Early in John Calvin's career, he was involved in a controversy that forced him to flee Paris and live in hiding for a time. Calvin's friend, Nicolas Cop, delivered an address that many considered heretical, and Calvin was implicated as well. R. C. Sproul says:

Now it was also discovered that this student, John Calvin, helped him compose this sermon, and so, as a result of this event, Calvin also had to flee not only the city, but he had to flee France itself. (10:30–11:00)

Bruce Shelley relates the event this way:

In the autumn of 1533, Calvin was so closely linked with his friend Nicholas Cop that when Cop gave a strongly Protestant address as rector of the university, some suspected Calvin wrote the speech. (CHPL, 269)

While Wikipedia says, without a citation:

Calvin certainly influenced but did not write Cop's address (permalink)

So, my question is, do modern biographers of Calvin or historians of the Reformation believe:

  • that Calvin had a role in the actual drafting of the speech?
  • that Calvin had any influence on the content of the speech?
  • or that Calvin was accused simply because of his friendship with Cop?

That is, what is the scholarly consensus, and the basis for that consensus, on Calvin's involvement in the writing of Cop's fateful address?

  • I doubt there is any "scholarly consensus" on such an arcane issue. The most detailed and earliest account I can find comes from this 1906 book, which includes citations (maybe you could try tracking down those sources): books.google.com/books?id=RN7ScFpRkecC&pg=PA106
    – Ben W
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 15:34

1 Answer 1


According to Alexandre Ganoczy's Calvin’s Life and Context, chapter 1 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin there is no scholarly consensus as to the extent of Calvin's involvement in Nicolas Cop's speech "made on the Feast of All Saints in 1533 at the opening of the academic year":

Who was behind this speech? Scholarly opinions differ. Some attribute to Calvin merely an advisory role; others think that Calvin wrote the speech himself; and others attribute to Cop, the Erasmian physician, a time of private study and a competence in theology similar to the young jurist. One thing is certain: Calvin felt solidarity with Cop and was able to affirm his statements.

Ganoczy himself seems non-committal, as is Thomas J. Davis, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University. In John Calvin, he writes

Historical evidence is ambiguous as to the authorship of Cop’s address. Some think Calvin wrote it, or at least had a hand in writing it.

Also in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, Wulfert de Greef in chapter 3, Calvin's Writings , is of the opinion that:

Calvin was involved in drawing up Cop’s address.

De Greef does not give any reasons for his conclusion, but a more complete account can be found in Calvin: A Biography by French scholar Bernard Cottret. He is of the opinion that, while the question remains "open", Calvin probably did not write the speech but he

participated in its writing and...he even exercised a friendly influence over Cop...

In arriving at this view, Cottret notes that

Various intriguing indications show clearly Calvin's involvement at Nicolas Cop's side. A fragment of this text in Calvin's own hand exists in Geneva, while the complete version, corrected by Cop, was henceforth located in Strasbourg.

In a footnote, Cottret adds:

It is probable, moreover, that the two known manuscripts are themselves copies of an original draft of the text.

Calvin's friendship with Cop certainly did him no favours in the eyes of the opposition. After the speech, Calvin's room was searched by the authorities, who also took his papers, but the backlash from conservatives was not aimed only at him, and nor was it entirely to do with Cop's speech. Ganoczy again:

...the reaction of the opposition affected Calvin exactly as it did the university rector: both found themselves in that constantly shifting middle ground of loyalty to the church and a desire for reform. In the eyes of the Sorbonne occupying middle ground still meant schism and heresy. This radically conservative group was successful in regaining the confidence of the king by December, 1533. He ordered the extermination of the “damned Lutheran sects.”

The king referred to is Francis I (1515-47) who was initially relatively tolerant of Protestantism despite pressure from pope Clement VII in August 1533 to take action against "the Lutheran heresy and other sects infesting this kingdom". The pressure and incentives to take action increased, though, as Francis was also vying with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for the pope's favour in achieving "Christian unity". The French king, after meeting the Pope on the 10th of November in Marseilles, was able to proclaim a "diplomatic victory".

It wasn't until an unrelated incident in 1534 (see Affair of the Placards) that Calvin was forced to flee France altogether (note that Sproul is mistaken: Calvin did not flee France because of Cop's speech).

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