Calvin, John

, one of the chief reformers of the church, was born at Noyon in Picardy, July 10, 1509. He was instructed in grammar at Paris under Maturinus Corderius, to whom he afterwards dedicated his Commentary | on the first epistle of the Thessalonians, and studied phi* losophy in the college of Montaigu under a Spanish professor. His father, uho discovered many marks of hitf early piety, particularly in his reprehensions of the vices of his companions, designed him for the church, and got him presented, May 21, 1521, to the chapel of Notre Dame de la Gesine, in the church of Noyon. In 1527 he was presented to the rectory of Marteville, which he exchanged in 1529 fortlie rectory of Pont I‘Eveque near Noyon. His father afterwards changed his resolution, and would have him study law; to which Calvin, who, by reading the scriptures, had conceived a dislike to the superstitions of popery, readily consented, and resigned the chapel of Gesine and the rectory of Pont l’Eveque in 1534. He had never, it must here be observed, been in priest’s orders, and belonged to the church only by having received the tonsure. He was sent to study the law first under Peter de l’Etoile (Petrus Stella) at Orleans, and afterwards under Andrew Alciat at Bourges, and while he made a great progress in that science, he improved no less in the knowledge of divinity by his private studies. At Bourges he applied to the Greek tongue, under the direction of professor Wolmar. His father’s death having called him back to Noyon, he staid there a short time, and then went to Paris, where he wrote a commentary on Seneca’s treatise “De dementia,” being at this time about twenty- four years of age. Having put his name in Latin to this piece, he laid aside his surname Cauvin, for that of Calvin, styling himself in the title-page “Lucius Calvinus civis Romanus.” He soon made himself known at Paris to such as had privately embraced the reformation, and by frequent intercourse with them became more confirmed in his principles. A speech of Nicholas Cop, rector of the university of Paris, of which Calvin furnished the materials, having greatly displeased the Sorbonne and the parliament, gave rise to a persecu^ tion against the protestants; and Calvin, who narrowly escaped being taken in the college of Forteret, was forced to retire to Xaintonge, after having had the honour to be introduced to the queen of Navarre, who allayed this first storm raised against the protestants. Calvin returned to Paris in 1534. This year the reformed met with severe treatment, which determined him to leave France, after publishing a treatise against those who believe that departed souls are in a kind of sleep. He retired to Basil, where he studied | Hebrew; at this time he published his “Institutions of the Christian Religion,” a work well adapted to spread his fame, though he himself was desirous of living in obscurity. It is dedicated to the French king, Francis I. This prince being solicitous, according to Beza, to gain the friendship of the Protestants in Germany, and knowing that they were highly incensed by the cruel persecutions which their brethren suffered in France, he, by advice of William de Bellay, represented to them that he had only punished certain enthusiasts, who substituted their own imaginations in the place of God’s word, and despised the civil magistrate. Calvin, stung with indignation at this wicked evasion, wrote this work as an apology for the Protestants who were burnt for their religion in France. The dedication to Francis I. is one of the three that have been highly admired: that of Thuanus to his history, and Casaubon’s to Polybius, are the two others. But this treatise, when first published in 1555, was only a sketch of a larger work. The complete editions, both in Latin and in French, with the author’s last additions and corrections, did not appear till 1558. After the publication of this work, Calvin went to Italy to pay a visit to the duchess of Ferrara, a lady of eminent piety, by whom he was very kindly received. Prom Italy he came back to France, and having settled his private affairs, he purposed to go to Strasbourg, or Basil, in company with his sole surviving brother Antony Calvin; but as the roads were not safe on account of the war, except through the duke of Savoy’s territories, he chose that road. “This was a particular direction of Providence,” says Bayle; “it was his destiny that he should settle at Geneva, and when he was wholly intent on going farther, he found himself detained by an order from heaven, if I may so speak.William Farel, a man of a warm enthusiastic temper, who had in vain used many entreaties to prevail with Calvin to be his fellow-labourer in that part of the Lord’s vineyard, at last solemnly declared to him, in the name of God, that if he would not stay, the curse of God would attend him wherever he went, as seeking himself and not Christ. Calvin therefore was obliged to comply with the choice which the consistory and magistrates of Geneva made of him, with the consent of the, people, to be one of their ministers, and professor of divinity. It was his own wish to undertake only this last office, but he was gbliged to take both upon him in August | 1536. The year following he made all the people declare, upon oath, their assent to a confession of faith, which contained a renunciation of Popery: and because this reformation in doctrine did not put an entire stop to the immoralities that prevailed at Geneva, nor banish that spirit of faction which had set the principal families at variance, Calvin, in concert with his colleagues, declared that they could not celebrate the sacrament whilst they kept up their animosities, and trampled on the discipline of the church. He also intimated, that he could not submit to the regulation which the synod of the canton of Berne had lately made *. On this, the syndics of Geneva summoned an assembly of the people; and it was ordered that Calvin, Farel, and another minister, should leave the town in two days, for refusing to administer the sacrament. Calvin‘ retired to Strasbourg, and established a French church in that city, of which he was the first minister; he was also appointed to be professor of divinity there* During his stay at Strasbourg, he continued to give many marks of his affection for the church of Geneva; as appears, amongst other things, by the answer which he wrote in 1539, to the beautiful but artful letter of cardinal Sadolet, bishop of Carpentras, inviting the people of Geneva to return into the bosom of the Romish church. Two years after, the divines of Strasbourg being very desirous that he should assist at the diet which the emperor had appointed to be held at Worms and at Ratisbon, for accommodating religious differences, he went thither with Bucer, and had a conference with Melancthon. In the mean time the people of Geneva (the syndics who promoted his banishment being now some of them executed, and others forced to fly their country for their crimes), entreated him so earnestly to return to them, that at last he consented. He arrived at Geneva, Sept. 13, 1541, to the great satisfaction both of the people and the magistrates; and the first measure ha adopted after his arrival, was to establish a form of church, discipline, and a consistorial jurisdiction, invested with, the power of inflicting censures and canonical punishments,

