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April 19, 2023

Pierre Viret and Shaping Culture

New Saint Andrews College seeks to graduate students who shape culture living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. What does it look like to shape culture? The Swiss reformer Pierre Viret is an example we set before our graduates. 

Pierre Viret worked alongside John Calvin in furthering the Reformed faith in Switzerland. In his own day, Viret was a bigger name than Calvin. While some have forgotten him, we hope our students will pattern their lives on his legacy. 

One writer has said that Viret’s vision for culture, “was defined by its ‘comprehensive application of all of Scripture to all of life.’” This is what NSA means by living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Every aspect of life must be examined through the lens of scripture and be in submission to Jesus Christ.

Being a native swiss, Viret changed culture around him by bringing the reformed faith to the people of Geneva and Lausanne. This work was pivotal in laying the groundwork for John Calvin.

At one point, Calvin got into a theological and political tangle with the city council of Geneva and was exiled from the city. In Calvin’s absence, Viret worked in Geneva to help resolve the issue with the city council and convince them to bring Calvin back. Geneva finally relented and invited Calvin back. One writer says, “Viret’s presence in Geneva at that time was essential in overcoming Calvin’s initial reluctance to return to the city and in assisting him in his reform efforts once he arrived.” Without Viret, Calvin and Geneva would never have made the impact that it did on the world. 

Another of Viret’s great works was founding the first Reformed Academy in Lausanne in 1537. Viret was the director there for twenty-two years where it turned out thousands of pastors and missionaries. Douglas Wilson, Chairman of the Board for NSA, writes about this school, “Some of its former students went on to write the Heidelberg Catechism (Ursinus and Olevianus) and the Belgic Confession (de Bres). And Theodore Beza was the principal there.

In 1559, Viret ran into a key theological and political issue with the lords of Bern and he was forced to leave Lausanne. The faculty of the Reformed Academy resigned in protest and left with Viret. They all moved to Geneva. God blessed this faithful action in a mighty way and this transplant was the origin of the Genevan Academy that started later that year.

Viret and Calvin made a lasting impact on European culture. One writer described these men this way: “If his good friend, John Calvin, was the consummate dogmatician and the prince of exegetes, Pierre Viret must be considered as the finest ethicist and the most acute apologist of the sixteenth century.

Culture building is messy and challenging; it requires faithfulness in the midst of political battles and exile. Viret set the standard for New Saint Andrews graduates and it is our goal to inculcate this same desire in our students to shape culture. 

Today, we are still blessed by the work and ministry of Pierre Viret even if many don’t remember who he is or what he did. The Lord uses everyone in His work; both great and small, famous and forgotten. 

A few years ago, the NSA Board of Directors established the Viret Honors Prize to recognize NSA alumni who embody the work of Viret in shaping culture. Winners of that prize include Aaron Rench (2016), N.D. Wilson (2017), Joe Rigney (2018), Brent Pinkall (2019), Ian Kern (2020), Rachel Jankovic (2021), and Khiree Appel (2022).