- Calvin, John
- (1509-1564)French religious reformer. Although identified mainly with the Protestant Reformation, Calvin began his intellectual development as a follower of humanism. Born at Noyon in northern France, he studied liberal arts at the University of Paris and law at Orléans and Bourges. He was more interested in the new humanistic movement and in the vague ideas of religious reform associated with it than in the traditional academic curriculum. At Paris he studied with a prominent humanist, Mathurin Cordier; at Orléans he received private lessons in Greek from the German humanist Melchior Wolmar, who was already a follower of Martin Luther; at Bourges he studied with the humanistic reformer of legal studies Andrea Alciati. After his father's death freed him to pursue his own goals, Calvin returned to Paris (1531) to study the Greek language, the Bible, and classical literature. In 1532 he published his first book, a humanistic commentary on the treatise De dementia by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. Like many young French humanists of his time, he admired the biblical humanism of Lefèvre d'Etaples and Erasmus and probably had read some works of Luther. As late as 1532 he still seems to have regarded himself a Catholic.Sometime between 1532 and 1535, however, Calvin changed from reformminded Catholic humanist into committed Protestant. Twice, in 1533 and 1534-1535, he left Paris during periods when the authorities were actively hunting heretics. During the second of these exiles, Calvin spent several months in the Protestant city of Basel, where in 1535 he wrote the first version of his masterpiece of Protestant theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, published the following year. After a few months at the court of the French-born duchess René of Ferrara, who sheltered a circle of Protestant sympathizers, he returned briefly to France and then began an exile that lasted for the rest of his life and transformed him into a major Protestant theologian and the leader of the Reformation in Geneva, where he spent most of his remaining years.Nevertheless, Calvin's humanist background remained evident. Aside from his frequently reprinted Institutes, his principal theological works were his commentaries on the Bible. In them he applied the humanistic techniques of historical and linguistic analysis to probe the Scriptures. Also reflecting his humanist background was his emphasis on humanistic education as the essential preparation for leaders of religious reform. This commitment to education in the humanities culminated in the founding of the Genevan Academy in 1559.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.