Calvinist Contributions to Freedom in Early Modern Europe
in Timothy S. Shah and Allen D. Hertzke, eds., Christianity and Freedom: Volume 1: Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 210-234
Posted: 26 Dec 2017
Date Written: December 21, 2017
This chapter, distilled from a book-length study of this topic, sketches the development of rights talk in those parts of the Western tradition inspired by the teachings of the Genevan Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Building in part on classical and Christian prototypes, Calvin developed arresting new teachings on authority and liberty, duties and rights, and church and state that have had an enduring influence on Protestant lands. Calvin’s original teachings were periodically challenged by major crises in the West - the French Wars of Religion, the Dutch Revolt, the English Revolution, American colonization and the American Revolution. In each such crisis moment, a major Calvinist figure emerged - Theodore Beza, Johannes Althusius, John Milton, John Winthrop, John Adams, and others - who modernized Calvin’s teachings and converted them into dramatic new legal and political reforms. This rendered early modern Calvinism one of the driving engines of Western constitutionalism. A number of our bedrock Western understandings of civil and political rights, social and confessional pluralism, federalism and social contract, and more owe a great deal to Calvinist theological and political reforms.
Keywords: John Calvin; Geneva; Theodore Beza; St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; Marian Exiles; Magdeburg Confession; Christopher Goodman; Dutch Revolt; Johannes Althusius; John Milton; Levellers; English Revolution; Puritan New England; Nathaniel Ward; Body of Liberties; doctrine of sin; checks and balances
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