PART ONE: BEGINNINGS
14th July, 2009
If you had to list the greatest 20 books ever written in the world, what would you include on that list? If “greatest” means those that most impacted the world in significant and tangible ways, we might want to list: Plato; Aristotle; Augustine; Copernicus; Newton; Shakespeare; Darwin; Marx; Freud; and others. But would we remember to add a book that came from the pen of a 26-year-old religious thinker named John Calvin?
TOWERING FIGURE: John Calvin (second from left) is one of four Reformers honored at Geneva's Reformation Monument, the others being (from left to right) Guillaume Farel - the first to preach the Reformation in Geneva, Theodore Beza - Calvin's successor, and John Knox - Scottish preacher, friend of Calvin, and founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland. PICTURE: Sivakumar Sathiamoorthy (www.istockphoto.com)
"Calvin's ideas would infect whole nations, and aspects of his thinking would become embedded in Western culture."
On 10th July, 1509, (500 years ago last week), John Calvin came into the world. When the new born baby entered the world half a millennia ago, no one would have imagined just what an impact he would make.
Who would know that this boy would write a book in his 20's that would become one of the most influential books the world ever saw? How few people are there in history who actually do make a world changing contribution to humanity, do their greatest work in their youthful years? In 1535 at the age of 26, Calvin was handing over the first version of a manuscript for publication: The Principles of the Christian Tradition.
This book would revised a number of times by the author, and it would be read by tens of millions. It is still being printed and sold and studied to this day. Calvin's ideas would infect whole nations, and aspects of his thinking would become embedded in Western culture. Besides being the father of a significant branch of Protestant Christianity, Calvin helped to push along principles of democracy; spread the idea that it is healthy for a community to educate its members (moving the West a bit more in the direction of universal education); and he helped create the so-called “Protestant work ethic” which has been credited with assisting the rise of capitalism.
The Principles was not his only work. Over the next 32 years before his death he wrote so much that today a typical collection of the “works of Calvin” would fill about 50 volumes. His writings include commentaries on many of the books of the Bible, plus over 10 volumes of correspondence and about 1000 sermons. But nothing surpassed The Principles for its depth of reflection, and its impact on others.
The task before us
Our task is huge: to summarise Calvin, his life and his teaching. In one paper this is a massive goal. The great theologian, Karl Barth, was asked to give a series of lecturers on Calvin and he despaired: “What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this stream.”
To try to condense all that Calvin said and wrote and all that happened to him during his life, is indeed to give back just a very thin stream to the reader. My bias will influence what I select to highlight, but I hope to cover the most important things. (You can be the judge).
Calvin's father was a Catholic. He had initially wanted his son to be trained in the ways of the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation had begun in 1517 when Martin Luther had published his 95 propositions and reflections about the state of the church. Calvin was eight-years-old at the time. But by the time he was due to study at university, Calvin's Catholic family was determined that he would be a part of that tradition.
Calvin's university studies therefore began in theology. Things changed just two years later, however, when his father had a fall out with the church. As a result, he made his son change his study program to law. A lawyer in the family would make more money anyway.
But Calvin's father died just a few years later, and so John turned to other studies...He would not be confined narrowly to religious studies that would train him for a career in the church, but nor would he do law. He had discovered the world of reading and reflection at university, and his was a sharp and brilliant mind. He would do what pleased him now: he would be a renaissance scholar after the tradition of Erasmus!
And in his personal life, he was being challenged by the ideas of the Reformation. He soon “converted” to the new Protestant ideas, and he would quickly become the greatest of all the second generation reformers.
Calvin would introduce a doctrine and emphasis that would permeate some significant parts of the church for the next 500 years. He became the father of the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions, and his writings would be read by Christians from all denominations and persuasions, Catholic and Protestant both. Some from different traditions would also embrace his theories of predestination and election, of grace and the sovereignty of God. Others would want to know his writings, to rebut them, or to at least try to shave off their harsh edges. But one thing became obvious: everyone was soon reading this man's writings.
His secret desire that was not to be
If Calvin could have got one wish in life he would have loved to have lived in peaceful days and been a respected scholar. He dreamed of burying himself away in a grand personal library, and writing to his heart's content. “The summit of my wishes was the enjoyment of literary ease, with something of a free and honorable station” he once said to a friend. But one does not always get what one desires in this world, and it would be no different for John Calvin.
