A Bounty on Calvin’s Head

The shadows blurred into long twisted shapes that danced along the walls. Jean Morin watched them for a long while, his back turned to the fireplace. Calvin had managed to escape. Managed to escape in the most infuriating way. By being let down from his dorm room window with the aid of his bedsheets while his friends haggled with Morin’s men in the corridor just outside the room. Morin could feel the blood rush to his face at the memory of the messenger recounting the episode to him. He had been furious. This was just what he did not need, another runaway Protestant traipsing through the French countryside polluting the minds of the masses with his twisted ideas about the so-called gospel. Morin involuntarily balled his hand into a tight fist and clenched his teeth. He would hunt down this John Calvin, hunt him down like a dog and make sure he didn’t live to stain the pure Catholic air of France with his foul Protestant miasma.

Fugitive

John Calvin slowed his pace and gazed wearily at the road ahead. He had been running for days and he was exhausted. The evening air was freezing and he had fled with only the clothes on his back which provided very little protection against the cold. He had managed to make it out of Paris without being apprehended by Morin’s men, which was in and of itself a miracle. He hadn’t seen it coming at all. Not until his friends had burst into his room to warn him, not until Morin’s men had appeared at the very gate of his hall of residence. And now here he was, being hunted like an animal and all because he had had the audacity to write a speech about the grace of God.

He smiled ruefully to himself as he trudged along the darkening road. At least he had managed to escape with his life. He had kept running till he hit the outskirts of Paris and then wound his way out into the French countryside. He was exhausted, cold and hungry but the initial panic had slowly started to wear off. He was thinking clearly now. Well about as clearly as one is able to think in this state he told himself sardonically. He would need to find shelter for the night, but where? As he rounded a bend in the road he spied the dim flicker of light in the distance. As he neared it he could make out a small neatly arranged cottage with its eaves pulled low over its ears as if to protect itself from the biting cold. The cottage stood on the edge of a large vineyard and Calvin realized with a start that he knew the man who owned the cottage. He was a Protestant and an acquaintance.

Calvin quickened his steps and he soon found himself on the doorstep of the cottage knocking at the door. The vinedresser opened it and he peered through the falling shadows into Calvin’s face. “Jean Calvin?” he finally asked in surprise. “Oui” Calvin nodded. “I need a place to stay for the night monsieur” he added pleadingly. “Of course!” the man exclaimed swinging the door wide open and motioning for Calvin to come inside. “Come in! You must be freezing.” 

After Calvin had had a warm meal, he settled himself in front of the fireplace and held his hands up to the dancing light. “What will you do?” the vinedresser asked quietly from behind him. Calvin shrugged. He had told the man everything, beginning with Nicholas Cop’s speech at the Sorbonne and ending with his narrow escape from the College de Forteret. Now as he stood before the fireplace he felt a lump begin to rise in his throat. He swallowed hard unable to speak. “You will have to leave,” the man said, voicing the inevitable reality Calvin so desperately didn’t want to face.

Post Tenebras Lux

“And what if I do not wish to leave?” Calvin asked almost savagely. “What other choice do you have?” the man asked in a neutral tone sensing Calvin’s restless anger. Calvin turned to face him, “I do not wish to leave” he finally ground out through clenched teeth. The vinedresser sank slowly into a cozy armchair and steepled his fingers, gently placing them against his mouth. “They will find you and burn you if you stay. Morin will not stop until he has you and it will not take him long. His men may not know what you look like but the way you are dressed you will be easy enough to find”

Calvin glanced down at his clothes and closed his eyes for a brief second. The vinedresser was right. His clothing would give him away for what he was; a scholar and student at the Sorbonne, and the only scholars who would be on the run as he was were Protestants. No, it would not be hard to find John Calvin. “I cannot leave” Calvin shook his head and turned back to face the flames. “Do you understand? I cannot leave!” he paused and sucked in a calming breath. “I have vowed to win France for the gospel. Vowed to give my life for it! How then can I leave? How can I turn tail and run like some frightened animal?” “And what good will it do the Protestant cause if you find yourself strapped to a stake at such a young age with not one-tenth of your full potential realized?” the vinedresser countered gently.

Calvin pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes tightly. Again, the man was infuriatingly correct. He could do more good for the Protestant cause alive than dead. “I want to raise the flag of the Reformation in France” he finally said letting his hand drop away from his face. “I want that to be my legacy” “and it may well be that that is the legacy God has for you Master Calvin, but God may not accomplish it in the way that you had hoped or wanted” the vinedresser paused, “sometimes God asks us to surrender our best-laid plans, so that He can accomplish His best-laid plans for us. Think about Moses, he was sure that he would secure the freedom of the Hebrews by force of arms but God had other plans” the vinedresser gazed at the leaping flames “the outcome was the same but God’s plans were not the same as Moses’ plans”

Calvin’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “It may be Master Calvin, that God needs you to surrender your plans for France, so He can implement His plans for France through you. I daresay the outcomes might be the same but the methods may vary.” After a long moment, Calvin turned to face the vinedresser. “I will need your help monsieur”

The next morning as the pale lavender grey light of dawn broke over the small cottage John Calvin set off towards the French border. He wore the clothes of a peasant farmer with a hoe, casually slung over his shoulder. The road ahead would be long but he would eventually find himself in Switzerland where he would establish what is known today as the University of Geneva. The school was founded for the express purpose of training gospel workers and it was from here that thousands of young Huguenot pastors went back across the border into France, raising up a network of over 2000 Huguenot congregations and spreading the message of the gospel throughout France.

And so it was that John Calvin did win France for Jesus, just not the way he imagined he would.

Further Reading and Citations

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • D’Aubigne, J.H. Merle (1840) – The History of the Reformation
  • Schaff, Philip (1858) – History of the Christian Church
  • Wylie, J.A. (1878) – The History of Protestantism

Suki Goonatilleke lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about winning people for Jesus and has served in full-time ministry at Gateway Adventist Center. Her current ministry endeavors include being a stay-at-home mom by day and writer by night.