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The Biography Index
Portrait of John Calvin
John Calvin (1509-1564)
John Calvin was the son of an attorney who worked as a secretary to the bishop of Noyon in France. He was well educated and continued his studies, choosing to major in law, at the universities of Paris, 0rléans and Bourges. As a Catholic he had joined student fringe groups so it was not surprising that he eventually converted to Protestantism.
In 1534, along with many other Protestants, he was arrested and put into prison for a while. On his release he went underground before escaping to Basel in Switzerland. It was here that he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion which he finished in 1536.
Calvin was en route to Strasbourg when he met a man called Guillaume Farel in Geneva. Calvin stayed in Geneva, taking up the post of chief pastor. Together Calvin and Farel imposed a religious state on the city. Calvin literally ruled Geneva and reformed the city government to follow his religious beliefs. Many of these reforms, such as the abolition of holy days and severe punishments for immoral behaviour, were unpopular. In fact both Calvin and Farel were thrown out of the city for a while in 1538.
Calvin's absence was short-lived, however, and when he returned he continued to impose an austere government on the city. Geneva was the Presbyterian experiment which paved the way for the Reformed Protestant Church. On the surface it seemed the ideal society; it was free from sin and crime but devoid of life's pleasures. Calvin's Presbyterian model was copied by many, including John Knox in Scotland and the Puritans in England.
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