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CALVINISM. 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 (15091564), 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. Therefore, this entry will describe some of Calvin's achievements in his adopted city of Geneva, which certainly deserves its nickname of the "Calvinist Rome," and examine the various fates of Calvinism not only where it became the established religion (as in Scotland, New England, and the Netherlands), but also where it enjoyed only limited success, as in Calvin's native France, the German Empire, and England. Calvinism's enduring reputation as an unusually austere and highly disciplinarian form of Protestantism, notorious for an obsession with the problem of double predestination, seems at least partly justified.

Experts often prefer to begin the history of Calvinism not with Calvin himself, but with Huldrych Zwingli (14841531) 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 (15041575) 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 (15361564) 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.

Although Calvin is most famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which he reworked and expanded several times between 1536 and 1560, it was only one of his many published works. They were widely distributed across Europe, going through almost five hundred different editions in nine different languages between 1532 and 1600. Almost two hundred titles by Calvin were printed in his native French and over one hundred fifty more in Latin, the best vehicle for reaching educated people anywhere in Europe. Another sixty-six editions of Calvin's works appeared in English before 1600, and twenty-eight editions in German. However, the number of sixteenth-century vernacular editions of Calvin's works does not necessarily match the degree of success his ideas enjoyed; for example, there were only fifteen editions in Dutch, although Calvinism became the official state church of the Dutch Republic, barely exceeding his eleven editions in Italian, when Italy had no Calvinist churches whatsoever.

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 (15341613), 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 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 Suppertheir only important ceremony, usually celebrated only four times a yearcould 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.)

Geneva's new consistory began work in February 1542, shortly after Geneva's government had approved Calvin's set of ecclesiastical ordinances. Lay elders always presided, but Calvin personally attended its meetings whenever he could; in the 1540s, he was frequently the only pastor present. Although its first ten cases concerned marriage promises and it soon handled a few divorce cases, such matters were never its principal concerns. Within a month, the consistory required people summoned before it to demonstrate a satisfactory knowledge of the Lord's Prayer and a short version of the Apostles' Creed in their spoken language, not "papist" Latin. By year's end, although most people were summoned for faulty doctrine or failure to attend sermons, others were accused of quarreling 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 behavioral problems preoccupied it by the mid-1540s and remained predominant until Voltaire's day.

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 misbehavior was different, mainly involving quarrels with family or neighbors 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. 15101572) 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).


Calvinism and the Reformed tradition expanded rapidly after the mid-sixteenth century. From their original base in modern Switzerland (its early French-speaking strongholds, including Geneva, did not become Swiss cantons until the nineteenth century), they reached into most parts of European Christendom, except Scandinavia, which remained entirely Lutheran, and Mediterranean Catholic countries with national Inquisitions (Spain, Portugal, and Italy), where its nascent movements were successfully repressed. Everywhere elsefrom southern France to Scotland in western Europe, through the Netherlands and scattered bits of the Holy Roman Empire, as far east as Poland and Hungarynetworks of Reformed churches were established, decreeing professions of faith and organizing synods. Most of them also included disciplinary organizations modeled to some degree on Calvin's consistory.

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. Lutherand every other Protestant leaderinsisted 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.


In the Holy Roman Empire, the year 1555 saw the Religious Peace of Augsburg with its famous formula cuius regio, eius religio the religion of the prince determines the religion of his people. This was precisely the moment when Calvinism began spreading extremely rapidly across many parts of Europe, and its relative degree of success usually depended heavily on the ruler's attitudes toward the Reformed faith. For example, in France, Calvin's native land and Europe's largest kingdom, steadfast royal opposition prevented its triumph. In the Holy Roman Empire, only one important ruler adopted it: an electoral prince established Calvinism after 1563 much as a Saxon elector had established Lutheranism a generation earlier. Elsewhere, unusual circumstances did enable it to triumph twice despite a sovereign's opposition. In Scotland, an incompetent sovereign enabled Calvinism to become the official faith, while in England, a Protestant (but not Calvinist) sovereign struggled to tame it. In the Netherlands, a powerful but distant and unpopular sovereign ultimately failed to prevent Calvinism from triumphing in half of his landsalthough not in the regions where it had originated.

In France, the Reformed faith grew with amazing rapidity in the late 1550s, establishing clandestine churches in towns throughout the kingdom and converting many noblemen, including some from princely houses. Starting in the 1560s, both France and the Netherlands experienced extremely long and bitter cycles of civil wars, which historians conventionally call the "Wars of Religion." Much ink has been shed over how far the Reformed churches went, in both France and the Netherlands, in provoking revolts against legitimate rulers; it seems clear that they provided some of the logistical infrastructure as well as most of the propaganda for these risings, and they reaped the benefits of whatever successes the rebels enjoyed. Although French Huguenots lost both battles and members during the wars, the French crown repeatedly granted them some freedom of worship in order to stop the fighting. In the Netherlands, the rebels also lost most of the battles. However, after they gained a foothold in defensible northern positions after 1572, the greatest civilian mass migration in sixteenth-century Europe eventually brought dozens of thousands of Calvinists into the region. Although the rebels soon established the Reformed faith in Dutch provinces, historians have pointed out how few full members these "official" churches actually had even in the mid-seventeenth century.

In the British Isles, the rapid success of Calvinism in Scotland, destined to become one of its major strongholds, was unexpected. But despite the popularity of both Calvin's works and the Geneva Bible in England, it never dominated the doctrines of the established Protestant church there. In a way, both results connect to a notorious 1558 pamphlet against the "monstrous" rule of women by John Knox, the most famous English-speaking sixteenth-century Calvinist. Knox wrote a history of the Reformation in Scotland, recounting how he outmaneuvered and bullied Queen Mary Stuart until she lost her throne in 1567; however, Elizabeth I, who became England's Protestant ruler in 1558, never trusted Knox or his followers afterward.

The conversion of an unusually studious German prince, the elector palatine Frederick III (ruled 15591576), provides our clearest example of a major Calvinist church established solely by the ruler's will. In 1563, he issued a new church order that followed the Reformed manner of celebrating Communion and accompanied it with a relatively brief catechism that quickly provoked Lutheran wrath for upholding the "damnable sect" of Zwingli and Calvin. When other Protestant rulers had Frederick summoned in person to the 1566 imperial diet and questioned him about his religious beliefs, he solemnly swore before the emperor that he had read some of Luther's writings but nothing by Calvin, and pointed out that he had signed the Augsburg Confession. This sufficed. The Palatinate, home of Germany's oldest university at Heidelberg, became Germany's first major Reformed state. It was also the only important one. On the eve of the Thirty Years' War (16181648), the German empire counted about a dozen Reformed state churches (scattered among more than two hundred lay and ecclesiastical principalities) and four civic churches (among eighty free cities), plus two confessionally mixed regions in the far northwest. Overall, Reformed Protestants comprised only 6 percent of Germany's population and controlled four of its twenty-six universities, including Heidelberg.

Isolation apparently increased Palatine aggressiveness. Frederick III intervened militarily to help French Huguenots; by grasping for the Bohemian crown in 1618, his successors ultimately devastated their possessions, although the Reformed church they built proved sufficiently sturdy to survive subsequent persecutions. In theological terms, they provided the Reformed faith with one of its major confessional documents, the Heidelberg Catechism; it was adopted by the synod of Emden, on the Dutch border, in 1571, and soon afterward by the Reformed churches of Hungary and Poland. In ecclesiological terms, the Palatinate created the largest network of consistorial discipline in central Europe; but it also produced the doctrine of Erastianism, the most extreme Protestant version of the subordination of church to state.

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.


The history of Calvinism changed dramatically in the seventeenth century. In Europe, it stopped growing through armed struggle with Catholic governments, and instead it lost ground in many places. In Poland-Lithuania, it disappeared entirely through a peaceful Catholic reconquest. Its only new foundations, destined to become important in subsequent centuries, were in overseas colonies like New England or South Africa. Occasionally, Calvinism still seemed bellicose after 1600. 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. From the beginning, all Reformed churches had demanded a properly trained clergy; at Calvin's insistence, Geneva had created a famous academy in 1559, and Dutch rebels founded a university at Leiden in 1575. By the time Harvard College was founded in Massachusetts in 1636, Reformed churches had created at least two dozen institutions of higher learning. After 1600, at least 95 percent of all Reformed pastors in the Netherlands or the Palatinate boasted university training in theology; most did even in the remotest Scottish isles. In such places as Scotland, Zweibrücken in Germany, or New England, a typical seventeenth-century Calvinist pastor owned over a hundred books, or about four times as many as their Catholic counterparts in northern Italy (Benedict, p. 450). Under such conditions, theology and ecclesiology, rather than politics, came to dominate its seventeenth-century history. Two major theological "summit conferences" were held, where issues about predestination dominated discussions, with questions about the proper organization of church discipline close behind. Protestantism has always displayed a penchant for spinning off new branches. Even in places where it was established, seventeenth-century Calvinism splintered: Remonstrants opposed Counter-Remonstrants in the Netherlands; Presbyterians and Episcopalians quarreled violently in Scotland. New variants, most notably Congregationalism, emerged elsewhere.

