The early protestant reformers. The Protestant Reformation mixed political theory with differences of religious belief and with questions of theological dogma more closely than had been the case even in the Middle Ages. There is, however, no simple formula for this relationship. Everywhere political theories were defended with theological arguments and political alliances were made in the name of religious truth.
Nowhere was there any religious party, Protestant or Catholic, that really related its political convictions with the theology which it professed. The reasons for this are evident. Catholics and Protestants alike, and every subdivision of Protestants, drew upon the same Christian heritage and the same body of European political experience.
The scholars of all churches had the same stock of ideas, a rich and varied body of thought extending continuously back to the eleventh century and embodying a tradition which carried it back to antiquity. The logical dependence of any part of this political tradition upon any particular theological system was loose, as it had always been in the Middle Ages.
Protestants could select from it, as Catholics had always done, according to their purposes and circumstances. Consequently the Reformation produced n> such thing as a Protestant political theory, are more than the Middle Ages produced a Catholic one, nor for that matter did it produce even an Anglican or a Presbyterian or a Lutheran theory that had any close dependence upon the theologies of these Protestant churches.
Given time and a stable relationship to government, any group could select a more or less coherent political doctrine, suitable to its situation and fairly characteristic of its members beliefs (though always with individual exceptions). But similarity of political conviction depended more on circumstances than on theology, and political differences resulted rather from the varying situations in which the churches found themselves than from theological differences.
Thus an Anglican, a Lutheran, and a Gallican Catholic might agree much better about the divine right of kings than about their theology, and also they might agree to regard both Calvinists and Jesuits as public enemies. A classification of political theories would never correspond with a classification of religious denominations, though it is true that religious groups did form typical bodies of theory.
In no case did the mere breaking of relations with the Roman Church solve for Protestants any of the intrinsic difficulties that had arisen in the Middle Ages over clerical interference in politics or secular interference in religion. It changed their form but at the same time It intensified them, because, for the time being, religion was more dependent upon and involved with politics than ever before.
Moreover, the relation of church and state varied with the political and religious situation in each country. Current conceptions of the church and of religion changed much more slowly than the facts warranted, and the results achieved were never in any great degree like those intended. Thus the unity of the church was permanently broken, so that instead of one church there was a growing number of churches, but it was a century before even liberal Protestants could contemplate this as a fact. The conception of a church as the guardian of the only revealed truth remained, and the fact that Protestantism replaced the authority of the hierarchy with the infallibility of Scripture made it no less authoritarian.
Everyone assumed, with what now seems incredible naiveté, that agreement about religious truth was possible or even certain, if only the blindness, or more usually the wickedness, of their opponents could be removed. Except in the case of a mere handful of writers there was no question of religious toleration. The belief was general on the side of churchmen that pure doctrine ought to be maintained by public authority, and on the side of statesmen that unity of religion was an indispensable condition of public order.
Where the government of the Roman Church was broken the maintenance of the faith became a charge on the civil authorities, because no one else could do it. In effect the decision as to what is pure doctrine passed largely to secular rulers. When this was honestly attempted, government became charged with the impossible task of deciding what religious truth is, and when it was not honestly done, politicians were given an infinity of troubled water to fish in.
Passive Obedience and the Right to Resist:-
On the whole, therefore, the Reformation, together with the sectarian controversies to which it gave rise, accelerated the tendency, already in existence, to increase and consolidate the power of the monarchies. The failure of the church to reform itself by a General Council meant that no successful reform was possible unless it could enlist the support, or even the force, of secular rulers.
Martin Luther early discovered that the success of reform in Germany depended upon obtaining the help of the princes. In England the Reformation was carried through by the already well-nigh absolute power of Henry VIII, and its immediate consequence was to strengthen royal power still farther. In Europe generally, as controversies spread, the king was the one point around which national unity could rally. This was notably true in France in the latter part of the sixteenth century.
