Vol. 8, Chapter IX. From France to Switzerland

69. Calvin’s Youth and Training

Calvini Opera, vol. XXI. (1879). — On Noyon and the family of Calvin, Jacques Le Vasseur (Dr. of theology, canon and dean of the cathedral of Noyon): Annales de l’église cathédrale de Noyon. Paris, 1633, 2 vols. 4°. — Jacques Desmay (Dr. of the Sorbonne and vicar-general of the diocese of Rouen): Remarques sur la vie de Jean Calvin tirées des Registres de Noyon, lieu de sa naissance. Rouen, 1621.

Thomas M’Crie (d. 1835): The Early Years of Calvin. A Fragment. 1509-1536. Ed. by William Ferguson. Edinburgh, 1880 (199 pp.). A posthumous work of the learned biographer of Knox and Melville.

Abel Lefranc: La Jeunesse de Calvin. Paris (33 rue de Seine), 228 pp.

Comp. the biographies of Calvin by Henry, large work, vol. I. chs. I.-VIII. (small ed. 1846, pp. 12-29); Dyer (1850), pp. 4-10; Staehelin (1862) I. 3-12; *Kampschulte (1869), I. 221-225.

“As David was taken from the sheepfold and elevated to the rank of supreme authority; so God having taken me from my originally obscure and humble condition, has reckoned me worthy of being invested with the honorable office of a preacher and minister of the gospel. When I was yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who follow it, to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass, that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy and was put to the study of law. To this pursuit I endeavored faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father; but God, by the secret guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course. And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more burdened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that though I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardor.”

This is the meagre account which Calvin himself incidentally gives of his youth and conversion, in the Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms, when speaking of the life of David, in which he read his own spiritual experience. Only once more he alludes, very briefly, to his change of religion. In his Answer to Cardinal Sadoletus, he assures him that he did not consult his temporal interest when he left the papal party. “I might,” he said, “have reached without difficulty the summit of my wishes, namely, the enjoyment of literary ease, with something of a free and honorable station.”

Luther indulged much more freely in reminiscences of his hard youth, his early monastic life, and his discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which gave peace and rest to his troubled conscience.

John Calvin was born July 10, 1509, — twenty-five years after Luther and Zwingli, — at Noyon, an ancient cathedral city, called Noyon-la-Sainte, on account of its many churches, convents, priests, and monks, in the northern province of Picardy, which has given birth to the crusading monk, Peter of Amiens, to the leaders of the French Reformation and Counter-Reformation (the Ligue), and to many revolutionary as well as reactionary characters.

His father, Gérard Cauvin, a man of hard and severe character, occupied a prominent position as apostolic secretary to the bishop of Noyon, proctor in the Chapter of the diocese, and fiscal procurator of the county, and lived on intimate terms with the best families of the neighborhood. His mother, Jeanne Lefranc, of Cambrai, was noted for her beauty and piety, but died in his early youth, and is not mentioned in his letters. The father married a second time. He became involved in financial embarrassment, and was excommunicated, perhaps on suspicion of heresy. He died May 26 (or 25), 1531, after a long sickness, and would have been buried in unconsecrated soil but for the intercession of his son, Charles, who gave security for the discharge of his father’s obligations.

Calvin had four brothers and two sisters. Two of his brothers died young, the other two received a clerical education, and were early provided with benefices through the influence of the father.

Charles, his elder brother, was made chaplain of the cathedral in 1518, and curé of Roupy, but became a heretic or infidel, was excommunicated in 1531, and died Oct. 1, 1537, having refused the sacrament on his death-bed. He was buried by night between the four pillars of a gibbet.

His younger brother, Antoine, was chaplain at Tournerolle, near Traversy, but embraced the evangelical faith, and, with his sister, Marie, followed the Reformer to Geneva in 1536. Antoine kept there a bookstore, received the citizenship gratuitously, on account of the merits of his brother (1546), was elected a member of the Council of Two Hundred (1558), and of the Council of the Sixty (1570), also one of the directors of the hospital, and died in 1573. He was married three times, and divorced from his second wife, the daughter of a refugee, on account of her proved adultery (1557). Calvin had innocently to suffer for this scandal, but made him and his five children chief heirs of his little property.

The other sister of Calvin was married at Noyon, and seems to have remained in the Roman Catholic Church.

A relative and townsman of Calvin, Pierre Robert, called Olivetan, embraced Protestantism some years before him, and studied Greek and Hebrew with Bucer at Strassburg in 1528. He joined Farel in Neuchatel, and published there his French translation of the Bible in 1535.

More than a hundred years after Calvin’s death, another member of the family, Eloi Cauvin, a Benedictine monk, removed from Noyon to Geneva, and embraced the Reformed religion (June 13, 1667).

These and other facts show the extent of the anti-papal sentiment in the family of Cauvin. In 1561 a large number of prominent persons of Noyon were suspected of heresy, and in 1562 the Chapter of Noyon issued a profession of faith against the doctrines of Calvin.

After the death of Calvin, Protestantism was completely crushed out in his native town.

