Introducing John Calvin: The Reformer’s Preparation -- By: James Edward McGoldrick
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Introducing John Calvin:
The Reformer’s Preparation
French Switzerland around Lake Geneva first received the Protestant faith through the preaching of William Farel (1489–1565) who had studied at the University of Paris and had begun proclaiming the Reformed doctrines about 1521. Farel’s manner was acidic and bombastic, as he fearlessly denounced ecclesiastical corruptions and unscriptural teachings in the late medieval Catholic Church. His preaching in Basel had led to his expulsion in 1524, but he soon gained support in Berne, and that allowed him considerable freedom to preach in French Switzerland. Due to his influence, several cities adopted Protestant programs for reform. In 1532 Farel led a large group of Waldenses into the Protestant camp.
William Farel’s zeal was admirable, but his tactless speech and rude behavior offended many people. At one point he had to leave Montbeliard after he seized a statue being carried in a Catholic procession and threw it into a river. In another town he snatched a Eucharistic wafer from a priest during mass and ridiculed the doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that the bread and wine of the sacrament become the actual body and blood of Christ. Farel was exceptionally courageous, but he had little talent as an organizer of reformation.
Geneva rebuffed Farel’s first approach, but he tried again. That city was then a thriving center of trade and notorious for vice. The city was engaged in a struggle to preserve
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its independence against the Duke of Savoy, and to obtain support for its cause, Geneva allied with other Swiss cities. Berne and Fribourg aided Geneva in a successful defense against an attack from Savoy in 1530. Since Berne was a Protestant city, it fostered the spread of the reform to Geneva, and the Protestant cause slowly gained adherents there. Roman Catholic Fribourg, however, complained about that openness to Protestantism and prepared to attack Geneva. The city councils thereupon defied Fribourg by declaring the city’s Catholic bishopric vacant and by giving encouragement to William Farel. In 1535 Geneva abolished the mass and expelled monks from its territory. The next year the city government officially embraced the Protestant Reformation, although the motive was as much political as religious. Farel then initiated a vigorous effort to make reformation a reality in the city, and he called John Calvin to assist him.
John Calvin (1509–64) came from a bourgeois family, and his father worked as a notary and accountant for the cathedral at Noyon. The older Calvin’s ecclesiastical connections made it possible for him to obtain subsidies for the education ...
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