John Calvin

Graeme Murdock

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
John Calvin

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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John Calvin (also known as Jean Calvin) left his native France in fear of persecution because of his association with a circle of reform-minded intellectuals. He found refuge in Geneva in 1536, in the wake of the city’s revolt against the authority of Catholic Savoy. Calvin was employed by the city council to preach, but his relationship with the Genevan authorities broke down in 1538. Calvin moved to work in Strasbourg but returned to Geneva in 1541 and remained in the city until his death in 1564. On Calvin’s return the council agreed to his plans for reforms to the structure of the Genevan church. They agreed to establish a consistory of clergy and lay elders who were charged to monitor religious orthodoxy and moral conduct in Geneva. Calvin became the dominant figure among the town’s clergy. His authority was based above all on his scholarship. Calvin’s abilities as a writer and speaker are clear from surviving sermons, polemic tracts, commentaries on the Bible, and most notably from the Institutes of Christian Religion. His intellectual authority was matched by his relentless energy, single-minded determination, and excellent organizational abilities. Calvin had a certain personal charisma, at least for his friends and admirers. At the same time, he was dismissive of opponents and ready for conflict with anyone who disagreed with his vision of church life. Calvin’s influence extended well beyond Geneva’s walls. To build Reformed religion beyond Geneva, he engaged with church leaders in other southern German and Swiss towns and territories. Indeed, it would be a profound mistake to see Calvin alone as responsible for the dynamic spread of Calvinism across Europe (see the article Calvinism). Reformed religion developed as Calvin worked with other Reformers to come to a consensus on key points of theology. Much of Calvin’s attention was devoted to efforts to achieve the conversion of his homeland. Toward the end of his life, an academy opened in Geneva to train ministers to be sent into France as civil war spread across the kingdom. Since his death Calvin has held the attention of many, theologians and historians alike. They have analyzed Calvin’s published work, his sermons, and his correspondence to try to understand his impact on Reformation Europe.

Article.  5869 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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