Church, State, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Domestic Disputes and Sex Crimes in Geneva's Consistory and Council

Law and Disputing in the Middle Ages, Per Andersen, ed., Djóf Publishing, pp. 245-280, 2013

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-304

59 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2014 Last revised: 17 Apr 2020

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

Both church and state in sixteenth-century Protestant Geneva helped to resolve local disputes, particularly over issues of sex, marriage, and family which dominated the proceedings during John Calvin’s tenure from 1541 to 1564. The Genevan Consistory, comprised of pastors and political officials, was a preliminary hearings court with power to summon and examine witnesses and documents, and to issue spiritual sanctions from admonition to excommunication in an effort to reconcile disputants, reform delinquents, and restore legal and moral order in the city. But the Consistory left it to the Genevan City Council to prosecute serious offenses and offenders, and to issue legal orders respecting divorce, inheritance, marital property, child custody, and other legal issues. This Article sketches this new collaborative regime of dispute resolution, and then analyzes several illustrative cases from the Consistory records.

Keywords: John Calvin; Geneva; marriage; family law; consistory; sex crimes; Protestantism; adultery; wife abuse; spiritual discipline; excommuncation

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Church, State, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva: Domestic Disputes and Sex Crimes in Geneva's Consistory and Council (2013). Law and Disputing in the Middle Ages, Per Andersen, ed., Djóf Publishing, pp. 245-280, 2013, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-304, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2517679

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

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