5.1 The Calvinism’s Limited International Acceptance
|Map 1: The three leading Reformers in the 16th Century in Europe|
Before 1555, Calvinism was growing but had not yet gained official status except in Geneva and the tiny Kingdom of Navarre, on the French side of the Pyrenees. It was not even
recognized as an option by the German princes in the Peace of Augsburg (1555). Among European governing elites, it was generally regarded with suspicion if not contempt. The most promising area or growth was France, Calvin's own homeland. His message attracted many members of the urban middle classes, who had begun to feel alienated from both church and state. Missionaries from Geneva carried Calvin's message to France where the church was organized in a national system of congregations and synods. French Calvinists, or Huguenots as they were called, made up an aggressive minority of discontented nobles and middle-class urban citizens. The new movement also enlisted a large proportion of women, drawn by opportunities for direct participation in the services. Many joined reading groups, where they discussed the Bible and theological issues. Early Calvinist women worked diligently for the cause, not only converting their husbands and families but also founding religious schools, nursing the sick, and aiding the poor. Strasbourg, in the 1530s, was a free center for Protestant reformers such as Matthew Zell and his wife, Katherine, who befriended many Calvinist preachers, including Martin Bucer, the missionary to England during the reign of Edward VI.51 In the same period, Calvinism was a belief that was dependent on the strength of the individual. Geneva became the most influential city in the Protestant movement. It represented the city where religion had been most truly reformed and changed for the better. John Knox, the Scottish Protestant leader, called Geneva "the most perfect school of Christ." Geneva’s impact on Europe was huge for two reasons.
Calvin did not want his belief to be restricted to just one area and he did not want Geneva to become a refuge place for fleeing Protestants.
The city was to be the heart that pumped Calvinism to all of Europe. This spread was to be based on a new educational system which was established in Geneva. Both primary and secondary schools were created and in 1559 the Academy was established which was to become the University of Geneva. Geneva was/is French speaking and Calvin spoke French.
It was expected that many French Huguenots (Calvinists in France were known as Huguenots) would head for the university to train as missionaries. This was the main task of the university. In 1559 it had 162 students. In 1564, it had over 1500 students. Most of these were foreign. Calvin had some luck with his teaching staff as there had been a dispute over the level of pay at Lausanne University and many of the teaching staff there simply transferred to Geneva as the pay was better and the financial structure of the university was on a stronger footing.
After their course at Geneva, the missionaries were given a French-speaking congregation in
Switzerland, where they could perfect their skills, before moving on to France itself. The ease with which ministers could get into France was a bonus for Calvin. However, the size of the country was to be both a help and a hindrance to Calvinists.
5.2 Calvinism in France
French aristocratic women also promoted the growth of Calvinism. As the Renaissance moved north, many young French women were educated in the new humanism and began to question the traditional Catholic dogma. Margaret of Angouleme, Queen of Navarre (1492-1549) and sister of the French king, often petitioned her brother on behalf of Protestants accused of heresy and kept reformers at her court, where Calvin was sheltered at one time. Her daughter, Jeanne d'Albret (1528-1572), who became queen in 1549, established Calvinism in Navarre, having converted her second husband, the French aristocrat, Antone de Bourbon. Because Calvinism had enlisted many French dissident nobles who intended to resist royal power, the Bourbon leader hoped to gain their support and use it later to further his family's claim to the French throne. Jeanne, however, was dedicated to Calvinist principles, raising money and enlisting recruits among her contempories. She was a powerful member of the aristocratic Huguenot clique, headed by Admiral de Coligny and the Bourbon Prince, Louis of Conde. The first Huguenot (Calvinist) ministers arrived in France in 1553. By 1563, there were nearly 90 Huguenots in France and the speed of its spread surprised even Calvin. Henry II of France was a strong catholic and he had established a body called the Chambre Ardente in 1547 to monitor and hunt out ‘heresy’ in France. It was not a success and was disbanded in 1550.
