Laughter, wine and... Calvin?

Laughter, wine and... Calvin?

By Stephen Brown
20 Nov 2008

The 16th-century Reformation figure Jean Calvin is often portrayed as a stern Protestant but an exhibition in Geneva of selected passages from his writings shows a dimension of the reformer that many people do not know.

The exhibition features Calvin texts displayed as 13 calligraphy drawings created by artist Bridget Dommen of Geneva. One of the texts reads, "It is nowhere forbidden to laugh or to eat one's fill or gain new possessions or enjoy oneself with musical instruments or drink wine."

The exhibition is part of a series of events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant leader's birth in 2009. It is sponsored by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which traces its roots to the Reformation led by Calvin and others.

"If you read what comes right after that quotation you will find that Calvin warns against over consumption and greed but the words about enjoying life have been said," noted the Rev. Douwe Visser of WARC's Office for Theology and Ecumenical Engagement, at the opening of the exhibition on 17 November.

Another text displayed at the exhibition reads, "One can recognise a just and well regulated government: it will do justice to the afflicted and needy."

Visser said, "As an isolated text it could just be seen as a political statement but one should read it in its context, a commentary on Psalm 82, where Calvin speaks about being guilty before God, an awareness which could maybe have helped to prevent something like today's credit crisis."

Twelve of Dommen's calligraphy drawings are also found in a special calendar for 2009 produced by the John Knox International Reformed Center to mark Calvin's birth.

Dommen told Ecumenical News International that doing the calligraphy had help change her view of Calvin. "Every single one of these quotes really inspires me," she said. "I only knew of Calvin as a killjoy."

The Protestant reformer, often known in the anglophone world as John Calvin, was born on 10 July 1509 in Noyon, northern France. He is known worldwide for his role in the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, a once independent city-state which became part of Switzerland in 1815.

Said Visser, "The words of Jean Calvin are a source of inspiration even more than we sometimes recognise ourselves."

[With thanks to Ecumenical News International - www.eni.ch]

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