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God's Bridle: John Calvin's Application of Natural Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015


Natural law has made a comeback in legal philosophy. The revival of natural law thinking in the legal academy began about thirty years ago and has managed to gain a seat at the table in current jurisprudential discussions. Defining natural law, Brian Bix declares that it “claims that there are fundamental and evaluative connections between the universe, human nature, and morality.” These connections need not have a Christian or even a theistic foundation. A belief in moral realism, that is, the propositions that “(1) there is an objective reality, (2) human beings can know something about it, and (3) there are some things that everyone can, and some things that everyone ought to, do in response to what they know,” ties together theistic and non-theistic versions of natural law. Yet many prominent contemporary natural law theorists—J. Budziszewski, John Finnis, Robert George, and Russell Hittinger —are Roman Catholic. Despite the fact that Finnis and George develop their natural law arguments without reference to any metaphysical states of affairs or transcendent truth claims, natural law continues to be associated with Thomas Aquinas and the subsequent scholastic tradition. Thus, even standards that Finnis and George derive from the internal rationality of law strike some as disguised theology.

Copyright © Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University 2006

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1. See McQuade, J. Stanley & Bowser, Richard T., Marketing Natural Law: An Over-Debated and Undersold Product, 27 Campbell L. Rev. 187, 188 (2005)Google Scholar [hereinafter McQuade & Bower, Marketing Natural Law] (“There has been a considerable resurgence of interest in Natural Law theory among lawyers in general ….”).

2. Bix, Brian, On the Dividing Line Between Natural Law Theory and Legal Positivism, 75 Notre Dame L. Rev. 1613, 1614 (2000)Google Scholar.

3. Folsom, Thomas C., The Restatement of the Obvious: Or, What's Right Got To Do With It? Reflections on a Business Ethic for Our Times, 16 Regent U. L. Rev. 301, 315 (2004)Google Scholar.

4. Budziszewski, J., Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (InterVaristy Press 1997)Google Scholar [hereinafter Budziszewski, Written on the Heart].

5. Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford U. Press 1980)Google Scholar.

6. George, Robert P., In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford U. Press 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7. Hittinger, Russell, The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World (ISI Books 2003) [hereinafter Hittinger, The First Grace]Google Scholar.

8. See e.g. Cicchino, Peter M., Reason and the Rule of Law: Should Bare Assertions of “Public Morality” Qualify as Legitimate Government Interests for the Purposes of Equal Protection Review?, 87 Geo. L.J. 139, 157, 162, 164 (1998)Google Scholar (classifying the natural law jurisprudence of John Finnis as “theology” and “essentially the same [ ] as that made by the Roman Catholic Church”).

9. See e.g. Ross, Alf, Validity and Conflict Between Legal Positivism and Natural Law, in Normativity and Norms: Critical Perspectives on Kelsenian Themes 147 (Paulson, Stanley L. & Paules, Bonnie eds., Oxford U. Press 1998)Google Scholar.

10. See Carter, Stephen L., The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion 9 (BasicBooks 1993)Google Scholar (“[O]ur public culture more and more prefers religion as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen.”).

11. See generally Hart, H.L.A., The Concept of Law (2d ed., Oxford U. Press 1994)Google Scholar.

12. See e.g. Posner, Richard A., Economic Analysis of Law 34 (5th ed., Aspen L. & Bus. 1998)Google Scholar (“The task of economics … is to explore the implications of assuming that man is a rational maximizer of his ends in life, his satisfactions—what we shall call his'self-interest.”); Posner, Richard A., Legal Reasoning from the Top Down and the Bottom Up: The Question of Unemtmerated Constitutional Rights, 59 U. Chi. L. Rev. 433 (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar (rejecting policy (“top down”) arguments in constitutional interpretation because they are indeterminate).

13. See e.g. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xvi (“Yves Simon has usefully proposed that the theories and ideologies of natural law seek to discover or assert the ‘prior premises’ of human law.”).

14. A number of sets of such premises have been deployed in the Western world. Citing the Supreme Court's decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), Hittinger describes the currently reigning paradigm—maximal individual autonomy: “the Casey Court folds the positive law into the principle of a natural right. The absence of legislative power [e.g., to regulate abortion] is established by the right of the individual to be self-norming.” Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xxxii (emphasis added). Yet, individual autonomy is not and certainly has not been the only premise of legal evaluation. Natural law in one form or another has a far longer pedigree in the West as the source of law's prior premises.

15. Harold Berman is one of the few exceptions to the general rule that Protestant legal academics fail to make significant use of the concept of natural law. See e.g. Berman, Harold J., Law and Revolution, II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition (Harv. U. Press 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16. See e.g. Bainbridge, Stephen M., Law and Economics: An Apologia, in Christian Perspectives On Legal Thought 208, 212 (Yale U. Press 2001)Google Scholar (“To be clear, I am not arguing that a godly society promotes wealth maximization at all costs.”).

