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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 70. Calvin as a Student in the French Universities. a.d. 1528–1533.


The letters of Calvin from 1530 to 1532, chiefly addressed to his fellow-student, François Daniel of Orleans, edited by Jules Bonnet, in the Edinburgh ed. of Calvin’s Letters, I. 3 sqq.; Herminjard, II. 278 sqq.; Opera, X. Part II. 3 sqq. His first letter to Daniel is dated "Melliani, 8 Idus Septembr.," and is put by Herminjard and Reuss in the year 1530 (not 1529). Mellianum is Meillant, south of Bourges (and not to be confounded with Meaux, as is done in the Edinburgh edition).

Comp. Beza-Colladon, in Op. XXI. 54 sqq., 121 sqq. L. Bonnet: É tudes sur Calvin, in the "Revue Chrétienne "for 1855. —Kampschulte, I. 226–240;M’Crie, 12–28;Lefranc, 72–108.


Calvin received the best education—in the humanities, law, philosophy, and theology—which France at that time could give. He studied successively in the three leading universities of Orleans, Bourges, and Paris, from 1528 to 1533, first for the priesthood, then, at the wish of his father, for the legal profession, which promised a more prosperous career. After his father’s death, he turned again with double zeal to the study of the humanities, and at last to theology.

He made such progress in learning that he occasionally supplied the place of the professors. He was considered a doctor rather than an auditor.398398    "Doctor potius quam auditor," says Beza, who studied in the same universities a few years later, and lodged at Orleans in the house or pension of Duchemin, a friend of Calvin. Years afterwards, the memory of his prolonged night studies survived in Orleans and Bourges. By his excessive industry he stored his memory with valuable information, but undermined his health, and became a victim to headache, dyspepsia, and insomnia, of which he suffered more or less during his subsequent life.399399    Beza (XXI. 122): "Quibus continuatis vigiliis ille quidem solidam eruditionem et excellentissiman memoriam est consequutus, sed etiam vicissim, ut verisimile est, ventriculi imbecillitatem contraxit, quae varios ipsi morbos et tandem etiam intempestivam mortem attulit." While he avoided the noisy excitements and dissipations of student life, he devoted his leisure to the duties and enjoyments of friendship with like-minded fellow-students. Among them were three young lawyers, Duchemin, Connan, and François Daniel, who felt the need of a reformation and favored progress, but remained in the old Church. His letters from that period are brief and terse; they reveal a love of order and punctuality, and a conscientious regard for little as well as great things, but not a trace of opposition to the traditional faith.

His principal teacher in Greek and Hebrew was Melchior Volmar (Wolmar), a German humanist of Rottweil, a pupil of Lefèvre, and successively professor in the universities of Orleans and Bourges, and, at last, at Tübingen, where he died in 1561. He openly sympathized with the Lutheran Reformation, and may have exerted some influence upon his pupil in this direction, but we have no authentic information about it.400400    Florimond de Raemond (who shows a tendency to discredit the French Reformation by tracing it to a foreign, German source) asserts that Volmar first instilled the poison of heresy into the mind of Calvin, and advised him to exchange the Code of Justinian for the Gospel of Christ. But Calvin and Beza (Op. XXI. 122), while speaking highly of Volmar as a teacher and friend, say nothing about his religious influence. Calvin was very intimate with him, and could hardly avoid discussing with him the religious question which was then shaking all Europe. In grateful remembrance of his services he dedicated to him his Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Aug. 1, 1546).401401    Opera, XII. no. 814. He apologizes for his long silence. The correspondence with Volmar is lost, but may yet be found.