The Synod of Dort (Dordrecht) in the Netherlands, summoned in order to resolve the conflict between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants, offers the closest approximation to the Council of Trent within the Calvinist or Reformed tradition. It held no fewer than 154 official sessions between November 1618 and May 1619, and included nineteen voting colleges representing four national churches (the French Reformed church also tried to send delegates, but King Louis XIII forbade them to leave the country). A majority of the voting colleges represented the host nation: nine provincial synods, plus the Walloon churches and the theological faculties of Dutch universities, while the other eight colleges represented British, Swiss, and German churches. The Synod of Dort succeeded in its original purpose by marginalizing the Remonstrants (who included the world-famous jurist Hugo Grotius, already imprisoned before the synod met). Two details suggest its importance in the English-speaking world. John Robinson (c. 15751625), the theological leader behind the 1620 Plymouth Pilgrims, greatly admired it; King James I (ruled 16031625), who famously vowed to "harry [Puritans like Robinson] out of the land," forbade any public criticism of its resolutions.

The Synod of Dort canonized what subsequently became known as the five cardinal points of official Calvinism, which English-speaking followers memorized through the acronym TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Considering the importanceand now, the relative obscurityof these doctrines, they deserve a bit of elaboration. "T" (also known through the famous rhyme in the New England Primer, "in Adam's fall/we sinned all") means that ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, all of humanity has been in a state of corruption and helpless to obtain salvation. "U" asserts that election is founded on God's purpose "even before the beginning of the world." "L" claims that Christ's atonement applies only to the elect but not to the rest of corrupt humankind. "I" claims that the soul's inner regeneration is entirely the "mysterious and ineffable" work of God. And "P" asserts that God will somehow preserve the elect from falling from grace, despite their occasional and inevitable lapses into sin.

A second and much longer lasting institution met during the Puritan revolution and eventually reshaped English-speaking Calvinism into its best-known forms. From July 1643 until February 1649, an Assembly of Divines held 1,163 sessions in Westminster Abbey. Of its 151 members, all but 30 were "learned, godly and judicious divines" hand-picked by the Long Parliament (three, who had settled in Massachusetts, declined the invitation); the remainder were themselves members of Parliament. The assembly prepared a book of discipline for the English church, providing a presbyterian form of discipline similar in essential aspects to arrangements among French and Dutch Calvinists. It then prepared a confession of faith, which essentially repeated the "LIP" parts of the Dort formula while avoiding the most abstract aspects of predestination. In 1647, it produced both shorter and longer versions of what we now call the Westminster Catechism.

Although created in England, the presbyterian system was essentially stillborn in its native land long before the Church of England was restored in 1660. Even in London, its greatest center of support, presbyteries were founded in only 64 of the city's 108 parishes (Benedict, p. 402). However, its arrangements were enthusiastically adopted in Scotland, where they had a durable impact. Following a long episcopalian parenthesis after 1661, they were grudgingly reimposed in 1690 after a Dutch prince, William III, who believed in predestination and spoke about achieving consensus on terms "wherein all the Reformed churches do agree" (Benedict, p. 415), occupied the Scottish as well as the English throne.

In New England, a local "summit conference," the Cambridge synod, which lasted from 1646 until 1648, also adopted the Westminster Assembly's theological decrees. The preamble to its resolutions, which retained nominal authority in New England until about 1760, boasted of their doctrinal agreement with "all the reformed churches of Christ in Europe." But in Massachusetts, Westminster's "presbyterian" decrees about polity and discipline were replaced by an entirely different system, stressing the complete autonomy of every parish. The Cambridge synod thus created a new branch of Calvinism, the one we now call Congregationalism, which became a de facto established church throughout most of New England.

New Englanders were the most famous Calvinists to settle in America before 1700, but they were certainly not the only ones. The Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, later New York, had established their Reformed church by 1640 (by 1665, the Dutch had also established it in South Africa, which still remains a bastion of the Dutch Reformed church). After 1685, some two thousand Huguenots, fleeing France after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, reestablished their Reformed churches after settling in places as far apart as Boston and South Carolina. Soon afterward, thousands of Scots-Irish colonists from Ulster (Northern Ireland) fled in order to escape Protestant persecution; they settled mostly in the middle colonies and formed their first presbytery at Philadelphia by 1706. Methodism, the largest neo-Calvinist Protestant church in America, arrived there by the mid-eighteenth century. As the history of Calvinist emigration to America testifies, such seventeenth-century intra-Protestant confessional quarrels were often high-stakes issues for laymen. They were even more so for clerics because public authorities quickly removed ministers from theologically incorrect factions. After 1619, Remonstrants were deprived throughout the Netherlands; in Scotland, many Episcopalians were deprived after 1639, and Presbyterians were deprived in about one-fourth of its thousand parishes after 1661. The situation was worst in Stuart England, which exceeded its previous pastoral purges under the Tudors in 1553 and 1559. During the Puritan Revolution, over two thousand of England's nine thousand parishes lost Royalist pastors for being insufficiently Calvinist. After the Restoration of 1660 gave the Church of England a head (Charles II) who had once remarked that "Presbyterianism is not a religion for gentlemen," two thousand more were removed as insufficiently Episcopalian. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, another four hundred British clergy were deposed for refusing to swear allegiance to William and Mary.


The most important features linking the practices of Europe's various "confessionalized" Reformed churchesand simultaneously separating them from other Protestant as well as Catholic traditionsrevolved 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. Their most austere churches, Geneva and Scotland (or seventeenth-century New England), observed none at allnot until Geneva's magistrates overruled their pastors and finally declared Christmas an official holiday in 1694. Such situations were, however, exceptional. 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. Scotland became Europe's most notorious example in 1579, when serious punishments were first threatened for Sabbath-breakers; by 1649, they had forbidden such practices as fishing on Sunday. Scotland's extremely rigid taboos about Sabbath observance lasted far into modern times; it has been suggested that "Thou Shalt Not" made the best title for a history of Scotland, with its longest chapter called "Never on Sunday." Another specifically Calvinist ritual was the special day of community fasting, proposed by pastors and decreed by secular authorities, usually intended to divert God's wrath at times of extraordinary danger. We find fast days observed as early as the 1560s by the beleaguered churches of the Low Countries or France, and later in seventeenth-century New England; they remained a feature of Genevan life until the nineteenth century.


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" (McNeill, pp. 340341). 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.

See also Calvin, John ; Dort, Synod of ; Dutch Republic ; Geneva ; Grotius, Hugo ; Huguenots ; Knox, John ; La Rochelle ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Methodism ; Palatinate ; Puritanism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ; Zwingli, Huldrych .


The outstanding recent synthesis by Philip Benedict, Christ's Churches Truly Reformed (New Haven, 2002), includes an extremely rich and up-to-date bibliographical survey about various topics connected with "Calvinism." It almost entirely replaces the older account by John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford, 1954).

Its fragmented history has often made Calvinism a topic for collective research in multinational contexts during the past generation. A slightly older example of this genre is Menna Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 15411715 (Oxford, 1985). Three useful and relatively recent collections of documents and essays should also be mentioned: Alastair Duke, Gillian Lewis, and Andrew Pettegree, eds., Calvinism in Europe, 15401610: A Collection of Documents (Manchester, U.K., 1992); Andrew Pettegree, Alastair Duke and Gillian Lewis, eds., Calvinism in Europe, 15401620 (Cambridge, U.K., 1994); and Raymond A. Mentzer, ed., Sin and the Calvinists: Morals Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Tradition (Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, XXXII; Kirksville, Mo., 1994). Those who read French can enjoy a handsome coffee-table book: Pierre Chaunu, ed., L'aventure de la Réforme: Le monde de Jean Calvin (Paris, 1986); even those who cannot might enjoy its illustrations. There are some valuable essays in Karen Maag, ed., The Reformation in Eastern and Central Europe (Aldershot, U.K., 1997).

William Monter


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Calvinism is the theological system elaborated by the French reformer, John calvin, chiefly in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (153659). (see institutes of calvin.) This synthesis, which justifies his title as the "theological genius of the Reformation," was the first systematic presentation of Protestantism as well as the doctrinal background for most non-Lutheran churches of the Reformed tradition. This article treats Calvinism under the headings: (1) Calvinism as a system, (2) doctrinal structure, (3) historical development, (4) geographical expansion.

Calvinism as a Theological System

Although Calvinism is a systematic synthesis, it is not a system properly so-called with a central idea, an articulated development, and a rigid harmony such as that of Aristotelianism, Thomism, or Kantianism. Instead Calvinism provides a reasoned and elaborated articulation of evangelical and Protestant principles that relies upon the scriptures as its primary, although not its solitary, defense. Calvin made use of the early Reformation teachings of justification by faith (sola fides) awarded by God's grace (sola gratia), the primacy of the scriptures, and the priesthood of all true believers. He forged these teachings into a new synthesis, a synthesis whose character and practice would develop very differently from the teachings of Lutheranism or Anglicanism, the other dominant magisterial reformations of the sixteenth century.

