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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – John Calvin

Born in France in 1509, John Calvin grew up during the heady early days of the Protestant Reformation to become one of the most influential Protestant leaders of all time. Initially intent on studying the law, Calvin was moved by the writings of Martin Luther and others to fully adopt the Reformed faith by the mid 1530s. Calvin is most closely associated with the city of Geneva, where he spent much of his life disseminating his ideas as both a theologian and an ecclesiastical statesman.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on John Calvin.    


In 1536 Calvin published the tremendously influential Institutes of the Christian Religion. This work offered a systematic interpretation of the new Protestant theology. In his Institutes, Calvin highlights the full authority of scripture over the “judgment of the Church” and justification by faith alone. Calvin devotes the entire fourth book in Institutes to a critique of the Catholic Church’s doctrines. 


Predestination a theological doctrine stating that everything that has occurred has been preordained by God. Predestination takes on an additional meaning in the Calvinist context, related to salvation of an individual’s soul. According to Predestination, all people are either damned to Hell (the reprobate) or destined for Heaven (the elect). Calvin, from his correspondence with other Reformation thinkers like Martin Bucer, held to a theory known as double predestination. Double predestination claims that not only did God create certain people to be His unconditional elect, but He also created certain people solely for the purpose of reprobation. 


Calvin is closely associated with the city of Geneva. In the years immediately before Calvin’s arrival in Geneva, the town council (called the Council of Two Hundred) had expelled the city’s Catholic bishop. The Council of Two Hundred supported Reformed doctrine and banned oaths and card playing in the city, along with other activities deemed sinful. Persuaded to stay in Geneva by fellow Protestant reformer William Farel, Calvin eventually came to wield a great deal of influence in the city by encouraging the Council of Two Hundred to adopt his Ecclesiastical Ordinances. 


Michael Servetus was a Spanish-born theologian and physician who was contemporaneous with Calvin. Servetus’ wrote extensively on the Christian Trinity (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), producing content deemed heretical by both Protestants and Catholics. When Servetus, on the run from Catholic authorities, arrived in Geneva in 1553, Calvin ordered him executed. This action generated a great deal of controversy in its time and set certain Protestant thinkers irrevocably against Calvin. 


No one, not even John Calvin, lives forever. Calvin, exhausted by his spiritual duties in Geneva, passed away in 1564. French theologian Theodore Beza emerged as his successor in Geneva. Beza lived in Geneva for the remainder of his life, refining and developing Calvin’s teachings. 


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out: 

  • Check out this article and learn more about Geneva in John Calvin’s time. 

  • Michael Servetus is regarded by many as a catalyst for the development of Unitarianism.  

  • Calvin spent much of his life in Geneva, but he spent several of his formative years in exile in Strasbourg, learning from an older Reformer. 

  • Calvin is associated with the Swiss Reformation, but he was not the only Swiss reformer.

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