John Calvin transformed the Western theology and law of sex, marriage, and family life. Building on a generation of Protestant reforms, Calvin constructed a comprehensive new theology and law that made marital formation and dissolution, children's nurture and welfare, family cohesion and support, and sexual sin and crime essential concerns for both church and state.
Working with other jurists and theologians, Calvin drew the Consistory and Council of Geneva into a creative new alliance to govern domestic and sexual subjects. Together, these authorities outlawed monasticism and mandatory clerical celibacy, and encouraged marriage for all fit adults. They set clear guidelines for courtship and engagement and mandated parental consent, peer witness, church consecration, and state registration for valid marriage. They radically reconfigured weddings and wedding feasts and reformed marital property and inheritance, marital consent and impediments. They created new rights and duties for wives within the bedroom and for children within the household. They streamlined the grounds and procedures for annulment and introduced fault-based divorce for both husbands and wives on grounds of adultery and desertion. They encouraged the remarriage of divorcees and widow(er)s. They punished rape, fornication, prostitution, sodomy, and other sexual felonies with startling new severity and put firm new restrictions on dancing, sumptuousness, ribaldry, and obscenity. They put new stock in catechesis and education, created new schools, curricula, and teaching aids, and provided new sanctuary to illegitimate, abandoned, and abused children. They created new protections for abused wives and impoverished widows.
Many of these reforms of sixteenth-century Geneva were echoed and elaborated in numerous Calvinist communities, ultimately on both sides of the Atlantic, and a good number of these reforms found their way into our modern civil law and common law traditions. This volume and its sequels analyzes and documents this transformation of sex, marriage and family life in Geneva using many newly-discovered theological and legal materials.