Concerning Ecclesiastical and Civil Power

A Translation of the Aphorisms of David Pareus  


As we never tire of saying, at American Reformer, we are dedicated to resourcing and reinvigorating the American Protestant tradition to address our contemporary social and political challenges. Most of the resources we work to get back into Protestant hands are American in origin. Indeed, we have a rich history of our own here. But, of course, it did not spring out of the ether sui generis

As Protestantism took root in seventeenth and eighteenth century America it did so, in part, through the transportation of English and continental Reformed forbears and contemporaries. There was no reason to reinvent the wheel, and the continuity of thought within the transatlantic Protestant republic of letters is evident for those with eyes to see. Calvin, Voetius, Turretin, and the rest maintained authority and guidance in British and Dutch America as they do (or should) for American Protestants today. Another source often cited, especially by New England Puritans, was David Pareus. You cannot get far in seventeenth century texts without spotting a citation to him, but his work remains untranslated and, therefore, inaccessible to most Americans today. 

Pareus (1548-1622) was a prolific German Reformed scholar and pastor who studied under Zacharius Ursinus at Heidelberg, where he later lectured in Old and New Testament. His commentaries on Romans and Revelation, in particular, were cited often by Protestants in Europe and England, but, as with many men of that age, he read and wrote broadly, including political questions.  

Below we present an original translation from Michael Lynch of the Aphorisms Concerning the Civil Magistrate by David Pareus. Just as colonial American Protestants stood squarely in the mainstream of Protestant thought, so too do texts like this one demonstrate that Protestants today, who assert a vision of politics now foreign to many Americans, represent continuity with the tradition, not radical departure. We hope that this, and future translations from scholars of early modern Protestantism that we will feature, demonstrate this case and edify our readers to this end. 

-Timon Cline, editor-in-chief

Preface of Phillip Pareus, Son of David Pareus, on the Propositions of David Pareus Concerning Ecclesiastical and Civil Power.

“This is always the work of the devil,” says Cyprian, “to tear apart the servants of God with lies, and to defame a glorious name with false reports: so that those who shine with the light of their conscience and doctrine, may be sullied by foreign rumors.”1

This was done to the most illustrious Theologian of blessed memory, D. DAVID PAREUS, my most excellent and most beloved father. Behold, when in the year 1603, in the Theological School of Heidelberg, he was publicly expounding a commentary on the divine Epistle of St. PAUL to the Romans, and had arrived there at those words of 13:2: “Whoever opposes this power, resists the ordinance of GOD,” then also arose that DOUBT, long since agitated and defined by many learned men: Whether, and to what extent, it is lawful to resist the powers? For Christ himself implies that not every resistance is illegitimate, saying that not all things are Caesar’s, with these words (Matt. 22:21): “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to GOD what is GOD’s; and the Apostles proved by their own example that not all things are to be obeyed by men, teaching (Acts 4:19 and 5:29) that it is more necessary to obey GOD than men.

Therefore, our father discussed and answered that arduous and thorny question, one which some even consider it a sin to debate, with such sober and prudent moderation, that he abundantly satisfied both his own purest conscience, supported by the laws of the divine word alone, and the consensus of sounder doctors, most practiced in divine and human law.

Nor within twenty years was any mortal found who attempted to write a response to his commentary, which was publicly reprinted often in Germany, France, and elsewhere, and received with applause by all good men, until, while the author was still alive, two infamous pseudonymous Pontifical adversaries, Christian Gotlieb of Friedberg and Christopher of Ungersdorf, appeared in Germany; and after his death, among those across the sea, DAVID OWEN arose, a certain Monensian Professor of Theology, Chaplain to the Earl of Holderness. He interpreted my father’s candid position on this kind of doctrine more harshly, in his virulent little book, which he says he wrote in the 1618, but finally published four years later, in 1622, with doctor PAREUS now deceased, thinking that he would then have no adversary who could speak or respond after from the ashes.2: From the Office of Cantrellius Legge, 1622); In translation: Owen, Anti-Paræus, Or, A Treatise in the Defence of the Royall Right of Kings … (York: Stephen Bulkley, 1642).]

I call upon the most sacred paternal spirits of the underworld [lat: manes] to witness that these adversaries treat my father’s most innocent doctrine with the greatest injustice, to say nothing more serious; indeed, he could not even have dreamt of the severe rod which his adversaries have aimed at him. And indeed, to the two pseudonymous Pontificals, he himself, while still alive, so stopped their mouths in the vernacular style that they did not dare to speak against him further. He would have also satisfied the censure of D[avid] Owen, if it had not pleased the supreme Deity to transfer him from this militant arena of contenders into the heavenly basilica of triumphant saints before that new antagonist became known to him. For this reason, I praise GOD. For (Matt. 5:9) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says our Savior. His desire for peace, so long as my father lived, he poured out in more than one writing with unspeakable groans, according to that saying (Zach. 8:19): “Love only truth and peace.” But good GOD! How often have I heard him repeating that of the Psalmist (Ps. 120:7)? “I am a man of peace, and when I speak, they themselves are moved to war.”

The same faithful athlete of Jesus Christ often resisted with the spiritual sword of the divine Word; but he learned by actual experience that truth which Saint Basil wrote of: “The hatred of heretics against the orthodox cannot be satisfied by any explaining of oneself.”3

Some lofty and turbulent PROPOSITIONS concerning both ecclesiastical and political authority pricked restless men, by which they were unafraid to threaten the anger of the slow-footed GOD. But:

“THE VOICE, the witness OF TRUTH, CANNOT BE SILENCED: Not even if it throbs with severed passageways.”4

And, “the word of GOD,” says the Apostle (2 Tim. 2:9), “is not conquered, nor burned by flames.” The innocent doctor of the church could be accused, he could not be condemned; because he handed down the sound doctrine of GOD, which he would never have refused to seal with the martyrdom of blood. He asserted, defended, and amplified GOD’S and CAESAR’S majesty by voice and writings. His blameless mind was miles away from that crime, which his enemies maliciously imputed to him by certain misinterpreted words. But “it is wicked,” says the chief restorer of the gospel [i.e., Luther], “when you know that someone’s meaning is pious and sound, to establish error from words spoken awkwardly.”5 And that golden maxim of Chrysostom is: “It is not fitting to simply examine a discourse by itself, but [one must] observe the mind of the writer. For in human discourses, unless we use this method, [namely] considering what the speaker meant, we will introduce quarrels; everything will be overthrown.”6

They censure doctor DAVID PAREUS, as if he had delivered a doctrine which is new, erroneous, seditious, and even subversive of the state—and who knows what else.

Oh, the abomination! To be avenged only by the judge of the living and the dead. Never could such a thing fall upon this pious soul. Never did his mind or pen imbibe, invent, or depict that. The detractors of this slander are convicted by the PAREUS’ holy judgements, which he made clear everywhere in his writings. They may read his prudent comments, with me as their advisor, on the rebellion of the Sodomites against Chedorlaomer, King of Elam, in Moses’ Genesis.7 Let them also read his salutary corollaries, which he drew from various places of sacred Scripture in his Biblical Thesaurus.8

All of which are perfectly consistent with whatever he defined in his propositions of his Commentary on Romans. Only, let there be no perverse interpretation, or spell of envy—nay, even a stupor of ignorance.

Because the hostility of accusers has smeared these plagues against them, my piety towards my father’s ashes persuades, commands, and urges me. Indeed, nature herself, with Theodoret as my adviser (Serm. I. on Providence, pg. 412), has imposed this law upon me, that I should not be the least wanting here, in whatever way I can, to my father who deserved the best from me in life and studies, and that I should come to assert and defend, to the best of my ability, his reputation and sound doctrine, approved by all those endowed with a sound mind in every age. Nor, as I suppose, will any good person be able or willing to rightly or deservedly blame this pious duty of mine. For, as Basil rightly advises, “It is necessary not to be silent in the face of slanders, not so that we may avenge ourselves through response, but so that we may not allow falsehood to prosper and may not leave those deceived in harm.”9

Come then, before we proceed to our vindication, the APHORISMS, which I have translated into Latin for this purpose, will clearly show how he himself, while he lived, explained his orthodox mind and doctrine ON THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE in the vernacular to the pseudonymous German Pontificals, so that what the evangelical churches think on this subject may appear as if in a compendium. Therefore, the kind reader will judge concerning them.

Aphorisms of Dr. David Pareus, Formerly the Principal Theologian and Professor of the Palatine Academy, Concerning the Civil Magistrate

I. A twofold government is established in man. One pertains to the soul, or the inner man, and brings it about that MAN truly acknowledges GOD, worships him rightly, and finally attains righteousness and eternal life. The other governs the body, and the outer man: so that he may spend this civil life among men with all modesty and honesty.

II. Although indeed holy Scripture primarily discusses the governance of the soul, and is ordained by God specifically to guide it, it also provides many excellent and beneficial teachings about the external governance of the body. And for the successful management of this to preserve the human race, God has instructed in his word that among people, some should lead in the governance of civil life, while others should submit and obey. Based on what has been mentioned, these are referred to as MAGISTRATES and SUBJECTS.

III. The civil power of the MAGISTRATE is just as necessary, if not more so, for the human race as daily bread, water, sun, and air, without which this earthly life cannot exist at all. Through these natural things, man breathes the breath of life, eats, drinks, lives, and moves, just like other living creatures that typically share these things with man. However, to ensure that people do not live a completely beastly life, but a truly human one—that is, with all modesty and integrity before God and men—the civil magistrate, appointed by God for this purpose, must diligently ensure that all idolatry, blasphemies, and any other misuse of God’s name, as well as all kinds of shameful acts and damages that usually harm our own or our neighbor’s life, reputation, and possessions, are prevented. Instead, the true knowledge of God, sincere worship and fear, and all civil integrity should prevail. Public peace and peaceful coexistence among people should not be disturbed, and everyone should be able to safely possess their own property. Honest and necessary contracts should thrive, and ultimately, everything in the state should be done lawfully. Therefore, those who remove or overthrow this ordinance of God among men are rightly considered to exist not among men, but among beasts.

IV. The teachings about the civil magistrate are covered under these three heads.

FIRST, Regarding the magistrate’s authority: Is he ordained by God and pleasing to God? What are his duties, rights, and powers in both church and state matters?

NEXT; Regarding the laws that bind a Christian magistrate.

THIRD, Regarding the duties of subjects: What do they owe their magistrate, and to what extent must they obey him?

The following aphorisms will explain what should be determined from God’s word about each of these points.

