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Sixteenth-century portrait of John Calvin by an unknown artist. From the collection of the Bibliothèque de Genève (Library of Geneva)

John Calvin (Middle French: Jean Cauvin; 10 July 1509 – 27 May 1564) was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where in 1536 he published the first edition of his seminal work Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In that year, Calvin was invited by William Farel to help reform the church in Geneva. The city council resisted the implementation of Calvin and Farel's ideas, and both men were expelled. At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg, where he became the minister of a church of French refugees. He continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and was eventually invited back to lead its church. Following his return, he introduced new forms of church government and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the city who tried to curb his authority. During this period, Michael Servetus, a Spaniard known for his heretical views, arrived in Geneva. He was denounced by Calvin and executed by the city council. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new elections to the city council, Calvin's opponents were forced out. Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva and throughout Europe.

Calvin was a tireless polemic and apologetic writer who generated much controversy. He also exchanged cordial and supportive letters with many reformers including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In addition to the Institutes, he wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible as well as theological treatises and confessional documents, and he regularly gave sermons throughout the week in Geneva. Calvin was influenced by the Augustinian tradition, which led him to expound the doctrine of predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.

Calvin's writing and preachings provided the seeds for the branch of theology that bears his name. The Presbyterian and other Reformed churches, which look to Calvin as a chief expositor of their beliefs, have spread throughout the world. Calvin's thought exerted considerable influence over major religious figures and entire religious movements, such as Puritanism, and some political historians have argued that his ideas have contributed to the rise of capitalism and representative democracy in the West.


Early life (1509–1535)

Calvin was born Jean Cauvin on 10 July 1509 in the town of Noyon in the Picardy region of France. He was the second of three sons who survived infancy. His father, Gérard Cauvin, had a prosperous career as the cathedral notary and registrar to the ecclesiastical court. His mother, Jeanne le Franc, was the daughter of an innkeeper from Cambrai. She died a few years after Calvin's birth. Gérard intended his three sons—Charles, Jean, and Antoine—for the priesthood. Jean was particularly precocious; by the age of twelve, he was employed by the bishop as a clerk and received the tonsure, cutting his hair to symbolise his dedication to the Church. He also won the patronage of an influential family, the Montmors.[1] Through their assistance, Calvin was able to attend the Collège de la Marche in Paris, where he learned Latin from one of its greatest teachers, Mathurin Cordier.[2] Once he completed the course, he entered the Collège de Montaigu as a philosophy student.[3]

Calvin was originally interested in the priesthood, but he changed course to study law in Orléans and Bourges. Painting titled Portrait of Young John Calvin from the collection of the Library of Geneva.

In 1525 or 1526, Gérard withdrew his son from Montaigu and enrolled him in the University of Orléans to study law. According to contemporary biographers Theodore Beza and Nicolas Colladon, Gérard believed his son would earn more money as a lawyer than as a priest.[4] After a few years of quiet study, Calvin entered the University of Bourges in 1529. He was intrigued by the presence of Andreas Alciati, a humanist lawyer. Humanism was a European intellectual movement which stressed classical studies. During his eighteen-month stay in Bourges Calvin learned Greek, a necessity for studying the New Testament.[5]

Sometime during this period Calvin experienced a sudden religious conversion. Not much is known of the surrounding circumstances, but he made one reference to it in the preface to his Commentary on the Book of Psalms: "God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour."[6] Scholars have argued about the precise interpretation of this statement, but it is agreed that his conversion corresponded with his break from the Roman Catholic Church.[7][8]

By 1532, he received his licentiate in law and published his first book, a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia. After uneventful trips to Orléans and his hometown of Noyon, Calvin returned to Paris in October 1533. During this time, tensions rose at the Collège Royal (later to become the Collège de France) between the humanists/reformers and the conservative senior faculty members. One of the reformers, Nicolas Cop, was rector of the university. On 1 November 1533 he devoted his inaugural address to the need for reform and renewal in the Catholic Church. The address provoked a strong reaction from the faculty, who denounced it as heretical, forcing Cop to flee to Basel. Calvin, a close friend of Cop, was implicated in the offense, and for the next year he was forced into hiding. He remained on the move, sheltering with his friend Louis du Tillet in Angoulême and taking refuge in Noyon and Orléans. He was finally forced to flee France during the Affair of the Placards in mid-October 1534. In that incident, unknown reformers had posted placards in various cities attacking the Catholic mass, which provoked a violent backlash against Protestants. In January 1535, Calvin joined Cop in Basel, a city under the influence of the reformer Johannes Oecolampadius.[9]

Reform work commences (1536–1538)

In March 1536, Calvin published the first edition of his Institutio Christianae Religionis or Institutes of the Christian Religion. The work was an apologia or defense of his faith and a statement of the doctrinal position of the reformers. He also intended it to serve as an elementary instruction book for anyone interested in the Christian religion. The book was the first expression of his theology. Calvin updated the work and published new editions throughout his life.[10] Shortly after its publication, he left Basel for Ferrara, Italy, where he briefly served as secretary to Princess Renée of France. By June he was back in Paris with his brother Antoine, who was resolving their father's affairs. Following the Edict of Coucy, which gave a limited six-month period for heretics to reconcile with the Catholic faith, Calvin decided that there was no future for him in France. In August he set off for Strasbourg, a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire and a refuge for reformers. Due to military manoeuvres of imperial and French forces, he was forced to make a detour to the south, bringing him to Geneva. Calvin had only intended to stay a single night, but William Farel, a fellow French reformer residing in the city, implored Calvin to stay and assist him in reforming the church there. Calvin quietly accepted without any preconditions on his tasks or duties.[11] The office to which he was initially assigned is unknown. He was eventually given the title of "reader", which most likely meant that he could give expository lectures on the Bible. Sometime in 1537 he was selected to be a "pastor", although he never received any pastoral consecration.[12] For the first time, the lawyer-theologian took up pastoral duties such as baptisms, weddings, and church services.[13]

William Farel was the reformer who convinced Calvin to stay in Geneva. Portrait from Theodore Beza's Icones (1580).

Throughout the fall of 1536, Farel drafted a confession of faith while Calvin wrote separate articles on reorganising the church in Geneva. On 16 January 1537, Farel and Calvin presented their Articles concernant l'organisation de l'église et du culte à Genève (Articles on the Organisation of the Church and its Worship at Geneva) to the city council.[14] The document described the manner and frequency of their celebrations of the eucharist, the reason for and the method of excommunication, the requirement to subscribe to the confession of faith, the use of congregational singing in the liturgy, and the revision of marriage laws. The council accepted the document on the same day.[15]

Throughout the year, however, Calvin and Farel's reputation with the council began to suffer. The council was reluctant to enforce the subscription requirement as only a few citizens had subscribed to their confession of faith. On 26 November, the two ministers heatedly debated the council over the issue. Furthermore, France was taking an interest in forming an alliance with Geneva and as the two ministers were Frenchmen, councillors began to question their loyalty. Finally, a major ecclesiastical-political quarrel developed when Bern, Geneva’s ally in the reformation of the Swiss churches, proposed to introduce uniformity in the church ceremonies. One proposal required the use of unleavened bread for the eucharist. The two ministers were unwilling to follow Bern's lead and delayed the use of such bread until a synod in Zürich could be convened to make the final decision. The council ordered Calvin and Farel to use unleavened bread for the Easter eucharist; in protest, the ministers did not administer communion during the Easter service. This caused a riot during the service and the next day, the council told the ministers to leave Geneva.[16]

Farel and Calvin went to Bern and Zürich to plead their case. The synod in Zürich placed most of the blame on Calvin for not being sympathetic enough toward the people of Geneva. However, it asked Bern to mediate with the aim of restoring the ministers. The Geneva council refused to readmit the two men, who took refuge in Basel. Subsequently Farel received an invitation to lead the church in Neuchâtel. Calvin was invited to lead a church of French refugees in Strasbourg by that city's leading reformers, Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito. Initially Calvin refused because Farel was not included in the invitation, but when Bucer appealed to him Calvin relented. By September, Calvin had taken up his new position in Strasbourg, fully expecting that this time it would be permanent; a few months later, he applied for and was granted citizenship of the city.[17]

Minister in Strasbourg (1538–1541)

Saint-Nicolas Church, Strasbourg, where Calvin preached in 1538. The building was architecturally modified in the 19th century.

During his time in Strasbourg, Calvin was not affected to one particular church, but held his office successively in the Saint-Nicolas Church, the Sainte-Madeleine Church and the former Dominican Church, renamed the Temple Neuf.[18] (All of these churches still exist today, but none of them in the architectural state of Calvin's days.) Calvin ministered to four or five hundred members in his church. He preached or lectured every day with two sermons on Sunday. Communion was celebrated monthly and congregational psalms singing was encouraged.[19] He also worked on the second edition of the Institutes. Although the first edition sold out within a year, Calvin was dissatisfied with its structure as a catechism, a primer for young Christians. For the second edition, published in 1539, Calvin dropped this format in favour of systematically presenting the main doctrines from scripture. In the process, the book was enlarged from six chapters to seventeen.[20] He concurrently worked on another book, the Commentary on Romans, which was published in March 1540. The book was a model for his later commentaries: it included his own Latin translation from the Greek rather than the Latin Vulgate, an exegesis, and an exposition.[21] In the dedicatory letter, Calvin praised the work of his predecessors Philipp Melanchthon, Heinrich Bullinger, and Martin Bucer, but he also took care to state that his own work was distinct and courteously criticised some of the shortcomings of these three major reformers.[22]

Martin Bucer invited Calvin to Strasbourg after he was expelled from Geneva. Illustration by Jean-Jacques Boissard

Calvin's friends soon began to urge him to marry. Calvin took a prosaic view on the issue of his own marriage, writing to one correspondent, "I, who have the air of being so hostile to celibacy, I am still not married and do not know whether I will ever be. If I take a wife it will be because, being better freed from numerous worries, I can devote myself to the Lord."[23] Several candidates were presented to him including one young woman from a noble family. Reluctantly, Calvin agreed to the marriage, on the condition that she would learn French. Although a wedding date was planned for sometime in March 1540, he remained reluctant and the wedding never took place. He later wrote that he would never think of marrying her, "unless the Lord had entirely bereft me of my wits".[24] Instead, in August of that year, he married Idelette de Bure, a widow who had two children from her first marriage.[25]

Meanwhile Geneva had begun to reconsider its expulsion of Calvin. Church attendance had dwindled and the political climate had changed; as Bern and Geneva quarreled over land, their alliance frayed. When Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto wrote a letter to the city council inviting Geneva to return to the Catholic faith, the council searched for an ecclesiastical authority to respond to him. At first Pierre Viret was consulted, but when he refused, the council asked Calvin. He agreed and his Responsio ad Sadoletum (Letter to Sadoleto), while courteous, strongly defended Geneva's position concerning reforms in the church.[26] On 21 September 1540 the council commissioned one of its members, Ami Perrin, to find a way to recall Calvin. An embassy reached Calvin while he was at a colloquy, a conference to settle religious disputes, in Worms. His reaction to the suggestion of returning to Geneva was one of horror in which he wrote, "Rather would I submit to death a hundred times than to that cross on which I had to perish daily a thousand times over."[27]

Despite his hesitation, he also wrote that he was prepared to follow the Lord's calling. A plan was drawn up in which Viret would be appointed to take temporary charge in Geneva for six months while Bucer and Calvin would visit the city to determine the next steps. However, the city council pressed for the immediate appointment of Calvin in Geneva. By summer 1541, it was finally decided that Strasbourg would lend Calvin to Geneva for six months. Calvin returned on 13 September 1541 and quite unlike his first entry into Geneva as a refugee, he arrived with an official escort and a wagon for his family.[28]

Reform in Geneva (1541–1549)

In supporting Calvin's proposals for reforms, the council of Geneva passed the Ordonnances ecclésiastiques (Ecclesiastical Ordinances) on 20 November 1541. The ordinances defined four orders of ministerial function: pastors to preach and to administer the sacraments; doctors to instruct believers in the faith; elders to provide discipline; and deacons to care for the poor and needy.[29] They also called for the creation of the Consistoire (Consistory), an ecclesiastical court composed of the lay elders and the ministers. The city government retained the power to summon persons before the court and the Consistory could judge only ecclesiastical matters having no civil jurisdiction. Originally, the court had the power to mete out sentences, with excommunication as its most severe penalty. However, the government contested this power and on 19 March 1543 the council decided that all sentencing would be carried out by the government.[30]

Calvin preached at St. Pierre Cathedral, the main church in Geneva.

