Calvin This man, undoubtedly the greatest of ./cathen/12495a.htm divines, and perhaps, after ./cathen/02084a.htm, the most perseveringly followed by his disciples of any Western writer on theology, was born at Noyon in Picardy, France, 10 July, 1509, and died at Geneva, 27 May, 1564. A generation divided him from ./cathen/09438b.htm, whom he never met. By birth, education, and temper these two protagonists of the reforming movement were strongly contrasted. Luther was a Saxon peasant, his father a miner; Calvin sprang from the French middle-class, and his father, an attorney, had purchased the freedom of the City of Noyon, where he practised civil and canon law. Luther entered the Order of Augustinian Hermits, took a monk’s vows, was made a priest and incurred much odium by marrying a nun. Calvin never was ordained in the Catholic Church; his training was chiefly in law and the humanities; he took no vows.
Luther’s eloquence made him popular by its force, humour, rudeness, and vulgar style. Calvin spoke to the learned at all times, even when preaching before multitudes. His manner is classical; he reasons on system; he has little humour; instead of striking with a cudgel he uses the weapons of a deadly logic and persuades by a teacher’s authority, not by a demagogue’s calling of names. He writes French as well as Luther writes German, and like him has been reckoned a pioneer in the modern development of his native tongue. Lastly, if we term the doctor of Wittenberg a mystic, we may sum up Calvin as a scholastic; he gives articulate expression to the principles which Luther had stormily thrown out upon the world in his vehement pamphleteering; and the Institutes as they were left by their author have remained ever since the standard of orthodox ./cathen/12495a.htm belief in all the Churches known as ./cathen/12710a.htm His French disciples called their sect the religion; such it has proved to be outside the Roman world.
The family name, spelt in many ways, was Cauvin latinized according to the custom of the age as Calvinus. For some unknown reason the Reformer is commonly called Matre Jean C. His mother, Jeanne Le Franc, born in the ./cathen/03209c.htm, is mentioned as beautiful and devout; she took her little son to various shrines and brought him up a good Catholic. On the father’s side, his ancestors were seafaring men. His grandfather settled at Pont l’Evque near Paris, and had two sons who became locksmiths; the third was Gerard, who turned procurator at Noyon, and there his four sons and two daughters saw the light.
He lived in the Place au Bl (Cornmarket). Noyon, a bishop’s see, had long been a fief of the powerful old family of Hangest, who treated it as their personal property. But an everlasting quarrel, in which the city took part, went on between the bishop and the chapter. Charles de Hangest, nephew of the too well-known Georges d’Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen, surrendered the bishopric in 1525 to his own nephew John, becoming his vicar-general. John kept up the battle with his canons until the Parliament of Paris intervened, upon which he went to Rome, and at last died in Paris in 1577.
This prelate had ./cathen/12495a.htm kinsfolk; he is charged with having fostered heresy which in those years was beginning to raise its head among the French. Clerical dissensions, at all events, allowed the new doctrines a promising field; and the Calvins were more or less infected by them before 1530. Gerard’s four sons were made clerics and held benefices at a tender age. The Reformer was given one when a boy of twelve, he became Cur of Saint-Martin de Marteville in the Vermandois in 1527, and of Pont l’Eveque in 1529. Three of the boys attended the local Collge des Capettes, and there John proved himself an apt scholar. But his people were intimate with greater folk, the de Montmor, a branch of the line of Hangest, which led to his accompanying some of their children to Paris in 1523, when his mother was probably dead and his father had married again. The latter died in 1531, under excommunication from the chapter for not sending in his accounts.
The old man’s illness, not his lack of honesty, was, we are told, the cause. Yet his son Charles, nettled by the censure, drew towards the ./cathen/12495a.htm doctrines. He was accused in 1534 of denying the Catholic dogma of the ./cathen/05572c.htm, and died out of the Church in 1536; his body was publicly gibbeted as that of a recusant. Meanwhile, young John was going through his own trials at the University of Paris, the dean or syndic of which, Noel Bdier, had stood up against ./cathen/05510b.htm and bore hard upon ./cathen/09114b.htm (Stapulensis), celebrated for his translation of the Bible into French. Calvin, a martinet, or oppidan, in the College de la Marche, made this man’s acquaintance (he was from Picardy) and may have glanced into his Latin commentary on St. Paul, dated 1512, which Doumergue considers the first ./cathen/12495a.htm book emanating from a French pen.
Another influence tending the same way was that of Corderius, Calvin’s tutor, to whom he dedicated afterwards his annotation of I Thessalonians, remarking, if there be any good thing in what I have published, I owe it to you. Corderius had an excellent Latin style, his life was austere, and his Colloquies earned him enduring fame. But he fell under suspicion of heresy, and by Calvin’s aid took refuge in Geneva, where he died September 1564. A third herald of the New Learning was George Cop, physician to Francis I, in whose house Calvin found a welcome and gave ear to the religious discussions which Cop favoured. And a fourth was Pierre-Robert d’Olivet of Noyon, who also translated the Scriptures, our youthful man of letters, his nephew, writing (in 1535) a Latin preface to the Old Testament and a French one — his first appearance as a native author — to the New Testament.
