Portrait of Young John Calvin
painting from the collection of the Library of Geneva.
John Calvin was born
as the second son of (Gerard Cauvin) Jehan Cauvin and Jeanne Le Franc on 10
July 1509, at Noyon, a town in Picardy, a province of the Kingdom of France.
Noyon is one of the
largest historical cities in the north of France, situated 100km north of
Paris. From 531 onwards it was a bishop’s see, (the first bishop was called
Saint Médard). Between 641 and 660, Noyon was
evangelized by Saint Eloi, whose
remains are buried under the altar of the cathedral. This is one of the
oldest Gothic cathedrals in France and some parts of it date back to the
Noyon is an important
historic site in France
# In this city, the
last Merovingian king, Chilpéric II, was buried in 721,
# Charlemagne was crowned king of Neustria in 768 and
# Hugues Capet was crowned king of France in 987.
# It was here that Charlemagne had his capital before moving to Aachen in
long-standing tradition, Mary, Martha, Lazarus and some companions, who were
expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean in
a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles. Provençal tradition names
Lazarus as the first bishop of Marseille.
Until the French Revolution, Noyon was an important cultural and
intellectual centre, but it was also, a hot-bed of revolt against the Roman
Catholic authority, who wielded enormous power and was very corrupt. The
people of Noyon passionately fought for their rights and consequently it
became one of the first independent communes in France in 1108, seizing from
the ecclesiastical authorities its own town charter of civil rights.
home of Jean Calvin
Now part of the Calvin Museum
The same day, in
Saint-Godeberthe church, the child was baptized. The edifice where Calvin
was baptized was destroyed at the time of the revolution. Calvin's father,
Gérard Cauvin, had a prosperous career as the cathedral notary and registrar
to the ecclesiastical court. His father, a lawyer, and a lay administrator
was in the service of the local bishop, Bishop Charles d'Hangest. He was
also the secretary to the bishop. On the father's side, Calvin's ancestors
were seafaring men. His grandfather settled at Pont l'Evêque near Paris, and
had two sons who became locksmiths at Pont l'Evlque, in a village nearby.
The third was Gerard, Calvin's father who was a cooper; one who makes
utensils and barrels with wood. His mother, Jeanne le Franc, was the
daughter of an innkeeper from Cambrai. She died of an unknown cause in
Calvin's childhood, after having borne four more children. She passed away
when Calvin was six. His father remarried and he was sent to live with the
Gerard had four sons
and two daughters.
The eldest son, Charles, was an ecclesiastic, and chaplain of St. Mary's
church at Noyon. But when he died he refused to take the last sacraments.
Having suspicious of his fath in the Catholic religion he was refused burial
within the Catholic cemetery and was burried in the public gibbet in the
The second son was
The third son,
Anthony, was a chaplain of Tourneville, in the village of Traversy.
Eventually he embraced the Reformed tenets, and followed Calvin to Geneva.
The fourth son died in childhood.
Of the two daughters, one, Maria accompanied Calvin to Geneva; the other
appears to have continued in the Roman Catholic faith.
Both his father and
mother remained faithful to the Catholic faith till they died.
In 1914, Noyon was
occupied by Germany. During the occupation, a memorial plaque was placed on
the house where he was born stating that it was the historic birthplace of
Calvin. However, in 1918, the last year of World War I, it was completely
destroyed. After the war, the Society of the History of French
Protestantism bought the ruined house and restored the first floor of the
building. The top floor was eventually added and the entire house was
converted to a museum in 1930. During World War II, the house was again
damaged by bombing but restored in 1954. Today, the museum exhibits
different editions of the Bible from the sixteenth century,portraits of
religious life and the town in Calvin's time.
The surname Calvin
or Cauvin is in origin a diminutive of French chauve (Picard calve, from
Latin calvus) meaning "bald".
In 1509, year of
birth of Jean Calvin, Noyon is a small Picardie town which is at the same
time a spiritual city and an agricultural center. With his mother, he went
to the abbey of Ourscamp to kiss the relics of Saint Anne, a practice that
he later criticized.