A Qualified System. Calvin was 27 when he published the first edition of his Christianae Religionis Institutio. His intention, as he declared in the "Epistle to the King" (Francis I, 151547), which prefaced the work, was to write an exposition, as simple as possible, of Christian doctrine by which "those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness" (Library of Christian Classics, 20:9). Throughout the rest of his life, up to the time of the definitive Latin edition (1559) and its French translation (1560), Calvin amplified his treatise, revised and polished it, until it became a complete presentation and an authoritative statement of Calvinism. Unlike many theologians, Calvin's ideas remained consistent over time. The final editions of the Institutes did not differ in flavor or teaching from the first 1536 edition. These later editions were distinguished by the degree of elaboration and reasoned argumentation that Calvin employed to defend his central tenets. The training in logic Calvin had received at the Collége de Montaigu and his legal education from the jurists of Orléans and Bourges are evident in the construction of his theological thought.

Central Idea. In the past the tendency has been to regard predestination as the focal point of Calvin's theology. Then the sovereignty of God, and more recently, the divinity of Christ, was proposed as the constitutive principle of Calvinism. What appears the better view today, however, is that Calvinism is not a closed system that revolves around one central idea. Rather than build his system around one pivotal abstract notion, Calvin seems to have preferred to draw together a number of Biblical ideas.

Sources. The first and indisputable source of Calvin's theological system was the Bible. Calvin read and knew the Bible thoroughly, producing commentaries on almost every book. Perhaps no other reformer had such a remarkable knowledge of the Old Testament. Calvin's use of the scriptures is idiosyncratic and bears comparison with his forebear, Martin Luther. Luther stresses that the Bible should be read with an eye toward its illumination of the principles of justification by faith, the sine qua non he identifies in the book's teaching. Calvin, on the other hand, argues that all parts of the scripture are of equal applicability to Christians, from the Old Testament books of law and devotion to the Pauline Epistles. The Bible thus becomes for Calvin a book of texts that need to be read in their totality. He uses the diverse corpus of scriptures to identify a plan for the reform of individuals and society and to confirm his dogmatic positions. The Fathers of the Church form an important background for Calvin's system. He probably made contact with them for the first time at the Collège de Montaigu, and all his life he deepened his knowledge of their Greek and Latin writings (see the exhaustive index of references made in the Library of Christian Classics, 21:15921634). Though St. John Chrysostom seemed to have been his favorite at one time, St. Augustine's influence was predominant and unique. Calvin read St. Augustine constantly, quoted him frequently, and felt that he was in substantial agreement with him.

Calvin knew and drew upon scholastic authors as well. He was acquainted with the works of St. Anselm, Peter Lombard, and St. Thomas Aquinas. But it is to Duns Scotus and William of Ockham that he appears to have been particularly attracted. A number of authors have traced the Calvinist concept of God to Duns Scotus, and while this view has been questioned by E. Doumergue, A. Lecerf, and others, still the resemblance between Calvin's doctrine on God (e.g., Institutes 3.23.2) and Scotus's teaching is too strong to be ignored. The nominalist influence on Calvin's giving primacy to the will of God manifests itself also in his making the efficacy of the Passion of Christ (Institutes 2.17.1), the transmission of the sin of Adam (Institutes 2.1.8), and the nature of the Mediator as God and man (Inst. 2.12.1), all depend upon the decree of God.

Calvin was in full agreement with Luther concerning the fundamental doctrines that surrounded human salvation. After 1536, however, Calvin parted with Luther over the question of the Lord's Supper, and gradually, as Calvin developed his system, differences appeared also on matters of the canon of Scripture, predestination, the church, Christ, and the sacraments. Such differences, while making Calvinism distinct from Lutheranism, are less important than the fundamental agreement on the doctrine of justification by faith.

Philipp Melanchthon, especially through his Loci Communes (1531), must be looked upon as one of the sources of Calvin's thought. Calvin wrote the preface to the French translation (Geneva 1546). He, moreover, signed the Confession of Augsburg (1530) and considered that he was in full agreement with it, although he differed with Melanchthon on free will and predestination, as he declared in the preface to Melanchthon's book.

Martin Bucer and Calvin were personal friends and the accord is evident in their works. The influence of Bucer on Calvin is seen particularly in his doctrine of predestination. Calvin adopted Bucer's point of view on the definitive character of predestination and on the part played in it by vocation, justification, and glorification. At the same time, he affirmed the distinction between predestination and foreknowledge whereas Bucer fused them together (Institutes 3.21.5).

Doctrinal Structure

An initial general summary of Calvin's doctrines will give perspective to the more detailed study of the Reformer's principal tenets: true wisdom consists in a knowledge of God and of ourselves. Only in the light of the knowledge of God can true self-knowledge be found. God makes Himself known in a twofold revelation; as Creator through the visible universe and as Redeemer, i.e., as the saving knowledge of God, through Scripture alone. Scripture points to Christ, the sole Mediator, by whom salvation is achieved. Salvation is ours through the secret operation of the Holy Spirit and faith. Faith is necessary since by Adam's fall all men are under the blight of sin and divine judgment. Salvation is due to God's mercy, which is extended to those whom in His inscrutable will He has eternally chosen to receive it; others are justly excluded from the operation of His saving grace and suffer the consequences of their sin. Justification is by faith alone, but because of our ignorance and sloth we stand in need of such external helps as the preaching of the Gospel in His church and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper. The church is both invisible and visible: the invisible church consists of all those who, by confession, example, and participation in the sacraments, profess God and Christ; the visible church has as its marks: the preaching and the hearing of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

The Sovereignty of God. The Institutes begins with the statement: "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves" (Institutes 1.1.1.). To set forth all relations between God and man is the task of Calvin's entire theological structure. As Luther before him, the Genevan reformer declared that "our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God" (ibid. ). Whether Calvin intended to counteract Lutheran preoccupation with man or whether through his own firm conviction, he went beyond Luther's idea of gratuitous salvation to that of the complete sovereignty of God. God is all in the order of ends as well as of means; everything tends toward His glory. This doctrine colors his viewpoint concerning rational inquiry into the nature of God. For Calvin it is futile and even presumptuous to ask "Quis est Deus?" because "His essence is incomprehensible; hence his divineness far escapes all human perception" (Institutes 1.5.1.).

Thus Calvin conceives of God in terms of His supreme will that is absolute law, " the truly just cause of all things" (Institutes 1.17.1). From it comes every decree by which all is ordered: God has "decreed what he was going to do, and now, by his might, carries out what he has decreed" (Institutes 1.16.8). Nor may this decree be questioned. Calvin declares: "God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why has God so done, we must reply: because he has willed it" (Institutes 3.23.2). Calvin's view of God is also connected with his view of the Bible. No one, according to Calvin, can attain to the knowledge of God unless he is taught by the Holy Scriptures (Institutes 1.6.2), which must be read with faith and under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, viz, "Therefore Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when it certainly is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit" (Institutes 1.8.13).

The Depravity of Man. When man looks at God through the Scriptures he arrives at a knowledge of the complete sovereignty of God. When he looks at himself through the Scriptures, he sees his own total depravity. The Bible gives us this view of man's condition in the story of the Fall, where the image of God in man was not utterly destroyed, " yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is frightful deformity" (Institutes 1.15.4). By total depravity Calvin means the complete inability of man to institute or maintain a right relation with God by his human activity alone. Calvin's emphasis is on the order of salvation and on man's total dependence on God for justification. When Calvin turns momentarily in the Institutes (2.2.13) to those interests of man that belong to the present life, such as political doctrine, the mechanical arts, philosophy, and the liberal arts, he readily grants that man can do many wonderful things.

Man's will, however, is bound by the slavery of sin. If the question is raised, "Is man bound to commit sin?" Calvin answers that if man commits sin, he does so voluntarily; he has a strong propensity to sin, but he is not coerced (Institutes 2.3.5). Calvin also distinguishes what seems to be a denial of free will. Man's will is not destroyed, according to Calvin, but he cannot of himself will faith: " free will is not sufficient to enable man to do good works, unless he be helped by grace" (Institutes 2.2.6.). The reformer's point is that God brings justification by His activity and not man by his. Through justification the sinner is accepted even though he is a sinner, since man is inevitably a sinner.

Faith in Christ. Man in his sinful state needs a saving contact with God. This he obtains in Christ, the sole Mediator, but he does not initiate this movement toward union with Christ. "Faith is the principal work of the Holy Spirit" (Institutes 3.1.4). It is "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Institutes 3.2.7). Even faith, however, of itself has no power nor worth. "We say that faith justifies," explains Calvin, "not because it merits righteousness for us by its own worth, but because it is an instrument whereby we obtain free the righteousness of Christ" (Institutes 3.18.8). Here again Calvin insists on the complete power of God and the corresponding impotency of man to do anything of himself to gain salvation. The faith that is received by man from the Holy Spirit unites him to Christ and that union is a precondition whereby " we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life" (Institutes 3.11.1). The first of these gifts Calvin calls justification or righteousness and the second, regeneration or sanctification.

By regeneration Christ becomes man's living Lord; he is grafted into the body of Christ. The consequence of this union is that man lives by the spirit of Christ. No longer is life to be lived apart from God; the Christian life " consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit" (Institutes 3.3.5). The doctrine of justification, for Calvin, is the "main hinge on which religion turns" (Institutes 3.11.1). He views it under the figure of a court trial. The accused is freed or "justified" if he has a witness to affirm his righteousness. "We are sinners and therefore deserve to be condemned, but because of our communion with Christ through faith, we receive His righteousness with him" (Institutes 3.11.10). We are not made righteous, but simply are clothed with Christ's righteousness. God, seeing us in Christ, or rather, seeing Christ's righteousness, makes a judgment of "justification." This judicial act has two parts: the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ's righteousness (Institutes 3.11.2). These parts are not successive, but are rather like two sides of the one action. Justification, however, is not a single act. If it were, the good works of the once-justified sinner would condemn him again since all man's works are contaminated by sin. God, therefore, not only justifies the sinner but also justifies the justified in his works so that they are not imputed to him as sins. This is Calvin's doctrine of double justification (Institutes 3.17.5).

