Relics of the Amorites?

When (if) we read about the controversies over vestments that inaugurated the English Puritan movement, we’re probably tempted to wonder how people got quite so worked up about this.  Were a mere robe, surplice, and cap really the “relics of the Amorites”? “filthy rags culled from the popish dunghill”?  Was it really worth abandoning the ministry rather than agreeing to wear such vestments, vestments that after all were simply the uniform that the clergy had always worn?  So what if the papists wore them–hadn’t the papists worshipped in the same church buildings too?  And no one was saying that these should be simply abandoned and torn down.

But on second thought, this mania, bizarre as it seems to be, appears relatively explicable when one considers the fact that there are apparently still a great many Protestants who recoil in horror and revulsion from the the idea of distinctive clerical garb.  It’s one of those things I grew up around so much that I never stopped to reflect just how bizarre it was.  Just what is the objection?

In his magisterial The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Patrick Collinson offers some hint as to why the vestments proved so polarizing, which puts the Puritan protest in a more sympathetic light (but renders modern objections all the more inexplicable).  

It was not, he said, so much that the non-conformist clergy were themselves unable to stomach the thought of clerical garb, or even of clerical garb that was similar to that the papists had worn.  Many would have preferred to do without it, for a variety of reasons, but would not have gotten up in arms about it on their own account.  For most, their objection was founded on an honest conscientious concern for their more simple-minded parishioners:

“However much they might detest the old ceremonial, men of learning could preserve a measure of detachment toward the more incidental trappings of popish worship, distinguishing between the thing itself and its superstitious use….But for ‘simple gospellers’ (as the London ministers describe them) the symbols themselves were a concrete, visible offence.  Their emotional reaction reminds Dr. T.M. Parker of the attitude of the revolutionary sans-culottes to the knee-breeches of the ancien regime, and even of the artorial principles of the first Socialist Cabinet ministers of 1924.  The comparison is not strained, for Elizabethan protestants regarded the surplice and the square cap as the uniform of an oppressive class.  Unlike the new bishops and many of the preachers, they were witnesses of the Marian burnings, and they were well aware that many hangers-on of these cruel proceedings continued to hold office in the Elizabethan Church, and that it was for them that the English ministry was still saddled with some portions of ‘the pope’s attire.’”   

In other words, for many of the ordinary folks in the pew, it felt as it might have felt to a German in 1950 if all their policemen were going around in Gestapo uniforms and swastikas.  The vestments in themselves have nothing to do with the errors of the Roman church, and certainly nothing to do with the murderous persecution under Mary, but one can certainly understand your average Joe in the pew for honing in on such visible symbols, and having trouble abstracting them from the context he had originally encountered them.  If this was how many parishioners felt, one can begin to understand the conscientious scruples of some of their ministers.


But of course, this sharpens the question–Why is it that so many Protestants today maintain this phobia for vestments?  The closest thing to a sensible answer I’ve heard seems to be that in the apostolic church such things would not have been worn, but all things would have been done with simplicity.  But this shaky skeleton of an argument (which was boldly asserted by many of the Elizabethan Puritans) invites a host of objections: how do we even know that?  It is entirely an argument from silence.  Even if it were so, on what basis is that normative, any more than the fact that back then, they met in houses rather than church buildings for worship?  And the simplicity that is so often extolled when it comes to ceremonies and such was of course not simply a feature of apostolic worship (if it was that–again, this is mainly an argument from silence), but was clearly a feature of the whole lifestyle of the early Church, in which all things were held to be common and luxury was eschewed.  Until Protestants are ready to return to that kind of simplicity across the board, it’s hard to see what force a call for such simplicity in clerical vestments could have.

It seems to me, then, that the main impetus for the objection today is not all that dissimilar from the phobia that Collinson identifies above.  Then, it was understandable…but now?  How many modern Protestants have had friends burned at the stake by Catholic zealots?  How many have witnessed an oppressive economy of indulgences and works-righteousness?  Indeed, given that vestments have now been honored with hundreds of years of use by fine Protestant clergymen, one can scarcely complain that they carry the inescapable association with “popery.”  What is it with the seemingly unshakeable phobia of all things Catholic that still dominates large sections of American Protestantism at any rate?  Are we fated always to be a religion of reaction?  Can Protestantism ever grow up and stop defining itself in merely negative terms, desperate to prove above all that “We’re not Catholics” (and now, more recently, “We’re not liberals”)?  

