Monday, August 18, 2008

The Emergence of a Legally-Trained Mind

Calvin at the Lausanne Disputation

A few weeks before the disputation convened, Farel affixed his "Ten Theses" affixed to the doors of all the churches in the cities and towns surrounding Lausanne. The theses were entitled “Conclusions which are to be discussed at Lausanne, a new province of Berne.” (Merle 237) “On Sunday, October 1, all the bells were set a-going and a great crowd filled the cathedral.” (Merle) Farel ascended the pulpit and delivered the opening sermon which he concluded with these words:

While Satan leads the sheep astray in order to destroy them, our Lord seeks to bring them back to his holy flock in order to save them. We shall never attain real unity except by means of the truth. A safe-conduct has therefore been given all, to go and come, to speak and to hear, as shall seem good to them, for the truth must not be hidden. May it be the truth that wins the day! (Merle 238)
Since all the officials before whom the disputation was to take place had not yet arrived in Lausanne, the proceedings were adjourned after Farel’s sermon to resume the following morning.

Monday at 7:00am, officials assembled in the cathedral and “presidents were chosen from among the men of Berne and Lausanne. Then Farel rose and read his first thesis, which treated man’s justification before God, developed and proved it. When he had finished, the vice-bailiff of Lausanne said aloud, ‘If any man has aught to say against these first conclusions, let him come forward and we shall willingly listen to him.’” (Merle 239)

Rather than engage Farel’s first proposition on theological grounds, the Roman Catholic canons of the cathedral raised a procedural objection to the disputation as an improper forum for the determination of doctrinal controversies. Canon Perrini asserted as grounds for his “Motion to Dismiss” that “when doubts arise respecting the faith, they must be resolved according to the true sense of the Scriptures. Now that is lawful [according to Canon Law] only to the Church Universal [i.e. an ecumenical council] which is not liable to error. Therefore, we, the provost and canons of this church do solemnly protest against this controversy and refer it to the next council.” (Merle 240)

Farel opposed the canon’s argument for dismissal of the proceedings citing both Biblical and patristic authorities, as well as the examples of “provincial councils and all their [Roman Catholic] schools and Sorbonnes, in which they hold conferences for the research of truth. (Merle) Having thus established the procedural validity and jurisdiction of the disputation as a forum for doctrinal inquiry, the participants engaged, one after another, the substantive issues presented by Farel’s theses.

On the following day, one of the lay advocates for Rome addressed the assembly. His name was Dr. Blancherose, a physician by profession, who is described in the record as it tenait de la lune (“something of a lunatic”) (Merle 242) Blancherose is worthy of note, not so much for his novel analogies for the Trinity, but because Calvin would speak directly to him in his first discourse two days later.

The third day’s proceedings began with Farel’s second thesis affirming “Jesus Christ . . . as the only chief and true priest, sovereign mediator and true advocate of his Church.” (Cochrane 115) To this proposition no one raised objection. (Merle 245) While some na├»ve observer might have suspected a complete concession to all ten theses at this point, the battle was just about to break loose as Farel stood to present his third proposition concerning the true Church and the “corporeal presence” of Christ in heaven. (Cochrane)

The initial volley from Blancherose, however, was pure folly. He “began to speak of the sun and all sorts of things,” and then “undertook to prove the doctrine of transubstantiation by the example of an egg, which converted into a chick, which chick is afterwards eaten by a man.” (Merle 245) Viret’s sharp wit responded, “That proof reverses the order of things. To make it applicable, it would be necessary for the priest to sit on the object transformed, as hens sit on their eggs.” (Merle) Such exchanges likely only exacerbated the attitudes on both sides of the aisle.

