Return to Geneva: Life of Calvin, Part 7

After a golden three-year exile, Calvin returned to the city that expelled him. He didn’t jump at the opportunity but went reluctantly, feeling constrained by God’s will to resume the work.

It was September, 1541 when he stepped back into the pulpit and continued his exposition of the Psalms, picking up at the very place he had left off.

Now that Calvin was back, he would settle in for life in the Geneva he would be famous for.

Severe trials would come the following year in the form of sickness and death. The plague that had come through Strasburg now swept through Geneva. Calvin refused to abandon his flock and seek safety outside town, risking his life to remain and comfort his ailing parishioners.

Then in the summer of 1542, Calvin’s only child was born and died only two weeks later. It was a great blow. He wrote to his close friend Viret, “The Lord has certainly inflicted a severe and bitter wound in the death of our baby son. But he is himself a father and knows best what is good for his children.”

Calvin’s wife would have no more children and would remain sickly until her death in the spring of 1549. Upon her death, Calvin again wrote to Viret:

You know well how tender, or rather soft, my mind is. Had not a powerful self-control been given to me, I could not have borne up so long. And truly, mine is no common source of grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordained, would have willingly shared not only my poverty but even my death.

During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the whole course of her illness, but was more anxious about her children than about herself.
As I feared these private worries might upset her to no purpose, I took occasion three days before she died, to mention that I would not fail in discharging my duty towards her children.

Other troubles would come from extended family. In 1548, the wife of his brother Antoine was imprisoned on suspected adultery and soon released. Nine years later she would be convicted of adultery with Calvin’s servant. The Calvin home was no stranger to scandal.

Yet the year 1549 brought not only the darkness of Idelette’s death, but an ecclesiastical bright spot. Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger (Zwingli’s successor) drew up the Consensus of Zurich, which united the Swiss Reformed Churches, bringing together two of the strongest early streams of Reformed theology and laying the foundation for what we still call the Reformed church today.

But beyond this flash of light, more turmoil lay ahead. Calvin’s “fateful years” would come in 1553–1554.

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This is part 7 of our 9-part series tracing some key contours of the story of Calvin’s life.

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.