John Calvin Additional Biography


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Calvin studied theology, law, and classics, and he wrote his Commentary on Lucius Anneas Seneca’s Two Books on Clemency (1532) by the age of twenty-three. His sympathies with emerging Protestant thinking caused him to flee Paris in 1534. He wrote the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 in Basel, Switzerland. That same year, he settled in Geneva, where he acted as both its civil and its religious leader. His own conversion experience gave him a sense of God’s direct dealings with people. Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God. He believed that knowledge of God came only through revealed scriptures, not through unaided human reason. Humans were created morally upright, but through Adam’s sin human nature became “totally depraved”; that is, all human faculties have been corrupted, and as a result humans are incapable of any act that God would deem good. Salvation is thus necessary but is wholly the act of God. Jesus died to effect the salvation of those God elects, and even the faith to accept salvation is God’s irresistible gift. God alone chooses who will and who will not receive the faith to accept forgiveness. Further, those whom God saves, God preserves. The responsibility of the Christian is to lead a moral, temperate life. Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic and the Rise of Capitalism, 1904-1905) has argued that Calvinism has given rise to a work ethic and capitalism, although that conclusion is debated.