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The Genevan churches and the Western Church

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrill's Companion to the Reformation in Geneva
DateIn preparation - 2020

Abstract

The development of the doctrine of the church in the west is, unsurprisingly, profoundly indebted to Augustine. But that is not to say that thinking on it was completed in 430. Rather the Middle Ages witnessed considerable alteration, renewal, and change in regards to ecclesiology. This was particularly apparent during the late Middle Ages when the subject moved from the domain of the canon lawyers to that of theologians (So, for instance, although Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae contains no material on the doctrine of the church, Jan Hus would write a sizeable tome dedicated to the locus just 200 years later). Deeply influenced by things like the Avignon papacy, the Renaissance, the blossoming of apocalyptic thought, and the arrival in Europe of the ‘Turks,’ theological reflection on the nature of the church occupied a prominent place in the labours of Protestant Reformers eager to attack the Roman Catholic church as the Anti-Christ and synagogue of Satan. These early and enthusiastic attacks invariably met with serious intellectual engagement from seasoned Catholic polemicists forcing later evangelicals like Guillaume Farel, John Calvin, and Theodore Beza to reframe and reassert their positions for a new generation of Europeans following the death of Ulrich Zwingli, Johannes Oecolampadius, and in the waning years of other important thinkers such as Wolfgang Capito and of course Martin Luther. All of this was, in the case of Geneva, taking place within a city which, though important in its own right, was nonetheless negotiating its position within the wider world. Berne influenced it significantly and it enjoyed good relations with Swiss cities like Zurich. Yet much of Geneva’s attention faced westward towards France from which not only all of its important ministers but also a sizeable amount of its population came, fleeing persecution from the French (Catholic) government. Accordingly, not only Geneva’s theological reflections but also its social and political musings on the church were being inspired and constrained by a Gallican influence. This chapter will attempt to set out the thought on the church which these influences produced.

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