An extraordinary archival discovery in the 16th century Bibliothèque de Genève has shed surprising new light on the life and work of John Calvin, leader of one of the major strands of the Protestant Reformation.
More than 450 years after John Calvin, a French theologian and pastor, brought reform to the city of Geneva in 1541, his character is undergoing a reassessment by Reformation scholars in light of the astounding autograph document discovered in the Library of Geneva. The library was founded by Calvin in 1559 and houses many of his most important personal papers.
Dr David Beskins, an English academic carrying out research at the library, said of his discovery of the manuscript: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that this single piece of parchment has exploded like a bombshell in the world of Reformation scholarship.’
Among the leading lights of the Reformation, Martin Luther has always been regarded as headstrong, earthy and perhaps too attached to beer, while Calvin’s reputation has been as the scholarly and severe authoritarian. But the long-lost manuscript, written by the young Calvin, shows that far from being a lightweight in the taverns, Calvin could match Luther beer for beer on any night out in the stews of Geneva.
The new manuscript appears to be an early draft of the famous five points of Calvinism. From the beer, wine and ‘other stains’ on the parchment, it was apparently composed during an epic drinking session one night in the Swiss city, when Luther was staying over.
Entitled, in shaky handwriting, ‘The Five Pints of Calvin’, the manuscript has five unexpectedly bawdy headings:
Piss-up of the century
Scholars speculate that the reformer intended the scrawled note as a joke among friends, which he threw in the bin the next morning due to a hangover of biblical proportions.
It appears that Calvin’s strait-laced followers, who were scandalized by the document, initially hid it away. But attracted by its idea of five handy points whose initial letters spell the word ‘tulip’, they reconsidered and turned it into the dreadful theological list which went on to blight sermons for the next several centuries.