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John Calvin, one of the leaders of the reformation, born at Noyon, in northern France, July 10, 1509, died in Geneva, May 27, 1564. His father, Gerard Chauvin, or Cauvin (sometimes written Caulvin), was apostolic notary and fiscal procurator in Noyon; and his mother, Jeanne Lanfranc de Cambray, was a woman of strict religious views. He was educated at his father's expense with the children of the noble De Mommor family. At the age of 12 he was presented by one of this family to the benefice of the chapel de la Gesine, to defray the cost of his education for the priesthood. He was already noted for his memory and diligence, as well as for his moral strictness. Among the youth he was known as the "accusative." Removed to Paris with the De Mommor children, he prosecuted his studies in the college de la Marche and the college Montaigu. At the age of 18, though he had only received tonsure, he obtained the living of Marteville, which was exchanged in July, 1529, for that of Pont-l'Eveque. He preached short sermons, and continued his studies with the greatest assiduity. After a frugal evening repast, says Beza, he would study till midnight, and in early morning before he rose he would review all he had learned the previous day.
His father now changed his plans, and sent his son to Orleans to study law under the eminent jurist Pierre l'Etoile (Peter de Stella). About the same time the influence of his relative Robert Olivetan, who translated the Bible into French, led him to question his traditional faith. By day he pursued the study of the law and by night the study of the, Bible, with what commentaries he could command, to resolve his growing doubts. In the law he made such progress that several times in the absence of the professor the youthful student was called to fill his place. From Orleans he went to Bourges, where he continued his legal and theological studies. Melchior Wolmar not only taught him the Greek of the New Testament, but also gave him a further taste of heresy. His position in the university was so prominent that he was requested, though only a student, to draw up an opinion, still extant, upon the divorce of Henry VIII., when that question wa3 submitted to the faculty. But zeal for the truth of God had now become the passion of his life. He cheered all of like mind, resolving their scruples; even when he sought quiet, his retreats became, he says, a public school.
The time of indecision was past; such conflicts, such lingering attachment to the past, as we find in Luther and Melanchthon, form no part of the recorded experience of John Calvin. The death of his father, in 1528 or 1530, interrupted his university course. For two or three years we hear little of him. From 1529 he was at least a part of the time in Paris struggling with the reformers. In the midst of persecutions he gave up the legal profession and devoted himself to theology. The Sorbonne had just proscribed the tenets of Luther. The congregation of Meaux, of some 300 or 400, was dispersed by violence; Farel had fled; Leclerc was branded and burned; Lefevre was in Navarre; several persons (seven in 1528) had been burned for heresy. Calvin's sermons, usually ending with the words, " If God be for us, who can be against us? "inspired the timid with new zeal, and the friends of reform looked to him as their champion. At his own expense he now published (April, 1532) an edition of the De dementia of Seneca, and it has been conjectured that his purpose was to move Francis I. to clemency, but it had little effect. Next came a bolder venture.
Nicolas Cop, a friend of Calvin, just chosen rector of the Sor-bonne, delivered at the feast of All Saints an oration, supposed to have been written by Calvin, in which he discoursed upon the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Sorbonne ordered the sermon to be burned, and Cop and Calvin were obliged to depart from Paris. He was welcomed at Nerac by Queen Margaret of Navarre, the sister of Francis I., and the refuge of the persecuted. In Angouleme, with his friend Louis de Tillet, Calvin distributed sermons among the people and began his " Institutes." The venerable Lefevre d'Etaples, whom he met at Nerac, at the court of Navarre, in 1533, foretold that this young man would "restore the church of France." Returning to Paris at great personal risk, he accepted a challenge of Servetus to discuss the positions advanced in his recent work De Trini-tatis Erroribus, but Servetus failed to appear. In 1534 Calvin published at Orleans his Psy-chopannychia, in which he argued against a prevalent Anabaptist tenet that the soul was in sleep between death and the resurrection. By the over-zealous dissemination of the reformed "Placards," in 1535, persecution was again aroused.
