Let us go to some of Martin Luther’s counterparts and those who came after.
- Desiderus Erasmus (~1467 to 1536), born in Rotterdam (Netherlands), Christian Humanist
- John Calvin (1509 to 1564), born in France – didn’t stay there, considered Martin’s successor by many
- Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli (1484 to 1530), Swiss Reformer
As you can see, all three of these mean were technically contemporaries of Martin Luther (1483-1546) though John Calvin was certainly one that came in the later.
All three were writers and influential in their own right. What’s more, they were not in isolation as there are more men that could be listed from these times but I am only focusing on these.
Desiderus Erasmus was primarily an influence through his writings and there is evidence his work influenced Zwingli who had interactions with Luther.
Martin Luther and Zwingli’s most notable interaction involved mass. Zwingli advocated the removal of the Catholic mass and replaced it with a simple communion as well as changed a few other liturgical traditions. However, this wasn’t the key point of their interaction. Luther and Zwingli sparred over their interpretation of the elements in the Eucharist (communion). You can find more details on this particular debate here in the section titled “Relations with Luther”.
Despite a disagreement, Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther agreed quite a bit in the focus of the Protestant Reformation–Scripture has the highest authority. A few things of note from Zwingli that we see in much of Protestantism today include the simple communion, the removal of images in the church & other liturgical changes, put forth some theses of his own, as well as completed some influential writings of his own.
In order to have them for comparison later, here is a summation of Zwingli’s main theses:
- The Church is born of the Word of God. Also, Christ is the only head of the Church.
- Church “laws” are only binding so long as they agree with Scripture.
- Christ alone is man’s righteousness.
- Mass is a gross offense to the sacrifice and death of Christ.
- There is no biblical argument for mediation for the dead involving purgatory. This would include the use of images in this.
- That marriage is lawful for all.
With the above theses, you can imagine the church changes he then sought to bring about in Switzerland. These are changes still widely observed in churches today across the world that stand in the Protestant tradition.
What about John Calvin?
Ok. We’re getting to him now.
John Calvin came into all this with the other men and their influence as the backdrop. As can be seen at the start by the time-frames of each of their lives, John was a young man when the others began to pass away.
Born in France, John would later end up in Geneva, Switzerland where he would later die. John started his career as a law student–much as Martin was supposed originally to have become–and during his studies he was influenced by the humanist Desiderus Erasmus as well as others. Key components from this drove John to seek to understand the Scriptures in their original languages (something continued to this very day). As such, he went on to study Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.
Among Calvin’s first essays there was an emphasis on salvation by grace alone (one of the 5 Solas) rather than to focus on works and ceremonies.
I don’t intend to get into every detail here as there are great resources for further reading in the links below. Even so, key contributions made by Calvin were in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, commentaries, and influence that gave direction to Protestants elsewhere in Europe including those who would later go to America and start the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. There are many churches today that would consider John Calvin to be their founding father.
Hope this proved informative to you! I challenge you to read more on each of these influential men of the Protestant Reformation period and would suggest the links below are a great place to start.
Resources for further reading: