Between Sacrament and Contract: Marriage as a Covenant in John Calvin's Geneva

Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 32, pp. 9-75, 1998

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper

67 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2011 Last revised: 14 Jan 2020

Date Written: 1998

Abstract

This Article analyzes John Calvin’s reformation of the life, law, and lore of the marital family in sixteenth-century Geneva. Calvin’s early efforts in the 1530s and 1540s were focused on the law of marital formation, maintenance, and dissolution. Particularly his 1545 Marriage Ordinance was famous for requiring parental consent, church consecration, and publicly attested marital contracts for valid marital formation, and for allowing both husbands and wives to divorce on grounds of adultery and desertion. When Calvin’s legal views were challenged, he both defended and refined them with a new theology of marriage as a covenant, modeled on the covenant between God and his elect. This theology emphasized both the spiritual and contractual qualities of marriage, its dependence on the moral law of God, and the participation of God through parents, peers, pastors, and political officials who each hold divine authority. In Calvin’s covenant theology, marriage was more than a mere contract (given its vital public rolls and roles) but less than a divine sacrament (only baptism and the Eucharist counted as sacraments). A German translation of this article appears as "Zwischen Sakrament und Vertrag: Ehe als Bund im Genf Johannes Calvins," Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung (Kanonisches Abteilung) 115 (1998): 386-469.

Keywords: John, Calvin, Marriage, Geneva, Divorce, Theology, Religion, Sacrament, Contract, Covenant

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Between Sacrament and Contract: Marriage as a Covenant in John Calvin's Geneva (1998). Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 32, pp. 9-75, 1998, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1669614

John Witte (Contact Author)

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