Calvin received his first education with the children of the noble family de Mommor (not Montmor), to which he remained gratefully attached. He made rapid progress in learning, and acquired a refinement of manners and a certain aristocratic air, which distinguished him from Luther and Zwingli. A son of de Mommor accompanied him to Paris, and followed him afterwards to Geneva.

His ambitious father destined him first for the clerical profession. He secured for him even in his twelfth year (1521) a part of the revenue of a chaplaincy in the cathedral of Noyon. In his eighteenth year Calvin received, in addition, the charge of S. Martin de Marteville (Sept. 27, 1527), although he had not yet the canonical age, and had only received the tonsure.

Such shocking irregularities were not uncommon in those days. Pluralism and absenteeism, though often prohibited by Councils, were among the crying abuses of the Church. Charles de Hangest, bishop of Noyon, obtained at fifteen years of age a dispensation from the pope “to hold all kinds of offices, compatible and incompatible, secular and regular, etiam tria curata”; and his nephew and successor, Jean de Hangest, was elected bishop at nineteen years of age. Odet de Châtillon, brother of the famous Coligny, was created cardinal in his sixteenth year. Pope Leo X. received the tonsure as a boy of seven, was made archbishop in his eighth, and cardinal-deacon in his thirteenth year (with the reservation that he should not put on the insignia of his dignity nor discharge the duties of his office till he was sixteen), besides being canon in three cathedrals, rector in six parishes, prior in three convents, abbot in thirteen additional abbeys, and bishop of Amalfi, deriving revenues from them all!

Calvin resigned the chaplaincy in favor of his younger brother, April 30, 1529. He exchanged the charge of S. Martin for that of the village Pont-l’Evèque (the birthplace of his father), July 5, 1529, but he resigned it, May 4, 1534, before he left France. In the latter parish he preached sometimes, but never administered the sacraments, not being ordained to the priesthood.

The income from the chaplaincy enabled him to prosecute his studies at Paris, together with his noble companions. He entered the College de la Marche in August, 1523, in his fourteenth year. He studied grammar and rhetoric with an experienced and famous teacher, Marthurin Cordier (Cordatus). He learned from him to think and to write Latin, and dedicated to him in grateful memory his Commentary on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (1550). Cordier became afterwards a Protestant and director of the College of Geneva, where he died at the age of eighty-five in the same year with Calvin (1564).

From the College de la Marche Calvin was transferred to the strictly ecclesiastical College de Montague, in which philosophy and theology were taught under the direction of a learned Spaniard. In February, 1528, Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the order of the Jesuits, entered the same college and studied under the same teacher. The leaders of the two opposite currents in the religious movement of the sixteenth century came very near living under the same roof and sitting at the same table.

Calvin showed during this early period already the prominent traits of his character: he was conscientious, studious, silent, retired, animated by a strict sense of duty, and exceedingly religious. An uncertain tradition says that his fellow-students called him “the Accusative,” on account of his censoriousness.


Notes. Slanderous Reports on Calvin’s Youth

Thirteen years after Calvin’s death, Bolsec, his bitter enemy, once a Romanist, then a Protestant, then a Romanist again, wrote a calumnious history of his life (Histoire de la vie, moeurs, actes, doctrine, constance, et mort de Jean Calvin, Lyon, 1577, republished by Louis-François Chastel, Magistrat, Lyon, 1875, pp. 323, with an introduction of xxxi. pp.). He represents Calvin as “a man, above all others who lived in the world, ambitious, impudent, arrogant, cruel, malicious, vindictive, and ignorant”(!) (p. 12).

Among other incredible stories he reports that Calvin in his youth was stigmatized (fleur-de-lysé, branded with the national flower of France) at Noyon in punishment of a heinous crime, and then fled from France in disgrace. “Calvin,” he says (p. 28 sq.), “pourveu d’une cure et d’une chapelle, fut surprins ou (et) convaincu Du peché de Sodomie, pour lequel il fut en danger de mort par feu, comment est la commune peine de tel peché: mais que l’Evesque de laditte ville [Noyon] par compassion feit moderer laditte peine en une marque de fleur de lys chaude sur l’espaule. Iceluy Calvin confuz de telle vergongne et vitupère, se defit de ses deux bénéfices es mains du curé de Noyon, duquel ayant receu quelque somme d’argent s’en alla vers Allemaigne et Itallie: cherchant son adventure, et passa par la ville de Ferrare, ou il receut quelque aumone de Madame la Duchesse.” Bolsec gives as his authority a Mr. Bertelier, secretary of the Council of Geneva, who, he says, was sent to Noyon to make inquiries about the early life of Calvin, and saw the document of his disgrace. But nobody else has seen such a document, and if it had existed at all, it would have been used against him by his enemies. The story is contradicted by all that is authentically known of Calvin, and has been abundantly refuted by Drelincourt, and recently again by Lefranc (p. 48 sqq., 176-182). Kampschulte (I. 224, note 2) declares it unworthy of serious refutation. Nevertheless it has been often repeated by Roman controversialists down to Audin.

The story is either a malignant slander, or it arose from confounding the Reformer with a younger person of the same name (Jean Cauvin), and chaplain of the same church at Noyon, who it appears was punished for some immorality of a different kind (“pour avoir retenue en so maison une femme du mauvais gouvernement”) in the year 1550, that is, about twenty years later, and who was no heretic, but died a “bon Catholic” (as Le Vasseur reports in Annales de Noyon, p. 1170, quoted by Lefranc, p. 182). b.c. Galiffe, who is unfriendly to Calvin, adopts the latter suggestion (Quelques pages d’histoire exacte, p. 118).

