Off to Paris: Life of Calvin, Part 2

It was 1523, and Calvin was 14 years old when he went off to university in Paris—70 miles south of his native city of Noyon. Providentially, he didn’t need to leave home alone, but went with two of the De Montmor sons, a wealthy family in Noyon that had afforded Calvin the opportunity for a private education.

In Paris, Calvin learned Latin from the respected Mathurin Cordier, who decades later would teach at the academy Calvin would found in Geneva. Under Cordier’s instruction, the young Calvin became aware of John Wycliffe, Jon Hus, Martin Luther, and the ongoing Reformation. At Paris he earned both a B.A. and M.A.

Meanwhile back in Noyon, his father Gerard’s relationship with the dioceses was strained to the breaking point. Stiff-armed by the church, Gerard, who had originally encouraged his son toward a career in the ministry, now prodded his son away from theological studies toward law.

In 1528, at his father’s request, Calvin left his theological studies in Paris to pursue law at Orleans. He was there almost a year, then left for Bourges for three more years of study in law. In Bourges, Calvin was surrounded by the best of humanism, but church historian Justo Gonzalez writes,

At the very time when he was profoundly imbued in the spirit of humanism, Calvin felt no admiration for the vacuous elegance that characterized some of the most famous humanists. (The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2, 62)

Calvin’s growing disillusionment with humanism brought him to the brink of his conversion. Church historians argue for when he experienced the new birth—a debate we don’t need to enter here. Suffice it to say Calvin seems to have been converted sometime between 1528 and 1532.

In 1531, his father Gerard died, and Calvin found himself free from his father’s request that he study law. Calvin was 22 years old, and his desires seemed to be changing. So he returned to Paris to study theology. But soon he would be on the run.

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This is part 2 of our 9-part series tracing some key contours of the story of Calvin’s life.

  • Part 1: Born to Gerard (1509-1523)
  • Part 2: Off to Paris (1523–1532)
  • Part 3: De Clementia, Conversion, and Cop (1532–33)
  • Part 4: Institutes (1535–1536)
  • Part 5: A Night’s Stay in Geneva (1536–1538)
  • Part 6: The Golden Years (1538–1541)
  • Part 7: Return to Geneva (1541–1553)
  • Part 8: The Fateful Years (1553–1554)
  • Part 9: An Unmarked Grave (1554–1564)

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.