Moderate Religious Liberty: John Calvin and the Geneva Experiment

"Moderate Religious Liberty: John Calvin and the Geneva Experiment," in Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1996): 359-403

Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 04-2

44 Pages Posted: 4 May 2004 Last revised: 13 Nov 2014

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law

Abstract

This chapter argues that John Calvin (1509-1564), the Protestant reformer of Geneva, developed a complex theory of (religious) liberty that lies at the heart of modern Protestant political theology. In his early years, Calvin's views of religious liberty were influenced strongly by Martin Luther's understanding of the freedom of the Christian in the heavenly kingdom and the bondage of the Christian in the earthly kingdom. In his mature writings, Calvin abandoned much of this framework, and worked out a detailed understanding of liberty vis-a-vis the moral laws of God, the civil laws of the state, and the spiritual laws of the church. Particularly novel and important was Calvin's call to integrate the principles of rule of law, democratic process, and individual liberty within the church, a theory with obvious implications for the state. Also important was his call to balance liberty and authority, rights and duties, within church, state, and family alike.

Keywords: Religious liberty, John Calvin, Geneva, Protestant, theology, Martin Luther, principles, rule of law, individual liberty

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Moderate Religious Liberty: John Calvin and the Geneva Experiment. "Moderate Religious Liberty: John Calvin and the Geneva Experiment," in Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1996): 359-403 ; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 04-2. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=537442

John Witte Jr. (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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