Several other myths were circulated about the Reformer; e.g., that he was the son of a concubine of a priest; that he was an intemperate eater; that he stole a silver goblet at Orleans, etc. See Lefranc, pp. 52 sqq.

Similar perversions and inventions attach to many a great name. The Sanhedrin who crucified the Lord circulated the story that the disciples stole his body and cheated the world. The heretical Ebionites derived the conversion of Paul from disappointed ambition and revenge for an alleged offence of the high-priest, who had refused to give him his daughter in marriage. The long-forgotten myth of Luther’s suicide has been seriously revived in our own age (1890) by Roman Catholic priests (Majunke and Honef) in the interest of revived Ultramontanism, and is believed by thousands in spite of repeated refutation.


70. Calvin as a Student in the French Universities. a.d. 1528-1533

The letters of Calvin from 1530 to 1532, chiefly addressed to his fellow-student, François Daniel of Orleans, edited by Jules Bonnet, in the Edinburgh ed. of Calvin’s Letters, I. 3 sqq.; Herminjard, II. 278 sqq.; Opera, X. Part II. 3 sqq. His first letter to Daniel is dated “Melliani, 8 Idus Septembr.,” and is put by Herminjard and Reuss in the year 1530 (not 1529). Mellianum is Meillant, south of Bourges (and not to be confounded with Meaux, as is done in the Edinburgh edition).

Comp. Beza-Colladon, in Op. XXI. 54 sqq., 121 sqq. L. Bonnet: Études sur Calvin, in the “Revue Chrétienne” for 1855. — Kampschulte, I. 226-240; M’Crie, 12-28; Lefranc, 72-108.

Calvin received the best education — in the humanities, law, philosophy, and theology — which France at that time could give. He studied successively in the three leading universities of Orleans, Bourges, and Paris, from 1528 to 1533, first for the priesthood, then, at the wish of his father, for the legal profession, which promised a more prosperous career. After his father’s death, he turned again with double zeal to the study of the humanities, and at last to theology.

He made such progress in learning that he occasionally supplied the place of the professors. He was considered a doctor rather than an auditor. Years afterwards, the memory of his prolonged night studies survived in Orleans and Bourges. By his excessive industry he stored his memory with valuable information, but undermined his health, and became a victim to headache, dyspepsia, and insomnia, of which he suffered more or less during his subsequent life. While he avoided the noisy excitements and dissipations of student life, he devoted his leisure to the duties and enjoyments of friendship with like-minded fellow-students. Among them were three young lawyers, Duchemin, Connan, and François Daniel, who felt the need of a reformation and favored progress, but remained in the old Church. His letters from that period are brief and terse; they reveal a love of order and punctuality, and a conscientious regard for little as well as great things, but not a trace of opposition to the traditional faith.

His principal teacher in Greek and Hebrew was Melchior Volmar (Wolmar), a German humanist of Rottweil, a pupil of Lefèvre, and successively professor in the universities of Orleans and Bourges, and, at last, at Tübingen, where he died in 1561. He openly sympathized with the Lutheran Reformation, and may have exerted some influence upon his pupil in this direction, but we have no authentic information about it. Calvin was very intimate with him, and could hardly avoid discussing with him the religious question which was then shaking all Europe. In grateful remembrance of his services he dedicated to him his Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Aug. 1, 1546).

His teachers in law were the two greatest jurists of the age, Pierre d’Estoile (Petrus Stella) at Orleans, who was conservative, and became President of the Parliament of Paris, and Andrea Alciati at Bourges, a native of Milan, who was progressive and continued his academic career in Bologna and Padua. Calvin took an interest in the controversy of these rivals, and wrote a little preface to the Antapologia of his friend, Nicholas Duchemin, in favor of d’Estoile. He acquired the degree of Licentiate or Bachelor of Laws at Orleans, Feb. 14, 1531 (1532). On leaving the university he was offered the degree of Doctor of Laws without the usual fees, by the unanimous consent of the professors. He was consulted about the divorce question of Henry VIII., when it was proposed to the universities and scholars of the Continent; and he gave his opinion against the lawfulness of marriage with a brother’s widow. The study of jurisprudence sharpened his judgment, enlarged his knowledge of human nature, and was of great practical benefit to him in the organization and administration of the Church in Geneva, but may have also increased his legalism and over-estimate of logical demonstration.

In the summer of 1531, after a visit to Noyon, where he attended his father in his last sickness, Calvin removed a second time to Paris, accompanied by his younger brother, Antoine. He found there several of his fellow-students of Orleans and Bourges; one of them offered him the home of his parents, but he declined, and took up his abode in the College Fortet, where we find him again in 1533. A part of the year he spent in Orleans.

Left master of his fortune, he now turned his attention again chiefly to classical studies. He attended the lectures of Pierre Danès, a Hellenist and encyclopaedic scholar of great reputation.

