The Betrayal

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.

6 thoughts on “The Betrayal

  1. I’d like to make two comments, if I may:

    1. I think if the author, Bond, Douglas Bond, had dug a little deeper, he would have discovered that Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper does not promote such a bare memorial approach to the sacrament, but rather an approach that emphasizes the mysterious participation of the believer in the real/true (if not local) presence of the body and blood of the risen Lord through the elements. It is not merely an intellectual exercise (i.e. “we must reflect on the benefits”). It is a mysterious participation in the Lord himself via the elements.

    2. Of course, communion in both kinds predated Calvin, and the knowledge of Luther’s reforms travelled like wildfire thoughout Europe, especially after his *Bablylonian Captivity of the Church* in 1520. Perhaps Bond is just mistating himself here: “Never before had the elements in both kinds been offered to the common man.”

    I’m off to sample some local ales.

    Viva la Reformacion!


  2. I am reading The Betrayal right now as well. I am about a third of the way through and have not yet come to the passage you quote. However, only now is the book becoming interesting. The book is written in the first person from the point of view of Jean-Louis Mourin, a man of Calvin’s age who becomes his attendant. His bitterness over class envy is almost too much to stomach. It has made it a hard book to read because of that.

  3. Thanks Tom. And happy 4th to you as well, my friend. … Good points all in comment #1 although can it not be expected that Luther’s reforms may not have been felt by a large segment of the population until the time of Calvin? Also I’d love to know if you have read anything that depicts the reformation’s impact upon the life of the common worshiper. T

  4. Dear Brother,

    Yes, I think (possibly) you’re right about number two, and that Bond may be writing from the individual’s perspective who has not become aware of Luther’s “innovations”. The trouble comes in with the narrative voice. If the shock and surpise belong to the narrator, then we have a problem, for if he is both literate and learned (I haven’t read it–I don’t know), he would most likely be well aware of the shocking elements of Luther’s sacramental doctrine. However, if the narrator is conveying the thoughts of the peasant (which I think is problematic from a literary point of view), then, yes, you’re right.

    Luther’s teachings had reached far into France by Calvin’s early years (and across Europe), but you’re absolutely right, it’s feasible that a given “peasant band” might be completely ignorant of Luther’s sacramental reform. Good on you for pointing that out Tony.

    But now that I look at the passage again, it seems that it is the narrator/attendant who is shocked by Calvin’s offering the Lord’s Supper in two kinds: “I expected Calvin to do what every priest in Christendom always did…he did the unthinkable”. Because I don’t know the socio-economic background of the attendant, it’s hard for me to say whether or not he could have been shielded from Luther’s ideas. If however, he had any association with the church or university, I highly doubt that he could be ignorant of what had been happening in Europe–with respect to the Lord’s Supper–for nearly 20 years.

    Even in the uneducated classes, the transmission of Luther’s ideas across Europe was profound, thanks to the distribution of illustrated pamphets. Hooray for pictures. It makes one wonder why most of our churches are stripped of any visual depictions of the Gospel and the Scriptures (save the cross). I would like a stained glass window with a picture of St. Peter reaching out to Jesus, or of Elisha striking the waters. My wife worked in a church where the likenesses of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were carved into the pulpit. Praise the Lord for pictures. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

    Steven Ozment is superb on blending intellectual and social history, and has written widely on the reformation in the “common” spheres. I would particulary recommend, *The Reformation in the Cities: The Appeal of Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland* by Steven Ozment. It’s not bed-time reading, by any means, but Ozment is a terrific reformation scholar.

    6 shots of espresso eh? Is that in a Venti cup? When I brew at home, I usually start with a pint of the deep black in the morning. And then a pint of tan in the even.

    The grace of the Lord Jesus, The love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.

    P.S. Do you listen to Sigur Ros? They’re an icelandic band, and very pagan. But boy, some beautiful stuff. I am, admittedly, of Viking descent, but I trust that hasn’t obsured my judgment:

  5. Tom, I’ll check out Ozment. Thanks for the recommendation.

    And yes, I do like SR–listening now. Do you like El Ten Eleven or Magwai? Good stuff.


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