Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Attendance at church on Sundays and on Wednesdays was compulsory, and the police went through streets, shops and homes to see if anyone was evading his duty. On the other hand, it was a punishable offence to go to church except at the hour of service. Grant observes:

“…. the dress of citizens, male and female, the mode of dressing the hair, the dishes served on ordinary days and on festivals, the jokes in the streets, the character of private entertainments — all were enquired into, and what seemed wrong was censured and punished.”

Such was the Genevan Utopia, which the admiring Knox called

“the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the Apostles”.

To impose such standards, Calvin had to resort, naturally, to wholesale violence, torture and execution: 150 of those who disagreed were committed to the flames in sixty years. Not for nothing had he been called by his schoolmates “The Accusative“.

The second remarkable feature of Calvinism — and this is true, to some extent of Protestantism generally — was the unprecedented importance it attached to the spoken and written word. It was the very basis of Calvin’s teaching that the Bible constituted the unimpeachable source of all doctrine: it was referred to as the Word of God. The Bible itself came to be conceived as invested with an extraordinary sacredness: it became, it has even been said, a sacrament, taking precedence over the Eucharist, which was only celebrated in commemoration of it. Our practice of swearing on the Bible derives from this. Notably, the Principle of the infallibility of the Bible was substituted for the principle of the infallibility of-the Pope It was characteristic of the loveless, legalistic Calvin that he should make a system of symbols — a book — the centre of his system, rather than the persons and actions those symbols represented. It was a retreat from life.