According to Calvin, the church has a role to play with regard to the state. The church What then is the proper relation of the magistrate to the law? Is the ruler . Oct 21, Calvin saw the church and state as two interdependent entities each of the people in a book for future reference between them and the king. The Political Theory of John Calvin Then Farel raised his hand toward However, it actually provided a separation between the two with church and state having . Deteriorating relations between Geneva and Berne, the threat of war, mob.
During the 1st century ad the Apostlesliving under a pagan empire, taught respect for and obedience to the governing powers so long as such obedience did not violate the higher, or divine, law, which superseded political jurisdiction. Among the Church Fatherswho lived in a period when Christianity had become the religion of the empire, the emphasis on the primacy of the spiritual was even stronger.
They insisted upon the independence of the church and the right of the church to judge the actions of the secular ruler. With the decline of the Roman Empire in the West, civil authority fell into the hands of the only educated class that remained—the churchmen. The church, which formed the only organized institution, became the seat of temporal as well as spiritual power.
In the East the civil authorities, centred in Constantinople, dominated the ecclesiastical throughout the Byzantine period. Inunder Charlemagnethe empire was restored in the West, and by the 10th century many secular rulers held power throughout Europe.
A period of political manipulation of the church hierarchy and a general decline in clerical zeal and piety brought vigorous action from a line of reforming popes, the most famous of whom was Gregory VII. The following centuries were marked by a dramatic struggle of emperors and kings with the popes.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, papal power greatly increased. In the 13th century, however, the greatest scholar of the age, St.
Calvin on Church, State and Politics |
Thomas Aquinasborrowing from Aristotle, aided in raising the dignity of the civil power by declaring the state a perfect society the other perfect society was the church and a necessary good. The medieval struggle between secular and religious power came to a climax in the 14th century with the rise of nationalism and the increased prominence of lawyers, both royalist and canon.
Numerous theorists contributed to the atmosphere of controversy, and the papacy finally met with disaster, first in the removal of the popes to Avignon under French influence and second with the Great Schism attendant upon an effort to bring the popes back to Rome. Church discipline was relaxed, and church prestige fell in all parts of Europe. The immediate effect of the Reformation was to diminish the power of the church even further.
Christianity in its fractured condition could offer no effective opposition to strong rulers, who now claimed divine right for their positions as head of church and state. Many Lutheran churches became, in effect, arms of the state. Yet, they had never voted for spiritual leaders prior to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances.
The city council voted to elect the twelve elders of the Consistory; pastors throughout the city voted to elect 6 among them. It could excommunicate those who refused correction, if it did so, the matter was reported to the civil authorities. When this fails, the state should discipline physically. Prior to the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, the church had no role in disciplinary action. The Consistory may seem like a continuation of merging church and state.
In some ways, it was this. However, it actually provided a separation between the two with church and state having their own distinct jurisdiction and authority. An undisciplined, unruly citizenry could lead to the downfall of the entire city.
Calvin on Church, State and Politics
Thus, the city council took sinful conduct seriously even to an extreme. Historically, heretics had been burned by the state for centuries. Profligates had been whipped, fined, exiled, or imprisoned.
Geneva was no different, and sadly, Calvin was a product of his culture in this regard. The real contribution of the Consistory was to place the church and state on equal footing.
Church and state
Church and state leaders had wrestled with one another for power for more than a thousand years. To place both on a level plane under God, distinct in their roles, was no small achievement.
What started in Geneva became revolutionary.
Harro Hopfl has suggested: Right conduct was never for [Calvin] a realm of ambiguity and perplexity in which the services of a problem-solver are called for. He believed in a separation of church and state, a balance of power, and democratic elections, for instance. As opposed to modern America where the church is peripheral to the state, Calvin believed society should be governed by both institutions.
Each has its own God-given authority and jurisdiction with distinct responsibilities in society. By fostering the maturity of its Christian flock, the church nurtures the state by producing model citizens; thus church and state are mutually inclined. To separate church and state for him did not mean separating God and state. Calvin believed that God is the One who appoints ministers and magistrates.
Thus, they exercise oversight in submission to Him, and the people should obey them in submission to God. The church, the state, and all institutions therein should draw their laws from God, and recognize His sovereignty over them. For the statement of some, that the law of God given through Moses is dishonored when it is abrogated and new laws preferred to it, is utterly vain.
For others are not preferred to it when they are more approved, not by a simple comparison, but with regard to the condition of times, place, and nation; or when that law is abrogated which was never enacted for us.
For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere. Every society should strive to reflect this. It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men.
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Consequently the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws.
Whatever laws shall be framed to that rule, directed to the goal, bound by that limit, there is no reason why we should disapprove of them, howsoever they may differ from the Jewish law, or among themselves.
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Magistrates and ministers should have this standard in mind when making laws and leading the people. The state should not shy away from worshipping the living God, protecting His church, and punishing false doctrine. Whether the state functions as a monarchy, democracy, or some other form, he cared only that it was God-honoring.
He did, however, make a recommendation: He supported a democracy where power is divided many times over. Calvin envisioned a theocratic republic for Geneva. He believed it possible to connect theocracy and democracy two forms of government not often associated. In a theocratic republic, the people vote but in submission to the Lord. The people recognize that the power does not belong to them, but to the King of Kings. Like the Founding Fathers of America, Calvin believed that men should elect their own leaders.
They should govern themselves. Yet, unlike them, Calvin maintained a very low view of mankind. He did not believe that man could govern himself autonomously, as if God and the church are unnecessary. Evil—spiritual, social, doctrinal, moral, temporal—was the common enemy that unifies the [church and state].
The church preaches the gospel, informs the conscience biblically, and makes disciples. Thus, citizens who fear God begin to abound and in submission to Him, they are able to govern themselves.