19.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Calvinism is one of the branches of Protestantism. It is named after its founder, the French theologist and preacher John (Jean) Calvin.

The ideas of Calvinism appeared in the XVI century, during the period of conflict between the Lutherans and the supporters of the Reformation. Adapting to the realities of that time, Calvinism was closely related to politics, which allowed it to spread its influence over many European countries.


Modern forms of calvinism

There are currently three movements of Calvinism in the world.

  1. Presbyterianism (which means Senior in Greek) is one of the branches of Protestantism and it displays a special form of church organization. Presbyterians pay specific attention to baptism as the act of entering the circle of adherents, it also practices group psalm singing and has common sacraments for the priesthood and laypeople.

Presbyterians also share the ideas of divine salvation (without the participation of the priest), spiritual predestination and the perfection of the Holy Writ. The movement is widespread in the USA, Scotland, Australia and Canada, as well as in ex-British Colonies in Africa and in South Korea. There are also churches in England and Northern Ireland.

  1. Reformation Churches (from the Latin word meaning transforming or correcting). These came about as the consequence of the Reformation of Calvinist churches of continental Europe, which were dominant in France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, in the XVI century. The main difference of the Reformation church from the Presbyterian is that the latter does not embrace the liturgy (the main Christian worship). The supporters of the Reformation Church teach the idea of double predestination. Some people are thus chosen by God for salvation and others for death regardless of their will and actions.
  2. Congregationalism (the independent Congregational church, originated by Oliver Cromwell) is a radical type of Calvinism. The authorities for the followers of this church in spiritual deeds are local, autonomous and self-governed religious organizations (congregations). They are understood by the Christians as assemblies of adherents each of which ‘follows their conscience directed by the spirit of God…’ (F.E. Meyer).

Calvinist opinions are also present in other branches of Protestantism (including the doctrine of the Baptists, Puritans, Pentecostals, Methodists and Evangelical Christians). The beliefs of John Calvin can also be found in Para-Christian doctrines, for instance, in those of the Mormons who teach the ‘restoration’ of Christianity as it originally was.

History of development

Despite the similarity of the Calvinism term with the surname of one of the early representatives of the doctrine, the history of its origin is often connected to Ulrich Zwingli, the Christian humanist and philosopher who was the leader of Calvinist reformation in Switzerland. The reason for the spreading of Calvinism was the Reformation which commenced on October 31, 1517. The stimuli for this were the ninety-five theses of Martin Luther against the Roman Catholic Church which he nailed to the gate of the church in Wittenberg.

Apart from Lutheranism, Calvinism within Protestantism developed differently in different European countries.

Switzerland and germany

During the Marburg Colloquy in 1529 the Protestantism movement divided into the Lutherans (in Germany) and the supporters of the Reformation (in Switzerland). Ulrich Zwingli appeared as a leader of the latter. The supporters of the Reformation believed that the sacrament ceremony has a symbolic nature and the followers of Martin Luther stated that the adherents take genuine symbolic blood and body of Jesus Christ via the Communion.

After the death of Zwingli in 1531 John Calvin assumed the leadership over the Reformation during its opposition to the Catholics. In 1536 the followers of Protestantism in Switzerland took the Helvetic Confession, and in 1563 the German Heidelberg Catechism was published.


In France the Calvinists appeared in many of the large cities for the first time around 1534, and they began to call themselves the Huguenots. Many attempt  to spread Calvinism were unsuccessful. The Huguenots were supported only in Orleans, La Rochelle, Nimes and Toulouse.

However in 1572 the followers of Catholicism eliminated about three thousand Calvinists in Paris. This event was called the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Despite large losses, the Calvinists managed to fight for some of their ideas and in 1598 the Edict of Nantes was accepted (although it was cancelled in 1685).

Eastern europe

Almost immediately after its origin Calvinism began to spread in Hungary and Rzeczpospolita. The leaders of the Hungarian Principality of Transylvania adhered to the Helvetic Confession in 1567. They formed the Hungarian reformed church, the members of which form one fifth of modern religious Hungarians.

In Rzeczpospolita, the doctrine attracted the attention of the nobility (szlachta), but its authority fell because of the preaching of Antitrinitarians (Polish brothers and Socinians). In 1570 the Calvinists and other Protestants signed the Sandomierz Agreement for the purpose of fighting against the Catholics, but during the Counter-Reformation the attempts to spread Calvinism in Rzeczpospolita were destroyed. Poland and Lithuania continued to profess Catholicism.


in 1571 Calvinism appeared in the Netherlands, and the reformed church of the Netherlands came into being. In 1566 its followers provoked the Iconoclastic Revolt which became the start of the revolution. The power of the Heidelberg Catechism was approved by the Synod of Dort which took place in 1618. The ideas of the Calvinists gradually spread to other countries, including South Africa (the Dutch Reformed Church was created there) and Great Britain – where the Calvinists were called the Puritans.


The followers of Calvinism affected the outcome of the English revolution and influenced the adaptations to the spiritual life of the Anglo-Saxons. The Church of England supported the Protestant theology and this was reflected in the Westminster Confession of 1648. But the presence of pompous hierarchy of the Anglican priesthood points at their adherence with Catholicism – or so the radical Calvinists believed.

During this period, the followers of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism appeared among the protesting Calvinists. The first influenced the American Revolution of the XVIII century, having settled in New England, and the second influenced the formation of the religion in Scotland.

In the XIX century an attempt to bring the representatives of Lutheranism and Calvinism together was performed. This was in 1817, in honor of the tercentennial anniversary of the Reformation and was called the Prussian Union of Churches.

Postulates of calvinism

Unlike Martin Luther, who conducted the Reformation in order to free the church from elements that contradicted the Bible, John Calvin believed that things that are absent from the Holy Writ (the Bible) should be removed from it. The special feature of the Calvinist theology is rationalism and the disapproval of mysticism.

The core of Calvinism is that the supreme power in everything belongs solely to God. The doctrine is also based on the following principles:

  • literal interpretation of the Bible from the position of the divine authority of the teachings of the Bible;
  • considering only one source of the Holy Writ (the Bible) as divine and spiritual; the acknowledgement of fallibility of any human councils follows from this;
  • the absence of monkhood, because men and women were created by God for the purpose of family creation and childbirth;
  • rejection of any orders and denial of requirement of help to the priesthood regarding human salvation and the liquidation of church ritualism (listening to music, lighting candles or using wall images);
  • accepting the doctrine of divine predestination of human life, that is salvation or condemnation (as well as those of the world);
  • the contradictory statement that the act of faith should not be performed for salvation but should determine its genuineness. Thus salvation is accessible for anyone believing in Christ.
Postulates of calvinism

Calvinism is characterized as a positive ascetic stimulation for a wide range of religious people. The doctrine of Calvinism on predestination became a cause of controversy, where the upper class of the priesthood – which was inherently above the common people during the prosperity of Catholicism – was replaced by true theologians serving all people.