New light on old themes often forces contemporary scholars to surrender jealously guarded ideas. One of the most closely held but erroneous notions is that John Calvin ran a theocracy in Geneva that controlled all of life and indissolubly united church and state.

Calvin believed in two orders—the ecclesiastical and the governmental. Both are divinely ordained, each having its own function and each its own sphere of influence and power. Calvin sought to protect the rightful authority of the Church and to sustain its spiritual prerogatives. At the same time he refrained from involving the Church in matters belonging to the secular, not the spiritual realm.

New light on old ideas about Calvin, the theocracy, and the Church’s control of the totality of life comes from The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin (Eerdmans, 1966, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, ed.). According to these records, which cover the period from 1546 to 1564, the pastors of the Genevan church, while deeply involved in ecclesiastical and spiritual matters, stayed out of political and economic affairs. No one can read into these records, even by indirection, any effort by the ministers of the church to direct the political and economic life of the community or to influence the decisions of the council, the secular arm of the Genevan government.

Moreover, when Calvin preached—and this he did regularly—he used the pulpit to expound the Scriptures, not to control the political and economic destinies of Geneva. As an individual he had the right to his own opinions and could use the franchise to influence the political and economic order. But for the record it should be stated that Calvin came to Geneva as an immigrant and was not granted bourgeois ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.