Becoming a Protestant in theology, and personal conviction, was the start of his problems. In 1533 he had to flee his native France because he was going to be arrested by the church. He had a hand in a provocative speech delivered by a friend, and both were to be arrested on suspicion of heresy. (The 1500's were tumultuous times: the Protestant Reformation was in full swing; the Inquisition was happening; religious wars would flare up...) Both men fled, and not long later Calvin found himself in Geneva, in what is now Switzerland.
And it was here in Geneva, that Calvin settled and developed his thinking and changed the world.
PART TWO: CALVIN IN GENEVA
21st July, 2009
Geneva had already become a Protestant city before Calvin arrived. The city was run by three councils that were interconnected, and the councils were in recent times dominated by Protestants. Roman Catholic priests were no longer to say Mass after a council ruling in May 1535.
But making a rule and seeing people embrace the new rule are two different things. Geneva had a particularly bad reputation for poor manners and loose morals. All cities had brothels: Geneva had a section of the city devoted to them, and they were ruled by a head prostitute. All cities in Calvin's days saw men keeping mistresses. Geneva regulated it: each man could have one mistress legally.
CITY OF GOD? The Swiss city of Geneva as it is today. The St Pierre Cathedral rises above the city, much as it did in Calvin's day.The cathedral contains a wooden chair used by Calvin. PICTURE: © Markus Seidel (www.istockphoto.com)
"Seeing Geneva become a 'heaven on earth' or a 'city of God' or one large church, would be John Calvin's goal and personal contribution. Church would not just be a place some went to any more. No: the very city would be a living church at all times."
Seeing Geneva become a “heaven on earth” or a “city of God” or one large church, would be John Calvin's goal and personal contribution. Church would not just be a place some went to any more. No: the very city would be a living church at all times.
You might agree that such a plan seem to be a rather tall order! The world back then, however, was very different to our world today. People were inherently religious and all of life centered around religious belief. The renaissance was challenging that, and things would change. But not quickly or easily.
So Calvin pursued his plans and sought to implement church discipline against the morally corrupt members of Geneva. If people were living a life deemed sinful, they would be refused communion, and even excommunicated from the church.
The town council found this all a bit too much (some members no doubt felt personally intimidated). After all, church and its dogmas is one thing, but to insist that it dominate your entire life? Calvin felt that every step of his reform program was being hindered and undermined by people in the city. He was seriously unhappy with the work in Geneva, though he saw it as God's call for him for the time being. Finally, the town council had had enough of this young reformer, and they expelled Calvin and his comrades from Geneva.
After the expulsion, Calvin received an invitation to minister to a French congregation in Strasbourg, which he accepted. He spent three of the happiest and most peaceful years of his life there. During this time he did a thorough revision of The Institutes, making it three times longer than the original short book. It would not be the last addition or revision to his greatest piece of writing (the last revision would take place in 1559 and if he had lived longer, many think he would have done more on it).
Between the appearance of the short six chapter first edition and the final 1559 edition, the book had grown to four volumes each with about 20 chapters. It was written originally in Latin, but Calvin also translated it into French, and others did the same for other languages. Thomas Norton translated it into English during Elizabeth's reign; and soon it was also circulating in Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and more. It has remained the most influential book on religion published in the last 500 years.
The book and its teaching has won its admirers and its critics. Will Durant, in his book The Reformation, seems to capture both sides when he says of the book that it is: “the most eloquent, fervent, lucid, influential, and terrible work in all the literature of the religious reformation” .
A few happy years
While Calvin was in Strasbourg for three years, he married Idelette de Bure, a widow with two children, and he settled into the pastorate. When he was looking for a wife, he said to his friends “Always keep in mind what I seek to find in her; for I am not one of those insane loves who embrace even the vices of those they are in love with, when they are smitten at first sight with a fine figure. The only beauty which allures me is this - that she be chaste, not too nice or fastidious, economical, patient, likely to take care of my health” (as quoted in Letters of John Calvin, edited by Jules Bonnet).
To some Calvin is seen as an emotionless and miserable man. But despite not mentioning his wife much in his correspondence or writings, we do see a deep love for her on the rare occasions that he does mention her. The above quote was when he was contemplating finding a wife. Once he was with Idelette, he seemed genuinely happy and in love. When she died just eight years later he wrote: “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life...During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the whole course of her illness, but was more anxious about her children than about herself” (as quoted in THL Parker's Portrait of Calvin). Calvin never remarried.
