- John Calvin Had a Photographic Memory: It was said that he could recite long passages of Scripture and recall complex theological arguments with ease. His close friend and successor in the Geneva Academy, Theodore Beza, spoke often about Calvin’s mastery of theological concepts and his ability to recall to mind any scripture during debates and sermons. He was so impressed with Calvin that he permanently relocated to Geneva when he was 39 years old and aligned himself with Calvin’s theology.
- Calvin Had a Mastery of Latin: There is a story that Calvin once challenged a group of Italian theologians to a debate in Latin. Despite their initial reluctance, the Italians eventually accepted, but Calvin won the debate convincingly, leaving them impressed with his intellectual prowess.
- Calvin Liked Cats: You may be like me and not like this one, but Calvin had a particular fondness for cats. Legend has it that he would often stop and play with stray cats he encountered while walking in the streets of Geneva. This makes me question my Calvinism!
- Calvin Regulated Hairstyles: Calvin advocated for an uncommonly strict moral code in Geneva, where he sought to establish a theocratic society, much like in the Old Testament. This led to an environment of rigorous discipline, with rules governing behavior, clothing, leisure activities, and even hairstyles. Critics argue that this level of control infringed on personal freedoms. Calvin’s influence on hairstyles in Geneva was significant. The authorities enacted sumptuary laws that regulated not only hairstyles but also clothing, jewelry, and other outward displays of luxury or extravagance. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in fines, public admonishment, or even exclusion from the community.
- Calvin Had a Sense of Humor: This is a very important follow-up to number four: Often Calvin is known for his stanch, rigid personality. From the perspective of many today, he might be thought of as a practical legalist whom you had to tip-toe around. However, according to friends and stories, he was actually light-hearted. He would often share witty anecdotes and jokes with the people he knew. As well, when situations got tense, Beza talked about Calvin’s ability to bring levity to the situation. Whether by self-depreciation or a light-hearted wise-crack, Calvin was more calm, cool, and collected than one might think.
- Calvin Played the Flute: Not unlike John-Luc Picard, there is a rumor that Calvin possessed a hidden love for playing the flute. It is said that he would occasionally entertain himself by playing the instrument in the privacy of his study.
- Calvin Approved of the Execution of a Man Who Had Bad Doctrine: While not unknown to many who study ecclesiastical history, Calvin was a peripheral participant in the excitation of Michael Servetus, a Spanish physician and theologian. Servetus was deemed a heretic by both Catholic and Protestant authorities for his rejection of the Nicene view of the Trinity. Severtus argued for a Modalistic understanding of God. He believed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three manifestations of the same being, not three distinct persons. While Calvin advocated for a more humane method of execution, he did support the decision to put Servetus to death for his theological beliefs. The civil authorities in the city of Geneva were ultimately responsible for his execution. He was burned at the stake.
- Calvin Wrote the Institutes While he was in His 20s: Calvin was only 27 years old when he wrote and published the first edition of the “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in 1536. It was initially a much shorter treatise that served as an introduction to the Christian faith and Reformation theology. It consisted of only six chapters and spanned approximately 172 pages. Throughout his life, he expanded and revised it many times as his understanding and experience grew. The final edition was four books, 80 chapters, and over 1500 pages. It was published in 1559, twenty-three years later. Calvin was 50.
- Calvin Wanted to Be Buried in an Unmarked Grave: Though the exact cause of Calvin’s death is unknown (not uncommon in his day), he died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Cimetière des Rois (Cemetery of Kings) in Geneva May 27, 1564. Not unlike C. S. Lewis, he did not want to be venerated or idolized through his remains. Calvin held the belief that grave markers or elaborate tombs could lead to the veneration of the deceased and distract from the true focus of worship, which should be directed toward God alone. This evidences Calvin’s humility and desire to avoid any type of celebrity status. (If he only knew!)
- Calvin Rescued a Child From Drowning: There is a story that Calvin once rescued a drowning child from the river. According to the account, Calvin was walking near the Rhône River when he noticed a young boy struggling in the water, fighting to stay afloat. Without hesitation, Calvin jumped into the river to save the child from drowning. He managed to reach the boy, pull him to safety, and ensure his well-being. This evidences Calvin’s willingness to endure danger for those he did not know. He put his faith into action.
- John Calvin Could Sing!: It is rumored that Calvin had a remarkable singing voice. He would often lead the congregation in hymns during worship services, captivating listeners with his melodious vocals.
- Calvin Was Not an Advocate of Free Speech as We Know It: Due to the theocratic system Calvin instituted in Geneva and its belief that the Church had an expressed responsibility to regulate the government, he had an influential role in exercising control over the printing and distribution of books to ensure that only approved theological works were available. Through this, he desired to maintain theological orthodoxy and prevent the spread of dissenting ideas. Although, this was a norm in the culture in Calvin’s day. Martin Bucer was a significant outlier in this practice.
- Calvin Loved Chocolate: Chocolate was introduced to Europe from the New World during the 1500s. According to the anecdote, he consumed chocolate in moderation as a means of combating his recurring health issues, such as migraines and kidney stones. It is said that Geneva had chocolate shops like we have coffee shops. Calvin, again, in moderation, was somewhat infamously known for his fascination and love of chocolate and would often share it with other people. Quite understandable.
- Tiger Sat Next to Calvin While He Preached: John Calvin had a dog named Tiger that would often sit by his side during his sermons and lectures. It is said that the dog was well-behaved and would listen attentively, becoming a familiar presence in Calvin’s ministry. For some reason, the lore of this well-behaved pet became a symbol of Calvin’s calm-collected demeanor.
- Luther Called Calvin a “Good and Pious Man”: Although the correspondence was limited and formal, Calvin expressed admiration for Luther and the impact of his movement. While they disagreed about the nature of the Lord’s Supper and a few other somewhat significant issues, they were united in the central cause of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was 53 when Calvin published the first edition of his Institutes at 28, therefore, Luther was 25 years his elder. Luther made references to Calvin and his writings, expressing respect for his intellect and influence. In a letter to Philip Melanchthon in 1543, Luther described Calvin as “a good and pious man.” For those of you whole are familiar with Luther, you understand that is about as good a compliment as you can get.
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