Come 31 October, we will be commemorating the 16th Century Protestant Reformation which was the greatest event in the history of the Church since Pentecost. On that date in 1517, Christians who were true to their faith came out of the darkness of pagan Rome, led by Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk.
One instrumental figure in the Protestant Reformation was John Calvin, a French theologian, reformer and pastor. When Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, John Calvin was no more than nine years of age. But thanks to Luther, Calvin inherited a rich theological legacy and was widely acknowledged as the leader of the second-generation Reformers.
The French Reformer has been rightly described as “the theologian of the Reformation”. Though Calvin was the most reserved of the Reformers, the Lord saw it fit to use this reticent man to rebut “the delusive pretensions of the Roman Church and to establish the Reformed faith on a firm foundation in Western Europe” (www.evangelical-times.org/articles/historical/defenders-of-the-faith-2/).
o Early years and education
The second son of staunch Roman Catholic parents, John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) was born in the French province of Picardy on 10 July 1509. Calvin’s father, Gerard Cauvin, an administrator in the town’s cathedral, groomed his son for the priesthood, paying for his education in the noble household of the Lord of Montmor, brother of Charles de Hangest, Bishop of Noyon.
Through his father’s influence, Calvin, aged only 12, received income for ecclesiastical services, though he was never ordained into the Roman priesthood. This provided him with the means to enter the University of Paris (Collège de la Marche) in 1523 to study for the priesthood. It was here that Calvin received excellent instruction in Latin from Mathurin Cordier (1479-1564), to whom he owed his brilliant literary style. To express his gratitude, Calvin dedicated his commentaries on the Epistle to the Thessalonians to his Latin teacher.
Sometime between 1525 and 1526, Calvin’s life underwent a sudden change. His father, realising that there was more money in law than in religion, changed his mind and directed his son to legal studies. Dutifully, Calvin complied and switched to the study of law in the University of Orleans. He later went to study Greek in the University of Bourges with the help of a German scholar, Melchior Wolmar who was to become his life-long friend. Wolmar was committed to the Reformation, as was Pierre Robert Olivetan, Calvin’s cousin and fellow student at Orleans who was a key influence to turn Calvin to the Reformed faith.
It was during the years of law studies that Calvin was exposed to the theories of humanism through his teachers. At about the same time, he was also becoming disillusioned with the Roman Church and its unscriptural beliefs and practices.
“This change of education and place of study is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Calvin’s legal training was to foster in him qualities of mind – clarity, precision and caution – which were never lost, and served him greatly as a Bible commentator and theologian in later years. Second, it was at the University of Orleans that he first came into contact with Reformation truth. One of his tutors was Melchior Wolmar, an evangelical, who began teaching Greek to Calvin and may have shared his faith with the younger scholar.
“The learning of Greek was an important step, for it opened up for Calvin the riches of the New Testament. It is worth noting that a writer in the Roman Church could state around this time: ‘We must avoid Greek at all costs, for this language gives birth to heresies. Especially beware of the New Testament in Greek; it is a book full of thorns and prickles’!” (ibid).
(… to be continued)