Back in Geneva
Strasbourg came to an abrupt end when a quite unexpected invitation came to Calvin. The Geneva Council was inviting him back.
Geneva had deteriorated without Calvin and his personal influence and leadership. Morals had decayed noticeably in the town and some of the very leaders of the council were found guilty of various crimes. One was sentenced to death for murder. Another broke his neck when he jumped from a window trying to escape arrest for sedition. Two other leaders fled the city after they were charged with treason. And life in the city had deteriorated as well. Calvin's earlier years there were beginning to be seen as “the good years”, and the old tensions were fading in the light of the current problems. So the council invited John Calvin back, to help reform Geneva.
Calvin's first feelings about the invitation were to reject it outright. He had been miserable the last time he had lived there. He wrote to his friend Viret, “It would be far better to perish once for all than to be tormented again in that torture chamber" (as quoted in THL Parker's Portrait of Calvin).
However, Calvin also knew that Jesus called on his followers to “take up their cross and follow him”. And he saw Geneva as a very big cross. So he did end up going back. He took his new wife and step-children with him. This time he would stay there for the rest of his life.
What did he do for the rest of his life? He wrote. He preached. He did pastoral duties (marriages, baptisms, funerals). He oversaw the introduction of new laws to regulate people's behavior. He shaped the Reformed model of church leadership.
PART THREE: CALVIN'S TEACHING
28th July, 2009
To summarise the teaching of so prolific a writer and so deep a thinker, is a daunting task. It would be like reducing a mountain to a few of its most prominent rocky features. But that much we can at least do.
Calvin believed in the Bible. He saw it as the words of God. It was not speculation or wisdom of spiritual men. Certainly, it was written by men, and it might even contain errors and slips of the pen (Calvin was no modern fundamentalist). But the Bible was also on a deeper level, a gift from God. The Bible to Calvin was God speaking to us and giving us His truths to believe in and live by. To Calvin, it was the foundation of all truth and the rule to live by.
THE WORD OF GOD: Calvin saw the Bible as providing a means by which God speaks to us and presents His truths for us to believe in and live by. PICTURE: Adrian van Leen (www.sxc.hu)
"(Calvin) believed all was here for God. We are here to acknowledge God's greatness. We are here for God: He is not here for us. So the sum duty of humans is to glorify God and live for Him. We accept good or bad that befalls us, trusting that God knows best."
How do we understand the Bible and derive the correct meaning from it? Calvin would say that only God can interpret it for us, and this He does, by the Holy Spirit working on our hearts and minds as we read the Bible.
Not surprisingly, Jesus was critical to Calvin's faith as well. Jesus is the focal point that we must be anchored to. He reveals God in His fullness. He is the heart beat of the Christian faith. His death on the cross was considered by God as payment for the sins of those who would be saved. Humans can not earn their place in heaven. But through the cross, Jesus carried our sins and took our punishment. We are reconciled to God because of God's gracious act of sending Jesus to make the payment due. Our salvation is a gift from God and possible because of the cross.
Calvin also believed in the sovereignty of God. God is the centre of everything. Calvin would have a lot of trouble with churches today that make man the centre of the universe. 'Feel good' messages about how God will bless you and give you all your desires would make Calvin turn in his grave. He believed all was here for God. We are here to acknowledge God's greatness. We are here for God: He is not here for us. So the sum duty of humans is to glorify God and live for Him. We accept good or bad that befalls us, trusting that God knows best.
And then there is the more controversial doctrine of predestination. Calvin was not the first to say that God had already chosen before the creation of the world those who would be 'saved' and those who would be 'damned'. (Augustine and Aquinas had both taught similar things). But Calvin taught it powerfully and many embraced it because the great Calvin said it was so. Some suggest that his followers taught it even more enthusiastically than Calvin himself and it was later theologians called 'Calvinist' who invented the acronym TULIP to summarise the doctrine. But, if TULIP itself was not Calvin's invention, the ideas behind it were certainly there in his writings.
TULIP stated briefly:
T - Total depravity of mankind. All of humanity inherited the sin nature and the guilt of Adam's sin, and every single person is left totally incapable of doing anything at all towards acquiring salvation. We are all wretched sinners dead to God. Calvin was, as one writer has said, “overwhelmed by a sense of man's littleness and God's immensity”;
U - Unconditional election. Those who are saved are saved because God has chosen them to be saved. There is absolutely nothing at all that anyone could do to help get saved. It is all of God. The elect are chosen.
