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.

A 400-year-old Warning against Wars of Intervention

Most of America’s wars during the past century have been justified on the basis that we were coming to the aid of oppressed peoples and liberating them, which, incidentally, is the same justification the Romans used for most of their imperial expansion.  The abuse of this justification has often led me to wonder whether such intervention is ever justified, and so I was intrigued to find the discussion of the question in Quaestio IV of the Vindiciae Contra TyrannosAlthough he is actually about to argue in favor of foreign intervention on behalf of oppressed citizens, particularly Christians, Mornay begins by offering a very insightful caution: 

“And indeed there are many who have readily judged it to be lawful, once they have hoped to augment their own wealth by affording assistance.  For in this way the Romans, Alexander the Great, and many others frequently extended their frontiers on the pretext of repressing tyrants.  Not long ago we saw Henri II, king of France, waging war on Charles V under the pretence of delivering and defending the princes of the Empire, and Protestant ones at that; just as also Henry VIII, king of England, was ready to render assistance to the Protestants of Germany, in order to create trouble for Charles V.  But if there is danger to be feard, or little profit may be hoped for, then you will certainly hear most princes debating whether it is lawful or not.  And as the former concealed ambition or pursuit of gain under the cloak of piety, so the latter proclaimed the justice of their inactivity.”

It is this principle, of course, that explains why Kuwait was desperately oppressed enough to warrant a full-scale war, while Rwanda merited no intervention.

Secular Resistance Theorists?

Anyone who read this blog last summer probably feels that I owe David VanDrunen a break, after my exhaustive vivisection of his Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.  Of course, to that I might reply that I have given him a break of several months, and as the crucial chapters of his book overlap with my Ph.D research so much, I find myself forced to continue to use him as a foil as I study the relationship of Scripture and “natural law” in late Reformation political theology.

In chapter four of his book, focusing on the use of natural law in the Reformed resistance theorists, VanDrunen sought to show that in the largest body of sixteenth-century Reformed political writings, it was natural law, rather than Scripture, that played the decisive role.  In the context of VanDrunen’s project as a whole, this claim serves to help undergird a narrative in which it was the use of natural law and two kingdoms doctrines in the Reformed tradition that helped open up a separate “secularized” civil sphere, insulated against the sacred concerns of the spiritual realm.  In other words, it was Reformed thinkers who helped create the notion of a political science that was for the first time not “political theology,” the notion of a state that existed to serve civil ends, not to foster religion.  

This narrative, of course, is hardly new with VanDrunen, even if his use of it to endorse a certain theological agenda is somewhat idiosyncratic.  A similar story was told by Quentin Skinner in his magisterial Foundations of Modern Political Thought, although Skinner was at pains to make the point that the contributions of the “Calvinist resistance theorists” were not uniquely “Calvinist” at all, but were in fact borrowed from the Lutherans or the Catholics.  The effect, however, was to develop, at least among the Huguenot resistance theorists, a general foundation of the people’s political rights against unjust political rule, a model of political justice and rights that did not depend on any theological agenda or program for church/state relations.  These theorists, believes Skinner, succeeded for the first time in isolating “political science” as an independent discipline that could leave theology on the sidelines; and of course, Skinner is very happy about this development. 

Skinner’s account is of course open to a whole slew of objections, whether the Cavanaughian argument that the early modern politics did not involve a desacralization of politics, but rather the transfer of sacredness from church to state, or the Eric Nelson argument (in The Hebrew Republic; similar themes are sounded by Charles Taylor in A Secular Age), that traces an actual increase of religiosity in early modern statecraft.  Indeed, I think Skinner’s portrait rests on a rather selective reading of the texts on which he builds his case. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.  My interest here is to explore the questions that Skinner’s account raises about VanDrunen’s.  

In my review of VanDrunen’s chapter on the resistance theorists, I complained that his approach appeared to consist of little more than culling references to “nature” and the “natural” from the pages of various resistance theorists, and using this as proof that the foundation of natural law undergirded their political doctrines.  In my mind, the quotations he brings forward do not even succeed even in demonstrating that natural law as such serves as a legitimate foundation for politics in most of these thinkers, much less that it supplants Scripture as the chief foundation for politics, which is of course what VanDrunen wants to argue in his larger project.  If we accepted Skinner’s account, we might grant that something of the sort is underway (though still incomplete) in the Huguenot resistance theorists (Hotman, Beza, Mornay), but is most definitely not in the Marian writers (Knox, Ponet, Goodman).  

