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Notes on Secular Authority from the Bible to Milton

The Bible

Judges 8: 22,23--Gideon refuses the call to reign as King (constant references in Judges 18-21 to there being "no king in Israel."

I Samuel 8: 3-20--The "elders" of Israel demand a King. Yahweh tells Samuel that they have rejected, not Samuel but Yahweh. A catalog of kingly abuses is recited: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen; some to plow and reap; some to make weapons; he will take daughters as perfumers and cooks and bakers; he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his favorites; he will take one-tenth of your income; he will take your slaves and your livestock; he will make you his slaves. Saul is set over the Israelites as king--between Yahweh and the people.

Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26--The question of paying taxes. The Pharisees hope to trip Jesus with the question of whether or not it is legitimate to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus outlines an early version of the Two Kingdoms motif: "Give Caesar's things to Caesar, and God's things to God."

Romans 13: 1-7; I Timothy 2: 1,2; I Peter 2: 13-15--The relation of Christians to Secular Government. In Romans, all are to be subject to the governing authorities because all authority is from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Resisting authority therefore places one in the position of resisting God. Rulers are only a terror to the bad conduct, and authority is God's servant for your good. If you do wrong, the authorities bear the sword to inflict wrath on the wrongdoer. Paying taxes is necessary. In I Timothy, Christians are urged to pray for kings and all in high positions, for the leading of a quiet and peaceable life. In I Peter, the authority of every human institution is to be accepted for the Lord's sake, whether of the king as supreme, or of lower magistrates, as sent by God to punish wrongdoers and praise the righteous.

Augustine--The City of God

CofG 11.1--Augustine divides everything into two cities: the earthly and the heavenly. He argues that these two cities had their beginnings with the difference between two classes of angels: the light (or faithful) and the dark (or fallen) angels.

CofG 14.28--The two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love which ends in contempt of God, while the heavenly city was created by love of God which ends in contempt of self. The earthly city glories in itself and in its own strength, while the heavenly city glories in God and in God's strength.

CofG 15.1--The human race is divided into two parts, those who are citizens of the earthly city, and those who are citizens of the heavenly city. Cain was of the earthly city, while Abel was of the heavenly city. Thus, the earthly city is not to be identified as the visible Rome, nor is the city of God to be identified with the visible Church. Both cities are invisible.

CofG 19.15--God did not intend that Man should have dominion over Man. This dominion is a result of sin which brings man under the dominion of his fellow man. Sin also brought man under the dominion of his now-fallen nature, full of lust. This slavery of Man to Man is penal, and Augustine cites Paul's insistence that slaves be obedient to their masters as an example of the necessary order in a fallen world, an order that must continue until all unrighteousness passes away, all human authority is brought to nothing, and God is all in all.

CofG 19.17--The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, and it seeks as an end the promotion of all that is helpful to earthly life. The heavenly city (that part of it that still is imprisoned on earth) lives by faith, and makes use of earthly peace. This earth-bound remnant of the heavenly city obeys the laws of the earthly city in all things necessary for the maintenance of peaceful earthly life. However, in the spirit of Peter's retort to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29--"We must obey God as ruler rather than men.") if there is any conflict between the two cities regarding laws of religion, then the heavenly city is compelled to dissent from the earthly city, to be obnoxious to those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecutions. Excepting this case, however, the heavenly city is to have no scruples regarding the diverse manners, laws, and institutions by which the earthly city secures and maintains peace.

CofG 19.24--Definition of a people: "a people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love."

Aquinas--Summa Theologica

ST, Part I, Q96 A4--Aquinas differs from Augustine on the propriety of Man having dominion over Man: The condition of man in the state of innocence was not more exalted than the condition of the angels. But among the angels some rule over others. Aquinas defines Mastership in two ways: 1) the relation of a Master to a slave; 2) any who has the office of governing and directing free men [towards either their own proper welfare or towards the common good]. This second kind of Mastership would have existed among men in the state of innocence for this reason: man is naturally a social animal, and a social life cannot exist--even in the state of innocence--unless under the headship of someone who looks after the common good (Aquinas then cites Aristotle--"the Philosopher"--from Politics I.5: "wherever many things are directed to one, we shall always find one at the head directing them").

ST, Part I-II, Q95 A1--Though man has a natural aptitude for virtue, perfection of virtue must be acquired by means of training. Also, since some are found among men who are depraved, prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary to restrain such from evil by force and fear, in order that these depraved individuals might cease from evil, leave others in peace, and perhaps eventually be brought to do willingly what they do from fear, thus becoming virtuous. This kind of training is the discipline of laws.

ST, Part I, Q92 A1 R2--Aquinas lays out a twofold theory of subjection: 1) subjection may be servile--in this kind of subjection, a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit (this kind of subjection began after sin); 2) subjection may be "economic or civil"--in this kind of subjection, a superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good (this kind of subjection existed in the state of innocence).

ST, Part I-II Q91 A1-4--Aquinas outlines a hierarchy of law: 1) Eternal Law, which is the Divine Reason that governs the universe; 2) Natural Law, which is the participation of all things in the eternal law; 3) Human Law, which is derived from the precepts of the natural law by human reason to the "particular determination of certain matters" (these particular determinations are human laws); 4) Divine Law, which is comprised of the commands given directly to mankind by God.

ST, Part I-II, Q100 A5--On the obedience of individuals to earthly government: "in order that any man may dwell aright in a community, two things are required: the first is that he behave well to the head of the community. It is therefore necessary that the Divine law should contain in the first place precepts ordering man in his relations to God; and in the second place, other precepts ordering man in his relations to other men who are his neighbors and live with him under God. Now man owes three things to the head of the community: first, fidelity; secondly, reverence; thirdly, service."

ST, Part I-II, Q92 A1 R4--Tyrannical laws are not, properly speaking, laws: "A tyrannical law, through not being in accordance with reason, is not a law, absolutely speaking, but rather a perversion of law."

ST, Part II-II, Q104 A5--The basis on which a subject may disobey a superior: "Superiors are not to be obeyed in all things . . . there are two reasons, for which a subject may not be bound to obey his superior in all things. First on account of a higher power . . . Secondly, a subject is not bound to obey his superior if the latter command him to do something wherein he is not subject to him."

ST, Part II-II, Q104 A6 Are Christians bound to obey the Secular Authority? Yes. "Faith in Christ is the origin and cause of justice . . . wherefore faith in Christ does not void the order of justice but strengthens it. Now the order of justice requires that subjects obey their superiors, else the stability of human affairs would cease. Hence faith in Christ does not excuse the faithful from the obligation of obeying secular princes."

ST, Part II-II, Q104 A6 R3 But Christians are not bound in the case of unjust or usurped authority: "Man is bound to obey secular princes in so far as this is required by the order of justice. Wherefore, if the prince's authority is not just but usurped, or if he commands what is unjust, his subjects are not bound to obey him, except perhaps accidentally, in order to avoid scandal or danger."

Martin Luther—Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed

Part One

Two Kingdoms

Here Luther spells out his formulation of the "Two Kingdoms" idea. He begins his treatise by outlining scriptural justifications for the very existence of earthly governments. After briefly citing Paul at Romans 13:1 ("Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities") and Peter at 1 Peter 2:13, 14 ("Be subject to every kind of human ordinance"), Luther moves on to argue that civil authority has been in existence since the beginning of the world. When Cain killed Abel, he was in fear of being killed in turn, so God placed a special prohibition on killing Cain (Genesis 4:14, 15). God commanded, after the Flood, that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). The law of Moses states that "If a man willfully kills another, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die" (Exodus 21:14). The same law also demands "a life for a life" (Exodus 21:23).

Luther moves on to consider—and refute—the position that Christians are to have nothing to do with the temporal authority. Christ says in Matthew 5:38-41, "Do not resist evil." He also tells us, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). Paul tells us in Romans 12:19, "defend not yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. Peter tells us "Do not return evil for evil" (1 Peter 3:9). These and other passages make it seem as if in the New Testament, Christians were to have no temporal government. The "sophists" (Luther’s term for scholastic Catholic theologians) divide, on this basis, Christian teaching into two classes: that for the perfect—called "counsels"; and that for the imperfect—called commandments. This splitting is wrong, according to Luther, because in the same passage Christ stresses that not the least portion of his teaching should be set aside.

Having argued for the legitimacy of the temporal authority based on scripture, and having derided the idea of a two-tiered system of "counsels" for the perfect and "commandments" for the imperfect, Luther moves on to a description of a two-tiered system of his own, dividing humanity into two classes:

Those belonging to the kingdom of God—these are "all the true believers who are in Christ and under Christ" (88). "These people need no temporal law or sword . . . . because the righteous man of his own accord does all and more than the law demands . . . . by the Spirit and by faith all Christians are so thoroughly disposed and conditioned in their very nature that they do right and keep the law better than one can teach them with all manner of statutes; so far as they themselves are concerned, no statutes or laws are needed" (89).

Those belonging to the kingdom of the world—these "do nothing that the law demands; therefore, they need the law to instruct, constrain, and compel them to do good" (89). "Paul says that the law has been laid down for the sake of the lawless [1 Timothy 1:9], that is, so that those who are not Christians may through the law be restrained outwardly from evil deeds" (90).

Luther seems to undermine his neat binary system with the next line, however: "Now since no one is by nature Christian or righteous, but altogether sinful and wicked, God through the law puts them all under restraint so they dare not willfully implement their wickedness in actual deeds" (90). Who, then, is under the jurisdiction of which kingdom? It seems, based on his assertion that "no one is by nature Christian or righteous," that everyone is "by nature" subject to the kingdom of the world. Everyone, then, would fall into Paul’s category of "the lawless," those who "through the law may be restrained outwardly from evil deeds." Who, then, are those people who "need no temporal law or sword," according to Luther, if no one, by nature, qualifies? Is this where grace comes in? If so, I see no mention of it in this portion of Luther’s argument.

Luther goes on to affirm that all who are not Christians belong to the kingdom of the world and are therefore under the civil law. This includes many, or most, of those who claim to be Christians: "There are few true believers, and still fewer who live a Christian life . . . for this reason God has provided for them a different government beyond the Christian estate and kingdom of God" (90). It becomes clear, in reading through the rest of Luther’s argument, that he is not so much making a distinction between Christians and non-Christians (i.e. Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) as he is making distinctions between people who claim to be Christians. It is these "false" Christians that the temporal authority is to restrain from "evil deeds." If civil government and law were not in place, "men would devour one another, seeing that the whole world is evil and that among thousands there is scarcely a single true Christian" (91).

The rest of the first part of Luther’s treatise is devoted to definitions of the two kingdoms, and descriptions of the functions of Christians in relation to the two kingdoms. The two have vastly different purposes. The kingdom of God is to produce righteousness, while the kingdom of the world is to bring about external peace.

Christians should not go to the temporal law in disputes among themselves. After making this point, Luther raises—so that he may refute-an objection: If Christians are not subject to the temporal law, why does Paul tell Christians "Let all souls be subject to the governing authority," and why does Peter say "Be subject to every human ordinance"? His answer emphasizes service: A true Christian lives and works on this earth not for self but for others. Since Christians live among non-Christians, and those non-Christians have need of the temporal law, Christians willingly submit to and assist the governing authority "for the sake of others, that they may be protected and that the wicked may not become worse."

Christians may take part in the necessary functions of the civil, temporal law for the same reason noted above. "If you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords, or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position, that the essential government authority may not be despised and become enfeebled or perish" (95). In doing this, the Christian is entering into service of his neighbors, not indulging private vengeance:

In this way the two propositions are brought into harmony with one another: at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly. You suffer evil and injustice, and at the same time you punish evil and injustice; you do not resist evil, and yet at the same time, you do resist it. In the one case, you consider yourself and what is yours; in the other, you consider your neighbor and what is his. (96)

Christians may be soldiers: "John confirms the soldiers’ calling, saying they should be content with their wages . . . So likewise, when St. Peter in Acts 10 [: 34-43] preached Christ to Cornelius, he did not tell him to abandon his profession" (98). Christians may also take part in the necessary functions of the civil, temporal law because the civil authority is "God’s servant." This "governing authority is by its very nature such that through it one may serve God" (100). It would, in fact, be the best situation if "all princes were good, true Christians. For the sword and authority, as a particular service of God, belong more appropriately to Christians than to any other men on earth" (100). Luther boils down his conception of the proper part a Christian may take in civil affairs in this way: "No Christian shall wield or invoke the sword for himself and his cause. In behalf of another, however, he may and should wield it and invoke it to restrain wickedness and to defend godliness" (103).

It may be possible to use the sword for one’s own cause if one’s own cause is the punishment of evil. This is rare, however, and "it cannot be done without grace" (104). The example given is Samson. "Samson was called of God to harass the Philistines and deliver the children of Israel. Although he used them as an occasion to further his own cause, still he did not do so in order to avenge himself or to seek his own interests, but to serve others and to punish the Philistines" (104).

Part Two

How Far Temporal Authority Extends

Luther then moves on to consider how far the temporal authority may extend. His answer is that the temporal authority can extend no farther than to "life and property and external affairs on earth" (105). God will permit no one but himself to rule over affairs of the soul and spirit. It is therefore "the height of folly" (106) for the temporal authority to command individual spiritual beliefs. Luther makes several arguments in support of this position:

No one can command the soul unless he can guide it to heaven.

How can the temporal authority think to command and judge hearts, whereof it cannot read?

Every man runs his own risk by believing whatever he believes, but as no one can go either to heaven or hell for anyone else, "so nobody else can believe or disbelieve for me."

All temporal authority can hope to achieve is outward compliance; it cannot compel the heart and mind.

Bishops and princes have gotten their proper roles mixed up. Now bishops attempt to control temporal matters with excommunications, while princes attempt, through laws, to compel belief.

Luther then moves on to demonstrate that the two kingdoms idea is rooted in the Bible. He makes reference to Paul, who writes "Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, honor to whom honor is due, respect to whom respect is due" (Romans 13:7). Christ is then invoked: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21). David is cited for his words at Psalm 115:16, "He has given heaven to the Lord of heaven, but the earth he has given to the sons of men." Finally, Peter’s famous retort to the Sanhedrin is trotted out: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

A slightly self-serving section follows on resistance to the order of a prince to surrender books (specifically books written by Luther). One should avow to the prince "obedience in body and property," but should not voluntarily surrender such books (Are not books property?). Then Luther engages in a bit of sleight-of-hand, connecting the surrendering of the books to surrendering of faith: "If you fail to withstand him; if you give in to him and let him take away your faith and your books, you have truly denied God" (112).

