Monday, July 4, 2011

FW: John Calvin Prayed to Philip Melanchthon?

Huh? Read on…


Feed: Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics
Posted on: Friday, July 01, 2011 4:15 PM
Author: (James Swan)
Subject: John Calvin Prayed to Philip Melanchthon?


Here's one of those odd tidbits that has circulated around the Internet for a few years. Calvin is said to have prayed to Melanchthon after he died. Calvin stated, "O Philipp Melanchthon! . . . I appeal to you who live in the presence of God with Christ, and wait for us there until we are united with you in the blessed rest . . . I have wished a thousand times that it had been our lot together!" A context for this quote can be found here.

The book pictured is entitled Melanchthon in Europe: His Work and Influence Beyond Wittenberg. One of the most fascinating chapters is Timothy Wengert's "We Will Feast in Heaven Forever": The Epistolary Friendship of John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon. Wengert's chapter challenges the popular paradigm that Calvin and Melanchthon were friends, despite their differences. Wengert analyzes the correspondence between these two reformers within the context of Renaissance letter writing etiquette, concluding that these men were not as friendly as it appears. He argues their friendship was "a literary fiction imposed by the authors themselves, especially Calvin, onto a very complex web of interactions, not all of which were friendly" (p.22).

Of this alleged prayer to Melanchthon in question, Wengert states:

Even the oft-quoted reminiscence of Calvin regarding the recently departed Melanchthon must be seen strictly within the Renaissance and Reformation framework, where it appeared. Calvin wrote:

O Philip Melanchthon! I appeal to thee who now livest with Christ in the bosom of God, and there art waiting for us till we shall be gathered with thee to that blessed rest. A hundred times when worn out with labors and oppressed with so many troubles, didst thou repose thy head familiarly on my breast and say: 'Would that I could die in this bosom!' Since then I have a thousand times wished that it had been granted to us to live together; for certainly thou wouldst thus have had more courage for the inevitable contest, and been stronger to despise envy, and to count as nothing all accusations. In this manner, also, the malice of many would have been restrained who, from thy gentleness which they call weakness, gathered audacity for their attacks.'

In fact, Calvin was alluding to certain strains in their relationship: Meanchthon's supposed tendency to capitulate and his failure to support Calvin directly, Calvin's presumed strength, and the maliciousness of Melanchthon's accusers. However, coming as it did within a tract on the eucharist, it was also Calvin's attempt to depict Melanchthon as a supporter of the Genevan's eucharistic theology, something he never was in his own lifetime. (p.23)

As the above demonstrates, ignoring  historical contexts can lead to distortion. I pointed out similar instances of this type of error a few years ago: Luther's Letter to Pope Leo: " I acknowledge your voice, as the voice of Christ" and Luther's Imaginary Letter to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519. We must remember to consider the politics and polemics of the Reformation when delving deep into history. What may appear to say one thing, actually may say something quite different.

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