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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Johannes Calvinus (A Brief Bio)

With the exception of Martin Luther, of all the Reformers both past and present none, in my estimation, have had the impact on Protestantism than John Calvin. Calvin was born at Noyon in Picardy, France, July 10th 1509, and died at Geneva, May 27th 1564. Calvin was born into a French middle class family. His father practiced both civil and canon law and expected his son to do the same. Therefore, John Calvin was educated to this end, the practice of law.

Unlike Martin Luther, Calvin never made vows (monastic or otherwise) to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, Calvin focused his entire formative years being educated in law and humanities. In fact, there is no historical evidence that Calvin’s family had any direct ties to the Roman Catholic Church other than through legal notary between Gerard Calvin (John’s Father) and the cathedral chapter in Noyon. While it is probable that Calvin’s family attended Mass, to what regularity is not known.

Somewhere between the time Calvin was being taught classical languages and perusing his B.A. in liberal arts, Calvin developed a love for theology. Many historians believe this interest in theology began when Calvin spent five years at Montaigu studying philosophy. Apparently, Calvin’s father had a change of heart for his son and withdrew John from Paris and quickly enrolled him into Orleans to study civil law. From Orleans, Calvin transferred to Bourges, where he finished his studies in law. However, around 1531 Calvin’s father became ill, so Calvin immediately went back home only to find that his father and brother had both been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin’s father died May 26, 1531 and Calvin’s brother Charles persuaded, with great difficulty, the cathedral chapter to allow Gerard (Calvin’s father) to be buried in consecrated ground.

After the death of Calvin’s father, several things occurred. First, Calvin was no longer obligated to study law. He therefore quickly dropped his study of law and pursued humanist studies with an emphasis in classical languages. These studies would ultimately lead Calvin to a greater interest in philosophy and theology. Second, due to the trouble Calvin’s father and his brother had with the Roman Catholic Church, it is perhaps thought that this may have embittered John against the Church, and upon his conversion to Christianity he quickly embraced the growing tenets of the Reformation and made it his task to write to that end. I believe this second point is speculative at best since there is no indication in Calvin’s writings where he mentions or even hints any trouble or bitterness toward the Church in Rome due to the situation with his Father and brother (unless I am merely overlooking it).

Eventually Calvin focused his attention on theological issues and in 1536 he completed and published his masterpiece titled Christanae Religions Iinstitutio (Institutes of the Christian Religion). While Calvin went on to write many other works, none were ever as popular nor had such a massive impact on Protestant theology as the Institutes.

Though Calvin was French, born and raised, in history he is known as the Reformer from Geneva. The interesting thing about his being "from" Geneva is the fact that the first time he ever visited was to see a friend, lu Tillet. Calvin intended to stay in Geneva only one evening until William Farel, the man who led the Reformation in Geneva found out Calvin was visiting. Apparently, as the story is told by Calvin himself, Farel marched over to where Calvin was staying and announced to Calvin that he could not leave Geneva, the city and the Protestant Church was in dire need of him. Calvin details the whole story in an autobiographical fragment found in one of his commentaries. Of course, Calvin stayed in Geneva to aid in the Reformation there, and the rest is history.

[Stay tuned, there will be more posts on Calvin’s writings and his theology]


Blogger Doug E. said...

Great bio!


1:46 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Hey there!

Interesting post. I love biography, especially of significant people in the history of Christianity. Just curious as to this line: "In fact, there is no historical evidence that Calvin’s family had any direct ties to the Roman Catholic Church other than through legal notary..." Given that the Catholic Church would have been all there was by way of Christianity at this time (though Protestantism was certainly brewing), does it follow then that no ties to Rome meant no ties to Christianity? We're not even sure if he participated in the mass? You mention a "conversion" to Christianity that he had. What would it have meant to convert to Christianity at this time, if not to become Catholic?

Just curious about these things. The way the post reads it makes it seem like there was already some ready alternative type of Christianity outside of Catholicism. Is this really how historians see it?

6:24 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...


