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Title: John Calvin's Writings - Letter 4 Calvin to Farel. Calvin letter, March 16, 1539.
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

The day after I received your letter, the last but one, I set out for Frankfort. I omitted to answer it,
as my journey was entirely unexpected.

Bucer having informed me that he could accomplish nothing concerning the cause of the
brethren, I immediately started for that place, lest their safety should be neglected among the
crowd of business to be transacted. I was also anxious to confer with Melancthon on religion, and
the discipline of the church. The entreaties of Capito and others furnished additional motives, as
did also the pleasure I anticipated in the society of Sturmius and other good men who were to
accompany me. As to the advice in answer to the questions of Sonerius, I solemnly declare, that I
recommended no other union to the brethren, than what is exhibited in the example of Christ,
who did not hesitate to partake of the mysteries of God with the Jews, notwithstanding their
deplorable impiety. They weighed my advice with caution, and were dissatisfied, that I made a
difference between the minister and the people. Of the dispenser of the ordinance, faith and
prudence were required; of the people, that each one examine himself, and prove his own faith.
But this will be easily explained when we have an opportunity of conversing on the subject. The
evident judgments of God against those noxious spirits, who disturb the peace of the church,
afford me some pleasure mingled with my grief, for I see that these scourges were not altogether
unmerited. It is however desirable, that a gracious Providence would, by some means, free his
churches from such polluted members. You say very correctly, that their consciousness of guilt is
accompanied with an anxiety to have every thing buried in the deepest obscurity, lest their own
personal baseness should be detected.

Perplexed with the subterfuges of the wicked, we must labor to the extent of our power, and
leave the event to the infinitely wise management of God. I should be gratified in obliterating
from the memory all those evils, which cannot be remedied without injury to the cause. But it
would be injurious to hide, in the bowels of the church, those bitter animosities, hatreds, and
doctrinal differences, whose virulence would thus be nourished, till ultimately the body would be
covered with infectious ulcers. Evils of this kind must be remedied, when lenient measures fail,
with a reasonable severity. But when the circumstances will admit, a middle way should be
pursued, to restore the dignity of the ministry, to bring back the health of the church, to call into
exercise forbearance for small offenses, and leave no necessity for intermeddling anew with evils
concealed or suppressed. The irritation of some wounds is increased by applications, and their
cure only effected by quietness and neglect. We find this to be the state of things at Frankfort.

From the house of Saxony, the elector, his brother, and his grandson Maurice, are present,
attended by four hundred horsemen. The landgrave was accompanied by the same number. The
duke of Lunenburg arrived with less pomp. Others are present whose names I do not remember.
The other confederates, the king of Denmark and the duke of Prussia, and some others, sent
ambassadors. This is not strange, as it would be hazardous for them to leave their own
dominions, at so great a distance, in the present confused and perilous state of affairs. All were
displeased, that the duke of Wirtemburg, at the distance of only two days’ travel, should prefer
his hunting and other diverting sports, to consulting for the safety of his country, and perhaps of
his head. He apologized indeed by others, that he was not afraid to entrust the whole care to those
whom he knew to be greatly interested in the issue of the business. Men of the first distinction
were delegates from the cities.