V. The Apostle Paul explicitly teaches that the magistrate is ordained by God in these words (Rom. 13:14): “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. For he is God’s servant for your good.” Entrusted with this divine authority, the magistrate should remember to act wisely and carefully in his role. If he is from God and should be God’s servant, he will undoubtedly take great care to ensure that everything is done according to God’s ordinance, in both church and state matters, and will not knowingly or willingly do anything against it. Based on this foundation of divine appointment, Moses (Deut. 1:17), that man of God, and the very pious King Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 19:16–17), addressed their judges and prefects in this way: “Consider what you are doing, for you judge not for man but for the Lord, who is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking of bribes.”

Furthermore, if the magistrate is ordained by God to be his servant, he should be completely convinced that he is serving God, doing everything for God’s honor and worship, and for the benefit of the people, provided he does so according to the instructions in God’s word.

VI. Therefore, what God himself has established cannot displease him. In fact, he even refers to the magistrate by his own name, אלהים Gods, because the magistrate exercises judgment in God’s place. Exod. 22:8: “If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house must appear before the Gods.” Psalm 82:1: “God presides among the Gods.” Christ quotes this Psalm in John 10:35. “If he called them Gods, to whom the word of God came. I have said, you are Gods.”

Furthermore, Scripture testifies that many holy men have held the office of magistrate, such as David, Josiah, and Hezekiah in kingdoms; Joseph and Daniel in principalities; and Moses, Joshua, and Gideon in prefectures.

VII. Let us set aside the delusions of the Anabaptists and other fanatical people who say that in the Old Testament, the magistrate was necessary for God’s people due to the imperfection of the Jewish people. However, in the New Testament, it is written (Luke 22:25): “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves BENEFACTORS. But you are not to be like that.” Similarly (Gal. 6:15): “In Christ, nothing matters except a new creation.” And (Matt. 5:39): “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.”

VIII. Firstly, if the imperfection of the Jewish people made a magistrate necessary, then we Christians certainly need a magistrate even more, since it is also written about us (James 3:2): “We all stumble in many ways.” Those who stumble in many ways are undoubtedly imperfect. We do not deny that Christians, by God’s grace, now have a great advantage over the Jews in terms of a clearer understanding of God and the grace shown to us through Christ. However, in our civil life, we need this divine institution of the magistrate just as much as the Jewish people did.

Furthermore, it is written by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament, not the Old (Rom. 13:4): “He is God’s servant for your good.”

IX. In Luke 22:25, Christ does not exclude such kings from the church but forbids the Apostles and ministers of the church from all worldly luxury, prominence, and civil authority. In Galatians 6:15, Paul is not talking about Christians’ outward appearance, some of whom were circumcised, like faithful Jews, while others were not, like Gentile Christians. This corresponds to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” If the Anabaptists take these words literally, they themselves would certainly be separated from Christ, since they are either slaves or free, either male or female. Therefore, the Apostle’s meaning is that external human differences neither hinder nor promote eternal salvation; only the new creation in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

X. Lastly, in Matthew 5:39, Christ does not remove punishments for the wicked but forbids private revenge. Otherwise, no Christian, whether parent, teacher, or minister, would be tolerated, as they all must resist evil and wickedness in their own way and maintain discipline. Without this, there would be a terrible disorder, endless lawlessness, and eventually the downfall of human society and the church itself. Certainly, Christ and the Apostles often resisted evil. And nowhere in the sacred writings do we read that those who held political office, after converting to the Christian faith, abandoned their position or were told to do so. The royal official in John 4:53 “and his entire household believed.” Sergius Paulus, the Proconsul, in Acts 13:12 “believed.” And the jailer in Acts 16:33 “was baptized, along with all his family.”

XI. Politicians debate the various forms of government and which are best. The sacred writings mention Caesars, Kings, Princes, Prefects, Governors, Praetors, Consuls, Captains, Dukes—in short, both lower and higher magistrates, about whom the Apostle Paul makes this general statement (Rom. 13:1): “There is no authority except that which God has established.” And St. Peter says (1 Pet. 2:13–14, 17): “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him.” Also: “Fear God and honor the emperor.” Note that when the Apostle Peter calls the magistracy a human institution, it does not contradict Paul, who calls it a divine ordinance. God alone has ordained the magistracy. But the forms of government and its distinct ranks, such as Caesars, Kings, Princes, superiors, inferiors, depend on human ordinance and civil sanction; yet all are equally governed by God. Therefore, we are compelled to submit to human authority “for the Lord’s sake,” says St. Peter.

XII. The Apostle Paul speaks about the right of the magistrate in this way (Rom. 13:6–7): “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Also: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” From this, we gather that the right of the magistrate consists of three things.

First, that he be recognized as a servant of God, to whom honor and reverence are owed because he stands in the place of God. For this reason, as mentioned, Magistrates are called gods.

Second, that due to the authority of such a great office, he should be treated with all honor, respect, and fear by his subjects, just as parents are by their children. The magistrate should be like a parent to his subjects.

Third, that the magistrate should be paid the taxes and tributes owed, from which he can bear the very heavy burden of his office, maintain his life in a manner fitting his dignity, and show kindness to others. Nevertheless, it is proper for the magistrate, no less than for the subjects themselves, to refrain from all luxury, as is evident from Jeremiah 22:14–15 and throughout Scripture.

XIII. God has given the magistrate the highest power, so that he may command some and govern others, even using the sword, if necessary, against the disobedient, and defend and protect his own authority. For it is written (Dan. 4:22): “God gives the kingdoms of men to whomever he wills.” Also (Matt. 20:25): “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” Also (Rom. 13:4): “He does not bear the sword for no reason.”

