Crypto-Calvinism is a pejorative term describing a segment of German members of the Lutheran Church accused of secretly subscribing to Calvinist doctrine of the Eucharist in the decades immediately after the death of Martin Luther in 1546.

It denotes what was seen as a hidden (crypto- from Greek: κρύπτω meaning "to hide, conceal, to be hid")[1] Calvinist belief, i.e., the doctrines of John Calvin, by members of the Lutheran Church.

The term crypto-Calvinist in Lutheranism was preceded by terms Zwinglian and Sacramentarian. Also, Jansenism has been accused of crypto-Calvinism by Roman Catholics.


Martin-Bucer 1
Martin Bucer, one of the Sacramentarians

Martin Luther had controversies with "Sacramentarians", and he published against them, for example, in his The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—Against the Fanatics and Confession Concerning Christ's Supper. Philipp I of Hessen arranged the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, but no agreement could be reached concerning the doctrine of Real Presence. Subsequently, the Wittenberg Concord of 1536 was signed, but this attempt at resolving the issue ultimately failed.

While Lutheranism had weakened after the Schmalkaldic War and Interim controversies, the Calvinist Reformation was spreading across Europe. Calvinists wanted to help Lutherans to give up "remnants of popery", as they saw it. By this time Calvinism had expanded its influence to southern Germany (not least because of the work of Martin Bucer), but the Peace of Augsburg (1555) had given religious freedom in Germany only to Lutherans, and it was not officially extended to Calvinists until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. While Bullinger, Zwingli's successor, in 1549 had accepted Calvin's much less radical view of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper (the Eucharist was to be more than a sign; Christ was truly present in it, and was received by faith), Calvinist theologians thought that Lutheran theology also had changed its view to Real Presence, because the issue was not discussed anymore, and Philippist teaching gave some justification to this conclusion.


When Luther died in 1546, his closest friend and ally, Philipp Melanchthon, became the leading Lutheran theologian of the Protestant Reformation. He was by training not a theologian but rather a classics scholar, and his theological approach became more or less irenic both toward Catholicism and toward Calvinism, which was followed by his disciples called Philippists. Towards Reformed doctrine of eucharist this had become evident already in 1540, when Melanchthon had published another version of the Augsburg Confession ("Variata"), in which the article on the Real Presence differed essentially from what had been expressed in 1530. The wording was as follows:

  • Edition of 1530: "Concerning the Lord's Supper, they teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed (communicated) to those that eat in the Lord's Supper; and they disapprove of those that teach otherwise."
  • "Variata" edition of 1540: "Concerning the Lord's Supper, they teach that with bread and wine are truly exhibited the body and blood of Christ to those that eat in the Lord's Supper."[2]

The altered edition was made the basis of negotiations with the Roman Catholics at the Colloquies of Worms and Ratisbon in 1541, and at the later Colloquies in 1546 and 1557. It was printed (with the title and preface of the Invariata) in Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum in 1559; it was expressly approved by the Lutheran princes at the Convention of Naumburg in 1561, after Melanchthon’s death, as an improved modification and authentic interpretation of the Confession, and was adhered to by the Melanchthonians and the Reformed even after the adoption of the Book of Concord (1580). Also John Calvin signed it. Still it had no legal status given by Peace of Augsburg, which belonged to original version.

The Second Sacramentarian Controversy

The Real Presence for Luther was beyond any doubt: The host consecrated is Christ’s body,[3] while for Melanchthon the words spoken during the establishment by Jesus only promised that his body and blood were received.[4] Melanchthon rejected the doctrine of ubiquity and spoke about the personal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, without any further definitions. The theology of Melanchthon's School in general was opposed by Lutherans, who were called Flacians by their opponents. Later they were called "Gnesio-Lutherans". Matthias Flacius had been the leader against Philippism in earlier controversies, but even Gnesio-Lutherans did not pay much attention to the doctrine of the Eucharist, until Joachim Westphal began to write again in 1552 against those, who deny Real Presence. When John Calvin himself answered to him in 1555, there was open, inter-Protestant controversy about Eucharist, which involved on the side of the Reformed Lasco, Bullinger, Ochino, Valerandus Polanus, Beza, and Bibliander; on the side of the Lutherans Timann, Heshusius Paul von Eitzen, Schnepff, E. Alberus, Gallus, Flacius, Judex, Brenz, and Andreä. The Colloquy of Worms in 1557 was an attempt to achieve unity among Lutherans, but it failed. During these controversies the State Church of the Electorate of the Palatinate, where Philippism predominated, changed from the Lutheran to the Reformed faith under Frederick III (1560). The Heidelberg Catechism, which was written there, was also meant to form bridges between Lutherans and Reformed in Germany – the other of its authors, Zacharias Ursinus, was Melanchthon's disciple.

