This is Part 2 of a series on Calvin and modernity. This post covers Calvin’s two-kingdom theology and his theology of work. I show that Calvin’s thought cannot be the foundation of modernity and that his thought is a modification of medieval thought, not a radical break from it.
Chillon Castle, near Geneva, Switzerland
The Already/not-yet Tension
Since being made right with God (i.e., justification), is by faith alone—something which each person can equally exercise regardless of station or calling in life—it might seem that the various stations and callings in life are arbitrary. In other words, it might be natural to conclude that social, economic, political and gender, inequality are unjust. Does not the logic of the Reformation call for radical social change and equality?
As discussed in part 1, the Reformers leveled the spiritual hierarchy by use of justification by faith alone. No longer can one claim legitimate political, social or spiritual authority by appeal to some spiritual hierarchy of being. The spiritual state of the minister and the civil magistrate are not necessarily superior to the lowliest of the housewives. In an ultimate sense, they are all equal in the sight of God; and, in an eschatological sense—that which Christians are to live in light of—all Christian will be (and are) equal. In the eschaton, according to Reformed theology, Christians will not be on varying levels on the ladder of being as in Dante’s Paradisio but all equal citizens as in Bunyan’s Celestial City. But if Christians ought to live in light of the world to come and all Christians are fundamentally equal in the world to come, then shouldn’t Christians fight for the radical social justice we see in modernity? What would Calvin say to this?
One key text to see Calvin’s view of the relationship between spiritual equality in union to Christ and the outward inequalities is Calvin’s grappling with the historically difficult passage from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11:3. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband.” I quote Calvin at length:
Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere, (Galatians 3:28,) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists.
Calvin’s primary justification for inequality, subordination, and authority among equals is his doctrine of the two-kingdoms. In the spiritual kingdom, “individual distinctions are not regarded.” These individual distinctions include those apparent from the “body,” “outward relationships,” and “civil order or honorary distinctions.” The spiritual kingdom relates to the eschatological church—the body of the Elect who will be equal in the eschaton. The other is the earthly kingdom, containing apparent distinctions that must be upheld. The latter is temporal and the former eternal. Thus there is the already—fundamental, eschatological equality; and there is the not-yet—temporal yet relevant and necessary inequality. As I show in part 4, Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” keeps these two in tension.
Calvin’s doctrine of the two-kingdoms does not resemble the modern notion of the separation of church and state. The spiritual kingdom is not the institutional church, and the earthly kingdom is not merely the civil realm without obligations to external religion. For Calvin, the spiritual kingdom is, as said above, the eschatological church or the Elect. This kingdom then is necessarily hidden from view. The institutional church is in the earthly kingdom, and therefore subject to regulation by the civil magistrate. This explains why Calvin writes that “Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make [religion and divine worship] not their care.” It ought to be their concern because it falls within their jurisdiction as the magistrates over the earthly kingdom. Calvin’s two-kingdoms does not call for a separation of the institutional church and the state. Christians are dual citizens: citizens of the eschatological church (not precisely ecclesiastical membership) and citizens of the civil, earthly kingdom.
The spiritual kingdom plays a significant role in ordering politics for Calvin. Since this kingdom contains only the elect, the exact membership of it is not known. But there is a presumption of membership due to baptism. So, in a Christian community in early Calvinism, the citizens of the earthly kingdom are presumed to be members of the spiritual kingdom. Thus the civil magistrates had to rule in light of this dual citizenship.
The Reformers widely appealed to natural law for justification in political matters, including Calvin, Knox, Beza, Rutherford, and the Puritans. There is often much confusion on this point among commentators. Some, such as Ralph Hancock, argue that Calvin is inconsistent with his constant appeals to natural law while also having an emphasis on the “depravity of nature.” In response, Glenn Moots writes, “So while Calvin was skeptical about the role of nature and traditional philosophy in reaching to spiritual things, he did not extend that skepticism to earthly things and to politics in particular.” Reason concerning earthly matters is not so diminished. According to Calvin, “man is by nature a social animal…disposed…to cherish and preserve society.” Thus, while the fall of humankind profoundly affected the ability to discover the proper means of worship, the ability to discover the most basic principles of ordering society is not fully lost. Natural law then plays a significant (though not exclusive) role in the ordering of the “outward” kingdom. Since natural law is a creational norm, it is applicable to each person regardless of one’s spiritual state. It is universal.