Calvin, desiring a quiet retreat for study, went to Strasburg, and thence to Basel, where Grynseus and Wolfgang Capiton were working for the reform. Under the latter he studied Hebrew. The French and German reformers were now at work together. The reputation of Calvin as an earnest reformer and one of the most learned men of the age had preceded him. Not only his acumen and learning, but his unsurpassed systematic talents were now exhibited in the " Institutes of the Christian Religion," a work which caused Me-lanchthon to hail him as " the theologian," and which brought into one body of divinity the disjecta membra of the reformed opinions, scattered throughout central and western Europe. The immediate occasion of the work was the charges circulated against the reformers, accusing them as a body of holding the distorted opinions and insurrectionary projects with which one class of the Anabaptists had agitated Germany. Francis I. had lent his authority to the stigma. "Silence would now be treason," said Calvin. The Latin preface of the edition of 1536, addressed to this monarch, refutes the charges and defends the reform with such dignity and method, that it takes rank as one of the three immortal prefaces in literature; that of President De Thou to his " History," and of Casaubon to Polybius, being alone compared with it.
The first edition of the "Institutes" was probably published in 1535, in French, and anonymously; no copy of it is extant. The edition of 1536 was issued at Basel, in Latin; improved editions appeared during Calvin's life in 1543, 1545, 1549, 1550, and 1559. Numerous editions have been since published, and translations into most of the European languages, and into Greek and even Arabic. A new impression of the edition of 1759, which is considered the most complete, was Drought out by Tholuck in Berlin, 1834-'5, and a new edition of Krummacher's German translation of the same appeared in 1834. It has been translated into English by Allen (London, 1813) and by Beveridge (Edinburgh, 1863). In its full form, the "Institutes" is divided into four books, treating successively of the knowledge of God as the Creator and Sovereign of the world, of the knowledge of God as Redeemer in Christ, of participation in the grace of Christ and the fruits thereof, and of the external media (church and sacraments) by which God unites us unto, and retains us in, the fellowship of Christ. In it Calvin elaborates a system of theology, every part of which is based upon the idea that the divine will is supreme. That will, in Calvin's view, though hidden to us, is not arbitrary, but most wise and holy.
The human race, corrupted radically in the fall with Adam, has upon it the guilt and impotence of original sin; its redemption can be achieved only through an incarnation and a propitiation; of this redemption only electing grace can make the soul a participant, and such grace once given is never lost; this election can come only from God, and it includes only a part of the race, the rest being left to perdition; election and perdition are both predestinated in the divine plan; that plan is a decree, eternal and unchangeable; all that is external and apparent is but the unfolding of this eternal plan; the church, "our mother," contains only the visible signs and seals of a grace which is essentially invisible; justification is by faith alone, and faith is the gift of God. Such was the stern anatomy of his system of predestination. The polemical astuteness and doctrinal completeness of the "Institutes" gave it an immediate fame. The reform, supposed to be sporadic was here concentrated in living unity and vigor. Less heed was given to the comparative neglect of human freedom than to the searching exposure of the vanity of human merit.
The sovereignty of God was brought to bear against the supremacy of the pope. - Renee de France, daughter of Louis XII., married to Ercole II., duke of Fer-rara, imitating the example as she shared the opinions of Margaret of Navarre, invited Calvin to her court, then the refuge of many of the persecuted. Under the name of Charles d'Espeville he here enjoyed for a short time comparative repose, yet winning Madame de Soubise, Anne and Jean de Parthenay, and others, to the new opinions. The vigilant inquisition, already crushing out Italian reform, soon compelled him to retrace his steps. After tarrying a while at Aosta, he went for the last time to his native place, and arranged his family affairs. Prevented by the war in Lorraine from gaining Strasburg by the most direct route, he went in August, 1536, not without personal peril, to Geneva. Delivered from the domination of the duke of Savoy, this city had received the reformed opinions through the zeal of William Farel, and in August, 1535, established the new service. But the old parties, the Eidgenossen (confederates), and the Mamelukes (Savoyards), reappeared under new forms.
The city was demoralized; libertinism as to both faith and morals was popular, though the old conseil general had been revived, and had already attempted the prohibition of worldly amusements. But the strict party was in the minority, and Farel, hearing of Calvin's presence in the city, besought him to remain; and when he pleaded his need of repose and desire for study, Farel broke out in a solemn adjuration: "Since you refuse to do the work of the Lord in this church, may the Lord curse the repose you seek, and also your studies!" Calvin yielded, he says, " as if to the voice of the Eternal." At first he would only teach theology, but he preached a sermon, and crowds followed him to secure its repetition; and he was obliged to become one of the pastors. His salary must have been slight, judging from the fact that after six months (Feb. 13, 1537) the council voted him six crowns, "seeing he had not received anything." In conjunction with Farel and Viret, he at once proceeded to the work of organizing the church affairs.
In 1537 he published a catechism in French (in Latin in 1538), extracted from his "Institutes," "since to build an edifice that is to last long, the children must be instructed according to their littleness." A " Confession of Faith," with articles of strict discipline annexed, had been approved by the council in November, 1536, and was read in church every Sunday. At a public disputation with the Anabaptists, March 18, 1537, he put them to silence, so that for many years they were no longer heard of. At a disputation in Lausanne he spoke against the real presence, and on the authority due the fathers. A certain Caroli accused him, Farel, and Viret of being Arians, because the words Trinity and person (on which Calvin never insisted) were not in the Genevese creed, but his orthodoxy was amply vindicated at Lausanne and Bern. His great work, however, was the regulation of discipline, according to the principles advocated in his "Institutes." And here he encountered wrathful opposition. Many of the Eidgenossen had joined the reforming party from merely patriotic motives; the remaining partisans of Rome and the Anabaptists made common cause with these Libertines against the plan which was to extend ecclesiastical discipline to all the citizens, banishment being the penalty of obstinacy.
Some sumptuary regulations were introduced; games of chance and licentious dances were prohibited anew - they had been repeatedly forbidden since 1487; though Calvin granted that cards and dancing might be innocent in themselves, yet they led to "feuds and quarrels." The Libertines gained the election of Feb. 3, 1538, and at once forbade the ministers to mingle in politics. The ministers then refused to hold communion at Easter, on account of the prevailing immorality; they further refused to restore certain church festivals, to use the baptismal font, and to give unleavened bread in the supper, though a Lausanne council had recommended these things. Calvin was personally not opposed to these rites, but went with his colleagues. Thereupon, April 23, the council banished Calvin and Farel, who departed, saying, " It is better to obey God than man." Zurich and Bern interceded for them in vain; a popular assembly, May 26, confirmed the decree of the council. And Calvin, though he "loved Geneva as his own soul," was glad to return to the life of a student. Expelled from Geneva, he was welcomed at Strasburg by Bucer. A church of 1,500 French refugees was put under his charge, and adopted his discipline. The city gave him" the right of citizenship, afterward prolonged for his life.
He was present at the conference between the Roman Catholics and Protestants at Frankfort in 1539, and in that of Worms, adjourned to Ratisbon, in 1541. He prepared a treatise on the Lord's supper (De Ccena), after a conference with the Lutherans at Hagenau, in 1540, in which he developed his view, intermediate between the Lutheran and Zwinglian, asserting that Christ was spiritually present and spiritually received in the eucharist. He also lectured and published on the Epistle to the Romans, having modern Rome always in view; since Augustine no commentator had entered more fully and directly into the logic of Paul's argument. Crowds of students from all parts of France flocked to his lectures on the Romans, and on John's Gospel. He was scattering seed far and wide. Here, in 1540, he was married to Ide-lette de Bures, the widow of an Anabaptist, whom he had converted. In this woman he found a most faithful and devoted wife, "who never opposed me," he says, and " always aided me." Idelette died in 1549, and her stern, hard, overworked husband speaks of his solitude and grief in several touching letters still extant. - Two years had now passed since Calvin had been driven out of Geneva, and the city had need of him.