In 1542, Calvin adapted a service book used in Strasbourg, publishing La Forme des Prières et Chants Ecclésiastiques (The Form of Prayers and Church Hymns). Calvin recognised the power of music and he intended that it be used to support scripture readings. The original Strasbourg psalter contained twelve psalms by Clément Marot and Calvin added several more hymns of his own composition in the Geneva version. At the end of 1542, Marot became a refugee in Geneva and contributed nineteen more psalms. Louis Bourgeois, also a refugee, lived and taught music in Geneva for sixteen years and Calvin took the opportunity to add his hymns, the most famous being the Old Hundredth.[31]

In the same year of 1542, Calvin published Catéchisme de l'Eglise de Genève (Catechism of the Church of Geneva), which was inspired by Bucer's Kurze Schrifftliche Erklärung of 1534. Calvin had written an earlier catechism during his first stay in Geneva which was largely based on Martin Luther's Large Catechism. The first version was arranged pedagogically, describing Law, Faith, and Prayer. The 1542 version was rearranged for theological reasons, covering Faith first, then Law and Prayer.[32]

During his ministry in Geneva, Calvin preached over two thousand sermons. Initially he preached twice on Sunday and three times during the week. This proved to be too heavy a burden and late in 1542 the council allowed him to preach only once on Sunday. However, in October 1549, he was again required to preach twice on Sundays and, in addition, every weekday of alternate weeks. His sermons lasted more than an hour and he did not use notes. An occasional secretary tried to record his sermons, but very little of his preaching was preserved before 1549. In that year, professional scribe Denis Raguenier, who had learned or developed a system of shorthand, was assigned to record all of Calvin's sermons. An analysis of his sermons by T. H. L. Parker suggests that Calvin was a consistent preacher and his style changed very little over the years.[33][34]

Very little is known about Calvin's personal life in Geneva. His house and furniture were owned by the council. The house was big enough to accommodate his family as well as Antoine's family and some servants. On 28 July 1542, Idelette gave birth to a son, Jacques, but he was born prematurely and survived only briefly. Idelette fell ill in 1545 and died on 29 March 1549. Calvin never married again. He expressed his sorrow in a letter to Viret:

I have been bereaved of the best friend of my life, of one who, if it has been so ordained, would willingly have shared not only my poverty but also my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance.[35]

Throughout the rest of his life in Geneva, he maintained several friendships from his early years including Montmor, Cordier, Cop, Farel, Melanchthon, and Bullinger.[36]

Discipline and opposition (1546–1553)

Calvin encountered bitter opposition to his work in Geneva. Around 1546, the uncoordinated forces coalesced into an identifiable group whom he referred to as the libertines. According to Calvin, these were people who felt that after being liberated through grace, they were exempted from both ecclesiastical and civil law. The group consisted of wealthy, politically powerful, and interrelated families of Geneva.[37] At the end of January 1546, Pierre Ameaux, a maker of playing cards who had already been in trouble with the Consistory, attacked Calvin by calling him a "Picard", an epithet denoting anti-French sentiment, and accused him of false doctrine. Ameaux was punished by the council and forced to make expiation by parading through the city and begging God for forgiveness.[38] A few months later Ami Perrin, the man who had brought Calvin to Geneva, moved into open opposition. Perrin had married Françoise Favre, daughter of François Favre, a well-established Genevan merchant. Both Perrin's wife and father-in-law had previous quarrels with the Consistory. The court noted that many of Geneva's notables, including Perrin, had breached a law against dancing. Initially, Perrin ignored the court when he was summoned, but after receiving a letter from Calvin, he acquiesced and appeared quietly before the Consistory.[39]

By 1547, opposition to Calvin and other French refugee ministers had grown to constitute the majority of the syndics, the civil magistrates of Geneva. On 27 June an unsigned threatening letter in Genevan dialect was found at the pulpit of St. Pierre Cathedral where Calvin preached. Suspecting a plot against both the church and the state, the council appointed a commission to investigate. Jacques Gruet, a Genevan member of Favre's group, was arrested and incriminating evidence was found when his house was searched. Under torture, he confessed to several crimes including writing the letter left in the pulpit which threatened God and his ambassadors and endeavouring to subvert church order. The civil court condemned him to death and with Calvin's consent, he was beheaded on 26 July.[40]

The libertines continued their opposition, taking opportunities to stir up discontent, to insult the ministers, and to defy the authority of the Consistory. The council straddled both sides of the conflict, alternately admonishing and upholding Calvin. When Perrin was elected first syndic in February 1552, Calvin's authority appeared to be at its lowest point. After some losses before the council, Calvin believed he was defeated; on 24 July 1553 he asked the council to allow him to resign. Although the libertines controlled the council, his request was refused. The opposition realised that they could curb Calvin's authority, but they did not have enough power to banish him.[41]

Michael Servetus (1553)

Michael Servetus exchanged many letters with Calvin until Calvin decided he was a heretic.

The turning point in Calvin's fortunes occurred when Michael Servetus, a fugitive from ecclesiastical authorities, appeared in Geneva on 13 August 1553. Servetus was a Spaniard who boldly criticised Christian dogma. In particular, he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. In July 1530 he disputed with Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel and was eventually expelled. He went to Strasbourg where he published a pamphlet against the Trinity. Bucer publicly refuted it and asked Servetus to leave. After returning to Basel, Servetus published Dialogorum de Trinitate libri duo (Two Books of Dialogues on the Trinity) which caused a sensation among Reformers and Catholics alike. The Inquisition in Spain ordered his arrest.[42]

Calvin and Servetus were first brought into contact in 1546 through a common acquaintance, Jean Frellon of Lyon. They exchanged letters debating doctrine until Calvin lost patience and refused to respond; by this time Servetus had written around thirty letters to Calvin. Calvin was particularly outraged when Servetus sent him a copy of the Institutes of the Christian Religion heavily annotated with arguments pointing to errors in the book. When Servetus mentioned that he would come to Geneva if Calvin agreed, Calvin wrote a letter to Farel on 13 February 1547 noting that if Servetus were to come, he would not assure him safe conduct: "for if he came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive."[43]

In 1553 when the inquisitor-general of France learned that Servetus was hiding in Vienne under an assumed name, he contacted Cardinal François de Tournon, the secretary of the archbishop of Lyon, to take up the matter. Servetus was arrested and taken in for questioning. His letters to Calvin were presented as evidence of heresy, but he denied having written them. He managed to escape from prison, and the Catholic authorities sentenced him in absentia to death by slow burning.[44]

On his way to Italy, Servetus stopped in Geneva for unknown reasons and attended one of Calvin's sermons in St Pierre. Calvin had him arrested, and Calvin's secretary Nicholas de la Fontaine composed a list of accusations that was submitted before the court. The prosecutor was Philibert Berthelier, a member of a libertine family and son of a famous Geneva patriot, and the sessions were led by Pierre Tissot, Perrin's brother-in-law. The libertines allowed the trial to drag on in an attempt to harass Calvin. The difficulty in using Servetus as a weapon against Calvin was that the heretical reputation of Servetus was widespread and most of the cities in Europe were observing and awaiting the outcome of the trial. This posed a dilemma for the libertines, so on 21 August the council decided to write to other Swiss churches for their opinions, thus mitigating their own responsibility for the final decision. While waiting for the responses, the council also asked Servetus if he preferred to be judged in Vienne or in Geneva. He begged to stay in Geneva. On 20 October the replies from Zürich, Basel, Bern, and Schaffhausen were read and the council condemned Servetus as a heretic. The following day he was sentenced to burning at the stake, the same sentence as in Vienne. Calvin and other ministers asked that he be beheaded instead of burnt. This plea was refused and on 27 October, Servetus was burnt alive—atop a pyre of his own books—at the Plateau of Champel at the edge of Geneva.[45]

Securing the Reformation (1553–1555)

After the death of Servetus, Calvin was acclaimed a defender of Christianity, but his ultimate triumph over the libertines was still two years away. He had always insisted that the Consistory retain the power of excommunication, despite the council's past decision to take it away. During Servetus's trial, Philibert Berthelier asked the council for permission to take communion, as he had been excommunicated the previous year for insulting a minister. Calvin protested that the council did not have the legal authority to overturn Berthelier's excommunication. Unsure of how the council would rule, he hinted in a sermon on 3 September 1553 that he might be dismissed by the authorities. The council decided to re-examine the Ordonnances and on 18 September it voted in support of Calvin—excommunication was within the jurisdiction of the Consistory. Berthelier applied for reinstatement to another Genevan administrative assembly, the Deux Cents (Two Hundred), in November. This body reversed the council's decision and stated that the final arbiter concerning excommunication should be the council. However, the ministers continued to protest and as in the case of Servetus, the opinions of the Swiss churches were sought. The affair dragged on through 1554. Finally, on 22 January 1555, the council announced the decision of the Swiss churches: the original Ordonnances were to be kept and the Consistory was to regain its official powers.[46]

The libertines' downfall began with the February 1555 elections. By then, many of the French refugees had been granted citizenship and with their support, Calvin's partisans elected the majority of the syndics and the councillors. The libertines plotted to make trouble and on 16 May they set off to burn down a house that was supposedly full of Frenchmen. The syndic Henri Aulbert tried to intervene, carrying with him the baton of office that symbolised his power. Perrin made the mistake of seizing the baton, thereby signifying that he was taking power, a virtual coup d'état. The insurrection was over as soon as it started when another syndic appeared and ordered Perrin to go with him to the town hall. Perrin and other leaders were forced to flee the city. With the approval of Calvin, the other plotters who remained in the city were found and executed. The opposition to Calvin's church polity came to an end.[47]

Final years (1555–1564)

John Calvin at 53-years-old in an engraving by René Boyvin.

Calvin's authority was practically uncontested during his final years, and he enjoyed an international reputation as a reformer distinct from Martin Luther.[48] Initially, Luther and Calvin had mutual respect for each other. However, a doctrinal conflict had developed between Luther and Zürich reformer Huldrych Zwingli on the interpretation of the eucharist. Calvin's opinion on the issue forced Luther to place him in Zwingli's camp. Calvin actively participated in the polemics that were exchanged between the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation movement.[49] At the same time, Calvin was dismayed by the lack of unity among the reformers. He took steps toward rapprochement with Bullinger by signing the Consensus Tigurinus, a concordat between the Zürich and Geneva churches. He reached out to England when Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer called for an ecumenical synod of all the evangelical churches. Calvin praised the idea, but ultimately Cranmer was unable to bring it to fruition.[50]

Calvin's greatest contribution toward the English-speaking community was through his sheltering of Marian exiles in Geneva starting in 1555. Under the city's protection, they were able to form their own reformed church under John Knox and William Whittingham and eventually carried Calvin's ideas on doctrine and polity back to England and Scotland.[51] However, Calvin was most interested in reforming his homeland, France. He supported the building of churches by distributing literature and providing ministers. Between 1555 and 1562, over one hundred ministers were sent to France. These efforts were funded entirely by the church in Geneva, as the city council had refused to become involved in missionary activities at the time. Henry II severely persecuted Protestants under the Edict of Chateaubriand and when the French authorities complained about the missionary activities, Geneva was able to disclaim responsibility.[52]

The Collège Calvin is now a college preparatory school for the Swiss Maturité.

Within Geneva, Calvin's main concern was the creation of a collège, an institute for the education of children. A site for the school was selected on 25 March 1558 and it opened the following year on 5 June 1559. Although the school was a single institution, it was divided into two parts: a grammar school called the collège or schola privata and an advanced school called the académie or schola publica. Calvin tried to recruit two professors for the institute, Mathurin Cordier, his old friend and Latin scholar who was now based in Lausanne, and Emmanuel Tremellius, the Regius professor of Hebrew in Cambridge. Neither were available, but he succeeded in obtaining Theodore Beza as rector. Within five years there were 1,200 students in the grammar school and 300 in the advanced school. The collège eventually became the Collège Calvin, one of the college preparatory schools of Geneva, while the académie became the University of Geneva.[53]

Traditional grave of Calvin in the Cimetière de Plainpalais in Geneva; the exact location of his grave is unknown.

