Protestantism–Religion Glossary III


Understanding religion is tough even for those who were lucky enough to receive a non-abusive education. Navigating the numerous inadequacies and misunderstandings that surround this subject is a multidisciplinary endeavour, involving psychology, history, economics and to a certain extent, religion.

Martin Luther, a German, was the first priest to publicly criticize the Catholic tenets in a coherent, convincing and ultimately “viral” fashion, apparently incensed by the selling of indulgences. While he believed in salvation through good works, John Calvin, a Frenchman who came 26 years after, was either seduced by “predestination” (salvation cannot be made dependent on human decisions) or was simply trying to find some middle ground with Catholic orthodoxy. While Luther thought the Church should be subordinated to the state yet separated, Calvin disagreed considering the Church superior and independent, but this may simply be a matter of circumstance:

Calvin, who began writing nearly twenty years after, did not have to face the question of separation. The breach was a fact. He simply knew that Rome persecuted "Lutherans," that she handed them over to the state to be burned, and that she accused them falsely of subversion.

After the excommunication of Luther and condemnation of the Reformation by the Pope, Calvin’s writings brought a certain unity to the various splinter groups. It was, in a way, an attempt to reconcile with the tradition strongly rejected by Luther. The other significant difference was on how the two interpreted the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, or what the Catholics called the transubstantiation dogma.


Luther was the son of a farmer turned miner, was jovial, quick-tempered and did not mince his words. In his early life he hoped that he could convert all Jews to Christianity, but in the latter part of his life he became a grumpy old bigot. He would often engage in what today would be called “trolling”; for instance, in On the Jews and Their Lies, he says, among other things (cf wikipedia):

In the treatise, Luther describes Jews as a "base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth." Luther wrote that they are "full of the devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine," and the synagogue is an "incorrigible whore and an evil slut".

Such trolling inspired the Nazis, Henry Ford’s The International Jew and influenced Germany’s attitude toward its Jewish citizens since the Reformation and until the Holocaust. However, he did recognize early on that Jews could not possibly convert out of hatred:

In 1519 Luther challenged the doctrine Servitus Judaeorum ("Servitude of the Jews"), established in Corpus Juris Civilis by Justinian I in 529. He wrote: "Absurd theologians defend hatred for the Jews. ... What Jew would consent to enter our ranks when he sees the cruelty and enmity we wreak on them—that in our behavior towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?"

In the 1523 essay That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, he went even further:

If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life, but only subject them to popishness and monkery... If the apostles, who also were Jews, had dealt with us Gentiles as we Gentiles deal with the Jews, there would never have been a Christian among the Gentiles ... When we are inclined to boast of our position [as Christians] we should remember that we are but Gentiles, while the Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are...If we really want to help them, we must be guided in our dealings with them not by papal law but by the law of Christian love. We must receive them cordially, and permit them to trade and work with us, that they may have occasion and opportunity to associate with us, hear our Christian teaching, and witness our Christian life. If some of them should prove stiff-necked, what of it? After all, we ourselves are not all good Christians either.


After an emotionally tumultuous youth, Luther seems to have understood that salvation came not through works, but through grace and by faith (Rom. 1:17). In 1519, Luther underwent what he called his "tower experience," when he suddenly became convinced of the truth of the certainty of the gospel - the unforgettable experience of switching from despair and uncertainty to true faith and conviction. This experience was decisive in his life, and dramatically symbolizes his discovery of the Gospel.

In contrast to Luther’s mercurial, explosive personality, Calvin was calm and collected:

Many think of Calvin as a cold, judgmental, and inflexible theocrat. The 19th century historian, John Fiske described Calvin as "the constitutional lawyer of the Reformation, with vision as clear, with head as cool, with soul as dry, as any old solicitor in rusty black ...His sternness was that of the judge who dooms a criminal to the gallows." But historical evidence shows that Calvin attracted many, varied, and warmly attached friends who spoke of the sensitiveness and the charm that were beneath his shy and withdrawn manner in public life. And judging by his correspondence, he was a caring man. If one thing stands, out especially from Calvin's letters, it is his concern for people and their salvation.


The basic tenets of Calvinism are Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Soli Deo Gloria. Justification through faith alone is a concept first espoused by Pelagius around 400 AD. Augustine was more prolific and managed to drown opposition to his pessimistic views which, nonetheless, gained the Pope’s support.


If the above chronology is hard to read, you might want to have a look at the excellent presentation The Protestant Reformation Through Maps. Alternatively, have a look at Europe’s divides and European Religions (full links below). Says James Mayfield, the Chairman of European Heritage Library:

Although the Netherlands, like most countries in Europe and also the United States, is overall secular, statistics typically indicate that the largest single church is Catholic, despite the fact that Protestantism has been the prime mover of Dutch history.

The original Reformers, aka part of the “Magisterial Reformation” did not want to break the Catholic church, but felt that the Catholic bureaucracy had become far too cumbersome and expensive to fulfill its role and, to add insult to the injury, had deviated from Jesus’ teachings. Having failed to change the Catholic church, they were excommunicated but did obtain significant support from the moneyed classes and from their own governments, in whole or in part. This caused numerous civil wars and massacres. There were also other reformers who relied more on Reason and pushed the requested changes further than their governments were willing to support them – they were called “Radical Reformers”. The Radicals called Lutheran theologians “papists” and suffered significant persecutions in both Catholic as well as Protestant countries.

This new emphasis on self-study and self-determination is considered by Max Webber and many others to be the basis of the development advantage of Protestant countries over their Catholic brethren (and to a larger extent over the rest of the obedient Orthodox Christianity). It may also explain why many Christian Orthodox people have such an aversion toward NGOs. In Romania for instance, people do not donate the 2% of income allowed by law even though it is fully tax deductible. On the other hand, the change and “awakening” from an amorphous mass waiting for the priest to fart before raising their eyes to look up to the stars was not all that peachy (cf Gale Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World):

Traditionally placed after Lutheranism as the second major part of magisterial Protestantism, "Calvinism" is now used by experts as a somewhat old-fashioned shorthand for something they prefer to call the Reformed theological tradition, which spawned a cluster of different but doctrinally related churches scattered across several disconnected parts of Europe and its colonies; it included many other Protestant theologians from several European countries, including places where this type of church never flourished. The Reformed tradition preceded John Calvin (1509–1564), who was simply its single most influential exponent; indeed, "Calvinist" was an insult coined in 1553 to describe Protestants who were willing to burn other non-Catholic Christians as heretics. (..) Experts often prefer to begin the history of Calvinism not with Calvin himself, but with Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) and the early Reformed tradition in Switzerland. By the time Calvin became a Protestant theologian and reached Geneva, the Protestant movement begun in Zurich by Zwingli and continued by Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) after Zwingli's early death at the battle of Kappel in 1531 had deeply colored the theological and political backgrounds where Calvin worked. Bullinger's forty-four years in Zurich over-lapped Calvin's ministry in Geneva (1536–1564) on both ends; fortunately for the Reformed church, his relations with Calvin were entirely amicable. Bullinger's influence on Calvin is difficult to assess: Bullinger's writings saw about three-fourths as many sixteenth-century editions as Calvin's; and Bullinger was a prodigious letter writer, with a corpus of about fifteen thousand extant letters (roughly three times as many as Calvin), so extensive that no scholar has yet managed to read all of them.

It seems that Bullinger was much like a prolific blogger: his genius was too thinly spread. Here’s the most important difference between Luther and Calvin and also one that explains many self-unaware deists’ incongruities:

Calvin's emphasis on predestination bothered Bullinger and other fellow Protestant theologians, who agreed with most of the theory but thought it was imprudent to preach in public. However, this doctrine did not necessarily frighten Calvin's local audience. One of them, Michel Roset (1534–1613), a Genevan chronicler, claimed that "great and small spoke of the subject" and called it "a singular grace and counsel of God, who by this means made this subject of predestination (previously obscure and almost inaccessible for the most part) most familiar in this church for the consolation and assurance of its children, who know that their salvation is founded on his eternal and unchangeable judgement" (quoted in Benedict, p. 303). To an optimist, it provided a source of comfort, rather than anxiety, in troubled times.

The “Calvinist conspiracy” was in full swing in the 16th century and quickly found that it needed its own bureaucracy:

The most famous institution associated with Calvin, the Genevan consistory, was undoubtedly central to his purpose of reforming Geneva's inhabitants into correctly educated Christians who behaved as such. Bullinger, his indispensable ally in Zurich, expressed uneasiness about its "excessive sharpness" and its independence from the magistracy. Nevertheless, Calvin's consistory was widely admired and copied because early Reformed churches needed some way to maintain discipline over their members so that the Lord's Supper—their only important ceremony, usually celebrated only four times a year—could be properly administered. The elders, who staffed and implemented proper Christian discipline, comprised the third of Calvin's four orders of a Reformed ministry, ranking behind the rather ill-defined teaching ministry and ahead of the deacons who were responsible primarily for social welfare. (The four orders are preachers, teachers, elders, and deacons.) (..) By year's end, although most people were summoned for faulty doctrine or failure to attend sermons, others were accused of quarrelling in public, fornication, blasphemy, gambling, singing parodies of hymns, using superstitious cures, or even being disobedient to their parents. Although the consistory occasionally investigated doctrinal issues, such behavioural problems preoccupied it by the mid-1540s and remained predominant until Voltaire's day.