In recognition of each Christian’s dual citizenship and the image of God in every person, Calvin called for equal justice before the law and for special social services for the weak, sick and poor—people Calvin called God’s “receveurs.” “It was, for Calvin,” writes Fred Graham, “the treatment of the weak in society that really determined the value of a political regime.” Of course, there are notorious features of Calvin’s “saintly city,” but, if we can put those aside, there certainly are elements of the affirmation of the fundamental equality of each individual as a person. Calvin wrote, “We are not to consider what men deserve of themselves, but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love.” And: “Whenever I see a man, I must, of necessity, behold myself as in a mirror.” More Calvin: “that the word neighbor extends indiscriminately to every man, because the whole human race is united by a sacred bond of fellowship.” Finally: “we cannot but behold our own face as it were in a glass in the person that is poor and despised, which is not able to hold out any longer, but lies groaning under his burden, though he were the furthest stranger in the world. Let a Moor or a Barbarian come among us, and yet inasmuch as he is a man, he brings with him a looking glass wherein we may see that he is our brother and neighbor.” These quotes show something quite remarkable: despite the outward inequalities, one must see past appearances to see another’s personhood. We see in the other a common brotherhood, a “mutual society” or what Wolterstorff describes as a “mutual communication.”
Yet we must keep in mind the already/not-yet tension. Recall what Calvin said concerning 1 Corinthians 11:3, “[men and women] are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, [an] inequality exists.” There is a certain eschatological equality that cannot be realized through social or worldly action. Attempting to visually realize such a world through human effort would be a form of pelagianism, or, as Eric Voegelin famously said, an “immanentization of the eschaton,” that would essentially bring faith into sight and the promises of God into (visual) reality by the work of the saints alone, quite apart from any gracious divine act. This is not a possibility in Reformed theology.
Recall that for Calvin, faith is not only a form of knowledge or an embrace of redemption accomplished and applies but is fundamentally a form of sight or perception. It sees past the present realities. It embraces and knows the promises of God, and has a “vision” of their reality. Summarizing Calvin’s twofold understanding of faith, Barbara Pitkins writes,
In his interpretation of this pass [1 Cor. 13:9] Calvin contrasts faith as knowledge of God through the word with the full vision of God on the last day. Yet he also portrays faith as a kind of perception, since it is faith that now beholds God’s image in the word. There is thus both a disjunction and continuity between the present world and the realm to come. One the one hand, he suggests that faith as knowledge in the present world will give way to completely different mode of apprehension (i.e., sight) in the world to come: knowledge in the present, seeing in the future. On the other hand, faith already has a kind of obscure ‘vision’ in the present that will be completed by the full vision of God.
This view of faith as perception of future things is found in Calvin’s commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-18. He writes,
“[the Apostle Paul] sets before us two men, so you must place before your view two kinds of life—the earthly and the heavenly. The outward man is the maintenance of the earthly, life, which consists not merely…in good health, but also in riches, honours, friendships, and other resources….Observe the expression, looking at the things which are unseen, for the eye of faith penetrate beyond all our natural senses, and faith is also on that account represented as a looking at things that are invisible.”
It incorrect to say that this twofold nature of faith corresponds to a faith of the body and a faith of the soul. What Paul meant by “outward man,” according to Calvin—contrary to Chrysostom and others—is not “the body…[but] everything that relates to the present life.” So the twofold nature of faith does not correspond to the body/soul duality of man. It refers to the believer’s present participation in two realities: the present earthly life and the future heavenly life. The former is that which is “decaying” and latter is that which is eschatologically ‘breaking in’ to present existence, the salvific promises of God. But, paradoxically, a believer participates in both at the same time. Recently, reformed theologian Richard Gaffin put it this way:
The benefits of union with Christ are such, it appears, that insofar as I am ‘outer man,’ that is, in terms of my bodily existence, those benefits are not yet possessed. My sharing in them is still future. On the other hand, as I am ‘inner man’ of ‘heart,’ considered for who I am at the core of my being, in my most basic ‘bent’ or disposition, those benefits are already received and possessed; they are a present reality.
