John Calvin's 494th Birthday Party (2003)
Two minute birthday speech
to all of you to the celebration of John Calvin’s 494th birthday!
We were sitting together at breakfast this morning, and I reminded John
(like a good wife) that he
had to come and give the two minute lecture…but he
really wanted to go over one of his commentaries this morning (you know how these scholars are) and so I suggested I come instead! My name is Idelette, and I am John Calvin’s wife.
Now I am not a theologian, and I am not a scholar, so I thought I’d
tell you a bit about what it’s like to be married
in the 16th century, and what it’s like to be John’s wife.
Let’s make a deal: I’ll tell you some stories, but promise
me you won’t tell him I told you—otherwise I might get in
a bit of trouble when I get home.
You see, John felt he should get married,
because Protestant pastors were all getting married one after the other…and
I guess he didn’t want to be left out. But he
was sort of shy, and not used to courting, so he asked
some of his friends to help him out. Here’s the description John sent to one of his friends about the ideal wife: “Remember what I’m looking for. I am not one of these
crazy romantic fools, who once they are snared by a woman’s beauty, even cherish her faults. The only
beauty I am looking for is that of a woman who is chaste, thoughtful, modest, thrifty, patient, and one whom I can finally hope will look after my health.” Not surprisingly,
John found few takers. He did get some offers, including
one from a family who was very keen to have him marry
their sister. Unfortunately, however, he declined because
he spoke only French and she spoke only German…and he thought a marriage without a common language would not work too well.
Finally, John and I met: I was a widow then, and had two young children. We were married in Strasbourg, and although we didn’t really have a honeymoon, we still had a good time, until something happened…as Calvin wrote to one of his colleagues, “The Lord has restrained our joy, for fear that our marriage would be too happy”…you see, we had both come down with the stomach flu. I’m not sure whether I agree with John that we got sick because we were in danger of being too happy…in any event, today is a day to be happy. We have cake, we have that strange beverage compound of lemonade and watermelon that you drink in summertime on this campus (in Geneva we always drank good wine) and we have friends to celebrate with. So please join me in singing happy birthday to John!