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April 29, 2010
If you know me, you know it’s frustrating enough for me when the Reformers claim that civil authority wields its authority as permanent fixture of the creation order, or when they claim that the magistrate ought to rule over the Church.  But, I can handle all that.  But how about when they go and claim that civil authority is not merely a lawful and important calling, but the most honourable and important calling there is--more honorable than ecclesial offices.  Consider John Calvin, from the Institutes: “No one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men.” 
Or how about Heinrich Bullinger, who insists that politicians are thousands of times more virtuous and honorable than monks:  

“And for the excellency of their office, which is both the chiefest and the most necessary, God doth attribute to the magistrate the use of his own name, and calleth the princes and senators of the people gods, to the intent that they by the very name should be put in mind of their duty, and that the subjects might thereby learn to have them in reverence....There is more true virtue in one politic man, who governeth the commonweal and doth his duty truly, than in many thousands of monks and hermites, who have not so much as one word expressed in the holy scriptures for the defence of their vocation and vowed order of living: yea, I am ashamed that I have compared the holy office of magistrates with that kind of people, in whom there is nothing found worthy to be compared with them....Truly if the prince do faithfully discharge his office in the commonweal, he heapeth up to himself a number of very good works and praise that never shall be ended.”

4 comments:

I think we need some historical context here. Sure, it sounds ridiculous to us. But that's us.

April 29, 2010 at 5:29 PM  

By the way, the observation was cool. It's good to be aware of the problems in reformed theology; I'm just wondering why they're there and what exactly it is we're supposed to learn from that.

April 29, 2010 at 5:31 PM  

Yes, we do need to try to make sense of the context and rationale...that's why I'm doing a Ph.D on this. The best explanation in their defense that I could offer is that 1) most of these Reformers had spent years seeing some pretty wretched churchmanship among the clergy, and had had a lot of bad experience with monastics as well, and 2) many of them owed their lives to the protection of well-disposed civil magistrates. So, they tended to generalize--churchmen=bad; princes=good. We should be thankful that they didn't overreact as much as we might expect and espouse the kind of low-church anti-clericalism so common in our own age.

Also, I think they'd all read rather too much Aristotle, and had imbibed from him a rather idealized portrait of the civil commonwealth.

April 30, 2010 at 11:23 AM  

Yes, to both points. Specifically, though, it seems like it's the Church's civil authority. Luther, Wycliffe, and Huss all want the Church to stop acting like an earthly kingdom, with all the crusades, power plays, and heaping up of money and land.

Their particular emphasis seems different because they're with a different problems.

All this really hit me in a Luther sermon. He was drawing a very sharp line between secular and religious authority; church leaders have no business getting their hands in anything but spiritual things. At least, the dichotomy was kind of confusing, but it made more sense as he gave his reasons: Luther was mainly just concerned about the people. He was sick of the Church throwing laws and regulations at them, so this was his way of putting a stop to it.

I'm not sure, but I have the feeling that if we approach these sorts of debates pastorally instead of ideologically, they're a lot easier to handle. I find myself understanding and agreeing with Luther, but practically, it means I end up taking completely different views in our culture. Not in a relativistic way. More historical. And no, I don't really know what that means.

April 30, 2010 at 4:14 PM  

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