In autumn 1558, Calvin became ill with a fever. Since he was afraid that he might die before completing the final revision of the Institutes, he forced himself to work. The final edition was greatly expanded to the extent that Calvin referred to it as a new work. The expansion from twenty-one chapters of the previous edition to eighty was due to the extended treatment of existing material rather than the addition of new topics.[54] Shortly after he recovered, he strained his voice while preaching, which brought on a violent fit of coughing. He burst a blood-vessel in his lungs, and his health steadily declined. He preached his final sermon in St. Pierre on 6 February 1564. On 25 April, he made his will, in which he left small sums to his family and to the collège. A few days later, the ministers of the church came to visit him, and he bid his final farewell, which was recorded in Discours d'adieu aux ministres. He recounted his life in Geneva, sometimes recalling bitterly some of the hardships he had suffered. Calvin died on 27 May 1564 aged 54. At first his body was laid in state, but since so many people came to see it, the reformers were afraid that they would be accused of fostering a new saint's cult. On the following day, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cimetière de Plainpalais.[55] While the exact location of the grave is unknown, a stone was added in the 19th century to mark a grave traditionally thought to be Calvin's.[56]


Calvin develops his theology in his biblical commentaries as well as his sermons and treatises, but the most concise expression of his views is found in his magnum opus, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. He intended that the book be used as a summary of his views on Christian theology and that it be read in conjunction with his commentaries.[57] The various editions of that work span nearly his entire career as a reformer, and the successive revisions of the book show that his theology changed very little from his youth to his death.[58] The first edition from 1536 consisted of only six chapters. The second edition, published in 1539, was three times as long because he added chapters on subjects that appear in Melanchthon's Loci Communes. In 1543, he again added new material and expanded a chapter on the Apostles' Creed. The final edition of the Institutes appeared in 1559. By then, the work consisted of four books of eighty chapters, and each book was named after statements from the creed: Book 1 on God the Creator, Book 2 on the Redeemer in Christ, Book 3 on receiving the Grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and Book 4 on the Society of Christ or the Church.[59]

Title page from the final edition of Calvin's magnum opus, Institutio Christiane Religionis, which summarises his theology.

The first statement in the Institutes acknowledges its central theme. It states that the sum of human wisdom consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.[60] Calvin argues that the knowledge of God is not inherent in humanity nor can it be discovered by observing this world. The only way to obtain it is to study scripture. Calvin writes, "For anyone to arrive at God the Creator he needs Scripture as his Guide and Teacher."[61] He does not try to prove the authority of scripture but rather describes it as autopiston or self-authenticating. He defends the trinitarian view of God and, in a strong polemical stand against the Catholic Church, argues that images of God lead to idolatry.[62] At the end of the first book, he offers his views on providence, writing, "By his Power God cherishes and guards the World which he made and by his Providence rules its individual Parts."[63] Humans are unable to fully comprehend why God performs any particular action, but whatever good or evil people may practise, their efforts always result in the execution of God's will and judgments.[64]

The second book includes several essays on the original sin and the fall of man, which directly refer to Augustine, who developed these doctrines. He often cited the Church Fathers in order to defend the reformed cause against the charge that the reformers were creating new theology.[65] In Calvin's view, sin began with the fall of Adam and propagated to all of humanity. The domination of sin is complete to the point that people are driven to evil.[66] Thus fallen humanity is in need of the redemption that can be found in Christ. But before Calvin expounded on this doctrine, he described the special situation of the Jews who lived during the time of the Old Testament. God made a covenant with Abraham and the substance of the promise was the coming of Christ. Hence, the old covenant was not in opposition to Christ, but was rather a continuation of God's promise. Calvin then describes the New Covenant using the passage from the Apostles' Creed that describes Christ's suffering under Pontius Pilate and his return to judge the living and the dead. For Calvin, the whole course of Christ's obedience to the Father removed the discord between humanity and God.[67]

In the third book, Calvin describes how the spiritual union of Christ and humanity is achieved. He first defines faith as the firm and certain knowledge of God in Christ. The immediate effects of faith are repentance and the remission of sin. This is followed by spiritual regeneration, which returns the believer to the state of holiness before Adam's transgression. However, complete perfection is unattainable in this life, and the believer should expect a continual struggle against sin.[68] Several chapters are then devoted to the subject of justification by faith alone. He defined justification as "the acceptance by which God regards us as righteous whom he has received into grace."[69] In this definition, it is clear that it is God who initiates and carries through the action and that people play no role; God is completely sovereign in salvation.[70] Near the end of the book, Calvin describes and defends the doctrine of predestination, a doctrine advanced by Augustine in opposition to the teachings of Pelagius. Fellow theologians who followed the Augustinian tradition on this point included Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther. The principle, in Calvin's words, is that "God adopts some to the hope of life and adjudges others to eternal death."[71]

The final book describes what he considers to be the true Church and its ministry, authority, and sacraments. He denied the papal claim to primacy and the accusation that the reformers were schismatic. For Calvin, the Church was defined as the body of believers who placed Christ at its head. By definition, there was only one "catholic" or "universal" Church. Hence, he argued that the reformers, "had to leave them in order that we might come to Christ."[72] The ministers of the Church are described from a passage from Ephesians, and they consisted of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and doctors. Calvin regarded the first three offices as temporary, limited in their existence to the time of the New Testament. The latter two offices were established in the church in Geneva. Although Calvin respected the work of the ecumenical councils, he considered them to be subject to God's Word, the teaching of scripture. He also believed that the civil and church authorities were separate and should not interfere with each other.[73]

Calvin defined a sacrament as an earthly sign associated with a promise from God. He accepted only two sacraments as valid under the new covenant: baptism and the Lord's Supper (in opposition to the Catholic acceptance of seven sacraments). He completely rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and the treatment of the Supper as a sacrifice. He also could not accept the Lutheran doctrine of sacramental union in which Christ was "in, with and under" the elements. His own view was close to Zwingli's symbolic view, but it was not identical. Rather than holding a purely symbolic view, Calvin noted that with the participation of the Holy Spirit, faith was nourished and strengthened by the sacrament. In his words, the eucharistic rite was "a secret too sublime for my mind to understand or words to express. I experience it rather than understand it."[74]



Joachim Westphal disagreed with Calvin's theology on the eucharist.

Calvin's theology was not without controversy. Pierre Caroli, a Protestant minister in Lausanne accused Calvin as well as Viret and Farel of Arianism in 1536. Calvin was forced to defend his beliefs on the Trinity in Confessio de Trinitate propter calumnias P. Caroli.[75] In 1551 Jérôme-Hermès Bolsec, a physician in Geneva, attacked Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and accused him of making God the author of sin. Bolsec was banished from the city, and after Calvin’s death, he wrote a biography which severely maligned Calvin’s character.[76] In the following year, Joachim Westphal, a Gnesio-Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, condemned Calvin and Zwingli as heretics in denying the eucharistic doctrine of the union of Christ's body with the elements. Calvin's Defensio sanae et orthodoxae doctrinae de sacramentis (A Defence of the Sober and Orthodox Doctrine of the Sacrament) was his response in 1555.[77] Following the execution of Servetus, a close associate of Calvin, Sebastian Castellio broke with him on the issue of the maltreatment of heretics. In Castellio's Treatise on Heretics (1554), he argued for a focus on Christ's moral teachings in place of the vanity of theology,[78] and he afterward developed a theory of tolerance based on biblical principles.[79]

Calvin and the Jews

Scholars have debated over Calvin's view of the Jews and Judaism. Some have argued that Calvin was the least anti-semitic among all the major reformers of his time especially in comparison to Martin Luther. Others have pointed out that Calvin was firmly within the anti-semitic camp.[80] Scholars agree, however, that it is important to distinguish between Calvin's views toward the biblical Jews and his attitude toward contemporary Jews. In his theology, Calvin demonstrates unusual tolerance as he does not differentiate between God's covenant with the Jews and the New Covenant. He states, "all the children of the promise, reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love, have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began."[81] Hence, he broke from the medieval tradition of using exegetical studies of the Old Testament for the purpose of anti-semitic attacks. On the other hand, most of Calvin's statements on contemporary Jewry were highly polemical, using the negative stereotypes typical of the sixteenth-century. In one example, he states, "I have had much conversation with many Jews: I have never seen either a drop of piety or a grain of truth or ingenuousness—nay, I have never found common sense in any Jew."[82] In this respect, Calvin differed little from other Protestant and Catholic clerics of his day.[83]

Selected works

Calvin's first published work was a commentary of Seneca the Younger's De Clementia. Published at his own expense in 1532, it showed that he was a humanist in the tradition of Erasmus with a thorough understanding of classical scholarship.[84] His first theological work, the Psychopannychia, attempted to refute the doctrine of soul sleep as promulgated by the Anabaptists. Calvin probably wrote it during the period following Cop's speech, but it was not published until 1542 in Strasbourg.[85]

Calvin wrote many letters to religious and political leaders throughout Europe, including this one sent to Edward VI of England.

Calvin produced commentaries on most of the books of the Bible. His first commentary on Romans was published in 1540, and he planned to write commentaries on the entire New Testament. Six years passed before he wrote his second, a commentary on I Corinthians, but after that he devoted more attention to reaching his goal. Within four years he had published commentaries on all the Pauline epistles, and he also revised the commentary on Romans. He then turned his attention to the general epistles, dedicating them to Edward VI of England. By 1555 he had completed his work on the New Testament, finishing with the Acts and the Gospels (he omitted only the brief second and third Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation). For the Old Testament, he wrote commentaries on Isaiah, the books of the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and Joshua. The material for the commentaries often originated from lectures to students and ministers that he reworked for publication. However, from 1557 onwards, he could not find the time to continue this method, and he gave permission for his lectures to be published from stenographers' notes. These Praelectiones covered the minor prophets, Daniel, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and part of Ezekiel.[86]

Calvin also wrote many letters and treatises. Following the Responsio ad Sadoletum, Calvin wrote an open letter at the request of Bucer to Charles V in 1543, Supplex exhortatio ad Caesarem, defending the reformed faith. This was followed by an open letter to the pope (Admonitio paterna Pauli III) in 1544, in which Calvin admonished Paul III for depriving the reformers of any prospect of rapprochement. The pope proceeded to open the Council of Trent, which resulted in decrees against the reformers. Calvin refuted the decrees by producing the Acta synodi Tridentinae cum Antidoto in 1547. When Charles tried to find a compromise solution with the Augsburg Interim, Bucer and Bullinger urged Calvin to respond. He wrote the treatise, Vera christiannae pacificationis et Ecclesiae reformandae ratio in 1549, in which he described the doctrines that should be upheld, including justification by faith.[87]

Calvin provided many of the foundational documents for reformed churches, including documents on the catechism, the liturgy, and church governance. He also produced several confessions of faith in order to unite the churches. In 1559, he drafted the French confession of faith, the Gallic Confession, and the synod in Paris accepted it with few changes. The Belgic Confession of 1561, a Dutch confession of faith, was partly based on the Gallic Confession.[88]


Portrait of Calvin by Titian.

After the deaths of Calvin and his successor, Beza, the Geneva city council gradually gained control over areas of life that were previously in the ecclesiastical domain. Increasing secularisation was accompanied by the decline of the church. Even the Geneva académie was eclipsed by universities in Leiden and Heidelberg, which became the new strongholds of Calvin's ideas, first identified as "Calvinism" by Joachim Westphal in 1552. By 1585, Geneva, once the wellspring of the reform movement, had become merely its symbol.[89] However, Calvin had always warned against describing him as an "idol" and Geneva as a new "Jerusalem". He encouraged people to adapt to the environments in which they found themselves. Even during his polemical exchange with Westphal, he advised a group of French-speaking refugees, who had settled in Wesel, Germany, to integrate with the local Lutheran churches. Despite his differences with the Lutherans, he did not deny that they were members of the true Church. Calvin’s recognition of the need to adapt to local conditions became an important characteristic of the reformation movement as it spread across Europe.[90]

Due to Calvin's missionary work in France, his programme of reform eventually reached the French-speaking provinces of the Netherlands. Calvinism was adopted in the Palatinate under Frederick III, which led to the formulation of the Heidelberg Catechism in 1563. This and the Belgic Confession were adopted as confessional standards in the first synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1571. Leading divines, either Calvinist or those sympathetic to Calvinism, settled in England (Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr, and Jan Laski) and Scotland (John Knox). During the English Civil War, the Calvinistic Puritans produced the Westminster Confession, which became the confessional standard for Presbyterians in the English-speaking world. Having established itself in Europe, the movement continued to spread to other parts of the world including North America, South Africa, and Korea.[91] Calvin did not live to see the foundation of his work grow into an international movement; but his death allowed his ideas to break out of their city of origin, to succeed far beyond their borders, and to establish their own distinct character.[92]

Calvin's legacy in modern times has produced a variety of opinions. Certainly the execution of Servetus has left a negative view of Calvin. Voltaire mentions the event in his Poème sur la loi naturelle (Poem on Natural Law, 1756) and Dialogues chrétiens (Christian Dialogues, 1760). For Voltaire, Calvin’s philosophy had not produced any improvement over the intolerance presented in previous revealed religions.[93] Calvin is discussed in Max Weber’s classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which he argues that Calvin's teachings provided ideological impetus for the development of capitalism.[94] John Stuart Mill saw Calvin's belief in the value of restraining one's self-will as damaging to the development of the individual, though.[95] Some political historians, such as George Bancroft, have recognised his contributions to the development of representative democracy in general and the American system of government in particular.[96]