17. Id. at 223 (“[A] Christian legal scholar may rely on both positive and normative economic analysis with confidence that it is both a powerful analytic tool and one that is consistent with his or her walk with God.”).

18. See e.g. Barth, Karl, No!, in Natural Theology 65 (Fraenkel, Peter trans., The Centenary Press 1946)Google Scholar [hereinafter Barth, No!]; Lang, August, The Reformation and Natural Law, in Calvin and the Reformation: Four Studies 56 (Armstrong, William Park ed., Fleming H. Revell Co. 1909)Google Scholar.

19. See e.g. Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics IV. 1 140 (T & T Clark 1932)Google Scholar:

Sin is man's denial of himself in the face of the grace of His Creator. It is not directed against a so-called law of nature. There is no law of nature which is both recognizable as such and yet also has divine character and authority. There is no law and commandment of God inherent in the creatureliness of man as such, or written and revealed in the stars as a law of the cosmos ….

See also Ellul, Jacques, The Theological Foundation of Law 8 (Seabury Press 1960)Google Scholar (“[T]he incredible difficulties this new natural law must face … are, in my opinion, insurmountable.”). Other Protestant theologians have largely ignored the topic of natural law. See e.g. Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology (Scribner's 1871)Google Scholar; Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology (W.B. Eerdmans Pub 1938)Google Scholar; Oden, Thomas C., Systematic Theology (Harper & Row 1989)Google Scholar; Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan Publg. House 1994)Google Scholar.

20. Calhoun, Samuel W., Grounding Normative Assertions: Arthur Leff's Still Irrefutable, But Incomplete, “Sez Who?” Critique, 20 J.L. & Religion 31 (20042005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Stuntz, William J., Book Review: Christian Legal Theory, 116 Harv. L. Rev. 1707 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar (reviewing Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought).

21. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, supra n. 4, at 95-133 (John Locke), 207-212 (John Calvin & Martin Luther).

22. See e.g. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xli-xliii (connecting Pope John Paul II's teaching about “participated theonomy” in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor with the Dutch Reformed doctrine of “sphere sovereignty” articulated by Kuyper, Abraham in his Lectures on Calvinism delivered at Princeton in 1898Google Scholar).

23. Despite the substantial efforts by the Worldwide Lutheran Federation and the Roman Catholic Church culminating in The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999Google Scholar, the competing understandings of justification have not been resolved. See Dorman, Ted M., The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: Retrospect and Prospects, 44 J. Evangelical Theol. Socy. 421 (2001)Google Scholar.

24. The choice of John Calvin (1509-64) as opposed to, say, Martin Luther, is not arbitrary. The theological and cultural influence of Calvin far exceeded that of any other reformer. See e.g. Benedict, Philip, Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism xv (Yale U. Press 2002)Google Scholar (“Although Martin Luther towered over the initial decades of the Reformation, Calvinism superseded Lutheranism within a generation as the most dynamic and widely established form of European Protestantism.”).

25. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion (McNeill, John T. ed., Battles, Ford Lewis trans., Westminster Press 1960) (1559) [hereinafter Calvin, institutes]Google Scholar.

26. See e.g. Calvin, institutes supra n. 25, at I.xvi.3 (“law of nature”), II.ii.22, II.viii. 1, IV.xx. 16 (“natural law”). See also Schreiner, Susan E., The Theater of His Glory: Nature and Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin 77 (Labyrinth Press 1991)Google Scholar [hereinafter Schreiner, Theater of His Glory]:

In comparison with the medieval tradition, Calvin's discussions of natural law seem imprecise and unsystematic …. Nonetheless, he took over the traditional terminology and referred (sometimes interchangeably) to the “ius aequum,” “lex naturae,” “lex naturalis,” and “ius gentium.” … Often Calvin referred simply to “common sense,” the “dictates of nature,” or simply “nature.” … [T]hroughout his writings, Calvin emphasized the efficacy of such natural insight. Two of Calvin's most extensive statements regarding natural law are his comments on Romans 2:14-15 and the Institutes II.8.1 ….

27. See infra text accompanying nn. 126 & 140. See also Hesselink, I. John, Calvin's Concept ofthe law 52 (Pickwick Publications 1992)Google Scholar [hereinafter Hesselink, Calvin's Concept of Law] (citing references to natural law in Calvin's commentaries); Cochrane, Arthur C., Natural Law in Calvin, in Church-State Relations in Ecumenical Perspective 176, 181 (Smith, Elwyn A. ed., Duquesne U. Press 1966)Google Scholar [hereinafter Cochrane, Church-State Relations]

Calvin's writings, especially his commentaries on the Pentateuch and his sermons on the Book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Job, are so full of references to ius naturae, lex naturae, ordo naturae, sensus naturae, communis sensus, to conscience, reason and experience, that the subject [of natural law] cannot be brusquely dismissed.

