Tuesday, March 23, 2010

John Calvin's Disgust Over Genevan Morals, Betrayal, Lutheran "Beasts," Etc. / Inflated Self-Comparison to King David

By Dave Armstrong (3-23-10)

From: John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. [Anchor Books], 1971, p. 47:

[I]f Luther has so great a lust of victory, he will never be able to join along with us in a sincere agreement respecting the pure truth of God. For he has sinned against it not only from vainglory and abusive language, but also from ignorance and the grossest extravagance. For what absurdities he pawned upon us in the beginning, when he said the bread is the very body! And if now he imagines that the body of Christ is enveloped by the bread, I judge that he is chargeable with a very foul error. What can I say of the partisans of that cause? Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ? . . . [Letter to Martin Bucer, 12 January 1538]

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From: Jules Bonnet, editor, Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 1, 1528-1545, volume 4 of 7; translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, volume I [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858], p. 449:

[C]ertainly I am abundantly tormented when I am thinking and meditating on our concerns; for, as usual, I have to wrestle in darkness with hypocrisy. [Letter to Viret, 12 February 1545]
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From: Paul Henry; translated by Henry Stebbing, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer, Vol. II, London: Whittaker & Co., 1849, p. 68 (from 1547):

I am ashamed to preach the Word here among you, where such horrible disorders are taking place; and were I to follow my inclination, I should pray God to take me from this world. I would not live three days amid the vanities by which I am surrounded. And shall we still boast that we have established a reformation! . . . I know not indeed whether God may not send the executioner among us, refusing as we do to hear the admonitions of his mouth: yea, there is reason to fear that he is preparing to raise his armed hand. But this is not said to excite resistance against him, but that we may confess our misery, and no longer harden ourselves in sin. . . . let the clergy labour more diligently to cleanse the churches of their impurity . . .

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Author Paul Henry observes (pp. 313-314):

Calvin rightly said, that if the church was everywhere disturbed, in the case of Geneva it was tossed to and from like the ark in the deluge. . . . Before the commencement of the decisive year 1555, we hear him pouring out his deep sighs, and expressing, like Melanchthon, his wish to die [Calvin to Wolf, Jan. 1555]: he uttered the same feelings at a somewhat later period [Ed. Laus. Ep. 216, Oct. 10, 1555]
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From: Jules Bonnet, editor, Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 2, 1545-1553, volume 5 of 7; translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, volume II [Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858]:

Their wickedness has, however, reached such a pitch, that I hardly hope to be able any longer to retain any kind of position for the Church, especially under my ministry. My influence is gone, believe me, unless God stretch forth his hand. [Letter to Viret, 14 December 1547] (p. 149)

But while our brethren are persecuted by open enemies, we ourselves must needs be troubled by those of our own household. [Letter to Monsieur de Falais, 19 December 1547] (p. 150)

Our affairs are in no better condition. I do not cease to press upon them, but I cause them to make little or no advancement. I am now returning from the Senate; I said a great deal, but it is like telling a story to the deaf. May the Lord restore them to their right mind. [Letter to Viret, 23 December 1547] (p. 151)

I have not yet made up my mind as to what I am finally to do, beyond this, that I can no longer tolerate the manners of this people, even though they should bear with mine: and withal I do not understand why they object to my severity. [Letter to Viret, 26 December 1547] (p. 151)

We have inspired some fear in our men, and nevertheless there is as yet no appearance of amendment. Such is their shamelessness, that they devour with open and regardless ears all our clamours; finally, the diseases of many are incurable. For, thus far we have essayed almost all methods with no success. [Letter to Farel, 28 December 1547] (pp. 152-153)

My grief prevents me from saying anything of the dreadful calamity that hangs over so many churches. [Letter to Farel, 30 April 1548] (p. 164; the editor adds: "the Swiss Churches were a prey to the most grievous dissensions, and appeared further removed than ever from that era of unity and peace which Calvin never ceased to invoke for them")
In their madness they even drew idolatry after them. For what else is the adorable sacrament of Luther but an idol set up in the temple of God? [Letter to Martin Bucer, June 1549] (p. 234)


