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The Shaping of Modern Europe Index

Introduction to the Reformation
The Church before the Reformation I : Indulgences, Relics and Pilgrimages
The Church before the Reformation II : The Wealth and Political Power of the Church
The Church before the Reformation III : The Clergy
The Church before the Reformation IV : Inside a Church
The Lutheran Revolt
Conflict between Luther and the Church
The Church reacts to Luther
The Catholic and the Lutheran Church
Huldreick Zwingli
The English Reformation

17th Century Europe

Europe in the 1600s
17th Century Europe

History Chapters Main Index

 

 

John Calvin

Portrait of John Calvin

List of Offences to the Consistory (Church court)

  • Praying in Latin on a husband's grave.

  • A goldsmith made a chalice.

  • Blaming the French refugees for rising prices.

  • A wife tied a walnut containing a spider around her husband's neck.

  • A woman owned a book of Golden legends.

  • A woman, aged 65, married a man aged 25.

  • A barber cut a priest's hair in the form of a tonsure.

 

 

THE SHAPING OF MODERN EUROPE

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John Calvin

Calvin's academic background

Like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin was a reformer who wanted a return to the ways of the early Church and a religion based on the New Testament.

He was unable to do much because he was exiled from Geneva from 1538-1541, but on his return he introduced the "Ecclesiastical Ordinances". These were an attempt to unify the churches of Geneva and to reform them. Calvin disagreed with Luther and Zwingli over the role of priests, ministers and pastors - he thought they were important. He was also very undemocratic because he made sure that the pastors made all the decisions, without reference to the congregation. Discipline was important for all Protestants, but particularly so with Calvin, who introduced a group called the elders to maintain order in the Church. They were there to make sure the pastors and the congregation behaved in a "moral" way.

Calvinist churches came into conflict with lay rulers of Geneva because, by controlling people so closely, the pastors and the elders interfered with the power of the city council and the magistrates. For example, if someone was accused of a crime, it was also a sin - who should deal with the criminal/sinner? The Church or the law courts?

In 1550 clergy began to make annual visits to parishioners houses to check they were keeping the rules of the Church. People were not allowed religious ornaments, nor allowed to dance.

All these things showed that the Church and the State were clearly inter-linked.

 

Calvin's Ideas

Between 1530 and 1559 Calvin wrote his most famous book, "Institutes". In it he explained that everything that happened in the world did so because "God wills it". He proposed the idea of predestination saying that God had decided what would happen and what people would do. Luck and chance, therefore, did not exist.

Luther based his work on "The just shall live by faith". For Calvin it was "Thy will be done" in the Lord's prayer.

None of these ideas were new in themselves, but what set Calvin apart more than anything was the idea that God had chosen who would go to heaven. They have since become known as the elect.

It proved difficult to argue with Calvin. One man, Bolsec, who did so was imprisoned.

 

Comparing Four Reformers

Name

Desiderius Erasmus

Martin Luther

Huldreick Zwingli

John Calvin

Image

Desiderius Erasmus

Martin Luther

Huldreick Zwingli

John Calvin

Dates

1469-1536

1483-1546

1484-1531

1509-1564

Place of birth

Holland

Germany

Switzerland

France

Place of study

Sorbonne, Paris

Wittenberg University, Saxony

Vienna and Basle

Orleans and Bourges

Occupation

Augustinian friar

Augustinian friar

People's priest

Lawyer and later theology student

Lived in

Basle, Switzerland

Wittenberg, Germany

Zurich, Switzerland

Basle, Switzerland + Geneva

Important publications

"Guide to Practical Piety and Programme for Moral Reform"

"The Handbook of the Christian Soldier" (1504)

New Testament (Latin translation)

 "Ninety Five Theses" (1517)

Translated the Bible into German

 

"Institutes of the Christian Religion" (1536)

Teachings

Pointed out errors in the "official" Vulgate translation of the bible by St. Jerome.

Pointed out that even St. Jerome had stated that the Bible should be available to lay people to study.

Laid stress on the teachings of St. Paul the Apostle.

Believed in predestination (that some people are chosen to be "saved" and others are not), but people could be saved by absolute belief in God and in Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

People should accept God into themselves.

Individual relationship with God (through the written word of God - the Bible)

Taught that the bread and wine of the mass were symbols of Christ's body and blood.

Believed in the Bible as a precise authority (much more vigorously than Luther).

Denounced the use of music, pictures and sculptures in church.

Taught that the bread and wine of the mass were the real body and blood of Christ.

Believed in predestination and salvation through complete surrender to God (as did Luther).

Believed that there could only be one type of religion in any State.

Believed that the Church should govern society in daily life under a strict code of discipline and morality.

Disagreed with the pomp and ceremony of the established Church and denounced the use of any form of ornaments.

Notes

He was the first person to translate the New Testament without the censure of the Catholic church.

He never considered separating from the Catholic church.

He criticized the abuses of the Catholic church e.g. indulgences.

He demanded direct and uncensored access to the scriptures.

His teachings were against the established church because he disagreed with the pomp and ceremony.

He also disagreed with the need of the clergy as middle-men to God.

Said he was influenced by Erasmus rather than by Luther. When he met Luther, he argued with him over the meaning of Christ's words about the bread and wine during the Last Supper.

He was killed in battle against Swiss Catholics in 1531.

His ideas went further than those of Luther since he saw his religion dictating to society and believed in the formation of courts working on religious principles.

He saw the Church as a community with Christ at the head and all other members of the community as equals - the Presbyterian church.

 

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