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Thirty-Fourth Question: The Political Government of the Church

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Thirty-Fourth Question: The Political Government of the Church

James Dodson

[Extracted from Francis Turretin's Elenctic Theology]

What is the right of the Christian magistrate about sacred things, and does the care and recognition of religion belong in any way to him? We affirm


About the political government of the church. I. After having treated of the ecclesiastical government of the church, we must add something about the political. Concerning this, a grave question is moved in the examination and decision of which it is sinned in different ways, in excess as well as in defect.

Some sin in excess. II. They sin in excess who claim all ecclesiastical power for the magistrate; who, oppressed by the liberty of the ministry, deliver the censer [which held the incense] into the hand of Uzziah and think that no power belongs to pastors except what is derived from the magistrate.

Others in defect. They sin in defect who remove him from all care of ecclesiastical things so that he does not care what each one worships and allows free power to anyone of doing and saying whatever he wishes in the cause of religion. Or who, although they ascribe to him the care of nourishing and defending the church, so that he may kindly cherish and powerfully defend it, still leave nothing of recognition and nothing of judgment concerning religion save the execution alone to him. They rest upon this foundation—that this knowledge and judgment about matters of faith is proper to the ecclesiastical order, whose decrees the magistrate is bound to respect and perform. This is the opinion of the Romanists, which Bellarmine sets forth lib. 3, de Cleri., cap. 17.

Middle ground of the orthodox. III. The orthodox (holding the mean between these two extremes) maintain that the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God. Rather this right should be circumscribed within certain limits that the duties of the ecclesiastical and political order be not confounded, but the due parts be left to each. This we embrace in two propositions.


First proposition: That a right about sacred things belongs to the magistrate is proved: (1) from the command, Deut. 17:18. IV. First proposition. “A multiple right concerning sacred things belongs to the magistrate.” It is proved (1.) from the divine command. To him was committed the custody of the divine law; on this account he ought to care for the piety and worship of God, which is commanded by the first, no less than for justice and love, which is commanded by the second table: “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deut. 17:18, 19). This is repeated in Jos. 1:8, and in the solemn inauguration of Jehoash the book of the law is given to him by Jehoiada that he may understand that the guardianship of it has been committed to him (2 Kings 11:12). The same command is confirmed from other passages where kings and princes are ordered to be instructed to serve the Lord with fear and to kiss the Son (Ps. 2:11, 12); where it is said that they will come to Christ and shall fall down before him (Ps. 72:10, 11); where they are said to be set up for this purpose that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim. 2:2), which could not be secured without a special care for religion.

2. From the titles given to magistrates. V. (2.) From the titles and appellations given to the magistrate in Scripture as [1.] when they are called nursing father of the church (“And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers,” Is. 49:23; Is. 60:10); not only to procure for her temporal goods, but what is far more necessary, spiritual and heavenly goods. [2.] They are called gods (Ps. 82:6) because they bear the mark of his power and rule over the people in his name. By his authority, they ought therefore to conduct themselves as vicars of God, promoting his glory above all things and taking care that their subjects pay him the due tribute and tax for his lawful and pure worship. [3.] Pastors (Is. 44:28), not because they only furnish food, but that they ought to be anxious for their salvation, taking care that their subjects are led to the healthful pastures of the word of God. [4.] Fathers (1 Sam. 24:11), who ought to have a care for their people, that their food and clothing may be provided for them; but especially their spiritual food and that they may be instructed in the fear of the Lord.

3. From reasons. VI. (3.) From reasons: [1.] Because to him is commended the safety of the state and all things pertaining to it, among which the care of religion and of sacred things is conspicuous. Hence the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] assigns “the service of religion” (περι τό θεῖον επιμέλειαν) the principal place among those things without which the state cannot exist, lib. 7. politi. cap. 8. And Plato says, “Special regard must be paid to religion in the state,” lib. 2 de Repub.; and “It is appointed the bond of all society and the pillar of just law,” lib. 6. Cicero calls religion “the foundation of human society,” lib. 2. De Natu. Deo. [2.] Because he ought to procure all the good of the subjects for whose sake he has been constituted and to render an account of it to God; now religion and things pertaining to it are without controversy the principal good of these. [3.] Governments are the guest chambers of the church; therefore the magistrate ought to see that it is well with her.