He had still continued to cherish its welfare, advising his friends to moderate counsels. When Cardinal Sadolet wrote to the Genevese to entice them back to Rome, Calvin replied with such wisdom as extorted praise even from his opponent. The Anabaptists were again restless. Disorders and tumults increased. Of the four syndics who had procured Calvin's expulsion, one had been hanged as a traitor, another was killed in an attempted flight, and the other two had been driven away. As early as Oct. 22, 1540, the council had vainly urged the disciplinarian to return; to another solicitation he replied, " The Genevese would be insupportable to me, and I to them." The city procured the intervention of Bern and Basel; Bucer and Farel entreated; the city of Strasburg at last allowed him to go, continuing his salary, which he refused to receive; and Calvin yielded, " offering to God his slain heart as a sacrifice, and forcing himself to obedience." He returned to the city with the acclamation of the people, Sept. 13, 1541, and not only was a " plain house " provided for him, but also "a piece of cloth for a coat." He returned with the full and fair understanding that his discipline was to be carried out.
His idea of the proper power and purity of the visible church was much higher than that of his contemporary German reformers; Mohler accuses him of borrowing it from the Roman Catholics. To have a reformed church was his ideal. That reform must embrace not only doctrine and ritual, but also the whole life. The ministry is divinely appointed. Synods of pastors and elders are for the preservation of truth and order. The state is to aid, and not to rule, this spiritual institution, though both church and state concur in the sphere of morals. Rules of discipline conformed to these radical views were adopted by the whole people, Nov. 20, 1541. The presbyterial system was fully inaugurated, which became a model for the government of the reformed churches in other countries. The consistory had twice as many elders (12) as ministers, and these elders were annually elected by the church. The system of representation was thus established, so fruitful in the subsequent political history of Europe. The consistory met every Thursday to consider cases of discipline. A congregation assembled on each Friday for practical religious improvement.
The general council elected by the people continued its functions; but it assembled only twice a year, and the real power was gradually absorbed by the lesser council and by the consistory. The latter was the real tribunal of morals, and its inquisitorial sphere extended to the whole population. It could not punish beyond excommunication, but the civil power was expected to do the rest. The system was a bold one, and for a time eminently successful. Accusations, often frivolous, increased. In 1558-'9 there were 414 citations before the consistory. Severe penalties were often inflicted for slight offences; once a person was punished for laughing while John Calvin was preaching. But the effect upon the city was marvellous. It became the most moral town in Europe. It was also the home of letters and the bulwark of orthodoxy. Hooker says, " The wisest that time living could not have bettered the system." Knox, who was three times at Geneva, 1554-'6, declared that " it was the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles." And Montesquieu exhorted the Genevese to celebrate as festivals the day of Calvin's birth and the anniversary of his arrival there.
In 1541 Calvin was also appointed on a commission to codify the laws of the state; the code was adopted Jan. 10, 1543. Here, as in the church, the government was aristocratic, with severe penalties. Ancillon says that his "labors for the civil law give him a higher title to renown than his theological works." The same year he published a new and revised liturgy, which was made the basis of many other reformed liturgies. The public worship was ordered with extreme simplicity, all that appealed merely to the senses and imagination being excluded. Not that he was tenacious in opposition to " things indifferent; " for when consulted in 1555 about the English liturgy, then the occasion of troubles in Frankfort, though he replied that it contained ineptice, he added the adjective tolerabiles. Such power as Calvin now exercised could not be unresisted, except in a thorough despotism with a standing army. The Libertines were strengthened in their opposition to Calvin by many who had united in the invitation for his return to the city, among others Amy Perrin. Some were animated by a feeling of patriotic independence; others held to the gross views of the Familists; all joined in the opposition; blood flowed. Perrin was executed in effigy, in 1555, for trying to seize the government.
