Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

H. Henry Meeter Center: Specializing in John Calvin, Calvinism, the Reformation, and Early Modern Studies


"In Pursuit of Godliness:
The Challenges of Reform in 16th-century Geneva"

Karen Spierling, Associate Professor of Early Modern European History at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

Audio Recording of the lecture


Given on March 29, 2012

During the mid-sixteenth century, John Calvin and his reforming colleagues worked to transform Geneva into a morally disciplined, “godly” society. Despite Geneva’s contemporary reputation as a strict and successful theocracy, Calvin and the Genevan Consistory confronted many challenges in trying to make Calvin’s vision of godliness a reality. For example, Calvin believed that absolutely truthful communication was essential to a fully reformed, godly society, and it certainly was crucial to the work of the Consistory. Evidence from the Consistory records demonstrates, however, that a variety of obstacles constrained the Consistory’s pursuit of a more truthful, godly society. Issues such as continued connections to Catholics and Catholicism, resistance to the Consistory’s claim of authority over familial and personal relationships, and conflicting loyalties to employers, families and the Genevan authorities all illustrate the struggle and paradoxes involved in the official effort to fulfill Calvin’s vision of a godly, reformed, truthful community within a society where that vision was still far from reality.