July 2009 marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation theologian John Calvin. At first glance, Calvin does not not appear to be the merriest of theologians. He was a quiet and bookish, a workaholic, and almost always ill. His imagine is definitely a bit stiff and starchy, and in certain crowds his name alone provokes a yawn. Yet there is a much ignored side of Calvin which reveals a measure of merriment below his seemingly stern exterior.
Commentating on Deuteronomy 14:26, Calvin says we ought to enjoy our food and drink in the company of the great Vintner, who has presented us with heavenly gifts. Elsewhere, speaking about food and drink he says,
If we study… why he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was his intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and our delight… For, if this were not true, the Psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings, ‘the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.’
John Calvin: Rumoured to have had 250 gallons of wine included in his pastoral pay packet
Calvin famously described the creation as a theatre for the display of the glory of God, but he also wants to tell us that we are here ‘not only to be spectators in this beautiful theatre but also to enjoy the vast bounty and variety of good things which are displayed to us in it’. He would never have approved of drunkenness or gluttony (and rightly so), but for him it was no coincidence that fermented grapes, a juicy steak, or a hearty fry-up taste so good. The scrawny, pale Frenchman may not exactly have been a party animal, but he definitely advocated serious enjoyment of the good and perfect gifts of our heavenly Father. A very merrie ‘bravo!’ and ‘amen’ to that.