John Calvin (French: Jean Cauvin; 10 July 1509 - 27 May 1564) was the most influential French theologian and pastor during the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation in Europe. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530, around which time he was converted to Christ. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, a reality that was to feature in French history later against the Huguenots, (or French Protestants who were mainly Presbyterians), Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where he published the first edition of his seminal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, in 1536.
In that year, and by a most strange convergence of circumstances in
which God's hand was evidently at work, Calvin was recruited by William
Farel to help reform the church in Geneva. The city council resisted the
implementation of Calvin and Farel's ideas, and both men were expelled.
At the invitation of Martin Bucer, Calvin proceeded to Strasbourg,
where he became the minister of a church of French refugees. He
continued to support the reform movement in Geneva, and was eventually
invited back to lead its church.
Following his return, Calvin introduced new forms of church government
and liturgy, despite the opposition of several powerful families in the
city who tried to curb his authority. Calvin came to see that the
current arrangements for the government of the church did not reflect
the biblical model, nor was the liturgy faithful to Scripture. This was
in 1553, and during this time, the trial of Michael Servetus for heresy
took place which resulted in the latter being burned at the stake for
his denials of clear Scriptural teaching. This was accompanied by the
violent opposition of the Libertines who attempted to harass and
threaten Calvin. However, since Servetus was also condemned and wanted
by the Inquisition, outside pressure from all over Europe forced the
trial to continue. Following an influx of supportive refugees and new
elections to the city council, Calvin's opponents were forced out.
Calvin spent his final years promoting the Reformation both in Geneva
and throughout Europe.
Calvin was a tireless polemicist, apologetic writer, preacher, pastor,
commentator, letter writer and theological giant who generated much
controversy. He also exchanged cordial and supportive letters with many
reformers, including Philipp Melanchthon and Heinrich Bullinger. In
addition to the Institutes, he wrote commentaries on most books of the
Bible (except Revelation), as well as theological treatises and
confessional documents. He regularly preached sermons throughout the
week in Geneva. Calvin was influenced by the biblical teaching and also,
and subordinately, by the Augustinian tradition, which led him to
expound the doctrine of God's sovereignty of God in the salvation of the
human soul from death and eternal damnation. He saw the very heart of
the his theology, from man's side, as being faith, not predestination, a
fact that is everywhere present in his sermons.
Calvin's writing and preachings provided the seeds for the branch of
theology that bears his name. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches,
which look to Calvin as a chief expositor of their beliefs, have spread
throughout the world.
For more information on Calvin as a compassionate pastor and strong
church leader, see this website, where
Calvin's dealing with Servetus and with the Libertines is discussed.