Fun Facts from Church History: Calvin Was A Poor Man

calvin10[Calvin] received at Geneva only just sufficient to support him with the greatest parsimony. His pay consisted of fifty dollars, twelve measures of corn, two tuns of wine, and a dwelling-house.

The state-protocol of October, 1541, says, indeed, “that a considerable stipend was granted to Calvin, because he was very learned, and visitors cost him much.” But what proves that this income was very small, according to the price of things at that time, is the circumstance, that the council frequently found it necessary, from mere kindness, to lend him a helping hand. True however to his principles, he refused ten dollars offered him when he was sick in 1546, and two which the council wished him to accept for his journey to Bern, in 1553, on the affairs of the republic. On December 28, 1556, the council sent him some wood to warm his chamber; he carried them the money for it, but they would not take it.

The same body sent him, May 14, 1560, a tun of the best wine, because he had only what was very indifferent. He borrowed however twenty-five dollars to meet the expenses of his sickness, and on the 22d of June, 1563, earnestly entreated the council to receive them back.* He protested indeed, “that he would never again enter the pulpit, if he were compelled to retain another indemnification.”

Twenty dollars, that is, almost half the amount of his stipend, he had formally rejected,—a plain proof this of his desire to remain poor.

Here’s the best part of this tale-

In a letter to Farel (January 21, 1546), he expressly relates how he was once obliged to argue with an anabaptist before the council. This person had treated him badly, till at length driven into a corner, and being full of malice, he answered Calvin, that all the clergy led a life of luxury. The reformer replied, and the anabaptist then called him a miser, which excited general laughter; “For it was recollected what I had given up this very year, and that I had sworn I would not preach again if I were pressed any more on the subject. It was also known that I had refused additional presents, and had given up twenty dollars from my income. All fell upon him when they heard this.”*

Calvin, unlike so many ‘Preachers’ today, never exercised his gifts for monetary glory.

P. Henry, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer Volume 1 (269–270). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.

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