Brunetière On The Work Of Calvin -- By: Herbert Darling Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 060:237 (Jan 1903)
Article: Brunetière On The Work Of Calvin
Author: Herbert Darling Foster


Brunetière On The Work Of Calvin1

Prof. Herbert Darling Foster

Again has M. Brunetière succeeded in his favorite pursuit of stirring up an ant-hill with a stick, as a professor in the University of Geneva describes it.

The editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes, formerly a free-thinker, and now one of the most brilliant representatives both of French literature and French Catholicism, was sure to give in the city which Calvin made a Protestant Rome an account of the great reformer’s work which would be admirable in its form and suggestive in its thought. His conference, on December 17, 1901, was before a crowded audience of all sorts of nations and creeds, studiously polite but coldly critical. The unanimous conclusion is that no one was satisfied. Catholics regret certain frank avowals, and carefully omit them in their printed accounts. Genevans have written vigorous rejoinders to certain imputations of aristocratic and egoistic tendencies.

But the many who expected a tirade against Calvin were disappointed. M. Brunetière had a far deeper motive than simply to please or offend. At the beginning and end of his address he frankly revealed his motive in coming to Geneva. Under the most striking circumstances, likely to give the widest publicity to his words, he hoped, while speaking courteously of the Reformers, to show that Calvin was essentially mistaken; that all that was good in his work had been absorbed by the Catholic Church; and therefore that the hope of Christian unity, and the refuge

from license lay in reunion with the church against which Calvin and Geneva had fought. He frankly disclaimed all pretense at impartiality, which he considered not so great a virtue in an historian, and in fact an impossibility. He does not regard even Samuel Rawson Gardiner as an example of impartiality.

M. Brunetière wished to speak as philosopher rather than historian. In reality, he spoke as advocate and orator, and herein lay his weakness and his strength. He showed his oratorical tact, at the beginning of his address, by attributing to Calvin sincerity and consistency in his life and writings, and by frankly condemning overzealous attempts to calumniate his memory.

But it was the work, not the life or personality, of the reformer, that was to be considered; and this work was not, in its essence, either literary, theological, or political. The essential work of Calvin was that he transformed the concept of religion: he intellectualized religion, he made it aristocratic, he individualized it. These three propositions form the framework of M. Brunetière’s address.

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