28. Drawing on Calvin's works, I have concluded that he had a positive view of natural law. See infra text accompanying nn. 124-142. This conclusion has been contested. See e.g. Karl Barth, No!, supra n. 18. In addition to Calvin himself, my position finds support among a number of well-regarded contemporary scholars. See e.g. Muller, Richard A., The Unaccomodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (Oxford U. Press 2000)Google Scholar; Schreiner, Susan E., Calvin's Use of Natural Law, in A Preserving Grace: Protestants, Catholics, and Natural Law 51 (Cromartie, Michael ed., W.B. Eerdmans Pubig. Co. 1997)Google Scholar.

29. As Alessandro d'Entrèves noted:

There can be no greater delusion than to believe that the history of these notions [of natural law] may be written by simply drawing up a list, as careful and complete as possible, of all the references to them which can be found in political writers. The formal continuity of certain expression is not the decisive factor: the same notion may have had very different meanings and have served entirely different purposes.

d'Entrèves, A.P., Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy 910 (Hutchinson's U. Lib. 1951)Google Scholar [hereinafter d'Entrèves, Natural Law].

30. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at 3.

31. Id. at 14-15. We will see that grounded natural law in providence will be an important point of contact between the understandings of Hittinger and Calvin. See infra text accompanying nn. 104-123.

32. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at 14.

33. Id. at xvi.

34. ID. at 4 (noting that natural law can be described from the perspectives of order in nature (natural law as the external-empirical) and order in the human mind (natural law as the internal-subjective)). See infra n. 90 for Calvin's agreement with the priority of order in the divine mind.

35. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at 5.

36. Id. at 40:

The encyclical [Veritatis Splendor] gives only passing attention to the well-known proof text in Romans 2:14 (“The gentiles who had not the law, did naturally things of the law”); but repeated reference is made to the second chapter of Genesis …. Rather than making the issue of natural law rest principally on what people know (or do) independent of the divine positive law, the passage in Genesis raises the more basic theological issue of how to characterize divine governance prior to Torah ….

37. The title of Hittinger's book is taken from the so-called Second Council of Aries (c. 473) in which natural law is for the first time so described. Id. at xi.

38. While Hittinger castigates Protestants who too quickly deny the efficacy of natural law due to an overemphasis on an “epistemology of sin,” he agrees that the overemphasis on the orders of nature and the human mind by secularists and some contemporary Catholic writers is “contrary to the gospel.” Id. at 33-34.

39. Hittinger devotes a full chapter to grounding natural law as the ordinance of a divine lawgiver, not the autonomous imposition of the human mind on a uninterpreted natural order. Id. at 39-62.

40. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, supra n. 4, at 179-186 (concluding with the remark that “[o]ur analysis must be anchored in God's Word.”). Subsequent to writing Written on the Heart, Budziszewski was received into the Roman Catholic Church. See Insight, Ignatius, Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: Interview with J. Budziszewski, (02 2005)Google Scholar (originally printed in 14 Cath. World Rpt. 50 (01 2005Google Scholar)).

41. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, supra n. 4, at 180 (“In contrast to special revelation, provided by God to the community of faith, this may be called general revelation because it is provided by God to all mankind.”) (emphasis in original).

42. Budziszewski acknowledges five forms of general revelation: “(1) the testimony of creation …; (2) the fact that we are made in the image of God …; (3) the facts of our physical and emotional design …; (4) the law of conscience …; (5) the order of causality.” Id. at 180-181.

43. Id. at 181. Budziszewski's emphasis on the conscience corresponds most closely to Hittinger's category of order in the human mind. Budziszewski also identifies categories of natural revelation that correspond to the category of order in nature. While he doesn't identify a category like order in the divine mind, there can be little doubt that Budziszewski believes such to be the case.

44. Id. at 182.

45. id. at 183 (“[I]t is a far cry from knowing something to acknowledging it, and the human race has been in the condition psychologists call ‘denial’ ever since the Fall. Acknowledging what we really know is now an act of faith.”).

46. Id. at 184.

47. Id.

48. Id. at 183-184:

There is a natural law, and it can be known and philosophically analyzed. But that which is beside the Scripture can be vindicated only with the help of Scripture; that which is revealed before the gospel can be secured against evasion only in the light of the gospel. The doctrine of natural law is best grounded not in the study of nature independent of God's Word but in the Word of God itself.

49. See Helm, Paul, John Calvin's Ideas 2 (Oxford U. Press 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar [hereinafter Helm, Calvin's Ideas] (“[R]esearch into the medieval tradition, particularly into the world of late medieval Augustinianism, … shows it to be much more multiform than previously thought and to contain strands congenial to the incipient Reform movement ….”).

50. See generally id. at 1-2 (repudiating Calvin as the rejecter of Catholic medieval traditions).

51. See Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity: Reformation to the Present vol. 2, 751 (Hendrickson Publishers 1999) (originally published 1953)Google Scholar.