The Great Adoration Controversy

There were a number of local controversies, like the Saligerian Controversy in Lübeck in 1568 and 1574, in Rostock in 1569, controversy in Bremen in 1554 involving Melanchthon's friend Albert Rizaeus Hardenberg, and controversy in Danzig in 1561/62.

The earliest of these incidents had happened with Simon Wolferinus, pastor of St. Andreas at Eisleben in 1543, while Martin Luther still lived. The controversy was also about eucharistic adoration, which was defended by "Gnesio-Lutherans" and also many other Lutherans outside of the Flacian party, like Johann Hachenburg, Andreas Musculus, Jakob Rungius and Laurentius Petri. This belief was shared also by Nikolaus Selnecker, Martin Chemnitz and Timotheus Kirchner. A feast of victory of genuine Lutheranism over Philippism was celebrated in one of the German principalities with prayers for the preservation of the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of the adoration of the Sacrament.[1] Paul Eber was one of the Philippistic main opponents of eucharistic adoration.

In Saxony

Controversy about crypto-Calvinism inside of Lutheran Church divides into two stages: 1552–74 and 1586–92. It was the most bitter of all controversies after Luther's death.

Crypto-Calvinists had gained the ecclesiastical power in Saxony during the rule of elector Augustus, but the unquestionably Calvinistic work of Joachim Cureus, Exegesis perspicua de sacra cœna (1574), and a confidential letter of Johann Stössel which fell into the elector's hands opened his eyes. The heads of the Philippist party were imprisoned and roughly handled, and the Torgau Confession of 1574 completed their downfall (Caspar Peucer, not incidentally Melanchthon's son-in-law, was captured and jailed in the Königstein Fortress for Crypto- Calvinism for 12 years). By the adoption of the Formula of Concord their cause was ruined in all the territories which accepted it, although in some others it survived under the aspect of a modified Lutheranism, as in Nuremberg, or, as in Nassau, Hesse, Anhalt, and Bremen, where it became more or less definitely identified with Calvinism.

Crypto-Calvinism raised its head once more in the Electorate of Saxony in 1586, on the accession of Christian I., but on his death five years later it came to a sudden and bloody end with the murder of Nikolaus Krell as a victim to this unpopular revival of Calvinism.

In Scandinavia

In Denmark crypto-Calvinism was represented by Niels Hemmingsen [2]. In Sweden, crypto-Calvinism, which was resisted by Archbishop Olaus Martini, was supported by Duke Charles, uncle of Catholic king Sigismund III Vasa. Finally Calvinism was banned at Uppsala Synod 1593 by initiative of Bishop of Turku, Ericus Erici Sorolainen [3] together with Bishop Olaus Stephani Bellinus.

Later history and evaluation

Following the Prussian Union and other Evangelical unions in Germany, the Evangelical Church in Germany is an umbrella organisations of Lutheran, Union and Reformed church bodies. Leuenberg Concord (1962) has made similar irenic solution between Lutheran and Calvinist doctrines, while Confessional Lutheran church bodies still continue to see Calvinist teaching on Lord's Supper as a danger to Lutheran faith and identity.

See also


  1. ^ Strong. "Lexicon :: Strong's G2928 - kryptō (κρύπτω)". Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  2. ^ Hughes, Joseph (1912). "Ubiquitarians". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
  3. ^ Luther, Martin. The Large Catechism V.8 in Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press, 2000) p. 467
  4. ^ "LOGIA - A Journal of Lutheran Theology". Retrieved December 24, 2017.


