Judges and shepherds: Consistories

William Naphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


The ecclesiastical courts that developed in the Reformed tradition (whether called consistories or sessions) along with Catholic Inquisitions are fascinating institutions for historians interested in the development of social control in early modern society. Nevertheless, scholarship has tended to focus on the institutional dimensions of Inquisitions and consistories with little attention given to the individuals who made them work. In an attempt to sketch out new directions for the study of consistories, this essay will focus on lay representation in Geneva, comparing it with the extremely limited information available on other Reformed consistories in the historiography. The importance of the Genevan institution in the Reformed world has meant that John Calvin's consistory has been extensively studied. However, these studies suggest, as with the wider study of Reformed church courts, that there is a need for general studies of the men who served alongside the more famous clerics such as Calvin and, later, Theodore Beza. This essay will attempt to bring the laymen on the consistory to the fore, serving to remind us that elders were an integral part of a living community who held a position often as important as that of magistrates. Also, just as magistrates are examined to understand how complex webs of status, family, and wealth made politics work, elders on consistories also need to be seen as individuals equally entangled in the multifaceted relationships that held early modern society together. This essay will build on the essay by Sara Beam in the previous chapter, focusing on Geneva to demonstrate the significant overlap between elders and the ruling magistracy. It will also show the need to extend the study of the men comprising these bodies outside of Geneva to determine normative practices. The few studies that have focused on the elders as individuals suggest that the roles of magistrates and elders intersected extensively, but at this point it is difficult to draw general conclusions about the laymen of Reformed consistories. If subsequent research in Reformed territories reveals a similar pattern, it would indicate that the standard trope that the church, often “personified” as the consistory, typically struggled with the state or magistracy is problematic.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJudging Faith, Punishing Sin
Subtitle of host publicationInquisitions and Consistories in the Early Modern World
EditorsCharles H. Parker, Gretchen Starr-LeBeau
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781316492659
ISBN (Print)9781107140240
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2017.


Dive into the research topics of 'Judges and shepherds: Consistories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this