Without much exaggeration it may be said that everywhere success went to the religious party that happened to be allied with a strong internal policy, In England and northern Germany Protestantism was on the side of the princes. In France and Spain it became allied with particularist movements of the nobility, the provinces, or the cities, with the result that the national religion remained Catholic. Thus, whoever lost, the kings won, and the absolute monarchy, which the Reformation did not originate and which was no more naturally related to one form of religious belief than another, was in the first instance its chief political beneficiary.
This effect was increased by the fact that the more powerful reforming groups continually felt obliged to fight their war on two fronts. They had, of course, to contend against the pope, and for this purpose they used all the principles and arguments that had become common property in the two centuries since William of Occam.
But leading Protestant reformers, even more than Catholics, felt compelled to distinguish themselves sharply from the obscurer and more radical movements of religious and social reform which composed the lunatic fringe of Protestantism.
Movements of this sort, which had no doubt been simmering under the surface for centuries, immediately came to light when the stable order began to be agitated. Anabaptist and the peasant revolts were feared and hated by the rising bourgeoisie of the sixteenth century more fiercely and more nervously than similar proletarian disturbances of a later day. They were suppressed with savage cruelty, which received the blessing of both Luther and Calvin.
Not for nothing did monarchy receive the support of the growing middle class, but for this reason also the religious reformers were thrown bodily into the arms of the princes. Thus the Reformation joined with economic forces already in existence to make royal government, invested with absolute power at home and with a free hand abroad, the typical form of European state.
At the same time, however, Protestantism produced another result which, in the long run, tended to work in an opposite direction. In most parts of northern Europe it produced relatively strong religious minorities, bodies too numerous to be coerced without endangering public order and quite as determined as the party in power to gain for its own faith the benefits of legal establishment. Every such body was, for obvious reasons, a potential source of disorder, and every religious difference was at the same time a political issue.
Only slowly and under the compulsion of circumstances that permitted no other solution did a policy of religious toleration emerge, as it was discovered that a common political loyalty was possible to people of different religions. in the meantime the amalgamation of religion and politics was complete.
The upholding of rulers became a primary article of religious faith, while defense of a religious creed was felt to be, and often in fact was, an attack upon a ruler of a different belief. The cause of religious reform, at least on the part of a dissenting and disestablished group, involved not only a right to disagree with the government in power but possibly also the right to resist in the interests of what the dissenters honestly believed to be true religion.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries reformers had claimed the right to resist an heretical pope. In the sixteenth century they had to claim the right to resist heretical kings, who now, rather than the pope, were laying waste the church. The issue was still religious reform, but it was a political at least as much as a religious issue.
For this reason the most controverted point in political philosophy became the question whether subjects have the right to resist their rulers-of course for supposedly good reasons, usually concerned with the maintenance of sound Christian doctrine-or whether they owe a duty of passive obedience such that resistance is in all cases wrong.
The latter view became the modernized theory of monarchical divine right, since passive obedience to any form of government except a monarchy was an academic question. The right to resist, on the other hand, could best be defended on the hypothesis that kings derive their power from the people and may be called to account, for sufficient cause, by them.
These two types of theory therefore came to prevail in the sixteenth century and they came to be regarded as antithetical to one another, as indeed they were in the consequences that each was now held to entail. Both were for the time being equally theological, though it proved possible to detach the theory of popular rights from theology more easily than divine right.
Obviously neither theory was in itself new, though both were more or less new in respect to the uses to which they were put. The belief that civic obedience was a Christian virtue enjoined by God was as old as St. Paul. No Christian had ever doubted that in some sense the powers that be are of God, and in itself this implied no denial of the view that in some sense power comes also from the people.
An Occasional medieval writer, following the tradition of Gregory the Great, could approximate the doctrine of passive obedience, though It was not a common belief, as it came to be in the sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. On the other hand, the general theory that political authority comes from the people had not been in any specific sense a defense of the right to resist. The specialization of the two theories, and the setting up of one as monarchical and the other as anti-monarchical, came about in the course of the sixteenth century.
