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PMV--Slave to Natural Theology

Perhaps that title is a bit strong. But I am certainly disappointed in my Reformed forefathers when it comes to political theology. This post is the first of many that will no doubt follow on PMV--Peter Martyr Vermigli--and his political theology. As far as I can tell, only one book has been published on the subject (and it's simply a compilation of some of his writings), and I have it in my hands.

Though taking place within the context of a Biblical commentary, his whole discussion of the rights and privileges of the magistrate reeks of natural theology. When it comes to the question of "What if the magistrate is corrupt and abuses his powers?" it never enters into PMV's head to bring the Church into it at all:

But when princes are so corrupt, what is to be done? We must obey, but usque ad aras, that is, so far as religion suffreth. May private men take upon them to alter a corrupt Prince? They may do it in admonishing, in giving counsel and reproving, but not by force of weapons.

I happen to agree with what he says about private men, but he forgets that there is another institution in this picture--the Church. There is not simply the State and its citizens. The Church does have a certain ability to stand against the corrupt prince that the private man does not. Of course, again, this does not take the form of arms. In the case of pagan rulers, it may indeed not be able to take much form other than "giving counsel and reproving"--however, even this holds much more authority, coming from the Church, than from any number of private men. But what if the magistrate is a corrupt Christian? It is unconscionable that this question does not even arise for PMV. The magistrate is simply considered in terms of his public role as magistrate, and the question of whether or not he is a covenant member never arises. Where's the antithesis here? PMV takes examples from ancient Rome and applies them on magistrates of his day. But there is something really missing here. For, if the corrupt magistrate is indeed a Christian, the Church has a great deal more to say. The Church cannot fight with worldly weapons, but it can fight with what are far more powerful--spiritual weapons. It can bring all the discipline of the Church down upon that corrupt magistrate. Now, we can't necessarily know how this will turn out, but I have to wonder, why does PMV not even discuss this angle?

In other words, PMV needs to read Torture and Eucharist.



There's quite a tradition here that you're not interacting with. PMV is a magisterial Reformer, and as such believes that the magistrate, whether godly or not, is a legit minister of God. The Church simply is not over the state, as the Roman system began to claim. This is a big big big part of what the Reformation was all about.

PMV, of course, desires that the magistrate be a Christian, as all of the Reformed did. In the case that he is not, however, rebellion is not an acceptable option. The Puritans and Jesuits would say that it was, but they are both more like each other and less like the catholic tradition in this regard.

PMV would also not agree with your definition of the Church, since the Reformers all believed that a Christian King was in fact a minister in the Church. The Anglicans were crystal clear in this regard, acknowledging that due to the priesthood of all believers, the King was already a minister, and thanks to his civil position, could easily function as head of the Church. Their Romanist and Presbyterian critics would accuse them of setting a layman atop their Church. Paul Avis is the man to read on the Reformers theology of the Godly Prince, as it is much richer than you've hinted at here.

Finally, your reference of "natural theology" is quite, well modern, and as such does not fit in Reformation discussions. The natural law was confessed by everyone but the anabaptists, and so being a slave to natural theology is not terribly different from being a slave to catholic Christianity.

September 27, 2008 at 5:21 AM  

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