Monday, October 02, 2006

On "Theocracy," 5: Vindiciae [1579] on Tyranny and Government under God

As we seek to drain the venom, it will be helpful to begin with some excerpts from the 1579 reformation work by Duplesis Mornay [et al] , as it examines its Question 1:

Whether subjects are obligated to obey rulers who issue commands contrary to the law of God

. . . it may be well asked why Christians have endured so many afflictions if it weren't true they were always persuaded that God must be obeyed simply and absolutely, and kings with this exception, that they command not that which is repugnant to the law of God. Otherwise, why should the apostles have answered that God must rather be obeyed than men? (Acts 5:29) Also, seeing that the will of God is always just, while the will of men may be, and often is, unjust, who can doubt that we must always obey God's commandments without any exception, and men's ever with limitation? But there are many rulers in these days who call themselves "Christian", who arrogantly assume that their power is limited by no one, not even by God . . . .

Everyone knows that if a man disobeys a prince who commands that which is wicked and unlawful, he shall immediately be accused of being a rebel, a traitor, and guilty of high treason. Our Savior Christ, the apostles, and all the Christians of the early church were accused with these false charges. If any man, following the example of Ezra and Nehemiah, set himself the task of rebuilding the temple of the Lord, it will be said he aspires to the crown, hatches innovations, and seeks the ruin of the state . . . what beastly foolishness it is to think that the state and kingdom can be maintained if God Almighty is excluded, and His temple demolished. From this view comes so many tyrannous enterprises, unhappy and tragic deaths of kings, and ruinations of people . . . .

First, the Holy Scripture teach that God reigns by His own proper authority, and kings rule by derivation, God from Himself, kings from God. God has a jurisdiction proper and kings are his delegates. It follows then that the jurisdiction of God has no limits, but that of kings is finite, that the power of God is infinite, but that of kings is confined, that the kingdom of God extends itself to all places, but that of kings is restrained within the confines of certain countries . . . All the inhabitants of the earth have received from Him everything they have, and are, essentially, His tenants and lease-holders. All the rulers and governors of the world are but His hirelings and vassals, and are obligated to take and acknowledge their investitures from Him. God alone is the owner and lord, and all men, whatever their station in life, are His tenants, agents, officers and vassals. All without exception owe fealty to Him, according to that which He has committed to their dispensation. [Cf here Ac 17:24 - 32.] . . . .
This is of course a general introduction, and one that -- after several biblical and classical examples -- is meant to set up this discussion of Rom 13:1 - 7:
virtually every time the apostles admonish Christians to obey kings and magistrates, they first exhort and admonish every man to subject himself in like manner to God, and to obey Him first and foremost against anyone else. There is nowhere to be found in Holy Scripture the least justification for unlimited obedience to earthly kings which the flatterers of rulers do require from ignorant men. "Let every soul," says Saint Paul, "be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God." In order to make it absolutely clear, by these various passages, that we must obey God rather than the king, he explicitly mentions every soul, to the end it may not be thought that he would exempt any from this subjection. For if we obey the king from a motive of love of God, certainly this obedience may not be a conspiracy against God. But the apostle will stop the gap to all ambiguity in adding that the ruler is the servant of God for our good. For in order for this command to obey the king to make sense, what we have already seen must necessarily be true, that is, that we must rather obey God than him who is His servant. This does not yet content Saint Paul, for he adds in the end, "Give tribute, honor, and fear to whom they are due," (Rom. 13:7) as if he should say, that which was alleged by Christ, "Give to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which is God's." To Caesar tribute, and honor; to God fear. Saint Peter says the same, "fear God, honor the king. Servants obey your masters, not only the good and kind, but also the rigorous." (1 Pe. 2:17-18) We must practice these precepts, according to the order of importance, that is, that as servants are not bound to obey their masters if they command anything which is against the laws and ordinances of kings, subjects in like manner owe no obedience to kings which will make them to violate the law of God . . . .

Saint Paul explicitly says we must be subject to rulers, not only for wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. In contrasting conscience to wrath, it is as if the apostle had said that the obedience of which he speaks ought not to proceed from fear of punishment, but from the love of God, and from the reverence which we owe the Lord. In the same sense Saint Paul commands servants in such manner to obey their masters, that it be not with any service for fear of punishment, but out of wholehearted devotion, fearing God, not simply to acquire the favour of men, whom they may delude, but to bear the burden laid on their shoulders by Him whom no man can deceive.

In brief there is an obvious difference between these two manners of speech, that is, to obey for conscience sake, and to obey in those things which concern the conscience . . .

