In this paper of this series in which I am exploring the Christian history of spanking, I would like to begin by discussing some of John Calvin’s beliefs in regards to children as many of the people that we have discussed in this series have been highly influenced by Calvin’s beliefs. After I discuss John Calvin, we will look at Jonathan Edwards as he still influences some Christian advocates of spanking children. It is my hope that people are discovering for themselves that spanking is from man, not from God as we go through this historic journey together.
John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the primary figures in the Protestant Reformation. He became a born again Christian in 1533. He then became a Protestant pastor in Geneva, Switzerland, and created the Geneva Academy after returning from exile in 1542. “Calvin’s major institutional contribution to education was his Geneva Academy, which he established upon his return from exile. The academy was divided into two schools. The private school taught children until about age sixteen, and the public school served as the university” (Reed & Provost, 1993, p. 197). Calvin believed in the strict religious education of children, and the Geneva church controlled the academy. The teachers employed by the church were well versed in Calvin’s strict disciplinarian approach that often included physical punishment. The following poem shows exactly how John Calvin felt regarding the use of physical punishment with children:
Who spares the rod with spirit mild,
He surely hates and harms his child.
Stripes and fear are right;
But who disowns their might,
And trains his son in tender way,
Unfits him for life’s earnest fray” (Reed & Provost, 1993, p. 198).
It is clear from this poem that Calvin had no understanding of lovingly admonishing children as well as adults as Colossians 3:16 tells us to do. Nor did he seem to understand Christ’s teaching of forgiveness (Luke 3:3; Luke 24:47). And I must wonder if he knew that gentleness and patience are some of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Before I get too deeply into Calvin’s beliefs about children, I would like to take a look into how society in general viewed children and childhood during the 16th century. [Read more...]