The spiritual tradition known as Calvinism was founded during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century by French-born theologian John Calvin. Calvin's radical proposals for the reformation of Church doctrine shaped worship in the "Reformed Faith" and made him, after Martin Luther, one of the most influential figures of the Reformation.
About John Calvin
John Calvin was born in France in 1509. Calvin studied law at university, though his family was strongly Catholic and had hoped he would become a priest. In the late 1520s, Calvin became increasingly interested in the growing Reform movement in Europe. By the early 1530s, Calvin had to flee Paris because of his associations with various Reformers who opposed the Catholic Church. Soon after, Calvin broke with the Church published the first edition of his book, "Institutes of the Christian Religion." His fame as a theologian began to spread. Ultimately, he settled in Geneva, where he wrote, lectured and preached until his death in 1564.
Calvinism: Basic Beliefs
Calvin did not found a faith or church known as "Calvinist." Calvinism is part of what is commonly called the "Reformed faith." Central to Calvinist thought and belief, as the "Encyclopedia of Religion and Society" describes it, is faithfulness "to the Christian scriptures, always seeking to illuminate the manner in which the Divine God initiates and maintains a communal relationship with human creation." One of Calvin's most important notions, which distinguished him from other reformers like Martin Luther, was "predestination." According to this theory, man could do nothing to earn salvation, as everything was willed in advance -- or predestined -- by God.
The Five Points of Calvinism: TULIP
The fundamental beliefs of Calvinism -- the five points of Calvinism -- are often explained using the acrostic "TULIP," which stands for: Total depravity (original sin permeates every aspect of a person); Unconditional election (God has chosen those who will be saved and those who will be damned); Limited atonement (Christ died for some of mankind, not the whole of it); Irresistible grace (those called by God cannot resist salvation); and Preservation of the Saints (those who have been saved will remain saved).
Calvinist worship is relatively austere in nature, focusing on sincerity and authenticity in praising God and expressing a commitment to God's will. Calvin emphasized simplicity in worship, and sought the removal of anything that might distract from the contemplation of God and interfere with the growth of a person's faith and spiritual life. This included the removal of icons, images and relics from churches, along with candles, incense and instrumental music. Calvinist worship is based on the "Regulative Principle:" Whatever God requires through scripture is to be done -- such as baptism and communion -- and whatever is not in the scripture is forbidden. This is in contrast with, for instance, Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism, which may permit worship practices not compelled by the Bible as long as they are not in conflict with it. Today, there are few agreed upon standards for worship in the Reformed tradition, with many churches, for instance, making extensive use of music in church services or borrowing from other liturgical traditions. Reformed, Presbyterian and many Baptist churches consider themselves Calvinist, though they vary in how strictly they follow Calvinist doctrine.
- Calvin College: About John Calvin
- Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Biography of John Calvin
- New Advent: The Catholic Encyclopedia: Calvinism
- Encyclopedia of Religion and Society: Calvinism
- Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics: Calvinism
- Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics: Some Questions About the Regulative Principle
Alex Carpenter has worked as a music, history and culture writer since 1998. He has contributed to a range of scholarly journals, online databases, websites, newspapers and encyclopedias, including the "All Music Guide" and the "Charlottetown Guardian." Carpenter holds master's degree and Ph.D. in music.