Calvin’s Thoughts on Liberty, Pleasure and Beauty

John Calvin rejected Christian asceticism — the teaching that extreme denial of earthly things was beneficial for godliness. He condemned these severe restrictions since they restricted “consciences more tightly than does the Word of God”

Calvin also cautioned against antinomianism — the teaching that Christians are free from the Law. “Certainly I admit that consciences neither ought to nor can be bound … to definite and precise legal formulas; but inasmuch as Scripture gives general rules for lawful use, we ought surely to limit our use in accordance with them.”

Calvin then gives support for a Christian appreciation for art, pleasure and beauty.

“The use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the author himself created and destined them for us, because he created them for our good, not for our ruin. Accordingly, no one will hold to a straighter path than he who diligently looks to this end. Now, if we ponder to what end God created food, we will find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was [respectableness] and decency ….

Has the Lord clothed the flowers with great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor? What? Did he not so distinguish colors as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders then more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to use, apart from their necessary use?

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.10.1-2.

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