- Edison Veiga
- From Slovenia, for BBC News Brazil
Among the leading names in the movement that would eventually be recognized as the Protestant Reformation, the French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) would rise to prominence in justifying not only a new religion, but also the economic system that, born from the rubble of feudalism, became dominant in the contemporary world: capitalism.
Of course, his analysis was pre-Marxist – the philosopher Karl Marx is from the 19th century – but his understanding of wealth and poverty, as well as labor relations came to influence a considerable part of society.
“Calvin and also Calvinism [es decir, interpretaciones posteriores de su teología] they understand that work should be seen as a blessing, since it should be done to glorify God,” explains historian, philosopher and theologian Gerson Leite de Moraes, a professor at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo.
“He doesn’t think that could be an ideology that falsifies reality. He really believed in it.”
“When Calvinism and capitalism meet, it is the perfect marriage, since both have elective affinities, that is, the same operating logic,” he argues.
“Both value work and reinvest the fruit of labor into more work. Which ultimately leads to capital accumulation.”
Although the motivation is different, the approach of both the religious Calvinist and the hardened capitalist is the same: the job.
“The Calvinist loves to work because that is how he glorifies God. The capitalist loves to work because that is how he obtains profit,” compares Moraes.
“It doesn’t matter! Both contribute to the birth of a new world, where work ennobles man and glorifies God.”
As the theologian explains, Calvin does not ask if there is a difference between “the owners of the means of production” and those “who sell the only thing they have left, labor.” His analysis, after all, predates Marx’s.
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In the context of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Calvinism is one of the three main streams, along with Lutheranism and the creation of the Church anglicana.
In this way, Calvin was also one of those responsible for breaking the Western hegemony of the Catholic Church.
“It was the end of the Catholic monopoly in the administration of the goods of salvation, allowing new forms of Christianity,” says Moraes.
At its foundation, Calvinist theologyis supported strongly in the sacredscriptures, that is, in the biblical texts. In this aspect, he sought to differentiate himself from the Catholic Church of the time, which was already based on the philosophical foundations of the scholastic tradition.
“Protestantism, in general, is the return to the Bible as an essential element”, summarizes the theologian.
“Calvinists follow the general principles of the Protestant Reformation: justification by grace through faith, the general priesthood of believers, and the Bible as a principle of faith and practice,” adds theologian Sonia Mota, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church. of Brazil and executive director of the Coordination of Ecumenical Services.
“Calvin emphasized in a special way the principle of the sovereignty of God, that is, everything redounds to the glory of God; fidelity to the precepts of the Bible; the valorization of ethics and social work and predestination.”
Moraes highlights the call covenant theology as a principle of Calvinism.
“Covenant because it is understood that God has been making alliances throughout history, and renewing those alliances. With the coming of the Messiah [Jesucristo], all those who accept him as lord and savior become part of the people of God”, he explains.
Another point that stands out is the idea of choice, of the predestination.
“From the seventeenth century, Calvinism is seen as a religiosity that extols predestination: only the elect are saved. But this is a mark of Calvinism [es decir, de los seguidores] and not of Calvin himself”, explains the theologian.
“In Calvin, the theology of predestination does not occupy a space of primacy, a central space.”
“The centrality of Calvin’s theology is the incarnation of Christ, and therefore that pact, that alliance. The encounter of the human with the divine and the possibility of everything else. Without Jesus Christ, there would be no Kingdom of God, for what his coming was the inclusion of all in a new alliance”, he explains.
It was the practice, therefore, that ended up valuing the idea of predestination.
And this turned out to be very strong in countries like England — the so-called Puritans — and later with the colonists who came to the United States persuaded with the idea that they were the predestined for the New World.
“The question of the elect is a reinterpretation of a Pauline and Augustinian theology,” explains Moraes.
“From this perspective, men, thanks to the sin of Adam, are spiritually dead. So, in this sense, only God can take the first step to save the dead, and he does, by sending Jesus to die and quench the wrath of this offended God, reconciling him with his creatures”.
“To regain access to God, it is enough to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, but since God is omniscient, he already knows this, because he has already chosen in advance those who will be saved, the chosen ones,” he continues.
“The unelect are damned. Why did he choose some and reject others? Calvin said, ‘Because he wanted to.’ As a free man with full authority, he can save some and let others perish.”
“I know this may seem cruel, but for those who are among the elected, this has a social effect full of potential,” explains Moraes.
In a world of reinvention of capitalism, with incipient industrialization, it was inevitable that this religious idea served very well those who saw themselves as successful.
“Calvin does not go into the deep aspect of what produces wealth or poverty. I would say that all this is the result of man’s sin in Adam,” says the theologian.
“The fall of man generates social injustices. For Calvin, wealth is destined to help the poor.”
“For Calvin, misery is a consequence of original sin, but God, in his infinite grace, blesses men as his creatures,” explains Moraes.
“All men are creatures, some are sons, the chosen ones, and as both occupy the same space and time, he creates the conditions for the existence of all.”
In this sense, it is understood that God “creates the conditions of life to overcome misery.”
“It is not about saying that the rich are the chosen ones and wealth is evidence of that choice, or that the poor go to hell, as cursed beings,” he emphasizes.
“That is a simplistic and discrediting view of Calvin’s theology. It is more prosperity theology than Calvinist theology. But a Marxist would say that Calvin justifies the social division between oppressed and oppressors.”
Regarding Catholics, Calvinist Christians are distinguished by simplifying the sacraments —while the former have seven, Calvinists recognize the need only for baptism and the Eucharist— and they do not worship the saints or Mary, the mother of Christ, nor do you have sacred images on your altars.
Sonia Mota also highlights the issue of the ecclesial hierarchy.
“The Calvinist churches are not Episcopalian, where the bishops are the authority,” he explains.
“They adopt the representative system, which means that all members participate indirectly in the government of the church through elected representatives for mandates with a certain term.”
When we look at the historical context of the Protestant Reformation, in which the absolutist theocratic power of the Catholic Church was strongly challenged, this popular participation system makes perfect sense.
Theologian Gerson Leite de Moraes pays attention to the doctrine of salvation, where there are differences with Catholicism.
“For Catholics, in addition to religious practices, there is an important element: works. Salvation, for them, comes through Jesus, but works contribute,” he says.
“Not in the Calvinist tradition: only divine grace rescues man, man is seen as a dead being for his crimes and sins and needs the benevolent and mysterious action of God on his behalf,” he contextualizes.
In Calvinism, therefore, “there is no possibility of cooperation between man and God” for this salvation process, as Moraes explains.
Compared with the Lutherans, the Calvinists also harbor differences.
“The most important is related to the understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” says Pastor Mota.
“For Calvinists, the presence of Christ is not substantial or particularly linked to the elements, that is, a true spiritual presence. Lutherans believe that Christ is truly present in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine.”
Among Calvinists themselves, Mota recalls that there are also differences.
“And the gap that separates liberal, fundamentalist, and charismatic Calvinists is greater than the gap between traditional Calvinist theological principles and those of other historic Protestant denominations,” he emphasizes.
As Calvinist ideas spread, they gained denominations and, of course, also slopes were emerging.
At the beginning of the religion, the French Calvinists were called Huguenots; in England, Puritans; in Holland, reformed; in Scotland, Presbyterians.
Moraes stresses that “in the Protestant milieu,” Calvinists are recognized as “a religious group very attached to the Bible, to the attempt of fidelity, to live according to tradition”.
“The bad thing is that this can lead to a fundamentalist and quite sectarian practice if it is not well taken care of, if there is no balance”, evaluates the theologian.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.