April 30, 2003
From the Heart
EDITOR'S UPDATE: Read the introduction to the conference by Calvin professor Jim Bratt.
William Spoelhof is well-known as the longest-serving president in the history of Calvin College, having led the institution from 1951-1976. Included in his tenure was leading a visionary move to Calvin's current 400-acre campus at the corner of Burton and the East Beltline in Grand Rapids.
But Spoelhof is not as well-known for his work as a historian. And that's something colleagues at Calvin, and other academic institutions, want to change. So, this week, on May 1 and 2, they will host a conference on the subject of Spoelhof's dissertation: religious non-conformity and tolerance in the Netherlands in the late 1300s and into the 1400s.
The conference is called "From the Heart" and will feature lectures on late medieval devotion "in honor of William Spoelhof." The title, "From the Heart," plays on both Calvin's hand-in-heart seal and the affection the conference organizers and presenters have for Spoelhof.
Says Calvin art historian Henry Luttikhuizen, one of the conference organizers: "William Spoelhof sacrificed a promising career as a historian to serve the college as its president. With this conference we want to pay tribute to what might have been and also what did become. Although he himself did not have that academic career he expected, his dissertation has contributed to historical understanding of such things as the Reformation and humanism."
Luttikhuizen says that "the theological ideas of Martin Luther and John Calvin did not simply drop from the sky nor were they entirely contrary to late medieval notions of religious faith and practice." The "Devotio moderna," that Spoelhof studied and wrote about, paved the way for the Reformation, especially in the Netherlands.
"Its members," says Luttikhuizen, "translated Scripture into the Dutch language and actively promoted Christian ethics based on humility, modesty, contempt for the world and purity of the heart. Thomas à Kempis of the Devotio moderna wrote the Imitatio Christi, one of the most popular devotional texts ever published. Erasmus was educated in one of the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life. In fact, it is difficult to understand Dutch Calvinism without the Devotio moderna. It has deeply affected Reformed piety, perhaps even as much as John Calvin has. Consequently it is crucial for students at Calvin College, and for that matter, the Reformed community as a whole, to learn more about this late medieval religious movement."
Conference presenters will represent such institutions as Notre Dame, Northwestern University, the University of Groningen, the University of Leiden, the University of Chicago Divinity School and Calvin.
All lectures are scheduled to be held in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall and are free and open to all.