Indeed, Skinner argues emphatically (and, based on my reading of three of the six sources thus far, compellingly), for a fairly crucial divide between these two, which he categorizes as the difference between a “duty to resist” and a “right to resist.”  In the former group of writers, he argues, the emphasis is on the duty of the people, in particular the inferior magistrates, to resist a ruler who, by his ungodliness, has ceased to legitimately claim divine ordination and has become a destroyer of the Church and promoter of idolatry.  Sacred motives prevail over “secular” in this construction;  it is the imperative to create and protect a godly commonwealth that calls for revolution.  No one is arguing for religious toleration, since the Protestants intend to be every bit as intolerant once their rebellion has succeeded.  However, for the theorists of a “right to resist,” the issue is much less theologically charged.  The Huguenot theorists argue that based on a combination of history, Scripture, natural law, etc., we can see that rulers are created to serve their people, not vice versa, and so if the ruler becomes an enemy to his people, they have the right to resist in defence of their liberty–of their liberty, mind you, not in defence of the purity of the Church or the godliness of the commonwealth.  wNow, this is certainly a very one-sided narrative, and it is unquestionably true that the Huguenot theorists do share with the English and Scottish Calvinists a concern for a fully Reformed commonwealth, and make much of the religious dimensions of the conflict in their tracts.  However, they certainly do not do so nearly as much as the Marian exiles.

And this raises an interesting question for VanDrunen’s narrative.  If the Reformed as a whole were characterized by the theological concern to establish politics on the basis of natural law, rather than Scripture, to separate the civil kingdom of politics from the spiritual kingdom of the Church, then why should this impetus appear in only one group of Reformed political thinkers?  Because, let’s face it, even if Knox and his company are willing to speak of female rule as “a monster in nature” they aren’t about to concede that political rule as such is a matter of nature rather than religion; the most VanDrunen can seriously hope for is to enlist the Huguenots as allies.   But why does their approach differ so much? 

The answer, suggests Skinner, lies in that feature of history which VanDrunen chooses to largely ignore–concrete circumstances.  When Knox, Ponet, and Goodman wrote to address the English situation in the 1550s, they were dealing with countries that had already been substantially reformed, where the rulers had already embraced the Protestant faith and made the notion of a godly commonwealth, free of idolatry, seem like a genuine possibility.  The reassertion of Catholic rule was thus conceivably a temporary aberration, one which could be corrected with a resolute enough populace, prepared to resist and rebel.  In France, however, it was another story.  Here, the Huguenots were a bare 2-5% of the population, facing a powerful and determined Catholic monarchy.  Toleration and liberty were first on their agenda; imposing the new uniformity of a reformed commonwealth, while perhaps desirable in theory, was simply not on the radar.  Fortunately, they were not so outnumbered as it might seem, due to the presence of a widespread Catholic resentment against the Valois monarchs, particularly among the nobility.  Could these be persuaded to rebel, liberty might be achievable.  In such a milieu, it was clearly impractical to argue for the overthrow of the monarchy in the name of purging France of idolatry and making her into a Reformed nation.  If resistance was to be advocated, it would have to be on wider, religiously-neutral terms, a strictly political theory that could command wide assent among Catholic and Protestant discontents alike.  And it was such a theory that was so ingeniously crafted in the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, laying the groundwork for seventeenth-century constitutionalism, and ultimately John Locke and his ilk.  But if Skinner’s plausible narrative is to be believed, this occurred not because of some particular theological insight of Calvinism (indeed, there was nothing distinctively Calvinist in the Vindiciae, he claims), but almost as a historical accident–by the awkward position of the Huguenots that left them needing to argue against religiously-motivated tyranny on (largely) religiously-neutral grounds.

This example thus serves to expose again the failure of VanDrunen’s rather abstract, history-of-ideas approach, in which theological theory is considered in isolation from concrete historical application.  No theology is done in a vacuum, least of all political theology, and if we want to understand a theologian who tries to bring his convictions to bear on the body politic, we’d best pay attention to which body politic before we draw too many conclusions.