Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fact or Fiction? - The founding of America and religious freedom

One of the more common reasons given to school kids for the Pilgrims leaving England was so they could establish religious freedom. Well, that's only partially correct. Religious freedom to the early Puritans was meant only for their religion.

In order to understand the theology of the Puritans, a brief history lesson is in order.

For decades up until 1533, Protestantism had been the main religion of England. In that year, however, Mary Tudor (Catholic Queen Mary) succeeded Edward VI. To escape persecution from the Catholic church, the Protestants beat feet and fled to the European continent.

The story doesn't end there. Due to all the internal strife in the Lutheran areas, the exiles weren't welcomed and, in some cases, were turned away. On the other hand the Reformed Calvin areas welcomed these exiles with open arms.

Why is this important?

Simply put, Lutherans believed in a "two-Kingdom" theology in which there was some modicum of separation between the Church and the State. Reformed Calvinists, however, believed in a "single Kingdom" theology in which the State and Church were inseparable and BOTH were subject to the dictates of God, revealed through scripture.

When Mary died in 1558 and was succeeded by Elizabeth, the exiles returned home. Strengthened by their Reformed Calvin education, they looked to "reform" the English church and make Reform Calvinism the primary influence in English life.

When it was inevitable their goal wouldn't materialize, the separatists left England. They truly believed they were the "elect", just as the Israelites of the Old Testament were, and leaving for the New World was the modern version of the Exodus.

Arriving in America, the Puritans sought to establish a purely Christian commonwealth. This was further codified in 1641 in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. If one has never read this document, it truly is an enlightening read. In it you'll find exemptions for when it's ok to torture confessions from people, and a list of Capital crimes straight out of the Pentateuch.

Any person who settled and disagreed with the Puritan ethic was typically tried and convicted of blasphemy and either killed or exiled (see Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson).

In essence, two things can be gleaned from this:

1) "Religious freedom" was granted as long as that religion was Reformed Calvinism.
2) America's Christian founding, of which the MA Bay Colony can be considered the first permanent settlement, was intended to be a Christian theocracy of the Reformed Calvinist tradition.

45 comments:

Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

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You reopen the post modernist question about what the word, founding, means in relation to America.
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If America's actual Founding took place, for example, in the year 1641, we must agree that it was as a Christian nation.
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But, if we mean the United States of America was Founded in the year 1776, we must agree that it was not as a Christian nation.
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So, it ends up being a trick question.
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Christian Salafia said...

I don't think it's a trick question, really.

If you look at the MBC, it was the first permanent settlement in what eventually became the United States.

Additionally, the influence that New England theology had on the US until the early 19th Century was pretty formidable. It played into the Revolutionary spirit, with very intentional references to the Hebrew slaves of the OT, comparing the British to the Egyptians, and also influenced the abolitionist movement in the North after the Revolution.

Southern churches wavered on abolitionism after the Revolution conceding that slavery was a "necessary evil" of the time.

The Reformed Calvinist tradition played a big part in the early years of America's founding.

Pinky said...

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For it not to be a trick question, you will have to take the MBC--item by item--and show how each (at least most) evolves into the Founding Statement of the United States of America which is, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.“
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I don't think you can do that; but, go ahead, try.
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If you're present at this moment, Click Here
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Lori Stokes said...

At last the Puritans are beginning to come into their own here! We will indeed be a city on a hill to the rest of the blog.

Long-time readers will sigh to hear me rehearse these items again, but for the sake of accuracy:

