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Brief Biography of John Calvin

Persecution of Reformers there soon forced him to flee to Basel, Switzerland, but a dispute with the humanist Desiderius Erasmus brought about his banishment. He had become the leading French reformer, and he persuaded John Calvin , who was passing through Geneva in October , to remain there and become his assistant.

In , by which time Calvin had gained equal stature to that of Farel, both men were expelled from Geneva. He became increasingly influenced by Calvin. Even the independent-minded Calvin had shuddered and obeyed when Farel declared his life of study accursed by God. Guillaume Farel. Article Media. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback.

Thank you for your feedback. Start your free trial today for unlimited access to Britannica. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. He became a friend of Nicholas Cop, who, upon becoming rector of the university in , made an inaugural speech which immediately branded him as a heretic.

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Calvin suffered the penalties of guilt by association and would certainly have been arrested had he not been warned to flee. Several turbulent months later, after a secret journey and two brief periods of arrest, Calvin was forced to flee from France when King Francis I instituted a general persecution of heretics. In December he found his way to Basel, where Cop had gone before him. Sometime during his last 3 years in France, Calvin experienced what he called his sudden conversion and mentally parted company with Rome. He proceeded to develop his theological position and in to expound it in the most severe, logical, and terrifying book of all Protestantism, the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Calvin followed this first Latin edition with an enlarged version in and a French translation in , a book that has been called a masterpiece of French prose. The reformer continued to revise and develop the Institutes until his death. Its theme is the majesty of God.

Geneva and Further Exile

There is an unbridgeable chasm between man and his maker. Man is thoroughly corrupt, so base that it is unthinkable that he could lift a finger to participate in his own salvation. God is glorious and magnificent beyond man's highest capacity to comprehend; He is both omnipotent and omniscient, and He has, merely by His knowing, foreordained all things that ever will come to pass.

Man is helpless in the face of God's will. He is predestined either to eternal glory or eternal damnation, and he can do nothing, even if he is the best of saints in his fellow's eyes, to alter the intention of God. To suggest that he could would be to imply that the Creator did not fore-know precisely and thus diminish His majesty.

Full text of "Life of William Farel, the Swiss reformer"

To Calvin there could be no greater sacrilege. This doctrine of predestination did not originate with Calvin, but no one ever expressed it more clearly and uncompromisingly. He did not flinch from the terrible consequences of God's omniscience. To those few whom God has chosen to save, He has granted the precious gift of faith, which is undeserved. All are unworthy of salvation, and most are damned because God's justice demands it. But God is infinitely merciful as well as just, and it is this mercy, freely given, that opens the door to heaven for the elect. Calvin knew that this doctrine was terrifying, that it seemed to make God hateful and arbitrary, but he submitted that human reason is too feeble to scrutinize or judge the will of God.

The Creator's decision on who shall be damned is immutable. No purgatory exists to cleanse man of his sins and prepare him for heaven.

Yet Calvin counsels prayer, even though it will not change God's will, because prayer too is decreed and men must worship even though they may be among the damned. The prayer should be simple, and all elaborate ceremony should be rejected. The Catholic Mass is sacrilegious, because the priest claims that in it he changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Calvin held that Christ is present whenever believers gather prayer-fully, but in spirit only and not because of any act undertaken by priests, who have no special powers and are in no way different from other Christians.

There are only two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Like Luther, Calvin rejects all other "sacraments" as not based on Holy Scripture. Calvin makes a distinction between the visible Church and the true Church.

The former is composed of those who participate in the Sacraments and profess their faith in Christ; the latter, invisible and unknown to all save God, is the community of the elect—dead, living, and yet unborn. One must belong to the visible Church in order to be saved, but belonging to it is no guarantee of salvation. Church and state are both ordained by God. The task of the former is to teach and prescribe faith and morals, while the latter preserves order and enforces the laws set forth by the Church.

There is no separation of Church and state. Both must work in harmony to preserve the word of God, and to this end the state is enjoined to use force if necessary to suppress false teachings, such as Catholicism, Anabaptism, or Lutheranism. That these ideas, particularly with their cornerstone of predestination, soon conquered much of the Christian world is baffling at first examination.

John Calvin Facts

But Calvin's followers were encouraged by hope of election rather than enervated by fear of damnation. It seems to be an essential part of human nature to see oneself as just, and Calvin himself, while he firmly maintained that no one is certain of salvation, always acted with confidence and trust in his own election. While publication of the Institutes was in progress, Calvin made preparations to leave his homeland permanently.

William Farel - THE REFORMATION - Part 7 - Dr. Alan Cairns - Pastor Charles Lawson

He returned briefly to France early in to settle personal business, then set out for Strasbourg. Because of the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, he was forced to take a circuitous route which brought him to Geneva. He intended to continue on to Strasbourg but was persuaded to remain by Guillaume Farel, who had begun a Protestant movement in Geneva. Except for one brief interruption he spent the remaining years of his life in Geneva, spreading the word of God as he understood it and creating a theocratic state unique in the annals of Christendom. In Calvin was elected to the preaching office by the city fathers, who had thrown off obedience to Rome along with their old political ruler, the Duke of Savoy.

A council, now operating as the government, issued decrees in July against all manifestations of Catholicism as well as all forms of immorality. Rosaries and relics were banished along with adulterers. Gamblers were punished and so were people who wore improper, that is, luxurious, clothing.

The austere hand of Calvin was behind these regulations. The new rules were too severe for many citizens, and in February a combination of Libertines freedom lovers and suppressed Catholics captured a majority of the council. She bore him one child, who died in infancy, and she herself died in While Calvin was establishing himself at Strasbourg, things were going badly for the new Protestantism in Geneva.

Strong pressure was being exerted on the council from within and without the city to return to Catholicism. Fearing that they might be removed from office and disgusted with the trend toward flagrant immorality among the citizenry, the councilors revoked the ban on Calvin on May 1, A deputation was sent immediately to Strasbourg to persuade the reformer to return, and he did so reluctantly, on Sept. The law of a Christian state, according to Calvin, is the Bible. The task of the clergy is to interpret and teach that law, while the task of the state is to enforce it.


Under this principle, while the clergy, including Calvin, were not civil magistrates, they held enormous authority over the government and all aspects of civil as well as religious life. Immediately on his return to Geneva, Calvin set about organizing the Reformed Church. On Jan. The Ordonnances divided the ministry into four categories: pastors, teachers, lay elders, and deacons.