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John Calvin Fled Paris

John Calvin in a perilous mountain pass during his flight from France.

JOHN CALVIN, reformer of Geneva, was born at Noyen, France, in 1509. His father and mother wanted John and his older brother Charles to study for the priesthood. Both did, although Charles was known for his loose living. Calvin took the opposite course. So severe was he, that fellow students are said to have nicknamed him “the accusative case.” The church appointed him to two benefices (paid church positions). However, Calvin’s father changed his mind and had him switch his course of study to law. Meanwhile, a spiritual battle was raging in Calvin. He wrote, “My conscience was very far from being in a condition of certain peace.” A sudden conversion around 1528 brought rest to his soul. Soon others were seeking to learn from him. 

In 1531, Calvin gave up law, relinquished his benefices, and began to teach the Reformation doctrines spreading through Europe. This soon brought him into danger because of his connection with Nicholas Cop, the rector of the University of Paris. On All Souls’ Day 1533, Cop delivered a controversial sermon drafted by Calvin, which accused his fellow theologians of serious errors on Reformation lines: “They teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of grace, nothing of justification, or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg of you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses.” 

Cop barely escaped imprisonment by fleeing. Someone tipped off Calvin that his rooms were about to be searched. On this day 2 November 1533, he took refuge with a vine-dresser (someone who cultivated grapes). After changing into the clothes of a farmer, he had himself lowered from his rescuer’s window and escaped the city. 

The next year some Reformers posted diatribes against the mass and transubstantiation all over Paris—even on King Francis I’s bedroom door. This infuriated the king. Soon the smoke of burning Protestants rose into the Parisian sky. Meanwhile, Calvin flitted from retreat to retreat. The increase in persecution convinced him to leave France altogether. He settled in Basel, Switzerland, long enough to print his Institutes of the Christian Religion. 

Then Calvin ventured into Italy where he spent some months in evangelization before heading for Strasbourg (a free city-state at that time, now a part of modern France). French military maneuvers compelled him to detour through Geneva, where William Farrell commanded him in the name of the Lord to stay and help reform the city. A reluctant Calvin agreed, and there he became the best-known reformer next to Luther himself.

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