To the best of my memory, no monograph has ever been devoted to 'The Theology (or Theologians) of the Scottish Reformation'. The name most likely to spring to mind as theological animator of the movement is that of John Knox, yet, among the several roles he played in it, historians have not cast him characteristically as a theologian. James S. McEwen’s selective account is judiciously entitled The Faith of John Knox, and even Richard G. Kyle, the author of The Mind of John Knox, which is the nearest we have to a comprehensive exposition of his thought, had to grant that 'as a theologian Knox developed no dramatically fresh interpretations, nor will he ever be accorded the status of a first-rate thinker of the Protestant Reformation'.
Such a verdict would not have worried Knox himself, as is clear from his introduction to the only sermon he ever committed to print, indeed the only exposition of any portion of scripture thus preserved from over two decades of ‘al my studye and travayle within the Scriptures of God’.
That I did not in writ communicat my judgement upon the Scriptures, I have ever thought and yet thinke my selfe to have most just reason. For considering my selfe rather cald of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowfull, confirme the weake, and rebuke the proud, by tong and livelye voyce in these most corrupt dayes, than to compose bokes for the age to come, seeing that so much is written (and that by men of most singular condition), and yet so little well observed; I decreed to containe my selfe within the bondes of that vocation, wherunto I founde my selfe especially called.
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in the small French town of Noyon about sixty miles north-east of Paris, and died on May 27, 1564 in Geneva, an independent city-state whose common interests increasingly lay with the major cities of Switzerland. Noyon would remain a fairly unimportant place, but the fact that Calvin was a Frenchman - originally Jean Cauvin by name - is integral to understanding his role in church history. This made him an outsider in Geneva, but paradoxically it was his achievement, far more than anyone else's, that promoted Geneva to a city of European stature. Most of Calvin's adult career was spent in Geneva, from 1536 to his death, with a break during 1538-41. Prior to his time, it was a place of modest size with scant claim to distinction. It had no university nor leading light of the new learning of Renaissance humanism, it housed no major industries or finance enterprise, it was home to no significant printing press and wielded little or no political or military clout. It was, however, a regional trade center and not far from routes carrying traffic of all kinds between northern and southern Europe.
It was the Reformation, formally accepted by the citizen assembly in 1536 before Calvin’s arrival, which would make Geneva internationally influential.
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