Calvin’s 500th birthday luxuries sell briskly

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The granddaddy of the War on Fun must surely be Jean Cauvin (1509 – 1564), the French protestant priest who is seen around these parts as more influential than Luther himself. The man was a big believer in hard work and no (earthly) reward, so it is perhaps odd that the trinkets that are being sold in honour of his 500th anniversary are selling like hot cakes.

Brabants Dagblad reports (Dutch) that a small lake of Calvijn jenever has already been sold (500+ bottles), and that the 25,000 print run of the Calvijn glossy has completely sold out. The exhibition about his life in Dordrecht has so far attracted more than 60,000 visitors. It is unknown if all these people gorged themselves on nectar and ambrosia right after, but there are ten restaurants in Dordrecht that offer special Calvin meals. Perhaps just a pea on a plate, who knows?

Novelist Maarten ‘t Hart points out delicately in NRC Handelsblad (Dutch) that some of the rules of sobriety of Calvin derive from Roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger, who did not like music and dancing (“[there is] a time to dance”, Ecc. 3:4) and other exuberances, such as wearing anything other than dark clothes (“Let thy garments be always white”, Ecc. 9:8).

Meanwhile, in the same paper (Dutch) liberal politician Boris van der Ham points out that the celebration of 500 years sobriety is also the celebration of 400 years resistance against the Calvinist philosophy. The States of Holland had a session in 1608 in which theologian Arminius pleaded for the free will of people: “And so I think that man tries to think well, want well and act well.” But Van der Ham also points out that the Dutch reputation as being straight-shooters to the point of being rude is firmly rooted in Calvinism. “In other countries ‘sins’ were often allowed in a don’t-ask,-don’t-tell way, here the curtains were drawn wide open. […] If other countries sometimes look with bewilderment at our freedoms, it’s not because of the freedoms themselves, but because we are so open and honest about them, in what is essentially a Calvinist way.”

(Photo: Calvijn Dordrecht.)

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