Calvin's Teachings

Calvin was born in France and trained as a priest and lawyer. In 1536, Calvin published the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was widely read. In it, he set forth his religious beliefs. He also provided advice on how to organize and run a Protestant church.

Like Luther, Calvin believed that salvation was gained through faith alone. He, too, regarded the Bible as the only source of religious truth. But Calvin put forth a number of ideas of his own.

Calvin taught that God was all-powerful and that humans were by nature sinful. God alone, he said, decided whether an individual achieved eternal life. This idea that God had long ago determined who would gain salvation was known as predestination.

To Calvinists, the world was divided into two kinds of people—saints and sinners. Calvinists tried to live like saints, believing that only those who were saved could live truly Christian lives.

Calvin's Geneva

In 1541, Protestants in the city-state of Geneva in Switzerland asked Calvin to lead their community. In keeping with his teachings, Calvin set up a theocracy, or government run by church leaders.

Calvin's followers in Geneva came to see themselves as a new “chosen people” entrusted by God to build a truly Christian society. Calvinists stressed hard work, discipline, thrift, honesty, and morality. Citizens faced fines or other harsher punishments for offenses such as fighting, swearing, laughing in church, or dancing. To many Protestants, Calvinist Geneva seemed like a model community.

Calvinist Ideas Spread

Reformers from all over Europe visited Geneva and then returned home to spread Calvinist ideas. By the late 1500s, Calvinism had taken root in Germany, France, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland. This new challenge to the Roman Catholic Church set off bloody wars of religion across Europe.

In Germany, Catholics and Lutherans opposed Calvinists. In France, wars raged between French Calvinists and Catholics. Calvinists in the Netherlands organized the Dutch Reformed Church. In Scotland, a Calvinist preacher named John Knox led a religious rebellion, overthrowing the Catholic queen and establishing the Scottish Presbyterian Church.

Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism
  CATHOLICISM LUTHERANISM CALVINISM
SALVATION Salvation is achieved through faith and good works. Salvation is achieved through faith. God alone predetermines who will be saved.
SACRAMENTS Priests perform seven sacraments, or rituals—baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, communion, anointing of the sick, and repentance. Accepts some of the sacraments, but rejects others because rituals cannot erase sin—only God can. Accepts some of the sacraments, but rejects others because rituals cannot erase sin—only God can.
HEAD OF CHURCH Pope Elected councils Council of elders
IMPORTANCE OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE Bible is one source of truth; Church tradition is another. Bible alone is source of truth. Bible alone is source of truth.
HOW BELIEF IS REVEALED Priests interpret the Bible and Church teachings for the people. People read and interpret the Bible for themselves. People read and interpret the Bible for themselves.

Analyze Charts

Who served as head of the Lutheran Church? Why was this an important difference from the organization of the Catholic Church?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments