Front Page Titles (by Subject) 64.: On Calvin - Judgments on History and Historians
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64.: On Calvin - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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(I) Here the dogma is not the sole decisive factor, but rather, in substance, the dominion of religion over the state.
Where the state rules, as in every Lutheran country and, on the Calvinist side, in suprematist England—and in the Bern region—the people bear this without any particular inward involvement, and, conversely, because they do this, the state is able to rule.
Lutheranism is extremely weak, even with the greatest numerical diffusion, as soon as it has to proceed without the government, merely with superintendents, synods, and the like. A case in point is the German-Austrian lands; here the needful desperation must have been wholly lacking at the time of the Counter Reformation (with the exception of Upper Austria at the time of the Peasants’ War of 1626). Here Protestantism had on its side the powerful nobility; independently it lived only in a segment of the urban population.
One hardly notices the people who are becoming Lutheran cooperating with their North German governments in any way except by breaking fast and other things, generally negative ones.
Calvinists, on the other hand, are able to establish communities and a church in areas under Catholic rule, from below, through the inward impetus of the doctrine of the elect which carries with it the necessary desperation and a scornful mortal hatred of Catholicism.
From this a Presbyterian organization results naturally. In countries where the government does not cooperate or still is Catholic the community cannot possibly consist only of preachers and listeners; only where the preacher is assured of a stock of select laymen does it come into being and really exist.
If, in addition, the Calvinist dogma encounters a highly congenial national spirit, as in Scotland and with the English Puritans, there arises a complete dominion, even over the state and the life of the citizenry. On the other hand, the zeal for predestination of the masses in Holland in 1618 has always been suspect to me. The Scots remain pessimistic and poor; the Dutch want to become rich and are oriented toward the world, acquisition, and possession. (Hm? Calvinism, with its certainty of unique chosenness is, at bottom, even more comfortable and consolatory than Lutheranism.) To what extent can present-day North America be given as an example? Frantic money-making is hardly compatible with a belief in the small number of the elect from eternity.
Here, too, the activity against Catholicism from the very beginning is even more filled with execration and scorn than it is with Luther. The Catholic church is from the very first threatened with complete destruction because its substance is regarded as idolatry. Thus the Catholic defense is adjusted to this.
A dubious aspect of the presbyterial organization was the fact that it was far from making the church popular. It led to distressing tyranny and provoked opposition. These moral courts were always held only in small towns and villages where everyone knew everyone else. Selected lay elders who sit in judgment on their fellow citizens are, on the one hand, subject to the temptation to give rein to personal advantage, revenge, and malevolence, and, on the other hand, are prone to the corruption that attaches to any system of informers and to general hatred and suspicion which finds them suspect, too. What one will put up with from a clergyman who is outside of daily life one will not tolerate from one’s equals.
(II) Calvin’s goal is to “build a community standing under the discipline of God’s word and the Holy Spirit,” unlike Luther, who left it to the power of the gospel to penetrate into the masses of the people.
Farel had already started with a reform of morals in Geneva. But only Calvin, from 1537 on, successfully insisted on its being carried out, and upon his return in 1541 he organized Geneva into a community in his spirit, with a Presbyterian organization and with discipline.
The relationship of the community to predestination was as follows: Since the small number of the elect from eternity cannot be ascertained and only God knows His chosen, this church is not to be confused with the visible church community, which contains those who profess externally, as well as true members of the invisible church, as long as sermons and sacraments are handled properly. This is also the reason why one should not detach oneself from the visible church.
Now Calvin arranges his visible church according to this mixture of few elect and many hypocrites. He will at least outwardly tolerate no resistance against the purity of the appearance. The godless must be kept in bounds, i.e., become dissemblers. (He does not want to win them over, nor to create faith in general, because, after all, the believers have been elected from eternity; only secondarily is the church discipline also a friendly means of punishment for fallen elect.) For this he enlisted in large measure the aid of the secular powers which, to be sure, he had inspired. His highest ecclesiastical authority, the Consistory, which at the same time administered the church discipline, had three-fifths secular members and a syndic as president. Another part of this system was the continual visiting of families and individuals.
That is why finally everything was suspect to Calvin, and the slightest gleam of resistance, not just of the ecclesiastical but also of the political and personal kinds, was unbearable to him. He spent far too much time on those who he knew or suspected were not for him. In the end he knew that he was hated by the great majority. All actual or supposed opposition he had to take personally.
It is a psychological fact that at any time there are a certain number of people who persistently concern themselves with the petit nombre des élus [small number of the elect]. That is a necessary consequence and development of the stricter New Testament doctrine of the beyond. These people are recognizable among the English Lollards of the fourteenth century (Knyghton). They will at any time readily renounce the earthly comforts of other people. Their view is necessarily also a wide one, since in their vicinity there might be too few élus. Thus Calvin, too, desired to attach the élus of all nations to himself. Geneva was his workshop and no more; for example, it could not be passed off as a besieged fortress. He knew that his emissaries incurred the greatest danger of destruction. It was a misfortune for France that its chances for reformation came entirely into Calvin’s hands.
Opposed to Luther, he agrees with Zwingli in that he, too, must completely dominate a small republic as a proving ground of ecclesiastical and political life. Even later, Calvinism is complete only where it can enforce its kind of policing through a mass of people (Presbyterians and others) or through full disposition over the secular arm—e.g., in Scotland and for a time in Holland, also in England at the time of the Commonwealth. But dogmatic Calvinists are bad ones! Yet everywhere there begins a quiet inner defection as soon as the life and business of the world put individuals in an optimistic mood.
(III) It has been necessary to erect whole bastions of palliation around Calvin’s behavior in Geneva (the downfall of Servetus and other things). In fact and truth, the real Geneva had the greatest possible antipathy toward him. The deep humiliation of the fact that people had had to put up with him nevertheless could best be masked through subsequent idealization.
The tyranny of one single individual who makes his subjectivity the universal law and not only enslaves or expels all other convictions, including very good Protestant ones, but also every day insults everyone in the most innocent matters of taste, has never been carried farther.
Geneva endured him, the greatest pessimist, the stranger. Afterwards she herself produced the man who, despite his plaintiveness, was the world’s greatest optimist: J. J. Rousseau, the preacher of the goodness of human nature, which is the view currently held by the masses all over the world.
(IV) Calvin’s effect upon the West. First, he had an influence on France through his writings, his correspondence, and his emissaries. The latter he often sent to certain destruction (?), and on this one can have one’s special opinion just as in the case of Mazzini. In great matters he found the stage already occupied by the Renaissance and profane blasphemy (cf. Calvin’s revealing work De Scandalis, 1550). The subsequent movement against the court and government of Henry II found Calvinism present and made partial use of it.
Without the participation of the French nobility after 1555, which happened for anything but dogmatic reasons, his work would have been in vain.
However, in England, starting with Edward VI, the local Protestantism clearly had a Calvinistic complexion (a transformation of the Lollard one?).
Scotland knew only Calvinism from the outset.
In the Netherlands, where as late as the 1530’s the more extreme defection was Anabaptism, the Reformation was Lutheran; Calvinism comes to the fore in the 1550’s and becomes the active faction.