XIV. But God has also placed that truly difficult and troublesome burden on the magistrate, so that he may urge, promote, and maintain obedience to the divine law among people, especially Christians. FIRST, he is obligated to keep the honor and worship of God safe and secure according to the instructions of the first table, and to spread devotion and true worship of God among his subjects according to God’s will and his word. For this is what God commands Joshua (Josh. 1:8): “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” And Paul says (Rom. 13:4): “God’s servant for your good.” But the greatest good for subjects is TRUE RELIGION and the true worship of God.

XV. NEXT, it is also the magistrate’s duty to cultivate law and justice, to maintain integrity, peace, and harmony; to love the good, but to frighten and punish the wicked; to protect and defend his subjects and territories against internal and external enemies, even with the sword and arms, as it is written (Jer. 22:3 and Ps. 82:2): “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Also (Rom. 13:3–4, 6): “Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

XVI. But both Catholics in the Papacy and the Anabaptists along with other fanatics are accustomed to attack the true duty of the magistrate.

XVII. The Catholics in the Papacy do acknowledge that the magistrate not only takes care of civil matters and promotes the common peace but also protects in every way the worship of God as it is administered by the priests in the Catholic Church, and eliminates any other religions which they condemn. However, they do not allow the civil magistrate to investigate their religion or worship: [determining] whether it is true and in accordance with the holy Scriptures, or false; [determining] whether the priests and clergy live piously or impiously; [determining] whether the churches and schools are properly provided for or not; or finally, [determining] whether they rightfully claim ecclesiastical jurisdiction for themselves; and other such matters.10

XVIII. But holy Scripture clearly assigns this right of governing churches and schools to the civil magistrate. Just as he is obligated to diligently ensure that the civil good, that is, law and justice, is properly administered by legal experts and those knowledgeable in political wisdom in the courts and tribunals, according to the laws of each province, his concern should be no less, indeed much greater, that divine law, the good of souls, that is, true RELIGION and piety, be presented to his subjects in churches and schools for their eternal salvation by theologians, holy, pious, learned, and honest men, “according to the Law and Testimony,” as Scripture commands (Is. 8:20 and Deut. 17:18). God himself commanded this to Moses and Joshua. The same is taught by the examples of the most praiseworthy Kings, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, and others, who eagerly promoted the worship of God and severely rebuked impious and disorderly priests. Thus, Paul addresses the Christian Romans: “He is God’s servant for your good,” where he refers to all GOOD, both civil and earthly, and ecclesiastical or spiritual. Otherwise, the magistrate would benefit the Christian no more than the unbeliever. And it is truly regrettable that the pagans once thought more correctly on this point, who by unanimous agreement entrusted the care of religion and the worship of the gods to their King, persuaded by the law of both nature and nations. For they decided that it was the proper duty of political magistrates to govern their subjects in a civil manner, that is, to instill in them every kind of virtue, but especially military courage, the highest happiness, and things of that kind.

XIX. Anabaptists and fanatics also readily admit and concede that it is the magistrates’ duty not only to engage in the law court and exercise judgments, but also to punish evil with the sword in times of war and peace. However, they do not want Christians to do this or to have the power to do it, because Christ told his disciples (Matt. 5:39(: “Do not resist an evil person,” and did not give them the sword, but forbade it, saying (Matt. 26:15): “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

They also say that the New Testament does not advocate bloodshed, but love, and whatever other such nonsense comes from the school of the Manichaeans, in order that they may remove all magistracy from a Christian Republic.

XX. Against this, the Apostle Paul’s teaching should be presented (Rom. 13:1, 4): “All authority comes from God, and is God’s servant.” Did God ordain something that is either unlawful or impossible to do? Does a pagan serve God more rightly than a Christian? Therefore, let those foolish people be gone with their delusions, and let them be tolerated, indeed, as long as they do not disturb the churches or deny the magistrate due honor and obedience. This matter is carefully guarded against in the empire’s constitutions.

Regarding the saying in Matthew 5:29, we discussed it above in Aphorism X. And in Matthew 26:52, Christ took the sword away from his disciples and other private individuals because it is not owed to Apostles, Bishops, Ministers, and other subjects. But he did not take it away from Caesar, to whom God had previously given it, but entrusted it to him, because he said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” And through the Apostle: “He is God’s servant and does not bear the sword for nothing.”

It is also true that the New Testament promotes love, not bloodshed, in terms of ecclesiastical and civil association. However, it sometimes commands that bloodshed and the sword be used against domestic and foreign enemies for the preservation of the state, the church, and for the sake of common tranquility and peace. For God has expressly commanded such vengeance, even in the New Testament, and therefore obedience is part of divine worship. Such vengeance also serves to defend the pious, and so is not contrary to love but is most agreeable to it.

XXI. But those same people retort that in the New Testament, it cannot be proven by testimonies or examples that Christians are allowed to wage war.

THE ANSWER IS. First, the New Testament does not at all take away the defense of subjects, which sometimes can only be obtained by the magistrate through war and arms. Furthermore, the Apostles did not write anything about wars because they were not sent to establish a new Republic in the world but to gather a new church for Christ in the old polity of each place (where they left each person their own right, as is clear from Paul in Romans 13 and elsewhere). Finally, when soldiers asked John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ (Luke 3:14), “And what should we do?” he did not reply, “Leave the military,” but “Do not extort money and do not accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” But in war, soldiers were paid wages. Therefore, John did not disapprove of war. Hence, it is false that in the New Testament no testimonies or examples are found in which mention is made of war.