See also

John Calvin
 Calvinism portal


  1. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 8–12; Parker 2006, pp. 17–20
  2. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 3–4; Cottret 2000, pp. 12–16; Parker 2006, p. 21. McGrath 1990, pp. 22–27 states that Nicolas Colladon was the source that he attended Collège de la Marche which McGrath disputes.
  3. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 17–18; Parker 2006, p. 22–23
  4. ^ Parker 1975, p. 15. According to Cottret 2000, p. 20, there may have been a family conflict with the clergy in Noyon.
  5. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 20–24; Parker 1975, p. 22–25
  6. ^ J. Calvin, preface to Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), pp. xl-xli as quoted in Cottret 2000, p. 67. The translation by Anderson is available at "The Author's Preface", Commentary on Psalms, 1,, retrieved 2009-01-14  See also Parker 2006, p. 200.
  7. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 9–10; Cottret 2000, pp. 65–70; Parker 2006, pp. 199–203; McGrath 1990, pp. 69–72
  8. ^ According to Cottret 2000, pp. 68–70, Ganoczy in his book Le Jeune Calvin. Genèse et evolution de sa vocation réformatrice, Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1966 p. 302, argues that Calvin conversion took place over several years and that it was not a biographical or chronological event. Cottret quotes Olivier Millet, Calvin et la dynamique de la Parole. Essai de rhétorique réformée, Paris: H. Champion 1992 p. 522, noting a typological rather than a biographical perspective of the account of his conversion. The biographical argument is promoted by D. Fischer, "Conversion de Calvin", Etudes Theéologiques et Religieuses 58 (1983) pp. 203–220. According to Parker 1975, pp. 192–196 Parker is in sympathy with Ganoczy’s view, but in his investigations, he concluded that a certain period for his conversion could be determined.
  9. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 7–8; Cottret 2000, pp. 63–65, 73–74, 82–88, 101; Parker 2006, pp. 47–51; McGrath 1990, p. 62–67
  10. ^ Ganoczy 2004, p. 9; Cottret 2000, pp. 110–114; Parker 2006, pp. 52, 72
  11. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 76–78; Cottret 2000, pp. 110, 118–120; Parker 2006, pp. 73–75
  12. ^ Cottret 2000, p. 120
  13. ^ Parker 2006, p. 80
  14. ^ De Greef 2004, p. 50
  15. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 128–129; Parker 1975, pp. 74–76
  16. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 98–100; Cottret 2000, pp. 129–131; Parker 2006, pp. 85–90
  17. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 101–102; Parker 2006, pp. 90–92
  18. ^ Calvin et Strasbourg (French)
  19. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 92–93
  20. ^ Parker 1995, pp. 4–5
  21. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 97–101
  22. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 143–146
  23. ^ Cottret 2000, p. 140
  24. ^ Parker 1975, p. 87
  25. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 139–142; Parker 2006, pp. 96–97
  26. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 12–14; De Greef 2004, p. 46; Cottret 2000, pp. 152–156
  27. ^ Parker 2006, p. 105
  28. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 103–107
  29. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 15–17
  30. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 165–166; Parker 2006, pp. 108–111
  31. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 172–174; Parker 2006, pp. 112–115
  32. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 170–171
  33. ^ DeVries 2004, pp. 106–124; Parker 2006, pp. 116–123
  34. ^ See also Parker, T. H. L. (2002), The Oracles of God: An Introduction to the Preaching of John Calvin, Cambridge: James Clarke Company, ISBN 0227170911 
  35. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 129–130
  36. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 183–184; Parker 2006, p. 131
  37. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 185–186; Parker 2006, pp. 124–126
  38. ^ Cottret 2000, p. 187; Parker 2006, p. 126
  39. ^ Parker 2006, p. 127
  40. ^ De Greef 2008, pp. 30–31; McNeil 1954, pp. 170–171; Cottret 2000, pp. 190–191; Parker 2006, pp. 136–138
  41. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 139–145
  42. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 213–216; Parker 2006, p. 146
  43. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 216–217; Parker 2006, pp. 147–148; Levy, Leonard W. (1995), Blasphemy: Verbal offense Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie, p. 65, ISBN 978-0-8078-4515-8.
  44. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 149–150
  45. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 118–120; Cottret 2000, pp. 222–225; Parker 2006, pp. 150–152
  46. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 195–198; Parker 2006, pp. 154–156
  47. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 198–200; Parker 2006, pp. 156–157
  48. ^ Cottret 2000, p. 235
  49. ^ Parker 1975, pp. 162–163
  50. ^ Parker 1975, pp. 164–165
  51. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 170–172
  52. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 182–184; Parker 2006, pp. 178–180
  53. ^ Olsen 2004, pp. 158–159; Ganoczy 2004, pp. 19–20; Cottret 2000, pp. 256–259; Parker 2006, pp. 157–160
  54. ^ Parker 2006, pp. 161–164
  55. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 195–196; Cottret 2000, pp. 259–262; Parker 2006, pp. 185–191
  56. ^ Rossel, Patrice (1994), Une visite du cimetière de Plainpalais, Les Iles futures ; Palfi, Véronique (2003), Le Cimetière des Rois, De l'hôpital des pestiférés au cimetière de Plainpalais, Cinq siècle d'histoire, étude historique pour la Conservation architecturale de la Ville de Genève 
  57. ^ Hesselink 2004, pp. 74–75; Parker 1995, pp. 4–9
  58. ^ Bouwsma 1988, p. 9; Helm 2004, p. 6; Hesselink 2004, pp. 75–77
  59. ^ Parker 1995, pp. 4–10; De Greef 2004, pp. 42–44; McGrath 1990, pp. 136–144, 151–174; Cottret 2000, pp. 110–114, 309–325; Parker 2006, pp. 53–62, 97–99, 132–134, 161–164
  60. ^ Niesel 1980, pp. 23–24; Hesselink 2004, pp. 77–78; Parker 1995, pp. 13–14
  61. ^ Parker 1995, p. 21
  62. ^ Steinmetz 1995, pp. 59–62; Hesselink 2004, p. 85; Parker 1995, pp. 29–34
  63. ^ Hesselink 2004, p. 85; Parker 1995, p. 43
  64. ^ Niesel 1980, pp. 70–79; Parker 1995, p. 47
  65. ^ Gerrish 2004, pp. 290–291, 302. According to Gerrish, Calvin put his defense against the charge of novelty in the preface of every edition of the Institutes. The original preface of the first edition was addressed to the King of France, Francis I. The defense expressed his opinion that patristic authority favoured the reformers and that allegation of the reformers deviating from the patristic consensus was a fiction. See also Steinmetz 1995, pp. 122–137.
  66. ^ Niesel 1980, pp. 80–88; Parker 1995, pp. 50–57
  67. ^ Parker 1995, pp. 57–77
  68. ^ Niesel 1980, pp. 126–130; Parker 1995, pp. 78–86
  69. ^ Parker 1995, pp. 97–98
  70. ^ Niesel 1980, pp. 130–137; Parker 1995, pp. 95–103
  71. ^ Parker 1995, p. 114
  72. ^ Parker 1995, p. 134; Niesel 1980, pp. 187–195
  73. ^ Parker 1995, pp. 135–144
  74. ^ Potter & Greengrass 1983, pp. 34–42; McDonnell 1967, p. 206; Parker 1995, pp. 147–157; Niesel 1980, pp. 211–228; Steinmetz 1995, pp. 172–173
  75. ^ Gamble 2004, p. 199; Cottret 2000, pp. 125–126
  76. ^ Gamble 2004, pp. 198-199; McGrath 1990, pp. 16-17; Cottret 2000, pp. 208–211
  77. ^ Gamble 2004, pp. 193-196; Parker 1975, p. 163
  78. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 227–233
  79. ^ Ganoczy 2004, pp. 17–18
  80. ^ Pater 1987, pp. 256–296; Baron 1972, pp. 343–344
  81. ^ Lange van Ravenswaay 2009, p. 144 quoting from Calvin, Institutes II.11.10
  82. ^ Lange van Ravenswaay 2009, p. 146
  83. ^ Detmers 2006, p. 199; Lange van Ravenswaay 2009, pp. 143–146; Pak 2010, p. 177
  84. ^ De Greef 2004, p. 41; McGrath 1990, pp. 60–62; Cottret 2000, pp. 63–65; Steinmetz 2009
  85. ^ De Greef 2004, p. 53; Cottret 2000, pp. 77–82
  86. ^ De Greef 2004, pp. 44–45; Parker 2006, pp. 134–136, 160–162
  87. ^ De Greef 2004, pp. 46–48
  88. ^ De Greef 2004, pp. 50–51
  89. ^ McGrath 1990, pp. 200–201; Cottret 2000, p. 239
  90. ^ Pettegree 2004, pp. 207–208
  91. ^ Holder 2004, pp. 246–256; McGrath 1990, p. 198–199
  92. ^ Pettegree 2004, p. 222
  93. ^ Cottret 2000, pp. 205–206
  94. ^ Holder 2004, pp. 260–262
  95. ^ Mill 1989, pp. 62
  96. ^ Hall 2005, p. ix; see also George Bancroft (1855), Literary and Historical Miscellanies, p. 406.


John Calvin, memorial medal by László Szlávics, Jr., 2008
  • Baron, Salo (1972), "John Calvin and the Jews", in Feldman, Leon A., Ancient and Medieval Jewish History, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, OCLC 463285878  (originally published 1965).
  • Bouwsma, William James (1988), John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-504394-4 .
  • Cottret, Bernard (2000), Calvin: A Biography, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, ISBN 0-8028-3159-1  Translation from the original Calvin: Biographie, Editions Jean-Claude Lattès, 1995.
  • De Greef, Wulfert (2004), "Calvin's writings", in McKim, Donald K., The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521016728 
  • De Greef, Wulfert (2008), The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0664232302 
  • Detmers, Achim (2006), "Calvin, the Jews, and Judaism", in Bell, Dean Phillip; Burnett, Stephen G., Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 9789004149472 .
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  • Gerrish, R. A. (2004), "The place of Calvin in Christian theology", in McKim, Donald K., The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521016728 
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  • Hall, David W. (2005), Genevan Reformation and the American Founding, Lexington Books, ISBN 9780739111062 .
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  • McGrath, Alister E. (1990), A Life of John Calvin, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-16398-0 .
  • McNeil, John Thomas (1954), The History and Character of Calvinism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195007433 .
  • Mill, John Stuart (1989), Stefan Collini, ed., J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521379172 
  • Olsen, Jeannine E. (2004), "Calvin and social-ethical issues", in McKim, Donald K., The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521016728 
  • Niesel, Wilhelm (1980), The Theology of Calvin, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, ISBN 0-8010-6694-8 .
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External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.

John Calvin (1509-07-101564-05-27) was a major French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation; he is renowned for his teaching and infamous for his role in the execution of Michael Servetus.


Where there is so much division and separation as we now see, it is indeed no easy matter to still the troubled waters, and bring about composure...
  • Now among the other things proper to recreate man and give him pleasure, music is either the first or one of the principal;and we must think that it is a gift of God deputed for that purpose'.
    • Introduction, Geneva Psalter 1539
  • Where there is so much division and separation as we now see, it is indeed no easy matter to still the troubled waters, and bring about composure... You will say he has a vehement disposition and ungovernable impetuosity; as if that very vehemence did not break forth with all the greater violence when all show themselves alike indulgent to him, and allow him to have his way unquestioned. If this specimen of overbearing tyranny has sprung forth already, as the early blossom in the springtide of a reviving Church, what must we expect in a short time, when affairs have fallen into a far worse condition?
  • Nor, in truth, is it of little importance to prevent the suspicion of any difference having arisen between us from being handed down in any way to our posterity; for it is worse than absurd that parties should be found disagreeing on the very principles, after we have been compelled to make our departure from the world.
    • Letter to Philip Melanchthon, 1552-11-28: See the following works.
  • Dr. Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, 2 vols., (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable and Co.), vol.II, 1857, pp.361-362, letter No. CCCIV
  • Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, 4 vols., (Lenox Hill), vol.II, 1973, ISBN 0-8337-4021-0 [1], pp. 376–377;[2]
  • Jules Bonnet and Henry Beveridge, eds., Selected works of John Calvin: tracts and letters (Baker Book House, 1983), ISBN 0-8010-2493-5 [3], pp. 375-381
  • In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and moulded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable correspondence with this internal order. But now, although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us; yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed. For besides the deformity which everywhere appears unsightly, this evil also is added, that no part is free from the infection of sin.
There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.
  • And at this day, the blessedness brought to us by Christ cannot be the subject of our praise, without reminding us, at the same time, of the distinguished honor which God was pleased to bestow on Mary, in making her the mother of his Only Begotten Son.
    • Commentary on Luke 1:42
  • Elisabeth, again, while she praises her, is so far from hiding the Divine glory, that she ascribes everything to God. And yet, though she acknowledges the superiority of Mary to herself and to others, she does not envy her the higher distinction, but modestly declares that she had obtained more than she deserved.
    • Commentary on Luke 1:43
  • If there had been any unbelief in Mary, that could not prevent God from accomplishing his work in any other way which he might choose. But she is called blessed, because she received by faith the blessing offered to her, and opened up the way to God for its accomplishment.
    • Commentary on Luke 1:45 [5]
  • All things being at God’s disposal, and the decision of salvation or death belonging to him, he orders all things by his counsel and decree in such a manner, that some men are born devoted from the womb to certain death, that his name may be glorified in their destruction.
It is no small honour that God for our sake has so magnificently adorned the world...
  • There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.
    • As quoted in The Value of Convenience: Genealogy of Technical Culture (1993) by Thomas F. Tierney, p. 128; variant translation: There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
  • It is no small honour that God for our sake has so magnificently adorned the world, in order that we may not only be spectators of this beauteous theatre, but also enjoy the multiplied abundance and variety of good things which are presented to us in it.
    • Works (1844) edited by the Calvin translation society, as quoted in Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers (1991) by Howard L. Rice, p. 59
  • Then let every one of us, being warned by this sentence of the angel, acknowledge that he as yet cleaves to first principles, or, at least, does not comprehend all those things which are necessary to be known; and that therefore progress is to be made to the very end of life: for this is our wisdom, to be learners to the end.

Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536; 1559)

Institutio Christianae Religionis first published in 1536; final edition in 1559. English translation online
File:Millennium Park Sculpture Inside mirror view of metallic sculpture.jpg
Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God...
  • Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God
    Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.
    • Book I Ch. 1 "The Knowledge of God and of Ourselves Mutually Connected - Nature of this Connection" as translated by Henry Beveridge.
  • It having been said above that God bends all the reprobate, and even Satan himself, at his will, three objections are started. First, that this happens by the permission, not by the will of God. To this objection there is a twofold reply, the one, that angels and men, good and bad, do nothing but what is appointed by God; the second, that all movements are secretly directed to their end by the hidden inspiration of God...
    • Book I Ch. 18 "The Instrumentality of the Wicked employed by God, while He continues free from every taint" as translated by Henry Beveridge.
  • The whole life of Christians ought to be an exercise of piety, since they are called to sanctification. It is the office of the law to remind them of their duty and thereby to excite them to the pursuit of holiness and integrity. But when their consciences are solicitous how God may be propitiated, what answer they shall make, and on what they shall rest their confidence, if called to his tribunal, there must then be no consideration of the requisitions of the law, but Christ alone must be proposed for righteousness, who exceeds all the perfection of the law.
    • Book III Ch. 19 sect. 2
  • We must resist wandering thoughts in prayer.Raising our hands reminds us that we need to raise up our minds to God,setting aside all irrelevant thoughts.
    • Book III Ch.20 First Rule Para 1 & 2

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564), Swiss divine and reformer, was born at Noyon, in Picardy, on the 10th of July 1509. His father, Gerard Cauvin or Calvin,' was a notary-apostolic and procuratorfiscal for the lordship of Noyon, besides holding certain ecclesiastical offices in connexion with that diocese. The name of his mother was Jeanne le Franc; she was the daughter of an innkeeper at Cambrai, who afterwards came to reside at Noyon. Gerard Cauvin was esteemed as a man of considerable sagacity and prudence, and his wife was a godly and attractive lady. She bore him five sons, of whom John was the second. By a second wife there were two daughters.

Of Calvin's early years only a few notices remain. His father destined him from the first for an ecclesiastical career, and paid for his education in the household of the noble family of Hangest de Montmor. In May 1521 he was appointed to a chaplaincy attached to the altar of La Gesine in the cathedral of Noyon, and received the tonsure. The actual duties of the office were in such cases carried out by ordained and older men for a fraction of the stipend. The plague having visited Noyon, the young Hangests were sent to Paris in August '523, and Calvin accompanied them, being enabled to do so by the income received from his benefice.

He lived with his uncle and attended as an out-student the College de la Marche, at that time under the regency of Mathurin Cordier, a man of character, learning and repute as a teacher, who in later days followed his pupil to Switzerland, taught at Neuchatel, and died in Geneva in 1564. In dedicating to him his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, as "eximiae pietatis et doctrinae viro," he declares that so had he been aided by his instruction that whatever subsequent progress he had made he only regarded as received from him, and "this," he adds, "I wish to testify to posterity that if any utility accrue to any from my writings they may acknowledge it as having in part flowed from thee." From the College de la Marche he removed to the College de Montaigu, 2 where the atmosphere was more ecclesiastical and where he had for instructor a Spaniard who is described as a man of learning and to whom Calvin was indebted for some sound training in dialectics and the scholastic philosophy.

He speedily outstripped all his competitors in grammatical studies, and by his skill and acumen as a student of philosophy, and in the college disputations gave fruitful promise of that consummate excellence as a reasoner in the department of speculative truth which he afterwards displayed. Among his friends were the Hangests (especially Claude), Nicolas and Michel Cop, sons of the king's Swiss physician, and his own kinsman Pierre Robert, better known as Olivetan. Such friendships testify both to the worth and the attractiveness of his character, and contradict the old legend that he was an unsociable misanthrope. Pleased with his success, the canons at Noyon gave him the curacy of St Martin de Marteville in September 1527. After holding this preferment for nearly two years, he exchanged it in July 1529 for the cure of Pont L'Eveque, a village 1 The family name of Calvin seems to have been written indifferently Cauvin, Chauve, Chauvin, Calvus, Calvinus.

In the contemporary notices of Gerard and his family, in the capitular registers of the cathedral at Noyon, the name is always spelt Cauuin. The anagram of Calvin is Alcuin, and this in its Latinized form Alcuinus appears in two editions of his Institutio as that of the author (Audin, Vie de Calvin, i. 520). The syndics of Geneva address him in a letter written in 1540, and still preserved, as "Docteur Caulvin." In his letters written in French he usually signs himself "Jean Calvin." He affected the title of "Maitre," for what reason is not known.

Pierre de Montaigu refounded this institution in 1388. Erasmus and Ignatius Loyola also studied here.

near to Noyon, and the place to which his father originally belonged. He appears to have been not a little elated by his early promotion, and although not ordained, he preached several sermons to the people. But though the career of ecclesiastical preferment was thus early opened to him, Calvin was destined not to become a priest. A change came over the mind both of his father and himself respecting his future career. Gerard Cauvin began to suspect that he had not chosen the most lucrative profession for his son, and that the law offered to a youth of his talents and industry a more promising sphere. 3

He was also now out of favour with the cathedral chapter at Noyon. It is said also that John himself, on the advice of his relative, Pierre Robert Olivetan, the first translator of the Bible into French, had begun to study the Scriptures and to dissent from the Roman worship. At any rate he readily complied with his father's suggestion, and removed from Paris to Orleans (March 1528) in order to study law under Pierre Taisan de 1'Etoile, the most distinguished jurisconsult of his day.

The university atmosphere here was less ascetic than at Paris, but Calvin's ardour knew no slackening, and such was his progress in legal knowledge that he was frequently called upon to lecture, in the absence of one or other of the regular staff. Other studies, however, besides those of law occupied him while in this city, and moved by the humanistic spirit of the age he eagerly developed his classical knowledge. "By protracted vigils," says Beza, "he secured indeed a solid erudition and an excellent memory; but it is probable he at the same time sowed the seeds of that disease (dyspepsia) which occasioned him various illnesses in after life, and at last brought upon him premature death." 4 His friends here were Melchior Wolmar, a German schoolmaster and a man of exemplary scholarship and character, Francois Daniel, Francois de Connam and Nicolas Duchemin; to these his earliest letters were written.

From Orleans Calvin went to Bourges in the autumn of 1529 to continue his studies under the brilliant Italian, Andrea Alciati (1492-1550), whom Francis I. had invited into France and settled as a professor of law in that university. His friend Daniel went with him, and Wolmar followed a year later. By Wolmar Calvin was taught Greek, and introduced to the study of the New Testament in the original, a service which he gratefully acknowledges in one of his printed works.' The conversation of Wolmar may also have been of use to him in his consideration of the doctrines of the Reformation, which were now beginning to be widely diffused through France.

Twelve years had elapsed since Luther had published his theses against indulgences - twelve years of intense excitement and anxious discussion, not in Germany only, but in almost all the adjacent countries. France there had not been as yet any overt revolt against the Church of Rome, but multitudes were in sympathy with any attempt to improve the church by education, by purer morals, by better preaching and by a return to the primitive and uncorrupted faith.

Though we cannot with Beza regard Calvin at this time as a centre of Protestant activity, he may well have preached at Lignieres as a reformatory Catholic of the school of Erasmus. Calvin's own record of his "conversion" is so scanty and devoid of chronological data that it is extremely difficult to trace his religious development with any certainty. But it seems probable that at least up to 1532 he was far more concerned about classical scholarship than about religion.

His residence at Bourges was cut short by the death of his father in May 1531. Immediately after this event he went to Paris, where the "new learning" was now at length ousting the medieval scholasticism from the university. He lodged in the College Fortet, reading Greek with Pierre Danes and beginning Hebrew with Francois Vatable. It was at this time (April 1532) that Calvin issued his first publication, a commentary in Latin on Seneca's tract De Clementia. This book he published at his own cost, and dedicated to Claude Hangest, abbot of St Eloi, a member of the de Montmor family, with whom Calvin had been Calv. Praef. ad Comment. in Psalmos. 4 Jo. Calvini Vita, sub init. 5 Epist. Ded., Comment in Ep. H. ad Corinthios praefix. brought up.

It was formerly thought that Calvin published this work with a view to influence the king to put a stop to the attacks on the Protestants, but there is nothing in the treatise itself or in the commentary to favour this opinion.

Soon after the publication of his first book Calvin returned to Orleans, where he stayed for a year, perhaps again reading law, and still undecided as to his life's work. He visited Noyon in August 1533, and by October of the same year was settled again in Paris. Here and now his destiny became certain. The conservative theology was becoming discredited, and humanists like Jacques Lefevre of Staples (Faber Stapulensis) and Gerard Roussel were favoured by the court under the influence of Margaret of Angouleme, queen of Navarre and sister of Francis I. Calvin's old friend, Nicolas Cop, had just been elected rector of the university and had to deliver an oration according to custom in the church of the Mathurins, on the feast of All Saints.

The oration (certainly influenced but hardly composed by Calvin) was in effect a defence of the reformed opinions, especially of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is to the period between April 1532 and November 1533, and in particular to the time of his second sojourn at Orleans, that we may most fittingly assign the great change in Calvin which he describes (Praef. ad Psalmos; opera xxxi. 2 1-24) as his "sudden conversion" and attributes to direct divine agency. It must have been at least after his Commentary on Seneca's De Clementia that his heart was "so subdued and reduced to docility that in comparison with his zeal for true piety he regarded all other studies with indifference, though not entirely forsaking them.

Though himself a beginner, many flocked to him to learn the pure doctrine, and he began to seek some hiding-place and means of withdrawal from people." This indeed was forced upon him, for Cop's address was more than the conservative party could bear, and Cop, being summoned to appear before the parlement of Paris, found it necessary, as he failed to secure the support either of the king, or of the university, to make his escape to Basel. An attempt was at the same time made to seize Calvin, but, being forewarned of the design by his friends, he also made his escape. His room in the College Fortet, however, was searched, and his books and papers seized, to the imminent peril of some of his friends, whose letters were found in his repositories.

He went to Noyon, but, proceedings against him being dropped, soon returned to Paris. But desiring both security and solitude for study he left the city again about New Year of 1534 and became the guest of Louis du Tillet, a canon of the cathedral, at Angouleme, where at the request of his host he prepared some short discourses, which were circulated in the surrounding parishes, and read in public to the people. Here, too in du Tillet's splendid library, he began the studies which resulted in his great work, the Institutes, and paid a visit to Nerac, where the venerable Lefevre, whose revised translation of the Bible into French was published about this time, was spending his last years under the kindly care of Margaret of Navarre.

Calvin was now nearly twenty-five years of age, and in the ordinary way would have been ordained to the priesthood. Up till this time his work for the evangelical cause was not so much that of the public preacher or reformer as that of the retiring but influential scholar and adviser. Now, however, he had to decide whether, like Roussel and other of his friends, he should strive to combine the new doctrines with a position in the old church, or whether he should definitely break away from Rome. His mind was made up, and on the 4th of May he resigned his chaplaincy at Noyon and his rectorship at Pont l'Eveque.

Towards the end of the same month he was arrested and suffered two short terms of imprisonment, the charges against him being not strong enough to be pressed. He seems to have gone next to to Paris, staying perhaps with Etienne de la Forge, a Protestant merchant who suffered for his faith in February 1 53 5. To this time belongs the story of the proposed meeting between Calvin and the Spanish reformer Servetus. Calvin's movements at this time are difficult to trace, but he visited both Orleans and Poitiers, and each visit marked a stage in his development.

