For some 500 years after the reformation, the Calvinist and Arminian debate is still ongoing on, both between scholars and layman Christians. You can simply google or search in youtube how much hatred and attacks there are between these two groups. I wonder why before the 16th it wasn't a heated debate?

The only possibility I can think of is, both are wrong. Maybe Calvinism is merely a product of the enlightenment.

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    . . . or it may have something to do with Paul writing about 'election' and 'predestination', perhaps.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2020 at 0:51
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    I haven't seen hatred in the Christian debate, both sides say people are responsible for their actions. Unlike the secular debate over whether people are responsible for their actions.
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 22, 2020 at 9:56
  • I would not trust Youtube or any other "social media" source for accurate or unbiased information. My source of information on the subject is the Bible. As for your accusation of hatred and attacks between Christians who hold different views, I agree with Perry Webb.
    – Lesley
    Dec 22, 2020 at 11:07
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    Perhaps you could remove the accusations of hatred and simply ask why the debate seems to disappear pre 16th century? If they are two blind guys groping at opposite ends of an elephant why did they suddenly begin? Dec 22, 2020 at 12:25
  • @MikeBorden because of the enlightenment, before that christian just listen to the western church, now everyone can read.. and argue.
    – Judy Allen
    Dec 31, 2020 at 16:08

3 Answers 3


Christianity has long been debating the relationship between God's will and human wills in our salvation, probably all the way back to the very early church. The debate between Reformed and Arminian Protestants is only one part of this broader debate.

Augustine vs the Pelagians

Pelagianism is a position, now considered heretical by all major Christian groups, that humans are not corrupted by original sin, and we have the ability to freely will to act righteously and achieve human perfection without divine grace. This position was opposed by Augustine who taught that we are corrupted by original sin, and unable to choose good, and that we depend on God's grace for salvation. The Reformers saw themselves as being part of the Augustinian school of theology, and that their teachings were largely a reform to Augustine's teachings, and not innovative. Even people such as Augustine changed their views over their life: he originally taught that predestination was based on God's foreknowledge of whether an individual would believe, and was a reward for human assent, but shifted to saying that it is God's grace that causes faith, the position taken up in Reformed Theology.

The 'semi-Pelagians'

The 'Semi-Pelagians' (a debated term, but I use it now because it's the best known of the many alternatives) agreed that Pelagianism was heresy, but then taught a position between the two which many Augustinians thought was also wrong. Semi-Pelagianism says that the beginning of faith is an act of free will, but continuing growth in faith is a work of God. Within both Protestantism and Catholicism there have been debates where one side has called the other 'semi-Pelagian', so it's not a very clear term.

Medieval Catholicism

After Augustine there were a range of views. Cassian taught that human nature is fallen and depraved, but not totally, and that both God's will and the free human will work in repentance. Aquinas taught that God predestines people based solely on his own goodness, but that people have free will, and cause and are responsible for their sins. William of Ockham however said that God does not cause human choices, and that predestination is only God's foreknowledge, without God thereby being bound by human wills.

The Reformation

So you see that by the time of the Reformation there had already been over a thousand years of debate on this topic. Within Western Catholicism there were a range of views about original sin, election and predestination, and human free will. Reformed Calvinists and Arminians both stand firmly opposed to Pelaginism and would also say they oppose semi-Pelagianism (though Arminians are sometimes accused of it). Calvinists see themselves as standing with Augustine and Aquinas in their teachings on predestination, while Arminians can say that they have the support of early-Augustine, Cassian, Ockham, and others. Catholic views continued to develop too: Molinism, named after the 16th century Jesuit Luis de Molina, is a more developed form of the predestination based on foreknowledge view, where God knows all counterfactuals and all possible worlds, and chooses which world to create such that all he wills comes to pass, while all humans freely choose every decision. There are many Protestant Molinists now, probably from both Reformed and Arminian backgrounds.

But it is also not as if the debates between Protestants are merely playing musical chairs on the positions created by earlier generations. Like the Catholics, Reformed Theology has continued to develop its view of free will: humans have true free wills to live in accordance with our natures; unfortunately our natures are so bent towards sin that we cannot will to convert ourselves. This view of free will, that it means the freedom to be consistent with who we are, may be new for Reformed Theology, or maybe there are precursors I'm not aware of. Another attempt to rationalise all the Biblical data is the corporate election view which says that God's election is of the church as a whole, rather than individuals. And of course theologians of Western Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) continue to engage with the theologies of Eastern Christianity and the non-Trinitarian Restorationist movements.

