Calvin (†1564), the Action of the Holy Spirit in Mary

Calvin (†1564), the Action of the Holy Spirit in Mary

John Calvin was born in Noyon (Picardy region of France) in 1509. At the age of 6, his mother died. In school, he received a Nominalist education and discovered Saint Augustine, whom he admired.


A dramatic event marked his youth: the ecclesiastic chapter of Noyon excommunicated his father and brother to compel them to accept a compromise in favor of the Church's establishment in a financial matter. His father died bankrupt and excommunicated.

After his father's death, Calvin adopted the ideas of the Protestant Reformation (ca 1533-1534).


In March 1536, he published the book Institutes of the Christian Religion, which contains the essence of his beliefs on law, the faith, predication, the sacraments, and the relationship between religious and civil authority. This was his opus magnum and established him as one of the leading Protestant reformers.


When Calvin arrived in Geneva in the summer of 1536, the city had already been largely acquired by the Reformation.


He wrote with Farel The Confessions of Faith and increased the severity of the excommunications. Gradually, Calvin's opponents regrouped and gained some ground. The two most frequent criticisms pointed to the constant mix of spiritual and temporal power, and the fact that a foreigner was behind the decisions to banish from Geneva some of its citizens.


Calvin and Farel were banished from Geneva in April 1538 until 1541, when they were called back.


Calvin died in Geneva on May 27, 1564.

Concerning Calvin's view of Mary, we turn to the ecumenical group of Dombes (France):

§ 65. As for Calvin, he is the reformer who is the most silent on the subject [of Mary].

In his biblical commentaries, he underlines the historical dimension of Mary, while upholding the traditional doctrine of her virginity: for him she is "a virgin before, during, and after childbirth."

Calvin doesn't stress the miracle of the virginity like Luther, nor the moral purity and diaconal function of Mary like Zwingli, but rather on the action of the Holy Spirit in her. The person of Mary is only the particular and historic example of what must happen to every Christian.


Doctrinally, the figure of Mary loses its particularity 1) before Christ, 2) before the believer, 3) before the Church, and keeps only its historic particularity, which is certainly unique. Calvin gives Joseph the same treatment, and gives him a new importance, next to Mary [1].


By transferring the dogmatic significance of Mary onto the Church, Calvin can say that the Church is our mother [2]. This shift in Marian consideration toward ecclesiology reinforces the importance of the theme of motherhood that Calvin applied to the Church.

However the title of "Mary Mother of the Church" is absent in Calvin's writings; Mary is "blessed" only because of her individual quality of being an example for all.


§ 66. However, Calvin attributes to Mary a primordial role as educator and teacher of salvation and the faith. But the title of "Mary Mother of God" is denied her by the Genevan reformer for reasons of confessional polemic or pedagogic motives. It is under this didactic form that Calvin's Marian theology takes on a Christological accent: Mary is called "Mother of the Son of God." Here again, the accent isn't on Mary's motherhood but on Jesus' divine filiation.


§ 67. Mary is still an ethical model for Calvin. Her person disappears behind the example; the latter is what we should remember, without exalting her person, whether historically or doctrinally. Mary is a model of listening, understanding, and giving witness. The importance is placed on the manifestation of the virtues illustrated by Mary and on the edification of the Church through these virtues. One must exhort the community to imitate Mary, not adore her.[3]



[1] Cf. The words "And Mary kept all these things in her heart" (Lk 2: 51) are also applied by Calvin to Joseph (CO 46, col. 481).

[2] Cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion IV, I, 4; the Church is "a mother to all for whom God is the Father" (IC, IV, I, 1); she "always shows maternal care in governing us" (IC, IV, I, 1, 4); "We are nourished by her ministry" (IC, IV, I, 1).

[3] CO 46, col 111.

Group of Dombes


Exerpts from: Groupe des Dombes,

Mary in God's Plan and the Communion of Saints( Marie dans le dessein de Dieu et la communion des saints)

Volume I: In History and the Scriptures,

Bayard, Paris 1998, § 65.66.67