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Priest-Kings?

May 21, 2010
(Note: I'm leaving town tomorrow, and will have little chance to reply to post--hence the barrage today--or reply to comments for several days.  So by all means comment, but I may take a few days to get back to you...the same goes for comments earlier today that I haven't gotten to.)


So I have found a reason to like Vermigli: namely, he’s a bit more restrained than Bullinger.  In “On the Office of the Magistrate” from the Sermonum Decades, Bullinger starts out rather carelessly on his proof that “care of religion belongs to the Magistrate,” by alleging that in ancient times, kings were also priests.

“For among them of old, their kinges were priestes, I mean maisters and overseers of religion.  Melchisedech that holie and wise Prince of the Chanaanitish people, who bare the type or figure of Christe our Lord, is wonderfullie commended in holie Scriptures: Now he was both king and priest together.  Moreover in the booke of Numbers, to Iosue [Joshua] newlie ordained and lately consecrated, are the lawes belonging to religion given up and delivered.”
A bit later, after explaining how the magistrate is to make sure to forbid and punish idolatry, he pushes things further again:
“What may be thought of that moreover, that the most excellent princes and friends of God, among God’s people, did challeng to themselves the care of religion as belonging to themselves, in so much that they exercised and toke the charge therof, even as if they had beene ministers of the holie things?  Iosue in the mount Hebal caused an altar to be builded, and fulfilled all the worship of God, as it was commaunded of God by the mouth of Moses.  David in bringing in and bestowing the arke of God in his place, and in ordering the worship of God, was so diligent, that it is wonder to tel.”
In these passages Bullinger has (deliberately), it seems, blurred the line between kingly and priestly duties, insisting that, so much does the magistrate have the care of religion, that he can pretty much be said to share the priestly office.  In response to an objection a couple pages on, Bullinger protests “But our disputation tendeth not to the confounding of the offices and duties of the magistrate, and ministers of the Church, as that wee would have the king to preach, to baptize, and to minister the Lord’s supper”--nay, Bullinger, your disputation doth tend that way.


Essentially what Bullinger does in this essay and others is to invert the hyper-papalist version of the “two swords” doctrine.  Where Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam held that the ecclesial authority rightly held all spiritual and temporal power, but condescended to delegate most of the actual dirty work of temporal power to civil rulers, reserving the right to correct them when they messed up, Bullinger tends to present us with a mirror image: the civil authority rightly holds all spiritual and temporal power, but condescends to delegate most of the actual work of spiritual power to ecclesial ministers, reserving the right to correct them when they mess up.


While Vermigli in places presents the same kind of model, on this particular matter of priest-kings, he is more cautious, as I discovered in a passage I just translated today, commenting on 1 Kings 12:26-33 (Jeroboam’s idolatrous sacrifices).  Vermigli attempts to give us a balanced account:
“Indeed, these are two functions, but very much conjoined, and they mutually help and correct one another.  For ministers move the people in a certain way by teaching and admonition, that they might gladly perform the commands of the higher magistrates; and good magistrates, in turn, take care that the people live by the prescription of the divine law.  Again, ministers correct the errors of magistrates, not of course with the sword, but with the word of heavenly teaching. And indeed a magistrate, if the ministers of the Church less than rightly attend to their tasks, or fall into grave sins, can either remove them out of their place or move them by the punishments they deserve.  Yet however much these two resources are thus conjoined, they are not nevertheless one and the same; it is permitted to a single person to execute one of them only....the civil power and the sacred ministry are matters of such weight, care, and concern, that each should expend a whole man and all his strength; and it is hardly possible to find one man who is sufficient to carry out all the duties of either of them.  Nor should anyone raise as an objection the case of Moses, who attended to both; because it was such a burden that he sustained it only briefly.  For God commanded him quickly that he commit the priesthood to Aaron.  To be sure, the Hasmoneans were priests and kings, but, though they are to be commended in this--that they liberated the people--their occupation of the Israelite kingdom is hardly to be approved of.  And in truth, we should not be at pains to explain concerning Samuel and Eli; because their deeds pertained not to making laws, but to judging specific claims, nor are they to be hauled in for imitation.  And in Melchisedek God willed for there to be this joining of offices, so that the express type of Christ might be discerned in him.”  (NB: This was a first stab at a translation, and a couple parts are a bit iffy.)

2 comments:

Where can I learn more about this Vermigli character? He sounds like an interesting guy. What has actually been translated into English from him?

May 22, 2010 at 6:44 AM  

Well, you can learn more by reading my thesis when I finish it. ;-)
There's a dearth of good introductory texts on him...mostly just very expensive collections of very nerdy scholarly essays, and then a couple dissertations that never should have been passed, much less published.

But the Peter Martyr Library Project is working on remedying that, and has translated a number of his texts into modern English. You might want to check out The Peter Martyr Reader (the first thing the project published, I think) for an introduction.

May 25, 2010 at 4:29 PM  

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