The Catholic Origins and Calvinist Orientation of Dutch Reformed Church Law

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28, pp. 328-351, 1993

This article analyzes the theological and jurisprudential foundations of the church laws and consistory courts of the Calvinist or Reformed churches in the early modern Netherlands. Catholic authorities had governed the Netherlands until the 1550s, but they were forcibly removed with the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish monarchy and its papal supporters. In the immediate aftermath of the Revolt, the new Reformed Churches rejected the canon law and church courts that had traditionally governed most aspects of Dutch public and private life, calling instead for the magistrate to assume plenary jurisdiction. They also rejected the medieval “two-sword” theory that the Catholic Church had used to justify its rule over spiritual and temporal matters, calling instead for a greater separation of church and state, of spiritual and temporal power. Over time, however, the Dutch authorities gradually established Calvinism as the official state religion, the Dutch churches gradually reintroduced consistory courts and church laws modeled in part on medieval church courts, and the universities gradually resumed the study of canon law as a valid source of law for both church and state, albeit a canon law stripped of Catholic theological features that were not compatible with the new Reformed theology.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: Calvin, Dutch, Reformed, Church

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Date posted: February 11, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, The Catholic Origins and Calvinist Orientation of Dutch Reformed Church Law (1993). Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28, pp. 328-351, 1993. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1669567

Contact Information

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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