John Calvin was a French theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. A key figure in the development of the system of theology called “Calvinism.” I have already refuted Calvinism in this article, this current one will focus on the man Calvin himself (for those critics who will think it’s just a hit-piece).
John Calvin had many rightful objections, but his solutions were of grave error.
According to a Barna Poll in November 2010, 31% of Protestants in America identify as Calvinists. There’s 141 million Protestants in the United States (Pew Research Center 2019), that’s around 43 million Calvinists in the United States. But do they know the man for who’s theological basis they follow? And that he essentially made himself the supreme authority of his own theocracy in Geneva?
John Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France into an aristocratic family. At 14 years old he went to study the arts in Paris, where he would begin studying under Catholic theologians until his mid-twenties. Criticisms aside, Calvin was an exceptional scholar who was competent in Greek, Hebrew, French and Latin. His rejection of the Papacy is a valid one, but his solution to turning to the reformed movement at age 24 was not.
Calvin became influenced by the writings of the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther whom he even called “an apostle” (Brecht 1987). Calvin’s cousin was a Lutheran, and in 1535 he fled to Basel. For the next thirty years he would be devoted to advancing the Protestant Reformation as well as Calvinism.
Theocracy in Geneva:
In 1536 Calvin began his career in Geneva, Switzerland as reader in the holy scripture to the Church in Geneva. The next two quotes are from Father Josiah Trenham’s book Rock & Sand, “Calvin and Farel (early French reformer) drew up regulations of church government and worship for the church of Geneva. Calvin drafted a confession of faith, which became incumbent upon all Genevans to affirm in order to retain their citizenship.”
Despite their conversion to Protestantism, the citizens of Geneva were not ready to adopt Calvin’s strict church order and banned him and Farel from the city in 1538. Three years later, following the election of a new city council, Calvin was called back. Step by step he implemented his strict program. (A counter-revolt in later years would fail, and many established families left the city).
In 1541, “the city council accepted his work on Ecclesiastical Ordinances and he established a consistory of pastors and elders to oversee church discipline and moral authority. Through the police force, the power of this consistory extended into every aspect of personal life in Geneva, and would be the basis for much resistance by its citizens and grounds for the charge that Calvin created a theocracy in Geneva.
The consistory censured anyone regardless of age or sex. It examined one’s religious knowledge, criticism of ministers, absence from sermons, and family quarrels. The consistory forbade all card games, regulated how much cutlery and how many plates were allowed to be used at the table, prescribed the clothing that was allowed to be worn, abolished Christmas Day and made it a work day, and forbade brides from adorning their hair on their wedding days. Calvin’s hand was intimately involved in almost all matters of the consistory.”
Calvin’s Tyrannical Abuse of Authority:
John Calvin reacted viciously to the public’s resistance. A member of the civil government, Pierre Ameaux, called Calvin a wicked man and a preacher of false doctrine. Calvin proceeded to sentence him to walk around town in only his shirt, while carrying a torch by his bare head, then have Pierre present himself before the tribunal to get on his knees and cry to God for mercy. Pastor Jerome Bolsec criticized Calvin’s teaching on predestination, Calvin immediately had him arrested and banished from Geneva.
Calvin’s most famous abuse is that of against Michael Servetus, a physician who attacked the doctrine of the trinity as unbiblical. Although Servetus was indeed wrong for this belief, and Calvin advocated for Servetus to die by beheading instead of being burned alive, nevertheless Calvin revealed him to the Inquisition and pressed their work. (Janz 2008).
A letter written February 13, 1546 by Calvin 7 years before the Servetus incident states, ”
“If he [Servetus] comes to Geneva, I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.” (Source: Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge – Baker Book House, 1950 p. 371). Again Calvin writes Farel in a letter dated Aug 20th 1553 where he has Servetus arrested. “We have now new business in hand with Servetus. He intended perhaps passing through this city; for it is not yet known with what design he came. But after he had been recognized, I thought that he should be detained. My friend Nicolas summoned him on a capital charge… I hope the sentence of death will at least be passed upon him.”
John Calvin was paid a large amount of money by the city, his beliefs and theology were not accepted by the people but enforced by his consistory. He sought inhumane ends in order to achieve his passionate belief that his church was the ‘one true church.’
(Sources: Josiah Trenham, Rock & Sand 2018. Dan Corner, Against John Calvin 1995. Schaff – Herzog, Baker Book House 1950. Barna Poll, November 2010. Brecht 1987.)