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From: Thomas Henry Dyer, The Life of John Calvin, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850:

Writing to Bullinger on the 18th of September, 1554, Calvin says: "Meanwhile I am attacked by our neighbors in a way which it is too little to call atrocious. The preachers in the Bernese territory denounce me from the pulpit as a heretic even worse than the Papists. The more violently anyone assails me, the more he is favored and protected; meanwhile, I hold my tongue, but God will look down from heaven and avenge me." In another letter, dated the 15th of October [1554], addressed apparently to an old friend, but whose name Beza has suppressed, Calvin thus describes the abuse to which he was subjected: ". . . Dogs bark at me on all sides. Every where I am saluted with the name of 'heretic,' and all the calumnies that can possibly be invented are heaped upon me; in a word, the inimical and malevolent among my own flock attack me with more bitterness than even my declared Papist enemies." (p. 316)
Calvin thus disburdens his grief in a letter to Bullinger [January or February 1555]: "No sooner have we obtained a little quiet in Geneva, than the Bernese council absolves not only those who had denounced me for a heretic, but sends forth raging enemies against me and the church -- nay, we are even accused as criminals . . . Among other things, they have forbidden their subjects, by public edicts, to take the communion with us. Wonder no longer at the barbarity of the Saxons, when the church is thus distracted out of hatred to a man who would have sacrificed his neck a hundred times to purchase peace. But nothing afflicts me more painfully than that by such signs God plainly foreshadows his wrath. Well, if it will appease their hungry wrath, let me be sent into a tedious exile." ( p. 319)

Calvin . . . addressed a remonstrance to the Bernese council, in which he says: ". . . this affair is connected with private hatred against myself, . . . Many in your territories blaspheme against predestination more than is allowed even among the Papists." [4 May 1555] (p. 322)

In a letter to Farel in August, 1557, he says: "With regard to [Joachim] Westphal [a Lutheran] and the rest, it was difficult to follow your advice and be calm. You call those 'brothers,' who, if that name be offered to them by us, do not only reject, but execrate it. And how ridiculous should we appear in bandying the name of brother with those who look upon us as the worst of heretics!" And in another to Bullinger about the same time we find: "You shall judge how dexterously I have treated the Saxons. . . . I know that I shall excite the hatred of them all . . . I have, indeed, not hesitated cheerfully and fearlessly to provoke the fury of those beasts against me, because I am confident that it will be pleasing to God!" (pp. 336-337)

[W]riting to Schaling, a pastor of the church of Ratisbon, in April, 1557 he says: "It is, indeed, to be lamented, that we who profess the same gospel should be distracted by different opinions on the subject of the Lord's Supper, which ought to be the chief bond of union among us. But what is by far more atrocious, we contend with as much hostility as if we had no Christian connection; and the greater part of those who differ from us, I know not from what impulse, boil over as intemperately against us as if our religion were wholly different. . . . the importunity of your countryman, Westphal, dragged me into an odious dispute. Yet I have diligently restrained whatever bitterness he extorted from me, lest he should involve others beside himself; and I shall always take care that the churches shall not be torn and divided through my fault, nor that any one shall be injured by me, unless he professedly attacks me."

It is difficult to reconcile a passage like this with the declarations before quoted, or to consider it as sincere. (p. 337; italics in Dyer)

Although in this letter Calvin appears very desirous of obtaining the concurrence and co-operation of Melanchthon, he speaks very slightingly, not to say contemptuously, of him, in a letter addressed to Sleidan, on the very same day. In this, he says, "How far I should congratulate myself on Philip's agreeing with me on one point I know not, when in the chief heads of doctrine he either sells himself to the philosophers and opposes the truth, or, lest he should excite the anger of certain persons against him, cunningly, or, at all events, disingenuously conceals his opinions." [Ep. 183, Aug. 27th 1554] (p. 339)

In a letter to Bullinger in February, 1558, Calvin says: "The unhappy issue of the conference at Worms does not trouble me so much as Melanchthon's levity is odious and vexatious to me." (p. 344)