The Cistercian Abbey
of Ourscamp was founded in the 12th century. Buildings of the eighteenth
century voluntarily mask the Gothic church of the thirteenth century, now in
ruins. The abbey was a place of pilgrimage dedicated to St. Anne. The pious
mother of John Calvin took his children there. The reformer alludes to this
in his Treatise on Relics. While he draws up an exhaustive and unrealistic
list of relics, here is what he writes:
"Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, has one of her bodies at Apt in
Provence, the other at Notre-Dame. Dame-de-l'Ile, in Lyon. Besides that, she
has a head in Treves, the other in Düren-en-Juliers, the other in Thuringia
in a town named after her. I leave the rooms that are in more than a hundred
places; and, among other things, I remember that I kissed some of it in the
Abbey of Ourscamp near Noyon, which is a great feast. "
studies were done in the College des Capettes which was essentially a school
for the aristocrats of the city. Thus right from his early life he was
associated with the aristocracy and his friends were of that class.
Especially he was friendly with one aristocratic family known as Mommor
(noble family of Hangest de Montmor) who treated him equally. This probably
gave him the courage and confidence which he showed in times of debates.
1520-1521 Publication of Clementia
His father planned a
career in the church for his son. Hence Calvin began his work in the church
at the age of twelve, intending—at his father’s request—to train for the
priesthood. Jean becomes chaplain of the chapel of Gésine ( la Gfoine, in
the cathedral church of Noyon) at the age of 12 and employed by the bishop
as a clerk and received the tonsure, cutting his hair to symbolize his
dedication to the Church. In May 1521 he was appointed to a chaplaincy in
the cathedral of Noyon.
He also won the
patronage of an influential noble family of Hangest de Montmor. Because of
an outbreak of plague in Noyon, the young Hangests were sent to Paris in
August 1523, and Calvin accompanied them. He lived with his uncle and
attended as an non-resident student the College de la Marche in Paris.
Through the assistance of the Montmors, at the age of 14, Calvin was able to
to study at the College de Marche in preparation for university study. In
the Collège de la Marche, Paris, he learned Latin from one of its greatest
teachers, Mathurin Cordier. His studies consisted of seven subjects:
grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.
From the College de
la Marche he moved to the College de Montaigu, where the atmosphere was more
ecclesiastical and where he had for instructor a Spaniard who is described
as a man of learning and to whom Calvin was indebted for some sound training
in dialectics and the scholastic philosophy. John Calvin speedily
outstripped all his competitors in grammatical studies, and by his skill and
acumen as a student of philosophy, and debate. Although not yet ordained,
Calvin preached several sermons to the people.
Once he completed the
course, he entered the Collège de Montaigu as a philosophy student. By the
mid-1520s, Calvin had become a fine scholar. He spoke proficient Latin,
excelled at philosophy, and qualified to take up the intensive study of
theology in Paris. He developed a taste for writing so that by age 22, in
1521 he had published a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia. This was
Calvin’s first published work,: a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia.
You can read it at:
Seneca's De Clementia
(On Mercy) is an instructional contrast between the good ruler and the
tyrant, and an evaluation of the relationship between ruler and subject. A
survey of history is made in the first volume to select different rulers to
point out as examples, including Dionysius of Syracuse and Sulla being used
as cautionary tales and young Augustus as the exemplar. An extended
illustration of Augustus showing mercy to the rebellious Cinna alongside an
example from Nero's own life is meant to encourage the aspiring emperor to
likewise show clemency. This commentary is essentially on Stoic ethics on
Mercy connected with ruling authorities.
De Clementia is a two
volume hortatory essay written in 55–56 CE by Seneca the Younger, a Roman
Stoic philosopher, to the emperor Nero in the first five years of his reign.
Originally published: 55 AD.
In it Calvin states:
"Quite rightly, then, Plato in his Gorgias makes God a sort of commander of
the human race, assigning to each his station and military rank. Persius [
Sat., 3.7172] has borrowed this idea from
What person God commanded you To be; what rank he gave you in the human race.
