October 17, 2012 by Jason Hood
What Calvin rejects in monasticism is its
elitism and separatism . . . not the “rituals” associated with it. So Calvin “storms the monastery” as it were, not to demolish the disciplines of the community but to liberate these formative practices from their separatist captivity.
“For Calvin,” Boulton observes, “monastics are mistaken only insofar as they make elite, difficult and rare what should be ordinary, accessible, and common in Christian communities: namely, whole human lives formed in and through the church’s distinctive repertoire of disciplines, from singing psalms to daily prayer to communing with Christ at the sacred supper.”
That is from Jamie Smith, “John Calvin’s Catholic Faith.” (In a footnote he points out that he has previously cited Calvin’s affirmation of a “holy and lawful monasticism”: Desiring the Kingdom, 209 n.118.)
Smith’s/Boulton’s/Calvin’s point is that Christ is Lord over everything, and that Christians need to be shaped for all their vocations (for all of life, that is) by the same activities that fueled the better parts of monastic Christian service. Smith certainly takes his shots on the way to making the point: “our ‘functional Zwinglianism’ offers little anchor for resisting the spirit of the age.” I have no doubt Calvin would agree.
The point is that monks did almost all manner of things–from plant genetics to music to the preservation and transmission of ancient manuscripts to hospitality, prayer, liturgy, evangelism and fasting–to the glory of God. And in these vocations, they were in fact not going beyond the ordinary Christian life; they were being shaped for service and mission. So from one angle, the Reformation goal was to widen participation in this dedicated life of service, not restrict it.
This is but a sub-point for the larger argument of Smith’s essay, summed up in this way: “Protestantism, on this account, is not the demolition of Catholic Christianity, but rather its expansion and democratization.”