A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
CALVIN

§ 1. THE INSTITUTE

IN the history of political thought in the sixteenth century, there was no agent of more importance than was Jean Calvin. The Picards, it is said, were a hard headed, vigorous, argumentative, dogmatic and strong-willed race. Born at Noyon in 1509, Calvin, like Pierre de la Ramée, was a true child of Picardy. In his craving for logical completeness and unity, his love of economy in every direction, including the use of words, his determined lucidity, his purposive concentration and freedom from sentimentality, he was a typical Frenchman. Though the ideal of the State he did so much to propagate was all but dead a hundred years after his death, in 1564, yet at least for the sixteenth century, his teaching was of enormous importance in politics as well as in theology.

He commenced his career as a typical French humanist. The classics and Roman jurisprudence attracted him rather than the Bible. In 1523 he was a student in the College of St. Barbe in Paris. There he had the good fortune of having as tutor Mathurin Cordier, one of the men who did really enlarging and enlightening work in the sixteenth century and who to-day are almost forgotten. There also he gained the friendship of Guillaume Cop, the enlightened physician of Francis I, of Francois Connan, the jurist, and of the great scholar, Guillaume Budé. These men were Catholics or, perhaps, sceptics, but certainly not 'Protestants'. In 1528 Calvin was studying law at Orléans, and next year he continued his legal studies at Bourges, under Alciati. In 1532 he published a commentary on the De Clementia of Seneca. The book is merely scholarly and of no marked distinction; it evinces a scholar's admiration for Erasmus and makes few references to the Bible. So far there is no sign of any special preoccupation with religion.

But it must have been about that time that Calvin began to turn from the classics and the Corpus Juris to St. Augustine and the Scriptures. In 1533 he was at Paris again, and there, in the lecture room of Pierre Danès, may have sat on the same benches as Rabelais and Ignatius Loyola. There is evidence that in that year he was thinking

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