Our religion, too, has such a confession:
Power comes from God
alone, and those that exist have been ordained by God Romans 13:1"
"Seneca in the Thyestes [607-608]:
You to whom the ruler over sea and land has given Jurisdiction over death
What Curtius calls
“dominion,” Seneca “jurisdiction,” here he calls “arbitrage,” that is full
and free power without right of appeal."
"But this was more
expressive, just as if the prince draws all things along with him, and
shakes them by his impulsion. Virgil, Aeneid [9.106]:
nodded assent, and with his nod made all Olympus tremble.
The phalanx of the
Macedonians, alert not only to the leader’s sign, but even to his nod.
Cicero [ Ep. 12.17., 1.1.22]:... so many cities... fix their gate upon
the nod of a single man."
On Anger [2.8.1]: "Be assured... that there are as many vices as there are
men. And Horace [Sat., 1.3.68f]:For no man is born without vices: he is
best. Who is beset by the least vices.
Although the transgressions of all are not equal or similar, still we all
have sinned. Some have sinned out of deliberate ill-will, others out of
inconstancy; some more seriously, others more lightly. Seneca, On Benefits
[4.27.23]: All vices exist in all, yet all are not prominent in each
individual Also, On Anger [3.26.4]: We all are hasty and careless, we all
are fickle, dissatisfied, and ambitious. Why do I cover up this public sore
with too light talk? We all are bad"
Here is a
quote from the first chapter where
the power on life and death of the people are with the royalty as the vicar
of God. These concepts remained with him and later became the foundation of
"For, though the true
profit of virtuous deeds lies in the doing, and there is no fitting reward
for the virtues apart from the virtues themselves, still it is a pleasure to
subject a good conscience to a round of inspection, then to cast one’s eyes
upon this vast
discordant, factious, and uncontrolled, ready to run riot alike for the
destruction of itself and others if it should break its yoke
— and finally to
commune with oneself thus:
of all mortals have found favor with Heaven
and have been chosen to serve on earth as vicar of the gods.
I am the arbiter of life and death for the nations; I
t rests in my hand what each man’s fortune and state shall be;
by my lips Fortune proclaims what gift she would bestow on each human being;
from my utterance peoples and cities gather reasons for rejoicing;
without my favor and grace no part of the wide world can prosper;
all those many thousands of swords which my peace restrains will be drawn at
what nations shall be utterly destroyed, which ones transported, which shall
receive the gift of liberty, which have it taken from them, what kings shall
become slaves and whose heads shall be crowned with royal honor, what cities
shall fall and which shall rise —
this is my jurisdiction…..
Sternness I keep
hidden, but clemency ever ready at hand.
He nodded assent, and
with his nod made all Olympus tremble…
Laws were given that
the stronger might not have absolute power"
These few are
sufficient to explain the influence of Greek Philosophy on the later
theology of Calvin
The Collège de
Montaigu was one of the constituent colleges of the Faculty of Arts of the
University of Paris. He was financially supported by the Catholic church
While in Paris he
changed his name to its Latin form, Ioannis Calvinus, which in French became
So although the new
theological teachings of individuals like Luther and Jacques Lefevre
d’Etaples were spreading throughout Paris, Calvin was still closely tied to
the Roman Catholic Church. He was getting ready to enter into priesthood
within the Roman Church. Suddenly, his father changed his mind and decided
that he should learn law since that would be a better profession in terms of
his future income and status as lawyers earned more than priests.
Here, he got
interested in the area of Renaissance humanism. He learned Greek, read
widely in the classics, and added Plato to the Aristotle he already knew.
Calvin agreed with
his father’s suggestion to move from Paris to Orleans in March of 1528, and
joined the University of Orleans. He changed his career to a study of law
under Pierre Taisan de L’toile, the most distinguished lawyer of his day.
(Pierre de l'Etoile - Petrus Stella- afterwards became the president of the
parliament of Paris, France) Calvin was quick to pick up his subject areas
well so that he was frequently called upon to lecture, as a substitute in
the absence of one or other of the regular teaching staff in the College.