Anglicanism gets a bad rap for being a lukewarm middle way, with no positive contribution, but in many ways, it seems better positioned to demonstrate what a positive Protestantism looks like than so many Reformed and evangelical churches, which remain trapped in a perpetual reaction to imaginary foes.  

A Tale of Two Protestantisms

In our supervisory meeting yesterday, Oliver O’Donovan went off on another of his delightful and delightfully illuminating tangents, a tangent that helped make remarkable sense of my own conflicted experience in the Reformed tradition–first in a quite narrow and parochial Southern Presbyterian context, then in a “Federal Vision” context that aspired to a more “catholic” perspective, but seemed unable or unwilling to follow through, retreating always to the comforting black-and-white dualities of the Reformed tradition they knew and loved, and finally in an Anglican context that, though historically rooted in the Reformed tradition, is despised by most who wear that badge today, and seems more than content to distance itself from it.   

The problem is, suggests O’Donovan, that there were actually two quite distinct Reformed traditions from quite early on, and the difference can be seen, as plain as day, in the contrast between the Scots Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles.  The Scots Confession holds as an article of faith the existence of an anti-Church, alongside the true Church, an anti-Church presided over by an anti-Christ, the Pope–this notion later became enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, to the considerable embarrassment of 19th- and 20th- century adherents of it.  Ch. 18 of the Scots Confession opens this way: 

“Since Satan has labored from the beginning to adorn his pestilent synagogue with the title of the kirk of God, and has incited cruel murderers to persecute, trouble, and molest the true kirk and its members, as Cain did to Abel, Ishmael to Isaac, Esau to Jacob, and the whole priesthood of the Jews to Christ Jesus himself and his apostles after him. So it is essential that the true kirk be distinguished from the filthy synagogues by clear and perfect notes lest we, being deceived, receive and embrace, to our own condemnation, the one for the other.”  

In other words, it is possible for portions of the visible Church to become not merely rotten branches, but in fact, “synagogues of Satan”–part of an anti-Church that must be utterly repudiated and purged out.  For the Scots, this was precisely what the Roman Church had become, and so one of the first things the Scottish Reformation did was to suspend all Masses in Scotland.  Only once the anti-Church had been put out of business could a true Church with a true Eucharist be put in its place.  A bad church was no church, a bad priest no priest, a bad Eucharist no Eucharist.  In short, Donatism.

This contrasts sharply with what was going on in England.  In England, the Mass was seen as riddled with corruptions, and in need of great reforms, but no one thought of simply stopping all the Masses–after all, the Mass was the Eucharistic service–just a really bad one.  So the liturgy was reformed in stages, rather than being abolished and replaced.  And no one thought of telling the laity to stop attending the services their parish priest was conducting, even if he was still a papist–of course not!  He was still their priest, and this was still a Eucharist, and they were to go partake in faith and receive grace, even if he was going to receive damnation.  A bad church was still a church, a bad priest was still a priest, a bad Eucharist was still a Euchrist.  This understanding, inherited from Augustine’s anti-Donatist writings, is articulated forcefully in Art. 26 of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

“Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.”

The one Protestantism saw little need of historical continuity; for the other, it was clear that the Church reformed must be the same entity as the Church needing-to-be-reformed.  The one Protestantism thought that to be a true Christian, you had to deny that Catholics were Christians; the other thought this was absurd, since they professed the faith, Scripture, and the creeds, and practiced baptism and the eucharist.  The one was characterized by an ethos that was always on guard against the marks of a “synagogue of Satan”–any part of the Church might cease to be so, and we must be constantly vigilant, and ready to withdraw ourselves from it if it did; the other was characterized by an ethos which considered purity necessary for the well-being of the Church, to be sure, but not its being, and which thus sought to take differences of opinion and corruptions of practice in stride, as matters that must be resolved for the health of the Church, but upon which its very life did not depend.  

