Josef Bohatec (1876-1954); photo from the Archive of the University of Vienna

The following is the concluding chapter from Book II of Josef Bohatec’s magnum opus, Calvins Lehre von Staat und Kirche: mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Organismusgedankens [Calvin’s Doctrine of Church and State: with special attention to his organism-thought]. Book I concerns Calvin’s doctrine of the state, book II his doctrine of the church, and book III his doctrine of church/state relations. A significant portion of book II is concerned with Rudolph Sohm’s influential critique of Calvin’s concept of the church, and this concluding chapter summarizes Bohatec’s refutation of that critique. As such it constitutes an important building block in developing a Calvinistic church concept which is true to Calvin’s thinking. It is here translated in English for the first time.

After having become acquainted with the essential nature of the Calvinist church’s constitution,[1] we can comment on Sohm’s basic evaluation of Calvin, and Reformed Protestantism generally. Sohm’s foundational thesis is this: “The whole Reformed constitutional development, like the Catholic one, is governed by the basic conception that the visible church of Christ is an external community formed in accordance with the legal manner, and here, too, an allegedly divine ecclesiastical law must be called upon to clamp, when necessary, the liberated church of Christ into the fetters of the legal order. The Reformed church, like the Catholic church, laid claim to ecclesiastical law, while according to the Scriptures, and also according to the Lutheran confession, ecclesiastical law and the legal church regiment are in contradiction with the nature of the church of Christ.” From this, Sohm derives the following well-known conclusions: “Ecclesiastical law has everywhere proven to be an attack upon the spiritual nature of the church, with which, therefore, the living spiritual powers of the church inevitably find themselves in a struggle. The essence of the church is spiritual, while the essence of law is secular.”[2] Since the whole essence of Catholicism is based on “affirming the legal order as necessary for the church,” since also in certain parts of the Reformed church, as on the Catholic side, it has been asserted that a definite legal and constitutional order of the church is divinely prescribed and given, and since, finally, Protestant, and especially Lutheran, constitutional development was determined by the conviction that there is no divine ecclesiastical law, the Reformed conception stands on a line with Catholicism and in contradiction with the genuinely Lutheran; and, because the latter reflects the fundamental notions of Scripture and the principles contained in Christianity, it contradicts the purely Protestant principle.

This weighty conclusion is even more significant because of Sohm’s assertion that the entire present-day church constitution has received a Reformed stamp, not as a sign of Reformed Christianity, but of the victory of Enlightenment notions which were also alive in the Reformed church constitution.[3] If the Reformed view is rooted in Calvin’s thought, then he must be made essentially responsible for the regression into Catholicism. For it is Calvin who, according to Sohm, made the fatal error of seeing in the visible church a legal body which, as such, possessed the power of the church and, indeed, a power of a legal character, which must be capable of exercising that power through representative organs. Where Calvin conforms to the non-legal interpretation, which according to Sohm is the Reformational interpretation, he does so by equalizing the visible church with the organized congregation in terms of content;[4] he is indirectly responsible for the inferences in the direction of law, which have been drawn from the Reformed confessions.

An assessment of these assertions by Sohm will proceed by utilizing the material already put forward about Sohm’s conceptual disposition, which holds that law and the church are essentially contradictory, in order to investigate whether this agrees with Calvin’s conception.

1. According to Sohm, law is “secular,” that is, it can only bring about a human mastery of earthly, fallible nature, subject to the flow of time. It adheres to the form (summum ius, summa iniuria) and must first adhere to the form, for it is only in this way that it compels a decision which stands over the two parties, compelling both parts to acknowledge it as just despite opposing interests, not from momentary influences but from established, accepted, and valid principles. It is thereby connected with the fact that while the law does not demand compulsion conceptually, nevertheless it strives for compulsory realization.[5]