Predestination. Calvin's doctrine of double predestination to election or reprobation is the result of both his logic and his doctrinal principles. Given his conviction on the absolute sovereignty of God and on man's complete inability to contribute to his salvation, the doctrine of predestination is a necessary foundation stone in his system. But practical reasons also entered into its formulation. Only by placing salvation in the divine will could the believer be freed from placing trust in merits and works for salvation. Moreover, such a doctrine was needed for Calvin's ecclesiology. "We call predestination," Calvin explains, "God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others" (Institutes 3.21.5). This decree of God is so absolute that it is independent of God's foreknowledge, and a fortiori cannot be thwarted by anyone. Grace is irresistible. Just as sinful man necessarily wills evil, so the elect or the justified man necessarily conforms to God's desires. Commenting on St. Augustine's treatise, De correptione et gratia ad Valentinum (Patrologia Latina, 44: 935, 939, 943), Calvin declares: " it is grace which forms both choice and will in the heart, so that whatever good works then follow are the fruit and effect of grace; and it has no other will obeying it except the will that it has made" (Institutes 2.3.13). Calvin felt obliged to affirm the doctrine of reprobation. It appalled him, but with invincible candor as well as logic he maintained that the decree of reprobation is incomprehensible but absolutely just. The reprobate is condemned justly (Institutes 3.21.7). The ultimate reason of the decretum horribile is to manifest the glory of God in the very mystery in which it is veiled.

The Church and the Sacraments. Because of man's ignorance and sloth, he stands in need of external helps to sustain and confirm his gift of faith. Therefore, declares Calvin, God, in accommodation of this infirmity, has established the church and the two sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. The church, which Calvin calls "mother" from St. Cyprian (De catholicae ecclesiae unitate 6; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3.1.214), is a divinely constituted institution and therefore is necessary. There is no salvation outside it: " away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation" (Institutes 4.1.4.). The church is both visible and invisible. Under its visible aspect it is the Christian community; the invisible church includes all the elect of God and coincides with both the communion of the saints and with the body of Christ. The visible church, because it includes reprobates in its midst, is to that extent not the body of Christ. But it does not follow that two churches exist. Rather, it is one church under two aspects: invisible insofar as it is an object of faith, or as God sees it; visible as it is an object of experience and as it appears to men (Institutes 4.1.7). To judge the presence of the true church, Calvin, as Luther before him in the Augsburg Confession (art. 7), sets forth two objective criteria: "Whenever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists" (Institutes 4.1.9).

Calvin defines a sacrament as "an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him" (Institutes 4.14.1). In Calvin's doctrine, the sacraments do not contain or confer grace but mirror the reality that they symbolize. The reality, promised by Christ and made effective by Him, is given at the same time that the material symbols of the sacraments are received. Thus Calvin says in regard to the eucharist: "Now, if it be asked nevertheless whether the bread is the body of Christ, and the wine his blood, we should reply that the bread and wine are visible signs, which represent to us the body and the blood; but that the name and title of body and blood is attributed to them, because they are as instruments by which our Lord Jesus Christ distributes them to us." Calvin continues: "It is a spiritual mystery, which cannot be seen by the eye, nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore symbolized by visible signs, as our infirmity requires, but in such a way that it is not a bare figure, but joined to its reality and substance" (Short Treatise on the Lord's Supper, 2. Library of Christian Classics, 22:147). Thus the effects of the sacraments are given because of the promise of Christ, are received by faith, are gained by the elect alone, and are sealed by the outward signs. They bring man into communion with Christ, from whom he receives everything that Christ gained by his death and resurrection. What are these benefits? Calvin summarizes: "Baptism attests to us that we have been cleansed and washed; the Eucharistic Supper, that we have been redeemed" (Institutes 4.14.22). In short: " redemption, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal life" (Institutes 4.17.11).

Historical Development

Calvinism as a doctrinal system inevitably evolved not only into a structure of church order (generally called presbyterianism) but also into a particular way of life, as exemplified in Calvin's reign over the city of Geneva. In this growth, Calvinism underwent structural and doctrinal modifications.

Doctrinal Disputes. The first break in the rigor of Calvinistic doctrine came in Holland. Holland had become solidly Calvinistic after the successful fight against Philip II by William of Orange, who declared himself a Calvinist in 1573. But the very strength of the uniformity Calvinism exacted brought a reaction. The successor to Calvin, Theodore beza, had added to the doctrine of predestination by a position known as supralapsarianism (see supralapsarians), in which the decree of election preceded the fall of man, so that the fallen state was part of the eternal plan of God. Dirck coornhert, a Dutch theologian, challenged Beza's position with a doctrine of conditional predestination, or infralapsarianism, that made the divine decree succeed the fall rather than precede or determine it. To the strongly orthodox Calvinists of Holland both of the positions differing with Beza's were heretical. In 1589 they invited Jacob arminius (Hermandszoon), once a student of Beza, to refute Coornhert and the infralapsarians. Arminius, however, found that as he studied the question, he could not defend the orthodox position and instead developed a doctrine that differed from both supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.

Arminius was attacked by Franciscus gomarus, a strong supralapsarian, and had to defend himself against the charges of Pelagianism and Socinianism. In 1610 the followers of Arminius presented a remonstrance to the government for protection against the orthodox Calvinists. In the petition the remonstrants set forth five theses concerning their view of predestination. The government authorities summoned a national synod at Dort (Dordrecht) from Nov. 13, 1618, to May 9, 1619, through 154 formal sessions. It was attended not only by Dutch theologians but also by delegates from Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, and England. The synod, which took on the nature of an ecumenical council for the Reformed Church, decided against the Remonstrants. It set forth its resolutions, upholding the orthodox position on predestination, in 93 canons divided into five chapters that corresponded to the five theses of the Arminians. The synod asserted: (1) unconditional election; (2) limited atonement, i.e., Christ died for the elect alone; (3) total depravity of man; (4) irresistibility of grace; and (5) final perseverance of the saints. [Text in P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (1877) 3.550580]. [see confessions of faith ii, protestant; infralapsarians (sublapsarians)].

Covenant Theology. Other difficulties concerning Calvin's doctrine arose, especially over a visible and invisible church, the irresistibility of grace, and an authoritarian civil government whose theocratic duty was to "cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church" (Institutes 4.20.2). Of the new movements that modified Calvin's doctrine in seeking an answer to what seemed like intractable rigidity, the most significant was the Puritans' covenant theology. Puritanism (see pu ritans) first appeared in the middle of the 16th century as a protest against the prescribed vestments and liturgical customs in the Church of England. The movement was essentially Calvinistic in doctrine but its main thrust was a type of piety. Concerned with man's right relation to God as a way of life and at the same time fully accepting the predestination of God as all-determining, the Puritans developed the idea of covenant. They discovered that all of salvation history had been a series of covenants between God and man. Even the government that protected the church had a covenant.

The significance of the covenants was that, while theologically upholding the absolute sovereignty of God, they made God's absolutism tractable to man's ability to conform. Man's duty was to fulfill his contract with God. Since God had made the contract, in the image of the legal and trade agreements of the time, His demands were reasonable and humanly possible of fulfillment. Thus, Calvin's God of predestination and irresistible condemnation became a Puritan God who could be served by righteous living and who would thereby consider those so living among the elect. Puritanism in this way marked the midpoint between orthodox and liberal Protestantism, between voluntarism and rationalism, between the sovereignty of God and the sovereignty of man.

Geographical Expansion

Calvinism triumphed first in Geneva where, under Calvin's leadership from 1541 to 1564, the city became the most thorough example of a community welded into a total Calvinistic society. Geneva was governed in both civil and ecclesiastical affairs by the elect.

Church Government. Basing his view on Scripture (Eph 4.11; Rom 12.7; 1 Cor 12.28) and on the practice of the early church, Calvin declared in his Ecclesiastical Ordinances: "There are four orders of office instituted by our Lord for the government of his Church. First, pastors; then doctors; next elders; and fourth deacons" (Library of Christian Classics 22:58). Thus, the pastors preached and administered the sacraments. To the doctors belonged the duty of teaching, a function that under Calvinistic encouragement blossomed into schools and universities. The elders shared in the enforcement of discipline; and the deacons took care of the sick and the poor. The Consistory, made up of ministers and laymen, was responsible for the corporate religious life of the city and under Calvin it became chiefly a tribunal of morality. Whenever necessary, its decisions were enforced by the Council of Geneva whose responsibility included not only the promotion of civil order but also the welfare of the Reformed Church. Geneva, under Calvin, not only became a model city to which Calvinists looked as an ideal, but also a haven for Protestant refugees through whom Calvin's ideas spread far and wide.

