John Calvin

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John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564)  Theologian and Reformer, born at Noyon, not far from Reims. His father, though of low birth, was able to rise to become secretary to the Bishop of Noyon (one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals in France, older than Reims).

Destined by his pious parents to enter the ecclesiastical career he benefited of the generosity of a rich family who made the necessary education possible. He studied at the bastion of churchly orthodoxy, the College de Montaigu, where incidentally also Erasmus and Rabelais had studies. He showed exceptional brilliance and frequented some of the most famous thinkers of his day.

His thoughts and writings of these days showed no Protestant interest or tendency, but showed him to be a gifted and ambitious young Christian Humanist with noticeable sympathies for ancient stoicism (apart from Latin, he also studied Greek and Hebrew).

In 1533, he went to Paris where the Royal Court was then favoring the humanists around Jacques Lefevre under the patronage of one of the most intelligent female members of the French Royal families, the sister of King Francis I, Margaret of Angouleme, Queen of Navarre. During this time, however, an oration by a close friend of Calvin, Cop, split the university and was followed by a royal proscription. Calvin had to flee Paris and move around for some years.

It was not long before he went to Basle where he wrote his first full statement on French Protestant belief; this had been prompted by the action of the French King who did not want to admit to his war partners who were Protestants, e.g., Northern Germany, that in his own country his Protestant subjects were persecuted.

It was due to France's war against Charles V (which by the way Charles V won, and after which he made Francis I of France his prisoner) that Calvin was detoured on his way to Basle and had to stop at Geneva. Here he was asked for assistance from another Protestant, who had succeeded in planting the evangelican standard in that city. Calvin reluctantly stayed on in Geneva, and started to lecture and preach at St. Pierre's (cathedral) where he became later on a Pastor.

By 1537, Calvin's influence was growing, especially when he conceived a plan of compulsory education and close moral supervision for the entire city. It was new that the Church would actually have control over the moral standards of the citizens and this caused, of course, friction. But his formidable vehemence and erudition in debate before the synod served notice that a new Protestant leader of immense significance was emerging.

However, for political reasons, he had to flee Geneva and went to Strasbourg, only to return a few years later to Geneva. He was now determined to carry out his complete original scheme of reform. 14 years of intense struggle passed before the triumph of the new discipline was secured.

The academy he founded in 1559 was a crowning work, the intellectual center of international Calvinism for many years to come. His treatises and lectures became the pillars of new humanistic thoughts and found a large number of followers.

Calvin had suffered chronic illness throughout his adult life. He had been living in a frugal way, sparing in food and simple in his dress, also he had slept little, but was nevertheless capable of extraordinary intellectual efforts, and possessed a remarkable retentive memory.

It is, however, his severity and his demand that others live just as sparingly, that has made him not always acceptable to those who demanded the liberty of choice for themselves. This they were simply not granted by Calvinism — in fact, they were often made to suffer for stepping out of line.

He died quietly at Geneva being only 55 years old, and was buried without ceremony in a place which we cannot even identify nowadays.


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