XXII. We are not now disputing the causes for which, and how, war ought to be waged legitimately. Let Christian Princes and Magistrates keep this in mind, considering that every legitimate war should only be undertaken for the sake of regaining peace, and that it is the nature and character of war to bring with it many losses, and that no war can be waged so justly that there is not much injustice mixed in with it; so that it is far better to lay down arms, to turn away from unnecessary wars, and not to undertake just wars before all means of peace have been attempted—not only because, as the poet testifies:

Peace is the best of things

That it is given for man to know: peace alone

Is better than countless triumphs.11

but much more so because the word of God says (Rom. 12:18): “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

XXIII. SECONDLY, regarding the laws by which a Christian magistrate is bound in his governance, the ancients rightly said that Laws are the soul of the Republic, and that the Magistrate is the living law—implying that just as no Republic can exist without laws, so without a magistrate, laws cannot have their force.

But the question now is not about laws in general—what they are, how many kinds there are, or which are the best—but what kind of laws they ought to be, according to which the magistrate should govern the Republic.

XXIV. This question should not be considered unnecessary because there have been many ignorant people who have not hesitated to argue that Christians are bound in all things to the Mosaic laws and that no better public laws can be established than the Mosaic ones, prescribed by God himself to the people of Israel. This absurd opinion caused many disturbances in the church and state during the time of the Münster Rebellion.

XXV. It should be understood that no law is certainly better or more excellent than God’s own law, which rightly is preferred to all others; yet with this distinction, that this is done in accordance with God’s will and intention revealed in his Word. This distinction is based on the threefold purpose and scope of the Mosaic law.

For One purpose regards the morals, virtues, and vices of all people without distinction, which are either commanded or forbidden to each individual by the law of nature. And so, God wanted his law, contained in the Ten Commandments, to be observed by all people whatsoever.

The Other purpose and scope of the Mosaic law was to govern the Levitical priesthood through certain rites and ceremonies, which were a foreshadowing of the priesthood of JESUS CHRIST. God wanted the laws of this Aaronic priesthood to last and be in force only until the time of Christ’s appearance, and then to be abolished again. Whoever would try to introduce these ceremonial laws into the New Testament would necessarily have to deny the coming of JESUS CHRIST in the flesh and introduce Judaism.

The Third purpose and scope of the law concerns the Jewish state, in which God wanted to distinguish the Israelite people from all other peoples by certain laws, because the MESSIAH, the Savior of the world, was to be born from the tribe of Judah. This law, by God’s will, had to last as long as the distinction of peoples was observed. But this distinction ceased when Christ was born and he made one people, namely faithful Christians, out of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, as Paul testifies in Ephesians 2:14. Therefore, Christ commanded his disciples and Apostles (Mark 16:16) to preach the Gospel not only to one people, but to all creatures in the whole world. If someone wanted to force this civil law on Christians as absolutely necessary, what else, I ask, would he be doing than denying that Christ came in the flesh for the redemption of his people?

XXVI. Based on this, it is clear that God’s ceremonial and civil law was indeed once the best law for the Jews until Christ, but both, today, by God’s decision, have been abolished through Christ, to the extent that even the Jews themselves today either do not want to or cannot observe either one. Therefore, all peoples among whom the church of Christ exists have been granted this freedom, that they may govern the state by their customary and positive laws. But God has not at all abolished the moral law, which is the exact image of the natural law and common equity; rather, it binds all people equally, both Jews and Gentiles, or Christians, according to God’s instructions.

XXVII. The main point boils down to this.

I. It is the duty of a Christian Prince and magistrate to govern his subjects according to God’s moral law, described in the Ten Commandments, as the only and most certain standard of all equity and justice, from which he should not deviate even a finger’s breadth in administering his state.

II. Since civil matters (without which human society cannot exist) concerning judgments, offices, purchases and sales, and other contracts; also concerning inheritances, penalties and punishments, and other such statutes, are not expressly sanctioned in God’s Law, but are left free for the Christian magistrate to make laws concerning them, those particular laws can indeed be sanctioned and promulgated by any pious magistrate according to the custom and privileges of each region or province, people, or city, yet taking into account common and natural equity. But among all the civil laws of all other peoples, those which were once passed by the Romans have always been considered the most fair, as being most in accordance with divine and natural law, which even the Christian Emperors, Kings, Princes, and subjects have everywhere approved and retained; indeed, even the Apostle Paul, even when he was still among the Jews, willingly subjected himself to those very laws and often appealed to them in the Acts (22:28 and 25:10–11) “I,” he says, “was born a Roman citizen.” And: “I stand before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be judged; I appeal to Caesar.” Likewise, the Apostle Peter (1 Pet 2:13–17) exhorted Christians to submit and obey the laws of the Romans. He therefore approved the Roman Republic and its civil laws, which he wanted to be observed by the Christian civil magistrate.

Finally, since civil laws are not expressed in God’s moral law, but are left to the judgment of Christian princes and subjects; nor are the individual cases of each people, nation, place, and city included in the written laws of the Romans (which have been approved by almost all Christian Republics); nor, moreover, have municipal laws or particular customs and sanctions been abolished, Christian Princes and magistrates will diligently ensure that by certain positive laws they also determine those neutral matters about which we read nothing either commanded or prohibited by God. For example: Is there need for these or those duties? Should a greater or lesser tax be imposed on the subjects? Should arms be borne by the citizens? and other such things. Jurists call these positive laws, because they are in accordance with natural law and also divine law, passed for promoting the common good of the Republic, and therefore to be observed by all subjects by all right, and not to be spurned without violating one’s conscience, as it is written (Rom. 13:5): “It is necessary to submit, not only to avoid punishment, but also as a matter of conscience.”

