A Biographical Sketch of John Calvin (1509-1564)


John Calvin was born in Noyon, France on July 10, 1509. His parents were Gerard Cauvin and Jeanne. Gerard remarried after Calvin’s mother died. Still, young Calvin experienced and felt genuine motherly love from his stepmother. When Calvin was twelve years old, he got a benefice from the bishop of Noyon where his father works as an administrative assistant.

In 1523, Calvin started his formal training in Paris, first at College de le Marche to study Latin, then at College de Montaigu for theology. There was a sudden shift in his studies when Calvin’s father was excommunicated. Cauvin encouraged young Calvin to study law for a more profitable reason. Calvin went to study law at Orleans in 1528, then transferred to Bourges where he learned Greek in 1529. When Calvin’s father died in 1531, he shifted back to humanist studies in 1532, which he enjoys more than politics.[1]

Calvin’s journey to Geneva was a bumpy road. As a student in France, he was influenced by several Reformer’s teachings. To the point that he along with others had been accused of being a Lutheran.[2] Due to persecution and for his security purposes, he needed to reside in Basel in 1534.

It was on his way to Strasbourg, in 1536, when he needed to stay overnight in Geneva. Providentially, Guillaume Farel—a Reformer also—persuaded Calvin to stay in Geneva. Farel threatened him that Calvin would be under God’s severe judgment if he will not stay. Calvin stayed and assisted the church in Geneva. But due to ecclesiastical conflicts, Farel and Calvin were kicked out from Geneva that led Calvin to stay in Strasbourg under the mentorship of Martin Bucer, from 1538 to 1541.

Lastly, in 1541, Calvin was persuaded to return to Geneva until he died in 1564. Calvin was a pastor, teacher, city councilor, prolific writer, and competent mentor of the Reformed tradition. He founded Geneva Academy in 1559 where Calvin invited Theodore Beza to teach—who became his successor.[3]

Indeed, Calvin journeyed “thorny” roads both in education and vocation throughout his life. Providentially, Haykin observed, Calvin “was being taught the cost of discipleship” which shaped his ministry, learned to lean on God and submit to His will, especially through prayers.[4]

Calvin’s magnum opus was The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale Divinity School Bruce Gordon noted that the Institutes, which took twenty years to evolve, essentially, should be read side by side with Calvin’s commentaries.[5] This magisterial work of Calvin was successful because it was “powerful, persuasive, and readable,” Gordon said.[6] It was a “little handbook” that started in 1536 that grew into “a bulky but compact and thoroughly organized textbook in theology in 1559,” B. B. Warfield stated.[7]

Emeritus Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary David Calhoun described the Institutes as biblical, systematic, polemical, doctrinal, and devotional.[8] Calvin’s work encapsulates a personal and intimate devotion to God as a sweet loving Father. It is a work not only for the church but primarily to revere God with gratitude personally and prayerfully. Gordon said, “The Institutes is an extended hymn of praise by an exiled Frenchman to a saving God he believed never abandoned the faithful. It was deeply personal.”

For Calvin, “Faith is to that God is Father.”[9] It now makes sense why we ought to pray to God because He is our Father who delights to hear our voice—indeed, a conversation with our Father. Thomas Henry Louis Parker explained Calvin’s thought on prayer, “It is, then, not simply a matter of praying through Christ, but rather with Christ…Thus Christ becomes the precentor who leads the prayers of his people.”[10]



[1] Michael A. G. Haykin, “Young Calvin,” in Derek W. H. Thomas and John W. Tweeddale, eds., John Calvin: For a New Reformation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 21-38. Cf. Timothy George, “Glory unto God: John Calvin,” in Theology of the Reformers, Revised Edition (Nashville, TN: 2013), 175-8.

[2] Kenneth J. Stewart, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (Downers Grover, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 36. Cf. Karin Maag, “John Calvin: The Man Behind the Name,” Calvin University, June 11, 2021, https://calvin.edu/about/history/john-calvin.html

[3] Carl R. Trueman and Eunjin Kim, “The Reformers and Their Reformations,” in Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, ed. Matthew Barrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 123-130. Cf. Stephen J. Nichols, “The Call to Geneva and the Struggle for Orthodoxy,” in Thomas and Tweeddale, John Calvin, 39-57.

[4] Haykin, “Young Calvin,” in Thomas and Tweeddale, John Calvin, 38.

[5] Bruce Gordon, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: A Biography (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 2, 17.

[6] Gordon, John Calvin’s Institutes,15.

[7] B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (NY: Oxford University Press, 1931), 7. Cf. George, “John Calvin,” in Reformers, 186.

[8] David B. Calhoun, Knowing God and Ourselves: Reading Calvin’s Institutes Devotionally (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 7-17.

[9] Gordon, John Calvin’s Institutes,12.

[10] T. H. L. Parker, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1995), 110.


Published by JP Arceno

A Mere Christian, no other religion, but Christian church, call me a Catholic Christian ~ Richard Baxter

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