In the last lecture, Bruce Gore explored the seeds of American republicanism in John Calvin’s theology. Calvin himself didn’t have much to say about how the state should be organized though. This lecture explores how Calvinism was brought to Scotland and how John Knox built on Calvin’s legacy.
I’m enjoying watching the series because I have always loved Early Modern history and intellectual history. I like learning about these twists and turns in the history of Calvinism from Geneva in Switzerland to Scotland and England to Ulster and from there to the Scots-Irish in the American backcountry. The story continues in the 17th and 18th centuries as the Enlightenment gains steam and added a new layer of cultural sediment over the Protestant cultural bedrock in the American colonies.
In particular, one of the things that fascinates me about this series is tracing the theological origins of the phrase “all men are created equal” and how it found its way into the Declaration of Independence. It started out as the imago Dei – the idea that humans are created in God’s image – and specifically in Calvinism in the insistence on the absolute sovereignty of God and total depravity. Calvin believed that all men were equal in the sense of being corrupted by sin and prone to evil. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the old religious fervor subsided in Scotland and England and there was an attempt to prop this old idea up on a new secular, scientific and naturalistic basis with a new positive, Pelagian spin.