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Luther and Calvin on the limits of secular authority
“If he then takes away your goods and punishes you for your disobedience, then blessed are you, and you should thank God for counting you worthy to suffer for the sake of his Word.”
(Luther, On Secular Authority, p.29)
“Christians must be people born to suffer contumely and injustices, and to be exposed to wickedness, deceit and ridicule from the dregs of mankind. And not only this, but they must bear all such evils patiently, that is, with such composure that when they suffer one affliction, they should prepare themselves for more to come, expecting nothing through their lives except a perpetual carrying of their cross.”
(Calvin, On Civil Government, p. 72)
Both Luther and Calvin are adamant that the duty of a Christian subject is to submit to earthly authority. What theological grounds do they use to ground this claim? Both Luther and Calvin differ, however, with regards to the question of how far this obedience to secular authority must extend. How do the two thinkers differ on this question? Why does Calvin’s response centre upon the inferior magistrates?
Martin Luther, ‘On Secular Authority’, and John Calvin, ‘On Civil Government’, in Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority ed. Harro Hopfl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) (in the unit reader)
‘Introduction’ in Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority ed. Harro Hopfl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) (in the unit reader)
John Headley, ‘Luther and the Problem of Secularization’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 21-37
Quentin Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol 2: The Reformations (Cambridge UP, 1978), Part I, ‘The Principles of Lutheranism’
Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform (New Haven: Yale UP, 1981), ch 5
The essay will be assessed according to the following criteria:
Literacy Minimum Standards Level 2/3
At this level, your written expression should be clear, concise and direct, free of major structural and presentational faults and, most importantly, not require any ‘deciphering’ on the part of the reader such. In other words, it can be read and understood on a first read through.
Specific requirements include:
Formal writing requirements-
Integrated use of source material (quotes, paraphrases etc.)
Accurate and consistent use of a recognised referencing system
Where required, your work has been submitted through Turnitin. In this unit, the major essay due 22 April, must be submitted both through Turnitin and in hard copy by the due date and time.
Formatting and presentation
Luther And Calvin On The Limits Of Secular Authority
Length: 6 pages (2750 Words)
Martin Luther and John Calvin were the humanists Reformers of the 16th century whose teachings sought to solicit cooperation of rulers in the role of church reformation. Both of these two reformers regarded the relationship between the secular authorities and the reformed Christian as having shortcomings and problems. However, despite their mutual respect, wide differences in their thinking existed especially on the question of how far this obedience to secular authority must extend. This paper tries to analyse the question of Luther and Calvin on the limits of secular authority based on their two works in Calvin’s memoir titled On Civil Government and Martin’s On Secular Authority. These two pieces are analysed to determine their suggested theological grounds in their efforts to strike a balance between secular authorities and Christianity.