For Calvin, a believer’s activity in the world—be it social, political, environmental, economic, etc.—must take into account both the earthly reality and the heavenly reality. The principle which binds this tension is the divine promise of a world to come by grace. If humankind could bring about the eschaton by his or her own effort, then the promises from grace would be void. Trying to bring about the heavenly reality (i.e., perfect equality) would be an over-realized eschatology. And to act in light of the earthly reality only would be, not just an under-realized eschatology, but be a denial of the Gospel—which at its center is justification by faith alone. The Calvinist must not neglect either this world or the world to come. Both must be affirmed and held in tension. One’s eschatological perception must not override the reality—albeit passing reality—of the “outward man.” Given this, it follows that any “radical politics” and “radical social change” that followed the Reformation could not have been rooted in a proper understanding of Calvin’s theology. 
Unfortunately, commentators have failed to recognize this tension in Calvin’s thought, and have mistakenly labeled Calvin’s thought the foundation of modern politics. Ralph Hancock, for example, asserts, “On the basis of the fundamental Protestant belief in justification by faith alone, Calvin radically severs the human and divine realms in order to make possible their fusion in historical activity.” Given Calvin’s insistence on the tension described above and on faith as a form of seeing the promised world to come by grace, Hancock’s analysis is faulty. Eric Voegelin, as well, is quite wrong to identify a similarity between Hobbes and Calvin because, in Voegelin’s words, Hobbes “denied the existence of a tension between the truth of the soul and the truth of society.” As I have shown, the tension is essential to Calvin’s theology: faith cannot become sight by the works of the saints. There is no revolution of the saints in Calvin’s theology. To bring the eschaton to earth is to realize the promises of God by works, not grace; and if it not by grace, it is not a promise.
Still, Calvin’s rejection of the medieval hierarchical world had profound effects on post-Reformation history, especially the importance of the individual. This impacted politics and society. As Walzer’s states, “[Calvinism] switched the emphasis of political thought from the prince to the saint (or the band of saints) and then constructed a theoretical justification for independent political action” and “this is the most significant outcome of the Calvinist theory of world activity.” The extent to which this is true will not be analyzed here. But we will say that justification by faith alone and the reality of eschatological equality brings into the late medieval and the early modern period a necessary emphasis on the individual. This sense of individual responsibility makes Calvinism what Wolterstorff calls a “world-formative” religion. As opposed to the “avertive” medieval Christianity, Calvinist activity in the world is not “contemplation of God’s essence…[but] consists in the appropriate response to his works….it is an impulse toward the re-formation of the social world.” Wolterstorff certainly goes too far in this regard, at least with respect to early Calvinism, and, as we will see, with respect to Winthrop and early colonial New England. But despite the overstatement, Wolterstorff is correct to assert that Calvinism brought about the emphasis on personal responsibility. He quotes William Bouwsma: “No longer viewing themselves as participating in a system of hierarchical gradation rooted in the nature of things, men…felt a heightened sense of personal responsibility.” The responsibility of one to another permeated all aspects of life.
On the matter of work, Calvin wrote, “It is not enough when a man can say, ‘Oh, I labor, I have my craft,’ or ‘I have such a trade.’ That is not enough. But we must see whether it is good and profitable for the common good, and whether his neighbors may fare the better of it.” With regard to the relation between rich and poor Calvin writes, “since God has united men in the bonds of mutual society, hence they must mutually perform good offices for each other. Here, then, it is required of the rich to succor the poor, and to offer bread to the hungry.” These thoughts on the individual were not new to the Christian social tradition, but the Reformers took their importance to a whole new level. As Horton said (quoted above), since justification by faith “freed one from at least the theological motive for serving oneself by serving God and others,” service in the world is necessarily for others and for the display of God’s glory in the world.
The initial rise of the individual is not best explained by the rise of Protestant nominalism. It might seem that the turning away from a structured and fixed hierarchy of persons, coupled with the fundamental equality of persons, left a vacuum of non-arbitrary authority in the world. It might seem to have provided room for the Hobbesian view of the world: all authority is arbitrary yet necessary. The continued rise of individualism may indeed be best explained by Protestant nominalism. But it is unlikely that Calvin was a nominalist, at least in the form later seen in Hobbes and Locke. Calvin’s rejected a hierarchy of persons, but he continued to affirm a natural hierarchy built into creation by the wisdom of God. Indeed, Calvin’s practical social philosophy is quite conservative by medieval standards, and it is consistent with his theology. His social conservatism is clear in his discussions of work. He writes, “Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random.” He continues:
The last things to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random….Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God….Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye of God.