Other studies, however, besides those of law occupied him while in this
city, and moved by the humanistic spirit of the age he eagerly developed his
Such was his
reputation for learning, that, in the absence of the professors, he was
frequently called upon to take their place; and when he left Orleans the
degree of doctor was by unanimous consent offered to him which Calvin
declined to accept.
is the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading
across Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It ideal was
the fullness of the total person in all areas of human life both physical
(1304-1374) was considered as the "Father of Humanism" because of his
devotion to Greek and Roman cultures. The Catholic Church was deeply
involved in this are and many who were involved were in holy orders, like
Petrarch, while others were lawyers and chancellors of Italian cities,
As the grip of
medieval supernaturalism began to diminish, secular and human interests
became more prominent. The facts of individual experience in the here and
now became more interesting than the shadowy afterlife. Reliance upon faith
and God weakened. Fortuna (chance) gradually replaced Providence as the
universal frame of reference. The present world became an end in itself
instead of simply preparation of a world to come. Indeed, as the age of
Renaissance humanism wore on, the distinction between this world (the City
of Man) and the next (the City of God) tended to disappear.
Many humanists were
churchmen including at least three popes of the period, viz, Pope Pius II
(Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), Sixtus IV, and Leo X. Much humanist effort
went into improving the understanding and translations of Biblical and early
" The first place must indeed be given to the authority of the Scriptures;
but, nevertheless, I sometimes find some things said or written by the
ancients, nay, even by the heathens, nay, by the poets themselves, so
chastely, so holily, and so divinely, that I cannot persuade myself but
that, when they wrote them, they were divinely inspired, and perhaps the
spirit of Christ diffuses itself farther than we imagine; and that there are
more saints than we have in our catalogue. To confess freely among friends,
I can't read Cicero on Old Age, on Friendship, his Offices, or his Tusculan
Questions, without kissing the book, without veneration towards the divine
Individualism and the instinct of curiosity were vigorously cultivated.
Honest doubt began to replace unreasonable faith.
The skeptical viewpoint
proposed by Abelard
reached high development and wide acceptance among the humanists.
Finally, the spirit
of individualism to a certain degree incited the Protestant revolt, which,
in theory at least, embodied a thorough application of the principle of
individualism in religion.
However, by 1527,
Calvin developed friendship with individuals who were already involved
within the reform movements. In 1529 he joined the University of Bourges as
a law student. He was intrigued by the brilliant Italian, Andrea Alciati
(1492—1550), a humanist lawyer. During his 18-month stay in Bourges, Calvin
learned Koine Greek, the New Testament language. During this period his
frient Wolmar was converted to the Reformation teachings, which were now
beginning widely diffused through France.
In 1530 he left the
Roman Catholic Church .In 1531 Calvin returned to Paris with his law degree.
His father died in 1531, after suffering for two years with testicular
The Reformation Movement
within the Catholic Church was started when Martin Luther (1483-1546) an
Augustinian monk who was a university lecturer in Wittenberg when he
composed his “95 Theses,” and pinned it on the door of of the Wittenberg
Castle church in 1517. This was essentially a call for debate and
rethinking of the status of tradition and practices of the Catholic Church .
This was prompted by the pope's sale of reprieves from penance, or
indulgences where pardon for sin was granted on payment of money to the
Church. The movement took momentum and several cities soon joined the new
way of thinking.
The movement picked
up essentially because of the invention of the printing press which allowed
faster dissemination of ideas and teaching.
On November 9, 1518
the pope condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of
the Church. One year later a series of commissions were convened to examine
Luther’s teachings. The first papal commission found them to be heretical,
but the second merely stated that Luther’s writings were “scandalous and
offensive to pious ears.” Finally, in July 1520 Pope Leo X issued a papal
bull (public decree) that concluded that Luther’s propositions were
heretical and gave Luther 120 days to recant in Rome. Luther refused to
recant, and on January 3, 1521 Pope Leo excommunicated Martin Luther from
the Catholic Church.
Luther before the Diet of Worms, Germany
Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, defies the Holy Roman
Emperor Charles V by refusing to recant his writings. He had been called to
Worms, Germany, to appear before the Diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman
Empire and answer charges of heresy.
On April 18, 1521
Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms in Germany. Refusing again to
recant, Luther concluded his testimony with the defiant statement:
“Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.”