52. See d'Entrèves, Natural Law, supra n. 29, at 39 (“Although Thomist philosophy was at first bitterly opposed by contemporary schools of thought, it finally won the battle. It has remained ever since the most authoritative expression of what may well be called the Catholic view of life.”).

53. See Brady, I.C., Scholasticism, in 12 New Catholic Encyclopedia 757, 761 (Marthaler, Bernard al. eds., Thomson/Gale 2003)Google Scholar (“For Thomas Aquinas, the basic problem was to discover how as a Christian scholar he could order anew the whole structure of Christian wisdom in such a way that pagan [Aristotelian] philosophy would be made tributary to the Christian faith.”).

54. See Aquinas, Thomas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith: Summa Contra Gentiles 1.7 (Pegis, Anton C. trans., Image Books 1955) (1259–64)Google Scholar:

The natural dictates of reason must certainly be quite true: it is impossible to think of their being otherwise. Nor again is it permissible to believe that the tenets of faith are false, being so evidently confirmed by God. Since therefore falsehood alone is contrary to truth, it is impossible for the truth of faith to be contrary to principles known by natural reason.

See also Placher, William C., A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction 153 (The Westminster Press 1983) [hereinafter Placher, A History of Christian Theology]Google Scholar (“If Thomas distinguished between truths known through reason and those known through revelation, he did not think that reason and revelation can ever contradict each other, since both come from God …. Revelation … does not contradict revelation but adds to it.”).

55. See generally Clark, R.S., Calvin on the Lex Naturalis, 1998 Stulos Theol. J. 1, 34Google Scholar.

56. See e.g. Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica Ia.3.5, Ia.5.1, Ia.5.2 (Fathers of the English Dominican Province trans., Christian Classics 1948) (1273)Google Scholar [hereinafter Aquinas, S.T].

57. Id. at Ia.91.1-2. See also Weisheipl, J.A., Thomism, in 14 New Catholic Encyclopedia 40, 42 (Marthaler, Bernard al. eds., 2d ed., Thomson/Gale 2003)Google Scholar (“The unique substantial form of man is his rational soul ….”); Oberman, Heiko, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism 90 (W.B. Eerdmans Pubg. Co. 1967)Google Scholar [hereinafter Oberman, Medieval Harvest]:

In view of the “intellectualism” of Thomas Aquinas, it is not surprising that for him God's will is only a partner in the operation of the intellect in establishing the hierarchy of eternal law, natural law and positive law. In his eyes it would be blasphemous to assert that justice would ultimately depend on the will of God, as this would imply that his will would not operate according to the order of wisdom.

58. See infra text accompanying n. 84.

59. See Verhey, Allen, Natural Law in Aquinas and Calvin, in God and the Good 80, 84 (Orlebeke, Clifton & Smedes, Lewis eds., W.B. Eerdmans 1975)Google Scholar (“Both Thomas and Calvin see the natural law as dependent on a reality of meaning and value built into the world by God's purposeful creating and sustaining power …. [F]or both the wisdom of God establishes the purposes of God. They are not merely a matter of arbitrary will.”).

60. See Aquinas, S.T., supra n. 56, 2a.91.1 (citing Proverbs 8:23 for the eternality of divine law)Google Scholar.

61. See Parker, T.H.L., John Calvin: A Biography 11 (Westminster Press 1975)Google Scholar [hereinafter Parker, Biography] (“Terminist logic was … concerned with the analysis of language, or rather, with the analysis of the relationship between language about objects, the mental conception of the object, and the object itself.”).

62. See Kilcullen, John, Natural Law and Will in Ockham, in A Translation of William of Ockham's Work of Ninety Days vol. 2, 851 (Kilcullen, John & Scott, John trans., Edwin Mellen Press 2001)Google Scholar.

63. See VanDrunen, David, The Context of Natural Law: John Calvin's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, 46 J. Church & St. 503, 506, 508509 (2004)Google Scholar [hereinafter VanDrunen, Context of Natural Law] (“The traditional division of late medieval theology into two distinct and competing schools, the realist, intellectualist via antiqua and the nominalist, voluntarist via moderna is familiar to scholars of this period.”).

64. See McGrath, Alister E., A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture 2150 (Basil Blackwell 1990) [hereinafter McGrath, Life]Google Scholar; Parker, Biography, supra n. 61, at 10-12.

65. Calvin was certainly not illogical; he freely used the Aristotelian categories of “cause” where helpful. See e.g. Calvin, institutes, supra n. 25, at III.xiv.21; Calvin, John, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians 201 (Ages Software 1998) (1548)Google Scholar (commenting on Ephesians 1:5Google Scholar).

66. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at I.i.1. See Hoitenga, Dewey J. Jr., Faith and Reason from Plato to Plantinga: An Introduction to Reformed Epistemology 143174 (SUNY Press 1991)Google Scholar [hereinafter Hoitenga, Faith and Reason] (providing an extended account of Calvin's robust theory of knowledge).

