Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Question from Liz - Religious terms

I was wondering, are Calvinist and Purtians the same thing? What about Protestants? Was that just a blanket term for a Christian who wasn't Catholic? And if you were a Protestant, would you call your self that or would there have been a different name?


Anonymous said...

First things first:

The term "Protestant" was first used in the 1520s and 1530s to describe a group of rulers in what is now Germany but was then a collection of small states and cities of the Holy Roman Empire. Those rulers, some of whom were followers of Martin Luther, refused to tolerate the continuation of Roman Catholic worship in their lands ... they "protested" against Catholicism. By the end of the 16th century, however, the term had come to mean all Christians who were not Roman Catholic, a meaning it retains to the present day.

Calvinists were protestants who followed the specific teachings of John (or Jean) Calvin, a French theologian who emigrated to Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1530s. His teachings, known as Calvinism, are characterized in part by rigid personal and collective social discipline, aversion to church governance by bishops (called episcopacy), and a close inter-dependency between church and state. See his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" for more deatil, available online at http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/. He is also known for the doctrine of predestination, or (in very briefest terms) the belief that certain souls or people were pre-selected by God at the Creation for eventual inclusion among the elect destined for heaven. This belief is sometimes argued as antagonistic to the doctrine of free will, by which men are thought actively and freely to choose or to reject salvation at some point during their life (i.e., as opposed to having it chosen for them by God). Calvinism was particularly well received in parts of Switzerland, Germany, and France, as well as England and Scotland. The Presbyterian denomination is an outgrowth of 16th century Calvinism.

Puritans should be thought of as a loose group rather than as a defined theological system of doctrines and beliefs. Unlike Presbyterianism or Lutheranism, "Puritanism" was never a single denomination. Puritans never agreed on a single set of beliefs, in fact, but were instead a loose association of persons who shared a common belief in serving God through feeling and conduct rather than adherence to specific narrow doctrines, who all believed in personal and individual study of the Bible, and who often had an aversion to episcopacy. Collectively, Puritans were characterized by a desire to remove from their own beliefs and practices all vestiges of Catholicism, however insignificant those vestiges might be. Their belief in service through conduct led directly to the stereotypically plain, colorless clothing and other self-denying habits for which they are best remembered today (no music, no dancing, no alcoholic beverages, etc), a practice that was in stark contrast to the colorful robes and vestments of Roman Catholic clergy.

Puritans in England are best known for the Civil Wars of the 1630s and 1640s as they fought against King Charles I and his efforts to resume certain quasi-Catholic practices within the Church of England. Indeed, they opposed the Church of England generally, in part because of its system of bishops and archbishops, and in part because of its ritual practices. They are also known for the austere Commonwealth of the 1650s under Oliver Cromwell. In the Americas, Puritans are known for having fled England in the 1620s and 1630s to found religiously pure colonies on the upper eastern seaboard, especially Massachusetts.

Some of those Massachusetts colonists were simultaneously Puritan, Calvinist Presbyterian, and Protestant. Thus one can be all three at the same time, or any combination of one or more of the three. But the three are not identical to each other, despite that overlap.

People did sometimes ... rarely ... refer to themselves as "Protestants," especially in the last half of the 1500s, but it was FAR more common for someone to say that he or she was "a true Christian." His or her listener would have known what version of Christianity the speaker or writer followed and would have assumed automatically that all other versions were not "truly Christian." Other than "true Christian," the most common term used to describe one's own religion might be derived from one's denominational affiliation, if it was other than Church of England (Anglican).

Foose said...

"Beholde then what love and Charitie is emongest you, when the one calleth the other, Heretick and Anabaptist, and he calleth hym again Papist, Ypocrite, and Pharisey."

That's how Henry VIII summed up what Catholics and Protestants typically called each other in 16th-century England. And those were the more polite names.

"Heretic" was the most popular Catholic term for Protestants ("hot gospeller," particularly applied to women, had a certain charm, too) and "papist" was the favorite Protestant descriptor for Catholics.

Mainstream English Protestants (Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians) often referred to themselves as being "of the Reformed faith." This indicated their view that their goal was a "reformed Church," purged of false ritual and vain doctrine introduced by various Popes, scholastics and saints, and accepting only what was specifically mentioned in the Bible. I think "Lutheran" was not a popular self-describer, as it had acquired overtones of revolutionism and anarchy, due to the Peasants War in Germany.

English Catholics usually referred to themselves as being "of the true faith" or "the old faith."