The interesting point to be observed about the first reformers is that both Luther and Calvin stood on substantially identical ground relative to the fundamental moral issue: That is to say, they both help the view that resistance to rulers is in all circumstances wicked. This fact is striking in view of the contrast between the later history of the Lutheran and Calvinist churches. Both in Scotland and France the Calvinists were largely responsible for developing and spreading the theory that political resistance is justified as a means of religious reform. It was John Knox in Scotland, the leader of a reform which must succeed by popular force against a court-party that was immovably Catholic, who was in the first instance responsible for this important departure from the teaching of Calvin himself. The circumstances in which French Calvinists found themselves contributed to a similar end. On the other hand, the state of affairs in northern Germany tended to make passive obedience a permanent part of the teaching of the Lutheran Church.
This result has in it an element of historical irony. On the ground of temperament Luther was much better fitted to sympathize with the cause of personal liberty than Calvin. By inclination he disliked coercion in matters of belief, and this was in fact the only view consistent with his idea of religious experience.
Heresy can never be kept off by force. For that another tool is needed, and it is another quarrel and conflict than that of the sword. God’s word must contend here. If that avail nothing, temporal power will never settle the matter, though it fill the world with blood.
For the substance of religion lay for Luther in an inner experience, essentially mystical and incommunicable, while its outward forms and the ministrations of the clergy are merely an aid or a hindrance to attaining this goal. This was the meaning of his doctrines of justification by faith and the priesthood of the Christian man. Obviously force is a wholly unsuitable means to foster religion so understood.
The antecedents of all Luther’s ideas both about church and state had been current since the fourteenth century. The charges which he brought against the Roman Church-the luxury and evil living of the roman court, the draining of German ecclesiastical revenues to some, the advancement of foreign prelates to preferment in German churches, the corruption of the papal judiciary, and the sale of indulgences-all referred to ancient grievances.
The basis of his argument against the pope and the hierarchy was precisely the principle made current by the conciliar controversy, that the church is the assembly of all believers in Christ upon earth. His attack upon the special privileges and communities of the clergy followed the lines of the older anti-papal argument differences of rank are merely administrative conveniences, and all classes of men, laymen as well as clergy, have callings useful to the community. Hence there is no reason why the clergy should not be answerable in temporal matters just as a layman is.
It is indeed past bearing that the spiritual law should esteem as highly the liberty, life, and property of the clergy, as if laymen were not as good spiritual Christians, or not equally members of the Church.
Nevertheless, though Luther was temperamentally averse to religious coercion and though he knew how to muster the priesthood of the Christian man against the Canon Law and against sacerdotal-ism, he wholly failed to envisage religion as able to dispense altogether with ecclesiastical discipline and authority. Reluctantly but none the less surely he was led to the conclusion that heresy must be suppressed and that heretical teaching must be prevented. This conclusion, in spite of his inclination, led straight to coercion, and since the church had itself failed to correct is shortcomings, the hope for a purified church lay necessarily with secular rulers.
But this would be the best, and also the only remedy remaining, if kings, princes, nobility, cities and communities themselves began and opened a way for reformation, so that the bishops and clergy, who now are afraid, would have reason to follow.
Luther still adhered, it is true, to the ancient subterfuge that this is a temporary device to meet an emergency. Kings and princes, he says are bishops by necessity.But the practical upshot of his break with Rome was that secular government itself became the agent of reform and the effective arbiter of what reform should be.
Nothing certainly Was farther from his intention than to make government the judge of heresy, but in effect the power that enforces also defines. In the event, therefore, Luther helped to create a national church, something which he would certainly have regarded as a religious monstrosity.
Being thus dependent upon the princes for the success of reform, it became a foregone conclusion that he would adhere to the view that subjects owe their rulers a duty of passive obedience. Despite his own independence of judgment and his genuine love of religious liberty, the adoption of this point of view probably cost him little or nothing in respect to political convictions. He had in fact very little interest in politics except as events forced it on his attention, and by temperament he had great respect for civil authority; he was always markedly opposed to political pressure exerted through sedition and Violence. Luther was no respecter of persons-he once said that rulers were generally the biggest fools and worst knaves on earth-but he had great respect for office as such and he had no confidence whatever in the masses of mankind.
The princes of this world are gods, the common people are Satan, through whom God sometimes does what at other times he does directly through Satan, that is, makes rebellion as a punishment for the people’s sins.
I would rather suffer a prince doing wrong than a people doing right.
AS might be expected, his assertion of the duty of passive obedience se was as strong as it could possibly be made:
It is in no wise proper for anyone who would be a Christian to set himself up against his government, whether it act justly or unjustly.
There are no better works than to obey and serve all those who are set over us as superiors. For this reason also disobedience is a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft, and dishonesty, and all that these may include.
It is true that in this respect, as in others, Luther was not very consistent; his political opinions were too much governed by circumstances, and passive obedience was not without its difficulties. The very princes upon whom he depended were, in law at least, the sub is of the emperor. In this contingency he was driven to concede that the emperor might be resisted when he exceeded his imperial authority, which was clearly inconsistent with the general principle of passive Obedience.
However, the emperor’s actual power over the princes was sufficiently shadowy so that the discrepancy had little practical importance. The weight of Luther’s authority was quite definitely on the side of the doctrine that resistance to civil authority is in all circumstances morally wrong.
The result of Lutheranism was on the whole quite different from what Luther intended. Religiously more liberal, at least by inclination, than Calvin, he instituted the Lutheran state churches, dominated by political forces and almost, it might be said, branches of the state. The disruption of the universal church, the suppression of its monastic institutions and ecclesiastical corporations, and the abrogation of the Canon Law, removed the strongest checks upon secular power that had existed in the Middle Ages.
Luther’s stress upon the pure inwardness of religious experience inculcated an attitude of quietism and acquiescence toward worldly power. Religion perhaps gained in spirituality but the state certainly gained in power. The submissiveness of the Lutheran churches, with a suggestion of mysticism, is sharply in contrast with the type of religion that developed in the Calvinist churches, where worldly activity and even worldly success figured as Christian duties.
Calvinism and the Power of the Church:-
The Calvinist churches, in Holland, Scotland, and America, were the chief medium through which the justification of resistance was spread through western Europe. The difference depended in no way upon the primary intention of Calvin himself; in fact, he believed as emphatically in the duty of passive obedience as Luther, and in character he was far more legalistic and authoritarian than the German reformer.
In so far as the difference depended upon anything in Calvinist theology, the relation was indirect and might, under different circumstances, have had quite a different history. The crucial fact was that Calvinism, especially in France and Scotland, was in opposition to governments which it had practically no chance to convert or capture.
For this reason chiefly Calvin’s strong statements about the wickedness of resistance-natural enough in Geneva or so long as there was any | hope of successful reform in France-were permitted by his followers to lapse and were supplanted by teaching to exactly the opposite effect John Knox’s first steps in this direction took advantage of certain minor features of Calvin’s teaching, but in themselves these features need never have led to any such change of position.
In its initial form Calvinism not only included a condemnation of resistance but it lacked all leaning toward liberalism, constitutionalism or representative principles. Where it had free range it developed characteristically into a theocracy, a kind of oligarchy maintained by an alliance of the clergy and the gentry from which the mass of the people was excluded and which was, in general, illiberal, oppressive, and reactionary.
This was the nature of Calvin’s own government in Geneva and of Puritan government in Massachusetts. It is true that Calvin objected on principle to a combination of state and church. It was on this ground that he broke with the reform of Zwingli at Zurich and Calvinists generally, in England for example, continued to oppose such a union as resulted from admitting the king to be the head of a national church.
The reason for this, however, was not a desire that : the state should be free from clerical influence but exactly the opposite. The church must be free to set its own standards of doctrine and ; morals and must have the full support of secular power in enforcing its discipline upon the recalcitrant. In Geneva excommunication deprived a citizen of the right to hold office, and in Massachusetts civic rights were limited to churchmembers.
