Friday, July 10, 2009

The Accusative Case

Among the stories told of John Calvin, it is often stated, by his friends and enemies, that in his youth, as a student, he was nicknamed accusativus, or, The Accusative Case, for his severe censoriousness of others' morals. In fact, to set the record straight, it was not a contemporary label for him but one that was first employed a century later by a hostile biographer (see in particular the research of Abel Lefranc, La Jeunesse de Calvin; and Emilé Doumergue, Jean Calvin, Vol. 1, pp. 73-75).

John Thomas McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, pp. 98-99:

The College de Montaigu proved, indeed, a suitable nursery for Calvin's mind. It is usual to suggest that he was at this stage an unsocial being, austere and harshly critical and condemnatory of his fellow students. The statement is attributed his opponent, Francois Baudouin, that as an undergraduate Calvin was commonly called 'the accusative case.' Actually Baudouin wrote nothing to this effect. The statement apparently originated with another hostile writer, Lavasseur [Jacques Le Vasseur], more than a century later (1633). It has been gleefully repeated as history many times, even since the facts were exposed by Emile Doumergue. It is an example of how misstatements gain credence. Actually what it probably rests upon is a remark by Baudouin that Calvin's cousin, Olivétan, was nicknamed 'the ablative case' because of his eagerness to 'throw off' his academic gown after lecture. Beza, however, in his Life of Calvin states that as a student Calvin was a censor of the vices of his fellows, and we may well believe this. Perhaps what Gregory the Great said of St. Benedict might truly be said of Calvin also: 'From his younger years he carried always the mind of an old man.' He gave an impression not only of studiousness but of maturity.

But there is no evidence that young Calvin was uncompanionable: much, indeed, to the contrary. He maintained good relations with his former schoolfellows of the de Heangest familes, with three of whom, and their tutor, he had come to Paris. He was closely associated with his scholarly cousin, Pierre Robert Olivier (Olivétan), three years his senior, whom he had known also in Noyon. He became a welcome guest in the homes of two of the greatest men of the university, Guillaume Cop, a medical scholar and the king's physician, and Guillaume Budé, the most learned Hellenist of France and the most effective liberal opponent of Beza. Calvin formed close ties with the sons of both these distinguished men, and later both families were represented among French religious refugees to Geneva. Through his influence a number of the de Hangest family also later became Protestants; but not his best companion among them, Claude. All the facts belie the picture of young Calvin as morose. It would be difficult, indeed, to discover a teen-age student of his time who attracted so many choice friends. The fact that his friends were not of the rank and file, and that they were all older than he, has no doubt some significance. We may suppose that as a student he felt no attraction toward intellectual mediocrity.

No comments:

Post a Comment