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April 30, 2010
At the risk of sounding like Puddleglum in my continued negativity, I note that Vermigli and Bullinger’s political theology seems to combine the worst of both worlds.  They insist on a tremendous continuity between the civil and ecclesial realms when it comes to establishing the prince’s authority to manage the Church and its ministers, but they insist on tremendous discontinuity when it comes to any of the influence or authority going the other way.  We hear that Christ’s kingdom is a purely spiritual kingdom, and so all the things that he tells his disciples to do and how to live, etc., are only intended to ministers in the Church, not to any other authorities; in fact, when he tells them things like “You are not to lord it over one another as the Gentiles do”; far from calling into question the power-arrangements in the empire, he intends to reinforce them.
Consider the following passages from Bullinger's Confutation of the Pope's Bull Against Queen Elizabeth

April 29, 2010
When I was buying plane tickets and booking accomodations earlier this week for a summer trip to Europe, I was surprised by all the little “insurance” add-ons I was being urged to purchase.  For an extra 20 euros, I could buy the right to receive a full refund on my ticket if for any reason I needed to cancel my travel plans.  For an extra 15, I could buy full coverage for any lost baggage.  For 10 (this was my favorite), I could guarantee myself a 75 euro refund if my flight arrived more than an hour late.  Now, needless to say, these little promises of security had little allure for me--my reaction was, “Heck, that takes all the fun out of it!  What’s the point of traveling if there’s no uncertainty?”  After all, I am the guy who intentionally proposed to my future wife when I really didn’t know if she would answer yes, just because I thought the uncertainty made it more interesting.

It got me to thinking, though, about the ubiquity of this sort of thing in our society.  There’s insurance for everything.  We’re currently in the process of downgrading our bank account from a “Silver Account” that offers lots of extra perks, like Car Breakdown Coverage, Mobile Phone Insurance, and European Travel Insurance, which promises me (among many other things) a £30,000 payout if I lose a limb while trekking up to an altitude of 2,500 metres.  

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:  

April 28, 2010
Before reviewing the rest of chapter 1, I want to voice my appreciation for VanDrunen’s tone in this section.  Unless I am missing hidden barbs of underlying sarcasm (which may well be the case, since I have become rather fuller of the milk of human kindness since moving over here than I was in my American Reformed days), his general tone throughout is patient, measured, carefully qualified, and quite respectful of his opponents.  I am particularly gratified by the way he summarizes figures such as N.T. Wright, John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas, all of whom tend to be polarizing figures, oft misrepresented, especially in American Reformed circles.  He represents them fairly and seems to have genuine respect for the insights and contributions they bring to the theological discussion, even where he disagrees with them.  He clearly thinks that neo-Calvinism is deeply flawed, yet he never acts like they are stupid, wicked, irrational, or incoherent.  In all of these respects, I found this book much easier reading than I’d expected, having been prepared by my experience with Darryl Hart for a lot of snarkiness.

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.  

April 27, 2010
I have been asked to review David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought for the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and so I will be blogging through the book in detail as I read it; of course the final review will be far more condensed than what I offer here.  So here is the first post, which doesn’t get us past the first page (don’t worry--it will go faster after this!).
In this book, David VanDrunen attempts to lend scholarly weight and sobriety to the growing chorus of Lutheran-esque Reformed theologians who are decrying the takeover of Reformed circles by Kuyperianism and Christian worldview thinking.  Darryl Hart has perhaps been the loudest and most recurrent voice in that chorus, but many of his colleagues at both Westminster Seminaries and elsewhere have voiced similar concerns, lamenting that Reformed Christians now see the need to apply their Reformed faith--their “worldview”--to every area of life, instead of recognizing the necessity of a large secular realm of politics, economics, science, and more, a realm governed by the natural law, rather than by specifically Christian principles.  VanDrunen wishes to rehabilitate the notions of natural law (commonly dismissed as a Catholic doctrine) and the two kingdoms (commonly dismissed as a Lutheran doctrine) as historically Reformed doctrines.  He proposes to offer a narrative in which the two kingdoms was taught by the Calvinist Reformers and their theological descendants all the way up to the end of the 19th-century, at which point the spectre of ubiquitous secularism frightened Reformed folks into adopting the “neo-Calvinist” (Kuyperian) innovation.

April 27, 2010


Within the few decades following the publication of Rerum Novarum, the dominance of capitalism and the threat of militant socialism remain, but the alternatives become somewhat clearer.  By the time Hilaire Belloc is writing The Servile State in 1913, and certainly by his Essay on the Restoration of Property in 1936, it has become clear that socialism does not mean, as Leo perhaps still imagined, the abolition of property ownership, but rather, the concentration of property ownership in the hands of the state.  Belloc is thus able to recognize socialism not as the opposite of capitalism, but simply as an essentially pragmatic development of the same impulse, underlying industrial capitalism, of centralizing control of the means of production.  Hence, in contrast to Leo, Belloc believes the situation calls a defense, not of private ownership in the abstract against common ownership, but of well-distributed private ownership against concentrated ownership--it is empty, in his mind, to defend the right of private property if only a small sliver of the population are to enjoy that right.  It is worth noting also that, perhaps due to his English setting, he does not want to explicitly situate himself in the Catholic tradition, though we can surmise that it lies in the background of his thought.