L - Limited atonement. Here the teaching is that Christ died for the saved, only. He did not die for those who do not accept him.
I - Irresistible grace. This means that if God calls you, then you must respond positively. If the Holy Spirit provokes you and reveals Christ to you, you have no choice in the matter - you must give your life to him. Hence there is no free will choice of receiving the gift of God. Rather the gift and the reception of it are all preplanned.
P - Perseverance of the saints. You can not fall away. Once saved, always saved.
Probably too much discussion of Calvin revolves around his teaching on predestination. Not all Christians teach the TULIP concepts. It is held by many, but not most. Let's not lose sight of the other things Calvin said and did, in our horror or defense of his view of predestination.
In summary, other teachings and positions of Calvin included:
• The clergy can marry, but they must not hunt, gamble, feast, participate in commerce, go to secular amusements, or go to dances. Annual visitation for moral scrutiny from superiors took place;
• There were only two sacraments: baptism and communion. He rejected the other five of the Roman Catholic Church;
• Regarding communion (or the mass): Jesus was said to be present spiritually but not physically. Calvin said that to adore the consecrated wafer is actually idolatry;
• He removed religious images and pictures - even the cross;
• He taught that there is no purgatory, and we should not say prayers for the dead;
• He believed wholeheartedly that the church should set the rules for society; and the state authorities should enforces them;
• And he introduced laws for everything: from the color of clothing, and the type of clothes you could wear, to the style of women's hair.
PART FOUR: CONTROVERSY AND EXECUTIONS
4th August, 2009
And he got caught up in some very controversial events. His desire to implement proper church discipline and strict morals on the people of Geneva led to numerous headaches. Some people embraced his changes enthusiastically, while others resisted them at every turn. Some people moved to Geneva to live in a better city - a moral city. Others left.
BURNED AT THE STAKE: Calvin's opponent, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake for heresy. Calvin himself was among the prosecutors. PICTURE: Alessandro Paiva (www.sxc.hu)
"This execution quite rightly shocks and appalls us. And rightly so. What made it worse than all the other burnings that were going on everywhere in Europe in those days is that it happened in a reformed city. It happened in a supposedly progressive city being influenced by a Renaissance thinker. But Calvin was not completely free of medieval baggage."
A group of residents in Geneva formed themselves into a block that attempted to undermine Calvin at every turn. They were known as the Libertines and the name reflects their position on many issues. They would be a constant thorn in the flesh for Calvin. As they clashed in ideology on various issues, sometimes Calvin would 'win' and sometimes the Libertines would 'win'.
The most famous of all the controversies Calvin got embroiled in, was the execution of a heretic called Michael Servetus.
Servetus (1511-1553) was a brilliant Spaniard who was an expert in theology, mathematics, geography, astronomy, law and medicine: a remarkable Renaissance man. He had read the Koran and Jewish Rabbinic writings, as well as the Bible. His longest standing contribution to our current knowledge was in the field of medicine: he discovered the cardio-pulmonary circulation of the blood around the human body. He took medical science forward by a mighty bound with that one contribution.
But genius is nearly always misunderstood by lesser minds, and soon this incredible thinker was falling out with both Catholic and Protestant alike. He became particularly unpopular when he published a book doubting the doctrine of the Trinity. On that issue, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist all agreed. And so Servetus was an isolated thinker, living in dangerous times: times when people could get themselves executed for heresy.
Over his adult life he tried to correspond with Calvin on a few occasions but they disagreed more and more each time. Calvin kept getting criticised by Servetus. Finally when Servetus claimed that the idea of God predestining souls to hell was in fact blasphemy against a God who only condemns people who condemn themselves, Calvin grew deeply resentful. He wrote to his friend Farel on 13th February, 1546: “Servetus has just send me a long volume of his ravings. If I consent he will come here, but I will not give my word, for should he come, if my authority is of any avail, I will not suffer him to get out alive" (as quoted in THL Parker's Portrait of Calvin).
