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During the glory days of the French Renaissance, young John Calvin (1509-1564) experienced a profound conversion to the faith of the Reformation. For the rest of his days he lived out the implications of that transformation—as exile, inspired reformer, and ultimately the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin’s vision of the Christian religion has inspired mDuring the glory days of the French Renaissance, young John Calvin (1509-1564) experienced a profound conversion to the faith of the Reformation. For the rest of his days he lived out the implications of that transformation—as exile, inspired reformer, and ultimately the dominant figure of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin’s vision of the Christian religion has inspired many volumes of analysis, but this engaging biography examines a remarkable life. Bruce Gordon presents Calvin as a human being, a man at once brilliant, arrogant, charismatic, unforgiving, generous, and shrewd.The book explores with particular insight Calvin’s self-conscious view of himself as prophet and apostle for his age and his struggle to tame a sense of his own superiority, perceived by others as arrogance. Gordon looks at Calvin’s character, his maturing vision of God and humanity, his personal tragedies and failures, his extensive relationships with others, and the context within which he wrote and taught. What emerges is a man who devoted himself to the Church, inspiring and transforming the lives of others, especially those who suffered persecution for their religious beliefs....

Title : Calvin
Author :
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ISBN : 9780300120769
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Calvin Reviews

  • Brent McCulley
    2019-05-27 10:02

    Simply fantastic; the best biography on Calvin in the English language. Chronological, exhaustive, and captivating while avoiding hagiography and idiosyncrasies, Gordon deserves praise for his "Calvin" as his draw from scores of primary resources and Calvin experts allowed him to craft a remarkable biography.Calvin himself was a towering figure: resolute, difficult, charming and enigmatic. How does one write a biography about a figure who at the height of his career was publishing 100,000 words a year yet never wrote about himself? Gordon, for that, rakes in all the historical documentation he can get his hands on, combined with Calvin's voluminous letter correspondence with reformers, nobility, kings and queens all across Europe, resulting in a work that may not leave you feeling you know Calvin personally, but one that definitely lets you know everything there is about him. What a fascinating figure Calvin was. That he loved his wine, and would get mad when Bucer and others in Strasburg would switch from speaking to one another in Latin to German to Calvin's irritation! So many gems in here: get this book!

  • Jonathan Hiskes
    2019-06-09 14:00

    I went to a Calvinist church, grade school, high school, summer camp, and Calvin College, without ever learning a thing about the guy's life. The figure that emerges from Gordon's highly readable biography is an intellectually ferocious theologian with an arrogant streak, a head for movement-building, an astounding work ethic, and a keen sense of being called by God. Calvin finds a model for his own life in the apostle Paul, certain that he is divinely chosen in the same way as Paul. Yet Calvin also could be spiteful toward friends and enemies, and he participated, at least on the periphery, of the execution of a rival (Servetus) and an assassination/coup attempt in France.Gordon's book shows the extent that conflict defined Calvin's Reformation-era world. I don't think he makes enough of Calvin's lifelong bowel troubles (poor guy), and the influence of said condition on his theology.

  • Brian
    2019-06-18 10:08

    This is one of the most recent biographies on John Calvin, sometimes famous for giving a more negative take on the reformer.I came in expecting that and what struck me was that Gordon didn't emphasize Calvin's authoritarian streak so much as his sensitive streak: Calvin did not do very well when it came to personal criticism. He could be waspish, petulant, rude, and cruel to his best friends. His closest associates, Vilet and Farrel, both ended up estranged from him by the end, though admittedly they both did their share of things to legitimately upset him. In fact, that is the most striking thing about the book: Gordon seems to be reading Calvin reasonably, but a lot of his analysis has to do with tones and responses that could all be interpreted differently if one chose to weigh particular data.All sorts of cool facts abound. He didn't like Bucer's first marriage recommendations (didn't struggle with that sort of thing either) and he loved wine and evening discussions. His conflict with the city council is good but not as exciting as it was at times. He doesn't record any instance of libertines rushing up on him to take communion from him, which I now suspect is a myth, though it's might be recorded in Bucer's biography.At the end of the book, Gordon points out that almost immediately after his death, the presses were busy with slanders and falsifications. The fact that Gordon draws our attention to this sort of thing and firmly denies their verity or even a hint of truth in them shows that he doesn't have an ax to grind. Instead, he seems like a very sensible Christian scholar telling the story of a decent man who was a sinner like all of us, and that's certainly not contrary to the spirit of a man who so firmly insisted on total depravity and absolute grace.