Review of The Shock Doctrine

April 26, 2010
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is a must-read for anyone in the modern West.  Okay, that’s a broad statement, so let me try one more focused: it is a must-read for Red-state Christian America.  Too long have we blindly thrown our weight behind the idea that capitalism would bring peace, freedom, and prosperity to the benighted Third World, and have we, with dangerous syncretism, imagined that its onward march was the vanguard of the Kingdom of God, trampling over secularists in our race to declare its victories as the offspring of our Christianity’s genius.  We glibly reassure ourselves that we are “pro-life” because we decry the crimes of abortion doctors, all the while ignoring the blood of the neoliberalism crusade’s millions of victims.  Naomi Klein calls on us all to wake up and smell the ugly stench of reality.  What makes this book so compelling is that it transcends standard debates about whether the “free enterprise system” or state-run enterprise works better, by examining the actual track record of the Chicago School, pure capitalist notion of free markets, and concluding that this “free enterprise system” has never existed.  We are accustomed to treating “the government” and “private companies” as two antithetical actors, and yet this assumption is no longer true, if it ever was.  

Six hundred years later, the growth of capitalism has called forth a militant socialism in reaction.  Its call for the abolition of all private property by the state incites Leo XIII to respond with the encyclical Rerum Novarum, inaugurating the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.  At the center of this document is a full-blown attack on socialism, based on a sturdy defense of the right of private property, a right that Leo feels the need to affirm more strongly than Aquinas did.  While seeking (and no doubt perceiving himself) to be in line with Thomist teaching, Leo comes close to simply rooting the right of property in nature, in a way that Thomas never does.  He does this by importing a Lockean metaphysical account of property, suggesting that a right to private property simply arises out of one’s labor upon that property.  It is worth attending carefully to how he constructs his justification and how it differs from Aquinas’s.

Still traveling, so I haven't had the opportunity to write up anything new, but I thought that, since I've been saying for so long in comments, "Oh, I discuss this at more length in the papers I'm writing" I should post those papers, now that they're done.  I must confess that they don't include much of what I claimed they would, because there's this abominable 5,000-word limit at University of Edinburgh that O'Donovan thinks is complete rubbish.  But, all that can be saved for another day.  So, first, the paper on Catholic Theories of Property--this post will include the introduction and section on Aquinas.
For western Christians living after Fukuyama’s fabled “end of history”--the demise of communism and triumph of capitalism--it is easy to feel as if the problem of private property is not a problem at all.  All sides of the political spectrum, whatever their differences, would agree that private property is good and necessary, and that, on the whole, we have succeeded in assuring adequate access to it in our societies (though conservatives would gripe that it is not sufficiently free from government predation, and liberals would implore us to make it more a reality for the lower strata of society).  But in Christian history, it started as quite a serious problem, with many Church Fathers denying the legitimacy of private property altogether.  In the Middle Ages, theologians developed a more nuanced view, influentially crystallized by Thomas Aquinas, who affirmed the good of private property, but made it subordinate to the right of common use.  

April 16, 2010

Since a few people have told me they appreciated the stuff I’ve been posting on taxation and theft here, I thought I’d post just a bit more from the Facebook discussion--the text below was in reply to a section of a large rebuttal someone wrote up there, but it should basically make sense on its own.  Also, since it’s that time of the year again, and the Tea Partiers were out in force yesterday, I recall my first little essay on this whole business, which I wrote last Tax Day, and you can find here.

Since daring to post that taxation and theft essay on Facebook, I’ve been snowed under responding to comments and objections there, so instead of posting a bit on Just War theory, as I was hoping to, I will just offer instead one of the more substantive clarifications I posted in the taxation and theft discussion:
One thing worth dealing with properly here and now is the issue of the OT laws. For the sake of conciseness, I offered in my initial post a rather brief appeal to the matter of the OT laws, a matter which I’ve been studying for a long time (largely in order to get a handle on these very issues). Two main lines of objection have been raised. The first is that the Old Testament laws never authorize a centralized government authority to tax money from one group of people, pool it, and then hand it out to another group of people. I substantially agree with this objection (though I shall offer something of an exception in a moment). My point was not to say that the OT laws authorized this. 

April 9, 2010
(See the first part in the previous post)
...Third, and most significantly in my mind, this narrative requires that we can legitimately regard the money that has been taken from us as “our money”--as in the Margaret Thatcher quote, “you run out of other people’s money.”  Now, I have already pointed out one sense in which this is oversimplistic--simply by being members of a society, some of our resources have to be pooled, and the decision over how to use them will not belong to us alone.  Nevertheless, it could still be argued that there are some uses of money by a society that are inherently unjust, that simply no society has any business using its members’ money for.  This, perhaps, is how to take statements like Wilson’s: with the implied distinction that while there are certain uses to which our government may justly put our tax money, uses that we should accept even when we think they are ill-managed, there are others which it cannot.  In the latter cases, since it is levying money from us for unjust purposes, one could make the case that it is unjust in levying the money, and thus the money still justly belongs to us.  To take what justly belongs to another is “theft” or “robbery” and so, in such cases, perhaps the accusation holds.  