Switzerland. In Switzerland, Heinrich bullinger, the successor to Zwingli, signed a formula of faith (Consensus Tigurinus ) with Calvin in 1549. This paved the way for the general acceptance of Calvinism throughout the cantons. In 1566 the Second Helvetic Confession, drawn up by Bullinger but heavily Calvinistic in doctrine, was published in the name of all the Swiss cantons except Basel and Neuchâtel and had wide popularity. Today about half the population in Switzerland belongs to the Reformed Church.

Germany. In Germany, Calvinism spread mostly in the Rhine region where the fierce repression of the Peasant Revolt (152426) cost Luther many adherents. Reformed Protestantism also appealed to the free cities, particularly Strassburg, Memingen, Lindau, and Constance. Calvinism attained great influence in the Palatinate under the Elector, Frederick III (151576). During his regime, the University of Heidelberg became a center of Calvinism, and a confession of faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, was compiled in 1562 by two professors, Zacharias ursinus and Caspar Olevianus (153687). This Calvinistic document became the creed of the Reformed churches in Germany, and Reformed churches in Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and Moravia were influenced by it.

France. In France, the Calvinists, who were called huguenots, were opposed from the time of their origin almost constantly, although various edicts such as the Edict of January 1562 and the Edict of nantes in 1598 gave some official toleration. Many Huguenots fled to Holland, Switzerland, America, England, and Prussia. Finally, in 1802, full legal standing was given to the Reformed Church.

Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the Calvinists were not strong until about 1560. They gained the favor of William of Orange (153384), who became a Calvinist in 1573. After the declaration of independence (July 26, 1581), the Reformed Church became the established church in the northern region (Holland). In the 19th century, it became independent of the state. About 40 percent of the population now belongs to the Dutch Reformed Church.

Scotland. Scotland is the only country where the majority of the people presently belong to the Reformed Church. Nowhere else has Calvinism triumphed so well, although its history since the time of John knox has been one of struggle. Knox was a personal friend of Calvin and received the Genevan reformer's warm encouragement and support. In 1900 the Free Church of Scotland merged with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland. The resulting church merged with the Established Church to form the Church of Scotland in 1929.

England. In England the Calvinist doctrine brought about a divisive struggle within the Church of England toward the end of the 16th century. One group emerged as Presbyterians with their characteristic type of ascending series of governing bodies called synods and with a confession of faith, the Westminster Confession of 1648. A further group were the Separatist and Non-Separatist Congregationalists who migrated to New England as Puritans. Today there are various free churches in England that have been influenced by Calvinism and also a relatively small Presbyterian Church.

North America. Contingents from many of the European Reformed Churches went to North America during colonial times. A number of these groups fled from persecution. In the New World they influenced the shaping of a new nation and at the same time were influenced in their religious thinking. The strict orthodoxy of old world Calvinism was slowly modified by contacts in a pluralistic society, as well as by the demands of colonial life, trade, the Revolutionary War, a new government, and a new civilization. The modification, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, placed more and more emphasis on man and on his power for initiative and independence. Denominations proliferated across the U.S. Today, under the stimulus of the ecumenical movement, the modification has taken a new turn toward church mergers and under the pressure of a mechanized, materialistic age, toward the sovereignty of God once again (see reformed churches ii: north america).

Contributions of Calvinism. In his 1902 classic, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the German sociologist Max Weber identified Calvinism as a fundamentally important development in the creation of the modern world. Weber argued that Calvinism's emphasis on divine election produced a culture of "innerworldly asceticism" in which Calvinists hoped to demonstrate the fruits of their election through worldly involvement and enterprise. The secularization of these tendencies came to have a profound effect on the genesis of modern capitalism, as countries in which Calvinist influences were strongest became leaders in modern industry, banking, and finance. The debate over this "Weber thesis" dominated much twentieth-century historical writing, with strong defenders and detractors arguing over the relative merits of Weber's identification of a gene of modernity within Calvinism. More recently, scholars have pointed to traditional, even archaic attitudes toward business and finance that survived, not only in Calvin's work, but also among his seventeenth and eighteenth-century followers. The roots of modern industrialism and capitalism are now seen to lie in forces and developments more various than the secularization of Calvin's ideas concerning human salvation. Nevertheless, during the 400 years of its existence, Calvinism as an aim and tendency has contributed significantly to the understanding of the human relationship to God. Modern followers of Calvin may not accept all of the tenets of his teaching but, within the Reformed tradition, some of the elements he expressed in his Institutes and other writings still recur in their discussions of human potentiality and weakness. These include Calvin's insistence on the lowly state of humankind before God's majesty, his insights into the power of divine grace, and his emphasis on biblical teaching as the rule by which Christians should seek to reform society.

Bibliography: j. calvin, Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. g. baum et al., 59 v. (Corpus reformatorum 2987); Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. j. t. mcneill, tr. f. l. battles, 2 v. (Philadelphia 1960); Theological Treatises, tr. j. k. s. reid (Philadelphia 1954); Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, tr. j. k. s. reid (London 1961). j. t. mcneill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York 1954). w. krusche, Das Wirken des Heiligen Geistes nach Calvin (Göttingen 1957). e. a. dowey, The Knowledge of God in Calvin's Theology (New York 1952). a. m. hunter, The Teaching of Calvin (2d ed. London 1950). p. sprenger, Das Rätsel um die Bekehrung Calvins (Neukirchen 1960). f. wendel, Calvin , tr. p. mairet (New York 1963). j.h. forstman, Word and Spirit (Stanford 1962). j. mackinnon, Calvin and the Reformation (New York 1962). g. p. hart-velt, Verum corpus: Een studie over een centraal hoofdstuk uit de Avondmaalsleer van Calvijn (Delft 1960). l. smits, Saint Augustin dans l'oeuvre de Jean Calvin (Assen 1957). w. niesel, The Theology of Calvin, tr. h. knight (Philadelphia 1956). v. ruland, "The Theology of New England Puritanism," Heythrop Journal 5 (1964) 162169. m. neeser, Le Dieu de Calvin d'après l'institution de la religion chrétienne (Neuchâtel 1956). l. bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (Westminster, MD 1956). w. e. stuer-mann, A Critical Study of Calvin's Concept of Faith (Tulsa 1952). a. ganoczy, Calvin, théologien du ministère et de l'Église (Paris 1964). o. weber, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:159399. e. w. zeeden and j. marlet, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) (1966) 2:891898. a. baudrillart, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 2.2:13981422, earlier bibliog. y. congar, Catholicisme 2:421424. j. quinn, h. f. davis et al., A Catholic Dictionary of Theology (London 1962) 1:313317. w. f. graham, Later Calvinism (Kirksville, MO 1994). e. w. monter, Calvin's Geneva (New York 1967). m. prestwich, ed., International Calvinism (Oxford 1985). r. schnucker, ed., Calviniana (Kirksville, MO 1988). d. steinmetz, Calvin in Context (New York 1995).

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The term "Calvinism" is applied to the teachings linked to John Calvin (1509–1564), a French theologian and church reformer, whose Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) provided the five basic doctrines of the Protestant churches and Reformed tradition: (1) total depravity—the "complete corruption of humanity resulting from Original Sin"; (2) unconditional election—"the predestined salvation or damnation of every individual"; (3) irresistible grace—necessary for conversion but available to the "elect" only; (4) perseverance of the saints—"the enduring justification and righteousness of the converted"; and (5) limited atonement—"Christ's gift of life through His death but only for those already predestined for heaven" (Elliott, p. 187). In short, Calvin stressed the sovereignty of a deliberate God and denied the innately depraved individual all agency.

Calvinistic faith flourished in early America. The Pilgrims, under the leadership of Governor William Bradford (1590–1657), planted it in New England in November of 1620. Only ten years later, roughly one thousand Puritans, led by John Winthrop (1588–1649), set sail for Massachusetts Bay. Particular Baptists removed it to Virginia, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. George Fox's (1624–1691) Quakers, whom the church historian Sydney Ahlstrom characterized as the "most important and enduring manifestation of Puritan radicalism in either England or America" (p. 176), brought it to Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. The Dutch Reformed transferred their "predominately Puritan" ethic (p. 253) to New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. The Scotch and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians introduced their faith to the Carolinas and parts of Georgia. By 1730 Puritan Calvinism represented a firmly established theology in the soon-to-be United States. Its ideological and rhetorical legacy for American culture and literature proved both profound and multifaceted.


With its emphasis on predestination and simultaneous insistence on the indistinguishability of the "elect" (the "invisible church"), Calvinist theology might have led to the erosion of standards and values. To prevent this from occurring and to help their congregations cope with the uncertainty of unconditional election, seventeenth-century New England Puritan ministers introduced the doctrine of preparationism or "covenant theology." Covenant theology substituted divine decree as the basis for election with a compact between God and his worshipers. In exchange for absolute obedience, God allowed human beings to prepare for grace. Preparation, however, did not guarantee election. Rather, it demanded from the believer a display of a heretofore unseen degree of self-reflection, paradoxically paired with a relatively large portion of self-confidence. To doubt one's election was indicative of the lack of grace and revealed vulnerability to the temptations of the devil. To act as one saw fit was equally disgraceful, as human beings' reliance on the moral faculty was not only misleading but also presumptuous. In order to gain certainty of salvation or certituto salutis, then, Puritans had to follow their "effectual calling" or fides efficax: they had to dedicate their lives to the glorification of God.

Based on their readings of the Bible, the Puritans believed that there were two ways to answer the effectual calling. On the one hand, they could follow their "general (effectual) calling" and further God's glory by worshiping his creation—that is, by heeding Christ's dictum to love their fellow human beings. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour like thyself" (Matthew 22:37–39). On the other hand, they were encouraged to follow their "particular (effectual) calling" and demonstrate their love and usefulness for others by thriving in their vocation. In theory, then, Puritan theology considered all legal occupations equal. It measured the public utility and worth of individuals by their dedication to their predestined vocation and not in terms of social status.

Although the Puritans' covenant withered and finally collapsed in the mid-eighteenth century, its biblical theme stipulating grace for reciprocal altruism, an ascetic work ethic, and disregard for class differences persisted. Even Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), a paragon of the American Enlightenment who dismissed revealed religion, epitomized Puritan precepts. In his Autobiography (1791), Franklin boasted his "modesty and . . . disinterestedness" (p. 87) and his "industry and frugality" (p. 41), which, if paired with "respect to all" (p. 93), proved a "means of obtaining wealth and distinction" (p. 91). Franklin set for himself the "arduous project of arriving at moral perfection" (p. 94) and strove to perform "the most acceptable service of God, [that is,] . . . doing good to man" (p. 92). Thus, Franklin's Autobiography reflected the Calvinist belief that God helped those who helped themselves and other members of the "imagined community" (see Anderson).

As the Puritan clergyman John Winthrop, professor of the Andover Theological Seminary, Harriet Beecher Stowe, E. A. Park, and Mark Twain suggest, Puritan Calvinism left tangible and intangible legacies.

God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection.

(Winthrop, p. 101)

[Edwards] sawed the great dam and let out the whole waters of discussion all over New England, and that free discussion led to all the shades of opinion in modern days . . . yet Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker were the last results of the current set in motion by Jonathan Edwards.

(Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks, quoted in Gura, "Jonathan Edwards inAmerican Literature," p. 153)

The metaphysics of New England Theology is such as the yeomen of our fields drank down for the sincere milk of the word. It is the metaphysics of common sense. . . . The New England system is not only scriptural, but is scriptural science.

(E. A. Park, "New England Theology," 1852; quoted in Noll, America's God, p. 225)

I wallowed and reeked with Jonathan in his insane debauch; rose immediately refreshed and fine at 10 this morning, but with a strange and haunting sense of having been on a three days' tear with a drunken lunatic.

(Mark Twain, quoted in Gura, "Jonathan Edwards in American Literature," p. 153)

Puritan millennial thought also figured prominently in later American literature and culture. Its ideology underlay not only the writings of nineteenth-century progressive reformers such as Catherine Maria Sedgwick, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Maria Cummins, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, but also the work of proexpansionist thinkers such as John O'Sullivan, editor of the United States Democratic Review and author of "The Great Nation of Futurity" (1839). Puritan millennialism was grounded in the readings of the New Testament, especially the books of Matthew (24:29–31), Mark (13:24–27), and Luke (21:25–28). These passages foreshadowed Christ's return, or his Second Coming, to earth and his subsequent one-thousand-year (hence millennial) reign of peace. Millennialists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries split into two camps: premillennialists such as Cotton Mather, who believed that Christ's return would precede the age of peace, prosperity, and triumph of the church, and postmillennialists such as Daniel Whitby, Jonathan Edwards, Joseph Bellamy, and Samuel Hopkins, who held that Christ's Second Coming directly followed the expansion of civil and religious American values on earth ("civil millennialism") and hailed Judgment Day and Satan's return.

Intricately connected with notions of civil millennialism and Manifest Destiny was the Calvinist assumption that the priest, as the truth-seeker of an elect elite, had access to an objective reality—an absolute, metaphysical Truth. While Martin Luther granted access to objective reality through a literal and rational reading of only the Bible, Calvin entrusted human beings with a limited allegorical reading of the "Word of God." However, not until the revolutionary writings of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) was nature read as a "diffusion of [God] into time and space" (Miller, p. 603). Edwards believed that, under the effects of grace, human beings could experience a mystical union with the divine induced by nature: "God's excellency, His wisdom, His purity and love, seemed to appear in everything: the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature" (Edwards, p. 179). Yet Edwards was very careful to point out that the mysticization of nature neither denied original sin nor questioned God's absolute sovereignty. As his sermon God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man's Dependence upon Him, in the Whole of It (1731) and his later works, including Careful and Strict Enquiry into Notions of . . . Freedom of Will (1754) and The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758), made patently clear, "natural man" was "corrupt and his self-reliance is reliance on evil" (Miller, p. 605). Only free grace—experienced by a select few who had attained a "full and constant sense of the absolute sovereignty of God, and a delight in that sovereignty" (Edwards, p. 186–187)—could save human beings and expose them to the supernatural light described in A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to Be Both a Scriptural and Rational Doctrine (1734).

Edwards's cosmology bridged Puritan and Enlightenment discourses when it reinterpreted the world as a place suffused with both God's presence and divine truth. Both Calvinism and the emerging theories of evolution, such as Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), believed in natural hierarchies governed by an "inexorable sovereignty" or "impersonal law"; they agreed that evil, or the struggle for survival, was "an integral part of that reality"; and, most important, they accepted as true an objective, common-sensical, reality to be discovered by the spiritually graceful or physically fit (Dawson, p. 512). The precarious combination of spiritual and physical superiority facilitated the objectification of the encountered "other" (at home and abroad) and aided territorial expansion.


The Calvinist aesthetic reflected the Puritan penchant to view the world in terms of dichotomies: depravity vs. innocence, predestination vs. free will, self vs. other, type vs. antitype. Followed by the jeremiad and the conversion narrative, perhaps the most distinctive rhetorical strategy that informed Puritan writing was the typological reading of the Bible. Typology is a form of allegorical reading in which Old Testament "types" are interpreted as prefigurations of future "antitypes." A type, as literary scholar William G. Madsen explains, is (1) strictly historical; (2) "looks forward in time" and foreshadows the appearance rather than essence of an event; (3) can represent "natural objects"; (4) must differ from and resemble their antitype; and (5) is not recognized as such by neither the "actors of a typical event nor the authors of their history" (Lowance, p. 20). Samuel Danforth's A Brief Recognition of New-England's Errand into Wilderness (1671), for example, interpreted the Puritans' settlement in the "new world" and construction of the "city upon a hill" as the antitype to Moses's exodus from Egypt and the subsequent arrival of the "holy nation" at Mount Sinai. Broadly speaking, notions of Manifest Destiny and American exceptionalism that developed in the nineteenth century owe much to this typological tradition.

The Puritan jeremiad was a form of oration that "recalled the courage and piety of the founders," denounced social evils of a backslidden generation, and exhorted believers to return to their original, innocent ways (Elliott, p. 257). The term "jeremiad" derives from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who urged the house of Israel to live up to the terms of the covenant, return to "holiness," and prevent damnation and the fall of Judah. The Puritan jeremiad consisted of four parts: the doctrine—a passage taken from the Old or New Testaments; the explication, or "reasons," in which the doctrine was explained in its biblical context; the "uses" that stressed the community's misapplication of the doctrine; and a final part that might be called "prescription," in which the preacher explained what the community must do to renew the covenant. In his "An Indian's Looking Glass for the White Man" (1833), William Apess, a Pequot, adopts the four-part model of the puritan jeremiad to exhort his white Christian readers to return to righteousness by loving all "skins of color" (p. 97).

The jeremiad, however, targeted community members only. In order to become a member, applicants had to undergo an "elaborate preparation" or conversion "process" of six psychological stages, outlined by the Puritan clergyman Thomas Hooker: "contrition, humiliation, vocation, implantation, exaltation, and possession" (Elliott, p. 201). The completion of each of these stages was subject to public scrutiny and assured both convert and community of the truthfulness of the endeavor. Although secular versions of the jeremiad occur occasionally (e.g., in Henry David Thoreau's Walden), conversion narratives abounded in the nineteenth century. Works such as Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860), or Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) continued this tradition as they subjected the convert's experience to the scrutiny of their "imagined [print] community."


It might be useful to situate Calvinist and anti-Calvinist literature during the nineteenth century as a latter-day expression of the Augustinian-Pelagian tradition, or controversy, that characterizes Christianity more broadly. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430), author of Confessions and City of God, was a staunch defender of the orthodox belief in original sin, predestination, and divine grace (and, logically, inequality). His theological opponent, the Romano-British monk Pelagius (c. 355–c. 425), asserted that there is no original sin, that human beings have free will, and that divine grace is universal. In the fifth century, Saint Augustine openly declared Pelagianism a heresy, but, as the emergence of Unitarianism in the early nineteenth century shows, Pelagian sentiments survived. In fact, as much as Calvinism is seen as "a Renaissance representative of the Augustinian point of view" (Harmon, p. 75), Unitarianism, which believes in salvation by character, is a post-Renaissance version of the Pelagian point of view.

