Thursday, 28 May 2009

My pilgrimage to Geneva

Apparently, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was all the rage for Welsh Calvinistic Methodist ministers to make the pilgrimage to Geneva, the most famous of whom, Owen M. Edwards, published an account of the trip O'r Bala i Geneva (1889) which was widely read in Wales. So I felt as though I was following in the footsteps of my forefathers this last few days as I attended the 'Calvin and his Influence, 1509-2009' conference in the Swiss city. Not having been to Geneva before, nothing quite prepares you for the stunning view of Lake Geneva surrounded by the towering snow-capped peaks of the Alps from 20,000 or so feet up!
The old city of Geneva, perched on the hill looking over the lake is quite something too. Although much has changed in the 450 or so years since Calvin lived there, there's enough to give a real sense of what the city must have been like in the mid sixteenth century. There's a plaque to mark the spot where Calvin's house once stood, although the building currently on the site is only a mere 300 odd years old! St Peter's Cathedral (see picture above) is very impressive, although the facade is an addition from Calvin's day. And the Reformation Wall of course, commemorating Calvin, John Knox, Theodore Beza and Guillame Farel, is as impressive as the pictures suggest.
The conference was great too, although I missed the two highlights - Diarmaid MacCulloch's opening paper and David Bebbington's closing paper on the reception of Calvin in Britian in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The session I'd organised with Densil Morgan and Robert Pope from Bangor was on Tuesday morning. Although our audience was a bit thin, a combination of the Welsh subject matter I suppose, ten simulataneous parallel sessions for delegates to choose from and speaking at 8:30 in the morning, the session went really well. Densil gave an overview of the history and development of Calvinism in Wales from 1590, when the first recorded use of the term Calvinism occurred, and 1909. I followed with my paper on the Calvinism of the early Welsh Methodists and Robert concluded with a paper on Calvinism in early twentieth century Wales, focussing in the main on J. Cynddylan Jones. Personally, I was really pleased with how my paper went, and had some really useful questions which gave me plenty of leads to follow when I write up the paper for the planned special issue of the Welsh Journal of Relgious History.
Of the other papers I heard William Naphy from Aberdeen was probably the best, particularly his account of the ecclesisatical and political structures put in place by Calvin in sixteenth-century Geneva. The most memorable comment being that while Geneva was certainly no democracy, it was a massive step forward for the times, and a major step towards the kind of representative government we take for granted. The other highlight, though for different reasons, was Alan Clifford's paper on Calvin and John Wesley. According to Clifford, Calvin was really an Amyraldian, as was Wesley, which in effect means that Wesley was a Calvinist. You had to be there!!
But maybe the real highlight of the whole three days was seeing Densil just evading a fine from a very serious looking Swiss bus conductor at 11 o'clock at night - but that's another story . . . . !!


John Maiden said...

Now I know I'm reading this quite late in the evening, but 'Calvin was really an Amyraldian, as was Wesley, which in effect means that Wesley was a Calvinist' - now thats got me rubbing me eyes!

Great blog, David. I envy your trip to Geneva. I'm sure it was excellent. Hope you are OK.

John Maiden

David Ceri Jones said...

Yes, quite an audacious line of argument I thought! He deals with this in more detail in Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology, 1640-1790 (Oxford, 1990).

Hope the OU job is going well. Are you going to the next Fundamentalism meeting in a couple of weeks?

John Maiden said...

Hoping to be at the EFP conf, or at least part of it - although it is the same week as our 'Building on History: The Church in London' project launch.

On another note, do you have the email address for a chap at Aberystwyth that is doing doctoral studies on William Joynson-Hicks? I tried his uni email address, but I suspect he doesn't check it.

Hope to see you next month. John

David Ceri Jones said...

All I have is his Aber uni address too. He's Huw Clayton, an dhis address is

I think he's just published, or about to publish a paper on him in the Twentieth Century British History journal.

Look forward to catching up in London.