Way back near the beginning of this school year, I remember Prof. Northcott recounting to our class a recent debate in Durham, NC, that he’d been invited to participate in, a debate with Calvin Beisner, whom he aptly termed “a cornucopian dominionist.”  With humored incredulity, he shared with us the astonishing fact that Beisner thought it was “theft” for the government to take people’s money through taxes and distribute them to others through programs like Social Security or the debated healthcare initiative.  Could we believe he said such a thing? he asked.  I timidly answered that almost everyone I’d grown up around would’ve employed that rhetoric.  And I’ve been thinking about it ever since--is this really a rational criticism?  If it is rational, it certainly isn’t self-evident.  And not being self-evident, and being a rather harsh and provocative accusation, it seems that, if there’s any weight to it, it ought to be carefully argued, not casually thrown around without a shred of argumentation, as it often has been, particularly during the healthcare debate and in its aftermath.

My appreciation for distributism was considerably lessened last week when I delved deeper into Belloc as part of writing up my paper on Catholic theories of property.  I had noted before, of course, that Belloc rooted distributism not in Biblical principles (like an appeal to Old Testament law) but in the rather modern value of "freedom," which troubled me a bit.  But, on closer consideration, this seems considerably more problematic, and risks turning the whole Thomistic tradition on its head in favor of capitalist values like the freedom to pursue individual self-interest.  At the risk of being accused of laziness, I will paste here the entire relevant section of my paper:

The Idolatry Trap

Just a brief thought for the day.  A couple weeks ago in class, Oliver O’Donovan said, “The more you make the government responsible for everything, the more you call on the government to fix everything.”  This profound remark has stuck with me since, and will probably continue to haunt me for a long time.  
In this statement, he was playing on the two meanings of the word “responsible”: “guilty” and “in charge of.”  In other words, the more you try to make the government responsible for everything in the sense of blaming them for everything, the more you implicitly make them responsible for everything in the sense of being in charge of it all, and so invite them to own up to that responsibility and take it upon themselves to fix everything.  
This exposes the danger of the attitude on the far right and particularly among Christian conservatives and libertarians that the best way to fight the idolatry of statism is to almost obsessively decry the state’s sins, demonize the state, and try to prove that all of society’s ills (or at least a large chunk of them) are the state’s fault.  In the end, if O’Donovan is right, this attitude shares the left’s idolatry of the state even while claiming to oppose it.  

The Politics of Good Friday

For four years running, I always posted the text of Dr. Leithart's amazing 2006 Good Friday Homily on Good Friday, but I thought I would post his 2008 homily instead this time around, especially in view of this blog's emphasis on political theology.

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, "Behold your King!" But they cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him." Pilate saith unto them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." --John 19:14-15


In medieval iconography, John the Evangelist is depicted as an eagle, and this portrait expresses the opinion of the early church fathers, that John wrote a “spiritual” gospel which has a “loftier spiritual purpose” than the other gospels.  John is the eagle because he soars “aloft to contemplate and proclaim sublime truths,” while the other gospel writers are land animals, preoccupied with the “more mundane aspects of Jesus’ ministry and person.” 

A Maundy Thursday hymn

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee,
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.
O blest memorial of our dying Lord,
Who living Bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.
Fountain of gladness, Jesu, Lord and God,
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.
O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on Thee unveiled, and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory and Thy grace.

Calvinism or Lollardism?

An interesting theme that has peeked its head out several times in both Oliver O’Donovan and Joan O’Donovan’s classes this past term has been the gap between Calvin and Calvinism, and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of their remarks here.  To point out that later Calvinists were not necessarily the most faithful followers of Calvin’s own thought,  is, of course, nothing new; however, it cannot be overemphasized, in light of how blithely and readily followers of the English Puritan or Scotch Presbyterian traditions identify themselves as Calvinists. 
According to Oliver O’Donovan (henceforth O O’D), the Presbyterian/Puritan movement followed Calvin in about the same way that the early Anglican movement adopted Luther--he provided a convenient figurehead under which to align themselves, and his ideas were invoked when useful, but much of the impetus was quite different.  Indeed, O O’D went so far as to state his conviction that the English Puritan movement was in fact more of a Lollard movement, rooted in the paradigms established by Wycliffe two centuries before, than it was ever a Calvinist movement; it had (shocking as it may be to today’s Presbyterians) too much Catholicism about it to be genuinely Calvinist, more Catholicism than any other major Protestant group.  This last statement turns standard Presbyterian paradigms--by which the 17th-century Puritans and their evangelical descendants finished purging the relics of Catholicism out of the excellent, but incomplete, reforms of Calvin and the English Reformation--on their heads.  What can O O’D mean?  

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