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§ 165. Calvin’s Last Will, and Farewells.


Calvin’s Last Will and Testament, April 25, 1564.


In Beza’s Vita Calv., French and Latin; in Opera, XX. 298 and XXI. 162. Henry gives the French text, III., Beilage, 171 sqq. The English translation is by Henry Beveridge, Edinburgh, 1844.


"In the name of God, Amen. On the 25th day of April, in the year of our Lord 1564, I, Peter Chenalat, citizen and notary of Geneva, witness and declare that I was called upon by that admirable man, John Calvin, minister of the Word of God in this Church of Geneva, and a citizen of the same State, who, being sick in body, but of sound mind, told me that it was his intention to execute his testament, and explain the nature of his last will, and begged me to receive it, and to write it down as he should rehearse and dictate it with his tongue. This I declare that I immediately did, writing down word for word as he was pleased to dictate and rehearse; and that I have in no respect added to or subtracted from his words, but have followed the form dictated by himself.


" ’In the name of the Lord, Amen. I, John Calvin, minister of the Word of God in this Church of Geneva, being afflicted and oppressed with various diseases, which easily induce me to believe that the Lord God has deter-mined shortly to call me away out of this world, have resolved to make my testament, and commit my last will to writing in the manner following: First of all, I give thanks to God, that taking mercy on me, whom He had created and placed in this world, He not only delivered me out of the deep darkness of idolatry in which I was plunged, that He might bring me into the light of His gospel, and make me a partaker in the doctrine of salvation, of which I was most unworthy; and not only, with the same mercy and benignity, kindly and graciously bore with my faults and my sins, for which, however, I deserved to be rejected by Him and exterminated, but also vouchsafed me such clemency and kindness that He has deigned to use my assistance in preaching and promulgating the truth of His gospel. And I testify and declare, that it is my intention to spend what yet remains of my life in the same faith and religion which He has delivered to me by His gospel; and that I have no other defence or refuge for salvation than His gratuitous adoption, on which alone my salva-tion depends. With my whole soul I embrace the mercy which He has exer-cised towards me through Jesus Christ, atoning for my sins with the merits of His death and passion, that in this way He might satisfy for all my crimes and faults, and blot them from His remembrance. I testify also and declare, that I suppliantly beg of Him, that He may be pleased so to wash and purify me in the blood which my Sovereign Redeemer has shed for the sins of the human race, that under His shadow I may be able to stand at the judgment-seat. I likewise declare, that, according to the measure of grace and good-ness which the Lord hath employed towards me, I have endeavored, both in my sermons and also in my writings and commentaries, to preach His Word purely and chastely, and faithfully to interpret His sacred Scriptures. I also testify and declare, that, in all the contentions and disputations in which I have been engaged with the enemies of the gospel, I have used no impos-tures, no wicked and sophistical devices, but have acted candidly and sin-cerely in defending the truth. But, woe is me! my ardor and zeal (if indeed worthy of the name) have been so careless and languid, that I confess I have failed innumerable times to execute my office properly, and had not He, of His boundless goodness, assisted me, all that zeal had been fleeting and vain. Nay, I even acknowledge, that if the same goodness had not assisted me, those mental endowments which the Lord bestowed upon me would, at His judgment-seat, prove me more and more guilty of sin and sloth. For all these reasons, I testify and declare that I trust to no other security for my salvation than this, and this only, viz. that as God is the Father of mercy, He will show Himself such a Father to me, who acknowledge myself to be a miserable sinner. As to what remains, I wish that, after my departure out of this life, my body be committed to the earth (after the form and manner which is used in this Church and city), till the day of a happy resurrection arrive. As to the slender patrimony which God has bestowed upon me, and of which I have determined to dispose in this will and testament, I appoint Anthony Calvin, my very dear brother, my heir, but in the way of honor only, giving to him for his own the silver cup which I received as a present from Varanius, and with which I desire he will be contented. Everything else belonging to my succession I give him in trust, begging he will at his death leave it to his children. To the Boys’ School I bequeath out of my succession ten gold pieces; as many to poor strangers; and as many to Joanna, the daughter of Charles Constans, and myself by affinity. To Samuel and John, the sons of my brother, I bequeath, to be paid by him at his death, each four hundred gold pieces; and to Anna, and Susanna, and Dorothy, his daughters, each three hundred gold pieces; to David, their brother, in reprehension of his juvenile levity and petulance, I leave only twenty-five gold pieces. This is the amount of the whole patrimony and goods which the Lord has bestowed on me, as far as I can estimate, setting a value both on my library and mova-bles, and all my domestic utensils, and, generally, my whole means and effects; but should they produce a larger sum, I wish the surplus to be divided proportionally among all the sons and daughters of my brother, not excluding David, if, through the goodness of God, he shall have returned to good behavior. But should the whole exceed the above-mentioned sum, I believe it will be no great matter, especially after my debts are paid, the doing of which I have carefully committed to my said brother, having confi-dence in his faith and good-will; for which reason I will and appoint him exe-cutor of this my testament, and along with him my distinguished friend, Lawrence Normand, giving power to them to make out an inventory of my effects, without being obliged to comply with the strict forms of law. I empower them also to sell my movables, that they may turn them into money, and execute my will above written, and explained and dictated by me, John Calvin, on this 25th day of April, in the year 1564.’12641264    A part of Calvin’s furniture belonged to the Republic of Geneva, as is proved by the inventory preserved in the archives. His books were purchased after his death by the Council. In spite of his poverty he could not escape the charge of avarice. See below, p. 838.

