The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism

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John Calvin developed arresting new teachings on rights and liberties, church and state, and religion and politics that shaped the law of early modern Protestant lands. Calvin's original teachings spread rapidly throughout Western Europe and stimulated dramatic legal and political reforms over the next two centuries. A number of basic ideas of religious and political rights, social and confessional pluralism, federalism and social contract owe a great deal to early modern Calvinism. This book is essential reading for scholars and students of history, law, religion, politics, ethics, human rights, and the Protestant Reformation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'Historians, not to mention philosophers and theologians, have too long overlooked the Calvinist contribution to the human rights tradition. John Witte's superlative study definitively corrects that shortcoming and thereby makes an indispensable contribution to our changing understanding of that tradition.' David Little, Harvard Divinity School

'John Witte has written a magistral survey of ideas about law, religion and human rights as developed by John Calvin in sixteenth-century Geneva and then developed and adapted by selected intellectual descendants of his in France, the Netherlands, England, and colonial America. These ideas are analyzed with all the clarity and bite one expects of a great historian of thought. They should make a useful and thought-provoking contribution to modern attempts to cope with concepts that are still of fundamental importance.' Robert M. Kingdon, University of Wisconsin, Madison

'The Reformation of Rights will come as a revelatory jolt to those who embrace the standard history of natural rights, which holds that the idea of such rights was introduced into Western thought by the political philosophers of the Enlightenment. Witte's argument, developed with meticulous attention to the sources, and always judicious in its conclusions, is that centuries before the Enlightenment, Calvinists were arguing for natural rights, especially natural religious rights: freedom of conscience, freedom of exercise, freedom of the church. The Reformation of Rights is a magisterial contribution to a new narrative of rights.' Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University

'Witte's [The] Reformation of Rights is … [a] cohesive and ambitious book. … Amid the growing number of recent books about the history of religious coexistence in early modern Europe, this one should not be overlooked.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History

'… essential reading for scholars and students of history, law, religion and politics, ethics and human rights, and the Reformation.' Journal of Reformed Theology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521818421
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2007
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Witte, Jr is Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. His many publications include Law and Protestantism (2002).
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Table of Contents

List of illustrations ix

Preface and acknowledgments xi

List of abbreviations and references xiv

Introduction 1

Toward a new Western history of rights 20

1 Moderate (religious) liberty in the theology of John Calvin: The original Genevan experiment 39

Calvin's early formulations 42

Calvin's mature formulations 56

Summary and conclusions 77

2 The duties of conscience and the free exercise of Christian liberty: Theodore Beza and the rise of Calvinist rights and resistance theory 81

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre 81

Beza's early formulations 87

Sources and developments of new rights theories 102

Beza's mature formulations 122

Summary and conclusions 134

3 Natural rights, popular sovereignty, and covenant politics: Johannes Althusius and the Dutch Revolt and Republic 143

The Dutch Revolt 143

The work of Johannes Althusius 151

Natural law, common law, and positive law 156

Religious and social rights and liberties 169

Society and politics 181

Summary and conclusions 203

4 Prophets, priests, and kings of liberty: John Milton and the rights and liberties of Englishmen 209

John Milton and the English Revolution 220

Religious rights and liberties 226

Domestic rights and liberties 248

Civil rights and liberties 259

Summary and conclusions 271

5 How to govern a city on a hill: Covenant liberty in Puritan New England 277

Founding rights and liberties 279

Liberty of covenant 288

Covenants of liberty 294

A Puritan seedbed of American constitutionalism and religious liberty 318

6 Concluding reflections: The biography and biology of liberty in early modern Calvinism 321

Law, religion, and human rights today334

Bibliography 345

Index to biblical sources 369

Index 373

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