Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

John Calvin (1509-1564) founded Calvinism, a severe form of the Protestant faith that took root in Switzerland, Scotland, America and the Netherlands. Even today those places still have a watered down sort of Calvinism. Presbyterian, Puritan and the Reformed churches grew out of Calvin’s teachings.

Calvin came a generation after Luther and Zwingli: he was only eight when Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door. But he took their thought and made it into a well-argued, rational system. You can read about it in his book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion”.

Calvin was born in France. He went to Paris to study to be a priest. He loved theology, Greek and Hebrew. But he found that the leaders of the Catholic Church were corrupt, its priests had little education and its believers just went through the motions.

In 1533 he turned against the Church and a year later he had to flee France. He first went to Basel, Switzerland. There he wrote his “Institutes”. In 1541 he came to Geneva, where he became the religious leader.

Like Luther he believed in sola scriptura and sola fide: that we are saved by faith, not works, and that all truth comes from Scripture, not from the mouths of popes or bishops.

And like Luther he believed that God had chosen whom he would save and send to heaven when he made the world. This is called predestination. But Calvin went further: he said that God has also chosen those who will go to hell; that we have no free will – how could we if God is all-powerful?

We are on our way to heaven or hell – God has already made his decision! God even wanted Adam to fall!

This was too much for most Protestants to take, even though no one had a good answer for Calvin’s well-reasoned arguments. It seems like a cruel doctrine, but since God is just everything is fine.

Really when you think about it, Calvin said, we should all go to hell. We have all sinned. Admit it. Christ died for our sins, but only for those who believe in him. And that belief, that faith, is only given to those whom God chooses. It is an act of God’s mercy. It has nothing to do with justice. None of us deserve it.

How to tell if you are going to heaven:

  • Confession of the faith
  • A Christian life
  • Love of the sacraments

Calvin recognized only two sacraments: baptism and communion. The other five sacraments, he said, are not in Scripture, therefore they were not instituted by Christ.

Calvin said that Christ is not present physically in the bread and wine of communion, as Catholics and Lutherans believed. Instead Christ sends the Holy Spirit into the believer when he takes communion.

Calvin allowed plain crosses in church, but none with Christ pictured on them. He allowed singing, but only psalms.

Calvin was influenced by Augustine, but he took his ideas on predestination much further.

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Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a Swiss priest who became one of the three founding influences of the Protestant faith, along with Luther and Calvin.

His ideas went further than Luther’s and after his death were made more sensible and intellectual by Calvin. Zwingli brought Zurich, Berne and Basel into the Protestant fold, but through Calvin his influence is far greater still: in much of the English-speaking world today his ideas have become simple common sense.

Zwingli held the Bible and his interpretation of it above everything. If he could not find it in the Bible, then it had to go. The Bible holds the Christian faith in all its purity. Everything else added to it in the centuries since are corruptions.

So Zwingli did away with things like pilgrimages, fasting, the mass, divine sacraments, altars, images and even music from his church.

Zwingli, the son of a well-to-do family, received a good, humanist education and became a priest. He taught himself Greek and read the New Testament in the original as well as the Church Fathers and the great works of Greece and Rome. Erasmus was his hero. He learned Hebrew as well. He read the Bible in the humanist manner he was taught at school: in the original tongues and depending chiefly on his own reason and judgement.

Humanists, above all, think for themselves. “Man is the measure of all things,” they say. Things have to make sense. Seeing is believing. Burying something in a lot of long words or saying “It has always been done this way” does not wash with them. Reason and individual judgement matter above all.

So in this spirit Zwingli read the Bible for himself. Where his interpretation did not agree with that of the Church, he was right, the Church was wrong. He persuaded not just himself but all of Zurich.

Together they went forth to purify the faith of altars and images, of holy sacraments and all the other corruptions that had built up over the centuries. Monasteries were closed, the state took the Church’s land. The gold cups that once held the blood of Christ were made into money. Priests began to marry – even Zwingli himself. His new wife gave birth less than a month later (chastity, like humility, was not one of his strong points).

But in a matter of years it all sank into war. Not just Catholic against Protestant, but in time even Protestant against Protestant. Zwingli himself fell in battle at the age of 47.

Zwingli left the Protestant world divided: Luther said that the bread and wine at church becomes – physically – the body and blood of Christ. Christians had believed this since the time of Christ. But Zwingli said no, it was still just ordinary bread and wine – it only represented the body and blood of Christ, it did not become the real thing.

That this might seem a senseless dispute today, even to Christians, shows better than anything the effect Zwingli has had.

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