Notice first in this passage that Calvin affirms the dual realities of the believer: God assigns different and unequal callings in terms of earthly stations, yet all work, regardless of how “mean and sordid” it might be, has a “splendor and value in the eye of God.” There is both earthly inequality and eschatological equality present at the same time. God has “assigned distinct duties to each lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness.” The “consolation” for accepting one’s station is the eschatological reward of God’s splendor. As I argued above, the already/not-yet tension is crucial to understand how Calvin and many of the other Reformers responded to the fall of the medieval spiritual hierarchy. They affirmed a natural hierarchy in the world that does not endure in the world to come.
We should keep in mind that Calvinism provided more than a set of doctrine; it is an alternative narrative of life, history, and redemption. In this sense, there is an important break with medieval thought. Reformed theology, as Horton says, calls for the church to “[reflect] on God’s performative action in word and deed and its own participation in the drama of redemption.” The world is the “theatre of God’s glory,” as Calvin described it. Participation in the narrative of redemption, as actors in the story, embeds one in a meaningful world. It is not an “enchanted” world, as Taylor describes the pre-reformation way of viewing the world. Nor it is magical. But it is mysterious. Taylor argues that the loss of the “sense of vulnerability” to outside, magical forces in the cosmos “is one of the principle features which have gone with disenchantment.” It is true that the Reformation’s rejection of “superstition” disenchanted the world to a degree, but this does not entail a closed or “buffered” self from the outside. According to Calvin, the Christian ought to be open to God all around him, for God is revealed in his works. The drama of redemption is a drama of action by God’s image-bearers. Horton writes, “The drama of redemption is suspicious of the abstract and is at home in the concrete actions of agents.” Since all of life is redeemed in Christ, each person, regardless of one’s station in life and worldly fame, participates in that story. It is not a world of magic and enchantment, but of meaning and action. The Calvinist world, then, is one of meaning, natural hierarchy, and individual responsibility. In this sense, the Calvinist view of the world is only an important modification of medieval thought, not a radical departure from it.
Glenn Moots has pointed out that the Reformers’ project was a “Hebraic revival.” The Reformers “attempted to seamlessly integrate Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures—the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Testaments. This return to the Old Testament together with the articulation of ‘covenant theology’ changed early modern politics.” As we will see with Winthrop, the concept of the people of God as the covenanted people of God was profoundly important for their understanding of the world. The covenantal blessings and cursings God promised to his people at Sinai applied to the Church as well. Calvin states that tyrants are “raised up by [God] to punish the people for their iniquity.” This all relates, again, back to providence and hierarchy. If the people are faithful to the created order, God will bless them. If not, then God may punish them. All this happens in the world through providence and the created order.
More than blessings and cursings, the return to a more Hebraic Christianity—away from the neoplatonic influences that the Church encountered early in its history—renewed the call for the rich to serve the poor. Calvin, in his commentary on 1 Corinthian wrote, “[H]e has enjoined upon us frugality and temperance, and has forbidden, that anyone should go to excess, taking advantage of his abundance. Let those, then, that have riches, whether they have been left by inheritance, or procured by industry and efforts, consider that their abundance was not intended to be laid out in intemperance or excess, but in relieving the necessities of the brethren.” The prophetic judgments of the Old Testament, which make up much of it prophetic literature, is often directed toward the rich “who oppress the poor” and “who crush the needy” (Amos 4:1). And the livelihood and the very survival of the Hebrews as a free people is conditioned on the actions of the rich toward the poor. We will see in Winthrop that for the early New England colonists the Old Testament was, as Perry Miller wrote, the “air people breathed.”
 There will be varying degrees of “rewards” but this has nothing to do with ontological status.
 John Calvin Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians Trans. By John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 353.
 Louis Berkhof, the 19th century Dutch theologian, explains the distinctions between the church and kingdom quite well: “It is also a mistake to maintain, as some Reformed Christians do, in virtue of an erroneous conception of the Church as an organism, that Christian school societies, voluntary organizations of younger or older people for the study of Christian principles and their application in life, Christian labor unions, and Christian political organizations, are manifestations of the Church as an organism, for this again brings them under the domain of the visible Church and under the direct control of its officers. Naturally, this does not mean that the Church has no responsibility with respect to such organizations. It does mean, however, that they are manifestations of the Kingdom of God, in which groups of Christians seek to apply the principles of the Kingdom to every domain of life. The visible Church and the Kingdom, too, may be identified to a certain extent. The visible Church may certainly be said to belong to the Kingdom, to be a part of the Kingdom, and even to be the most important visible embodiment of the forces of the Kingdom. It partakes of the character of the invisible Church (the two being one) as a means for the realization of the Kingdom of God….In so far as the visible Church is instrumental in the establishment and extension of the Kingdom, it is, of course, subordinate to this as a means to an end. The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor.” Systematic Theology, 569-570. Quoted in “John Calvin and the Two Kingdoms, Part 2,” in The Calvinist International (blog) at http://calvinistinternational.com/2012/05/29/calvin-2k-2/ (accessed November 22, 2014).