67. Parker, Biography, supra n. 61, at 12.

68. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at III.xxiii.2.

69. See Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 117 (“Calvin repeatedly denies that his view of providence requires that God be understood, in accordance with that ‘Sarbonic dogma’, as pure will …; rather, in God will and wisdom are inseparably united in one simple essence.”).

70. Aquinas, S.T, supra n. 56, at Ia.25.3 (“All confess that God is omnipotent; but it seems difficult to explain in what His omnipotence consists ….”).

71. Aquinas, S.T, supra n. 56, at Ia.25.5.

72. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xxiii (“Thomas differs from modern philosophers who speak of inclination as mere physical appetition that provides the material for instrumental reason—reason as the slave of the passions.”).

73. Aquinas, S.T, supra n. 56, at Ia.25.3.

74. See Oberman, Medieval Harvest, supra n. 57, at 36.

75. As Oberman notes:

For both Biel and Thomas natural law known by the dictate of right reason is dependable and immutable. The difference appears that in the sovereign God has, according to Biel, the freedom to dispense momentarily and in particular cases with some of the commandments derived through direct revelation. This is impossible for Aquinas since all the commandments of the Decalogue are, as norms in the strictest sense of the word, a direct extension of the natural law and share therefore in its indispensability.

Oberman, Medieval Harvest, supra n. 57, at 110.

76. Lillback, Peter A., The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology 4648 (Baker Academic 2001)Google Scholar [hereinafter Lillback, Binding of God]. See also Oberman, Medieval Harvest, supra n. 57, at 245-246:

[For nominalists] God is committed to give his grace to all who do what is in them. This does not detract from his sovereignty, since in eternity God was free to establish totally different laws; he was free to act with absolute power, the potentia absoluta, subject only to the law of non-contradiction or the law of consistency. Out of sheer mercy and grace, he freely decided in eternity to establish the law that he would convey grace to all who make full use of their natural capacities. Though the law as such is freely given …. God is now committed to it, in the order chosen by him, the order of his potentia ordinata, and he therefore gives his grace “necessarily.”

77. See e.g. Steinmetz, David C., Calvin in Context 4050 (Oxford U. Press 1995)Google Scholar; Case-Winters, Anna, God's Power: Traditional Understandings and Contemporary Challenges 4146 (Westminster/J. K.nox Press 1990)Google Scholar.

78. See generally Lillback, Binding of God, supra n. 76.

79. Lillback, Binding of God, supra n. 76, at 141 (“[T]he covenant for Calvin implies the self-binding of God through His Word of promise whereby He has chosen or adopted a people for Himself).

80. See Schreiner, Theater of His Glory, supra n. 26, at 34:

Calvin was eager, however, to define this power as reliable rather than as an ungovemed, cruel, or tyrannical will. His rejection of the distinction between the potentia absoluta and the potentia ordinata demonstrates this concern. Ignoring the nominalist emphasis on God's reliable commitments to his ordained pactum, Calvin angrily rejected this “blasphemous” separation of God's power from his justice. Such an (alleged) separation of God's attributes, he feared, would make God into a tyrant who could de potentia absoluta act according to a tyrannical and absolute will and could “toss men about like balls.” (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). See also Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 312-323. But see McGrath, Life, supra n. 64, at 169 (“God is not a law unto himself, nor is he above the law (ex lex); rather, his will is the foundation of existing conceptions of morality. [Calvin, Institutes] III.xxiii.2. These terse statements represent one of Calvin's clearest affinities with the late medieval voluntarist tradition.”). Unfortunately, McGrath leaves out the following line from the same section of the Institutes that undercuts his attribution of voluntarism to Calvin: “And we do not advocate the fiction of ‘absolute might’; because this is profane, it ought rightly to be hateful to us. We fancy no lawless god who is a law unto himself.” Calvin's rejection of voluntarism could hardly be more clear.

81. Calvin, John, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God 179 (Reid, J.K.S. trans., paperback ed., J. Clarke 1982) (1552)Google Scholar.

82. Calvin, John, Sermon on Job lxxxvii (on Job 23:1-7), in Corpus Reformatorum XXXIV: Johannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia 339Google Scholar (quoted in Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at I.xvii.2 n. 7).

83. Schreiner, Theater of His Glory, supra n. 26, at 78 (“Calvin carefully maintained that in God's superiority to natural law his power is always conjoined with his justice.”) (footnote omitted).

84. See Calvin, John, Commentary on the Gospel According to John 21 (Ages Software 1998) (1553)Google Scholar where Calvin writes with respect to Augustine's realistic epistemology:

Augustine, who is excessively addicted to the philosophy of Plato, is carried along, according to custom, to the doctrine of ideas; that before God made the world, he had the form of the whole building conceived in his mind; and so the life of those things which did not yet exist was in Christ, because the creation of the world was appointed in him. But how widely different this is from the intention of the Evangelist we shall immediately see.