On May 25,
the Holy Roman emperor Charles V signed an edict against Luther, ordering
his writings to be burned. Luther hid in the town of Eisenach for the next
year, where he began work on one of his major life projects, the translation
of the New Testament into German, which took him 10 years to complete.
Luther returned to
Wittenberg in 1521, where the reform movement initiated by his writings had
grown beyond his influence. It was no longer a purely theological cause; it
had become political. Other leaders stepped up to lead the reform.
The background story of Geneva as a State under Bishop
and the coming of Calvinian
"Prior to the sixteenth century, the government of Geneva was vested in its
bishop, who was its lord or dominus; in the Duke of Savoy, who controlIed
the post of vice-dominus (or vidomne); and in a burgher administration
consisting of Four elected syndics and three councils - the Little Council,
the Council of Sixty, and the General Council. The bishopric, however, after
the mid-fifteenth century was little more than an appendage of the house of
Savoy, and its incumbents were the creatures and cadets of that princely
In the early sixteenth century, conflict developed between Duke Charles
111 of Savoy ( I 504- I553) and a group of patriotic citizens, Ied by
Philibert Berthelier, who sought to protect and extend the rights of the
burgher regime. The Duke smashed the insurgent faction in I5I9, but his
withdrawal from Geneva in late I525 because of a troubled situation in
Piedmont gave the patriots a new opportunity for action. In 1526 they
concluded an alliance with Bern and Freiburg in the Swiss Confederation, and
in I 527 they instituted the Council of Two Hundred, which formally assumed
the powers of the vidornne. The Bishop of Geneva, Pierre de la Baume (I
522-1 544), acquiesced in this major political change and then fled the city
to join the Duke in resisting the patriotic gains. In I 530 the Duke
attacked Geneva, but the intervention of Bern and Freiburg saved the city
and led in turn to their occupation of the Pays de Vaud as a guarantee that
Geneva’s new freedom would be respected.
Up to this time Protestantism had barely made its appearance in Geneva, but
within the next few years the entry was made and an active and aggressive
Protestant movement began to develop. One of the chief factors in this was
the pressure brought to bear on the Genevan authorities by Bern. Bern,
Geneva’s ally, had adopted Zwinglian reform in 1528 and was militant in her
support of the new faith. She was soon dispatching preachers to neighboring
towns and countryside and using her influence to gain a hearing for their
doctrines. With her backing Guillaume Farel, a fiery French evangelist,
returned to Geneva in December, 1533 (his previous visit to the city in
October, 1532, had resulted in his speedy expulsion) and, soon joined by a
disciple, Pierre Viret of Orbe, stayed on to lay the foundations of Genevan
Protestantism. At Bern’s insistence a public disputation, with Farel and
Viret defending “evangelical truth,” was held early in 1534 and a church was
subsequently turned over to the reformers. The breach had now been made. In
May, 1534, Freiburg, which remained Catholic, severed her alliance with
Geneva, and in July the Bishop, in league with the Duke, launched an
unsuccessful attack on the city. The political conflict now merged more
distinctly with the religious quarrel. Following the Bishop’s defeat the
Genevan authorites declared the episcopal see “vacated,” and the
Protestants, still a minority, became more active in their campaign against
Catholic faith and practice.
A second public disputation in June, 1535, was a major triumph for the
reformers, after which Farel pressed hard his victory, inspiring an outbreak
of image-smashing, gaining the pulpit of the cathedral, and persuading the
CounciI of Two Hundred to suppress the Mass. This latter decision, taken on
August I0, I535, marks Geneva’s formal adherence to the Reformation. If
that crucial step had been taken, the city’s general security, however,
remained more troubled and perilous than ever. Still beleaguered by the
Duke of Savoy, she sought new aid from Bern. This aid was forthcoming at a
strategic moment in January, I 536, when Bern, taking advantage of the
Duke’s retreat from Geneva’s environs because of a French threat to Savoy
(the imminence of war between Francis I and Charles over Milan now cast its
shadow), declared war on Savoy and proceeded to occupy Geneva and its
countryside. Ambitious Bern now attempted to impose her suzerainty on her
ally, but Geneva refused to submit and at length secured, in a treaty in
August, 1536, Bern’s acknowledgment of her independence.
