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John Calvin

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John Calvin
John Calvin - best likeness.jpg
Engraving from the original oil painting
in the University Library of Geneva
Born July 10, 1509(1509-07-10)
Died May 27, 1564(1564-05-27) (aged 54)
Spouse(s) Idelette de Bure
Parent(s) Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc

Jean Cauvin, also Jean Calvin (John Calvin in English) (July 10, 1509May 27, 1564), was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. In Geneva, he rejected Papal authority, established a new scheme of and ecclesiastical governance. He is famous for his teachings and writings and infamous for his role in the execution of Michael Servetus.

Calvin was born with the name Jean Chauvin (or Cauvin, in Latin Calvinus) in Noyon, Picardie, France, to Gérard Cauvin and Jeanne Lefranc. In 1523, Calvin's father, a lawyer, sent his fourteen-year-old son to the University of Paris to study humanities and law. By 1532, he had attained a Doctor of Law degree at Orléans. In 1536, he settled in Geneva, Switzerland. After being expelled from the city, he served as a pastor in Strasbourg from 1538 until 1541, before returning to Geneva, where he lived until his death in 1564.

Calvin's thought

Calvin was trained to be a lawyer. He studied under some of the best legal minds of the Renaissance in France. Part of that training involved the newer humanistic methods of trying to understand, which dealt with a text directly. His training was important for Calvin because, once convinced of Evangelicalism, he applied these methods to the Bible. He molded his thinking along biblical lines, and he labored to preach and teach what he believed the Bible taught.

While Reformers such as Jan Hus and Martin Luther may be seen as somewhat original thinkers that began a movement, Calvin was a great logician and systematizer of that movement, but not an innovator in doctrine. Calvin was very familiar with the writings of the early Church Fathers and the great Medieval schoolmen, and he was also in debt to earlier Reformers. Calvin did not reject the Scholastics of the Middle Ages outright but rather made use of them and reformed their thoughts in accordance with his understanding of the Bible.

Calvin is often associated with the doctrines of predestination and election, but he said pretty much the same things that the other magisterial Reformers said about these doctrines.

Last years (1555–1564)

John Calvin when he was 53 years old in an by René Boyvin.

Calvin's power was very great in his last years. He was known all around the world as a reformer different from Martin Luther.[1] Mainly, Luther and Calvin respected each other. However, Luther and a Zürich reformer Huldrych Zwingli thought differently about the eucharist. Calvin's thoughts about it made Luther believe that Calvin agreed with Zwingli. At the same time, Calvin was sad that the reformers were not all together. He tried to join them together by signing the Consensus Tigurinus. This was an agreement between the Zürich and Geneva churches.

Calvin's greatest help to the English-speaking people was by giving Marian exiles in Geneva protection. He did this starting in 1555. With the city's protection, they could make their own reformed church under John Knox and William Whittingham. They later carried many of Calvin's ideas back to England and Scotland.[2] However, Calvin was most interested in trying to change his homeland, France. He helped the building of churches by giving out literature and offering ministers. Between 1555 and 1562, over one hundred ministers were sent to France.

The Collège Calvin is now a college preparatory school for the Swiss Maturité.

Inside Geneva, Calvin mainly wanted to make a collège, a school for children. A place to build the school was picked on 25 March 1558. It was opened the next year on 5 June 1559. It was divided into two parts. One part was a grammar school. The grammar school was called the collège or schola privata. The other part was an advanced school called the académie or schola publica. In five years there were 1,200 students in the grammar school and 300 in the advanced school. The collège later became the Collège Calvin, one of the college preparatory schools of Geneva. The académie became the University of Geneva.[3]

Traditional grave of Calvin in the Cimetière de Plainpalais in Geneva. We do not know where the grave is.

In autumn 1558, Calvin became ill with a fever. He was afraid he might die before finishing his last revision of the Institutes. Because of this, he forced himself to work. The last edition became much longer, so Calvin called it a new work. It was 21 chapters in the edition before the last one. However, in the last one, it was 80. This was because of more detail in the material that was already there: more subjects were not really added.[4] Soon after he became better, he strained his voice while preaching. This made him cough violently. He burst a blood-vessel in his lungs. His health became much worse after this. He preached his last sermon in St. Pierre on 6 February 1564. On 25 April, he made his will. In his will, he left a little money to his family and to the collège. A few days later, the ministers of the church came to visit him. He said his last goodbye.Before dying of testicular cancer. This goodbye is recorded in Discours d'adieu aux ministres. He remembered his life in Geneva. Calvin died on 27 May 1564. He was 54. On the next day, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cimetière de Plainpalais.[5] People are not sure where the grave is exactly. However, a stone was added in the 19th century to mark a grave traditionally thought to be Calvin's.[6]


General collections

Theological works



  • Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, Carlisle, Penn: Banner of Truth Trust 1980. ISBN 0-85151-323-9

Secondary sources

Other websites


  1. Cottret 2000, p. 235
  2. Parker 2006, pp. 170–172
  3. Olsen 2004, pp. 158–159; Ganoczy 2004, pp. 19–20; Cottret 2000, pp. 256–259; Parker 2006, pp. 157–160
  4. Parker 2006, pp. 161–164
  5. McGrath 1990, pp. 195–196; Cottret 2000, pp. 259–262; Parker 2006, pp. 185–191
  6. Rossel, Patrice (1994), Une visite du cimetière de Plainpalais, Les Iles futures; Palfi, Véronique (2003), Le Cimetière des Rois, De l'hôpital des pestiférés au cimetière de Plainpalais, Cinq siècle d'histoire, étude historique pour la Conservation architecturale de la Ville de Genève