No wonder that these two Protestantisms found themselves unable to live side-by-side for long.  The English and the Scotch churches struggled with growing tensions, until these exploded in the chaos of the 1640s (of course, then the impulses of English Puritanism, which shared the Scotch assumptions, also boiled to the surface).  And this was not, says O’Donovan, merely a British phenomenon.  The same two strains can be found in the Dutch Reformed churches–indeed, the more moderate strain was at first more dominant, until Beza exerted his influence to move the Dutch churches toward a stricter kind of Calvinism, which finally won the day at the Synod of Dordt.  This landmark conference O’Donovan sees as the decisive rout for the moderate (more authentically Protestant, one might add) Reformed viewpoint–and as, needless to say, about much much more than just predestination, which is all we think of the Synod of Dordt as.  Since then, the moderate Dutch Reformed were in many ways driven underground, the Anglicans steadily detached themselves from a Reformed identity they wanted no part of, and the Donatist mentality seized hold of the subsequent heirs of the Reformed tradition, and remains deeply entrenched today in America.


Oversimplified?  I have no doubt–it was an off-the-cuff ramble.  But it sure makes a lot of sense of a lot of vexing questions.

Puritan Hypocrisies

Where I grew up, the Puritans were always the good guys in the story.  New England Puritans, English Civil War Puritans, Elizabethan Puritans, you name it.  They were always good guys.  Unlike the wicked corrupt Anglicans who would put them in prison and used their wealth and power to try to trample on them.  The Puritans wanted to purge the Church of its papist abuses, and that must be a good thing.  They wanted toleration for religious minorities, and that must be a good thing.  They opposed the idea of a state church, and wanted the Church to be free to rule itself, and that must be a good thing. 

I first sensed that something was amiss with this narrative when I realized (I wouldn’t say “learned” because in all probability I already knew it, it had just never hit home) that the Puritans (loosely defined) had beheaded their Archbishop in 1645.  That couldn’t be a good thing.  And then when I encountered someone in our circles who wanted to lionize Martin Marprelate, and I started looking at the kind of filthy slander Marprelate had written against his pastors, I knew that something was amiss.  And more recently, the truth has been laid bare in all its ugliness–the Elizabethan Puritans, at any rate, were characteristically petty, self-righteous, slanderous, vindictive, theologically naive, and unprincipled, to an extent that almost justifies the authoritarian response of Elizabeth, Whitgift, and Bancroft (which was, in any case, not all that authoritarian by the standards of the day).   

But, they were at least in favor of the freedom of the Church from the State, right?  For religious freedom, rather than authoritarian conformity?  And that’s gotta be a good thing, right?


So I’ve been inclined to think.  In reality, though, it’s not at all clear that we can cast the Puritans as the noble fighters for the freedom of the Christian conscience and the freedom of the Church from the State.  Both claims are somewhat anachronistic impositions from a later era.  In reality, the Puritans were not fighting so much for permission of a righteous minority to pursue its own church polity within the commonwealth, but were fighting for the complete makeover of the commonwealth along the lines demanded by the righteous minority.  Neither Puritan or Anglican envisioned religious diversity; they envisioned either a Church of England ruled according to Anglican principles, and nothing else, or a Church of England ruled according to Puritan principles, and nothing else.  All minorities want tolerance as long as they’re minorities, but if they can become the majority (or at least the most powerful), few show much interest in tolerance anymore.

The second claim is more interesting.  Is it true that the Puritans were fighting for the freedom of the Church from political control?  Well, again we might cynically say that this was just a pragmatic stance, and one that they were happy to reverse if they seized political power.  However, at the theological level, there was an important sense in which the Puritans were fighting for ecclesial autonomy (though whether they were theologically right is questionable).  What’s interesting here is how, for pragmatic purposes, they set aside that principle from the get-go, and were actually, throughout the Elizabethan controversies, the ones trying to manipulate the Church.   

See, what’s interesting about the Elizabethan settlement is that it’s not simply the subjection of the Church to the State that we moderns might imagine.  On the contrary, political and ecclesial power are set up as separate parallel governments in the Elizabethan constitution, united only in the person of the sovereign.  Queen Elizabeth was head of the Church and of the State, but she governed the one through the bishops, and the other through Parliament.  For Parliament to seek to govern the Church was, in Elizabeth’s mind, an unacceptable political intervention in the affairs of the Church.  Yet it was precisely this that the Puritans sought to effect.  Having marked out the bishops as their irreconcilable foes (on the whole, quite unfairly, since most of the Elizabethan bishops were actually quite moderate and reasonable), the Puritans radicalized their position and called for the abolition of the episcopacy.  Clearly this was a “reform” that they could not try to pursue through the existing structures of the Church, so they turned to political machinery to accomplish their goal, using Parliament to propose legislation that would remove power from the bishops.  And it was this, more than anything, that Queen Elizabeth would not tolerate–the idea that Parliament should be permitted to set ecclesiastical policy, which was the responsibility of the bishops.  Hence, she vetoed every bill that came forward, not always on account of their content, but chiefly on account of what she saw as their unconstitutionality.   

