The Corner

Meanwhile, Two cheers for Calvin’s Geneva!


Good morning, Rich-

If Derb can rise in objection to your mention of Cromwell, I can do no less on behalf of one of my heroes. I recognize, of course, that your passing reference to “Calvin’s Geneva” is not central to your point, but, in point of fact, Geneva under Calvin serves poorly as an example of theocracy run amok. In the 16th century, there was, throughout Christendom, Catholic and Protestant alike, no significant distinction between religious and secular authority. If Stalin’s famous question “How many divisions does the Pope have” were asked then, the answer would have been “Quite a few!” In this context, Calvin’s reordering of the city government of Geneva actually broke new, even revolutionary, ground in defining clearly the separate spheres of church and civil government. It is certainly true that Calvin envisioned these two spheres as complementary, each doing its work in support of the other, with the common goal of enlightening, ennobling, and caring for the populace, but there’s quite a gap between this state of affairs and “theocracy.”


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