1. The Pilgrims and Puritans were two different groups. The Pilgrims were Separatists who gave up on the Anglican church. They arrived in Plymouth. The Puritans were reforming Anglicans. They founded the MBC.
2. Protestantism was the main religion of England from 1547 to 1553. Henry VIII burned Protestants. He was the head of the Catholic church in England; to be a Protestant was treason.
3. The Puritans and separatists left England mainly because they faced increasing persecution there. After 1630, when William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury, Puritans were seriously endangered in England.
4. I've debated (with Pinky, I think) the Body of Liberties and its meaning. Almost all European countries' penal codes were "straight out of the Pentateuch," and in fact the Puritans were not allowed to make laws that contradicted the laws of England.
5. Very few people were banished or killed in MBC. Remember, no one made the journey to Boston unless they were a Puritan. The citizens of the MBC were happy to live in a Puritan society. Williams was banished because he claimed King Charles I had no authority and was the antichrist, Hutchinson was banned for leading an antinomian rebellion that nearly destroyed the colony. Disagreement was the meat of Puritan life, and debate was continual.
6. It's a fine point, but the MBC was not a theocracy. Clergy were not allowed to participate in civil government, and most rules in civil government were completely secular. Just as the present U.S. is generally Christian but not a theocracy, so the MBC was Puritan Anglican but not a theocracy.
7. And last! The MBC *was* a proto-democracy whose principles were transferred with ease to the Founding generation. Their rebellion against King James I's Dominion was a harbinger of the Revolution. And I could go on, as I always do.

Eric Alan Isaacson said...

Christian,

Your post appears to conflate Pilgrims and Puritans who, as I understand it, were two distinct groups. The Pilgrims were Separatists who left the Anglican communion, fleeing England first for Holland and then America. The Puritans, on the other hand, did not seek to leave the Anglican communion.

I'll grant you that Puritan Massachusetts was no model for religious liberty. To the contrary, it banished Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Quakers, and others from the colony. Quakers who dared to return were hanged on the Boston Common.

If we look for a principled stand for religious freedom in those early years, I believe we'll find it in Roger Williams who was banished in from Puritan Massachusetts in 1635, and who then founded Rhode Island as a colony that respected freedom of conscience and that separated church and state.

Williams believed that civil magistrates had no business enforcing religious orthodoxy, and he opposed using government power to enforce the first four commandments of the ten commandments - - the commandments dealing with duties to God.

It took a while for Puritan Massachusetts to catch up with secular Rhode Island. But by the latter half of the 1700s, Massachusetts' oldest founding churches were quite liberal in their theology. Calvinist orthodoxy had fallen, both in theology and in politics.

The story of religious freedom in Massachusetts appears, to me at least, to be intertwined with the gradual shift in religion and politics from the rigid Calvinist orthodoxy of the 1630s to a remarkably liberal heterodoxy by the late 1700s.

And none of us should overlook the fact that Rhode Island's model of a secular state was conceived by a Baptist.

Eric Alan Isaacson

Lori Stokes said...

The problem with Quakers was that they went to the MBC with the express purpose of evangelizing. Quakers were tied with Catholics as the most hated sect in England. Part of the reason was that they so violently propagated their faith. In MBC, they might enter a village banging pots and pans and screaming at the inhabitants to listen to them. There are records of Quakers coming into worship services and stripping naked to illustrate putting off earthly vanity.

So the Quakers hated the Puritans and the Puritans hated back, and neither side is truly appealing. But the main reason Puritans persecuted Quakers was to maintain their political independence. Charles II commanded them to stop persecuting Quakers, and the MBC was loathe to come under such direct royal control--slippery slope fears.

Despite his unorthodoxies, Williams was a beloved pastor in Salem and was not banished for his religious beliefs but because he risked the colony's security by publicly proclaiming that King Charles was the antichrist, with no authority to grant land in America. (The problem was not that taking away Americans' land to give to English people was wrong, but simply that Charles could not do it.)

It's my belief that Calvinist orthodoxy was simply transferred from religion to politics in Founding-era Massachusetts. At any rate, again I'll say that the stereotype of noose-wielding Puritans just waiting to kill someone for dissent is inaccurate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Lori, I'm very interested in your thesis of the mutation of Puritanism theology into liberal political philosophy. Something definitely happened to them in America, in the short space of 150 years. I look forward to seeing your further thoughts.

Eric Alan Isaacson said...