  • Jeremy
    2019-06-10 09:02

    Fairly or unfairly, Gordon emphasizes Calvin's mean-spirited nature. I'd like to read the biography by Selderhuis to see if he offers a more balanced view. The class for which I read this book was taught by David Whitford, whom Bruce Gordon references a couple times.

  • Greg Miller
    2019-06-05 06:19

    Fantastic. This book does not shy away from the more controversial aspects of the reformer's life. It presents a picture of Calvin as an imperfect man, who was ravished by health issues, clearly thought quite highly of himself, and yet was dedicated to serving God and preserving pure doctrine and worship. Its very thorough, yet readable and engaging. It does not present Calvin as a perfect hero, nor does it present him as demonic monster. It is fair, and shows both Calvin's strengths and his weaknesses.Overall, just a great piece of literary work on one of the most important figures of the protestant reformation.

  • Booketeer
    2019-05-24 14:06

    I keep wanting the time to get my thoughts together and write a review worthy of this book. Not going to happen (Happily, Sean Lucas wrote a short but worthy review.Thoughts at random.Thank God we don't live in the sixteenth-century.Calvin may not have been a bishop, but he didn't operate as a Presbyterian either. His "ruling elders" were state-appointed officers and his consistory was neither precisely a Presbytery nor a Session. It ssemed to function much more like a Family Services department in some ways.Calvin was never "in power" the way we tend to think, though perhaps after 1555 he got close. When you can get killed and need to worry about being killed in a riot, you are not really in power.Geneva itself was too small a city to matter as a "power." Rather, Calvin and Geneva were constantly trying to make their friends happy (for protection) while still trying to save some independence."Nationalism" or immigration was an issue I had never realized affected Calvin's ministry. Calvin found local pastors mainly inadequate, so he brought in talent from France (arguably, I should write "France" in scare quotes). So Genevans found their personal lives being run by foreigners. Not a welcome situation.Calvin came to repudiate Bucer's ecumenical attempts of the early 1540s. I had no idea.Calvin spent much of his time trying to convince French Evangelicals to totally break from the Roman Catholic Church in France and suffer the consequences. Again, Calvin the divider.Calvin later spent much of his time trying to convince French Protestants to willingly suffer rather than resort to violence and revolution. Weird since he owed his place in a city created by revolution. But it shows that any relationship between Calvin and political resistance is not the result of his own teaching on the matter.France seemed at first like it would be open to Evangelicals (when Calvin still lived there). But with the break in Germany, French royalty came down on the side of the Roman Catholic establishment. Why? Because the same impulse that led the king to appreciate Evangelicals had led him to win concessions from the Pope that gave him control over the Church in his lands. Opposing the Papacy would make these concessions worthless.Bullinger thought Calvin's writings on predestination were over-the-top and could imply that God was the author of sin.For a time Calvin's writings were publicly burned in the Protestant city of Berne.Calvin actively opposed an ecumenical movement in France in the 1550s because it was trying to use the Augsburg Confession. Though earlier in his ministry he had offended Bullinger by agreeing with it, now he saw it as a tool of Lutheran extremists who would try to hurt the swiss churches and disturb the French Protestants who were not Lutherans....and much more...

  • Mike Knox
    2019-05-20 12:59

    Gordon reveals a Calvin who loved and hated; who believed in God’s sovereignty and sometimes manipulated; whose powerful intellect contrasted his weak body. His ability to interpret the Bible is what stands him out from all other 16th century writers (p.vii). If Luther’s discovery was justification by faith, Calvin’s was the Church (p.vii). He sensed that his was a special calling and often identified himself with the great characters of the Bible—especially the Apostle Paul. He invested heavily in relationships: “Much of the attention of this book will be focused upon the ebb and flow of his contacts” (p.ix).Gordon’s biography is intended for those who are interested in Calvin but know little about him and his 16th century background (p.xi). I fit that audience perfectly, and am thus qualified to say that Gordon delivers.In reading this book I learned about the prevailing political and religious tensions which form the background to Calvin’s life. I also learned about his privileged education in law and humanism, his conversion, and his life of exile in Switzerland. His primary allies were Farel, Viret, Bullinger, and Bucer. His most hated enemies were Servetus, Castellio, and Westphal. Brutal opposition makes Calvin’s achievements all the more noteworthy. His establishing the Reformation in Geneva, writing of The Institutes and many commentaries, were all accomplished despite the great pressure against him.The matter of Michael Servetus is handled in chapter 13 (pp. 217-232). While not convincing me (nor trying to) that Calvin was entirely innocent, the context and detail Gordon provides go a long way to helping me understand the (limited) role Calvin played in the affair.Biographies I’ve read of great men of God like Robert M’Cheyne and Robert Chapman challenged me to grow in the life of holiness and conformity to Christ. This biography of Calvin leaves me wanting to grow in discipline in the life of the mind.

  • John
    2019-05-18 14:00

    Easily the greatest biography on Calvin. Here are some strengths and one weakness:Strengths:1. Gives a great account of the reformation movement in France before the prominence of Calvin. This is extremely enlightening in understanding the times of Calvin and the rest of Europe.2. Helpful in understanding just how severe the debate was over the Lord's Supper and how it affected the relationship of the Reformed, Lutheran, and Zwinglian churches.3. Gives a superb account of Calvin's involvement in the execution of Servetus. Very balanced.4. Helps us understand Calvin's impact in Europe and his legacy in England, developing into Puritanism.Weaknesses:1. Bruce's one weakness is that he imports so much of Calvin's context into his theology.

  • Mark Nenadov
    2019-06-09 10:14

    Excellent. Gordon paints a complex portrait of a complex human. Often sympathetic and often highly critical, above all he attempts to be fair and it shows. If you want a drooling hagiography or on the other hand, something that trashes Calvin, you will be disappointed.

  • Steven Wedgeworth
    2019-05-20 06:23

    Whoa! Mean Calvin! It ain't all pretty, but this is the most thorough work on Calvin's life.

  • Eric
    2019-05-19 09:06

    This is a great biographical book on Calvin - I highly recommend if you are interested about Calvin or the Reformation.

  • Joel Zartman
    2019-06-17 07:22

    No hagiography, Gordon’s stark portrayal of Calvin as proud, dissembling, bullying, persistent, thorough, and determined man is good history. We protestants have no saints, and we should not make Calvin out to be one. He seldom foregrounded himself though he often defended himself. He was placed in an unmarked grave by his own request. I have long disliked Calvin, though I have profited from his insight. What Gordon has done is make the unattractive man intelligible and admirable.Calvin got himself in trouble trying to manufacture union among Protestants. Calvin also influenced the English, Dutch and French reformations profoundly. The controversies, the bad decisions, the hypocrisy, the endurance, the high output of fine prose, many things are here described. This kind of history is the most helpful, in my estimation, because it allows you to learn not only from the successes Calvin had, but also his failures.Gordon’s Calvin was a man in exile, a man with a high view of himself, a man of order intent on order, influencing many widely because of the exemplar order he achieved in Geneva, a man who ruined his health by his severe study regimen and then tried to fix his health by fasting. Calvin was a Christian stoic, and the truth is the few we’ve had have been invaluable. It is an admirable though not an attractive philosophy.85 “The manner in which Calvin placed order above compassion or grief is telling. His overarching concern to convey to Farel that he had acted well in ministering permits a glimpse of his troubled state. Not only was Calvin yet to find his pastoral voice, but he was mentally and physically shattered, disorientated and without emotional articulation.”It is important to remember that these men develop. Calvin found his pastoral voice, but he struggled to do so. His life went a torturous, winding way.197 “The evangelical culture in France had survived by dissembling, as Calvin himself during 1534. Persecution was erratic and not always well organized, but it was real and effective. People were dying for their faith. Calvin had chosen exile and had developed a visceral hatred for compromise; this put him at odds with the very people he sought to evangelize. During the 1540s he worked to discredit any form of conduct that fell short of a full and open confession of faith.”He paid a price for that. It was a carefully formed judgment, but whether it was correct remains ambiguous. Often life has ambiguous situations. Calvin’s end, as a consequence, was not a happy one.279-80 “In 1555 Calvin was forty-six years old, a widower and in failing health. The triumphalist view of history remembers his ascendancy in Geneva over the Perrinists in a manner akin to Moses parting the Red Sea. To Calvin, however, the world looked very different. By the middle of the decade the daily grind of work was taking a terrible toll on a physical frame hardly able to bear the load. In addition to the migraines and bowel problems that plagued him through much of his adult life, Calvin suffered from gout. The excess of uric acid led | to the gallstones of which he frequently complained in his letters. Political victory brought no release from physical pain; he began to suffer severe night sweats that induced the coughing up of blood, indicating pulmonary tuberculosis. It grew much worse. His bowel movements were full of parasites such as hookworms, which exacerbated blood loss and left him exhausted and anaemic. Coughing and fatigue frequently rendered him unable to dictate letters or tracts for weeks or even months at a time. He ate very little, usually once a day, and frequently fasted, all of which contributed to his physical degeneration.”

