JOHN CALVIN (1509-1563) French
Martin Luther was the lightening of the Protestant Reformation and Calvin provided its thunder.
Born as John Cauvin few theologians have had more influence on Western Christian thought and culture than he. He was only eight when Luther nailed the 95 theses upon a Wittenburg church door. Within 30 years he would come to spearhead the reformation. Born to a Roman Catholic family of means, Calvin was schooled in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, philosophy, and law in Paris, Orleans and Bourges. When John went to Paris the reformation was very much in the air and his conversion was anathema to Church and state. He took refuge in Switzerland from where he became the voice for a new moral order. He was at first expelled from Geneva but the city was fated to have him for better or worse. Fiercely doctrinaire he was God’s ‘angry man who spoke harshly on every lapse he found there.
Around 1533 he had what he later described as “conversion,” and by 1534 religion had become foremost in his writing and work. In Basel in 1536 Calvin published Institutes of the Christian Religion, a six-chapter catechism that grew to 80 chapters by its final edition in 1559. It is widely regarded as the clearest, most systematic treatise of the Reformation. Calvin’s is the most famous presentation of the much debated doctrine of predestination: that God decided, before creating the world, who will and will not be saved. After years as a minister, writer and leader in Geneva and then Strasbourg, Calvin returned to Geneva and resumed efforts to make the city a model Christian community, in part through tight restrictions on individual and social behavior and by the scrutiny (and punishment) of citizens by church and civil authorities. Thus Calvin’s name is often connected with grim moral austerity and denial of pleasure, though this is probably an unfair oversimplification of his theology. Calvin’s influence went as far as Scotland via John Knox and also to the New Word where Jonathan Edwards was America was his follower.
In 1559 Calvin founded what is now the University of Geneva… A prolific writer, Calvin differed from Luther on key theological points, including the nature of the Lord’s Supper. The two were a generation apart and never met… Some scholars attribute capitalism to Calvinism’s influence. Among the first was Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) Hi teachings seemed to assure a richman that wealth was part of God’s plan and a virtue rather than a sin. ‘In God we trust’is on every cent that for GOP come to mean ‘In God and Mammon we trust.’
Calvin married Idelette de Bure in 1540; she died in 1549. Their only child, Jacques (1542), died as an infant.
One blot on his otherwise austere life was the 1553 trial, conviction and death by burning of Michael Servetus for heresy.