Friday, December 26, 2008

The Justice of Righteous Resistance




I just saw the new film Valkyrie (http://valkyrie.unitedartists.com/). The story of Colonel von Stauffenberg and of those he joined in the Resistance Movement confront us with the question of whether their acts were the practice of righteousness in the pursuit of justice against embodied evil in this world. I am compelled to the conclusion that their acts were both righteous and just yet at the same time those very acts were admittedly sinful. Like Bonhoeffer before them, their convictions required them to take concrete responsible actions to defeat the evil that was embodied in Hitler. To do less, would have been a denial of their conscience and for most, especially Bonhoeffer, their faith. While not guiltless, they remained faithful and threw themselves upon the mercy of God.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Emergent Calvin -- Concluding Words


Calvin’s two discourses at Lausanne demonstrate the thoroughness of his preparation and the timeliness of Farel's prompting of Calvin as he stood to engage the disputation. Calvin’s emergence as a public leader of the Reformation is captured by Merle’s description of the scene surrounding his first speech at Lausanne: “The young man, whose face was unknown but full of expression, had been listened to with astonishment, and people recognized in him a master. Everyone felt the force of his words, and no one raised an objection . . . The minds of the hearers seemed to be enlightened by fresh knowledge.” (Merle 250) Without controversy, Calvin – fully prepared by his legal education and forcefully prompted by the presence of his mentor – rose to the question.

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Works Cited

Cochrane, Arthur C., ed., Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966.

Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization: Part VI – The Reformation, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

Foxgrover, David, ed., Calvin Studies Society Papers: Calvin and Spirituality/Calvin and His Contemporaries, Colleagues, Friends and Conflicts, Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin Studies Society, 1998.

Gamble, Richard C., ed., Articles on Calvin and Calvinism, vol. I, The Biography of Calvin, New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1992.

Jones, Serene, Calvin and the Rhetoric of Piety, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

Merle, J.H., History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin, vol. VI, Scotland, Switzerland and Geneva, New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1880.

Lim, Richard, Public Disputation, Power, and Social Order in Late Antiquity, Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press, 1995.

Linder, Robert D., Brothers in Christ: Pierre Viret and John Calvin as Soul-mates and Co-laborers in the Work of the Reformation in Foxgrover, Calvin Studies Society Papers, pp. 134-158.

Partee, Charles, Farel’s Influence on Calvin: A Prolusion, in Gamble, Articles on Calvin and Calvinism, vol. I, pp. 73-85.

Reid, J.K.S., Calvin: Theological Treatises – Library of Christian Classics, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954

Reid, W. Stanford, John Calvin, Lawyer and Legal Reformer, in Gamble, Articles on Calvin and Calvinism, vol. I, pp. 57-72.

Wilcox, Donald J., In Search of God & Self: Renaissance and Reformation Thought, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1987.

Wiley, David N., Calvin’s Friendship with Guillaume Farel in Foxgrover, Calvin Studies Society Papers, pp. 187-204.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Emergence of a Legally-Trained Mind

Calvin at the Lausanne Disputation

A few weeks before the disputation convened, Farel affixed his "Ten Theses" affixed to the doors of all the churches in the cities and towns surrounding Lausanne. The theses were entitled “Conclusions which are to be discussed at Lausanne, a new province of Berne.” (Merle 237) “On Sunday, October 1, all the bells were set a-going and a great crowd filled the cathedral.” (Merle) Farel ascended the pulpit and delivered the opening sermon which he concluded with these words:

While Satan leads the sheep astray in order to destroy them, our Lord seeks to bring them back to his holy flock in order to save them. We shall never attain real unity except by means of the truth. A safe-conduct has therefore been given all, to go and come, to speak and to hear, as shall seem good to them, for the truth must not be hidden. May it be the truth that wins the day! (Merle 238)
Since all the officials before whom the disputation was to take place had not yet arrived in Lausanne, the proceedings were adjourned after Farel’s sermon to resume the following morning.

Monday at 7:00am, officials assembled in the cathedral and “presidents were chosen from among the men of Berne and Lausanne. Then Farel rose and read his first thesis, which treated man’s justification before God, developed and proved it. When he had finished, the vice-bailiff of Lausanne said aloud, ‘If any man has aught to say against these first conclusions, let him come forward and we shall willingly listen to him.’” (Merle 239)

Rather than engage Farel’s first proposition on theological grounds, the Roman Catholic canons of the cathedral raised a procedural objection to the disputation as an improper forum for the determination of doctrinal controversies. Canon Perrini asserted as grounds for his “Motion to Dismiss” that “when doubts arise respecting the faith, they must be resolved according to the true sense of the Scriptures. Now that is lawful [according to Canon Law] only to the Church Universal [i.e. an ecumenical council] which is not liable to error. Therefore, we, the provost and canons of this church do solemnly protest against this controversy and refer it to the next council.” (Merle 240)

Farel opposed the canon’s argument for dismissal of the proceedings citing both Biblical and patristic authorities, as well as the examples of “provincial councils and all their [Roman Catholic] schools and Sorbonnes, in which they hold conferences for the research of truth. (Merle) Having thus established the procedural validity and jurisdiction of the disputation as a forum for doctrinal inquiry, the participants engaged, one after another, the substantive issues presented by Farel’s theses.

On the following day, one of the lay advocates for Rome addressed the assembly. His name was Dr. Blancherose, a physician by profession, who is described in the record as it tenait de la lune (“something of a lunatic”) (Merle 242) Blancherose is worthy of note, not so much for his novel analogies for the Trinity, but because Calvin would speak directly to him in his first discourse two days later.

