Calvinism: how Geneva became “the Rome” of the Protestantism

The doctrine of Calvinism derives from various reforms made by the French Jean Calvin during the 16th century. This religious belief is the expansion from what Martin Luther already started in 1517 in Germany, enlarging the protestant reform of Christianity. While Luther’s Protestantism spread in Germany and Scandinavia, Calvinism also stemmed in other parts of Europe, and then expanded to the new England and Africa, thanks to the French colonies.
Understood as a new conception of the Protestantism and more in general of the Christianity, Calvinism differs from the Catholic belief – derived from the western part of the Roman Empire – or the Orthodox belief – derived from the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Jean Calvin was a French theologian and reformist of the 16th century. He was born in France at the beginning of 1500, and migrated to Switzerland to escape the religious persecutions of the French population. These religious persecutions lead people from different countries to find refuge in Geneva, where Calvin trained them according to his belief. Then, they went back to their countries and spread the religion by their own. For instance, John Knox was the main Calvinist of Scotland. In fact, he described Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the Apostles”.

Jean Calvin traveled to Basel (Switzerland), Strasbourg (France), Ferrara and Geneva (Italy), where he settled down after leaving due to the French persecution. In 1536 he published his main work, “The Institution of the Christian Religion” that is considered to be the foundation of his doctrine. It was published in Latin, and later on – in 1541 – also in French. Calvin wanted that everyone following his religion would profess it in a free circumstance and if needed to be able to bear also persecutions. Geneva was the city where the foundation of the Calvinist idea was born, it was also called “the Rome of the Protestantism”. Later on, it spread also to the rest of Switzerland, in Scotland, in France, in the Netherlands, in England, in Germany. Then in Hungary and in Poland. In England and the Anglo-Saxon world, the Calvinism turned into what we now call Puritanism. Before Calvin came to Switzerland, the most important reformist figure in Geneva was Guillaume Farel. When he heard about Calvin arriving in Geneva, he begged him for help to reform and adapt the territory according to his view of the religion. 

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The main characteristics of Calvinism:

Calvin gave to his followers the so called “elected”, that are the people that God chose to be the population of the Earth. This community was aimed at representing the doctrine of the religion, in order to spread it around the territories. Therefore, the lifestyle of each person needed to reflect the fundaments of this religion.

One of the main characteristics of the Calvinist idea is the doctrine of predestination. According to this protestant Christian religion each of us is submitted to the will of God, the human being has no choice at all and everything depends on the will of the Superior. For Calvin there is not sort of “libero arbitrio” for the people, because everything that we do comes from a divine impulse from above. A human being has no possibility to change his libero arbitrio and his predestination. On the contrary, according to the catholic thought you are able to make the good or the bad. You are able to choose between these two possibilities, of either the good or the bad. If you do good you will be rewarded and if you do bad you will be punished. In the Calvinist idea the choice doesn’t exist, you are simply submitted to the will of God. This means that the persons are not free; they are predestined from the day that they are born.

The main and only religious reference that a Calvinist should have is the Bible. It is the fundamental charter of the Christian Calvinist person and the only source of knowledge since it collects the words of God.

Another important feature is the abolition of the ecclesiastic hierarchy, the Calvinistic community is governed by a pastor or minister, elected by the people themselves. They don’t accept the Pope as the main reference of God on Earth.

According to the Calvinism, the society is aimed to work hard and to pursue their career. The main focus is to be a “workaholic” and giving the best possible every day, no type of laziness and listlessness is permitted. Therefore, the productivity is the key of this thought. It is important to have economic success since it will be rewarded in a future. This lead to the contribution of the capitalistic evolution in the fields were Calvinism appeared. And it also explains why Geneva, or Switzerland in general is so aimed and focused at working, producing and improving everyday their career.


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