Next, Luther laments the rarity of finding a wise and upright prince. Occasionally, one may be found: "If a prince should happen to be wise, upright, or a Christian, that is one of the greatest miracles, the most precious token of divine grace upon that land" (113). Ordinarily however, princes are horrible: "I will make boys their princes, and gaping fools shall rule over them" (Isaiah 3:4). "I will give you a king in my anger, and take him away in my wrath" (Hosea 13:11). In considering the folly of princes, Luther pointedly argues that heresy should not be resisted by the force of the temporal authority: "Faith and heresy are never so strong as when men oppose them by sheer force, without God’s word. For men count it certain that such force is for a wrong cause and is directed against the right . . . . So long as the devil is not repelled and driven from the heart, it is agreeable to him that I destroy his vessels with fire or sword; it’s as if I were to fight lightning with a straw . . . . "Even if all Jews and heretics were forcibly burned no one ever has been or will be convinced or converted thereby" (115). If the use of such improper force continues, Luther warns the princes that rebellion is imminent: "If there is heresy somewhere, let it be overcome, as is proper, with God’s word. But if you continue to brandish the sword, take heed lest someone come and compel you to sheathe it—and not in God’s name!" (117)

Finally, Luther considers the proper function of priests and bishops: "Their government is not a matter of authority or power, but a service and an office, for they are neither higher nor better than other Christians. Therefore, they should impose no law or decree on others without their will and consent" (117).

Part Three

The Duties of a Christian Prince

The Christian prince has a fourfold duty:

The Christian prince should regard his temporal power much in the same way that the proper Christian bishop is to regard his spiritual power—as an opportunity for service to others.

The Christian prince must neither despise nor naively trust any of his servants.

The Christian prince must be careful to deal justly with evildoers.

The Christian prince must be subject to God and pray for guidance and wisdom to rule well, as did Solomon.

This final section of Luther’s treatise also deals with the questions of war and the obedience of subjects to their prince. On the question of war, Luther is clear. A prince should not war against his overlord, but should submit to injustice: "For the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth" (124). Should this be taken to mean that Luther would forbid popular revolution, revolution even against the most horrible of secular tyrants? His later response to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1524-1526 seems to indicate an answer of "Yes." A prince may, however, war against an equal or an inferior, but only after offering justice and peace: "in doing this you must not consider your personal interests and how you may remain lord, but those of your subjects to whom you owe help and protection, that such action may proceed in love" (125). It is "both Christian and an act of love" (125) to kill, plunder, burn, and injure the enemy (though violation of wives and virgins is strictly out) until he is defeated. Then mercy and peace should be offered to all those who will submit.

On the question of the obedience of subjects to their prince, Luther is slightly less clear. If a prince is definitely in the wrong, subjects are absolved of obedience: "It is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who deserves the right) rather than men" (125). What "wrong" is being referred to here? If it is no one’s duty to do wrong, is it anyone’s duty to suffer wrong? Luther seems to argue that it is. If so, to what point must wrong be suffered? How many must suffer? Luther further argues that if the subjects do not know whether or not the prince is in the wrong, they should obey: "So long as they do not know, and cannot with all possible diligence find out, they may obey him without peril to their souls" (126). These two cases, when combined with earlier injunctions to resist evil only through the auspices of temporal authority, considering not one’s self but one’s "neighbor and what is his" (96), seem to leave Christians entirely vulnerable to any secular tyranny, just so long as it stops short of demanding that Christians give up their beliefs. In a world in which totalitarianism and genocide have become almost routine, is this position any longer tenable?

Calvin

Book IV, Chapter XX

Civil Government

Calvin is concerned to dispel the notion held by "certain men" (Anabaptists, presumably) that Christian freedom invalidates secular power, releasing Christians from the authority of any king or magistrate. This is absolutely not true, according to Calvin. Rather, "spiritual freedom can perfectly well exist along with civil bondage" (1486). Paul’s statement that there is, in the kingdom of God, "neither slave nor free" is not to be taken as an indication that the hierarchical distinctions of the political realm have been erased; instead, it is a description of the equality of Christians within the Kingdom of God. "By these statements he means that it makes no difference what your condition among men may be or under what nation’s laws you live, since the Kingdom of Christ does not at all consist in these things" (1486).

The two realms are separate, but they are not antithetical. "Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct" (1486); however, "we must know that they are not at variance" (1487). Calvin describes the two governments as inward (the spiritual kingdom) and outward (the civil authority), and writes that "civil government has as its appointed end . . . to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men . . . and to promote general peace and tranquility" (1487). Though Calvin insists that the two realms are separate, they do not seem to be separate in quite the same way that a late 20th century American might think of entities like Church and State being separate. The civil authority "protects . . . worship" and "defends . . . doctrine" while also safeguarding "the position of the church." The civil authority also "prevents idolatry, sacrilege against God’s name, blasphemies against his truth, and other public offenses against religion" (1488). Such a formulation, from a churchman, makes absolute injunctions to obey the civil authority, no matter how wicked (always excepting the case in which a magistrate commands disobedience to God), seem more like political expediencies than theological maxims.

God ordains magistracy. Calvin is clear and insistent on this point. "Those who serve as magistrates are called ‘gods’" (1489). The scriptural passages he cites in support of this point (Exodus 22:8, and Psalm 82:1,6) use the word elohim, which may be translated variously as God, gods, and even magistrates or judges. Calvin takes full advantage of this word and its possible translations to suggest that magistrates are not merely appointed by God, but are in some way divine themselves due to the divine nature of their positions. "Authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers . . . by divine providence and holy ordinance" (1489). Civil authority is "the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men" (1490).

Now, magistrates do not simply get a free ride. There are requirements they must live up to in order to fulfill their sacred responsibilities. They should "remember that they are vicars of God, [and] they should watch with all care, earnestness, and diligence, to represent in themselves to men some image of divine providence, protection, goodness, benevolence, and justice" (1491). In other words, kings and magistrates are under obligation to stand in, in a way, for God, represent God to the people. If they fail to live up to these weighty responsibilities, then they have not only done wrong to men, but they are "insulting toward God himself, whose most holy judgments they defile" (1491,1492).

When the magistrate administers punishments, he "carries out the very judgments of God" (1497). Even though the pious are not to "afflict and hurt," in carrying out the judgments of God, the civil ruler is free from guilt: "all things are done on the authority of God who commands it" (1497). Kings and magistrates may justly wage wars: "both natural equity and the nature of the office dictate that princes must be armed not only to restrain the misdeeds of private individuals by judicial punishment, but also to defend by war the dominions entrusted to their safekeeping, if at any time they are under enemy attack" (1499). This is not to be taken as license to declare wars at whim, because "it is the duty of all magistrates here to guard particularly against giving vent to their passions even in the slightest degree" (1500). War should, in fact, always be a last resort: "everything else ought to be tried before recourse is had to arms" (1500,1501).

Kings and magistrates may tax their subjects, though they should remember that "revenues are not so much for their private chests as the treasuries of the entire people . . . which cannot be squandered or despoiled without manifest injustice" (1501). Taxes and other tributes are to be considered as "nothing but supports of public necessity" and to "impose them upon the common folk without cause is tyrannical extortion" (1501). Kings and magistrates may also make laws: "every nation is left free to make such laws as it foresees to be profitable for itself" (1503). These laws should all conform, however, to the "perpetual rule of love" so that they may be of benefit to the people. A variety of laws may exist in order to address a variety of circumstances: "There are countries which, unless they deal cruelly with murderers . . . must immediately perish from slaughters and robberies. There are ages that demand increasingly harsh penalties" (1505). Calvin argues that in times of war, "some uncommon fear of punishment" should be introduced. All of these measures are supposed to conform to the "perpetual rule of love." It is this common end, rather than the various accidents of historical circumstances, that is supposed to ensure that civil laws and the magistrates who enforce them do not descend into tyranny.