The third day’s proceedings began with Farel’s second thesis affirming “Jesus Christ . . . as the only chief and true priest, sovereign mediator and true advocate of his Church.” (Cochrane 115) To this proposition no one raised objection. (Merle 245) While some na├»ve observer might have suspected a complete concession to all ten theses at this point, the battle was just about to break loose as Farel stood to present his third proposition concerning the true Church and the “corporeal presence” of Christ in heaven. (Cochrane)

The initial volley from Blancherose, however, was pure folly. He “began to speak of the sun and all sorts of things,” and then “undertook to prove the doctrine of transubstantiation by the example of an egg, which converted into a chick, which chick is afterwards eaten by a man.” (Merle 245) Viret’s sharp wit responded, “That proof reverses the order of things. To make it applicable, it would be necessary for the priest to sit on the object transformed, as hens sit on their eggs.” (Merle) Such exchanges likely only exacerbated the attitudes on both sides of the aisle.

On the fifth day, Mimard, a serious and thoroughly prepared speaker for Rome’s Cause, rose to present his manuscripted argument containing thirteen distinct grounds for the real presence of Christ in the host. (Merle 246) His case, however, was built principally upon the bald assertion that “St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Gregory, … all believed in the real presence.” (Merle) Farel relied to each of Mimard’s thirteen arguments in turn, well-supported by notes from his associated, Calvin who, it is said:

Rejoiced to hear his friends defending the true doctrine and who by reason of his youth and his modesty has kept silent till that time…For four days he had sat without speaking, contenting himself with the part of a hearer. But he had a brave heart. That Ambrose, that Augustine, those other doctors, he was well acquainted with them. He knew their words by heart… He could not be silent any longer; he felt impelled to defend the principles which were brought to light by the Reformation. But he also wished to restore to those great men of Christian antiquity, and above all to his beloved Augustine, the honor which was due to them. (Merle 246-47)
The full text of Calvin’s two discourses at the Lausanne Disputation, the first presented on Thursday, October 5, and the second, brief discourse delivered on Saturday, October 7, have been published in English translation in The Library of Christian Classics in a volume entitled Calvin: Theological Treatises, translated by J.K.S. Reid. (Copies of the relevant pages thereof are appended to this paper; J.K.S. Reid 38-46).

Calvin began his discourse with a humble acknowledgement of the sufficient replies that had already been advanced by Farel and Viret. (J.K.S. Reid 38) He then turned succinctly to a thorough refutation of Mimard’s “groundless accusation.” He did not, however, have at his disposal the voluminous works of the Church Fathers, but rather cited not only Scripture but also Cyprian, Tertullian, Chrysostom and six separate passages from Augustine from memory. (Merle 248) Next, he addressed himself to Dr. Blancherose’s erroneous interpretation of Psalm 139 and finally concluded by taking the arguments of the Roman Catholics, founded upon the words of institution, and turned them on their heads. (J.K.S. Reid 43-45)

From his first extemporaneous discourse it became clear that Calvin “knew how to capture the attention of his audience, how to hold them attentive to his words, how to appeal to their deepest fears and loftiest expectations, how to spin an argument of fine and simple beauty, how to move and compel them to action. In short, Calvin was . . . one of the grandest French orators of his time, a reputation that has since earned him the title “founder of modern French eloquence.” (Jones 12; quoting Francis Higman, Calvin the Writer manuscript, 1989) Furthermore, his first discourse demonstrated that Calvin could turn the arguments of his opponents against themselves. In so doing, he exhibited his own facility with rhetorical skills and logical analysis that he had learned from Alicati and Bude. (Jones 33)

In his second brief discourse on the seventh day of the disputation, Calvin refuted the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation by resort to a tract by Cardinal Beno that provided ready fodder for blasting Pope Gregory VII’s original formulation of that dogma. (J.K.S. Reid 45,46) Here Calvin displayed, in a concise manner, his rhetorical skills at an even more refined level. In these few words, he used “voices from the past” to buttress his own position – a notable rhetorical technique in its own right. But, Calvin did not feel constrained to use these “voices” as they had previously been used. “Rather, keeping his won discursive agenda ever before him, he assessed them in terms of their pragmatic usefulness and employed them only insofar as they served to promote what he considered to be sound teaching.” (Jones 34)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mentors Make the Man

The Influence of Guillaume Farel

The occasion of Calvin’s first encounter with Guillaume Farel remains a matter of speculation. One scholar has suggested that they may have crossed paths in Basel shortly after Calvin had been expelled from Paris following the Affairs of the Placards. (Jones 17) Another, commenting upon Farel’s own account of his prevailing upon Calvin to join the work in Geneva, posits that Farel’s words belie an earlier meeting than that momentous one in the summer of 1536. (Wiley 190-91) Whether Farel had personally met Calvin prior to July, 1536 or had come to know of him from his colleagues, he clearly recognized in Calvin the qualities of scholarship and administration that could well serve God’s purpose in Geneva.

