Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Morality after Calvin: Theodore Beza's Christian Censor and Reformed Ethics

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Morality after Calvin: Theodore Beza's Christian Censor and Reformed Ethics

Article excerpt

Morality After Calvin: Theodore Beza's Christian Censor and Reformed Ethics

Kirk M. Summers

New York: Oxford University Press, 2016 (432 pages)

While philosophical ethics as an independent discipline is an ancient project, theological ethics started to take some independent shape in the twelfth century. It was Peter Abelard who first wrote an ethical treatise in that spirit, thereby fostering centuries of Christian reflection about the specification of human actions. During and after the Reformation, this impulse was continued in various ways. Melanchthon's ethical treatises, as well as his commentaries on the ethical works of Aristotle and Cicero, are the best example of the early Lutheran development of this field. Among the Reformed, a substantive contribution to moral reflection has been identified as a typical mark of the second and third generation after the Reformation. A few studies have been published on that general phenomenon, but until now only one major monograph--Christoph Strohm's work on Danaeus--offered an in-depth study of one of the early Reformed moralists. Kirk M. Summers's study of Beza is thus a welcome contribution to a developing field.

The book starts with a useful overview of the state of studies on Beza. Summers then uses Amandus Polanus to show how these early Reformed thinkers developed a distinct notion of ethics as a relatively independent field of study within theology. It is clear that reformatio doctrinae and reformatio vitae were not conceived as successive stages (as if only movements of further reformation carried with them moral reform). Both sides of the coin were the object of practical concern and intellectual consideration from the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Summers's work does not attempt to cover the totality of Beza's moral thought, but rather focuses on a series of poems published in 1591 under the title of Cato Censorius Christianus. Both for its subject and its Latin, it was a work for advanced students. And if that was the case for its sixteenth-century readers, it is almost inaccessible for contemporary students. But Summers is as generous as he is learned. Indeed, the book is not only an introduction and detailed exposition of this extraordinary collection of moralizing poems. …

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