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Calvin, John

CALVIN, JOHN

CALVIN, JOHN (Jean Cauvin; 15091564), French theologian and reformer. Calvin was the leading second-generation Protestant reformer, yielding only to Martin Luther in influence. He was born in Noyon, Picardy, a town under the rule of the prince-bishop but one that also retained a medieval communal tradition. His father, despite his lack of formal advanced education, held several lay legal positions for local church bodies. His mother was from the family of a wealthy hotelkeeper. Calvin's early education was at a local school, and perhaps also in the company of the youth of the local high noble family that controlled the office of prince-bishop and several other ecclesiastical positions.

He received his university education in Paris, supported in part by church benefices his father had secured for him. Following his father's wishes, he initially aspired to a career in the church but then turned to Roman law, in which he received a degree after studying at Orléans and Bourges. In his university studies and the law studies he pursued at Orléans under the jurist Pierre de l'Estoile, Scholasticism was preponderant. However, he also acquired a strong grounding in humanism through his tutelage by the renowned pedagogue Mathurin Cordier and his attendance at lectures by leading lights of the newly formed Collège Royale in Paris and at those of the jurist Andrea Alciato at Bourges, as well as through more informal studies. Indeed his first major work, a commentary on the Stoic philosopher Seneca's Declementia (Onclemency), showshimasa highly capable humanist scholar-commentator. It also reveals a young man filled with the desire to make a name for himself as a humanist literary figure, but ambivalent about this goal and uncomfortable with the cultivation ofelitepatrons, thenso necessary for the attainment of legal or literary success.

Until 1533, there is little to suggest that Calvin was more than a follower of the moderate religious reform exemplified by Desiderius Erasmus and Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples. On 1 November 1533 his friend Nicolas Cop, who had been elected rector of the University of Paris, gave an inaugural address containing a mixture of Lutheran and Erasmian ideas. But the monarchy of Francis I had turned against even moderate reform, and Cop had to flee Paris, as did Calvin himself. By early 1534 Calvin had turned from a spectator into an active reformer. By this time it had also become clear that the reception for his Seneca commentary did not fulfill his hopes. Protected for a few months at Nérac by Marguerite de Navarre (Marguerite d'Angoulême), the sister of Francis I, he soon gave up his minor benefices and moved to Basel and then to Geneva.

Central to Calvin's influence was his ability to define comprehensively the doctrine and liturgy of Christianity in the face of several alternative forms of Christianity. He confronted not only the Catholic Church but also conflicts among such reformers as Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, the recent German Peasants' movement with its more socially revolutionary understanding of Christianity, and the mostly pacifist but separatist movements known collectively as Anabaptism. Indeed, at about the time of his conversion, the most bizarre and uncharacteristically violent expression of Anabaptism was unfolding in Münster.

Calvin's first theological work, the Psychopannychia (written 1534), attacked a doctrine concerning the soul after bodily death, popular among some Anabaptists. By 1536, with the appearance of his most important work, the Christianae Religionis Institutio (Institutes of the Christian religion), Calvin had set out most of the fundamental tenets identified with his name. With Luther and Zwingli, he strongly advocated justification by faith alone and denied any role for one's own works in salvation (his insistence on predestination was a logical consequence of this doctrine). Like them, he retained only two of the Catholic Church's seven sacraments, baptism and Communion. He was more innovative in espousing a doctrine of the Eucharist that, in contradistinction to both Luther and the Catholic Church, denied any physical presence of Christ in the Communion elements, yet, in opposition to Zwingli, accepted a spiritual but nevertheless very real presence of Christ. His rejection of a role for Christ's physical body was part of a larger mistrust of any role in worship for that which took physical form or was apprehended primarily through visualization. Thus he espoused a categorical opposition to religious images, including images of Christ, again in contrast to the German reformer. His view undermined the patronage of religious art, whether by groups or individuals, by clerics, nobles, or craftspeople.

By 1539 Calvin had formulated his doctrine of the calling, in which he counterposed godly productive work to work motivated by the pursuit of honor and usually involving flattery of highly placed or well-connected individuals. In practice those "called" were approved and regulated primarily by fellow members of the craft or profession in question, as evidenced by the appointment of ministers and by Calvin's doctrine of the lesser magistrate. Moreover, he associated godly work in one's calling with steady, persevering, disciplined emotions, while he linked the pursuit of fame and status to unsteady and turbulent emotions. This way of distinguishing sacred from profane experience harks back to his early interest in Stoicism (which also rejected the pursuit of fame). The emotional qualities he depicted as marks of the sacred also have a strong affinity with those accompanying disciplined scholarly reading, teaching, and writing, activities that predated his activity as a religious reformer.

Calvin also stands out in his attitude to secular authorities. While he asserted that individuals could not take up arms against even a tyrannical ruler, he also forbade those who found themselves in Catholic-dominated areas from participating in Catholic forms of worship; they could neither participate in the Catholic Eucharist nor show honor to religious images. He insisted that such practices were offensive to God, and he argued that such participation communicated to others affirmation of these practices, regardless of one's own private intent. Thus individuals caught in this predicament risked drawing the attention of the authorities but could not resist persecution with force. Their only alternatives were escape or the risk of martyrdom. However, Calvin allowed for resistance to evil rulers by other recognized political authorities, the doctrine of the "lesser magistrate" (his examples included, from antiquity, the Spartan ephors, Roman tribunes, and Athenian demarchs, and, from his own day, the assemblies of the three Estates). In this way he provided an opening for active resistance to persecutionan opening that was elaborated by his followers during the religious wars of the later sixteenth century in France and elsewhere. The sources and impact of Calvin's views on this and other subsequent religious and political conflicts continue to be lively areas of research.

Calvin distinguished the invisible church, which encompassed all those, living and dead, who had been elected to salvation, from the visible church. The visible church could and did include people who were not among the elect and only feigned Christian faith. The true visible church he distinguished from false churches by their preaching of correct doctrine and proper administration of the sacraments, and not by the moral perfection of their officers or members. Since the elect could be known only to God, all but people whose religious profession or moral behavior obviously denied Christ were included in the visible church. Thus an established, visible church could be coterminous with any existing political jurisdiction, as in Geneva. Yet in keeping with his doctrine of the calling, Calvin insisted upon the independence of the church from secular authorities in matters of doctrine and liturgy. In Geneva the church had four offices: pastors and teachers (their functions overlapped as both were involved in ascertaining and teaching doctrine, although teachers also had primary responsibility for education); elders, who were concerned with over-seeing religious orthodoxy and moral discipline among Geneva's citizens; and deacons, who were charged with care of the poor and sick. Calvin continually pressed for the independence of church leaders from the Genevan government, including the control of excommunication. He was initially rebuffed and expelled from Geneva and spent three years ministering in Strasbourg. But the Genevan rulers, concerned to end religious discord, called him back in 1541. Aided by the influx of French Protestants fleeing persecution in their homeland as well as by considerable local support, Calvin was able to defeat opposition from several powerful, interlinked Genevan families. By 1555 he had won for the consistory, the church body charged with surveillance of religious doctrine and morality, the right of excommunication, a powerful symbol of the church's independence from secular authorities, although in Geneva civil authorities continued to hold key church functions. The factors involved in this dispute are an important area of current scholarship. With most of his contemporaries Calvin did not favor religious toleration; the most notorious example is his support for the execution of Michael Servetus for heterodox views on the Trinity in 1553. However, he favored noncapital penalties for those of less extreme heterodox views.

Although favoring a church embracing the entire community rather than the elect, Calvin, like the Anabaptists, sought to bring all members of the community into at least outward conformity with the religious beliefs and moral behavior he considered appropriate to Christians. Through the surveillance of the consistory, in which he was preeminent, he had considerable success in imposing a restrictive moral regime on Geneva's inhabitants, excluding not only heterodox religious practices, but dancing and card playing as well as more commonly recognized vices. Yet the consistory did not merely chastise moral failings; it frequently brought about reconciliation of the parties to familial and community conflicts.

Calvin's views regarding women are an important topic of current scholarship. The reformer allowed a role for women in public preaching only when suitably trained men were not available. It is a matter of current debate whether he excluded women because he believed that they were inherently less capable or because he thought it inappropriate to his own time. The consistory, over which Calvin presided, probably did not take women's heretical statements as seriously as those of men, but suspected women more often than men of Catholic practices. Like most other Protestants, Calvin allowed divorce; he limited it to grounds of adultery or desertion. During his tenure, the consistory applied the same criteria to rich and poor, women and men, in divorce cases before it. However, since separation was now deemed illicit, and cruelty was excluded as grounds for divorce, women were generally required to remain with abusive husbands. The death penalty was applied for particularly egregious cases of adultery, but Calvin probably did not take the lead in pressing for it. The ongoing publication and translation of the Genevan consistory records has shed much new light on this and many other aspects of the social history of Geneva, and no doubt will continue to do so.

In addition to his other activities, Calvin found the time to comment on almost all of the New Testament, on the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and several other books of the Hebrew Bible. In his commentaries he seeks to square the entirety of scripture with his doctrines. His commentaries on the Hebrew Bible reveal a tension that sometimes approaches the breaking point: Calvin displays a historical understanding of the Hebrews' beliefs and practices unsurpassed by other commentators of his time, an understanding derived from humanism; but he also displays a strong tendency to impute to the whole of Scripture, including the Hebrews, his particular understanding of Christian doctrine and practice, an ability rooted in the synthesizing, generalizing tendency of the medieval Roman law tradition in which he had been educated. The role of humanist and Scholastic assumptions in Calvin's interpretive and teaching practices continues to be an important area of research.

Finally, using Geneva as a base, Calvin and his fellow members of the Genevan Company of Pastors advanced the cause of reform on an international scale, continually advising their confreres in France and elsewhere. By his death he had helped to organize a corps of highly educated and effective preachers who had succeeded in establishing a network of French churches and were making inroads elsewhere in Europe as well.

See also Anabaptism ; Calvinism ; Geneva ; Huguenots ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Münster ; Reformation, Protestant ; Women ; Zwingli, Huldrych .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bergier, Jean-François, et al., eds. Registres de la compagnie des pasteurs de Genève au temps de Calvin. 2 vols. Geneva, 19621964.

Bouwsma, William J. John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait. Oxford and New York, 1988.

Breen, Quirinus. John Calvin: A Study in French Humanism. 2nd ed. Hamden, Conn., 1968.

Cottret, Bernard. Calvin: A Biography. Translated by M. Wallace McDonald. Grand Rapids, Mich., 2000.

Crouzet, Denis. Jean Calvin: Vies parallèles. Paris, 2000.

Douglass, Jane Dempsey. Women, Freedom, and Calvin: The 1983 Annie Kinkead Warfield Lectures. Philadelphia, 1985.

Kingdon, Robert M. Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

. Geneva and the Coming of the Wars of Religion in France, 15551563. Geneva, 1956.

Kingdon, Robert M., Thomas A. Lambert, Isabella M. Watt, and Jeffrey R. Watt, eds. Registres du consistoire de Genève au temps de Calvin. 2 vols. to date. Geneva, 1996. Translation in Kingdon, Robert M., Thomas A. Lambert, Isabella M. Watt, and Jeffrey R. Watt, eds., M. Wallace McDonald, trans. Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the time of Calvin. One vol. to date. Grand Rapids, Mich. 2000.

Millet, Olivier. Calvin et la dynamique de la parole: Étude de rhétorique réformée. Paris and Geneva, 1992.

Monheit, Michael L. "'The Ambition for an Illustrious Name': Humanism, Patronage, and Calvin's Doctrine of the Calling." The Sixteenth Century Journal 23, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 267287.

. "Young Calvin, Textual Interpretation and Roman Law." Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 59, no. 2 (1997): 263282.

Monter, E. William. Calvin's Geneva. New York, 1967.

Muller, Richard. The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition. Oxford and New York, 2000.

Naphy, William G. Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation. Manchester, U.K., and New York, 1994.

Watt, Jeffrey R. "Women and the Consistory in Calvin's Geneva." The Sixteenth Century Journal 24, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 429439.

Wendel, François. Calvin: The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought. Translated by Philip Mairet. London and New York, 1963.

Wengler, Elisabeth. Women, Religion, and Reform in Sixteenth-Century Geneva. Ph.D. diss., Boston College, 1999.

Michael L. Monheit

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John Calvin

John Calvin

The French Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) is best known for his doctrine of predestination and his theocratic view of the state.

John Calvin was born at Noyon in Picardy on July 10, 1509. He was the second son of Gérard Cauvin, who was secretary to the bishop of Noyon and fiscal procurator for the province. The family name was spelled several ways, but John showed preference while still a young man for "Calvin."

An ecclesiastical career was chosen for John, and at the age of 12, through his father's influence, he received a small benefice, a chaplaincy in the Cathedral of Noyon. Two years later, in August 1523, he went to Paris in the company of the noble Hangest family. He entered the Collègedela Marche at the University of Paris, where he soon became highly skilled in Latin. Subsequently he attended the Collège de Montaigu, where the humanist Erasmus had studied before him and where the Catholic reformer Ignatius of Loyola would study after him. Calvin remained in the profoundly ecclesiastical environment of this college until 1528. Then at the behest of his father he moved to Orléans to study law. He devoted himself assiduously to this field, drawing from it the clarity, logic, and precision that would later be the distinguishing marks of his theology.

In 1531, armed with his bachelor of laws degree, Calvin returned to Paris and took up the study of classical literature. At this time Martin Luther's ideas concerning salvation by faith alone were circulating in the city, and Calvin was affected by the new Protestant notions and by pleas for Church reform. He became a friend of Nicholas Cop, who, upon becoming rector of the university in 1533, made an inaugural speech which immediately branded him as a heretic. Calvin suffered the penalties of guilt by association and would certainly have been arrested had he not been warned to flee. In January 1534 he hastily left Paris and went to Angoulême, where he began work on his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Several turbulent months later, after a secret journey and two brief periods of arrest, Calvin was forced to flee from France when King Francis I instituted a general persecution of heretics. In December 1534 he found his way to Basel, where Cop had gone before him.

Calvin's Theology

Sometime during his last 3 years in France, Calvin experienced what he called his sudden conversion and mentally parted company with Rome. He proceeded to develop his theological position and in 1536 to expound it in the most severe, logical, and terrifying book of all Protestantism, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin followed this first Latin edition with an enlarged version in 1539 and a French translation in 1540, a book that has been called a masterpiece of French prose. The reformer continued to revise and develop the Institutes until his death.

Its theme is the majesty of God. There is an unbridgeable chasm between man and his maker. Man is thoroughly corrupt, so base that it is unthinkable that he could lift a finger to participate in his own salvation. God is glorious and magnificent beyond man's highest capacity to comprehend; He is both omnipotent and omniscient, and He has, merely by His knowing, foreordained all things that ever will come to pass. Man is helpless in the face of God's will. He is predestined either to eternal glory or eternal damnation, and he can do nothing, even if he is the best of saints in his fellow's eyes, to alter the intention of God. To suggest that he could would be to imply that the Creator did not fore-know precisely and thus diminish His majesty. To Calvin there could be no greater sacrilege. This doctrine of predestination did not originate with Calvin, but no one ever expressed it more clearly and uncompromisingly. He did not flinch from the terrible consequences of God's omniscience.

To those few whom God has chosen to save, He has granted the precious gift of faith, which is undeserved. All are unworthy of salvation, and most are damned because God's justice demands it. But God is infinitely merciful as well as just, and it is this mercy, freely given, that opens the door to heaven for the elect.

Calvin knew that this doctrine was terrifying, that it seemed to make God hateful and arbitrary, but he submitted that human reason is too feeble to scrutinize or judge the will of God. The Creator's decision on who shall be damned is immutable. No purgatory exists to cleanse man of his sins and prepare him for heaven. Yet Calvin counsels prayer, even though it will not change God's will, because prayer too is decreed and men must worship even though they may be among the damned. The prayer should be simple, and all elaborate ceremony should be rejected. The Catholic Mass is sacrilegious, because the priest claims that in it he changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Calvin held that Christ is present whenever believers gather prayer-fully, but in spirit only and not because of any act undertaken by priests, who have no special powers and are in no way different from other Christians. There are only two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Like Luther, Calvin rejects all other "sacraments" as not based on Holy Scripture.

Calvin makes a distinction between the visible Church and the true Church. The former is composed of those who participate in the Sacraments and profess their faith in Christ; the latter, invisible and unknown to all save God, is the community of the elect—dead, living, and yet unborn. One must belong to the visible Church in order to be saved, but belonging to it is no guarantee of salvation. Church and state are both ordained by God. The task of the former is to teach and prescribe faith and morals, while the latter preserves order and enforces the laws set forth by the Church. There is no separation of Church and state. Both must work in harmony to preserve the word of God, and to this end the state is enjoined to use force if necessary to suppress false teachings, such as Catholicism, Anabaptism, or Lutheranism.

That these ideas, particularly with their cornerstone of predestination, soon conquered much of the Christian world is baffling at first examination. But Calvin's followers were encouraged by hope of election rather than enervated by fear of damnation. It seems to be an essential part of human nature to see oneself as just, and Calvin himself, while he firmly maintained that no one is certain of salvation, always acted with confidence and trust in his own election.

Geneva Reformer

While publication of the Institutes was in progress, Calvin made preparations to leave his homeland permanently. He returned briefly to France early in 1536 to settle personal business, then set out for Strasbourg. Because of the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, he was forced to take a circuitous route which brought him to Geneva. He intended to continue on to Strasbourg but was persuaded to remain by Guillaume Farel, who had begun a Protestant movement in Geneva. Except for one brief interruption he spent the remaining years of his life in Geneva, spreading the word of God as he understood it and creating a theocratic state unique in the annals of Christendom.

In 1537 Calvin was elected to the preaching office by the city fathers, who had thrown off obedience to Rome along with their old political ruler, the Duke of Savoy. A council, now operating as the government, issued decrees in July 1537 against all manifestations of Catholicism as well as all forms of immorality. Rosaries and relics were banished along with adulterers. Gamblers were punished and so were people who wore improper, that is, luxurious, clothing. The austere hand of Calvin was behind these regulations.