  • Bouman, Herbert (1977), "Retrospect and Prospect", Sixteenth-Century Studies, 8 (4): 84–104.
  • Brandes, Friedrich (1873), Der Kanzler Krell, ein Opfer des Orthodoxismus (in German).
  • Diestelmann, Jürgen (1997), Actio Sacramentalis. Die Verwaltung des Heiligen Abendmahles nach den Prinzipien Martin Luthers in der Zeit bis zur Konkordienformel (PDF) (in German), Groß-Ösingen: Luther in BS, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-20.
  • ——— (2007), Usus und Actio – Das Heilige Abendmahl bei Luther und Melanchthon (PDF) (in German), Berlin: Luther in BS, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-21.
  • Froner, Hans v (1919), "Der Kryptocalvinismus Wittenbergs", in Weißenborn, Bernhard, Die Universität Halle-Wittenberg [The Halle‐Wittenberg University] (in German), Berlin: Furche.
  • Hasse, Hans-Peter, ed. (2004), 'Caspar Peucer (1525–1602): Wissenschaft, Glaube und Politik im konfessionellen Zeitalter (in German), Leipzig: EVA.
  • Hardt, Tom GA (1971), "Venerabilis et adorabilis Eucharistia. En Studie i den lutherska Nattvardsläran under 1500-talet", Studia Doctrinae Christianae Upsaliensia, Acta Universitatis Uppsaliensis (in Swedish), Uppsala, 9.
  • ——— (1988), "Venerabilis et adorabilis Eucharistia. Eine Studie über die lutherische Abendmahlslehre im 16. Jahrhundert", Forschungen zur Kirchen-und Dogmengeschichte (in German), Göttingen: Band 42.
  • ———, The Sacrament of the Altar, America online, archived from the original on June 10, 2001. A book on the Lutheran Doctrine of the Lord's Supper]
  • Henke, Ernst Ludwig Theodor (1865), Caspar Peuker und Nikolaus Krell (in German), Marburg: Elwert.
  • Koch, Uwe, ed. (2002), Zwischen Katheder, Thron und Kerker: Leben und Werk des Humanisten Caspar Peucer (in German), Bautzen: Domowina.
  • Luther, Martin (2000) [1529, The Large Catechism], Kolb, Robert, ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fortress Press
  • Richard, August Victor (1859), Der kurfürstlich sächsische Kanzler Dr. Nikolas Crell (in German), 2 vols.
  • Roebel, Marin (2005), Humanistische Medizin und Kryptocalvinismus. Leben und Werk... Caspar Peucers (PDF) (MD/PhD thesis) (in German), DE: University of Heidelberg.
  • Saran, G (1879), "Der Kryptocalvinismus in Kursachsen und Dr. Nikolaus Krell", DEBI (in German): 596–614.

External links

Articles of Schwabach

Beginning in July 1529, Philipp Melanchthon, along with Martin Luther and probably Justus Jonas, wrote the Articles of Schwabach (so named because they were presented at the Convention of Schwabach on 16 October of the same year), as a confession of faith with other Wittenberg theologians. Material from this document was later incorporated into the Augsburg Confession written by Philipp Melanchthon in 1530.

Caspar Peucer

Caspar Peucer (pronounced , German: [ˈbɔɪkɐ]; January 6, 1525 – September 25, 1602) was a German reformer, physician, and scholar of Sorbian origin.


Crypto-Christianity is the secret practice of Christianity, usually while attempting to camouflage it as another faith or observing the rituals of another religion publicly. In places and time periods where Christians were persecuted or Christianity was outlawed, instances of crypto-Christianity have surfaced.

Georg Major

George Major (April 25, 1502 – November 28, 1574) was a Lutheran theologian of the Protestant Reformation. He was born in Nuremberg and died at Wittenberg.


Gnesio-Lutherans (from Greek γνήσιος [gnesios]: genuine, authentic) is a modern name for a theological party in the Lutheran churches, in opposition to the Philippists after the death of Martin Luther and before the Formula of Concord. In their own day they were called Flacians by their opponents and simply Lutherans by themselves. Later Flacian became to mean an adherent of Matthias Flacius' view of original sin, rejected by the Formula of Concord. In a broader meaning, the term Gnesio-Lutheran is associated mostly with the defence of the doctrine of Real Presence.

