Natural Law and Natural Rights in the Early Protestant Tradition
in Tom Angier and Iain Benson, eds., Cambridge Handbook on Natural Law and Natural Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022), 233-246
17 Pages Posted: 25 May 2023
Date Written: 2022
Natural law and natural rights are contested categories among many modern Protestants. But they were common legal and theological topics for their sixteenth-century forebearers. These early modern Protestant reformers did echo classical and scholastic teachings, and their lists of natural law principles and natural rights precepts overlapped with Catholic, humanist, and republican formulations in their day. But the reformers also grounded their teachings in distinct accounts of the created natural order, human nature, the Ten Commandments, law and Gospel, divine sovereignty and natural order in the two kingdoms, which gave their views a unique accent. This chapter samples the natural law and natural rights teachings of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, the Magdeburg Confession, John Calvin, Christopher Goodman, and Johannes Althusius. They illustrate the hundreds of other Protestant sources, not only by Lutherans and Calvinists but also by Anabaptists and Anglicans of various denominations. These teachings were among the driving forces of early modern Western democratic revolutionaries on both sides of the Atlantic. They were also influential in the modern international declarations of rights in the aftermath of world wars, in the church-led civil rights movement in the United States, and in various liberation movements against colonial and authoritarian rule in the Global South.
Keywords: Law, religion, law and religion, Natural law, natural rights, Decalogue, Bible, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Magdeburg Confession, John Calvin, Christopher Goodman, Johannes Althusius
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