The Perpetual Forge

On the 27th May 1564 the French theologian and pastor John Calvin died. He was a man who remained deeply committed to his religious and humanitarian vision. He maintained his beliefs in spite of being lambasted by the Catholic hierarchy of his native France. His legacy endures in the philosophy that he inspired, Calvinism.

Calvinism is a distinctly Protestant Christian ideology which maintains that all mortals are sinners and only God can judge them in their last days. This belief continues to be at odds with predominantly Catholic nations which state that the clergy are specially endowed to judge the congregation, and they have the unique power to absolve all mortal sin. One central tenet to Catholic dogma is that the Pope is infallible.

Calvin was exiled to Geneva along with his congregants who were also French Protestants seeking asylum. Calvin railed against idolatry, including what he perceived as the shameful God-like status that was bestowed upon priests. Priests were after all mortal men with flaws like every other human on Earth.

Calvin spent his later years in Geneva preaching and writing, before he succumbed to fever and died. His example in his life and work emphasises that humility is preferable to self-righteousness and that whatever ill fortune befalls us in our earthly life, there is a guarantee that the life hereafter will eventually release us from our suffering. Many Calvinists also emphasise the dignity of hard work for its own sake, not for any personal glory or material acquisition.

Unfortunately the modern world is increasingly secular and centred upon human perfection. It has even imbued into our politics, where our representatives are revered, in what Calvin prophetically termed “the perpetual forge of idols”. We have forgotten that sickness, poverty and misery have always been a blight upon humanity throughout history and no politician has ever been able to solve these perennial curses. In fact it is impossible.

Katherine Anne Porter put this notion across powerfully and succinctly in her short story “Old Mortality”,

“There was then a life beyond a life in this world, as well as in the next…the nobility of human feeling, the divinity of man`s vision of the unseen, the importance of life and death, the depths of the human heart and the romantic value of tragedy”.

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