It is here at last. For years now I have been waiting for a great biography of Calvin--the kind of biography which I would recommend without hesitation for those who would want to learn about the life of the great Reformer. In a year that has seen the arrival of at least half a dozen biographies of Calvin, this one, I believe, stands as the best. Written by Bruce Gordon, professor of Reformation History at Yale University, it is titled simply and properly, Calvin.
Biographies of figures as controversial as John Calvin tend to be written by unabashed fans or ardent enemies. There is a lot of biography that reads like hagiography and a lot that reads like pure slander. This was the case with Calvin himself and his earliest biographers--either they were his closest confidants, singing his highest praises or they were men who feared and despised him, fabricating outrageous charges against him (such as Jerome Bolsec who, ten years after Calvin's death, wrote an account of the...
This book is not an easy read. However, in the end, it is a rewarding read. This book is hard to start out, as there is little recorded about Calvin's early life, and the author is interested in really setting the stage in which Calvin grows up. A confusingly large number of names becomes easier to manage as you progress through the book and see certain people come to the front of Calvin's life and the time period. The book is not entirely in an entirely chronological format; instead, in a generally chronologically manner, with a good bit of overlap, the author tackles major events in Calvin's life, many of which took place over many years. This is a great book for learning about both Calvin, and about the Reformation during his lifetime. One of the more interesting things that really came through a lot was the struggle & cooperation between church & state at a time when the two governments were largely held to be in many ways one. It provided some food for thought: considering what...
A biography of John Calvin is of necessity a history of his time. The religious landscape of Europe during Calvin's lifetime [1509-1564] was most complex in terms of grassroots pastoral piety, theological exploration, and international relations. And then there is Calvin: his own religious journey, from French Catholic reformer to Protestant patriarch. There is the corpus of Calvin's theological thought and writing, enduring and controversial to this day. And finally, there is the matter of Calvin's ecclesiology: what structural and communal body of belief and practice did he leave his followers. Bruce Gordon has produced an eminently readable and highly manageable general study of these questions in producing a remarkable introduction to John Calvin for the informed reader with at least a basic grasp of Reformation dynamics.
As Robert Bireley has narrated in his fine work, "The Refashioning of Catholicism 1450-1700,"  the spirit of church reform was not the exclusive...
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