First, there is no evidence that Calvin's family were members of the Roman Catholic Church (which would suggest that his family was perhaps unbelievers - or Pagans as they were called back then - but not Pagan in the cultic sense that we know of today, just meaning unbelievers).

My assumption is that since Calvin's father and brother helped the chapter in their home town in legal matters that maybe Calvin's family attended Mass on occasion.

Calvin was a humanist and studied humanist philosophy and it is through this philosophy tha I think Calvin became interested in theology (there is no evidence how this came about). I personally think Calvin had no devotion to any religion until his "conversion."

By the time Calvin "converted" to Christianity the Reformation was in full swing. Calvin and Luther are an entire generation different in age. Unless I am mistaken (and if anyone out there knows please speak up) there is no account of "how" Calvin was converted to Christianity (or through wose witness).

All I do know is that when he became a Christian it was through the tenets of the Reformation (unlike Luther who was converted into the Roman Catholic Church) and therefore, he converted to Christianity much like any non-Catholic today would be converted.
(keep in mind Jeremiah, when Calvin became Christian, the Reformers and all those who followed had by this time fully separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church).

Perhaps I should have been more detailed in his conversion account (although the historicity of this is scant) and about what was going on at the time he was "converted."

Hope that helps a little.

BTW, why do you have a pic of Jessica in your profile pic area, you should have a pic of you or of both of you together. Having just her makes it seem like she's you; and we all know that's not the case - besides she's better looking than you. :-)

9:26 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Looking into the "conversion" of Calvin a little further Alister McGrath in his work titled A Life of John Calvin seems to describe that Calvin's conversion is detailed by Calvin himself. However, McGrath does not provide a reference where Calvin details this - that I can find in McGrath's work anyway.

9:44 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Thanks for the clarification. I know that Calvin and Luther are separated by a generation. But, the Theses being posted in 1517 and Calvin's attention being driven to things theological in (as you say) 1531 is not very much time at all. Scarcely little time, it seems to me, for a developed tradition of non-Catholic conversion to have arisen. (Perhaps, he just asked Jesus into his heart ;) Yes, it's true that the events of the Protestant Reformation were rapid (as were all things of the Renaissance), but I can't help being overwhelmed by the fact of there being one Christianity at this time, at least in the West, and presumably therefore, one process of conversion. Therefore, it's intriguing to think of an individual "converting" to Christianity when Catholicism was all there was of Christianity. If not a conversion to Catholicism, then to what? A quasi-Catholicism?

It's easy to look back in retrospect and speak meaningfully of the "tenets of the Reformation." It seems much less clear, however, that one would have been able to do the same in 1531.

Oh, and btw, I indicate on my profile why I have my wife as my photo. I haven't yet a good scan of the two of us or of my family. And besides which, since she's infinitely more handsome than I, it is out of kindness to my fellow bloggers that I offer a photo of beauty without an attending beast (ie, yours truly).

10:50 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...


Well, you are correct in the time frame, and most of what was adhered to by the Reformers, at this point anyway, did not sway too far away from the RCC.

Also, keep in mind that Calvin's family was ex-communicated by the RCC, so it is quite possible that Calvin was upset at the RCC for this. However, I do not think this was his reason for converting to Protestant Christianity.

12:34 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Jim said...

You forgot Zwingli, who far surpasses both Luther and Calvin in terms of significance for the Reformation and for theology as a field of study.

(I am obliged to point that out as I am one of the few remaining Zwinglians on the planet and his birthday is tomorrow!)

Neat blog by the way- have it on the rss.

2:29 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Jim,

yes, Zwingli was of great importance, and I thank you for mentioning him.

Jim states:
"You forgot Zwingli, who far surpasses both Luther and Calvin in terms of significance for the Reformation and for theology as a field of study."

You must be a big fan of Zwingli. Did he not have a huge impact on Baptist theology?

2:44 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

With respect, I suggest you might prayerfully read the following info, with an open heart, asking the Lord for guidance to a more-complete understanding of His Word:

4:38 PM, October 20, 2014  

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