[I]n a letter to Bullinger in May, 1560, we find Calvin expressing his intimate agreement with him, and remarking that there was nothing to be hoped for from "the apes of Luther." . . . in another letter to an anonymous correspondent about the same time, he says: "Luther's apes -- for he left but few imitators -- unless one immediately agrees with them when they utter the name of Wittenberg, are raising great disturbances every where. When the Consensus of our church with that of Zurich was published, I had not the slightest apprehension that Westphal would make it an occasion of controversy. I was then compelled to embark in the contest, to tame the beast's ferocity. Afterward I was surprised to find that many were infected with the same fury. But I think that I have so exposed their ignorance, and their wicked calumnies, that all persons of common sense will despise their pride and vain boastings." (p. 345)
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From: Bruce Gordon, Calvin, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 233 (Letter to Johannes Wolf, 25 December 1555; further primary source information on p. 364, footnote 1: accessible at amazon's "Look Inside" function):

Believe me, I had fewer troubles with Servetus and have now with Westphal and his like than I have with those who are close at hand, whose numbers are beyond reckoning and whose passions are irreconcilable. If one could choose, it would be better to be burned once by the papists than to be plagued for eternity by one's neighbors. They do not allow me a moment's rest, although they can clearly see that I am collapsing under the burden of work, troubled by endless sad occurrences, and disturbed by intrusive demands. My one comfort is that death will soon take me from this all too difficult service.

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From: Preface to the Commentary on the Psalms, 1557:

Now, if my readers derive any fruit and advantage from the labor which I have bestowed in writing these Commentaries, I would have them to understand that the small measure of experience which I have had by the conflicts with which the Lord has exercised me, has in no ordinary degree assisted me, not only in applying to present use whatever instruction could be gathered from these divine compositions, but also in more easily comprehending the design of each of the writers. And as David holds the principal place among them, it has greatly aided me in understanding more fully the complaints made by him of the internal afflictions which the Church had to sustain through those who gave themselves out to be her members, that I had suffered the same or similar things from the domestic enemies of the Church. For although I follow David at a great distance, and come far short of equaling him; or rather, although in aspiring slowly and with great difficulty to attain to the many virtues in which he excelled, I still feel myself tarnished with the contrary vices; yet if I have any things in common with him, I have no hesitation in comparing myself with him. In reading the instances of his faith, patience, fervor, zeal, and integrity, it has, as it ought, drawn from me unnumbered groans and sighs, that I am so far from approaching them; but it has, notwithstanding, been of very great advantage to me to behold in him as in a mirror, both the commencement of my calling, and the continued course of my function; so that I know the more assuredly, that whatever that most illustrious king and prophet suffered, was exhibited to me by God as an example for imitation. My condition, no doubt, is much inferior to his, and it is unnecessary for me to stay to show this. But as he was taken from the sheepfold, and elevated to the rank of supreme authority; so God having taken me from my originally obscure and humble condition, has reckoned me worthy of being invested with the honorable office of a preacher and minister of the gospel. . . . necessity was imposed upon me of returning to my former charge, contrary to my desire and inclination. The welfare of this church, it is true, lay so near my heart, that for its sake I would not have hesitated to lay down my life; but my timidity nevertheless suggested to me many reasons for excusing myself from again willingly taking upon my shoulders so heavy a burden. At length, however, a solemn and conscientious regard to my duty, prevailed with me to consent to return to the flock from which I had been torn; but with what grief, tears, great anxiety and distress I did this, the Lord is my best witness, and many godly persons who would have wished to see me delivered from this painful state, had it not been that that which I feared, and which made me give my consent, prevented them and shut their mouths. Were I to narrate the various conflicts by which the Lord has exercised me since that time, and by what trials he has proved me, it would make a long history. But that I may not become tedious to my readers by a waste of words, I shall content myself with repeating briefly what I have touched upon a little before, that in considering the whole course of the life of David, it seemed to me that by his own footsteps he showed me the way, and from this I have experienced no small consolation. As that holy king was harassed by the Philistines and other foreign enemies with continual wars, while he was much more grievously afflicted by the malice and wickedness of some perfidious men amongst his own people, so I can say as to myself, that I have been assailed on all sides, and have scarcely been able to enjoy repose for a single moment, but have always had to sustain some conflict either from enemies without or within the Church. Satan has made many attempts to overthrow the fabric of this Church; and once it came to this, that I, altogether feeble and timorous as I am, was compelled to break and put a stop to his deadly assaults by putting my life in danger, and opposing my person to his blows.. . . During the whole of this lengthened period, I think that there is scarcely any of the weapons which are forged in the workshop of Satan, which has not been employed by them in order to obtain their object. And at length matters had come to such a state, that an end could be put to their machinations in no other way than cutting them off by an ignominious death; which was indeed a painful and pitiable spectacle to me. They no doubt deserved the severest punishment, but I always rather desired that they might live in prosperity, and continue safe and untouched; which would have been the case had they not been altogether incorrigible, and obstinately refused to listen to wholesome admonition. The trial of these five years was grievous and hard to bear; but I experienced not less excruciating pain from the malignity of those who ceased not to assail myself and my ministry with their envenomed calumnies. A great proportion of them, it is true, are so blinded by a passion for slander and detraction, that to their great disgracers they betray at once their impudence, while others, however crafty and cunning, cannot so cover or disguise themselves as to escape being shamefully convicted and disgraced; yet when a man has been a hundred times found innocent of a charge brought against him, and when the charge is again repeated without any cause or occasion, it is an indignity hard to bear. . . . If they were open and avowed enemies who brought these troubles upon me, the thing might in some way be borne. But that those who shroud themselves under the name of brethren, and not only eat Christ’s sacred bread, but also administer it to others, that those, in short, who loudly boast of being preachers of the gospel, should wage such nefarious war against me, how detestable is it? In this matter I may very justly complain with David, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, who did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me,” (Psalm 41:9.) “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company,” (Psalm 55:12, 13, 14.) . . . Nor was it enough that I should be so inhumanly treated by my neighbors. In addition to this, in a distant country towards the frozen ocean, there was raised I know not how, by the frenzy of a few, a storm which afterwards stirred up against me a vast number of persons, who are too much at leisure, and have nothing to do but by their bickering to hinder those who are laboring for the edification of the Church. I am still speaking of the internal enemies of the Church—of those who, boasting mightily of the gospel of Christ, nevertheless rush against me with greater impetuosity than against the open adversaries of the Church, because I do not embrace their gross and fictitious notion concerning a carnal way of eating Christ in the sacrament; and of whom I may protest, after the example of David, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war,” (Psalm 120:7.) Moreover, the cruel ingratitude of all of them is manifest in this, that they scruple not to assail both in flank and rear a man who strenuously exerts himself to maintain a cause which they have in common with him and whom therefore they ought to aid and succor. Certainly, if such persons were possessed of even a small portion of humanity, the fury of the Papists which is directed against me with such unbridled violence, would appease the most implacable animosity which they may bear towards me. But since the condition of David was such, that though he had deserved well of his own people, he was nevertheless bitterly hated by many without a cause, as he complains in Psalm 69:4, “I restored that which I took not away,” it afforded me no small consolation when I was groundlessly assailed by the hatred of those who ought to have assisted and solaced me, to conform myself to the example of so great and so excellent a person. This knowledge and experience have been of much service in enabling me to understand The Psalms, so that in my meditations upon them, I did not wander, as it were, in an unknown region. My readers, too, if I mistake not, will observe, that in unfolding the internal affections both of David and of others I discourse upon them as matters of which I have familiar experience.

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From: John Dillenberger, editor, John Calvin: Selections From His Writings, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. [Anchor Books], 1971, p. 76:

I am carefully on the watch that Lutheranism gain no ground, nor be introduced into France. The best means, believe me, for checking the evil would be that confession written by me . . . [Letter to Heinrich Bullinger, 2 July 1563]

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Adomnan said...