The new rules were too severe for many citizens, and in February 1538 a combination of Libertines (freedom lovers) and suppressed Catholics captured a majority of the council. This body then banished Calvin and Farel; Calvin went to Strasbourg and Farel to Neuchâtel, where he remained for the rest of his life.

At Strasbourg, Calvin ministered to a small congregation of French Protestants and in 1540 married Idelette de Bure. She bore him one child, who died in infancy, and she herself died in 1549. While Calvin was establishing himself at Strasbourg, things were going badly for the new Protestantism in Geneva. Strong pressure was being exerted on the council from within and without the city to return to Catholicism. Fearing that they might be removed from office and disgusted with the trend toward flagrant immorality among the citizenry, the councilors revoked the ban on Calvin on May 1, 1541. A deputation was sent immediately to Strasbourg to persuade the reformer to return, and he did so reluctantly, on Sept. 13, 1541, after being promised total cooperation in restoring discipline.

Rule of God

The law of a Christian state, according to Calvin, is the Bible. The task of the clergy is to interpret and teach that law, while the task of the state is to enforce it. Under this principle, while the clergy, including Calvin, were not civil magistrates, they held enormous authority over the government and all aspects of civil as well as religious life.

Immediately on his return to Geneva, Calvin set about organizing the Reformed Church. On Jan. 2, 1542, the city council ratified the Ordonnances ecclésiastiques, the new regulations governing the Church, formulated by a committee led by Calvin. The Ordonnances divided the ministry into four categories: pastors, teachers, lay elders, and deacons. The pastors governed the Church and trained aspirants to the ministry. No one could preach henceforth in Geneva without permission of the pastors.

The conduct of all citizens was examined and regulated by a consistory of 5 pastors and 12 lay elders elected by the council. The consistory had the right to visit every family annually and search its home; to summon any citizen before it; to excommunicate, which meant virtually automatic banishment from the city by the council; to force attendance at weekly sermons; to prohibit gambling, drunkenness, dancing, profane songs, and immodest dress; and to forbid all forms of the theater. The colors of clothing, hair styles, and amounts of food permissible at the table were regulated. It was forbidden to name children after saints, and it was a criminal offense to speak ill of Calvin or the rest of the clergy. The press was severely censored, with writings judged to be immoral and books devoted to Catholicism or other false teaching forbidden. Punishment for first offenses was usually a fine and for repetition of minor crimes, banishment. Fornication was punishable by exile, and adultery, blasphemy, and idolatry by death. Education, which Calvin regarded as inseparable from religion, was very carefully regulated, and new schools were established. Charity was placed under municipal administration to eliminate begging. Thus the whole life of Geneva was placed under a rigid discipline and a single Church from which no deviation was permitted.

The consistory and the city council worked hand in hand in enforcing the laws, but the moving spirit of all was Calvin, who acted as a virtual dictator from 1541 until his death. Calvin did not look the part of a dictator. He was a small, thin, and fragile man with an unsmiling ruthless austerity in his face. He was pale under a black beard and a high forehead. A poet would perhaps see these physical details as signs of enormous, orderly intellect and of little human warmth or appetite—a being all mind and spirit with almost no body at all. There were some ugly moments in theocratic Geneva. During these years 58 people were executed and 76 banished in order to preserve morals and discipline. Like most men of his century, the reformer was convinced that believing wrongly about God was so heinous a crime that not even death could expiate it.

Last Years

The last years of Calvin's life were spent in elaborating Geneva's laws, writing controversial works against spiritual enemies, and laboring prodigiously on the theology of the Institutes. Geneva became a model of discipline, order and cleanliness, the admiration of all who visited there.

Men trained to the ministry by Calvin carried his doctrines to every corner of Europe. The reformer lived to see his followers growing in numbers in the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and even France, the homeland he had been forced to leave. The impetus he gave to austerity, frugality, and hard, uncomplaining work may have had some influence in forming a capitalist mentality devoted to the acquisition but not the enjoyment of wealth. In any case his teachings have been carried to the present day and live on in the churches which descended from him, modified from their early severity by time but still vigorous in some of the more puritan aspects of modern life.

On May 27, 1564, after a long illness Calvin died. He left an indelible mark on the Christian world.

Further Reading

Calvin's clarity of expression makes him readily intelligible to the layman. His Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill (2 vols., 1960), provides an excellent introduction to the man and his work. Of the many biographies in English, two of the best are Williston Walker, John Calvin (1906), and Georgia Harkness, John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics (1931). For a thorough treatment of Calvin's teachings see John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (1954).

There are many studies of the Reformation. Among those written from the Protestant viewpoint are James Mackinnon, Calvin and the Reformation (1936), and Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1952). Those with Catholic emphasis are Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Reformation (1957; rev. ed. 1960); Henry Daniel-Rops, The Protestant Reformation (trans. 1961), which contains a large section on Calvin; and Christopher Dawson, The Dividing of Christendom (1965). See also Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500-1650 (1954; with rev. bibl. 1965), and Geoffrey R. Elton, Reformation Europe, 1517-1559 (1964). William J. Durant, The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin, 1300-1564 (1957), is a popular history of the period. □

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Calvin, John

Calvin, John

WORKS BY CALVIN

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Calvin (1509−1564), one of the major leaders of the Protestant Reformation, was born in Noyon, France, and died in Geneva. His work will be considered in this article only insofar as it has implications for the development of political theory.

Calvin’s undergraduate career at the University of Paris was followed by legal training at Orléans and Bourges and by a period of intensive study of classical authors under the royal lecturers at Paris. A religious struggle ended with his “sudden conversion,” early in 1534, which led him to become a biblical theologian. He published his Institutio religionis Christianae at Basel in 1536 and was thereafter identified with the Reformation in Geneva.

His first published treatise, a commentary on Seneca’s De clementia, revealed a mind familiar with ancient political thought, and his interest in politics was not diminished by his later devotion to theological studies. In all editions of the Institutio (1536) he included a more or less systematic treatment of civil government. His commentaries on the books of the Scriptures contained searching political passages, and his extensive correspondence is abundantly sprinkled with informed references to political events of his day and with characterizations of chiefs of state and their policies, especially as these related to the prospects of the Reformation.

Calvin raised political relationships and duties to a high level of importance by bringing them completely within the sphere of religious motivation. The dominion of kings and magistratus is “a holy thing,” and they should be obeyed as “vicars of God” unless they command what God forbids. He sought a mutuality of service and obligation sanctioned by religion: civil obedience is an expression of the Christian law of love, since it makes for the safety and peace of all, while magistrates, for their part, are “responsible to God and to men.” Government exists both to protect the church in its integrity and to promote the civil virtues and public peace. “In short, it provides that a public manifestation of religion may exist among Christians and that humanity be maintained among men” (Institutio, IV, xx, 3). The coercive power of rulers is to be exercised under God’s authority and with clemency. If they observe these two conditions, they may resort to war to save their people, and they may levy taxes, remembering always that their revenues are received in trust and are, as it were, the blood of the people.

The duty of obedience applies even when the ruler is not Christian. It is not affected by variation in the form of government. Anyone entrusted with a ruling function is to be revered and must act responsibly.

Calvin in 1536 impartially compared the forms of government described by classical writers, but in the 1543 edition of the Institutio he stated a decided preference for “aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy” (vel aristocratiam vel temperatum ex ipsa et politia statum aliis omnibus longe excellere—Institutio, IV, xx, 8). In 1559 he explained this preference by a further insertion: since kings lack the requisite justice and prudence, it is preferable that a number of people exercise power, so that they may help, teach, and admonish one another and together censure and restrain willful individuals (Institutio, IV, xx, 8). Thus the main motive for plural responsibility is not representation of all interests, but the opportunity for mutual criticism and the sharing of opinions.

Calvin inserted the “aristocracy–democracy” phrase at a time when he was also cooperating in the revision of the constitution of Geneva, whereby the four chief magistrates (syndics) were elected by vote of all citizens from a list of eight names presented by the Little Council. Membership in the Little Council was by co-optation with the approval of the Council of Two Hundred, a body that was also selected by the Little Council. Here we have aristocracy, although not of lineal descent, with an element of democracy. Calvin’s mind seems to have continued to move in the direction of democratic government. In 1560, writing on Micah 5:5, he noted that hereditary kingship seems out of accord with liberty and added that a well-ordered government is derived from a general vote of the people. In one of his sermons he observed that the choosing of judges and magistrates is not a formality or a ceremony, but a “holy thing” that should be done with reverence.

Most of what Calvin wrote on politics is marked by a deep respect for stable government and a cautious avoidance of any suggestion of resistance or revolution. Even under oppression the Christian is to submit and pray for deliverance. Calvin observed, however, that in the course of history God has sometimes raised up his agents to “break the bloody sceptres.” In this context he introduced a striking sentence on the high importance of constitutional guardians of the people’s liberty. As examples of populares magistrates he cited the Spartan ephors, Roman tribunes, and Athenian demarchs and suggested, apparently for the benefit of France, that perhaps the three estates in modern realms could serve the same purpose. He declared it “nefarious perfidy” for those so commissioned to fail to withstand wicked kings and thereby betray the people’s liberty, which they were bound by God’s ordinance to maintain. The “ephors” passage found its echo in the bolder stands of many later advocates of resistance to tyranny.

It would be easy to show that most of Calvin’s political ideas had found previous expression in classical and medieval writers. Yet a certain originality is discernible in him. This is partly due to the informed clarity of his judgments, partly to the fact that he wrote from a Protestant position. He had the advantage of being fully equipped with the language skills of the Renaissance, which permitted him to use with sharpened effectiveness both the classical treatises on the state and the appropriate passages of Scripture. As a Protestant who had repudiated the papacy and dismissed all the claims to divinely bestowed supernational authority made on its behalf, he assumed the autonomous civil community or national state as the environing framework within which the citizen functions politically. There is thus a sense in which his teaching was prophetic of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, by which the papacy was thrust out of any determining role in international affairs. At the same time his thought ran wholly counter to the influence of Machiavelli’s Prince, a work in which the sanctity of the ruler’s office, as seen in both the classical and the Christian traditions, was frankly cast aside. Calvin would have said, “This nation under God,” but never, “My country right or wrong.” His ideal was that of a church-associated political community in which interaction between church and state would be fruitful for the common good.

Many elusive factors would be involved in any attempt to estimate Calvin’s influence on later political thought and action. Writers who made use of his ideas invariably drew also from other sources. Writers influenced by him would certainly include not only such contemporaries and successors as John Ponet, François Hotman, Philippe de Mornay, and Hugo Grotius but also, nearer to the American Revolution, John Locke, Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, and to a lesser degree, Jean Jacques Rousseau. It will be remembered that John Witherspoon, the one clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, was theologically a strong Calvinist and politically a disciple of Locke and that the secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson, praised by John Adams as “the life of the cause of liberty,” was a Presbyterian minister of similar views. We may easily exaggerate Calvin’s affinity with modern exponents of representative government, but that he gave some impetus to its development is undeniable.

John T. McNeill

[For the historical context of Calvin’s work, seeChristianity. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeProtestant political thoughtand the biographies ofGrotiusandLocke.]

WORKS BY CALVIN

(1536) 1960 Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Edited by John T. McNeill. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. → First published as Institutio religionis Christianae.

(1863–1900) 1964 ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia. 59 vols. Edited by Johann W. Baum, August Eduard Cunitz, Eduard W. E. Reuss. Corpus Reformatorum, Vols. 29−87. New York: Johnson Reprints.

1926−1959 Joannis Calvini opera selecta. 5 vols. Edited by Petrus Barth. Munich: Kayser. → Volume 1: Scripta Calvini ab anno 1533 usque ad annum 1541 continens, 1926. Volume 2: Tractatus theologicos minores ab anno 1542 usque ad annum 1564 editos continens, 1952. Volume 3: Institutionis Christianae religionis 1559 libros I et II, 1957. Volume 4: Institutionis Christianae religionis 1559 librum III continens, 1959. Volume 5: Institutionis Christianae religionis 1559 librum IV continens, 1936.

(1950) 1956 John Calvin on God and Political Duty. Edited with an introduction by John T. McNeill. 2d ed. New York: Liberal Arts Press. → Selections from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion; Commentaries on Romans; and Commentaries on Daniel.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carlyle, Robert W.; and Carlyle, Alexander J. (1903−1936) 1950 A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West. 6 vols. Edinburgh and London: Blackwood; New York: Barnes & Noble.

CheneviÈre, Marc É. 1937 La pensée politique de Calvin. Paris: Éditions “Je sers.”

Harvey, Ray F. 1937 Jean Jacques Burlamaqui: A Liberal Tradition in American Constitutionalism. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

Hunt, George L.; and Mcneill, John T. (editors) 1965 Calvinism and Political Order: Essays Prepared for the Woodrow Wilson Lectureship of the National Presbyterian Center, Washington, D.C. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

McNeill, John T. 1964 John Calvin on Civil Government. Journal of Presbyterian History 42:71−91.

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Calvin, John

John Calvin

Born: July 10, 1509
Noyon, Picardy, France
Died: May 27, 1564
Geneva, Switzerland

French religious leader and reformer

The French religious reformer John Calvin created a strict version of Protestantism, which originally arose in opposition to the Catholic Church. He is known for his belief in predestination (meaning God has already chosen who will and will not be saved) and his view of the state as enforcer of church laws.

Early life

John Calvin was born at Noyon in Picardy, France, on July 10, 1509. He was the second son of Gérard Cauvin, who was secretary to the bishop of Noyon. It was decided early in his life that Calvin would serve the Catholic Church, and at the age of twelve he became a chaplain at the Cathedral of Noyon. In August 1523 he went to Paris, France, and entered the Collège de la Marche at the University of Paris, where he soon became skilled in Latin. He then attended the Collège de Montaigu until 1528. Then, at the suggestion of his father, he moved to Orléans, France, to study law.

In 1531 Calvin returned to Paris with his law degree. At this time Protestant opposition to the church was growing. The ideas of Martin Luther (14831546) concerning the saving of one's soul by faith alone were becoming popular in the city, and Calvin became involved in the movement for church reform. In January 1534 he fled Paris during a crackdown on Protestants and went to Angoulême, France, where he began writing down a full description of his beliefs. After several trips back to Paris he finally settled in Basel, Switzerland.

Calvin's ideas

In 1536 Calvin expressed his new beliefs in the most famous book on Protestantism ever, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he continued to work on until his death. The book's theme is the majesty of God and the worthlessness of man. God has predestined (decided in advance) who will be granted eternal glory or suffer eternal damnation, and man can do nothing to change this decision. Calvin was not the creator of this idea, but no one ever expressed it more clearly.

Calvin also advised people to pray, saying men must worship even though they may have no chance to be saved. The prayer should be simple, and all fancy ceremony should be rejected. Calvin said that Christ is present whenever believers gather in prayer, and that priests have no special powers. He also stated that there was no separation of Church and state; both must work together to preserve the word of God, and the state was allowed to use force if necessary against those engaging in false teachings.

Geneva reformer

After returning briefly to France in 1536, Calvin left his homeland permanently. Traveling through Geneva, Switzerland, he met Guillaume Farel, a Protestant who asked him to stick around. In 1537 the city fathers in Geneva elected Calvin to the preaching office. A council operating as the government soon banned Catholicism and all immoral behavior. In 1538 a combination of Libertines (freedom lovers) and Catholics, opposed to the new rules, took control of the council. Calvin was banished and went to Strasbourg, France, where he married Idelette de Bure in 1540. Their only child died in infancy. Things went badly in Geneva after Calvin left. Disgusted with the behavior of the people, the council asked Calvin to return in 1541, promising total cooperation in restoring order.

Back in Geneva, Calvin went right to work organizing the Reformed church. In 1542 the council approved his new regulations. The ministry was divided into pastors, teachers, lay (nonreligious) elders, and deacons. The pastors governed the Church, and their permission was required to preach in Geneva. To control public behavior, an elected group of pastors and elders were given the right to search people's homes; to banish anyone from the city; to force attendance at weekly sermons; and to ban gambling, drinking, dancing, and immodest dress. Criticism of Calvin or other church officials was forbidden, as were immoral writings and books about Catholicism. Punishment for first offenses was usually a fine. Repeat offenders were banished, and extreme offenses carried the death penalty. From 1541 until Calvin's death fifty-eight people were executed and seventy-six were banished in order to preserve morals and order.

Last years

Calvin's last years were spent criticizing his enemies and updating Geneva's laws and the Institutes. Geneva became a model of order and cleanliness and was admired by visitors. Men trained by Calvin carried his ideas all over Europe. He lived to see his following grow in the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and even France. On May 27, 1564, Calvin died after a long illness, having left a huge mark on the Christian world.

For More Information

Bouwsma, William J. John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Cottret, Bernard. Calvin: A Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000.

Wellman, Sam. John Calvin: Father of Reformed Theology. Ulrichsville, OH: Barbour, 2001.

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Calvin, John (1509–1564)

Calvin, John (15091564)

Protestant theologian and founder of Calvinism, a religious movement that had farreaching effects on European thought and culture. Born Jean Cauvin in Noyon, a town in the Picardy region of northern France, Calvin was the precocious son of a lawyer who began studies at the University of Paris at the age of fourteen. He studied law, theology, as well as ancient languages, including Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. After earning a doctorate, he moved to Geneva, in what is now the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Around 1533 Calvin rebelled against the Catholic hierarchy and took up the cause of the German Protestants. He attempted to have the city fathers adopt a new religious creed to be sworn to by all citizens of Geneva. Expelled from the city for his religious activism, he moved to Strasbourg, Germany, where he became a preacher in a Huguenot (French Protestant) church. In 1541, after several of his followers won election to the city council of Geneva, he was invited to return to the city, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Calvin believed in a direct interpretation of scripture, without any human commentators shaping the experience for the faithful. He believed in subordinating civic government to religious authorities, and in reforming the church through his own interpretation of the will of God. His work Institutes of the Christian Religion had a far-reaching effect on the Christian church in Europe. First published in 1536, the Institutes explained basic Protestant doctrines, such as the rejection of the authority of the pope and the doctrine of justification by faith, which was first put forth by Martin Luther, former Catholic monk and founder of the Protestant Reformation.