Did this work? Absolutely!

Only after a hard struggle in the mid-1550s was Calvin able to impose the consistory's autonomous power to excommunicate obstinate sinners. Its activities multiplied prodigiously. At its statistical peak in the late 1560s, Geneva's consistory summoned almost one adult in eight every year for reprimands. Nearby rural parishes, which were far slower to become "Calvinist," saw many people excommunicated for superstition, dancing, singing lewd songs, or fornication. Urban misbehaviour was different, mainly involving quarrels with family or neighbours and a huge range of "scandals," including such trivial offenses as a woman urinating in a cooking pot or a man urinating in the street without turning his back. No other place in Europe, Protestant or Catholic, even remotely approached these levels of official moral surveillance.

Such extreme measures apparently got results. For example, some bits of statistical evidence support the claim of John Knox (c. 1510–1572) that Calvin's Geneva became "the most perfect school of Christ seen on earth since the days of the apostles." One indication comes from baptisms of illegitimate children, which were recorded throughout Europe in this era. At Geneva, they reached the lowest levels yet found by demographic historians: barely one illegitimate child per thousand live births, a ratio that seems unimaginably low anywhere in the world today. Another indication gains value because it comes from an extremely hostile source, an Italian Jesuit who visited Geneva in 1580. "What caused me some surprise," he noted, "was that during the three days I was in Geneva, I never heard any blasphemy, swearing, or indecent language, which," he hastened to add, "I attributed to diabolic cunning to deceive the simpleminded by having the appearance of a reformed life" (quoted in Benedict, p. 103).

What Calvin has managed to do was to “cleanse” the very moral fibre of his fellow city dwellers. He did so by simply using the human monkeys’ desire to be part of the group (which has distinct and obvious evolutionary roots) and the universal fear of death, sublimated in the desire to “attain salvation”.

So why did Calvinism spread so readily, how was it different from Luther’s teachings and why did it succeed in replacing it in some places but failed in others?

Although no early "Calvinist" churches adopted exactly the same confession of faith, they shared many common features. One easy and simple way to distinguish them from other Protestants is by considering what sixteenth-century theologians called notae, or marks of the true church. Luther—and every other Protestant leader—insisted that preaching the Word of God correctly was the very first requirement. Nearly all of them added a second mark: the correct administration of the sacraments (Protestants agreed that there were only two, baptism and the Eucharist, but disagreed vehemently from the outset about how to perform them). Beyond these two, Luther occasionally mentioned other signs of a true church, including proper discipline; some of his more radical rivals added even more (the founder of the Mennonites had six, while other Anabaptists went up to a dozen). In general, churches within Calvin's Reformed tradition acknowledged only three notae, placing a correct form of church discipline immediately after correct preaching and administration of both sacraments. Interestingly, Calvin himself, despite the care he lavished on creating and maintaining Geneva's consistory, never insisted that discipline was a necessary mark of the true church. But many early official confessions of Reformed churches, including those made during Calvin's lifetime between 1560 and 1562 in Scotland, Belgium, and Hungary, made discipline their third and final mark. It was clearly a fundamental aspect of mainstream Calvinism and remained so.

After the Augsburg peace (1555) most rulers adopted the famous formula cuius regio, eius religio and consequently the spread of Calvinism was moderated by such attitudes. In Scandinavian countries, which to this date keep crosses on their flags, Calvinism did not spread but Luther’s teachings were strongly anchored.

In the Netherlands, a powerful but distant and unpopular sovereign ultimately failed to prevent Calvinism from triumphing in half of his lands—although not in the regions where it had originated. (..) In eastern Europe, state power was far weaker, and the Reformed church acquired a different configuration. The widespread use of Latin among the nobility and literate minority enabled Calvin and Bullinger to get their message across in Polish- or Magyar-speaking lands. Calvin sent numerous letters to Poland's king and leading noblemen in 1555, and local Protestant churches invited him to come and advise them. Before the tide began turning against them after 1580 and exposed the shallowness of their roots, over 250 Reformed churches had been established in Poland and another 225 in the Lithuanian parts of the kingdom; at that moment, Calvinists formed the largest single religious group in the Polish Senate. Meanwhile, Calvinism sank much deeper roots in the kingdom of Hungary, shattered by a Turkish victory that left Budapest under Ottoman occupation for 150 years. By 1600, the Reformed church claimed almost half of Hungary's population, and they even proselytized among the Orthodox Romanians. Many of Hungary's Reformed churches, like those in the Palatinate, managed to survive despite political persecutions in the seventeenth century.