85. Here too we see that Calvin was closer to Thomas, who freely acknowledged the serious impact of sin on human reasoning (see Aquinas, S.T, supra n. 56, at IIa.85.3) than to Thomas's nominalistic successors (see Oberman, Medieval Harvest, supra n. 57, at 128-131). As Paul Helm puts it:

[O]ne cannot fail to be struck by a number of evident similarities and equally evident dissimilarities between [Aquinas’] position and Calvin's …. We must make a broad and rough distinction between [1] the ontological status of natural law, what natural law is, [2] its epistemological status, how it is known, and [3] thirdly, how it is to be applied. The relation between Aquinas and Calvin might roughly be expressed as one of considerable agreement about the first, of some disagreement about the second, and agreement about the third.

Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 370.

86. See Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.xii.4 (“Of course I admit that in the original order of creation and the Unfallen state of nature Christ was set over angels and men as their Head.”). See generally Hesselink, Calvin's Concept of Law, supra n. 267, at 69.

87. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.i.11.

88. Calvin comments that:

[I]t is pointless and foolish to restrict the corruption that arises thence [after the sin of Adam] only to what are called the impulses of the senses …. From this it follows that that part in which the excellence and nobility of the soul especially shine not only has been wounded but so corrupted that it needs to be healed and to put on a new nature as well.

Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.i.9.

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul …. [T]his perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits …. Those who have said that original sin is “concupiscence” have used an appropriate word, if only it be added … that whatever is in man from the understanding to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with this concupiscence.

Id. at II.i.8.

89. See Hoitenga, Faith and Reason, supra n. 66, at 151 (“For [Calvin] the ontological status of human nature and of the universe in which that nature has a place is confirmed by the revelation of God in Scripture, according to which both are objective realities that God created distinct from himself.”) (emphasis in original).

90. Keesecker, William F., The Law in John Calvin's Ethics, in Calvin and Christian Ethics 19, 20 (Klerk, Peter De ed., Calvin Study Socy. 1987)Google Scholar. See also Little, David, Calvin and the Prospects for a Christian Theory of Natural Law, in Norm and Context in Christian Ethics 175 (Outka, Gene H. & Ramsey, Paul eds., C. Scribner's Sons 1968)Google Scholar [hereinafter Little, Prospects] (“Calvin's reflection on these matters begins with the theological assumption that all experience is ordered according to a divine design.”). See also Haas, Guenther H., The Concept of Equity in Calvin's Ethics 71 (Wilfrid Laurier U. Press 1997) [hereinafter Haas, The Concept of Equity]Google Scholar (“For Calvin the true moral law originates from God, not nature. It is not transparently clear to human rational ability alone”).

91. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at I.xiv.20.

92. Id. at II.ii.13. See also Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90, at 76 (“Calvin the person outside of Christ does have some knowledge of the equity of natural law …. But Calvin insists that it is God who implants this ‘natural light of righteousness’ in the human heart.” (emphasis in original).

93. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.xii.1.

94. Id. at I.iii.1.

95. As Calvin notes:

Men of sound judgment will always be sure that a sense of divinity which can never be effaced is engraved upon men's minds …. [I]t is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from mother's womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to this end.

Id. at I.iii.3. Compare Calvin with nominalist Gabriel Biel who, according to Heiko Oberman, held that “knowledge [about God] is originally acquired by experience or abstraction … and is not per se noia.” Oberman, Medieval Harvest, supra n. 57, at 40 (emphasis in original).

96. See Henry, Carl F.H., God, Revelation and Authority vol. 2, 136 (Word Books 1976)Google Scholar (“However serious its consequences and however far-reaching its effects, the fall of man … did not involve man's total loss of knowledge of God, nor of his rational competence or ethical accountability.”).

97. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.ii.12 (“Since reason … by which man distinguishes between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be completely wiped out …. Similarly the will, because it is inseparable from man's nature, did not perish ….”).

98. Id.

99. Id.

100. Id. at I.xvi.1.

101. Id. at I.xvi.4-6.

102. Id. at II.viii.1 (“Now that inward law, which we have above described as written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tables.”).

103. See Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 373:

The contrast with Calvin at this point is fairly sharp. For Aquinas the revelation of the Decalogue complements the natural law which is recognizable by all. For Calvin, though those without benefit of special revelation know that there is a natural law and have some sense of its content, nevertheless what that moral law is can as a result of the Fall only be known clearly through a reasoned understanding of special revelation …. For Thomas, the Decalogue expresses particular instances of the natural law, which we know as well as or even better than the Decalogue. Calvin recognizes the fact of natural law, and the limited though essential role that it plays, but the Decalogue has a more fundamental epistemological position. From its particularities more general principles … may be derived. Nevertheless, even for Calvin the natural law functioning in those bereft of special revelation has a positive effect.

104. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at I.xvi.1.