Christians may make use of the courts of law, as long as they keep the proper attitude. They should be "far from all passion to harm or take revenge, far from harshness and hatred, far from burning desire for contention" (1506). To utterly condemn any Christian use of the various legal systems of the nations in which they live is not only impractical, but it would be an implicit condemnation of Paul, who himself made use of the Roman court when he "claimed for himself the privilege of Roman citizenship" (1507). It is not litigation itself, but a litigious spirit that is to be strictly avoided by Christians. As in everything, "love will give every man the best counsel" (1509).

Here (section 22) is where Calvin becomes most emphatic in his insistence on the obedience due to civil authority. Subjects should always remember that in obeying the magistrate, they are obeying God, "since the rulers’ power is from God" (1510). "The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being resisted at the same time" (1511). Private citizens, moreover, are to have no voice in governmental affairs; their duty is simply to obey: ""private citizens . . . may not deliberately intrude in public affairs . . . or undertake anything at all politically. If anything in a public ordinance requires amendment . . . let them commit the matter to the judgment of the magistrate, whose hand alone here is free" (1511).

Obedience is due even to unjust rulers. Calvin insists that absolute obedience is due not only to the benevolent ruler, but also to the tyrant. A wicked ruler can, in fact, be the judgment of God: "We are not only subject to the authority of princes who perform their office toward us uprightly and faithfully as they ought, but also to the authority of all who, by whatever means, have got control of their affairs . . . whoever they may be, they have their authority solely from him" (1512). Calvin allows only one exception to this absolute obedience. Obedience to man must not be allowed to interfere with obedience to God: "such obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty their sceptres ought to be submitted . . .The Lord . . . is the King of Kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before and above all men" (1520). Calvin uses Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king who crushed Jerusalem c. 587/586 BCE, then dragged the Judean population into captivity, cutting off "the heads of the high priest and of the rulers" according to Josephus [Antiquities X.viii.5, p.220]) as an example of a wicked ruler to whom obedience is nevertheless owed.

Calvin does appear to open a loophole, however. Sometimes God "raises up open avengers from among his servants, and arms them with his command to punish the wicked from miserable calamity" (1517). This appears to open the door to a possibility of justified overthrow of a wicked ruler. This kind of "avenger" is "armed from heaven" and subdues "the lesser power [the unjust ruler] with the greater [the power and justice of God], just as it is lawful for kings to punish their subordinates" (1517). Even though Calvin’s intention in this passage seems clearly antithetical to revolutions by the people (using as he does, a parallel between the relationship of God to King, and King to Subject), some kind of genie has been let out of the bottle here. Who is to verify what is, and what is not, a legitimate sending by God? Calvin tries to stuff the genie back in by saying that "unbridled despotism is the Lord’s to avenge" and that we "private individuals" should not "at once think that it is entrusted to us, to whom no command has been given except to obey and suffer" (1518). Only "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings" (1519), such as the ephors of Sparta, the tribunes of Rome, and the demarchs of Athens, are to take up this call from God to subdue the lesser power with the greater. This notion of "constitutional" resistance will gain tremendous currency in the later 16th and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Many will claim, as did the Puritan preachers and pamphleteers of the mid-17th century in England (among them one John Milton, whose Tenure of Kings and Magistrates takes Calvin’s argument and runs with it to justify the recent beheading of Charles I), that they have (or that they represent a group that has) just such a mandate from God.

Milton

Background for Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

The conflict between the Parliament and the Army over what to do with the captured and imprisoned Charles is reaching a critical stage. Parliament is now resisting the idea of trying (and eventually executing) Charles, while the Army is pushing Parliament to do exactly that. On 12/6/1648, the Army stages a coup (known as Pride's Purge) that rids Parliament of its less cooperative members (members opposed to the policies of Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Pride), and leaves a so-called "Rump" Parliament in place of the full Parliament (known as the "Long Parliament" because it had sat more or less continuously since 1640). The Rump Parliament ordered the trial of King Charles I, and after his execution in 1649 they governed England through an executive council until 1653, when Cromwell dismissed Parliament and seized power as Lord Protector. After Cromwell's death there were two attempts in 1659 to revive the Rump Parliament. In February 1660, the original Long Parliament reassembled and voted its own dissolution as of March 16.

The execution of Charles set off a firestorm of protest both from Royalist supporters of the king, and from Presbyterian ministers who, for various reasons, were not willing to go to the extreme of execution in deposing the king they had for so long resisted. Tenure of Kings and Magistrates is a response that attempts to justify the ways of the regicides to men.

The Political Struggle over the Fate of Charles I

An "Independent" Document Stating the Position of the Army.

A Remonstrance of His Excellency Thomas Lord Fairfax, Lord Generall of the Parliament’s Forces, and of the Generall Councell of Officers. (11/20/1648).

States the case for Pride’s Purge of the Parliament (two weeks later, on 12/6/1648), and for the trial of Charles I in January, 1649.

Held that both the Army and the Parliament were employed in the interests of the people.

Parliament had pleaded "necessity" in asking Charles I to recognize its war upon him as justified; the army uses the same plea of "necessity" to justify its pressure upon Parliament (and its soon-to-come purging of "uncooperative" MPs). See Paradise Lost IV. 393,394.

Charles I was known to be conspiring to bring armed support from Ireland and the continent.

Declares the power of a national "council or representative body [to punish] public officers abusing or failing their trust, . . . either according to law, where it has been provided, or their own judgment, where it has not and they find the offense . . . against the general law of reason or nations."

The king intended to "hold the community of men . . . in a darksome ignorance and superstition or formality in religion, with only an awful reverence of persons, offices, and outward dispensations, rendering them fit subjects for ecclesiastical and civil tyranny."

The army admits that its course is illegal, but claims that it is justified by "necessity."

Lesser magistrates are obligated to call evil rulers to account.

A Presbyterian Reply (Defending the Position of the Parliament):

A Serious and Faithful Representation of the Judgements of Ministers of the Gospel within the Province of London. (1/18/1649)

The king’s enemies should ask themselves whether God is hardening their hearts in order to condemn them to greater punishment.

"It is one of the greatest judgements, when God suffers men to prosper in sinfull courses."

"In reference to the Power of Magestracie, [the army, and other rebels, are] but private persons."

Therefore, the purge of Parliament and the arrest (and eventual execution) of the king are private crimes which no plea of necessity can justify.

"For the Lawes of God, Nature, and nations, together with the Dictates of Reason, and the common consent of all Casuists, allow that to those which are intrusted with managing the Supreame Authoritie of a State of kingdom, which they doe not allow to a multitude of Private persons."

The Parliament and the Army are the two primary forces temporarily united in opposition to Charles I. However, these two groups resist the king from widely disparate positions: the Parliament is primarily Presbyterian, while the Army is primarily Independent.