Perhaps in the 17th century, when the Reform suffered setbacks and peacefully lost ground to Catholicism, do we find the source of that misinformed Romanian official accusation of Calvinist conspiracy:

Historians still debate the extent to which an international Calvinist conspiracy provoked the Thirty Years' War in 1618 by encouraging the ill-fated adventure of the elector palatine Frederick V, who became Bohemia's "Winter King." It was a last gasp, like the final Huguenot rebellion in France, which broke out in 1621 and ended with Cardinal Richelieu's capture of the greatest Huguenot stronghold, La Rochelle, in 1628. Ironically, the only successful military rising by seventeenth-century Calvinists came against a Protestant ruler, Charles I of England, in 1639. In places where it had become established, like the Netherlands or Scotland, Reformed church membership continued to increase, and Calvinism sank much deeper roots among the population. But elsewhere, it often receded into insignificance. Even in Calvin's native France, where the Reformed church seemed safely protected by the Edict of Nantes after 1598, its seventeenth-century membership eroded slowly before it was formally abolished by Louis XIV in 1685. Most historians consider the seventeenth century the apogee of a "confessionalized" Europe, and Calvinism fits this pattern perfectly. (..)

The most important features linking the practices of Europe's various "confessionalized" Reformed churches—and simultaneously separating them from other Protestant as well as Catholic traditions—revolved around their methods of disciplining church members for various forms of misbehavior. Wherever the Reformed faith became an official church, as in Scotland, the Netherlands, or the Palatinate, its organizations for ecclesiastical discipline operated hand in glove with public authorities. Records from such institutions in various parts of Europe enable us to form some general impressions about how Calvinist discipline actually worked in the heyday of confessionalism. The first thing to notice is that no established Reformed church even remotely approached the levels of investigation or punishments found in Calvin's Geneva. Consistories in Scotland or French Switzerland summoned between one adult in thirty and one in sixty each year, while those in Holland or France excommunicated no more than one adult in one hundred fifty each year; both ratios were roughly six times higher in Calvin's Geneva.

Another distinctive feature of Reformed Protestantism was its remarkably small number of official holidays. Calvin himself saw no need and no scriptural basis for any holiday other than Sunday, and Reformed Protestants usually celebrated extremely few of them. (..) The mainstream of established Calvinism, the Reformed churches of Zurich, Bern, France, the Netherlands, and the Palatinate, celebrated four holidays besides Sundays: Christmas, Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost; the Dutch and the Palatinate also added New Year's Day. Keeping only a handful of holy days marked an enormous departure from Catholic practices, which in most places celebrated anywhere from forty to sixty holidays each year. Other mainstream Protestants were far less radical than Calvinists: Lutherans kept a large number of holy days, while the Church of England became a target for Puritan scorn by observing a total of twenty-seven holidays. Early Massachusetts went further and took the most extreme Calvinist position about the Christian calendar: not only did the colony ban all holidays, but its General Court briefly reformed the "pagan" names of the months as well, dating by "first month," "second month," and so forth.

Many Calvinists compensated for this paucity or absence of other holidays with a strict observance of Sunday, almost in an exact correlation.

This is, in my view, the reason why Netherlands appears to be the least “generous” Christmas giver, suggesting that Scrooge was Dutch:

Christmas-Gifts-EconomistDespite this signature austerity or perhaps because of it, Calvinism spread to the new colonies of South Africa and New Amsterdam. According to wikipedia, it layed the foundations of Capitalism:

One school of thought attributes Calvinism with setting the stage for the later development of capitalism in northern Europe. In this view, elements of Calvinism represented a revolt against the medieval condemnation of usury and, implicitly, of profit in general. Such a connection was advanced in influential works by R. H. Tawney (1880–1962) and by Max Weber (1864–1920).

Calvin expressed himself on usury in a 1545 letter to a friend, Claude de Sachin, in which he criticized the use of certain passages of scripture invoked by people opposed to the charging of interest. He reinterpreted some of these passages, and suggested that others of them had been rendered irrelevant by changed conditions. He also dismissed the argument (based upon the writings of Aristotle) that it is wrong to charge interest for money because money itself is barren. He said that the walls and the roof of a house are barren, too, but it is permissible to charge someone for allowing him to use them. In the same way, money can be made fruitful.

