John Calvin And The Early French Reformation: Political And Theological Responses To Persecution, 1533–1562 -- By: Ryan J. Ross
Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 79:1 (Spring 2017)
Article: John Calvin And The Early French Reformation: Political And Theological Responses To Persecution, 1533–1562
Author: Ryan J. Ross
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John Calvin And The Early French Reformation:
Political And Theological Responses
To Persecution, 1533–1562
Ryan J. Ross, who received his MA in history from Florida Atlantic University, currently serves as an administrator at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL.
In 1533, one year before the Affaire des Placards, when anti-Catholic posters appeared throughout Paris and other French cities provoking protracted religious persecution, the Protestant reformer-in-waiting, John Calvin, wrote from Paris to his close friend François Daniel, already affirming, “I need not say that these are troublous times; they speak for themselves.”1 By this time it was likely that Calvin’s sudden conversion to the Reformed faith had already taken place and he was acutely aware of the precarious situation the French Protestants and reform movement were in. Within ten months after the placards appeared in Paris (including one on the door of King Francis I’s bedchamber) on October 17, 1534, the royal government unleashed a violent wave of persecution, leading to banishments, confiscations of goods, and at least twenty executions.2
It comes as no surprise then that by the end of 1534, Calvin departed from France to pursue his studies and writing in a safer environment. Biographer Bruce Gordon has stated that this year was perhaps the most intriguing of the Reformer’s life, not only due to what we know about Calvin but also because of the many unanswered questions concerning this period of his life.3 Calvin had already begun writing what was probably his first post-conversion work, Psychopannychia (Soul Sleep), on a topic that, according to Gordon, must have bewildered Calvin’s contemporaries. But the work also raises an important question for investigation. “Why would a young man,” Gordon asks, “in danger of persecution for his beliefs, put quill to paper on the subject of the immortality of the soul?” His question helpfully organizes much of the subject of the
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present article, namely, the relationship between Calvin’s early life, religious and political persecution, and his life-long theological and literary contribution to the Protestant Reformation.4 It is evident that as early as 1534, Calvin had begun to think about what happened to believers who had physically suffered for their faith to the point of death. And yet the heaviest persecutions were still to come. Over the years as they continued to escalate, Calv...
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