I have never read such a sustained, high-pitched whine as Calvin's "Preface to the Commentary on the Psalms." It is a classic of the plaintive genre, beyond parody. Calvin's enemies (the Comparet brothers, Servetus) get tortured, hacked and burnt to death, and he's the victim!

Yep. Calvin sure did feel sorry for himself. Having to put up with all those mean Lutherans hundreds of miles away made him just like David, except that David was humble and repentant and Calvin was proud as the devil.

Imagine! The Lutherans were so beastly that they insisted on having their own interpretation of the eucharist, even though Calvin had spent so much time, in his lawyerly fashion, working out compromise language on the sacrament to bridge Lutheran and Zwinglian interpretations (and whatever spin Bucer had), nicely equivocal language that should have satisfied any reasonable religious politician who's not too scrupulous.

Dave Armstrong said...

Having to put up with all those mean Lutherans hundreds of miles away made him just like David


You have no equal in sizing up the essence of Calvin's all-too-frequent pretentious, pomposity, Adomnan!

And Calvin's "compromise" somehow came down far closer to the Zwinglian position, didn't it? If we look at the eucharistic views of Calvinists today we see the long term fruit of his so-called "intermediate" position.

beowulf2k8 said...

"Do they not romance more wildly than Marcion respecting the body of Christ?"

In what way is he using the word 'romance' here exactly?

beowulf2k8 said...

By the way, a Calvinist (or Calvin himself) complaining about Marcion's (apparent) docetism is a bit hypocritical. Calvinists are just as docetic with their view that Jesus' flesh is not our type of flesh. That is, they think we are born with sinful flesh but Jesus with a totally different flesh due to avoiding 'original sin' via the virgin birth. Catholics have the same docetic theory, except in theirs Jesus is born of some magical non-human sinless flesh due to Mary having been born without 'original sin' (the immaculate conception of Mary) rather than simply by the virgin birth alone. This is no less docetic than Marcion's view. Marcion only denied Jesus' birth not the reality of his body. Tertullian witnesses that Marcion used the analogy of the angels of the Creator who appeared to Abraham and Lot how they had bodies of flesh without being born, and Tertullian explains (in the middle of Against Marcion) that Marcion held that Jesus had a real body of flesh in similar mannder (although before and after this admission Tertullian is in full-fledged lie-on-Marcion mode claiming Marcion's Christ is a phantom). How is the notion of Jesus being born with a different type of flesh than us via the virgin birth or via the immaculate conception any less docetic than claiming that Jesus' flesh was a celestial flesh of the same nature as that of angels who appeared in the flesh only for short visits with OT patriarchs? I see no distinction of any importance between the Catholic, Calvinist, and Marcionite positions here, except that the Catholics and Calvinists attribute a sort of fake birth to Jesus whereas Marcion will not go for such fakery. Valentinus apparently was OK with fakery and thus has Micheal the Archangel come down and become Mary so that Jesus can appear to be born of a woman when in reality bringing his body down from heaven! Calvin and modern Catholics seem to hold to exactly that view in denying that Jesus has the same flesh as us since they hold to an idiotic theory of us having sinful flesh and Jesus having some better flesh.

Maroun said...

If this is your understanding of the immaculate conception,then i would suggest that you dont write anything on the subject anymore.
Plz go and check in the new advent encyclopedia,what is it , that the church teaches and believes about it and you could also check the cathechism of the catholic church about the same subject.
And who told you that the catholic church teaches as you claimed . Catholics have the same docetic theory, except in theirs Jesus is born of some magical non-human sinless flesh .
You have to understand that being born with a mortal body and sinless are completly 2 different things.
So plz , we are not interested about what you believe catholic believe and teach,but plz do check what truly the catholic church believes and teaches .

Dave Armstrong said...

First, let everyone be aware that Beowulf is a Marcionite heretic (follow his profile to his blog and you'll see that in three seconds).

Catholics have the same docetic theory, except in theirs Jesus is born of some magical non-human sinless flesh due to Mary having been born without 'original sin' (the immaculate conception of Mary) rather than simply by the virgin birth alone.