Susan Warner's (1819–1895) best-selling The Wide, Wide World, for example, falls ideologically and aesthetically within the Augustinian and Calvinist tradition. Warner used what literary scholar Sharon Kim has identified as "Puritan realism"—that is, "a strictly literal, historical world, with the biblical type indicating a literal, spiritual reality within it" (p. 785)—to propagate the concepts of innate depravity, predesti-nation, and divine grace. When one of the novel's characters, Ellen Montgomery, inquires after the meaning of the biblical phrase "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me," her mother replies that if Ellen's "heart were not hardened by sin" and if she knew God, she would indeed love him more than her mother (Warner, p. 38). Mrs. Montgomery says, "You cannot help it, I know, my dear," and explains that Ellen cannot be saved "except by His grace who has promised to change the hearts of his people—to take away the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh" (p. 38, emphases added). Like Warner, Nathaniel Hawthorne's (1804–1864) "great power of blackness . . . derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free" (Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," p. 1035). Hawthorne's prose, however, is more equivocal than Warner's. In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Hawthorne hails his belief in original sin and predestination. The novel's moral, he proclaims, is

that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief; and he would feel its singular gratification, if this Romance might effectually convince mankind (or, indeed, any one man) of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms. (P. 2)

The novel's happy ending, of course, calls this "moral" into question. The moral reverberates in Hawthorne's fictionalized treatment of the failure of Brook Farm in The Blithedale Romance (1852). That novel exposes the innate selfishness and depravity of acclaimed philanthropists. Various analyses of Hawthorne's short stories corroborate the claim that Hawthorne's work expresses the belief in innate depravity and predestination. However, close readings of his more ambivalent if not agnostic writing—such as "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) and The Scarlet Letter (1850)—in combination with a more recent study of Hawthorne's use of Puritan typology give pause to such an interpretation. The literary scholar Bill Christophersen contends that "whereas [Cotton] Mather . . . used biblical allusions to demonstrate Providence at work, Hawthorne uses them to question Providence" (p. 615). Perhaps, Melville had it right in the first place and "this Man of Mosses takes great delight in hoodwinking the world,—at least, with respect to himself " ("Hawthorne and His Mosses," p. 1041).

More than any other canonized writer, Herman Melville (1819–1891) wrestled with the concepts of original sin, predestination, and divine grace. Echoing Edwards, Melville's writing expressed the belief in original sin. Billy Budd, the young and handsome sailor of Melville's posthumously published novel Billy Budd, Foretopman (1924) epitomized "essential innocence" (p. 1425). He is pitted against John Claggart, who represents the naturally "malign" (p. 1394). Similarly, the eternally good Pierre Glendinning in Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852) struggles to worship God by loving his supposed sister and thus fulfilling the stipulations of the covenant. Worship, Ishmael explains in Moby-Dick (1851), is "—to do the will of God—that is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me—that is the will of God" (p. 57). God, however, does not reward Pierre's struggles. His mother disowns him, his friends abandon him, his lover and sister die, and he meets death with a "scornful innocence rest[ing] on [his] lips" (Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, p. 420).

Pierre's "scornful innocence" stands for the perhaps most central dilemma in Melville's fiction. Human beings who strive to live up to the terms of the covenant, worship God, and acknowledge His absolute sovereignty cannot "delight in that sovereignty" as Jonathan Edwards had suggested. Rather than find "that unfailing comfort" in the fact that "it's all predestinated" (Moby-Dick, p. 145), they struggle "all alone"—for example, Pierre as well as the title character in "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street" (1853) and Ahab in Moby-Dick—to escape the "walls" of Providence while their peers passively witness and listen "in a dumbness like that of a seated congregation of believers in hell listening to the clergyman's announcement of his Calvinistic text" (Billy Budd, p. 1420).

Resorting to "Puritan realism" to infuse Bartleby's death with a meaning beyond the literal, to indict God of his injustice, and ask the ultimate question, the narrator, who "at leisure intervals" reads "Edwards on the Will" (p. 1061), explains that Bartleby rests "[w]ith kings and counsellors" (p. 1068). The biblical passage taken from Job 3:14 continues in verses 18, 19, and 23: "There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from his master. . . . Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God has hedged in?" (emphasis added).

Slightly more agnostic in his treatment of the Puritan legacy, Oliver Wendell Holmes's (1809–1894) poem "The Deacon's Masterpiece; or, The Wonderful 'One-Hoss Shay'" (1858) questions the validity, timelessness, and endurance of the Puritan construction of objective reality.

Lying within the Pelagian tradition, Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811–1896) Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852), Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), and The Minister's Wooing (1859) deconstruct the notion of innate depravity and predestination in favor of the Unitarian idea of "salvation by character." Untainted by original sin, Stowe's characters Evangeline and Uncle Tom are paragons of virtue—innately innocent and relentlessly good.

The reaction against the tenets of Puritan Calvinism culminated in the writings of Walt Whitman (1819–1892) and the transcendentalists, who deified nature and man and made the concepts of original sin, predestination, and divine grace obsolete. In "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass (first published in 1855), Whitman substituted the concept of God as an outside force with Emerson's idea of the "Over-Soul"—a force that permeates matter, the origin and destination of all things. For Whitman, the deification of nature prompted a fundamental reinterpretation of the character and stipulations of covenant theology. Rather than worship God by answering the effectual calling, Whitman worshiped God by denying sin and indulging and actively participating in God's creation. Albeit in less radical ways, the transcendentalists added texture to the idea of human beings as free-thinking, untainted, and independent parts and particles of divine creation.

While a majority of Unitarians and active abolitionists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, and Lydia Maria Child strove to deconstruct the notions of original sin, predestination, and divine grace altogether, African American and Native American writers such as Harriet Jacobs, David Walker, and Robert Benjamin Lewis successfully appropriated Puritan typology for their own ends. As the historian Albert Raboteau has summarized scholarly observations in this area, "for the black Christian . . . the imagery [Puritan typology] was reversed: the Middle Passage had brought his people to Egypt land, where they suffered bondage under Pharaoh. White Christians saw themselves as a new Israel; slaves identified themselves as old" (p. 251). In his Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829), David Walker (1785–1830) admonished his readers that God had his "ears continually open to the cries, tears and groans of his oppressed people; and . . . will at one day appear fully in behalf of the oppressed, and arrest the progress of the avaricious oppressors" as he did with "hundreds and thousands of Egyptians" (pp. 180–181). He clarified, "the Egyptians . . . a gang of devils, . . . having gotten possession of the Lord's people, treated them nearly as cruel as Christian Americans do us, at the present day" (p. 183). Robert Benjamin Lewis, son of an African American and Native American couple, expressed similar sentiments in Light and Truth; Collected from The Bible and Ancient and Modern History Containing the Universal History of the Colored and the Indian Race, from the Creation of the World to the Present Time (1836): "We ["Mulattoes," "Quadroons," "Mestizos," "Sambos," "Mangroons," and "Indian tribes"] are all one, and oppressed in this land of boasted Liberty and Freedom. 'But wo unto them by whom it cometh'" (p. 400).

While writers like Walker, Lewis, and the poet Phillis Wheatley awaited a new exodus, Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) used the elaborate formula of the Puritan conversion narrative to demonstrate that she had experienced divine grace and had become one of the elect. Accordingly, Jacobs examined her life in the psychological stage of "contrition" through the reflections of her fictional narrator Linda Brent in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. She experiences "humiliation" as she admits to having sinned and wonders if the "wise purpose of God was leading [her] through such thorny paths, and whether still darker says are in store for [her]" (p. 20). Her grandmother—whose "characteristic piety" and delight in God's sovereignty allowed her to weather the loss of her granddaughter with the words "God's will be done"—represents the demure Christian ideal to which Linda Brent could aspire in the stage of "vocation" (p. 21). Jacobs's appropriation of Puritan aesthetics and the narrator's manifest belief in Puritan ideology situate her firmly in the Puritan-Calvinist tradition of nineteenth-century American writing.

See alsoThe Bible; Protestantism; Puritans; Religion; Unitarians


Primary Works

Apess, William. "An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man." 1833. In A Son of the Forest and Other Writings, edited by Barry O'Connell, pp. 95–101. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

Edwards, Jonathan. "Personal Narrative." In The NortonAnthology of American Literature, shorter 4th ed., edited by Nina Baym et al., pp. 177–187. New York: Norton, 1995.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography and Other Writings. 1791. New York: Signet, 1961.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance. 1852. New York: Norton, 1978.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. 1851. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1963.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850. New York: Norton, 1968.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." 1835. In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, shorter 4th ed., edited by Nina Baym et al., pp. 576–577. New York: Norton, 1995.

Lewis, Robert Benjamin. Light and Truth; Collected from theBible and Ancient and Modern History Containing the Universal History of the Colored and the Indian Race, from the Creation of the World to the Present Time. 1836. Boston: Committee of Colored Gentlemen, 1844.

Holmes, Oliver Wendell. "The Deacon's Masterpiece; or, The Wonderful 'One-Hoss Shay.'" In "The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table," Atlantic Monthly, September 1858, pp. 496–497.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 1861. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Melville, Herman. "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street." 1853. In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, shorter 4th ed., edited by Nina Baym et al., pp. 1043–1068. New York: Norton, 1995.

Melville, Herman. "Hawthorne and His Mosses." 1850. In The Norton Anthology of American Literature, shorter 4th ed., edited by Nina Baym et al., pp. 1032–1043. New York: Norton, 1995.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. 1851. New York: Norton, 2002.