Lori,

I'm with you on the idea that MBC was a proto-democracy, and I'm inclined to think that modern American democracy owes much to the model provided by the Puritan churches' covenantal and democratic congregationalist polity.

But it's hard for me to understand how charging Anne Hutchinson and her friends with "antinomianism" didn't amount to charging them with doctrinal religious heresy.

The Puritans doubtless portrayed Williams and Hutchinson and the Quakers as serious threats to ordered society.

But most who engage in religious persecution similarly portray their victims as a threat to society.

Eric

Tom Van Dyke said...

Re Roger Williams, I ran across this on the internet. Funny how today we think of Quakers as quiet and mellow.

Williams spent much of his final decades in protracted debates with Quaker missionaries and refugees to Rhode Island, and what caused him to be so exasperated with his Quaker opponents was primarily their violation of this aspect of civility, the need to conduct public conversation respectfully. Williams could counter the theological errors he attributed to them; he confidently refuted their doctrine of the inner light and their deficient Christology and saw no need to respond to their theological deviance with anything but debate. However, Williams was taken aback by his Quaker opponents' boisterous behavior and abandonment of common courtesy during the debates. He vehemently objected to their habit of interrupting his arguments, shouting him down, attempting to humiliate him personally with name-calling and ridicule, misrepresenting his convictions, and displaying a noted lack of truthfulness in their own arguments. In short, Williams charged that his Quaker antagonists disregarded necessary rules for decorous conversation and deliberation, and to do so, he said, was "against the sober rules of Civility and Humanity." (25) This behavior was not, as the Quakers insisted, an acceptable exercise of free conscience. Instead it was a moral violation of the basic requirements of civility, a signal of deep disrespect and a transgression of the procedural rules for public deliberation that Williams held with the highest esteem, so much so that he was willing to entertain the possibility that violators of civility like the Quakers should be subject to legal restrictions.

Christian Salafia said...

Pinky,

You said "...you will have to take the MBC--item by item--and show how each (at least most) evolves into..."

I'll give you that, but I also think that's confusing what it started as and what it became. The eventual multi-denominational faith of Revolutionary America is what the Puritans, or separatists, were leaving behind in England.

I tried to listen, but couldn't connect... too much rain here creates network issues.

Christian Salafia said...

Your post appears to conflate Pilgrims and Puritans who, as I understand it, were two distinct groups.

Mea culpa. I'll admit to "mixing my metaphors", so to speak, on that one.

Lori,

I have to disagree with you in that Calvinism didn't switch from religion to politics, but that it was religion and politics. This is just a natural by-product of what Calvinism was. It was, and still is, an all encompassing theology where everything is subject to the dictates of God, unlike the semi-split of the Lutherans.

I'd be really interested in reading more of your stuff on that period... I find it fascinating.

Christian

Christian Salafia said...

Tom,

I agree that we now think Quakers are quiet and mellow, but for years they were "rabble rousers". In fact, Quakers, along with the Wesleyan Methodists such as Francis Asbury, were some of the most vocal abolitionists.

Lori Stokes said...

Thanks Tom for that great description! Whenever I talk about how frankly annoying and scary the first Quakers were, people just can't believe it. But they were just as obstinate and rude as any Puritan could be.

Christian, you can hop over to my Historic Present blog--it's chock-full of posts on Puritans. What I find is that it's a fine distinction: while the Puritans' religious faith inspired their view of civics, when you slog through their General Court records you find scant mention of God or religion, just endless quarrels over land boundaries, fencing, property, business deals, etc., and all were worked out based on logic rather than any application of religion. So in their daily business and work lives, the Puritans were not gazing upwards.

There was, of course, as you say, no smooth transition from religious zeal to political zeal, but as I say in my earlier post, the conviction that the Founding belief that right form of government would actually transform human nature seems very close to the Puritan belief that the right form of religion would do the same.

Christian Salafia said...

Lori,

Thanks for the info. History has always been a passion of mine, and as a theologian, it's interesting to see where the paths cross.