Farel was at this time one of the few outstanding Protestant leaders in France. (Partee 73) His influence upon and relationship with Calvin has been described as “a kind of Caleb to Calvin’s Joshua” as Farel’s leadership was “eclipsed by Calvin, not so much as a pioneer and preacher, but as a thinker and organizer.” (Partee) Calvin, himself, envisioned his relationship to Farel as analogous to that of Titus to Paul when he wrote to Farel in the dedicatory preface to his 1549 commentary on Titus that “the building Paul had begun but left uncompleted was undertaken by Titus, and I stand almost in the same relationship to you.” (Wiley 187)

While both the Caleb-Joshua and the Paul-Titus pictures are descriptive, the best biblical analogy for Farel’s role in Calvin’s life is that of Barnabas, the son of encouragement, to Paul. As Barnabas open-heartedly greeted, introduced and prompted Paul into positions of ministry (see Acts 9:26-30; 11:25,26; 13:2,3), so Farel exhorted Calvin to the work of ministry at Geneva and, as we propose here, his characteristic urging most likely prompted the young Calvin to stand forward and speak up at Lausanne.

The likelihood that Farel pressed his associate to the floor at Lausanne in October of 1536 is enhanced by recalling Farel’s forceful proclamation of God’s will for Calvin just four months earlier in Geneva. Calvin recounts this defining moment in his life as follows:

Farel, who burned with marvelous zeal to advance the Gospel, went out of his way to keep me. And after having heard that I had several private studies for which I wished to keep myself free, and finding that he got no where with his requests, he gave vent to an imprecation, that it might please God to curse my leisure and peace for study that I was looking for, if I went away and refused to give them support and help in a situation of such great need. (Wiley 190; quoting Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1995, p. 95)
While Calvin’s version provides the perspective of the exhortee’s perception, Farel expressed his intention in the exhortation in a letter to Fabri written shortly after Calvin’s death. There he stated, “God caused Calvin to stop in Geneva ‘where he [i.e. Farel] had never expected to see him.’ Calvin was there constrained by ‘many’ and ‘particularly by me who, in the name of God, constrained him to do and take on affairs which were harder than death . . . . Seeing that what I demanded was according to God, he forced himself’ to do what had to be done.” (Wiley 190-91)

Farel initially evidenced his “Barnabas traits” when he previously discovered Pierre Viret, who would become Calvin’s closest colleague and “most enduring friend.” (Linder 158) Viret met Farel in 1530 when Viret returned to his hometown of Orbe following his studies in Paris at the College de Montaigu; Calvin’s own alma mater. (Linder 136, 141) It appears from the following account that Farel first honed his exhortative skills upon Viret:

Farel, seeing that he was a young man of great promise, attempted to introduce him to the ministry at Orbe, which Viret resisted with all his power, because he considered the high calling and difficulty of being a minister of the Gospel, and because he was by nature shy and retiring. Farel, knowing that Viret feared God and had no wish to see the Gospel cease to be preached in Orbe, took off from there, leaving Viret in his place, making him give strong assurances that he would pursue the work which he [Farel] had begun. (Linder 136; quoting A.L. Herminjard, ed. Correspondence des Reformateurs daus les pay de Langue Francaise, Geneva: H. George, 1864-1897, vol. 2, no. 358, note 9)

Viret would later join Farel in Geneva and was present to witness Farel’s charge to Calvin. Calvin was twenty-seven, and Viret twenty-five in 1536. “Soon they were engaged in the most rugged kind of spiritual combat with a stubborn people in a tumultuous struggle for religious and political reform. (Linder 140) Both had been called to arms by Farel. Both were, by that year, “word-smiths of note: the one, Calvin, choosing words primarily to elucidate, the other, Viret, primarily to motivate.” (Linder 141) Both joined Farel on the journey to Lausanne in the fall of 1536. Viret stood, with several other colleagues from his home province, for the Reform, but “the man who chiefly attracted attention was Farel. [He] was accompanied by a young man, pale and modest, unknown by sight to most, who appeared to be his assistant. It was John Calvin.” (Merle 236)

As Farel’s “second chair” at the Lausanne Disputation, Calvin would carefully attend to the points of argument and offers of evidence adduced by their opposing counsel, most likely passing Farel copious notes upon which he might draw in rebuttal, as any good second chair worth his salt would do. As the disputation progressed, however, and the more intricate issues were joined, the day would shortly come when Farel would urge his young second to leave off his note-taking and rise to the question with his own voice.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

If You Survive . . . You'll Leave Thinking Like a Lawyer

The Influence of Calvin’s Legal Education

In early sixteenth century France, a legal education had become a practical necessity for anyone aspiring to a career in the administrative affairs of either church or state. (Jones 15) It was also highly valued by those who sought only the prestige of a law degree though never intending to enter the practice. (Jones) For Calvin, though, neither of these aspirations led him to study law. Instead, after beginning his classical studies at the University of Paris, he heeded the advice of his father, who was a notary himself, and traveled to Orleans where he commenced his legal training. Such a change in direction was not at all unusual for a young student of that day (or our own day for that matter) who upon completing their legal studies turned away from the courts and followed a more scholarly vocation that often led them further into the exciting fray of the broad educational movement afoot at that time – humanism. (Jones)

Lawyers who followed along this path often would engage the theological questions that gave rise to and advanced the Reformation. Some scholars have even contended that lawyers had as substantial an impact on the Reformation as they did the Renaissance. (W.S. Reid 57) “From the new legal exegetical and expository methods, the Protestant theologians learned much to assist their study and interpretation of Holy Writ as well as in organization of new churches. Among Reformers no one owed his legal training a greater debt than did John Calvin.” (W.S. Reid)

