John Calvin (1509-1564) established Geneva as the epicenter of the Reformation with his profound theological insight and his rich devotional piety. His careful and systematic codification of the Biblical foundations for Reform was like a magnet for the best and brightest throughout Christendom. The city quickly became an island of intellectual integrity and economic prosperity.
A Frenchman who only came to Geneva reluctantly after he was exiled from Paris during a persecution of Protestants there, Calvin nevertheless gave himself heart and soul to his adopted city. It was there that he would write his greatest work, The Institutes of Christian Religion. A massive systematic theology, the work would set the pace for generations of scholars after him and provide the loadstone for reform movements all over the world--from Knox’s Scotland and Whitefield’s England to Mather’s America and Kuyper’s Holland. His weekly preaching was comprehensively Biblical and practically pastoral. As a result, Geneva became a center for Christian scholarship.
In addition though, the city became renowned for its charitable compassion. It was a kind of safe haven for all of Europe's poor and persecuted, dispossessed and distressed. There they found that Calvin had not only instructed the people in such things as the providence of God, but he had also taught them the importance of mercy in balancing the Christian life. On this day in 1555, he reorganized the diaconate of the city for the task of caring for the flood of poor refugees pouring into the city from the persecution in provinces all over Western Europe. Ever since, Geneva has been known as a haven for peace and reconciliation--a reputation it maintains to this day.