Ecumenical News International

Protestant Christians are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jean Calvin, the French-born church reformer who inspired a movement that now has tens of millions of adherents worldwide.

Calvin was born on 10th July, 1509, at Noyon in northern France, and is known throughout the world for his role in the Reformation while he lived in Geneva, a once independent city state that is now part of Switzerland. 

John Calvin 000

CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY: An anonymous 16th century portrait of Calvin. PICTURE: Wikipedia

"(Calvin) rightly observes that if it is true that 'the rich can serve God', the following is equally true: 'Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority.'" 

- Rev Laurence Mottier

Religious and political leaders gathered on 10th July at Geneva's Cathedral of St Pierre, the church where Calvin preached during the Reformation, where they heard a call for the theologian to be commemorated as a source for a contemporary response to social issues. 

"We need to focus on how to care about all that God cares for: justice for all, for all human beings and for all of creation," said the Rev Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which groups 75 million Reformed church members. 

A Presbyterian from Ghana, Rev Nyomi warned against human beings adopting lifestyles that perpetrated injustice, ignored the needs of strangers and poorer people, and destroyed the natural environment. He urged Christians to seek inspiration from Calvin to, "become God's agents of transformation as we take better care of the totality of creation". 

Rev Nyomi was speaking in a dialogue sermon with Geneva pastor, the Rev Laurence Mottier. 

Calvin, noted Rev Mottier, "rightly observes that if it is true that 'the rich can serve God', the following is equally true: 'Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority.'" 

Featuring choirs from Madagascar, Korea and Geneva, the service gathered religious and political leaders including Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister, David Hiler, president of the government of Geneva, and the Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop for Geneva, Pierre Farine. 

Calvin died on 27th May, 1564, in Geneva, and was buried the following day without pomp. At his wish, no gravestone was placed above the burial site. 

The Geneva service was the high point of events launched in November 2008 that included congresses, symposia and exhibitions, not only in Geneva but in other parts of the world. 

In Germany, Protestants commemorated the 10th July anniversary at a ceremony in Berlin. The Calvinist presence there was founded by French Protestants when they took refuge in the city after the Edict of Nantes guaranteeing religious freedom in France was revoked in 1685. 

At the Berlin ceremony, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid tribute to the significance of Calvinism for the development of modern democracy, and for its influence in Europe. 

Calvin had insisted upon "self-discipline in dealing with possessions," said Steinmeier, who is the Social Democratic Party candidate for German chancellor in elections later in 2009.