The Calvinist Reformation
in 16th century

The Reformation later known as Calvinist movement was launched by several reformers and spread to many parts of Europe, from Zurich and Geneva.

The birth of the Reformation

  • Jean Calvin (1509-1564)

The reformed movement was launched by Zwingli in Switzerland, namely in Zurich, around 1519-1520. Zwingli, a curate at Zurich cathedral, had studied extensively in Vienna and Basel, and was influenced by humanism.

He further progressed with the help of Jean Calvin, a French man also influenced by humanism, who published the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. The book, first published in Latin, was an immediate success and was soon translated into French. The book clearly, resolutely and systematically presented the reformed ideas.

He was asked to become the spiritual leader of the city of Geneva, which became the stronghold of the « reformed » Reformation.

The word “Reformed” rather than “Calvinist” is used because the movement was launched by several men – namely Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Calvin, John Knox- not by Calvin alone. Guillaume Farel, Olivétan, Théodore de Bèze, and Sébastien Castellion should also be mentioned.

Members of this movement settled in Switzerland, in France, in Scotland, in the Netherlands, and in Hungary.

The Lutheran reformation and the “reformed” Reformation had much in common, except for a slight dissent and a major disagreement.

The slight dissent stemmed from the focusing of the Lutheran Reformation on free salvation, while the Reformed Reformation focused on reading the Bible. Of course the Lutherans also thought that understanding the Bible was paramount, and the Reformed that salvation was free.

The disagreement was about the Eucharist. The Lutherans remained close to the Catholic doctrine, whereas the Reformed rejected it. In the XVIth century it prevented any alliance, though their very existence should have prompted them to reach an agreement.

Associated notes

  • Jean Calvin (1509-1564)

    A generation after Luther, the Frenchman Jean Calvin became the organiser of the Reformation : he organised the Church, shaped the doctrine and defined the role of the Church in state government.
  • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

    Zwingli, a pastor and theologian, based the Reformation on Bible study. In his opinion the Reformation comprised fighting social injustice.
  • Guillaume Farel (1489-1565)

    Farel was the reformer of French-speaking Switzerland, precisely in the Neuchâtel area. He was a preacher but also an organiser and author of a liturgy in French.
  • Martin Bucer (1491-1551)

    He was born in Alsace, was a humanist and tried all his life long to safeguard the unity of the Church.
  • Olivétan (1506-1538)

    Olivétan is well-known for his French translation of the Bible, referred to as Olivétan’s Bible. It was the first Bible ever to be translated into French from the original Hebrew...
  • Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)

    Theodore Beza was one of the most prominent figures in the Reform movement. He supported Calvin and succeeded him as moderator, i.e. president, of the Company of pastors in Geneva....
  • John Knox (1513-1572)

    John Knox, brought the Calvinist reform to Scotland.
  • Sébastien Castellion (1515-1563)

    Sébastien Castellion is looked upon today as an apostle of tolerance and freedom of thought. He maintained that the Bible could have several different interpretations, and that this implied a...
  • Several models of Reformation

    In itself, the Reformation appeared everywhere. Everywhere, in France, in Switzerland, it was indigenous, a fruit of the land and of various circumstances that, nevertheless,  produced similar fruit.
  • Johannes Oekolampad (1482-1531)

    Oekolampad was one of the first Reformers. He brought the Protestant Reformation to Basel and then spread it in Southern Germany. Like Zwingli, he belonged to the Reform Movement.
  • Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575)

    Heinrich Bullinger was a theologian and a Reformer who supported the Reform Movement in Zurich after Zwingli’s death in 1531. He also played a key role in spreading the Protestant...
  • Pierre Viret (1511-1571)

    Pierre Viret devoted his life to teaching theology and spreading the Reformed faith. He was known as an outstanding preacher.