The Right of the Magistrate Regarding Sacred Matters

A Translation of Johann Heinrich Schweizer 


Johann Heinrich Schweizer (1646-1705 is almost certainly unknown to Protestants today. He was a Swiss clergyman, apparently of Cartesian sympathies, who studied at the universities in Basel, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg before teaching in Hanau and pastoring in Birmensdorf and later taught Greek in Zurich. A couple of his works have been translated into English but his Theses Politicae de Magistratus Iure Circa Sacra (1695) never before until now, thanks to the diligent efforts of Michael Lynch. We present them, for your benefit, below. 

-Timon Cline, Editor-in-Chief


Political Theses About the Right of the Magistrate Regarding Sacred Matters, which, with God’s Help, under the Presidency of Johann Heinrich Schweizer, Public Professor of Sacred Languages, Ludovicus Hirzelius, a Student of Politics, Submitted for Peaceful Examination. On a day in March at the Typical Place and Hours.

I. Although the church of the living God is not of the world, it is nevertheless abundantly clear from the irrefutable testimonies of both Christ himself, the sole head of the church, and of experience, supported by the senses and reason, that it is in the world.

II. It is equally well-known that the world derives its chief glory from the human race, and that the latter cannot live and thrive either comfortably or pleasantly without various forms of society and communion.

III. Among the various societies united for the sake of mutual benefits, the most notable is that large and extensive coming together of people, which the Hebrews call עם, like συνηγμένος in Greek, meaning “gathered into one.” That is what they call an assembly.

IV. However, whatever kind of societies there may be, whether they are small or large, whether only a handful of people or a whole bunch, it is equally certain that they are preserved by order.

V. In a large social group, the only order that exists is the one between those in charge and those who follow. So, we have to acknowledge the difference between magistrates and subjects, regardless of whether the subjects are handled more strictly or more freely. Without this distinction, no city or republic can survive. All of this is managed by God, the ultimate ruler of everything, who governs all things with such wisdom, power, and even kindness.

VI. In this difference between those who follow orders and those who give them, everything works towards one goal: to ensure that both individuals and the entire group can live without being insulted or bothered, as much as possible, and to prevent the lives, reputations, and riches of the good people from being stolen by the reckless ones.

VII. Hence, it is evident that the order of those who rule, which is meant for the welfare of those who follow, is by no means intended solely for the ambition or pleasure of the greatest number of those who follow. This is the impious and abandoned opinion of modern Pseudo-Politicians.

VIII. That being said, we are not going to go into a detailed explanation of the responsibilities of either magistrates or subjects here, and how they are tied to each other for the sake of the common good. Instead, we want to take a closer look at how religion and government, and thus the state and the church, work together in harmony. A well-known political figure rightly stated that this is an incredibly complex debate, so we need to be extra careful when dealing with this issue.

XI. With this goal in mind, the first thing to keep in mind is that the people who are part of the same human society are often, but not always, united by the same understanding of God and the stuff related to worshiping God. This means that the people who make up one state are also one church, which is certainly a double blessing.

X. Indeed, such people are motivated by a shared passion for both the future and present life, with a delightful and strong sense of competition as they all work towards the same goal.

XI. When it comes to this, it is very clear that the magistrate, who holds a higher position than others, has his own parts to play as an overseer of the competition. This is more than sufficiently demonstrated by the dignity of his office, his zeal for the public welfare, and lastly, his far-seen face.

XII. These same points also show that the magistrate’s responsibilities are neither minor nor secondary, like those of the Mimes, but the most important ones. The only thing to keep in mind is the difference between architectonic power, which gives orders and directions, and ministerial power, which carries out those orders and obeys.

XIII. Therefore, even though the magistrate himself does not take on the role of a minister of the church, like those who serve as Christ’s ministers and are stewards of God’s mysteries, and are given the responsibility of caring for the church using the staff of the word and the rod of discipline, and who are thus specifically referred to as Prophets, Doctors, Pastors, Leaders, and ministers of Christ and the church

XIV. (Although, as we warn in parenthesis, the combination of this twofold office in one subject is not in its nature either improper or impossible, it is just that the variety and large number of duties and responsibilities involved make it difficult;)

XV. … nevertheless, this does not prevent the magistrate himself from being involved in all church affairs in a way that allows him to also oversee them with his lawmaking and governing authority. He should never be demoted to the same level as church ministers in the law-court, and certainly not be placed under the clergy. This is what the Popes have been trying to do for ages, and they have had some success, but it is a disgraceful and unfortunate situation.