Meanwhile, a general assembly of citizens in the cathedral of Geneva on May
21 had ratified the reform measures which the councils had already
inaugurated, and had affirmed their will “to live according to the Gospel
and the Word of God.” The political and religious revolution had been
achieved. It had been achieved, but it had not yet been fully secured and
consolidated. The fortunes of war, the resurgence of the Catholic cause,
the weakness or failure of Protestant leadership could certainly have
reopened the issue and altered the course of these recent events. That such
did not occur was due in part at least to the arrival in Geneva of a young
French scholar who was a recent convert to Protestantism: John Calvin"
A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto's Letter to the Genevans, and Calvin's Reply,
With an Appendix on the Justification Controversy - Introduction by Olin,
Conversion of Calvin to Reformation Faith
It is thought that in
1533, Calvin experienced the sudden and unexpected conversion that he writes
about in his foreword to his commentary on the Psalms. Alternate theories
have been suggested regarding the date of Calvin's religious conversion.
Some have placed the date of his conversion around 1533, shortly before he
resigned his chaplaincy. In this view, his resignation is the direct
evidence for his conversion to the evangelical faith. However, T. H. L.
Parker argues that while this date is a terminus for his conversion, the
more likely date is in late 1529 or early 1530. The main evidence for his
conversion is contained in two significantly different accounts of his
In the first, found
in his Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Calvin portrayed his conversion as
a sudden change of mind, brought about by God:
"God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable
frame, which was more hardened 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 although I did not altogether leave
off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour."
In the second
account, Calvin wrote of a long process of inner turmoil, followed by
spiritual and psychological anguish:
exceedingly alarmed at the misery into which I had fallen, and much more at
that which threatened me in view of eternal death, I, duty bound, made it my
first business to betake myself to your way, condemning my past life, not
without groans and tears. And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me,
but instead of defence, earnestly to supplicate you not to judge that
fearful abandonment of your Word according to its deserts, from which in
your wondrous goodness you have at last delivered me".
Scholars have argued
about the precise interpretation of these accounts, but most agree that his
conversion corresponded with his break from the Roman Catholic Church. The
Calvin biographer Bruce Gordon has stressed that "the two accounts are not
antithetical, revealing some inconsistency in Calvin's memory, but rather
[are] two different ways of expressing the same reality."
During these years he
was also exposed to Renaissance humanism, influenced by Erasmus and Jacques
Lefèvre d’Étaples, which constituted the radical student movement of the
time. This movement, which antedates the Reformation, aimed to reform church
and society on the model of both classical and Christian antiquity, to be
established by a return to the Bible studied in its original languages. It
left an indelible mark on Calvin. Under its influence he studied Greek and
Hebrew as well as Latin, the three languages of ancient Christian discourse,
in preparation for serious study of the Scriptures. It also intensified his
interest in the classics; his first publication (1532) was a commentary on
Seneca’s essay on clemency.
conversion is never an instantaneous process but a long and ongoing process.
There may be definable final point, but is always the result of an on going
process, even if it is not an always identifiable.
At this time the heat of persecution obliged the evangelical congregations
to assemble in the greatest secrecy. To these Calvin preached with zeal and
energy, concluding always with the words of St. Paul, "If God be for us, who
can be against us ?"
In order to shame the king and the ecclesiastical authorities out of their
persecuting principles, he published his first work, the two books of Seneca
"De Clementia," (On Mercy) with a Commentary, in which he freely expressed
this work, the dedication of which to the abbot of St. Eloi is dated from
Paris on the 4th of April, 1532, he first assumed the name of Calvinus.
1533 - 1534 All Saints Day, and the Affair of the Placards
trips to Orléans and his hometown of Noyon, Calvin returned to Paris in
During this time,
tensions rose at the Collège Royal (later to become the Collège de France)
between the humanists/reformers and the conservative senior faculty members.
One of the reformers, Nicolas Cop, was rector of the university. Nicolas Cop
( 1501- 1540), rector of the University of Paris in late 1533, from 10
October 1533, was a Swiss Protestant Reformer and friend of John Calvin.