Christian

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

That's an interesting quote. I've found that many if not most of the Founders loved the Quakers and gave them a "pass" for their refusal to take up arms in large part because they admired their anti-creedalism and sense of religious liberality. But not all of them. John Adams has some anti-Quaker quotes that are very amusing. But of course, Adams had a sharp biting wit.

The Puritan said...

Calvinism was as two kingdom as Lutheranism. It's part of the Geneva was a nation of Israel type theocracy myth to think it wasn't.

Calvinism was and is classical covenant - federal - theology. The civic and ceremonial laws ended with the nation of Israel and the birth of Christ respectively. The moral law (5th through 10th commandments) are the basis of natural law, known in the conscience of all mankind. The first four commandments are a matter of liberty of conscience and are between an individual and God and not a matter of the state. This is the belief of early Calvinism and of the Calvinists who founded the United States of America.

Pinky said...

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Puritan writes, "This is the belief of early Calvinism and of the Calvinists who founded the United States of America."
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Ain't those Calvinists sumpthin, though!
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Not only are they winnowed out and chosen of God by some divine choice; but, they actually "Founded the United States of America.".
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Our way of looking at it here in the Grand Rapids environs of Western Michigan is that, If you ain't Dutch, you ain't Mutch.
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The Puritan said...

Historian George Bancroft called Calvin "the father of America," and added, "He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty."

"John Calvin was the virtual founder of America." ~ German historian Leopold von Ranke

"The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure. It was the natural outgrowth of the principles which the Presbyterianism of the Old World planted in her sons, the English Puritans, the Scotch Covenanters, the French Huguenots, the Dutch Calvinists, and the Presbyterians of Ulster." ~ George Bancroft

http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=5984

Jonathan Rowe said...

The first four commandments are a matter of liberty of conscience and are between an individual and God and not a matter of the state. This is the belief of early Calvinism and of the Calvinists who founded the United States of America.

This certainly wasn't the belief of Calvin and the other folks running things in Geneva who had Servetus executed for speaking his unitarian conscience.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Calvin also, were he alive, would have almost certainly supported the Tories in the Revolutionary war.

Calvin believed in NO right to revolt against tyrants.

Even if the American Revolution "fits" with the doctrine of interposition, the DOI is not at all a document of interposition, but rather a call for revolt based on the natural law. (Obviously, not the Bible, because the Bible recognizes no right to revolt).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Calvin also, were he alive, would have almost certainly supported the Tories in the Revolutionary war.

Calvin believed in NO right to revolt against tyrants.

Even if the American Revolution "fits" with the doctrine of interposition, the DOI is not at all a document of interposition, but rather a call for revolt based on the natural law. (Obviously, not the Bible, because the Bible recognizes no right to revolt).

The Puritan said...

>This certainly wasn't the belief of Calvin and the other folks running things in Geneva who had Servetus executed for speaking his unitarian conscience.

Servatus was was condemned to death by the Roman Catholics. He was the only person put to death in Geneva for religious reasons in Calvin's lifetime. The political and unique case of Servatus can be studied and understood rather easily. The myth is popular to repeat, but the facts and the historical context are there to be found out. Servatus put the entire population of Geneva in danger in a time of religious war, much like a traitor puts a populace in danger. And not many people know Servatus had a relationship with Calvin going back decades in which Calvin did everything to help Servatus and turn him from his apparent death wish. He came to Geneva because he thought he could turn the city against Calvin. His death was a civil matter conducted by the rule of law of that place and time (i.e. it wasn't murder), and Calvin was not part of it but to plead for a more merciful mode of death, which the civil authorities rejected.

>Calvin believed in NO right to revolt against tyrants.

A simple reading of his final chapter of the Institutes will disabuse one of such a statement.

>the Bible recognizes no right to revolt

Again, read Calvin's famous 20th chapter of his Book 4 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You have to read it all. Many critics of Calvinism love to quote him out of context. For instance, in that chapter he makes the strong case for obedience to magistrates and so on, then towards the end makes the biblical case for justifiable revolt against tyrants or any who demand an allegiance to man over God.

