Susan Felch

John Calvin at 500: Four Essays
English Calvinism: The Example of Anne Lock by Susan M. Felch

Perhaps it was the sunny skies and moderate temperature that first caught Anne Lock’s attention when she arrived in Geneva on May 8, 1557. Or perhaps it was the sight of John Knox and his wife, Marjorie, welcoming her to the city that, he had told Lock, housed “the most perfect school of Christ.” Or perhaps the thin wail of her baby daughter, also named Anne, made Lock question the decision to leave her comfortable home in London to travel to Calvin’s Geneva with only her daughter, young son and servant Katherine for company.

Calvin sketchIt had been a decision prompted by Mary Tudor’s persecution of outspoken Protestants in England. Anne and her husband, Henry, had taken to traveling outside London to find churches where they could worship in good conscience. But the pressure to conform to Roman Catholic practices was intensifying, as were imprisonments and executions by burning at the stake for those who refused to comply. At the urging of Knox, whom the Locks had hosted when he was a court preacher for King Edward VI, Anne, who was already demonstrating the leadership she would exert among English Protestants, made the arduous journey to Geneva with her small entourage. Henry stayed in London to look after the family business.

Anne Lock found in Geneva a vibrant community of expatriates who, in addition to attending Calvin’s lecture-sermons, had established their own English church, which still meets for worship today. William Whittingham and other leaders were busy translating the Bible, adding verse numbers (an innovation introduced by the Continental reformers), and writing marginal annotations that both clarified the Hebrew and Greek texts and explained Calvinist doctrines. This Geneva Bible, published in 1560, went on to become the most popular translation in both England and America for the next hundred years. (On your next visit to Calvin College, make an appointment at the H. Henry Meeter Center on the fourth floor of Hekman library to see one of the 16th-century Geneva Bibles held in the Rare Book Room.)

Anne Lock’s compatriots in Geneva also wrote a Reformed Form of Worship that differed from the Book of Common Prayer. Following the precedent of Theodore Beza, one of Calvin’s associates, they compiled metrical versions of all 150 Psalms for congregational singing. This songbook, which, after further revisions, became known as the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, was a staple of both corporate and private worship in England for over a hundred years and influenced the famous Bay Psalm Book published in the American colonies. In addition to scripture texts set to music, the Psalter included a set of prose prayers designed for morning and evening family worship, which was used by numerous households. Many Bibles, including some now at the Meeter Center, were bound with a Book of Common Prayer at the front and a Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter at the end. All that was needed for family and corporate worship, as well as private Bible study, thus became available in one handy volume.

The Genevan exiles were happy to return home after Mary Tudor died in November 1558 and was succeeded by her sister, who became Queen Elizabeth I. They brought with them the Geneva Bible, the Genevan Form of Worship, and the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, as well as the determination to reform the English church according to the Calvinist doctrines and practices they had learned. Over the next 80 years, those committed to a Genevan form of Calvinism became known as the Puritans. Although they did not succeed in permanently replacing the Book of Common Prayer with the Form of Worship, they did greatly influence the English church, household piety and the development of English literature with their translations of the Bible and Calvin’s works and their emphasis on biblical paraphrase in both prose and poetic forms.

As for Anne Lock, her homecoming was bittersweet. Baby Anne had died in 1557, just four days after their arrival in Geneva, but Lock roused herself to translate four sermons by Calvin on affliction. In 1560, she published these sermons in England, along with an original set of sonnets on Psalm 51* that urged England to repent of its sins under Mary Tudor and return to God. Lock’s Calvinist writings and her work on behalf of fellow Christians so established her as a force in the reformed wing of the English church that she was publicly commended as an example for Queen Elizabeth herself to emulate. Few accolades could more succinctly demonstrate the influence of Calvin—and Calvinism—in England.  

Susan M. Felch is a Calvin English professor and director of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship.

~~~*Psalm 51 KJV~~~

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.  Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.  O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.  For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Find out more about how the college is marking this milestone.

Other essays about John Calvin:

The Legacy of John Calvin by Karin Maag

Calvin the Lawyer by John Witte Jr. '82

John Calvin's Institutional Thinking by Willam R. Stevenson Jr.