Churchmen had been celibate for centuries, and John Calvin wondered if he, a first-generation Protestant, should break tradition. “I am not yet married,” he wrote. “Whether I shall ever marry I do not know. In any case, if I take a wife it will be that, freed from cares, I can consecrate myself to the Lord.”

He fell in love at age 30, but the marriage was called off. His friend William Farel suggested another woman, but Calvin was unimpressed. A third prospect looked promising, but Calvin was cautious. “I will look very foolish if my hope again falls through.”

It did. “I have not found a wife,” he lamented, “and frequently hesitate as to whether I ought any more to seek one.” Suddenly he noticed a widow in his congregation, Idelette de Bure, who had been converted through his preaching. He made frequent pastoral visits to her, and was smitten. They quickly married.

Idelette proved an ideal pastor’s wife. She visited the sick, poor, and distressed. She entertained visitors who came consulting her famous husband. She furnished her table with vegetables from her own garden. She bore patiently the loss of the couple’s three infants. She softened Calvin’s hard edge and provided him joy.

When Idelette fell ill, Calvin anguished. As the hour of death drew near, they talked about “the grace of Christ, the hope of everlasting life, our marriage, and her approaching departure.” Then he turned aside to pray. Idelette suddenly cried, “O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham and of all our fathers, the believers of all the ages have trusted on Thee and none has hoped in vain. And now I fix my hope on Thee.” Having thus spoken, she died. Calvin wrote to Farel on April 2, 1549, “Intelligence of my wife’s death has perhaps reached you. 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.”

John and Idelette enjoyed nine years together. Never again did John Calvin seek a wife, for no one could replace his ideal Idelette.

There are three or four things I cannot understand:
How eagles fly so high or snakes crawl on rocks,
How ships sail the ocean or people fall in love. (Proverbs 30:18,19)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 2.

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