  • Matt Tyler
    2019-06-18 14:20

    John Calvin's Institutes is perhaps the most important reformation era work and one of the most significant works of theology ever written. I was surprised, therefore, to learn from Bruce Gordon's thorough book on John Calvin's life how little we actually know of him, particularly his early years.This is an academic work, one that isn't particularly easy to read- not because of poor writing, but because Gordon does an excellent job of situating us to the historical context and steering clear of hagiography. The benefit of Gordon's life of Calvin is that we get a well-rounded picture of a controversial figure. In this, I think Gordon has modeled how the command to love others should apply even to historical figures (we should remember that historical figures are people and to love them well means we should work to understand them rightly). It's not a biography that I could easily pass on to others, however. This is fine, but I'd love to read a biography of Calvin that so accurately depicts Calvin (as Gordon has done) while also capturing Calvin's gift of 'lucid brevity.' Calvin's writing is so beautiful, so devotional and edifying. Gordon's biography on Calvin is edifying in it's own way, but if given a choice between reading this biography of Calvin or Calvin's Institutes and commentaries I'd encourage people to pick the latter!

  • Luke Thompson
    2019-06-09 13:15

    The Calvin Gordon presents convicts deeply. As Gordon writes, "Through all Calvin's writing and sermons coursed the same urgent message: the Christian lives in the face of eternity. Everything that distracts from that reality must be shunned... Every hour was to be sanctified by the service of God." He labored unceasingly in spite of a body riddled with pain and suffering. When bedridden he continued to work and answered those who would have him rest that he would never be found idle by the Lord. I have a feeling he would have harsh words for those who would consider his view of labor exceptional rather than exemplary. Those who follow Christ are called to deny themselves and bear their own cross daily. Contemporary views generally ridicule such a calling.

  • Chris
    2019-05-20 08:05

    Bruce Gordon’s Calvin presents the reformer as an important though deeply flawed historical figure. This biography represents John Calvin as one who had high ideals of reform and what the religious and social life should be, but does not attempt to gloss over Calvin’s personal failings. I felt Gordon did a very good job of presenting Calvin as a historical actor in the midst of the historical turmoil of the Reformation. However, I felt that the narrative’s shifting back and forth in time, particularly in the latter part of the book, created some confusion as I read. I give the book 4 stars.

  • Simon
    2019-05-27 06:04

    Really good. Gordon has done a great service in presenting neither a hagiographical account, nor a hostile one. Calvin was prickly but also loved God and people. Gordon displays these two sides of Calvin really well, all while putting him into historical and theological context.

  • Alex Nolette
    2019-05-29 09:05

    I did like this book, but I feel like it focused more on Calvin's political movements than his theological workings and ministry. It is a great book on the humanity of Calvin though. It doesn't make him a hero, but gives careful consideration to the real Calvin.

  • Thailer Jimerson
    2019-05-20 07:00

    Far from being a hagiography, this book reads as a level and thorough treatment of the reformer. I found it helpful to be confronted with Calvin's humanity. He was definitely a man of his time.

  • Dick Cardin
    2019-06-06 08:25


  • Jennifer Townsend
    2019-06-11 14:11

    A very thorough and astute biography

  • Mark Robert
    2019-06-01 14:12

    This is not a puff biography of a great theologian. This is a magisterial account of John Calvin, both his light, and the shadows caused by his light. I learned about his friends and colleagues, his deep love for the church and the politics surrounding his mission. Bruce Gordon draws you and once trhat happens, this biography is hard to put down.

