IVP - Addenda & Errata - 500th Anniversary of Calvin’s Baptism?

August 12, 2009

500th Anniversary of Calvin’s Baptism?

Friday, July 10, was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. We don’t know on what day young Calvin was baptized, but biographers assume it took place soon after his birth. I’ll speculate that it took place on his 8th day, since that correlation with the optimal schedule for Jewish circumcision of male babies just seems fitting for Calvin. So you heard it here first: on Saturday, July 18, we should have celebrated John Calvin’s (infant) baptism. Or should we have?

Was Calvin really baptized? After all, the great future reformer was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church by a Catholic priest. Good enough? Or not? I know there are Baptists who would deny the validity of Calvin’s baptism simply on the grounds that it was infant baptism and not believers’ baptism. What about Presbyterians? Some, who regard themselves as the most faithful successors to Calvin’s movement, might find Calvin’s baptism as troubling as did some of his contemporaries (the Anabaptists). This question of whether to accept the validity of Roman Catholic baptism has been weighed in some detail by bodies such as the Presbyterian Church in America. Some voices within that tradition are willing to let Calvin off the hook, since his baptism was prior to Trent, during a period when the Church of Rome was still “in flux.” Others point out that Calvin, who in his Institutes maintained that the validity of baptism did not rest on the human agent or institution, published his final edition of the Institutes after the critical moment had already been passed at Trent (i.e., Calvin knew the Tridentine mind on justification and was undeterred in his view of whether Catholic baptisms “counted”). I have no intention to comment further on this matter, but just point out that it is one of several issues that spin around the theology and practice of Christian baptism.

We have just published Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late David F. Wright, with the viewpoints represented by Sinclair Ferguson (infant baptism), Bruce Ware (believers’ baptism) and Anthony Lane (dual practice). I don’t recall Catholic baptism coming up in the book, let alone John Calvin’s baptism. But had it arisen, it would have added a further dimension to what is already a fascinating discussion and interchange between able representatives of these three views. And the fictive anniversary of Calvin’s baptism—or nonbaptism—offers me the occasion to mention it!

Posted by Dan Reid at August 12, 2009 1:34 PM Bookmark and Share

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