XVI. On the other hand, we do not see any reason why the excess funds in the Corban, or the church’s goods, cannot be used to help support a republic and cover its expenses. Even if there is not an immediate and direct benefit, it would still provide a lot of advantages, even if remotely and indirectly, to the church, which exists within a republic, not the other way around. After all, the church certainly benefits a great deal from a republic’s success and wealth.

XXVII. But since academies and schools also pertain to the care of religion, where the youth are formed for both God and country, the magistrate, who should not forget his responsibility, ought to decide that these institutions should not be ignored or treated poorly. Instead, they should be supplied and maintained with the same level of attention as religion itself.

XXVIII. Therefore, the magistrate will not demote the doctors, professors, and teachers of the schools, who work hard to shape the people who will [eventually] become ministers in the church as well as curators and presidents in the republic, to the level of servant attendants or footmen in the sacred order. He will not leave them with nothing to be proud of except their obedience, which they call blind obedience.

XXIX. On the contrary, he will not approve of that custom of academics who, as soon as they have been made doctors and graduated masters, as they call them, argue passionately for a higher rank than those teaching in the church and schools. The youth, motivated by the success and ambition that drives us at this age, will be quick and eager to aim for this too, looking down on not just their equals but even their superiors. They are compelled to do this not because they are thinking about the duties they will be taking on, but only because of their ambition.

XXX. If only Christ’s words could be heard now to cleanse everyone’s ears: “It shall not be so among you: but whoever wants to be great, let him be your servant,” as it says in Matthew 20:26. Surely, if this happened, there would be fewer seeds of conflict, jealousy, hidden hatred, and other similar bad things, which are bound to produce nothing but a miserable crop.

XXXI. And since it happens frequently enough that the ministers of the church in some kingdom, dominion, or republic, either all or most of them chosen by others, have their solemn assemblies in synods and councils, these cannot, or should not, be instituted without the permission, indeed the command and guidance, or even the protection of the magistrate. This is so because all public assemblies are subject to the right of the ruler [lat: juri Majestatis], and their direction is an exercise of public government.

XXXII. For this reason, even the decisions of synods themselves, whether formed by common or majority consent—whatever these may be, whether they decide on issues of faith, external worship, or specific rites—they all have the force of public laws by the authority of the magistrate and his approbation, since to him alone is owed the legislative power in external matters. But this does not take away from the internal validity of these decisions in the consciences of individual people, as long as they are drawn from God’s word.

XXXIII. However, before the decisions of synods are given the power of public laws, backed up by penal sanction from the empire, the devout magistrate absolutely must not fail to examine the case himself. He should not let this responsibility be taken away from him under any pretext, or let other people’s choices be forced on him without careful consideration. If he does, he will be stepping all over his own dignity. Instead of being in charge, he will be controlled by others like a puppet on a string. He will be a judge who does not really judge and a lower-ranking arbiter, which would be a permanent shame on his position and cause damage that would be almost impossible to fix.

XXXIV. As for the other responsibilities a magistrate has when it comes to sacred matters, there is no point in adding anything else, since they can all be easily connected back to what we have already talked about and figured out from there.

XXXV. Things are totally different when a magistrate disagrees with the church and has completely different views on faith and worship. Even worse, when he is compelled, either by his own choice or by the clergy’s untimely protests (which we know and are sad to say has occurred in France and other places), to go so far as to try to harm the church in every possible way and crush it if he can. In that case, the church, although very nervous, recognizes and respects his authority in civil affairs. Yet, when it comes to sacred matters, the church has a complete right, given to it by the law of nature itself, to handle its own business. It makes decisions about these things based on the choice of either everyone or the elders it has selected. If it does this, it should not be unfairly accused of rebellion or unjust plans.

Annexed Propositions

1. Political proofs are as necessary as those of other disciplines.

2. Any approach to politics which ignores what is right and only aims at what is useful is spurious.

3. Youth who are to be brought into the government of the republic must be taught early on a strong understanding of the law of nature, of nations, and civil law.

4. The first and most general principle of politics is that [all] things should harmonize with social life, according to the dictate of reason and conscience, and hence the rule of justice and equity.

5. Those things which fit this description get derive their moral necessity from there, and are immutable and are therefore part of the law of nature.

6. Although even the law of nations takes its reasons (lat: rationes) from the preservation of society, it still ultimately comes back again to the law of nature.

7. In the same way, civil law, which immediately arises from people consenting to mutual obligation, presupposes the preservation of society and the dictate of reason, and thus the law of nations and of nature.

8. As the great Grotius very cleverly said, human nature is the mother of natural law, the grandmother of the law of nations, and the great-grandmother of civil law.

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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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