John Calvin and Geneva - need references


I’m posting this in the apologetics forum because this question came up in a recent discussion I had with a Reformed person.

In Catholic sources, Geneva under John Calvin is described as a despotism with moral police, mass outlawed, priests thrown in jail, etc.

In the Reformed sources I’ve read, none of the above is mentioned. Geneva is the model city, John Calvin’s ideas are the foundation of the U. S. Constitution, etc.

Obviously, these two accounts don’t match. Anybody got a secular source that can serve as a tie-breaker?


Maybe these articles can help:

And the following is a Protestant website discussing persecution in Calvin’s Geneva:

God Bless,


I do not have a secular source. What I do have is the *Christian *Almanac that belonged to my brother. John Calvin and Geneva were mentioned a few days ago. One of the things I find interesting about the Christian Almanac is the list of Saints mentioned for each day, even if it was not written by Catholics.


Just do a search for “Consistory” or “Servetus” and you will get more than enough information.

In His love…


Probably the best scholar on this subject is Robert Kingdon. He’s done a lot of work on the records of the Consistory (the body of pastors who were arguably the closest the Protestants ever came to an “Inquisition,” though the parallel is not exact).

I’m not sure these two pictures are as far apart as you think. Actually the specifics you cite do not contradict each other, with the possible exception of the word “despotism.” Geneva was an oligarchical republic in which the pastors (dominated by Calvin) exercised heavy influence on governmental policy with regard to moral and religious questions. This was very “despotic” by modern standards, but it’s odd for Catholics to make this charge, since the post-Tridentine Catholic Church tended to favor a similar approach. Arguably Geneva succeeded better than most Catholic (or other Protestant) states, in part because it was so small. So the experience of living in Geneva might have been a bit more stifling than that of living in most other nations of the time–but I don’t think most of the post-Tridentine Catholic Reformers would have objected in principle to the moral and (apart from the serious differences in theological specifics, of course) religious policies favored by Calvin. I could be wrong, but I don’t think St. Francis de Sales or St. Charles Borromeo ever said that Geneva was too despotic–only that it was on the wrong side! (Perhaps the Catholic Reformers would have been more lenient with regards to matters such as dancing and entertainment, but I’m not sure–I believe that St. Francis de Sales advised people to go to balls but to think about death and judgment while there, which is perhaps a somewhat gentler approach than that of Calvin, though Calvin wasn’t as much of a killjoy as many people think.)



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