Calvin received an excellent education. He expected to become a Catholic priest, and at the age of twelve he was tonsured. When a person was tonsured his hair was cut, leaving the top of his head bald. This represented giving one's life to Jesus, because in that day and age, long hair symbolized secular power.
In 1523, Calvin began attending the University of Paris. Here, he was exposed to Protestant thinking for the first time. Eventually the Protestant thinkers at the University won Calvin to their way of thinking, and he became an open Huguenot. However, in 1534 King Francis I began persecuting the Huguenots, and Calvin had to flee Paris. During a short stay in Basel, Switzerland, he completed his masterpiece Institutes of the Christian Religion, which outlined the Protestant faith and explained why Protestant doctrine was not heretical.
In 1536, during an intended overnight stay in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvin met William Farel, another reformer. Farel, although a very strong preacher, lacked eloquence and the ability to argue well. He wanted Calvin to remain in Geneva and assist him in his preaching there.
He had no wish to remain in Geneva. He wanted, instead, to continue his journey to Strasbourg. However, when Farel lost his temper with Calvin's stubbornness and shouted,"If you refuse to dedicate yourself here with us to this work of God, God will curse you, for you seek yourself rather than Christ!", Calvin felt that God had called him to Geneva. At that time, Geneva was said to be a very immoral city. Some people did not take kindly to Calvin clamping down on their "liberty" (which was merely the license to do whatever they wanted-immoral or otherwise).
Calvin was threatened many times, banished once for three years, and insulted by having stray dogs named "Calvin" after him. However, his hard work for reform in Geneva paid off. In later years, the liberal attitude of Geneva allowed the city to become known as the "Protestant Rome". It became a safe haven for persecuted Reformed scholars from Scotland and England during the Catholic rule of Mary I and Mary Stuart.
Calvin is often remembered in conjunction with the trial and execution of Michael Servetus, who was condemned by both many Reformers and the Roman Catholic church for committing heresy by denying the Trinity. Servetus was burned at the stake, despite Calvin's recommendation that Servetus ought rather to be beheaded, a form of execution considered in that day to be more honorable.
Calvinism influenced many different Reformational groups, particularly the Presbyterians in Scotland, the Congregationalists and Baptists England and the Dutch Reformed Church in Netherlands. The Westminster Confession, the London Baptist Confession and the Belgic Confession are three statements of belief created by these groups and affirm a Calvinistic interpretation of theology.
Calvin's teachings on predestination were later interpreted by a few Calvinists in a way that has come to be called Hyper-Calvinism by some. So-called Hyper-Calvinists hold that because God imparts his grace to only some individuals of his choosing (the "Elect") there is no point in the visible Church preaching the Gospel to the unregenerate. This point of view has been rejected by almost all Reformed churches and groups. They espouse the preaching of the Gospel to the unregenerate as one of the commands given by Christ himself to his Church.
In the United States, the one Reformed denomination that is associated with "Hyper-Calvinism" is the 7,000 member "Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC)." This denomination, however, rejects as inaccurate the use of the term when applied by others to the PRC, arguing that the principles in question are those which were held by Calvin himself and, consequently, cannot be "hyper" or unorthodox.