Melville, Herman. Pierre; or, The Ambiguities; Israel Potter:His Fifty Years of Exile; The Piazza Tales; The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade; Uncollected Prose; Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative). New York: Library of America, 1984.

O'Sullivan, John. "The Great Nation of Futurity." TheUnited States Democratic Review 6, no. 23 (1839): 426–430.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1852. Edited by Elizabeth Ammons. New York: Norton, 1994.

Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles,Together with a Preamble to the Coloured Citizens of the World. 1829. In The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, pp. 179–190. New York: Norton, 1997.

Warner, Susan. The Wide, Wide World. 1850. New York: Feminist Press, 1987.

Winthrop, John. "A Model of Christian Charity." In TheNorton Anthology of American Literature, shorter 4th ed., edited by Nina Baym et al., pp. 101–112. New York: Norton, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. 1855. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Includes both the original and deathbed edition.

Secondary Works

Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the AmericanPeople. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press, 1972.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

Christophersen, Bill. "Agnostic Tensions in Hawthorne's Short Stories." American Literature 72, no. 3 (2000): 595–624.

Dawson, Jan C. "Puritanism in American Thought and Society: 1865–1910." New England Quarterly 53, no. 4 (1980): 508–526.

Elliott, Emory. "New England Puritan Literature." In TheCambridge History of American Literature, vol. 1, 1590–1820, edited by Sacvan Bercovitch, pp. 169–306. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Glaude, Eddie S. Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation inNineteenth-Century Black America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Gura, Philip F. "Jonathan Edwards in American Literature." Early American Literature 39, no. 1 (2004): 147–166.

Harmon, William and C. Hugh Holman. A Handbook toLiterature. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1996.

Herbert, Thomas Walter. Moby Dick and Calvinism: A WorldDismantled. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1977.

Kim, Sharon. "Puritan Realism: The Wide, Wide World and Robinson Crusoe." American Literature 75, no. 4 (2003): 783–811.

Lowance, Mason I. The Language of Canaan: Metaphor andSymbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Miller, Perry. "Jonathan Edwards to Emerson." New England Quarterly 13, no. 4 (1940): 589–617.

Noll, Mark A. America's God: From Jonathan Edwards toAbraham Lincoln. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Raboteau, Albert J. Slave Religion: The "InvisibleInstitution" in the Antebellum South. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Weber, Max. Die protestantische Ethik und der "Geist" desKapitalismus [The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism]. Weinheim, Germany: Beltz Athenaeum, 2000.

Merit Kaschig


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CALVINISM, in its broadest sense, is the entire body of conceptions arising from the teachings of John Calvin. Its fundamental principle is the conception of God as absolutely sovereign. More than other branches of Protestantism, Calvinism emphasizes the doctrine of predestination, the idea that God has already determined whom to save and damn and that nothing can change his decision. The 1618–1619 Synod of Dort produced five canons that defined Calvinist orthodoxy: total depravity, the belief that original sin renders humans incapable of achieving salvation without God's grace; unconditional election, that the saved do not become so as a result of their own virtuous behavior but rather because God has selected them; limited atonement, that Christ died only to redeem those whom God has already chosen for salvation; irresistible grace, that individuals predestined for salvation cannot reject God's grace; and perseverance of the saints, that those whom God has chosen for salvation cannot lose that grace. The statement of Calvinism most influential in the United States was the Westminster Confession of 1647. New England Congregationalists accepted its doctrinal portion and embodied it in their Cambridge Platform of 1648. American Presbyterians coming from Scotland and Northern Ireland were sternly Calvinistic. The Synod of Philadelphia, the oldest general Presbyterian body in the United States, passed the Adopting Act in 1729, which required all ministers and licentiates to sub-scribe to the Westminster Confession. Other Calvinistic bodies in the United States are the Dutch and German Reformed churches and all Presbyterian bodies.


Cashdollar, Charles D. A Spiritual Home: Life in British and American Reformed Congregations, 1830–1915. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Hirrel, Leo P. Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Howard, Victor B. Conscience and Slavery: The Evangelistic Calvinist Domestic Missions, 1837–1861. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990.

Pahl, Jon. Paradox Lost: Free Will and Political Liberty in American Culture, 1630–1760. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

William W.Sweet/a. e.

See alsoBaptist Churches ; Cambridge Platform ; Congregationalism ; Presbyterianism ; Puritans and Puritanism ; Reformed Churches ; Religion and Religious Affiliation .


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Calvinism, the creed of Jean Calvin (1509–64), was largely as formulated in his Institutes, published 1536. Calvin was greatly influenced by St Augustine in inferring predestination from divine foreknowledge, and he therefore presumed that the elect, chosen for salvation, were known to God from before the creation. Free will was an illusion: ‘we call predestination God's eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man … eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others … it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God's will … when one asks why God has so done, we must reply, because he has willed it.’ [Institutes, iii. xxi. 5; xxiii. 2.] Church organization followed from that basic premiss, that the chosen of God—the elect—were entitled to no inferior place in worship, but should share government with the ministers. While Luther subordinated church to state, Calvin insisted on the supremacy of the church, with a presbyterian form of government. Doctrinally, Calvin shared with Luther belief in the absolute authority of the bible and in justification by faith alone. Taken into Scotland from Calvin's Geneva in 1559 by John Knox, Calvinism became the national creed and was recognized as the established church in 1690. In England it struggled first to influence Anglicanism, then to overthrow it, and was in command from the Civil War to the Restoration. After 1660 it was at first the most powerful of the dissenting sects but lost ground rapidly to the baptists and congregationalists and in the early 18th cent. was infiltrated by socinianism and unitarianism. Its theology continued to influence groups within the protestant dissenting churches, particularly the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. But the appeal of so austere and harsh a creed faded in an age of enlightenment and humanitarianism, and at the religious census of 1851 the Presbyterian churches had no more than 160 places of worship, while the Huntingdon Connexion had 109, the Welsh Calvinist Methodists 828, the congregationalists more than 3,000, and the methodists more than 10,000.

J. A. Cannon


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The term Calvinism was originally a polemical label meant to denigrate those deemed to be followers of the French reformer John Calvin (15091564). Those who in fact were most influenced by Calvin chose not to be named after a personCalvin or anyone elseand instead most commonly referred to themselves as members of the "Church reformed according to the Word of God" or simply as "those of the cause."

If Calvinism cannot be traced exclusively to one person, it also cannot be reduced to the presence of two or three fixed teachings. If one is to judge from the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (16461647), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the most prominent components of Calvinism include the centrality of the person and work of the Mediator; the work of the Holy Spirit in the right interpretation of the normative Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; the emphasis on the Church as the body of the elect and their assurance of salvation; justification and sanctification by grace alone through faith and the positive use of the law in guiding believers; the importance of the ordinary means of grace; and the need to translate the sovereignty of God into transforming political, educational, and economic structures. In polemical debate Calvinists were often divided over the implications of any given doctrine of predestination, especially concerning the question of free will and whether atonement is universal or limited.

See also Christianity, Reformed, Issues in Science and Religion


graham, w. fred, ed. later calvinism: international perspectives. kirksville, mo.: sixteenth century journal, 1994.

mcneill, john thomas. the history and character of calvinism. new york: oxford university press, 1962.

prestwich, menna, ed. international calvinism: 15411715. oxford: clarendon, 1985.

e. david willis


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Calvinism. The religious ideas of bodies and individuals who were profoundly influenced by the 16th-cent. church reformer John Calvin, or by his writings. In Calvinism there is typically a strong stress on the sovereignty of God over every area of life, and on the supremacy of scripture as the sole rule of faith and practice, an authority confirmed by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of predestination was never a leading axiom of Calvin's thought. But many of Calvin's early followers (e.g. Theodore Beza) were quick to establish the divine ‘decree’ (to eternal life and death) as the principle from which all other ideas were derived, and on this basis elaborated logically rigorous theological systems. Calvinist theology reached powerful expression in the Helvetic Confession (1566) and at the Synod of Dort (1618–19). The latter expounded the so-called ‘five points’ of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the final perseverance of the saints.


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Calvinism Set of doctrines and attitudes derived from the Protestant theologian John Calvin. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches were established in his tradition. Rejecting papal authority and relying on the Bible as the source of religious truth, Calvinism stresses the sovereignty of God and predestination. Calvinism usually subordinates state to church, and cultivates austere morality, family piety, business enterprise, education and science. The development of these doctrines, particularly predestination, and the rejection of consubstantiation in its eucharistic teaching, caused a split in Protestantism between Lutheranism and Presbyterianism. The influence of Calvinism spread rapidly. Important Calvinist leaders include John Knox and Jonathan Edwards.


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Cal·vin·ism / ˈkalvəˌnizəm/ • n. the Protestant theological system of John Calvin and his successors, which develops Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone and emphasizes the grace of God and the doctrine of predestination.DERIVATIVES: Cal·vin·ist n.Cal·vin·is·tic / ˌkalvəˈnistik/ adj.Cal·vin·is·ti·cal adj.


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Calvinism the Protestant theological system of the French Protestant theologian and reformer John Calvin (1509–64) and his successors, which develops Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone into an emphasis on the grace of God and centres on the doctrine of predestination.

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