He showed as yet no trace of opposition to the Catholic Church. His correspondence refers to matters of friendship and business, but avoids religious questions. When Daniel asked him to introduce his sister to the superior of a nunnery in Paris which she wished to enter, he complied with the request, and made no effort to change her purpose. He only admonished her not to confide in her own strength, but to put her whole trust in God. This shows, at least, that he had lost faith in the meritoriousness of vows and good works, and was approaching the heart of the evangelical system.

He associated much with a rich and worthy merchant, Estienne de la Forge, who afterwards was burned for the sake of the Gospel (1535).

He seems to have occasionally suffered in Paris of pecuniary embarrassment. The income from his benefices was irregular, and he had to pay for the printing of his first book. At the close of 1531 he borrowed two crowns from his friend, Duchemin. He expressed a hope soon to discharge his debt, but would none the less remain a debtor in gratitude for the services of friendship.

It is worthy of remark that even those of his friends who refused to follow him in his religious change, remained true to him. This is an effective refutation of the charge of coldness so often made against him. François Daniel of Orleans renewed the correspondence in 1559, and entrusted to him the education of his son Pierre, who afterwards became an advocate and bailiff of Saint-Benoit near Orleans.


71. Calvin as a Humanist. Commentary on Seneca

“L. Annei Se | necae, Romani Senato | ris, ac philosophi clarissi | mi, libri duo de Clementia, ad Ne | ronem Caesarem: | Joannis Caluini Nouiodunaei commentariis illustrati … | Parisiis … 1532.” 4°). Reprinted 1576, 1597, 1612, and, from the ed. princeps, in Opera, vol. V. (1866) pp. 5-162. The commentary is preceded by a dedicatory epistle, a sketch of the life of Seneca.

H. Lecoultre: Calvin d’après son commentaire sur le “De Clementia” de Sénèque (1532). Lausanne, 1891 (pp. 29).

In April, 1532, Calvin, in his twenty-third year, ventured before the public with his first work, which was printed at his own expense, and gave ample proof of his literary taste and culture. It is a commentary on Seneca’s book On Mercy. He announced its appearance to Daniel with the words, “Tandem jacta est alea.” He sent a copy to Erasmus, who had published the works of Seneca in 1515 and 1529. He calls him “the honor and delight of the world of letters.” It is dedicated to Claude de Hangest, his former schoolmate of the Mommor family, at that time abbot of St. Eloy (Eligius) at Noyon.

This book moves in the circle of classical philology and moral philosophy, and reveals a characteristic love for the best type of Stoicism, great familiarity with Greek and Roman literature. masterly Latinity, rare exegetical skill, clear and sound judgment, and a keen insight into the evils of despotism and the defects of the courts of justice, but makes no allusion to Christianity. It is remarkable that his first book was a commentary on a moral philosopher who came nearer to the apostle Paul than any heathen writer.

It is purely the work of a humanist, not of an apologist or a reformer. There is no evidence that it was intended to be an indirect plea for toleration and clemency in behalf of the persecuted Protestants. It is not addressed to the king of France, and the implied comparison of Francis with Nero in the incidental reference to the Neronian persecution would have defeated such a purpose.

Calvin, like Melanchthon and Zwingli, started as a humanist, and, like them, made the linguistic and literary culture of the Renaissance tributary to the Reformation. They all admired Erasmus until he opposed the Reformation, for which he had done so much to prepare the way. They went boldly forward, when he timidly retreated. They loved religion more than letters. They admired the heathen classics, but they followed the apostles and evangelists as guides to the higher wisdom of God.


72. Calvin’s Conversion. 1532

Preface to his Commentary on the Psalms (Opera, XXXI. 21, 22, Latin and French in parallel columns), and his Reply to Sadolet (Opera, V. 389). See above, § 69.

Henry, I. ch. II. Staehelin, I. l6-28. Kampschulte, I. 230. Lefranc, 96 sqq.

A brilliant career — as a humanist, or a lawyer, or a churchman — opened before Calvin, when he suddenly embraced the cause of the Reformation, and cast in his lot with a poor persecuted sect.

Reformation was in the air. The educated classes could not escape its influence. The seed sown by Lefèvre had sprung up in France. The influence from Germany and Switzerland made itself felt more and more. The clergy opposed the new opinions, the men of letters favored them. Even the court was divided: King Francis I. persecuted the Protestants; his sister, Marguerite d’Angoulème, queen of Navarre, protected them. How could a young scholar of such precocious mind and intense studiousness as Calvin be indifferent to the religious question which agitated the universities of Orleans, Bourges, and Paris? He must have searched the Scriptures long and carefully before he could acquire such familiarity as he shows already in his first theological writings.

He speaks of his conversion as a sudden one (subita conversio), but this does not exclude previous preparation any more than in the case of Paul. A city may be taken by a single assault, yet after a long siege. Calvin was not an unbeliever, nor an immoral youth; on the contrary, he was a devout Catholic of unblemished character. His conversion, therefore, was a change from Romanism to Protestantism, from papal superstition to evangelical faith, from scholastic traditionalism to biblical simplicity. He mentions no human agency, not even Volmar or Olivetan or Lefèvre. “God himself,” he says, “produced the change. He instantly subdued my heart to obedience.” Absolute obedience of his intellect to the word of God, and obedience of his will to the will of God: this was the soul of his religion. He strove in vain to attain peace of conscience by the mechanical methods of Romanism, and was driven to a deeper sense of sin and guilt. “Only one haven of salvation,” he says, “is left open for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace — not by our merits, not by our works.” Reverence for the Church kept him back for some time till he learned to distinguish the true, invisible, divine essence of the Church from its outward, human form and organization. Then the knowledge of the truth, like a bright light from heaven, burst upon his mind with such force, that there was nothing left for him but to obey the voice from heaven. He consulted not with flesh and blood, and burned the bridge behind him.

