John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the most important figures of the Reformation. He was born in northern France, the second of five children. His father —Gerard Caulvin— was a minor yet practical politician who always managed to obtain plumb jobs. He even secured a job for his son John as chaplain (in the cathedral of Noyon), despite the fact that John was only twelve years old.
Calvin was of feeble health, of meager and emaciated frame. He is depicted as having a thin face, a long, pointed beard, black hair, a prominent nose, a lofty forehead, and flaming eyes. He was modest, plain, and neat in dress, orderly and methodical in all his habits, temperate, and even abstemious. Despite his apparent physical weaknesses, he displayed high energy level, which he employed to read and write for long hours at a time.
Initially John Calvin studied to become a priest, but finding himself at odds with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, he turned to the study of the law. Soon he allied himself with dissidents and was viewed as a “reformer.” Under attack, he had to leave France, settling in Basel. Later in 1538 he moved to Geneva, from which he was banished by his enemies.
Calvin’s Writings: Political PhilosophyIn 1523 he was sent to Paris to prepare for the priesthood. At the Collège de la Marche, he studied Latin, leaving after a few months for Collège de Montaigu.
He settled in Strassburg, center of the Reformation in southwestern Germany, serving as pastor of French refugees in that region. Besides his pastoral duties he lectured on theology; an activity that enable him to gather material for the core of the doctrine of his Institutes.
By 1541 he had become famous, achieving at the same time great prominence, becoming a de facto dictator in both the ecclesiastical and civic life of the community.
Calvin put into effect in Geneva a system of stern regulation of religious doctrine and church services, and of dress, speech, amusements, and other forms of daily conduct. Because Calvin's writings also laid great stress for the middle-class to exhibit virtues of sobriety, thrift, frugality, and the obligation to glorify God.
Calvinist sects became popular in the newer urban industrial regions, from which it is widely accepted that there’s a close connection between Calvinism and the development of modern industrial capitalism.
In the preface to his Institutes, he stated that a main thesis the work was to answer the charge that the Reformist doctrine was noxious to the church and the community. Although it is mainly a work in theology, it also deals with questions of ecclesiastical organization; and the role of civil government and the separation of church and state. In this respect, he disagreed with the also famed Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli, who believed in theocracy.
John Calvin’s Influence
Calvin based his system upon the Apostles' Creed, and followed its lines. Ethics and theology were handled in the closest connection.
Calvin’s reformation in theology was a practical affair. Even the doctrine of predestination was developed, not as a grand thesis of theology, but as a matter of practical concern to reform both institutions and the common people. To gain influence in Rome, he revived Augustinian doctrine.
Like Augustine, Calvin says, "The Church is our mother" ("Institutes," IV. i. 1). Outside of the Church there is no salvation; that State and Church have separate and exclusive jurisdiction, yet they mutually support each other. Furthermore, the state could come from aristocracy or from democracy.