John Calvin and Martin Luther while both proponents of reform in the Catholic church, held distinctly different views of religious doctrine that profoundly influenced the religious landscape during the 16th century and encouraged citizens to take charge of their spirituality and salvation. Both religious leaders helped shape and influence the Reformation and formed the foundation for Episcopalian and Presbyterian beliefs today.
The Protestant Reformation is often considered one of the most revolutionary events to occur within the 16th century. During this time citizens were forced with the decision between Catholicism and Protestantism. John Calvin and Martin Luther are two figureheads who helped spearhead the Protestant Reformation. Despite there similar desire to reform the church and change the dominant doctrine of the time, Martin Luther and John Calvin were very different in their interpretations of religious doctrine. Martin Luther supported a less aggressive reformation based on 'faith-based practice', which promised salvation to mankind on the basis of faith alone. John Calvin on the other hand supported a more stringent and rigid doctrine, which suggested that mankind is either predestined for salvation or damnation, and to that effect there is little one, can do to change their destiny.
This paper will outline the primary differences between Calvinist and Lutheran doctrine with specific attention to how these different views of religious doctrine helped influence the religious landscape during the 16th century. The author will also review the relative merits of both Calvinist and Lutheran doctrine compared with Catholicism, and the influence all have had on faith-based practice throughout history.
Martin Luther and the Reformation
Most associate the Reformation with Martin Luther, a reportedly self-made man who struggled throughout his life with the intent of reconciling his religious faith "with wordy ambitions" (Kreis, 1). Luther believed that devotion to God would help him overcome "worldly distractions," but ultimately he still felt doubtful of his faith (Kreis, 1). Luther acknowledge that man by nature is sinful, much like John Calvin later did. However Luther's doctrine is very different from Calvin's.
Lutheran's beliefs form the foundation for Protestantism by refuting traditional beliefs of the Catholic church. Luther's beliefs arose from Martin Luther's personal struggle to overcome the guilt he associated with committing sin. Unlike Calvin Luther concerned himself less with changing the actual process of worship and more with determining what variables were essential for mankind's salvation. Luther believed that mankind could work toward salvation, a key tenet of the Catholic faith at the time. Luther however approached salvation from a much different viewpoint than traditional Catholic leaders at t he time.
Luther's primary argument was that sinners could be redeemed by faith-based practice alone. Throughout his life Luther felt doubts about much of the way Catholicism dictated faith, and strongly encouraged the idea that Christian salvation via piety requires that individuals are contrite for sins and trust God's mercy, but proclaimed that attending church alone, fasting and participating in good works were not enough to ensure ones salvation (Kreis, 2). Rather Luther supported various arguments presented in a document referred to as his Ninety-Five Theses. It is here that the basic tenets of Luther's faith are revealed, a series of ideas that challenge corruption and indulgences within the church as well as other unsound practices as defined by Luther (Kreis, 2).
Luther's secondary argument was against indulgences including the sale of indulgences to put buyer in touch with grace and to guarantee salvation (Kreis, 1). Indulgences at the time were "papal remission of the guilt still attaching to sins after the sins had been absolved primarily through the sacrament of Penance" (Mullett, 46). The idea of indulgences also supported the notion that b performing good deeds and charity one could help alleviate the guilt resulting from sins that might otherwise ensure ones suffering by damnation (Mullett, 46). Indulgences might almost be considered insurance policies to prevent damnation (Mullett, 46).
Luther suggested that indulgence was symbolic of false doctrine, and suggested that salvation is indeed contingent more on an individual's faith rather than sacraments or church rituals. Luther argued that faith alone without good works would ultimately result in one's salvation, an idea that at the time at best was considered heretical (Kreis, 1). The idea that good works would not guarantee salvation was quite radical for the time. Luther's arguments however continued to support the notion that only God not man could offer salvation or bestow salvation on mankind. Luther also supported the central notion that sinful people "were accounted and justified in God's eyes not through the worth they actively pursued but only passively, by accepting and trusting that Christ had died to atone for their sins (Mullett, 46). Hence anyone considered "just" according to Luther were capable of salvation through faith alone. Luther considered ritual acts or sacraments futile, suggesting that people could receive salvation through the amazing gift of divine faith alone (Gottfreid, 1).
Luther's principles and doctrines were widely embraced even though controversial at the time. Many feared for Luther's life as his suppositions opposed years of doctrine laid down by the Catholic church. However despite the controversy surrounding Luther's ideas, many grasped quickly onto the idea that faith alone might result in salvation. Many people turned toward Luther's faith as it offered a means of salvation without paying "homage to Rome" (Kreis, 1). Luther's faith was popular among the wealthy, but also among the poor who believed that Luther's perspectives afforded them more dignity and respect (Kreis, 1).
Luther believed and placed considerable effort in supporting the idea that it was the responsibility of individuals to "secure remission of sins through contrition for them" (Mullett, 46). Luther believed that man could seek salvation through contrite acts and through faith in God, and went as far as suggesting that faith alone was enough to promise salvation to mankind.
Those who oppose Luther's faith suggest that man cannot redeem sin through faith-based practice alone. Such practice according to opponents ultimately devalues good works and the need for charity and good faith efforts (Gottfried, 1). Luther however does not attempt to suggest that good works and deeds have no value in the church. Rather he suggests that such actions are not necessary to guarantee salvation.
John Calvin's Reformation
John Calvin in the second spiritual leader of the Protestant Reformation, and though similar to Luther in many ways offered entirely different perspectives on faith and salvation (Kreis, 1). Calvin did pull some key principles from Luther's Protestantism. Calvin defended the idea that mankind could be saved through faith-based practices alone and renounced Catholicism as did his predecessor Martin Luther (Kreis, 1). The core faith inspired by Calvin became known as Calvinism.
The basic foundation of Calvin's beliefs however are different from Luther, in that for Calvin faith-based practice was not a means through which individuals could acquire salvation. Rather Calvin argues that faith-based practices are merely something that God's elect choose to do because they are driven to do so because they are predestined for salvation. The primary premise behind this faith is that man is helpless before "an all powerful God" (Kreis, 1). This suggests that one can't change his or her density and perform acts to reverse the likelihood that one will suffer damnation.
The primary difference between Calvin and Luther, is that Calvin believed that while faith-based practices were essential to salvation, certain individuals were predestined to participate in such practices. This means that those predestined for salvation are more likely to engage in spiritual acts and good deeds. Calvin argues that people predestined for salvation will engage in faith-based practices, and must do so with the strictest adherence to the principles outlined in the scriptures. Calvin's doctrine is much more stringent than that asserted by Luther, and allows much less room for interpretation or analysis.
Calvin further asserted that free will did not exist and that all beings were predestined for their path on earth and the life they would lead after, whether in heaven or hell (Kreis, 1). According to Calvin there was nothing that man could do to influence or change his destiny. This suggests that if a man is good he performs good deeds because he is predestined to do so. Likewise someone that sins does so as this is his nature and he is destined to do so. Interestingly Calvin also acknowledges that some people may perform good deeds and services, but this alone is not a guarantee of salvation.
There are instances according to Calvin where despite ones actions one may not be destined for salvation. Calvin also spurned worldly pleasures and encouraged mankind to avoid material indulgences (Kreis, 1). The foundation of his beliefs is the idea of predestination that we are all predestined to either go to be saved or burn in the fires of damnation before birth. Because of this there is nothing that anyone can do to change his or her faith. These ideas are much less forgiving than Lutheran's doctrine, which suggests that faith-based practice…