In this respect Calvin’s theory of the church was more in the spirit of extreme medieval ecclesiastic-ism than that held by nationalist Catholics. This is the reason why, to members of the national churches, Calvinist and Jesuit seemed to be two names for the same thing.
Both stood for the primacy and independence of spiritual authority and the use of secular power to give effect to its judgments about orthodoxy and moral discipline in practice, wherever possible, Calvinist government placed the two swords of Christian tradition in the church, and gave the direction of secular authority to the clergy rather than to secular rulers. The result was likely to be an intolerable rule of the saints: a meticulous regulation of the most private concerns founded upon universal espionage, with only a shadowy distinction between the maintenance of public order, the control of private morals, and the preservation of pure doctrine and warship.
With these practical results the characteristic doctrines of Calvinist theology-election and foreordination-were not unconnected. The belief that men are saved not by their own merit but by the free act of God’s grace might seem, on its face, to take the heart out of human effort. In fact it had exactly the opposite effect. Calvinism lacked almost all trace of the mysticism and quietism which colored Lutherans idea of religious experience. Calvinist ethics was essentially an ethics of action.
And indeed, what better motive can there be to relentless activity to steel the will and, if need be, to harden the heart-than a whole-soiled conviction that a man is the chosen instrument-of God’s will? The Calvinist theory of predestination had nothing a common with the modern conception of universal causality.
It was rather a belief in a cosmic system of quasi-military discipline. Thus Calvin exhausted the vocabulary of the Roman law to describe the sovereignty of God over the world and man. His morals taught not much of love of one’s fellows as self-control, discipline, and respect for one’s comrades in the battle of life, and these became indeed the sovereign moral virtues of Puritanism.
It was this ethics which made he Calvinist churches the peculiarly militant parts of Protestantism the dogma of election was ideally suited to the autocratic temper of the moral reformer who set himself to do battle against the unregenerate mass of mankind.
The doctrine of fore ordination was the saints mandate to rule tacking Luther’s inclination toward mystical religious experience, Calvin in one sense put a higher value on secular institutions, which for Luther had only a worldly importance. This did not imply their independence of the church but the opposite; they are among the external means of salvation. Hence the first duty of government is to maintain the pure worship of God and to uproot idolatry, sacrilege, blasphemy, and heresy. The emphasis in Calvin’s enumeration of the objects for which secular power exists is enlightening.
It is the purpose of temporal rule, so long as we live among men, to foster and support the external worship of God, to defend pure doctrine and the standing of the church, to conform our lives to human society, to mold our conduct to civil justice, to harmonize us with each other, and to preserve the common peace and tranquility.
It is true that Calvin reiterated the ancient Christian view that genuine belief cannot be cornered, but he put practically no limit upon the duty of the state to enforce outward conformity.
Calvinism, then, aimed primarily at censorship in morals and discipline in doctrine; it was notable for the power and influence which it gave to the clergy. The fact is the more striking because it went beyond other Protestant bodies in its opposition to ceremonial-ism and also because the Calvinist form of church government included representation of the congregation by lay elders. The fatter practice as an efficient means for applying censorship; it was not intended to introduce democracy into the church or to curb the influence of the clergy, nor did it do so in the earlier forms of Calvinism.
In theory the power of the church was supposed to lie in the whole Christian body, and at Geneva this power was exercised by a consistory which included the clergy and twelve lay elders chosen nominally by the town council, In reality the power of the clergy was practically unlimited, and the system was representative only in the vague sense that the consistory was supposed to exercise an authority belonging to the whole church. At the start the elders were in no specific sense representative of the congregation, as they later came to be when the Presbyterian churches adopted a plan of election, and there was no self-government in church-meeting such as appeared later in the Congregational bodies.
It is quite true, however, that Calvinism in Scotland did embody the principle of representation in a way that was politically important, The general assembly of the Scottish Church, together with its presbyteries and provincial synods, was far more representative of the nation generally than the Scottish parliament, which had remained feudal in its make-up. The reformation in Scotland was substantially a popular and national movement directed against a Catholic court and nobility closely allied with France, but this was not because Calvinism in its original form stood either for popular rights or representation. Politically it had no such general implication, and in church government leadership came to have these qualities only when circumstances brought the result about.
