John Calvin was the founder of the Calvinist faith, the Presbyterian
denomination of Christianity today. Calvin was born and died in 1564.
John Calvin was one of the chief leaders of the Protestant Reformation.
From his early life and start in Protestantism, to his life in Geneva,
and the Proclamation of his faith, Calvin was an incredible
Calvin was born in Noyon, France, near Compiegne. His father was a
lawyer for the Roman Catholic Church. Young Calvin was educated in
Paris, Orleans and Bourges. Calvin planned to be a lawyer as his
father was, but it is likely that he never inwardly committed himself
to that career. With his father died in May of 1931, Calvin was free
to make his choice. He completed his doctorate in law but then came to
study Greek and Latin and the University of Paris. Calvin's life then
took a new direction that he refers to as a "sudden conversion". He
writes about his experience in the introduction to his Commentary on
the Psalms written in 1557: "Since I was more stubbornly addicted to
the superstitions of the Papacy than to be easily drawn out of so deep
a mire, God subdued my heart-too stubborn for my age-to docility by a
sudden conversion." Therefore, by 1533 Calvin had declared himself a
Protestant. In 1534 Calvin moved to Basel, Switzerland where there,
two years later in 1536, he published his first edition on Institutes
of the Christian Religion. Calvin's book was the most influential work
in the development of the Protestant churches of the Reformed
tradition. It sets forth his basic ideas of religion, and he expanded
it throughout his life.
After much persuasion in 1536, Calvin became a leader of Geneva's first
group of Protestant pastors, even though he was probably never ordained
a priest. In 1538, Calvin and some of the other Protestant pastors
were banished for their strict doctrines. While Calvin was banished
from Geneva he became the pastor of a French refugee Protestant church
in Strasbourg, Germany. There he met Martin Baucer who greatly
influenced him. Calvin adapted many of Baucer's ideas on church
government and worship. Also while in Strasbourg, Calvin met and
married Idelette de Bure, a widow. The couple's only child died in
infancy. In 1541 the Geneva city council begged Calvin to return due
to their lack of able religious and political leadership. Calvin's wife
died in 1549 and he never remarried. Calvin developed a constitution
for Geneva with dealt with both secular and sacred matters. He also
pushed for the development of a municipal school system for all
children. In 1559 Calvin open! ed the Geneva Academy as the center of
instruction for the best students. Shortly thereafter, the academy was
named a full university. Calvin remained the dominant personality in
Geneva and continued to improve the lives of the citizens in Geneva
until the time of his death in 1564.
Calvinists are not followers of John Calvin, but of his idea. Calvin's
Protestant faith emphasizes the omnipotence of God and the salvation of
the elect by God's grace alone, basically the theory of predestination.
The "elected" are known as "saints" in the Calvinist faith. Calvin
denied that human beings were capable of free will. Calvin also stated
that the writings of the scriptures are to be taken literally.
Following the history of the earliest church recounted in the New
Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles, Calvin organized the church
of Geneva into four levels: ^Pastors: These were five men who
exercised authority over religious matters in Geneva ^Teachers: This
was a larger group whose job it was to teach doctrine to the population
^Elders: The Elders were twelve men (after the twelve Apostles) who
were chosen by the municipal council; their job was to oversee
everything, that everybody did in the city. ^Deacons: Modeled after
the Seven in Acts 6-8, the deacons were appointed to care for the sick,
the elderly, the widowed, and the poor
With his life and teachings, John created the patterns and thoughts
that would dominate Western culture throughout the modern period.
American culture, in particular, is thoroughly Calvinist in some form
or another. At the heart of the way Americans think and act, you will
find the fierce and imposing reformer, John Calvin.