At Orleans, Calvin studied under Pierre Taisan de l’Estoile, who was well known throughout France as an able exponent of Roman law. (W.S. Reid 59) Pierre Taisan, however, followed the older technique in teaching the law “basing his exposition on the medieval glossators, Bartolus and Accurius.” (W.S. Reid) Having already been introduced to the humanists, however, Calvin along with some of his fellow like-minded legal scholars left Taisan’s lectures in Orleans after a year and traveled to the University of Bourges where, they learned, the Italian jurist Andrea Alicati had recently begun lecturing. (W.S. Reid)

“Heralded as the premier reformer of juridical science, Alicati was trained, as were most Italian humanists, in the art of classical rhetoric.” (Jones 16) With his wide knowledge of both the Greek and Latin classics, Alicati was able to come to the Roman law with a profound historical understanding of it. The law, as expounded by Alicati, was not “a dead series of principles, but a living social phenomenon.” (W.S. Reid 59) He encouraged his students to read Roman law by placing it in its original rhetorical framework. (Jones 16)

Since Calvin had already received a good humanist education during his initial years of study at the University of Paris, he found that Alicati’s humanist method approach to exegesis of Roman law was consistent with his prior training. Consequently, Calvin was “able to combine both his legal and classical studies to gain a sound historical understanding of the law’s growth and development as a means of social control.” (W.S. Reid 60)

It was during this period of Calvin’s legal training that his first published writing appeared – his Antapologia, a prefatory letter to the treatise of Nicolas Duchemin defending their first law professor, Pierre Taisan, against a violent attack by Alicati on Taisan’s “old-fashioned” teaching techniques. (W.S. Reid) Thus, Calvin demonstrated an independent and critical analysis of his own renowned law professor at Bourges. Calvin’s skill as a legal rhetorician was gaining him some additional recognition as he was asked to deliver lectures on rhetoric at a local Augustinian convent. (Jones 16)

About this same time, Calvin began to work on what would become his first scholarly publication, a commentary on Seneca’s De clementia. Though it received no popular scholarly acclaim at the time, Calvin’s commentary has been described by a recent scholar as a “perfect specimen of sixteenth-century scholarship” in that it exhibits the well-honed skills of a writer “practiced in the arts of philology, textual criticism, and translation, the three hallmarks of humanist scholarship.” (Jones) Furthermore, this commentary serves as perhaps the best evidence that by 1532, Calvin had become an accomplished master in the art of classical rhetoric and in its reconceptualization in the world of Renaissance humanism. (Jones)

Although he was the object of Calvin’s critique, Alicati did provide the young scholar with the rhetorical methods that he used in the preparation of his commentary on Seneca, and Calvin would go on to employ those same methods in all of his later works, particularly his commentaries on the Bible. It was also Alicati who stimulated Calvin to obtain a greater knowledge of the Greek classics, which required him to intensify his efforts to master the Greek language. (W.S. Reid 60)

In addition to the substantial influence from his law professor Alicati, two other humanist scholars shaped Calvin’s thinking during his legal training. Bude, a contemporary, fortified the historical method and use of evidence that Calvin had learned from Alicati. Both Bude and Alicati had inherited their approach from Lorenzo Valla, a fifteenth-century humanist scholar. (W.S. Reid 61) The other writer, from a previous generation of scholars, who influenced Calvin concerning the method of proper exegesis was Desiderius Erasmus. Calvin called Bude the first pillar and Erasmus the second pillar of humanist literature. (W.S. Reid 61)

“No one can appreciate the character of Calvin’s writings unless he recognizes his legal education, which trained him in the art of definitions, divisions, the asking of questions, the dealing with arguments effectively and the taking out of a text all that it was susceptible of giving.” (W.S. Reid 57; quoting A. Lefranc, Calvin et l’Eloquence Francaise, Paris, 1934) From his legal training in rhetorical skills of analysis and exposition, Calvin “understood how to establish the historical context as the essential first step in the process and then to identify the personality of the author himself.” (Wilcox 310) What has been said of Calvin’s writings is equally applicable to his discourses. But, as we shall see through an analysis of his discourses at the Lausanne Disputation, Calvin’s use of rhetoric was much more creative than the rules of evidence and argumentation he had been taught in law school. (Jones 25)

In fact, as one scholar has noted, Calvin’s preference for a lucid and concise style in both Latin and French, void of unnecessary rhetorical flourishes or distracting ornamentation, constituted a certain “sober literary aesthetic” that differed significantly from the style adopted by his French contemporaries. (Jones 26; citing Higman, Calvin the Writer) Thus, the training in law that Calvin had received in Orleans and more so in Bourges provided the essential preparation that would enable him to argue the question at Lausanne. What remained, however, was the urging of his friend and mentor Farel to prompt Calvin to rise to his feet on that fateful fifth day of the Disputation.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Forming of Calvin's Theological Mind

Historical Background for the Use of Public Disputation

Public disputation has served a vital role in the formation of civilized societies throughout recorded history. Plutarch, in his De sollertia animaliaum, recounts one the earliest disputations between two Greeks on the pressing issue of whether animals living on land possessed superior intelligence to those living in water. (Lim 2) While the question under review by the ancients may seem trifling, the significance of Plutarch’s account is found in his description of the format and procedure by which the issue was joined.

