In 1536 when John Calvin published the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion
, the Reformation was already underway, with Martin Luther
in Germany, Huldrych Zwingli
in Switzerland, and King Henry VIII
in England. Although he was not the first, and certainly not the last, John Calvin had a profound effect on the religious structure of Europe that still lives on today.
John Calvin was born in the town of Noyon, Kingdom of France in the year 1509. His father, Gérard, worked as a clerk for the local cathedral. As a result, religion was intertwined with Calvin’s life. In 1537, John Calvin was first given the title of Pastor in Geneva, fleeing Paris to escape religious persecution by the crown. Calvin soon gained quite a bit of power when in 1538 he moved to Strasbourg and began preaching to a crowd of 400-500 people. When John Calvin returned to Geneva in 1541, he had gained enough political respect and influence that he was able to establish an ecclesiastical court where the church had near absolute power. According to T.H. Parker, although the ecclesiastical court possessed no civil jurisdiction, the ecclesiastical court had complete domain over all ecclesiastical matters.Of course, all of this power that Calvin experienced did not come without opposition. Calvin’s opposition was mainly composed of the politically power and wealthy families of Geneva because Calvin’s restructuring of the political system in Geneva. One man, Pierre Ameaux, accused Calvin of preaching false doctrine and was forced to walk through town begging for forgiveness (Parker 126). Around 1552, Calvin started to feel weaker and his power diminished. In 1553, the State started to interfere with church affairs. After a few years, in 1555, the ecclesiastical court gained more power, and Calvin’s opposition was completely diminished. In his final years, Calvin continued to preach and remained uncontested politically. He started to devote his time to helping Marian
refugees, Protestants escaping persecution by Mary Queen of Scots (Parker 170-172). He was also interested in starting mercenary trips to France, but Geneva, politically, could not afford it at the time. Instead, Calvin established a school in 1559 catering to secondary school
and university level
students (Wikipedia 2011). As Calvin’s health began to deteriorate, he began working on The Institutes of the Christian Religion
once again. In his final years, Calvin expanded The Institutes
from 21 chapters to 80 chapters, although much of the expansion was revisiting and elaborating on new topics. After completing The Institutes
, John Calvin died 1564 and was buried in an unmarked graved.
During his time in Geneva, John Calvin preached over two thousand sermons. Many of these sermons lasted over an hour, and Calvin always preached without notes. Calvin’s sermons drew such a large crowd, that they were restricted to Sundays only. Eventually, in order to appease the public, the City of Geneva increased the number of sermons per week (Parker 116-123). One main thing that Calvin wrote and preached about was the concept of Predestination.In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes about the concept of predestination and why God is justified in judging humans. Predestination is the notion that God predetermines the fate of one’s afterlife, and there is nothing a person can do to influence that ultimate decision. The concept of predestination was originally created by St. Augustine, a catholic saint. One of Calvin’s important principles is that religion should only be taken directly from scripture and that human’s have no influence or right to impose anything on the scripture. As he begins, Calvin immediately asserts that, “God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction” (Calvin). Drawing from Calvin’s theology, God has absolute knowledge. This included whether or not people will sin in their lifetimes. Inherently, according to Calvin, humans will sin because it is in their nature. From this assumption, we can understand that God will condemn all sinners to hell and choose to save the select few. The idea is reinforced several lines later, when Calvin says “the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment” (Calvin). This was one major point of opposition that Calvin faced during his lifetime. As stated by Calvin, “for they consider nothing more unreasonable, than that, of the common mass of mankind, some should be predestined to salvation, and others to destruction.”(Calvin). The idea that the actions during your lifetime had no affect towards influencing the fate of your afterlife scared many people. Many inventions of the Catholic Church, such as confessional and Purgatory, were not a component, mainly because these inventions were not part of the original scriptures. These inventions comforted many people, granting them the consoling idea that they would be able to repent for their sins, and in purgatory, they would be able to pay penance for their sin and then continue on to heaven. Calvin argued that humans have no right to absolve anyone of their sins and that God is the only one that can do so.
Although Calvin lived almost 450 years ago, his life’s work still affects many people every day. Today, Calvinism has been changed to Presbyterianism. In the United States, there are almost 4 million Presbyterians, and there are 75 million, worldwide. In his lifetime, Calvin instigated change, not only by revolutionizing religion at the time, but by restricting the political system of Geneva and opening a school that is still in operation today. Calvin reached outside of one country, and worked in several. He operated and instigated change in both Geneva and in Strausbourg, his native France. Although he accomplished many things during his lifetime, Calvin always wanted to bring the reformation to France with more force, but couldn’t due to Henry II
persecuting Protestants. Calvin also had a major influence on the Swiss reformation
, easily leading the way for many different philosophers to follow in his footsteps.———————————
Calvin, John. “John Calvin: On Double Predestination.” Internet History Source. Fordham University, 1999. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/calvin-predestin2.asp>.
Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: 9th to 16th Centuries, pp. 141-150.
Parker, T. H.L. John Calvin: A Biography. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2006. Print.
Wikipedia. “John Calvin.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 13 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism>.
– – -. “John Calvin.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin>.
– – -. “Martin Luther.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 10 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther>.
– – -. “William Farel.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, 21 Oct. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/a>.