He was initially arrested in Lyons by the Catholics and had he not escaped, he would have almost certainly have been executed by them there. But that was not to be. He escaped and ended up in Geneva. Many wonder why on earth he would go through the city of Calvin when he knew that Calvin believed him to be a heretic deserving of death. It seems he really wanted to hear Calvin speak. Despite the obvious danger he stayed there a month and even though he was in disguise, someone recognised him. He was arrested and tried for heresy. Calvin was involved in prosecuting him. He wrote to Farel, “I hope that sentence of death will at least be passed upon him; but I want the severity of the punishment to be mitigated" (as quoted in THL Parker's Portrait of Calvin). After a long and drawn out trial Servetus was found guilty of heresy. On October 27th, 1553, he was burned at the stake. It was a cruel way to die. He was chained to a stake, a copy of his last book tied to his side. Servetus refused to recant even now, and he prayed that God would forgive his enemies. The fire was lit. After half an hour of shrieking, Michael Servetus finally died. The day before the burning, Calvin had appealed the council to change the method of execution to the axe, but he was refused.
This execution quite rightly shocks and appalls us. And rightly so. What made it worse than all the other burnings that were going on everywhere in Europe in those days is that it happened in a reformed city. It happened in a supposedly progressive city being influenced by a Renaissance thinker. But Calvin was not completely free of medieval baggage. He could have people put to death for witchcraft, adultery and heresy, as well as murder and treason. When the world is changing, and when you are a part of the change, it is sobering to remember that some of the old is still within us...hanging around like a stubborn wart that just won't go away. Calvin was no different. And tragically, in this case, it meant the death of the brilliant Servetus.
Some will say that Calvin could not have won whichever way he acted in this horrible episode. If Geneva had let Servetus go, they would have been accused of being unorthodox on the Trinity and the Catholic Church would have made much mileage out of that. That might have wounded the reformation efforts and undermined Calvin's credibility. But by executing Servetus, he is seen as a hard and cruel leader, willing at times to use tools like the very Inquisition used. So whichever way he turned, Calvin would have lost here. Once Michael Servetus was spotted in Geneva it was a lose/lose situation.
But there was another option. Calvin and Geneva could have shown leniency without concurring to the man's heresies. They could have condemned his ideas and banished him. And then they would have had to defend that difference even if their enemies misused their mercy to their own ends.
Some, but not many, did in fact argue that the way of tolerance was the correct way to live. Some publications appeared condemning the execution. An Anabaptist (David Joris of Basel) wrote under a fake name, condemning it. And Sebastian Castellio, once a friend of Calvin and for a time rector of the Latin School at Geneva, did likewise. By the time of the execution, Castellio had been banished from Geneva for disagreements with Calvin. Castellio was horrified at the execution of Servetus. He and Caelius Curio wrote one of the very first modern books on toleration: Should Heretics be Persecuted? This book was so powerful in its arguments that Calvin asked his friend Beza to write a rebuttal that justified killing heretics.
The book that came out in reply was called A Little Book on the Duty of Civil Magistrates to Punish Heretics. Castellio replied with a tract that lay forgotten for half a century but later was published (Contra Libellum Calvini). Castellio continued to preach and write about tolerance for the rest of his life. During the religious wars he appealed to both Catholics and Protestants to end the fighting and let every individual believer serve God according to their own faith, even if not the same as their neighbor. As Durant aptly says: “hardly anyone heard a voice so out of tune with the time.” When Castellio died at the relatively young age of 48, Calvin saw that as the punishment of God coming upon him for his views.
PART FIVE: CALVIN'S FINAL YEARS
11th August, 2009
Things did settle down eventually in Geneva. As the years passed, Calvin was more and more successful in settling opposition and changing the city. Calvin and his ways were soon embraced by the majority. His latter years were less troublesome, and he was well respected in the city, and abroad.
IMPACTING THE WORLD: A vintage engraving of Calvin, which was published in an 1876 history of the Middle Ages. PICTURE: Digital restoration by Steven Wynn Photography (www.istockphoto.com)
"Some would say (Calvin) impacted the world for good, others will say he did damaging things as well. But one thing is certain: 500 years ago this month, when that new born baby came into the world, it was the start of a deeply significant life: a life that would impact millions."
Geneva did change in character and tone. By the time of Calvin's death, the city that had once been known as one of the most immoral in Europe now had the reputation of being one of the most godly, as Roland Bainton records in his text The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century: “There were penalties for having your fortune told by gypsies, for laughing during preaching, for making a noise in church, for passing tobacco during the service, for settling a bet on Sunday, for inability to recite prayers. Taverns were abolished and abbeys converted into hostels where no drinks were served on Sundays...”
Calvin suffered many sickness and these only increased in his last years. He died in his bed on 27th May, 1564, at the not-all-that-old age of 54. (It would never have entered his mind that his illnesses and death at 54 was in any way a punishment from God for his teachings. I suppose he outlived men like Castellio and that was enough.)
