John Calvin’s Calvinism -- By: Wolcott Calkins

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 066:264 (Oct 1909)
Article: John Calvin’s Calvinism
Author: Wolcott Calkins


John Calvin’s Calvinism

Rev. Wolcott Calkins

The search-light which the four hundredth anniversary of Calvin’s birth is turning upon his influence in modern history ought to make the popular meaning of Calvinism obsolete. The system of theology which he taught is receding. The man he was is coming to the front. His political principles make foundations for all constitutional governments in the world. The first and the most radical of them has just been adopted by the nation that stoned its prophet. John Calvin’s Calvinism is his own commanding personality and his far-reaching service to the human race.

He was the scholar of the Reformation. His mother, a lady of wealth and of great beauty, was a devout Catholic and kept her gifted son loyal to the church until its monasteries and ecclesiastical foundations had trained him in the scholarship which made him its most formidable antagonist. Cordier taught him to think in Latin. The slur of “bellowing in bad Latin,” applied with too much truth to Luther, was never laid to Calvin’s charge. His worst enemies recognized his use of the language of the learned world at that date as almost classic. Falling in with his father’s ambition, he added to his classical studies a thorough course of law at the universities of Orleans and of Bourges. But he was a self-educated man. So is everybody who is educated at all. He used to listen to lectures all day, make notes far into the night; then drill his

memory, construct classifications of his own, and prolong the work till daylight. The outcome of this rigid discipline of his own was his feeble health, a miraculous memory, and a skill in speaking and writing so that he never was and never could be misunderstood.

There is scarcely another thing that needs to be recalled of his youth except that he was very popular with his teachers and fellow-students. To be sure, the latter nicknamed him “The Accusative Case,” because he was always rebuking their faults. But they liked him all the better, made him president of the “Nation” of Picardy students, and called him to the chair of any professor who happened to be absent. He won the applause of the faculties and of the clergy by his youthful book “Psychopannychia” against the doctrine of an intermediate state of unconsciousness, held by a fanatical sect. He was still a good Catholic when Lefevre d’Etaples predicted that he would be the leader of the Reformation.

He describes his conversion as if it were a great change like Augustine’s and Luther’s. But it affected his conduct so little that we may question his own estimate of it. It turned him from the law to preaching the Reformed faith — that was all. About...

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