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  • Writer's pictureVic Bernales

Main Features of Calvin's Life and Work

John Calvin was a prominent 16th century preacher and theologian who labored in reforming the church in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, in the region of Picardy in France. His father, who was a notary in the bishop's secretarial service, had high ecclesiastical hope for him.

Through a couple of benefices, including the one from the influential Montmors family, John was able to get a good education in Paris, first in the Collège de la Marche, where he learned Latin, and then in the Collège de Montaigu learning philosophy. The College of Montaigu at that time was known for its ascetic strictness. From 1523 to 1527 or 1528, John was able to pursue his Master's degree in Paris. A little later, he also learned the Greek language.

Calvin's father, however, was excommunicated by the church in 1528. As a result, he ordered John to shift from theology to law. Calvin obeyed his father. He went to Orleans to study law. However, when his father died in 1531, Calvin pursued his first interest which was the Classical studies.

John Calvin was an excellent Latinist in the mold of Cicero. In 1532 he published his first book, which was a commentary of Seneca's "De Clementia." This book, however, did not gain success as Calvin had hoped.

It is not known when exactly Calvin experienced conversion. Scholars and historians argue for a number of dates and events between 1529, while he was a law student at Orleans, and 1533, when he was in Paris hearing his friend, Nicolas Cop, giving an inaugural address before the academic community of the University of Paris, the latter being elected rector of the university. The only record available for us about Calvin's conversion is his own words in the preface to his commentary on the book of Psalm where he described it as a "sudden conversion" or an "unexpected conversion" ("subita conversio" in Latin).

Calvin then started to champion the Reformation cause and doctrines. At a young age of 27, he was able to publish the first edition of his theological masterpiece, "The Institutes of the Christian Religion," in 1536. This book gave Calvin an instant popularity as he was able to articulate theological and Biblical arguments very well.

This fame led him to be invited by William Farel to labor with the latter in Geneva in 1536, when Calvin was on his way to Strasburg one night. This started Calvin's reformatory work in Geneva when Farel prevailed over him, calling some curses from God to be upon Calvin should he refuse to accept the invitation. For almost two years, Calvin was able to implement some reforms in the church in Geneva.

Calvin and Farel, however, were expelled from Geneva in 1538 when opponents of Calvin won the city council election. This expulsion from Geneva gave Calvin the opportunity to work with another senior colleague in Strasburg. For three years, Calvin had the pleasure of working with Martin Bucer. From this fellow Reformer, Calvin learned much about pastoral ministry, church government, church education, and Biblical worship, which he brought with him when he was recalled to pastor the church in Geneva in 1541. Calvin ministered there until his death on May 27, 1564.

Calvin left fifty (50) volumes of Bible commentaries, thirty-five (35) volumes of letters, 2500 sermon manuscripts, and various tracts and treatises, including his "The Institutes of the Christian Religion," which went through various editions in Latin until its final edition in 1559. The "Institutes" also has various editions in French which Calvin himself wrote.


Posted with permission from Ptr Vic Bernales, Pastor, Davao Covenant Reformed Church

Original from a Facebook post here.


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