Calvin believed in only two of the traditional Catholic sacraments: baptism and Holy Communion; he disagreed with Martin Luther in not believing in the physical presence of Christ in the offering of bread and wine, a strictly Catholic belief. The Holy Spirit, in Calvinist doctrine, could only be apprehended through the spirit, and never through the senses; there was no place in a Calvinist church for graven images or human saints.

Calvin also advanced the notion of predestination: the idea that the fate of the soul is determined before birth, and that worldly actions, no matter how pious or virtuous, can do nothing to change it. The world was made up of the visible church and the invisible church, which included those select individuals who were chosen by God to follow the righteous path to salvation and paradise. The visible church was made up of the elect on earth, who owed their first loyalty to their religion and who lay above and beyond the control of secular authorities.

Calvin believed that religious doctrine should govern secular life. In 1559 he founded the Academy of Geneva, to educate the young in worldly subjects with a strong grounding in faith. Seeking to create an ideal Christian community, he also employed a body known as the Consistory of Geneva as the city's religious court and enforcer of correct doctrine and observance. The consistory prohibited frivolous entertainmentsdancing, gambling, and card-playingas well as Catholic worship; under Calvin, the consistory also had the right to excommunicate participants, which had once belonged to the civil authorities. Calvin established four officers of his reformed theocratic government: ministers to preach and administer the sacraments; doctors to teach the citizens and train ministers; elders who would enforce strict regulations on morals and public behavior; and deacons, who oversaw the charitable institutions such as hospitals and poorhouses.

In Geneva Calvin preached the virtues of thrift, sobriety, and industry. He embraced the economic changes sweeping across Renaissance Europe, where a medieval agrarian society was giving way to an early industrial age in which trade and money took precedence. In the meantime, opponents of Calvinist thought in Geneva were harshly suppressed. Libertine and atheist Jacques Gruet, who publicly berated Calvin and satirized him in verse, was arrested, tortured, and executed for heresy. The consistory also tortured and executed suspected witches. Calvin's most notable victim was Michael Servetus, a Spanish Anabaptist who had sworn enemies among Catholic and Protestant leaders. When Servetus was recognized in Geneva attending one of Calvin's sermons, he was arrested. With Calvin's support and approval, the council of Geneva tried him for heresy and had him burned at the stake.

Calvin's church gradually spread into northern Europe through a network of preachers, many of them French Huguenots, whom he had trained and guided in Geneva. His ultimate legacy was a harsh and unyielding Puritan outlook that guided its followers in their public and private behavior, and also brought many of its followers into open conflict with the authorities who governed them.

See Also: Luther, Martin; Zwingli, Huldrych

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Calvin, John

John Calvin, 1509–64, French Protestant theologian of the Reformation, b. Noyon, Picardy.

Early Life

Calvin early prepared for an ecclesiastical career; from 1523 to 1528 he studied in Paris. His opinions gradually turned to disagreement with the Roman position, and a demonstrated ability at disputation led him in 1528, at his father's instance, to study law at Orléans and Bourges. After his father's death in 1531 he returned to Paris, where he pursued his own predilection, the study of the classics and Hebrew. He came under the humanist influence and became interested in the growing rebellion against conservative theology. He experienced c.1533 what he later described as a "sudden conversion," and he turned all his attention to the cause of the Reformation.

Protestant Reformer

Institutes of the Christian Religion

As a persecuted Protestant, Calvin found it necessary to travel from place to place, and at Angoulême in 1534 he began the work of systematizing Protestant thought in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, considered one of the most influential theological works of all time. Completed at Basel in 1536 and later frequently revised and supplemented, the original work contained the basic Calvinist theology. In the Institutes Calvin diverged from Catholic doctrine in the rejection of papal authority and in acceptance of justification by faith alone, but many of his other positions, including the fundamental doctrine of predestination, had been foreshadowed by Catholic reformers and by the Protestant thought of Martin Luther and Martin Bucer.

Work in Geneva

In 1536, Calvin was persuaded by Guillaume Farel to devote himself to the work of the Reformation at Geneva, and there Calvin instituted the most thoroughgoing development of his doctrine. At first the Genevans were unable to accept the austere reforms and departures from established church customs, and in 1538 the opposition succeeded in banishing Farel and Calvin from the city. Calvin went to Basel and then to Strasbourg, where he spent three fruitful years preaching and writing.

By 1541 the Genevans welcomed Calvin, and he immediately set himself to the task of constructing a government based on the subordination of the state to the church. Once the Bible is accepted as the sole source of God's law, the duty of humans is to interpret it and preserve the orderly world that God has ordained. This goal Calvin set out to achieve through the establishment of ecclesiastical discipline, in which the magistrates had the task of enforcing the religious teachings of the church as set forth by the synod. The Genevan laws and constitution were recodified; regulation of conduct was extended to all areas of life. Ecclesiastical discipline was supplemented by a systematized theology, with the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper given to unite believers in the fellowship of Jesus.

Involvement in Controversies

Calvin wrote extensively on all theological and practical matters. He was involved in many controversies. Among them were his violent opposition to the Anabaptists; his disagreement with the Lutherans over the Lord's Supper, which resulted in the separation of the Evangelical Church into Lutheran and Reformed; and his condemnation of the anti-Trinitarian views of Michael Servetus, which ended in the notorious trial and burning of Servetus in 1553.

Importance of Calvinism

The extension of Calvinism to all spheres of human activity was extremely important to a world emerging from an agrarian, medieval economy into a commercial, industrial era. Unlike Luther, who desired a return to primitive simplicity, Calvin accepted the newborn capitalism and encouraged trade and production, at the same time opposing the abuses of exploitation and self-indulgence. Industrialization was stimulated by the concepts of thrift, industry, sobriety, and responsibility that Calvin preached as essential to the achievement of the reign of God on earth. The influence of Calvinism spread throughout the entire Western world, realizing its purest forms through the work of John Knox in Scotland and through the clergymen and laymen of the civil war period in England and the Puritan moralists in New England.

Bibliography

See selections from his writings, ed. by J. Dillenberger (1971); Q. Breen, John Calvin (1931, repr. 1968); G. Harkness, John Calvin (1931); W. C. Northcott, John Calvin (1946); A. T. Davies, John Calvin and the Influence of Protestantism on National Life and Character (1946); A. M. Schmidt, John Calvin and the Calvinist Tradition (tr. 1960); K. McDonnell, John Calvin, the Church, and the Eucharist (1967); W. J. Bouwsma, John Calvin (1989).

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Calvin, John (1509-1564)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Theologian

Sources

Early Life. John Calvin was one of the primary reformers and theologians of the Protestant Reformation. Born in 1509 in Noyon, France, the son of a notary, attorney for the Church, and secretary for the local bishop, John Calvin was destined for a life in religious service. Noyon was the site of a cathedral and thus had a rich episcopal history. Calvin spent his first university years in Paris, supported by the generosity of the bishop of Noyon. His intellectual life was cultivated by spending time with the large circle of scholars at the court of King Francis I. He was studying for the priesthood until his father argued with the local bishop and sent his son to study law in Orleans. After earning his doctor of laws degree in 1531, Calvin went to Paris to study politics and theology. His humanistic studies led him to look carefully at the Church, and soon after, he joined a reformed religious party. His attitudes toward the Church were also affected by the fact that he could not secure Christian burial for his father, who had been excommunicated upon his death in 1531.

Conversion. Calvin published his first book in 1532, a commentary on Senecas On Clemency. The next year, after helping his friend Nicholas Cop, rector of the University of Paris, compose an address which included Lutheran Reformation ideas, the two had to flee Paris, and the Church instituted heresy proceedings against him. It was perhaps after this that Calvin experienced his conversion to scripture-based religion; the event sent Calvin into exile and a life of supporting Reformation ideals.

Geneva. The year 1536 witnessed two important events in Calvins life: he published his most significant work and was persuaded to go to Geneva, Switzerland, to reform religion there. The Institutes of the Christian Religion forms the principal source for Calvins thought; it is also a manual on spirituality. Calvin accepted Luthers idea that salvation is by grace alone, through faith. At the core of Calvins thinking was predestinationthe idea that God had long ago determined who would be saved and who would be damnedand that humans were dependent on God for knowledge and faith. In Geneva, where Calvin would remain for the rest of his life (except for three years, when the political climate became less amenable for Protestants and he returned to Strasbourg in France), he transformed the city regarded for its ill repute into one in which a strict moral code prevailed, regulating the lives of everyone, regardless of rank or class. Geneva thus became the model Protestant city, and the University of Geneva was a training ground for Calvinism. Calvin lived out his life developing and refining his ideas on church government. He published the Ecclesiastical Ordinances in 1541, which set forth the organization of churches. In his system he placed authority in the laity, assuring that even if a minister left or the church leaders were persecuted (a real fear), the church would continue, as it had leadership in place. When Calvin died in 1564, he left followers in Switzerland and throughout Europe to ensure the survival of his theological system.

Sources

William Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988);

Michael A. Mullett, Calvin (New York: Routledge, 1989).

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Calvin, John

Calvin, John (1509–64). Christian reformer and theologian. Under Protestant influence in Paris, he experienced a decisive change in religious outlook. Under the threat of persecution, he was forced to leave Paris and spent about three unsettled years travelling between Europe's main cities. During this period he wrote his Psychopannychia (1534) and the 1st edn. (1536) of his finest work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Passing through Geneva, a city which had already committed itself to reform, Calvin was persuaded to settle there by the reforming preacher, Guillaume Farel. Calvin was soon appointed a preacher and pastor, but the measures he and others proposed for church reform were such that Calvin and Farel were forced to flee. In exile in Strasbourg, Calvin ministered to a French refugee congregation and developed a close friendship with Martin Bucer, whose influence is evident in the next edn. of the Institutes, translated into French in 1541. In Feb. 1541 Calvin was invited to return to Geneva where he remained until he died. The reform of the Genevan church was accomplished in large part through the Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541). He died at the age of 55, one of the most influential figures of the Western world.

At the heart of the Christian life lies ‘union with Christ’, an utterly unmerited relationship effected through the Holy Spirit. Calvin maintained a lifelong commitment to the Bible's importance for reforming every aspect of Christian faith and life, and the primary purpose of the Bible was to focus attention on Jesus Christ. See CALVINISM.

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Calvin, John

Calvin, John (1509–64) French theologian of the Reformation. He prepared for a career in the Roman Catholic Church but turned to the study of classics. In c.1533 he became a Protestant and began work on his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In this work he presented the basics of what came to be known as Calvinism. To avoid persecution, he went to live in Geneva, Switzerland (1536), where he advanced the Reformation.

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Calvin, John

CALVIN, JOHN

CALVIN, JOHN (15091564), primary Protestant reformer, biblical scholar, church organizer, and theologian. Also a humanist and linguist, Calvin helped to shape and standardize French language and literary style.

Calvin was reclusive and reticent; hence the only Calvin we know is the public figure. Of his first twenty-five years we know comparatively little. He was born at Noyon (province of Picardy), France, on July 10, 1509, the fourth of six children born to Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc. Christened Jean Cauvin, from his university days he used the name Calvin, the latinized form of Cauvin. He spent his first thirteen years in Noyon, benefiting from the rich traditions of this historic episcopal city where his father served as attorney for the cathedral and secretary to the bishop, Charles de Hangest.

Intimately associated as a youth with the de Hangest household, Calvin developed aristocratic tastes and demeanor. Church benefices permitted him to further his education at the University of Paris; he spent nearly eleven years in Paris, participating in the intellectual life both of the university and the large circle of humanist scholars at the court of the king, Francis I.

At the university, preparing for a career in theology, Calvin had completed the master of arts degree when his father had a falling-out with the bishop. The father ordered his son to change to a career in law. Obediently Calvin moved to Orléans, where the best law faculty in France, under the leadership of Pierre de l'Étoile, was located. Though more interested in humanist studies, he completely immersed himself in the law (at Orléans, Bourges, and Paris) and took his doctorate and his licentiate in three years.

In 1531 Calvin's father died excommunicate. The struggle to secure a Christian burial for his father doubtless soured Calvin's relations with the Roman church. But for the moment the effect of his father's death was to permit him to commit himself to the uninterrupted pursuit of humanist studies.

In 1532 Calvin published his first book, a commentary on Seneca's On Clemency. Though distinguished for its learning, the book did not win him any acclaim. His days of humanist study in Paris were cut short when, in 1533, his close friend Nicholas Cop, rector of the University of Paris, delivered an address that incorporated ideas of the Lutheran Reformation. Reaction by the theologians at the Sorbonne was strong, and because Calvin had a hand in the composition of the address, he, along with Cop, was forced to flee for his life. Although scholarly opinion differs, it appears that shortly thereafter he underwent the "sudden conversion" he speaks about later. A marked man in France, Calvin spent the rest of his life in exile.

Having turned his considerable talents to the support of the Reformation, in early 1536 Calvin published at Basel the first edition of his epochal Institutes of the Christian Religion. Intended as a defense of the French Protestants to the king of France, it marked Calvin as the foremost mind of Protestantism. The desired life of solitude and study that permitted its composition could never again be Calvin's. In late July of 1536, he happened to stop in the small city of Geneva; there God "thrust him into the fray," as he was to say. Geneva had recently declared for the Protestant faith under the urging of the fiery evangelist Guillaume Farel, one of Calvin's colleagues from his Paris days. Farel, learning of Calvin's presence in the city, sought him out and urged him to join in the work of reform at Geneva. When Calvin refused, Farel thundered that God would punish him for turning his back on that work. The shaken Calvin heard it as the summons of God and agreed to stay. Except for a three-year period of peaceful study and ministry in Strasbourg (15381541), Calvin was henceforth associated with the city and republic of Geneva in a stormy ministry designed to bring the city into conformity with the biblical model as he understood it.

Calvin's ideal for Geneva was that church and state work hand in hand to create and govern a utopian society in which the biblical worldview was enforced. But the Genevan state was determined to keep the church under its control. A man of courage and indomitable will, Calvin took up the battle. Armed only with the power of the pulpit and of the church institutions, through persistence, adherence to biblical principles, organizational talents, and moral conviction, he managed to overcome massive resistance and to see most of his ideals realized. Geneva was transformed from a city of ill repute to one in which a strict moral code regulated the lives of all, regardless of rank or class. In spite of the radical harshness of his policies, by the end of his life Calvin was widely respected, even admired, by the Genevans. From an international perspective, Geneva became the model for the emerging Protestant states, a city of refuge for persecuted Protestants, and the so-called "Rome" of Protestantism. Of perhaps capital importance, Calvin's programalone among the Protestant groupsincluded both a training center (in the University of Geneva, which he established) and an acceptance of a missionary mandate to export Calvinism throughout the world. Hence Calvinism, or Reformed Protestantism, was the only Protestant group with universalistic designs.

Unquestionably, Calvin was first and foremost a man of ideas, although he effectively blended thought and action. True to his Renaissance humanist orientation, he was interested only in what was useful. All of his ideas are designed for practical application, whether to an individual religious experience or to a specific activity of the church. Further, the rhetorical and pedagogical program of the humanists formed the basis of his thought, and their devotion to original sources determined his methodology. As a theologian he intended only to set forth scriptural teaching. He accommodated ambiguity and contradiction in his theology, for people are both limited in mental capacity and debilitated by sin, hence totally reliant upon the revelation of God in scripture.

For Calvin, the word of God in scripture is generated by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, properly interpreted only by the Holy Spirit. It is, thus, a spiritual message. Hence Calvin should not be viewed as an academic theologian, or as a theologian writing for intellectual purposes. He wrote for the church, for believers; his purpose was to edify, to form the pious mind that would emerge in reverential, grateful worship and adoration of God. He constantly warned his readers not to indulge in idle speculation, not to seek to know anything except what is revealed in the scripture, not to forget that theology is more of the heart than of the head. Consequently, being biblical, practical, and spiritual, his theology was of a different type from that of most of the later Calvinists who wrote for the university audience, for those who regarded theology as the "queen of the sciences" in the world of ideas.

The principal source for Calvin's thought is, of course, the Institutes. This book is best understood as a manual on spirituality. And, although the corpus of his writings is great, Calvin's ideas, whether found in sermons, biblical commentaries, or polemical literature, are consistent with what is presented in the Institutes.

In general Calvin had fully accepted Luther's idea that salvation is by grace alone through faith. Beyond this, scholars have been unable to establish that any one specific doctrine is central to his thought. The basic and fundamental development of his thought was not according to the traditional topics of theology, sequentially and logically developed. Formally he organized his material according to the topical format, suggesting that the key to its analysis be sought from the perspective of one or several discrete topics. Yet this approach has only led to an impasseeven to the conclusion that he was in logic and purpose inexact and ambiguous. The often-discussed doctrines of providence and predestination, for example, are presented by Calvin as the response or affirmation of a man of faith, affirming the control of God in his life, not as an epistemological program. To approach his theology from specific topics such as these has not been fruitful. There are, however, larger, general ideas or themes that run through the Institutes from the first page to the last like so many threads in an intricate tapestry and that point to what is essential in his thought. He understood the redemptive message to be the same in both the Old and the New Testament; hence his theology can be seen as all of a piece, permitting the dominance of the thematic approach rather than the topical.

Calvin's theological program is based on the dictum of Augustine that man is created for communion with God and that he will be unfulfilled until he rests in God. Calvin usually expresses this idea in terms of a union with the Maker and Redeemer, which is presented as essential to man's spiritual life. Thus the relationship between God and man is made the basis of all theological discourse, and this union or communion is established and maintained through what Calvin calls knowledge, a theme or idea that becomes an ordering principle of his theology. Knowledge of God the creator and knowledge of God the redeemer are the two divisions of his thought. He uses the term knowledge practically synonymously with the term faith. It comprises both the elements of objective information and its subjective appropriation, but essentially it consists of a reverential and worshipful trust in the goodness and bounty of God. As with all of his theological ideas, two poles or foci must be kept in balance: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self. God is alwaysin the context of every theological discussionat once the great, infinite, and incomprehensible being who calls all things out of nothing, as well as the loving, condescending, and revealing being who calls men and women to commune with him. God is always hidden and revealed, both beyond our comprehension and revealed to us at our level. Humans, albeit the greatest of God's creations, are always dependent creatures, both because we are created to be so and because our sin renders us totally helpless in spiritual things. Consequently God must always be the initiator of any communication with us. And hence humility, sobriety, and teachableness are our principal virtues.