And go to that page of quotes I linked. Those historians were not ignorant of what they were saying.

The Puritan said...

And read Calvin's preface to the Institutes. It was written to a king. It's rather ironic that anyone would say Calvin didn't see any warrant, biblical or otherwise, in revolt. It is what his entire life and work is defined by.

The Puritan said...

"Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men but with God only." - Calvin, Institutes, 4.10.5

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Hart said...

Calvin completely denounced Servatus at Geneva. Even Wikipedia notes this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin

In addition, in a letter to William Farel, Calvin stated the following regarding Sevatus's execution and incarceration:

"after he [Servetus] had been recognized, I thought he should be detained. My friend Nicolas summoned him on a capital charge, offering himself as a security according to the lex talionis. On the following day he adduced against him forty written charges. He at first sought to evade them. Accordingly we were summoned. He impudently reviled me, just as if he regarded me as obnoxious to him. I answered him as he deserved...of the man’s effrontery I will say nothing; but such was his madness that he did not hesitate to say that devils possessed divinity; yea, that many gods were in individual devils, inasmuch as a deity had been substantially communicated to those equally with wood and stone. I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed on him; but I desired that the severity of the punishment be mitigated.

Even if Calvin asked for an "easier" death, he was still plenty pissed off at Servetus and wanted to see him gone for good.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I have read the whole thing and Calvin makes NO such case for revolt. He calls upon men to obey God (obviously) when the laws of God & man conflict, but STILL believes in submitting to, NOT revolting against, tyrants.

Lots of historians credits lots of different ideological sources for the principles of America. The ones that you cited are a minority.

Here are some quotes of Calvin's that cannot be explained away by "context."

And I'll repeat Calvin's position on "interposition" was NOT revolt ala the Declaration of Independence.

"We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes."

"we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him" and "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid."

"Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God."

"And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer."

Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion"

You may want to read this article for more on how the ideology of America was in many ways the antithesis of Calvinism.

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=71614

Jonathan Rowe said...

Not only did Calvin fully support Servetus' execution for denying the Trinity, subsequent Calvinists like Rutherford and Knox did as well.

What these Calvinists had in mind was 180% from how the American Founders handled religion (many of whom like Jefferson absolutely hated Calvin and everything he stood for).

Christian Salafia said...

I find it rather, well, funny to say that Calvin was essentially "ok" with revolt against a tyrant.

Calvinists know their scripture, that's for sure. They are well studied in that area.

I do find, though, that much of their theology is not supported through scripture. However, this is not the place, really, to debate this.

Because of their view of scripture, they would have known, and followed Romans 13:1-5, which forbids revolt against authority for all is granted by God.

Yes, you COULD argue that Calvinists founded America, if make the assumption I did that the MBC was original intent of what this new nation would be. However, what was intended, and what it became, are two separate things completely. The conflict between their ideal and reality is what drove them to leave Europe behind.

The Puritan said...

If you really can't see that in history it is the Reformation that secured religious and political liberty for mankind, and that at the forefront of the Reformation it was Calvinists dying at the stake and fighting for those liberties then there is probably not much one can say to disabuse you of your notions.

You have to understand that Calvinism is very misrepresented in popular discourse, as are the Puritans, really, as is the Reformation itself in many ways.

For instance, you have to understand that the Calvinist were not just fighting a single front war with Romanist tyranny, but they were also fighting a rear guard battle with anabaptists who were revolting against princes and magistrates in ways that put the entire fight for freedom at risk.

This is part of the historical context that is necessary to have in understanding before one thinks one can understand what Calvin is saying in a passage here and there.

And, yes, you are reading those passages from the 20th chapter of book 4 out of context. I specifically mentioned this prior to you quoting them because that is what critics of Calvinism always do.

Do you really think Calvin was conforming and being an obedient subject to the King of France? To the Pope? To the political class of Geneva who tossed him out of the city once because he wouldn't allow them to have authority in the church?