In the first session, war was decreed by a unanimous suffrage of the assembly. At this time, two
electors, the count palatine, and Joachim of Brandenburg, with the Spanish ambassador, Vesalis,
the bishop of Lunden, came into the convention. The first opened the mandate of the emperor,
which authorized them to make peace, or agree upon a truce with us, on such conditions as they
should judge best. With labored harangues, and accumulated arguments, they endeavored to
persuade us to yield to terms of pacification. The point which they urged most strenuously, and
on which they felt our influence most sensibly, was, that the Grand Turk would prosecute his
warlike measures with more rigor, in proportion as he saw Germany distracted with intestine
wars: that having possessed himself of Wallachia, he held by treaty from the Poles, the right of a
free passage through their dominions, and of course he was now threatening the territories of the
emperor with invasion. They moved us to draw up the conditions of a peace; and if this could not
be effected, they were anxious that a truce should be established. We made no question of their
sincerity and good faith. For Joachim was favorable to the cause of the gospel, and the palatine
was by no means unfriendly to its success. But as our confidence did not repose with ease on he
mandates of Vesalis the Spaniard, we preferred that the affair should be arranged by the electors,
who exercised the supreme authority in the empire. This was opposed by the elector of Saxony,
who, for various reasons, entertained an implacable aversion to the elector of Mentz, and who,
being uncle to Joachim, dared not consent to an assembly from which his relative was excluded.
Our advocates, therefore, Liter stating the injuries they had received, and the causes which had
forced them, unwillingly, into a war, proposed the conditions of peace. These conditions asserted
the right of government over their own churches, the authority of appointing their own ministers,
and of securing to those who united with them the privileges of their league. After these articles
were presented, we left Frankfort. Bucer has since informed me, that the two imperial electors
granted us something more than the Spaniard was willing to sanction. The reason of this arose
from the necessity the emperor was under, of courting the assistance of the papists against the
Turks, as well as ours; so he endeavored to please both parties without giving offense to either.
At the close, he required that, when the present state of affairs should changed, the learned and
pious, who were disposed for union should assemble and agree upon the articles of religion who
were now in controversy; and that the whole business shall then be referred to a Diet of the
empire, in which all the controversies of the several branches of the German reformed churches
should be closed.

This ambassador proposed, for the arrangement of these matters, a truce for one year. Our
members are not satisfied with the shortness of the time, nor the uncertainty of the issue. Every
thing thus remains in suspense; and unless the emperor makes further proposals, the continuance
of war seems inevitable.

The petition from Henry VIII requested that ambassador, accompanied by Philip Melancthon,
should be sent to assist in the more secure and correct establishment of the English church. The
princes had no hesitation about sending an ambassador; but were unwilling to send Melancthon,
suspecting that he was too yielding and irresolute. He is, however, neither ignorant nor
dissembling in the which he forms; and he even solemnly affirmed to me that their fears were

I believe I know him perfectly; and I should confidently trust him as Bucer, when he has to
manage with men who wish to secure to themselves ample room for the indulgence of their vices.
Bucer is so zealous in spreading the gospel, that, contented with conformity to the principal
points, he too carelessly gives up those smaller ones, which may have an extensive influence in
their consequences. Henry himself is, in fact, but half instructed. He prohibits the marriage of
bishops and priests, under the severe penalty of being deprived of the power and privileges of
their office; retains the daily masses; would preserve the seven sacraments; and thus have a
gospel mutilated and dismembered, and a church filled with many vanities. He moreover
manifests the established mark of a weak head, by refusing the translation of the Scriptures into
the vulgar tongue, and proceeding to prohibit, by a new edict, the reading of them by the
common people. And to put the matter beyond a question, that he is not in jest, he has, to the
grief of all the pious, lately caused an honest and learned man to be burnt at the stake for denying
the real presence of the flesh of Christ in the sacramental bread.

The princes of the empire, though generally incensed such cruelties, will not relinquish the
embassy, out of regard to the cause of religion, and its progress and security in that kingdom. The
death of the son of prince George, who had been confined on account of insanity, took place
while the Convention was sitting at Frankfort. His successor will doubtless be Maurice, whom I
named among the confederates; and of course the possessions will be soon added to support the
little flock of Christ. So uncertain are the events which may change extensively the present face
of affairs. Our confidence is in God, and our duty is to pray fervently, that he would grant a
favorable issue to the present confused and perplexed state of things. My success in the cause of
the brethren, and the subjects of my conference with Philip, you will learn more minutely from

My letter is unfinished, but the messenger will not tarry. Farewell, beloved brother. Salute
Thomas and all the brethren from me. Capito and Sturmius salute you. Yours, etc.


March 16, 1539.