Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

1
The Tradition Established A European Prologue

THE STORY OF the Reformed tradition in the South Carolina low country began not along its dark rivers or sandy shores but beside the Alpine Lake of Geneva. Here, long before the first permanent European settlers arrived in Carolina, a distinct religious tradition emerged in the midst of social and political transformations remaking Europe. This chapter introduces that religious tradition: its rise, its spread among the nations of Europe, its theological foundations and social characteristics. This "European Prologue" is intended to provide a brief historical overview of the rise of the European Reformed communities and some clarity about their nature and character--for it would be from among these communities that the Reformed tradition was transplanted to the low country of Carolina.


John Calvin

John Calvin's arrival in Geneva in the summer of 1536 as a young French refugee was a turning point for the Protestant Reformation.1 Already his Institutes of the Christian Religion, published only a few months earlier in the neighboring Swiss city of Basel, was becoming a sensational best seller, destined to be one of those rare books that helps to shape the course of history.2 Under Calvin's leadership a second phase of Protestant expansion--following the earlier Lutheran Reformation--was about to begin. This Reformed phase, riding waves of change that had long been building, would radiate from Geneva across Europe and in less than a hundred years across the North Atlantic.

Seismic disruptions had been shaking the old order of Western Europe for generations by the time Calvin arrived in Geneva. First in the city-states of Italy, then farther north, modern forms of commercial and industrial organizations had begun to emerge in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a new and dynamic capitalist economy took shape. Cycles of economic crises, depres­ sions, and social unrest were hastening the collapse of medieval ways and helping to usher in the modern world. Traditional society--in which hierarchy was the fundamental ordering principle, patriarchy and personal loyalty were pri-

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