englishI have begun reading the first chapter of Lewis’ massive English Literature of the 16th Century, a work which Lewis himself would jokingly call OHEL in his circle of close friends. I am delighted to find out that the author devotes so much to the religious atmosphere of the 16th century England and describe what it meant to be a humanist or a Puritan back in those days (when oftentimes the former was indistinguishable from the latter).

There are many excellent fragments in the OHEL. For the time being I post here only two which will give us an idea of how Calvin and Calvinism looked in the 16th century.

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„Modern parallels are always to some extent misleading. Yet, for a moment only, and to guard against worse misconceptions, it may be useful to compare the influence of Calvin on that age with the influence of Marx on our own; or even of Marx and Lenin in one, for Calvin had both expounded the new system in theory and set it going in practice. This will at least serve to eliminate the absurd idea that Elizabethan Calvinists were somehow grotesque, elderly people, standing outside the main forward current of life. In their own day they were, of course, the very latest thing. Unless we can imagine the freshness, the audacity, and (soon) the fashionableness of Calvinism, we shall get our whole picture wrong. It was the creed of progressives, even of revolutionaries. It appealed strongly to those tempers that would have been Marxist in the nineteen-thirties. The fierce young don, the learned lady, the courtier with intellectual leanings, were likely to be Calvinists.

(…)

 Youth is the taunt commonly brought against the puritan leaders by their opponents: youth and cocksureness. As we recognize the type we begin, perhaps, to wonder less that such a work as the Institutio should have been so eagerly welcomed. In it Calvin goes on from the original Protestant experience to build a system, to extrapolate, to raise all the dark questions and give without flinching the dark answers. It is, however, a masterpiece of literary form; and we may suspect that those who read it with most approval were troubled by the fate of predestined vessels of wrath just about as much as young Marxists in our own age are troubled by the approaching liquidation of the bourgeoisie. Had the word “sentimentality” been known to them, Elizabethan Calvinists would certainly have used it of any who attacked the Institutio as morally repulsive.”

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