THE MERE MENTION OF HIS NAME can break the moral sweat of the most law-abiding churchgoers. One might say he can even yank their knickers in a twist—especially during a Sunday school discussion. I’ve personally witnessed these unpleasantries unfold, but I can’t blame them. How one reads the Bible changes everything, including the shape of the world. John Calvin’s employment of such celebrated Scripture as “For God so loved the world,” and wrenching it to signify, “For God so loved the elect,” in order to corroborate with his Augustine doctrine, exhumes a rather pungent odor for the Biblical literalist, who’d prefer the Spirit mean what He says rather than force-feeding Him. The French theologian had a habit of that—contorting. For example, Calvin trusted science, which is odd for an individual on the outs with Rome. Or perhaps not so odd, since Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus, were classmates at the University of Paris. Calvin even referred to astronomy as “an art” which unfolded “the admirable wisdom of God.” For John Calvin of Geneva, a terrible sin was committed. He placed Science in higher standing than God’s own Testimony. And like any wicked dog, which he so lovingly and obediently fed, it would cruelly turn around and bite him.
It is true that many acknowledged and accomplished men believed the Earth to be a globe long before Nicolas Copernicus. We need travel back to the Greeks, as far as the third-century BC, to observe its spherical status fundamentally recognized among the powerful Elite. There is little doubt in my mind that the globe has been the favored narrative by esteemed scholars, despite the jargon of we common folk, pew-boys and peasants who—throughout ages past—admire God’s own account of creation over the imaginative conjuring of philosophers. The silent majority have not always been documented as they ought. And yet how many recorded men, I wonder—especially those in high-standing positions of the worldly institutes—wholeheartedly regarded the Earth to be flat and yet chose to remain silent by adopting the only alternative anecdote? I believe there are a good number throughout recorded history, including our own, who have kept it at a mum. Calvin, however, was likely not among them. Unlike many of his Reformer contemporaries, I find no reason to conclude as to why he would have considered the world as anything else but spherical.
In his commentary on Genesis, Calvin writes the following of astronomy: “…this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them.” He is speaking of those, in his own day as well as ours, who would hold up the words of Moses in protest, should the supposed honesty advertised from the halls of Science lead them to different—dare I say, opposing—realizations. Concerning the penmanship of Moses, Calvin is quick to enlighten us (much as he would his own understanding of John 3:16): “…because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction. Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all.”
That Science was always intended to one day interpret our understanding of Holy Writ, once we had properly acquainted and educated ourselves through the education which Moses, being himself a Neophyte in Egypt, properly received, Calvin claims: “Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend.” Where in Scripture this prophecy is foretold, I cannot say. A reference has yet to be found.
At any rate, this is where Calvin gets practical in his high-regard for Science as a superior magistrate to the Bible. He writes: “Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons that the star of Saturn, which on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon.” In other words, Moses’ declaration is incorrect, but is acceptable in its error, because his message was intended for “common usage.” He further writes: “If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage,” and, “There is therefore no reason why janglers should deride the unskilfulness of Moses in making the moon the second luminary; for he does not call us up into heaven, he only proposes things which lie open before our eyes.”
If Moses did not bother to “call us up to heaven,” it’s because the Lord had reserved a time when men of a “more exalted knowledge,” as Calvin put it, would pull the curtains back for us. The problem is, according to this logic, once astronomers committed themselves to the task—revealing the heavenly stage behind the curtain, so to speak, the firmament (that solid glassy dome of Biblical mythology) did not exist as advertised; nor the waters above it. Or so the claim goes. In the eternal gullible we must go. Writes Calvin: “Moses describes the special use of this expanse, to divide the waters from the waters from which word arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven.”
It has already been established by this point that the Prophet, according to his post-enlightenment spokesperson, wrote for the common knowing the more exalted knowledge was still to come. Unfortunately, a problem arises. Mainly, the faith-sharers. As such, “The assertion of some, that they embrace by faith what they have read concerning the waters above the heavens, notwithstanding their ignorance respecting them, is not in accordance with the design of Moses.” Tell us of Science again, Mr. Calvin. He continues, “And truly a longer inquiry into a matter open and manifest is superfluous.”
Despite Calvin’s arrogant embrace of a Scientism, which apparently acts as the overriding mouth of God, there came a point in history where even he drew a line in the sand. The Copernican who smugly reminds us that “the globe has been long believed,” and “it is proof that God is a Copernican,” is presenting us with a strawman argument. He will give the impression that he has refuted the disagreement while actually refuting an argument which was never once presented.
Regarding the overriding truth of cosmology, our long lineage of spiritual fathers all agreed upon one thing. The Earth is stationary, with a sun which revolves around us—not the other way around. Though many—and I stress many—were also devoted citizens of Flat Earth. But that is beside the point at the moment, because we are dealing with a strawman, and the longstanding church doctrine, by which no one thought reasonable to part from, was that of geocentricism. Ambrose, Anatolius of Alexandria, Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Basil, Chrysostom, Clement of Rome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nyssa, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Jerome, Justin Martyr, Tertullian—and I am only naming a few—though might I even add John Calvin as well as Luther—were all geocentrists. Calvin was a geocentrist. There was simply no debate where the intent of the Holy Ghost was concerned. The Bible presents us with no other authoritative view. And as far as our line-up of spiritual fathers was concerned, anyone who disagreed with this undeniable Testimony was a compromiser.
Still, John Calvin was a compromiser. Indeed many, including some names mentioned above, very well may have been compromisers—if they employed Science as an informant for their Biblical beliefs, and not the other way around. Saint Augustine was a clear violator. But that is also to be expected. Spurgeon once quipped: “Perhaps Calvin himself derived it [Calvinism] mainly from the writings of Augustine.” Calvin himself wrote: “Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.”
It is not easy seeing someone get hustled. But Calvin, caught with his grimy fingers in the jar of Scientism, was certainly hustled. His exasperated reaction is to be expected. The men who “call us up to heaven” with a “more exalted knowledge” through “an art” which “unfolds the admirable wisdom of God” were committing themselves instead to a terrible deception—one which even Calvin himself would come to terms with. A number of scholars, ranging from Bertrand Russell to Thomas Kuhn, attributed Calvin as having challenged: “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?”
Whether or not such a question was ever asked, the following we know is true. Spoke Calvin from his pulpit: “The Christian is not to compromise so as to obscure the distinction between good and evil, and is to avoid the errors of] those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns. When we see such minds we must indeed confess that the devil possess them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear!”
So the next time a Copernican berates you for your Flat Earth beliefs in the face of all the men who blindly went along with the globe parade, remember the strawman and John Calvin. Even John Calvin was a geocentrist. In fact, they all were.