Was Sherlock Holmes A Calvinist? -- By: Paul A. Tambrino
Was Sherlock Holmes A Calvinist?
Retired President of the Iowa Valley Community College District, and
Community College President Emeritus, American Association of Community Colleges
Since my youth, I have been fascinated by the tales of the world’s greatest detective, be they the complete stories and novels of Sherlock Holmes (to which Sherlockians refer as the Canon), or the apocryphal Hollywood tales (staring Basil Rathbone) that appeared on the silver screen. Of course any serious research about Holmes must be based exclusively on the material contained in Arthur Conan Doyle’s infallible Canon, in which Holmes’s life and adventures are so faithfully recorded by his biographer and good friend, Dr. Watson. As my avocational interest in Holmes merged with my more serious interest in Reformed theology (especially that of John Calvin), I began to wonder whether Sherlock Holmes might not be some sort of closet Calvinist! Could it be, I wondered, that scattered throughout the Canon are clues to Holmes’s theology? Would it be possible to prove that Sherlock Holmes possessed Calvinistic proclivities? Thus, I resolved to exegete the canon with regard to the theology of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
In the years that followed, I re-read the stories and novels of Sherlock Holmes, carefully noting references regarding theology or religion. Only once did Holmes directly address the issue of religion in the tales. In The Naval Treaty (NAVA) he said, “Nowhere is deduction so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the ideal reasoner.”1 In this story, Dr. Watson’s childhood friend, Percy Phelps, had called upon Holmes to investigate the disappearance of a diplomatically sensitive naval treaty. Phelps, the nephew of Lord Holdhurst, Cabinet Minister and future Premier of England, worked as a clerk in the Foreign Office. His uncle had entrusted the secret treaty to him with instructions to copy it, but Phelps had unwisely left the document in the room in which he had been copying it. During the short interval in which he left the document and the room unattended, the treaty was stolen.
Holmes and Watson found Phelps at Phelps’s home recovering from brain fever, acquired when the full shock of the missing treaty came to him. During the nine weeks since the disappearance of the document, Phelps’s fiancee, Anne Harrison, had been nursing him back to health. As Holmes interviewed Phelps, he suddenly exclaimed, “What a lovely thing a rose is! There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires...
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