Intro: The Five Dubyas
(info mainly from Professor Bahnsen's class; this is a background for the rest of the posting summarizing highlights from his Institutes)
The five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. To know about someone, these questions are usually answered. Hopefully, this short outline will answer the five dubyas and bring you closer to ecclesiastical enlightenment!
Calvin was born in Noyon, France, July 10th, 1509, less than a decade before Luther wrote his ninety-five theses. His family was Roman Catholic and his father a lawyer. At age eleven, through the astoundingly corrupt church, he was made a chaplain! His father put him into the lawyer school, but after his father’s death, he went into seminary. Eventually, through the influence of his brother, cousin, and even Greek instructor, he surrendered his easy job and money in the crooked Roman Church, becoming a Protestant.
However, while focused on his studies he traveled various cities until he settled at Basil, Switzerland, where at age 27 (!) he wrote the first edition of the Institutes. While traveling, he providentially detoured at Geneva where the courageous Farell attempted to persuade Calvin to move beyond his bookish studies and actively participate in the Reformation. Calvin would not budge. In response, Farell thundered: “may God curse your studies!” for leaving the defense of the Church. He stayed!
In less than two years, the authority of the City Counsel to discipline church members and control worship was transferred to the consistory (session consisting of ministers and lay-leaders (ruling elders)). Farell and Calvin were so dedicated to the separation of Church and State with respect to duties and responsibilities, that when confronted by the hostility over their reforms from the Counsel, Calvin and his mentor dared the City to physically take them out of the Church! The City did not take this well; he and Farell were kicked out.
Eventually, the people could not stand the City Counsel and asked Calvin back to restore ecclesiastical order. Even so, it was evident that Calvin did not run the city as is commonly misunderstood. This is graphically illustrated in the Servetus incident in which this anti-Trinitarian heretic ignored the written pleas of Calvin to avoid the city; he came anyway only to be captured by the City of Geneva. Calvin had no legal hand in the matter other than a theological witness to the heresies in question. As a matter of fact, Calvin was on the bad side of the City Counsel at the time. Calvin pleaded for a merciful death (by swift sword instead of slow burning).
He lead an active life, preaching almost every day, writing letters to persons over the face of Europe and writing a commentary on almost every book in the Bible. He established a first-of-its-kind Academy in Geneva as well. In his personal life, he lost a child and his wife died after eight-years; his sister-in-law was an adulterer; and he lost friends through martyrdom (especially in France).So, the who, what, when, and where have been answered. The final dubya of Calvin’s life remains: why? He was a private man in many ways and his conversion is briefly mentioned in his Commentary on the Psalms. However, the greatest evidence of the why of his life is etched on his coat-of-arms: “my heart for thy cause I offer thee, promptly and sincerely.”