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The Reformed

A few cities in southern Germany and Switzerland followed the somewhat different leadership of Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), the principal preacher in the most important church in Zurich, within the Swiss Confederation. So did some of the principalities in that area, as well as people in other countries. One particularly zealous group of religious reformers developed within France. They followed Zwingli especially in his sacramental theology, in his insistence that in the central Christian sacrament of communion, Christ was present only in spirit. He rejected the notion that the body and blood of Jesus could be transubstantiated into the elements of bread and wine served in this sacrament, as Catholic theologians claimed, or could even exist "in, with, and under" the elements as Luther and his followers claimed. Either interpretation of what happened was to Zwingli a form of idolatry, an invitation to people to adore man-made objects like bread and wine as if they were gods. And idolatry, the Bible makes clear, is condemned by God himself. In 1534, posters attacking the Catholic Mass as a form of idolatry were posted throughout France, even on the door of the king's own bedroom. That posting led to savage persecution, with substantial numbers of the Protestants who had supported this argument put to death as heretics or forced to leave the country.

One of those who left France was John Calvin, a highly educated French lawyer and humanist who had become a Protestant. He fled to Basel in Switzerland, where he taught himself theology and wrote a book summarizing the Protestant position, called the Christianae religionis institutio (1536; Institutes of the Christian Religion). That book won him a new job, after one false start, directing the Reformed Church of Geneva. Geneva had revolted from the government of a prince-bishop and had become an independent republic in alliance with the Swiss cantons. Calvin persuaded the Genevans to create a new form of church government and a new liturgy, and before long a new institution of higher education, an Academy, in which he became a leading teacher. Like Luther, he also became a best-selling author, writing learned biblical commentaries and inflammatory pamphlets, as well as expanding and revising his Institutes. Meanwhile Zwingli had died at a relatively young age, as a chaplain to troops belonging to Zurich engaged in a war with Swiss Catholics. Calvin became the most prominent spokesman for the Reformed branch of Protestantism.

Calvin is probably best known as a theologian for his commitment to predestination, the doctrine that God deserves the sole credit for choosing eternal salvation for every individual who gains it. He added to that relatively orthodox doctrine the idea that God also deserves the sole credit for choosing eternal damnation for every individual who receives it. In other words, he taught double predestination, predestination of the saved and of the damned. He also taught that God had made his decision on whether or not to save or damn each individual before the beginning of time, before these individuals were even created.

Calvin is also known as a church leader for his insistence on discipline, his belief that every individual Christian must not only adopt true belief but also behave in a truly Christian manner. To that end he insisted that Geneva create a new institution charged with maintaining discipline, called the Consistory. And he insisted that this new institution must have real powers, the power to excommunicate any sinner who misbehaved, without any provision for appeal, and to recommend expulsion from the city of sinners who refused to repent and reconcile themselves with the Consistory. This insistence on discipline became a mark of the true church to many of Calvin's followers. Lutherans and Zwinglians said that the only marks of a true church are the teaching of true doctrine and the correct observation of the sacraments. Many Calvinists insisted that there had to be a third mark, the mark of discipline. Calvinism became the most influential form of Protestant Christianity in much of Switzerland, parts of Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, Hungary, and selected parts of France.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Reason to RetrovirusReformation - Lutherans, The Reformed, Other Confessions, Confessionalism, Bibliography