Whereas his father (Francis I) had used Protestantism to help advance his power against the
Parlament de Paris, Henry had no wish to have any association with Protestants whatsoever. In 1555 the first Huguenot congregation to have a permanent minister was established in Paris. By 1558, this congregation was worshipping in the open guarded by armed sympathisers. In 1559, the first synod (national council) was held in Paris. In total 72 local congregations were represented by the elders, from each congregation. In some regions of France traveling ministers had to be used but this was never a major problem as the organization of the church was so tight. Many Huguenot communities were near each other so communication was never really a problem.
Educated merchants were drawn to Calvinism. This occurred probably as a result of the impact of the Renaissance and as a reaction to the rigidity of the Catholic Church.
|Map 2: Spread of Calvinism in Europe’s 16th century|
A number of noble families converted to Calvinism though there is not one common link to
explain their conversion. Each family had its own individual reason. Ironically one of these
reasons may have been patriotic. Catholicism was linked to Rome and since the Concordat of
Bologna, the French had always linked their religion to national causes. By associating yourself with Calvinism, you would be expressing your belief that France should have no links to Italy.
The Huguenots were concentrated on the coast mainly in the west (La Rochelle) and in the
south-east. They develop their own cavalry force and openly worshipped in their own churches. The sheer size of France aided them in the respect that the royal government in Paris found it difficult enough to assert its authority generally. The strict organization of the Huguenots made any attempt by the authorities to crush them very difficult. Added to this was the simple fact that la Rochelle was a long way from Paris. By 1561, there were 2150 Huguenot churches in France and Calvinists were estimated to be about 10% of the population - about 1 million people. It has to be remembered that the first Calvinist ministers only got to France in 1553. Calvinism within France became a large minority religion.
5.3 Calvinism in Italy
|Map 3: The Spread of Waldensians in the 15th Century|
Calvinism made gains elsewhere but did not win political power. In Italy, the Duchess of Ferrara copied the Navarre church service for her private chapel and harbored Calvinist refugees; and Zofia Olesnicka, wife of a Polish noble, endowed a local Calvinist church. A comparing map of places with Waldensian churches and the places where Calvinism quickly took root shows an impressive relationship between the promotional work was done by this congregational oriented non-Presbyterian group which indeed was Calvin’s theological backbone in much of France and on continental Europe.
5.4 Calvinism in the Netherlands
The Netherlands: Calvin made important gains in this state. Ministers first arrived here in the1550’s aided by Huguenot preachers who were fleeing from France. They made slow progress at first. By 1560, Calvinism had not spread far because the authorities were very active against it. In total, Protestantism accounted for 5% of the whole population in the Netherlands of which the Calvinists were just a small part. No noble men appeared to be interested as they were too concerned with their political power and economic well being. They knew that the Catholic Church was corrupt but they found the Calvinists far too authoritarian as the church told you what you could do and what you could not. Most Calvinists were from Antwerp, Ghent and regions near Germany.
5.5 Calvinism in Germany
|Map 4: Spread of Calvinism and Lutheranism in 16th Century|
In West Germany Calvinism first entered from the Netherlands in the sixthies and was first visible in the cities Cleve, Jülich, in East Frisian and Bentheim the connection to the Calvinist Dutch regions was strong too. Lutheranism had already taken root as had Anabaptism so Calvinism was seen as another protest religion in a ever crowded field.61 There was also a lot of persecution in general against Protestants. In 1524, Charles V introduced his own Inquisition to the region and in 1529 and 1531 new edicts were introduced ordering the death penalty to anyone who was found guilty of being a Lutheran or who would shelter them or help spread Lutherans beliefs. In 1550 Charles V removed the authority of city councils to try heretics. It was his belief that city magistrates were too lenient and that the provincial courts which took over this duty would have far greater control than the city magistrates. These measures did check the spread of Protestantism but of all three Calvinism was the most successful and the best equipped to survive. Its system of non-religious governments by elders allowed it to operate regardless of the authorities. The Anabaptists were too reliant on the role of the individual as opposed to strength in numbers and organization while the Lutherans were poorly organized and more open to attack from the authorities. Calvinism developed into a popular movement in NW Rhineland and Westphalia - both neighbours of the Netherlands. These were the only areas to convert. In 1562, Frederick III modeled churches in his territory on the Calvinist model which was contrary to the 1555 Religious Settlement of Augsburg which stated that churches could only be Catholic or Lutheran. Heidelberg became a leading intellectual centre but the spread elsewhere was very limited due to Lutheranism and the input of Calvinism into Germany served to disunite the Protestant movement and help the Catholic Church in the Counter-Reformation. John Sigismund of Brandenburg was to convert at a later date and his state followed.