  • Jim Crigler
    2019-06-01 12:25

    Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's 1509 birth (not that he had any others), this biography is at once informative and absorbing. I am reviewing the Kindle edition of the book that I received as a Christmas gift.One of the functions of a historical biography is to place the events it talks about in their proper setting. Those of us who last took a history course more than 35 years ago (and are not historians or history buffs) need to be educated about a setting like this. Almost all the events described happened in places we would today call France and Switzerland, but the political situation of the first half of the 1500s was only vaguely similar to that of today: France was not as unified as it is now; Switzerland was much more fractured than it is now.This biography is organized primarily around threads of subject and communication, following each thread in a separate chapter through time. Some threads are expressly theological; some are driven by personality; some are event-oriented. When I began to realize this and saw that chapters overlapped significantly (calendar-wise), I began — just began, mind you — to appreciate Calvin's ability to juggle all the different threads of his life. John Calvin made many of today's “multitaskers” look boring and monotonous.As a biography of someone whose effect on the European and American cultures is still being felt, this volume is admirable, accessible, informative and somewhat entertaining.The Kindle version, however, filled me with frustration:The publisher used non-standard fonts, to no advantage whatsoever. Publishers, if you're reading this, know that Kindle readers read for content, not for design. Please allow the user the option of using the built-in fonts of the device. (I know this is possible because I have read at least one book where it was done.)The font size was too big.- Footnote/endnote marks in the text were not linked to the notes themselves. For a heavily annotated book — anything scholarly at all — this should be an embarrassment to the publisher.Punctuation in the text was inconsistent: When footnote marks in the text fell just after a period, an extra space was inserted before the period.When publishers begin to have more respect for ebook readers, the world will be a better place.Overall: 3.7 out of 5 stars (4.5 for content, 2.9 for production).

  • Rhonda
    2019-06-01 08:11

    While this is a superb and intricate history of the man, one gets to see him with all his warts, so to speak. This doesn't suggest that I have any less respect for John Calvin as either a theologian or a writer, but I was constantly reminded how human we each are. Indeed, Gordon seems to remind us that Calvin, with all his intensity and hatred of certain things, is more than a bit like the apostle Paul.While this may sound like a trite remark, I have to give credit to Calvin's Institutes to waking my otherwise sleeping mind to the special relationship man has with God and thus God with man. Calvin even in translation, speaks to the soul of mankind in a way in which other theological writers can never do. While I never doubted the focus Calvin had as a person, the development of his relationships with Farel, Viret Bullinger and Melanchthon are well documented by primary sources for the most part. In other words, first and foremost, this is a work of excellent scholarship rather than masquerading for what passes as scholarship these days.Today it may seem tedious to discuss splitting what appears to be a single hair, but upon which the entire issue of the Protestant Reformation hinged,the differences of opinion as regards the Lord's Supper. Still it was Calvin who vainly tried to bridge the gap between the Swiss Reformed and the German Lutherans. Gordon does not restrain himself from discussing the man's successes as well as his failures, in essence appearing very much like a modern day Paul, had we the information to fill in the gaps. At the bottom of it, however, one is left with little doubt that beyond everything, Calvin was a humble servant of Jesus Christ. It would have been easy for such a great thinker to be considerably less humble about such.

  • Brian
    2019-06-06 11:01

    Simply excellent! This book deserves its reputation as the best modern biography of Calvin. Gordon gives an even-handed treatment of Geneva's reformer, avoiding both the hagiography of many reformed biographers, and the demonizing portrayal that is often common among opponents of Calvin and Calvinism. Gordon immerses his readers in the complex world of 16th century religion and politics, allowing us to get to know Calvin in his own context. He avoids making judgments through the lens of 21st century sensibilities. Rather, he tries to help the reader see the many concerns Calvin is trying to balance. He is completely honest about Calvin's personal flaws, while not overlooking the incalculable contribution he made to the long-term sustainability of Protestantism. This was the first of many books I plan to read on the Reformation during 2017 (the 500th anniversary). I'm glad I started with this great biography!

