Lowered over a Wall, Calvin Fled Paris

Published Apr 28, 2010
Lowered over a Wall, Calvin Fled Paris

When the apostle Paul escaped Damascus by being lowered over the wall in a basket it was not the last time a Christian evangelist would dramatically flee from persecution. On this day, November 2, in 1533, John Calvin made a similar thrilling escape from Paris.

A devout Catholic, Calvin studied law at the Universities of Orleans and Paris. He was a brilliant student, and with the Protestant Reformation in the air, he began reading Martin Luther and became a leader of the Reformation in France, at the risk of arrest, imprisonment, or even death.

In 1532 Calvin wrote that "Only one ...salvation is left open for our souls, and that is the mercy of God in Christ. We are saved by grace... not by our works." Calvin became a leader of the evangelical party in Paris, often encouraging his followers with the words of Paul: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

In 1533 the newly elected head of Paris University, Nicholas Cop apparently asked Calvin to collaborate on an inauguration address. The speech called for the church to return to New Testament ideals. It accused traditional theologians of being nothing but a set of sophists. "They teach nothing of faith, nothing of the love of God, nothing of the remission of grace, nothing of justification, or if they do so, they pervert and undermine it all by their laws and sophistries. I beg of you, who are here present, not to tolerate any longer these heresies and abuses."

The king and church authorities were furious. With the police hot on their heels, Cop and Calvin fled for their lives. Calvin lowered himself from a window on bedsheets tied together, and escaped Paris dressed as a farmer with a hoe on his shoulder. Taking the alias Martianus Lucianius, he reached safety in tolerant Basel. For three more years he wandered as a fugitive evangelist under such assumed names. Finally he settled in Geneva, Switzerland where he became one of the best-known leaders of the Reformation.


  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Bouwsma, William J. John Calvin; a sixteenth-century portrait. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  3. Stevenson, Richard Taylor. John Calvin: the statesman. Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, 1907.

Last updated July, 2007.


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