On the fifth day, Mimard, a serious and thoroughly prepared speaker for Rome’s Cause, rose to present his manuscripted argument containing thirteen distinct grounds for the real presence of Christ in the host. (Merle 246) His case, however, was built principally upon the bald assertion that “St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Gregory, … all believed in the real presence.” (Merle) Farel relied to each of Mimard’s thirteen arguments in turn, well-supported by notes from his associated, Calvin who, it is said:

Rejoiced to hear his friends defending the true doctrine and who by reason of his youth and his modesty has kept silent till that time…For four days he had sat without speaking, contenting himself with the part of a hearer. But he had a brave heart. That Ambrose, that Augustine, those other doctors, he was well acquainted with them. He knew their words by heart… He could not be silent any longer; he felt impelled to defend the principles which were brought to light by the Reformation. But he also wished to restore to those great men of Christian antiquity, and above all to his beloved Augustine, the honor which was due to them. (Merle 246-47)
The full text of Calvin’s two discourses at the Lausanne Disputation, the first presented on Thursday, October 5, and the second, brief discourse delivered on Saturday, October 7, have been published in English translation in The Library of Christian Classics in a volume entitled Calvin: Theological Treatises, translated by J.K.S. Reid. (Copies of the relevant pages thereof are appended to this paper; J.K.S. Reid 38-46).

Calvin began his discourse with a humble acknowledgement of the sufficient replies that had already been advanced by Farel and Viret. (J.K.S. Reid 38) He then turned succinctly to a thorough refutation of Mimard’s “groundless accusation.” He did not, however, have at his disposal the voluminous works of the Church Fathers, but rather cited not only Scripture but also Cyprian, Tertullian, Chrysostom and six separate passages from Augustine from memory. (Merle 248) Next, he addressed himself to Dr. Blancherose’s erroneous interpretation of Psalm 139 and finally concluded by taking the arguments of the Roman Catholics, founded upon the words of institution, and turned them on their heads. (J.K.S. Reid 43-45)

From his first extemporaneous discourse it became clear that Calvin “knew how to capture the attention of his audience, how to hold them attentive to his words, how to appeal to their deepest fears and loftiest expectations, how to spin an argument of fine and simple beauty, how to move and compel them to action. In short, Calvin was . . . one of the grandest French orators of his time, a reputation that has since earned him the title “founder of modern French eloquence.” (Jones 12; quoting Francis Higman, Calvin the Writer manuscript, 1989) Furthermore, his first discourse demonstrated that Calvin could turn the arguments of his opponents against themselves. In so doing, he exhibited his own facility with rhetorical skills and logical analysis that he had learned from Alicati and Bude. (Jones 33)

In his second brief discourse on the seventh day of the disputation, Calvin refuted the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation by resort to a tract by Cardinal Beno that provided ready fodder for blasting Pope Gregory VII’s original formulation of that dogma. (J.K.S. Reid 45,46) Here Calvin displayed, in a concise manner, his rhetorical skills at an even more refined level. In these few words, he used “voices from the past” to buttress his own position – a notable rhetorical technique in its own right. But, Calvin did not feel constrained to use these “voices” as they had previously been used. “Rather, keeping his won discursive agenda ever before him, he assessed them in terms of their pragmatic usefulness and employed them only insofar as they served to promote what he considered to be sound teaching.” (Jones 34)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mentors Make the Man

The Influence of Guillaume Farel

The occasion of Calvin’s first encounter with Guillaume Farel remains a matter of speculation. One scholar has suggested that they may have crossed paths in Basel shortly after Calvin had been expelled from Paris following the Affairs of the Placards. (Jones 17) Another, commenting upon Farel’s own account of his prevailing upon Calvin to join the work in Geneva, posits that Farel’s words belie an earlier meeting than that momentous one in the summer of 1536. (Wiley 190-91) Whether Farel had personally met Calvin prior to July, 1536 or had come to know of him from his colleagues, he clearly recognized in Calvin the qualities of scholarship and administration that could well serve God’s purpose in Geneva.

