Was John Calvin Ordained?

A question that has often been asked of Presbyterians who believe that ordination that is required for the pastoral ministry runs like this: Was John Calvin ever ordained? Indeed, it is often assumed that he was not, in fact, ordained. If not, what does mean for the Presbyterian theory of ordination? If so, by who, when, and where? 

This historical question with ecclesiological ramifications is taken up in Vol. 3 of Thomas Smyth's Complete Works and in the individual volume titled Calvin and His Enemies: A Memoir of the Life, Character, and Principles of Calvin. There is both a chapter titled "A Supplementary Vindication of the Ordination of Calvin" and further discussion of Calvin's ordination in Appendix V. These remarks affirm that Calvin was indeed ordained, and while specific records of this historical fact are lacking, the event itself cannot be denied based on the evidence given by Smyth. 

He begins his essay by affirming an important point: "The validity of Presbyterian ordination depends, IN NO MANNER OR DEGREE, upon the ordination of Calvin." The problems or challenges for Presbyterians that might result from a certain answer to the question above may equally present problems or challenges for those opposed to Presbyterian church government. As Smyth argues further on, the same lack of details that the historical record yields regarding the date, location and persons involved in Calvin's ordination might apply to the parallel case of Bishop Joseph Butler more than a century later, whose ordination is nevertheless disputed by no one (hence "they who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones"). However, in fact, this is an historical question that does not make or break the Presbyterian doctrine of ordination for the pastoral office, which stands upon Scripture.

Delving into the historical question, Smyth adduces the testimony of Calvin himself, Theodore Beza and Franciscus Junius the Elder to show that he was indeed an ordained presbyter. He also highlights the practice of the Presbytery of Geneva, and the fact that this point was not controverted within his lifetime by his Roman Catholic or other enemies who had reason to make his supposed lack of ordination a point of contention. 

Both the historical record and the implications of whether Calvin was unordained, ordained in the Roman Church, or ordained as Protestant minister of the gospel (or both) are addressed by Smyth head-on. He presents a solid argument to show that Calvin was indeed ordained by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbytery of Geneva. 

Take time to familiarize yourself with Smyth's remarks on this question because it has been raised for centuries and is still raised today, although the question, this writer believes, was clearly settled in the 19th century, if not earlier. In Smyth's separate biography of Calvin, see Chap. IX, pp. 84-101, and Appendix V, pp. 160-162; in Vol. 3 of Smyth's Complete Works, see Chap. IX, pp. 360-368, and Appendix V, pp. 390-391 (the biography is dated 1856, and Vol. 3 of Smyth's Complete Works was published in 1908; the latter discussion of Calvin's ordination is a slightly expanded edition of the earlier). This is a question with an answer to be had, and Smyth has answered well.