Over the next many posts I will be writing about the theology of John Calvin and how as Catholics we would view and differ from his beliefs. There will be many “sub-topics” that relate to this discussion – topics like original sin and our human condition, our role in judging others (or not!), whether God offers salvation to all people or only to a group of “elect,” whether or not salvation can be lost (Once-Saved, Always Saved) and whether all sin is equal or if the concept of mortal and venial sins can be found in Scripture.
But first, a little history. Martin Luther(1483-1546), a Catholic priest launched Protestantism in Germany in 1517. He is excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521. This split results in the formation of the Lutheran Church which becomes the state church in Germany.
John Calvin (1509-1564) was from France. He studied to be a priest, but instead eventually received a law degree. In 1530 he left the Catholic Church. In 1533 he had a religious conversion and aligned with Protestantism and became a Protestant minister. But his theology diverges from Luther in several key ways, and we see the first major split within Protestantism. He leaves France and bases his work from Switzerland. His five “points” of Calvinism form the basis for what is known as “reformed” theology today. Presbyterian churches adhere to Calvin’s theology as well as most “reformed” churches and some Baptists.
Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian who grew up Protestant. He countered many of Calvin’s positions, and especially disagreed with Calvin’s view that man does not have free will in matters of salvation. In general Methodists, Evangelicals and some Baptists tend to align with the theology of Arminius.
I ran across this quote once from an Assemblies of God site. The link is no longer valid (I hate it when that happens). But it said this:
“The Christian religious world divides basically into two schools of thought concerning the spiritual destiny of people. One is Calvinism, named after John Calvin (early 16th century); the other is Arminianism, traced back to James Arminius (late 16th century). The theological debate is thus centuries old.”
As a Catholic, I’ve been asked before if our theology is Calvinist or Arminian. My answer has always been we’re Catholic, and our theology predates both Calvin and Arminius by about 1500 years. But that question and this quote show that for many non-Catholic Christians there is little recognition that the development of Christian theology and the history of the Church didn’t begin until the 1600s.
Catholics would tend to align more closely with Arminians over the topic of free will, which is paramount to any discussion regarding Calvinism. More on that topic next.