Farel was at this time one of the few outstanding Protestant leaders in France. (Partee 73) His influence upon and relationship with Calvin has been described as “a kind of Caleb to Calvin’s Joshua” as Farel’s leadership was “eclipsed by Calvin, not so much as a pioneer and preacher, but as a thinker and organizer.” (Partee) Calvin, himself, envisioned his relationship to Farel as analogous to that of Titus to Paul when he wrote to Farel in the dedicatory preface to his 1549 commentary on Titus that “the building Paul had begun but left uncompleted was undertaken by Titus, and I stand almost in the same relationship to you.” (Wiley 187)

While both the Caleb-Joshua and the Paul-Titus pictures are descriptive, the best biblical analogy for Farel’s role in Calvin’s life is that of Barnabas, the son of encouragement, to Paul. As Barnabas open-heartedly greeted, introduced and prompted Paul into positions of ministry (see Acts 9:26-30; 11:25,26; 13:2,3), so Farel exhorted Calvin to the work of ministry at Geneva and, as we propose here, his characteristic urging most likely prompted the young Calvin to stand forward and speak up at Lausanne.

The likelihood that Farel pressed his associate to the floor at Lausanne in October of 1536 is enhanced by recalling Farel’s forceful proclamation of God’s will for Calvin just four months earlier in Geneva. Calvin recounts this defining moment in his life as follows:

Farel, who burned with marvelous zeal to advance the Gospel, went out of his way to keep me. And after having heard that I had several private studies for which I wished to keep myself free, and finding that he got no where with his requests, he gave vent to an imprecation, that it might please God to curse my leisure and peace for study that I was looking for, if I went away and refused to give them support and help in a situation of such great need. (Wiley 190; quoting Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1995, p. 95)
While Calvin’s version provides the perspective of the exhortee’s perception, Farel expressed his intention in the exhortation in a letter to Fabri written shortly after Calvin’s death. There he stated, “God caused Calvin to stop in Geneva ‘where he [i.e. Farel] had never expected to see him.’ Calvin was there constrained by ‘many’ and ‘particularly by me who, in the name of God, constrained him to do and take on affairs which were harder than death . . . . Seeing that what I demanded was according to God, he forced himself’ to do what had to be done.” (Wiley 190-91)

Farel initially evidenced his “Barnabas traits” when he previously discovered Pierre Viret, who would become Calvin’s closest colleague and “most enduring friend.” (Linder 158) Viret met Farel in 1530 when Viret returned to his hometown of Orbe following his studies in Paris at the College de Montaigu; Calvin’s own alma mater. (Linder 136, 141) It appears from the following account that Farel first honed his exhortative skills upon Viret:

Farel, seeing that he was a young man of great promise, attempted to introduce him to the ministry at Orbe, which Viret resisted with all his power, because he considered the high calling and difficulty of being a minister of the Gospel, and because he was by nature shy and retiring. Farel, knowing that Viret feared God and had no wish to see the Gospel cease to be preached in Orbe, took off from there, leaving Viret in his place, making him give strong assurances that he would pursue the work which he [Farel] had begun. (Linder 136; quoting A.L. Herminjard, ed. Correspondence des Reformateurs daus les pay de Langue Francaise, Geneva: H. George, 1864-1897, vol. 2, no. 358, note 9)

Viret would later join Farel in Geneva and was present to witness Farel’s charge to Calvin. Calvin was twenty-seven, and Viret twenty-five in 1536. “Soon they were engaged in the most rugged kind of spiritual combat with a stubborn people in a tumultuous struggle for religious and political reform. (Linder 140) Both had been called to arms by Farel. Both were, by that year, “word-smiths of note: the one, Calvin, choosing words primarily to elucidate, the other, Viret, primarily to motivate.” (Linder 141) Both joined Farel on the journey to Lausanne in the fall of 1536. Viret stood, with several other colleagues from his home province, for the Reform, but “the man who chiefly attracted attention was Farel. [He] was accompanied by a young man, pale and modest, unknown by sight to most, who appeared to be his assistant. It was John Calvin.” (Merle 236)

As Farel’s “second chair” at the Lausanne Disputation, Calvin would carefully attend to the points of argument and offers of evidence adduced by their opposing counsel, most likely passing Farel copious notes upon which he might draw in rebuttal, as any good second chair worth his salt would do. As the disputation progressed, however, and the more intricate issues were joined, the day would shortly come when Farel would urge his young second to leave off his note-taking and rise to the question with his own voice.