Arminians and Lutherans agree with the Reformed that without God's gracious intervention no one could ever come to faith (contra the Pelagians). If I were to try to boil down the debate between Arminians and Reformed, it would concern the nature of God's prevenient grace: does it free us from the bounds of sin to let us freely choose to repent or not, or does it transform and regenerate us, giving new life to our wills so that we will invariably grow the fruit of faith?

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    Up-voted +1. Prime example of the purpose of the site and the proper way to use it. Positive excellence.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 22, 2020 at 14:47
  • Would it be appropriate to refer to Boethius for a discussion of free will versus predestination? Dec 22, 2020 at 15:16
  • @MattGutting Probably, though I don't think I've read any of his works myself yet.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 22, 2020 at 15:39
  • The one where he deals with it is "The Consolations of Philosophy". Dec 22, 2020 at 21:07
  • so why after such a long debate we still can't settle? can't we all say it's an unresolved mystery? obviously Christian didn't learn their lesson.
    – Judy Allen
    Dec 31, 2020 at 16:10

Calvinism did not exist before the 16th century. In the context of the Reformation, Huldrych Zwingli began the Reformed tradition in 1519 in the city of Zürich. His followers were instantly labeled Zwinglians, consistent with the Catholic practice of naming heresy after its founder. Very soon, Zwingli was joined by Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Capito, William Farel, Johannes Oecolampadius and other early Reformed thinkers.

The namesake of the movement, French reformer John Calvin, renounced Roman Catholicism and embraced Protestant views in the late 1520s or early 1530s, as the earliest notions of later Reformed tradition were already espoused by Huldrych Zwingli. The movement was first called Calvinism, referring to John Calvin, in the early 1550s by Lutherans who opposed it. Many within the tradition find it either an indescriptive or an inappropriate term and would prefer the word Reformed to be used instead.

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    This makes it sound like Calvinism was a complete break with Catholic theology, but it has clear ancestry in Augustine, Aquinas, and more. The 'earliest notions' of Reformed Theology definitely don't start with Zwingli.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 22, 2020 at 14:18
  • The Catholic church certainly though so, since Calvinism was branded heretical in Chapter VI. of Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem, 1672 CE.
    – Codosaur
    Dec 23, 2020 at 8:29
  • Well sure, just like many other movements that arose within Catholicism. But was it declared heretical for its doctrine of predestination or for other things?
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 23, 2020 at 9:08
  • I don't see how that's relevant for the OP's question
    – Codosaur
    Dec 23, 2020 at 10:36
  • so since Calvinism and Lutheran declared the papacy as sect, which one is true now? since the reformed and lutheran haven't unite even till today.
    – Judy Allen
    Dec 26, 2020 at 21:04

thanks for great question. I want to answer your question thoroughly but concisely. I hope this is helpful.
The debate regarding man's free will has been going on for well over 1000 years, and was even addressed by the Classic Greek Philosophers, but the important thing is the specific issue of Calvinism vs Arminianism.
Contrary to much popular belief and a lot of misinformation - the 5 points of Calvin were not written by Calvin and the 5 points of Arminianism were not written by Arminius.
Jacob Arminius was a Dutch theologian and seminary professor in Holland who lived in the latter 16th Century. The seminary students of Jacob Arminius felt that the churches in Holland should formally adopt his teachings and wrote them down.
It wasn't until years after Calvin's death, that the 5 points of Calvinism were created by someone else and written as a response to the points of Arminius. Many Calvinists strongly doubt whether Calvin himself even believed in the 3rd Point which is L- Limited Atonement, and it should be noted that there are tens of thousands who proudly call themselves Calvinist but reject this teaching outright.
The main point being that these so called points are not in the Bible - but were simply created by groups of people - not even the original guys themselves and this happened in the 17th century. Before the 16th century, no one had officially created a concise "Cliff's Notes version of theology, like the seminary students of Jacob Arminius.

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