If Sohm’s obvious intention is to orient the essence of law to the ius strictum [strict law], Calvin’s conception moves in the direction of equity, which moderates every exaggeration of the strict law, so much so that this equity arising from natural perception [Empfinden], which is identical to righteousness [Rechtlichkeit], is not merely a special norm of the legal and moral actions of loyalty, fraternity, and humanity, but forms the core of all positive laws. If equity manifests itself even as the expression of the sense of justice and lawful disposition, and if its judgment is close to the judgment of morality, then law cannot be regarded as the servant of compulsion, but rather the latter must be regarded as the servant of law.[6]

Sohm emphasizes the justification of this view even more intensively when he later[7] seeks the innermost life force not in external compulsion, but in the fulfillment of the ideal of justice; for the degree to which ethical validity makes itself felt in the legal order is determined by the degree of justice. But here the paths begin to separate. According to Sohm, only the coercive rule, the ordinance of an ethical community in which membership is compulsory, can be law; the source of law is to be sought only in an autonomous [selbstherrlichen] sovereign community, the “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft]. According to Calvin, the most primordial source of law is the will of God, for this is the rule of the highest righteousness, grounded in the best reason and the highest equity.[8] God creates law, not only by each receiving that part of the good of the community which belongs to him (suum cuique tribuere) – Calvin is also cognizant of this content of ancient justice – but by protecting His and by keeping His promises to them. Thus, the law obtains a highly personal, ethical character, and since the measure of justice is rooted in the highest will of God, it obtains a religious imprint. This organic union of law and morality is with Calvin, however, no conceptual anarchy. For he knows that the strict law demands the absolute fulfillment of legal requirements; he knows that the ideal of morality, the unconditional “Thou shalt,” is a free action corresponding to one’s convictions, and religion must be conceived as reverence bound up with love.

Sohm also knows of the correlations of law with morality and religion. The latter, however, are partly bent under the weight of his conception of law. The true idea, that the compulsion of the ethically necessary community is ultimately the ethical freedom of the individual, is impaired by the assertion that no general law is determinative for the ethical domain, but only the situation of the individual case; no moral law embodied in words has validity without exception. This not only reduces the absoluteness and universality of the moral law, but undervalues the fact that true ethical freedom can only exist when the normative ethical law is upheld. It is not true in the sense of Calvin that, as Sohm assumes, the laws of morality (the commandment of love and charity) are in truth only an occasion for liberation from the laws.[9] For Calvin, it is clear that love is the law of God, which is manifested in the double commandment of love of God and neighbor. He knows well that bountiful [freischenkende] divine love is not to be comprehended by law, but he is also keenly aware that this knowledge has nothing to do with the command to love. For the demand expressed in the law is not to be confused with the administration of the spiritual goods which we lack.[10] In the commands of law, God does not consider what men can do but what they ought to do. If in this respect the absolute claim to validity, the obligating force, and the demand for obedience make themselves manifest, the ethical command is binding, even though people do not agree with the law inwardly.

Nor can it be seen why Sohm emphasizes the relativity of the moral law in order to confirm the principle of the ethically binding force of law. If the moral law, which obliges one to uphold the legal order, is abrogated due to a conflict of the latter with divine law, then the obligation to uphold the law is factually also breached. Calvin, in this respect, thinks more correctly when, in a conflict of ethical duties, the denial of legal obedience is only permitted within the framework of positive law, and thus not only preserves the dignity of the divine and moral law, but also the validity of the legal order. Sohm can reconcile the basic principle that only the national community can be the source of law with the religious principle that the law has its origin in God, only if it concerns an external communion of the people of God with their God. Apart from the fact that not only in the “primitive age” was the entire legal system founded on the will of the national deity – this conviction lives on in the so-called “theocratic” view of every age – the question is, how then is Sohm’s statement to be justified that, also in community with God, the personality of man, hence of the individual, is to be maintained, grounded, in the idea of ​​God’s justice as well as in belief in the idea of ​​God. Calvin, as noted, sought by means of the general concept [Denkmittel] of the self-limitation of strict law, to make clear the possibility of such a community determined by the justice of God.

