Saturday, June 8, 2013

Calvinism and Rights

Apropos of the discussion, I have concluded after much investigation that Calvin himself was not good on "rights." No right to rebel against tyrants; no right to religious liberty (liberty of conscience).

Then some of his followers (Calvinists) through experience with tyrannical rulers began looking for ways to get around Calvin's prohibition against revolt. Or more carefully, to make the most of Calvin's "interposition" idea that said lower magistrates could overthrow higher magistrates as long as they did so pursuant to recognized legal mechanisms (the analogy here is the legal way in which Congress can impeach a President; they do it pursuant to the civil law, not by revolting against a tyrant).

Hence Mark Hall's book on the way in which the tradition of these Calvinist resisters influenced the American Revolution.

So while there is some language in the Declaration that does seem to foment rebellion, there is other language which speaks of their rights under extant legal technicalities, to do what they did. It's the latter language, not the former which is Calvinistic.

The former language --
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
-- is Lockean.

Dr. Gregg Frazer’s thesis is the “Calvinist” churches and figures who supported the revolution actually turned to Locke, not Calvin and had their Calvinism so polluted.

The counter response is that the Calvinist resisters (Rutherford, et al.) predate Locke; so, a la Dr. Hall, this kind of resistance was well within the "Calvinist" tradition. They didn't need to turn to Locke. They had Rutherford et al.

Some go so far as to assert Rutherford taught Locke his principles. But, alas, there is no provable connection between Locke and Rutherford.

The American Clergy who supported Whig revolt mentioned some of the resisters (Daniel Dreisbach told me to look carefully at the Sandoz collection for these mentions). So did John Adams. But they cited Locke more.

I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of everything Rutherford, de Mornay, et al., wrote and stood for; but it seems to me that when you see preachers like Witherspoon, preaching for revolt using “state of nature” “contract and rights” buzzwords, this is Locke-speak not Calvinist resister-speak. The Calvinist resisters were also totally illiberal on religious liberty issues.

For religious liberty, the Quakers and Baptist Roger Williams broke new ground. The Calvinist resisters were busy defending what Calvin did to Servetus.

With Locke, a more complete liberalism -- religious liberty, the right to revolt against tyrants, and other issues -- was tied together. 


Tom Van Dyke said...

Apropos of the discussion, I have concluded after much investigation that Calvin himself was not good on "rights."

You have to go to Jean Calvin's friend, colleague, and immediate successor, Theodore Beza.

This is why adherents prefer "Reformed theology" over the "Calvinism." There's far more to it than one man, John Calvin. Indeed, "Calvinist resistance theory" is more the work of

Beza, deMornay, Ponet, Know, Rutherford, Goodman, etc.

In 1574, Theodore Beza, one of the most influential Calvinists, published "On the Right of Magistrates over Their Subjects and the Duty of Subjects Towards their Rulers," to advance Calvin’s doctrine on the rights of intermediate magistrates. His book begins by examining the nature of government. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27.) Beza echoed this language: “peoples were not created for the sake of rulers, but on the contrary the rulers for the sake of the people, even as the guardian is appointed for the ward, not the ward for the guardian, and the shepherd on account of the flock, not the flock on account of the shepherd.”


Bill Fortenberry said...

With all this discussion about Calvin vs. Locke, I find myself wondering whether the following statement indicative of a Calvinistic influence or a Lockean influence:

“Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rulers are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number of persons are set in authority; partly democracy, i.e. government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people, and the people have the right to choose their rulers. Such was the form of government established by the Divine Law."

What do y'all think?

Anonymous said...


Sounds more Aristotelian, or a "remix" of Aristotle by some Christian. This mixing of Aristotle's three legitimate government with a topping of divine law only superficially resembles the desert Chiefdom allegedly established by Moses.

Tom Van Dyke said...

“Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, where one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers..."

Heh heh, I figgered what you were up to, Fortenberry but I hadda look it up to make sure. Run with it.

jimmiraybob said...

wsforten - "What do y'all think?"

Would your mystery writer by chance have had access to and perhaps have been schooled in Cicero and Aristotle?

Sounds rather Cicero's Republic to me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Y're all getting warmer..

JMS said...

Ooh - ooh - let me guess - who else could it be - the be all and end all - Aquinas?

So Bill & TVD, why not continue with the next sentence - Mosaic law - case closed, haul out Roy Moore's 10 commandments monument and establish what? Religious liberty, liberty of conscience? Hardly.

Bill Fortenberry said...

That is not the correct answer, JMS. The objective was not to identify the source of the quote, but to determine whether that source was influenced more by Calvin or by Locke. Of course, since you have identified the source, you must know that this statement is neither Lockean nor Calvinistic. It predates both men by several centuries, and that is the point that I am making. Aquinas recognized that the concept of government by the consent of the governed was the foundation of Mosaic Law. You mock the idea of returning to that Law (a position that I am not advocating), but do you not agree that our government should operate with the consent of the governed?