Today is the anniversary of the birth of the pastor, theologian, and social reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). His father, an attorney, made certain Jean received the best possible education—so, he attended the little Brethren of Common Life school in his hometown of Noyon in the Picardy region of France, just about sixty miles north of Paris. Later, he went to study in Orleans and Paris where he first began to explore the ideas of Luther’s nascent Protestant Reformation. He published the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, which propelled him as a thinker and spokesman to the forefront of Protestantism.
Calvin made his first trip to Geneva that same year while on the way to Strasbourg. He was compelled to stay there (very much against his will) and helped to establish the church until he was asked to leave two years later (for which he was actually quite grateful and delighted). The next two years spent in Strasbourg pasturing under the tutelage of Martin Bucer were the happiest of his life. But, the city fathers in Geneva had a change of heart and in 1541 they persuaded Calvin to return to the city (much to his own dismay).
The first Sunday he was back in the pulpit, he picked up exactly where he had left off two and a half years earlier—as if nothing had happened in the interval. He remained there the rest of his life. Laboring in the Word over the course of the next twenty-three years, he oversaw a dramatic reformation of the church and city—and ultimately, much of the rest of Western Europe. The transformation was stunning. As a result, liberty, opportunity, advancement, productivity, and innovation touched nearly every aspect of life and culture. Indeed, so great was Calvin’s influence that most modern historians (even those who despise his Biblical theology) have had to concede that he was the “virtual founder” of Western freedom and prosperity.