2009 marks the 500th birthday of Jean Cauvin. You may have noticed a lot of buzz around the reformer this year, as evidenced by the stack of new books published on Calvin in 2009. Included in that stack of new releases is one creative historical novel of the life of Calvin, The Betrayal (P&R 2009). The novel is written from the perspective of a (fictional) confidant, turned betrayer of Calvin, named Jean-Louis Mourin. But much of the book’s detail and dialog is taken straight from the letters and sermons of Calvin. The book is well written and the author pulls you into life during the period of the reformation. I hope to have it read by the end of the long weekend.
Today I’ll share an excerpt from the book that provides us a peek into how the reformation affected the average person. When I read this it reminded me of the scenes in the modern Luther movie featuring the young mom with her crippled daughter. Or the scene of the masses praying up the stairs in Rome on their knees. These little snapshots are reminders that the reformation was more than academic kerfuffle over doctrine. The doctrinal debates were vital to the reformation because they made the gospel clear, prioritized the preaching of the Word of God, and sharpened the practices of the church. And these changes directly influenced the lives of commoners. I find my appreciation for the reformation deepens when I am invited into the story to brush shoulders with fellow commoners and to view the reformation changes from their eyes.
An excerpt from The Betrayal:
That evening, with torches burning, Calvin stepped before a peasant band of illiterates, who reeked of the hayfields, of laboring sweat, and of chickens. Standing before a rough stone for a pulpit, opening his Gospels, he read therein to the people. I studied their faces as they listened. For many it must have been the first time they had ever heard and understood the words they were hearing in their own language. Hence, there was wonder glowing in the cheeks of a fair maiden, there were tears of joy in the eyes of an old man, there was hunger and attention on the faces of fathers and mothers and ruddy-cheeked youths.
When he completed his sermon, I observed him—nay, I was drawn into assisting him—as he offered the bread of the Lord’s Supper to these poor folks. Scowling, I rendered up our last loaf into Calvin’s waiting hands, wondering what we would eat that night. He proceeded to break it.
“From the physical things set forth in the sacrament we are led by analogy to spiritual things. This bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, and as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.”
He paused, then continued. “Christ said, ‘This is my body which is given for you.’ All those here who genuinely hope in Christ alone for their eternal salvation, freely take and eat.”
When our last loaf had been mangled by the coarse hands of the attending peasants, and not a crumb remained, Calvin continued.
“When they had eaten, our Lord took up the cup and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant shed for many. Drink all of it.'”
Beckoning me to him, he whispered in my ear for me to bring to him a bottle of wine and a cup. When I had fetched these from our cart and handed these to him, I expected Calvin to do what every priest in Christendom always did: while the peasant masses looked on in thirst, the priest quaffed the wine to the dregs. So it had, in my experience, always been. But not so John Calvin. He did the remarkable, the unthinkable.
Pouring wine into the cup, he held it in both hands and said, “When Christ sets wine before us as a symbol of his blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ’s blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, and gladden our hearts. So Christ, by the mystery of his secret union with the devout, does with his blood for our souls. All you who trust alone in Christ’s blood and imputed righteousness for your salvation, take and drink.”
He extended the cup of wine to the one nearest him. The poor soul stared blankly back at Calvin. Never before in the Roman Mass had the priest so extended the cup to him. Never before had the elements in both kinds been offered to the common man. Not one of them made a move to receive the cup. Wine was for the priests, but here, for the first time in centuries, Calvin was extending the cup of wine to the peasants.
“Take and drink,” he said again. This time he took hold of the man’s hand and placed the cup in it. “Now drink,” he said kindly.
—Douglas Bond, The Betrayal (P&R 2009), pp. 251-253.