John Calvin - Figures Throughout History

John Calvin depicted in this mural of reformers.
John Calvin depicted in this mural of reformers.

John Calvin was one of the greatest second-generation French reformists of the 16th century. Calvin grew up as a Catholic later changing his views to Protestantism, which he defended for the rest of his life. Calvin was instrumental in introducing significant religious reforms in Geneva by encouraging and enforcing biblical morality. He is credited with establishing the Calvinism theology.

5. Early Life

Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Picardy, France, to Jeanne le Franc and Gerald Cauvin. Calvin was heavily influenced by the choices of his father during his early life. His father, a lawyer in an ecclesiastical court, enrolled him and his two brothers for theological classes to facilitate their journey into the priesthood. He studied Latin at the College de la Marche and philosophy at the College de Montaigu. His father later transferred him to the University of Orleans to pursue law. He pursued his law studies at the University of Bourges. As a humanitarian lawyer, Calvin published a commentary on De Clementia.

4. Career

Calvin began his religious career after his break with Roman Catholicism in 1533. After his conversion, Calvin wrote The Institutes of the Christian Religion- an influential book which led to his reformation work in Geneva. The book covered in details the beliefs of Protestantism expounding on the key beliefs and expanding them through subsequent editions of the Institutes. The book was used as a guide in the Reformation in Geneva. Along with reformist Guillaume Farel, Calvin helped in the organization of the church in Geneva. He focused on religious duties for the remaining part of his life through giving lectures on the Bible, baptisms, religious writing, and leading in church services. His dedication to the church pushed him to ignore his bodily pain and illness to teach the gospel.

3. Major Contributions

Calvin played a significant role in the Protestant Reformation in Europe as well as in education. While in Geneva, Calvin along with his partners established ecclesiastical schools to which parents were forced to enroll their children. As a religious reformist, Calvin was very strict on the observance of the biblical teachings and punished wrongdoers through excommunication and execution. He influenced the civil governance of Geneva by participating in the drafting of city statutes, which emphasized on the moral responsibilities of the leaders to the led. His care and compassion for humanity saw him strive in serving the needs of other humans through health, education, and morality.

2. Challenges

Calvin lived through a period when religious freedom was restricted. As a reformist and a Protestant, Calvin faced opposition from both government and the church. He had to escape persecution in France. After he had begun his reformation work in Geneva, disagreements with the city council led to his banishment and exile to Strasbourg where he worked as a pastor. He also faced opposition from people of Geneva. Towards his death, Calvin faced health challenges that slowed him down in his ministerial works. He, however, remained persistent sometimes being carried to the pulpit or giving lectures from his bedroom.

1. Death and Legacy

Calvin died on May 27th, 1564 after suffering various ailments including migraine headaches, lung problems, gout and kidney stones. His works such as commentaries on the scriptures, sermons, letters, and hymns have shaped the Christian doctrine of some Protestant churches such as the Presbyterian, Baptist, and reformation churches and are celebrated by Lutheran and Episcopal churches as a Renewer of the Church. Those who adopted Calvinism have established institutions in various countries such as Calvin College, Princeton, and Yale.


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