Theodore Beza (1519-1605): Reconciling the justice and mercy of God


One of the chief problems in presenting the attributes of God is how to reconcile qualities which often seem to conflict in human experience. In the brief passage below we have a Christological resolution of justice and mercy from the hand of Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Beza, a noted linguist and theologian, became Calvin’s successor at Geneva in 1564. He is often credited with causing “Calvinism” to take the turn toward scholasticism, a thesis which is still subject to debate. This piece comes from a short pamphlet framed in a question-and-answer format and designed to explain the essentials of the faith in a straightforward and intelligible manner:

Q15 So that you may know this, what in God should you chiefly consider?

A15 His perfect justice, and perfect mercy.

Q16 What do you mean by ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’?

A16 They are not in God, as qualities, but through the justice of God, we know to so great an extent is the nature of God perfect, that He especially hates and most severely will punish all injustice. By the term ‘perfect mercy’ we mean that whatever is bestowed upon us comes entirely from His free grace, especially the gift of eternal life.

Q17 Yet, these things seem to contradict. For how can He be the most severe punisher of them whom He condones by His free grace?

A17 The Father has revealed to us that these things agree perfectly in His Son, who paid the penalty for our sins completely, and was freely given to us by the Father.”

– Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Questions and Responses, Qs 15-17


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