About John Calvin
John Calvin (July 10, 1509-May 27, 1564) was one of the most influential theologians and church leaders in the history of the church. Born in Noyen, France into a Catholic family (his father Gerard was a cathedral notary and a registrar to the church court) he was trained first for the priesthood and then as a humanist lawyer. In 1533 he experienced a religious conversion which led him to leave the Catholic Church and join in with the reformers. Along with his mentor Nicolas Cop, he was almost immediately forced into hiding because of his views. In 1535 Calvin joined his friend in Basel, Switzerland.
Calvin produced the first edition of his greatest theological work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). It presented a defense of his faith and attempted to clarify the theology of the reformers. Calvin continued to work on and expand the Institutes right up until his death. In addition to the Institutes he produced commentaries on multiple books of the Bible, including all of the New Testament books, excluding Revelation. He also produced a catechism and numerous papers and publications.
Not content with simply producing works on theology and scripture, Calvin also delved into church organization. His Articles on the Organization of the Church and its Worship in Geneva were presented to the City Council of Geneva and were accepted and approved the same day. This work essentially set the outline for Reformed worship including the frequency of and method for celebrating the Eucharist (now most generally called Communion), church discipline, the requirement for church members to submit to a detailed statement of faith (called subscription), and the use of the Psalms as content for singing in worship.
The relationship between Calvin and the leaders in Geneva began to deteriorate and he was expelled in 1538. Moving to Strasbourg, France he preached twice on Sundays and either preached or lectured every other day of the week. By the summer of 1541 Calvin was back in Geneva, having been “loaned” to them by the church in Strasbourg. Calvin would remain in Geneva as both a religious and civil leader. During this period (1546-1553) Calvin worked to establish his Reformed doctrine and governance in Geneva. He was not without opposition. This led him into conflict with people called the “libertines.” Ultimately the leader of the libertines, Jacques Gruet, was beheaded for what was perceived as a threat against the church and the state. Later, Calvin also had a hand in the execution (by being burned at the stake) of Michael Servetus, who was tried and convicted as a heretic. Final opposition to Calvin and his church governance standards ended in 1555 when his opponents were either forced to flee the city or were executed.
During his final years Calvin became one of the most famous reformers, and also as one who ultimately stood in opposition to Martin Luther. Calvin deeply desired and worked for the expansion and consolidation of the Reformed church. Calvin died in 1564 and was buried in an unmarked grave so that there would be no veneration of him as a saint.
Calvin’s personal life included marriage to Idelette de Bure in 1540. They were married until her death in 1549. He described her to a friend as the best friend of his life and a faithful helper in his ministry. They had no children who lived, and Calvin never remarried.
Though Calvin was not the only reformer, he was by far the most influential. His theology forms the foundation for more than 100 denominations and 80 million followers around the world.