Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

H. Henry Meeter Center: Specializing in John Calvin, Calvinism, the Reformation, and Early Modern Studies

 

John Calvin's 503rd Birthday Party (2012)

"Bonjour, Mesdames et Monsieurs!  Merci.  With your presence here today you honor me beyond my deserving and at the perilous risk of my own sanctification.  I am torn between the necessity of gratitude and the dangerous vice of pride as I speak to you who are part of a community of scholars in this illustrious institution named after me.   But, God is merciful.

I observe that Anno domini 2012 is a very political year for your nation.  It has always intrigued me that my own birthday comes between anniversaries of the two defining revolutions of your modern era: Bastille Day on July 14 (le quatorze juillet) and Independence Day on July 4.  Since, as I trust you know, I consider “civil authority to be a calling, not only high and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal man,” I judge this to be providentially fitting.

The two days however celebrate events quite unalike.  My countrymen, to their eternal shame, made a revolution by way of a mob and I share my spiritual son Abraham Kuyper’s abhorrence of the events of 1789.  When I concluded my Institutes with the bold cry, “Audiant principes, et terreantur” (“Let the princes hear and be afraid”), I meant that they should fear God, not mobs.  With my son Abraham, however, I do approve of your Declaration of Independence from that tyrant George III of England.  It is not that the Bourbon Louis XVI (to say nothing of his cake-eating Jezebel of a wife) was any less of a tyrant than the Hanover George was.  No, the difference is that unlike the bloodthirsty sans-cu-lottes who despised and trampled on all authority, your founders were populares magistratus who defended the people’s liberty and founded a great new republic of laws and liberty.  Incidentally, I also observe that this is the year that the current monarch who occupies the British throne celebrates her Diamond Jubilee.  Unlike George III, she appears to me to be a very nice person.  She would fit in well in West Michigan.

The mention of Queen Elizabeth II reminds me that your neighbor to the great north also celebrates a July birthday on the first day of the month.   I confess to some vexation here.  The Dominion of Canada was birthed on July 1, 1867.  One of the Fathers of Confederation, Sir Leonard Tilley, captured the vision of the new nation by turning to the Holy Scriptures and the seventy-second Psalm, the eighth verse—“He will have dominion from sea to sea”—and the national birthday was called “Dominion Day.”   Christ shall have dominion ad mari usque ad mare (“from sea to sea”); this was Canada’s national motto and I, Jean Cauvin, rejoiced to see such a day.   Alas, Canada’s Parliament changed the name to the bland and bloodless “Canada Day” thirty years ago this year. You ask, “how can this be?” wondering if Christ no longer exercises his rule in Canada?  It seems unbelievable.  C’est malheureux à dire, mais . . .  (“It is sad to say, but . . .) it is true-deau. Vraiment!

What I most heartily approve, and for which I give thanks to God, is the orderly manner in which your nation transfers power in response to the wishes of the people—without conflict or bloodshed.  C’est magnifique!  In closing, I congratulate you—who work in the school named after me—for the orderly transition that has just taken place here and my parting salutation for you is:  vive le roi!"