 John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion Translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eermans Publishing, 1989), IV.xx.9.
 Glen Moots, Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2010), 121.
 Institutes, II.ii.13.
 Despite the claims of a few scholars (particularly those at Westminster Theological Seminary in California), the inward/outward distinction does not correspond to the church/state distinction. There certain is a two-kingdom theology is Calvin, from the spiritual kingdom refers not to the ecclesiastical realm but more to the eschatological church. Put differently, it refers to all those united equally to Christ that will be fully realize in the eschaton. The outward, then, includes everything from the role of the state and to the outward worship of God in the church. See David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans Publishing, 2010) for this perspective, especially chapter 3. The opposing view, and the view I think best represents Calvin’s doctrine of the two-kingdoms, is best articulated at the following: http://calvinistinternational.com/2012/05/29/calvin-2k-1/
 William Dryness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards., 82.
 Ibid, 82.
 Institutes, III.vii.6
 Quoted in Wolterstorff, 78.
 Ibid, 78-79.
 Some later theological developments (particularly the Dutch Reformed development often called “neo-calvinism”) have made much of eschatological equality.
 Barbara Pitkins What Pure Eyes Could See (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1999), 60. Emphasis added.
 Calvin Corinthians, 211, 214-215.
 Ibid, 211.
 Richard Gaffin By Faith, Not By Sight (Grand Rapids: P&R Publishing, 2013), 57.
 The most famous exploitation of Calvin’s theology came from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Those who consider Calvin only a theologian fail to recognize the breadth of his genius. The editing of our wise laws, in which he had a large share, does him as much credit as his Institutes…[S]o long as the love of country and liberty is not extinct among us, the memory of this great man will be held in reverence.” Social Contract 2, 7n.
 Quoted in Ralph C. Hancock Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 190.
 In recent times the Reformation is often characterized as theologically innovative, radical, anti-traditional, and anti-catholic. This is not the case. The Reformation was far from radical, or at least the magisterial reformers (e.g., Luther, Bullinger, Bucer, Calvin and to a lesser extent Zwingli) never intended to violate the catholicity of the Christian tradition. Historian Richard Muller stated the following: “The Reformation, in spite of its substantial contribution to the history of doctrine and the shock it delivered to theology and the church in the sixteenth century, was not an attack upon the whole of medieval theology or upon Christian tradition. The Reformation assaulted a limited spectrum of doctrinal and practical abuses with the intention of reaffirming the church catholic. Thus, the mainstream Reformers reconstructed the doctrines of justification and the sacraments and then modified their ideas of the ordo salutis and of the church accordingly; but they did not alter the doctrines of God, creation, providence, and Christ, and they maintained the Augustinian tradition concerning predestination, human nature and sin. The reform of individual doctrines, like justification and the sacraments, occurred within the bounds of a traditional, orthodox, and catholic system which, on the grand scale, remained substantively unaltered.” Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 1:97.
 Walzer, 2.
 13. He defines an “avertive religion” as the “conviction that in our ordinary existence there is something inferior, evil, or threatening, coupled with the conviction that for a life thus immersed in inferiority there is a cure, a cure which consists in turning one’s concerns away from this realm of inferiority, averting oneself from it, so as to attain closer contact with a reality outside oneself which is higher, better, more real” (pg. 5).
 Quoted in Wolterstorff, 78-79.
 Ibid, 79.
 Institutes III.x.6.
 A Secular Age, 36.
 See Calvin’s Institutes I.I-V.
 Horton, 16.
 Moots, 34.
 Institutes, IV.xx.25.
 Corinthians, 8:15..
 “The Garden of Eden and the Deacon’s Meadow,” American Heritage, Dec. 1955, p.54. Full quote, “The Old Testament is truly so omnipresent in the American culture of 1800 or 1820 that historians have as much difficulty taking cognizance of it as of the air people breathed.” Though Miller was addressing the early 19th century, this is true for the 17th century as well.
Comments are closed.