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John Calvin & the Reformation: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

John Calvin was a major figure in the Protestant Reformation. He wrote an important book called Institutes of the Christian Religion, and the government of a city in Switzerland even let Calvin run the whole city according to his religious beliefs.

Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation in Europe

If you lived in Europe in the year 1400, the Catholic Church would be part of your life from the day you were born until the day you died. You'd grow up going to Catholic religious services and learning Catholic teachings, and when you were old enough to make money, you'd have to give one dollar of every ten to the church. Bishops and other Catholic church officials would be some of the most powerful people you ever saw, and hardly anyone would dare to question them.

Calvin and the Reformation

But all that changed with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. During the Protestant Reformation, different reformers started challenging the teachings of the Catholic Church. They thought the Church had gotten too far away from the Bible as the source of truth and that the priests and the Pope were abusing their power.

John Calvin
John Calvin

One of the most important people in the Reformation was John Calvin, a religious scholar. Calvin had spent years studying religion, philosophy, and law. As he thought about religion more, Calvin started disagreeing with Roman Catholic teachings. In 1536, Calvin published a book titled Institutes of the Christian Religion. The book explained Calvin's ideas about Christianity.

Calvin's Beliefs

Calvin believed that the Bible was the only real source of truth about religion. He thought that people might not always understand God's teachings but we still had to follow them. Calvin also believed in predestination, the idea that God has already decided who will go to Heaven and who won't.

That all sounds pretty harsh, but Calvin didn't just want people to be sad all the time. He thought that real religious belief would help people with their worries and fears.

Influence of Martin Luther

Many of Calvin's ideas were influenced by another important figure in the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. For example, Calvin adopted Luther's belief that people couldn't do anything to 'deserve' going to heaven. Calvin agreed with Luther that only God could choose who would go to Heaven.

Travels and Church Leadership

After publishing the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin traveled around Europe promoting his religious ideas, which came to be known as Calvinism. He ended up in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1541. The town council changed the government of Geneva to conform to Calvin's ideas, and Geneva became a Calvinist city.

John Calvin as an older man
John Calvin as an older man

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