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Frithjof Schuon on Luther, Calvin and protestant liberalism

Monday, 3 Feb 2014

Frithjof Schuon on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn First posted on Monday, 18 March 2013 at 21:18

Frithjof Schuon

I read the following piece by Schuon earlier today. It corroborates my own thinking on Luther, set out in my essay entitled Martin Luther and the new paideuma. Luther’s critique of the Papacy was from a medieval perspective. His horror at the turn of events triggered by the Reformation was from the medieval standpoint too, in contrast to Calvin’s. Schuon’s footnote* too is a telling comment on Luther with which I wholly agree.

John Dunn.

In my essay I wrote

In his fear of the sacrilegious and socially corrupting power of money, Luther was socially conservative, whereas the second generation reformer, John Calvin, was a force for radicalism. Calvin assumed an economic organisation that was relatively advanced as far as the power of money was concerned, and expounded a social ethics on the basis of the seemingly inevitable future. Thus Calvin stood in marked contrast to Luther and the medieval theologians who proceeded him.

Luther did not live to see anything even approximating to the full fruition ofthe social change wrought by the Reformation his actions had triggered.He was aware, however, of the direction of travel and, as can be seen in his later writings, it left him in despair.
Here is the excerpt from Frithjof Schoun’s The Question of Evangelism, taken from the collection of essays entitled Ye Shall Know the Truth: Christianity and the Perennial Philosophy, World Wisdom Books, 2005.
Viewed in its totality, Protestantism has something ambiguous about it: on the one hand it is inspired sincerely and concretely by the Bible, but on the other hand it is bound up with humanism and the Renaissance. Luther incarnates the first aspect: his perspective is medieval and so to speak retrospective, and it gives rise to a conservative and at times esoterising pietism. In Calvin, on the contrary, the tendencies of humanism, hence of the Renaissance, mingle with the movement rather strongly, if indeed they do not determine it; no doubt he is greatly inspired in his doctrine by Luther and the Swiss Reformers, but he is a republican in his own way—on a theocratic basis, of course—and not a monarchist like the German Reformer; and it can be said on the whole that in a certain manner he was more opposed to Catholicism than Luther was.*
*As for Protestant liberalism, Luther eventually foresaw its abuses, and he would in any case be horrified to see this liberalism as it appears in our time—he who could bear neither self-sufficient mediocrity nor iconoclastic fanaticism.

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