Calvinism

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Calvinism

Calvinism, term used in several different senses. It may indicate the teachings expressed by John Calvin himself; it may be extended to include all that developed from his doctrine and practice in Protestant countries in social, political, and ethical, as well as theological, aspects of life and thought; or it may be employed as the name of that system of doctrine accepted by the Reformed churches (see Presbyterianism), i.e., the Protestant churches called Reformed in distinction from those professing Lutheran doctrines (see also Reformed churches). Early Calvinism differed from Lutheranism in its rejection of consubstantiation regarding the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, in its rigid doctrine of predestination, in its notion of grace as irresistible, and in its theocratic view of the state. Luther believed in the political subordination of the church to the state; Calvinism produced the church-dominated societies of Geneva and Puritan New England. Calvinism, stressing the absolute sovereignty of God's will, held that only those whom God specifically elects are saved, that this election is irresistible, and that individuals can do nothing to effect this salvation. This strict Calvinism was challenged by Jacobus Arminius, whose more moderate views were adopted by the Methodists and the Baptists. Calvinism challenged Lutheranism throughout Europe, spread to Scotland, influenced the Puritans of England, and received its expression in the United States in the modified New England theology of the elder Jonathan Edwards. The doctrinal aspects of Calvinism receded under the rationalism of the 18th and 19th cent. In more recent times, however, in the Reformed theology of Karl Barth, the Calvinist stress on the sovereignty of God found new and vital expression.

See J. T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (1954, repr. 1967); B. G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (1969); M. Prestwich, ed., International Calvinism, 1541–1715 (1987).

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