His teachers in law were the two greatest jurists of the age, Pierre d’Estoile (Petrus Stella) at Orleans, who was conservative, and became President of the Parliament of Paris, and Andrea Alciati at Bourges, a native of Milan, who was progressive and continued his academic career in Bologna and Padua. Calvin took an interest in the controversy of these rivals, and wrote a little preface to the Antapologia of his friend, Nicholas Duchemin, in favor of d’Estoile.402402    March 6, 1531. Herminjard, II. 314 sq. no. 328; Lefranc, 79 sq. He acquired the degree of Licentiate or Bachelor of Laws at Orleans, Feb. 14, 1531 (1532).403403    In Op. XXI. 190, the degree is dated from the year 1532."Dans un act de se jour [Febr. 14]est nommémaistre Jean Cauvinlicenciées lois." In a document relating to the settlement of the estate of the deceased Gérard Cauvin, which Lefranc (p. 202) quotes from Le Vasseur (Annal., p. 1169), and assigns to Feb. 14, 1631, Calvin is mentioned as "licentiéès loix." On leaving the university he was offered the degree of Doctor of Laws without the usual fees, by the unanimous consent of the professors.404404    "Absque ullo precio, summo docentium omnium consensu," says Beza (Op. XXI. 122). Colladon (f. 54) adds that Calvin refused the offer ("ce que toutesfois il refusa"); but it is not clear whether he meant the gratuity or the degree itself, probably the former. He was consulted about the divorce question of Henry VIII., when it was proposed to the universities and scholars of the Continent; and he gave his opinion against the lawfulness of marriage with a brother’s widow.405405    Gerdes, IV. 201; M’Crie, 63; Dyer, Life of Calvin, p. 8. Burnet, in his Hist. of the Ref. of the Ch. of England (Part I. Bk. II.), refers to a letter of Calvin on the subject, which I cannot find in Herminjard. The study of jurisprudence sharpened his judgment, enlarged his knowledge of human nature, and was of great practical benefit to him in the organization and administration of the Church in Geneva, but may have also increased his legalism and overestimate of logical demonstration.

In the summer of 1531, after a visit to Noyon, where he attended his father in his last sickness, Calvin removed a second time to Paris, accompanied by his younger brother, Antoine. He found there several of his fellow-students of Orleans and Bourges; one of them offered him the home of his parents, but he declined, and took up his abode in the College Fortet, where we find him again in 1533. A part of the year he spent in Orleans.

Left master of his fortune, he now turned his attention again chiefly to classical studies. He attended the lectures of Pierre Danès, a Hellenist and encyclopaedic scholar of great reputation.406406    Lefranc (p. 89) calls him "l’un des esprits les plus profonds et les plus puissants de cette Renaissance qui compta tant de génies universels," and quotes the distich:—
   Magnus Budaeus, major Danesius ille,

   Argivos norat, iste etiam reliquos."’

He showed as yet no trace of opposition to the Catholic Church. His correspondence refers to matters of friendship and business, but avoids religious questions. When Daniel asked him to introduce his sister to the superior of a nunnery in Paris which she wished to enter, he complied with the request, and made no effort to change her purpose. He only admonished her not to confide in her own strength, but to put her whole trust in God. This shows, at least, that he had lost faith in the meritoriousness of vows and good works, and was approaching the heart of the evangelical system.407407    "Nolui eam deducere a sententia ... sed paucis admonui, ne suis se viribus efferret, ne quid sibi de se temere promitteret, sed omnia reponeret in Dei virtute, in quo sumus et vivimus." Herminjard, II. 347.

He associated much with a rich and worthy merchant, Estienne de la Forge, who afterwards was burned for the sake of the Gospel (1535).

He seems to have occasionally suffered in Paris of pecuniary embarrassment. The income from his benefices was irregular, and he had to pay for the printing of his first book. At the close of 1531 he borrowed two crowns from his friend, Duchemin. He expressed a hope soon to discharge his debt, but would none the less remain a debtor in gratitude for the services of friendship.

It is worthy of remark that even those of his friends who refused to follow him in his religious change, remained true to him. This is an effective refutation of the charge of coldness so often made against him. François Daniel of Orleans renewed the correspondence in 1559, and entrusted to him the education of his son Pierre, who afterwards became an advocate and bailiff of Saint-Benoit near Orleans.408408    See the last three letters of Calvin to Daniel (1559 and 1560) in Opera, vol. XVII. 584, 680, and XVIII. 16. Lefranc says (p. 77): "Rien de touchant comme cette correspondance oùle grave réformateur montre une indulgence et une souriante bonhomie qui ne lui sont pas habituelles .... Cet échange de lettres révèle veritablement un Calvin affectueux et délicat qu’on a trop souvent méconnu, sur la foi des Bolsec et des Audin." There is a German monograph on Pierre Daniel d’Orleans by Hagen of Bern, translated into French by Paul de Felice, Orleans, 1876.



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