"After I, the aforesaid notary, had written the above testament, the afore-said John Calvin immediately confirmed it with his usual subscription and handwriting. On the following day, which was the 26th day of April of same year, the same distinguished man, Calvin, ordered me to be sent for, and along with me, Theodore Beza, Raymond Chauvet, Michael Cop, Lewis Enoch, Nicholas Colladon, and James Bordese, ministers and preachers of the Word of God in this Church of Geneva, and likewise the distinguished Henry Scrimger, Professor of Arts, all citizens of Geneva, and in presence of them all, testified and declared that he had dictated to me this his instrument in the form above written; and, at the same time, he ordered me to read it in their hearing, as having been called for that purpose. This I declare I did articulately, and with clear voice. And after it was so read, he testified and dec-lared that it was his last will, which he desired to be ratified. In testimony and confirmation whereof, he requested them all to subscribe said testament with their own hands. This was immediately done by them, month and year above written, at Geneva, in the street commonly called Canon Street, and at the dwelling-place of said testator. In faith and testimony of which I have written the foresaid testament, and subscribed it with my own hand, and sealed it with the common seal of our supreme magistracy.

"Peter Chenalat."


Calvin’s Farewell to the Syndics and Senators of Geneva, April 27, 1564.


From Beza’s Vita Calvini. The Latin text in Opera, XXI. 164 sqq. The French text in vol. IX. 887–890. Comp. Rég. du Conseil, fol. 38, in Annales, XXI. 815. Translated by Henry Beveridge, Esq., for "The Calvin Translation Society," 1844 (Calvin’s Tracts, vol. I. lxxxix-xciii).


"This testament’ being executed, Calvin sent an intimation to the four syndics, and all the senators, that, before his departure out of life, he was desirous once more to address them all in the Senate house, to which he hoped he might be carried on the following day. The senators replied that they would rather come to him, and begged that he would consider the state of his health. On the following day, when the whole Senate had come to him in a body, after mutual salutations, and he had begged pardon for their having come to him when he ought rather to have gone to them, first premising that he had long desired this interview with them, but had put it off until he should have a surer presentiment of his decease, he proceeded thus:—

" ’Honored Lords,—I thank you exceedingly for having conferred so many honors on one who plainly deserved nothing of the kind, and for having so often borne patiently with my very numerous infirmities. This I have always regarded as the strongest proof of your singular good-will toward me. And though in the discharge of my duty I have had various battles to fight, and various insults to endure, because to these every man, even the most excellent, must be subjected, I know and acknowledge that none of these things happened through your fault; and I earnestly entreat you that if, in anything, I have not done as I ought, you will attribute it to the want of ability rather than of will; for I can truly declare that I have sincerely studied the interest of your Republic. Though I have not discharged my duty fully, I have always, to the best of my ability, consulted for the public good; and did I not acknowledge that the Lord, on His part, hath sometimes made my labors profitable, I should lay myself open to a charge of dissimulation. But this I beg of you, again and again, that you will be pleased to excuse me for having performed so little in public and in private, compared with what I ought to have done. I also certainly acknowledge, that on another account also I am highly indebted to you, viz. your having borne patiently with my vehemence, which was sometimes carried to excess; my sins, in this respect, I trust, have been pardoned by God also. But in regard to the doctrine which I have delivered in your hearing, I declare that the Word of God, intrusted to me, I have taught, not rashly nor uncertainly, but purely and sincerely; as well knowing that His wrath was otherwise impending on my head, as I am certain that my labors in teaching were not displeasing to Him. And this I testify the more willingly before God, and before you all, because I have no doubt whatever that Satan, according to his wont, will stir up wicked, fickle, and giddy men, to corrupt the pure doctrine which you have heard of me!