Although he always keeps in mind the perfect condition in which all things were created, because of the cataclysmic event of the Fall, all of Calvin's theology is concerned with redemption, with the restoration of the state that God originally created. Christ alone is the mediator who both reveals and effects this redemption, or restoration. Human beings are in bondage to sinful nature, so anything relating to this restoration must be initiated by God through Christ. Restoration occurs when the person is united to Christ by responding in faith to the provision made through Christ's death and resurrection, but this mystical union occurs only if and when the hidden or secret work of the Holy Spirit engenders that faith. The faithful person is called to obedience, to be a servant of righteousness, to model his or her life after the incarnate Christ. In this sense Calvin's theology is Christocentric. But he did not focus attention only in the area of Christology, for all that Christ does and is, is made real to man only through the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, all of his soteriology is presented in the context of the work of the Holy Spirit, "the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself." The work of restoration, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is done in the context of the church, God's gracious provision for the activity of preaching and teaching, for the administration of the sacraments, and for the communion (and reproof) of the saints.

Calvinists were the most vital of the Protestant groups, spreading throughout Europe and the New World, triumphing in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scotland, and for a time in England and America. Scholarly opinion is divided over whether this success is due mainly to Calvin's theological teaching, to his training and educational program (the complete revamping of the elementary schools and the creation of the University of Geneva), or to his organizational talent. Probably all of these are contributory factors, and perhaps others, but it does seem that the vitality of the Reformed or Calvinist movement, and therefore Calvin's most enduring legacy, is due principally to the nature of his church, to its unique, adaptable, and efficient organization. Although its unique blend of theory and practicality meant that Calvin's theology could be drawn upon by a variety of different interests, it can also be shown that his theology was revised almost beyond recognition very shortly after his death and that the Institutes were not widely read in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Moreover, while the educational system produced an informed and well-trained church membership that was designed to be educationally self-perpetuating, it seems undeniable that the unique organizational structure of the Calvinist church was required for the growth and development of the educational program. Calvin appears to have recognized as much, for on his return to Geneva in 1541, his first major undertaking was to secure approval of his Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which set forth the organization of the church.

Calvin developed a representative form of church government with the fundamental activity based in the local church. The leadership was elected from the local membership, and the power, which ultimately resided in the local membership as a whole, was vested in these elected officials, not in the clergy. While there are three higher levels of authority above the local church, established in ascending representative bodies and culminating in the national or general assembly, part of the genius of this organization lies in the ability of the local church, in times of emergency, to function without the meeting of the upper-level bodies. As a result these Calvinist churches were nearly impossible to eradicate. Silencing the minister and arresting the leadership only temporarily disrupted the church, for the minister was not an essential element in the church's continuance, and in a short time new leaders would be elected. So the church could survive, even flourish, under conditions of severe persecution. Beyond the necessary capacity to continue to exist in times when religious persecution and wars were the order of the day, the representative nature of the church responded to the psychological and political reality that humankind is more likely to be committed to a cause when participation in the decision-making process is involved. The impact of the representative nature of the Calvinist church has been significant in the development of the democratic political structures of the Western world.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

The numerous works of Calvin are available, in the original texts, in the fifty-nine volumes of the magisterial Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, edited by J. W. Baum and others (Braunschweig, 18631900), and in its continuation, the Supplementa Calviniana, a collection of subsequently discovered sermons edited by Erwin Mülhaupt and others (Neukirchen, 1961), seven volumes to date with more to come. In English, the best edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion is that of J. T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, 1960) in two volumes. Many other works are available in English translation, including the important edition of The New Testament Commentaries edited by Thomas F. Torrance and David W. Torrance (Edinburgh, 1959).

Secondary Sources

An excellent guide to the secondary literature is J. T. McNeill's "Fifty Years of Calvin Study: 19181968," which is prefaced to Williston Walker's John Calvin, the Organiser of Reformed Protestantism, 15091564 (reprint, New York, 1969). T. H. L. Parker's John Calvin (Philadelphia, 1975), is fully informed and reliable, but the fullest and best biography, in spite of its hagiographic character, is Émile Doumergue's seven-volume Jean Calvin, les hommes et les choses de son temps (Lausanne, 18991927).

On Calvin's thought and influence, current scholarly opinion can be found in the proceedings of the International Congress on Calvin Research edited by W. H. Neuser in three volumes (vols. 12, Kampen, Netherlands, 1975, 1979; vol. 3, Bern, 1983). Benoît Giradin's Rhétorique et théologique (Paris, 1979) is indispensable for the explication of the nature and structure of his thought, and E. A. Dowey's The Knowledge of God in Calvin's Theology (New York, 1952) is one of the better introductions. Richard Stauffer's Dieu, la création et al providence dans la prédication de Calvin (Bern, 1978) is an excellent corrective to the exclusively Christocentric interpretation of many recent scholars. On Calvin's influence, Robert M. Kingdom's Geneva and the Coming of the Wars of Religion in France, 15551563 (Geneva, 1956) and Geneva and the Consolidation of the French Protestant Movement, 15641572 (Geneva and Madison, Wis., 1967) are representative and excellent studies.

Brian G. Armstrong (1987)

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Calvin, John

CALVIN, JOHN

After Martin Luther, the most important Protestant reformer and theologian; b. Noyon, France, July 10, 1509; d. Geneva, May 27, 1564. Calvin, influenced by Luther, with whom his background and temperament are in sharp contrast, gave Protestant doctrine its most incisive and systematic formulation. His institutes of the christian religion, which first appeared in 1536, is early Protestantism's greatest theological work. Calvin's thought and influence, emanating from Geneva, where he lived without interruption from late 1541 to his death, dominated Protestantism in France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Calvinism also became a strong movement in England and in parts of Germany and central Europe.

Early Years. Calvin was born to a prosperous family. His father, Gérard Cauvin (Calvin is the Latinized form), had settled in 1481 in the episcopal town of Noyon in Picardy, where he became a solicitor and fiscal agent for the diocese, a secretary to the bishop, and a procurator of the cathedral chapter. His mother was Jeanne Le Franc, the daughter of a retired innkeeper from Cambrai. John was the second of four sons and two daughters. His father's close relations with the bishop and with the cathedral chapter opened the way toward ecclesiastical careers for Calvin and his brothers. "My father intended me as a young boy for theology," he writes in the autobiographical preface to his Commentary on the Psalms (1557). His early schooling was in the local Collège des Capettes where he proved a serious and able student. In 1521 he received a cathedral benefice by way of endowment for his studies; in 1527 he was given a second benefice.

Training at Paris. When he was 14, Calvin was sent to Paris with three young members of the noble Hangest familyCharles de Hangest was Bishop of Noyonto continue his studies. For a short time he attended the Collège de la Marche, where he studied grammar and rhetoric under the humanist Mathurin Cordier and began a lifelong friendship with this scholar, who years later joined him in Geneva. He soon transferred to the austere Collège de Montaigu for theology. There he was introduced to nominalist theology under the auspices of John Major and apparently undertook the study of the early Fathers, especially St. Augustine. In these formative years he became intimately acquainted with the family of Guillaume Cop, the scholarly physician of Francis I, and formed a close association with a humanist cousin, Pierre Robert olivÉtan, who had already been influenced by the Lutheran teachings. In 1528 Calvin received his master of arts degree at Paris, but about this time his father had a change of mind about theology and directed him to the study of law, which he deemed more lucrative. This change of mind has been linked to a dispute that Calvin père was having with the cathedral chapter in Noyon over the closing of an estate and that resulted in his excommunication. In obedience to his father Calvin proceeded to the University of Orléans, where he studied under the famous French jurist Pierre de l'Estoile. The following year, attracted by the reputation of the Italian jurist Andrea Alciati, he went on to Bourges. At both Orléans and Bourges he also pursued his humanist studies and interests, learning Greek from the German Lutheran scholar Melchior Wolmar.

The illness and death of his father in May 1531 occasioned Calvin's hurried return to Noyon and terminated his studies in law. Free now to devote himself to the literary scholarship that most interested him, he returned to Paris and attended the new Collège de France, recently founded by Francis I. He continued his Greek with Pierre Danès and studied Hebrew with François Vatable. In April 1532, he published at his own expense his first book, a commentary on Seneca's De clementia, a treatise in the tradition of Erasmus and Budé, intended to launch the young humanist on his scholarly career.

The Sudden Conversion. Humanist study was not to be Calvin's life work, or long remain his chief preoccupation. Sometime in late 1533 or early 1534 he under-went, in his own words, a "sudden conversion" and embraced the doctrines of the Protestant reformers. Neither the time nor the circumstances are known with exactness. (Discussion in Wendel, 3744.) One event closely connected with this great turn in his life was the inaugural address that his friend Nicholas Cop, the son of the royal physician and the new rector of the University of Paris, delivered on All Saints Day, 1533. The address, borrowing passages from Erasmus and Luther, brought speedy action by the Parlement of Paris against Cop, who fled to Basel, and the others suspected of harboring heretical ideas. Calvin, who for a time was thought to have been the author of the discourse, was threatened with arrest and took refuge with a friend, Louis du Tillet, at Angoulême. There in temporary retirement, with a large library at his disposal, he gathered his thoughts and perhaps arrived at the great decision to break with the Church and devote himself wholly to the cause of Protestant reform. During these critical days he visited the famous Lefèvre d'Etaples, the humanist and scriptural scholar, then living under the protection of Marguerite of Angoulême at her court at Nérac. In May 1534 he returned to Noyon to surrender his ecclesiastical benefices, and at the end of the year, as a result of the stringent measures being taken against heretics, he left France for haven in Protestant Basel.

Publication of the Institutes. It was in Basel that his career as reformer and theologian began. In contact and correspondence with Protestant leaders in the Swiss and Rhenish cities, he undertook a formulation of the new theological ideas under debate. see calvinism; predesti-nation (in non-catholic theology); infralapsari ans (sublapsarians); supralapsarians; arminianism; justification; confessions of faith ii, protestant.

These ideas he published in March 1536 in Institutio religionis Christianae (Institutes of the Christian Religion ), the first edition of his master work, which was to reappear in several enlarged revisions and translations during the course of his life. The Institutes, prefaced by a bold letter to Francis I of France, was originally intended to be a statement and defense of the beliefs of the French Protestants then being persecuted. About the time that the treatise appeared Calvin paid a visit to Ferrara to see the Duchess Renée, daughter of the former Louis XII of France and a woman sympathetic to the Protestant movement. He returned to Paris to settle some family business and in June 1536 set out again for asylum abroad. His intention was to go to Strassburg, but war between the French and Emperor Charles V obliged him to take a detour through Geneva. He planned to spend but a night in that town. However, his fellow countryman Guillaume farel, who had been working in Geneva to implant the new Gospel, pleaded with him to remain and help in the task. Calvin yielded to Farel's forceful entreaty and made Geneva henceforth the scene of his active ministry.

Protestantism in Geneva. When Calvin came to Geneva, he found a city of 13,000 inhabitants engaged in a struggle to maintain municipal independence against the Duke of Savoy in league with the ousted Bishop of Geneva. The neighboring city of Berne, militantly Protestant since 1528, had aided Geneva, and it was under its auspices that Protestant preachers had entered Geneva as early as 1532. Farel was the most important of these missionaries. In the months prior to Calvin's arrival he had won the city government's acceptance of the new reforms, as well as the proscription of Catholicism, but the task of firmly establishing and organizing the new Gene-van church remained. This task Calvin made his own. In January 1537 he submitted a memorandum on church government to the town councils. This was followed by a Confession of Faith and a Catechism. From the start Calvin envisaged a strict unity of belief and practice and a close supervision of conduct that included the excommunication of recalcitrants.

Exile at Strassburg. The uniformity and discipline that Calvin sought evoked opposition from Catholics as well as from those alarmed at the rigid, theocratic character of the new reforms. In early 1538 the Genevan government passed into the hands of those hostile to Calvin, and in April the town councils, as a result of a dispute over liturgical forms, banished Farel and Calvin from the city. From April 1538 to September 1541 he settled in Strassburg, at the invitation of Martin bucer, and took charge of a church for French Protestant refugees. Under Bucer's influence he developed his own liturgy in the French language, revised and published in 1539 a new edition of the Institutes, lectured on Holy Scripture, and in 1540 published the first of many volumes of scriptural Commentaries. He also attended the colloquies at Worms in 1540 and at Regensburg in 1541, convened by Emperor Charles V in an effort to end the religious schism. In 1540 he married the widow of one of his converts, Idelette of Buren, who bore him a son who died soon after birth. She herself died in 1549.

Ecclesiastical Ordinances. Meanwhile, in Geneva there continued division and contention, in the midst of which Calvin's supporters urged his recall. In October 1540, with the city government again controlled by the pro-Calvin faction, an embassy was sent to Strassburg to invite him to return. After hesitation Calvin agreed, and in September 1541 he reentered the city on Lake Leman to remain there for the rest of his life. In November he submitted to the town authorities a new constitution, the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which was approved with modifications to safeguard their own civil jurisdiction. These Ordinances were the groundwork of the so-called theocracy in Geneva and became the charter of all future Calvinist church polity. They provided for four ministries or officespastors, teachers, elders, and deaconsand for a consistory of elders and pastors to maintain strict discipline in the community. Under the close and constant supervision of this latter body Geneva was intended to become a saintly city, a "kind of huge convent for laity." The Ordinances were supplemented in 1542 by the adoption of a new liturgical formula, modeled after that of Strassburg, and the drafting of a new Catechism for the instruction of the young.

Conflicts and Executions. A long struggle to reach Calvin's stern ideal ensued. One of the many conflicts was the quarrel with Sebastian castellio, whom Calvin had made schoolmaster in Geneva. A dispute on certain minor doctrinal points led in 1545 to Castellio's banishment from the city. Jacques Gruet, a more extreme critic of Calvin and the consistory, was found guilty of blasphemy in 1547 and beheaded. In 1551 Jérôme bolsec, a former Carmelite who attacked Calvin's doctrine of predestination and defended free will, was imprisoned and subsequently banished. The most famous of all these cases is that of Michael servetus (Michael Served y Reves), Spanish physician and anti-Trinitarian. In flight from France, he passed through Geneva, August 1553, was arrested on Calvin's demand, tried for heresy and blasphemy, and burned alive. Calvin faced political opposition also during these years. From 1546 the "libertines," headed by Ami Perrin, a former supporter of Calvin, criticized the ecclesiastical police system and resisted the encroachments of a theocratic regime. They were overcome in 155455 when staunch Calvinists gained full control of the municipal government and affirmed the consistory's right of excommunication. Perrin escaped to Berne, but four other leaders, less fortunate, were caught and beheaded.

Last Years. Although polemical disputes continued with the Lutherans and Italian anti-Trinitarians, Calvin's dominance was secure. Large numbers of refugees flocked to Geneva, and efforts of evangelization abroad, particularly within Calvin's native France, were made. In 1559 the Academy of Geneva was founded at Calvin's suggestion, and Theodore beza, later designated as his successor, was made rector. Calvin suffered gravely from ill health in his last years, but he continued the direction of his church and the preaching of the Word as he so sternly conceived it up to the end.

Bibliography: Works. Joannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. g. baum et al, 59 v. (Corpus reformatorum 2987; 18631900); Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. j. t. mcneill, tr. f. l. battles, 2 v. (Philadelphia 1960); Theological Treatises, tr. j. k. s. reid (Philadelphia 1954); Commentaries , tr. j. haroutunian and l. p. smith (Philadelphia 1958), includes autobiographical preface 5157; Tracts and Treatises , ed. t. f. torrance, tr. h. beveridge, 3 v. (Grand Rapids 1958), includes short life of Calvin by t. beza. Literature. É. doumergue, Jean Calvin, 7 v. (Lausanne 18991927), the classic life. f. wendel, Calvin , tr. p. mairet (New York 1963). q. breen, John Calvin: A Study in French Humanism (Grand Rapids 1931). j. t. mcneill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York 1954). g. e. harkness, John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics (New York 1958). p. imbart de la tour, Les Origines de la réforme, 4 v. (Paris 190535). a. ganoczy, Calvin, théologien du ministère et de l'Église (Paris 1964). a. baudrillart, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 2.2:137798. o. e. strasser and o. weber, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:158899. w. bouwsma, Calvin (Berkeley 1991). g. duffield, ed., John Calvin (Abingdon 1966). a. ganczy, The Young Calvin, d. foxgrover and w. provo, Trans. (Edinburgh 1987). t. h. l. parker, John Calvin (London 1975).

[j. c. olin]

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Calvin, John

John Calvin

July 10, 1509
Noyon, Picardy, France
May 27, 1564
Geneva, Switzerland

Theologian, religious leader

"No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death."

John Calvin quoted in The Protestant Reformation, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand.

John Calvin was perhaps the most influential of all leaders of the Protestant Reformation, a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. He was involved in reform efforts at the same time as Martin Luther (1483–1546; see entry), the German priest who initiated the Reformation, but Calvin was twenty-six years younger than Luther. The two men developed some important theological differences. Significantly, Calvin's stern, "puritanical" interpretations of Christianity brought a renewed vigor to the Protestant Reformation, a religious reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church initiated by Luther in the early sixteenth century. Calvin established a distinct form of Protestantism—called "Calvinism"—at his base in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvinism proved to be adaptable to the current social and political changes in European society. Under his tireless direction, Geneva became the cosmopolitan focus of an effective and far-reaching evangelism (personal commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ, founder of Christianity) to which many Protestant churches today owe their birth.

