The Power of the Consistory in John Calvin’s Geneva

Here is the latest post in a series I am doing on John Witte and Robert Kingdon’s excellent book Sex, Marriage and Family Life in John Calvin’s Geneva. This post more than others is simply historical, giving a basic outline of what the Consistory was and how it worked. If you want further explanation you can read chapter 7 in Calvin’s Company of Pastors. 

In 1538 John Calvin was exiled from Geneva. For the next few years he lived in Strasbourg where he learned from Martin Bucer and preached. In 1541 the city of Geneva asked him to return. One of the demands he made if they wanted him back was the creation of a institution to oversee the Christian discipline of the population of Geneva. Calvin’s request led to the creation of the Consistory, a church court that oversaw the discipline of the citizens of Geneva. The Consistory became the primary ecclesiastical tool to deal with the sins of the people.

The Consistory was made up of around 2 dozen men, which included pastors, elected officials, and Calvin,the moderator. It met every week on Thursday with sessions that could last for several hours. The Consistory had spiritual authority, but no civil authority. It could and often did recommend that the civil authorities look into a situation. Some situations, such as murder and rape, never came to the Consistory, but went directly to the civil magistrate.  Continue reading