Calvinism and the Reformation
John Calvin (originally Jean Cauvin) was born July 10th, 1509, in the merchant city of Noyon, France, in a family of modest ancestry of watermen and artisans.
His father, Girard Cauvin, ran the course of a respectable bourgeoisie member who studied law and went all the way from a town clerk to the position of a procurator of the cathedral chapter. As a prediction to his son's further relationship with the Catholic Church, by the time he died he was excommunicated.
His older brother, a priest encountered similar troubles this department and was also excommunicated. Standing Firm on his position, he refused the sacraments on his death bed and was buried outside the churchyard.
John Calvin was the second son of Girard Cauvin and Jeanne LeFranc. For some, John Calvin's birthday was an unfortunate event, for others, a blessing. Throughout his career, he only appears to have sought to restore the Church's state of "purity." He lost his mother pretty early at around 1515, but he grew up in a relatively peaceful society with no major disturbing of a bourgeois life.
For France, 1525, the year king Francis I was defeated at the Battle of Pavia, meant the beginning of a process of persecution of those who supported the Reform. Even though Francis soon returned, the reformists found little support in him. As for young Calvin, the powerful family of Hangest who held the episcopal throne supported him along with his other two brothers in getting an education as churchmen.
"As it was, the de Hangests conferred on Jean Cauvin the boon of polite society. The mere ember of the common people, the grandson of a boatmen-cooper and of an inn-keeper, became polished, self-assured, independent, one not out of place at the tables of the great."
He then went on to Paris, at around eleven, where he furthered his studies at College de la Marche. After a year, he switched to College Montaigu as a philosophy student.
He moved to Orleans to study law in 1526 and then to Bourges in 1529. His time in Bourges was important for his studies: he learned Ancient Greek, which he later used for the study of the New Testament.
According to Gordon, in 1533, he went through a period of deep personal turmoil that eventually translated into a religious conversion.
It was Calvin's personal break with the Roman-Catholic Church. The same year saw religious turmoil at the College Royal in France, where the rector of the university, Nicolas Cop, gave an inaugural address that focused entirely on the reform of the Catholic Church. He was denounced as a heretic and was forced to take refuge in Basel, in Switzerland. Calvin, as a close friend of Cop, was forced into hiding as well. He left France in 1534 and met with Clop in Basel in 1535.
Starting with 1536, Calvin was at his most active period in his reform work. With the publishing of Institutio Christianae Religionis, he expressed his position on reformers. He travelled subsequently to Italy, then back to Paris, finally taking refuge in Strasbourg, which was then a free city under Imperial rule where tolerant to religious reformers.
However, he had to move to Geneva, because of military events, and it was there that a French reformer called William Farel asked him to stay and work together towards the reformation of the local church. He became a pastor in 1537 and began to exercise some of the pastoral duties, such as baptism and church services.
However, the political and religious times were troubled. Farel and Calvin soon came at odds with the city council and both had to leave Geneva. The divergent views were both religious (Bern was competing with Geneva on the reformist agenda and had proposed a uniformity in religious practice) and political (Geneva and France were due to form an alliance and there was some reluctance towards the two ministers who were French).
Calvin moved to Strasbourg to become a minister there. He was back in Geneva, however, in 1541, since the city had missed the presence of a strong ecclesiastic figure like Calvin, particularly since the debate with the Roman-Catholic Church was ongoing. He spent much of...
Calvin came at odds with a group called the Patriots (by themselves) and the Libertines (by Calvin) who opposed Calvin's doctrine according to which when a citizen had obtained the Grace he was relieved of duty in the civil society.
The Patriots perceived this as a derogation that would harm Geneva, particularly since Calvin was French. However, they went about challenging his authority by gaining more places in the city council, to the degree to which Calvin was forced to recognize his defeat in 1553, when he was already overruled in the council by a majority of Patriots. Nevertheless, he remained in the city and met with Michael Servetus in 1553.
The meeting with Servetus is important form several perspectives. First of all, it consolidates Calvin's position in Geneva at this time. After a series of exchanges of letters and debates about religious meaning, Servetus aimed to travel to Geneva to meet with Calvin.
However, he had already been denounced as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church, which meant that he did not have a safe conduct to the city. Indeed, he was captured on the way and turned over to the authorities in Geneva to be judged. Calvin was the one who drew up most of the accusations against Servetus, a fellow reformer after all, but whose views on the Trinity and on infant baptism was so different than his own that he appeared too radical. Servetus was eventually burned at the stake.
His victory over Servetus was so important that it secured Calvin's position in the city, and his statute in relation with both other citizens and his political opponents, particularly the Libertines. Despite being a Protestant reformer, he was now hailed as a savior of Christianity.
As previously mentioned, compared to Servetus's radicalism, Calvin's teachings were sufficiently mild to be embraced by the community of Geneva. He remains an authority that was virtually without opposition in the last years of his life and he dies in Geneva in 1564.
Even though Calvinism is part of the Reformation period, there are several elements that make Calvin's ecclesiastical thinking quite unique. As mentioned previously, his primary religious work is the "Institutes of the Christian Religion," which benefits from the fact that it was constantly edited and revised by Calvin himself throughout his life.
As Hesselink points out, the book was aimed to be a popularization of religion to the masses, with Calvin's own explanations and interpretations throughout the text.
The four books that made up the work, as they appeared in the last edition during Calvin's life, referred, God the Creator, Redeemer the Christ, receiving the Grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit and to the Society of Christ or the Church.
Niesel as well as Hesselink, summarize perfectly the key component of the Calvinist theology.
Human knowledge is made up of two large components. On one hand, there is the knowledge about the God and, on the other hand, is the knowledge about the individual. The path to the knowledge of God is through understanding his written Word, namely through understanding the Scriptures. It is in the first book of the four that Calvin puts together the overarching framework of his theology.
In the second book, he goes into detail on the fall of man. In a knowledgeable research, he goes from Augustine to the Church Fathers in order argue that the Reformers have a view that is different from the existing Roman Catholic Church, but in no way harmful to faith or to society, as the Church was then stating. The focus in the second book is on Christ, but this is done from a religiously historical perspective, going through Abraham and explaining how Christ's return will be fundamental in the final judgment to achieving the reunification of humans and God.
However, to achieve salvation, humanity has to achieve a spiritual union with Christ, and this is described in the third book. A primordial condition for the individual to be forgiven his sins is his repentance and this can eventually lead, through spiritual regeneration, to a state of the individual before Adam's original sin. His fourth and final book of the work is essential for his defense of the reformist movement. The Papacy is denied the primacy role it had been assuming, while Calvin argues that the reformers are not the schismatic believers they are portrayed by the official propaganda. Finally, he only accepts baptism and the Final Supper as the only valid sacraments, as compared to the existing Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.…
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