The Anabaptists of Germany had spread into France, and were disseminating many wild and fanatical opinions among those who had seceded from the Church of Rome. Among other notions which they had imbibed was that of a sleep of the soul after death. To Calvin this notion appeared so pernicious that he composed a treatise in refutation of it, under the title of Psychopannychia. The preface to this treatise is dated Orleans 1 534, but it was not printed till 1542.

In it he chiefly dwells upon the evidence from Scripture in favour of the belief that the soul retains its intelligent consciousness after its separation from the body - passing by questions of philosophical speculation, as tending on such a subject only to minister to an idle curiosity. At Poitiers Calvin gathered round him a company of cultured and gentle men whom in private intercourse he influenced considerably. Here too in a grotto near the town he for the first time celebrated the communion in the Evangelical Church of France, using a piece of the rock as a table.

The year 1534 was thus decisive for Calvin. From this time forward his influence became supreme, and all who had accepted the reformed doctrines in France turned to him for counsel and instruction, attracted not only by his power as a teacher, but still more, perhaps because they saw in him so full a development of the Christian life according to the evangelical model. Renan, no prejudiced judge, pronounces him "the most Christian man of his time," and attributes to this his success as a reformer. Certain it is that already he had become conspicuous as a prophet of the new religion; his life was in danger, and he was obliged to seek safety in flight.

In company with his friend Louis du Tillet, whom he had again gone to Angouleme to visit, he set out for Basel. On their way they were robbed by one of their servants, and it was only by borrowing ten crowns from their other servant that they were enabled to get to Strassburg, and thence to Basel. Here Calvin was welcomed by the band of scholars and theologians who had conspired to make that city the Athens of Switzerland, and especially by Oswald Myconius, the chief pastor, Pierre Viret and Heinrich Bullinger. Under the aupices and guidance of Sebastian Minster, Calvin now gave himself to the study of Hebrew.

Francis I., desirous to continue the suppression of the Protestants but anxious, because of his strife with Charles V., not to break with the Protestant princes of Germany, instructed his ambassador to assure these princes that it was only against Anabaptists, and other parties who called in question all civil magistracy, that his severities were exercised. Calvin, indignant at the calumny which was thus cast upon the reformed party in France, hastily prepared for the press his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he published "first that I might vindicate from unjust affront my brethren whose death was precious in the sight of the Lord, and, next, that some sorrow and anxiety should move foreign peoples, since the same sufferings threatened many."

The work was dedicated to the king, and Calvin says he wrote it in Latin that it might find access to the learned in all lands.' Soon after it appeared he set about translating it into French, as he himself attests in a letter dated October 1536. This sets at rest a question, at one time much agitated, whether the book appeared first in French or in Latin. The earliest French edition known is that of 1540, and this was after the work had been much enlarged, and several Latin editions had appeared. In its first form the work consisted of only six chapters, and was intended merely as a brief manual of Christian doctrine. The chapters follow a traditional scheme of religious teaching: (1) The Law, (as in the Ten Words), (2) Faith (as in the Apostles' Creed) (3) Prayer, (4) the Sacraments; to these were added (5) False Sacraments, (6) Christian liberty, ecclesiastical power and civil administration.

The closing chapters of the work are more polemical than the earlier ones. His indebtedness to Luther is of course great, but his spiritual kinship with Martin Bucer of 1 This edition forms a small 8vo of 514 pages, and 6 pages of index. It appeared at Basel from the press of Thomas Platter and Balthasar Lasius in March 1536, and was published by Johann Oporin. The dedicatory preface is dated 23rd August 1535. It is a masterpiece of apologetic literature. See W. Walker, John Calvin, 132 f., and for an outline of the contents of the treatise, ib. 137-149. Strassburg is even more marked. Something also he owed to Scotus and other medieval schoolmen. The book appeared anonymously, the author having, as he himself says, nothing in view beyond furnishing a statement of the faith of the persecuted Protestants, whom he saw cruelly cut to pieces by impious and perfidious court parasites.'

In this work, though produced when the author was only twenty-six years of age, we find a complete outline of the Calvinist theological system. In none of the later editions, nor in any of his later works do we find reason to believe that he ever changed his views on any essential point from what they were at the period of its first publication. Such an instance of maturity of mind and of opinion at so early an age would be remarkable under any circumstances; but in Calvin's case it is rendered peculiarly so by the shortness of the time which had elapsed since he gave himself to theological studies. It may be doubted also if the history of literature presents us with another instance of a book written at so early an age, which has exercised such a prodigious influence upon the opinions and practices both of contemporaries and of posterity.

After a short visit (April 1536) to the court of Renee, duchess of Ferrara (cousin to Margaret of Navarre), which at that time afforded an asylum to several learned and pious fugitives from persecution, Calvin returned through Basel to France to arrange his affairs before finally taking farewell of his native country. His intention was to settle at Strassburg or Basel, and to devote himself to study. But being unable, in consequence of the war between Francis I. and Charles V., to reach Strassburg by the ordinary route, he with his younger brother Antoine and his half-sister Marie journeyed to Lyons and so to Geneva, making for Basel. In Geneva his progress was arrested, and his resolution to pursue the quiet path of studious research was dispelled by what he calls the "formidable obtestation" of Guillaume Fare1.2

After many struggles and no small suffering, this energetic spirit had succeeded in planting the evangelical standard at Geneva; and anxious to secure the aid of such a man as Calvin, he entreated him on his arrival to relinquish his design of going farther, and to devote himself to the work in that city. Calvin at first declined, alleging as an excuse his need of securing more time for personal improvement, but ultimately, believing that he was divinely called to this task and that "God had stretched forth His hand upon me from on high to arrest me," he consented to remain at Geneva. He hurried to Basel, transacted some business, and returned to Geneva in August 1536. He at once began to expound the epistles of St Paul in the church of St Pierre, and after about a year was also elected preacher by the magistrates with the consent of the people, an office which he would not accept until it had been repeatedly pressed upon him. His services seem to have been rendered for some time gratuitously, for in February 1537 there is an entry in the city registers to the effect that six crowns had been voted to him, "since he has as yet hardly received anything."

Calvin was in his twenty-eighth year when he was thus constrained to settle at Geneva; and in this city the rest of his life, with the exception of a brief interval, was spent. The post to which he was thus called was not an easy one. Though the people of Geneva had cast off the obedience of Rome, it was largely a political revolt against the duke of Savoy, and they were still (says Beza) "but very imperfectly enlightened in divine knowledge; they had as yet hardly emerged from the filth of the papacy." 3 This laid them open to the incursions of those fanatical teachers, whom the excitement attendant upon the Reformation had called forth, and who hung mischievously upon the rear of the reforming body.

To obviate the evils thence resulting, Calvin, in union with Farel, drew up a condensed statement of Christian doctrine consisting of twenty-one articles. This the citizens were summoned, in parties of ten each, to profess and swear to as the confession of their faith - a process which, though not in accordance with modern notions of the best way of establishing men in the faith, was gone through, Calvin tells us, "with much satisfaction." As the people took this oath ' Praef. ad Psalmos. Ibid. Beza, Vit. Calv. an. 1536. in the capacity of citizens, we may see here the basis laid for that theocratic system which subsequently became peculiarly characteristic of the Genevan polity.

Deeply convinced of the importance of education for the young, Calvin and his coadjutors were solicitous to establish schools throughout the city, and to enforce on parents the sending of their children to them; and as he had no faith in education apart from religious training, he drew up a catechism of Christian doctrine which the children had to learn whilst they were receiving secular instruction. Of the troubles which arose from fanatical teachers, the chief proceeded from the efforts of the Anabaptists; a public disputation was held on the 26th and 17th of March 1537, and so excited the populace that the Council of Two Hundred stopped it, declared the Anabaptists vanquished and drove them from the city.

About the same time also, the peace of Calvin and his friends was much disturbed and their work interrupted by Pierre Caroli, another native of northern France, who, though a man of loose principle and belief, had been appointed chief pastor at Lausanne and was discrediting the good work done by Pierre Viret in that city. Calvin went to Viret's aid and brought Caroli before the commissioners of Bern on a charge of advocating prayers for the dead as a means of their earlier resurrection. Caroli brought a counter-charge against the Geneva divines of Sabellianism and Arianism, because they would not enforce the Athanasian creed, and had not used the words "Trinity" and "Person" in the confession they had drawn up. It was a struggle between the thoroughgoing humanistic reformer who drew his creed solely from the "word of God" and the merely semi-Protestant reformer who looked on the old creed as a priceless heritage.

In a synod held at Bern the matter was fully discussed, when a verdict was given in favour of the Geneva divines, and Caroli deposed from his office and banished. He returned to France, rejoined the Roman communion and spent the rest of his life in passing to and from the old faith and the new. Thus ended an affair which seems to have occasioned Calvin much more uneasiness than the character of his assailant, and the manifest falsehood of the charge brought against him, would seem to justify. Two brief anti-Romanist tracts, one entitled De fugiendis impiorum sacris, the other De sacerdotio papali abjiciendo, were also published early in this year.

Hardly was the affair of Caroli settled, when new and severer trials came upon the Genevan Reformers. The austere simplicity of the ritual which Farel had introduced, and to which Calvin had conformed; the strictness with which the ministers sought to enforce not only the laws of morality, but certain sumptuary regulations respecting the dress and mode of living of the citizens; and their determination in spiritual matters and ecclesiastical ceremonies not to submit to the least dictation from the civil power, led to violent dissensions. Amidst much party strife Calvin perhaps showed more youthful impetuosity than experienced skill.

He and his colleagues refused to administer the sacrament in the Bernese form, i.e. with unleavened bread, and on Easter Sunday, 1538, declined to do so at all because of the popular tumult. For this they were banished from the city. They went first to Bern, and soon after to Zurich, where a synod of the Swiss pastors had been convened. Before this assembly they pleaded their cause, and stated what were the points on which they were prepared to insist as needful for the proper discipline of the church. They declared that they would yield in the matter of ceremonies so far as to employ unleavened bread in the eucharist, to use fonts in baptism, and to allow festival days, provided the people might pursue their ordinary avocations after public service.

These Calvin regarded as matters of indifference, provided the magistrates did not make them of importance, by seeking to enforce them; and he was the more willing to concede them, because he hoped thereby to meet the wishes of the Bernese brethren whose ritual was less simple than that established by Farel at Geneva. But he and his colleagues insisted, on the other hand, that for the proper maintenance of discipline, there should be a division of parishes - that excommunications should be permitted, and should be under the power of elders chosen by the council, in v. 3 a conjunction with the clergy - that order should be observed in the admission of preachers - and that only the clergy should officiate in ordination by the laying on of hands.

It was proposed also, as conducive to the welfare of the church, that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper should be administered more frequently, at least once every month, and that congregational singing of psalms should be practised in the churches. On these terms the synod interceded with the Genevese to restore their pastors; but through the opposition of some of the Bernese (especially Peter Kuntz, the pastor of that city) this was frustrated, and a second edict of banishment was the only response.

Calvin and Farel betook themselves, under these circumstances, to Basel, where they soon after separated, Farel to go to Neuchatel and Calvin to Strassburg. At the latter place Calvin resided till the autumn of 1541, occupying himself partly in literary exertions, partly as a preacher and especially an organizer in the French church, and partly as a lecturer on theology. These years were not the least valuable in his experience. In 1539 he attended Charles V.'s conference on Christian reunion at Frankfort as the companion of Bucer, and in the following year he appeared at Hagenau and Worms, as the delegate from the city of Strassburg.

He was present also at the diet at Regensburg, where he deepened his acquaintance with Melanchthon, and formed with him a friendship which lasted through life. He also did something to relieve the persecuted Protestants of France. It is to this period of his life that we owe a revised and enlarged form of his Institutes, his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, and his Tract on the Lord's Supper. Notwithstanding his manifold engagements, he found time to attend to the tenderer affections; for it was during his residence at Strassburg that he married, in August 1540, Idelette de Bure, the widow of one Jean Stordeur of Liege, whom he had converted from Anabaptism.

In her Calvin found, to use his own words, "the excellent companion of his life," a "precious help" to him amid his manifold labours and frequent infirmities. She died in 1 549, to the great grief of her husband, who never ceased to mourn her loss. Their only child Jacques, born on the 28th of July 1542, lived only a few days.

During Calvin's absence disorder and irreligion had prevailed in Geneva. An attempt was made by Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547), bishop of Carpentras, to take advantage of this so as to restore the papal supremacy in that district; but this design Calvin, at the request of the Bernese authorities, who had been consulted by those of Geneva, completely frustrated, by writing such a reply to the letter which the bishop had addressed to the Genevese, as constrained him to desist from all further efforts. The letter had more than a local or temporary reference. It was a popular yet thoroughgoing defence of the whole Protestant position, perhaps the best apologia for the Reformation that was ever written.