Thus, ever since this pioneering work, it has been a commonplace in Christian thought, that Government is under God in ssuch a way that the rulers are just as obligated to walk in the right as are subjects, and that as a direct result we may not make the excuse of obedience to authority, to do what is wrong. But this does not stop there, for since lower magistrates are also magistrates under God [whether existing or emergent] they can act with the people they represent to correct, restrain -- or if necessary, remove, a bad ruler, the underlying subject of the second question:

The question is, is it lawful to resist a ruler who violates the law of God [which of ocurse here directly implies justice and the moral law], or who tries to ruin the church, or hinders the restoration of it? . . . . [Turning to (detailed) biblical examples that in light of 1 Cor 10:6 are "examples" for Christians] God chose Israel out of all the nations of the earth to be a peculiar people to Him, and so He established a covenant with them that they should be the people of God . . . . at the inaugurations of kings, there was a double covenant treated of, to wit "between God and the king"; and "between God and the people" . . . . We see here then two undertakers, the king and Israel, who by consequence are responsible one for another and each for the whole . . . . But I anticipate an objection at this point. Will you say that a whole people, that beast of many heads, must run in a mutinous disorder, to order the business of the commonwealth? What address or direction is there in an unruly and unbridled multitude? What counsel or wisdom, to manage the affairs of state? When we speak of all the people, we understand by that, only those who hold their authority from the people, that, the magistrates who are inferior to the king, and whom the people have substituted, or established, an assembly with a kind of tribunal authority, to restrain the encroachments of sovereignty, and to represent the whole people. We understand also, the assembly [comitia], which is nothing else but the embodiment, or brief collection of the kingdom, to whom all public affairs are referred such were the seventy elders in the kingdom of Israel, among whom the high priest was, as it were, president, and they judged all matters of greatest importance . . . . to resume this discussion at a higher level, those who carry themselves as has been formerly said are not guilty of the crime of revolt . . . they do not absolutely refuse to obey, provided that they be commanded that which they may lawfully do, and that it be not against the honor of God . . . . They pay willingly the taxes, customs, imposts, and ordinary payments, provided that with these they seek not to abolish the tribute which they owe unto God. They obey Caesar while he commands in the quality of Caesar; but when Caesar exceeds his bounds, when he usurps that dominion which isn't his, when he attempts to assail the Throne of God, when he wars against the Sovereign Lord, both of himself and the people, they then think it reasonable not to obey Caesar.
Thus, we see emerging from an explicilty biblical context, a framework in which we see that nations are under God, and government is under God and so both the people as a whole and their rulers have a duty of doing he right under God. In that context, where a higher ruler turns tyrant and thus disobeys God's mandate of justice, the people and the lower magistrates are in a proper position to resist this one who is in rebellion against the Higher yet Authority, God.

No wonder, then, that within a few years, when the King of Spain set out to subjugate his Dutch subjects and rpudiate their privilegesand linerties they -- acting though their representatives -- responded in the 1581 Declaration of Independence, thusly:
. . . a prince is constituted by God to be ruler of a people, to defend them from oppression and violence as the shepherd his sheep; and whereas God did not create the people slaves to their prince, to obey his commands, whether right or wrong, but rather the prince for the sake of the subjects (without which he could be no prince), to govern them according to equity, to love and support them as a father his children or a shepherd his flock, and even at the hazard of life to defend and preserve them. And when he does not behave thus, but, on the contrary, oppresses them, seeking opportunities to infringe their ancient customs and privileges . . . then he is no longer a prince, but a tyrant, and the subjects are to consider him in no other view . . . This is the only method left for subjects whose humble petitions and remonstrances could never soften their prince or dissuade him from his tyrannical proceedings; and this is what the law of nature dictates for the defense of liberty, which we ought to transmit to posterity, even at the hazard of our lives. . . . . So, having no hope of reconciliation, and finding no other remedy, we have, agreeable to the law of nature in our own defense, and for maintaining the rights, privileges, and liberties of our countrymen, wives, and children, and latest posterity from being enslaved by the Spaniards, been constrained to renounce allegiance to the King of Spain, and pursue such methods as appear to us most likely to secure our ancient liberties and privileges.
So, here we see in the very first modern declaration of independence, the application fhte implications of Rom 13:1 - 7, in the context of the other scriptures, to the liberation of those under tyranny.

After a hard and long fight, thepeople of Holland did win their liberty and became a centre of refuge for the persecuted, including notably the Jews of Portugal, and the Pilgrims. Two hundred years later, the same principles, throughthe success of the American declaration of independence of 1776, opened the way to the creation of the modern nation-state with self-government by a free people.

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