The Parliament vs. the Army: Presbyterian and Independents

What is the difference between Presbyterians and Independents? Presbyterians support (as did the Anglican supporters of Episcopacy) a form of established state church. Independents (in their various forms, Congregationalist, etc.) are opposed to any state establishment of the church. Fundamental to the Independents was the idea of the gathered church, which was in contrast to the territorial basis of the Church of England whereby everyone in a certain area was assigned to the parish church. Independents believed that the foundation of the church was God's Spirit, not man or the state. Those who were definitely Christian believers, therefore, should seek out other Christians and gather together to make up a particular church.

The Scriptural Background for the Controversy Over Secular Authority

Romans 13: 1-6--Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

1 Peter 2:13-19-- Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

The following citations are examples of the use of the Hebrew word elohim (plural for El, or god) in reference to secular authorities (though Psalm 82 is also most susceptible to a polytheist or henotheist--one god among many gods--interpretation). Psalm 82 translates elohim as "gods," while Exodus 21:6 and 22:8 both translate elohim as "judges." These scriptures were often used to justify a postion that held that secular authority was divinely ordained, and therefore to be obeyed at all times and under all circumstances.

Psalm 82--God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.

Exodus 21:6--Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him forever.

Exodus 22:8--If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods.

The Distinction Between Public and Private Persons

The "private person" argument appears in Milton’s Tenure of Kings and Magistrates in reference to David’s refusal to slay Saul. This story was often used by Royalist writers to argue against punishing Charles I. Milton, in TKM, argues that David held back because he was acting as "a private person," who, in slaying the king, would have been "his own avenger, not so much the people’s."

A more radical view was put forth in an anonymous pamphlet entitled An Answer to the Cities Representation Set forth by some Ministers . . . Concerning the Proceedings of the Army (2/7/1649). This pamphlet argued that David held back out of magnanimity; he would have been fully entitled to kill Saul, had he chosen to do so, because he was "in Armes by Authority of the Magistracy or people against Saul, declared a Violator of his Trust, and Israel’s just Liberties, as the king hath been by parliament, to suppresse his exorbitancies."

The ultimate significance of the "private person" argument is this: the case for a clear distinction—derived from Lutheran and Calvinist tracts on resistance—between the political rights of inferior magistrates and private persons maintained that it was unlawful for private persons to take any political action whatsoever. Calvin writes that "under this obedience I include the restraint which private citizens ought to bid themselves keep in public, that they may not deliberately intrude in public affairs, or pointlessly invade the magistrate's office, or undertake anything at all politically" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. xx. 23). Luther opens (ever-so-slightly) the door to the possibility of non-violent political resistance when he argues that "the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth" (Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, 124), but on the question of how far the obedience of subjects to their prince must extend, Luther is slightly less than clear. If a prince is definitely in the wrong, subjects are absolved of obedience: "It is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who deserves the right) rather than men" (125). Luther further argues that if the subjects do not know whether or not the prince is in the wrong, they should obey: "So long as they do not know, and cannot with all possible diligence find out, they may obey him without peril to their souls" (126). For Calvin, the only lawful political resistance to a tyrannous king could come from lower magistrates acting in concert with one another. It is, in fact, the sacred duty of such magistrates to resist tyranny, as is spelled out quite clearly in the following passage:

I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. xx. 31)

The Authority of Kings: Divine Right?

The authority of a King was thought by Royalists in this era to be granted by divine right. Divine Right theory argued that kings derived their authority from God and could not therefore be held accountable for their actions by any earthly authority such as a parliament. The French bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet declared that the king's person and authority were sacred, his power was modeled on that of a father's, and that his power was absolute (being granted by God). The English Royalist Sir Robert Filmer, in his Patriarcha (written in the 1640s, though not published until 1680), argued that the state was a family and that the king was a father. He went on to argue that Adam was the first king and that Charles I ruled England as Adam's heir. John Locke disputes these notions in his First Treatise of Civil Government.

According to Calvin, God ordains kingship. Calvin is clear and insistent on this point. "Those who serve as magistrates are called ‘gods’" (Institutes, IV. xx. 4). The scriptural passages he cites in support of this point (Exodus 22:8, and Psalm 82:1,6) use the word elohim, which may be translated variously as God, gods, and even magistrates or judges. Calvin takes full advantage of this word and its possible translations to suggest that magistrates are not merely appointed by God, but are in some way divine themselves due to the divine nature of their positions:

Authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers . . . by divine providence and holy ordinance" (Institutes, IV. xx. 4). Civil authority is "the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men. (Institutes, IV. xx. 4)

To Whom Is the King Answerable?

One of the contentions of the Divine-Righters was that a king was answerable only to God; in fact, a bad king could not be said to actually wrong anyone except God. This point is made clearly by Hobbes:

. . . nothing the sovereign representative can do to a subject, on what pretence soever, can properly be called injustice or injury . . . . And the same holdeth also in a sovereign prince that putteth to death an innocent subject. For though the action be against the law of nature, as being contrary to equity (as was the killing of Uriah by David); yet it was not an injury to Uriah, but to God. (Leviathan, II, xxi)

What Do Divine-Righters Think of Rebels?

Hobbes bolsters his case for the Divine sanction of sovereignty, and takes a swipe at parliamentary, presbyterian, and independent ideals, with his interpretation of the story of the rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16:

So also in the question between Moses and the people who had the right of governing the people, when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly 'gathered themselves together against Moses, and against Aaron, and said unto them, ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is amongst them, why lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?'" God caused the earth to swallow Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with their wives and children, alive, and consumed those two hundred and fifty princes with fire. Therefore neither Aaron, nor the people, nor any aristocracy of the chief princes of the people, but Moses alone had next under God the sovereignty over the Israelites: and that not only in causes of civil policy, but also of religion. (Leviathan, III, xl)

Obedience Due to Magistrates: Calvin and Luther

Calvin

In book IV, chapter 22 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin becomes most emphatic in his insistence on the obedience due to civil authority. Subjects should always remember that in obeying the magistrate, they are obeying God, "since the rulers’ power is from God" (1510). "The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being resisted at the same time" (1511). Private citizens, moreover, are to have no voice in governmental affairs; their duty is simply to obey: "private citizens . . . may not deliberately intrude in public affairs . . . or undertake anything at all politically. If anything in a public ordinance requires amendment . . . let them commit the matter to the judgment of the magistrate, whose hand alone here is free" (1511).

Obedience is due even to unjust rulers. Calvin insists that absolute obedience is due not only to the benevolent ruler, but also to the tyrant. A wicked ruler can, in fact, be the judgment of God: "We are not only subject to the authority of princes who perform their office toward us uprightly and faithfully as they ought, but also to the authority of all who, by whatever means, have got control of their affairs . . . whoever they may be, they have their authority solely from him" (1512). Calvin allows only one exception to this absolute obedience. Obedience to man must not be allowed to interfere with obedience to God: "such obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty their sceptres ought to be submitted . . .The Lord . . . is the King of Kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before and above all men" (1520). Calvin uses Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king who crushed Jerusalem c. 587/586 BCE, then dragged the Judean population into captivity, cutting off "the heads of the high priest and of the rulers" according to Josephus [Antiquities X.viii.5, p.220]) as an example of a wicked ruler to whom obedience is nevertheless owed.

