Moderate Religious Liberty in the Theology of John Calvin

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 31, pp. 359-403, 1996

Some scholars portray John Calvin as a champion of religious liberty and human rights. Others view him as a rigid and brutal theocrat. This article shows that neither interpretation does justice to Calvin’s complex and evolving views of spiritual and political liberty. In his early writings, Calvin distinguished sharply between the spiritual and political liberty of individuals, and showed how these two concepts of liberty operated in the heavenly and earthly kingdoms respectively. In his later writings, Calvin worked to harmonize spiritual and temporal life and liberty, and to balance the religious liberty of the individual with the corporate needs of church, state, and society. This resulted in a much more nuanced understanding of liberty and authority, rights and duties, church and state, that Calvin worked out in both theological and jurisprudential terms. Many of his formulations proved axiomatic for the Western tradition, and anticipated understandings of rights and liberties that are still pertinent today.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: John, Calvin, Geneva, Moderate, Religion, Liberty, Religious Liberty

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Date posted: February 11, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Moderate Religious Liberty in the Theology of John Calvin (1996). Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 31, pp. 359-403, 1996. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1669582

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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