Blog 242: 4.20.12 - 4.20.18

Paul Helm

Calvin borrows the idea of a just war from Augustine. Everything is to be tried in order to preserve the peace before war is declared, though waging war obviously means that reparations must be made, if necessary. A consideration of such reparations naturally leads Calvin to the question of taxation. Rulers are not to be extravagant. The people have not to be tax dodgers. Nothing much has changed, has it?

From the magistracy Calvin turns his attention to laws. Basically 'There are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations'. (1502) Don't be fooled by the double negative here: Calvin is telling us that he is not a theonomist, isn't he? He accepts the traditional three-fold distinction of Mosaic law, but argues only for the perpetuity of the first, the moral law. Further he thinks that the variety of systems of laws across nations should be respected, provided that these laws reflect common norms, as they usually do: the norms of the natural law and especially 'equity'.   The discretion we are permitted is to cover only the mode of punishment for infringements; at least Calvin gives no other example of tolerable differences. Once again, we note that Calvin is not a modern social pluralist. Neverteless, his attitude did much to 'internationalise' Calvin's arm of the Reformation. As regards the civil law the Christian may use litigation, but not out of vengeance, defending only what is his by right. Nevertheless, 'an upright litigant is rare'.