John Calvin

The Second Major Figure of the Protestant Reformation

Who was John Calvin?

John Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France. He was the son of a middle-class attorney. He was a great contrast to Luther in many ways. Luther was born as a peasant and was uncouth in language and mystical zeal. Calvin was born into the second-class and was in contact with intellectuals. Luther was a monk who forsaken his vows while Calvin was a layman who never took vows. In his early life, Calvin studied for an ecclesiastical career at the University of Paris because of the disagreements between his father and the local bishop. He studied law for three years. He attributed to his study of Roman law and the Codex Justinianus. After his father died, he went back to the University of Paris and finished his theological studies. While at the university, Calvin discovered Martin Luther's teachings. Calvin was implicated in the literature that attacked the Catholic Church called the "Affair of the Placards." In January 1535 after he fled, he made a draft of his first major work called the Institutes of the Christian Religion which began the apology of Protestantism.

Calvin's Beliefs

Calvin said that ultimate authority is in the Scriptures. Following John Wycliffe and Martin Luther, he stated that the Bible is only the source of revelation. Calvin rejected the power of human freedom to elicit good actions and the ability of man to merit through good works. Calvin said that human nature is totally corrupted, rotten, and vicious. Man is no more than a savage beast. Calvin said that man's sinfulness is so great that man can never overcome it. Calvin denied all sacramental grace. He rejected all Catholic practices that were not based in Scripture. The Eucharist and Baptism also became memorials to him. He directed all iconoclastic actions to all crucifixes, statues, paintings, vestments, altars, confessionals, and stained-glass windows. His followers went through town destroying every Catholic church throughout Europe. Calvin maintained that predestination was a thing. Predestination is when God's free decision whether a person goes to Heaven or to Hell. This was accepted by the middle classes who favored Calvinist doctrine.

Calvin's Protestant Movement

The town fathers of Geneva first favored Calvin's reforms, but in 1538, two years later, Calvin was sentenced to exile for four years. Calvin married Idelette de Bure whom he converted. She gave birth to Calvin's son who died in infancy. Idelette died not too long after in 1541. Calvin was summoned back to Geneva in that same year. Calvin made the city's government into a theocracy dominated by Calvin himself. No expression of religious freedom was tolerated in Geneva. No prayer could be said in Latin, the old, Catholic creed would never be permitted, and any words uttered for sympathy of the pope were banned. In a series of letters, Michael Servetus criticized Calvin's Institutes. In 1553, Servetus made the mistake of passing through Geneva. He was captured and burned at the stake. During Calvin's five-year period, fifty-five people were killed and another seventy-six were put into exile. Divine worship was reduced to prayers, sermons, and singing psalms. There were punishments against dancing, card playing, drinking, braiding hair, or falling asleep during sermons. Calvin justified and maintained this severe environment for moral life and habitual practice of prayer. John Knox created the Presbyterian Church according to Calvinist teachings. John Calvin was credited with the explosive diffusion of Protestantism through Europe.

The Church's Teachings Against Calvinism

The Church strikes back against Calvinism with verses of Scripture found in the Bible. In Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." This verse states that predestination was not practiced or not used. It is through a person's own will to choose what's right and what's wrong. In 1 Timothy 2:4, "Who will have ALL MEN to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the Truth." This means that all men are to be saved through the knowledge of Truth.