal system over again, with Calvin as pope. 24[Page 589] Hallam describes him as “a sort of prophet-king,” in “Constitutional History,” chap. iv, par. 13, note. And the use which he made of the power with which he was thus clothed, shows that he was as ready to exert the authority, as he was to sit in the place, of a pope.TTR 589.1

    The people having just thrown off the yoke of the pope of Rome, were not all ready to bear with meekness the yoke of the pope of Geneva. One of the first to speak out, was Gruet, who attacked him vigorously on his supremacy, called him “bishop of Asculum,” and “the new pope.” Among other points of dissent, Gruet denied the immortality of the soul. He may have been an infidel, but it is not certain; at any rate, he was brought before the council, by which he was condemned and punished with death. Another who dissented was Castalio, master of the public schools of Geneva. He attacked Calvin’s doctrine of unconditional predestination. He was deposed from his office and banished. Another was Jerome Bolsec, a monk who had been converted to Protestantism. He, too, attacked the doctrine of absolute decrees. He was thrown into prison, and after a two days’ debate with Calvin before the council, was banished.TTR 589.2

    Out of this grew still another. Jacques de Bourgogne, a lineal descendant of the dukes of Burgundy, and an intimate friend and patron of Calvin, had settled at Geneva solely to have the pleasure of his company. Bourgogne had employed Bolsec as his physician, and when Bolsec became involved in his difficulty with Calvin, Bourgogne came to his support, and tried to prevent his ruin. This so incensed Calvin that he turned his attention to the nobleman, who was obliged to leave Geneva, lest a worse thing should befall him.TTR 589.3

    Another, and the most notable of all the victims of Calvin’s theocracy, was Servetus, who had opposed the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and also infant baptism; and had published a book entitled “Christianity Restored,” in which he declared his sentiments. At the instance and by the aid of Calvin, he had been prosecuted by the papal Inquisition, and condemned to death for blasphemy and heresy, but he escaped from their prison in Dauphine, in France, and in making his way to Italy, passed through Geneva, and there remained a short time. He was just about to start for Zurich, when at the instigation of Calvin, he was seized, and out of the book before mentioned, was accused of blasphemy. The result, as everybody knows, was that he was burned to death. The followers of Servetus were banished from Geneva.TTR 590.1

    Calvin’s system of government was not confined to Geneva, however, nor did his idea die with him. It occupies almost as large a place in the subsequent history as does the papacy itself, of which throughout it is so close a counterpart. He himself tried during the reign of Edward VI to have it adopted in England. “He urged Cranmer to call together pious and rational men, educated in the school of God, to meet and agree upon one uniform confession of doctrine according to the rule of Scripture,” declaring: “As for me, if I can be made use of, I will sail through ten seas to bring it about.”—Bancroft. 25[Page 590] “History of the United States,” chap. “Prelates and Puritans,” par. 11. It is not without reason that, by one of his admirers, Calvin has been compared with Innocent III.—Wylie’s “History of Protestantism,” book xiv, end of chap. xxiv.TTR 590.2

    All his personal effort in this direction failed, however. He died May 27, A. D. 1564.TTR 591.1

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