John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) was born in Picardy, France in 1509. His father was a minor official for the lordship of Noyon. Calvin was groomed to study theology.  His father procured the boy (at the age of 13) an office as chaplain, which provided an income to pay for his studies. His father subsequently procured young Calvin the living of Marteville, which was exchanged for the cure of Pont L’Evêque two years later.  Although not ordained a priest, Calvin enjoyed preaching sermons. 


Calvin’s father began to reconsider his son’s future and decided that Law offered a more lucrative future. At the age of 21 Calvin began to study law and immediately distinguished himself as a brilliant legal mind.   He was deeply influenced by humanists like Erasmus but his own humanist writings failed to excite the interest he had desired. Calvin next took an interest in Martin Luther’s campaign to reform the Catholic Church. Shortly after the death of his father, Calvin joined the French Reformation movement and by the age of 24 was recognized as one of the leaders.  He was forced to go into hiding to avoid arrest and possible execution. 


The next year Calvin published a booklet to refute the Anabaptist belief that souls of the dead sleep until resurrected.  Why was such an obscure subject of interest to an ambitious young man?  Anabaptists did not believe in infant baptism because they did not believe in original sin.  Therefore they believed in freewill, which required a time and place to be exercised. This path led directly to ideas about resurrection in physical bodies. Calvin’s subsequent works revealed that the entire Calvinist theology is opposed to future resurrection of the dead, which was the real purpose of writing the booklet against soul sleep.  Calvinist dead, like Augustinian dead, would face judgement instantly.


To defend Reformed Protestants against persecution, Calvin wrote a Confession of the Reformed Faith (Institutes of the Christian Religion) addressed to the King of France. It is a mystery how a young man of 26, newly converted to the Protestant Reformation, could have articulated a complete new theology, until the real credit for the work is given to Augustine whose writings inspired and guided young Calvin.  Institutes of the Christian Religion lists four pages of authors quoted in the book; half of the works quoted are from Augustine. Calvin, while admitting predestination was a ‘horrible doctrine,’ made it and original sin the foundation of his theology.


To read a collection of Calvin's quotes, click here.


At the age of 28 Calvin arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, where he would remain for the rest of his life, except for a brief period in exile. Calvin quickly became the spiritual leader of this Reformation stronghold. He obliged all citizens to swear a confession of orthodox beliefs, which laid the foundation for a theocratic system of government. Anabaptists and other dissidents were forced to leave Geneva. Calvin was a great proponent of education and literacy, but had no faith in education apart from religious training. Puritanical laws of morality and strict enforcement soon led to grumbling, which led to rebellion. Calvin was expelled from Geneva. For the next two years he wandered from Bern to Basel to Strasbourg.


Meanwhile, back in Geneva, disorder and irreligion prevailed. Catholic Bishops tried to regain control, which led to Calvin being invited back to Geneva. This time Calvin was given carte blanche to rule the city, body and soul.


The greatest controversy in Calvin’s long career was over the doctrine of double predestination. His defences in 1543 and 1551 overwhelmed his antagonists.  By the end of his life, in 1564, Calvin had firmly established Calvinism as the dominant Protestant theology, and theocratic rule as the ideal form of government.


During a conflict with Jacob Arminius and the Arminians, Calvinists responded with five points that encapsulated their theology. Memorizing the five points was assisted by the acrostic TULIP:

-Total Depravity.  All descendants of Adam are born totally depraved and blind to God. 

-Unconditional Election.  God alone chooses the elect without any consideration for merit, effort or desire to be saved.

-Limited Atonement. Jesus did not die for all mankind, just the elect.

-Irresistible Grace.  Those who are elected and called to salvation cannot resist. The controlling will is divine not human. 

-Perseverance of the Saints. The saved cannot subsequently reject salvation or fall from grace. Once saved, always saved.


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