Common good in the theology of John Calvin
The aim of my thesis is to explore Calvin's understanding of the term „the common good‟ (commune bonum, bien commun): its theological grounding within his works, and its role as an inspiration for both ecclesial and social application. I seek to illustrate how his notion of the common good is constructed theologically (part A) and practically (part B). Although Calvin‟s notion of the common good has been partly dealt with by numerous scholars (mainly from a variety of socio-economic perspectives), there has been no comprehensive or systematic study to illustrate its theological significance and its doctrinal context. The aim of this study is to illuminate the wide-ranging and consistent thought on the common good discernable within Calvin‟s works; it is hoped that this indepth study of the topic will be a valuable addition to Calvin scholarship. The structure of Part A reflects how Calvin‟s three theological foundations - God‟s image, sanctification, and Law - are shaped dynamically through the three stages of humankind‟s salvation - before the Fall, after the Fall, and in Christ‟s redemption. Chapters Two - Four show how these theological foundations operate towards the restoration of God‟s original order designed for the common good in the correlation between the two fields of church and humankind, both at the divine and moral level and the spiritual and social level. In addition, the willingness and mutuality which constitute the cornerstone of Christ‟s redemption are decisive in the realization of the common good. Chapter Two argues, first, that Calvin‟s notion of the common good, drawn from his doctrine of God‟s image, is shaped by the threefold dimension of that image - the relational, substantial, and communal. For the restoration of the original order in God's creation, the universal love of humankind based upon the surviving substantial-communal image of God in humanity plays a limited part; however, the Christian‟s sanctified universal love based upon the restored relational-communal image of God in Christ plays a pivotal role. With relation to the restored image in Christ, Chapter Three shows that the most essential element of sanctified life for participating in the divine economy for the common good within the Trinitarian mode is Christian self-denial; that is, the composition of the present life designed for eternal life through the multiple sub-analyses of Christ‟s example, consecration, humility, and stewardship. Chapter Four shows how Calvin‟s integrated legalistic approach, in terms of the common good, can help us to explore another facet of his multiple understanding of God‟s image in humanity with regards to both ecclesial and social life. For Calvin, the three uses or functions of the Law can be regarded as both distinctively and inseparably incorporated into work for the common good of all people. In relation to the Law in Christ, Christian freedom can be analyzed from pedagogical, responsive, and pastoral perspectives in terms of the life for the common good. As the Decalogue is a spiritual-moral space within the mutual function of the third use and second use of the Law, Calvin‟s understanding of the two tablets demonstrates how his interpretation of both divine and natural law in terms of the common good can be co-embodied in the right relation between God and humanity and amongst people. With the above theological background in mind, Part B of this thesis, through Chapters Five and Six, continues to elucidate how, for Calvin, the notion of „the common good‟ reveals its value when it is established within the divine system of voluntary giftgiving, where it can engage with the mutual relation of the common good of the church and the common good of humankind. Calvin‟s discussion of the above theological foundations of the common good plays a vital role in the formation of its application both at ecclesial and social levels: the common good of the church (commune ecclesiae bonum) is actualized when the gifts of the Spirit given to believers in union with Christ are shared mutually, in a way which reflects the restoration of God‟s image in believers - through prayer, sacrament, office, and property through the third use of the Law. The common good of humankind (publicum generis humani bonum) is actualized when the common grace given to humanity is exchanged and shared mutually through politics, economics, and social welfare, through the interplay between the third and second use of the Law. This thesis concludes that, although the ecclesial and social common good are cooperative in a distinctive but inseparable way, the former takes priority over the latter for the current and consummative restoration of the original order both at divine and moral levels.