Mondays are for Church History - 10/3/16
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 7 “John Calvin” Loc. 1272-1443.
Gonzalez identifies John Calvin as “the most important systematizer of Protestant theology in the sixteenth century” (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1278). He contrasts Calvin’s work as a systematician to Luther’s work, largely focused on the freedom of justification.
Calvin, born in 1509, had connections and resources for advancement in the Church (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1286). Family conflicts with ecclesial authorities redirected Calvin’s studies to law, in which context he became very familiar with the elite humanism of his time (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1294).
During studies in Paris, prior to 1534, Calvin broke with Rome and joined the Protestants, though Gonzalez does not find a date or cause (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1294). In January 1535 Calvin went to Basel, in exile (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1302). His desire was to write treatises explaining the Christian faith (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 131). This resulted in his first edition of the Institutes in 1536, which grew in scope in future editions (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1317). The definitive text, released in Latin in 1559 and French in 1560, is four volumes with a total of eighty chapters (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1324).
Desiring to relocate to Strasbourg in 1536, Calvin made a detour to Geneva, where the new Protestant leadership eagerly solicited his help and support (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1340). He quickly became influential in the city. He insisted that excommunication was a function of church and not civil government, a stand which resulted in his exile from Geneva (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1364). From 1538-1541 he lived in Strasbourg, where he worked on the Institutes, a French liturgy, and where he married (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1371).
In 1541 Calvin was able to return to Geneva, where he managed to negotiate a church body which would hold some civil authority (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1379). The work of governing was held in four orders - pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1386). There remained a separate civil government, which clashed with the church government.
After a theological dissident, Michael Servetus, was executed for heresies, not for his medical work, Calvin was well established in his authority (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1401). Calvin died in 1564 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1409).
Theologically, Calvin’s position on communion, the most divisive issue of his time, was between the positions of Luther and Zwingli. The presence of Christ is real but spiritual rather than bodily. In communion, since Jesus is in heaven, the believer is taken to heaven spiritually to be in the presence of Christ (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1417). In Gonzalez’ view, though Luther and Calvin may have been able to reach agreement, their followers would not (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1425). Calvin’s influence through the Institutes spread broadly in Europe, with an emphasis on reforming society (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 1434).
All the work of Wittenberg Door Campus Ministry, including this blog, is supported by the generosity of people like you. Please consider joining our team of prayer and financial supporters. Read more here!