Keen to learn but short on time? Get to grips with the life of John Calvin in next to no time with this concise guide.
50MINUTES.com provides a clear and engaging analysis of the life and work of John Calvin. In the 16th century, the Reformation changed the face of Christianity by breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. The French theologian and pastor John Calvin played a crucial role in this movement, and developed a new branch of Christian theology which later became known as Calvinism. His ideas were hugely influential, and today millions of Christians across the world follow the belief system he helped to develop.
In just 50 minutes you will:
• Find out about the key events in John Calvin’s life and ecclesiastical career
• Understand the religious, political and social context of the Protestant Reformation
• Analyse the consequences of the Reformation across Europe
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John Calvin was one of the main figures of the Reformation that changed the face of religion across Europe in the 16th century. A gifted preacher and the author of Christianae Religionis Institutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion), the most important summary of Protestant theology, Calvin was one of the main proponents of Protestantism inspired by the Ninety-five Theses of Martin Luther (1483-1546). He dedicated his life to establishing a way of living and thinking in accordance with the Scriptures. He was a talented writer and knew how to adapt his words to his audience. Additionally, he took the innovative step of translating all of his treatises from Latin into French to ensure that they would reach a wider audience.
As the organiser of the Reformation, he first established the Church of Geneva, then set up Reformed churches across Europe. He took part in the political debates of his time, particularly regarding the separation of Church and State. Although his influence was undeniable and his authority recognised, Calvin still had his critics and many were hostile towards him.
Portrait of John Calvin by Titian, 16th century.
John Cauvin – who would later change his name to Calvin – was the son of Gérard Cauvin (died in 1531) and Jeanne Le Franc (died around 1515). His family had ties to the diocese of Noyon: his father (who would be driven out and excommunicated in 1528) held several administrative posts there and prepared his son for an ecclesiastical career. As such, he obtained money from the diocese of Noyon which allowed Calvin to study arts in Paris at the Collège de la Marche (autumn 1520) and the Collège de Montaigu (1521-1525), where he obtained his baccalaureate and Master of Arts. Calvin then studied law in Orléans (around 1526) and in Bourges (around 1529-1530). These were both extremely prestigious universities, and he was taught by highly respected professors such as Pierre de l’Étoile (around 1480-1537) and André Alciat (1492-1550).
These years of study had a lasting impact on Calvin: legal rigour had a remarkable effect on his way of thinking, and he studied Greek under Melchior Wolmar (1497-1561), a disciple of the new doctrines of Martin Luther. In Wittenberg in 1517, Luther had published his Ninety-five Theses against indulgences, the foundational text of the Reformation. Following his law studies – he graduated in February 1532 – Calvin completed his curriculum with Classical literature. He wrote a commentary on De Clementia by Seneca (4 BC-65 AD), which was published the same year in Paris and Orléans (1532).
Unlike the other great reformers of the period, Calvin did not study theology at university, and did not hold any religious office as he was never ordained by the Catholic Church. After his studies, he embarked on a teaching career, which he began in Fortet.
His conversion took place over the course of 1533 and 1534. Rather than a revelation, this was above all a gradual process of maturation in his thought. In November 1533, he helped to write a speech delivered by Nicolas Cop, rector of the University of Paris. Although ostensibly on the subject of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), this speech was in reality merely a pretext for denouncing the persecution faced by the new reformers. Calvin was pursued and left Paris. He then roamed around the country incognito, notably passing through Angoulême and Poiteirs, before leaving France. On 4 May 1534, he officially broke with the Catholic Church by renouncing the money they granted him. He travelled and reached Basel at the end of the year.
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