William Ames's Calvinist Ambiguity Over Freedom of Conscience

Journal of Religious Ethics 33 (2):333 - 355 (2005)
Abstract
Reformed Christianity's qualified embrace of freedom of conscience is per- haps best represented by William Ames (1576-1633). This essay explores Ames's interpretation of conscience, his understanding of its relationship to natural law, Scripture, and civil authority, and his vacillation on the sub- ject of conscientious freedom. By rooting his interpretation of conscience in natural law, Ames provided a foundation for conscience as an authority whose convictions are binding and worthy of some civil respect and free- dom. At the same time, his Puritan worldview ultimately required the deference of conscience to the superior manifestations of divine law in Scripture and civil institutions. As a result, Ames provided raw ingredients for a theological doctrine of freedom of conscience despite his unwillingness to commend the idea himself consistently. In this way, Ames symbolizes an ambiguity on freedom of conscience characteristic of the broader Reformed tradition
Keywords conscience  natural law  Calvinism  Puritan ethics  William Ames
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