Fighting for the Kingdom of Christ

Mornay’s Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos is nothing if not thorough, and alongside its complex arguments for the legitimacy of armed resistance to civil tyranny, it mounts a parallel case for the right of armed resistance to religious persecution.  While this may seem unsurprising at first, as religious persecution was the chief form of tyranny that prompted the writings of the Huguenot resistance theorists, this is actually quite a remarkable move.  For Mornay is of course not saying, as a modern might, that religious persecution constitutes a violation of one of a citizen’s core liberties, thus justifying forcible resistance in defence of liberty toward an authority that has overstepped its bounds.  Mornay is ahead of his time, but not that ahead.  Rather, what Mornay ends up arguing is that religion as such–the Church as such–is defensible by arms.  

Such a move, it would seem, throws a big wrench into the gears of a two kingdoms theory.  Most Reformation theorists, while happy to admit various kinds of civil oversight of and protection of religion, and earnest to develop justifications for resistance to rulers aiming to stamp out Protestantism, affirmed a sharp distinction between the coercion that could and should be wielded in protection of the civil kingdom, and the peacefulness and exclusive use of spiritual weapons that must operate in the spiritual kingdom.  Hence resistance theories always appealed to the need to defend the commonwealth–not the Church as such–against the depredations of rulers who were oppressing the true religion upon which, it was argued, the commonwealth depended.  The reason for this kind of two kingdoms distinction was straightforward–their whole goal was to refute any papist idea of the Church as an independent polity, a trans-national kingdom which might wield coercive power or on behalf of which coercive power should be mobilized. 

David VanDrunen makes a great deal of this feature of Reformation two kingdoms theology in Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, where he states at the outset that one valuable feature of the two kingdoms theory is that it allows us to simultaneously insist on the peaceful character of Christ’s kingdom and the legitimacy of state coercion in the civil kingdom.  “In their capacity as citizens of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, Christians insist upon non-violence and the ways of peace, refusing to bear arms on behalf of his kingdom; in their capacity as citizens of the civil kingdom, they participate as necessary in the coercive work of the state, bearing arms on its behalf when occasion warrants.”  The genius of Reformed two kingdoms theory, as he seeks to argue throughout the book, was its recognition that the fundamentally different character of the kingdom of Christ, which referred only to the Church meant that spiritual matters could not be enforced by civil means, but must be left to govern themselves by spiritual means.  In other words, you could neither advance nor defend the kingdom of Christ with the sword, but only with the Word.  

This being VanDrunen’s argument, he should find Mornay’s Vindiciae a rather treacherous ally.  

For toward the end of the second Quaestio of the Vindiciae, Mornay takes up the question “Whether arms may justly be taken up for religion” and proceeds to answer it in such a way as to seriously undermine the standard Protestant two kingdoms distinction. He begins by saying “that an answer must be given in every respect to those who believe either that the church cannot be defended with weapons, or, at any rate–which is more likely–wish to appear to believe so.”   He admits that “the church is definitely not extended by arms, but is defended against the enemies who try to prevent its increase.”  

Those who reject this, he says, will object that only under the Old Covenant could arms be wielded thus in defense of religion, but that now that Christ has come as as a peaceful king, the kingdom of God must be a peaceful kingdom.  At this point, Mornay responds with objections completely standard among the sixteenth-century Reformed–while on earth, Christ functioned as a private individual, not a king, and so of course he did not wield arms; moreover, Romans 13 makes it impossible to argue that the ius gladii has been removed from magistrates by Christ’s advent, and there is no basis for arguing that the New Testament made military service unlawful.  Now, these arguments are not entirely to the point, since the objector here is not arguing that magistrates do not have the ius gladii, only that they cannot use it to defend the kingdom of Christ, the Church.  Nonetheless, Mornay is not departing from Reformation two kingdoms doctrine (though he certainly is from VanDrunenian) when he says, “why do they imagine that magistrates hold the right of the sword, unless in protecting the good and utterly destroying the wicked they should serve God, Who girded them with the sword; and in what matter more than in protecting the church which is dedicated to Him against the impious, and delivering the absolute preserve of Christ from plunderers?” 