Accepts Protestantism

John Calvin was born Jean Cauvin in Noyon, France, on July 10, 1509. His father, Gérard Cauvin, was an ambitious lawyer who worked for the local bishop. His mother, Jeanne Lefranc, was the daughter of a fairly well-to-do innkeeper. Calvin received his early education in Noyon until 1523, when he was awarded a benefice (church office in which income is used for education). He enrolled at the University of Paris, which was then the main center for the study of theology (religious doctrines and practices) in Europe. Calvin remained at Paris for five years with the intention of entering the priesthood, but in 1528 his father ordered him to switch his emphasis from theology to law. The reason for this was probably a matter of practicality, as more money could be made in the law than in the priesthood. Calvin obeyed his father's order and left Paris to study first at the University of Orléans, and later in Brouges, both located in France. Although he had already developed a passion for theology, Calvin embraced the study of law.

In 1532 Calvin published his first book, an edition of De clementia by the Roman political leader and philosopher Seneca (c. 4 b.c. – a.d. 65), which demonstrated his potential as an intellectual, and indicated a bright career. The death of his father earlier that year changed his life drastically and caused him to return to Paris. Calvin was now free to indulge his humanist and theological interests. (Humanism was the study of ancient Greek and Roman literature and language as well as early biblical texts, with the purpose of exploring the human capacity for achievement and improvement. Humanism was based on rhetoric, or effective speaking and writing, which provided momentum for the Renaissance.) He studied with several royal lecturers who introduced new humanistic ideas and disciplines into the intellectual community. Calvin, who already displayed a distinct moral uprightness, began to examine his own religious beliefs more fully. Despite being a Catholic, he accepted the Protestant doctrine emphasizing the omnipotence (supreme, unlimited power and presence) of God and felt a personal challenge to be an instrument of God's will.

Embraces humanism

Calvin's first significant publication was Commentary on Seneca's "De clementia," in which he expanded on the work of Dutch humanist and scholar Desidius Erasmus (1466–1536; see entry), who was influencing religious thought throughout Europe. Calvin's work displayed both his fluency in Latin and his ability to use Greek sources. He was clearly well educated in the classic traditions and the work of contemporary humanist commentators. In the intellectual community of the time, a dialogue had been ongoing between the humanists and scholastics. (Scholastics were scholars who followed a method developed in the Middle Ages, which sought to integrate Christian faith with the philosophy of reason found in the works of such ancient philosophers as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). Calvin's writing shows that he was a firm humanist rhetorician.

During this time, under circumstances which are still unknown, Calvin converted to Protestantism and began openly associating with other Protestants in and around Paris. Late in 1533 there was a general crackdown by the royal government on all Protestants, causing Calvin to flee Paris.

He left France altogether in 1534 and traveled under the assumed name Martianus Lucianius. He settled in Basel, Switzerland, and spent the next two years in private study, reading the works of Luther and Augustine (354–430), a founding father of the Catholic Church and an important early theologian. Calvin also met a number of men who shared his theological beliefs, giving him a sense of belonging to a community. In 1536 he published the first edition of his major work, Christianae religionis institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion). The book explained the essentials of the Christian faith from a Protestant perspective for common readers, not theologians. He used basic language and avoided scholastic terms and traditions, hoping to gain favor for his new vision of the Christian faith. Institutes, which stated the essentials of Calvinist thought, gave Protestant theology a much-needed expression. It became the single most widely read and influential work of theology published in the Reformation period. Institutes marked Calvin as a religious leader of significance and authority. No Roman Catholic work of theology reached such a large audience, and Calvin spent much of the rest of his life revising, translating, and expanding the book. Final versions appeared in Latin in 1559 and in French in 1560.

Institutes of the Christian Religion

For John Calvin the only spiritual authority was scripture, found in both the New Testament and the Old Testament. According to his interpretation, God's omnipotence can be seen in what is called "predestination." Those who believed in predestination held that God had determined, from the beginning of time, who was to be saved and who was to be damned. Calvin believed that all people were sinful by nature, did not deserve redemption, and could not truly know God. It was through God's inexplicable mercy that the Elect (those chosen by God) were saved. Though this concept of predestination was to be stressed by some later "Calvinists," Calvin felt that the purpose of life was to strive to know or understand God as well as possible and then to follow God's will. This could be done only through faith in Jesus Christ which required all people to live a moral life. While there was no assurance of salvation, believers were given hope that they were among the Elect chosen by the omnipresent God. Calvin was severe in his efforts to abide by God's will, and he later founded a church that became an instrument of strict moral discipline.

Establishes reform center

Due to the popularity of the Institutes and the strength of its theological ideas, Calvin was invited by the French reformer Guillaume Farel (1489–1565) to become a lecturer in Geneva in 1536. In June of that year Farel convinced Calvin that it was his duty to God to remain in Geneva. Farel claimed that it was God's will for Calvin to stay in Geneva to help expel the remaining elements of Catholicism from the area. The city had recently won its independence from the Catholic Church and Farel saw an opportunity to gain support for Calvin's brand of Christianity. Despite his dislike for the city and its politics, Calvin would focus most of his ministry on Geneva for the rest of his life. Together Farel and Calvin directed the Reformation in the city, hoping to fully establish Protestantism as part of a total moral reform and to eliminate the lack of discipline associated with Catholicism. However, within a couple of years both men were expelled because of their moral strictness and their encouragement of French immigration into the city. Calvin was not bothered by the expulsion, feeling that it simply meant freedom from the burden of politics and ministry. He went on to Strassburg, France, where he taught at an academy, preached, and developed his ideas on the nature of the ideal Christian church.

In August 1540, upon the urging of friends in Strassburg, Calvin married Idelette Bure, the widow of one of his converts. Bure already had a son and a daughter from her previous marriage, the only child she had with Calvin died shortly after birth in 1542. Bure died seven years later, and Calvin never remarried. Little is known of their life together, though Calvin's relations with women were not entirely warm. Due to his outspoken criticism, most of his vocal opponents were women.

Calvin returns to Geneva

In 1541 Calvin reluctantly returned to Geneva in response to a call from the now floundering Protestant church. He was assured that he would be given the freedom he felt was necessary to build God's earthly kingdom. He soon organized the local church government outlined in his work titled Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1545). He began to develop a well-regulated social network within a morally disciplined society. Despite considerable opposition within the city, Calvin's influence grew steadily. He defeated theological and political opponents alike (see accompanying box). Calvin overcame most remaining opposition to his plans and in 1555 his group called the Consistory, which acted as a sort of moral court, was accepted and given great powers by the city. From that point on moral discipline was strictly enforced in Geneva. Taverns were closed and replaced with abbayes in which patrons were closely watched for signs of excessive drinking and rowdy behavior. Throughout Geneva, citizens monitored one another's conduct, ready to report any sort of wrongdoing. A strict moral order, based on Calvin's particular vision of Christianity, eventually emerged in the city. Calvin associated himself with godliness and truth in every battle, religious or otherwise. Thus, for him, to tolerate opposition of any kind was to tolerate evil. Though Calvin was particularly enthusiastic in enforcing his will, it must be remembered that he was not entirely unlike his sixteenth-century contemporaries in their intolerance of dissent.

Calvin Executes Servetus

In 1553, Michael Servetus (1511–1553), a Spanish scientist, humanist, and theologian, arrived in Geneva. He was traveling in disguise to avoid persecution for his scandalous religious ideas. Often called the first Unitarian (a present-day Protestant denomination), Servetus denied the divinity (godliness) of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (the Christian concept of God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). He believed that God was a single, indivisible divine force. His views alienated him from both Catholics and Protestants. When Calvin recognized Servetus sitting within the crowd listening to one of his sermons, he promptly had Servetus arrested and put on trial. As the "Defender of the Faith," Calvin demanded that Servetus be executed. His order was supported by the Geneva city government, and on October 27, 1553, Servetus was burned alive for heresy (violation of the laws of God).

Constantly preaching and writing, Calvin involved himself in all aspects of civic affairs in Geneva, including education, trade, diplomacy, and even sanitation. In 1559 he established the Genevan Academy (now the University of Geneva) for the training of clergy. Calvin was also interested in the spread of the Reformation movement abroad, especially within his native France. Under his direction Geneva became a haven for persecuted Protestants and the unofficial center of growing Protestant movements in places as far removed as Scotland. Calvin's constant activity was a major factor in his failing health. In 1558 he had suffered an attack of pleurisy (disease of the lungs), and later, after delivering a sermon, began to cough blood. By 1563 he was effectively bedridden. Yet Calvin remained true to his moral standards and dutifully bound to his ethic of hard work, determined to continue his mission in whatever manner possible. On May 27, 1564, he died of pulmonary tuberculosis (severe lung disease).

For More Information

Books

Greef, Wulfert de. The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide, Lyle D. Bierma, translator. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993.

Hillerbrand, Hans J., ed. The Protestant Reformation. New York: Peter Smith Publisher, 1992.

Parker, T. H. L. John Calvin, a Biography. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

Web Sites

"Calvin, John." Encyclopedia.com. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/[email protected]%20Calvin%20%20John, April 4, 2002.

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Calvin, John

John Calvin

1509–1564

Protestant theologian

Early Life.

John Calvin was born at Noyon in Northern France, the son of a local official of a bishop. The family was relatively prosperous, and early in Calvin's life his father groomed him to pursue a career in the church. In 1523, he enrolled at the University of Paris where he studied theology within the university's Collège de Montaigu, the college in which thirty years before Desiderius Erasmus had been a student. After Calvin completed his bachelor of arts, his father encouraged him to pursue advanced studies in law, a move that necessitated a move to Orléans and later to Bourges. While he was a law student, Calvin became attracted to the study of literature, particularly the classics, and in 1531, he returned to Paris with the intention of pursuing humanist studies. Although his father disapproved, Calvin came to know the premier French humanist Guillaume Budé closely in this period. In 1532, he published his first work, a commentary on the ancient Stoic Seneca. It showed that he had acquired a very fluent Latin style and that he was capable in Greek. Sometime in 1532 or 1533, Calvin converted to Protestantism, a religion under persecution by the French government at the time. He fled Paris, and thus began a long pilgrimage that eventually established him as one of the leading religious reformers of Europe.

Travels.

Over the course of the next several years Calvin traveled throughout Europe in search of a suitable refuge. He stayed for a time in Ferrara, and then in Basel in Switzerland, before deciding to take a position as the pastor to the French-speaking Protestants in Strasbourg. On his way he passed through Geneva, and some local citizens, impressed with his scholarly reputation, asked him to stay. By this time Calvin's fame had already grown through the recent publication of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which had appeared in its first Latin edition in 1536. It explained the essential ideas of Calvin's Protestantism in a way that was forceful and persuasive. During the next two years, Calvin remained at Geneva, where he labored to reform the city along the lines he had revealed in his Institutes. His extremism attracted the hatred of some of Geneva's citizens, and they succeeded in having the town council expel him in 1538. Now Calvin moved on to Strasbourg where he remained for several years and where he would marry. Although he was content in Strasbourg, his supporters at Geneva regained control over the town, and they asked him to assume once more his post in the city. Calvin reluctantly returned and he remained in Geneva for the rest of his life.

Geneva.

As Calvin set up residence in Geneva again, he was more cautious about establishing his reformation over the city. He desired to mold Geneva into an example of a reformed Christian town, and in the 1540s and 1550s his influence grew. His admirers celebrated the city as "the most perfect school of Christ," while critics both in Geneva and throughout Europe attacked him for the control he seemed to wield over people's daily lives and consciences. As part of the conditions for his return from Strasbourg, Calvin had already sent the town council his "Ecclesiastical Ordinances" in 1541. He had demanded that they enact these regulations as laws of the city. The ordinances were based upon Calvin's interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament history that outlines the pattern of government the apostles used in the very earliest days of the church. Calvin's reading of the Acts established four chief offices in the Genevan church: ministers, teachers, deacons, and elders. The most powerful body of the church was the consistory, which functioned like a court, hearing cases of moral infractions reported among the citizens of Geneva. Each Friday during Calvin's tenure in the city, the consistory met to deliberate. It heard marital disputes, conflicts between neighbors, and even tried and sentenced to death heretics (those whose ideas ran contrary to the city's reformed Protestantism). This institution would be widely imitated in other places in which Calvinists established reforms. The Calvinist-inspired Puritans who emigrated from England to North America, for instance, established its use in Massachusetts and elsewhere in their new settlements.

Calvin's Teachings.

Calvin saw himself as continuing and perfecting the reforms begun by Luther and Zwingli. In the Institutes he laid out his Protestant teachings in a way that was clear and intelligible to his mostly urbanized audience. These views placed a great emphasis on the majesty of God. Calvin, for instance, devoted a full quarter of the book to showing his readers how human beings could not comprehend God's omnipotence. He stressed the huge chasm that separated a perfect God from sinful humankind; nothing that human beings could do by themselves could ever bridge this gap. These observations led Calvin to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Christian doctrine of predestination, a doctrine he did not create but instead interpreted in a radically new and extreme way. Predestination was an ancient teaching of many Christian theologians. Many traditional statements of the doctrine had stressed a difference between God's foreknowledge and his election. God chose or elected some to salvation, but at the same time He had only foreknowledge of those who would be damned. He did not, in other words, create some human beings merely to damn them; instead the damned were responsible for their own fates because of their sins. By contrast, Calvin's notion of predestination has often been called "double predestinarian" because he insisted that God chose both to save some and damn others. Critics charged that such an interpretation of predestination led to fatalism and despair, and Calvin himself did not emphasize the doctrine in the Institutes. He was more concerned to foster among his followers a sense of their unworthiness when judged against God's omnipotence. The enormous effort he expended on trying to drive home this point to his readers, though, tended to reinforce the sense that human beings were utterly powerless in determining their fate. These were relatively bleak doctrines, but Calvin assured his audience at the same time that they could be reasonably certain they were among the elect if they were leading an upstanding moral life. Thus Calvin's ideas tended to sanctify good works, hard labor, and moral discipline, and although they lacked a general appeal throughout society, they found many adherents, particularly among the growing bourgeoisie of Europe's cities.

Spread of Calvin's Ideas.

Through the intensive efforts of dedicated missionaries trained in Geneva, Calvin's ideas spread to France, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and parts of Central Europe. Scotland became the only country outside Switzerland to adopt Calvinism as its legally recognized religion. In other monarchies Calvinists were a distinct, but often-powerful minority. In France and the Netherlands, the Calvinist movement clashed in the second half of the sixteenth century with a resurgent Catholicism that was fueled by the Counter-Reformation to produce bloody civil wars. In England, Calvin's followers, the Puritans, also lobbied Queen Elizabeth I for greater reform in the Church of England. They were largely unsuccessful in promoting Calvinism's general adoption throughout the English church, but in the seventeenth century, the brief English Civil War succeeded in establishing a Calvinist government throughout the land. The victory of the Puritans proved short-lived, and the monarchy and the Church of England were re-established. In the wake of this crisis, English Puritans often became dissenters from the national church and established their own Presbyterian institutions. Others immigrated to the English colonies in the Americas. There Calvinism shaped the development of American institutions over the coming centuries.

sources

William Bouswma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

A. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).

J. T. McNeil, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).

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Calvin, John

John Calvin

BORN: July 10, 1509 • Noyon, Picardy, France

DIED: May 27, 1564 • Geneva, Switzerland

French religious leader

John Calvin had a powerful influence on Western religion and thought. Calvin was a French theologian, or religious scholar, who developed a system of belief called Calvinism. Calvin taught that the Bible, the sacred text of Christianity, was the ultimate word on all religious matters, including the organization of the church itself. He also developed the idea of predestination. Predestination teaches that God chooses certain people for spiritual salvation, and this choice does not change regardless of a person's actions. These chosen people, called the "elect," form the core of the Calvinist Church.

"Our minds ought to come to a halt at the point where we learn in Scripture to know Jesus Christ and him alone, so that we may be directly led by him to the Father who contains in himself all perfection."

The Calvinist belief in a strict interpretation of the Bible led to a strong and rigid moral position on matters of faith. These principles eventually had a direct influence on the Puritans, those Protestants who fled England and helped settle North America. Consequently, Calvinism had a significant influence on early culture and thought in the United States.

French origins

John Calvin, originally named Jean Cauvin, was born to Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc in Noyon, Picardy, France, in 1509. Gérard was a lawyer and the secretary to the bishop of Noyon, and he used his influence to ensure his son would have a suitable professional career. Gérard decided that his son should work in the church, and at age twelve Jean secured the minor position of chaplain in the Cathedral of Noyon. Two years later he was sent to Paris for schooling. While in college he changed his name to its Latin version, John Calvin.

Calvin first studied Latin at the Collège de la Marche, at the University of Paris. He then took classes in scholastic debate at the Collège de Montaigu, where the famous scholar and theologian Erasmus (1466–1536) had studied. In 1528 Calvin earned his Master of Arts degree. Around this time Calvin's father had a disagreement with the bishop of Noyon, leading to his excommunication, or exclusion from the church community. Because of this, Gérard Cauvin suggested his son change his studies from theology to law. Calvin obeyed and moved to Orléans to study law, despite the fact that he had already developed a passion for theology and the study of the Bible. He then transferred to Brouges in 1529 and earned his law degree in 1531, which was also the year of his father's death. Historians believe that the difficulties Calvin had in securing a Christian burial for his excommunicated father may have partly turned him against the Catholic faith.

Following his father's death, Calvin returned to Paris to study humanism and classical literature. He published his first book in 1532, a commentary on the work of the Roman philosopher Seneca. Around this time Calvin became interested in the ideas of German theologian Martin Luther (1483–1546; see entry). Luther was gaining popularity in France by calling for church reform and promoting faith as a means to salvation. Calvin was attracted to these Protestant teachings, which led him to become a friend of Nicholas Cop, the rector of the University of Paris. In 1533 Calvin converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and pursued religious studies with renewed passion.

Later that year Calvin's friend, Cop, gave an address at the university that called for a return to a simpler, more biblical Christianity, rather than one focused on the showy ceremonies of the Catholic Church. The king of France, Frances I (1494–1547; ruled 1515–47), did not approve of such Protestant ideas, so he arrested many of those involved in the speech. Cop himself escaped to Switzerland. As some believed that Calvin had actually written the speech, he also left Paris for a time, settling first at the court of the king's Protestant sister, Marguerite of Navarre. After briefly returning to Paris in 1534, he decided to leave France permanently to escape the king's anger. He moved to Switzerland, where about half the population was Protestant.

A life in exile

Traveling under the false name Martianus Lucianus, Calvin first took refuge in Basel, Switzerland, where Protestants from other European countries had settled to avoid harassment. In 1536 he published the first edition of what would become a lifelong work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, a manual on Christian theology. Later editions appeared in 1541, 1559, and 1560. In this book Calvin explained his main religious ideas, such as his belief that God was glorious and magnificent far beyond humanity's ability to understand. Calvin said that all humans were sinful and had no free will, a belief similar to Luther's. He also said humans could not seek their own salvation, because only the grace of God determined who was saved and who was damned. So while strong faith and good works are important to Calvinists, they do not automatically lead to salvation. Calvin also stated that the authority of the pope should be rejected.

Calvin organized his basic thoughts into the Five Points of Calvinism, which were later developed further by his followers. These are often referred to by the acronym TULIP:

  • "Total depravity" refers to the sin into which humans are born.
  • "Unconditional election" refers to selection by God for salvation.
  • "Limited atonement" is the concept that God's son Jesus Christ was crucified (nailed to a cross until dead) to erase the sins not of all people but of the elect.
  • "Irresistible grace" is the principle that God's mercy and grace apply to those He elects for salvation.
  • "Perseverance of the saints" holds that those who have been elected cannot later be condemned.

In creating his new religious system, Calvin based all his principles on a literal reading of the Bible. He called for a simple church ceremony, with the sermon (discussion of the Bible readings) being the central part. There are only two sacraments, or holy rituals, in the Calvinist Church. One is baptism, a symbolic use of water resulting in admission to the Christian community. The second is the Lord's Supper, or the reenactment of the Last Supper, which took place between Christ and his closest followers before Christ was crucified. In many congregations, the faithful stand during the entire service. In Calvinism the "visible church" includes all those who worship Christ, and the "invisible church" includes those chosen by God for salvation. Belonging to the visible church and having faith are requirements for being saved, but do not themselves guarantee salvation. Also, in Calvinism church and state are not considered separate but are both God's creations. The church teaches morality and faith, while the state preserves order and carries out the laws of the church.

In 1536 Calvin traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where he met the Protestant reformer Guillaume Farel (1489–1565), who persuaded him to make the city his home. Farel, who was also a Frenchman in exile, had led Protestant reform in Geneva for several years. At Farel's insistence, Calvin took a position as a minister and began playing a major role in the establishment of a set of principles for Geneva's faithful.

Calvin was largely responsible for the passage of a set of laws that greatly reduced Catholic influence in Geneva. These laws prohibited numerous activities Calvin believed were immoral, including adultery (sexual intercourse with someone other than a person's spouse), gambling, and even the wearing of expensive clothing. A new city council with leanings toward Catholicism came to power, however, and both Calvin and Farel were forced to leave Geneva. Calvin then went to Strasbourg, France, where he became the minister for a small congregation of Protestants. In France he married Idelette de Bure, and the couple had one child who died in infancy.

Return to Geneva

Calvin's stay in Strasbourg did not last long. In 1541 he was summoned back to Geneva, where he was promised the freedom to set up a reform church according to the principles outlined in his Institutes. This opportunity gave him the chance to put his theories into action and create a society where church and state worked together. Calvinists believe the correct structure of any Christian state is laid out in the Bible: the clergy, or the body of people authorized to perform religious service, must teach and interpret the laws, and the state must enforce them. Such an arrangement is referred to as a theocracy, and Calvin helped form such a government in Geneva. He wrote the Ecclesiastical Ordinances in 1542, and these rules were accepted by the city council. They gave the clergy a great deal of control in terms of disciplinary powers, including that of excommunication.

Ulrich Zwingli

The Protestant religion was introduced to Switzerland by Swiss native Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531). Zwingli was born to a prominent family in Wild-haus. His father was the chief magistrate (a civil officer with the power to administer and enforce law) and his uncle was a church leader. Zwingli studied religion in various cities—including Vienna, Austria, and Basel—and earned his degree in 1506. After his graduation he served as a pastor in Glarus for ten years, at times accompanying Swiss mercenaries, or hired soldiers, into battle as their chaplain. In 1518 he became the priest at Zurich's Great Minster church.

Until his appointment in Zurich, Zwingli had been a strong believer in Catholicism and the pope. During his time at Great Minster, however, he began to question the Catholic Church, especially its ceremonies and excesses. He soon began preaching against practices such as enforced celibacy (not having sexual intercourse) for priests and the selling of indulgences, which are special favors from God. Martin Luther had recently opposed the same practices in Germany, although the two had no contact with each other. Zwingli himself married and had four children, thereby taking a personal stand against Catholic priesthood celibacy.

Zwingli was popular in Zurich, having done much for the population during an epidemic of the plague, a deadly disease caused by bacteria, and his new practices were welcomed by most of the faithful. Zwingli looked for inspiration and information in the Bible. In 1523 Zwingli introduced his sixty-seven articles calling for reform of the church. The city fathers of Zurich decided that these principles should apply throughout the entire canton, or province, effectively creating a state church. His denomination was called Reformed, and it was very similar to the Lutheranism that was developing in Germany.

The reform movement swept through Switzerland, and Zwingli became the virtual ruler of Zurich. His Reformed Church was not without its critics and opponents, however, and Catholic territories began banding together against Zurich and Zwingli's increasing power there. In 1531 a civil war broke out between Protestants and Catholics, and Zwingli was killed in battle. His death ended the period of theocracy in Zurich, as his successor became a religious leader only, rather than a ruler of both church and state. The leadership of Swiss Protestantism then passed to a French immigrant named John Calvin.

Calvin's laws set up four levels of the ministry: pastors, deacons, teachers, and lay elders. The pastors had authority over all religious matters, such as deciding whether or not a person could preach in the city. The deacons cared for the sick and elderly. The individual behavior of all citizens was reviewed regularly by a group of lay elders and pastors known as the Consistory. These people had the power to make unscheduled visits and search people's homes. Attendance at weekly services was required. Drunkenness and gambling were not allowed. Even clothing color, hairstyles, and amounts of food eaten were closely regulated. There was no freedom of the press, and criticism of Calvin or of the clergy was forbidden. Typical punishments for offenses included fines, religion classes, whippings, torture, and exile (being forced to leave a place). Death sentences were given to people who committed adultery and blasphemers, or those who took the name of God in vain. In 1553 Calvin was personally responsible for the burning of a Spanish physician who denied the concept of the Trinity, which is the union of the Father (God), Son (Christ), and Holy Spirit. Education was controlled by the church, as were social services such as charities. Begging was not allowed. In short, Geneva was ruled by very strict and rigid laws. Calvin remained the head of, and force behind, this theocracy from 1541 until his death in 1564.

Calvin's intention was to turn Geneva into a model Christian city. All who visited were impressed by the order and cleanliness of the city, but the costs were high. During Calvin's years of control, fifty-eight people were put to death and seventy-six banished for failing to obey moral laws and church discipline. Calvin used his Consistory to help strengthen his power. When he was criticized for ordaining, or making pastors of, French immigrants before Swiss natives, he had his critics first humiliated and then murdered. He had the city council, which he controlled, find such people guilty of offenses from treason (crimes against the state) to heresy (crimes against the faith). These people were tortured and sometimes killed by the Consistory as punishment. Meanwhile, in addition to attending to his administrative tasks, Calvin continued to revise and expand his Institutes and wrote many lengthy commentaries on the Bible.

Calvin became famous throughout Europe, and translations and new editions of Institutes of the Christian Religion were printed. Calvinism became the dominant form of Protestantism throughout Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Calvin also wrote letters to powerful Protestants throughout Europe and the British Isles and strongly affected the development of Protestantism in Germany and Scandinavia. In addition, Calvin claimed that the Church of England had been weakened by political struggles and was not focusing enough on spiritual matters. His writings on this subject inspired a group in England called the Puritans who were also discontented with the Church. These Puritans eventually left England to colonize North America.

Calvin's health began to fail late in his life, and he eventually needed to be carried to the pulpit at times. He suffered from kidney stones, lung problems, swollen joints, and severe headaches. He died on May 27, 1564, and was buried, as requested, under a simple tombstone bearing only the initials "J. C." His followers continued to spread Calvinism throughout the Christian world, and his writings helped make him one of the most influential Protestant theologians. His Institutes of the Christian Religion has had a deep and lasting effect on the development of Protestantism.

For More Information

BOOKS

Armstrong, Brian. "John Calvin." In Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd ed. Edited by Lindsay Jones. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, 1374-77.

Bouwsma, William J. John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Calvin, John. Calvin: Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1958.

McGrath, Alister. A Life of John Calvin: A Study of the Shaping of Western Culture. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990.

McNeil, John T. The History and Character of Calvinism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1954.

Mullet, Michael A. Calvin. New York, NY: Routledge, 1989.

Parker, T. H. L. John Calvin: A Biography. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975.

PERIODICALS

Allen, W. Lloyd. "John Calvin." Great Thinkers of the Western World (1999): 155-58.

Pellerin, Daniel. "Calvin: Militant or Man of Peace?" Review of Politics (winter 2003): 35-59.

WEB SITES

Barry, William. "John Calvin." Catholic Encyclopedia Online. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03195b.htm (accessed on May 29, 2006).

"Calvin, John (1509–1564)." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin (accessed on May 29, 2006).

Hooker, Richard. "Reformation: John Calvin." World Civilizations. http://www.wsu.edu/∼dee/REFORM/CALVIN.HTM? (accessed on May 29, 2006).

"John Calvin." History Learning Site. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/John_Calvin.htm (accessed on May 29, 2006).

"John Calvin." Reformation Guide. http://www.educ.msu.edu/homepages/laurence/reformation/Calvin/Calvin.Htm (accessed on May 29, 2006).

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Calvin, John (1509–1564)

CALVIN, JOHN
(15091564)

John Calvin, the Protestant reformer and theologian, was born at Noyon, France. The son of middle-class parents of considerable local importance, Calvin was early directed toward an ecclesiastical career. From 1523 to 1528 he studied theology in Paris, there becoming acquainted with both the scholastic and humanist trends of his day. When he had achieved the master of arts degree, Calvin, in response to his father's wishes, left Paris to study law at Orléans, finishing his doctorate there by early 1532.

By 1534 Calvin had decisively broken with his Catholic heritage and had joined the Protestant reform movement in France. From this time on, all his efforts were devoted to the cause of the Reformation, and most of the remainder of his life was spent preaching, teaching, and writing in Geneva. He carried on a voluminous correspondence with thinkers and reformers all over Europe, and he had a powerful voice in the political and educational, as well as the ecclesiastical, institutions of Geneva.

Calvin's major work was the Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536 and originally addressed to King Francis I of France in defense of the French Protestants. It was extensively revised several times, and the last edition, published in 1559, provides a systematic presentation of virtually all the lines of thought found in Calvin's other mature works.

Knowledge of God and Self

"Nearly all the wisdom we possess," wrote Calvin in the opening of the Institutes, "consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves." The overarching question in the Institutes is how we acquire this twofold knowledge, and the answers to this question have proved to be the most influential part of Calvin's thought.

Thomas Aquinas had taught that the theologian should start with God and then consider creatures insofar as they relate to God as their beginning and end. Calvin broke decisively with this approach in claiming that knowledge of God is so interrelated with knowledge of ourselves that the one cannot be had without the other. He taught that when we accurately reflect on ourselves, we realize the excellence of our natural gifts; but we also realize that our exercise of these gifts yields "miserable ruin" and unhappiness, and that "our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God." Without this realization of our misery and dependenceespecially of our miserynone of us comes, or even tries to come, to a knowledge of God. On the other hand, there is also no knowledge of self without a knowledge of God. Without a standard by which to measure ourselves, we invariably yield to pride, overestimating the worth of our natural gifts and overlooking the corruption that has resulted from the exercise of those gifts. Calvin readily allowed that "the philosophers," without knowing God, can give us much accurate and worthwhile information concerning man's faculties and constitution (I, XV). Philosophy, however, cannot yield a true estimate of our worth and condition.

In any discussion of Calvin's views on how we can come to know ourselves and God, it is very important to understand what he meant by knowing God, for his views on this point are both original and subtle. The Scholastics tended to equate knowing God with knowing truths about God. Calvin invariably regarded this as inadequate. He did not deny, indeed he insisted, that knowing God presupposes knowing about God. But in addition to this he always maintained that an essential aspect of our knowledge of God is our acknowledgment of his attitude toward us, especially his attitude of benevolence and love. Again, Calvin never equated acknowledging God's benevolence toward us with believing that God is benevolent toward us. Rather, acknowledging God's benevolence presupposes worshiping and obeying him. Thus, as Calvin uses the concept "knowing God," there is no knowledge of God apart from worship of, and obedience to, him. For this reason E. A. Dowey (1952) said that Calvin conceived of knowledge of God as existential. It may be added that Calvin held, as did many of the Scholastics, that what can be known about God is never his nature (quid est ), but only what he is like (qualis est ); and more specifically, what he is like toward us.

How is knowledge of God to be achieved? Calvin always held that knowledge of God can, in principle, be achieved by nourishing one's subjective awareness of deity and its will, with reflection on the structure of the objective world.

"There is," he said, "within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity [sensus divinitatis ]" (I, iii, 1). Although this concept of a sense of divinity played a significant role in Calvin's thought, he spent little time elucidating it. Apparently he thought of it as yielding a rudimentary conviction of dependence on some Maker, as well as a numinous awareness of the glory and majesty of the Creator. In support of his conviction that this sense is universal in humankind, Calvin frequently quoted Cicero. It is this universally innate sense of divinity in humankind that, according to Calvin, accounts for the universality of religion in human society. It is a seed of religion (semen religionis ). Religion is intrinsic to human life; it was not "invented by the subtlety and craft of a few to hold the simple folk in thrall" (I, iii, 2).

In Calvin's thought, conscience (conscientia ), as a subjective mode of revelation, was closely related to the sense of divinity. Conscience too, he said, is part of the native endowment of all men, written "upon the hearts of all." Typically he spoke of it as a sort of knowledge whose object is God's will; or, equivalently, the difference between good and evil, the law of God, or the law of nature. Thus it is by virtue of conscience that man is aware of his responsibilityaware of the moral demands to which he is subject with respect to God and man. Calvin did not state with any exactitude the actual principles that all men know by virtue of conscience. He did say, however, that "that inward law written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the [Decalogue]" (II, viii, 1); and he said that what the Decalogue requires is perfect love of God and of our neighbor.

The subjective awareness of divinity and of its will can be supplemented, Calvin taught, by reflecting on the structure of the external world and the pattern of history. "[God has] not only sowed in men's minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him" (I, v, l). At various times Calvin called the universe at large a book, a mirror, and a theater for the display of God's attributespreeminently for the display of his goodness to us but also of his glory, wisdom, power, and justice. In the course of expounding his view that God can be known through his works, Calvin explicitly opposed the view that God can be known by speculation concerning his essence. It is by nourishing his sense of divinity and his conscience, with the contemplation of God's works, that man can in principle arrive at a knowledge of God.

sin

It was Calvin's persistent teaching, however, that in fact no one does come to know God in the manner described above. The positive demands placed on all men by God's internal and external revelation are rejected, and this rejection results in an endless series of spurious religions. This resistance to God's demands is what Calvin identified as sin. Thus sin is not primarily ignorance about God; although such ignorance, or blindness, as Calvin often called it, will always be a consequence. Rather, Calvin viewed sin as an active willful opposition to God, as a positive refusal to acknowledge his demands of worship and obedience and as a deliberate alienation from him. Its prime characteristic is perversity, and its root is ordinarily pride and self-love.

Thus, being in sin is just the opposite of knowing God. Calvin, however, was quite willing to allow that a person who does not know God because he refuses to worship and obey him can still know or believe a variety of propositions about God that happen to be true. This explains what has, to so many readers, proved to be such an infuriating feature of Calvin's thoughthis insistence, sometimes in adjacent sentences, that the pagans do not at all know God but are not wholly ignorant of him. For example, Calvin, speaking of man's natural ability to know God, said, "the greatest geniuses are blinder than moles." In the very next sentence he said, "Certainly I do not deny that one can read competent and apt statements about God here and there in the philosophers" (II, ii, 18).

Not only was Calvin insistent that knowing or believing "competent and apt" propositions about God was not sufficient for knowing God; he was also profoundly convinced that man's proud refusal to worship and obey God leads him to resist acknowledging the truth about God. Sin, although primarily a matter of the will, infects man's reason as well. Perversity leads to blindness and distortion. Immediately after saying that the philosophers make competent and apt statements about God, Calvin added, "but these always show a certain giddy imagination. They [the philosophers] saw things in such a way that their seeing did not direct them to the truth, much less enable them to attain it." Thus the consequence of man's willful alienation from God is not merely that he does not know God but also that his views about God are now so incomplete and distorted that nothing at all can be built on them. This is Calvin's judgment on natural theology.

It must be added that Calvin regarded the effects of sin as far more pervasive than have yet been indicated. Not only does sin disrupt man's relation to God; it thereby spreads corruption throughout the whole of human life. Of course, it does not impair our natural faculties as such. Calvin typically spoke of reason and will as man's chief faculties, and he held that the man in sin may be as intelligent and as capable of making decisions as the man who knows God. The corruption is to be found, rather, in the use we make of our native capacities.

Calvin maintained that if we are to state accurately what sin does to man's use of his native talents, we must distinguish between man's supernatural gifts, his abilities concerning heavenly things, and his natural gifts, his abilities concerning earthly things (II, ii, 1213). The supernatural gifts comprise man's ability to know God, to worship him properly, and to obey him inwardly as well as outwardly. We have, however, been stripped of these gifts. The natural gifts pertain to matters of the present life, such as government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. Concerning these, said Calvin, our abilities have certainly not been destroyed. Not only are ancient law, medicine, and natural philosophy worthy of the highest admiration (II, ii, 15); but man, even in his estrangement from God, retains some sense of the laws that must be obeyed if human society is to be preserved. Man "tends through natural instinct to foster and preserve society. Consequently, we observe that there exist in all men's minds universal impressions of a certain civic fair dealing and order. And this is ample proof that in the arrangement of this life no man is without the light of reason" (II, ii, 13). Calvin immediately added, however, that although man's abilities concerning earthly things have not been destroyed, they have been profoundly corrupted. In opposition to what he understood as the teaching of the Greek philosophers, he held that both reason and will have been gravely wounded; the mind "is both weak and plunged into deep darkness. And depravity of the will is all too well known" (II, ii, 12).

