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Calvin-Hobbes

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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13 comments

  1. I’m not very visual – Is that Calvin followed by Arminius who’s about to get a spike through the sole of his shoe, which has already been damaged in the same place?

  2. “Few historians know of the heartwarming friendship between French Reformation theologian John Calvin and English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the latter of whom may or may not have been real, considering he was not even born yet.”

  3. Talking of Hobbes, how many Heidelblog aficionados have read that ancient fake Bunyan book “The World to Come: or, Visions of Heaven and Hell” and the scene involving Hobbes (There are a number of links to it. Here is one: http://divinerevelationsministries.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/visions-of-heaven-and-hell-by-john.html ” )?
    Actually, better to read Bunyan’s (genuine) “A Few Sighs From Hell” ( http://www.chapellibrary.org/johnbunyan/text/bun-sighs.pdf ).

  4. I’m fresh from a full reading of Hobbes’s “Leviathan.” Quite a remarkable and bold work, starting by building entirely upon sense experience. The chaos of the English Civil War must really have made a powerful impression upon him, for him to endorse complete sovereign power in the state (whether that be a monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy)!

    Of interest to us is that Hobbes cited Beza in a not entirely disapproving manner a few times in his section on how to run a Christian Commonwealth (which takes up almost half the book). He doesn’t mention Calvin, though.

    Definitely meat for some interesting HT….he interprets Scripture rather materialistically (within his larger framework of sense experience) and does away with a lot of the supernatural stuff.

    • Hey Dan,

      Hobbes is fascinating. He’s coming back into vogue, in some circles. Ironic since life looks more like a Hobbesian state of nature (or at least potentially so) all the time. Here’s my response to the proposal to go back to Hobbes.

    • I was particularly struck by how nuanced some of Hobbes’s philosophy was. As usual, it seems that many people have overly simplified his views. Hobbes does believe in several “laws of nature,” which are however discovered entirely through sense experience and are not transcendent. In many ways, he is a foil to Descartes, who sought to reduce everything to intuitional reasoning.

      For Hobbes, because our desires, controlled by our senses, continually conflict with those of others (leading to the anarchic chaos that makes life “nasty, brutish, and short”), that’s why we make the social contract to give all power up to the sovereign authority.

      I get the feeling that Hobbes sincerely believed that a strong central authority, normatively speaking, was the best solution to keep things in control. He said that even if the government was corrupt, it was still better than having chaos. In fact, Hobbes does say that if the sovereign authority chooses, he (or they) can delegate power to others and leave a wide leeway for how things can be run; but everything is always run under absolute authority and can be changed at any time. For example, Hobbes (being an Erastian) said that the ruler had the authority and the power to fulfill church offices, but since he had many other duties to perform, it served him best to delegate this power to pastors and ministers who were under his authority.

      I’m not supporting Hobbes at all (his main presuppositions are so way off the mark!), but I wanted to look at him as sympathetically as I could, so that I can understand better where he’s coming from. No doubt the terrible experiences of that time period had a vivid influence upon him, and many other people I’m sure. It really warns us about how we need to be careful in how we allow the times we live in to affect our understanding of things.

  5. They’re sure the cartoon character Calvin is named after John Calvin and not Melvin Calvin (for whom I had more time in my undergraduate days)? I think the latter’s religious views would be more in accord with Hobbes’s.

    • Calvin: Calvin is named for a sixteenth-century theologian who believed in predestination. Most people assume that Calvin is based on a son of mine, or based on detailed memories of my own childhood. In fact, I don’t have children, and I was a fairly quiet, obedient kid–almost Calvin’s opposite. One of the reasons that Calvin’s character is fun to write is that I often don’t agree with him.

      Calvin is autobiographical in the sense that he thinks about the same issues I do, but in this, Calvin reflects my adulthood more than my childhood. Many of Calvin’s struggles are metaphors for my own. I suspect that most of us get old without growing up, and that inside every adult (sometimes not very far inside) is a bratty kid who wants everything his own way. I sue Calvin as an outlet for my immaturity, as a way to keep myself curious about the natural world, as a way to ridicule my own obsessions, and as a way to comment on human nature. I wouldn’t want Calvin in my house, but on paper, he helps me sort through my life and understand it.

      Hobbes: Named after a seventeenth-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature,…”

      –Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, 1995, pp.21-22.

  6. Thanks, Bruce – I didn’t realize he’d actually told us.
    The other major scientific figure in photosynthesis was Daniel Arnon (a name found, not in Reformation history this time, but in the Bible). By the accounts I heard, they hated each others’ guts (They might have been made friends à la Luke 23:12 if they’d had a creationist to crucify – However, I don’t think there were any well known creationist biochemists around at the time – the nearest thing to one of that generation, the organic chemist and pharmacologist A. E. Wilder Smith hadn’t yet stuck his neck out).

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