International School History - International Baccalaureate - MYP History

MYP4 Last update - 07 mars 2018  
Unit 3 - Lesson 3 - Jesuits and Calvinists
Image result for jean calvins chair This is the most famous chair in Switzerland. It belonged to Jean Calvin and in a few weeks you will get a chance to not sit in it when we visit Geneva cathedral. There are a few occasions when what happens in Switzerland is of global importance. What Jean Calvin does to Geneva from 1534 until his death in 1564, is without doubt one of them. Calvin changed the world; but he wasn't Swiss and  in 1534, neither was Geneva.
In the 100 years after Luther, European society became increasingly divided over the question of religion. 1534 is a key date. In 1534 Paul III became pope and Jean Calvin escaped persecution in France by fleeing to Switzerland. What Pope Paul III set in motion was a successful catholic counter attack against the spread of Protestantism. What Jean Calvin did was develop a brand of Protestantism that was more fundamentalist than Lutheranism, with significant implications for the development of the modern world.

How did Catholicism survive? The Empire Strikes Back.

The Counter Reformation or the Catholic Reformation, which dates from 1534, was the Roman Catholic Church's reaction to the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant gains in Europe finally forced Pope Paul III in 1545 to clarify the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This council, called the Council of Trent, worked on this problem in three separate sessions from 1545 to 1563. This council eventually advised some far-reaching reforms in the abuses practiced by the church, such as banning the selling of indulgences. The Council forced bishops to live in the region they were responsible for and also banned the selling of important positions of responsibility in the Church. In addition, to reform, the Council decided that seminaries (theological schools) should be built throughout Europe so that church doctrine could be spread easily and priests could be better educated.



Soft-power and coercion

In the late 1980s, political scientist Joseph Nye developed a theory about the way countries can be influential around the world without using force. What he called 'soft power' are the diplomatic means by which states can obtain favourable outcomes through the spread of ideas and values. The Catholic Counter Reformation was also a form of soft power. The Catholic Church encouraged the foundation of new groups or ‘orders’ that supported a disciplined return to the essential ideas of Christianity. Led by intellectuals and concerned with education, the most important of the movements was the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola. At the start the Jesuit movement was a small movement. The original Society of Jesus had only ten members. By 1630, it had over fifteen thousand members all over the world. As well a willingness to work enthusiastically and tirelessly in hostile countries, the Jesuits also shared an absolute loyalty to the pope. As Ignatius of Loyola famously said "I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it." They have been described by some historians as the 'storm troopers' of the counter reformation and they certainly established a missionary tradition that rediscovered an active proselytizing role for the Catholic Church, particularly in European colonies abroad.

In 1622 a new administrative body of the Catholic church was created called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith). Its activity was aimed at "propagating" the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries. This is where our modern use of the word propaganda originates.

Joseph Nye's concept of soft-power,

Soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than by coercion (hard power), which is using force or giving money as a means of persuasion. Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive; the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies.


As well as using soft-power, the Catholic Church also continued to rely on the coercive methods of the inquisition that we encountered in the late medieval period. With the rise of Spain as a dominant European power in the 16th century, the defence of Catholic interests became closely associated with the interests of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition, was established in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, which included the Canary Islands, the Spanish Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America.

According to modern estimates, around 150,000 were prosecuted for various offenses during the three centuries of the Spanish Inquisition, out of which between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed. The first trials against Lutheran groups, took place between 1558 and 1562, at the beginning of the reign of Philip II, against two communities of 120 Protestants from the cities of Valladolid and Seville. The trials signaled a notable intensification of the Inquisition's activities. A number of autos-da-fé (see below) were held, some of them presided over by members of the royal family, and around 100 executions took place. Spanish Inquisition also worked actively to stop the diffusion of heretical ideas in Spain by producing "Indexes" of prohibited books.

Monty Python on the Spanish Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition Tribunal

The Monty Python sketch above and numerous Hollywood films have helped create a certain impression of the Spanish Inquisition. In Protestant countries, stories about the horrors of the inquisition have also been exaggerated. However, the following is an accurate description of what would happen when the inquisition came to town...

On the next Sunday after mass the congregation was encouraged to confess their heresies without facing fear of severe punishment. They were also encouraged to denounce others. Denunciations were anonymous and might be made for a number of reasons. If denounced, the accused faced imprisonment until trial. This could last months or even years and the accused's family was expected to pay for the cost of imprisonment. Nobody was given any information about the charges faced.

The trial heard the evidence of the accusations and torture was used to produce a confession. The accused had no lawyer to defend them. Torture was always a means to obtain the confession of the accused, not a punishment itself. Torture was also applied without distinction of sex or age and was used with children and the elderly.

