Happy Birthday

So today is John Calvin's (or Jean Cauvin) 500th birthday. Granted, he died a while ago, but many of his ideas lived on and continue to influence western society to this day.

There is much to criticize about Calvin. His Geneva became as oppressive and violent as the Inquisition. His intellect and desire to win a debate allowed him to be trapped in a debate regarding pre-destination that has overshadowed much of his other work in the eyes of the average person. He viewed his own theology as 100% correct, to the point he ordered the suppression and execution of dissenters... an attitude that contradicted the premise of the Reformation.

However, Calvin did make an enormous contribution to the Reformation, Western Civilization and the World, and today is a day to celebrate that without covering up his faults and abuses.

My personal favorite idea of Calvin is the sacredness of the mundane. Granted, this was not an entirely new concept. Many monks had discovered the spiritual benefits of not only prayer and study, but of work as well. Calvin was simply able to transport this idea out of the monasteries and into the minds of everyday people. Every job was important and should be done with an attitude of worship, as if doing it unto God. This concept set the stage for the eventual breakdown of the Three Orders (oratores: those who pray, bellatores: those who fight, laboratores: those who work... these are listed in the order of importance according to the minds of Calvin's day and up until the Enlightenment in France) and allowed those previously thought beneath clergy and royalty to directly please God through their own labor and contribution to society.

Calvin, in a sense, created what is known as the Protestant Work Ethic and had a profound impact on the development of the eventual United States. Now, I do believe that it has been twisted somewhat. Today, many believe that if you work hard, you will succeed. Unfortunately, there are many who work hard and do not succeed. To those people it is often assumed that they are guilty of some sort of sin that is preventing their hard work from paying off. This is not always (if ever) the case. Calvin stood solidly with the poor and would denounce the idea that the community is not to help those less fortunate. However, he would agree with 2 Thessalonians 3:10 which says: "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." But, he understood also that what the writer of 2 Thessalonians was decrying was an abandoning of participation in the world and simply waiting idly by until the return of Christ. Calvin wanted, as did the writers of the New Testament, the followers of Christ to be active in the redemption of this world by interacting with it in the ways shown by Jesus. Calvin saw work and integral in one's ability to influence their surroundings as well as something deeply holy.

So, happy birthday John Calvin.

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