Thursday, July 9, 2009

Calvin in Strasbourg

6 July, 2009. Arrived in incomparable Strasbourg and after getting a bit tangled up with a bicycle, de-coached near the Hotel Gutenberg, then off to the Au Pont St. Martin Restaurant in the quaint neighborhood, Petite France, zig-zagging with canals, bridges, narrow medieval streets, and old-world half-timbered homes. We dined on salad, bread, Tarte Flambe, an Alsacian specialty, sort of a northern French pizza, chocolate mouse, local wines, and coffee, all consumed amidst good conversation, overlooking the canal, the ascending darkness, and the glowing illumination of the monuments that emerge from the dusk as night falls on this charming city.

We gathered at the bronze statue to Johannes Gutenberg in sight of our hotel of the same name, and put in context the central importance to the Reformation of the printing press, first book published on the press in 1450, the Gutenberg Bible, Latin Vulgate. One is reminded of the Sorbonne ordering two presses from Mainz, Gutenberg’s hometown, 28 miles north of Worms on the Rhine, in 1469, thus bringing the essential engine needed to spread the recovered truths of the gospel by Calvin and the reformers.

Calvin wrote several important books while here in Strasbourg, his first commentary, on Romans in 1540, the same year of the founding of the Jesuits by Loyola, a definitive work on the Lord’s Supper, and the reply to the letter of Cardinal Sadoleto, a work that was such a clear definitive statement of Reformed Christianity that it was rapidly taken up, translated into various languages, printed, and distributed throughout Europe. Luther read it and remarked, "Here is writing with hands and feet." Eloquent Sadoleto withdrew without attempting a reply. He had accused Calvin of joining the Reformed party for the money, to which Calvin replied that if he cared about money and personal advancement he would have stayed within the corrupt Catholic church where offices could be bought and sold as readily as spices in Venice. Calvin would write and publish 48 books but, to my knowledge, make no money on their sale.

We walked over to the north side of the cathedral where Martin Bucer preached and, no doubt, Calvin, to where I had found earlier that morning graffiti that read "Dieu est amour," God is love. He is indeed, and Calvin saw predestination as the ultimate love of God as Father for his chosen children, love joined with ultimate authority and the power to accomplish all of our salvation for us, Soli Deo Gloria. From there we talked about Calvin’s banishment from Geneva in 1538, Bucer’s urgings for Calvin to come to Strasbourg and pastor the French refugee congregation there, which he eventually does.

Calvin was very happy in his ministry in Strasbourg and was appreciated by his flock and by the amiable authorities of that city. French speaking Jean Stordeur and his wife Idelette developed a relationship with Calvin as Calvin urged them to embrace the gospel of grace and abandon their Anabaptist tendencies. Jean and his wife were converted and joined Calvin’s congregation. Then the Bubonic Plague hit; Jean Stordeur developed buboes in his armpits and groin, and in a few days was dead, Idelette now desolate without a husband to care for her and her two children. You guest it. Calvin, a the urgings of his sister Marie, Bucer, Melanchthon, and Farel, decides to marry Idelette, “the best companion of my life.”

We discussed what Calvin wrote in his commentary on Genesis about music and its role in Christian worship. Here in the Strasbourg Psalter published 1544, was included “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” clearly not a strict Psalm versification (though it has hints of Psalm 67 in it, “shine on us with the light of thy pure day”). Calvin commended Psalm singing, versified poetry from the Psalms himself, commissioned Clement Marot, the work carried on by Beza after him, but nowhere during or after his time in Strasbourg, where German Lutheran hymns were widely sung, did he condemn the writing or singing of hymns of human poetic composition. In the Geneva Psalter published 1551, Calvin included “I greet thee.” Some hymnologists believe Calvin wrote this hymn; it is very Calvin and may have been so; the fact that we don’t know who wrote it is actually a vote in favor of humble, un-self-serving Calvin. Here in Strasbourg the tune “Greiter,” named for Bucer’s cantor/organist, was written by Greiter to accompany the Huguenot Battle Hymn, Psalm 68, “God shall arise and by his might/Put all his enemies to flight.” Simply whistling the tune Greiter became sufficient evidence of ones Huguenot leanings and could get one thrown in jail, and worse. (Yes, Eunice at 86 climbed Notre Dame Strasbourg!)

We dispersed to climb the tower of the grand cathedral (taller than Noah’s ark set on end), to explore the museums, books stalls, Romanian craft, food, and music exhibits, vast medieval alleyways, quaint shops, bakeries, canal boats, restaurants, and cafes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to draw my wife away from this comfortable, charming city. At the moment she’s cooking up a scheme how we might move here! (That's ma belle at right forging ahead along the canal)

It helps to appreciate why Calvin was so loathe to leave Strasbourg and return to the “tearing wolves” of Geneva. The City Council, led by mayor Ami Perron, had now repeatedly come, cap-in-hand, begging Calvin to return. He said he’d rather face death 100 times a day than return to Geneva (doesn’t sound like the power-hungry tyrant we are told he was), but finally he submits to the will of God and returns, September, 1541, perhaps reminding himself of his personal seal,”My heart I offer you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” In one of the most remarkable pastoral gestures in the history of the church, Calvin stepped into his pulpit in St. Pierre, opened his Bible, and recommenced his exposition of God’s Word precisely at the verse he had left off three years before. Challenges still awaited Calvin and the cause of Christ in Geneva, but years of triumph and gospel blessing lay ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment