In the late medieval period the Catholic Church hierarchy had become very involved in the political life of Western Europe. Political intrigues, enormous wealth and corruption were causing a materialistic outlook and undermining its spiritual leadership. However, despite some anticlericalism, believers remained loyal to the Church. The important tensions rose from the secular authorities seeking to lessen the public powers of the Church.
Attempts to reform the Church before Luther's 95 theses, posted in 1517, were undertaken by medieval reformers like the Waldesians in Burgundy (1173), the Italian Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), John Wycliffe in England (c.1320-1384) and Jan Hus in Bohemia (1370-1415). In the 16th. century Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) led the humanistic proposals for Catholic reform by attacking popular superstitions and placing Christ as the supreme moral figure.
Luther asserted that his reform programme was different from previous attempts. He claimed that they attacked corruption, whereas he confronted the root problem: theological deviance from the doctrines of redemption and grace. The key to Luther's reform was his dogmas of sola scriptura (the Bible alone is authoritative) and sola fide (justification is only by faith, not works). He was excommunicated in 1521.
The Reformation movement in Germany expanded and diversified. Huldrych Zwingli blended Church and State in Zurich, building a Christian theocracy. Both Luther and Zwingli agreed on justification by faith but disagreed on transubstantiation. Luther accepted the doctrine, because Christ is everywhere, while Zwingli rejected it.
Another important branch of Protestantism is Calvinism, named after John Calvin. He was a French lawyer who fled France for Switzerland after his conversion to Protestantism. He published a first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, in Basel. It was the first systematic, theological treatise of the new reform movement. In it he agreed with the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith. He also insisted on the dogma of predestination, but viewed communion as symbolic, not substantial, as in the Catholic Church. Calvinism merged with Zwingli's movement into the Reformed Church.
During the 16th. century the Reform spread to other European countries. By the middle of the century Lutheranism was dominant in Northern Europe, while Eastern Europe embraced radical Protestant varities. Henry VIII established the Anglican Church in England, a middle way between Protestantism and 'Catholicism without the Pope'. John Knox established the Calvinist tradition in Scotland as the Presbyterian Church. The centres for the Counter-Reformation were Spain and Italy, where Protestantism did not gain ground.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin, was first published in Latin in 1536 then and in French in 1541, with the definitive editions in 1559 and in 1560. It was published in four volumes.
The tomes are an exposition of the Apostles' Creed under the following headings: God the Creator; Christ as Redeemer; Christ as Sanctifier; the Church and the Communion of Saints
This volumen deals first with knowledge of God the Creator, then turns to knowledge of mankind.
The knowledge of God should not be looked for in mankind, since there it is muted by ignorance or evil intentions, nor in the world, since humanity is incapable of seeing it there. This knowledge must be sought in the Scriptures. It is impious to display forms of God, and worship of images is to be rejected. Only God is worthy of worship. The divine essence is one, with three different persons.
In knowledge of mankind, the creation of the world is dealt with, along with good and bad angels. Human nature and powers are examined.
The last chapters treat human behaviour and the government of the world. Fortune and fate are considered in morality. God is declared free from sin of any kind.
This volume deals with knowledge of God as Redeemer.
The first subject broached is the Fall with its attendant consequences: original sin, free will, the corruption of human nature, and God's actions in the human heart.
Redemption is treated in five concepts:
- the character of the redeemer
- his manifestation to the world in the Law and the Gospel
- the person of Christ as mediator between God and Mankind
- Christ's characteristics: prophetical, kingly, and priestly
- Christ's path as redeemer: crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection, ascension to heaven, and place at the right hand of the Father
The subject here is the grace of Christ within the doctrine of faith.
Faith has its foundation in the operations of the Holy Spirit.
Repentance comes from true faith, not from confession. Indulgences and Purgatory are dealt with.
Justification by faith is described, as is its connection to Christian liberty.
Prayer is shown to be the main exercise of faith and the way to procure God's blessings.
The concept of the Elect is discussed in conjuction with the Lord's favour through grace.
Meditation on the resurrection is portrayed as a means of encouragement in the hard fight against sinfulness.
In the first section the subject is the Church. The distinguishing marks of the unity of the Church are considered. Church government then comes under analysis, as well as its form and use in the primitive Church. The papacy is examined, together with the primacy of the Pope and his usurpation of power as an individual or in Councils. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction is dealt with in promulgation of laws. Discipline and its use and abuse by the Church is analysed.
Section two of this volume explores the sacraments, particularly of baptism and the Lord's supper. The other five sacraments are held to be false.
The third part of the book is about Civil Government under the headings of Magistrates, Laws, and People.
"By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death." Jean Calvin
Calvin insists that there is an evolution of biblical revelation of the doctrine of predestination. He affirms that Abraham was chosen by God, including his descendents, the people of Israel. Then he points out that others were rejected by God, such as Esau. He adds that Paul both cites the same text as himself, Malachi 1/2-3, and also quotes the Old Testament in Romans 9/15 to support predestination.
Calvin cautions that predestination lies in the will of God and that humans cannot penetrate that will. Acceptance is the only conclusion. However, he adds that election does not take away human responsibility.
Calvin then addresses the mistaken notion that election removes human responsibility. The doctrine of predestination should comfort believers and encourage them to greater holiness, which is what God desires. He claims that Christ and the apostles used the dogma to comfort the humble and humble the proud.
Calvinism, along with some texts of Augustine, Luther and the Jansenists, adhere to the doctrine of 'double predestination'. This concept involves the belief that God has chosen from eternity who will be saved and who damned, without reference to their merits in faith or love.
At the Synod of Dordt (1618–19), in Holland, predestination was one of the controversies settled between Armenianism and Calvinism. Followers of Jacob Arminius who questioned some of Calvin's teachings presented their viewpoints. They believed in God's election based on foreseeing faith, Christ's atonement for all who freely chose it, limited human depravity, God's grace can be resisted and a fall from salvation as possible. This liberal view of predestination was rejected and hardline Calvinism was upheld. The conclusions were affirmed as a:
"...judgment, in which both the true view, agreeing with God’s Word, concerning the aforesaid five points of doctrine, is explained, and the false view, disagreeing with God’s Word, is rejected.”
The 5 Doctrines of Grace emerged from the Synod of Dordt. They are summarised in the acronym TULIP:
- Total depravity. All mankind is in a depraved state due to sin. After the Fall humans were corrupted by sin and incapable of obeying God's law. Humankind have rebelled against God and can only do good through the Holy Spirit. Virtuous human acts are depraved if they are not done out of love for God, despite conforming to biblical laws.
- Unconditional election states that God rescues sinners due to His own free will. Humanity cannot bring about salvation through action or decision. Mankind is spiritually dead and needs God to elect believers for salvation. This is an unconditional decision of divine grace, not human works, since election predates existence. The Scriptures say that the elected are those who placed their faith in Christ (Acts 13:48).
- Limited atonement is a reference to the forgiveness of humanity's sins through Jesus' life and sacrifice on the cross.
Calvinism does not extend atonement to everyone, only to the elect. Salvation through Christ's sacrifice is limited to redeeming all of God's elect.
The elect are believers and Calvinism cites Acts 13:48 in support of this dogma:
“as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.”
- Irresistible grace teaches that divine saving grace may be resisted by some for a time, but that resistance will finally be vanquished. The divinity cannot be thwarted. Election does not depend on our responce, only on God's will.
- Perseverance of the saints means that once someone is saved they cannot lose their salvation. It is eternally safe. Scripture states that when a person believes in Christ they obtain eternal life (John 5:24; 6:47).
The theological concept of justification is the process through which sinners are declared to be leading a life that is pleasing to God.
Calvin and previous reformers aimed to separate justification from works on the part of believers. However he insisted on a twofold grace: believers are justified and also sanctified by the Spirit. He considers a person justified not by their works, but through faith. This is an acceptance of Christ which enables the application of God's grace.
Believers can be righteous only because of the atonement of Christ who opened righteousness for all humanity. However, neither personal faith nor works justifies sinners. This is a free act of the grace of God.
In sum, humans are condemned and there is only one way in which they can become righteous. It is spelled out in the gospel. Jesus became the representative of sinners and their substitute. His life and death paid the price of atonement allowing sinners to achieve justification through faith in Christ.
In Calvinist theology sola fide (by faith alone), refers to justification by faith, that is, living in a manner pleasing to God. However, faith does not cover salvation. This is the act of the divinity which chooses the elect in predestination. Living righteously through believing in Christ, and indeed being 'born again', does not mean being predestined, only that you enter the divine lottery.