[K:JNWTS 26/2 (September 2011): 58-60]

Book Review

Machiel A. van den Berg, Friends of Calvin. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009. 277pp. Paper. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6227-3. $20.00.

This is a pleasant, informative and well-written read. The author (Reformed pastor in the Netherlands), translator (Reinder Bruinsma) and publisher are to be commended for making it available to the English-reading audience. We have cameos of twenty-four amis de Calvin, a few of whom are in fact ennemis de Calvin (notably, Ami Perrin). Where possible, we are shown a likeness (woodcut, medallion, etc.) of the individual at the beginning of his or her sketch (approximately 10 pages each). Where this is not possible, we have a veritable gallery of portraits of Calvin himself. Van den Berg adds footnotes (but sparingly and judiciously), a supplementary bibliography (showing the range of his reading, which is very much up-to-date as of 2006) and an index: all of this makes the volume even more useful and attractive. In combination with recent full-length biographies of Calvin (Cottret, Selderhuis,[1] Van 't Spijker,[2] Gordon). This work will provide occasional additional detail together with a balanced assessment of the Calvin-'friend' relationship.

My one disappointment is the cheap shot the author takes at the Puritan Sabbath (90), which demonstrates his own abominable ignorance not only of Puritan practice, but also the Lord's day sanctification of the Reformation era by the Waldensians (cf. the Confession of Angrogna [1532][3]), the Emden Dutch Calvinists (Question 42 of the Large Emden Catechism of 1551[4] and Question 11 of the 1554 Emden Catechism[5]), the Rhaetian Confession of 1552,[6] Theodore Beza's Confession of 1560,[7] the Hungarian Reformed believers (their Confessio Catholica [1562][8] and the Confession of Tarcal [1562] and Torda [1563][9]) and even Calvin himself, if we may credit the latter's Sermon on Jeremiah 17: "God wished there to be a day upon which all Christians would rest from their labors to devote themselves to His service. . . . Now, if we do not observe this practice, we show well that we do not take God seriously. When Sunday rolls around, those . . . who did not have a chance to play all week, devote Sundays to pleasurable outings. They seem to think that the day of rest was ordained expressly for them to take up their favorite pastimes . . . Now, it is a very bad sign for us when we do not observe this regulation [the fourth commandment]. Our Lord rested on the seventh day to teach us to sanctify this day of rest".[10]

In these pages, we meet: Claude d'Hangest to whom the young Calvin dedicated his first published work—the commentary on Seneca's De Clementia (1532); François Daniel, lifetime friend, honored humanist, though a committed Roman Catholic; Nicholas Cop, likely the friend who provoked Calvin's break with Rome; Louis du Tillet, the friend who refused to join Calvin in breaking with Rome, while accusing Calvin of "schism"; Pierre Robert Olivétan, who lit the lamp of the Word of God for his cousin to follow; Renée de France, a regal friend and duchess sympathetic to Calvin and the Reformation—protectress of the Huguenots; John Sinapius, for whom Calvin acted as a match-maker, gaining him the hand of his beloved bride, Françoise de Boussiron; Simon Grynaeus, the Basel professor who directed Calvin to Strasbourg in 1538, following the latter's exile from Geneva; William Farel, fiery red-head who steadfastly directed Calvin to the free grace of God and Christ Jesus (even boldly rebuking him in the name of that sovereign author of grace); Pierre Viret, another friend whom God arrested by the thunderous passion of Farel; Martin Bucer, Calvin's often over conciliatory tutor (irenicism becoming obstructionism) during the Strasbourg years—the best years of Calvin's life (by his own testimony); Philip Melanchthon, Luther's bosom friend and dear to Calvin as well; Idelette de Bure, his pious wife and "best" friend of all; Benoit Textor, attentive, semi-eschatological physician who labored in behalf of the Eschatological Physician to extend Calvin's earthly life and labors; Antoine Cauvin/Calvin, friend and more—blood brother; Laurent de Normandie, fellow Noyonese, who like Calvin, fled to Geneva and in 1548 became a noted book publisher and tradesman; Ami Perrin, a friend in 1541 (urged Calvin's return to Geneva) who became an implacable enemy by 1555 and whom Calvin labeled a comedic Caesar (megalomaniac); Nicolas des Gallars, Calvin's famulus or "trusted servant" and loyal secretary, who was the latter's envoy to the court of King Edward VI of England in 1551; Lord and Lady de Falais, Dutch refugees in Geneva, who became loyal to the heretical hater of Calvin, Jerome Bolsec, and thus disloyal to Bolsec's nemesis, John Calvin; Galeazzo Caracciolo, a genuine Italian friend, disciple of Peter Martyr Vermigli, who reconstituted and organized the Italian Church in Geneva in 1551, whose famous divorce from his intransigent Roman Catholic wife is a textbook case of Calvin's careful exegesis and casuistry; Guillaume Budé, a teacher of Calvin during his Paris years (1530s), yet a Roman Catholic loyalist, on whose death, his widow and several of his children sought refuge with Calvin in Geneva in 1549; Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli's magisterial successor and comrade with Calvin in the 1549 Consensus against Roman Catholic and Lutheran ubiquitarian doctrines of the Lord's Supper; John Knox, ex-galley slave and pastor of the English refugee congregation in Geneva (1555, 1556-1559), earning him a place among the famous 'four horsemen' statuary which stands in Geneva today; Theodore Beza, Calvin's successor in 1564 and son in the faith—much loved by Calvin ("Calvin's spiritual son . . . became the father of Calvinism" [248] on the former's death). The friends help characterize the man; the man leaves his imprint on the character of the friends. A mimetic paradigm? perhaps, perhaps! In Christ, perhaps.

We are grateful to the sovereign Lord for the man and his friends and the system of doctrine contained in the inspired Scriptures which Jean Cauvin of Noyon, France has bequeathed to us via Iohannes Calvinus's monumental labors in Geneva, Switzerland.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.


[1] Cf. my review "Exsul, Peregrinus, Viator: Selderhuis on Calvin, A Review." Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 24/2 (September 2009): 40-50.

[2] Cf. my review Calvin: A Brief Guide to His Life and Thought (Willem van 't Spijker). Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 24/1 (May 2009): 58-64.

[3] Found in James T. Dennison, Jr., compiler, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation [hereafter RCET], 1:284.

[4] RCET, 1:598-99.

[5] RCET, 2:59; cf. also p. 55.

[6] RCET, 1:682-83.

[7] RCET, 2:328.

[8] RCET, 2:606-607, 640-43.

[9] RCET, 2:748.

[10] "Sermon 20 on Jeremiah 17," in Sermons on Jeremiah by Jean Calvin, trans. by Blair Reynolds (Edwin Mellen Press, 1990) 225-26. Special note should be taken of Calvin's remarks on the sanctification of the Lord's day in "Sermons Five and Six on Deuteronomy 5:12-15" (John Calvin's Sermons on the Ten Commandments, trans. by B. W. Farley [1980] 97-132), esp. his remarks on those in Geneva who turned the Lord's day into a holiday for their own pleasure (pp. 109-110). Cf. my own comments on this sermon in The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700 (1983/2008) 6, n.19. An honest reading of these primary confessional documents from the 16th century testifies to what may be called a more widespread 'Puritanical' reading of the fourth commandment. Calvin's pointed remarks are an echo of that practical Sabbatarianism.