2. God is the source of the law. This, according to Calvin, does not merely signify the fact that He has created in all men the sense of the lawful, the sense of law, and the legal conscience, and that all subjective rights of person and property comprising the individual sphere of freedom are given by God. It means, above all, that the social sense, the sense of the promotion and preservation of society, the basic principles of civic order, are imprinted in man by God.[11] When the jurists, the legislators, and the peoples as a whole create rights and laws, then the right and the law are their work; in this sense, all rights and laws have a secular origin, just as the diversity of positive laws is due to the spatial and temporal conditions and the constitution of the bodies concerned. In this sense, too, Calvin would not hesitate to call the “national community” [völkische Gemeinschaft] a source of law, but we should not forget that this source of law is not an absolute foundation of law, but rather that the ability to form a law and a right is a work of God; it is to regard God as the ultimate absolute cause of law; and the thoroughly “earthly” conception of the “political philosophers,” who impute all achievements to themselves and their own strength, signifies interference with the sovereign rights of God as the first causative cause. The system of the causa media and of the causae secundae, with which we are familiar, appears also in this question of origin. When the civil magistrate creates, applies, and enforces the laws, he does so as an organ authorized to this by God. In this conception, the divine and human, or more clearly, the natural-legal moment and the positive-legal one, are linked.[12]

If God appears, as far as the existence and the essence of the law is concerned, as the first causative cause, then we must resort to Him when the purpose of the law is considered. To wit, if the purpose of the law, and of the state which asserts it, is the preservation of order, that is, according to the argument we developed earlier, the promotion of organic unity, then the law must be determined to be a power of order. It is a life concept, a means of holding together and preserving human society. Hence, in the sense of Calvin, one can characterize the law as the rule which combines the manifold wills into an organic unity, or briefly, as the rule of organic volition.

3. If this rule is applied in all spheres of divine creation, in nature and culture, then the manner of this application is different when state and church are considered in accordance with their essential character. As we have seen, the necessary, exceedingly valuable remedies created by God’s goodness for the preservation of mankind, for the protection of human society, presuppose the world riddled by sin and passions. Given this, the state must subjugate the self-governing system of sin, centripetal and conflicting individualistic, egoistic wills, and any supposedly liberal capriciousness of rights, under the authority of the laws, and realize the principles of reason and equity by compulsion. It is otherwise in the field of the church. It is true that the compulsory system of the state indirectly provides a valuable service to the church by protecting its interests in fending off the religious-moral effects of sin. However, the church’s very own law-order [Ordnungsrecht] is essentially different from that of the state, in that it frowns upon compulsion and is erected on freedom. This fundamental distinction is grounded in the essence of the church. We now provide a short summary of what has already been worked out.

4. The nature of the church is spiritual. It is a pneumatic organism, or, since the concept of the organic cannot be separated from the pneumatic in the church concept, it is a pneumatocratic entity; that is to say, the Spirit, which acts through the Word, whose activity, in distinction from that which is generally cosmic, operates as a renewal, rebirth, and sanctification in the church, brings the individual into an organic unity which transcends space and time, a mystical body, under the only Head, Christ; a body, which in the mutual communication of the gifts and the distribution of the tasks, becomes visible in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. If this visible social whole (societas) does not coincide with the essence-church [Wesenskirche], since in it there are also hypocrites, it cannot easily be described as the world, as long as the confession of God and Christ, the gospel and the sacraments, are present. This conception is directed, on the one hand, against the false spirituality and the platonizing tendencies of the enthusiasts, which easily turn into a moralizing legalism, and on the other hand, against the conception which confuses the kingdom of God with the outwardly manifested Catholic lordship-church imposing the fixed coercive forms of formal law. Rather, it is buoyed by the conviction that the supra-empirical essence-church extends into historical empirical reality; that in this external society, internal communion can and must be cultivated. For the Holy Spirit, Who represents the exalted Christ as present in the church, works in it through men whom He endows with special signs; He differentiates and unifies its tasks and offices and gradually forms the societas into a societas fidelium, the societas corporis Christi, the societas Christi.

