Theodore Beza (1519-1605)

Biographical Sketch

by Jordan Swigart, Biola University


 “Beza and Calvin shared an incredible affection for one another, such as resembles that of Paul and Timothy.”*

Summary of Life

  • Born on June 24, 1519 in Vézelay France to the royal governor of Vézelay, Pierre De Beza
  • When he was just three years old Beza’s mom, Marie Bourdelot, died
  • In 1528 he was sent to study in Orleans under Melchior Wolmar
  • At the age of 20 he received a degree in law from the University of Orleans
  • Married Claudine Denosse in 1544 in secret
  • He wrote a work of poetry called Juvenilia in 1548 and quickly became famous for the work
  • He became very sick after the publication of his book, which led him to a spiritual awakening
  • In 1548 he dropped everything and fled for Geneva with his wife, Claudine
  • In 1549 he became a professor at the University of Lausanne
  • In 1557 Beza asked to go with William Farel to plead for the Waldenses
  • He finished the revision of Olivetan’s translation (New Testament)
  • Beza accepted a chair position at the University of Geneva in 1558 after many years of being a professor
  • In 1559 Beza went on another journey because of the Huguenots, this time to Heidelberg
  • The Colloquy of Poissy happened in 1561 and Beza gave a speech at the conference
  • He served for seven months with the Huguenot army as treasurer and almoner until 1563
  • In 1564, John Calvin passed away and Beza performed the funeral. He then became Calvin’s successor and rector of the university
  • Theological Treatises (one of his main theological works) was republished by Beza in 1582
  • Claudine died in 1588 and Beza remarried a refugee from Genoa, Geneviève del Piano
  • Debated the Lutherans at the Bern Colloquy in 1588.
  • 1600 was the final year that he preached from the pulpit
  • Theodore Beza passed away in 1605 from old age, after suffering from hearing and short-term memory loss

Influenced by

  • Theodore Beza was influenced by John Calvin. He became his successor when Calvin passed away. He even took over at the Theological University that John Calvin started in Geneva. Beza took Calvin’s theology and expanded on the topics that Calvin did not go into depth about. Beza was a Calvinist and even wrote a biography on the life of John Calvin.
  • Melchior Wolmar also influenced Beza. Wolmar lived in Orleans and taught Beza Greek when he was in his teenage years. Wolmar eventually became apart of the reformed movement. One of Beza’s most famous works was dedicated to Wolmar.
  • It is probable that John Knox and William Farel influenced Beza (all of them being reformers from Geneva). They were older than him and were in Geneva at the same time that Beza was there. Farel traveled with Beza to help the Protestants that were experiencing persecution.


  • Beza influenced Jacobus Arminius because he studied under Beza in Geneva. Even though they have different beliefs about theology (Arminian and Calvinist Debate) there was a mutual respect for each other.
  • Beza influenced William Perkins, a Cambridge theologian and professor. Beza’s view on Supralapsarianism was something that Perkins views aligned with and he taught his students this view on theology.
  • William Ames from Cambridge was influenced by Beza’s explanation of Calvinism. This man would often debate and was a great conversationalist.
  • Franciscus Junius (the Elder) received much education from Calvin and Beza in Geneva. He became a minister and Latin Bible translator.
  • John Calvin was most likely influenced by Beza’s idea of predestination.

Known For

  • Known for Being John Calvin’s successor at the University that Calvin founded
  • Expanding on the ideas that Calvin didn’t go into too much depth about
  • Beza would place high value on others lives, even ahead of his own life. He would help Christians that were being persecuted by the Roman Catholics
  • The theological topic of Supralapsarianism
  • Skilled in debating and was a fantastic (and well respected) writer
  • Often times Beza is remembered as a “Hyper-Calvinist,” someone that took Calvin’s work and went too far with what Calvin was trying to portray.

Theology (Reformed)

  • His key theological concept and most famous was the idea of Supralapsarianism. Supralapsarianism is the logical order of decrees by God that looks through the vantage point of God’s eyes. He believed that God authorized the fall and condemns some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation before the fall of man ever occurred.
  • Reprobation (double predestination) is God choosing people to go to eternal damnation and eternal life based of His perfect and good will.
  • Imputation of Adam’s sin was something that Beza wrote about. This is different than man having a sinful nature. It is idea that the entire human race that has lived (and will live) has been condemned because of Adam’s sin in the garden.

Types of Works

Dramas (Musical), Satires, Polemical treatises, Greek & French Translations, Biographies (John Calvin), Political treatises, Theological treatises

Major Works (no publishing information found)

  • De haereticis a civili magistratu puniendis (1554): Defense of Calvin and the Magistrates
  • Poemata juvenilia (1548): This was a poetry work that got Beza famous. They included poems about his childhood before he was a reformer.
  • Tractationes theologicae (1570-1582): Systematic Theology that showed Beza’s religious views.
  • Life of Calvin (1564): Discusses the Life of Calvin. There is much respect seen in this biography towards Beza’s mentor
  • Summa totius Christianismi (1555): His main writing on Supralapsarianism

Secondary Sources

  • Baird, Henry Martyn. Theodore Beza, the Counsellor of the French Reformation, 1519-1605. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1899. Print.
  • Mallinson, Jeffrey. Faith, Reason, and Revelation in Theodore Beza, 1519-1605. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
  • Maruyama, Tadataka. The Ecclesiology of Theodore Beza: The Reform of the True Church. Genève: Droz, 1978. Print.


  • Beeke, Joel R. “Theodore Beza’s Supralapsarian Predestination.” Reformation and Revival Journal 12.2 (2003): n. pag. 2003.
  • Manetsch, Scott M. Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013.
  • Maruyama, Tadataka. The Ecclesiology of Theodore Beza: The Reform of the True Church. Genève: Droz, 1978.
  • Peters, F. E. The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003.
  • Redding, Graham. Prayer and the Priesthood of Christ: In the Reformed Tradition. London: T & T Clark, 2003.
  • Summers, Kirk M. “Morality After Calvin: Theodore Beza’s Christian Censor and Reformed Ethics.” Barnes & Noble. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.
  • Thomas, G. M. The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675). Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006.





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