XXVIII. The duty of SUBJECTS consists of three things. 

First, that they treat the magistrate with proper honor and respect, namely because of the dignity he has received from God. Such HONOR is not really shown to the magistrate by outward gestures, by which even wicked people show respect to him, considering the magistrate a necessary evil. But the magistrate is most especially treated with proper honor when the subjects recognize in the magistrate the divine ordinance: that he is the representative and servant of God, to whom God himself has given his power to rule his subjects according to God’s will. From this depends the respect and love, as well as fear and other services, to be given to the magistrate. Indeed, God has commanded such honor in the law (Ex. 20:12): “Honor your father and mother.” For the magistrate is the “Father of the people,” as the people acclaimed to Joseph in Gen. 41:43. And Wisdom says (Prov. 24:21): “My son, fear the Lord and the King.” And Paul (Rom. 13:7): “Give fear to whom fear is owed, and honor to whom honor is owed.” And Peter (1 Pet. 2:17): “Fear God, honor the King.”

XXIX. Following this honor is Subjection, namely that godly subjects render obedience to their magistrate in all just things in the Lord. This obedience, in turn, consists of three things.

I. That subjects obey all the orders and commands of the magistrate.

II. That they pay the required tributes and taxes.

III. That they bear civil burdens without complaining, which are for the preservation of the state and the defense of the homeland. Of these, Paul says (Tit. 1:3): “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.”

And (Rom. 13:1): “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” Here it should be noted that he says: To the governing authorities. For subjects are not subject to a foreign and alien magistrate, but to their own, just as a magistrate cannot command foreign subjects, but only his own.

XXX. The Apostle’s reasons, by which he commends this submission to subjects, are mainly six.

I. From the command of GOD. GOD has so ordained that the magistrate preside over his subjects, and that his subjects obey their magistrates. But it is not lawful to resist the divine ordinance.

II. From a shameful and harmful, contrary effect. It is unjust for the creature to resist the creator. But to resist the magistrate is to resist God himself. For he is a minister and representative by God’s ordinance.

III. From an effect, likewise harmful. Contempt and disobedience of the magistrate brings vengeance and punishment. For the magistrate ought to be a terror to the wicked. But it is foolish to recklessly throw oneself into punishment.

IV. From a beneficial effect. To obey the magistrate and his laws leads to praise. For the magistrate is given by God to the subjects for good.

V. From the impulsive and leading cause, and its purpose. The disobedient, even if they do not fear the punishment of the magistrate, must nevertheless keep their conscience unsullied, which they certainly violate shamefully by disobedience, and provoke the temporal and eternal wrath of God against themselves.

VI. From its connections. To whom tribute is owed, from him obedience also cannot be withheld. Therefore, subjects rightly paying tributes to the magistrate will also render him due obedience.

By these Pauline arguments, subjects in all churches and states should be urged with all zeal to render due obedience to the magistrate.

XXXI. Furthermore, Tolerance is required from subjects in bearing the faults or weaknesses of magistrates, as well as Intercession for them before God. Because a burden rests upon the magistrate that is no less laborious than dangerous, under which he often necessarily grows weary and endures the utmost extremes, so that sometimes there is scarcely given to him a place or time to breathe, it is not surprising if they are sometimes carried away by human emotions, such as pride, ambition, intemperance, pleasures, laziness, forgetfulness, complacency, anger, rage, and such passions, to which they are usually more susceptible than others, the more they are also pressed by greater troubles and attacks. Therefore, it will then be the duty of pious subjects to bear those weaknesses patiently, no less than it is fair for children to bear the faults of their parents patiently.

Indeed, it is even proper to call upon God for their happy well-being and safety, according to the instruction of the Apostle (1 Tim. 2:1): “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

XXXII. When considering Paul’s aforementioned saying (Rom. 13:1), three questions are usually raised, which we will answer briefly and concisely.

One from the subjects’ perspective: Whether the Pope, Bishops, and other Clergy are also included under the term “governing authorities?”

The other, as well as the third, from the magistrate’s perspective: Whether those magistrates who lead a wicked life are worthy of honor, such as Nero and Caligula were, and others who were devoted to idolatry?

Similarly: Whether obedience should be given to that magistrate who oppresses his subjects with various burdens and injustices, and thus takes on the role of a tyrant, often commanding those things which go against good morals and integrity, against God and his word.