5. In accordance with this, law takes shape in the church. It is the law of Christ which extends to the whole body of the church and to every individual, and, since Christ works through His Spirit and His Word, can be characterized as Word-Law and Spirit-Law. Because rooted in Christ and His Word, all ecclesiastical ordinances arranged by Him are pneumatic. That is why the church’s constitution is pneumatic; the church administration with its teaching power, its lawgiving and adjudicating power, is likewise pneumatic. The law-order of the church is not, therefore, secular law, not a juristically coercive community order, but a pneumatic law-order of the Word and pastoral care, in short, the rule of organic-pneumatic willingness in the church.

This fundamental recognition of Calvin’s signifies a return to the spirit of the gospel and of primitive Christianity, and puts the Calvinist conception of the law-order ruling in the church on the side of the Lutheran Reformation. Calvin, as we have occasionally seen, goes so far in the consistent execution of the pneumatic thought-process as not to share in some of the concessions made by the Lutheran Reformation to the Roman church. He regards the allegedly divine, spiritual right of the Catholic church as an intolerable tyranny, and sees in the maintenance of coercive force in the Catholic church not only a violation of Christian freedom, but a confusion (crassa mixtura) of secular and spiritual powers. His pneumatic law-order, founded on the principle of freedom, is directed against the perversa gubernatio of Roman Catholicism, against its organizational imperialism, against lordship working in juridical-magisterial, sacramental-magical fashion, against the autocracy of the pope and the priests which robs the only ruler in the church, Christ, of His dignity, against the separation of the power of the keys from the Word, against the false conception of the institutionality of the church, the destruction of the church organism, the subjugation of conscience by means of secular institutions that are supposedly divine but are fundamentally conceived for egotistical purposes. If the essence of the pneumatic law-order is freedom, then the principles of superordinate and subordinate relations are based on the principle that it is not ruling, but serving, that is the innermost power of ecclesiastical organs, that obedience in a voluntary self-subjection to ordinances derived from the norms of the Scriptures will be the result, in the consciousness that in these ordinances the will of God and His Christ comes to expression.

6. Instead, then, of seeing in Calvinist and Reformed ecclesiastical law an attack on the spiritual nature of the church, a relapse into Catholicism, Sohm should rather have seen in it the revival of “old Catholic” (as opposed to new Catholic) principles, under the rule of “spiritual law.”[13] According to this, as well as to Calvin, that is spiritual which comes from the Holy Spirit, in Whom is the source of all Christian-religious life, and in the possession of which the essence of Christianity is given. Spiritual law is the holy law stemming from the Holy Spirit. According to Calvinistic and old Catholic law, spiritual law can “proceed only from the church whose life is from the spirit of God, from the revelation of God in Christ, from the life-issuing Word of God.” At any rate, the consequences that Sohm derives from character of this old-Catholic “Christian secular law” cannot be completely characterized as Calvinistic. It is certainly Calvinistically conceived that, if the church in the religious sense (Christianity living from the Spirit of God) is to be a source of the law, it must bring forth the spiritual law and spiritual magistracy with self-governing spiritual authority of command, with authority of command in the name of God. For the consciousness of standing in the service of God and of representing His person gives the servants of God the supreme power, trusting in His Word, to bend all the exalted powers of this world, with the confidence of Christ’s power, with purely spiritual weapons, the weapons of the Word, to command all orders of rank to build the house of Christ, and to destroy the house of Satan. But this does not include the value judgement that the power of the spiritual magistracy, in itself, is higher than the power of the state. For in themselves both are equivalent, coordinated orders instituted by God, within the framework of their assigned tasks. The question of the superposition of the spiritual power over the secular becomes alive and burning only when the secular power interferes with the interests of the spiritual, and the people demonically wish to stand against God. It is only in the conflict of moral and religious duties that the principle that one must obey God rather than man (the right to resist) is valid.