Throughout the Elizabethan period, the story is the same–the Puritans working for a politically, rather than ecclesiastically, determined government of the Church.  So which side was it that stood for the freedom of the Church from political manipulation, from subjection to the State, if this is our ideal?  Well, neither really, since our ideals were simply not the ideals of the sixteenth-century, but if one had to pick, one might well say the Anglicans, not the Puritans, and that’s what you call ironic.  

Hooker’s Doctrine of Law I: Basic Schema

For Richard Hooker, the father of Anglican theology and one of most powerful reflective and synthetic minds of his century, the basic structure of Christian theology, because the basic structure of the whole world, was law.  Thus did Protestantism come full-circle by the end of the century, from Luther’s repudiation of law in favor of the grace and the “freedom of a Christian” at the outset, through a reclamation of law, both natural and civil, in the late Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin, finally to a kind of Reformed Thomism, hailing law as the reflection of God’s nature and the foundation of all that is, in Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.  This was certainly not a return to legalism, as we might at first imagine; indeed, Hooker’s project was to rescue law from the legalistic mold into which the Presbyterians had forced it, to recover a broader, fuller, freer concept of law that served as the very form and foundation of freedom, rather than its antithesis.  Hooker’s treatment of law is a watershed in Protestant thought, and is critical for my dissertation research, so I hope to undertake a few posts offering an outline of the essential features (although no doubt these first forays will have to be revisited and corrected in light of future research).

In his Richard Hooker and Contemporary Political Ideas, F.J. Shirley summarizes the difference between Hooker and the earlier Reformers, as he sees it:

“However freely the Reformers might use the term, they denied to the Law of Nature any existence in the reason of man, any character of law, any value as a source for positive law.  Law for them was the Jewish Law, which included the moral within it–a confusion of the civil and moral spheres logically resulting from their doctrine of justification by faith.  Positive Law was for brigands, bandits, and sinners, compelled by its sword to be outwardly virtuous, but the Christian had no need of it.  Law was robbed of its spiritual element, and stood only for command as naked as the sword that, in the hands of the law-giver, should avenge every breach of it: ‘lex coactiva, non directiva’.  But the Catholic world had held that, while law was physically coercive, it was also morally obligatory; hence positive laws must be founded in reason: the force of law must come from its own virtue, not merely from the constraint of the law-giver; from its matter as well as from its form.”

While this is a wonderfully neat and lucid summary, it has the disadvantage of being patently false.  The early Luther and perhaps the Puritans, each in their own quite different ways, might correspond to parts of this picture, but as a whole portrait, it certainly does not fit the magisterial Reformation, which had not departed nearly so dramatically from the Catholic natural law tradition as Shirley, a typical Anglo-Catholic, imagines.  I nevertheless quote it because it highlights nicely what was at stake, and what Hooker rightly saw as the dangers of the Puritan position.  And Shirley is surely on to something in highlighting the extent to which the Reformers emphasized the intrinsically coercive character of law–‘lex coactiva, non directiva.’  Hooker’s theology dramatically reversed this trajectory and rendered coercion almost accidental, rather than essential, to law. (I say, “almost accidental” not because that’s a valid metaphysical category, but because I am not yet confident enough to state it without qualificaiton).  Before considering this dimension, though, it will be crucial to outline the basic schema of law that Hooker lays out.

Hooker begins by rooting law at the very heart of metaphysics.  The world is a place of order, not caprice, of purpose, not aimlessless, of coherence, not chaos, and this order, purpose, and coherence is called Law.  “All things that are have some operation not violent or casuall.  Neither doth any thing ever begin to exercise the same without some foreconceaved ende for which it worketh.  And the ende which it worketh for is not obteined, unlesse the worke be also fit to obteine it by.  For unto every ende every operation will not serve.  That which doth appoint the forme and measure of working, the same we tearme a Lawe.” (I.2.1)

God himself operates by law, not as if there were a law external to his being, of course, but by a law that is intrinsic to Himself: “The being of God is a kinde of lawe to his working: for that perfection which God is, geveth perfection to that he doth…God therefore is a law both to himselfe, and to all other things besides.” (I.2.2, 3)  Because of this, all of God’s doings are rational, not arbitrary: “God worketh nothing without cause.  All those things which are done by him, have some ende for which they are done: and the ende for which they are done, is a reason of his will to do them…it doth not work infinitely but correspondently unto that end for which it worketh.” (I.2.3)  Hooker is thus robustly anti-voluntarist and anti-nominalist.  As Shirley and many older interpreters would have it, he is in this running quite counter to the earlier Reformers; however, this contrast is overstated, and it is increasingly recognized that for all nominalist and voluntarist currents running under the surface in the Reformation, they remain substantially loyal to an older metaphysics.  

