The Protestant Reformation's Other Great Writer

By Peterson, Daniel; Hamblin, Bill | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), September 15, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Protestant Reformation's Other Great Writer


Peterson, Daniel, Hamblin, Bill, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


Editor's note: This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and this is one in a series of columns to describe the origins, nature and impact of the events and personalities of the Reformation. Previous articles are online at deseretnews.com/faith.

In this 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, the spotlight naturally falls on Martin Luther (1483-1546). But his somewhat younger contemporary Jehan Cauvin (1509-1564) shouldn’t be overlooked.

Better known among English-speakers as John Calvin, he was born in France. Originally educated as a lawyer, he also received superb training in both Latin and Greek, and — rather curiously, given his later history — his first published book (1532) was a commentary on the first-century pagan Roman philosopher Seneca’s “De Clementia” (“On Mercy”), an indication of his strong early humanist leanings.

Calvin left the Roman Catholic Church sometime around 1530. In 1533, he experienced a powerful religious conversion and, thereafter, devoted himself more to theology than to either humanism or law.

In 1534, he went underground to avoid anti-Protestant violence in France. By 1535, he had reached Basel, Switzerland, where, in March 1536, he published the first edition of his important “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” which he initially intended to serve as a catechism or basic introduction to Christian doctrine. Soon thereafter, however, the city of Geneva recruited him as a reader (offering expository lectures on the Bible) and preacher.

But when he was expelled by Geneva’s governing council, he accepted an invitation — although he’d never been ordained — to serve as pastor for a church of 400-500 French refugees in the free imperial city of Strasbourg. Commencing there in 1538, he performed baptisms and weddings and led worship services.

Still in Strasbourg in 1539, he published the second edition of his “Institutes,” expanding it from six to 17 chapters. He also abandoned his plan that it be an elementary Christian primer and transformed it into a systematic statement of Christian doctrine. In March 1540, he published his “Commentary on Romans.” Eventually, he would write commentaries on nearly every biblical book. (His preaching reflected his system of working methodically through the Bible: From March 1555 to July 1556, he delivered 200 sermons on the book of Deuteronomy.)

In 1541, Geneva officials invited Calvin to return, and he spent the rest of his life based there. The city’s political climate had changed, and, perhaps even more important, church attendance had declined noticeably after the popular preacher’s banishment. …

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