From the spiritual nature of the church, Sohm derives the principle that there is no visible community to which the Christian need belong in order to gain a share in God’s Spirit, in God’s gifts of grace.

The Christian necessarily belongs to Christendom as world (state), but does not see any external community to which he would have to belong by virtue of his Christianity. The spiritual true Christianity of Luther is not an external communion. To be sure, from the life of the church arise necessary assemblies, in which the Word is preached, the sacraments are administered. From the order of such assemblies, historically, where Christianity is adopted by the crowd [Volksmenge], a public office of the Word is established which is grounded in an ordered vocation. But such order can never be called for in the name of the church, as necessary and compulsory. The order is always only the order of the Christian world. Thus the public, preaching office, vested with rights, is based on human inclination [Belieben]. It belongs to the external order of visible Christianity, to the ‘external being,’ is unnecessary iure divino (spiritually).[14]

But these conclusions are foreign to Luther and, we may add, to Calvin. The view that there is no visible community to which the Christian must belong is a revival of Anabaptist ideas combatted by the two Reformers, seeing in them the danger of an ominous separatism. Far from regarding the public preaching office as unnecessary, both Reformers therefore regarded this, which was despised by the Anabaptists but which, in their opinion, was necessary for the existence of the church, necessary enough to demand its establishment by virtue of divine law. How far Sohm goes in exaggerating spirituality is clearly seen in his assertion, which is not confirmed by any single passage, and which is contrary to reality and to the church’s practice, that “with the Lutheran power of the keys, an invisible (!) people is to be led, disciplined (!) and refreshed.” Moreover, according to the view of the Reformers, the spiritual power of the keys is not rooted in the object of power, the “invisible people,” but in the pneumatic character of its ordinances derived from the Word of God. Calvin even goes so far as to view the purely human ordinances of the church, which are, according to Sohm, both religiously indifferent and absent the force of spiritual (divine) law, as being divine, while he also, since they are not given by the magistrate and therefore without the power of secular law, upholds their spiritual character despite their being human institutions, by evaluating them as concrete applications and manifestations of the spiritual rule contained in the Holy Scriptures. According to him, they are in fact “designed, unfolding supplements to the gospel.” Consequently, for the outward church order “the divine Word is partly directly, partly indirectly decisive.”[15] Calvin does not accuse canon law and the Catholic theologians, who emphasize the divinity of their ordinances, of wishing to establish their ordinances in divine law, but that their reasoning is wrong and cannot be brought into harmony with the prescriptions of Scripture, that here as well, then, the so-called “divine law” baselessly arrogates to itself a spiritual character.

7. From Calvin’s point of view, therefore, Sohm’s principle, that power in the church can only be a spiritual governing power, is correct. On the other hand, his assertion that this power can only work within an invisible church, the people of God, is untenable in Calvin’s sense. For the ordinances of God can only manifest themselves in a concrete form, and consequently effectuate themselves in a community receptive to form, that is, in the visible church. They presuppose, as such, that the community to be regulated is not absolutely perfect, that the individual members of the visible church, since they are interwoven in human destinies conditioned by the misery of sin [Sündennot], do not yet attain intellectual maturity and religious and moral perfection. The external ordinances (l’ordre exterieur)[16] employed by God for the sake of our limitedness and weakness (rudesse, débilité), are therefore inevitable, and, inasmuch as God loves[17] not to intervene extraordinarily and miraculously in the development of church life, they bear the character of a relative durability (ordre perpetuel); they are nevertheless not an end in themselves. It is insufficient, therefore, that the faithful preserve an external order of the church; rather, they must always keep in mind the purpose of the latter, namely, the promotion of the knowledge of God through the preaching of the gospel, and the maintenance of living, inwardly grounded, organic community.[18] In short, they are a means to keep us on our way to eternal life.[19]

