John Calvin

French theologian John Calvin, 1509-1564, was, after Martin Luther, the guiding spirit of the Protestant Reformation. If Luther sounded the trumpet for reform, Calvin orchestrated the score by which the Reformation became a part of Western civilization. Calvin studied in Paris, probably from 1521 to 1526, where he was introduced to humanistic scholarship and to appeals for reform of the church. He then studied law at his father's bidding from about 1525 to 1530. When his father died in 1531, Calvin turned immediately to his first love - study of the classics and theology. Between 1526 and 1531, he experienced a distinctly Protestant conversion. "God," he wrote much later, "at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence." Calvin's first published work was a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia (1532). A profusion of influential commentaries on books of the Bible followed. His position in France became precarious when in 1533 his friend Nicholas Cop, rector of the University of Paris, gave a public address supporting reform.
Eventually Calvin was forced to flee in 1535 to Basel, Switzerland. There he produced a small book about his new reformed beliefs. It was designed to offer a brief summary of essential Christian belief and to defend French Protestants, who were then undergoing serious persecution, as true heirs of the early church. This first edition of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) contained only six brief sections. By the last edition (1559), it had grown to 79 full chapters. The Institutes presents with unmatched clarity a vision of God in his majesty, of Christ as prophet, priest, and king, of the Holy Spirit as the giver of faith, of the Bible as the final authority, and of the church as the holy people of God. Its doctrine of Predestination is Calvin's deduction from his belief in human sinfulness and God's sovereign mercy in Christ. After the publication of the Institutes, Calvin fully intended to devote his life to further study. On a trip to Strasbourg in July 1536, however, he was forced to detour through Geneva where he hoped to stay only one night. The fiery Guillaume Farel, who had laboured long for the reform of that city, had other plans. Threatening Calvin with a curse from God, Farel persuaded him to remain.
The next 2 years were difficult, Calvin's rigorous plans for reform of church and city clashing with Geneva's long-standing moral indifference. In 1538, Calvin and Farel were expelled from the city. Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg where he spent the most enjoyable years of his life as pastor of the city's French congregation. While in Strasbourg, Calvin produced an influential commentary on the Book of Romans, oversaw the preparation of a liturgy and a psalm book that he would use later in Geneva, and married the widow Idelette de Bure. When friends of Calvin gained control of the Geneva council in 1541, they asked him to return, and he reluctantly agreed. During the next 14 years his reforms met stiff resistance. Some Genevans then, and many critics later, considered Calvin's morality absurdly severe, with its banning of plays and its attempt to introduce religious pamphlets and psalm singing into Geneva's taverns. Others have admired the courage of his conviction that all of life should glorify God. Finally, the libertines blundered in 1553 by offering backhanded support to the heretic Michael Servetus. Servetus was condemned to death by burning, and by 1555 the city belonged to Calvin.
The Presbyterian church order that he instituted established a principle of lay involvement that had great impact throughout Europe. During Calvin's last years, Geneva was home to many religious refugees who carried away the desire to implement a Genevan reform in their own countries. His personal letters and published works reached from the British Isles to the Baltic. The Geneva Academy, founded in 1559, extended the circle of his influence. His lucid use of French promoted that language much as Luther's work spread the influence of German. By the time he died, Calvin, in spite of a reserved personality, had generated profound love among his friends and intense scorn from his enemies. His influence, which spread throughout the Western world, was felt especially in Scotland through the work of John Knox.

Useful Links complete list of writings history and links more writings - library. Institutes of Christian Religion Calvin's commentaries. Institutes.

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