Keene’s Review: Calvin Celebrated by Alan Clifford

Calvin Celebrated

The Genevan Reformer & His Hugenot Sons

Alan Clifford

Charenton Reformed Publishing, 2009 – commemorative new edition 2022 (ISBN: 9780955516535, 168pp, £9.95)

The English, to the extent that they are aware of the Reformation at all, are inevitably most familiar with its iteration on our own shores. Despite a valuable scholarly transition in recent decades to viewing the English Reformation in its wider European context, many of us remain relatively uniformed about any except the most prominent continental leaders. One such prominent leader is the eponymous Calvin. This book was first published to mark the great Frenchman’s 500th birthday in 2009. This new edition came out last year to mark another significant, though darker anniversary – the 450th of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (an event exactly 90 years preceding our own ‘Black Bartholomew’).

As the subtitle indicates, this book is not just a Calvin biography – but a review also of five of his prominent successors in French Protestantism; Moise Amyraut (Professor and Pastor of Saumur, Anjou 1633-64), Jean Daille (Pastor of Charenton, Paris 1626-70), Fulchan Rey (Itinerant preacher, 1685-86), Claude Brousson (Itinerant preacher, 1689-98), and Antoine Court (Head of the Lausanne Academy, 1729-60). These five span the period before and after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, a tragic turn in French religious policy which heralded the aggressive persecution of Protestants throughout the kingdom. 

Clifford’s writing is compelling and eminently readable. He strikes the right balance for a lay readership between depth and accessibility. Primary sources are well used but not overwhelming. The inherited landscape of relevant scholarship is navigated without its preoccupations distracting. An appropriate degree of familiarity with the historic environment is assumed. Most ordinary church members could benefit greatly from this work.

The testimony of any faithful church under fire is remarkable, not least the Huguenots of France. Clifford movingly relates their ‘desert assemblies’ in caves and forest clearings and the courage which they showed for the sake of Christ in the face of murderous threats. Variation of tone is provided as Clifford defends some of his subjects from historic accusations of coldness or severity, noting by turns the enjoyment of games, the tenderness of marriages, and kindnesses toward children. Likewise, some of the unjust criticisms levelled at ‘Calvinism’ are debunked. 

Despite the proximity of France, the successes and sufferings of its church are a narrative which we know too little. Thanks are due the author of this book in bringing some remedy here. 


Edward Keene, Little Shelford