Nicolas Cop and his brother Michel Cop, sons of the king's physician, had
become Calvin's friends during their shared time at the Collège de Montaigu.
In January 1535,
Calvin joined Cop in Basel, a city under the enduring influence of the late
reformer Johannes Oecolampadius. John Calvin was a law student at the
University of Orléans when he first joined the cause of the Reformation. He
became active in a circle of Frenchmen who shared this interest,which
included Nicolas Cop, the Rector of the University of Paris. It was the
custom of the university for the Rector to deliver an inaugural address in
Latin on All Saints’ Day in one of the churches of Paris. On All Saints
Day, November 1, 1533, Nicholas Cop stood before the University of Paris and
delivered an address that had been written by John Calvin in the Mathurins’
church which essentially explained the the need for reform and renewal in
the Roman Catholic Church and the principles of reformation.
Oecolampadius (also Œcolampadius, in German also Oekolampadius, Oekolampad;
1482 – 24 November 1531) was a German Protestant reformer in the Reformed
tradition from the Electoral Palatinate. He was the leader of the Protestant
faction in the Baden Disputation of 1526, and he was one of the founders of
Protestant theology, along with Erasmus, Zwingli, Luther and Martin Bucer.
The address provoked
a strong reaction from the faculty, who denounced it as heretical. Cop was
denounced to the parliament of Paris, who sent their officers to apprehend
him. A timely notice from a friend enabled him to escape to Basle, his
The storm now fell
upon Calvin, whose share in the sermon seems to have got wind. Jean Morin,
the lieutenant of police, repaired to his lodgings for the purpose of
seizing him; but Calvin had also received a private warning, and saved
himself by flight. The manner of his escape is differently narrated.
According to some writers, he let himself down from his window by means of
his sheets into the Rue des Bernardins, he sought the house of a
vine-dresser, whom he knew; and, putting on the man's frock left the city.
That was followed in
1534 by another attack on the Catholic Church known as the “Affair of the
Placards,” . The Affair of the Placards (French: Affaire des Placards) was
an incident in which anti-Catholic posters appeared in public places in
Paris and in four major provincial cities: Blois, Rouen, Tours and Orléans,
overnight during 17 October 1534. Upon which the Governement took serious
action. This time Calvin and Nicholas Cop had to flee from the country.
Affair of the Placards
On the night of 17–18
October 1534, in Paris and four other cities in France, French Protestants
put up placards, or posters, attacking the Catholic mass. They even posted
one on the door of the bedchamber of François I in Amboise. The placards,
which were printed in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, were written by Antoine
Marcourt, a pastor from Neuchatel. Marcourt was an ardent follower of
Huldrych Zwingli, the most important reformer in the Swiss Protestant
Reformation. Severe repression followed.
He remained on the move, sheltering with his friend Louis du Tillet in
Angoulême who was the Parish Priest of Claix and then the canon of Angouleme
, and taking refuge in Noyon and Orléans. He lodged Jean Calvin during his
stay in Angoulême ( 1533 - 1534 ), during which he worked on the writing of
the Psychopannychia (published in 1542 ). After about six months’ stay at
Angoulétne, Calvin left it for Poitiers, a town of France on the river Clain.
Here he gathered around him many of those who were of reformation and formed
a mission for the evangelisation of France. In a. large cave called “
Calvin's Grotto,” about an hour’s walk from this town, they assembled in
secret, as in days of old, when men “ of whom the world was not worthy,
wandered in desert and in dens and caves of the earth.” They met here and
Calvin administerd the Lord's Supper in his cave.
He took various names such as D'Espeville, Depercan or Deparcan, Carolus
Passelius, Joseph Calphurnius, B , when he fled from Paris as he moved from
one city to the other.
His eldest brother Charles died in 1536, who being a priest, and
consequently unmarried, the paternal inheritance fell to Calvin as the next
eldest living son. He was forced to go back to his native town. After
selling his estate and putting his affairs in order he left Noyon ,
accompanied by his brother Anthony and his sister Maria. This was his last
visit to Noyon.