"Then referring to the great blessings with which the Lord had favored them, ’I,’ says he, I am the best witness from how many and how great dangers the hand of Almighty God hath delivered you. You see, moreover, what your present situation is. Therefore, whether in prosperity or adversity, have this, I pray you, always present before your eyes, that it is He alone who establishes kings and states, and on that account wishes men to worship Him. Remember how David declared that he had fallen when he was in the enjoyment of profound peace, and assuredly would never have risen again, had not God, in His singular goodness, stretched out His hand to help him. What, then, will be the case with such diminutive mortals as we are, if it was so with him who was so strong and powerful? You have need of great humbleness of mind, that you may walk carefully, setting God always before you, and leaning only on His protection; assured, as you have often already experienced, that, by His assistance, you will stand strong, although your safety and security hang, as it were, by a slender thread. Therefore, if prosperity is given you, beware, I pray you, of being puffed up as the wicked are, and rather humbly give thanks to God. But if adversity befalls you, and death surrounds you on every side, still hope in Him who even raises the dead. Nay, consider that you are then especially tried by God, that you may learn more and more to have respect to Him only. But if you are desirous that this republic may be preserved in its strength, be particularly on your guard against allowing the sacred throne on which He hath placed you to be polluted. For He alone is the supreme God, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who will give honor to those by whom He is honored, but will cast down the despisers. Worship Him, therefore, according to His precepts; and study this more and more, for we are always very far from doing what it is our duty to do. I know the disposition and character of each of you, and I know that you need exhortation. Even among those who excel, there is not one who is not deficient in many things. Let every one examine himself, and wherein he sees himself to be defective, let him ask of the Lord. We see how much iniquity prevails in the counsels of this world. Some are cold; others, negligent of the public good, give their whole attention to their own affairs; others indulge their own private affections; others use not the excellent gifts of God as is meet; others ostentatiously display themselves, and, from overweening confidence, insist that all their opinions shall be approved of by others. I admonish the old not to envy their younger brethren, whom they may see adorned, by God’s goodness, with some superior gifts. The younger, again, I admonish to conduct themselves with modesty, keeping far aloof from all haughtiness of mind. Let no one give disturbance to his neighbor, but let every one shun deceit and all that bitterness of feeling which, in the administration of the Republic, has led many away from the right path. These things you will avoid if each keeps within his own sphere, and all conduct themselves with good faith in the department which has been intrusted to them. In the decision of civil causes let there be no place for partiality, or hatred; let no one pervert justice by oblique artifices; let no one, by his recommendations, prevent the laws from having full effect; let no one depart from what is just and good. Should any one feel tempted by some sinister affection, let him firmly resist it, having respect to Him from whom he received his station, and supplicating the assistance of His Holy Spirit.

" ’Finally, I again entreat you to pardon my infirmities, which I acknowledge and confess before God and His angels, and also before you, my much respected lords.’

"Having thus spoken, and prayed to Almighty God that He would crown them more and more with His gifts, and guide them by His Holy Spirit, for the safety of the whole Republic, giving his right hand to each, he left them in sorrow and tears, all feeling as if they were taking a last farewell of their common parent."


Calvin’s Farewell to the Ministers of Geneva, April 28, 1564.


From Beza’s Vita Calvini. The Latin text in Opera, XXI. 166 sq. Translation by Henry Beveridge for "The Calvin Translation Society," Edinburgh, 1844 (I. xciii), from the Latin text. There is another report, in French, by minister Jean Pinaut, dated May 1, which is fuller as regards Calvin’s persecutions, and the confession of his infirmities, which always displeased him and for which he asks forgiveness. It also makes grateful mention of Farel, Viret, and Beza, and an unpleasant allusion to Bern, which always more feared than loved Calvin. It is printed in Opera, vol. IX. 891, 892, and in the Letters of John Calvin by Jules Bonnet, transl. by Gilchrist, vol. IV. 372–377.


"On the 28th of April, when all of us in the ministry of Geneva had gone to him at his request, he said:—

" ’Brethren, after I am dead, persist in this work, and be not dispirited; for the Lord will save this Republic and Church from the threats of the enemy. Let dissension be far away from you, and embrace each other with mutual love. Think again and again what you owe to this Church in which the Lord hath placed you, and let nothing induce you to quit it. It will, indeed, be easy for some who are weary of it to slink away, but they will find, to their experience, that the Lord cannot be deceived. When I first came to this city, the gospel was, indeed, preached, but matters were in the greatest confusion, as if Christianity had consisted in nothing else than the throwing down of images; and there were not a few wicked men from whom I suffered the greatest indignities; but the Lord our God so confirmed me, who am by no means naturally bold (I say what is true), that I succumbed to none of their attempts. I afterwards returned thither from Strassburg in obedience to my calling, but with an unwilling mind, because I thought I should prove unfruitful. For not knowing what the Lord had determined, I saw nothing before me but numbers of the greatest difficulties. But proceeding in this work, I at length perceived that the Lord had truly blessed my labors. Do you also persist in this vocation, and maintain the established order; at the same time, make it your endeavor to keep the people in obedience to the doctrine; for there are some wicked and contumacious persons. Matters, as you see, are tolerably settled. The more guilty, therefore, will you be before God, if they go to wreck through your indolence. But I declare, brethren, that I have lived with you in the closest bonds of true and sincere affection, and now, in like manner, part from you. But if, while under this disease, you have experienced any degree of peevishness from me, I beg your pardon, and heartily thank you, that when I was sick, you have borne the burden imposed upon you.’

"When he had thus spoken, he shook hands with each of us. We, with most sorrowful hearts, and certainly not unmoistened eyes, departed from him."

Beza modestly omits Calvin’s reference to himself which is as follows "Quant à nostre estat interieur, vous avez esleu Monsieur de Beze pour tenir ma place. Regardez de le soulager, car la charge est grande et a de la peine, en telle sorte qu’il faudroit qu’il fust accablé soubs le fardeau. Mais regardez à le supporter. De luy, ie sçay qu’il a bon vouloir et fera ce qu’il pourra." Pinaut’s report, in Calv. Opera, IX. 894.



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