XXXIII. To the FIRST question, the ANSWER is: Bishops, Ministers, and Pastors, although they are directly subject to God in terms of their doctrine and office, are nevertheless, as to their very vocation, namely the ecclesiastical ministry, and in carrying it out diligently—indeed, much more as to their powers and life, the governance of their family, and their possessions—by the general command of the Apostle, no less subject to the magistrate and his jurisdiction and power than all other Christians. Hence, in the Old Testament, we read that the Priests and Levites did everything in their office at the command of the Kings, as is clear from the history of David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Hezekiah, and Josiah. In the New Testament, Christ says (Matt. 22:21): “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Christ himself (Matt. 17:27) also paid the tax for himself and Peter. Moreover, the Apostle says without limitation: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” Pope Gregory also confesses the same about the Roman Bishops in Book I, Epistle XXXI.12 And Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, explains Paul’s saying, “Let every soul be subject,” thus: “This is commanded,” he says, “not only to secular people, but to all priests and monks, whether he is an Apostle, or an Evangelist, or a Prophet, or whoever has emerged. For this subjection does not hinder piety.”13

St. Bernard also writes thus to Henry, Archbishop of Sens, who denied obedience to the King: “Let every soul be subject to the authorities. If EVERY: yours too. Who exempts you from the entirety? If anyone tries to make an exception, he tries to deceive. Did Christ command and do something else? ‘Give to Caesar,’ he says, ‘what is Caesar’s; and to God what is God’s.’ What he said with his mouth, he demonstrated with his action. The Creator of Caesar did not hesitate to give tribute to Caesar. He left you an example, that you may do likewise.”14] And the civil law prescribes: Let all live according to the laws, even if they belong to a divine house.15

XXXIV. The Roman POPE has exempted himself from this command and example of Christ by denying tribute and obedience to Caesar—not only himself but also the entire ecclesiastical clergy, which with its shaven crowd constitutes almost a third of Christians. And he has not only exempted himself and his clerics from the power of Caesar but also all his dominions, cities, goods, revenues, tithes, tributes, taxes, and countless other revenues, which previously belonged to Caesar. Now, however, they exceed the revenues of all secular princes by double, as if violently snatched from the hand of Caesar. And not only this, but what is more, he has subjected Caesar himself, and all Kings, Princes, and any secular Christian magistrate to his feet, and thus nefariously inverted the meaning of the Apostle’s saying in this way:

That an Emperor must swear allegiance to the Pope.16

That an Emperor must depend on the Pope’s judgment, not the Pope on the Emperor’s.17

That an Emperor must bow his head to the Pontiff, and hold his stirrup when he mounts a horse.18

That a Pope can excommunicate an Emperor, and even depose him.19

Here, here, I say, Christian Emperors, Kings, and Princes will have to be vigilant: whether they are dealing with the Vicar of Christ and the successor of Peter, or rather with the sworn enemy of Christ, Paul, and Peter. For Peter left this command to all Christians, both ecclesiastical and secular: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

XXXV. To the SECOND question, this is the short and solid ANSWER: Subjects should not so much look at the person as at the office of the magistrate. Nero Caesar was a most wicked man, of prostituted wickedness and impiety, and therefore more deserving of punishment than honor, as the historians report. But because he was Caesar, the Apostles, Peter and Paul, command Christians to honor the King. He is therefore to be honored because of God’s ordinance, as are all others who administer this divine ordinance and have power over us, even though they may be most wicked and blasphemous, because of the dignity of the office they hold; but their vices and faults are rightly left to God’s vengeance.

XXXVI. To the THIRD question, a clear ANSWER must be given from the word of GOD. Pharaoh, King of Egypt, exercised tyranny over the Israelite people, imposing unbearable burdens on them. Nevertheless, he had to be honored by the people until GOD freed them from this yoke. Nebuchadnezzar was a most cruel tyrant and robber, most grievously afflicting the Jewish people; yet Daniel addressed him thus (Dan. 2:37): “God has given you power, strength, and glory.” Jeremiah (Jer. 29:7) exhorts the Jewish captives to obedience and prayer for the city of Babylon, however idolatrous. Therefore (Rom. 13:1), obedience is owed not only to a good magistrate but also to tyrants; indeed, any injuries whatsoever are to be endured rather than either resisting their power or the divine ordinance, according to Peter’s rule (1 Pet. 2:18): “Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Considering, of course, that all powers, both good and bad, have been placed over us by God. The good, indeed, that he may show us his grace and mercy in them; but tyrants, that in them we may recognize the most grievous wrath of GOD against our sins. Therefore, no mere subject or private person (outside of legitimate defense) is allowed to attack a tyrant, even given the opportunity, just as David20 could indeed have killed Saul, but he let him go because the utmost necessity did not yet compel him. “I will not lay my hand,” he says (1 Sam. 24:11), “on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” For God knows how to bring tyrants to punishment, either by the ordinary power of each kingdom or by any other miraculous means.

XXXVII. Although this obedience also has certain limits. For when tyrants want to compel their subjects to obvious idolatry or to commit some crime against the express word of God, then the sacred writings command that those tyrannical edicts are by no means to be obeyed, but according to each one’s condition of their calling, they are to be resisted, and anything is to be endured rather than obey. When Nebuchadnezzar wanted his idol to be worshipped by all under penalty of a furnace of burning fire, Daniel’s three companions fearlessly refused it, saying to the King (Dan. 3:16): “We do not need to give you an answer on this issue. Look, our God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace, and He will rescue us from your hand, Your Majesty. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel (Dan. 6:10) did not obey King Darius when the king commanded that he alone, not God, be worshipped, and for this he was thrown into the lions’ den. The wicked King Zedekiah forbade the prophet Jeremiah to declare God’s command to the people to surrender themselves into the hands of the Babylonians, but for this reason he was thrown into prison. When the authorities prohibited the Apostles, Peter and John, from preaching the Gospel in the name of JESUS, they answer (Acts 4:19): “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!”

