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“I Labored at The Task Especially for Our Frenchmen, For I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a few had and real knowledge of Him.”

An Essay on John Calvin



This Essay examines the life Philosophy and theology of John Calvin and the impact of such on protestant and catholic religious thought.








John Calvin is often regarded as a protestant reformer but his writings and philosophies impacted Catholicism and the secular world as well. Although a reluctant pastor Calvin would transform, the world through his sermons, writings and beliefs. This essay examines the life, theology and influences of John Calvin pastor, reformer and philosopher an innovator of theology and democracy.


John Calvin was born in Noyon, France to the son of a notary in 1509. Despite not being of an aristocratic background his father, Gerald Cauvin, had connections with a bourgeois  family and Calvin was able to receive an education as a result of his father’s professional relationship (Holder 2014). At the age of 14 Calvin was enrolled at the College de la Marche in the University of Paris but transferred to the College de Montaigu.

While in Paris Calvin became active in the humanist movement. He studied religion to become a priest and  earned his master degree at age 18. However, after his father was excommunicated by the church his father persuaded Calvin to switch his studies to Law. In 1532 Calvin published his first book a commentary on Seneca’s De Clemementia. According to R. Ward Holder “It contained no over evidence of awareness or let alone a preoccupation with the contemporary religious world.” However 1n 1534 Calvin was persecuted as a heretic for his writings.

In 1533 Calvin had a religious experience which he describes as sudden conversion. In response to the accusations and threats of persecution for heresy Calvin fled to Noyon surrender his clerical benefices and severed his attachment with the Church of Rome.

Calvin preached for a short period of time in Strasbourg Austria but is most credited with fleeing to Geneva Switzerland and reorganizing both the church and city.

At first reluctant to become involved in church or pastoral affairs his colleague William Farel and a calling from God led him to do so otherwise. Calvin always considered himself more of a scholar than pastor and in 1536 his first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion was published. This book would later be revised several times and would cover such areas as the rite of sacraments, Justification, Christian Liberty and political government.

In Geneva Calvin would help try to reorganize the city into a theocratic government of four bodies. Pastors would conduct worship, administer communion, and care for spiritual needs, Doctors or teachers lectured on the Old and New Testament on Monday Wednesday and Fridays, elders kept an eye on moral conduct and deacons managed social services and hospitals (Christian History Biography: John Calvin: Father of the Reformed Faith 2008).

John Calvin was considered controversial by many and received death threats, had protestors fire off fire arms during sermons outside his churches and was even attacked by dogs , but still he continued writing and preaching often pushing his body to extreme limits. Even in failing health he would preach form bedside. Calvin died in 1564 as a result of health complications leaving behind a wife and two children. Calvin also composed commentaries on most of the books of the bibles and wrote many letters. However his greatest achievement is the doctrine of predestination of the elect and salvation by grace.



Theology and Beliefs

Calvin’s philosophical views rejected individualism and universalism. Calvin’s view is more in the way of ontological dualism proposing a duality of body and soul/spirit. His view can also be characterized as semi-mystical as he considered humans not completely non-transcendent but contained elements of a soul and spirit. Thus God is not above man but inside the individual and of divine origin and then returns to the creator upon death. Finally Calvin held firm to the six day 24 hour view of creation thus making him a creationist. He held the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Plato, Humanism, Occam and Scotus in high esteem (van derWalt 2010)

The greatest contribution to theology and the reformation provided by John Calvin is his doctrine of predestination of the elect by grace. Simply stated once an individual accepts Christ as one’s savior one cannot lose salvation. According to Bakers Dictionary of Theology “Calvin also rejected allegorizing the scriptures and stressed the fact that while the Bible reveals God and his purpose for us, there is always a mystery of the divine Being and counsel to which no human thought can penetrate (Elwell 2001).” Thus the scriptures were to be the defining factor of one’s actions and were of supreme authority. A person comes to achieve enlightenment of the Word of God through the aid of the Holy Spirit not by logical or historical revelation.

Calvin believed in the trinity and the homoousios union of God and of God’s sovereign power. Calvin believed God feely created the universe according to his own design and all was good (Elwell 2001)

In regards to man Calvin believed in a covenant relationship. But man had free will and was able to choose whether or not to obey the laws of God. Tempted by Satan man fell from grace and asserted himself as an independent being worshiping the creature rather than the creator. Only by the doctrine of grace did man not complete fall into disarray (Elwell 2001). Through the resurrection of Jesus and now the church man was redeemed and is called to serve as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Calvin believed it was the churches responsibility to be the watchdog of morality but this was to be done only by a council of elders and to save the sinner. No penal codes for specific actions were to be established. Furthermore church discipline was to remain separate for the jurisdiction of civil authority and be modeled after the early church. Pastors, deacons and elders were divinely appointed by God and the authority of the word and were of a direct ascension of the disciples. All crimes of immorality were to be examined on a case by case and punishment was to match the offense. Only under severe circumstances and normally after measures were taken to correct the offense was excommunication to be applied (Coertzen 2001).



Influence on the Catholic Church.

John Calvin is commonly credit as a protestant reformer but influenced Catholicism in many ways. First Calvin believed in an invisible universal church with Christ seated at the head. He also did not believe the Catholic Church as an institution was fully corrupt but some were under the influence of the Antichrist during medieval times. Calvin also acknowledged the catholic cannon of scripture although he rejected the Apocrypha as non-biblical. He did recognize the value of such writings as theological works however.  He also was a supporter of the Nicaean Council, the Apostles Creed, and the trinity. Although his negative comments in his writings towards Catholicism outnumbered the positive his writings would shape modern catholic thought in times to come. His main influence was his support of Augustine thought and the ways of the early church (Lane 2010). His greatest point of contention was that the Roman Catholic Church was the supreme authority and direct descendent of the apostles claiming this right belonged to all churches and all churches were united as one body under Christ.


John Calvin was both a reformer of protestant and catholic thought. The Institutes of the Christian Religion was written as a means to clarify religious doctrine and was instrument in changing religious doctrine. Calvinism is based on the doctrine of salvation of grace and his organization and jurisdiction of the church became a model for many protestant churches. Calvin sought to reform the church and man to the ways or the early church and believed the church is responsible in serving humankind. Calvinism influenced the Methodist, Baptist, Puritan and Reformed churches and had implications in the separation of church and state and the ways of modern democracy.



Word Count# 1476










Christian History Biography: John Calvin: Father of the Reformed Faith. 8 8, 2008. (accessed 6 2, 2014).

Coertzen, P. John Calvin and the Reformed tradition on the jurisdiction of the church. Department of Ecclesiology, Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch, 2001.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House Company, 2001.

Holder, r. Ward. “John Calvin (1509-1564).” Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy, 2014: 1-5.

Lane, Anthony N.S. “John Calvin: Catholic theologian.” ecclesiology 6 (2010): 290-314.

van derWalt, B.J. Philosophical and theological influences in John Calvin’s thought: reviewing some research results. School of Philosophy, Potchefstroom: North West University, 2010.






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