Search This Blog

Sunday, 10 November 2013

John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564) was born Place Aristide, Briand, Noyon, Picardie, France (60 miles NE of Paris.)

His father, Gerard, was an attorney and Procurator Fiscal (a church administrator )of the Noyon District and Secretary of the diocese.

Calvin's mother, Jeanne le Franc, was the daughter of an innkeeper from Cambrai. She died a few years after John's birth from an unknown cause.

John was particularly precocious; by age 12, he was employed by the bishop as a clerk and received the tonsure, cutting his hair to symbolise his dedication to the Church.

Initially, he received formal instruction for the priesthood at the Collège de la Marche and the Collège de Montaigue, branches of the University of Paris. However, Calvin was encouraged by his father to study law at the University of Orléans instead of theology, because Gérard believed his son would earn more money as a lawyer than as a priest.

After a few years of quiet study, Calvin entered the University of Bourges in 1529 where he continued his studies. Along with several friends he grew to appreciate the humanistic and reforming movements, and during his 18-month stay in Bourges, Calvin learned Greek, a necessity for studying the New Testament. By 1532, he was a Doctor of Law.

Portrait of Young John Calvin from the collection of the Library of Geneva.

By the early 1530s, the youthful Calvin had grown unsettled in his religious experiences and turned from studying law to the priesthood. He was converted from Catholicism and underwent a personal religious experience adopting a simpler form of Christianity after hearing a homily on the sovereignty of the Scriptures by the Rector of the Sorbonne, Nicholas Cop.

His first published work was an edition of the Roman philosopher Seneca's De clementia, accompanied by a thorough commentary.

His 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion was Calvin's personal testament of faith written to put a finish to the divisions within the expanding Protestant movement. In it, he expounded his theological belief that God in his divine wisdom had already chosen the elect, those whose place in eternity with their father and those who would be damned to everlasting damnation and hellfire. The book thrust him into the forefront of Protestantism as a thinker and spokesman.

The Protestant Reformation reached the Swiss city of Geneva in the 1530s. John Calvin arrived in the city in July 1536.

Calvin’s association with the Swiss city of Geneva was not part of his plans. He visited the city only because of a detour to avoid the hostilities of a war raging between the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the King of France, Francis I. Calvin had intended to remain in Geneva a single night before resuming his travel to Strasbourg.

Calvin demanded that every Geneva citizen swear to the Confession of Faith on pain of banishment. The Geneva Council rejected this reform and banned the would-be-bannee and his followers from the city on May 26, 1538. Calvin lived in exile in Strasbourg for the next three years, returning to Geneva on September 13, 1541.

Calvim married Idelette de Bure, a widow in August 1540. They had one child who died in infancy. Idelette died in 1549 when he was 40 years old, and he called her "my life's best companion."  Calvin did not remarry.

In 1541 Calvin was appointed pastor of Geneva's Cathedral of St Pierre with a decent salary, a fine house and 250 gallons of wine a year.

Calvin preached at St. Pierre Cathedral, the main church in Geneva.

On returning to Geneva he began his first sermon with the chapter and verse of the Bible where he had left three years earlier.

Calvin was influential in establishing a rigorous theocracy ( a government by Priests) in Geneva. His religious and political authority was gradually reinforced by the arrival of a large number of French refugees.

Calvin felt the most important part of the church service was the sermon when the congregation would be made to think very seriously about their faith. "I am given to understand that your very full sermons are giving some ground for complaint. I beg you earnestly to restrict yourself, enforcing, if necessary, rather than offer Satan any handle which he will be able to seize."

The widespread notion that Calvin was an enemy of the arts, and limited the role of music in church for that reason, is simply nonsense. When Calvin came to Geneva, no music could be heard in the churches at all, and he was the one who actually reintroduced it in the form of singing in unison rather than in harmony as it was only logical to begin again without complicated harmonies.

A typical day involved writing letters, a lecture, a sermon, and attending to visitors. Sometimes he was needed for settilng disputes. Towards the end Calvin said to his friends who were worried about his daily regimen of work, "What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when He comes?"

John Calvin by Holbein

During the course of his ministry in Geneva, which lasted nearly 25 years, Calvin lectured to theological students and preached an average of five sermons a week. This was in addition to writing a commentary on nearly every book of the Bible as well as numerous treatises on theological topics. His correspondence fills eleven volumes.

Calvin would spend his private moments on Lake Geneva and read scripture while drinking red wine.

Throughout his life Calvin's health was never robust. He suffered from stomach trouble, chronic migraines, chronic asthma, lung haemorrhages, bouts of malaria, ulcerated piles, gout, kidney stones and insomnia.  By the 1560s he had reached the stage where he was unable to walk, but insisted on being carried to the pulpit to preach.

In 1559 Calvin originated the Geneva Academy as a centre of instruction for the best students making it the centre of theological studies in the French language.

Following several years of illness, John Calvin died on May 27, 1564. He gave strict instructions that he be buried in the common cemetery with no tombstone. Calvin wished to give no encouragement to those who might make it a Protestant shrine. His reputed tomb is at Plais Palais Cemetery, Geneva.

The last moments of Calvin (Barcelona: Montaner y Simón, 1880–1883)

Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, a comic character created by Bill Watterson, was named after John Calvin. It is thought that this reflects the young male character's belief in predestination (as justification for his behaviour), while his stuffed tiger Hobbes shares Thomas Hobbes's dim view of human nature.

Calvin systematised the reformed tradition in Protestantism. He provided a pattern for churches in Holland, Scotland and much of Germany. His teachings today are the basis of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches.


No comments:

Post a Comment