By 1527, when no more than eighteen, Calvin’s educatlon was complete in its main lines. He had learned to be a humanist and a reformer. The sudden conversion to a spiritual life in 1529, of which he speaks, must not be taken quite literally. He had never been an ardent Catholic; but the stories told at one time of his ill-regulated conduct have no foundation; and by a very natural process he went over to the side on which his family were taking their stand. In 1528 he inscribed himself at Orlans as a law student, made friends with Francis Daniel, and then went for a year to Bourges, where he began preaching in private.
Margaret d’Angoulme, sister of Francis I, and Duchess of Berry, was living there with many heterodox Germans about her. He is found again at Paris in 1531. Wolmar had taught him Greek at Bourges; from Vatable he learned Hebrew; and he entertained some relations with the erudite Budaeus. About this date he printed a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementi. It was merely an exercise in scholarship, having no political significance. Francis I was, indeed, handling ./cathen/12495a.htm severely, and Calvin, now Doctor of Law at Orlans, composed, so the story runs, an oration on Christian philosophy which Nicholas Cop delivered on All Saints’ Day, 1532, both writer and speaker having to take instant flight from pursuit by the royal inquisitors.
This legend has been rejected by modern critics. Calvin spent some time, however, with Canon du Tillet at Angoulme under a feigned designation. In May, 1534, he went to Noyon, gave up his benefice, and, it is said, was imprisoned. But he got away to Nerac in Bearn, the residence of the Duchess Margaret, and there again encountered Le Fvre, whose French Bible had been condemned by the Sorbonne to the flames. His next visit to Paris fell out during a violent campaign of the Lutherans against the ./cathen/10006a.htm, which brought on reprisals, Etienne de la Forge and others were burnt in the Place de Grve; and Calvin accompanied by du Tillet, escaped — though not without adventures — to Metz and Strasburg.
In the latter city Bucer reigned supreme. The leading reformers dictated laws from the pulpit to their adherents, and this journey proved a decisive one for the French humanist, who, though by nature timid and shy, committed himself to a war on paper with his own sovereign. The famous letter to Francis I is dated 23 August, 1535. It served as a prologue to the Institutes, of which the first edition came out in March, 1536, not in French but in Latin. Calvin’s apology for lecturing the king was, that placards denouncing the ./cathen/12495a.htm as rebels had been posted up all over the realm.
Francis I did not read these pages, but if he had done so he would have discovered in them a plea, not for toleration, which the Reformer utterly scorned, but for doing away with Catholicism in favour of the new gospel. There could be only one true Church, said the young theologian, therefore kings ought to make an utter end of popery. (For an account of the Institutes see ./cathen/03198a.htm) The second edition belongs to 1539, the first French translation to 1541; the final Latin, as revised by its author, is of 1559; but that in common use, dated 1560, has additions by his disciples. It was more God’s work than mine, said Calvin, who took for his motto Omnia ad Dei gloriam, and in allusion to the change he had undergone in 1529 assumed for his device a hand stretched out from a burning heart. A much disputed chapter in Calvin’s biography is the visit which he was long thought to have paid at Ferraro to the ./cathen/12495a.htm Duchess Rene, daughter of Louis XII. Many stories clustered about his journey, now given up by the best-informed writers.
All we know for certain is that the Reformer, after settling his family affairs and bringing over two of his brothers and sisters to the views he had adopted undertook, in consequence of the war between ./cathen/03625a.htm and Francis I, to reach Bale by way of Geneva, in July, 1536. At Geneva the Swiss preacher Fare, then looking for help in his propaganda, besought him with such vehemence to stay and teach theology that, as Calvin himself relates, he was terrified into submission. We are not accustomed to fancy the austere prophet so easily frightened. But as a student and recluse new to public responsibilities, he may well have hesitated before plunging into the troubled waters of Geneva, then at their stormiest period. No portrait of him belonging to this time is extant. Later he is represented as of middle height, with bent shoulders, piercing eyes, and a large forehead; his hair was of an auburn tinge.
Study and fasting occasioned the severe headaches from which he suffered continually. In private life he was cheerful but sensitive, not to say overbearing, his friends treated him with delicate consideration. His habits were simple; he cared nothing for wealth, and he never allowed himself a holiday. His correspondence, of which 4271 letters remain, turns chiefly on doctrinal subjects. Yet his strong, reserved character told on all with whom he came in contact; Geneva submitted to his theocratic rule, and the ./cathen/12710a.htm accepted his teaching as though it were infallible.
Such was the stranger whom Farel recommended to his fellow ./cathen/12495a.htm, this Frenchman, chosen to lecture on the Bible in a city divided against itself. Geneva had about 15,000 inhabitants. Its bishop had long been its prince limited, however, by popular privileges. The vidomne, or mayor, was the Count of Savoy, and to his family the bishopric seemed a property which, from 1450, they bestowed on their younger children. John of Savoy, illegitimate son of the previous bishop, sold his rights to the duke, who was head of the clan, and died in 1519 at Pignerol. Jean de la Baume, last …