Gruet was decapitated as a materialist, and an enemy of the state. Ber-thelier, a son of him who had headed the movement for independence against the duke of Savoy, was excommunicated; he appealed from the consistory to the general council, and the council acquitted him. The trial of strength came. All the clergy remonstrated against the decision of the council. Calvin appeared before the 200, and pleaded in vain for the independence of the church. The council still demanded that Berthelier should receive the communion. . On the Sabbath, after the sermon, Calvin exhorted the church to partake of the sacrament, but thundered out that "he would sooner die than offer holy things to the excommunicated." Berthelier did not dare approach the table. The council postponed the final decision. The people in the street still cried, " Slay the alien! " The contest continued for a whole year, but the party of Calvin was strengthened by the naturalization of a large number of Frenchmen, 300 at one time in 1557, and the authority of the reformer was insured. Yet it was far from being absolute even with the consistory, who often opposed his views; in one letter he complains that they even subjected his theological works to the censorship.
These ecclesiastical and civil disputes were only a small part of his labors. He was also engaged in perpetual theological disputations. Bolsec, once a Roman Catholic and almoner of the duchess of Ferrara, now a convert to the reformed religion and a physician, disputed his doctrine of predestination. After a sharp controversy he was banished from Geneva, became again a Catholic, and wrote in 1577 a slanderous life of Calvin. The Spanish and Italian anti-Trinitarians made much trouble at Geneva. Geibaldi was banished; Gentilis was led for a time to recant. Laelius Socinus came to Geneva even after the execution of Servetus, and subsequently corresponded with Calvin on the doctrine of election. The most melancholy case was that of the Spanish physician Servetus, burnt at Geneva in October, 1553. He was arrested by the Catholics at Vienne, and Calvin forwarded papers of Servetus which he had in order to secure his identification and condemnation as a heretic, and threatened that if ever he should come to Geneva he should not be suffered to depart alive. He was condemned by the authorities at Vienne, but escaped and went to Geneva, where he was again tried and condemned to be burned. Calvin interceded in vain to have his punishment changed to decapitation.
His condemnation was the act of the council, after a long deliberation, and in accordance with the expressed opinions of other cantons. - Among Calvin's other theological works was an " Antidote," in 1543, to 25 new articles of faith, drawn up by the Sorbonne; another "Antidote," in 1547, to the decrees of the council of Trent; a severe treatise on the "Freedom and Bondage of the Will," against the Roman Catholic Pighius, which had the rare controversial success of convincing his opponent. After prolonged discussions, Zurich and Bern united with Geneva (1549) in a consensus on the Lord's supper; the Swiss churches generally acceded to it in 1551. But the Lutherans were enraged. Westphal aroused them to opposition. When Lasco's reformed church was driven from England on Mary's accession, it could at first find no resting place in Denmark or Germany; Westphal called them " martyrs of the devil." Calvin made a fierce attack on him and Hesshusius, and rebuked with severity the silence of Melanch-thon. He could never understand how the Lutheran divines could make their peculiar views of consubstantiation necessary to church fellowship. - The most important part of Calvin's labors was in connection with the new academy of Geneva, inaugurated in 1559, and endowed by the liberality of Bonnivard. Such institutions of learning sprung up wherever the reform prospered.
At Geneva there were chairs of Hebrew, philology, philosophy, and theology. Beza, the ardent friend and able successor as well as biographer of Calvin, was the first rector of the academy. Calvin taught theology, and students flocked from Scotland, Holland, and Germany. From 6 to 4 o'clock in summer, and from 7 to 4 in winter, the classes were together, excepting at the dinner hour, which was from 10 to 11. The place became a focus for the reformed faith. Calvinism was dispersed all over Europe. "There was not a single day of his life," says Sayous, "in which John Calvin was faithless to his apostolate." His labors were ceaseless and prodigious. Every other week he preached every day, and often on the Sabbath. His sermons were extemporaneous, short and simple, always cogent, solemn, and often tender.
Three times a week he lectured on theology. Every Thursday he presided in the consistory, and On Friday he was present at the congregation. His commentaries cover the larger part of the Old Testament, and all of the new excepting Second and Third John and the Apocalypse. His commentaries on the Psalms and the Pentateuch, and on Paul's epistles, and his lectures on Job, stand in the front rank of Biblical interpretation. Calvin was the counsellor of the reformed churches everywhere, but his chief influence outside of Switzerland was felt in France; its churches looked to him for counsel and received his creed and polity; Coligni greeted him as the leader of the reformation, and concerted with him the first Protestant attempt at missions, that of the Huguenots at Rio de Janeiro, in 1556, which was however broken up in 1558. The wide influence thus begun in life was perpetuated after Calvin's death. His system of doctrine and polity has shaped more minds and entered into more nations than that of any other reformer.
