Thursday, July 12, 2007

Calvin the Man

John Calvin's birthday was two days ago (July 10--same as mine, though different years). Here's a quote from an essay by Packer entitled "John Calvin and Reformed Europe":
What kind of man was he? Not the ogre of legend! Calvin the egotistical fanatic, hard and humorless, the doctrinaire misanthrope, the cruel dictator with his arbitrary, uncaring, devilish God is a figure of fancy, not of fact. The real Calvin was very different.

He was a sallow, sharp-featured, black-haired, slightly-built French-man, with big brown eyes that sparkled or glared according to his mood. To avoid attacks of migraine he ate little (one meal a day), and as he aged and his health ebbed he grew bent, gaunt, and emaciated. He was never physically strong, and by the age of thirty he had broken his health. In the closing years of his life (he died at fifty-four), he was constantly ill with indigestion, headaches, gallstones, hemorrhoids, gout, and fever, all superimposed upon chronic asthma and probably pulmonary tuberculosis. Yet John Calvin spent himself unstintingly to the last in the service of God and men.

He would not sleep more than four hours a night, and even when ill he kept four secretaries going with his French and Latin dictation, getting through an amount of work that was not far from miraculous. Daily sermons and lectures, the production of commentaries on most of the Bible, a steady flow of theological treatises, a massive correspondence, not to mention constant counseling, labor in Geneva's consistory court, and entertaining endless visitors--how did he manage it all? It is easier to ask the question than to answer it.