John Calvin

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John Calvin
Jehan Cauvin
BirthplaceNoyon, Picardy, France
Pastor, author, theologian

Calvin, John,

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 LutherLuther, Martin,
1483–1546, German leader of the Protestant Reformation, b. Eisleben, Saxony, of a family of small, but free, landholders. Early Life and Spiritual Crisis

Luther was educated at the cathedral school at Eisenach and at the Univ.
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 and Martin BucerBucer or Butzer, Martin
, 1491–1551, German Protestant reformer born Martin Kuhhorn. At 14 years of age he joined the Dominican order, and he studied at Heidelberg, where he heard (1518) Luther in his public
..... Click the link for more information.

Work in Geneva

In 1536, Calvin was persuaded by Guillaume FarelFarel, Guillaume
, 1489–1565, French religious reformer, associate of John Calvin. In 1520, Farel joined Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples at Meaux to aid in church reform and to establish an evangelical school for students and preachers.
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 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 SupperLord's Supper,
Protestant rite commemorating the Last Supper. In the Reformation the leaders generally rejected the traditional belief in the sacrament as a sacrifice and as an invisible miracle of the actual changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ
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, which resulted in the separation of the Evangelical Church into Lutheran and Reformed; and his condemnation of the anti-Trinitarian views of Michael ServetusServetus, Michael
, 1511–53, Spanish theologian and physician. His name in Spanish was Miguel Serveto. In his early years he came in contact with some of the leading reformers in Germany and Switzerland—Johannes Oecolampadius, Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito,
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, 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 KnoxKnox, John,
1514?–1572, Scottish religious reformer, founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. Early Career as a Reformer

Little is recorded of his life before 1545. He probably attended St. Andrews Univ.
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 in Scotland and through the clergymen and laymen of the civil war period in England and the Puritan moralists in New England.


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).

Calvin, John


Born July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France; died May 27, 1564, in Geneva. A leader of the Reformation and the founder of Calvinism.

Calvin was the son of an important church official. He received a theological and legal education. Under the influence of Luther’s preaching he began to lean toward Protestantism, and in 1533 he abandoned the Catholic Church. Because of the increasing persecution of Protestants in France he fled to Basel in 1534; his principal work, Institutio Religionis Christianae, was published here in 1536 (first in Latin, then in French). In it he set forth a systematic exposition of his new doctrine. In the same year Calvin arrived in Geneva, where the Reformation had already triumphed. His introduction (with the aid of the magistracy) of austere decrees on church discipline and moral principles for the burghers and his disputes with Reformation leaders in Bern (from which city Geneva had initially derived its Reformation ideas) caused him to be banished from Geneva and to move to Strasbourg (1538). In September 1541, Calvin returned to Geneva and remained there until the end of his life, having become the head of a new movement in Protestantism called Calvinism.

Under Calvin’s influence the Genevan magistracy adopted a new form of church organization, which with certain variations was subsequently adopted by Calvinist congregations in other countries. Reflecting the interests of the bourgeoisie during the period of the primitive accumulation of capital, Calvin promulgated a series of reforms aimed at strengthening “secular asceticism.” With the aid of the consistory, which headed the church and which had in effect subjected the secular authorities to itself, he abolished the pomp and splendor of Catholic rites; as an adviser to the government he succeeded in establishing a petty and captious supervision over the citizens, compulsory attendance at church services, and the banning of amusements, dancing, and brightly colored clothing. Calvin exhibited an extreme religious intolerance toward Catholicism and also to the popular Reformation movements (especially Anabaptism), whose followers he condemned as atheists. On Calvin’s insistence the opponents of his doctrine were subjected to banishment, the death penalty (in 1553, M. Servetus was burned at the stake), and other punishments.


Opera quae supersunt omnia, vols. 1-59. Edited by G. Baum, E. Cunitz, and E. Reuss. Braunschweig, 1863-1900. (Corpus reformatorum, vols. 29-87.)
Opera selecta, vols. 1, 3, 4, 5. Edited by P. Barth. Munich, 1926-36.


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Featured essays include (1) an overview of Calvin's teaching on socioeconomic issues by Elsie Ann McKee, (2) Robert Kingdon's survey (and call for renewal) of the instrumental value of church discipline for moral reform, (3) Francois Dermange's essay on Calvin and property (which helpfully assembles many of Calvin's glosses from his Old Testament commentaries), (4) an exploration by Edward Dommen seeking to show how interested Calvin was in the environment and sustainable development, and (5) Eberhard Busch's survey of how Calvin's social and economic thought was received.
Susan Schreiner's essay on the Job sermons focuses on Calvin's wrestling with this challenging text--challenging because it was so difficult to fit into his own perception of providence--and introduces her extensive research on the topic.
Young's quest to catalog Calvin's writings on nature has three goals: (1) to examine Calvin's use of nature in Scripture, (2) to show how he viewed the science and scientists of his day in sermons and theological works, and (3) to discuss how Christians should view nature.
An unofficial poll conducted on the opening night of painter Brian Calvin's New York solo debut found several visitors prefacing their responses with an identical qualifier: "I wanted to like it, but .
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They married at 19 and 20 and have since journeyed all over the world, even living for eight years in Germany during Calvin's service in the U.