105. Calvin, John, Commentary Upon the Book of Psalms 146 (Ages Software 1998) (1563)Google Scholar.

106. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at I.xvi.4 (“[P]rovidence means … that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events.”). Calvin does not posit a passive attitude toward creation; rather, as Paul Helm describes it: “Creation, for Calvin, is of different kinds of things, for God ‘endowed each kind with its own nature, assigned functions, [and] appointed places and stations,’ kinds of things that have different and distinctive sets of powers, such as the power to propagate.” Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 99 (footnote omitted).

107. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.i.5.

108. Id. at I.xvii.1.

109. Id. at I.xvii.2.

110. Id. at II.ii.12.

111. Id. at II.ii.17.

112. Id. (“To sum it up: We see among all mankind that reason is proper to our nature; it distinguishes us from brute beasts ….”).

113. Id. at II.ii.16, supra n. 25 (“[W]e ought not to forget those most excellent benefits of the divine Spirit, which he distributes to whomever he will, for the common good of mankind.”). See also Hesselink, Calvin's Concept of Law, supra n. 267, at 70-71 (“Calvin's high evaluation of natural law and his acknowledgement of natural human achievement in several significant areas is not based on humanity's inherent goodness or worth but on God's grace.”).

114. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.ii.12.

115. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.ii.12 (“When we so condemn human understanding for its perpetual blindness as to leave it no perception of any object whatever, we not only go against God's Word, but also run counter to the experience of common sense.”).

116. Id. at II.ii.13.

117. Calvin, John, Commentary on the Book of Genesis 135 (Ages Software 1998) (1554)Google Scholar (“[M]an is a social animal, and all naturally desire mutual intercourse ….”).

118. See Cochrane, Church-State Relations, supra n. 267, at 189 (“Calvin finds the origin and basis of all offices involving superiority and subordination not in the Fall, but in the order of nature.”).

119. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.ii.14-15.

120. Id. at II.ii.16.

121. Calvin writes:

[W]e [ought] to repudiate the opinion of those who suppose that there is deliberate malice and depravity in all sins. For we know all too well by experience how often we fall despite our good intention …. [O]ur diligence, insight, understanding, and carefulness [is] so completely corrupted that we can devise or prepare nothing right in God's eyes [.] … [T]o the Holy Spirit who “‘knows that all the thoughts of the wise are futile” and who clearly declares that “every imagination of the human heart is solely evil” it seems most fitting.

Id. at II.ii.25.

122. Id. at II.ii.24.

123. Id.

124. Id. at II.ii.13.

125. See Pufendorf, Samuel, De jure naturae et gentium libri octo 205 (C.H., & Oldfather, W. A. trans., The Clarendon Press 1934) (1688)Google Scholar (“There seems to us no more fitting and direct way to learn the law of nature than through careful consideration of the nature, condition, and desires of man himself.”).

126. See Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans 9697 (Ages Software 1998) (1540)Google Scholar (Since then all nations, of themselves and without a monitor, are disposed to make laws for themselves, it is beyond all question evident that they have some notions of justice and rectitude … and which are implanted by nature in the hearts of men.”).

127. As Calvin explains:

[I]t behooves us to consider the sort of remedy by which divine grace corrects and cures the corruption of nature …. When the apostle tells the Philippians he is confident “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” [Phil 1:6], there is no doubt that through “the beginning of a good work” he denotes the very origin of conversion itself, which is in the will. God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing, our hearts to righteousness.

Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.iii.6. But see Calvin, Commentary on Romans, supra n. 126, at 96-97 where he asserts that the word “heart” as used in Romans 2:15Google Scholar is not to be identified with “the seat of affections, but only for the understanding ….”

128. See Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7.

129. See Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, supra n. 4, at 184-186.

130. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.iii.3.

131. W. at II.iii.4. Note that Calvin does not identify natural law as a prelapsarian (pre-fall) “grace” but simply as part of the creation order. But see supra n. 37 (Hittinger describing natural law as the “first grace”).

132. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.ii.15.

133. Id. at II.ii.24.

134. Calvin's doctrine of the “two kingdoms” explains his positive view of the natural law for ongoing civic (but not ecclesiastical) affairs. See Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at III.xix.15. See generally VanDrunen, Context of Natural Law, supra n. 63.

135. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.viii.1 (“Now that inward law, which we have above described as written, even engraved, upon the heart, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tables.” (emphasis added)). Calvin was apparently unwilling to assume a one-to-one relationship between the natural law and the Ten Commandments but did not spell out where they differed. See also Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90, at 65 (“Natural law reveals His will, but because sin has affected our ability to perceive it, God gives clear witness to His will in the written law of scripture.” (footnote omitted)).

136. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.viii.1 (“But man is so shrouded in the darkness of errors that he hardly begins to grasp through this natural law what worship is acceptable to God …. Accordingly, … the Lord has provided us with a written law to give us a clearer witness of what was too obscure in the natural law ….”).