4. From the examples of kings. VII. (4.) From the approved examples of kings and magistrates, in the Old as well as in the New Testament. Moses, administering the office of a king over the people (Deut. 33:5), establishes religion by divine authority, promulgates the law, inaugurates Aaron and prescribes laws to the whole people and the order of the priests. Joshua governs the Levites, orders the ark to be carried around, sees that the people are circumcised and renews the covenant. David takes care that the ark should be brought back from the house of Obed-edom to his own, appoints singers and distributes the duties of the Levites through certain courses (1 Chron. 15:16; 23:6), and prepares all things necessary for the building of the temple (1 Chron. 22:2). Solomon removes from office Abiathar and puts Zadok in his place (1 Kings 2:27), builds the temple (1 Kings 6), draws the ark into it with solemn pomp and sanctifies it with prayers and sacrifices (1 Kings 8). Asa overthrows the altars and statues of foreign worship and cuts down the groves (1 Kings 15:12, 15; 2 Chron. 14:4). Jehoshaphat brings about a reformation and ordains an ecclesiastical and political senate (2 Chron. 19). Joash restores the temple (2 K. 12:4, 5). Hezekiah takes away the high places, shatters the statues, breaks the bronze serpent to which the Israelites burned incense (2 Kings 18:4), opens the doors of the house of the Lord and repairs them, institutes a reformation of worship and a purgation of the temple, enters into a covenant with the Lord (2 Chron. 29:10) and brings back the people to the true worship of God (2 Chron. 30). Josiah publishes the book of the law found by Hilkiah, the high priest, and has it read before all the people (2 Kings 23:2; 2 Chron. 34:30); he celebrates the Passover and exhorts the priests to do their duty (2 Chron. 35:1, 2). To these can be added the examples of pious emperors: Constantine the Great; each of the Theodosii; Arcadius and Honorius; Valentinian; Maniani; Justinian and others, whose piety in the care of religion was celebrated everywhere, as appears from ecclesiastical history and the Novellae. Hence these words (worthy of preservation) of Constantine in an epistle written to the churches after the Council of Nicea as given in Eusebius: “I thought I ought to labor for this above all things, that in the church the one faith of a most happy people, sincere love and reverence towards God the author of all, in no way disagreeing, should be preserved,” lib. 3 de ejus vita. Of Honorius: “Among the greatest cares of our empire, reverence for the Catholic law is either the first or the only thing; for neither do we either in the labors of war do, or ordain in the councils of peace any other thing, except that the devoted people of our world may preserve the true worship of God.” And of Arcadius to Flavian: “No thing holds us equally anxious as the care of the sacred churches and the most firm basis of faith in Christ by which we are saved, and barbarous nations are brought in subjection to us. For neither by our strength do we these things, nor by the power of horses and chariots of war, but all things turn out prosperously to us strengthened by the power of God.” Ambrosius commends Theodosius by this name because “being near to death he paid greater attention to the church than to the empire.” Justinian says, “There is no less care to me for the things which are profitable to the most holy churches than for my own soul,” Novell. 3.


Sources of explanation. VIII. It is one thing to usurp another’s calling; another to administer lawfully the duties of an office committed to him. Uzzah and Uzziah rashly invaded another’s calling. But when princes take care of religion, they discharge the duties of an office entrusted to them.


IX. Although the care of religion belongs to the magistrate, political and ecclesiastical power are not on this account confounded. They are concerned with it in a different way; some are the duties of that, others of this. The former is concerned only about extrinsic things, as to their external disposition and order (which belong to the worship of God); the latter, however, about internal things (to wit, the administration of those things which pertain to the worship of God). He does not exercise the ministry of the word who admonishes and corrects a minister erring in doctrine or delinquent in life and removes an obstinate or scandalous one. He does not baptize who prohibits the profanation of baptism, who takes care that holy things should be done in a holy manner.


X. As it is not lawful for bishops to draw the sword, so neither is it lawful for princes and civilians to handle the censer [which holds the incense]; as to the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments and other things which formally belong to pastors and are of the essential reason of their office. But it does not thence follow that the other functions concerning the government of the church do not belong to the believing magistrate. Although it is not lawful for bishops to engage in politics or to plead in court, still it is lawful and incumbent upon them to admonish and to exhort magistrates to do their duty. And if they at any time fail in it, they are to rebuke and to denounce the judgment of God against them. So, in turn, although the preaching of the word does not pertain to magistrates, still it is lawful for them to admonish and rebuke bishops and pastors neglecting or wandering from their office; nay, also to bring to order transgressors and to take care that the ministry be not corrupted and religion suffer no harm.