Calvin does appear to open a loophole, however. Sometimes God "raises up open avengers from among his servants, and arms them with his command to punish the wicked from miserable calamity" (1517). This appears to open the door to a possibility of justified overthrow of a wicked ruler. This kind of "avenger" is "armed from heaven" and subdues "the lesser power [the unjust ruler] with the greater [the power and justice of God], just as it is lawful for kings to punish their subordinates" (1517). Even though Calvin’s intention in this passage seems clearly antithetical to revolutions by the people (using as he does, a parallel between the relationship of God to King, and King to Subject), some kind of genie has been let out of the bottle here. Who is to verify what is, and what is not, a legitimate sending by God? Calvin tries to stuff the genie back in by saying that "unbridled despotism is the Lord’s to avenge" and that we "private individuals" should not "at once think that it is entrusted to us, to whom no command has been given except to obey and suffer" (1518). Only "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings" (1519), such as the ephors of Sparta, the tribunes of Rome, and the demarchs of Athens, are to take up this call from God to subdue the lesser power with the greater. This notion of "constitutional" resistance will gain tremendous currency in the later 16th and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Radicals will claim (as did one John Milton, whose Tenure of Kings and Magistrates takes Calvin’s argument and runs with it to justify the recent beheading of Charles I) that they have (or that they represent a group that has) just such a mandate from God.

 

 

Luther

On the question of armed resistance to an unjust ruler, Luther is clear. A prince should not war against his overlord, but should submit to injustice: "For the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth" (124). Should this be taken to mean that Luther would forbid popular revolution, revolution even against the most horrible of secular tyrants? His later response to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1524-1526 seems to indicate an answer of "Yes." A prince may, however, war against an equal or an inferior, but only after offering justice and peace: "in doing this you must not consider your personal interests and how you may remain lord, but those of your subjects to whom you owe help and protection, that such action may proceed in love" (125). It is "both Christian and an act of love" (125) to kill, plunder, burn, and injure the enemy (though violation of wives and virgins is strictly out) until he is defeated. Then mercy and peace should be offered to all those who will submit.

On the question of the obedience of subjects to their prince, Luther is slightly less clear. If a prince is definitely in the wrong, subjects are absolved of obedience: "It is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who deserves the right) rather than men" (125). Luther further argues that if the subjects do not know whether or not the prince is in the wrong, they should obey: "So long as they do not know, and cannot with all possible diligence find out, they may obey him without peril to their souls" (126).

Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

Background

The victorious parliamentary coalition had largely been held together by the urgency of war. Once peace came, the urgency faded, and the coalition began to disintegrate. Achieving any kind of agreement on the shape political settlement should take proved impossible. A majority in the Parliament, especially the Presbyterians, wanted to negotiate with Charles and to reinstate him on terms that seemed to some outside Parliament to sacrifice the aims for which the war had been fought. The Army, far more radical than the Parliament in its politics, wanted instead to bring the King to justice and on 11/20/1648 expressed its opposition to a treaty in a lengthy document, entitled A Remonstrance of His Excellency Thomas Lord Fairfax, Lord Generall of the Parliament’s Forces, and of the Generall Councell of Officers. To finally break this stalemate, the Army staged a coup on Dec. 6, 1648. This coup, called Pride's Purge, excluded the more uncooperative members of Parliament, thereby leaving a body (the "Rump" Parliament) that was more responsive to the wishes of the Army. This opened the way for the events to come. When it became clear that Charles would be placed on trial, bitter responses were provoked from Royalists and Presbyterians alike. Even radical groups such as the Levelers opposed the trial of Charles.

Milton throws his support to the Army. He begins by attempting to discredit his Presbyterian opponents. Despite having initially urged the war against Charles, the Presbyterians are now hiding behind the third article of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) that pledged them to safeguard both the kings authority and his person. Milton argues that the Presbyterians have betrayed their own heritage; they have abandoned the theory of resistance which they themselves espoused at the start of the Civil War and much which was developed in their own sixteenth century history by figures such as John Knox and George Buchanan.

The Presbyterians were arguing for a distinction between the inferior magistrates and private persons where the issue of resistance to authority was concerned. They took the traditional Lutheran/Calvinist line that it was never lawful for private persons to take any political initiatives at all. Resistance to tyrannical rule was lawful only for magistrates. The Presbyterians in Parliament argued that since the Army had been raised by Parliament, the Army itself had no legitimate political power; therefore, the Army ought to be regarded as no more than a collection of private persons. Presbyterians used this argument after the purge of Parliament on 12/6/1649 to contend that the Army's action had been illegal.

The position that private persons could never take political initiatives was not universal, however. Many writers upheld the distinction between inferior magistrates and private persons, while treating the issue of tyrannicide in such a way that allowed private persons to act in certain circumstances. This move usually depended upon a distinction between two different kinds of tyrant: tyrants by practice, and tyrants by usurpation. Tyrants by practice (legitimate rulers who had for some reason descended into tyranny) could only be resisted by the inferior magistrates. Tyrants by usurpation (for example, a foreign invader, or native who seized power in some illegitimate way) could be resisted by private persons acting in defense of their country. However, if the usurper at any point gains or is granted legitimacy, any further resistance by private persons becomes unlawful. Milton denies the distinction between the two types of tyrant. There is for him, no difference between a foreign invader, a domestic usurper, or domestic ruler who becomes a tyrant. Denying the distinction between types of tyrant allows Milton to go on to deny the distinction between the legitimacy of political action by inferior magistrates and by private persons. Any tyrant may be punished, and any tyrant may be punished by private citizens.

Milton uses the concept of natural law to claim that though men "naturally were born free," they formed "Cities, Towns and Commonwealths" in order to escape the violence which stemmed from the Fall by agreeing to "bind each other from mutual injury, and jointly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement." Eventually it became necessary to "ordain some authority, that might restrain by force and punishment what was violated against peace and common right." Finally it became necessary to invest this authority either in one person (a King) or in many persons (magistrates). These rulers, however, ruled strictly at the behest of the people. Milton explicitly denies the idea that power is given to a King or magistrates directly from God; instead, he argues that this power of the rulers is entrusted to them by the people. (It is important, however, to discern what his definition of "people" is.)

Milton's Response to the Presbyterians--Tenure of Kings and Magistrates

Introduction

If men within themselves would be governed by reason and not generally give up their understanding to a double tyranny of custom from without and blind affections within, they would discern better what it is to favor and uphold the tyrant of a nation. But being slaves within doors, no wonder that they strive so much to have the public state conformably governed to the inward vicious rule by which they govern themselves.

None can love freedom heartily but good men; the rest love not freedom but license, which never hath more scope or more indulgence than under tyrants.

Neither do bad men hate tyrants, but have been always readiest with the falsified names of loyalty and obedience to color over their base compliances.

Speaking of the Presbyterians

Straight these men and sure helpers at need, as if they hated only the miseries but not the mischiefs, after they have juggled and paltered with the world, bandied and borne arms against their King, divested him, disannointed him, nay, cursed him all over in their pulpits and their pamphlets to the engaging of sincere and real men beyond what is possible or honest to retreat from, not only turn revolters from those principles which only could at first move them, but lay the stain of disloyalty and worse on those proceedings which are the necessary consequences of their own former actions. [They are] not considering the while that he toward whom they boasted their new fidelity, counted them accessory; and by those statutes and laws which they so impotently brandish against others, would have doomed to them to a traitor's death for what they have done already.

Most men are apt enough to civil wars and commotions as a novelty, . . . but through sloth or inconstancy and weakness of spirit . . . or through an inbred falsehood and wickedness, betray, ofttimes to destruction with themselves, men of noblest temper joined with them for causes whereof they in their rash undertakings were not capable.