He goes on “And if waging war be lawful in protecting frontiers and repulsing enemies, as perhaps they will acknowledge it to be, is it not much more just in guarding the pious and repelling the impious, and, in short, protecting the frontiers of the kingdom of Christ which is, I say, the church?”  Otherwise, he says, what should we say concerning the Crusades?  Of course, we know what we would say about the Crusades, but Mornay introduces this rhetorical question certain that his audience will endorse the Crusades as a holy war.  Quite disingenuously, then, given the rather aggressive nature of the Crusades, he says, “Therefore, although the church is not enlarged by arms, yet it can be justly defended by arms.  Nor are those who died in that holy war any less martyrs than those who suffered the cross for the sake of religion.”  

Now, although all this seems to call into question a rigid distinction between a coercive civil kingdom and a peaceful spiritual kingdom, and although the rhetoric does not sit at ease with traditional two kingdoms categories, at this point, Mornay is not necessarily out of step with Calvin, Vermigli, etc., all of whom believed that the ruler had a certain responsibility to oversee and defend religion within his territory, which, combined with a robust doctrine of the inferior magistrate, could support Mornay’s conclusion.  


But in Quaestio IV, Mornay introduces a significant twist.  This Quaestio is entitled “Whether neighbouring princes may by right, or ought, to render assistance to subjects of other princes who are being persecuted on account of pure religion, or oppressed by manifest tyranny?”  Here he seeks to argue that rulers are not responsible to defend merely their own national churches, but the Church as such, a transnational kingdom which must be defended for its own sake.  He appeals to the unity of the Church to make this argument:

“The church, just as it is one, is committed and entrusted to individual Christian princes whole and entire.  For because it was hazardous to entrust the whole to any one person, and manifestly inconsistent with its unity to grant its individual parts to the different individuals, God has entrusted the whole to the individuals, and its individual parts to all of them together; and not only in order that they should defend it, but also that they should, to the best of their ability, ensure that it is expanded.  So if one part of it–the German, perhaps, or the English–is in the charge of the prince of that region, but he abandons and disregards another part which is being oppressed when he could have rendered assistance, he is considered to have deserted the church.  For the bride of Christ is certainly one, and he ought to protect and defend her with all of his strength, so that she should not be violated or corrupted anywhere….For the Ephesian church is not one thing, the Colossian another, and so on; they are individual parts of that whole church.  And the whole is the kingdom of Chrsit, which all private persons should desire, and which kigns, princes, and magistrates are obliged to increase, spread, defend, and promote anywhere and against anyonesoever….[W]hen all Christian kings are inaugurated, they receive the sword expressly for the protection of the catholic–or whole–church.”  

This passage appears to constitute a striking departure from the standard Protestant notion that tighly bound together commonwealth and the externals of the Church, and thus entrusts to each ruler responsibility to oversee the church in his realm, because it is part of his kingdom.  On that conception, there is one spiritual kingdom of the Church, but this exists more in contrast to, than in continuity with, the particular visible church which he is called to oversee.  When Mornay appeals to the unity and catholicity of the Church to make his argument here, he is treading on dangerous ground, as far as sixteenth-century Protestantism is concerned.  For Protestants, unity and catholicity were attributes that pertained to the invisible Church, to the Church as a spiritual, not a socio-political entity.  But for Mornay’s argument to make sense, the unity of the Church here must be a visible social (and perhaps even political) unity–it must be a distinct kingdom here on earth that transcends the borders of normal civil kingdoms, but not because of invisibility–no, it is visible enough that its own borders may be defended and extended.  (I say “extended” because although Mornay earlier insisted that it could only be “defended” not “extended,” the examples he alleges dissolve this distinction, and in the quote above, he claims that rulers should see that the Church is “expanded.”)  

I may be overreading, and I may still be getting this whole “two kingdoms” paradigm mixed up (an easy thing to do when there is such a violent tug-of-war over the concept), but this crusader mentality of Mornay’s, it would seem, not only violates the strict-separationist two kingdoms categories of VanDrunen and Co., but also the doctrine of most of his co-religionists.  Perhaps this is just another example of the creativity that the polemical needs of the moment inspired, or perhaps it is an invitation to dig deeper, something I certainly hope to do over the coming months.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s