First and foremost, a disputation was a ritualized verbal contest in which antagonists debated each other while adhering to the rules of a language game, whether of rhetoric or of dialectic. In Plutarch’s example, the debate entailed an exchange of reasoned arguments in successive continuous speeches rather than a mutual cross fire, or dialectical interrogation, by the two adversaries. Both forms of debate were common in antiquity. (Lim 3)

Public disputation also appears in a form in Luke’s record of the early church’s development as her apostles, elders and leaders met and addressed themselves to the question of the salvation of the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem. (Acts 15) A few short centuries later, at least one of the Church Fathers, Ambrose, warned of the dangers of relying upon dialectic in resolving doctrinal disputes when he wrote: “Let the empty questions regarding speech cease now, for the Kingdom of God, as it is written, consists not in the persuasion of words, but in the exhibition of virtuous deeds.” (Lim 216; quoting Ambrose) Emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian were heeding Ambrose’s admonition when they convened the Council of Ephesus in 431 with these words of instruction:

With patience each shall hear whatsoever is said and each shall be ready to reply or for reply to be made to him and thus by questions and by replies and by solution the inquiry touching the true faith shall be judged without any dispute and by common examination of our Saintliness it will reach a happy agreement without dispute. (Lim 221; quoting Candidianus sent as comes domesticorum by the emperors to the Council of Ephesus)
While recognizing the dangers and the weaknesses of relying solely upon public disputation as a means of resolving doctrinal disputes, there is evidence, however, that church leaders continued to use disputation as a successful forum for the resolution of disputes as well as the promulgation of the truth. Eusebius chronicles the experience of Dionysius of Alexandria who convened an open disputation in Arsinoe. Dionysius reported, “I called together presbyters and teachers of the brethren in the villages (there were present also such of the brethren as wished), and I urged them to hold the examination of the question publicly.” (Lim 21; quoting Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 7.24.6-7 (Oulton, ed. 2:194-95)) This “public examination” extended for three full days “from morn till night.” Dionysius would later describe the procedures and the attitudes displayed by the participants during the disputation in these words:

On that occasion I conceived the greatest admiration for the brethren, their firmness, love of truth, facility in following an argument, and intelligence as we propounded in order and with forbearance the questions, the difficulties raised and the points of agreement; on the one hand refusing to cling obstinately and at all costs (even though they were manifestly wrong) to opinions once held; and on the other hand not shirking the counter-arguments, but as far as possible attempting to grapple with the questions in hand and master them. Nor, if convinced by reason, were we ashamed to change our opinions and give our assent; but conscientiously and unfeignedly and with hearts laid open to God we accepted whatever was established by the proofs and teachings of the holy Scriptures. (Lim 21; quoting Eusebius, Hist. eccl.
7.24.8 (Oulton, ed., 2:194-95))
This same pattern of “public examination” where the participants “propounded in order and with forbearance the questions” would continue as a principal vehicle for the contesting of truth down through the centuries. Indeed, it became of the chief means by which the propositions advanced by Luther, Calvin and their colleagues would endeavor to reform the Church. The vital and effective function of public disputation was concisely confirmed by Calvin in his personal correspondence commenting upon the proceedings at Lausanne when he wrote: “The Senate of Berne has declared that everyone is at liberty to state his objections freely, without need to fear being disturbed in consequence of it. That is the fittest means of exposing the ignorance of those who set themselves against the Gospel.” (Merle 236; quoting Calvin, Letter to F. Daniel, Lausanne, October 13, 1536)

Thus, the forum was opened at Lausanne for a full and free public debate of the issues of the day. But, was Calvin up to the task of rising to the question? We will find that the answer is a resounding yes as we now turn our consideration to his preparation for the task through his training at Orleans and Bourges and his prompting to the task by his encounters with his friend and, in some respects, mentor Guillaume Farel.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Forming of Calvin's Analytical Mind -- The Impact of a 16th Century Law School Education

From the earliest days of antiquity to the defining moments of our present day, questions of political policy, legal principle and religious doctrine and practice have regularly been the subjects of vigorous debate. While such discussions have often informally occurred in venues as diverse as the Areopagus and the office water cooler, more formalized proceedings have been developed throughout the progress of civilization for the open engagement on issues of import.

Indeed, it could be said that each significant advancement in the arena of human ideas has been accompanied and promoted by rigorous public dialogue. This was particularly true in the case of the Reformation. Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517 was the first step in what by then had become a well-developed procedure calling for a public disputation. Such a forum, as well as the many that soon would follow thereupon, served as a chief means of persuasion spreading over the European continent convincing arguments in support of the Reformers’ ideas.

Of the numerous public disputations that furthered the Reformation’s cause throughout Europe in the 16th century, one held in the city of Lausanne in October 1536, is especially noteworthy. The Lausanne Disputation holds a unique place because is was at this “famous disputation” that John Calvin “took a minor part” (Durant 469) that would propel him into a prominent leadership role in the progress of the Reformation. My forthcoming series of postings will examine the factors contributing to Calvin’s emergence at Lausanne as a public leader of the Reformation.

