Calvin's Early Life

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, in Noyon, a small town about fifty miles northeast of Paris. He had two brothers and two sisters.

His father, Gerard, intended that he should enter the priesthood, and to that end enrolled him in the College de Montaigu in Paris (1521), where he received a classical education. He later studied at Orleans, Bourges, and Basle. He received training in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and earned the equivalent of a master's degree.

Calvin's father persuaded him to abandon his pursuit of the priesthood in favor of a more profitable career in law. He studied under some of the most able teachers, not only of France, but of all Europe. His legal training came in especially handy when he moved to Geneva and advised that city's council as they moved toward a republican form of government.

Had it been left up to him, Calvin would have chosen the quiet life of a scholar over the active life of a pastor, preacher, and reformer. His first publishing venture demonstrated the nature of his academic interest: a commentary on Seneca's De Clementia (1532).

Calvin had been exposed to the ideas of the Reformation which were spreading throughout Europe like wildfire. He briefly recounts his early life and his conversion in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms.

When I was as yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose. Thus it came to pass, that I was withdrawn from the study of philosophy, and was put to the study of law. To this pursuit I endeavoured faithfully to apply myself, in obedience to the will of my father; but God, by the secret guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course. And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour.


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