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John Calvin

Theologian

Born: 10 July 1509
Died: 27 May 1564
Birthplace: Noyon, France
Best known as: Geneva-based leader of the Protestant Reformation

Name at birth: Jean Cauvin

Few theologians have had more influence on Western Christian thought and culture than John Calvin, one of the fathers of the Reformed branch of Protestant Christianity. Born to a Roman Catholic family of means, Calvin was schooled in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, philosophy, and law in Paris, Orleans and Bourges. Around 1533 he had what he later described as "conversion," and by 1534 religion had become foremost in his writing and work. He sympathized with the Protestant sentiments sweeping Europe since Martin Luther's appearance on the scene. In Basel in 1536 Calvin published Institutes of the Christian Religion, a six-chapter catechism that grew to 80 chapters by its final edition in 1559. It is widely regarded as the clearest, most systematic treatise of the Reformation. Calvin's is the most famous presentation of the much debated doctrine of predestination: that God decided, before creating the world, who will and will not be saved. After years as a minister, writer and leader in Geneva and then Strassburg, Calvin returned to Geneva and resumed efforts to make the city a model Christian community, in part through tight restrictions on individual and social behavior and by the scrutiny (and punishment) of citizens by church and civil authorities. Thus Calvin's name is often connected with grim moral austerity and denial of pleasure, though this is probably an unfair oversimplification of his theology. Calvin's influence lives on in the doctrines and worship of many modern-day Reformed and Protestant denominations.

Extra credit: Calvin married Idelette de Bure in 1540; she died in 1549. Their only child, Jacques (1542), died as an infant... In 1559 Calvin founded what is now the University of Geneva... A prolific writer, Calvin differed from Luther on key theological points, including the nature of the Lord's Supper. The two were a generation apart and never met... Some scholars attribute capitalism to Calvinism's influence. Among the first was Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904)... Calvin is often criticized for approving of the 1553 trial, conviction and death by burning of Michael Servetus for heresy... Calvin's rambunctious namesake in the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip bears no similarity to the religious reformer. However, creator Bill Watterson has hinted at a similarity: "I wouldn't want Calvin in my house, but on paper, he helps me sort through my life and understand it."

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