You have to really know this history to read with subtlety the eye of the needle the magisterial reformers were having to thread in doctrine as well as politics and war of that time.

Servatus, by the way, dogged Calvin from when he was in Paris twenty years prior to S.'s death in Geneva. Calvin spent a great amount of time and effort with Servatus, back and forth, and it was insane for Servatus to go to Geneva when he did after escaping his sentence of death at the hands of the Romanist authorities. S. thought he could turn Geneva against Calvin. This was a time of war where the stakes were not only individual death but the death of whole populations (including the spiritual death of Rome had recaptured a city). Servatus was never some innocent man looking for friendship and a place to stay. He was a strange heretic intent on getting power come hell or high water. The laws back then for heresy was death. Calvin didn't write those laws. They were on the books.

And one can't blame the Reformation for one death when it was the Reformation that put into motion the forces that were to make freedom of conscience a reality. It's like blaming the Founding Fathers for not ending slavery in 1776 (or thereabouts).

And when scores of thousands - mostly Calvinists - were being put to death for their beliefs to point to one death in Geneva is an act of bad will. Demanding perfection, when so many forces were involved that were out of the control of one man, let alone one movement, is bad faith pure and simple.

And again, it was a trial and execution, not murder. It was done by rule of law. You might as well also condemn all the harsh penalties on the books back then for all different kinds of crime.

Servatus was a heretic by the laws of the times, pure and simple, and he courted death like a madman, and got it.

Brad Hart said...

Puritan:

First off, I think it's a bit harsh for you to assume that we lack a historical understanding and that our "context" is somehow off base. Most on this blog are well versed in the subject of history and religion. In fact, a number actually work in the field. Now, I am not insinuating that we are right on everything. That is the whole point of this blog…to encourage discussion and debate on these issues, which are far from settled. I simply hope that you will give us a little bit of credence.

With that said, I agree at least in part with you when you write that the Reformation, "secured religious and political liberty for mankind, and that at the forefront of the Reformation it was Calvinists dying at the stake and fighting for those liberties." There is certainly a lot of truth in what you are saying here. However, I think that there is much more to the story. Yes, Calvinist principles were paramount to securing religious and political liberty, but so were the principles of natural law, deism, rationalism, unirarianism, etc. We've discussed these particular influences at length here on our blog, and I sincerely hope that you will join us in those discussions that are sure to come.

To be honest, I think we may be agreeing here on more than you think. Again, nobody is going to deny (or at least they shouldn't deny) the massive impact the Reformation had on furthering the cause of religious liberty. Your argument is solid on this one. I think what many of us are trying to say is that Calvin, despite his break from the Pope, France, etc. may not have supported the American Revolution. To be honest, I remain undecided on this issue. You very well may be right, but I think the topic deserves further discussion. I would enjoy very much hearing more from your side on this particular point, along with what J. Rowe has posted. It's an interesting debate.

The Puritan said...

If the secular authorities of Geneva had not tried and executed Servatus they would have had to just hand him over to others who would have. If they had harbored Servatus in Geneva it would have put the entire population of Geneva in peril.

The luxury of fighting for the rights of a moron like Servatus to be a moron comes after you win the overall war.

And it is ridiculously anachronistic to call Servatus a Unitarian. I know that has a soft sound and makes him seem like a non-threatening guy, but Servatus was a rabid dog, doctrinally, intent on total power. He knew the consequences of every step he took, and he took them deliberately. For instance, rather than defend himself at his trial he took the opportunity of his audience with the secular counsel to attack Calvin and try to turn them against Calvin. He was a mad fool and a dangerous one in the context of the time of war they all existed in.

The Puritan said...

Brad Hart, thanks, and points taken.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And, yes, you are reading those passages from the 20th chapter of book 4 out of context. I specifically mentioned this prior to you quoting them because that is what critics of Calvinism always do.

I think you don't understand the context.