The eschatological tension, on the one hand the conviction that the ideal of the kingdom of God cannot be realized in the historically conditioned appearance-church, but only after a complete renewal of men which concludes history, in a kingdom, then, in which all offices, even the spiritual-ecclesiastical, are abolished,[20] and on the other hand, the demand to pursue a cumulative approach to this ideal in history, according to the will of God, by his Spirit of Christ presiding in the ordinances, gives to the Reformer the resilience and energy with which he lays claim to, establishes, and expands the divinely willed external ordinances as indispensable for the existence of the appearance-church. That is why, with the plerophory of his mind, he turns against the consequences which the enthusiasts have drawn from their falsely understood spirituality and their perfectionism. It was not merely the Anabaptist anarchists, who, in open rebellion against God, demanded the abolition of the external ordinances in the church. They were joined in the course of time by the Kabinetsphilosophen among the Roman Catholics, the Chrestiens imaginatifs, who “fly in the air” with their vague speculations, surfeited wise men who, in their intellectual inwardness, declare all outward ordinances to be superfluous, at most useful to children, who made fun of those who had come from abroad to get to know the Genevan institutions and to enjoy the freedom which prevails there.[21] In opposition to them, Calvin establishes that it is God’s will that all, educated and uneducated, inseparably attach themselves to the office, the office of the Word, through which the growth, preservation, and permanence of the faith is effectuated.

With his eagerness for an “orderly and well-composed church” (eglise bien réglée et policée),[22] with the soberness with which he endeavors to realize the ideal of a pure church only within the attainable possibilities, and gradually to transform the national church [Volkskirche] into a confessional church, with his sense of reality and the pastoral pedagogical tact with which he conducts the weak to the heights, with his linkage of the institution-idea with the organism-notion, which, as noted, is connected with the principle of the indissolubility of the appearance-church with the essence-church, Calvin, humanly speaking, saved Protestantism. This insight, which we can now call a truism of church history, must be particularly clear when we ask ourselves what would have become of the congregations under the cross, what would have become of the individuals fallen into the madness of the Anabaptist perfectionist ideology, if Calvin had not, with the pathos of an eglise bien réglée [well-regulated church], hammered home the understanding of the necessity of an external order and therefore of the correct assessment of the appearance-church. If, as Sadolet pointed out in opposition, he had not accepted and endured the struggle against the sectarians, the “ideology of the enthusiasts flying in the air” would have nurtured the confusion in the church and thus finally destroyed it. In the mocking words of his opponents, that the road to Paradise runs through Geneva, lies a core of truth, and Calvin showed the evangelicals and the whole world that Roman organized tyranny and utopian disorganized anarchy can only be overcome when the church is outfitted with a firm armor of ordinances.

Indeed, there was no “lack of confidence in the power of the Spirit, no product of lack of faith,” as Sohm[23] ascribes to that endeavor to create external ordinances, or, as he might say from his point of view, ecclesiastical law. On the contrary, it was a heroism of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, such as is illuminated in Calvin’s work, De necessitate reformandae ecclesiae.[24]

For it is just to measure the power of God by the extent of our own powers, if we hope no more of the restoration of the Church than the present state of affairs seems to promise. How slender soever the hope of success, God bids us be of good courage, and put far away every thing like fear, that we may with alacrity begirt ourselves for the work. Thus far, at least, let us do Him honor. Confiding in his Almighty power, let us not decline to try what the success is which He may be pleased to give…. Yet, why do I speak of posterity? Even now… [everything] is half bent, and totters to its final ruin. In regard to ourselves, whatever be the event, we will always be supported, in the sight of God, by the consciousness that we have desired both to promote his glory and do good to his Church; that we have labored faithfully for that end; that, in short, we have done what we could…. And, certainly, while we feel assured, that we both care for and do the work of the Lord, we are also confident, that he will by no means be wanting either to himself or to it.