This rationality in God’s works is certainly not always discernible for us, but it is for that reason no less present: “The particular drift of everie acte proceeding externally from God, we are not able to discerne, and therefore cannot alwaies give the proper and certaine reason of his works.  Howbeit undoubtedly a proper and certaine reason there is of every finite worke of God, in as much as there is a law imposed upon it; which if there were not, it should be infinite even as the worker himselfe is.” (I.2.4) 

This law, then, of God’s operation, encompasses every kind of law, inasmuch as God’s operations encompass all that is.  Hooker terms it the “eternall” law, and defines it as “that order which God before all ages hath set down with himselfe, for himselfe to do all things by.” (I.2.6)

The rest of law may be treated as subdivisions of this eternal law, as follows:

“That part of it which ordereth naturall agents, we call usually nature’s law: that which Angels doe clearely behold, and without any swarving observe is a law coelestiall and heavenly: the law of reason that which bindeth creatures reasonable in the world, and with which by reason they may most plainely perceive themselves bound; that which bindeth them, and is not knowen but by speciall revelation from God, Divine law; humane law that which out of the law either of reason or of God, men probablie gathering to be expedient, they make it a law.  All things therfore, which are as they ought to be, are conformed unto this second law eternall, and even those things which to this eternall law are not conformable, are notwithstanding in some sort ordered by the first eternall lawe.” (I.3.1)

By this last remark, he seeks to distinguish how things may occur that are contrary to the law of God, unnatural, wicked, etc., and yet according to the decree of God.  The Calvinist solution to this dilemma, crudely put, is to divorce the two, positing a law which has force merely by virtue of divine fiat, while God himself acts (and causes us to act) according to an independent eternal decree, his secret will which is a law to itself.  I can’t say that I’m convinced that Hooker really solves the dilemma (I’m not convinced it is soluble by earthly minds), but he does try to hold it together more harmoniously: “For what good or evill is there under the sunne, what action correspondent or repugnant unto the law which God hath imposed upon his creatures, but in or upon it God doth worke according to the law which himselfe hath eternally purposed to keep, that is to say, the first law eternall?  So that a twofold law eternall being thus made, it is not hard to conceive how they both take place in all things.” (I.3.1)

Of the five subdivisions of law, the coelestiall law is of least interest to us and indeed, to Hooker himself, given that we can say no more about it than that it must exist in some fashion.  The distinction between the law of nature and the law of reason is one that, while I will not say it is unique to Hooker, is certainly distinctive.  I will remark briefly on the relationship here, and in future posts, I will look at the relationship of the law of reason to the Divine law, and the relationship of both to humane law–both matters of great importance, and of great interest to myself.

The distinction, then, between the laws of nature and of reason lies in the element of will.  Whereas it is general to use the blanket term “natural law” for the moral law that guides men, Hooker wants to reserve this term more precisely to the law that governs nature in the strictest sense–the operations of the natural world.  By doing this, he makes sure that we don’t forget that when we talk about “laws of nature” like gravity, we are talking about something integrally related to the other senses of law, and that “natural law” is first and foremost something metaphysical, not merely moral:

“Those things which nature is said to do, are by divine arte performed, using nature as an instrument: nor is there any such arte or knowledge divine in nature her selfe working, but in the guide of natures worke.  Whereas therefore things naturall which are not in the number of voluntarie agents (for of such only we now speake, and of no other) do so necessarily observe their certaine lawes, that as long as they keepe those formes which give them their being, they cannot possiblie be apt or inclinable to do otherwise then they do.” (I.3.4)

To this law, man is like all other creatures bound, inasmuch as our bodies do involuntarily grow toward their appointed end.  However, man has the additional ability to discern and choose to conform toward ends appointed as the perfection of his nature.  In relating these ends, Hooker waxes Augustinian, asserting that being is goodness, goodness proceeds from God, the source of all being, and all creatures strive to seek to conform to that goodness whence they proceed: 

