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Report from Jean Calvin to the authorities on the suicide of Jean Vachat

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Here is a document in the handwriting of John Calvin, dated January 23, 1545, reporting to the Geneva authorities an event that occurred the day before.

On January 22, 1545 in Geneva, an unfortunate man named Jean Vachat stabbed himself twice in the stomach. Calvin recounts having been called to the bedside of the dying man and having, not without remonstrating with him, questioned the latter on the reasons for his action, encouraged Vachat to repent, to surrender to the grace of God, as well as to accept the care of a surgeon. Jean Vachat died the same day as a result of his injury.

This is the only handwritten document by Calvin addressing the issue of suicide, a serious act relevant to criminal justice since considered, at the time, as a crime against the individual, society and God. The police lieutenant in charge of the case refused, moreover – and in accordance with the customs of the time, that Jean Vachat be buried with a Christian burial.

This letter is exceptional in that it shows the human side of John Calvin finding himself faced with the reality of despair, of man facing the suffering of another individual. We thus discover another face of the reformer, not without contrast with the image of Calvin generally described as a man of great severity.



John Calvin (1509-1564)
Report to the authorities on the suicide of Jean Vachat, January 23, 1545

© International Museum of the Reformation (MIR), Geneva

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