July 18, 2007


Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

In his essay “Workingman and Management,” Eric Hoffer writes:

One need not call to mind the example of Communist Russia to realize that the idealist has the making of a most formidable taskmaster.  The ruthlessness born of self-seeking is ineffectual compared with the ruthlessness sustained by dedication to a holy cause.  “God wishes,” said Calvin, “that one should put aside all humanity when it is a question of striving for His glory.” — Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change, p. 65.

What Hoffer’s describing here is, I think, a genuine danger.  A guy who is self-seeking may be ruthless, but you might be able to convince him that it’s in his best interests to spare you.  Not so for a guy who thinks he’s fighting for some higher cause.

That’s a danger in churches, too.  There are people who adopt the motto “Truth Before Friendship” and who eagerly rush into battle in the name of “doctrinal purity.”  But “Doctrinal Purity” is a harsh goddess who demands ever increasing human sacrifices and her servants, thinking they are serving the true God, often cut down their brothers in Christ ruthlessly.  The biblical motto, it seems to me, is not “truth before friendship” but “speaking the truth in love.”

And now to my question: Does anyone know the source of this quotation from Calvin?  My quick Google search turned up the same quotation on a few pages, but no one cited a source.  Where does Calvin say this?  What might he mean from the context?  By itself, it sounds rather horrid, though I can imagine a situation where what Calvin says here might be true (e.g., the Israelites were not to allow themselves to feel compassion for the Canaanites such that they spared them when they conquered the land).  But Hoffer provides only the bare quotation with nary a footnote.  Anyone?

Posted by John Barach @ 5:14 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Inhumanity?”

  1. Steve Vander Woude Says:

    I’m not certain, but this quote sounds suspect. Perhaps this is a reference to St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Chapter XX, Section 3:

    “The spiritual man, then, must restrain the first motion of his heart towards creatures, remembering the premiss which we have here laid down, that there is naught wherein a man must rejoice, save in his service of God, and in his striving for His glory and honour in all things, directing all things solely to this end and turning aside from vanity in them, looking in them neither for his own joy nor for his consolation.”


  2. john k Says:

    Bad press for Calvin. 🙁

    It looks like a passage from his defense both of the Trinity, and of the right to punish heretics, written in regard to Servetus (cited in a differing translation–see bolded text below, I hope,–in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8): “Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honor, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories?

    (It’s at the end of the full paragraph between footnotes 1208 and 1209 at the following link to CCEL.)


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