The Concept of Equity in Calvin’s Ethics
Paper 218 pp.
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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.
Guenther H. Haas is an associate professor of Religion and Theology at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario. Much of his research has focused on foundation issues in ethics, especially in the Reformed tradition of Protestantism.
“The agenda Haas proclaims in his introduction promises much, and in some measure he delivers. Without doubt Haas makes it clear that equity was an important issue, both to Calvin and his contemporaries. And in doing this he also offers a very fruitful way to consider the theological and the social Calvin from a historical standpoint.
— Doug Catterall, University of Minnesota, Sixteenth Century Journal
“Calvin scholars and ethicists will welcome this detailed study of the key concept of equity in Calvin’s thought.”
— Donald McKim, Memphis Theological Seminary, Religious Studies Review
“The author’s main and novel contention is that Calvin’s distinction between these two types of morality is also based on two modes of interpreting the moral norms of conscience and the Bible....Other writers, such as Walter Köhler, Josef Bohatec, Harro Höpfl, and John Hesslink have touched on this thesis about Calvin’s interpretive methodology; no one has put it so firmly and fully.”
— John Witte Jr., Studies in Christian Ethics
“As a historical account of Calvin’s ethics, Haas’s book works superbly. Haas draws extensively on Calvin’s commentaries and sermons and responds to recent work on Calvin’s ethics. Persuasively, he shows that equity is a central concept in Calvin’s work....Despite its minor shortcomings, however, this work offers rich resources for those working in Calvin studies or theological ethics. Calvin rarely develops his concept of equity fully in one work. Fortunately, Haas has done an admirable job in analyzing it systematically. A study of this nature has been long overdue, and it prepares the way for further historical and constructive work.”
— Derek Jeffreys, Maltidul University, Thailand, The Journal of Religion
“Haas makes a plausible case for the concept of equity as ‘the theme of central importance in Calvin’s social ethic’...A final chapter presents an illuminating instance of Calvin’s use of the principle of equity in interpreting Old Testament law.... All in all, the treatment is well written and will be of value to those who are interested in Calvin’s theology but also to any who are seeking to construct a Christian theology of social justice.”
— Terrance Tiessen, Didaskalia