Calvin's Defense of Politics

Institutes of the Christian Religion
Book IV, Chap. XX


This chapter consists of two principal heads, -

I. General discourse on the necessity, dignity, and use of Civil Government, in opposition to the frantic proceedings of the Anabaptists, sec. 1-3.

II. A special exposition of the three leading parts of which Civil Government consists, sec. 4-32.

The first part treats of the function of Magistrates, whose authority and calling is proved, sec. 4-7. Next, the three forms of civil government are added, sec. 8. Thirdly, Consideration of the office of the civil magistrate in respect of piety and righteousness. Here, of rewards and punishments, viz., punishing the guilty, protecting the innocent, repressing the seditious, managing, the affairs of peace and war, sec. 9-13.
The second part treats of Laws, their utility, necessity, form, authority, constitution, and scope, sec. 14-16. The last part relates to the People, and explains the use of laws, courts, and magistrates, to the common society of Christians, sec. 17-21. Deference which private individuals owe to magistrates, and how far obedience ought to be carried, sec. 22-32.


  1. Last part of the whole work, relating to the institution of Civil Government. The consideration of it necessary,
    1. To refute the Anabaptists.
    2. To refute the flatterers of princes.
    3. To excite our gratitude to God.
    Civil government not opposed to Christian liberty. Civil government to be distinguished from the spiritual kingdom of Christ.
  2. Objections of the Anabaptists,
    1. That civil government is unworthy of a Christian man.
    2. That it is diametrically repugnant to the Christian profession. Answer.
  3. The answer confirmed. Discourse reduced to three heads,
    1. Of Laws.
    2. Of Magistrates.
    3. Of the People.
  4. The office of Magistrates approved by God.
    1. They are called Gods.
    2. They are ordained by the wisdom of God. Examples of pious Magistrates.
  5. Civil government appointed by God for Jews, not Christians. This objection answered.
  6. Divine appointment of Magistrates. Effect which this ought to have on Magistrates themselves.
  7. This consideration should repress the fury of the Anabaptists.
  8. Three forms of civil government, Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy. Impossible absolutely to say which is best.
  9. Of the duty of Magistrates. Their first care the preservation of the Christian religion and true piety. This proved.
  10. Objections of Anabaptists to this view. These answered.
  11. Lawfulness of War.
  12. Objection that the lawfulness of War is not taught in Scripture. Answer.
  13. Right of exacting tribute and raising revenues.
  14. Of Laws, their necessity and utility. Distinction between the Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Law of Moses.
  15. Sum and scope of the Moral Law. Of the Ceremonial and Judicial Law. Conclusion.
  16. All laws should be just. Civil law of Moses; how far in force, and how far abrogated.
  17. Of the People, and of the use of laws as respects individuals.
  18. How far litigation lawful.
  19. Refutation of the Anabaptists, who condemn all judicial proceedings.
  20. Objection, that Christ forbids us to resist evil. Answer.
  21. Objection, that Paul condemns law-suits absolutely. Answer.
  22. Of the respect and obedience due to Magistrates.
  23. Same subject continued.
  24. How far submission due to tyrants.
  25. Same continued.
  26. Proof from Scripture.
  27. Proof Continued. (from Jeremiah 27)
  28. Objections answered.
  29. Considerations to curb impatience under tyranny.
  30. Considerations considered.
  31. General submission due by private individuals.
  32. Obedience due only in so far as compatible with the word of God.