An Unlikely Women’s History Celebrant

john-calvinI suspect the renown Reformation pastor John Calvin is one of the last men anyone would expect to show up during Women’s History Month—at least in a favorable way.

This is where the capability of church historians (I’m thinking of one church historian in particular) to dig up unexpected revelations rivals the twenty-first century press and never ceases to amaze me.

Out of the blue, Frank sent me the following quote from a letter, dated 16 September 1557, that Calvin penned to Protestant women who were imprisoned for their faith in Paris.

Mademoiselle Phillippe de Luns, a noble woman, was one of the Paris women. Calvin’s bracing letter of ezer-warrior encouragement didn’t arrive a day too soon. She was burned at the stake on 27 September 1557.

John Calvin’s detractors should probably sit down before reading.

Since we have a common salvation in [Jesus Christ], it is necessary that all with one accord, men as well as women, should maintain His cause. . . . For he who marshals us to battle, arms and shields us at the same time with necessary weapons and gives us dexterity in wielding them . . .

He has shed His Spirit on all flesh and caused to prophesy sons and daughters, as he had foretold by his prophet Joel, which is evidently a sign that He communicates in like manner His other necessary graces, and leaves neither his sons nor daughters, men nor women, destitute of the gifts proper for maintaining His glory. . . .

Consider what was the courage and constancy of women at the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; when the apostles had forsaken him, how they continued by Him with marvelous constancy and how a woman was the messenger to announce to the apostles His resurrection, which the latter could neither believe nor comprehend.

If He then, so honored women, and endowed them with so much courage, do you think He has less power now or that His purposes are changed? How many thousands of women have there been who have spared neither their blood nor their lives to maintain the name of Jesus Christ and announce His reign? Has not God caused their martyrdom to bear fruit? Has their faith not obtained the victory over the world as well as that of martyrs? … and have we not still before our eyes examples of how God works daily by their testimony and confounds his enemies . . .


Source: Bonnet CCCCLXXVI, #2716 in OC 16: 632-34. Cited in Elsie Anne McKee, Editor and Translator, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, Classics of Western Spirituality (NY: Paulest Press, 2001), 329-330.

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6 Responses to An Unlikely Women’s History Celebrant

  1. Frank says:

    I am glad to learn that, despite his reputation, Calvin had a regard for women who, even if it meant death, stood firm in their testimony to Christ and his Gospel. However, in the fifth line of his quoted letter, there is a spelling error; shouldn’t the phrase “the same of Jesus Crhist” read “the name of Jesus Christ”?

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  2. Jen Allard says:

    you should never throw the baby out with the bath water! Amazing word of encouragement as we continue the journey. Thanks so much for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reminds me of a comment made by a pastor friend of mine, who had a lot of “bathwater” thinking re women and was beginning to think things through and throw some of it out: “You gotta give me room to grow.”

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  3. Pete says:

    Good!

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  4. Sarah says:

    Didn’t Calvin also believed that and educated man needed an educated wife and had schools for girls??

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