Others, who have been fiercest against their Prince under the notion of a tyrant, and no mean incendiaries of the war against him, when God out of his providence and high disposal hath delivered him into the hand of their brethren, on a sudden and in a new garb of allegiance, which their doings have long since canceled, they plead for him, pity him, extol him, protest against those that talk of bringing him to the trial of justice.

Another sort there is, who . . . begin to swerve and almost shiver at the majesty and grandeur of some noble deed, as if they were newly entered into a great sin; disputing precedents, forms, and circumstances, when the commonwealth nigh perishes for want of deeds in substance, done with just and faithful expedition.

[These are] apostate scarecrows, who, under show of giving counsel, send out their barking monitories and mementoes, empty of aught else but the spleen of a frustrated faction.

Nor let any man be deluded by either the ignorance or the notorious hypocrisy and self-repugnance of our dancing divines, who have the conscience and the boldness to come with scripture in their mouths, glossed and fitted for their turns with a double contradictory sense, transforming the sacred verity of God to an idol with two faces, looking at once two several ways; and with the same quotations to charge others, which in the same case they may serve to justify themselves. For while the hope to be made classic and provincial lords led them on . . . then to fight against the king's person, and no less a party of his lords and commons, or to put force upon both houses, was good, was lawful, was no resisting of superior powers.

But now that their censorious domineering is not suffered to be universal, truth and conscience to be freed, tithes and pluralities to be no more . . . now to exclude and seize upon impeached mmembers, to bring delinquents without exemption to a fair tribunal by the common national law against murder, is now to be no less than Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. He who but erewhile in the pulpits was a cursed tyrant, an enemy to God and saints, laden with all the innocent blood spilt in three kingdoms, and so to be fought against, is now, though nothing penitent or altered from his first principles, a lawful magistrate, a sovereign lord, the Lord's annointed, not to be touched, though by themselves imprisoned.

Who May Be Resisted as a Tyrant

This I dare owne as part of my faith, that if such a one there be, by whose commission whole massacres have been committed on his faithful subjects, his provinces offered to pawn or alienation, as the hire of those whom he had solicited to come in and destroy whole cities and countries; be he king, or tyrant, or emperor, the sword of justice is above him, in whose hand soever is found sufficient power to avenge the effusion and so great a deluge of innocent blood. For if all human power to execute, not accidentally but intendedly, the wrath of God upon evildoers without exception, be of God, then that power, whether ordinary or, if that fail, extraordinary, so executing that intent of God, is lawful and not to be resisted.

The Beginnings of Civil Authority

I shall here set down from first beginning, the original of kings; how and wherefore exalted into that dignity above their brethren; and from thence shall prove that, turning to tyranny, they may be as lawfully deposed and punished as they were at first elected.

No man who knows aught, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himself, and were, by privilege above all the creatures, borne to command, and not to obey . . . till from the root of Adam's transgression falling among themselves to do wrong and violence . . . they agreed by common league to bind each other from mutual injury, and jointly to defend themselves against any that gave disturbance or opposition to such agreement. Hence came cities, towns, and commonwealths.

This authority and power of self-defense and preservation being originally and naturally in every one of them, and unitedly in them all, . . . they communicated and derived either to one whom for the evidence of his wisdom and integrity they chose above the rest, or to more than one whom they thought of equal deserving. The first was called a king, the other, magistrates: not to be their lords and masters . . . but to be their deputies and commissioners.

These for a while governed well and with much equity decided all things at their own arbitrement, till the temptation of such a power, left absolute in their hands, perverted to them at length to injustice and partiality. Then did they . . . invent laws, either framed or consented to by all, that should confine and limit the authority of whom they chose to govern them . . . while, as the magistrate was set above the people, so law was set above the magistrate.

From that time, the only remedy left them, [was] to put conditions and take oaths from all kings and magistrates at their first installments to do impartial justice by law: who, upon those terms and no other, received allegiance from the people, that is to say, bond or covenant to obey them in execution of those laws which they, the people, had themselves made or assented to. And this ofttimes with express warning, that if the king or magistrate proved unfaithful to his trust, the people would be disengaged.

The power of kings and magistrates is nothing else but what is only derivative, transferred, and committed to them in trust from the people to the common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally and cannot be taken from them without a violation of their natural birth right.

To say, as is usual, the king hath as good right to his crown and dignity as any man to his inheritance, is to make the subject no better than the king's slave, chattel, or his possession that may be bought and sold. . . . . But suppose it to be of right hereditary, what can be more just and legal, if a subject for certain crimes be to forfeit by law from himself and posterity all his inheritance to the king, then that a king, for crimes proportional, should forfeit all his title and inheritance to the people?

Milton's Response To The Divine-Right Theory Account of a King's Accountability

To say kings are accountable to none but God, is the overturning of all law and government.

Some would persuade us that this absurd opinion was king David's, because in the 51 Psalm he cries out to God, "against thee only have I sinned"; as if David had imagined that to murder Uriah and adulterate his wife had been no sin against his neighbor.

Aristotle . . . writes in the fourth of his Politics, chap.X, that "monarchy unaccountable is the first sword of tyranny, and least of all to be endured by free-born men."

How much more rationally spake the heathen king Demophoon, in a tragedy of Euripides, than these interpreters would put upon king David! "I rule not my people by tyranny, as if they were barbarians, but am myself liable, if I do unjustly, to suffer justly."

Not unlike was the speech of Trajan, the worthy emperor, to one whom he made general of his praetorian forces: "Take this drawn sword," saith he, "to use for me if I reign well; if not, to use against me."

Since the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people, both originally and naturally for their good in the first place, and not his own, then may a people, as oft as they shall judge for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain him or depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be governed as seems to them best.

The right of choosing, yea of changing their own government, is by the grant of God himself in the people.

Kingdom and magistracy, whether supreme or subordinate, is without difference called "a human ordinance."

St. Paul . . . tells us that such magistrates he means as are not a terror to the good, but to the evil . . . doubtless those powers that do the contrary are no powers ordained of God, and by consequence no obligation laid upon us to obey or not to resist them . . . if the power be not such or the person execute not such power, neither the one nor the other is of God, but of the devil and by consequence to be resisted.

If the people's act in election be pleaded by a king as the act of God and the most just title to enthrone him, why may not the people's act of rejection be as well pleaded by the people as the act of God and the most just reason to depose him?

The Definition of a Tyrant

A tyrant, whether by wrong or by right coming to the crown, is he who, regarding neither law nor the common good, reigns only for himself and his faction.

What May Be Done to a Tyrant

The Greeks and Romans . . . held it not only lawful, but a glorious and heroic deed . . . to kill an infamous tyrant at anytime without trial.

Among the Jews this custom of tyrant-killing was not unusual.

Does it Matter Whether a Tyrant is Domestic or Imported?

It imports not whether [a tyrant is] foreign or native. For no prince so native but professes to hold by law; which when he himself overturns . . . what differs he from an outlandish king or from an enemy?

How much right the king of Spain hath to govern us at all, so much right hath the king of England to govern us tyrannically.

What Does the Gospel Have to Say About Tyranny?

Our Savior himself, how much he favored tyrants and how much intended they should be found or honored among Christians, declares his mind not obscurely . . . charging those that would be his disciples to usurp no such dominion; but that they who were to be of most authority among them, should esteem themselves ministers and servants to the public.