Liturgical Struggle

The Liturgical Struggle (Swedish: Liturgiska striden) was the name for the period from 1574 until 1593 in Sweden, when there was a struggle about the confession of faith and liturgy of the Church of Sweden, brought about by the attempts of King John III of Sweden to make the Swedish church take a position in between Catholicism and Protestantism. The struggle began in 1574, when the king introduced some new rules in the liturgy which was not in accordance with Protestant opinion, followed by his publication of the Liturgia Svecanæ Ecclesiæ catholicæ & orthodoxæ conformia commonly called the "Red Book", which re-introduced a number of Catholic customs. The Liturgical Struggle ended with the Protestant confession of faith at the Uppsala Synod in 1593.

Lutheran orthodoxy

Lutheran orthodoxy was an era in the history of Lutheranism, which began in 1580 from the writing of the Book of Concord and ended at the Age of Enlightenment. Lutheran orthodoxy was paralleled by similar eras in Calvinism and tridentine Roman Catholicism after the Counter-Reformation.


Neo-Lutheranism was a 19th-century revival movement within Lutheranism which began with the Pietist driven Erweckung, or Awakening, and developed in reaction against theological rationalism and pietism. This movement followed the Old Lutheran movement and focused on a reassertion of the identity of Lutherans as a distinct group within the broader community of Christians, with a renewed focus on the Lutheran Confessions as a key source of Lutheran doctrine. Associated with these changes was a renewed focus on traditional doctrine and liturgy, which paralleled the growth of Anglo-Catholicism in England. It was sometimes even called "German Puseyism". In the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, neo-Lutheranism was paralleled by Johann Adam Möhler. The chief literary organ of the neo-Lutheranism was Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, edited by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg.

Nicolaus Gallus

Nicolaus Gallus (also Hahn) (c. 1516 – June 1570) was leader of the Lutheran Reformation in Regensburg.

Gallus was born in Köthen. At Wittenberg, where he became a student in 1530 and received the master's degree in 1537, he won the commendation of Melanchthon. In 1543 Luther sent Hieronymus Nopus as preacher to Regensburg at the request of the city council and with him went Gallus, who was ordained by Bugenhagen in April. In 1548 trouble arose in Regensburg over the acceptance of the Interim. Gallus wrote a treatise

against it, and had to leave the city; services in the only Evangelical church there were discontinued. For a time Gallus preached for Cruciger (who was ill) at Wittenberg, then in 1549, through the influence of his brother in law, Heinrich Merkel, city secretary at Magdeburg, he went to the Ulrich Church in that city. He joined Flacius in opposition to the adiaphorism of the Wittenberg circle and published a Disputation von Mitteldingen in 1550. He remained in Magdeburg after its capitulation in 1551, and kept up the dispute against Osiander and Major. In June, 1553, Prince Wolfgang of Anhalt called him to his native city to assist in the settlement of the administration of the church property. In August, 1553, Gallus was called back to Regensburg as leader of the Evangelical cause. He worked there for almost seventeen years, and the effects of his activity were felt far beyond the borders of the town. In the disputes of the following years he fought faithfully on the side of Flacius. Like him he tried to influence Melanchthon by letters, but the latter treated Gallus rather haughtily. It probably angered him that Gallus had republished (1554) his Sententiae veterum de coena Domini, which was directed against Oecolampadius. In 1561 Gallus warned the princes convened at Naumburg of the spreading Calvinistic doctrine of the Lord's Supper (see: Crypto-Calvinism). He also got into a dispute with Brenz, whom he suspected of leanings toward Philippism. From 1562 to 1566 he furnished a refuge to Flacius, who had been expelled from Jena. Melanchthon reproached Gallus for fighting continually against the Evangelicals, instead of combating Romanism. However, during the diet in 1556, Gallus preached against the Roman Catholics, and there are still extant manuscripts containing theses of disputation against the Ingolstadt Catholics. In this connection may be mentioned

Gallus' writing directed against Corpus Christi day: Vom abgöttischen Fest, Frohnleichnams-Tag genannt (1561).

