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John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait

by William J. Bouwsma

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348353,096 (3.14)None
Calvinism has been widely credited--or blamed--for much that is thought to characterize the modern world: for capitalism and modern science, for secularization and democracy, for individualism and utilitarianism. But John Calvin the man has been largely ignored by historians; most of us, if we think of him at all, tend to view him as little more than the joyless tyrant of Geneva and the source of an abstract theology as forbidding as its author. This book, by an eminent historian whose career has been devoted to understanding the larger patterns of early modern European history, aims to make Calvin come alive by putting him back in his own time and understanding how he dealt with its problems. A Frenchman, an exile, and a humanist in the tradition of Erasmus, Calvin was unusually sensitive to the complexities and contradictions of later Renaissance culture. The Calvin who emerges from this eloquent study is a surprisingly human, more plausible, more ecumenical, and often sympathetic figure, whose achievement was both more and less than -- and at the same time quite different from -- the way it has commonly been portrayed. The result is a brilliant interpretation not only of Calvin but also of the Reformation and its relationship to the movements of the Renaissance.… (more)

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  CPI | Jun 10, 2016 |
The really isn't a biography of Calvin so much as it is an analysis of his religious creed, with particular attention to 16th century "anxiety" and its personal effect on Calvin's religious beliefs. The book's emphasis is strongly theological, with minimal attention to Calvin's biography and even less attention to the historical setting within Reformation Europe and in Geneva itself. I would have liked to have seen more on the relationships between Calvin and Luther, Melancthon, and Zwingli among others; on Calvin's role in the martyrdom of Michael Servetus; and on the historical and cultural setting within Geneva. Additionally, this is definitely not a "beginner's book" and presupposes a greater familiarity with the Institutes, Commentaries, and other writings than the casual reader will be likely to have. On the plus side, though, it has encouraged me to download an inexpensive translation of the Institutes for Kindle browsing. ( )
  CurrerBell | Jul 24, 2013 |
Not even Prof. Bouwsma could make the life of John Calvin interesting! Here is a figure of undoubted historical importance, yet I've never been able to find anything that makes him accessible as a human being. Why is that? I suppose he might say that it doesn't matter.
  cstebbins | Jun 30, 2011 |
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