God's Bridle: John Calvin's Application of Natural Law
30 Pages Posted: 18 May 2007
Natural law has made something of a comeback in legal philosophy. However, few legal scholars who are not identified as Roman Catholics have adopted a natural law approach.
Lack of enthusiasm from those committed to a narrowly understood positivism is not surprising. The failure of most explicitly Protestant legal academics to follow the natural law trails articulated by Catholic thinkers or to develop a distinctively Protestant approach is more puzzling. One reason this may be the case is the negative attitude of some leading Protestant theologians toward natural law.
In light of the reluctance of the wider Christian community to work from the natural law tradition, several writers have attempted to recast natural law in way that would have broader appeal across the range of Christian traditions. J. Budziszewski wrote "Written on the Heart," where he surveys the natural law tradition with special attention to the views of those outside the Catholic tradition. Russell Hittinger wrote "The First Grace" and, while he works from within a distinctively Catholic perspective on natural law, Hittinger takes pains to relate natural law to the distinctives of Protestant thought. Despite the efforts of Budziszewski and Hittinger, questions remain whether there is a fundamental division between natural law and Protestant theological sensibilities.
An answer to this question can be found in the writings of the theological grandfather of Reformed theology, John Calvin. Calvin's writings contain a number of positive references to natural law or the like. In addition to his express statements, Calvin presupposed the validity of natural law in his discussion of the state. This article first develops the understanding of natural law of the contemporary writers Budziszewski and Hittinger. Then it considers the place, foundations, and utility of the natural law in Calvin's thought. It concludes by discussing whether the common moral realism of Budziszewski and Hittinger and those who agree with Calvin is a sufficient platform for joint Catholic and Protestant natural law reasoning.
Keywords: natural law, John Calvin, J. Budziszewski, Russell Hittinger, theology, legal philosophy
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