Volume 80, Issue 1, Winter 2006
Medieval Natural Law and the Reformation
A Comparison of Aquinas and Calvin
An important aspect of the contemporary controversies over John Calvin’s natural law doctrine has been his relation to the medieval natural law inheritance. This paper attempts to put Calvin in better context through a detailed examination of his ideas on natural law, in comparison with those of Thomas Aquinas. I argue that significant points of both similarity and difference between them must be
recognized. Among important similarities, I highlight their grounding of natural law in the divine nature and the relationship of natural to civil law. Among important differences I note issues of participation, conscience, and the two kingdoms doctrine. Calvin resides in the same broad tradition of natural law as Thomas Aquinas, although he represents a somewhat different strand of it.