In conducting this brief survey, we will first take a passing glance at the historical background for the use of public disputation as a forum for civic and ecclesial dialogue. We will then turn to what I will advance as the principal factors that substantially prepared and prompted Calvin to rise to the question at Lausanne: his legal education and the influence of Guillaume Farel. Finally, we will analyze the rhetoric of Calvin’s two disputation discourses to discover the characteristics of his argumentation that not only won the day at Lausanne but also well advanced, at least in the appraisal of some, the purpose of God in Calvin’s own generation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Judaism and American Law

Conclusion

The considerations of justice in American law and its foundations in Torah demand much more investigation and analysis than we have been able to offer in these few postings. In concluding our limited engagement of these ideas, I would offer a few words from the lips of Shakespeare’s Portia:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
Therefore, Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1

To the extent that these words from Shakespeare are read to suggest that the Jewish idea of justice excludes mercy, to that extent, we may confidently say: Shakespeare got it wrong. Rather, “mercy seasoning justice” is at the heart of the very idea of justice that Torah imparts to all who have been influenced thereby – that idea has been interwoven within and is a substantial foundation for American law. Thus, all who value justice in human society owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Judaism and its cultures for this most precious of gifts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Judaism and American Law -- Part 9

Our fifth and final passage addresses the substantive area of property law. Often the visual image of a bundle of sticks is used by legal commentators to describe the rights through which property law operates. These include the right of ownership, the right of possession, the right of use and the right of transfer, lease or sale, to name just a few. In Torah we have the foundations for two essential property rights – the right of redemption and the right of reversion. In Leviticus 25:23, God commands:


The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

This passage then goes on to detail the provisions through which a member of the community is enabled to redeem property that had to be sold due to the initial owner’s financial straits. These provisions extend, in certain cases, to provide the return of the property even if the person is not financially able to exercise his right of redemption directly or indirectly through a near relative. In verse 28, we read:

If he lacks sufficient means to recover it, what he sold shall remain with the purchaser until the jubilee; in the jubilee year it shall be released, and he shall return to his holding.

Rights of redemption of real property are expressly provided for in modern American law through provisions in Deeds of Trust where the borrower on a home loan is given the right to redeem the title to her property for a limited period of time even after default and foreclosure. Rights of reversion are frequently made a part of the transfer of title to property when the ownership interest transferred is limited to the life span of the person to whom the transfer is made or when it is conditioned upon a particular specified use. In both cases, the foundational idea for these property rights stems from the provisions of Leviticus 25.

In each of the foregoing areas of law we may trace foundational ideas back to Torah: Subject matter jurisdiction in dispute resolution; the essential nature of order in criminal law; duty in tort; promise in contract and rights in property law. These five are but a few examples of how the Jewish idea of justice is worked out in practice as both an affirmation of the dignity of every human being since all are created in the image of God, and an accommodation for the finitude and fallen state of humans and how that essential idea provides foundations for aspects of our American legal system.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Judaism and American Law - Part 8

The fourth portion of the Torah that we will consider provides the foundational concept for contract law which is promise, or in the language of the Bible, covenant and vow. In American law, a contract is defined – in the words of my venerable contracts professor at Saint Louis University School of Law, Vincent Immel – as “a promise or a set of promises for the performance of which the law imposes a duty and for the breach of which the law provides a remedy.” Thus, contract arises from promise, and promise is the essential core of covenant in Torah.

God reveals Himself as the promise keeping God. Through the words of Balaam, the would-be prophet of Balak, He declared:

God is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind. Would He speak and not act, Promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)


Covenant is one of the most prominent features of Torah. It expressed the relationship that God creates with His people. While we might explore numerous passages detailing the nature and scope of covenant, for the purposes of this series, I would like to examine an aspect of promise or vow in Torah that might be easily overlooked.

One essential component of a promise that the law will recognize as a contact is “capacity”, that is, the one who makes the promise must have the legal capacity to enter into the contract. This is most readily apparent when the law imposes a minimum age requirement for the person seeking to enter into a contractual relationship.

An un-emancipated minor does not have the legal capacity to make a promise that will be enforced by the law as a contract. This idea of “capacity to contract” appears in seminal form is Number 30:4-6, as follows:

If a woman makes a vow to the Lord or assumes an obligation while still in her father’s household by reason of her youth, and her father learns of her vow or her self-imposed obligation and offers no objection, all her vows shall stand and every self-imposed obligation shall stand. But if her father restrains her on the day he finds out, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, since her father restrained her.

Here the youth is un-emancipated since she is still within her father’s household. The passage thus appears to indicate that both her age and her un-emancipated state render her legally incapable of making a promise that will be regarded as an obligatory vow unless her father gives his express or tacit consent.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Mark Bertrand on Mars Hill Audio Journal

My friend and Worldview Academy colleague, Mark Bertrand, is the opening interview on volume 90 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. I've talked about Mark and his important new book, (Re)Thinking Worldview, before, and you'll enjoy his interview with Ken Myers, who is the very best in the business.

Oh, and Mr. Myers discusses my book Redeeming Law with me on the very same issue. See my post at RedeemingLaw and Mark's reflections for more on this fun development.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Judaism and American Law - Part 7

Tort law is similar in some respects to criminal law. In criminal law we have the public redress of offenses. In tort law the means are provided for the private redress of wrongs committed against either persons or property. For example, in criminal law, the offense of murder is prosecuted by the state on behalf of the people. The same murderous act may also provide the basis for a tort claim of wrongful death against the alleged killer by the surviving members of the victim’s family. The prosecution of criminal acts upholds the order of society. The litigation of tort claims arise out of the breach of duties that are owed to another as recognized and imposed by the law.

Our third passage under consideration provides one of the oldest formulations of a duty of care in tort law. Nearly every law student will recall a tort case read during their first year of studies that provides the legal maxim: “Every dog is entitled to one bite.” This rule, however, has its roots in Exodus, chapter 21, where we read, beginning in verse 28:

When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox is not to be punished. If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman – the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death. If ransom is laid upon him, he must pay whatever is laid upon him to redeem his life.

