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Founder of ‘Calvinism’ praised as ‘visionary’ at anniversary launch


Jean Calvin, known for his role in the Protestant Reformation from Geneva during the 16th century, has been praised as one of the history’s most astute theologians at a ceremony to launch a year of events to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth.

"His work provided the Reformation movement with a first systematisation of its thought, which strengthened the movement and helped the churches to organize themselves," said the Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches’ council. He was speaking during a 2 November ceremony in Geneva at the city’s Reformation Wall, a monument to honour Calvin and other Protestant reformers.

Calvin democratised the ministry of the church, said Wipf, "breaking the monopoly of power of the bishop and the priest". He put God above all authority, and reinforced bridges between humanist thought and Christian convictions.

The year of events, called "calvin09", to mark Calvin’s birth in 1509 is organized by the Swiss Protestant federation, the Protestant Church of Geneva, and the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

In video messages to the launch of calvin09, WARC’s Ghanaian general secretary, the Rev. Setri Nyomi, and president, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a U.S. Presbyterian, noted the international impact of Calvin’s message, and the reformer’s commitment to social justice.

"The legacy of Jean Calvin, the visionary pioneer in the Reformed movement who originated from Noyon in France and made his main impact in Geneva has begun a movement which has reached far and wide," said Nyomi, in a recorded message from China, where he and Kirkpatrick are visiting churches.

Kirkpatrick said that Calvin had offered, "A vision of the sovereignty of God over all the world, which calls all of us to work for a world filled with justice, compassion and peace."

The Protestant reformer, often known in the anglophone world as John Calvin, was born on 10 July 1509 in northern France. He died on 27 May 1564 in Geneva, and was buried the following day without pomp, and at his wish his no gravestone was placed above his burial site.

Speaking at a media conference that followed the inauguration of the calvin09 year, Kristin Rossier, a member of the council of the Swiss Protestant federation, said the anniversary year would not ignore Calvin’s mistakes.

"Our intention is not to make Calvin a hero or a saint," said Rossier. "His errors and the grey areas of his thought and person will also be discussed, such as the rigour of the discipline he imposed, and the lack of tolerance he showed towards his opponents."

The calvin09 year will include events such as conferences, theatre productions, exhibitions and concerts. An exhibition at Geneva’s International Museum of the Reformation will use modern digital technology to portray a day in the Reformer’s life, while a number of special books have been produced to mark the anniversary. 

Details of the anniversary year: www.calvin09.org

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