’The Law Written on the Heart’: Natural Law and Equity in Early Lutheran Thought

Wim Dekock, ed., The Legal Teachings of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, September 2014), 231-265

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-386

28 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2015

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

This Article analyzes the transformation of Western legal philosophy in the sixteenth-century Lutheran Reformation, with a focus on the legal thought of theologian Martin Luther, moral philosopher Philip Melanchthon, and legal theorist Johann Oldendorp. Starting with Luther’s two kingdoms theory, Melanchton developed an intricate theory of natural law based not only on the law written on the hearts of all persons, but also on the law rewritten in the Decalogue, whose two tables provided the founding principles of religious law and civil law respectively. Building on both Luther and Melanchthon, Oldendorp developed an original theory of equity and equitable law making and law enforcement as part of a broader biblical-based theory of natural law. Together these writers, laid the foundations for a new legal, political, and social theory which dominated Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia for the next three centuries.

Keywords: Lutheran Reformation; Martin Luther; Philip Melanchthon; Johann Oldendorp; Divine Law; Natural Law; Positive Law; Biblical Law; Conscience; Equity; Two Kingdoms Theory; Decalogue; Two Tables of Decalogue; Criminal Law; Church Law; Contract Law; Religious Establishment; Religious Liberty

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, ’The Law Written on the Heart’: Natural Law and Equity in Early Lutheran Thought (2014). Wim Dekock, ed., The Legal Teachings of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, September 2014), 231-265; Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-386. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2705607

John Witte (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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