The precise time and place and circumstances of this great change are not accurately known. He was very reticent about himself. It probably occurred at Orleans or Paris in the latter part of the year 1532. In a letter of October, 1533, to Francis Daniel, he first speaks of the Reformation in Paris, the rage of the Sorbonne, and the satirical comedy against the queen of Navarre. In November of the same year he publicly attacked the Sorbonne. In a familiar letter to Bucer in Strassburg, which is dated from Noyon, Sept. 4 (probably in 1534), he recommends a French refugee, falsely accused of holding the opinions of the Anabaptists, and says, “I entreat of you, master Bucer, if my prayers, if my tears are of any avail, that you would compassionate and help him in his wretchedness. The poor are left in a special manner to your care; you are the helper of the orphan…. Most learned Sir, farewell; thine from my heart.”

There never was a change of conviction purer in motive, more radical in character, more fruitful and permanent in result. It bears a striking resemblance to that still greater event near Damascus, which transformed a fanatical Pharisee into an apostle of Jesus Christ. And, indeed, Calvin was not unlike St. Paul in his intellectual and moral constitution; and the apostle of sovereign grace and evangelical freedom had not a more sympathetic expounder than Luther and Calvin.

Without any intention or effort on his part, Calvin became the head of the evangelical party in less than a year after his conversion. Seekers of the truth came to him from all directions. He tried in vain to escape them. Every quiet retreat was turned into a school. He comforted and strengthened the timid brethren in their secret meetings of devotion. He avoided all show of learning, but, as the old Chronicle of the French Reformed Church reports, he showed such depth of knowledge and such earnestness of speech that no one could hear him without being forcibly impressed. He usually began and closed his exhortations with the word of Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This is the keynote of his theology and piety.

He remained for the present in the Catholic Church. His aim was to reform it from within rather than from without, until circumstances compelled him to leave.


73. Calvin’s Call

As in the case of Paul, Calvin’s call to his life-work coincided with his conversion, and he proved it by his labors. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

We must distinguish between an ordinary and an extraordinary call, or the call to the ministry of the gospel, and the call to reform the Church. The ordinary ministry is necessary for the being, the extraordinary for the well-being, of the Church. The former corresponds to the priesthood in the Jewish dispensation, and continues in unbroken succession; the latter resembles the mission of the prophets, and appears sporadically in great emergencies. The office of a reformer comes nearest the office of an apostle. There are founders of the Church universal, as Peter and Paul; so there are founders of particular churches, as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Zinzendorf, Wesley; but none of the Reformers was infallible.

1. All the Reformers were born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in the historic Catholic Church, which cast them out; as the Apostles were circumcised and trained in the Synagogue, which cast them out. They never doubted the validity of the Catholic ordinances, and rejected the idea of re-baptism. Distinguishing between the divine substance and the human addition, Calvin said of his baptism, “I renounce the chrism, but retain the baptism.”

The Reformers were also ordained priests in the Roman Church, except Melanchthon and Calvin, — the greatest theologians among them. A remarkable exception. Melanchthon remained a layman all his life; yet his authority to teach is undoubted. Calvin became a regular minister; but how?

He was, as we have seen, intended and educated for the Roman priesthood, and early received the clerical tonsure. He also held two benefices, and preached sometimes in Pont l’Evèque, and also in Lignières, a little town near Bourges, where he made the impression that, “he preached better than the monks.”

But he never read mass, and never entered the higher orders, properly so called.

After he left the Roman Church, there was no Evangelical bishop in France to ordain him; the bishops, so far, all remained in the old Church, except two or three in East Prussia and Sweden. If the validity of the Christian ministry depended on an unbroken succession of diocesan bishops, which again depends on historical proof, it would be difficult to defend the Reformation and to resist the claims of Rome. But the Reformers planted themselves on the promise of Christ, the ever-present head of the Church, who is equally near to his people in any age. They rejected the Roman Catholic idea of ordination as a divinely instituted sacrament, which can only be performed by bishops, and which confers priestly powers of offering sacrifice and dispensing absolution. They taught the general priesthood of believers, and fell back upon the internal call of the Holy Spirit and the external call of the Christian people. Luther, in his earlier writings, lodged the power of the keys in the congregation, and identified ordination with vocation. “Whoever is called,” he says, “is ordained, and must preach: this is our Lord’s consecration and true chrism.” He even consecrated, by a bold irregularity, his friend Amsdorf as superintendent of Naumburg, to show that he could make a bishop as well as the pope, and could do it without the use of consecrated oil.

Calvin was regularly elected pastor and teacher of theology at Geneva in 1536 by the presbyters and the council, with the consent of the whole people.

This popular election was a revival of the primitive custom. The greatest bishops of the early Church — such as Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustin — were elected by the voice of the people, which they obeyed as the voice of God.

We are not informed whether Calvin was solemnly introduced into his office by prayer and the laying on of the hands of presbyters (such as Farel and Viret), after the apostolic custom (1Ti_4:14), which is observed in the Reformed Churches. He did not regard ordination as absolutely indispensable, but as a venerable rite sanctioned by the practice of the Apostles which has the force of a precept. He even ascribed to it a semi-sacramental character. “The imposition of hands,” he says, “which is used at the introduction of the true presbyters and ministers of the Church into their office, I have no objection to consider as a sacrament; for, in the first place, that sacrament is taken from the Scripture, and, in the next place, it is declared by Paul to be not unnecessary or useless, but a faithful symbol of spiritual grace (1Ti_4:14). I have not enumerated it as a third among the sacraments, because it is not ordinary or common to all the faithful, but a special rite for a particular office. The ascription of this honor to the Christian ministry, however, furnishes no reason of pride in Roman priests; for Christ has commanded the ordination of ministers to dispense his Gospel and his mysteries, not the inauguration of priests to offer sacrifices. He has commissioned them to preach the Gospel and to feed his flock, and not to immolate victims.”

The evangelical ministry in the non-episcopal Churches was of necessity presbyterial, that is, descended from the Presbyterate, which was originally identical with the episcopate. Even the Church of England, during her formative period under the reigns of Edward VI. and Elizabeth, recognized the validity of presbyterial ordination, not only in the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of the Continent, but within her own jurisdiction, as in the cases of Peter Martyr, professor of theology at Oxford; Bucer, Fagius, and Cartwright, professors at Cambridge; John à Lasco, pastor in London; Dean Whittingham of Durham, and many others.

2. But whence did Calvin and the other Reformers derive their authority to reform the old Catholic Church and to found new Churches? Here we must resort to a special divine call and outfit. The Reformers belong not to the regular order of priests, but to the irregular order of prophets whom God calls directly by his Spirit from the plough or the shepherd’s staff or the workshop or the study. So he raises and endows men with rare genius for poetry or art or science or invention or discovery. All good gifts come from God; but the gift of genius is exceptional, and cannot be derived or propagated by ordinary descent. There are divine irregularities as well as divine regularities. God writes on a crooked as well as on a straight line. Even Paul was called out of due time, and did not seek ordination from Peter or any other apostle, but derived his authority directly from Christ, and proved his ministry by the abundance of his labors.

In the apostolic age there were apostles, prophets, and evangelists for the Church at large, and presbyter-bishops and deacons for particular congregations. The former are considered extraordinary officers. But their race is not yet extinct, any more than the race of men of genius in any other sphere of life. They arise whenever and wherever they are needed.

We are bound to the ordinary means of grace, but God is free, and his Spirit works when, where, and how he pleases. God calls ordinary men for ordinary work in the ordinary way; and he calls extraordinary men for extraordinary work in an extraordinary way. He has done so in times past, and will do so to the end of time.

Hooker, the most “judicious” of Anglican divines, says: Though thousands were debtors to Calvin, as touching divine knowledge, yet he was to none, only to God.”


74. The Open Rupture. An Academic Oration. 1533

Calv. Opera, X. P. I. 30; XXI. 123, 129, 192. A very graphic account by Merle D’Aubigné, bk. II. ch. xxx. (vol. II. 264-284).

For a little while matters seemed to take a favorable turn at the court for reform. The reactionary conduct of the Sorbonne and the insult offered to Queen Marguerite by the condemnation of her “Mirror of a Sinful Soul,” — a tender and monotonous mystic reverie, — offended her brother and the liberal members of the University. Several preachers who sympathized with a moderate reformation, Gérard Roussel, and the Augustinians, Bertault and Courault, were permitted to ascend the pulpit in Paris. The king himself, by his opposition to the German emperor, and his friendship with Henry VIII., incurred the suspicion of aiding the cause of heresy and schism. He tried, from political motives and regard for his sister, to conciliate between the conservative and progressive parties. He even authorized the invitation of Melanchthon to Paris as counsellor, but Melanchthon wisely declined.

Nicolas Cop, the son of a distinguished royal physician (William Cop of Basel), and a friend of Calvin, was elected Rector of the University, Oct. 10, 1533, and delivered the usual inaugural oration on All Saint’s Day, Nov. 1, before a large assembly in the Church of the Mathurins.

This oration, at the request of the new Rector, had been prepared by Calvin. It was a plea for a reformation on the basis of the New Testament, and a bold attack on the scholastic theologians of the day, who were represented as a set of sophists, ignorant of the Gospel. “They teach nothing,” says Calvin, “of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of sins, nothing of grace, nothing of justification; or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses.”

The Sorbonne and the Parliament regarded this academic oration as a manifesto of war upon the Catholic Church, and condemned it to the flames. Cop was warned and fled to his relatives in Basel. Calvin, the real author of the mischief, is said to have descended from a window by means of sheets, and escaped from Paris in the garb of a vine-dresser with a hoe upon his shoulder. His rooms were searched and his books and papers were seized by the police.


