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The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics

Guenther H. Haas

Publication Year: 1997

Ever since Calvin wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion, admonishing the reader that “it would not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scriptures, and to what end he ought to relate its contents,” scholars have endeavoured to identify a doctrine or theme at the heart of his theology. In his landmark book The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics, Guenther Haas concludes that the concept of equity is the theme of central importance in Calvin’s social ethic, in a similar way that union with Christ lies at the heart of his theology.

Haas provides, in Part One, a brief survey of the development of the concept of equity from Aristotle to the scholastics, and as it was used by Calvin’s contemporaries. Haas also examines the influences on Calvin’s thinking before and after his conversion to Protestantism, with special attention paid to those influences that employed the concept of equity.

In the heart of this study, Part Two, “Equity in Calvin’s Ethics,” Haas presents a thorough exposition and analysis of the extensive role the concept of equity plays in Calvin’s ethics, demonstrating that Calvin’s approach to ethics is not restricted to meditation of Scripture text.

This book will force a re-examination of approaches to Calvin studies that have not appreciated the historical context and background of Calvin’s thought. The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics establishes that the Protestant tradition in Christian ethics, founded by Calvin, has a distinctive and vital contribution to make to Christian ethics, as well as to the broader discussion of social ethics as they are practised today.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Editions SR


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Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-4

In the "Preface" to the 1559 edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin writes:
For I believe that I have so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts, and have arranged it in such an order that if anyone rightly grasps it, it will not be difficult for him to determine what he ought especially to seek in Scripture...


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Chapter 1

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pp. 7-16

A proper understanding of Calvin's concept of equity begins with the background knowledge of his formal education in his early years, as well as of a lifetime of intellectual progress. The young Calvin had a broad range of learning, which grew even broader in his career as a Reformer. A survey of...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 17-32

As a concept used in the interpretation and application of law, equity has a history that begins with the philosopher, Aristotle. This chapter gives a survey of the major thinkers and movements that make use of this concept prior to the sixteenth century. Since the concern of this study is the concept of equity...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 33-46

The new approach to learning that arose in Renaissance humanism, but was also adopted by the Reformers, led to the use of the concept of equity by many of Calvin's contemporaries. Kisch states: "For the theological, philosophical, and juridical discussions of the initial second and third decades of...


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Chapter 4

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pp. 49-64

Calvin bases his view of the Christian life upon our participation in Christ. Every action of the Christian is to be an expression of this participation. The law functions as a rule whereby believers are guided by the Holy Spirit to express the righteousness of Christ in their own lives. Central to an understanding...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 65-78

Because of the importance of the law in Calvin's ethics, a examination of equity necessarily leads us to examine its role in interpreting and applying the law of God. Before embarking on this study, it is important to have before us Calvin's general understanding of the law of God in the Christian life...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 79-92

Calvin acknowledges that there are differences in the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, but he believes that these differences do not detract from Scripture's basic unity. "All these [differences] pertain to the matter of dispensation rather than to the substance."1 The unity between these two dispensations...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 93-106

We have noted the key role of equity for Calvin in implementing the biblical call to love one's neighbour as oneself. Calvin uses equity, as summarized in the Golden Rule of Matt. 7:12, to harmonize the moral teaching of the Old Testament concerning human social life with the teachings of Christ in the...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 107-116

Calvin's exposition of the two tables of the law in his commentaries and sermons relates the full meaning of the ten commandments to all spheres and institutions of life. In this chapter we look in more detail at Calvin's understanding of two major social institutions: the state and the church. Again, our focus is the place of love and equity in them...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 117-122

It is generally acknowledged by those who have studied Calvin's economic and political views that he was the first of the Reformers to give a theological defence of the practice of lending money at interest.1 Canon law had defined usury as "whatever is added to the principal" in the repayment of a...

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pp. 123-126

This study has presented a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that equity is the theme of central importance in Calvin's social ethic. Equity directs the implementation of love in the Christian life so that one renders to others what is their due, which is Calvin's definition of justice. Equity calls believers...


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pp. 127-180

Select Bibliography

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pp. 181-198

Index of Persons

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pp. 199-202

Index of Words and Phrases

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pp. 203-206

Series Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780889207950
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202856
Print-ISBN-10: 0889202850

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 1997

Series Title: Editions SR
See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 180704528
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics

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Subject Headings

  • Calvin, Jean, 1509-1564.
  • Christianity and justice -- Reformed Church.
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