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Teachings of John Calvin on Marriage and Family

Calvin made marriage and divorce, children's welfare, and sexual sin matters of both church and state, and many of the reforms that he and others initiated - new rights and duties for wives in the bedroom, fault-based divorce on grounds of adultery and desertion, protection for impoverished widows, and more have made their way into civil and common law traditions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Like Luther, Calvin held a high view of marriage, seeing it as "a good and holy ordinance from God."  It was not, however, a sacrament any more than farming, building, or barbering, which were also ordinances, "for it is required that a sacrament be not only a work of God but an outward ceremony appointed by God to confirm a promise. Even children can discern that there is no such thing in marriage." He scorned the Roman Catholic basis for sacramentalizing marriage by translating "mystery" in Eph 5:32 as "sacrament," concluding that Catholics were either deceived by the meaning of the Latin word or else ignorant of the
Greek language.  At the same time, he insisted that marriage was instituted by God as a perpetual law in force until the end of the world. Any rupture of that law has its origin in the depravity of humanity.

For believers, marriage is an indissoluble bond, and spouses connected by marriage no longer have the freedom to change their mind and go off elsewhere. If they find it impossible to live with each other, they are bound nonetheless and may not take a new spouse. On the other hand, if an unbeliever wishes to divorce a spouse on account of religion, the believer is no longer under marital obligation. In such a case, "the unbelieving party makes a divorce with God rather than with her partner."

Like Luther, Calvin saw adultery as the one cause for divorce in Jesus' teachings. As far as he was concerned, the Old Testament penalty for adultery should be enforced, making divorce unnecessary, but "the wicked forbearance of magistrates makes it necessary for husbands to put away unchaste wives, because adulterers are not punished." Divorce under such circumstances gives the innocent party freedom to remarry, for Jesus' condemnation of remarriage as adultery applied undoubtedly only to "unlawful and frivolous divorces."

Although Calvin was very conservative in his theological view of divorce, like Luther his practice was more liberal. His "Ecclesiastical Ordinances," adopted by the Little and Large Councils of 1561, allowed three grounds for divorce and remarriage other than adultery: impotence, extreme religious incompatibility, and abandonment.

John Calvin Marriage and Family Life

John Calvin sought marriage to affirm his approval of marriage over celibacy. Like Luther he disapproved both of celibate priests and of the institution of monasticism. He asked friends to help him find a woman who was "modest, obliging, not haughty, not extravagant, patient, and solicitous for my health."
His marriage. In 1539, he married Idelette de Bure, a widow of a converted Anabaptist in Strasbourg. Idelette had a son and daughter from the previous marriage. Calvin had a family life. Only the daughter moved with her to Geneva. In 1542, the Calvins had a son who died after only two weeks. Idelette Calvin died in 1549. Calvin wrote that she was a helper in ministry, never stood in his way, never troubled him about her children, and had a greatness of spirit. They appear to have enjoyed a warm relationship and a happy marriage. He grieved her death, revealing a depth of emotion that many depictions of him fail to notice. He wrote to Farel that he was all but overwhelmed with grief (Schaff, 92). He chided Catholic priests for pretending to be celibate while providing “for themselves while they can” and he described Rome as “a fetid and abominable brothel” (cited in Bouwsma, 60). However, such sexual misdemeanors were actually excusable, since celibacy was contrary to nature in the first place.
Read more at: John Calvin

John Calvin and the Institutes of the Christian Religion

Published first in 1536, the Institutes of the Christian Religion is John Calvin's magnum opus. Extremely important for the Protestant Reformation, the Institutes has remained important for Protestant theology for almost five centuries. Written to "aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation," the Institutes, which follows the ordering of the Apostle's Creed, has four parts. The first part examines God the Father; the second part, the Son; the third part, the Holy Spirit; and the fourth part, the Church. Through these four parts, it explores both "knowledge of God" and "knowledge of ourselves" with profound theological insight, challenging and informing all the while. Thus, for either the recent convert or the long-time believer, for the inquisitive beginner or the serious scholar, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is a rewarding book worthy of study!
Read more at: Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin
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