XI. Although Christ did not commit his church to Tiberius, but to Peter, still he did not exclude princes from the care of religion (he called them nursing fathers); nor did he who said “Kiss the Son” repel kings as such. The ministry of the word is committed to pastors; but the care of the state no less to the magistrate; in which state if the church exists, why should not the pious magistrate as such both afford entertainment to the church and keep off the wolves, who in the name of pastors lay waste the flock? Otherwise, by the same argument, I shall have denied that the defense of religion belongs to the magistrate because he gave no commands about religion to Tiberius.

Second proposition: An absolute right in sacred things does not belong to the magistrate, but a limited. In what it does not consist, negatively (κατ' ἅρσιν). XII. Second proposition. “Although a right about sacred things belongs to the magistrate, it is not absolute, but limited and circumscribed within certain limits, differing greatly from the right of pastors.” This can be shown: [1.] negatively (κατ' ἅρσιν), in what it does not consist; [2.] affirmatively (κατά θέσιν) and positively, in what it does. As the former: (1.) he cannot make new articles of faith or institute and enjoin new worship because it is will-worship (ἐθελοθρησκεία) condemned by the word of God (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8, 9; Col. 2:23) and subjected to a curse (Gal. 1:8, 9) and vindicated by various examples of the divine judgment in Jeroboam, Ahab and Nebuchadnezzar. (2.) To him does not belong the preaching of the word or the administration of the sacraments, because they are proper and essential formal ministerial acts (Matt. 28:19, 20) which no one ought to exercise without a call (Heb. 5:4; 1 Cor. 7:20).


XIII. (3.) He cannot exercise ecclesiastical discipline by the authority of the ecclesiastical keys, shutting or opening heaven, because those keys were given to the church or presbytery (Mt. 16:19; 18:18) and not to the magistrate, whose weapons are not spiritual but carnal. (4.) He cannot prescribe to ministers the form of preaching or of administering the sacraments, because the pastor has that authority immediately from Christ, not from the magistrate; or command them to do anything contrary to the rules and institutions of the ministry, no more than a physician can give to a feverish patient hellebore instead of rhubarb. For such things belong to the ministerial office which is of divine right. (5.) In deciding and establishing ecclesiastical matters, he cannot, nor ought he to, enjoin anything without consulting and hearing the pastors; no more than he should prescribe from the college of physicians and the shops of druggists anything belonging to that art without consultation with them. The same thing must be determined concerning controversies of religion, which he ought not to recall to his own judgment alone and determine authoritatively about them. Although he can and ought by reason of his calling to recognize religion and distinguish the true from the false.

In what it consists affirmatively (κατά θέσιν). XIV. Affirmatively (Κατά θέσιν) there are many things which belong to the magistrate in reference to sacred things. (1.) He ought to establish the sacred doctrine and the pure worship of God in the state according to the prescription of the divine word; faithfully to conserve it when established or even to restore and reform it when declining, as is evident from the passages already quoted concerning Asa, Jehoshaphat, Josiah, Joash, Hezekiah. Hence the design of pious princes and Christian magistrates must be praised, according to which they lent a helping hand to the Reformation (which was in vain expected from the Roman court) and used all their endeavors to cherish and sustain it. (2.) He ought to protect the church according to his ability, to restrain heretics and disturbers of ecclesiastical peace, to promote the glory of God, to defend and propagate the true religion and to hinder the confusion of religions. (3.) To provide for the ministry of the word and of the sacraments rightly according to the word of God, where it does not exist; to treat it reverently and honestly, cherish and defend it, where it does exist; to open and encourage schools also as seedbeds (literally, seminaria) of the state and the church in which the youth may be instructed and trained. (4.) To provide with all diligence that each minister may do his duty, to confirm the diligent, to stir up the lazy and to punish the delinquent according to the ecclesiastical canons or civil laws. (5.) To cause the customary formulas and ecclesiastical constitutions which define the doctrine and government of the church according to the rule of Scripture to be sanctioned by a legitimate order and when once sanctioned to be preserved unimpaired. (6.) To constitute authoritatively the ordinary conventions of the church in which ecclesiastical business concerning the doctrine, discipline and order of the church are transacted according to the word of God. And for the purpose of retaining purity of doctrine and holiness of discipline and of deciding controversies of religion, besides the ordinary conventions, to gather provincial and national synods when there is need, to moderate their actions and judgments by his counsel and in addition to confirm and defend them by his authority.