In so far as Calvinism had any leaning away from monarchical power, this resulted from a negative rather than from a positive quality. It was probably true-certainly the later sixteenth century believed it to be true-that Calvinism was not a form of church government which could commend itself to a national church of which the Bing was the temporal head.
The essential reason for this was the fact, already noted, that Calvinism stood on the Hildebrandine principle that spiritual authority is superior to secular, and so tended to make the clergy independent of the temporal head of a state church. The difference between Calvinism and Catholicism in this respect lay in the fact that the former made the church generally, including both clergy and laity, autonomous, instead of concentrating spiritual power in the bishops.
In the national churches the bishops, having been detached from Rome, became the most eligible agencies for conducting royal government in the church, and in consequence archiepiscopal be came the natural form of government to be adopted by the national churches.
This was the reason for the pregnant aphorism of King James, no bishop, no king, which was based upon a long and poignant experience of Calvinist presbyteries. In this sense, then, Calvinism was predestined to be the form of church government for opposition parties. It was not intrinsically popular and certainly not in intention anti-monarchical, but it was non-monarchical in the sense that the monarchy always had more favorable forms of church government to choose from.
Calvin and Passive Obedience:-
Of Calvin’s specifically political views, by far the most important, at least as concerns his own time and place is his strong and on the whole consistent assertion of the duty of passive obedience, in respect to which he was quite in agreement with Luther. Since secular power is the external means to salvation, the estate of the magistrate is, he says, most honorable; he is the vicar of God and resistance to him is resistance to God. It is a vain business for the private man, who has no duty to govern, to dispute what is the best condition for the state. If anything needs correction, let him show it to his superior and not put his own hand to the work.
Let him do nothing without the command of his superior. The bad ruler, who is a visitation on the people for their sins, deserves the unconditional submission of his subjects no less than the good, for submission is due not to the person but to the office, and the office has inviolable majesty. It is true that Calvin, like practically all sixteenth-century advocates of the divine right of kings, expressed strong views on the duty of rulers to their subjects.
The immutable law of God is binding on kings as well as on subjects, and the evil ruler is guilty of sedition against God. Like Locke later he held that civil law merely fixes a penalty for what is intrinsically wrong. But the punishment of a derelict magistrate belongs to God and not to his subjects. This was a natural position for Calvin to take, both in view of his own power in Geneva and because of the hope that Calvinist Protestantism might yet become the religion of the kings of France.
There was one phase of Calvin’s theory of political resistance, of minor importance in his own writing, which was greatly developed by some of his followers. He pointed out that there are constitutions in which certain inferior magistrates are charged with a duty of resist tyranny in the head of the state and to protect the people against him. He was clearly thinking of officials like the plebeian tribunes in ancient Rome. In case a constitution does include such inferior magistrates, the right to resist is itself derived from God; it is in no sense a general right of the people to resist. The sovereign power is held jointly, and one sharer has the duty to prevent aggression by another.
This theory of the inferior magistrate get an importance among certain Calvinists Out of all proportion to the place given it by Calvin. Once the doctrine of passive obedience was dropped, as it was first in Scotland and later in France, the right to resist was usually lodged not in private persons but in the inferior magistrates or natural leaders of the people. The theory formed an aristocratic mitigation of a general theory of natural rights inherent in the people. In Calvin himself, however, there was no theory of popular rights. The ruler’s obligation to govern lawfully is owed to God and not to the people; his power is limited by the law of God and not by the rights of the people; and if there is in a particular constitution a right to resist the chief magistrate, this also comes from God and not from the people.
It is a point of minor importance that Calvin’s own political convictions were aristocratic rather than monarchical. There was room in his system for only one king, namely, God himself. Thus he described the selection of one man or one family for political power as lese majeste against the divine kingship.
