Born: Alighieri Dante, poet, 1265, Florence; Caspar Scioppius, learned grammarian, Catholic controversialist, 1576, Neumarck; Cardinal Louis de Noailles, 1651, Paris; Rev. T. D. Fosbroke, antiquarian writer, 1770.
Died: John Calvin, theologian, 1564, Geneva; Gui do Faur, seigneur de Pibrac, reformer of the bar of France, 1584; Vincent Voiture, prince of the belles-lettres of France in his day, 1648; Archibald, Marquis of Argyle, beheaded at Edinburgh, 1661; Dominique Bouhours, jesuit, (grammar and critical literature,) 1702, Clermont; Charles de la Rue, eminent French preacher, one of the fabricators of the 'Dolphin Classics,' 1725; Comte de Loewendhall, marshal of France, 1755; Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, statesman, 1811, Edinburgh; Noah Webster, author of an English dictionary, 1843, Newhaven, U.S.
Feast Day: St. Julius, martyr, about 302. St. John, pope, martyr, 526. St. Bede, confessor, 'father of the Church,' 735.
It would be difficult to name a theologian who has exercised a deeper and more tenacious influence on the human mind than John Calvin. To him the Protestantism of France and Switzerland, the Puritanism of England and New England, and, above all, the Presbyterianism of Scotland, owed their life and vigour. Luther has been called the heart of the Reformation, but Calvin its head.
He was the son of a cooper, and was born at Noyon, in Picardy, on the 10th of July 1509. Manifesting in his childhood a pious disposition, he was destined for the priesthood; and, aided by a wealthy family of Noyon, his father sent him to the University of Paris. At the age of twelve he obtained a benefice, and other preferment followed; but as his talents developed, it was thought he would make a better lawyer than a divine; and at Paris, Orleans, and Bruges, he studied law under the most celebrated professors. Calvin was in nowise averse to this change in his profession, for he had begun to read. the Bible, and to grow dissatisfied with the doctrines of the Catholic Church; but, when at Bruges, he met Wolmar the Reformer, who fully confirmed him in the Protestant faith, and inspired him with a burning desire for its propagation. For this purpose he resolved to leave law and return to divinity. He went to Paris, and whilst there induced the Rector of the University to deliver a discourse on All Saints' Day, in which the tenets of the reformers were boldly set forth. In consequence of the excitement produced, both had to fly for their lives; and Calvin found refuge at Angouleme, where he supported himself by teaching Greek. In this retreat he composed the greater part of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he published at Basle in 1535.
When we consider the excellent Latinity of this work, its severe logic, the range and force of its thought, its fame and effects, it does indeed appear the most wonderful literary achievement by a young man under twenty-six recorded in history. In 1536 he visited Geneva, where Protestantism had the same year been established, and, at the earnest request of Farel and some leading citizens, he was induced to settle there as preacher. His presence was quickly felt in Geneva. In conjunction with Farel, he drew up a plan for its government, which was passed into law, but which, when carried into execution, was felt so intolerable, that the citizens rebelled, and drove Farel and Calvin out of the town.
Calvin then took up his residence in Strasburg, where he became minister of a French congregation, into which he introduced his own form of church government. Great efforts were meanwhile made in Geneva to bring back its inhabitants to the fold of Rome; but Calvin addressed such able epistles to them that the reactionists made no progress.
In 1541 he was invited back to Geneva, and at once became the virtual ruler of the city. He laid before the council his scheme of government, which they implicitly accepted. The code was as minute as severe, and carried as it were the private regulations of a stern and pious father in his household out into the public sphere of the commonwealth, and annexed thereto all the pains and penalties of the magistrate. It was Calvin's aim to make Geneva a model city, an example and light to the world. His rule was tyrannous; but, if gaiety vanished, and vice hid itself in hypocrisy, at least industry, education, and literature of a certain sort flourished under his sway.
The painful passage in Calvin's career was the martyrdom of Servetus. With Michael Servetus, a physician, he had at one time carried on a theological correspondence, which unfortunately degenerated into acrimony and abuse on both sides; and of Calvin, ever afterwards, Servetus was accustomed to speak with the utmost contempt. The exasperation was mutual, and of the bitterest kind. In 1546 Calvin wrote to Farel, vowing that if ever Servetus came within his grasp he should not escape scathless. Besides, Servetus had written a book on the Trinity, in which he had expressed opinions akin to those of the Unitarians, and which subjected him to the charge of heresy alike by Catholics and Protestants. In the summer of 1553, Servetus was rash enough to enter Geneva on his way to Italy, when he was arrested, thrown into prison, and brought to trial as a heretic-Calvin acting throughout as informer, prosecutor, and judge. He was sentenced to death, and, on the 27th of October, was burned at the stake with more than ordinary cruelty.
Dreadful as such a deed now seems to us, it was then a matter of course. All parties in those times considered it the duty of the magistrate to extirpate opinions deemed erroneous. A Protestant led to martyrdom did not dream of pleading for mercy on the ground of freedom of conscience, or of toleration. In his eyes the crime of his persecutors lay in their hatred of the truth as manifested in him. If only his cords were loosed, and he endowed with power, he in like manner would find it his duty to prosecute his adversaries until they consented to confess the truth in unity with him. Yet, after making every allowance for the spirit of his age, it is impossible to escape the painful conclusion that there was as much revenge as mistaken justice in Calvin's treatment of his lone antagonist; and his sincerest admirers cannot but shudder and avert their gaze, when in imagination they draw near the forlorn Spaniard in his fiery agony.
