Calvin Speaks in an Unknown Tongue?

Christianity Today on Calvin
Christianity Today on Calvin

A friend* recently mentioned that Ben Witherington posted to the Christianity Today Blog about John Calvin as “A Man of the Bible“. In that post Witherington refers to his experience reading Calvin’s Institutes and being particularly impressed by Calvin’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit:

I have fond memories of working carefully through Calvin’s Institutes for the first time, and being especially surprised by and taken with his profound theology of the Holy Spirit. I remember reading in Gordon-Conwell’s newspaper a rather interesting historical curio from a letter of Calvin about how one morning he woke up and found himself speaking in lingua barbaria. The article went on to speculate that Calvin may have spoken in tongues!

Well, given the curiosity of my friend about this quote, and the fact that I’m a librarian at Gordon-Conwell and have access to the institution’s archives, I thought it would be worth tracking down this “historical curio.” Below is the text as I scanned it from The Paper. (Here is an image file of the actual printed article.)

Quent Warford, “Calvin Speaks Unknown Tongue,” The Paper: Student Paper of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary 1.6 (March 24, 1975): 6.

Forasmuch as there has been much inquiry concerning the discovery at the Episcopal Divinity School, I feel obligated to shed what light that I can on the matter. After, all, molehills do have a way of being made into mountains, given enough discussion.

Quite frankly, I personally find any notion preposterous, to the effect that Calvin experienced glossolalia. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to take the advice of my dear Church History professor, and go to the primary source.

The volume which allegedly contains the account of Calvin’s ecstatic utterances is in the library at the Episcopal Divinity School. It is his biography by his friend and confidant, Theodore Beza, entitled De Vitam Iohannes Cauvin. It is contained in

The Vault, the Rare Book Room at E.D.S. Entering The Vault involves a great deal of red tape, and the invocation of the higher powers of the B.T.I. Prof. Hiles’ dining-hall pass also came in handy.

De Vitam Ihohannes Cauvin was published posthumously by Beza. All it

contains concerning glossolalia is a small entry, confided to Beza by Calvin, shortly before the latter’s death. On several oc­casions, Calvin, in his devotions, found himself uttering a lingua non nota et cognota mini. That is, the language was not known or understood by him.

Himself a skilled linguist, Calvin set about to discover the orthography of the utterance. Unable to trace it, he confided to Beza that although the language was Hebraic in character, he yet feared that he had spoken a lingua barbarorum. That is, he feared having spoken in an accursed tongue, such as what was spoken by the Canaanites.

The matter was only a minor one to Beza, who allots it only a few sentences in De Vitam Iohannes Cauvin. Calvin’s concern was only a matter of linguistics. Therefore, there is not enough primary source material to build a case one way or the other.

My roommate, Ken Macari, was most helpful to me in interpreting this passage from Beza, since Latin is more native to him than to me. Yet I must say, however, that I found Calvin’s Latin to be very smooth, elegant, and Vergilian.

So, that’s it. A colleague of mine (who happened to be teaching Hebrew at the seminary at the time of publication) does not remember this article, and he wonders if it was a prank in the first place. I’ve searched Beza’s and Calvin’s works on the Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts, but found nothing. If anyone knows anything about this work by Beza, please comment about it. I’m not sure if I’m motivated enough to try to get into “the Vault” myself.

*This friend is a student at GCTS and an employee at the Lego Store in the Burlington Mall. As George on Seinfeld would say “Worlds are colliding!”

Pointers for going into an MA in NT studies?

Clifford B. Kvidahl asks:

Any pointers on doing an MA in NT?

Advice? Run away! Run far away! (Just kidding.) Here are a few points off the top of my head (in no particular order of importance or preference):

  • Choose early on what you plan to do with your degree. Don’t kill yourself over your GPA unless you’re planning to go on for further studies. There are more important things in life than your MA. I see many students at seminary killing themselves (and/or their families) because they’re being driven either by some innate streak of perfectionism or because of the general hyper-academic ethos of the community. The fact that you will be doing an MA suggests that you’re headed in the direction of further studies, so if that is the case then, by all means, kick your butt for grades. (Still, you should never, ever, sacrifice your spouse and/or your kids for the sake of your grades. When you’re on your deathbed you won’t care if your diploma is next to your bed)
  • When you’re sitting at the cafeteria talk about something other than theology, the “new perspective” or whether or not there really is such thing as a “plenary genitive.” You will be sitting next to some of the finest men and women you’ll ever meet. You would do well to get to know them as people and not only as classmates. Of course, “iron sharpens iron,” so you’ll benefit from talking shop with your friends. Just don’t do so without getting to know them as non-academic humans.
  • Languages! Languages! Languages! I wish I had followed my own advice a long time ago. Be careful not to let your favorite Bible software kill your own knowledge of the original languages. Pick up your Greek and Hebrew and read! Don’t treat the language like it’s an esoteric code, but do your best to start sight reading (even if you can’t parse everything). The more exposure you have to the languages, the better.
  • Be nice to your librarians. It’s always good to have librarians as your friends. It will you make your research time go much smoother. Also, make sure you turn your books in on time!
  • If you don’t have any librarians to befriend, be sure to get to know your professors. Ok, I admit it. Your time is most likely better spent with your professors than with librarians. I wish I had taken more advantage of my professors’ office hours. You’re paying your way through graduate school to learn, and getting to know your professors is part of this. Not all professors will “click” with you personality-wise, but it is a good idea to benefit from those who do “click.” It’s easy to get into the “I’m sure their busy, and I don’t want to bother them” mentality. Still, they have office hours for a reason, so it’s good to get to know them.
  • Don’t allow your academic rigor to replace your passion for God’s Word. Everyone (at least everyone that I’ve talked to about it) goes through a phase where they have a hard time doing “devotions” because they feel guilty for not exegeting the text in the original languages, etc. Let the text continue to be the voice of God in your life.
  • That being said, realize that God has given you your academic passion and that this passion is a part of you. Channel it into your devotional life. Realize that you very well may not be satisfied with doing devotions out of the latest “Our Daily Bread” and that you may need to delve deeper to engage your mind and your heart. Don’t sweat it.
  • Read good writers. Pick a few excellent writers (whether academics or not) and read, read, read. The more you read good writing, the better writing you’ll produce. Learn to write and speak to non-academics. Even the academics in your audience will benefit from this. Sometimes being “academic” is used as an excuse to be boring or to lack clarity. Don’t fall into this trap. Write well.
  • Get to know your background materials on their own terms. Don’t just quote from the Mishnah to bolster your paper. Get to know what the Mishnah is. You’ll never be Jacob Neusner, but learn to read and appreciate background materials on their own terms. Pay attention to the dates and theological tendencies of the material and avoid parallelomania.

These are just a few thoughts. I am sure there is better advice out there from more qualified people. Does anyone else want to chime in? Does anyone want to argue against the points above?