settings icon
share icon

Who was Theodore Beza?

Theodore Beza

Theodore Beza (1519—1605), a key individual in the Protestant Reformation, is not as well-known as Martin Luther or John Calvin; nonetheless, the role he played in bringing the light of sound biblical theology to a world darkened by a corrupt Roman papacy should not be understated. A statue of Theodore Beza overlooks the Parc des Bastions in Geneva, Switzerland, along with images of John Calvin, William Farel, and John Knox, who are all part of the Reformation Wall Monument.

To understand Theodore Beza, it is necessary to have an at least perfunctory understanding of the Reformation and Beza’s prominent predecessor, John Calvin.

In the 16th century, Europe was steeped in political intrigue, a lust for treasure, and, as the apostle Paul warned, “the doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). In the midst of all that, devout men of God sought to bring sound biblical theology back into the pulpit. At the risk of oversimplifying the heart of Protestantism, the movement emphasized the five solas:

Sola Scriptura—the Bible alone is our highest authority
Sola Fide—we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus alone
Sola Gratia—we are saved by the grace of God alone
Solus Christus—Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King
Soli Deo Gloria—We live for the glory of God alone

Unlike Martin Luther, who was outgoing, forceful, and, in many ways, larger than life, John Calvin was a quiet, retiring, introverted individual who disliked attention. Calvin was a substantial author known for his clear writing style and a thoroughness in the treatment of his subject matter. His theological treatises were later summarized by five points:

Total depravity of man
Unconditional election
Limited atonement
Irresistible grace
Perseverance of the saints

This, regrettably, is a gross over-simplification of the depth of Calvin’s writings. It should be remembered that the “Five Points of Calvinism,” as they’re commonly known, originated long after Calvin’s death. TULIP was not formulated until the Synod of Dort in the Netherlands in 1618 as a response to the five points of Arminianism.

After John Calvin’s death in 1564, the widely regarded French theologian was succeeded by another French theologian, Theodore Beza. His role as Calvin’s successor is how he is best known.

Born into minor aristocracy in the city of Vézelay, France, Theodore Beza was a well-educated and gifted teacher who strongly identified with the Reformation movement. After moving to Paris, Beza practiced law and wrote poetry, becoming a leader in the French literary circle. During a protracted illness, he came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Once his health had been restored, he left Paris for Geneva, Switzerland, where he became personally acquainted with John Calvin.

In the late 1550s, John Calvin invited Theodore Beza to help launch the Academy of Geneva, a training center for future ministers adhering to the tenets of the Reformation. Beza’s skills, including his proficiency in Greek, had not escaped Calvin’s attention. When Cavin died, Theodore Beza emerged as Geneva’s leading Reformed theologian.

After succeeding Calvin, Beza lived another forty years, and, during that time, his reputation as a theologian flourished, and his oratory skills allowed him to preach with authority in the pulpit.

In the late 16th century, a movement known as Scholastic Protestantism came into play. The scholastic approach to theology, as posed by followers of Luther, Calvin, and Catholic scholars, had become increasingly technical, and many times university-based teaching of doctrine was “too scholarly” for rank-and-file believers. Beza’s case, however, was different. His delivery from the pulpit was never bogged down by excessively technical language. When Beza preached, he was understood.

It is impossible to sum up a great life such as Theodore Beza’s in a scant few paragraphs, but we can honor his contributions to the Reformation. Beza, though not as well-known as Calvin and Luther, was a key figure in Western history. He is remembered as a gifted teacher, prolific writer, and much-loved pastor whose preaching connected with his congregants. To this day, Beza’s legacy as a biblical scholar remains highly regarded among Reformed theologians and other lovers of truth.

Return to:

Questions about Church History

Who was Theodore Beza?
Subscribe to the

Question of the Week

Get our Question of the Week delivered right to your inbox!

Follow Us: Facebook icon Twitter icon YouTube icon Pinterest icon Instagram icon
© Copyright 2002-2024 Got Questions Ministries. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy
This page last updated: August 10, 2023