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

So far ought we to be from thinking that Christ and his gospel should be made a sanctuary for tyrants from justice, to whom his law before never gave such protection.

What About the History of British Monarchs and Tyranny?

To prove that some of our own monarchs have acknowledged that their high office exempted them not from punishment, they had the sword of St. Edward borne before them by an officer . . . that if they erred, the sword had power to restrain them.

It is also affirmed from diligent search made in our ancient books of law that the peers and barons of England had a legal right to judge the king.

Our ancestors, who were not ignorant with what rights either nature or ancient constitution had endowed them, when oaths both at coronation and renewed in parliament would not serve, thought it no way illegal to depose and put to death their tyrannous kings.

Examples of Justified Warfare against Kings

In the year 1546, the Duke of Saxony, Landgrave of Hesse, and the whole protestant league, raised open war against Charles the Fith, their emperor.

In the year 1559, the Scots protestants claiming promise of their queen-regent for liberty of conscience, she answering that promises were not to be claimed of princes beyond what was commondius for them to grant, told her to her face in the parliament then at Stirling that if it were so, they renounced their obedience; and soon after betook them to arms.

When allegiance is renounced, that very hour the king or queen is in effect deposed.

In the year 1564, John Knox . . . maintained openly . . . that subjects might and ought execute God's judgments upon their king.

Three years after, they met in the field Mary their lawful and hereditary queen, took her prisoner yielding before fight, kept her in prison, and the same year deposed her. And four years after that, the Scots, in justification of their deposing Queen Mary, sent ambassadors to Queen Elizabeth and in a written declaration alleged that they had used towards her more lenity than she deserved; that their ancestors had heretofore punished their kings by death or banishment; that the Scots were a free nation, made king whom they freely chose, and with the same freedom unkinged him if they saw cause.

The Presbyterians were the ones who deposed Charles I

The Presbyterians, who now so much condemn deposing, were the men themselves that deposed the king, and cannot with all their shifting and relapsing washed off the guiltiness from their own hands. For they themselves by these their late dealings have made it guiltiness and turned their own warrantable actions into rebellion.

The Presbyterians . . . Have they not utterly broke the oath of allegiance, rejecting the king's command and authority sent them from any part of the kingdom, whether in things lawful or unlawful? Have they not abjured the oath of supremacy by setting up the parliament without the king, supreme to all their obedience?

It follows undeniably that the king from that time was by them in fact absolutely deposed; and they no longer in reality to be thought his subjects, notwithstanding their fine clause in the covenant to preserve his person, crown, and dignity.

To prove it yet more plainly that they are the men who have deposed the king, I thus argue. We know that king and subjects are relatives, and relatives have no longer being than in the relation. The relation between king and subject can be no other than regal authority and subjection . . . if the subject, who was one relative, take away the relation, of force he takes away also the other relative. But the Presbyterians, who were one relative, that is to say, subjects, have for this seven years taken away the relation, that is to say, the king's authority and their subjection to it. Therefore the Presbyterians for these seven years have removed and extinguished the other relative, that is to say, the king, or, to speak more in brief, have deposed him.

Who knows not that the king is a name of dignity and office, not a person? Who therefore kills a king, must kill him while he is a king. Then they certainly who by deposing him have long since taken from him the life of the king, his office and his dignity, they in the truest sense may be said to have killed the king.

They . . . were the men who in the truest sense killed the king . . .by the depressing him, their king, far below the rank of a subject to the condition of a captive, without intention to restore him . . . unless he granted fully all their demands, which they knew he never meant.

If the whole bent of their actions had not been against the king himself, but only against his evil counselors, as they feigned and published, wherefore did they not restore him all that while to the true life of the king, his office, crown, and dignity, when he was in their power and they themselves his nearest counselors?

The justice of giving Charles a trial

How much more justly then may they fling off tyranny or tyrants, who being once deposed can be no more than private men, as subject to the reach of justice and arraignment as any other transgressors?

How much more mild and humane is it to give them fair and open trial--to teach lawless kings and all who so much adore them that not mortal man, or his imperious will, but justice, is the only true sovereign and supreme majesty upon earth?

No unbridled potentate or tyrant, but to his sorrow, for the future may presume such high and irresponsible license over mankind, to havoc and turn upside down whole kingdoms of men, as though they were no more in respect of his perverse will than a nation of pismires.

Advice to the Presbyterians

As for the party called Presbyterian . . . I wish them, earnestly and calmly, not to fall off from their first principles . . . not to compel unforcible things, in religion especially . . . . Let them not oppose their best friends and associates, who molest them not at all, infringe not the least of their liberties -- unless they call it their liberty to bind other men's consciences . . . . Let them fear therefore, if they be wise, rather what they have done already than what remains to do; and be warned in time they put no confidence in princes whom they have provoked.

Stories can inform them how Christiern the Second, king of Denmark, not much above a hundred years past, driven out by his subjects and received again upon new oaths and conditions, broke through them all to his most bloody revenge; slaying his chief opposers when he saw his time, both them and their children invited to a feast for that purpose.

[This should] admonish them, both English and Scotch, not to let their own ends and the driving on of a faction betray them blindly into this snare of those enemies whose revenge looks on them as the men who first begun, fomented, and carried on beyond the cure of any sound or safe accommodation, all the evil which hath since unavoidably befallen them and their king.

If they be the ministers of mammon instead of Christ and scandalize his church with the filthy love of gain -- aspiring also to sit the closest and the heaviest of all tyrants upon the conscience -- and fall notoriously into the same sins whereof so lately and so loud they accused the prelates, as God rooted out those wicked ones immediately before so will he root out them, their imitators; and, to vindicate his own glory and religion, will uncover their hypocrisy to the open world.

De Doctrina Christiana, II. 17:

The opinion maintained by some, that obedience is due to the commands not only of an upright magistrate, but of an usurper, and that in matters contrary to justice, has no foundation in scripture. For with regard to 1 Peter 2:13, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man," it is evident from v. 14 that although this passage comprehends all human ordinances, all forms of government indiscriminately, it applies to them only so far as they are legitimately constituted.

That it may be the part of prudence to obey the commands even of a tyrant in lawful things, or, more porperly, to comply with the necessity of the times for the sake of the public peace, as well as of personal safety, I am far from denying.

 


The Atheist Milton

Michael Bryson
(Ashgate  Press, 2012)

Basing his contention on two different lines of argument, Michael Bryson posits that John Milton–possibly the most famous 'Christian' poet in English literary history–was, in fact, an atheist.

First, based on his association with Arian ideas (denial of the doctrine of the Trinity), his argument for the de Deo theory of creation (which puts him in line with the materialism of Spinoza and Hobbes), and his Mortalist argument that the human soul dies with the human body, Bryson argues that Milton was an atheist by the commonly used definitions of the period. And second, as the poet who takes a reader from the presence of an imperious, monarchical God in Paradise Lost, to the internal-almost Gnostic-conception of God in Paradise Regained, to the absence of any God whatsoever in Samson Agonistes, Milton moves from a theist (with God) to something much more recognizable as a modern atheist position (without God) in his poetry.

Among the author's goals in The Atheist Milton is to account for tensions over the idea of God which, in Bryson's view, go all the way back to Milton's earliest poetry. In this study, he argues such tensions are central to Milton's poetry–and to any attempt to understand that poetry on its own terms.

 

The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King

Michael Bryson
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)


 
The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.

Review of Tyranny of Heaven