Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances September & October 1541, submitted by John Calvin and others for the City of Geneva


Analysis Question: The Reformation began as an attempt to purify the Church of its venal practices.  How does Clavin’s Ordinances achieve that end?
Evaluative Question: Based on Calvin’s ideas as expressed in his Ordinances, how would you describe- in a positive light— his religious beliefs?

To obviate all scandals of living, it will be proper that there be a form of correction to which all submit themselves. It will also be the means by which the ministry may retain respect, and the Word of God be neither dishonored nor scorned because of the ill reputation of the ministers. For as one is to correct those who merit it, so it will be proper to reprove calumnies and false reports which are made unjustly against innocent people.

But first it should be noted that there are crimes which are quite intolerable in a minister, and there are faults which may on the other hand b e endured while direct fraternal admonitions are offered.

Of the first sort are : heresy, schism, rebellion against ecclesiastical order, blasphemy open and meriting civil punishment, simony and all corruption in presentations, intrigue to occupy another’s place, leaving one’s Church without lawful leave or just calling, duplicity, perjury, lewdness, larceny, drunkenness, assault meriting punishment by law, usury, games forbidden by the law and scandalous, dances and similar dissoluteness , crimes carrying with them loss of civil rights, crime giving rise to another separation from the Church.

Of the second sort are: strange methods of treating Scripture which turn to scandal, curiosity in investigating idle questions, advancing some doctrine or kind of practice not received in the Church, negligence in studying and reading the Scriptures, negligence in rebuking vice amounting to flattery, negligence in doing everything required by his office, scurrility, lying, slander, dissolute words, injurious words, foolhardiness and evil devices, avarice and too

great parsimony, undisciplined anger, quarrels and contentions, laxity either of manner or of gesture and like conduct improper to a minister.

In the case of the crimes which cannot at all be tolerated, if some accusation and complaint arise, let the assembly of ministers and elders investigate it, in order to proceed reasonably and according to whatever is \discovered in judging the case, and, then report judgment to the magistrate in order that if required the delinquent be deposed.

In the case of the lesser vices which may be corrected by simple admonition, one is to proceed according to the command of our Lord, so that a s a last step it com e for ecclesiastical judgment. To keep this discipline in operation, let the ministers every three months take special notice whether there be anything to discuss among themselves, to remedy it as is reasonable.



First, Superstitions

  1. Those found to have any paternosters or idols for adoration are to be brought before the Consistory, and, besides the punishment imposed on them there, they are to be brought before their Lordships.
  2. Those who have been on pilgrimages or voyages the same.
  3. Those who observe the papistical feasts or fastings are to be admonished only, unless they are obstinate in their rebellion.
  4. Those who have attended mass, besides admonition , are to be brought before their Lord ships.
  5. In such cases their Lordships will have the right of chastising by means of prison or otherwise, or of punishing by extraordinary fines, at their discretion. In the case of fines, they are to apply some small portion of them to the Guardians, if the delict was notified by them.


  1. Those who have blasphemed, swearing by the body or by the blood of our Lord, or such, ought to do reverence, for the first time; for the second a penalty of five sous; for the third ten sous; and for the last time put in the pillory for an hour.
  2. Anyone who abjures or renounces God or his Baptism is for the first time to be put for ten days on bread and water; for the second and third time he is to be punished with some more rigorous corporal punishment, at the discretion of their Lordships.

Contradiction of the Word

  1. If there are any who contradict the Word of God, let them be brought before the Consistory to be admonished, or be remanded to their Lordship s to receive chastisement according to the needs of the case.
  2. If the contradiction or rebellion amount to scandal which demands prompter remedy, the local lord is to take a hand in the matter for the maintenance of the honor of the Ministry and the Magistracy.


  1. There is to be no treating of one an other to drinks, under penalty of three sous.
  2. The taverns are to be closed during Service, under penalty that the taverner pay three sous and anyone entering them the same.
  3. If anyone be found drunk, he is to pay for the first time three sous and be brought before the Consistory; the second time he must pa y the sum of five sous; and the third ten sous and be put in prison.
  4. There are to be no carousels, under penalty of ten sous.

Songs and Dances
If anyone sing songs that are unworthy, dissolute or outrageous, or spin wildly round in the dance, or the like, he is to be imprisoned for three days, and then sent on to the Consistory.


No one is to lend at interest or for profit greater than five per cent, on pain of confiscation of the capital sum and of being required to make appropriate amends according to the needs of the case.


  1. No one is to cause noise or dispute on pain o f being punished according to the needs of the case.
  2. If there be any who causes sedition or assembling to make or support quarrels, he is to be punished with more rigorous penalties according to what he merits.


If there be a complaint or dispute between two people, the Minister, summoning the Guardians, will do his duty to bring them to accord; and if he is unable to prevail, he will remand the m to the Consistory.


No one is to play at games that are dissolute, or at games played for gold or silver or at excessive expense, on pain of five sous and loss of the sum staked.


  1. As to those who are caught in fornication, if it be an unmarried man with an unmarried woman, they are to be imprisoned for six days on bread and water, and pay sixty sous amends.
  2. If it be adultery, one or the other being married, they are to be imprisoned for nine days on bread and water, and pay amends at the discretion of their Lordships, as the crime is much more grave.
  3. Those who are promised in marriage are not to cohabit as man and wife until the marriage be celebrated in church, otherwise they will be punished as for fornication.



From Calvin: Theological Treatises, edited by J. K. S. Reid, Library of Christian Classics, Ichthus edition,

(Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp. 58-72, 77-82, 333-343.