This is a repost from my old blog on May 2, 2011. The way that Calvin loved his wife is evident in these letters. I highlighted a few items throughout these two letters that really hit me about the character of both Calvin and Idelette. She died in 1549 to a lengthy illness.
In the two letters that follow, Calvin gives details of Idelette’s death to Viret and Farel. His intense grief speaks to his deep love for her. And we see Calvin’s tenderness toward his wife as he tells of his steps to relieve any anxieties she may have had about the future of her children after her death. Such kindness is a model for spouses.
John Calvin to Pierre Viret
April 7, 1549
Although the death of my wife has been exceedingly painful to me, yet I subdue my grief as well as I can. Friends, also, are earnest in their duty to me. It might be wished, indeed, that they could profit me and themselves more; yet one can scarcely say how much I am supported by their attentions. But you know well enough how tender, or rather soft, my mind is. Had not a powerful self-control, therefore, been vouchsafed to me, I could not have borne up so long. And truly mine is no common source of grief, I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it so been ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the entire course of her illness; she was more anxious about her children than about herself. As I feared these private cares might annoy her to no purpose, I took occasion, on the third day before her death, to mention that I would not fail in discharging my duty to her children. Taking up the matter immediately, she said, “I have already committed them to God.” When I said that was not to prevent me from caring for them, she replied, “I know you will not neglect what you know has been committed to God.”
John Calvin to Guillaume Farel
Geneva, April 11, 1549
Intelligence of my wife’s death has perhaps reached you before now. I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief. My friends also leave nothing undone that may administer relief to my mental suffering. When your brother left, her life was all but despaired of. When the brethren were assembled on Tuesday, they thought it best that we should join together in prayer. This was done. When Abel, in the name of the rest, exhorted her to faith and patience, she briefly (for she was greatly worn) stated her frame of mind. I afterwards added an exhortation, which seemed to me appropriate to the occasion. And then, as she made no allusion to her children, I fearing that, restrained by modesty, she might be feeling an anxiety concerning them, which would cause her greater suffering than the disease itself, declared in the presence of the brethren, that I should henceforth care for them as if they were my own. She replied, “I have already committed them to the Lord.” When I replied, that that was not to hinder me from doing my duty, she immediately answered, “If the Lord shall care for them, I know they will be commended to you.” Her magnanimity was so great, that she seemed to have already left the world.
About the sixth hour of the day, on which she yielded up her soul to the Lord, our brother Bourgouin addressed some pious words to her, and while he was doing so, she spoke aloud, so that all saw her heart was raised far above the world. For these were her words: “O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham, and all our fathers, in thee have the faithful trusted during so many past ages, and none of them have trusted in vain. I also will hope.” These short sentences were rather ejaculated than distinctly spoken. This did not come from the suggestion of others, but from her own reflections, so that she made it obvious in few words what were her own meditations.
I had to go out at six o’clock. Having been removed to another apartment after seven, she immediately began to decline. When she felt her voice suddenly failing her, she said: “Let us pray: let us pray. All pray for me.” I had not returned. She was unable to speak, and her mind seemed to be troubled. I, having spoken a few words about the love of Christ, the hope of eternal life, concerning our married life, and her departure, engaged in prayer. In full possession of her mind, she both heard the prayer, and attended to it. Before eight she expired, so calmly, that those present could scarcely distinguish between her life and death. I at present control my sorrow so that my duties may not be interfered with….
Adieu, brother, and very excellent friend. May the Lord Jesus strengthen you by his Spirit; and may he support me also under this heavy affliction, which would certainly overcome me had no he, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretched forth his hand from heaven to me. Salute all the brethren and your whole family.
Calvin never remarried.