Jean Calvin: a life as doctrine

This is the second English edition of this description of the life and death of Jean Calvin [1509–1564]. As the title page notes, it was translated from a French text: L’histoire de la vie et mort de Maistre Iean Calvin written by Theodore Beza [1519–1605], Calvin’s successor as the Pastor of Geneva. Originally written as a preface to Calvin’s posthumously published Commentary on Joshua, this is an intimate portrayal of the reformer which reflects not just on his life and works, but on his diet, digestion and marriage. This indicates the dual purpose of this work: part godly example for others to follow (‘what was hys lyfe’, asks Beza, ‘other than a continuall doctrine, as wel by worde as by writing, and by all his manners and order of lyfe?’), part defence against the many who attacked Calvin and his teachings. A later owner of the book has added portraits and captions of both Calvin and Beza. This rather charming modification gives faces to the personalities described. It also reminds us of the many layers of memory that grew up around ‘the great Calvin’ in the centuries after his death. CL

A discourse vvritten by M. Theodore de Beza, containing the life and death of M. Iohn Caluin [London?: T. Woodcock?, 1578?], title page and A2v-A3r.

CUL: Syn.8.56.81

Further Reading

Irene Backus, Life Writing in Reformation Europe: Lives of Reformers by Friends, Disciples and Foes (Aldershot, 2008), ch. 4.

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