John Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) was a French born Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation, and, next to Martin Luther one of the most influential reformers. He was main founder and organizer of reformed protestantism Calvinism. By background he was a gifted organizer, statesman, theologian and lawyer. In Geneva, his ministry both attracted other Protestant refugees and over time made that city a major force in the spread of Reformed theology. He is renowned for his teachings and writings, in particular for his Institutes of the Christian Religion. He had a keen intelligence and a aristocratic, sometimes stern character.
His legal and exegetical training was important. Once convinced of the growing Protestant faith, he applied these exegetical methods to the Scripture. He self-consciously tried to mold his thinking along biblical lines, and he labored to preach and teach what he believed the Bible taught. Salvation depends exclusively on Jesus Christ. This main theological theme influences the martiological positions of Calvin.
The Mother of God title is the highest honour to be attributed to Mary. It cannot be negated. It is a true divine motherhood, a virginal motherhood. In this context, Calvin discussed possible linguistic variations of the term virginity in the original texts but concludes, whatever the variations may be, the context clearly established the meaning of virginity of the mother of God.
Calvin was convinced of man’s smallness and God’s immensity. No amount of good works of the little creature could possibly ensure his salvation, which only God can will. Calvin believed that all salvation is determined by him, who determined long before creation, who is to be saved and who is to be damned. Because all salvation depends exclusively on the will of God and the salvation works of his son Jesus Christ, Calvin rejects any notion of Mary as a participant in the mystery of salvation He wonders why to some Jesus Christ alone is not sufficient, and calls this pure defiance. Therefore Roman Catholic veneration is idolatry , because Mary is honoured with titles like « mediator » « our hope » « our life » and our light. Thus, Calvin rejects prayers and supplications to Mary. We should pray for each other in this world, but, according to Calvin, about calling on the dead is not a biblical concept. Once God damns a person, he is damned. Calvin’s theology has no room for purgatory, there is no in between place for an eventual salvation. And therefore, Calvin does not permit prayer for the dead, as their fate is sealed. To call on Mary for salvation is nothing but blasphemy "exsecrabilis blasphemia", because God alone has predestinated the amount of grace to each individual in his absolute will.
Calvin had genuine respect for Mary and saw her as a model for faith. "To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son". Mary is a model of faithfulness as Elisabeth informs us. Because she kept the faith and the teachings, we have these teachings today. Through Mary, we are “built up”. This is her gift from God, and, because of this we can be led to him. Therefore Christians must try to follow the Blessed Virgin The spirit of God placed her in front of us like a painting, so everyone may become similar to her in respecting the word of God. The genuine respect for Mary in Calvin’s writing, and his attempt to express his Marian convictions to the faithful of his day in his explanations of the epistles is not fully known or shared by Reformed Protestants after John Calvin.
Some of the Protestant reformers, Andreas Karlstadt, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin encouraged the removal of religious images by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven images of God. As a result, statues and images were damaged in spontaneous individual attacks as well as unauthorised iconoclastic riots. Erasmus described such an incident in a letter:
The destruction of Marian paintings and painting of the saints was not ordered by Calvin alone. But, virtually all Marian pictures and statues in Geneva were destroyed as a result of his 1535 order. John Calvin considered the veneration of religious pictures including Marian pictures as heresy. The Second Council of Nicaea, which in the year 787 had specifically encouraged the pictorial presentation, and which was a part of he ancient Christian patristic tradition, was renounced as an illegal by Calvin in 1550.
The criticism of Calvin on the Catholic Church in general and in regard to Mary in particular, is severe. As in the conflicts with Luther and Zwingli, equally severe Catholic counter-attacks lead later theologians to the observation, that Mary was used by both sides to define theological positions and identity.
To Calvin, Mary is an idol in the Catholic Church, which greatly reduces Christ the Lord. The Catechism of Calvin not only outlawed Marian veneration, it also punished behavior, such as carrying a rosary, observing a saints day, or the possession of holy relics. Regarding Marian relics, Calvin commented positively in an ironical way, stating, since the Papist assumed her to be in heaven, at least nobody can claim to have Marian relics. Otherwise there would be so many Marian bones in circulation, that a huge new cemetery could be filled with them.
Calvin's view on Mary are reflected in the Second Helvetic Confession (Latin: Confessio Helvetica posterior, or CHP . The Reformed document was mainly written by Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), pastor and the successor of Huldrych Zwingli in Zurich Switzerland. The Second Helvetic Confession was written in 1561 as a private exercise. It came to the notice of the elector palatine Frederick III, who had it translated into German and published in 1566. It gained a favourable hold on the Swiss churches in Berne, Zurich Schaffhausen St.Gallen, Chur, Geneva and other cities. The Second Helvetic Confession was adopted by the Reformed Church not only throughout Switzerland but in Scotland (1566), Hungary (1567), France (1571), Poland (1578), and next to the Heidelberg Catechism is the most generally recognized Confession of the Reformed Church. Slight variations of this confession existed in the French Confession de Foy (1559), the Scotish Confessio Fidei (1560) the Belgian Ecclasiarum Belgicarum Confessio (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).
Mary is mentioned several times in the Second Helvetic Confession. Chapter Three quotes the angel’s message to the Virgin Mary, “ – the Holy Spirit will come over you “ - as an indication of the existence of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. The Latin text described Mary as diva, indicating her rank as a person, who dedicated herself to God. In Chapter Nine, the Virgin birth of Jesus is said to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born without the participation of any man. The Second Helvetic Confession accepted the “Ever Virgin” notion from John Calvin, which spead throughout much of Europe with the approbation of this document in the above mentioned countries.
The French Confession de Foy, the Scotish Confessio Fidei, the Belgian Ecclasiarum Belgicarum Confessio and the Heidelberg Catechism, all include references to the Virgin Birth, mentioning specifically, that Jesus was born without the participation of a man. Invocations to Mary were not tolerated however, in light of Calvin’s position, that any prayer to saints in front of an altar is prohibited.