If man's natural gifts are to be healed and his supernatural gifts restored, his sin must be overcome; he must come to know God. We have already seen that for this purpose man's conscience, his sense of divinity, and his awareness of God's revelation in the objective world are all inadequate. Thus, if human life was to be renewed, it was necessary that God should choose some special means. This he did by revealing himself with special clarity in the history of the Jewish people, culminating in the life and words of Christ. When God leads man to respond to this revelation with faith, then man again knows God. Indeed, faith, consisting as it does in a clear knowledge about God coupled with proper worship and true obedience, is a certain sort of knowledge of Godthat sort which focuses on Christ as interpreted in the Scriptures. Thus, in Calvin's thought there is never a contrast between faith in God and knowledge of God; rather, given man's prior perversity, faith is the only kind of knowledge of God available to men. Also, faith, in Calvin's teaching, is never understood in scholastic fashion as an assent to divinely revealed propositions. Rather, the object of faith is God as revealed in Christ.

Social and Political Teachings

Calvin's social and political theory has also proved most influential. Man, according to Calvin, is a creature of fellowship, created with tendencies that find their fulfillment in a variety of natural groupings, each concerned with a certain facet of man's life in society. One of these groupings is the church, another the state. Church and state are differentiated primarily by reference to their different tasks. The concern of the church is the spiritual realm, the life of the inner man; the concern of the state is the temporal realm, the regulation of external conduct. In regulating external conduct, the general aim of the state, in Calvin's view, is to insure justice or equity in society at large. This equity has two facets. Obviously the state must enforce restrictive justice, but Calvin also believed that the state should secure distributive justice, doing its best to eliminate gross inequalities in the material status of its members.

It is the duty of the church to seek the welfare of the state, but equally it is the duty of the state to seek the welfare of the church. Thus, part of the state's duty is to promote piety; and Calvin, along with most of his contemporaries, regarded blasphemy as a civil crime. It was Calvin's view, however, that church and state ought to be structurally independent of each other. Church officials are not, by virtue of their office, to have any official voice in the state; and state officials are not, by virtue of their office, to have any official voice in the church.

Although he thought that the best form of government would vary with circumstances, Calvin quite firmly believed that the ideal government would be a republic in which those of the aristocracy who are competent to rule are elected by the citizenry, and in which power is balanced and diffused among a number of different magistrates. The magistrate has his authority from God. In a sense his authority is God's authority; for magistrates, Calvin said, are ministers of Divine justice, vicegerents of God. Thus the duty of the magistrate is to apply the law of God, implanted on the hearts of all and clarified in the Scriptures, to the affairs of civil society. To what extent and under what circumstances Calvin regarded civil disobedience as justified is a matter of debate. What is clear is that Calvin regarded the law of nature as in some sense a standard by which the decisions of the magistrate are to be judged, and at the same time he regarded revolutions which rip apart the entire fabric of human society as not to be condoned.

Influence

Both the theological and social views of Calvin have had an enormous influence throughout history. The Reformed, churches of the Continent and the Presbyterian churches of England adhered fundamentally to his thought, and the dominant theological thought of the American colonies was Calvinistic. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the impact of Calvinism on society and theological thought suffered a decline, but the twentieth century saw a resurgence in Calvin's influence. In the early part of the century in the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper led a revival of Calvinism in politics and education as well as in theology. And the so-called neoorthodox theology, represented by such figures as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, not only was accompanied by a renewed interest in the writings of Calvin but also in large measure marked a return to the main patterns of Calvin's theological thought.

See also Barth, Karl; Brunner, Emil; Thomas Aquinas, St.

Bibliography

The standard edition of Calvin's works is that by J. W. Baum, E. Cunitz, E. Reuss, et al., in the Corpus Reformatorum, 59 vols. (Brunswick, Germany, 18631900). Most of these were translated by the Calvin Translation Society as Works, 48 vols. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 18431855). An especially fine annotated translation is J. T. McNeill, ed., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by F. L. Battles, 2 vols. (Philadelphia; Fortress Press, 1959). The classic study of Calvin's life is Émile Doumergue, Jean Calvin; les hommes et les choses de son temps, 7 vols. (Lausanne: G. Bridel, 18991927).

For discussions of the sources of Calvin's thought, see François Wendel, Calvin: Sources et évolution de sa pensée religieuse (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950), translated by Philip Mairet as Calvin (New York: Harper & Row, 1963); and Josef Bohatec, Budé und Calvin (Graz, Austria, 1940). A good discussion of Calvin's theology as a whole is Wilhelm Niesel, Die Theologie Calvins (Munich: C. Kaiser, 1938), translated by Harold Knight as The Theology of Calvin (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956). The most adequate discussion of Calvin's views on the knowledge of God is E. A. Dowey, The Knowledge of God in Calvin's Theology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952). Calvin's doctrine of man is treated in Thomas Forsyth Torrance, Calvin's Doctrine of Man (London: Lutterworth, 1949). Calvin's social and political thought is well discussed in André Biéler, La pensée économique et sociale de Calvin (Geneva: Librairie de l'universityé, 1959); and Josef Bohatec, Calvins Lehre von Staat und Kirche (Breslau: M. and H. Marcus, 1937). The finest survey of the history of Calvinism is J. T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).

Nicholas Wolterstorff (1967)

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Calvin, John (1509–1564)

Calvin, John (1509–1564)

Calvin, John (1509–1564), French Protestant reformer. John Calvin is best known for his doctrine of predestination and his theocratic view of the state.

John Calvin was born at Noyon in Picardy on July 10, 1509. He was the second son of Gérard Cauvin, who was secretary to the bishop of Noyon and fiscal procurator for the province. The family name was spelled several ways, but John showed preference while still a young man for "Calvin."

An ecclesiastical career was chosen for John, and at the age of 12, through his father's influence, he received a small benefice, a chaplaincy in the Cathedral of Noyon. Two years later, in August 1523, he went to Paris in the company of the noble Hangest family. He entered the Collège de la Marche at the University of Paris, where he soon became highly skilled in Latin. Subsequently he attended the Collège de Montaigu, where the humanist Erasmus had studied before him and where the Catholic reformer Ignatius of Loyola would study after him. Calvin remained in the profoundly ecclesiastical environment of this college until 1528. Then at the behest of his father he moved to Orléans to study law. He devoted himself assiduously to this field, drawing from it the clarity, logic, and precision that would later be the distinguishing marks of his theology.

In 1531, armed with his bachelor of laws degree, Calvin returned to Paris and took up the study of classical literature. At this time Martin Luther's ideas concerning salvation by faith alone were circulating in the city, and Calvin was affected by the new Protestant notions and by pleas for Church reform. He became a friend of Nicholas Cop, who, upon becoming rector of the university in 1533, made an inaugural speech which immediately branded him as a heretic. Calvin suffered the penalties of guilt by association and would certainly have been arrested had he not been warned to flee. In January 1534 he hastily left Paris and went to Angoulême, where he began work on his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Several turbulent months later, after a secret journey and two brief periods of arrest, Calvin was forced to flee from France when King Francis I instituted a general persecution of heretics. In December 1534 he found his way to Basel, where Cop had gone before him.


Calvin's Theology. Sometime during his last 3 years in France, Calvin experienced what he called his sudden conversion and mentally parted company with Rome. He proceeded to develop his theological position and in 1536 to expound it in the most severe, logical, and terrifying book of all Protestantism, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin followed this first Latin edition with an enlarged version in 1539 and a French translation in 1540, a book that has been called a masterpiece of French prose. The reformer continued to revise and develop the Institutes until his death.

Its theme is the majesty of God. There is an unbridgeable chasm between man and his maker. Man is thoroughly corrupt, so base that it is unthinkable that he could lift a finger to participate in his own salvation. God is glorious and magnificent beyond man's highest capacity to comprehend; He is both omnipotent and omniscient, and He has, merely by His knowing, foreordained all things that ever will come to pass. Man is helpless in the face of God's will. He is predestined either to eternal glory or eternal damnation, and he can do nothing, even if he is the best of saints in his fellow's eyes, to alter the intention of God. To suggest that he could would be to imply that the Creator did not fore-know precisely and thus diminish His majesty. To Calvin there could be no greater sacrilege. This doctrine of predestination did not originate with Calvin, but no one ever expressed it more clearly and uncompromisingly. He did not flinch from the terrible consequences of God's omniscience.

To those few whom God has chosen to save, He has granted the precious gift of faith, which is undeserved. All are unworthy of salvation, and most are damned because God's justice demands it. But God is infinitely merciful as well as just, and it is this mercy, freely given, that opens the door to heaven for the elect.

Calvin knew that this doctrine was terrifying, that it seemed to make God hateful and arbitrary, but he submitted that human reason is too feeble to scrutinize or judge the will of God. The Creator's decision on who shall be damned is immutable. No purgatory exists to cleanse man of his sins and prepare him for heaven. Yet Calvin counsels prayer, even though it will not change God's will, because prayer too is decreed and men must worship even though they may be among the damned. The prayer should be simple, and all elaborate ceremony should be rejected. The Catholic Mass is sacrilegious, because the priest claims that in it he changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Calvin held that Christ is present whenever believers gather prayerfully, but in spirit only and not because of any act undertaken by priests, who have no special powers and are in no way different from other Christians. There are only two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Like Luther, Calvin rejects all other "sacraments" as not based on Holy Scripture.

Calvin makes a distinction between the visible Church and the true Church. The former is composed of those who participate in the Sacraments and profess their faith in Christ; the latter, invisible and unknown to all save God, is the community of the electdead, living, and yet unborn. One must belong to the visible Church in order to be saved, but belonging to it is no guarantee of salvation. Church and state are both ordained by God. The task of the former is to teach and prescribe faith and morals, while the latter preserves order and enforces the laws set forth by the Church. There is no separation of Church and state. Both must work in harmony to preserve the word of God, and to this end the state is enjoined to use force if necessary to suppress false teachings, such as Catholicism, Anabaptism, or Lutheranism.

That these ideas, particularly with their cornerstone of predestination, soon conquered much of the Christian world is baffling at first examination. But Calvin's followers were encouraged by hope of election rather than enervated by fear of damnation. It seems to be an essential part of human nature to see oneself as just, and Calvin himself, while he firmly maintained that no one is certain of salvation, always acted with confidence and trust in his own election.


Geneva Reformer. While publication of the Institutes was in progress, Calvin made preparations to leave his homeland permanently. He returned briefly to France early in 1536 to settle personal business, then set out for Strasbourg. Because of the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, he was forced to take a circuitous route which brought him to Geneva. He intended to continue on to Strasbourg but was persuaded to remain by Guillaume Farel, who had begun a Protestant movement in Geneva. Except for one brief interruption he spent the remaining years of his life in Geneva, spreading the word of God as he understood it and creating a theocratic state unique in the annals of Christendom.

In 1537 Calvin was elected to the preaching office by the city fathers, who had thrown off obedience to Rome along with their old political ruler, the Duke of Savoy. A council, now operating as the government, issued decrees in July 1537 against all manifestations of Catholicism as well as all forms of immorality. Rosaries and relics were banished along with adulterers. Gamblers were punished and so were people who wore improper, that is, luxurious, clothing. The austere hand of Calvin was behind these regulations.

The new rules were too severe for many citizens, and in February 1538 a combination of Libertines (freedom lovers) and suppressed Catholics captured a majority of the council. This body then banished Calvin and Farel; Calvin went to Strasbourg and Farel to Neuchâtel, where he remained for the rest of his life.

At Strasbourg, Calvin ministered to a small congregation of French Protestants and in 1540 married Idelette de Bure. She bore him one child, who died in infancy, and she herself died in 1549. While Calvin was establishing himself at Strasbourg, things were going badly for the new Protestantism in Geneva. Strong pressure was being exerted on the council from within and without the city to return to Catholicism. Fearing that they might be removed from office and disgusted with the trend toward flagrant immorality among the citizenry, the councilors revoked the ban on Calvin on May 1, 1541. A deputation was sent immediately to Strasbourg to persuade the reformer to return, and he did so reluctantly, on Sept. 13, 1541, after being promised total cooperation in restoring discipline.


Rule of God. The law of a Christian state, according to Calvin, is the Bible. The task of the clergy is to interpret and teach that law, while the task of the state is to enforce it. Under this principle, while the clergy, including Calvin, were not civil magistrates, they held enormous authority over the government and all aspects of civil as well as religious life.

Immediately on his return to Geneva, Calvin set about organizing the Reformed Church. On Jan. 2, 1542, the city council ratified the Ordonnances ecclésiastiques, the new regulations governing the Church, formulated by a committee led by Calvin. The Ordonnances divided the ministry into four categories: pastors, teachers, lay elders, and deacons. The pastors governed the Church and trained aspirants to the ministry. No one could preach henceforth in Geneva without permission of the pastors.

The conduct of all citizens was examined and regulated by a consistory of 5 pastors and 12 lay elders elected by the council. The consistory had the right to visit every family annually and search its home; to summon any citizen before it; to excommunicate, which meant virtually automatic banishment from the city by the council; to force attendance at weekly sermons; to prohibit gambling, drunkenness, dancing, profane songs, and immodest dress; and to forbid all forms of the theater. The colors of clothing, hair styles, and amounts of food permissible at the table were regulated. It was forbidden to name children after saints, and it was a criminal offense to speak ill of Calvin or the rest of the clergy. The press was severely censored, with writings judged to be immoral and books devoted to Catholicism or other false teaching forbidden. Punishment for first offenses was usually a fine and for repetition of minor crimes, banishment. Fornication was punishable by exile, and adultery, blasphemy, and idolatry by death. Education, which Calvin regarded as inseparable from religion, was very carefully regulated, and new schools were established. Charity was placed under municipal administration to eliminate begging. Thus the whole life of Geneva was placed under a rigid discipline and a single Church from which no deviation was permitted.

The consistory and the city council worked hand in hand in enforcing the laws, but the moving spirit of all was Calvin, who acted as a virtual dictator from 1541 until his death. Calvin did not look the part of a dictator. He was a small, thin, and fragile man with an unsmiling ruthless austerity in his face. He was pale under a black beard and a high forehead. A poet would perhaps see these physical details as signs of enormous, orderly intellect and of little human warmth or appetite, a being all mind and spirit with almost no body at all. There were some ugly moments in theocratic Geneva. During these years 58 people were executed and 76 banished in order to preserve morals and discipline. Like most men of his century, the reformer was convinced that believing wrongly about God was so heinous a crime that not even death could expiate it.

Last Years. The last years of Calvin's life were spent in elaborating Geneva's laws, writing controversial works against spiritual enemies, and laboring prodigiously on the theology of the Institutes. Geneva became a model of discipline, order and cleanliness, the admiration of all who visited there.

Men trained to the ministry by Calvin carried his doctrines to every corner of Europe. The reformer lived to see his followers growing in numbers in the Netherlands, Scotland, Germany, and even France, the homeland he had been forced to leave. The impetus he gave to austerity, frugality, and hard, uncomplaining work may have had some influence in forming a capitalist mentality devoted to the acquisition but not the enjoyment of wealth. In any case his teachings have been carried to the present day and live on in the churches which descended from him, modified from their early severity by time but still vigorous in some of the more puritan aspects of modern life.

On May 27, 1564, after a long illness Calvin died. He left an indelible mark on the Christian world.

EWB

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John Calvin

John Calvin

1509–1564

Theologian and reformer

Sources

Studies. Born at Noyon in northern France, John Calvin was the son of the notary to the local bishop, which made him part of the bourgeoisie. Eager for a high-church career for John, his father sent him to the University of Paris for training as a theologian. Calvin also began to study with several prominent humanists. After his father had a falling out with the clergy, he sent his son to Orleans for a law degree, which Calvin received in 1532. He returned to Paris, where he continued his study of classical literature. In that year he published a commentary on the Roman author Seneca the Younger's On Mercy (55–56 C.E.) It was a typical piece of humanist scholarship and shows no sign of Protestantism. By 1534 he had become Protestant, for in the aftermath of the posting of anti-Catholic placards by Zwinglians in Paris, he fled from France, although he seems not to have had any role in the episode.

Geneva. Calvin traveled widely for the next two years, going to Ferrara in Italy and Basel in Switzerland. In July 1536, on his way to Strasbourg to become pastor of the French Protestant community there, he passed through Geneva, which had already accepted Protestantism. The local Protestant leaders persuaded him to stay. The publication of his Institutions of the Christian Religion earlier in 1536 had already marked him as a major Protestant theologian. Calvin quickly became the dominant figure in the city. In his haste to make it a truly Reformed city, he made enemies who secured his ouster in 1538. Calvin went to Strasbourg, where he married in 1540. His wife Idelette died eight years later. In 1541 supporters regained control of Geneva and invited Calvin to return, which he did reluctantly. He spent the rest of his life there.

Model Christian City. Upon his return Calvin set about to make Geneva into the model Christian city. He drew up his “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” to establish the system of church governance for its church. The city council accepted them in 1541 as his condition for returning from Strasbourg. Calvin based his form of church governance on the Acts of the Apostles, where he found four divine offices of pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. The key institution was the consistory, made up of all nine pastors in Geneva in 1541 and twelve elders who were chosen from the members of the city council. It had the task of correcting the doctrine of the pastors and the conduct of laypeople who refused to accept correction from the elders. The consistory imposed Calvin's strict moral code on the people, which in the hands of his later followers in England became known as Puritanism. John Knox, the Scots reformer, would call Geneva “the most perfect city of Christ.”