But be the issue what it may, we will never repent of having begun, and of having proceeded thus far. The Holy Spirit is a faithful and unerring witness to our doctrine. We know, I say, that it is the eternal truth of God that we preach. We are, indeed, desirous, as we ought to be, that our ministry may prove salutary to the world; but to give it this effect belongs to God, not to us. If, to punish, partly the ingratitude, and partly the stubbornness of those to whom we desire to do good, success must prove desperate, and all things go to worse, I will say what it befits a Christian man to say, and what all who are true to this holy profession will subscribe:—We will die, but in death even be conquerors, not only because through it we shall have a sure passage to a better life, but because we know that our blood will be as seed to propagate the Divine truth which men now despise.

A holy seriousness, a deep sense of responsibility, a joyous consciousness of victory in life as well as in death, and all of this subordinated to the judgment of the holy God, accompany the Reformer not only at the beginning of his struggle for the restoration of the church and its ordinances, but, as we know, all his life. Because he believed in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit, he was convinced that He also creates the right forms for His activity, in which and through which He builds and sustains the church of Christ. If, however, the Holy Spirit only works through people as His organs, who thus, as it were, create in accordance with the Holy Spirit when they recreate from themselves the broken old forms,[25] then the spiritual ordinances inevitably show a human character despite the spiritual norm prevailing in them, the more so as human reason, which is to be regarded as a divine gift, carries out the concrete, temporally and spatially conditioned manifestation of the ordinances. The worldliness and temporality of these ordinances are also revealed by the fact that they are abolished after the end of this age. Calvin was also sober enough to exercise a legitimate criticism of his constitutionalism, on account of his human limitations [Bedingtheit]. He believes that he found in it a form which lays no claim to absoluteness, but is to be borne according to the “weakness of the times.”[26] But if the ordinance is created with regard to a higher thing, the supernatural spiritual purpose, then the ordinances, as was said, serve to open the way for the divine Spirit, and to prepare in the church a suitable place for the self-representation of Christ; they serve, in short, to spread the kingdom of Christ on earth; for this reason, though human, they are at the same time divine. But their content, too, remains divine, in spite of the historical human condition, since they are measured against the Scriptures and founded upon its prescriptions, even if in their expression the common law [i.e., Roman law] is applied as a general category [Denkmittel]. If, therefore, Calvin does not complain of incorporating the idea of ​​representation into his spiritual system, then the affinity of Calvinism with the collegial system which had emerged during the Enlightenment, which Sohm derives from this, is to be rejected. Certainly, Calvin’s ambition was to provide the third estate with a field of activity; his requirement that all the members of the church should be called upon to labor together in the church, was carried out under pietistic influence in the later collegial system. But, as we already demonstrated, we seek in vain for the essence of this system – the Enlightenment social contract conception, which, because of its atomistic character, contradicts the principle of organism – in his doctrine of the church.

8. In summary, it may be said: Sohm was unable to back up his thesis that Calvin clamped the “liberated church” in the fetters of a legal order. We cannot go into the question as to the extent to which Reformed Protestantism can be subjected to this value judgement; we can only say that the Reformed, to the degree that they continued with genuine Calvinism, cannot be affected by Sohm’s general judgment. If Calvin’s aim is to eliminate all elements of compulsion from “ecclesiastical law” and emphatically and deliberately to imprint on it pneumatic features rooted in the principle of freedom; if he, on the other hand, repeatedly emphasizes the fact that the appearance-church, as a result of its indissoluble connection with the purely pneumatic essence-church and the Holy Spirit governing through the offices, is increasingly to be directed to its highest pneumatic destiny, then all Catholicizing tendencies are decisively eliminated. Add to this that Calvin pursues the goal to try to mitigate the tensions between strict law and morality, by the establishment of an ideal principle of equity, which governs positive laws, and to conceive this norm, the ideal of a right or proper law [eines richtigen Rechtes], in the religious domain, as being rooted in the will of God; if he furthermore emphasizes the fact that the binding to the transsubjective legal order can be carried out in unrestrained, free, and joyful manner only when it is at the same time regarded as the fulfillment of the spiritual will of God, oriented to the mind of man; if he, finally, by subjecting the inner-worldly superordinate and subordinate relations to the ideal norm of the “law of brotherliness” (ius fraternae coniunctionis), one will be able to assert that his tendency to shape law into a deep inner spiritual life-power runs far from the courses in which, according to Sohm, the compulsory law of Catholicism moves.