Though not as deferential to the life of the animal, the rule in Torah provides that the owner of the ox is preserved from greater liability upon the occasion of the first gore. The owner’s liability for injury to the victim is substantially increased, however, if the ox has been in the habit of goring. In modern tort law, the issue is whether the owner of the dog knew or should have known of the dog’s propensity to bite. If the answer to that question is yes, then the owner’s duty of care is heightened and his potential liability for injury caused by the dog bite is increased.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Judaism and American Law -- Part 6

Let's turn our consideration now to some specific passages in Torah where we will find that this foundational notion of justice is imbedded. I will suggest that it is exemplified by at least five provisions that have direct relationship to the administration of justice that has developed in our American Legal System. The first is procedural and the remaining four address substantive law. The first passage provides an approach to conflict resolution. In the four substantive areas, we will examine passages from Torah that articulate underlying aspects of justice and the function of law that have emerged as foundational within each of those substantive areas: in criminal law the idea of “order”; in tort law, the concept of “duty”; in contract, the notion of “promise” and in property law, the idea of “rights”.

The first passage is found in Exodus 18 and provides foundational guidance for the administration of justice through dispute resolution – for what is called in the American legal system, subject matter jurisdiction. In Exodus 18, Moses faced a dilemma. He alone was serving as the arbitrator of disputes. When his wise father-in-law observed how taxing the task was that Moses was then performing, he proposed a solution that has been followed even to our day in the establishing of courts of inferior and superior jurisdiction. The passage begins at verse 13:

"Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the law and teachings of God.”

"But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear your self out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.

You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”

Moses followed his father-in-law’s counsel and appointed others who would hear the more minor matters – the small claims. The more difficult disputes were reserved for Moses’ immediate jurisdiction. This passage is one of the particular examples to which Dimont referred when he outlined the procedural dimensions of justice found in Torah. Others that also address procedural matters – what in American law is known as procedural due process – could be explored in greater detail, but we will turn our attention now to substantive areas of law.

In the second passage under consideration, we are presented with a foundational idea in criminal law – the requirement that every crime for which a punishment is prescribed be proven by a showing of not only the performance of a prohibited act but also that the act has been taken by the offender in a particular mental state. We readily recognize this requirement in modern criminal law when we speak of the difference between first degree murder which involved a premeditated act and second degree murder or manslaughter which involve un-premeditated acts or acts taken with reckless disregard for the life and well-being of the victim.

Exodus 21:12-14 provides a foundation for this requirement in criminal law of both actus reus, the prohibited act, and mens rea the requisite mental indent. It is this second element of the crime, the mens rea, that is deemed the substantial indicator of the level of punishment to be imposed upon the perpetrator of the offense. Note how this is expressed in Exodus 21:

He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death. If he did not do it by design, but it came about by an act of God, I will assign you a place to which he can flee. When a man schemes against another and kills him treacherously, you shall take him from My very altar to be put to death.

This passage indicates that a person who has committed an un-premeditated killing is not subject to capital punishment, but may flee to a designated place of refuge. These “cities of refuge” are later expressly provided for in Torah, in Numbers 35:11ff:
You shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.

Thus, Torah provides the foundation for the idea that proof of an objective outward act alone is not sufficient to properly administer justice in a criminal matter. Rather, the one called upon to administer justice must also determine the mental state of the actor who has committed the offense so that an unintentional act is not justly punished in the same way and with the same severity as an intentional criminal act. This distinction is one of the foundational elements that enables the punishment of the guilty through a system of criminal justice with the purpose of maintaining order in human society.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Canadian Legal Fellowship Law Student Conference

What a treat it was to be part of the CLF National Student Conference in Windsor, Ontario last weekend. The students heard from lawyers, law profs, doctors, and pastors from the US and Canada, encouraging them to follow Christ as students and lawyers.

I can't say enough about the hospitality of the CLF staff and the students who organized the event. Special thanks to Liz Sinnott, a law student who took time out from her dual-degree studies to help make the conference go.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters practicing law in Canada as they seek to follow Christ in a very important and influential ministry to their nation. Click here for more info on CLF.

Monday, February 18, 2008

More on the Death Penalty

Over at Mirror of Justice, Rick Garnett comments on an article by Walter Berns about the relationship between religion and the death penalty, in which Berns evaluates the observation of Albert Camus that a religious people have the best defense of the death penalty. To keep up the commenting, I'll comment on Rick's comment to Bern's commentary on the Camus comment.

Berns's makes his point by describing the world of Camus' The Stranger, a world in which God is dead and the protogonist kills for now reason, because he has no passion, no ground for hate, for love, for friendship-- because he lives in a world in which God dead. This is not our world, concludes Berns:

A world so lacking in passion lacks the necessary components of punishment. Punishment has its origins in the demand for justice, and justice is demanded by angry, morally indignant men, men who are angry when someone else is robbed,
raped, or murdered, men utterly unlike Camus's Meursault. This anger is an expression of their caring, and the just society needs citizens who care for each other, and for the community of which they are parts. One of the purposes of punishment, particularly capital punishment, is to recognize the legitimacy of that righteous anger and to satisfy and thereby to reward it. In this way, the death penalty, when duly or deliberately imposed, serves to strengthen the moral sentiments required by a self-governing community.
I want to add one more car to this train of thought: Relgious people have hope, rather than despair, in the face of human justice that always disappoints, always falls short of ultimate justice by its very nature. And the only way there is hope is if one knows that there is in fact, perfect justice byond this world, that criminals do not ever get off "scot free" and that innocent will be vindicated, no matter the oppression in this world.

