Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The guilt ridden character of Calvin’s doctrine emerges clearly in the Institutes, the great work in which he sought to embody the principles of the new Church. Quoting with approval Christ’s words “The world shall rejoice, but ye shall weep and lament”, he asks:

“Do not our innumerable and daily transgressions deserve more severe and grievous chastisements than those which his clemency inflicts on us? Is it not highly reasonable that our flesh should be subdued, and as it were accustomed to the yoke, lest it should break out, according to its propensities, into lawless excesses?”

It no longer needs a psychologist to tell us what the forbidden excess was, from which men had to be restrained,

“the licentiousness of the flesh, which unless it be rigidly restrained, transgresses every bound.”

The whole document is of rich psychological interest, and provides a classic demonstration of the power of the legal mind to arrive at the wished-for conclusion, starting from whatever premise. Calvin attached the highest importance to the Bible, but found no difficulty in making those texts which seem to preach the enjoyment of God’s gifts support his own preferences for self-mortification. The early Jews believed strongly that one should enjoy the pleasures of life, including those of sex (see Deuteronomy xxi. 10-14) and some teachers held that at the last day one would have to account to God for every pleasure one had failed to enjoy. But Calvin, after conceding that God has put various things into the world for men to enjoy, such as flowers, colours, gold and silver, and so on, demands: “Where is the gratitude towards God for clothing if on account of our sumptuous apparel, we admire ourselves and despise others?” By a similar line of reasoning, every other blessing is to be rejected because it might lead to undesirable behaviour, until we finally arrive at the conclusion that “they that have wives should be as though they had none” — the original doctrine of Paul.