All the more are we justified in establishing, pace Sohm, the formula which in Calvin governs the relationship between church and law: the law and the church do not contradict each other, for the innermost essence of ecclesiastical law, and the innermost essence of the church, is spiritual.


[1] In Book II, “The Church.”

[2] Kirchenrecht, Erster Band, Die geschichtlichen Grundlagen [Ecclesiastical Law, vol. I, The Historical Foundations] (Berlin: Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1892), p. 657.

[3] Ibid., p. 698.

[4] Ibid., p. 656.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cf. Bohatec, Calvin und das Recht [Calvin and the Law], (Graz: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus, 1934), pp. 41ff.

[7] Kirchenrecht, zweiter Band, Katholisches Kirchenrecht [Ecclesiastical Law, vol. II, Catholic Ecclesiastical Law] (Munich, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1923), p. 54.

[8] Calvini Opera, vol. 49, p. 187; vol. 9, p. 713, 258; vol. 8, p. 361; vol. 2, p. 872.

[9] Kirchenrecht II p. 49.

[10] Calvini Opera, vol. 45, pp. 614ff.

[11] Compare this with what was said above about natural law.

[12] Calvin und das Recht, p. 130.

[13] Kirchenrecht II, pp. 58f.

[14] Ibid., pp. 140ff.

[15] Ibid., p. 86, and vol. I, p. 23.

[16] Calvini Opera, vol. 8, 409f. “L’ordre et police que Dieu a establie en son Eglise, … l’ordre exterieur par lequel les fideles sont conduicts en l’Eglise” [The order and the policy which God has established in his Church, … the external order by which the faithful are guided in the Church].

[17] Ibid., p. 414.

[18] Calvini Opera, vol. 51, p. 420: “C’est ne pas tout de s’exercer avec les fideles en tout ordre exterieur de l’Eglise, si nous ne tendons pas à celle fin de cognoistre Dieu de mieulx en mieulx” [It is not simply a matter of practicing with the faithful in every external order of the Church, if we do not tend to the end of knowing God better and better]. Vol. 8, 410: “Que nous soyons enseignez par sa parole” [We are taught by His Word]. Vol. 51, p. 564: “… que nous soyons tous unis et qu’il n’y ait point de dissension entre nous” [That we all be united and that there be no point of dissension between us].

[19] Calvini Opera, vol. 8, p. 416: “Moyens que Dieu nous a mis en main pour nous avencer au chemin de la vie eternelle” [Means that God has put in our hands to move us on the path to eternal life].

[20] Calvini Opera, vol. 49, p. 547: “Tum in ecclesia cessabunt ministeria et praefecturae” [Ministry and command will cease in the church at that time].

[21] Calvini Opera, vol. 8, pp. 375, 412, 419.

[22] Ibid., p. 373.

[23] Kirchenrecht I, p. 700.

[24] Here Bohatec presents a translation into German of this passage, which is found in Calvini Opera, vol. 6, pp. 532ff. Rather than translate this translation, I have adapted the text from John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, trans. H. Beveridge (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), pp. 166-167, 170-171.

[25] Calvini Opera, vol. 11, 363: “In meliorem formam restitui quae vel prorsus eversa vel fracta, lacerata ac dissipata erant” [Restoring in better form that which was either entirely demolished, or broken, torn apart, and scattered].

[26] Ibid.