The famous French theologian, the leading figure in the second generation of Protestant reformers, John Calvin, was born in Noyon, France, on 10 July 1509. His French name is Jean Cauvin. His father, Gerard, was procurator-fiscal of the Noyon district and the notary of the diocese. Calvin was still a French youngster when Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation in Germany (see Luther, Martin). Two decades later Calvin became the second leading figure in the second generation of Protestant reformers of the great 16th-century. Calvin’s work and teachings had a profound impact on the progress of Christianity.
He was the the second of three sons of a clerk and was educated at Paris, Orleans, and Bourges. His mother, Jeanne le Franc, the daughter of an innkeeper from Cambrai, died a few years after Calvin’s birth. His father intended his three sons, Charles, Jean (John), and Antoine, for the priesthood. Jean was particularly gifted; at the age of twelve, he was employed by the bishop as a clerk and had his hair cut to symbolize his dedication to the Church. At the age of 14, he was sent to the University of Paris where he studied Latin, philosophy, and logic – the science of right reasoning.
In 1528 he left for Orléans and Bourgesto study law. During his eighteen-month stay in Bourges Calvin learned Greek, a necessity for studying the New Testament. When he returned to Paris in 1531 he felt divinely called to forsake the Roman Catholic Church for a simpler form of Christianity, and his religious thinking therefore turned to the Protestant faith. About 1533 he became a convert to the reformed faith. As a result of his religious beliefs he had to flee from Paris and eventually from France. For quite a number of years he moved from city to city and started on his book “Institutes of the Christian Religion” and later published “Ecclesiastical Ordinances” (1541), in which he described a form of church government, which later became a model for Presbyterians. He went to Geneva in Switzerland in 1536, and lived there for the rest of his life. Under his guidance Geneva became the centre heart of Protestantism. The very strict laws of the city were written by the church, and it governed every aspect of daily life. Punishment for disobedience was severe. Calvin made Geneva one of the most influential cities in Europe.
Calvin’s religion was very strict. According to him, people were sinful and could receive salvation only through the grace of God. His creed was mainly influential in France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. It also formed the foundation of the Puritan movement in England and North America. He had his personal doctrine of the principles of predestination – God’s foreordaining of what will come to pass.
Calvin’s later written works included “Instruction in Faith” (1537), “Commentary on Romans” (1539), “Psychopannychia” (1542), and “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper” (1545). When Calvin died on 27 May 1564 his views had spread to the bigger part of Western Europe. The Puritans who left England to settle in the American colonies were followers of Calvin. They called their churches Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Evangelical, or Reformed. Calvin was the central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. Living and working In Geneva, he rejected Papal authority, established a new system of civic and clerical governance, and created a central point from which Reformed theology was propagated.
Five points of Calvinism
The Five points of Calvinism, sometimes called the “doctrines of grace” are a summary of the judgments rendered by the Synod of Dordt reflecting the Calvinist understanding of the nature of divine grace and predestination as it relates to salvation. The central assertion of the five points is that God is able to save every one of those upon whom he has mercy and that his efforts are not frustrated by the unrighteousness or the inability of humans.
- Total depravity (Original sin)
- Unconditional election (God’s election)
- Limited atonement (Particular redemption)
- Irresistable grace (Effectual calling)
- Perseverance of the Saints.