Luther and Calvin as theologians. Specifically, it will compare and contrast Martin Luther and John Calvin as theologians, while making a strong and convincing opinion on both men. John Calvin and Martin Luther were both great thinkers, and the foundation of the Reformation that shook Europe in the 1500s. While they both had different theologies, there were some remarkable similarities, and both men certainly changed the face of religion by speaking out openly regarding their beliefs.
Luther and Calvin
Martin Luther is probably the most significant and renowned Protestant religious leader in the world. Luther was born in Eisleben, Saxony in 1483, and spent his undergraduate years studying for a law career, and then he switched focus to the priesthood. However, Luther found himself disagreeing with many of the Catholic Church's philosophies, and in 1517, Luther posted his famous "95 theses" on the door of a castle church in Saxony, and his official fracture with the Catholic Church had begun. He really did not expect to break from the Church at this time, he simply wanted to show his disagreements, but ultimately, the differences would grow. Luther refused to retract his ideas, and his position embarrassed the church, so the gap grew. By 1521, the church officially excommunicated him, and he began to form the foundation of his new religion through his writings and his very own theologies. Many found his ideas "presented a new ideal of piety -- that of the Christian man, free in conscience by virtue of faith and charged with the duty of conducting himself properly in a Christian brotherhood" ("Luther, Martin").
He felt there were two types righteousness, alien and proper, and many theologians believe this belief is one of the most important he developed. Luther wrote,
Therefore this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone -- while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ -- is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone. [...] The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness, not because we alone work it, but because we work with that first and alien righteousness (Dillenberger 88).
In a similar vein, Calvin too initially embraced the Catholic Church. One writer noted, "No writer has ever extolled the Holy Catholic Church with greater zeal than Calvin" (Mcneill 44). However, eventually, Calvin converted to Protestantism, and then began to develop his own unique ideas about theology and worship.
After his excommunication, Luther immersed himself in the Scriptures, and he dedicated much of his time to translating a version of the Bible into German. His morals and theology began to form into an organized religion, far distant from the Catholic dogma. Eventually, his ideas would form a new branch of Christianity - Protestantism, and his specific branch would transform into Lutheranism. As his ideas took hold, other clerics and religious leaders began to break away from the Catholic Church and form other branches of Protestantism, including of course, John Calvin. Calvin and Luther had very similar ideals, especially at first, and when Calvin began forming his own theological beliefs, he based many of them on Lutheranism. However, Calvin had one sharp difference in his philosophy, and that was with the Lord's Supper, as one expert states, "He refused to locate the Body in the sacramental bread and rejected Luther's doctrine of ubiquity" (Mcneill 49). Calvin honored Luther, and for many years hoped they could combine their often similar beliefs into one coherent religion, but this was never to be, for some basic interpretations of Latin texts could never be merged between the two men's different beliefs. "The literalism that could see no possibility of reading 'hoc est corpus meum' to mean 'this bread signifies my body'-is the 'sign' or the 'symbol' of my body -- is far removed from the mental processes of Calvin" (Mcneill 52). While the similarities between the two theologies were great, so where the differences, and they proved ultimately to be insurmountable.
A bit younger than Luther, John Calvin was born at Noyon, Picardy in 1509. Like Luther, he studied law, but he never used his education. As one writer noted, "The differences between Calvinism and Lutheranism can be accounted for in no small measure by the fact that Calvin began his career as a lawyer and Luther as a monk" (Harkness 5). Calvin converted to Protestantism in the 1530s, and began to actively speak out against the Catholic Church; he was even imprisoned for a short time because of his opinions. In 1536, he published the first edition of his famous work, "The Institutes of the Christian Religion," which is still a classic in religious writing today. In the summer of 1536, he met William Farel in Geneva. Farel was attempting to create a viable Protestant church in Geneva, and he convinced Calvin to help him. In August, Calvin moved to Geneva and took over the ministry, and the foundations of Calvinism began in his early ministries in Geneva.
Two of Calvin's most important doctrines were purity of doctrine and purity of living, and he developed these early in Geneva. He also developed a "Confession of Faith" that he believed would once and for all show, when it was signed by believers, who was Catholic, and who was Protestant. While Calvin incorporated many of Luther's theologies into his religion, it is quite clear that he was much more concerned with creating clear lines between the religions, while Luther was more concerned with creating a new way to worship rather than drawing clear cut lines between Lutheranism and Catholicism.
As his theology developed, it became clear many of his thoughts came from Lutheranism, but there were some glaring differences, too. Luther believed the clergy should marry, and in fact, he married a nun who had also left the Church. However, Luther, when faced with the idea of divorce, advocated bigamy rather than divorce, and Calvin had just as strong feelings against bigamy. He too believed the clergy should marry, and he did marry too, but he did believe in divorce. Both men were staunchly against adultery in any form, but Luther saw bigamy as a way around this mortal sin (Harkness 129). Other differences began to appear in the two religions as Calvin delved deeper into his own thoughts and ideas about what made the proper Protestant, as this expert states,
Luther made the witness of the spirit the chief criterion by which to distinguish the saved from the unsaved; Calvin accepted this but added an emphasis on righteousness and moral activity as the evidence of salvation which does not appear in Lutheranism. Luther was a mystic; Calvin a man of action. Luther looked upon the saved man primarily as the vessel or receptacle of the Holy Spirit; Calvin regarded him as the instrument or tool by which God's will is wrought (Harkness 79).
Thus, Calvin's theology was much more purposeful and even legal or regimented than Luther's, and this difference can partly be attributed to Calvin's early training in the law, where everything is cut and dried, and follows certain tenets. Luther, as noted, was more mystical, and perhaps even more spiritual, and so, his doctrine was not nearly as regimented as Calvin's, which may explain why Calvinism is not nearly as popular today as Lutheranism.
Many theologians speak of Luther and Calvin's differences in their writing and philosophies, and point to Calvin as the more fervent of the two, as this expert notes,
Luther, too, could speak vigorously of the Church in its visible as well as its spiritual and invisible aspect; but the tendency of his thought was so to emphasize the latter that he never reached the vivid practical ecumenism of Calvin. We can hardly think of him writing with Calvin's fervor that he would "cross ten seas" to advance the cause of harmony and unity among the evangelical churches (Mcneill 43).
Never one to covet the limelight, Luther initially resisted publishing all of his writings on theology and religious doctrine, but they were published in 1545, shortly before his death. Today, they stand as a testament to a man who changed the way the world worshipped, and how we look at religion, and religious freedoms. He died in Eisleben and was buried at Wittenberg, leaving behind an evangelical set of guidelines that stretched throughout the Western world and marked the first crack in the harmony of the Catholic Church. In Germany, his socio-religious theories laid a new beginning for German society. His writings, in forceful natural language, helped fix the principles of modern German. Martin Luther was a great man, a great religious leader, and a forward thinker who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, and he influenced many others to take up the cause for Protestantism, such as John Calvin.
Calvin, on the other hand, was a born orator, and he seemed to seek out the limelight more than Luther ever…