Where to begin with so many errors? Well, here we go:

1) Jesus was a true man. He was also true God. He has two natures: a divine and a human nature.

2) There is no antipathy to matter here at all, as in docetism. The incarnation itself shows that God liked matter. He took on flesh and became a man Himself.

3) Jesus' sinlessness had nothing to do with Mary. He is sinless because He is God and cannot be otherwise (impeccability).

4) The Immaculate Conception, by the same token, was not strictly necessary. It was extremely fitting, and so that is how God chose to honor Mary, as the Theotokos (Mother of God, or God-bearer).

5) The Immaculate Conception didn't have to do with Mary's birth, but with her conception (DUH!).

6) Jesus' sinlessness had nothing to do with the Virgin Birth. That was another instance of fittingness.

7) Jesus would not be subject to original sin in any event, because He is not a creature, but God. God never fell; He never rebelled against Himself, which is not possible for Him to do anyway. Therefore, He has no original sin, and Mary's status cannot affect that in any sense.

Ben M said...


I have never read such a sustained, high-pitched whine as Calvin's "Preface to the Commentary on the Psalms." It is a classic of the plaintive genre, beyond parody. Calvin's enemies (the Comparet brothers, Servetus) get tortured, hacked and burnt to death, and he's the victim!


But why is our pompous ├╝bermensch having such a bad time? Could it be something to do with the fact that he "tortured, hacked and burnt to death” those who disagreed with him?

And wouldn't ol' Calvin have been perfect for the role of the wretched, joyless (and ultimately defeated) Khan of Star Trek fame? ;) (Another one, btw, for whom things weren’t going so well …).

Reminds me of the old Montrose song, "Connection" (Paper Money, 1974) - you know, the one that begins… “Everything is going in the wrong direction…” ;)


Jesus would not be subject to original sin in any event, because He is not a creature, but God. God never fell; He never rebelled against Himself, which is not possible for Him to do anyway. Therefore, He has no original sin, and Mary's status cannot affect that in any sense.

Now there ya go...! :)

Dave Armstrong said...

How is your health coming along these days, Ben?

Maroun said...

Hi Dave.
Have you ever read a book written by Hilaire Belloc called SURVIVALS AND NEW ARRIVALS.
Wow.I just finished reading the book in less than 2 days.Just great.That man was a prophet really

Dave Armstrong said...

Not yet, but I have it in my personal library.

Ben M said...

Hey Dave,

Meant to answer your question last night, but was just so tired I conked out!

Health seems about the same - neither better nor worse. Alas.

I was supposed to do a follow-up with a neuro opthamologist, but decided to wait; gotta recover a bit from the expense of my first round with the docs!

The good news is that medicine (a subject become near and dear to my heart of late!) is making advances all the time - and the rate of those advances seems to be increasing exponentially!

So while the cost of medicine is currently very high, as I've said before, that's set to change dramatically in the next few years. In fact, it already is (see, e.g., these short vids on advances in ultrasound here and here).

Pretty cool stuff! - but the merest inkling of what's coming! :)

And as for actually diagnosing and treating diseases before they become a serious problem, well, there are big things coming in that area also. Microfluidic and nanofluidic devices are one reason (big advances from such tiny devices!).

So the revolution is on! Technology is poised to democratize, decentralized, and personalized medicine!

But anyway, don't know if any of this kind of stuff interest you in the least, but if so, might check out some vids by futurist Ray Kurzweil sometime - like this 20 min talk on on how technology will transform us.

And this is dated stuff! Things have since been moving rapidly along. And the pace is quickening!

So fasten your seat belt! ;)

Dave Armstrong said...

Glad to hear. I hope technology helps lower costs: Obamacare certainly won't. I'm glad folks on the lower end will be covered, though.

Dave Armstrong said...

I've added an additional quote from Christmas 1555, where Calvin wishes that he would die, out of disgust over problems in his own ranks. It comes from a 2009 Calvin biography.

Added at 6 PM EST 3-28-10.

belleparas said...

This is truly a great read for me and definitely be back to read some more. Thank you for the effort to publish this.