* The church of Geneva made use made an act in a synod held at Lauof leavened bread in the holy coimnu- sanne, that the church of Geneva

nion, had removed all the baptismal should be required to restore the use

fonts out of the churches, and ob- of unleavened bread, the baptismal

served no holidays but Sundays. These fonts, and the observation of the feasts.

three tUings were disapproved by the These were the regulations to which

churches of the canton of Berne, who Calvin refused to submit, | as far as excommunication inclusively. This step was exclaimed against by many, as a revival of Romish tyranny; but it was carried into execution, the new canon beinopassed into a law, in an assembly of the whole people, held on Nov. 20, 1541; and the clergy and laity solemnly promised to conform to it for ever. Agreeably to the spirit of this consistorial chamber, which some considered as a kind of inquisition, Calvin proceeded to some of those lengths which have cast a stain upon his memory in the opinion of even his warmest admirers, and had a considerable hand in the death of Michael Servetus, a Socinian writer, and in the lesser punishments inflicted on Bolsec, Castalio, and others whose opinions were at variance with his new establishment.

The inflexible rigour with which Calvin asserted, on all occasions, the rights of his consistory, procured him many enemies; but nothing daunted him; and one would hardly believe, if there were not unquestionable proofs of it, that amidst all the commotions at home, he could take so much care as he did of the churches abroad, in France, Germany, England, and Poland, and write so many books and letters. He did more by his pen than his presence; yet on some occasions he acted in person, particularly at Francfort, in 1556, whither he went to put an end to the disputes which divided the French church in that city. He, was always employed, having almost constantly his pen in his hand, even when sickness confined him to his bed; and he continued the discharge of all those duties, which his zeal for the general good of the churches imposed on him, till the day of his death, May 27, 1564.

The character of Calvin, like that of Luther, and the other more eminent reformers, has been grossly calumniated by the adherents of popery, but the testimonies in its favour are too numerous to permit us for a moment to doubt that he was not only one of the greatest, but one of the best men of his time, and the deduction which necessarily must be made from this praise, with respect to his conduct towards Servetus and others, must at the same time in candour be referred to the age in which he lived, and in which the principles of toleration were not understood .*


Joseph Scaliger, a man not lavish of his praise, could not forbear admiring Calvin none of the commentaters, he said, had hit so well the sense of the prophets and he particularly commended him for not attempting to comment the book of the Revelation, We learn from Guy Patin, that many


