Fourteen-year-old Jean Chauvin walked briskly through the narrow street on his way to visit his family. He had been staying with the Montmors, enjoying an education under tutors in their wealthy household. Jean’s father had arranged it so. But now Jean must more permanently bid farewell to his father, stepmother, two brothers, and sisters. His mother had died years ago.
He heard the clop of horse hooves behind him and looked back. He pressed against the building where he stood and covered his mouth and nose as the horse cart passed by. Another body was being borne away. The plague had surely come to northern France. The tonsured, lanky lad hurried home.
His father had secured even more than an education for him, though. Young Jean was already a chaplain, or type of minister, of a small church. Not that he was expected to perform the duties of a chaplain; he merely possessed the title—and the corn and grain that went with it. The title explained his tonsure (monk’s haircut). That’s the way things could be arranged in the Catholic Church five hundred years ago in France. The Chauvins took full advantage of it.
But Jean was indeed a devout boy for all of that. He was leaving for Paris to escape the plague, and to go to the colleges there. He would study hard to be a good priest. He was a student for three years in one school, and then attended an extremely strict college for men of the Church. That he could live with his uncle helped preserve his health. But Jean did study hard. While other students were severely whipped for not learning their lessons, young Chauvin excelled remarkably in Latin and debate. And in these days, there was much to debate.
The invention of the printing press allowed many books—dangerous books—to be delivered into France. The work of a heretic German monk, Martin Luther by name, was most offensive. Jean Chauvin would have none of it. Men were being burned at the stake for possessing such ideas against the Church of Rome. But Jean’s cousin Olivetanus, who was also in Paris at the time, would not give up arguing with Jean about the German monk’s ideas. Salvation by grace alone—that was the contested point. But grace alone was not what Jean had learned from his parents and his teachers. Men must merit salvation by their good works. Poor Olivetanus was so mistaken! And so in danger of his life.
Then Jean Chauvin thought about it some more. What, indeed was the truth? And why were people willing to die for it? Hmm…was his cousin so mistaken?