John Calvin was an influential theologian and a recognized pastor of French origin who lived during the Protestant Reformation. He was known as a leading figure in the development of the system of Christian theology that later became known as Calvinism. Originally studied as a humanist lawyer, he separated from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530.
John Calvin was an important theologian who studied humanities and law and was a Protestant reformer who was first educated in Catholicism. Years later, he adopted Luther's beliefs, converting to Protestantism and denying the authority of the Church of Rome.
He was the builder of constitutional democracy. He left a teaching on the concept of justice and injustice, on law and equity in the heart of man by God. He spoke of God’s covenant with governors and the people as the basis of a political institution creating an obligation to justice, equity and righteousness.
He showed great interest in popular education for children by supporting free education at all times and encouraged the creation of secondary and higher levels of education.
He was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France, and raised in a Roman Catholic family. The local bishop employed John Calvin’s father as an administrator in the city’s cathedral and this priest wanted John to become a priest. As a son of a noble family, his playmates and classmates were aristocratic and culturally influential.
When he was 14, he went to Paris to prepare for university. He studied grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. At the end of 1523, he studied at the Montaigu College, one of the most famous. In Paris, he changed his name to its Latin form, Ioannis Calvinus, which in French became Jean Calvin. In 1527 Calvin had been associated with reform-minded people who set the stage for Calvin’s eventual change to the Reformed faith.
In 1528, John Calvin moved to Orleans to study civil law. In 1532 Calvin finished his law studies and published his first book, a commentary on De Clementia by the Roman philosopher Seneca. A year later, he fled Paris because of people who opposed the Roman Catholic Church. According to historians, in 1533 Calvin experienced the sudden and unexpected conversion about which he writes in his prologue to his commentary on the Psalms.
For a long time, he slept little and ate little. In 1559, his health problems involved regular episodes of malaria-like fever, tuberculosis, ulcerated veins, kidney stones, and hemorrhoids. In his letters, some of his physical suffering was noticeable. In early 1563, he could not walk well due to gout and arthritis. By 1564, his strength was failing more and more and at the beginning of February 1564 he gave his last lectures and sermons.
John Calvin prayed to have his mind clear until the end and to be able to work. From his bed he continued to dictate letters and comments, and in April he wrote his will, though not much he could leave. On May 2, he wrote his old friend William Farel one of Calvin’s last letters. Farel, seventy-five and in poor health, made the trip for a personal farewell. He died peacefully and silently on Saturday, May 27 at 8 pm. He had his holy burial on Sunday in a tomb which was not named in a secret place somewhere in Geneva.
Among the main contributions of John Calvin we can mention the following:
Calvin, within the Protestant Reformation, was in charge of forging a clear and systematic thought with respect to the main reform doctrines, adding his contribution and broadening some topics such as theological, social and cultural. With him, the Geneva republic was created in which was a theocracy with civil, political, social and moral ordinances. It was also the forerunner of the modern constitutional system that included the three branches of the state we know today; the executive, the legislative and the judicial, which had a series of laws to govern religious life that had to be kept separate from those three divisions.
Calvinism was the doctrine taught by John Calvin and is a Protestant theological system that has a focus on Christian living by emphasizing God’s authority over all things. He studied and taught aspects such as sovereign grace, life as religion, explained that the Bible was the only source of authority, that salvation was given only through faith, that the work of Christ was on the cross was the only one that could give us that salvation and that that salvation was for the glory of God.
John Calvin was guided by some of Luther’s ideas and by other reformist currents. But Calvinism was different from Lutheranism mainly in two aspects of John Calvin’s thinking, one was that he had a more optimistic conception of man and the second was that he thought God is an absolute sovereign, all-powerful and unknowable, for it was He who decides whom to save and whom to condemn.
He also thought that the Christian life is a sign for man’s belonging and for being able to save. That success in temporary work is God’s blessing and that for this reason the Christian must seek and achieve success to confirm his salvation. For him the church was the people chosen by God which gave solidity and strength to the Reformation.
His theological work for which he is known, is also known as the Institution of the Christian Religion. He was not a professional theologian but he was a man with a deep sense of religiosity, orderly and methodical thinking. His theological work had six different chapters and was a guide for students and readers who read the Bible.
His ideology was differentiated and full of Lutheran concepts with which he believed that power came from God and was exercised by princes. He also thought that the social organization of a country depends on the reason of the human being and the subordination of the human being before the divine law. Authority, for John Calvin, exists solely for the purpose of fulfilling his spiritual mission which is to lead all men to salvation.
Some of his works were the following:
Among his most recognized phrases we mention the following:
He was always interested in government and became one of the most influential political writers of the 16th century and one of the architects of constitutional democracy based on an alliance with God. He was a reformer of the second generation within a world of capitalism, being the one who raised many issues that were the basis of multiple developments in today’s world.
His legacy impacts disciplines such as history, economics, law and political science, creating a second revolution of thought and morality for the progress of humanity.