XXXVIII. Therefore, it is rightly said: The magistrate is to be obeyed up to the point of the altars. And Jerome says: “Judges are to be obeyed in those things which are true, but not in those things which are contrary to religion. And this is for that reason: because it would be the height of injustice to wish to serve the King in this world in such a way that the King in heaven is treated with disrespect.”21 Hence Thomas rightly says: “All human power is ordered under the power of God, and no human power is to be obeyed against God,” according to what we find in Acts 4:19: “We must obey God rather than human beings.”22 Thus, Chrysostom on Matthew 22:22: “If Caesar wishes to take for himself what belongs to God, to command ungodly things, it will not be a tribute to Caesar, but a service to the Devil.”23 AND this is the orthodox teaching concerning the magistrate and civil power, and also concerning the proper duty of subjects towards the magistrate, which indeed is usually openly taught from the Word of God and ecclesiastical writers in all the churches and schools of the evangelical Princes, both in the Roman Empire and outside it. The End of the Aphorisms Concerning the Civil Magistrate.

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Show 23 footnotes
  1. Cyprian, Opera D. Caecilii Cypriani … (Basil: Joannes Hervagius et Bernardus Brand, 1558), pg. 78. In translation: Cyprian, Letters 1–81, trans. Sister Rose Bernard Donna, C.S.J in Fathers of the Church 51 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), letter 55 (pg. 140).
  2. Cf. David Owen, Anti-Paraeus: Siue Determinatio … ([Cambridge
  3. Basil the Great, Opera Omnia … (Basil: Johannes Froben, 1552), ep. 80 (pgs. 713–716). In translation: Basil, Letters 186–368, trans. Sister Agnes Clare Way, C.D.P in Fathers of the Church 28 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1955), letter 189 (pgs. 25–33).
  4. Prudentius, “Romani Martyris Supplicium” in Peristephanon in Opera … (Antwerp: Joannes Steelsius, 1540), 148r. In translation: Prudentius, The Poems of Prudentius, trans. Sister M. Clement Eagan, C.C.V.I. in Fathers of the Church 43 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1962), pg. 191.
  5. Martin Luther, Operum Omnium …, Tomus Primus (Wittenberg: Johannes Lufft: 1558)
  6. I cannot find the precise location of the quote—if it is one—but Phillip Pareus cites Chrysostom, In Epistolam Pauli ad Galatas Enarratio in Opera, vol. 4 (Basil: Hervagius, 1539), cap. 1 (cols. 718–735).
  7. David Pareus, Commentarius in Librum Primum Mosis, sive Genesin in Operum Theologicorum, vol. 1 (Geneva: Petrus Chouët, 1642), cap. 14 (pgs. 258–59).
  8. David Pareus, Thesarus Biblicus … (Heidelberg: Jona Rosa, 1631), 1 Sam. 24:7; Jude 8 (pgs. 96 and 491).
  9. Basil of Caesarea, De Moribus Orationes XXIV (Frankfurt: Nicolaius Bassaeus, 1598), pg. 442.
  10. Cf. Robert Bellarmine, Disputationum … De Controversiis Christianae Fidei …, Tomus Primus (Lyon: Joannes Pillehott, 1596), Quinta Controversia, lib. 3, c. 17, 18 (cols. 1303–1306). In translation: Bellarmine, De Laicis Or The Treatise On Civil Government, trans. Kathleen Murphy (New York: Fordham University Press, 1928), pgs. 77–83.
  11. Silius Italicus, De Secundo Bello Punico (Amsterdam: Joannes Janssonius, 1628) lib. XI (pg. 179). In translation: Silius Italicus, Punica, 2 vols., trans. J.D. Duff (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1911), pg. 143.
  12. Gregory the Great, Opera Omnia, 2 vols. (Paris: Carola Guillard, et al, 1551), II:156v.
  13. Chrysostom, In Epistolam ad Romanos Commentarius in Commentaria in Novum Testamentum, Tomus Tertius & Quartus (Paris: Carolus Morellus, 1633), IV:316. In translation: Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, trans. J. R. Morris, W. H. Simcox, and revised by George B. Stevens, in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and The Epistle to the Romans in vol. 11 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), Hom. XXIII (pg. 511).
  14. Bernard of Clairvaux, Opera Omnia, 2 vols. (Venice: Franciscus de Franciscis Senesem, 1575), II:26v.
  15. Corpus Iuris Civilis, 2 vols. (Jacobus Stoer, 1625): II:86.
  16. Decretum Gratiani… (Paris: 1601), Dist. 63 (cols. 413–14).
  17. Decretum Gratiani…, Dist. 50 (cols. 309–12).
  18. Decretum Gratiani…, Dist. 63 (cols. 393–94)
  19. Decretum Gratiani…, Dist. 96 (cols. 591–594).
  20. Cf. Prop II.
  21. Jerome, Opera Omnia, vol. 9 (Basel: Froben, 1516), 144v.
  22. Thomas Aquinas, Super Rom., cap. 13 l. 1
  23. Chrysostom, In Evangelium Matthai… in Commentaria in Novum Testamentum, Tomus Secundus (Paris: Carolus Morellus, 1633), 150–1. In translation: Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, trans. George Prevost and revised by M. B. Riddle, in vol. 10 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), Hom. LXX (pg. 427).
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Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch Michael Lynch (PhD. Calvin Seminary) teaches Classical Languages and Humanities at Delaware Valley Classical School in New Castle, Delaware and is a teaching fellow at the Davenant Institute. He is the author of John Davenant’s Hypothetical Universalism: A Defense of Catholic and Reformed Orthodoxy (Oxford University Press, 2021).

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