On Lutheranism and Calvinism

The former promoted a passive attitude towards the state, the latter was a revolutionary force

This is part 4 of my notes on the thoughts and ideas of Christopher Dawson. (In brackets the page numbers of each quote from TRBRAC, unless another book mentioned. “PwG” refers to my own thoughts.)     

Direct quote from Dawson: “Lutheranism and Calvinism . . . produce totally different social attitudes and have become embodied in opposite political traditions. For while Lutheranism almost from the beginning adopted a passive attitude towards the state and accepted a highly conservative and even patriarchal conception of political authority, Calvinism has proved a revolutionary force in European and American history and has provided the moral dynamic element in the great expansion of bourgeois culture from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.” (p. 204/205, my emphases)

Direct quote from Dawson: “Calvinism [is] . . . much nearer to Catholicism in its conception of the relation of Church and State and in its assertion of the independence and supremacy of the spiritual power.” (p. 205)


Direct quote from Dawson: “the historic type of the Catholic state agrees with the Lutheran-Continental tradition in its authoritarianism, its conservative traditionalism and its acceptance of a strict corporative order of society. On the other hand, it stands far closer to the Western-Calvinist tradition in its view of the relation of the Church to the state, in the primacy of spiritual power, above all in its conception of natural Law. The Calvinist idea of Natural Law is fundamentally identical with that of Catholic philosophy, except that the latter puts a stronger emphasis on its rational character, as against the Calvinist voluntarism.” (p. 206)

(PwG:) It may signify nothing, but I’ll mention it nonetheless: Lutheranism grew strongest in countries that were already Christian but had been ruled by Rome either never or only briefly: much of Germany (especially its northern and eastern parts) and Scandinavia. Catholicism remained strong in those regions of Europe where Rome had ruled the longest. And Calvinism grew strongest in the borderlands between these areas: Switzerland, in Germany in pockets along the Rhine, the Netherlands, and, to some extent, Britain. An important exception to this observation is the still strongly Catholic Poland. Also Ireland – but the reason here may be a different one: I recently heard an Irish writer saying if England had remained Catholic, Ireland would have become “fiercely Protestant”.