He seems also to have kept up his connexion with Geneva by addressing letters of counsel and comfort to the faithful there who continued to regard him with affection. It was whilst he was still at Strassburg that there appeared at Geneva a translation of the Bible into French, bearing Calvin's name, but in reality only revised and corrected by him from the version of Olivetan. Meanwhile the way was opening for his return. Those who had driven him from the city gradually lost power and office. Farel worked unceasingly for his recall. After much hesitation, for Strassburg had strong claims, he yielded and returned to Geneva, where he was received with the utmost enthusiasm (September 13, 1541.

He entered upon his work with a firm determination to carry out those reforms which he had originally purposed, and to set up in all its integrity that form of church polity which he had carefully matured during his residence at Strassburg. He now became the sole directive spirit in the church at Geneva. Farel was retained by the Neuchatelois, and Viret, soon after Calvin's return, removed to Lausanne. His duties were thus rendered exceedingly onerous, and his labour became excessive. Besides preaching every day in each alternate week, he taught theology three days in the week, attended weekly meetings of his consistory, read the Scriptures once a week in the congregation, carried on an extensive correspondence on a multiplicity of subjects, prepared commentaries on the books of Scripture, and was engaged repeatedly in controversy with the opponents of his opinions.

"I have not time," he writes to a friend, "to look out of my house at the blessed sun, and if things continue thus I shall forget what sort of appearance it has. When I have settled my usual business, I have so many letters to write, so many questions to answer, that many a night is spent without any offering of sleep being brought to nature." It is only necessary here to sketch the leading events of Calvin's life after his return to Geneva. He recodified the Genevan laws and constitution, and was the leading spirit in the negotiations with Bern that issued in the treaty of February 1 544

Of the controversies in which he embarked, one of the most important was that in which he defended his doctrine concerning predestination and election. His first antagonist on this head was Albert Pighius, a Romanist, who, resuming the controversy between Erasmus and Luther on the freedom of the will, violently attacked Calvin for the views he had expressed on that subject. Calvin replied to him in a work published in 1543, in which he defends his own opinions at length, both by general reasonings and by an appeal to both Scripture and the Fathers, especially Augustine. So potent were his reasonings that Pighius, though owing nothing to the gentleness or courtesy of Calvin, was led to embrace his views.

A still more vexatious and protracted controversy on the same subject arose in 1551. Jerome Hermes Bolsec, a Carmelite friar, having renounced Romanism, had fled from France to Veigy, a village near Geneva, where he practised as a physician. Being a zealous opponent of predestinarian views, he expressed his criticisms of Calvin's teaching on the subject in one of the public conferences held each Friday. Calvin replied with much vehemence, and brought the matter before the civil authorities. The council were at a loss which course to take; not that they doubted which of the disputants was right, for they all held by the views of Calvin, but they were unable to determine to what extent and in which way Bolsec should be punished for his heresy.

The question was submitted to the churches at Basel, Bern, Zurich and Neuchatel, but they also, to Calvin's disappointment, were divided in their judgment, some counselling severity, others gentle measures. In the end Bolsec was banished from Geneva; he ultimately rejoined the Roman communion and in 1577 avenged himself by a particularly slanderous biography of Calvin. Another painful controversy was that with Sebastien Castellio (1515-1563), a teacher in the Genevan school and a scholar of real distinction.

He wished to enter the preaching ministry but was excluded by Calvin's influence because he had criticized the inspiration of the Song of Solomon and the Genevan interpretation of the clause "he descended into hell." The bitterness thus aroused developed into life-long enmity. During all this time also the less strict party in the city and in the council did not cease to harry the reformer.

But the most memorable of all the controversies in which Calvin was engaged was that into which he was brought in 1553 with [[Michael Servetus]]. After many wanderings, and after having been condemned to death for heresy at Vienne, whence he was fortunate enough to make his escape, Servetus arrived in August 1553 at Geneva on his way to Naples. He was recognized in church and soon after, at Calvin's instigation, arrested. The charge of blasphemy was founded on certain statements in a book published by him in 1553, entitled Christianismi Restitutio, in which he animadverted on the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, and advanced sentiments strongly savouring of Pantheism.

The story of his trial is told elsewhere (see art. [[Servetus]]), but it must be noted here that the struggle was something more than a doctrinal one. The cause of Servetus was taken up by Calvin's Genevan foes headed by Philibert Berthelier, and became a test of the relative strength of the rival forces and of the permanence of Calvin's control. That Calvin was actuated by personal spite and animosity against Servetus himself may be open to discussion; we have his own express declaration that, after Servetus was convicted, he used no urgency that he should be put to death, and at their last interview he told Servetus that he never had avenged private injuries, and assured him that if he would repent it would not be his fault if all the pious did not give him their hands.'

There is the fact also that Calvin used his endeavour to have the sentence which had been pronounced against Servetus mitigated, death by burning being regarded by him as an "atrocity," for which he sought to substitute death by the sword. 2 It can be justly charged against Calvin in this matter that he took the initiative in bringing on the trial of Servetus, that as his accuser he prosecuted the suit against him with undue severity, and that he approved the sentence which condemned Servetus to death.

When, however, it is remembered that the unanimous decision of the Swiss churches and of the Swiss state governments was that Servetus deserved to die; that the general voice of Christendom was in favour of this; that even such a man as Melanchthon affirmed the justice of the sentence; 3 that an eminent English divine of the next age should declare the process against him "just and honourable," 4 and that only a few voices here and there were at the time raised against it, many will be ready to accept the judgment of Coleridge, that the death of Servetus was not "Calvin's guilt especially, but the common opprobrium of all European Christendom." 5

Calvin was also involved in a protracted and somewhat vexing dispute with the Lutherans respecting the Lord's Supper, which ended in the separation of the evangelical party into the two great sections of Lutherans and Reformed, - the former holding that in the eucharist the body and blood of Christ are objectively and consubstaritially present, and so are actually partaken of by the communicants, and the latter that there is only a virtual presence of the body and blood of Christ, and consequently only a spiritual participation thereof through faith. In addition to these controversies on points of faith, he was for many years greatly disquieted, and sometimes even endangered, by the opposition offered by the libertine party in Geneva to the ecclesiastical discipline which he had established there.

His system of church polity was essentially theocratic; it assumed that every member of the state was also under the discipline of the church; and he asserted that the right of exercising this discipline was vested exclusively in the consistory or body of preachers and elders. His attempts to carry out these views brought him into collision both with the authorities and with the populace, - the latter being not unnaturally restive under the restraints imposed upon their liberty by the vigorous system of church discipline, and the former being inclined to retain in their own hands a portion of that power in things spiritual which Calvin was bent on placing exclusively in the hands of the church rulers. His dauntless courage, his perseverance, and his earnestness at length prevailed, and he had the satisfaction, before he died, of seeing his favourite system of church polity firmly established, not only at Geneva, but in other parts of Switzerland, and of knowing that it had been adopted substantially by the Reformers in France and Scotland.

The men whom he trained at Geneva carried his principles into almost every country in Europe, and in varying degree these principles did much for the cause of civil liberty. 6 Nor was it only in religious matters that Calvin busied himself; nothing was indifferent to him that concerned the welfare and good order of the state or the advantage of its citizens. His work embraced everything; he was consulted on every affair, great and small, that came before the council, - on questions of law, police, economy, trade, and manufactures, no less than on questions of doctrine and church polity. To him the city owed her trade in cloths and velvets, from which so much wealth accrued to her 1 Fidelis Expositio Errorum Serveti, sub init. Calvini, Opp. t. ix.

2 Calvin to Farel, 10th Aug. 1553.

3 Tuo judicio prorsus assentior. Affirmo etiam vestros magistratus juste fecisse quod hominem blasphemum, re ordine judicata, interfecerunt. - Melanchthon to Calvin, 14th Oct. 1554.

4 Field On the Church, bk. iii. c. 27, vol. i. p. 288 (ed. Cambridge, 1847).

Notes on English Divines, vol. i. p. 49. See also Table Talk, vol. ii. p. 282 (ed. 1835) 6 W. Walker, John Calvin, pp. 403-8.

citizens; sanitary regulations were introduced by him which made Geneva the admiration of all visitors; and in him she reverences the founder of her university. This institution was in a sense Calvin's crowning work. It added religious education to the evangelical preaching and the thorough discipline already established, and so completed the reformer's ideal of a Christian commonwealth.

Amidst these multitudinous cares and occupations, Calvin found time to write a number of works besides those provoked by the various controversies in which he was engaged. The most numerous of these were of an exegetical character. Including discourses taken down from his lips by faithful auditors, we have from him expository comments or homilies on nearly all the books of Scripture, written partly in Latin and partly in French. Though naturally knowing nothing of the modern idea of a progressive revelation, his judiciousness, penetration, and tact in eliciting his author's meaning, his precision, condensation, and concinnity as an expositor, the accuracy of his learning, the closeness of his reasoning, and the elegance of his style, all unite to confer a high value on his exegetical works. The series began with Romans in 1540 and ended with Joshua in 1564. In 15581 559 also, though in very ill health, he finally perfected the Institutes.

The incessant and exhausting labours to which Calvin gave himself could not but tell on his fragile constitution. Amid many sufferings, however, and frequent attacks of sickness, he manfully pursued his course; nor was it till his frail body, torn by many and painful diseases - fever, asthma, stone, and gout, the fruits for the most part of his sedentary habits and unceasing activity - had, as it were, fallen to pieces around him, that his indomitable spirit relinquished the conflict. In the early part of the year 1564 his sufferings became so severe that it was manifest his earthly career was rapidly drawing to a close. On the 6th of February of that year he preached his last sermon, having with great difficulty found breath enough to carry him through it.

He was several times after this carried to church, but never again was able to take any part in the service. With his usual disinterestedness he refused to receive his stipend, now that he was no longer able to discharge the duties of his office. In the midst of his sufferings, however, his zeal and energy kept him in continual occupation; when expostulated with for such unseasonable toil, he replied, "Would you that the Lord should find me idle when He comes ?" After he had retired from public labours he lingered for some months, enduring the severest agony without a murmur, and cheerfully attending to all the duties of a private kind which his diseases left him strength to discharge. On the 25th of April he made his will, on the 27th he received the Little Council, and on the 28th the Genevan ministers, in his sick-room; on the 2nd of May he wrote his last letter - to his old comrade Farel, who hastened from Neuchatel to see him once again.

He spent much time in prayer and died quietly, in the arms of his faithful friend Theodore Beza, on the evening of the 2 7th of May, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. The next day he was buried without pomp "in the common cemetery called Plain-palais" in a spot not now to be identified.

Calvin was of middle stature; his complexion was somewhat pallid and dark; his eyes, to the latest clear and lustrous, bespoke the acumen of his genius. He was sparing in his food and simple in his dress; he took but little sleep, and was capable of extraordinary efforts of intellectual toil. He had a most retentive memory and a very keen power of observation. He spoke without rhetoric, simply, directly, but with great weight. He had many acquaintances but few close friends. His private character was in harmony with his public reputation and position. If somewhat severe and irritable, he was at the same time scrupulously just, truthful, and steadfast; he never deserted a friend or took an unfair advantage of an antagonist; and on befitting occasions he could be cheerful and even facetious among his intimates. "God gave him," said the Little Council after his death, "a character of great majesty."

"I have been a witness of him for sixteen years," says Beza, "and I think I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, such as it will be difficult to emulate." Though Calvin built his theology on the foundations laid by earlier reformers, and especially by Luther and Bucer, his peculiar gifts of learning, of logic and of style made him pre-eminently the theologian of the new religion. The following may be regarded as his characteristic tenets, though not all are peculiar to him.

The dominant thought is the infinite and transcendent sovereignty of God, to know whom is the supreme end of human endeavour. God is made known to man especially by the Scriptures, whose writers were "sure and authentic amanuenses of the Holy Spirit." To the Spirit speaking therein the Spirit-illumined soul of man makes response. While God is the source of all good, man as a sinner is guilty and corrupt. The first man was made in the image and likeness of God, which not only implies man's superiority to all other creatures, but indicates his original purity, integrity and sanctity.

From this state Adam fell, and in his fall involved the whole human race descended from him. Hence depravity and corruption, diffused through all parts of the soul, attach to all men, and this first makes them obnoxious to the anger of God, and then comes forth in works which the Scripture calls works of the flesh (Gal. v. 19). Thus all are held vitiated and perverted in all parts of their nature, and on account of such corruption deservedly condemned before God, by whom nothing is accepted save righteousness innocence, and purity. Nor is that a being bound foranother's offence; for when it is said that we through Adam's sin have become obnoxious to the divine judgment, is is not to be taken as if we, being ourselves innocent and blameless, bear the fault of his offence, but that, we having been brought under a curse through his transgression, he is said to have bound us.

