John Calvin

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Portrait of John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French theologian who was active in the Protestant reformation. His influence was significant in shaping religious dogma in the Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches. He was heavily influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. Calvin, like Luther, argued that religion was a personal matter, and should be left to the individual to follow the word of God. Calvin stated that “man is under two types of government: one spiritual, by which the conscience is formed to piety and the service of God; the other is political, by which a man is instructed in the duties of humanity and civility, which are to be observed in an intercourse with mankind.” Calvin, like Luther, posited a relationship between church and state which we today might refer to as nonoverlapping magisteria. Like John of Salisbury, Calvin saw a human being as consisting of a body and a soul. However, whereas John of Salisbury saw the soul as the “prince of the body” Calvin saw the body and soul as separate entities, and in this difference, the contrast in their political ideologies can be shown. John of Salisbury argued that just as the soul is the prince of the body, and the soul is likewise tied to religion, while the body is tied to the government, so by extension religion must be the prince of the government. However, since Calvin reasoned that the two were separate, this informed his political ideology when he claimed that religion and government dealt with separate issues. In a claim that would be heavily influential on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the rest of the founding fathers, Calvin claimed that while religion was perfect and incorruptible, men were not, and thus, government was not, and if religion and government were to be joined, it would only serve to corrupt and denigrate religion, not bring government up to the level of religion.

John Calvin influentially argued that interest paying loans were not usury, which was contrary to the consensus view of the time.

Doctrines of Calvinism[edit]

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