The methods of torture most used were garrucha, toca and the potro. The application of the garrucha, consisted of suspending the victim from the ceiling by the wrists, which are tied behind the back. Sometimes weights were tied to the ankles, with a series of lifts and drops, during which the arms and legs suffered violent pulls and were sometimes dislocated. The toca consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning. [Today this is called 'waterboarding' as used by the CIA] The potro, the rack, in which the limbs were slowly pulled apart, was the instrument of torture used most frequently.

The most famous, but not most common punishment, was the auto-da-fé. The auto-da-fé involved a Catholic Mass, prayer, a public procession of those found guilty, and a reading of their sentences. They took place in public squares  and lasted several hours and all local authorities attended. It was followed by the punishment, the most severe of which was burning at the stake. It is important to note that punishment happened when auto-da-fé had finished.

An auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition and the execution of sentences by burning heretics on the stake in a market place. Wood engraving by Bocort after H.D. Linton.

More on the Spanish Inquisition in 15 minutes from the University of Texas.

Activity 1

1. What evidence is there that the Catholic Church eventually accepted some of the criticisms of Martin Luther?

2. Why might the Jesuits be considered a good example of Nye's soft power?

3. Read carefully the process followed by the Spanish Inquisition Tribunal. Compare it to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which Articles did the Inquisition Tribunal break?


Jean Calvin and Geneva.

Jean Calvin was a French Protestant who fled from religious persecution to Switzerland in 1534. Calvin strongly believed in predestination. This is the idea that God has already decided whether people would go to heaven or hell before they were even born. Men and women were thus divided into two groups: the Elect and the Reprobate. The Elect were chosen by God for eternal life in heaven, while the Reprobate were damned and would go to hell.






The Ranters

I have always struggled to understand why this idea of predestination took off. Surely, if it didn't matter what anyone did - because God had already decided - why bother following a strict religious code? In fact, in England during the mid-17th century there was a religious group called the 'Ranters' who did believe this. They were famed for their drinking, nudity, swearing and sexual promiscuity.

Some historians question whether they really existed, or whether they were made up by conservatives as an early example of 'fake news'.

To get rich is good

The most important thing about Calvinism, is that it provided Christianity with a different relationship with money and work. For medieval Catholics, money was best invested in the church. You could buy yourself salvation by paying for monks to say prayers or though indulgences. For Calvinists it was all very different. They were obsessed with looking for evidence that they were amongst the elect. Having money was considered reliable evidence that God had chosen you.

The sociologist Max Weber has been very influential in helping to explain the importance of this money making incentive of Calvinism to the making of the modern world. Unlike Marx, who explained the development of the capitalist modern world as being the result of structural, material change, (see previous lessons) Weber emphasized the importance of ideas. And one idea was particularly important, 'The Protestant Work Ethic'.

The harder they worked at something, the more they were likely to be successful and become rich. As financial success was evidence that God had chosen you, hard work acquired an intrinsic value. Calvinists were obsessed with time being used productively, people should show a 'busy-ness' in their lives and not waste time in idle 'pass-times'. 

Calvin made up a strict moral code for all citizens of Geneva; a code that was designed to keep people focused on the important things in life.  Only plain clothes were permitted; jewellery and make-up could not be worn. Men and women had to cut their hair short. Sex outside marriage was strictly forbidden. Music and games were discouraged. Drunkenness and gambling were punished. Theatres were closed down. Church buildings were to be very simple.  This pursuit of an austere, strict moral life became associated with Puritanism.

Consider this contemporary image of a Calvinist church in France, in what ways is it different from Catholic churches from the same period?

As with the Jesuits, one of Calvin's greatest successes was through the soft-power of education. A theological college was established in Geneva which welcomed students from abroad. Those students then went on out into the world as missionaries to spread the word. Calvin's publications, most notably, Institutes of the Christian Religion spread his ideas to many parts of Europe especially Scotland, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany but he was also influential in France, Hungary, Transylvania, and Poland. Most settlers in the American Mid-Atlantic and New England were Calvinists, including the Puritans and Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). More on that in a future lesson. See our visit to the Reformation Museum in Geneva for more.

Weber - The Protestant Work Ethic.

Image result for Max weber

The Protestant work ethic, is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes that hard work, discipline and frugality are a result of a person's subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism.

The concept is often credited with helping to define the societies of Northern, Central and Western Europe such as in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland. The phrase was initially coined in 1904–1905 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism



Activity 2

Read the text and watch the film on Calvin above.

1. Explain what is meant by 'predestination'.

2. Explain how Calvinism encouraged the early development of capitalist business.




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