“there is in all things an appetite or desire, whereby they inclyne to something which they may be: and when they are it, they shall be perfecter then nowe they are.  All which perfections are conteyned under the generall name of Goodnesse.  And because there is not in the world any thing wherby another may not some way be made the perfecter, therefore all things that are, are good.  Againe sith there can bee no goodnesse desired which proceedeth not from God himselfe, as from the supreme cause of all things, and every effect doth after a sort conteine, at least wise resemble the cause from which it proceedeth: all things in the worlde are saide to seeke the highest, and to covet more or lesse the participation of God himselfe.” (I.5.1-2)

This is especially true of man, who seeks not merely those general perfections of all creatures–to continue and propagate itself, and to continue “in the constancie and excellenceie of those operations which belong unto their kind,” (I.5.2) both operations of the law of nature–but to further perfections: “such as are not expressely desired unlesse they be first knowne, or such as are not for any other cause, then for knowledge it selfe desired.  Concerning perfections in this kind, that by proceeding in the knowledge of truth and by growing in the exercise of vertue, man amongst the creatures of this inferiour world, aspireth to the greatest conformity with God.” (I.5.3)

Thus it is that we come to the law of reason, that which we discern as the pattern or rule governing those perfections of our being that are attained only by consciously knowing them and choosing to pursue them.  By the reason that is part of our nature we discover those goods which constitute the perfection of our nature, and by recognizing these and experience in pursuing them, we derive maxims and axioms as a guide to right conduct–it is these that make up what is generally referred to as the “natural law.”  Of course, these are not always easy to discern, since there are a multitude of possible goods to choose from, and we often choose a less over a greater, or a faulty route to a genuine good.  Nevertheless, “There is not that good which concerneth us, but it hath evidence enough for it selfe, if reason were diligent to search it out.” (I.7.6)  That which all men have by reason deduced, then, must be taken for law, part of the eternal law, no less: “The generall and perpetual voyce of men is as the sentence of God him selfe.  For that which all men have at all times learned, nature her selfe must needes have tuught; and God being the author of nature, her voyce is but his instrument.” (I.8.3)

Now, for all of us natural law skeptics, we will of course want to ask why it is that if natural law is so natural, and as universal to all men as Hooker claims it to be, the vast majority of men do not observe it, and not only that, often seem ignorant of its principles.  To this, Hooker has a pretty good answer, which I will also explore in a later post.


But for now, I will close with Hooker’s own summary roundup: 

“A law therfore generally taken, is a directive rule unto goodnes of operation.  The rule of divine operations outward, is the definitive appointment of God’s owne wisedome set down within himself.  The rule of naturall agents that worke by simple necessity, is the determination of the wisedome of God, known to God himselfe the principall director of them, but not unto them that are directed to execute the same.  The rule of naturall agents which worke after a sort of their owne accord, as the beasts do, is the judgement of common sense or phancy concerning the sensible goodnes of those objects wherwith they are moved.  The rule of ghostly or immateriall natures, as spirits and Angels, is their intuitive intellectual judgment concerning the amiable beautie and high goodnes of that object, which with unspeakable joy and delight, doth set them on worke.  The rule of voluntary agents on earth is the sentence that reason giveth concernng the goodnes of those things which they are to do.  And the sentences which reason giveth are some more, some lesse general, before it come to define in particular actions what is good.  The main principles of reason are in themselves apparent.  For to make nothing evident of it selfe unto man’s understanding were to take away al possibility of knowing any thing.” (I.8.4)

Here it is worth drawing attention again to that feature that Shirley highlighted: law as “directive” rather than coercive.  We are accustomed, I think, to thinking of law as a set of barbed wire fences enclosing a somewhat amorphous space, defining where we must not go if we want to avoid evil, but leaving undefined just how we are to pursue virtue; or perhaps we are willing to see the fences as standing forbiddingly on either shoulder of a road that leads to virtue.  Either way, law is essentially coercive, binding us to refrain from evil, but incapable of itself to lead us to good.  Hooker doesn’t it that way, though; for him, law is the road that leads to virtue, that guides us to our appointed perfection.  If of necessity the road must have fences around it, so be it, but they are not of its essence, nor is it necessary that they be necessary.  

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.