From him, however, not only has punishment overtaken us, but a pestilence instilled from him resides in us, to which punishment is justly due. Thus even infants, whilst they bring their own condemnation with them from their mother's womb, are bound not by another's but by their own fault. For though they have not yet brought forth the fruits of their iniquity, they have the seed shut up in them; nay, their whole nature is a sort of seed of sin, therefore it cannot but be hateful and abominable to God (Instil. bk. ii. ch. i. sect. 8).

To redeem man from this state of guilt, and to recover him from corruption, the Son of God became incarnate, assuming man's nature into union with His own, so that in Him were two natures in one person. Thus incarnate He took on Him the offices of prophet, priest and king, and by His humiliation, obedience and suffering unto death, followed by His resurrection and ascension to heaven, He has perfected His work and fulfilled all that was required in a redeemer of men, so that it is truly affirmed that He has merited for man the grace of salvation (bk. ii. ch. 13-17). But until a man is in some way really united to Christ so as to partake of Him, the benefits of Christ's work cannot be attained by him. Now it is by the secret and special operation of the Holy Spirit that men are united to Christ and made members of His body.

Through faith, which is a firm and certain cognition of the divine benevolence towards us founded on the truth of the gracious promise in Christ, men are by the operation of the Spirit united to Christ and are made partakers of His death and resurrection, so that the old man is crucified with Him and they are raised to a new life, a life of righteousness and holiness. Thus joined to Christ the believer has life in Him and knows that he is saved, having the witness of the Spirit that he is a child of God, and having the promises, the certitude of which the Spirit had before impressed on the mind, sealed by the same Spirit on the heart (bk. iii. ch. 33-36). From faith proceeds repentance, which is the turning of our life to God, proceeding from a sincere and earnest fear of God, and consisting in the mortification of the flesh and the old man within us and a vivification of the Spirit.

Through faith also the believer receives justification, his sins are forgiven, he is accepted of God, and is held by Him as righteous, the righteousness of Christ being imputed to him, and faith being the instrument by which the man lays hold on Christ, so that with His righteousness the man appears in God's sight as righteous. This imputed righteousness, however, is not disjoined from real personal righteousness, for regeneration and sanctification come to the believer from Christ no less than justification; the two blessings are not to be confounded, but neither are they to be disjoined. The assurance which the believer has of salvation he receives from the operation and witness of the Holy Spirit; but this again rests on the divine choice of the man to salvation; and this falls back on God's eternal sovereign purpose, whereby He has predestined some to eternal life while the rest of mankind are predestined to condemnation and eternal death.

Those whom God has chosen to life He effectually calls to salvation, and they are kept by Him in progressive faith and holiness unto the end (bk. iii. passim). The external means or aids by which God unites men into the fellowship of Christ, and sustains and advances those who believe, are the church and its ordinances, especially the sacraments. The church universal is the multitude gathered from diverse nations, which though divided by distance of time and place, agree in one common faith, and it is bound by the tie of the same religion; and wherever the word of God is sincerely preached, and the sacraments are duly administered, according to Christ's institute, there beyond doubt is a church of the living God (bk. iv. ch. I, sect. 7-10.

The permanent officers in the church are pastors and teachers, to the former of whom it belongs to preside over the discipline of the church, to administer the sacraments, and to admonish and exhort the members; while the latter occupy themselves with the exposition of Scripture, so that pure and wholesome doctrine may be retained. With them are to be joined for the government of the church certain pious, grave and holy men as a senate in each church; and to others, as deacons, is to be entrusted the care of the poor. The election of the officers in a church is to be with the people, and those duly chosen and called are to be ordained by the laying on of the hands of the pastors (ch. 3, sect. 4-16).

The sacraments are two - Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is the sign of initiation whereby men are admitted into the society of the church and, being grafted into Christ, are reckoned among the sons of God; it serves both for the confirmation of faith and as a confession before men. The Lord's Supper is a spiritual feast where Christ attests that He is the life-giving bread, by which our souls are fed unto true and blessed immortality. That sacred communication of His flesh and blood whereby Christ transfuses into us His life, even as if it penetrated into our bones and marrow, He in the Supper attests and seals; and that not by a vain or empty sign set before us, but there He puts forth the efficacy of His Spirit whereby He fulfils what He promises.

In the mystery of the Supper Christ is truly exhibited to us by the symbols of bread and wine; and so His body and blood, in which He fulfilled all obedience for the obtaining of righteousness for us, are presented. There is no such presence of Christ in the Supper as that He is affixed to the bread or included in it or in any way circumscribed; but whatever can express the true and substantial communication of the body and blood of the Lord, which is exhibited to believers under the said symbols of the Supper, is to be received, and that not as perceived by the imagination only or mental intelligence, but as enjoyed for the aliment of the eternal life (bk. iv. ch. 15, 17).

The course of time has substantially modified many of these positions. Even the churches which trace their descent from Calvin's work and faith no longer hold in their entirety his views on the magistrate as the preserver of church purity, the utter depravity of human nature, the non-human character of the Bible, the dealing of God with man. But his system had an immense value in the history of Christian thought. It appealed to and evoked a high order of intelligence, and its insistence on personal individual salvation has borne worthy fruit. So also its insistence on the chief end of man "to know and do the will of God" made for the strenuous morality that helped to build up the modern world. Its effects are most clearly seen in Scotland, in Puritan England and in the New England states, but its influence was and is felt among peoples that have little desire or claim to be called Calvinist.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. - The standard edition of Calvin's works is that undertaken by the Strassburg scholars, J. W. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss, P. Lobstein, A. Erichson (59 vols., 1863-1900). The last of these contains an elaborate bibliography which was also published separately at Berlin in 1900. The bulk of the writings was published in English by the Calvin Translation Society (48 vols., Edinburgh, 1843-1855); the Institutes have often been translated. The early lives by Beza and Collodon are given in the collected editions. Among modern biographies are those by P. Henry, Das Leben J. Calvins (3 vols., Hamburg, 1835-1844; Eng. trans. by H. Stebbing, London and New York, 1849); V. Audin, Histoire de la vie, des ouvrages, et des doctrines de Calvin (2 vols., Paris, 1841; Eng. trans. by J. McGill, London, 1843 and 1850) unfairly antagonistic; T. H. Dyer, Life of John Calvin (London, 1850); E. Stahelin, Joh. Calvin, Leben and aus g ewahlte Schriften (2 vols., Elberfeld, 1863); F. W Kampschulte, Joh. Calvin, seine Kirche and sein Staat in Genf (2 vols., 1869, 1899, unfinished); Abel Lefranc, La Jeunesse de Calvin (Paris, 1888); E. Choisy, La Theocratie a Geneve au temps de Calvin (Geneva, 1897); E. Doumergue, Jean Calvin; les hommes et les choses de son temps (5 vols., 1899-1908). See also A. M. Fairbairn, "Calvin and the Reformed Church" in the Cambridge Modern History, vol. ii. (1904) P. Schaff's, History of the Christian Church, vol. vii. (1892), and R. Stahelin's article in Hauck-Herzog's Realencyk. fiir Prot. Theologie and Kirche. Each of these contains a useful bibliography, as also does the excellent life by Professor Williston Walker, John Calvin, the Organizer of Reformed Protestantism, " Heroes of the Reformation" series (1906). See also C. S. Horne in Mansfield Coll. Essays (1909). (W. L. A.; A. J. G.)

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John Calvin
File:John Calvin - best
Engraving from the original oil painting
in the University Library of Geneva
Born July 10, 1509(1509-07-10)
Noyon, Picardy, France
Died May 27, 1564 (aged 54)
Geneva, Switzerland
Religion Reformed Protestant
Spouse Idelette de Bure
Parents Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc

Jean Cauvin, also Jean Calvin (John Calvin in English) (July 10, 1509May 27, 1564), was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. In Geneva, he rejected Papal authority, established a new scheme of civic and ecclesiastical governance. He is famous for his teachings and writings and infamous for his role in the execution of Michael Servetus.

Calvin was born with the name Jean Chauvin (or Cauvin, in Latin Calvinus) in Noyon, Picardie, France, to Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc. In 1523, Calvin's father, an lawyer, sent his fourteen-year-old son to the University of Paris to study humanities and law. By 1532, he had attained a Doctor of Law degree at Orléans. In 1536, he settled in Geneva, Switzerland. After being expelled from the city, he served as a pastor in Strasbourg from 1538 until 1541, before returning to Geneva, where he lived until his death in 1564.


Calvin's thought

Calvin was trained to be a lawyer. He studied under some of the best legal minds of the Renaissance in France. Part of that training involved the newer humanistic methods of exegesis, which dealt with a text directly via historical and grammatical analysis, as opposed to indirectly via layers of commentators. His legal and exegetical training was important for Calvin because, once convinced of the evangelical faith, he applied these exegetical methods to the Scripture. He self-consciously molded his thinking along biblical lines, and he labored to preach and teach what he believed the Bible taught.

While Reformers such as Jan Hus and Martin Luther may be seen as somewhat original thinkers that began a movement, Calvin was a great logician and systematizer of that movement, but not an innovator in doctrine. Calvin was very familiar with the writings of the early Church Fathers and the great Medieval schoolmen, and he was also in debt to earlier Reformers. Calvin did not reject the Scholastics of the Middle Ages outright but rather made use of them and reformed their thoughts in accordance with his understanding of the Bible.

Calvin is often associated with the doctrines of predestination and election, but he differed very little with the other magisterial Reformers regarding these difficult doctrines.

Last years (1555–1564)

Calvin's power was very great in his last years. He was known all around the world as a reformer different from Martin Luther.[1] Mainly, Luther and Calvin respected each other. However, Luther and a Zürich reformer Huldrych Zwingli thought differently about the eucharist. Calvin's thoughts about it made Luther believe that Calvin agreed with Zwingli. At the same time, Calvin was sad that the reformers were not all together. He tried to join them together by signing the Consensus Tigurinus. This was an agreement between the Zürich and Geneva churches.

Calvin's greatest help to the English-speaking people was by giving Marian exiles in Geneva protection. He did this starting in 1555. With the city's protection, they could make their own reformed church under John Knox and William Whittingham. They later carried many of Calvin's ideas back to England and Scotland.[2] However, Calvin was most interested in trying to change his homeland, France. He helped the building of churches by giving out literature and offering ministers. Between 1555 and 1562, over one hundred ministers were sent to France.

is now a college preparatory school for the Swiss Maturité.]]

Inside Geneva, Calvin's mainly wanted to make a collège. He wanted a place to educate children. A place to build the school was picked on 25 March 1558. It was opened the next year on 5 June 1559. Even though the school was one, it was divided into two parts. One part was a grammar school. The grammar school was called the collège or schola privata. The other part was an advanced school called the académie or schola publica. In five years there were 1,200 students in the grammar school and 300 in the advanced school. The collège later became the Collège Calvin, one of the college preparatory schools of Geneva. The académie became the University of Geneva.[3]

In autumn 1558, Calvin became ill with a fever. He was afraid he might die before finishing his last revision of the Institutes. Because of this, he forced himself to work. The last edition became much longer, so Calvin called it a new work. It was 21 chapters in the edition before the last one. However, in the last one, it was 80. This was because of more detail in the material that was already there: more subjects were not really added. [4] Soon after he became better, he strained his voice while preaching. This made him cough violently. He burst a blood-vessel in his lungs. His health became much worse after this. He preached his last sermon in St. Pierre on 6 February 1564. On 25 April, he made his will. In his will, he left a little money to his family and to the collège. A few days later, the ministers of the church came to visit him. He said his last goodbye. This goodbye is recorded in Discours d'adieu aux ministres. He remembered his life in Geneva. Calvin died on 27 May 1564. He was 54. On the next day, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cimetière de Plainpalais.[5] People are not sure where the grave is exactly. However, a stone was added in the 19th century to mark a grave traditionally thought to be Calvin's.[6]


General collections

Theological works



  • Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, Carlisle, Penn: Banner of Truth Trust 1980. ISBN 0-85151-323-9

Secondary sources

Other websites

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:


  1. Cottret 2000, p. 235
  2. Parker 2006, pp. 170–172
  3. Olsen 2004, pp. 158–159; Ganoczy 2004, pp. 19–20; Cottret 2000, pp. 256–259; Parker 2006, pp. 157–160
  4. Parker 2006, pp. 161–164
  5. McGrath 1990, pp. 195–196; Cottret 2000, pp. 259–262; Parker 2006, pp. 185–191
  6. Rossel, Patrice (1994), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator Une visite du cimetière de Plainpalais], Les Iles futures ; Palfi, Véronique (2003), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator Le Cimetière des Rois, De l'hôpital des pestiférés au cimetière de Plainpalais, Cinq siècle d'histoire, étude historique pour la Conservation architecturale de la Ville de Genève] 


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