Without this hope, our relatively miserable attempts at justice are indeed a cause for despair, and this despair will be great among those who believe that human justice is all the justice that can be. (On this point, see J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know, and this article in First Things.)

Finally, in light of all this interesting stuff, I want to again wonder aloud about the lack of attention to special revelation among Christian anti-death-penalty legal scholars. It is abslolutely undeniable that God himself authorized the death penalty in a number of societies, according to Scripture, and that he expressly authorized its use. How, then, can it be surprising that the best arguments for the death penalty are relgious ones?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dobson and McCain and Evangelicals and Voting and . . .

James Dobson has released a short statement listing reasons that he will not vote for John McCain if he is a candidate for President. (BTW, I have just now seen theology professor Wayne Grudem's townhall article reasoning that evangelicals should support Romney. It's worth reading, but we seem to be beyond all this by now. HT: wife)

The early unwise and indiscriminate latching on to Huckabee by evangelicals, so many open primaries favoring "crossover" candiates, and the heavy role of the press have pretty much taken the debate over vision and ideology right out of the picture. I think this is bad; maybe I"m wrong. I'm just saying.

This nomination process, regrading both parties, has felt more like a hype-fest crap shoot than it has in years past. Maybe I'm getting older and it has always been that way. But sound bites, image, and press cred is a lousy way to select a presidential nominee. I think the most exciting event of the politcal season will be seeing who the Dem nominee selects as his or her running mate.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Redeeming Law Blog

I've started a new blog to deal with the questions I get about my book, Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession, and to discuss issues related to the calling to the law.

I hope to post answers to the many questions I receive from law students and pre-law students who are seeking to find their calling in the legal profession. I also hope to answer some of the questions that I have failed to answer in the book, either through omission or simple incoherence.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Judaism and the Foundations of American Law -- Part 5

Let us now turn our consideration to some specific passages in Torah where we will find that this foundational notion of justice is embedded. I will suggest that it is exemplified by at least five provisions that have direct relationship to the administration of justice that has developed in our American Legal System.

The first is procedural and the remaining four address substantive law. The first passage provides an approach to conflict resolution. In the four substantive areas, we will examine passages from Torah that articulate underlying aspects of justice and the function of law that have emerged as foundational within each of those substantive areas: in criminal law the idea of “order”; in tort law, the concept of “duty”; in contract, the notion of “promise” and in property law, the idea of “rights”.

The first passage is found in Exodus 18 and provides foundational guidance for the administration of justice through dispute resolution – for what is called in the American legal system, subject matter jurisdiction. In Exodus 18, Moses faced a dilemma. He alone was serving as the arbitrator of disputes. When his wise father-in-law observed how taxing the task was that Moses was then performing, he proposed a solution that has been followed even to our day in the establishing of courts of inferior and superior jurisdiction.

The account continues in verse 13: "Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the law and teachings of God.”

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear your self out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”

Moses followed his father-in-law’s counsel and appointed others who would hear the more minor matters – the small claims. The more difficult disputes were reserved for Moses’ immediate jurisdiction. This passage is one of the particular examples to which Dimont referred when he outlined the procedural dimensions of justice found in Torah. Others that also address procedural matters – what in American law is known as procedural due process – could be explored in greater detail, but we will turn our attention now to substantive areas of law.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Judaism and the Foundations of American Law -- Part 4

Some may suggest that the works of Dimont, Cahill and even Professor Dershowitz do not rise above the level of popular treatments of the subject, and therefore, do not marshal sufficient scholarly evidence to under gird the thesis to which each contributes. Although I believe that these three do provide not only a solid introduction to the subject of Judaism’s influence, both indirect and direct, upon the development of concepts of justice and law that are integral to the American legal system, but also a substantial elucidation of the same, still other scholars have examined these relationships to an even deeper degree.

Outstanding among these who are engaged in the scholarship in this area is Bernard Jackson, Alliance Professor of Modern Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester in England. Professor Jackson along with Phillip Alexander serve together there as the co-directors at the University’s Centre for Jewish Studies.

In his article “‘Law’ and ‘Justice’ in the Bible”, Professor Jackson notes that “when we examine the charges given to judges in the biblical sources, we find a conspicuous absence of reference to any duty to apply codes or rules of positive law. Rather, the charges to judges . . . are characterized by two demands: to avoid corruption and partiality [and] to do ‘justice’” (222-23). He further explains that the source of the ‘justice’ these judges are to apply is not delineated by specific rules or regulations, but rather, he argues is found in a mixture of custom and personal intuition where that intuition is viewed as inspired by God. (223).

He cites Moses’ decision in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, recorded in Numbers, chapter 27, as a prime example of the administration of this concept of “justice” in the activity of adjudication. In that case, the daughters requested the right to their father’s inheritance in the land even though he had died without any sons. Upon their submission of this petition to Moses, the account in Numbers then tells us that “Moses brought their case before the LORD.” (27:5) God explicitly instructs Moses to grant the request and further provides guidelines for similar cases in the future.

Jackson uses this example to demonstrate that “justice” in Torah is not the same as positive law. Rather the demands of justice, as informed by God as an external, higher authority, may require exceptions to or changes of positive law. Here Jackson agrees with and lends support to Dimont who, as we noted above, had concluded that positive laws were to be vehicles for justice, but laws without justice were considered immoral.