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April 28, 2010
In my researches on Reformation political theology, I have been struck how the same Reformers who are so adamant about returning to the Church Fathers on issues of soteriology and ecclesiology (though even here, we must confess, they are rather selective), seem to have little such interest when it comes to matters of ethics.  On the contrary, they tend to be very modernizing on ethical issues.  Where the Church Fathers tend to be against marriage, and the medievals allow marriage but put tight constraints on it (e.g., no divorce), the Reformers gladly affirm marriage and relax the constraints on it (e.g., opening the doors wide for divorce).  Where the Church Fathers tended to be hostile to private property, and the medievals allow it but put tight constraints on it (e.g., no usury), the Reformers gladly embrace a market economy and relax the constraints.

Along these lines, I was particularly struck (and disturbed) by a passage in Bullinger, when he is talking about the obligation to fight in defense of one’s country, freedom, and possessions, and extolling the virtues of patriotism.  For Augustine, you may recall, it was never righteous to kill in defense of one’s possessions, or of anything pertaining to oneself; and though it was permissible to fight in defensive wars, the language of patriotism is deeply undermined in the City of God.  

But Bullinger, in expounding the fifth commandment (in vol. 2, sermon 5 of the Decades) uses pagan Roman and Greek sources to establish that we should think of our country as our father and mother, and therefore, ought to honor and fight for it.  He cites a couple Israelite wars, including the Maccabaean’s fight against Antiochus Epiphanes, as examples to be emulated, arguing that Hebrews 11 links the faith of their fighting to our own: 
“Now, since our faith is all one, and the very same with theirs, it is lawful for us, as well as for them, in a rightful quarrel by war to defend our country and religion, our virgins and old men, our wieves and children, our liberty and possessions.  They are flatly unnatural to their country and countrymen, and do transgress this fifth commandment, whosoever do (under the pretence of religion) forsake their country afflicted with war, not endeavoring to deliver it from barbarous soldiers and foreign nations.”  
Preempting the blasphemy of many modern war memorials, he goes on to quote St. John in approval of military sacrifice: “By this we know his love, because he gave his life for us; and we ought to give our lives for the brethren.”  Then he goes so far as to say that mercenaries (often the target of Reformation treatises on just war), who risk their lives for money, are more to be respected than those who “will not hazard the loss of a limb for their religion, magistrates, wives, children, and all their possessions.”  He ends by approvingly quoting a Greek writer, Hierocles, “Our country is as it were a certain other god, and our first and chiefest parent.”  
Looks like the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells have found their soulmate.  

5 comments:

Interesting excerpts. Bullinger had a fairly direct influence on the Puritans. I can see how his view of national identity could feed into the later definitions of the "national covenant."

April 28, 2010 at 7:42 PM  

Hey, you might want to check out Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition, by Charles McCoy and Wayne Baker, for a study of how his covenant theology helped contribute to later political federal theology.

April 29, 2010 at 3:28 PM  

Yeah, I used that for a paper I wrote earlier this term.

April 29, 2010 at 3:29 PM  

Compared to what went before, the Reformers made a vital recovery of Patristic ethics, see Calvin on Church discipline and the character of ministers. You seem to have misread Au'stin on marriage, see his Enchiridion, you appear to have taken Jerome for the whole.

April 29, 2010 at 4:04 PM  

Grrr...people tell me to try writing shorter posts, which inevitably require sweeping oversimplifications, and then I start getting complaints that I've oversimplified.

So, yes, Jason, there are certainly some spheres in which the Reformers recover Patristic ethics, but in many other respects (e.g., the ones I listed) they were rather modernizing. And of course I did not mean to imply a universal anti-marriage attitude in the early Church. I know that Augustine in particular articulated a more nuanced view. However, do you not think it is reasonable to broadly characterize the early Church Fathers as having a relatively hostile attitude toward marriage?

April 30, 2010 at 11:18 AM  

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