5.6 Calvinism in Poland
The western area of Poland was German speaking which had helped Luther. However, Poland had a history of nationalism and a desire to be independent and this did not help Luther who had not spent time organizing his church. Calvinism first reached Poland in 1550 and the nobles latched on to the idea of using the civilian population - and giving them some power in their religious rights - as a lever to expand their own power. Two leading nobles (Prince Radziwill the Black and John a Lasco) actively helped the spread of Calvinism as did two kings (Stephen II and Stephen Bathory). Regardless of this, Calvinism did not spread far. Why? Most of its population was Catholic, but Poland's rulers had long practiced religious toleration: When the Protestant Reformation began in the 16th century, a large portion of the upper classes of Poland got interested (esp. Calvinism) By 1550's, a majority of the Polish Parliament (the Seym) were Protestants. Even radical Protestants - like the Anabaptists and Mennonites were allowed into Poland. The Catholic bishops of Poland responded to this influx of Protestants with toleration. Some shared their churches with Lutherans. Some did not care about whatever religion some wanted as long as they paid their church taxes: The bishop of Krakow - "I don't care if you worship a goat, as long as you keep paying your tithes". In one famous case, a man (an Arian) was brought before the Polish Parliament for stamping on the Eucharist during a Catholic procession. The Parliament decided that if God was offended, God should be the one to punish him. In 1539 – the king declared freedom of the press at main university of Poland (Jagiellon) – at a time when only the Swiss Confederation alreadz had allowed freedom of the press. This kingdom in the 16th century allowed freedom of thought and religion, and even let a large portion of its population become Protestant. And yet, by the late 17th century, due to an organized effort by smart Jesuits, who by offering education for free gained control over the national education system most people of Poland were Catholic again. Jesuits arrived in 1564. They began to publish books and founded schools and 40 colleges by 17th century - They didn't charge tuition and allowed people of all faiths to enter them. By the 17th century, they were the main educators of the upper classes of Poland. The Jesuits also got the Polish farmers on their side, - preaching them they shouldn't be oppressed. By the mid 17th century, the Catholics were fully in charge of Poland - other religions were still tolerated - but Catholics were favored for getting governmental posts and serving in Parliament Others believe another problem was the language. Most Poles did not speak German and therefore language remained a major stumbling block as most Calvinist preachers did not speak Polish and could not communicate with the population.
|Map 5: Calvinism, Lutheranism, Hussites and other |
Pre-dominat Religious Convictions in Mid 16th Century Europe
Another problem was that numerous Protestant religions already existed in Poland (Bohemian Brethren, Anabaptists, Unitarians etc.) and those who might be won away from the Catholic Church had already been so. In 1573 in the Confederation of Warsaw, both Catholics and Protestants agreed to make religious toleration part of the constitution to be sworn by each succeeding king. But the division among the Protestants meant that the Catholic Church dominated the country and her nickname at this time was the "Spain of the north".
5.7 Calvinism in Hongrie
By the middle of the 16th century there was a considerable Protestant movement in Hungary,
mainly in the eastern part of the country where it enjoyed the protection of the princes of Transylvania. The major part of the movement came under Calvinistic influence and the church became Presbyterian in its polity. In the 17th century the movement was oppressed through the combined efforts of the Habsburg dynasty and the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The work of the Counter-Reformation culminated in 1673. Catholicism was ruthlessly re-imposed all over the country. Pastors were forced to renounce their faith, many were expelled, and some sold as galley-slaves. It was only the Diet of 1790-91 which restored civil rights to Protestants. The agreement of 1867 set the pattern of church-state relations till the end of the second world war.