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Calvin And Theocracy Teaching

.. ted certain formulas of equity and justice, by which they might live together blamelessly and peaceably.” These three characteristics of law lack the fortitude found in similar systems of theocracy. In Catholicism, without The Church as the foundation of government, legal systems, however prudent, loose their credibility to individual wants and desires. Calvin conversely maintains that only the Catholic church possesses the attributes to corrupt an otherwise sensible, threefold legal structure. Continuing with his thesis on law, Calvin focuses on the believers proper use of the established legal system.

He does not specifically forbid Christians to engage in legal disputes. Calvin does, however, qualify this litigation by saying, “if one is permitted to go to law with a brother, one is not therewith allowed to hate him, or be seized with a mad desire to harm him, or hound him relentlessly.” Rather, Calvin asserts that the “principle for all Christians [is] that a law suit, however just, can never be rightly prosecuted by any man, unless he treat his adversary with the same love and good will as if the business under controversy were already amicably settled and composed.” Though he admits this is a rare, almost impossible occurrence, Calvin quickly and tactfully follows with the reassertion that, “all Christians are forbidden to desire revenge”–a useful way to remind his readers of the vengeful attitudes which so often accompany Catholic theocracies. To conclude his section on law, Calvin summarizes with a very poignant statement which contains strong anti-Catholic overtones. Believers are not prevented from “using the help of the magistrate in preserving their own possessions, while maintaining friendliness toward their enemies.” Calvin new well that those governments under the control of the Catholic Church expect their subjects to not only give up much of their material wealth, but also consider their enemies as under the control of the evil one, and treat them as you would the devil. Since the magistrate, to Calvin, is ordained by God, his divine position is sufficient to insure only God-willing legal protection, along with a Christian attitude of piety.

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In his final section, Calvin addresses the attitude and behavior of the people, sighting deference and obedience, and relying heavily on Jeremiahs account of King Nebuchadnezzar. On deference, Calvin classifies reverence for the office of the magistrate as, “the first duty of subjects . . .” With this, though, they, “should obey not only because of wrath, . .

. but because they are showing obedience to God himself when they give it to them; since the rulers power is from God.” Continuing with obedience, Calvin implores the people to intercede with prayer and supplication on behalf of the magistrate, following with the suggestion to commit all matters, “to the judgement of the magistrate, whose hand alone is free.” It is no accident that Calvin brings together deference and obedience. These are two mandates which rank high on the list of important matters for the papacy. But Calvins theocracy, unlike those under Catholic rule, places the focus of these two particulars directly on God, whereas a Cathlo-theocratic system is concerned exclusively with papal compliance. With respect to Nebuchadnezzar, Calvin uses a God designed allegory which is framed by Jeremiahs account of the fall of Judah, and their captivity in Babylon. The premise is that God, being the sovereign ruler of all, alone executes judgement. Calvin says this judgement often comes in the form of a wicked ruler.

“Yet, we need not labor to prove that a wicked king is the Lords wrath upon the earth.” In this, Calvin allows for the chastisement of His chosen people within the legal framework of a governmental system. This is absolutely essential if Gods people are to respect and revere their ruler. The metaphor comes into clear view as Calvin, surprisingly, explains his position. “When we hear that a king has been ordained by god, let us at once call to mind those heavenly edicts with regard to honoring and fearing a king; then we shall not hesitate to hold a most wicked tyrant in the place where the Lord has designed to set him.” More directly, Calvin quotes, ” . .

. And it shall be that any nation and kingdom that will not serve the king of Babylon, I [God] shall visit that nation with sword, famine, and pestilence . . . Therefore, serve the king of Babylon and live.” This may seem odd, in that Calvin so strongly opposes adherence to the whims of any Catholic theocracy.

The oddity is false though, in that the Catholic church, according to Calvin, is not from God. The Nebuchadnezzar parallel is, without question, one which indicates a divinely appointed (and curiously non-religious) ruler, though wicked he may be. Divine leadership demands allegiance depraved leadership does not. John Calvins Institutes are truly a masterful work of literature. Chapter XX on Civil Government is no exception to this.

Logic, coupled with his well placed allegorical parallels, give this document a credibility beyond reproach. In his attempt to draw comparisons of the blasphemous theocracies found under Catholic rule, to a more Biblical and Godly form of government, Calvin successfully ties together the benefits of his theocracy with the handicaps of the Catholic system thereby creating a system whose entire focus is on God. A universal consensus will never be reached on Calvins doctrines and ideologies. His history is plagued with conflict and tension. Thankfully, though, John Calvin was able to overcome tremendous obstacles and wrote extensively on those very subjects which entangled him the most; for without the work of John Calvin, our perspective on many important issues of the Christian faith would remain abstract at best.

NOTES Dillenberger, John ed., John Calvin. Selections from His Writings. (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1971), 472 – 506 In virtually all of Jon Calvins writings he emphasizes his strong dislike toward the Catholic Church. Dillenberger, Calvin, Section 4., 476 Ibid. Ibid., Section 5., 477 The church as the government was, to Calvin, deplorable. Dillenberger, Calvin, Sections 8 – 13., 480 – 488 Ibid. Section 9., 483 Ibid.

Section 10., 483 Ibid. Section 11., 485 Ibid. Section 12., 487 Religious leaders were commonly known as Philosophers of Religion. Calvins life, as well as his writing, exemplified humility. Dillenberger, Calvin, Section 13., 487 – 488 Ibid. Ibid., Section 15., 489 Ibid., Section 17., 492 Ibid., Section 18., 493 Ibid., Section 20., 495 Ibid., Section 22., 496 Ibid., Section 23., 497 Ibid., Section 25., 499 Ibid., Section 26., 500 Ibid., Section 27., 501 Calvin never condoned allegiance to leadership which was clearly not the will of God. Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY Dillenberger, John ed., John Calvin.

Selections from His Writings. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1971, 472 – 506.


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