John Calvin argued that earthly rulers have a commission from God to serve as his vicegerents; they are invested with divine authority, and they in fact represent the person of God as his...

John Calvin argued that earthly rulers have a commission from God to serve as his vicegerents; they are invested with divine authority, and they in fact represent the person of God as his lieutenants.

Discuss the political thought of John Calvin. In what way, if any, did Calvin's thought provide a foundation among later Calvinists for justifying resistance to tyranny?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A French theologian and leader of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin believed in the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life. He contended that the state does not have the freedom to do as it may desire, because it falls under the rule of God’s law. Rulers, therefore, are directly responsible to God for their actions as they are invested with divine authority. "The ruler is under divine law in his relation to the sovereign God." In other words, Calvin claimed that there are no powers except those ordained by God.

Therefore, Calvin's contention is that even if the state has no Christian teachings, it still falls under the rule of God. Also, as Calvin asserted, even the "unregenerate" possess a sense of knowledge and justice that are essential to the government of any civilized society. After all, without a leader or a ruling body given the authority to enact and direct laws, as well as any enforcement of such laws, a society falls into anarchy. Therefore, "the natural law of justice and equity" is the foundation for all political governing. And Calvin held that "...any ruler is under divine law in his relation to the sovereign God."

Calvin's philosophy did indeed provide a foundation among later Calvinists for justifying resistance to tyranny after allegiances were moved from feudal loyalties to religious convictions following the Reformation. Civil government was now believed to be ordained by God with the purpose of cherishing and protecting the outward worship of God and preserving God's justice. Thus, there was reason for resistance to tyranny that existed when the tyrants demanded that which was contrary to God’s revealed will. 

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