137. Calvin writes only that:

But because I have undertaken to say with what laws a Christian state ought to be governed, this is no reason why anyone should expect a long discourse concerning the best kind of laws. This would be endless and would not pertain to the present purpose and place. I shall in but a few words, and as in passing, note what laws can piously be used before God, and be rightly administered among men.

Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at IV.xx.14. Given his legal training, Calvin was certainly well-acquainted with natural law. See McGrath, Life, supra n. 64, at 58-62; McNeill, John T., Calvin on Civil Government, 42 J. Presbyerian Hist. 71 (1964)Google Scholar (“John Calvin [was] the son of a law clerk, a graduate in law, a classicist familiar with the political treatises of Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca ….”); see generally Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90, at 7-8 (discussing Calvin's legal studies at Orleans). Like Hittinger and Budziszewski, Calvin believed that natural law provided the contours for the laws of a civil polity, not the details. See generally Witte, John Jr. & Kingdon, Robert M., Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin's Geneva (W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. 2005)Google Scholar [hereinafter Witte & Kingdon, Sex, Marriage, and Family] (describing in detail Calvin's influence on Geneva's (and Europe's) development of family law through Genevan legislation, consistory (church court) cases, commentaries, and correspondence).

138. McNeill, Calvin on Civil Government, supra n. 137, at 82 (“In areas where Christ's kingship is not thought of by ruler or people [Calvin] sees the civic order as a valid organ of the divine purpose functioning through natural law.”) See also Witte & Kingdon, Sex, Marriage, and Family, supra n. 137; Hopfl, Harro, The Christian Polity of John Calvin 150 (Cambridge U. Press 1982) [hereinafter Hopfl, Christian Polity]CrossRefGoogle Scholar:

[P]art of the reason for this [failure to assemble his moral and political ideas into a single treatise] is … that Calvin regarded what he had to say on moral matters (and to that extent on political and legal ones) as obvious to all godly men, and in many cases to ungodly and even pagan ones as well …. His “office” as a theologian and a minister was to remind men of what they knew already and to urge them on to better performance ….

139. As Haas puts it,

Calvin's doctrine of ordo naturae is “less a description of nature as it is and more a description of nature as it was originally meant to be.” … ‘The perfect ordo naturae in human history … has continuing significance rather as precept, or law of God, rather than as a description of an existing order.

Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90, at 70 (footnote omitted).

140. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.iii.3. See also Calvin, John, Commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy 2:3 (Ages Software 1998) (1556)Google Scholar. As Haas puts it,

Calvin considers the demands of natural law to be the same as those of the Second Table, and he believes these to be the expressions of the principle of equity, the implementation of the rule of love of neighbour …. “The second [table requires that] we render to our neighbors what belongs to them and observe the natural law … of not doing anything to anyone unless we would want them to do the same to us.” For Calvin, it is equity, at least in its outward social expression and the rule of love of neighbour, that are the essential features of the natural law that God implants ….

Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90, at 68 (footnote omitted).

141. Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at II.iii.4.

142. According to Calvin:

[I]f we hold the view that men have, part from grace, some impulses (however puny) toward good, what shall we reply to the apostle who even denies that we are capable of conceiving anything [2 Co 3:5]? … Rather let us value Christ's saying: “Every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” [John 8:34]. We are all sinners by nature; therefore we are held under the yoke of sin. But if the whole man lies under the power of sin, surely it is necessary that the will … be restrained by the stoutest bonds ….

Id. at II.ii.27. I thus find myself out of accord with Hopfl's assertion that Calvin had no meaningful place for natural law. See Hopfl, Christian Polity, supra n. 138, at 179-182. For a critical analysis of Hopfl's position, see Helm, Calvin's Ideas, supra n. 49, at 363-364; see generally Haas, The Concept of Equity, supra n. 90.

143. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xvii-xviii.

144. Budziszewski, J., What We Can't Not Know 202203 (Spence Publg. Co. 2003)Google Scholar.

145. As Hittinger puts it:

[W]e find functional appeals to a higher law that turns out to be no higher law at all …. [P]olitical institutions are required to recognize and protect the immunity of individuals from any known source of obligation and authority. In the name of authority—the authority of some “higher law”—the individual comes to occupy an authority-free zone in the very midst of civil society.

Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at xv (emphasis in original). See generally Westerman, Pauline C., The Disintegration of Natural Law Theory: Aquinas to Finis (Brill 1998)Google Scholar.

146. Calvin tersely comments that:

I would have preferred to pass over this matter in utter silence if I were not aware that here many dangerously go astray. For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses and is ruled by the common law of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.

Calvin, Institutes, supra n. 25, at IV.xx.14.

147. As McQuade and Bowser put it:

We have here [in natural law] a fine product. It was designed in ancient times and has proved itself capable of being adapted to meet the needs of every age, both legal and societal. It provides, as it has always provided, a basis for living together in harmony and moving forward to better arrangements of our affairs.

McQuade & Bowser, Marketing Natural Law, supra n. 1, at 215.

148. Hittinger, The First Grace, supra n. 7, at 36.