On this day exactly 500 years ago, John Calvin was born.

John Calvin would not be happy with all the attention he is getting today. His will included instructions that he be buried in an unmarked grave. He didn’t want his grave to become a shrine. To this day, the location of his grave is unknown.

Although Calvin has a reputation for being scholarly and combative, he was more than that. Nicolas des Gallars, a member of his pastoral team, described his ministry:

What labors, what long waking hours, what worries he bore, … with what faithfulness and intelligence he took an interest in everyone; with what kindness and good will he received those who turned to him; with what rapidity and openness he answered those who questioned him on the most serious of questions; with what wisdom he received, both privately and publicly, the difficulties and problems brought to him; with what gentleness he comforted the afflicted, raised those who were laid low and discouraged; with what firmness he resisted the enemy; with what zeal he brought low the proud and stubborn: with what greatness of soul he endured misfortune; with what moderation he behaved in prosperity; with what skill and enthusiasm, finally, he acquitted himself of all the duties a true and faithful servant of God, words of mine could never express. (Opera Calvini XXXVI, 15–16)

Calvin had (and has) his critics, but even they grudgingly respect him. Pope Pius IV, Roman Pontiff at time of Calvin’s death, said of Calvin: “The strength of that heretic [Calvin] consisted in this, that money never had the slightest charm for him. If I had such servants my dominion would extend from sea to sea.” Jacob Arminius said that Calvin is “incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture,” and he recommended Calvin’s commentaries second only to the Bible itself.

I’m looking forward to reading his Institutes later this year. Happy birthday, John Calvin.