Timothy George, in his 1988 book Theology Of The Reformers, talks about how Calvin has been both demonised and idolised. There is “out there” both “Calvinphobia” and “Calvinolatry”. But the truth is that he, as George writes, was “at one and the same time, both sinner and saint.”
There is much to dislike in this man John Calvin.
He had what seems to be the great failing of us all: pride. THL Parker records in his book Portrait of Calvin an incident in which a grateful refugee who came to live in Calvin's Geneva enthusiastically addressed Calvin as “brother Calvin'. He was quickly corrected and told that the correct way to address him was “Monsieur Calvin' .
Calvin could be easily hurt and was quite harsh in dealing with those who offended him. His friendships were a strength, as will be noted below, but they could also be a weakness. He was a man who grew despondent if his friends did not connect with him enough. He seemed to be quite needful of their attention and affirmation.
And he did not stand out above the cruelties of his day: he was not a supporter of religious tolerance. To put it more bluntly: it was his way or the high way. People who disagreed with him were, in the worst cases, found guilty of heresy and some were executed. The press was censored. And it was a crime to say unkind things about Calvin.
He accepted the use of torture, and supported the use of capital punishment for crimes deemed the most terrible. By 1546 some 58 people had been executed under his watch. Another 76 were exiled. And we are not talking about 58 first degree murderers here. The sin list for execution could and did include adultery, witchcraft, and heresy. In a 'mini-way' Geneva took on some of the worst of medieval Catholicism with its Inquisition and executions.
On one occasion, a derogatory sign that implied an impending act of the wrath of God against Calvin, was tacked to Calvin's pulpit. Calvin suspected his enemy Jacques Gruet of the offence. The town council was worried about it for different reason: they felt it smacked of bubbling sedition. Gruet was arrested and tortured until he confessed that he did the sign. He was then executed.
Nevertheless, there is also to admire in this man John Calvin.
For a prominent church leader, he had no love of money. He lived in an ordinary home in Geneva (11 Rue des Chanoines) and was on a wage that kept him without concerns, but it did not make him wealthy.
He was also willing to share his greatness with those who had helped him on his journey. Parker writes that in his introduction to his commentary to the book of I Thessalonians, Calvin wrote of his Latin teacher in glowing terms. Mathurin Cordier is praised for the way he grounded Calvin in a sound understanding of Latin. “This I wanted to testify to posterity, that, if any advantage shall accrue to them from my writings, they shall know that it has in some degree, originated from you.”
Despite being someone who could have cruel enemies, he had good friends too. When someone grew to be a friend, they nearly always stayed a devoted one for life.
Importantly too, Calvin left behind some major contributions to progress and community life generally. His teachings changed attitudes of whole nations. Industry and thrift grew in lands that embraced his teachings. Prosperity seemed to follow in such lands, and economic progress brought benefits to many. Calvin's emphasis on education saw movements toward what would eventually be universal education for all in many lands. And he was another strand in a large and multi-stranded wire that pulled the world towards more democratic structures as well.
Mind you, when all is said and done, this writer's personal belief is that it is not what a person achieves in the long run that defines his or her worth, but it is the decisions they make and the things they do along the way. That is the stuff that shows us what they are really like. And under such a criteria, Calvin (like the rest of us!) is a mixed bag.
At the end of the day, this man did impact the world as well. Some would say he impacted the world for good, others will say he did damaging things as well. But one thing is certain: 500 years ago this month, when that new born baby came into the world, it was the start of a deeply significant life: a life that would impact millions.
Bainton, Roland. (1965). The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Barth, Karl. (1964). Revolutionary Theology in the Making, James D. Smart, translated. Richmond: John Knox Press.
Bonnet, Jules. Ed. (1972). Letters of John Calvin, New York: Burt Franklin.
Calvin, John. A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. Edited by Hugh Thomson Kerr. (1939). Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.
Chadwick, Owen. (1972). The Reformation. London: Penguin.
Durant, Will. (1957). The Reformation, Vol. 6 of The Story of Civilization (11 vols). New York: Simon and Schuster.
George, Timothy. (1988). Theology of the Reformers. England: Apollos.
McGrath, Alister E. (1988). Reformation Thought: An Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Parker, T.H.L. (1954). Portrait of Calvin. London: SCM Press.
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