The French Protestant reformer was born as Jean Cauvin in Noyon (Picardy) on July 10, 1509. The son of a bishop’s notary, he received a good formal education. Calvin studied law at Orleans and Bourges and became a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1533. He wrote an anticlerical humanistic speech for a friend later that year; this led to accusations of heresy and forced Calvin to flee France. He went to Basle and began to study theology in 1535. Calvin published his most important work only a year later: he summarised his Protestant theology in the ‘Institutio Christianae religionis’ (Institutes of the Christian Religion).
Reformation of all areas of life
In 1536, Calvin went to Geneva, where he and Wilhelm Farel attempted to expand the Reformation to include all aspects of civil life. Their radical project was temporarily halted by Geneva’s town council, which soon banished Calvin from its territory. He was called back to Geneva several years later and the town council confirmed Calvin’s new ecclesiastical ordinances in 1541. These included measures related to church discipline and the struggle against decaying morals as well as a proclamation of the Word of God. To the end of his life, Calvin continued to struggle tirelessly for the expansion of Protestant teachings. He gave countless sermons and lectures, led Bible study groups, and wrote theological treatises, commentaries on the Bible, and liturgical guidelines. He also advocated relief for the poor and defended France’s persecuted Protestants. While referring to himself as a student and expounder of Martin Luther’s Reformation, Calvin's writings influenced other European Protestant reformers, such as Scotland’s John Knox.
Hapless in private
Calvin’s family life was short-lived. He married the widow Idelette de Bure in 1540. She died at a young age – as did their only son together.
Calvin died in Geneva on May 27, 1564. Along with Luther, he was and is the most influential Protestant reformer. His endeavours and reforms were already being referred to as 'Calvinist' by the time of his death. To the present day, Calvinism has remained one of the most prevalent branches of the Protestant faith around the world.