Sources of explanation. XV. Ecclesiastical power is either internal, direct and formal, occupied with the administration and exercise of sacred things (such as the preaching of the word, the administration of the sacraments and the dispensation of the keys); or external [literally, extrinsic], indirect and only objective (such as is concerned with sacred things, as to procurement and disposition, that all things be done decently and in order in the house of God). The first belongs to pastors alone, to whom he has committed his church and given the keys of the kingdom of heaven; the latter belongs to Christian magistrates and princes, inasmuch as they ought to be the guardians of both tables; as in a well-regulated family the father disposes and arranges all things, the execution and performance of which belongs to the domestics. Here belongs the distinction of “bishop towards things externally, and towards things internally” which the Emperor Constantine employs between himself and the pastors of the church: “You are constituted bishops in the church; I without the church; both of God” (ὑμεῖς μὲν τῶν εἴσω της Εκκλησίας, ἐγὼ δὲ τῶν ἐκτὸς ὑπὸ Θεον καθεστάμὲνος επισκοπος,) Eusebius, lib. 4 de Vit. Constan. c. 24.


XVI. Although formerly kings and priests were the same persons, not only among the Gentiles, but also sometimes among the people of God, and so all the firstborn bore among their own people a certain kind of kingdom and priesthood, still with the remaining ceremonies, this type of Christ (whom alone the church recognizes as at the same time her king and priest) was abrogated and consequently it is not lawful to join together these two administrations in the same man. The example of Moses, which is adduced, is extraordinary; nor did he (when Aaron his brother was inaugurated and constituted high priest) perform the functions of a priest. The agreement and coordination of these administrations does not effect that both should be given in charge to the same man, who is scarcely sufficiently fit for either; nor also is it expedient for the public that they should be united and that sacred things should be cared for in a human manner.


XVII. Although political, external and objective power in reference to sacred things presupposes a formal, proper and intrinsic ecclesiastical power and the exercise of it; still in its kind it is always first and antecedent (yea, even alone, if we wish to speak accurately) because the other public, supreme and architectonic power does not precede or attend or follow it, but only the subjection and obedience of all citizens; and the subordinate and ministerial power of the political officers follows and accompanies it. Nor if the magistrate is subjected to Christ, the head of the church, and to his word, is he forthwith properly subjected to his minister, who proclaims his word. As the prince is subordinated to the king, but not to the herald or ambassador by whom the commands of the king are borne to him. It is one thing to obey and to be subject to another as a lord; another to hear one and to obey his teachings. An uneducated father obeys his son, skilled in law, medicine or theology, especially if he is furnished with the doctorate; the prince obeys the counselor and the bench of judges, when a cause is decided in favor of any citizen against himself; nonetheless his supreme dominion remains.


XVIII. Political power is occupied with a thing either directly and immediately, or indirectly, mediately and consequently. In the former way, it is concerned absolutely with the external man and the things pertaining to life (τα βιωτικὰ) without any discrimination of faith or unbelief and with all civil matters. In the latter, it is concerned with sacred and spiritual things, not with respect to the relation of spiritual and ecclesiastical as such (which is not the immediate object of political power as such), but with respect to the external adjunct, either of place or time or persons or other circumstances (which by themselves are the object of political power).


XIX. Although the magistrate (according to us) has not a supreme and unlimited authority over sacred things, it does not follow that our opinion does not differ from the opinion of the Romanists. (1.) The magistrate as lord (to wit, furnished with a ruling power by God) protects the church, according to us; while according to the Romanists he protects her only as the servant of the pope. (2.) According to us, the Christian magistrate has the right of knowing and judging concerning matters of faith, at least with a discretive and approving judgment, whether he ought to confirm by his authority the judgments of the church and commit them to execution. But according to the Romanists, the church alone judges by a supreme, definitive and infallible judgment, which the magistrate (equally with the private person) is bound simply and with implicit faith to embrace and to put into execution without any preceding judgment of discretion upon the judgment of the church. He ought to draw the sword at the nod of the priest and be a blind executor of the decrees of the church, as often as the church has thus judged it to be expedient, whether the affairs and reasons of the state bear it or not. (3.) According to us, if the magistrate in his judgment about ecclesiastical matters abuses his power, he does not cease to enjoy the title of that power by human and divine right; nor can the church as such resist or shun his authority, much less abrogate his title and power. Her arms are prayers and tears and only by suffering does she oppose herself. While according to the Romanists, the church has the power to reduce the magistrate to order (by their judgment abusing his power), whether by his own subjects (whom she absolves from their oath of allegiance) or by neighboring princes, his territories being exposed to spoliation or extirpation.


