Jerome Bolsec (2): Calvin’s Appeal For Help

To encourage that united front and confound Bolsec’s claim for support, the magistrates of Geneva sent a letter to the ministers of Switzerland, late in October, 1551, telling them of Bolsec’s actions and teaching: “He made an attempt, eight months ago, in a public assembly of our church, to overthrow the doctrine of God’s free election, which, as received from the Word of God we teach in common with you. Then, indeed, the impertinence of the man was regulated by some degree of moderation. He ceased not afterwards to make a noise in all places, with the intention of shaking the faith of the simple in this all-important doctrine. At length he openly disgorged what poison was in him” (323).

The Senate, however, according to our request, resolved upon consulting you” (324).

“Although it is of very great importance to us and to the public tranquillity, that the doctrine which we profess should meet with your approval, yet we have no reason to entreat your confidence in many words. The Institutes of our brother Calvin, against which he is especially directing his attacks, is not unknown among you. With what reverence and sobriety he has therein discussed the secret judgments of God, it is not for us to record: the book is its own bright witness. Nor in truth do we teach anything here but what is contained in God’s holy Word, and what has been held by your church ever since the light of the Gospel was restored. That we are justified by faith, we all agree; but the real mercy of God can only be perceived when we learn that faith is the fruit of free adoption, and that, in point of fact, adoption flows from the eternal election of God” (324).

The reactions to Geneva’s appeal for help were disappointing. Publicly Calvin tried to keep his frustration to moderate expressions, but the severity of his sense of betrayal is clear. In his letter to Bullinger (March, 1552) Calvin complained about his reaction to Geneva on the Bolsec matter: “To the letters which I received when already on horseback, I only reply that I had good reason to expostulate, especially to a brother, in a brotherly way. Consider what we expected from you in the troubled state of our affairs. ConSider, also, how contrary to our hopes was the answer you gave us; you may see that we had some cause to grieve. You wonder. because I utter a moderate and gentle complaint, that we were assisted less liberally than we had promised ourselves. However, I make no objection to my letters remaining buried, if they contained anything offensive” (344).

Calvin wrote to Bullinger in January, 1552: “You write that you were astonished why we, annoyed by a vile and impious wretch, should ask your opinion of a doctrine which he was falsely attacking. In this impression you have been greatly mistaken, for when he accused us of holding impious doctrine, we deferred to your judgment out of respect to you. I fail to see why this should annoy you. I certainly did not think you would consider any amount of labour burdensome, which should bring so very great relief to your brethren” (332).

“…nor, in truth, did I propose dictating a formula to you, to which we desire your unqualified assent. It was enough, and more than enough, to have your approval of a doctrine which we held to be found in the Word of God, nor was it our object to discuss it with skill and acuteness; so far from that, the matter, when stripped of all artifice, shows that we wanted nothing more than that by refuting the man’s wicked calumnies, you should bear testimony to our teaching only what was drawn from the pure fountain of God” (332f). Read more»

W. Robert Godfrey | “Calvin, Bolsec, and the Reformation” | 2001