This will be the second newsletter focusing on John Calvin. Robert Kingdon has argued that the Protestant Reformation was an anticlerical revolution. Before the Reformation Geneva was an Episcopal city, ruled both temporally and spiritually by a bishop and his vicars. Geneva could call on the power of the duke of Savoy for protection. Several hundred clergymen ruled Geneva, out of a population of about ten thousand. A number of lay people, called vidomne, also helped out in governance.
When Geneva officially embraced the Reformation officially in 1536, all of this changed. The bishop and his officers were ousted, and ecclesiastical property was appropriated by the new government. When John Calvin was in his heyday, only a hand full of clergy had any role at all. Yet far more dramatic changes occurred in the life of the city of Geneva than under clergy rule. They, with Calvin, accomplished these changes only indirectly, through moral suasion.
What did change in Geneva? Everything! Education was for everybody. Prostitution was abolished. Charities were expected to help the poor rather than to build up the coffers of the church. Hospitals were endowed by wealthy lay persons, and grew significantly. Justice was accomplished primarily through a semi-ecclesiastic court, known as the Consistory. What happened in Geneva was not just anticlerical, but much more positive: it was a spiritual and social revolution.
The lesson here? The church is not called to hold political power, but to exercise declarative and prophetic influence. If we could grasp this principle today, we would be far better poised to show the world the way to enter God’s kingdom. The Seminary at Aix is looking for a spiritual and social revolution in France and around the world. You can help her do this through your prayers and your gifts. Thanks very much!
Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar, President