The Attitudes of Martin Luther and John Calvin Toward Political Authority and Social Order

The Protestant Reformation was initiated by the Augustinian monk Martin Luther, who developed different views concerning how society should be run and how government should be adhered; which were in opposition to his third successor, the French lawyer, John Calvin. The Protestant Reformation was a movement which emerged in the 16th century as a series of attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe.

Although politically Martin Luther wanted the current monarchy to remain as the form of government, socially he preferred nobility over the peasants but sympathized with them and wanted social order to remain with the same division of lower and upper classes. On the contrary, John Calvin believed that the political authority should be changed from monarchy to the reformed church and socially wished for a social revolution where Christians were able to rule and have authority.

Although, Luther worked in the existing political framework, Calvin on the other hand wanted to overpower the existing government. Martin Luther wanted monarchy to remain as the form of government. This is so, because he needed the support from the Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in order to survive since the Emperor, Charles V, condemned him with heresy. Although Luther advocated religious reform, like Calvin; he believed that people should obey their political authorities.

Yet, he encouraged German princes to reform the Church in their states and promoted the ideal that the Church was not subject to the pope’s interpretation. Unlike Luther, John Calvin was significantly radical and believed that the political authority should be changed from monarchy to the reformed church. Calvin developed the concept of predestination in which he believed that Calvinists were the chosen people of God, the elect, and the favored by God. In contrast to Luther, he believed church and city should combine to enforce Christian behavior.

Calvin established a theocracy in Geneva where religious leaders, called the Prebysters, dominated the city’s government and had the power to impose harsh penalties for those who did not follow God’s will. While Luther socially sided with nobility, John Calvin wished for a social revolution. Unlike Calvin, Luther preferred nobility over the peasants but sympathized with them. He was a conservative on social and economic issues. He opposed the peasants and supported the princes in their suppression of the revolt in 1524. Because Luther believed that the church consisted of a “priesthood of ll believers” he did not believe in a hierarchical structure. Overall, Luther believed the social order should remain as it was because the reformation was a process from within the person. Contrary to Luther’s belief, John Calvin wished for a social revolution. Calvin wanted to re-order and mold society according to God’s plans in which men and women should act externally as they believe. Like Luther, Calvin ended both monasticism and the celibacy of the clergy. Contrary to Luther, Calvin emphasized a puritanical approach to life, which involved a rejection of worldly pleasures.

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