Even if it were true that it's "critics" of Calvin who like to quote those verses of "Institutes," they still might be right. Hence you'd be committing the genetic fallacy. But in any event, it's not just critics of Calvin who quote those verses with this understanding, it's also admirers of Calvin and Calvinists themselves who hold to the more traditional view of Romans 13 which is that you submit to governing authorities (no matter who they are) because they are ordained by God.

Dr. Gregg Frazer, the author of the WorldNetDaily piece to which I linked -- and a prominent evangelical academic -- is no "Calvin critic" but Calvinistic in his own theology as is Dr. John MacArthur the leading expositor of what they feel is Calvin's [and the Bible's] proper understanding of Romans 13 (which is, you submit to government, no matter who it is, even the worst of tyrants).

As Brad noted: We've done our homework here on this blog. That should be apparent from reading these posts.

The Puritan said...

We can't conflate Calvin's belief in respecting the magistrate and prince as having authority from God to rule with something in the realm of a Quaker like non-resistance to violence.

The context is the Anabaptist assaults on secular authority which undermined the cause of the Reformation.

This is why Calvin highlights respect for secular authority and lowlights the necessity of resisting that authority when liberty of conscience is at stake.

And the Bible very much does condone revolt against magistrates and princes. In the very story of Moses and Pharaoh, or Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in Babylon. David is an interesting example himself. Notice he had respect for the anointed King Saul while at the same time he was hardly prostrating himself before the King and giving some kind of obedience unto death.

You're both overstating what Calvin means by respect for magistrates and princes and understating the very fact of
Calvin's biography, Biblical example and warrant, and the Reformation itself.

As for the American Revolution, of course the religious matters were not in the foreground at that point (taxation without representation not being an overtly doctrinal issue). But in that the Revolution consummated and consolidated the founding of America the foundational and myriad elements of the Calvinist spirit within it was first and foremost.

Jonathan Rowe said...

As for the American Revolution, of course the religious matters were not in the foreground at that point (taxation without representation not being an overtly doctrinal issue). But in that the Revolution consummated and consolidated the founding of America the foundational and myriad elements of the Calvinist spirit within it was first and foremost.

Some of the most notable preachers in the New England Congregational Churches were explicit enemies of John Edwards' great awakening and theological Arminians/unitarians and universalists. I'm speaking of men like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Simeon Howard, Samuels Cooper and West.

Their spirit was *not* Calvinism. As theological unitarians arguably, they weren't even "Christians" as the orthodox understand the term. And they were *instrumental* in rallying America to revolt.

The Puritan said...

The Calvinism that is in the foundation of America is the same force and energy that was in Elizabethan England and in the rise of the Dutch nation and elsewhere. It is an influence that is deeper than denominational and doctrinal differences between men and groups. That is more surface, and occurs after the Calvinism has done it's work and had its foundational influence and effect and is in the blood and bones of the nation, so to speak (and it is nothing less than apostolic biblical doctrine unwatered-down, un-negotiated down to the demands of fallen man; and it is a creative, strong force for liberty and civilization and lively culture). When a historian of the stature of George Bancroft says John Calvin is the father of the the United States he is talking about this foundational influence, and is not saying that all men hewed to the doctrines of grace or the Westminster Standards or what have you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If Mr. "The Puritan" claims Mr. Rowe's quotes are out of context, he should be able to supply some Calvin quotes that endorse revolt as an affirmative counterargument. Otherwise I'm not getting much out of this "discussion" except his assertions.

Me, I don't have an opinion on Calvin either way. If you read on page 39 here, one can find interesting quotes either way, including from John Adams and Rousseau.

The Puritan said...

The context is the full chapter 20 of the Institutes, and beyond that I did supply a quote or two.

Those quotes in your link that were saying Calvin was not a force for liberty (etc.) are from people who don't understand Reformed doctrine to begin with and consider it inhuman and illogical and so on. Historians generally don't have a grasp of biblical doctrine at the level of five solas, doctrines of grace, Calvinism.

