John Calvin

  John Calvin, or Jean Cauvin as he was born in 1509, came from Noyon, France. Unlike Luther, he first trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood before his father transferred him to the study of the law. He was converted by his relatives and friends at university who had read Luther’s work. Aligning himself with the reformers in Paris and elsewhere, soldiers were sent to arrest him when King Francis' tolerant policy altered in response to some impolite protests against the Mass. He had to flee Paris when the king ordered Protestant leaders arrested- he fled from his bedroom window using tied bed sheets as the soldiers arrived at his door.

 He eventually fled to Geneva, in Switzerland, and there became the pastor, and leader of their reformation. He wasn't popular, however, and they eventually expelled him, only to invite him back some years later. The city was a destination for French refugees fleeing their government, and the xenophobia this fed made a Frenchman like Calvin always uneasy and unable to feel settled.

 Whereas Luther was fiery and passionate, Calvin was quiet and careful. A quiet, unassuming scholar, he arranged for himself to be buried in an unmarked grave in the common cemetery to avoid any hero-worship or relic seeking.


He established a pastor training college in Geneva and sheltered persecuted Protestants from all over Europe. He helped the reformation in England by influencing the refugees from Bloody Mary's reign (many of whom later became bishops and archbishops under Queen Elizabeth) and Scotland through the fearsome John Knox.

He printed thousands of tracts in Geneva and sent them into France to promote the gospel; at his death 10% of all French people were ‘reformed’, and one third of all the nobles. Sadly, these Protestants were wiped out by the successive French kings or forced to flee to Holland or England. He published several editions of Institutes of the Christian Religion (‘institutes’ really meaning 'introduction') and his Bible commentaries are still well read today.

Many Presbyterians, Congregationalist, Baptist and Anglicans churches would still claim to be ‘Calvinist’, though this is a term the man himself disliked.


Calvin’s Geneva is sometimes classed as a police state by historians, enforcing a godly lifestyle on even unconverted persons. They went as far as producing lists of acceptable first names. (Jean was acceptable, Claude was not...). Calvin is portrayed as being the force behind this stern morality, but as previously stated, his position in Geneva was never much better than precarious.  The image of him as a kind of protestant pope is therefore unfair, although he was the prosecutor at the trial of Michael Servetus, a Spanish anti-Trinitarian burned at the stake. This was clearly a shameful, terrible thing to do, and Calvin must take some responsibility, even though he objected to the manner of execution handed out.


    A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

    Yet consider now, whether women are not quite past sense and reason, when they want to rule over men.

    There is not one blade of grass, there is no colour in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.

    The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.

    There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence.

    I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.

    Every one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols.

    All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours.

    ‘a lover of Jesus Christ’ (of him at his conversion)

    For there is no one so great or mighty that he can avoid the misery that will rise up against him when he resists and strives against God.

    However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.