In every land it made men strong against the attempted interference of the secular power with the rights of Christians. It gave courage to the Huguenots; it shaped the theology of the Palatinate; it prepared the Dutch for the heroic defence of their national rights; it has controlled Scotland to the present hour; it formed the Puritanism of England; it has been at the basis of the New England character; and everywhere it has led the way in practical reforms. His theology assumed different types in the various countries into which it penetrated, while retaining its fundamental traits. In France, the school of Saumur advocated a general atonement. In Holland, the five points were sharply presented, and Supralapsarianism was partially defended; but here too the Coc-ceian theology of the covenants found a less abstract and a more historical basis for the system of divinity. The Westminster Confession combined the results of a century of controversy in an exposition, fuller than any continental symbol, and to which Scotland and the Presbyterian and Congregational churches of America have in the main adhered.
But in the United States the system of Edwards has enlarged and liberalized the theology of Calvin. And in all these countries the love first of religious, and then of civil freedom, has been deeply implanted in the adherents of a theology which elevates man because it exalts God. - Early in 1564 Calvin began to sink under his multiplied cares, and a complication of disorders that had been wearing upon him ever since his youth. On April 27 the lesser council met around his bedside to receive his parting words; the next day the ministers of the city and neighborhood listened for the last time to his affectionate and faithful counsel. Prayers were offered for him in all the churches. He lingered on in intense suffering, yet in the triumph of faith, till May 27, at 8 o'clock in the evening, when he breathed his last. He was buried in the cemetery of Plain Palais; at his own request, no monument was erected, and the exact spot is unknown. His whole earthly wealth, 225 crowns, he bequeathed to his relatives and poor foreigners. - The works of Calvin were first collected in the Geneva edition of 1617, in 12 vols, fol., and afterward in that of Amsterdam, 1671, in 9 vols. fol.
A new edition by Baum, Ounitz, and Reuss was commenced at Brunswick in 1863, of which 10 vols, had been issued in 1871. His collected works have been published in English by the Calvin translation society of Edinburgh, in 52 vols. 8vo, completed in 1855. His commentaries were published together in 1561, in 2 vols. 8vo. Tho-luck edited his commentary on the New Testament (Halle, 1831-'4). His Opuscula were issued in 1562; the best edition is the Genevan of 1597. Parts of his correspondence appeared in 1576, in Beza's "Life of Calvin." De May in 1557 depicted Calvin's career from the Roman Catholic point of view. A " Life of John Calvin," by Elijah Waterman, minister of Bridgeport, Conn., was published in 1813, and a book with the same title by Thomas H. Dyer appeared in London in 1850, and was republished in New York in 1851. The most complete biography is given in Paul Henry's Leoen Johann Calvins, des grossen Reformators (3 vols., Hamburg, 1835-44), with a copious appendix of extracts from 544 letters, to which Dr. Henry had access.
This work has been translated by Dr. Stebbing, omitting the appendix, in 2 vols. 8vo (London and New York, 1854). Audin's Histoire de la vie, des outrages et des doctrines de Calvin (3d ed., Paris, 1845) has been translated into English, German, and Italian, and is written from a Roman Catholic point of view. Among the later biographers of Calvin are Tulloch, "Leaders of the Reformation" (new ed., London, 1861); Bun-gener, " Calvin, his Life and Works" (Edinburgh, 1862); Stahelin (Elberfeld, 1863); Kampschutte (Leipsic, 1869); Guizot, Histoire des quatres grands chretiens francais (2 vols., Paris, 1873). Galiffe, Quelques pages d'histoire (Geneva, 1868), makes some contributions to Calvin's biography. For the historical relations of Calvinism, see Reformed Church.