John Calvin

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John Calvin, born Noyon, France, 1509; died Geneva, Switzerland, 1564. Founder of Calvinism.


Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg castle church in 1517 when Calvin was 6. Calvin was, then, securely a member of the second generation of Reformers.

Calvin's attorney father sent him to the University of Paris to study humanities and law, and he was by 1532 a Doctor of Law at Orleans. His first published work was a commentary on the Roman philosopher Seneca.

In 1536 he settled in Geneva, halted in the path of an intended journey to Basel by the personal persuasion of the reformer Farel.

Reformed Geneva

Toleration was not a "value" highly prized in the Early Modern period, and it was not one practiced in Geneva. Calvin and his city ejected any remaining Catholics and strongly prohibited any practices they identified as un-reformed, such as dancing, wedding feasts, and the celebration of Christmas and other religious holidays. Michael Servetus, a Spaniard whose writings were identified as Unitarian as opposed to Trinitarian, was arrested and eventually burned as a heretic in Geneva.


The first edition of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion was published in Latin in 1536. The first French version of 1541 is commonly credited as a masterpiece of French prose. Calvin also published many volumes of commentaries on the Bible. As much as his practice in Geneva his publications spread his ideas of a correctly reformed church to many parts of Europe. Calvinism became the religion of the majority in Scotland, the Netherlands, and parts of North Germany and was influential in Hungary and Poland.