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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 161. The Academy of Geneva. The High School of Reformed Theology.


I. Calvin: Leges Academiae Genevensis, or L’Ordre du Collège de Genève, first published in Latin and French. Geneva, 1559. Republished by Charles Le Fort, professor of law at Geneva, on the third centennial of the founding of the Academy, June 5, 1859, and in Opera, X. 65–90.

II. Berthault: Mathurin Cordier. L’enseignement chez les premiers Calvinistes. Paris, 1876 (85 pp.).—Massebieau: Les colloques scolaires du seizième siècle et leurs auteurs. Paris, 1878.—Amiel et Bouvier: L’enseignement superieur à Genève depuis la fondation de l’académie jusqu’à 1876. Gen., 1878. Comp. Henry, III. 386 sqq.; Stähelin, II. 487–498; Gaberel, II. 109 sqq.; Buisson: Séb. Castellion (Paris, 1892), I. 121–151.


One of the most important institutions of Geneva which strengthened the Reformed religion at home, and extended it abroad, is the Academy founded by Calvin. Knowing that the ignorance of the Roman priesthood was a source of much superstition and corruption, he labored zealously for the education of the ministry and the whole people, and secured the best teachers, as Cordier, Saunier, Castellio, and Beza.

There was a college in Geneva, since 1428, called after its founder "College Versonnex," for the training of the clergy; but it had fallen into decay, and was reorganized after Calvin’s return in 1541. Tuition was free. To avoid overcrowding and to bring the facilities of education within the reach of every youth, four elementary schools were established for each of the four quarters of the city. At first a small fee was charged, but it was abolished by the council after 1571, at the request of Beza. A much larger attendance was the effect. Calvin is sometimes called the founder of the common school system.

He wished to establish a full university with four faculties, but the limited means of the little Republic would not permit that; so he confined himself to an Academy. He himself collected for it from house to house 10,024 gold guilders, a very large sum for that time. Several foreign residents contributed liberally: Carraccioli, 2954; Pierre Orsières, 312; Matthieu de la Roche, 260 guilders. Of the native Genevese, Bonivard, the old champion of liberty, bequeathed his whole fortune to the institution.12271227    Senebier, Hist. lit. I. 48 sq.; Henry, III. 386. The Council put up a commodious building. Calvin drew up the programme of studies and the academic statutes, which, after careful examination, were unanimously approved.

The Academy was solemnly dedicated on June 5, 1559, in the church of St. Peter, in the presence of the whole Council, the ministers, and six hundred students. Calvin invoked the blessing of God upon the institution, which was to be forever dedicated to science and religion, and made some short and weighty remarks in French. Michael Roset, the Secretary of State, read the Confession of Faith and the statutes by which the institution was to be guided. Theodore Beza was proclaimed rector and delivered an inaugural address in Latin. Calvin closed with prayer. Ten able and experienced professors were associated with him for the different departments of grammar, logic, mathematics, physics, music, and the ancient languages. Calvin himself was to continue his theological lectures in connection with Beza.

The statutes which were read on this occasion lay great stress on French and Latin composition. The Latin authors to be studied are: Caesar, Livy, Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid; the Greek authors: Herodotus, Xenophon, Homer, Demosthenes, Plutarch, and Plato. There was also a special chair of Hebrew which was assigned to Chevalier, a pupil of Vatable and formerly tutor of Queen Elizabeth. Teachers and pupils had to sign the Apostles’ Creed and a confession of faith, which, however, wisely omitted the favorite dogma of predestination, and was abolished in 1576 in order to admit, Papists and Lutherans." Religious exercises opened and closed the daily instructions.

The success of the school was extraordinary. No less than nine hundred young men from almost all the nations of Europe were matriculated in the first year as regular scholars, and almost as many, mostly refugees from France and England, prepared themselves by the theological lectures of Calvin for the work of evangelists and teachers in their native land. Among these was John Knox, the great Reformer of Scotland.

The Academy continued to flourish with some interruptions. It attracted students from all parts of Protestant Europe, and numbered among its teachers such men as Casaubon, Spangenheim, Hotoman, Francis and Alphonse Turretin, Leclerc, Pictet de Saussure, and Charles Bonnet It was the chief nursery of Protestant ministers and teachers for France, and the principle school of reformed theology and literary culture for more than two hundred years. A degree from that Academy was equivalent in Holland to a degree of any University. Arminius was sent there by the city of Amsterdam to be educated under Beza (1582), who gave him a good testimonial, not knowing that he would become the leader of a mighty reaction against Calvinism.

In 1859 the third centennial of the Academy was celebrated in Geneva.

The evangelistic work of that Academy was resumed and is successfully carried on in the spirit of Calvin by the Evangelical Society and the Free Theological Seminary of Geneva, which numbered among its first teachers Merle D’Aubigné, the distinguished historian of the Reformation.



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