  • Jonathan
    2019-05-22 12:23

    Fascinating, really. Aren't all biographies?Biographies are difficult to rate when I don't have easy access, nor the time, to see the relevant information. I.e. how can I judge Bruce Gordon's account when I don't have the source material before me? Or any knowledge of what sources are available and which ones are to be more relied upon and etc.? (Gordon does cite his sources, so that would be a place to start, but this is not God's role for me, searching the sources, nor the purpose of this review :p )So rating biographies is kind of futile in that way.If, however, I rate on readability and enjoyment, then I give Bruce Gordon's book on Calvin 4 stars!One of my minor disappointments, though, was a lack of more intimate details of Calvin's life. Perhaps we just don't have the source material available to us, but I would've liked to see more of the man alongside the theologian-pastor-writer. Not that Gordon didn't produce much of the man, he did, I just would've like to see more (I'm greedy).I agree with one of the reviewers that it would've been interesting, and possibly really encouraging, to see more interaction with John Calvin's physical suffering and his theology (or just his life in general).Whatever the case, it is clear that Calvin was right! We are sinners in need of God's grace daily, hourly, minutely, secondly, eternally.

  • B
    2019-06-08 10:17

    This book is not an easy read. However, in the end, it is a rewarding read. This book is hard to start out, as there is little recorded about Calvin's early life, and the author is interested in really setting the stage in which Calvin grows up. A confusingly large number of names becomes easier to manage as you progress through the book and see certain people come to the front of Calvin's life and the time period. The book is not entirely in an entirely chronological format; instead, in a generally chronologically manner, with a good bit of overlap, the author tackles major events in Calvin's life, many of which took place over many years. This is a great book for learning about both Calvin, and about the Reformation during his lifetime. One of the more interesting things that really came through a lot was the struggle & cooperation between church & state at a time when the two governments were largely held to be in many ways one. It provided some food for thought: considering what the good points of a system like that are, and what are the bad points. In the end, it does seem that the bad out-weighs the good, as even I, as a Reformed (Calvinist) Baptist, would be considered a heretic by Calvin because I'm not a pado-baptist.

  • Samuel McCann
    2019-06-09 14:21

    Really great biography of John Calvin. Gordon shows an incredible devotion to tracking down sources on the Reformer's life. A person who was notably quiet in regards his own life creates major obstacles to an biographer, but Gordon was able to give a textured portrait of Calvin. He seemed devoted to portraying Calvin as paradoxical throughout the book, which was fine (and necessary), but it was not always effective. At times it drew attention away from Calvin as a person. Also, his treatment of Calvin's approach to the church fathers felt inconsistent. However, overall it is an incredible biography and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about John Calvin and the Reformation.

  • Jason
    2019-05-26 14:01

    A few years back I decided to find out what the big deal was with Calvin so I picked up an (abridged) copy of the Institutes. To my surprise I found his focus was pastoral and his communication clear. HIs life was considerably more complicated than his work. As Gordon makes clear Calvin lifted in difficult times and struggled to navigate the turbulent political and ecclesiastical waters in a way consistent with the gospel. It was more complex than I imagined and I appreciate this book for that perspective. I find that complexity encouraging because the worst of our times as well can be navigated in Christ. That Calvin's work and legacy have been so fruitful is testimony to the Spirit's work in his life.

  • David A-S
    2019-05-22 08:25

    Gordon's biography was published in the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. I have always felt that poetry is rich, but my reading is so much deeper if I know where the author is coming from. It was this mindset that made this book worthwhile. In the end, Gordon's research is extensive but is distilled in a readable form. Frankly, part of my interest is derived from not taking a Calvin class in seminary. I still want cuddle with an Institutes every night. A great Gordon insight is the parallel he makes with Paul in theology, personality, and gifts.

  • Tim
    2019-05-19 13:13

    An excellent intellectual biography. Its movement is chronological and makes excellent use of Calvin's writing and correspondence. We get to see the brilliant, impatient scholar, attempting to be politic, sometimes angry, caught between Zurich and Wittenburg/Strasbourg, with annoyance at the German princes, intolerance for dissemblers in France, and always concerned to advance the church. Gordon sees Calvin taking on the mantle of Paul, showing his intellect and churchly concern, as well as his ego and assurance that he was right. Respectful but certainly not hagiography.