He died in Bad Liebenzell.

Niels Hemmingsen

Niels Hemmingsen (Nicolaus Hemmingius) (1513 in Taagerup – 1600 in Roskilde) was a Danish Lutheran theologian. He studied at the University of Wittenberg 1537 to 1542 under Melanchthon. Returning to Denmark, he became a prolific author of works in Latin. In 1574 he published Syntagma institutionum christianarum, but was obliged to retract it in 1576 following pressure from Augustus I of Saxony to suppress Crypto-Calvinism.In 1575 he published Admonito de superstitionibus magicus vitandis, a warning against practicing witchcraft. This was an important text on demonology and witchcraft in the 16th Century. He used a wide definition of witchcraft, including not only harmful activities, but all superstitious and magical behavior. Not all witches had pacts with the devil. He wrote that most of the Devil's power came through illusions and that witches only did physically impossible things in dreams, like flying on brooms. Similarly, he found drowning tests unreliable since they relied on superstition that the Devil could manipulate.

Nikolaus Krell

Nikolaus Krell (c. 1551 – 9 October 1601), chancellor of the elector of Saxony, was born at Leipzig, and educated at the university of his native town.

About 1580 he entered the service of Christian I, the eldest son of Augustus I, elector of Saxony, and when Christian succeeded his father as elector in 1586, became his most influential counselor. Krell's religious views were Calvinistic or Crypto-Calvinistic, and both before and after his appointment as chancellor in 1589 he sought to advance his own religious views at the expense of the reigning Lutheran Orthodoxy which was the sanctioned religion of Electorate of Saxony. Calvinists were appointed to many important ecclesiastical and educational offices; a translation of the Bible with Calvinistic annotations was published; and Krell took other measures to attain his end.

In foreign politics, also, he sought to change the traditional policy of Saxony of close collaboration with the Habsburg emperors, acting in unison with John Casimir, regent of the Electorate of the Palatinate, and reaching out to Henry IV of France and Elizabeth I of England.

These departures from Saxon tradition, coupled with the jealousy felt at Krell's high position and autocratic conduct, made the chancellor very unpopular, and when the elector died in October 1591 he was deprived of his offices and thrown into Georgenburg prison of the Königstein Fortress by order of Frederick William, duke of Saxe-Altenburg, the regent for the young Elector Christian II.

His trial was delayed until 1595, and then, owing partly to the interference of the imperial court of justice (Reichskammergericht), dragged on for six years. At length it was referred by Emperor Rudolph II to a court of appeal at Prague, and Krell sentenced to death. He was decapitated in the Jüdenhof in Dresden on 9 October 1601. The influential European politician is commemorated a paving stone commemorated with the inscription "Kr" at the spot of his execution in the Dresden Stallhof.

Krell was not the only individual accused of Crypto-Calvinism. The influential physician Caspar Peucer was also charged and subsequently imprisoned for years.

Olaus Martini

Olof Mårtensson (1557 - 17 March 1609) also known in the Latin form Olaus Martini, was Archbishop of Uppsala from 1601 to his death.

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, he first enrolled in the University of Uppsala, but when it was temporarily closed in 1578 he travelled abroad. In 1583 he got a Master's degree at the University of Rostock and then travelled home again.

On returning, he made himself a reputation when he criticized the liturgy of Swedish King John III who held somewhat Catholics beliefs despite that Sweden had been Lutheran since 1531.

The king's brother Duke Charles, who later became King Charles IX, promoted Olaus to becoming Archbishop of Uppsala in 1601. Despite his support, Martini was fundamentally in opposition to the beliefs of duke Charles, a conflict which eventually led to disputes between the two. Martini was an orthodox Lutheran, while Duke Charles is believed to have been inclined towards Calvinistic tenants—which he himself denied (see: crypto-Calvinism).

In 1606 Martini had a text published which was sharply polemicing against Catholic and Calvinistic tenets.

Although he was in opposition to the King and the Duke, he was considered a hard working and trustworthy man by the University of Uppsala and by his communion.


The Philippists formed a party in early Lutheranism. Their opponents were called Gnesio-Lutherans.

