Church, State and Marriage: Four Early Modern Protestant Models

Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 1 (2012): 151-168

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-305

17 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2014 Last revised: 4 Sep 2019

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 2012


This Article analyzes four early modern Protestant models of marriage that emerged in place of the medieval Catholic sacramental model. These are the Lutheran social model of marriage in Germany and Scandinavia, the Calvinist covenantal model in Geneva, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland, the Anglican commonwealth model in England and its colonies, and the budding separationist model of marriage developed by John Locke. Theologically, the differences between these models can be traced to medieval Catholic sacramental theology, Lutheran two kingdoms doctrines, Calvinist covenantal constructions, Anglican commonwealth theory, and Lockean contractarian theories, respectively. Politically, these differences can be seen in shifts in marital jurisdiction: Medieval Catholics vested exclusive marital jurisdiction in the church. Anglicans left marital jurisdiction to church courts, subject to royal oversight and Parliamentary legislation. Calvinists assigned interlocking marital roles to local consistories and city councils. Lutherans consigned primary marital jurisdiction to the territorial prince or urban council. Locke pressed for a sharper separation of church and state in the governance of marriage. The Article concludes with a brief reflection of the implications of these early modern teachings, especially Locke’s, for modern contests over church, state, and family.

Keywords: Martin Luther; John Calvin; Henry VIII; John Locke; Roman Catholicism; Lutheranism; Calvinism; Anglicanism; Enlightenment; marriage; family law; religious liberty; church-state relations; marital pluralism

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Church, State and Marriage: Four Early Modern Protestant Models (2012). Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 1 (2012): 151-168, Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-305, Available at SSRN:

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