Selten eine so kompakte und wortgewaltige Einleitung zu einer Biografie gelesen wie diese von Bruce Gordon zu Johannes Calvin. Was mir daran besonders gefällt, ist das Nachzeichnen von Sonnen- und Schattenseiten:
John Calvin was the greatest Protestant reformer of the sixteenth century, brilliant, visionary and iconic. The superior force of his mind was evident in all that he did. He was also ruthless, and an outstanding hater. Among those things he hated were the Roman church, Anabaptists and those people who, he believed, only faint-heartedly embraced the Gospel and tainted themselves with idolatry. He saw himself as an instrument of God, and as a prophet of the Church he brooked no rivals. He never felt he had encountered an intellectual equal, and he was probably correct. To achieve what he believed to be right, he would do virtually anything. Although not physically imposing, he dominated others and knew how to manipulate relationships. He intimidated, bullied and humiliated, saving some of his worst conduct for his friends. Yet as he lay dying they gathered around the bed distraught with grief. There would be no other like him.
This is the story of a prodigious young boy from a provincial background and modest means who by sheer talent progressed through the elite world of the French Renaissance. He studied in Paris and the best universities under the leading figures of the day. Few would have had a better education, and few were intellectually equipped to make more of it. But the man behind the precocious talent was a difficult person and one with a troubled conscience. The religious ideas of the great French evangelicals as well as the revolutionary views of Martin Luther took hold of this impressionable young man and changed him for ever. The rest of his life was a coming to terms with that conversion.
But what made Calvin great? It may seem odd, but working on this biography has convinced me that the answer does not lie in the events of his life. Nor is the question adequately addressed in terms of the numerous and diverse influences that shaped his mind. They were significant, as we shall see, but there is more. What made Calvin Calvin, and not another sixteenth-century writer, was his brilliance as a thinker and writer, and, above all, his ability to interpret the Bible. His coherent, penetrating and lucid vision of God’s abiding love for humanity, expressed in some of the most exquisite prose of his age, has continued down the centuries to instruct and to inspire. Like all great writers he transcends his time.
Calvin was fully aware of his talents, which he regarded as part of his special calling by God. His journey was to find the appropriate vocation for that summons. Ultimately it was located in a relative backwater, Geneva, which he beheld much as Jonah did Nineveh. But Calvin understood his destiny to extend far beyond Geneva’s walls: he was a man of the Church, and its unity was his deepest passion. Luther had brilliantly expressed what it meant to be saved by God. That discovery had changed Europe. Calvin’s genius was to discover the Church, and teach what it was to be part of that body if one lived in a besieged city, under a capricious Tudor monarch or as a refugee facing persecution and exile.
Bruce Gordon. Calvin. Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2009.
Die Biografie ist viel gepriesen worden: Tim Challies bezeichnet sie als “The Best Biography of Calvin to Date”. Sean Lucas hebt die Ausgewogenheit des kritisch-freundlichen Portraits hervor.