For instance, they hear 'man has no free will' and they flip out and zoom to all kinds of conclusions not having a clue about the distinction between free agency and free will and so on and so forth. They also freak out regarding predestination and God being sovereign in creation, providence and grace. Etc.

They also buy all the popular myths of the 'tyrant of Geneva' and all the myths about the Puritans and what not. Not to mention a knowledge, let alone understanding, of the Reformation has never been exactly required of secular historians.

Lori Stokes said...

Forty comments on a Puritan posting? Fantastic!

I think it's impossible to say that Calvinism is a foundation stone of the Revolution or its principles.

Like Luther, Calvin believed in the Great Chain of Being, and the supernaturally given right of the higher-ups to govern. Just as Luther was appalled by the Peasants' Rebellion, so Calvin did not support rising up against God-ordained leaders.

The most salient transplantation of Calvin to America was the Puritans' agreement with Calvin that any religiously founded society had to be scrupulously law-abiding. The example of the Kingdom of Munster led Calvin to make sure Geneva followed the law as established in government. The Puritans believed the same; that religion was separate from government in that clergy should not hold office, religious points should not be decided by the legislature, and that decisions taken in non-religious matters (property lines, for example) should not be made on religious bases.

And while no one is a bigger fan of the Reformation than me, no real scholar can claim that those people fought and died for democracy. It simply is not the case. I don't think the record shows very many people at all who died for the principle of religious liberty of conscience. They died and killed for the survival of their own sect's beliefs. Once the Lutherans were accepted, they tried to keep out Calvinists. The Anabaptists didn't want Arminians in their midst, and on and on.

Pinky said...

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It has been a pretty good discussion so far, Lori.
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It appears to me that the analogy of a "foundation" can be carried out to include the idea that the longest lasting foundations are anchored in bed rock.
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If we do that, it looks like the bed rock into which America's Foundations are dug includes forms of Christianity as well as other traditions. But, America's actual Foundation certainly appears to be classical liberalism in the pure sense as defined by Leo Strauss.
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BTW, if Henry Warner Bowden is accepted as a credible source, the first Pilgrims most certainly were Puritans and were followed to America ten years later by the ones that set up the Massachusetts Bay Community.
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Lori Stokes said...

Yes, the Pilgrims were separating Puritans. When Separatism first made headlines in England, the terms "Separating Puritan" and "Nonseparating Puritan" were used, but the non-separators were so against separation that soon the separatists were just known as that, and not as Puritans.

How many times can you say separate!

The Puritan said...

>Like Luther, Calvin believed in the Great Chain of Being, and the supernaturally given right of the higher-ups to govern. Just as Luther was appalled by the Peasants' Rebellion, so Calvin did not support rising up against God-ordained leaders.

Calvin saw the secular realm as being controlled by God's providence, and magistrates and princes as being put there by God's providence, hence... Yet the big caveat (that is underplayed here) is if they demand something that goes against conscience and the Word of God they are to be put in their place, in so many words, in no uncertain terms.

Using the very Elizabethan-sounding Great Chain of Being sounds a wrong note vis-a-vis Calvin and this subject.

Though a very on-the-mark definition of faith is a recognition of chain-of-command, so if you mean it in that sense I follow.

When Jesus said I've never seen such faith in all of Israel both times (the centurion and the poor woman of Samaria) He was reacting to a person who was showing awareness and acceptance of chain-of-command, Jesus of course being at the top of that chain.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dear Mr. "The Puritan":

If you wish to speak of John Calvin, please quote him rather than summarize him. Quote him extensively if you will so you're satisfied no one is "taking him out of context."

We rely on primary sources on this blog, so we can make up our own minds, as summaries tend to be subjective and agenda-driven, even with the most honest of us, meself admittedly included.

I previously linked to a panoply of quotes that rated Calvin either the father of American democracy or a completely rigid religious cementhead. Often the truth lies somewhere in between, but not always.

Please do make your case, as I'm very interested to hear it, or please do content yourself to join our roster of commenters who are satisfied with typing opinions.