Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

The Irenic Calvin

Mark Jones writes a good post on being, for lack of a better phrase, dispositionally irenic, which does not mean joining The Episcopal Church or becoming a Unitarian Universalist, but rather means pursuing truth in charity and unity in the bond of peace. It also means not seeking opportunities for discord and comporting oneself with godliness when such occasions do arise, as they inevitably will.

Calvin gets at something similar when commenting on Psalm 133.1 (“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”). Unity for Calvin must be determined by truth in submission to the Lord, which submission manifests itself primarily in one’s disposition. The willingness to submit all of oneself to God as Lord necessitates as a corollary a humble bearing toward others–indeed, toward all who submit to the truth. The note Calvin strikes here is not so much one of “official” union, but one of harmony and love.

There can at the same time be no doubt that the Holy Ghost is to be viewed as commending in this passage that mutual harmony which should subsist amongst all God’s children, and exhorting us to make every endeavor to maintain it. So long as animosities divide us, and heart­burnings prevail amongst us, we may be brethren no doubt still by common relation to God, but cannot be judged one so long as we present the appearance of a broken and dismembered body. As we are one in God the Father, and in Christ, the union must be ratified amongst us by reciprocal harmony, and fraternal love. Should it so happen in the providence of God, that the Papists should return to that holy concord which they have apostatized from, it would be in such terms as these that we would be called to render thanksgiving unto God, and in the meantime we are bound to receive into our brotherly embraces all such as cheerfully submit themselves to the Lord. We are to set ourselves against those turbulent spirits which the devil will never fail to raise up in the Church, and be sedulous to retain intercourse with such as show a docile and tractable disposition. But we cannot extend this intercourse to those who obstinately persist in error, since the condition of receiving them as brethren would be our renouncing him who is Father of all, and from whom all spiritual relationship takes its rise. The peace which David recommends is such as begins in the true head, and this is quite enough to refute the unfounded charge of schism and division which has been brought against us by the Papists, while we have given abundant evidence of our desire that they would coalesce with us in God’s truth, which is the only bond of holy union.

He makes a similar point in his remarks on 2 Corinthians 13.11 (“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of peace will be with  you”):

Finally, brethren He qualifies whatever there has been of sharpness throughout the whole of the epistle, as he did not wish to leave their minds in an exasperated state, but rather to soothe them. For then only are reproofs beneficial, when they are in a manner seasoned with honey, that the hearer may, if possible, receive them in an agreeable spirit. At the same time, he appears to turn from a few diseased persons to the entire Church. Hence he declares, that he aims at promoting its perfection, and desires its consolation.

To be of one mind, and to live in peace, are expressions which mean two different things; for the one takes its rise from the other. The former relates to agreement of sentiment; thelatter denotes benevolence, and union of hearts.

And the God of peace This he adds, that his exhortation may have more weight with them, but, at the same time, he intimates that God will be with us, if we cultivate peace among ourselves; but that those that are at variance with each other are at a distance from him. For where there are strifes and contentions, there, it is certain, the devil reigns.

Now what agreement is there between light and darkness?
(2 Corinthians 6.14.)

He calls him the God of peace and love, because he has recommended to us peace and love, because he loves them, and is the author of them. Of the kiss here mentioned we have spoken in the two preceding Epistles.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.