Polykarp Leyser the Elder

Polykarp (von) Leyser the Elder or Polykarp Leyser I (18 March 1552 – 22 February 1610) was a Lutheran theologian, superintendent of Braunschweig, superintendent-general of the Saxon church-circle, professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg and chief court-preacher and consistorial-councillor of Saxony.

Leyser was born in Winnenden. He married Elisabeth, the daughter of Lucas Cranach the Younger, and their children included Polykarp Leyser II (1586–1633), another theologian. This made him the founder of a dynasty of theologians, as great-grandfather of Polykarp Leyser III (1656–1725) and great-great-grandfather of Polykarp Leyser IV (1690–1728).

Supported by his father, his uncle Andreae and later his stepfather Osiander, and also with input from his teacher Martin Chemnitz, Leyser came to have an ingrained support for Lutheran orthodoxy – indeed, at a difficult time for Lutheranism, he was one of those who founded that orthodoxy. In the creative force of his Loci theologici (1591/92), Harmonia evangelica (1593), Postilla (1593) and De controversiis iudicium (1594), his theological position was forged by the dispute sparked by (Crypto-)Calvinism in Saxony, by the 'Exorzismusstreit', by the difficulties over Lutheran Christology and by Huber's debate. Leyser is thus to be accounted one of the key figures of the Lutheran concord in northern and central Germany and was constantly attacked in pamphlets as the 'pope of Dresden'. As one of the key movers behind the Formula of Concord, he used his books to defend Lutheran orthodoxy and attack Catholicism and Calvinism, was commissioned by the elector to join several of the meetings which led to the Book of Concord and advocated that the number of sponsors be limited to three people.

He wrote more than sixty theological works and an extensive corpus of sermons. He also dealt with the literary controversies of his time, cultivating an extensive correspondence of 200 written by him and 5000 written to him – an extensive selection from it was first published by his great-grandson Polycarp Leyser III as Sylloge epistolarum in 1706.

Reduction of Gustav I of Sweden

The Reduction of Gustav I of Sweden, was an important reform during the Protestant Swedish Reformation, in which king Gustav I of Sweden ordered for a reduction of church property and land to the crown. This was a major reform which made the church in Sweden dependent upon the crown. It was also, in practice, the end of monastic life in Sweden. It was, in effect, the organisation of the confiscation of the property of the Swedish Catholic church and transfer of church property to the Crown, and the economic phase of the Swedish Reformation. The reform was introduced in 1527, proceeded through the 1530s, and was finalized in the 1540s. It was followed by the Örebro Synod, which, in contrast to this reform, dealt with the theological side of the reformation.

Sacramental union

Sacramental union (Latin, unio sacramentalis; Luther's German, Sacramentliche Einigkeit; German, sakramentalische Vereinigung) is the Lutheran theological doctrine of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Christian Eucharist (see Eucharist in Lutheranism).

Saxon Visitation Articles

Visitation Articles in the Entire Electorate of Saxony (German: Visitation-Artikel in gantzen Churkreiss Sachsen) are a Lutheran doctrinal statement written by Aegidius Hunnius and other theologians against Crypto-Calvinism on request of administrator Frederick William. They were written in 1592, and first published in German in 1593.

Until 1836 all teachers and ministers in Electoral Saxony were required to subscribe also to the Visitation Articles as a doctrinal norm.

Sermon on Indulgences and Grace

Martin Luther's Sermon on Indulgences and Grace (German: Eynn Sermon von dem Ablasz und Gnade) is a pamphlet written in Wittenberg in the latter part of March, 1518 and published in April of that year.The sermon itself was written as Luther directly addressing his audience. It stresses good works and sincere repentance over indulgences, with Luther criticizing indulgences as non-scriptural and the Catholic clergy as being greedy and wasting money on St. Peter's Basilica when it could be better spent on the poor in their own neighbourhoods.

Sophie of Brandenburg

Sophie of Brandenburg (6 June 1568 – 7 December 1622) was a German regent, Electress of Saxony by marriage to Christian I, Elector of Saxony, and regent. from 1591 to 1601 during the minority of her son Christian II.

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