John Calvin

This reformer was born at Noyon in Picardy, July 10, 1409. He was

instructed in grammar learning at Paris under Maturinus Corderius, and

studied philosophy in the college of Montaign under a Spanish professor.

His father, who discovered many marks of his early piety, particularly

in his reprehensions of the vices of his companions, designed him at

first for the church, and got him presented, May 21, 1521, to the chapel

of Notre Dame de la Gesine, in the church of Noyon. In 1527 he was

presented to the rectory of Marieville, which he exchanged in 1529 for

the rectory of Pont l'Eveque, near Noyon. His father afterward changed

his resolution, and would have him study law; to which Calvin, who, by

reading the scriptures, had conceived a dislike to the superstitions of

popery, readily consented, and resigned the chapel of Gesine and the

rectory of Pont l'Eveque, in 1534. He made a great progress in that

science, and improved no less in the knowledge of divinity by his

private studies. At Bourges he applied to the Greek tongue, under the

direction of professor Wolmar. His father's death having called him back

to Noyon, he stayed there a short time, and then went to Paris, where a

speech of Nicholas Cop, rector of the university of Paris, of which

Calvin furnished the materials, having greatly displeased the Sarbonne

and the parliament, gave rise to a persecution against the protestants,

and Calvin, who narrowly escaped being taken in the college of Forteret,

was forced to retire to Xaintonge, after having had the honour to be

introduced to the queen of Navarre, who had raised this first storm

against the protestants. Calvin returned to Paris in 1534. This year the

reformed met with severe treatment, which determined him to leave

France, after publishing a treatise against those who believe that

departed souls are in a kind of sleep. He retired to Basil, where he

studied Hebrew: at this time he published his Institutions of the

Christian religion; a work well adapted to spread his fame, though he

himself was desirous of living in obscurity. It is dedicated to the

French king, Francis I. Calvin next wrote an apology for the protestants

who were burnt for their religion in France. After the publication of

this work, Calvin went to Italy to pay a visit to the duchess of

Ferrara, a lady of eminent piety, by whom he was very kindly received.

From Italy he came back to France, and having settled his private

affairs, he proposed to go to Strasbourg or Basil, in company with his

sole surviving brother, Antony Calvin; but as the roads were not safe on

account of the war, except through the duke of Savoy's territories, he

chose that road. "This was a particular direction of Providence," says

Bayle; "it was his destiny that he should settle at Geneva, and when he

was wholly intent upon going farther, he found himself detained by an

order from heaven, if I may so speak." At Geneva, Calvin therefore was

obliged to comply with the choice which the consistory and magistrates

made of him, with the consent of the people, to be one of their

ministers, and professor of divinity. He wanted to undertake only this

last office, and not the other; but in the end he was obliged to take

both upon him, in August, 1536. The year following, he made all the

people declare, upon oath, their assent to the confession of faith,

which contained a renunciation of popery. He next intimated, that he

could not submit to a regulation which the canton of Berne had lately

made. Whereupon the syndics of Geneva, summoned an assembly of the

people; and it was ordered that Calvin, Farel, and another minister,

should leave the town in a few days, for refusing to administer the


Calvin retired to Strasbourg, and established a French church in that

city, of which he was the first minister: he was also appointed to be

professor of divinity there. Meanwhile the people of Geneva entreated

him so earnestly to return to them, that at last he consented and

arrived September 13, 1541, to the great satisfaction both of the

people and the magistrates; and the first thing he did, after his

arrival, was to establish a form of church discipline, and a

consistorial jurisdiction, invested with power of inflicting censures

and canonical punishments, as far as excommunication, inclusively.