He qualified his view, however, by saying that money should be lent to people in dire need without hope of interest, while a modest interest rate of 5% should be permitted in relation to other borrowers.

Just when Calvinism was starting to dominate Reform, a largely unknown professor at Leyden University voiced some sharp criticism of the mainstream Dutch views:

Arminius taught that Calvinist predestination and unconditional election made God the author of evil. Instead, Arminius insisted, God's election was an election of believers and therefore was conditioned on faith. Furthermore, Arminius argued, God's exhaustive foreknowledge did not require a doctrine of determinism.

After Arminius’ death, the doctrine crystallized in Remonstrance:

  1. election was conditional on faith
  2. Christ’s atonement was unlimited in extent
  3. total depravity
  4. prevenient and resistible grace
  5. possibility of apostasy

Remonstrants believed in the supremacy of civil authorities over church matters. It eventually evolved into Methodism, while Presbyterians find their roots in Calvinism.


Even though it is debatable to what extent was Calvinism suffocating to its followers, few would question its positive effect on individuality and individualism:

Calvinism's distinctive cultural contributions to the modern world seem more problematic than they did fifty years ago, when historians confidently assumed that Reformed churches had consistently opposed tyranny and fostered individualism. They seem vastly more problematic than they did a century ago, when the German sociologist Max Weber asserted a causal connection between Calvinist self-discipline, which he called "other-worldly asceticism," and economic success. The best way to approach such major issues today is by noting that although Calvinism's various European branches were mostly stable or defensive after 1650, they remained dynamic in Europe's overseas colonies and former colonies until the twentieth century. The consequences seem peculiarly paradoxical in America, where advanced education has become entirely secular, while a crypto-Calvinist "salvation- ist" evangelical Protestantism maintains an enduring hold over much of the population.

Few readers today will swallow the assertion that New England's Calvinist Puritanism "produced a type of human being that no just and informed mind can think of without admiration" (Mc Neill, pp. 340–341). Nevertheless, Calvinism, argues its most prominent recent historian, "still merits a prominent role in certain metanarratives of Western modernization" (Benedict, p. 542). By shrinking beliefs about holy days and seasons to a minimum, it affected a more thorough, although incomplete, "disenchantment of the world" than its rivals, and its strict codes of individual conduct powerfully reinforced individual consciences.

The interested reader would be well advised to “absorb” the following comparison table among different doctrines:

Topic Lutheranism Calvinism Arminianism
Human will Total Depravity without free will until spiritual regeneration Total Depravity without free will permanently due to the nature of divine sovereignty Total depravity, with prevenient grace, does not preclude free will
Election Unconditional election to salvation only Unconditional election to salvation with those outside the elect foreordained to damnation (double-predestination) Conditional election on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief
Justification Justification of all people made available at Christ's death Justification is limited to those predestined to salvation, completed at Christ's death Justification made possible for all through Christ's death, but only completed upon placing faith in Jesus (hypothetical universalism)
Conversion Monergistic, through the means of grace, resistible Monergistic, through the inner calling of the Holy Spirit, irresistible Synergistic, resistible due to the common, sufficient grace of free will
Preservation and apostasy Falling away is possible, but reflection on one's faith provides assurance of preservation Perseverance of the saints: the eternally elect in Christ will necessarily persevere in faith and subsequent holiness until the end Preservation is conditional upon continued faith in Christ; reflection on one's faith provides assurance

According to Johan D. Tangelder, in a letter which Calvin wrote to Luther, but which he never received or read, for Luther's friend Melachton, did not think it advisable to deliver it to him, Calvin asked Luther's opinion about a certain matter which gave him much trouble. Beautiful and magnificent is the ending of this letter. "For I would preferably converse with you personally, not only on this matter, but also on other matters. But that which is not granted to us on earth, will presently, I hope, be imparted to us in the Kingdom of God. Hail to you, most excellent man, servant of Christ, and honoured father. May God bless you always through his Spirit until the end, to the mutual well being of his church."

Sources / More info: wiki-protestantism, answers-calvinism, ga-lvc, bt-eu-div, euh-relmap, eco-gifts, rr-luther-v-calvin (pdf), Church & Democracy PDF, wiki-trans, lexloiz-calvin-luther, hanko-lvc, wiki-ca

blog comments powered by Disqus