Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: Oberman on Calvin and Stoicism

kesil, I thought that this passage in my current reading might grab your interest, given your own explorations of a Stoic-influenced Christianity:
Concerning personality and profession, we can be brief. Calvin is not easy to know because he was introverted to the point of being shy, withdrawn, and extremely reserved. It is no coincidence that while Calvin was critical of the classical authors, the ethics of the Stoa come off particularly well in his writings, although to the Stoic ideal of self-possession he expressly adds the virtue of misericordia, or compassion. Self-possession, especially in the sense of self-sufficiency, means that a person is free from external influences. Calvin escapes the limitation this implies when he says that the Christian Stoic must add emotional involvement. This is particularly clear when Calvin expresses it in his mother tongue, in letters, and especially in sermons, making it as clear as he can that the genuine Stoic who tries to steel himself against the outside world is more a child of Satan than of Christ. To this emotional armor the Christian must add misericordia. Calvin sums this up in a word which could indeed be found in the French language before his time but only later becomes common parlance. The word is nonchalant, and when he uses it, it has not yet become trite, as it is today. A Christian may not be nonchalant toward his fellow human beings. That would be on the same level with poking fun in relation to God; it would be indifferent, nonchaleur, to have no warmth, to be unconcerned about others. Calvin is different; he is concerned and as such lives an encumbered life: enriched, to be sure, but clearly burdened by his deep and extensive God knowledge.
--Heiko Oberman
From the essay "Calvin's Legacy: Its Greatness and Limitations" in
The Two Reformations: The Journey from the Last Days to the New World, 2003 Yale University Press
pp. 126-127
Tags: books, ethical, historical, philosophical, theological notebook

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