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9-08-2015, 15:34

Calvinism

One of the limitations of the Peace of Augsburg was the fact that it recognized only Lutheran Protestantism and Catholicism as legitimate confessions, and by 1555 the most dynamic form of Protestantism was that inspired by John Calvin (1509–64) Calvin was born in France and originally studied law; in about 1533 he became a Protestant and fl ed to Geneva, where he quickly published the Institutes of the Christian Religion , a synthesis of Protestant thought arranged in a logical, systematic way. In the Institutes , Calvin sets out his key doctrines: God is infi nite in power and sovereignty; humans are completely sinful and depraved, saved only through the atoning power of Jesus Christ; redemptive grace and the possibility of union with Christ are free gifts of God; there is no free will, for God has determined who will be saved through the redemptive power of Christ and who will not. The latter idea, called predestination , had been asserted by Christian thinkers since St. Augustine in the fourth century and discussed even earlier, but Calvin made it absolute. God’s decision occurred at the beginning of time, foreordaining some to eternal damnation and others to eternal salvation. Even Adam and Eve did not have free will, for God had determined what their actions in the Garden of Eden would be. This “terrible decree” – Calvin’s own words – was based simply on God’s will, which is the highest justice. One’s own actions could do nothing to change one’s fate, but many Calvinists came to believe that hard work, thrift, and proper moral conduct could serve as signs that one was among the “elect” chosen for salvation. Any occupation or profession could be a God-given “calling,” and should be done with diligence, thanksgiving, and dedication. Salvation had already been decided, so that human energies could be put to fulfi lling God’s will in the world. Calvinism appealed to a wide spectrum of people, but it proved especially popular with urban merchants, professionals, and artisans, who were attracted to its vigor and dynamism. Calvin’s writings attracted the attention of city leaders in Geneva, who had just thrown out their bishop and were setting up new city and church governance structures. They asked for Calvin’s assistance in this, and he spent the rest of his life – with one short break – in Geneva, transforming the city into a community based on his religious principles. Calvin was fi rm in the notion that the leaders of the church should have ultimate authority, and that church and state should act together. The most powerful organization became the Consistory, a group of pastors and lay elders, or presbyters, charged with investigating and disciplining deviations from proper doctrine and conduct, and ensuring the welfare of the city. A well-disciplined city, like a well-disciplined individual, might be seen as evidence of God’s election, and would certainly provide an appropriate setting for those on their way to heaven. Thus the Consistory sought out religious dissenters, but also those guilty of drunkenness, profanity, gambling, adultery, family fi ghts, absence from church, dancing, and premarital sex. Its punishments ranged from scolding to corporal punishments such as whipping to excommunication, which brought civil death as well as separation from the church, as excommunicants could not make a will, plead in court, inherit property, or otherwise act as a legal person. Those charged with serious crimes, such as adultery, murder, heresy, or witchcraft, were tried by a civil court that could enforce the death penalty. Most public amusements, such as theatre, dances, dice and card games, and even drinking, were prohibited or restricted, both because they could lead to more clearly immoral action and because they were a waste of time for the elect. Religious images were removed from churches. Deacons were appointed to oversee poor relief and the care of widows and orphans. Members of the Consistory regularly questioned people about what was going on in their neighborhoods, and encouraged children to report suspicious or improper activities of older family members. Along with the Consistory, Calvin set up an academy for those who wished to become clergy, providing them with theological instruction and practical, on-the-job training as local chaplains or assistant pastors before sending them out on their own. Young men trained at the Genevan Academy spread Calvinist ideas into other parts of Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Scotland, Hungary, and Poland, often working with local leaders who had visited or been religious refugees in Geneva and had been impressed by what they saw. Calvin’s ideas on many theological issues, including the Eucharist, fi t with those of Zwingli, so that his followers and those of Zwingli accepted several joint statements of doctrine, and “Reformed” Protestantism gradually came to mean Calvinist as well as Zwinglian. Calvinism spread in different patterns in various parts of Europe. In areas where nobles were relatively free to make decisions about religion on their own lands, such as Germany and Poland, Calvinism became the state church, even though it was not offi cially recognized by the Peace of Augsburg. In England, Calvinist reformers worked within the state church to move theology and discipline in a Calvinist direction, which came to be called “Puritanism.” In Scotland, John Knox (1505?–72), who had studied with Calvin in Geneva, worked with the Scottish Parliament to set up a Calvinist state church, the “Kirk” of Scotland, with consistories called kirk sessions or presbyteries enforcing discipline. Scottish settlers took Calvinism to Ireland later in the century, where the state church was similar to the Church of England, but most people were still Catholic. In all of these places Calvinist churches were established more or less openly, but in areas that were offi cially Catholic, such as France and the Netherlands, they were initally organized secretly, though later more openly. Because they were working in areas larger than just one canton, Calvinists outside Geneva established regional representative institutions to make decisions about broader issues of church policy. All bodies from local consistories to regional institutions involved lay elders in setting church policy; thus, though Calvinism is sometimes called a “theocracy” because pastors had a great infl uence on all aspects of daily life, what was more novel in the sixteenth century was laymen having a strong voice in running the church. This enhanced the appeal of Calvinism for many groups, who also combined it with political grievances. Nobles in France who accepted Calvinism saw it as a way to combat the power of the monarchy as well as the papacy, while urban residents in the Netherlands saw it as a way to assert their independence from their Habsburg rulers, especially Charles V’s son Philip II, who was intent on strengthening royal authority.

 

 

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