Predestination. Calvin's place in the history of theology arises from the major role he gave to the doctrine of predestination, the belief that God has determined a soul's fate from all eternity. The doctrine was not new to Calvin; various earlier Christian theologians had argued for it. What was different for Calvin was that he could not accept what most previous defenders of the doctrine maintained: God chose the elect for salvation, but the damned were responsible for their fate because of their sins. Calvin, because of his emphasis on God's absolute power, argued that there was nothing that a human could do, whether good or evil, to influence God's will. Calvin did not shrink from what he called the doctrine's “awful consequences”: that God has predestined both the saved and the damned from all eternity. Calvin was eager, however, to stop his followers from lapsing into fatalism: the belief that it makes no difference what they do in life, since their fate has already been determined. He proclaimed that those who lived a good Christian life should have reasonable confidence that they were among the elect. This confidence, taken more as a guarantee by his followers, gave the Calvinists the courage to confront the evildoers and correct them, especially the princes who were harming the true religion, and go to their deaths with Psalms on their lips. Predestination was a stumbling block for many who otherwise were attracted to Calvin's vision of Christianity, but it gave to those who did accept it a powerful courage of their convictions to change the world. It made them a revolutionary force in western Christendom in the century to come. As interpreted by later generations of Calvinists, the doctrine also had the consequence of seeing success in the world, especially in business, as a sign of election, since God would surely favor his saints. Along with Calvin's denunciation of monasticism and his emphasis on doing one's best in day-to-day life, it helped to create what has been called the Protestant work ethic.

Enemies. Although Calvin dominated Geneva after 1541, he faced opposition from many who did not accept his beliefs or moral code. Some were condemned to death for heresy or sedition. The most notorious case involved an outsider, Michael Servetus, a Spaniard who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. Eager to debate Calvin, Servetus arrived in Geneva in 1553 and was quickly arrested and convicted of heresy. His execution by burning demonstrated that Calvin was not a supporter of religious toleration.

Academy. Calvin was eager to reform the entire Christian Church and founded the Geneva Academy in 1559, later known as the University of Geneva, for training pastors to send across Europe. By the time he died in 1564, vibrant Calvinist churches had been established in France, Hungary, England, the Netherlands, and Scotland. Theodore Beza, an exiled French nobleman, who had been his associate for twenty years, took his place as the leader of Reformed Christianity.

Sources

William Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin: A Study of the Shaping of Western Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1990).

John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954).

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John Calvin

John Calvin

Excerpt from Ecclesiastical Ordinances Edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand Published in 1968

John Calvin (1509–1564) was perhaps the most influential leader of the Protestant Reformation, a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. He was involved in reform efforts at the same time as Martin Luther (see entry), the German theology professor who initiated the Reformation. Calvin interpreted Christianity more strictly than Luther, however, establishing his own distinct form of Protestantism in Geneva, Switzerland. Under his tireless direction, Geneva became the focus of successful and far-reaching evangelism (personal commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ, founder of Christianity), which was the foundation of many present-day Protestant churches.

Calvin brings evangelism to Geneva

John Calvin was born Jean Cauvin in Noyon, France, in 1509. His father, Gérard Cauvin, was a lawyer who worked for the local bishop. His mother, Jeanne Lefranc, was the daughter of a fairly well-to-do innkeeper. Calvin was educated in Noyon until 1523, when he was awarded a benefice, or church office in which income is used for education. He enrolled at the University of Paris, where he received an extensive humanist education. (Humanism was the study of ancient Greek and Latin works and early biblical texts.) Calvin remained at Paris for five years with the intention of entering the Catholic priest-hood, but in 1528 his father ordered him to switch from theology (study of religion) to law. At some point he converted to Protestantism. Late in 1533 there was a general crackdown on Protestants by the royal government, causing Calvin to flee Paris.

Calvin left France in 1534. Traveling under the assumed name Martianus Lucianius, he settled in Basel, Switzerland. He spent the next two years in private study. In 1536 he published the first edition of his major work, Christianae religionis institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion; see accompanying box). One evening in June 1536, Calvin stopped in Geneva to spend the night. He intended to continue on his journey the following day, but the local evangelical preacher, Guillaume Farel (1489–1565), had another idea. Farel convinced Calvin that it was his duty to God to remain where he was most needed. Farel had hoped to expel Catholicism from the city, which had recently won its independence from the church. Calvin agreed to stay in Geneva, and with Farel he worked to establish Protestantism within the city. Within a couple of years, however, both men were banished for being too strict and for encouraging French Huguenots (Protestants from France) to move to Geneva. Calvin then went to Strasbourg, where he taught at an academy, preached, and developed his ideas on the nature of the ideal Christian church. Calvin's friends in Strasbourg urged him to find a wife. In 1540 he married Idelette Bure, the widow of one of his converts, who already had a son and a daughter. The couple's only child died shortly after birth in 1542. Idelette died seven years later, but Calvin never remarried.

In 1541 Calvin returned to Geneva in response to a call from the floundering church. He had been assured that he would be given the freedom he felt was necessary to build God's earthly kingdom. He then wrote Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which served as the basis of a reorganized local church government to be headed by a group called the consistory. The ordinances were approved by the citizens of Geneva in late 1541.

Institutes of the Christian Religion

In 1536 John Calvin published the first edition of his major work, Christianae religionis institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion).The book explained the essentials of the Christian faith from a Protestant perspective for common readers, not theologians. Calvin asserted that the only spiritual authority is both the New Testament and the Old Testament (the Christian name for the Hebrew Bible). According to Calvin, the all-knowing and ever-present God had determined, from the beginning of time, who was to be saved and who was to be damned. All people, he felt, were sinful by nature and could never achieve salvation (forgiveness of sins by God) through their own efforts. God had therefore selected a few people, called the "elect," for salvation. The elect were to lead others, who had not been chosen by God, toward salvation. This concept was later called "predestination," but Calvin himself did not use the term. Calvin taught that the purpose of life was to strive to know or understand God as well as possible and then to follow God's will. This could be done only through faith (acceptance of truth without questioning), by which people pursue union with Christ, the embodiment of God on Earth. This faith required them to strive to live a moral life, out of hope that they were among the elect chosen by God. Institutes became the most widely read and influential work of theology in the Reformation period.

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpt from Ecclesiastical Ordinances:

  1. In the Ecclesiastical Ordinances Calvin established four church offices—minister, teacher, elder, and deacon. Modeled on leaders described in the New Testament (second part of the Bible), these officials were given distinct responsibilities in the new society. Members of the consistory were the ministers of local churches and twelve elders. Calvin set rules for the selection and approval of church officers, specified the times of worship services, and even designated who would attend which church. He also identified unacceptable behavior and defined procedures for dealing with those who broke the rules. Calvin gave the consistory full authority to suppress any opposition to the policies outlined in Ordinances.
  2. Calvin considered himself to be on the side of godliness and truth. Thus, for him, to tolerate dissent of any kind was to tolerate evil. Though Calvin expected strict enforcement of his orders, he was no different from other sixteenth-century reformers. Notice that Huldrych Zwingli, leader of the Protestant movement in Zurich, Switzerland, persecuted, or severely punished, Anabaptists (see Huldrych Zwingli entry).

Excerpt from Ecclesiastical Ordinances

On the Frequency, Place, and Time of Preaching

Each Sunday, at daybreak, there shall be a sermon in St. Peter's and St. Gervaise's, also at the customary hour at St. Peter, Magdalene, and St. Gervaise. At three o'clock, as well, in all three parishes, the second sermon.

For purposes ofcatechetical instruction and the administration of thesacraments, the boundaries of all the parishes are to be observed as possible. St. Gervaise is to be used by those who have done so in the past; likewise with Magdalene. Those who formerly attended St. Germaine, Holy Cross, the new church of Our Lady and St. Legier are to attend St. Peter's.

Catechetical instruction

Catechetical instruction: Teaching of church doctrine in the form of questions and answers.

Sacraments

Sacraments: Holy rites of a church.

On work days, besides the two sermons mentioned, there shall be preaching three times each week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. These sermons shall be announced for an early hour so that they may be finished before the day's work begins. On special days of prayer the Sunday order is to be observed.

To carry out these provisions, and the other responsibilities pertaining to the ministry, five ministers and threecoadjutors will be needed. The latter will also be ministers and help and reinforce the others as the occasion arises.

Concerning the Second Order, Called Teachers

The proper duty of teachers is to instruct the faithful in sound doctrine so that the purity of thegospel is not corrupted by ignorance or evil opinions. We include here the aids and instructions necessary to preserve the doctrines and to keep the church from becomingdesolate for lack of pastors and ministers. To use a more familiar expression, we shall call it the order of the schools.

The order nearest the ministry and most closely associated with the government of the church is that of lecturer in theology who teaches the Old and New Testament.

Since it is impossible to profit by such instruction without first knowing languages and thehumanities, and also since it is necessary to prepare for the future in order that the church may not be neglected by the young, it will be necessary to establish a school to instruct the youth, to prepare them not only for the ministry but for government.

First of all, a proper place for teaching purposes must be designated, fit to accommodate children and others who wish to profit by such instruction; to secure someone who is both learned in subject matter and capable of looking after the building, who can also read. This person is to be employed and placed under contract on condition that he provide under his charge readers in the languages and in dialectics, if it be possible. Also to secure men withbachelor degrees to teach the children. This we hope to do to further the work of God…

The Third Order Is That of Elders, Those Commissioned or Appointed to the Consistory by the Authorities

Their office is to keep watch over the lives of everyone, to admonish in love those whom they see in error and leading disorderly lives. Whenever necessary they shall make a report concerning these to the ministers who will be designated to make brotherly corrections and join with the others in making such corrections…

The Fourth Order or the Deacons

Coadjutors

Coadjutors: Assistants.

Gospel

Gospel: Word of God.

Desolate

Desolate: Left abandoned.

Humanities

Humanities: Academic subjects consisting of grammar (rules for the use of a language), rhetoric (art of effective speaking and writing), moral philosophy (study of human conduct and values), poetry, and history.

Bachelor degrees

Bachelor degrees: Certificates showing completion of four years of college.

There were two orders of deacons in the ancient church, the one concerned with receiving, distributing, and guarding the goods of the poor, their possessions, income and pensions as well as the quarterly offerings; the others, to take heed to and care for the sick andadminister the pittance for the poor. This custom we have preserved to the present. In order to avoid confusion, for we have bothstewards and managers, one of the four stewards of the hospital is to act as receiver of all goods and is to receive adequateremuneration in order that he may better exercise his office…

It will be his task to takediligent care that the public hospital is well administered and that it is open not only to the sick but also to aged persons. Those who are sick are to be kept in a separate lodging, away from those who are unable to work, old persons, widows, orphans, and other needy persons…

Above all, the families of the managers are to be well managed in an efficient and godly fashion, since they are to manage the houses dedicated to God…

The hospital, for thepestilence in any case, is to be set apart; especially should it happen that the city is visited by thisrod from God.

Moreover, to prevent begging, which is contrary to good order, it will be necessary that the authorities delegate certain officers. They are to be stationed at the doors of the churches to drive away any who try to resist and, if they actimpudently or answerinsolently, to take them to one of thesyndics. In like manner, the heads of theprecincts should always watch that the law against begging is well observed.

The Persons Whom the Elders Should Admonish, and Proper Procedure in This Regard

If there shall be anyone who lays down opinions contrary toreceived doctrine, he is to besummoned. If herecants, he is to be dismissed without prejudice. If he is stubborn, he is to beadmonished from time to time until it shall be evident that he deserves greaterseverity. Then, he is to beexcommunicated and this action reported to themagistrate.

If anyone is negligent in attending worship so that a noticeable offense is evident for thecommunion of the faithful, or if anyone shows himselfcontemptuous ofecclesiastical discipline, he is to be admonished. If he becomes disobedient, he is to be dismissed in love. If he persists, passing from bad to worse, after having been admonished three times, he is to be excommunicated and the matter reported to the authorities.

Stewards

Stewards: Those in charge of supplies.

Remuneration

Remuneration: Payment.

Diligent

Diligent: Earnest.

Pestilence

Pestilence: Epidemic disease.

Rod

Rod: Stick used for punishment.

Impudently

Impudently: Showing disregard for others.

Insolently

Insolently: Insultingly contemptuous.

Syndics

Syndics: Representatives of the state.

Precincts

Precincts: Districts.

Received doctrine

Received doctrine: Agreed-upon rules or teachings.

Summoned

Summoned: Called before the court.

Recants

Recants: Confesses sin.

Admonished

Admonished: Scolded.

Severity

Severity: Strict treatment.

Excommunicated

Excommunicated: Expelled from church membership.

Magistrate

Magistrate: Judge.

Communion of the faithful

Communion of the faithful: Religious community.

Contemptuous

Contemptuous: Scornful

Ecclesiastical

Ecclesiastical: Church.

Ordinance

Ordinance: Stated orders.

Lord

Lord: God.

For the correction of faults, it is necessary to proceed after theordinance of ourLord. That is, vices are to be dealt with secretlyand no one is to be brought before the church for accusation if the fault is neither public norscandalous, unless he has been found rebellious in the matter.

For the rest, those who scorn private admonitions are to be admonished again by the church. If they will not come to reason nor recognize their error, they are to be ordered toabstain fromcommunion until they improve.

As for obvious and public evil, which the church cannot overlook: if the faultsmerit nothing more than admonition, the duty of the elders shall be to summon those concerned, deal with them in love in order that they may be reformed and, if they correct the fault, to dismiss the matter. If theypersevere, they are to be admonished again. If, in the end, such procedure proves unsuccessful, they are to bedenounced as contemptuous of God, and ordered to abstain from communion until it is evident that they have changed their way of life.

As for crimes that merit not only admonition butpunitive correction: if any fall into error, according to the requirements of the case, it will be necessary to command them to abstain from communion so that they humble themselves before God and repent of their error.

If anyone by beingcontumacious or rebellious attempts that which is forbidden, the duty of the ministers shall be to reject him, since it is not proper that he receive the sacrament.

Nevertheless, let all these measures be moderate; let there not be such a degree ofrigor that anyone should be cast down, for all corrections are but medicinal, to bring back sinners to the Lord.

Scandalous

Scandalous: Outrageous.

Abstain

Abstain: Do not participate in.

Communion

Communion: Christian ritual in which bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Merit

Merit: Deserve.

Persevere

Persevere: Continue.

Denounced

Denounced: Publicly pronounced to be sinful.

Punitive

Punitive: Requiring punishment.

Contumacious

Contumacious: Stubbornly disobedient.

Rigor

Rigor: Strictness.

Civil jurisdiction

Civil jurisdiction: Government authority.

St. Paul

St. Paul: Early Christian who founded the first churches.

Intact

Intact: Separate.

Merits

Merits: Virtues.

And let all be done in such a manner as to keep from the ministers anycivil jurisdiction whatever, so that they use only the spiritual sword of the word of God asSt. Paul ordered them. Thus the consistory may in no wise take from the authority of the officers or of civil justice. On the contrary, the civil power is to be keptintact. Likewise, when it shall be necessary to exercise punishment or restraint against any party, the ministers and the consistory are to hear the party concerned, deal with them and admonish them as it may seem good, reporting all to the council which, for its part, shall deliberate and then pass judgment according to themerits of the case.

What happened next…

Despite considerable opposition, Calvin's influence grew steadily as he defeated theological and political opponents alike. In 1555 the consistory, which acted as a sort of moral court, was accepted and given great powers by the city. From that point onward discipline was strictly enforced in Geneva, which became known as Calvin's "New Jerusalem." Taverns were closed and replaced with abbayes, in which patrons were closely scrutinized for signs of excessive drinking. Indeed, throughout Geneva, citizens monitored one another's behavior, ready to report any sort of wrongdoing. In this spirit, a strict moral order—based on Calvin's particular vision of truth—was built. Constantly preaching and writing, he involved himself in all aspects of Genevan affairs including education, trade, diplomacy, and even sanitation. In 1559 Calvin and the French scholar Theodore Beza (1516–1605) founded the Genevan Academy (now the University of Geneva) for the training of clergy. Calvin was also determined to spread the reform movement abroad, especially within his native France. Under his direction, Geneva became a haven for persecuted Protestants. It was also the unofficial center of growing Protestant movements in places as far removed as Scotland. Before Calvin died in1564 he asked Beza to be head of the church of Geneva and help promote Calvinism throughout the world.

Did you know…

  1. In 1553, Michael Servetus (1511–1553), a Spanish scientist, humanist, and theologian, arrived in Geneva. He was traveling in disguise to avoid persecution for his scandalous religious ideas. Often called the first Unitarian (a present-day Protestant denomination), Servetus denied the divinity, or godliness, of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (the Christian concept of God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). He believed that God was a single, indivisible divine force. His views alienated him from both Catholics and Protestants. One day Calvin recognized Servetus sitting in the crowd listening to one of his sermons. He promptly had Servetus arrested and put on trial. As the "Defender of the Faith," Calvin demanded Servetus's execution. His order was supported by the Geneva city government, and on October 27, 1553, Servetus was burned alive for heresy (violation of the laws of God).
  2. Calvin's teachings were adopted by the Puritans, a strict Protestant group in England. They advocated purification of the Church of England (Anglican Church), the official religion of England. Although the Church of England was considered a Protestant faith, it still practiced many of the teachings and elaborate rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. A few dissenters among the Puritans contended that the church was too corrupt to be saved and they wanted total separation. Separation was considered a crime against the state. Nevertheless, a congregation in Scrooby, England, declared themselves to be Nonconformists, or separatists. When the Scrooby leaders were persecuted in 1607, the congregation went to Leyden in the Netherlands (Holland), where they were free to practice their religion. Eventually they decided to leave the Netherlands and settle in English territory in North America. Calling themselves Pilgrims, they set out aboard a ship called the Mayflower in September 1620. Although they were headed for Virginia, a storm forced them into a harbor on the coast of present-day Massachusetts in December 1620. The Pilgrims the established the Plymouth Colony, which was based on the teachings of John Calvin. In 1630 they were joined by other Puritans, who founded the nearby Massachusetts Bay Colony and practiced an even stricter form of Calvinism.

For More Information

Books

Greef, Wulfert de. The Writings of John Calvin: An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993.

Parker, T. H. L. John Calvin, a Biography. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

Web Sites

"Calvin, John." Encyclopedia.com. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/[email protected]%20Calvin%20%20John, April 10, 2002.

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