Scholarly Attitude

I shouldn’t enjoy it as much as I do, but I love when I can spot a scholar’s dislike of a historical personage—it shows their humanity. Perhaps the pretense of neutrality is what makes us academics so vitriolic when writing in nonacademic settings. FINALLY WE CAN LASH OUT.

Here’s what Susan Karant-Nunn has to say about Calvin:

“Calvin’s expatiation on Christ’s suffering is almost nil. Having, we assume, read the scriptural text aloud, he then refers to it almost obliquely, as a springboard for his remarks on Christians’ moral condition, which is poor.”

It’s veiled, but it’s there–the not-quite-scholarly use of “nil,” the sarcastic rhythm, the clipped end of the second sentence.

“The emotional trajectory of these Passion sermons is then upward; the congregation is taken from the horror and depths of its corruption to, in conclusion, the possibility of reconciliation with the Heavenly Father. Perhaps the series should have ended on this note.”

So delightfully dry! Why, you ask, should it have ended on this note?

“But in the final sermon, on the Resurrection, Calvin remarks on the fact that the women who went to Christ’s tomb preceded the disciples in hearing the astonishing news. In telling about the Resurrection first to women, who are by nature weak, ignorant, and infirm, God wanted to demonstrate ‘the humbleness of our faith.’ The men, normally elevated and designated to engage in public transactions, deserved punishment, in any case, for having abandoned their master. But God accepts the service even of the weak–he is referring here to the women.”

How about this?

“Unquestionably, Calvin adheres to the doctrine of the atonement; it is central to his conception of salvation for worthless humankind. Yet, so important is it to him to impress his charges with their worthlessness that he resorts to the emotive vocabulary of shaming and condemnation. His language is extreme, and it is designed to break down any lingering sense of self-worth and self-reliance in those around him. His initial stress is upon the nullity of human self-esteem. He proffers the atonement only secondarily, after he has rhetorically (he hopes) reduced his audience to the verminous level to which he repeatedly assigns it.”

Whew. (Also, incredibly effective as a piece of persuasion; I had no particular feelings about Calvin before, but I like Calvin him a lot less after reading this.)

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