75. Persecution of the Protestants in Paris. 1534

Beza in Vita Calv., vol. XXI. 124. — Jean Crespin: Livre des Martyrs, Genève, 1570. — The report of the Bourgeois de Paris. — Gerdesius, IV. Mon. 11. Henry, I. 74; II. 333. — Dyer, I. 29. — Polenz, I. 282. — Kampschulte, I. 243. — ”Bulletin de la Soc. de l’hist. du Prot. franç.,” X. 34; XI. 253.

This storm might have blown over without doing much harm. But in the following year the reaction was greatly strengthened by the famous placards, which gave it the name of “the year of placards.” An over-zealous, fanatical Protestant by the name of Feret, a servant of the king’s apothecary, placarded a tract “on the horrible, great, intolerable abuses of the popish mass,” throughout Paris and even at the door of the royal chamber at Fontainebleau, where the king was then residing, in the night of Oct. 18, 1534. In this placard the mass is described as a blasphemous denial of the one and all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ; while the pope, with all his brood (toute sa vermine) of cardinals, bishops, priests, and monks, are denounced as hypocrites and servants of Antichrist.

All moderate Protestants deplored this untimely outburst of radicalism. It retarded and almost ruined the prospects of the Reformation in France. The best cause may be undone by being overdone.

The king was highly and justly incensed, and ordered the imprisonment of all suspected persons. The prisons were soon filled. To purge the city from the defilement caused by this insult to the holy mass and the hierarchy, a most imposing procession was held from the Louvre to Notre Dame, on Jan. 29, 1535. The image of St. Geneviève, the patroness of Paris, was carried through the streets: the archbishop, with the host under a magnificent daeis, and the king with his three sons, bare-headed, on foot, a burning taper in their hands, headed the procession, and were followed by the princes, cardinals, bishops, priests, ambassadors, and the great officers of the State and of the University, walking two and two abreast, in profound silence, with lighted torches. Solemn mass was performed in the cathedral. Then the king dined with the prelates and dignitaries, and declared that he would not hesitate to behead any one of his own children if found guilty of these new, accursed heresies, and to offer them as a sacrifice to divine justice.

The gorgeous solemnities of the day wound up with a horrible autodafé of six Protestants: they were suspended by a rope to a machine, let down into burning flames, again drawn up, and at last precipitated into the fire. They died like heroes. The more educated among them had their tongues slit. Twenty-four innocent Protestants were burned alive in public places of the city from Nov. 10, 1534, till May 5, 1535. Among them was Etienne de la Forge (Stephanus Forgeus), an intimate friend of Calvin. Many more were fined, imprisoned, and tortured, and a considerable number, among them Calvin and Du Tillet, fled to Strassburg.

These cruelties were justified or excused by charges of heresy, immorality, and disloyalty, and by a reference to the excesses of a fanatical wing of the Anabaptists in Münster, which took place in the same year. But the Huguenots were then, as their descendants have always been, and are now, among the most intelligent, moral, and orderly citizens of France.

The Sorbonne urged the king to put a stop to the printing-press (Jan. 13, 1535). He agreed to a temporary suspension (Feb. 26). Afterwards censors were appointed, first by Parliament, then by the clergy (1542). The press stimulated free thought and was stimulated by it in turn. Before 1500, four millions of volumes (mostly in folio) were printed; from 1500 to 1536, seventeen millions; after that time the number is beyond calculation. The printing-press is as necessary for liberty as respiration for health. Some air is good, some bad; but whether good or bad, it is the condition of life.

This persecution was the immediate occasion of Calvin’s Institutes, and the forerunner of a series of persecutions which culminated under the reign of Louis XIV., and have made the Reformed Church of France a Church of martyrs.


76. Calvin as a Wandering Evangelist. 1533-1536

Illustration, Faber Stapulensis.

For nearly three years Calvin wandered as a fugitive evangelist under assumed names from place to place in Southern France, Switzerland, Italy, till he reached Geneva as his final destination. It is impossible accurately to determine all the facts and dates in this period.

He resigned his ecclesiastical benefices at Noyon and Pont l’Evèque, May 4, 1534, and thus closed all connection with the Roman Church. That year was remarkable for the founding of the order of the Jesuits at Montmartre (Aug. 15), which took the lead in the Counter-Reformation; by the election of Pope Paul III. (Alexander Farnese, Oct. 13), who confirmed the order, excommunicated Henry VIII., and established the Inquisition in Italy; and by the bloody persecution of the Protestants in Paris, which has been described in the preceding section.

The Roman Counter-Reformation now began in earnest, and called for a consolidation of the Protestant forces.

Calvin spent the greater part of the year 1533 to 1534, under the protection of Queen Marguerite of Navarre, in her native city of Angoulême. This highly gifted lady (1492-1549), the sister of King Francis I., grandmother of Henry IV., and a voluminous writer in verse and prose, was a strange mixture of piety and liberalism, of idealism and sensualism. She patronized both the Reformation and the Renaissance, Calvin and Rabelais; she wrote the Mirror of a Sinful Soul, and also the Heptameron in professed imitation of Boccaccio’s Decamerone; yet she was pure, and began and closed the day with religious meditation and devotion. After the death of her royal brother (1547), she retired to a convent as abbess, and declared on her death-bed that, after receiving extreme unction, she had protected the Reformers out of pure compassion, and not from any wish to depart from the faith of her ancestors.