This opinion was probably re-enforced by an intellectual preference, based upon humanistic studies, for the ancient aristocratic republic. This preference can be seen clearly in the Institutes. He reproduced from Polybius the ancient argument for mixed government. His criticism of hereditary monarchy recalls Cicero, and his strictures on democracy are as bitter as Plato’s.
Nothing could surpass the contempt expressed in his description of the Anabaptist as those who live pell mell like rats in the straw. The bias of Calvin’s own political and social opinions was markedly aristocratic, and this remained in general the bias of Calvinism, except as it was transformed in certain of the left-wing sects.
In its main aspects Calvin’s political theory was a somewhat unstable structure, not precisely because it was illogical but because it could readily become the prey of circumstances. On the one hand it stressed the wickedness of all resistance to constituted authority, but on the other its fundamental principle was the right of the church to declare pure doctrine and to exercise universal censorship with the support of secular power. It was practically a foregone conclusion, therefore, that a Calvinist church, existing in a state whose rulers refused to admit the truth of its doctrine and to enforce its discipline, would drop the duty to obey and assert the right to resist. At least, such a result might be expected where there was little chance of converting the government and a good chance of gaining by resistance. This was the situation in which Calvinists found themselves in the later Sixteenth century in both Scotland and France.
The reversal of position was first made by John Knox, not because of any special originality on his part but because of the situation in which Scottish Protestantism was placed. In 1558 Knox found himself in exile and under sentence of death by the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland but still the leader of a strong Protestant following. The crown, because of its alliance with France, was irretrievably Catholic.
Thus he could hope much from a policy of resistance and nothing from any other policy, and in fact by this means he accomplished the Scottish reformation only two years later. It was in this situation that he wrote his Appellation to the nobility, estates, and commonalty of Scotland, asserting the duty of every man in his station to see that true religion is taught and that those are punished with death who deprive the people of the food of their souls, mean God’s lively Word.
In essentials Knox did not depart from Calvin’s principles. He assumed the incontestable truth of Calvin’s version of Christian doctrine and also the duty of the church to enforce its discipline against all who do not willingly accept it. Every Christian is obliged to bring it about that this doctrine and this discipline shall have the weight to which their truth entitles them. So far Knox is merely Calvin over again. But in Scotland there is a Catholic regent for a Catholic queen who not only refuses the true faith but actively upholds idolatry (that is, Catholicism). What, then, ought a true believer to do? Knox, boldly asserted that it was their duty to correct and repress whatever a king does contrary to God’s word, honor, and glory, and: thereby he rejected Calvin’s doctrine of passive obedience.
For now the common song of all men is, We must obey our kings, be they good or be they bad; for God hath so commanded. But horrible shall the vengeance be, that shall be poured forth upon such blasphemers of God his holy name and ordinance. For it is no less blasphemy to say that Cod hath commanded kings to be obeyed when they command impiety, than to say that God by his precept is author and maintainer of all iniquity.
The punishment of such crimes as are idolatry, blasphemy, and others that touch the majesty of Cod, doth not appertain to kings and chief rulers only, but also to the whole body of that people and to every member of the same, according to the vocation of every man and according to that possibility and occasion, which God doth minister to revenge the injury done against his glory, what time that impiety is manifestly known.
Behind some of Knox’s statements there appears to lie the presumption that kings owe their power to election and hence are responsible to the people for its exercise, but this is quite vague and undeveloped. The essential points are, first, that he abandoned Calvin’s belief that resistance is always wrong and, second, that he defended resistance as part of the duty to sustain religious reform. His stand was taken upon the ground of religious duty, not of popular rights, but it put one great wing of the Calvinist churches in opposition to royalist power and boldly justified the use of rebellion.
The next step was taken in France, where the outbreak of the religious wars again put a Calvinist party in opposition to a Catholic monarchy. Here the theory that royal power is derived from and responsible to the people received a much fuller development than Knox gave it, though still with a very definite reference to the religious question. The fuller development of Knox’s revolutionary or anti-monarchical Calvinism may therefore be sought in such a work as the Vindiciae contra tyrannos.