The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XVIII. “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”

§ 2. Calvin

The life of Calvin reads like one of the romances of ecclesiastical history. Arriving at Geneva in 1536, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, the young French priest found the little state just emerging from the throes of a successful revolution. The Genevans adapted their constitution, consisting of an ecclesiastical superior, a lay vicegerent and the commonalty, to the new conditions by making a board of elders exercise the authority formerly in the hands of their bishop. The genius and firmness of Calvin caused a great moral, as well as social, revolution. Expelled by the citizens, who were exasperated by his severity, he returned in 1541 to carry on his work with renewed success. Holding at bay the papacy and the powerful house of Savoy, he raised Geneva to the position of the capital city of the reformed religion. Its university poured forth preachers of the new doctrines, men of learning animated with fiery zeal and undaunted by the fear of martyrdom. The city became the home of persecuted protestants from all parts of Europe. Calvin’s writings formed the text-book of reformed theology. Nowhere did the English exiles receive a more hospitable reception than at Geneva, and it is little to be wondered that John Calvin was regarded by them with enthusiastic admiration. To these, the godly, orderly and strictly governed Swiss community was all that a church should be and furnished an ideal which they longed passionately to realise in their own country. It is difficult for men in our day, with their preconceived notion of Calvinism, as represented by its theology, to understand the extraordinary fascination which the church of Geneva exercised on the minds of those who had made the city their place of refuge in the days of persecution, as well as upon those to whom the order, piety and devotion of the Genevese were known only by hearsay.