of the Roman catholics would do justice to Calvin’s merit, if they dared to speak their minds. One cannot help, says iJayle, laughing at those who have been so stupid as to accuse him of having been a lover of wine, good cheer, money, &c. Artful slanderers would have owned that he was sober by constitution, and that he was not solicitous to heap up riches. That a man who had acquired so great a reputation and such an authority, should yet hare had but a salary of 100 crowns, and refuse to accept of more; and after living 55 years with the utmost frugality, should leave but 300 crowns to his heirs, including the value of his library, which sold very dear, is something so heroical, that one must have lost all feeling not to admire it. When Calvin took his leave of the people of Strasbourg, to return to Geneva, they wanted to continue to him the privileges of a freeman of their town, and the revenues of a prebend, which had been assigned to him; the former he accepted, but absolutely refused the other. H<- carried one of his brothers with him to Geneva, but he laboured to raise him to an honourable por, as any other possessed of his credit would have done. He took care, indeed, of the honour of his brother’s family, by getting him loosened from an adulteress, and obtaining leave for him to marry again: but even his enemies relate, that he made him learn the trade of a bookbinder, which he followed all his life. Calvin, when he was about thirty, by the advicr of his patron, Martin Bucer, married at Strasbourg, Idoletta de Bure, widow of an anabaptist, whom he had converted. She had some children by her first husband, and bore Calvin one son, who died soon after his birth. The mother died in 1549. Calvin appears by his letters, to have been extremely afflicted for the loss of her, and never married again. We are told by Heza, who wrote his life both in Latin and French, that he knew men again, after many years, whom he had seen but once and that when he was interrupted for several hours whilst he was dictating any thing, he would resume the thread of his discourse, without being told where be broke off; and never forgot what he had once committed to memory.

| On the other hand his uncommon talents have been acknowledged not only by the most eminent persons of his age, but by all who have studied his works, or have traced the vast and overpowering influence he possessed in every country in Europe, where the work of reformation was carrying on. Every society, every church, every district, every nation that had in any degree adopted the principles of the reformers, were glad to consult and correspond with Calvin on the steps they were to pursue. The court of England in particular, Edward VI. queen Elizabeth, archbishop Cranmer, and the leading prelates and reformers here, expressed their high respect for him, and frequently asked and followed his advice. In France perhaps he was yet more consulted, and at Geneva he was an ecclesiastical dictator, whose doctrines and discipline became the regular church establishment, and were afterwards adopted and still remain in full force in Scotland. Calvinism was also extensively propagated in Germany, the United Provinces, and England. In France it was abolished, as well as every other species of protestantism, by the revocation of the edict >f Nantz in 1685. During the reign of Edward VI. | it entered much into the writings of the eminent divines of that period; in queen Elizabeth’s time, although many of her’ divines were of the same sentiments, it was discouraged as far as it showed itself in a dislike of the ceremonies, habits, &c. of the church. In the early part of Charles Ts time it was yet more discouraged, Arminiamsm being the favourite system of Laud; but during the interregnum it revived in an uncommon degree, and was perhaps the persuasion of the majority of the divines of that period, all others having been silenced and thrown out of their livings by the power of parliament. How far it now exists in the church of England, in her articles and homilies, has recently been the subject of a very long and perhaps unde* cided controversy, into which it is not our intention to enter, nor could we, indeed, make the attempt within any moderate compass. One excellent effect of this controversy has been to inform those of the real principles of Calvinism, who have frequently used that word to express a something which they did not understand. Perhaps it would be well if the word itself were less used, and the thing signified referred to the decision of more than human authority. It may be added, however, that the distinguishing theological tenets of Calvinism, as the term is now generally applied, respect the doctrines of Predestination, or particular Election and Reprobation, original Sin, particular Redemption, effectual, or, as some have called it, irresistible Grace in Regeneration, Justification by faith, Perseverance, and the Trinity. Besides the doctrinal part of Calvin’s system, which, so far as it differs from that of other reformers of the same period, principally regarded the absolute decree of God, whereby the future and eternal condition of the human race was determined out of mere sovereign pleasure and free-will; it extended likewise to the discipline and government of the Christian church, the nature of the Eucharist, and the qualification of those who were entitled to the participation of it. Calvin considered every church as a separate and independent body, invested with the power of legislation for itself. He proposed that it should be governed by presbyteries and synods, composed of clergy and laity, without bishops, or any clerical subordination; and maintained, that the province of the civil magistrate extended only to its protec-r tion and outward accommodation. In order to facilitate an union with the Lutheran church, he acknowledged a Vol. VIII. H | renl, though spiritual, presence of Christ in the Eucharist; that true Christians were united to the man Christ in this ordinance; and that divine grace was conferred upon them, and sealed to them, in the celebration of it: and he confined the privilege of communion to pious and regenerate believers. In France the Calvinists are distinguished by the name of Huguenots; and, among the common people, by that of Parpaillots. In Germany they are confounded with the Lutherans, under the general title Protestants; only sometimes distinguished by the name Reformed.

The best edition of Calvin’s whole works is that of Amsterdam, 1671, in 9 vols. fol. Most of his practical, and many of his controversial pieces, were translated into English, and much read here in the sixteenth century. 1


Gen. Dict.—Life by Beza prefixed to his Works.—Saxii Onomast.