The labours of Calvin were unceasing and excessive. He preached every day for two weeks of each month; he gave three lessons in divinity every week; and assisted at all the deliberations of the consistory and company of pastors. In his study he maintained an active correspondence with theologians and politicians in every part of Europe; defended the principles of the Reformation in a multitude of treatises; and expounded and fortified that set of doctrines which bears his name in voluminous commentaries on the Scriptures. In person he was spare and delicate, and he suffered constantly from ill health. His habits were frugal and simple to the last degree. For years he only allowed himself one meager meal daily. He had a prodigious memory, a keen understanding, and a will of iron. He was a man to fear or to reverence, but not to love. Emaciated to a skeleton, he died on the 27th of May 1564, aged only fifty-five. On his death-bed he took God to witness that he had preached the Gospel purely, and exhorted all to walk worthy of the divine goodness.
Pibrac was perhaps the most eminent man at the French bar during the sixteenth century. At the Council of Trent, he sustained with distinguished eloquence the interests of the French crown and the liberties of the Gallican Church. His state services were many, and he added to them the composition of a set of Moral Quatrains, which parents for ages after used to make their children learn by heart. He was remarkable for the amiableness of his character; nevertheless -and it is an humbling proof of the effects of religious bigotry-this eminent and admirable man wrote an apology for the Bartholomew massacre.
Cannibalism, so ordinary a feature of savage life in many parts of the earth in our day, may for that reason be presumed to have marked the people of the British isles when they were in the same primitive state. The earliest notices that we have upon this subject are certain accusations brought against the Saxon conquerors of England, in the old chronicles called the Welsh Triads. In these historical documents it is alleged that Ethelfrith, King of England, encouraged cannibalism at his court; and that Gwrgi, a truant Welshman there, became so enamoured of human flesh, that he would eat no other. It was his custom to have a male and female Kymry killed for his own eating every day, except Saturday, when he slaughtered two of each, in order to be spared the sin of breaking the Sabbath. A northern chief, named Gwenddoleu, is also stated to have had his treasure guarded by two rapacious birds, for whom he had two Kymry slain daily.
St. Jerome, who visited Gaul in his youth, about the year 380, has the following passage in one of his works:
Cum ipse adolescentulus in Gallia viderim Attacottos, gentem Britannicam, humanis vesci carnibus; et cum per sylvas porcorum greges, et armentorum pecudumquereperiant, pastorum nates et feminarum papillas solere abscindere; et has solas ciborum delicias arbitrari.' That is, he learned that the Attacotti, the people of the country now called Scotland, when hunting in the woods, preferred the shepherd to his flocks, and chose only the most fleshy and delicate parts for eating.
This reminds us extremely of the late reports brought home by M. de Chaillu regarding the people of the gorilla country in Western Africa. Gibbon, in adverting to it, makes it the occasion of a compliment to Scotland. 'If,' says he, 'in the neighbourhood of the commercial and literary town of Glasgow, a race of cannibals has already existed, we may contemplate, in the period of the Scottish history, the opposite extremes of savage and civilized life. Such reflections tend to enlarge the circle of our ideas, and to encourage the pleasing hope that New Zealand may produce, in a future age, the Hume of the Southern Hemisphere.'
There is reason to fear that cannibalism was not quite extinct in Scotland even in ages which may be deemed comparatively civilized. Andrew Wyntoun has a grisly passage in his rhyming chronicle regarding a man who lived so brief a while before his own day, that he might easily have heard of him from surviving contemporaries. It was about the year 1339, when a large part of Scotland, even the best and most fertile, had been desolated by the armies of Edward III.
About Perth thare was the countrie
Sae waste, that wonder wes to see;
For intill well-great space thereby,
Wes nother house left nor herb'ry.
Of deer thare wes then sic foison [abundance],
That they wold near come to the town.
Sae great default was near that stead,
That mony were in hunger dead.
A Carle they said was near thereby,
That wold set settis [traps] commonly,
Children and women for to slay,
And swains that he might over-ta;
And ate them all that he get might:
Chrysten Cleek till name be bight.
That sa'ry life continued he,
While waste but folk was the countrie.
Lindsay of Pitscottie has a still more dismal story regarding the close of the reign of James II (about 1460), a time also within the recollection of people living in the epoch of the historian. He says:
About this time there was ane brigand ta'en, with his haill family, who haunted a place in Angus. This mischievous man had ane execrable fashion, to talc all young men and children he could steal away quietly, or tak away without knowledge, and eat them, and the younger they were, esteemed them the mair tender and delicious. For the whilk cause and damnable abuse, he with his wife and bairns were all burnt, except ane young wench of a year old, wha was saved and brought to Dundee, where she was brought up and fostered; and when she cam to a woman's years, she was condemned and burnt quick for that crime. It is said that when she was coming to the place of execution, there gathered ane huge multitude of people, and specially of women, cursing her that she was so unhappy to commit so damnable deeds. To whom she turned about with an ireful countenance, saying, ' Wherefore chide ye with. me, as if I had committed ane unworthy act P Give me credence, and trow me, if ye had experience of eating men and women's flesh, ye wold think it so delicious, that ye wold never forbear it again.' So, but [without] any sign of repentance, this unhappy traitor died in the sight of the people.