John Calvin is a principal figure of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, along with Henry VIII, separated Protestantism from the Roman Catholic Church, and Calvin's doctrines and theology created profound changes within the fledgling Protestant churches. In particular, Calvin led Protestantism to insert itself into state control and secular affairs, and his ideas about salvation and whether it is predestined by God or open to all, are still debated in contemporary times.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation had three components: Lutheran, Reformed and English. The Lutheran and English Reformations are a product of schism with the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformed, or Calvinist, Reformation resulted from theological differences among early Protestants. Reformation began in the early 16th century when the German monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged papal authority. Luther proposed a revolutionary idea that people can seek salvation without mediation by religious authority. Soon after, King Henry VIII of England parted from the Roman Catholic Church because the pope would not grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and the Church of England was born. In the 1530s, John Calvin, heavily influenced by the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, diverged from the Lutherans over the concept of predestination and created the Reformed branch of Protestantism.

John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian, brought profound changes to the Reformation. By 1530, he had become an aggressive advocate of Protestantism, and in 1536, Calvin went to Geneva to help the city split from the Roman Catholic Church. However, Calvin's reforms were not welcome by those in power, and he fled the city in 1538. Upon his return in 1541, he instituted radical reform into church structure and exerted religious authority over the state. His reforms quickly became known as Calvinism and spread throughout Europe, where they heavily influenced Protestant reforms.

Reformed Church

Calvin is the father of the Reformed Church, which asserts the Calvinist doctrine that God is the absolute authority and believes in predestined salvation for a select few. The early reforms instituted by Calvin in Geneva called for religious authority over moral behavior, but at the same time sought to make religious authority and clergy independent of state control. Calvin's reformed theology has five principle points: the total depravity of humans; predestination; limited atonement; irresistible grace; and perseverance of the saints.

Calvin and Reformation

In 1536, Calvin published "Institutes of the Christian Religion" and established his Reformed Protestantism in Geneva. He wanted to create the ideal Protestant community in much the same way the Roman Catholic Church established its seat of power in Rome. Calvin urged the separation of church and state in Geneva, but he gave ultimate control to the church. He influenced the Reformation in two important ways. First, his concept of predestination and his popular postulate that God is the supreme authority became the theological hallmarks of future Protestant denominations such as the Huguenot, Puritan, Presbyterian, and the Reformed churches. Second, he influenced future Protestant-led governments to incorporate church authority into the affairs of the state.