No Comment, Quotation — July 10, 2009, 5:33 am

Calvin – Working for the Common Good

hals-haarlem-militia

It is not enough when a man can say, “Oh, I labor, I have my craft,” or “I have my trade.” That is not enough. But we must see whether it is good and profitable for the common good, and whether his neighbors may fare the better of it.

John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians (sermon on Eph. 4:26-28)(1558)


Today marks the five hundredth birthday of the Great Reformer, John Calvin. Among the many aspects of his enduring understanding of scripture, this passage on the Ephesians has an important place. It reminds us of the importance of service to the community as an aspect of faith. And it reminds us that comparable values were brought to America’s shores by the hardy group of Calvinist settlers who landed at Plymouth in 1620.

Frans Hals’s painting of a banquet for volunteer soldiers–known in Dutch as a schuttersmaal–is often studied and appreciated for the meticulous arrangement of the participants (ordered by rank), the array of silks (possibly woven in Haarlem, a center for the silk business), satins and other attributes of wealth and power that fill the canvas. The table is set for a virile feast: there is meat to be carved, and beakers for drink. The figures seem proud, rich and happy. So it is seen today. But perhaps that is not the intended message. Haarlem was occupied and brutalized by the Spanish during the religious wars, within the memory of the figures in this painting. Though devastated, the city opened it doors to Calvinists fleeing Spanish repression in Flanders, to the extent that in the era of Frans Hals the native populace was equaled or exceeded by refugee Flemings. What defines this amiable gathering of militiamen is a commitment to service to the community. These burghers have joined together to assure the defense of their community against the daunting military powers that threaten it–Catholic Spain, the Empire, later the French. Yet they are not professional soldiers; they are citizen soldiers. By day they are all men of business–traders, bankers, grain factors, craftsmen and artists. But they join together in the militia for purposes of protecting the city and for charitable service–their militia unit is actually attached to a church. Hals is commemorating the spirit of dedication to the common good that marked the golden age of the Netherlands and drove it to improbable heights. And he is reflecting the spirit of John Calvin.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2015

The Joke

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abolish High School

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beat Reporter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going It Alone

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rotten Ice

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Life After Guantánamo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
Photograph by the author
Article
Rotten Ice·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“When I asked if we were going to die, he smiled and said, ‘Imaqa.’ Maybe.”
Photograph © Kari Medig
Article
Life After Guantánamo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’ve seen the hell and I’m still in the beginning of my life.”
Illustration by Caroline Gamon
Article
Going It Alone·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The call to solitude is universal. It requires no cloister walls and no administrative bureaucracy, only the commitment to sit down and still ourselves to our particular aloneness.”
Photograph by Richard Misrach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:

240

Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.

A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today