Calvin lived at Angoulême with a wealthy friend, Louis du Tillet, who was canon of the cathedral and curé of Claix, and had acquired on his journeys a rare library of three or four thousand volumes. He taught him Greek, and prosecuted his theological studies. He associated with honorable men of letters, and was highly esteemed by them. He began there the preparation of his Institutes. He also aided Olivetan in the revision and completion of the French translation of the Bible, which appeared at Neuchâtel in June, 1535, with a preface of Calvin.

From Angoulême Calvin made excursions to Nérac, Poitiers, Orleans, and Paris. At Nérac in Béarn, the little capital of Queen Marguerite, he became personally acquainted with Le Fèvre d’Étaples (Faber Stapulensis), the octogenarian patriarch of French Humanism and Protestantism. Le Fèvre, with prophetic vision, recognized in the young scholar the future restorer of the Church of France. Perhaps he also suggested to him to take Melanchthon for his model. Roussel, the chaplain and confessor of Marguerite, advised him to purify the house of God, but not to destroy it.

At Poitiers, Calvin gained several eminent persons for the Reformation. According to an uncertain tradition he celebrated with a few friends, for the first time, the Lord’s Supper after the Reformed fashion, in a cave (grotte de Croutelles) near the town, which long afterwards was called “Calvin’s Cave.”

Towards the close of the year 1534, he ventured on a visit to Paris. There he met, for the first time, the Spanish physician, Michael Servetus, who had recently published his heretical book On the Errors of the Trinity, and challenged him to a disputation. Calvin accepted the challenge at the risk of his safety, and waited for him in a house in the Rue Saint Antoine; but Servetus did not appear. Twenty years afterwards he reminded Servetus of this interview: “You know that at that time I was ready to do everything for you, and did not even count my life too dear that I might convert you from your errors.” Would that he had succeeded at that time, or never seen the unfortunate heretic again.


77. The Sleep of the Soul. 1534

Psychopannychia. Aureliae, 1534; 2d and revised ed. Basel, 1536; 3d ed. Strassburg, 1542; French trans. Paris, 1558; republished in Opera, vol. V. 165-232. — Comp. the analysis of Staehelin, I. 36-40, and La France Prot. III. 549. English translation in Calvin’s Tracts, III. 413-490.

Before Calvin left France, he wrote, at Orleans, 1534, his first theological book, entitled Psychopannychia, or the Sleep of the Soul. He refutes in it the hypothesis entertained by some Anabaptists, of the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, and proves the unbroken and conscious communion of believers with Christ, their living Head. He appeals no more to philosophy and the classics, as in his earlier book on Seneca, but solely to the Scriptures, as the only rule of faith. Reason can give us no light on the future world, which lies beyond our experience.

He wished to protect, by this book, the evangelical Protestants against the charge of heresy and vagary. They were often confounded with the Anabaptists who roused in the same year the wrath of all the German princes by the excesses of a radical and fanatical faction at Münster.


78. Calvin at Basel. 1535 to 1536

The outbreak of the bloody persecution, in October, 1534, induced Calvin to leave his native land and to seek safety in free Switzerland. He was accompanied by his friend and pupil, Louis du Tillet, who followed him as far as Geneva, and remained with him till the end of August, 1537, when he returned to France and to the Roman Church.

The travellers passed through Lorraine. On the frontier of Germany, near Metz, they were robbed by an unfaithful servant. They arrived utterly destitute at Strassburg, then a city of refuge for French Protestants. They were kindly received and aided by Bucer.

After a few days’ rest they proceeded to Basel, their proper destination. There Farel had found a hospitable home in 1524, and Cop and Courault ten years later. Calvin wished a quiet place for study where he could promote the cause of the Gospel by his pen. He lodged with his friend in the house of Catharina Klein (Petita), who thirty years afterwards was the hostess of another famous refugee, the philosopher, Petrus Ramus, and spoke to him with enthusiasm of the young Calvin, “the light of France.”

He was kindly welcomed by Simon Grynaeus and Wolfgang Capito, the heads of the university. He prosecuted with Grynaeus his study of the Hebrew. He dedicated to him in gratitude his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1539). He became acquainted also with Bullinger of Zürich, who attended the conference of Reformed Swiss divines for the preparation of the first Helvetic Confession (1536).

According to a Roman Catholic report, Calvin, in company with Bucer, had a personal interview with Erasmus, to whom three years before he had sent a copy of his commentary on Seneca with a high compliment to his scholarship. The veteran scholar is reported to have said to Bucer on that occasion that “a great pestilence was arising in the Church against the Church.” But Erasmus was too polite, thus to insult a stranger. Moreover, he was then living at Freiburg in Germany and had broken off all intercourse with Protestants. When he returned to Basel in July, 1536, on his way to the Netherlands, he took sick and died; and at that time Calvin was in Italy. The report therefore is an idle fiction.

Calvin avoided publicity and lived in scholarly seclusion. He spent in Basel a year and a few months, from January, 1535, till about March, 1536.