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    Calvin, John (15091564)

    Protestant reformer

    John Calvin was a French Protestant reformer

    who emphasized predestination in salvation and

    espoused a theocratic view of the state. His influence

    on PROTESTANTISM in the HOLY ROMAN

    EMPIRE was located primarily in Switzerland and

    the Rhineland.

    John Calvin was born at Noyon, France, on

    July 10, 1509, into the bourgeois family of Gerard

    Cauvin, a lawyer and administrator. At first

    headed for an ecclesiastical career, Calvin later

    turned to the law. In 1523 he went to the University

    of Paris, where he studied Latin under

    the great teacher Mathurin Cordier, and like

    Martin LUTHER began his philosophical and theological

    studies under Nominalist influences. At

    Orleans and Bourges he studied law and Greek,

    graduating with a bachelor of laws degree in

    1531. Calvin was more broadly educated than

    Luther, schooled in classical languages, philosophy,

    and theology, and then the law, but not

    least in the Bible. During this time Calvin fell

    under the influence of Lutheran teachers, particularly

    Jacques Lefèvre, a father of French

    Protestantism. Earlier at Bourges Calvin had met

    the German professor of Greek, Melchior Wolmar,

    a Lutheran who also is believed to have

    had a decisive influence on his life. After his

    fathers death in 1531 Calvin felt free to give up

    the law and returned to Paris and to renew his

    linguistic, classical, and biblical studies. In 1532

    he wrote his first book, a commentary on De

    Clementia by Seneca, whose stoic moral philosophy

    influenced him as it did the reformer Ulrich

    ZWINGLI.

    Sometime in 1533 he was converted to

    Protestantism under the influence of his many

    instructors and his resentment of the condemnation

    of his father for embezzlement and his

    excommunication. Nevertheless, Calvin explained

    his conversion as an act of God by which his

    heart was subdued. Calvin also experienced the

    mental pain and dread caused by the thought of

    sin and divine judgment and was provided some

    consolation by Luthers theology of justification.

    There was a great and terrible distance between

    God and the individual believer that could be

    mediated only by Christ. Calvin emphasized the

    power of God over sinful and corrupt humanity;

    his God thundered and demanded obedience. In

    1534 Calvin wrote an inaugural address for his

    friend and rector of the university, Nicholas Cop,

    a speech that contained some ideas of Martin

    Luther on salvation and good works. Pressure to

    flee came from the French church, which in

    1534 supported by royal decree, declared Protestants

    to be heretics and subjected them to arrest

    and execution. Some months later, he ended up

    in Basel, Switzerland.

    In 1536 Calvin published his Institutes of the

    Christian Religion, a primer and catechism in six

    chapters and expanded threefold in the second

    edition of 1539. The majesty of God is its basic

    theme, and that the main duty and purpose of

    man was to glorify God. An extremely logical

    and terrifying book, it stresses that between God

    and humans there is an unbridgeable gulf that

    makes it impossible for a person to gain salvation

    through his or her own efforts. In his omnipotence

    and omniscience God has foreordained all

    things that will ever happen. This truth led to

    300

    Calvins principle of divine predestination

    whereby people are destined to either heaven or

    hell and cannot do anything to alter the intention

    of God. To those whom God has chosen to

    be saved, he has granted the gift of faith, which

    is undeserved. No one is worthy of salvation,

    and most are damned because of Gods justice. It

    is only through Gods mercy that the elect enter

    heaven. This doctrine of predestination did not

    originate with Calvin, but no one had ever

    expressed it so uncompromisingly.

    Calvins ideas differed from Catholicism and

    Lutheranism. He believed that the Creators

    decision on who shall be damned is immutable.

    Therefore, unlike Catholicism he rejected the

    doctrine of purgatory, where peoples sins were

    supposed to be cleansed so that they could enter

    heaven. Prayer, Calvin taught, did not change

    Gods will and humans must worship God even

    though they be damned. The Catholic Mass,

    Calvin said, was sacrilegious because priests

    claimed that the bread and wine were changed

    into Christs body and blood. On the other hand,

    Calvin believed that Christ is present only in

    spirit whenever believers gather together

    prayerfully. As far as the sacraments were concerned,

    none were necessary for salvation, but

    two were retained: Baptism, which was to be a

    seal and sign of grace; and the Lords Supper,

    which was the spiritual flesh and blood of Christ.

    In regard to the Lords Supper Calvin refused

    Catholicisms doctrine of transubstantiation, the

    Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, and

    Zwinglian symbolism. Calvin also believed in the

    existence of two churches, the visible comprising

    all believers and the invisible, which was

    composed of the predestined. He did, however,

    reject Luthers separation between the church

    and state, a worldly and ecclesiastical sphere,

    and insisted on a theocracy. Calvin rejected all

    other so-called sacraments as not founded in

    Scripture.

    Calvin established an unofficial theocracy and

    a Protestant Rome in Geneva, Switzerlanda

    society in which Calvinist elders regulated the

    personal and social lives of the citizens and did

    so through church courts. Calvin acted as virtual

    dictator from 1541 until his death. The older and

    more pious members were the elders of the

    community who governed the city. A consistory

    of five pastors and 12 lay elders examined and

    regulated the conduct of all citizens. They

    imposed strict discipline in dress, sexual mores,

    church attendance, and business affairs and

    severely punished sinful behavior. Prosperous

    merchants and shopkeepers saw in the rigid

    social discipline Calvin imposed on the people a

    justification of the discipline they already

    imposed on themselves. Calvin saw nothing sinful

    in commercial activities and approved of

    charging interest on loans.

    During his last years Calvin elaborated

    Genevas laws, wrote against his enemies, and

    labored on the theology in his study, the Institutes.

    Geneva became a model church with discipline

    and order, and it became the center of

    international Protestantism. Calvin trained a

    new generation of reformers of many nationalities

    who carried his message back to their

    Calvin, John 301

    John Calvin (Library of Congress)

    homelands. Besides its influence in Switzerland,

    the Netherlands, Scotland, France, and in Hungary,

    in Germany it made considerable inroads

    in the south, was centered between Worms and

    Strasbourg in the Rhineland, around Wittenberg,

    and later all the areas in Germany to which

    the French Huguenots emigrated during the

    reign of the Great Elector. It is also thought that

    Calvinism with its emphasis on austerity and

    hard work contributed to the development of

    modern capitalism. In America it was influential

    among the Puritans.

    On May 27, 1564, Calvin died after a long

    illness.

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