XX. The name Head of the Church, given to the King of England, is not understood of intrinsic, formal and spiritual ecclesiastical power, but of extrinsic, objective or defensive power about ecclesiastical matters. This is evident from the articles of religion approved by the Synod at London in the year 1562 and by the public consent of the Queen and the orders of the kingdom, of which the thirty-seventh is this: “When we ascribe to her royal Majesty the supreme government, by which title we understand the minds of certain calumniators are offended, we do not give to our rulers the administration either of the word of God or of the sacraments, which even the injunctions by Queen Elizabeth lately published most clearly testify, but only that prerogative which we find was always ascribed in the holy Scriptures by God himself to all pious princes, i.e., that they should continue in duty all states and orders committed to their faith by God, whether ecclesiastical or civil and should restrain with civil sword the obstinate and delinquent.” It is confirmed from Lancelot Andrews, Bishop of Winchester, when setting forth the primacy of kings, against an opponent of Calvin, he answers: “Calvin as he did not approve of the king as pope, so did not approve of the pope as king; nor do we approve in the king what we detest in the pope, while both he with us and we with him think that the duties of King James in the Christian church are the same as those of Josiah in the Jewish church, nor do we ask that anything beyond should be done,” Tortura Torti [1609], pag. 379. And: “If you prefer an example from Christian rulers, the king demands this, that he should be a bishop of things without (τῶν ἐκτὸς), which Constantine, as a ruler of religion, did; which not only Charlemagne, but also Louis the Pious did” (pag. 382). In the same manner James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, in a speech published with a controversial work against the Jesuit, Hybernus, defends the oath of fidelity which declared the king to be the sole, supreme governor in the kingdom. Thus he distinguishes “two distinct powers established by God in these lands, one of which is of the keys committed to the church, the other of the sword entrusted to the civil magistrate; the former ordained to operate about the internal man, having an immediate relation to the remission and retention of sins; the latter ordained to operate about the external man, affording protection to the obedient, and inflicting external punishments upon the rebellious,” which in the same place he explains and proves, in oratione habita in Camera Dublinensi, 22 Novemb. 1622. And afterwards: “Although in this way we make the prince and priest guardians of both tables, and although the matter about which they exercise their office can be the same, still the form and mode of governing in it is distinct in every way. One extends itself only to the external man, the other to the internal; one binds or looses the soul; the other attends to the body and things pertaining to it; one has a special regard to the judgment of the future world, the other refers to the present retention or privation of some of the conveniences of this life.” He at length concludes after many other things, “According to the common opinion and public authority of the Anglican church by the supreme government of the king is meant the civil and the power of the sword, nor can it in any way be extended to a government which is purely of another kind” (ibid., p. 7). He who desires more on this subject should consult the celebrated Voetius, Poli. Ecclesi. p. 1. lib. 1, Tr. 2. c. 3.

Can the magistrate compel subjects to faith? XXI. We must not omit here the question which is wont to be agitated—whether the care of the magistrate about sacred things is to be so far extended that he can or ought to compel his subjects to religion and faith. This is indeed the opinion of the Romanists, which they have thus far too well approved by deeds and every day approve, both by the cruel practice of the Spanish Inquisition and by the dreadful and savage persecutions which they employ against those who are unwilling to embrace the Roman faith and to bend their necks under the papal yoke. Nay, they are wont to place this among the means of conversion. For as by the right hand they endeavor to allure men to themselves by the hope of rewards and earthly advantages, so by the left hand they strive to turn them away from the faith once delivered to the saints by the fear of punishments and evils.

The negative is proved. XXII. But far different is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, who as he teaches that men should be drawn to the faith by no other hope than that of heavenly goods and of eternal life, so he wishes them to be excited to piety by no other fear than of the judgments of God and of hell. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Every other way ought to be deservedly suspected by us as proceeding not from Christ, the prince of life, but from Satan, the prince of death; who as he showed to Christ the kingdoms of the world and their glory, for the purpose of exciting his hope, so as a raging lion and a murderer, he is accustomed to rage among men with the fear of punishments and death in order to call them away from the faith. But the disciples of Christ, following their Master and teacher, think that no one ought to be forced to faith and religion; but the weapons which are to be employed here ought to be spiritual, not carnal; strongly persuading the mind by the evidence and demonstration of the truth, not violently forcing men by lashes and torments; not by the sword of the flesh, but with the sword of the Spirit; not with bonds as iron fetters, but with the sweet bonds of charity and love.

1. From the example and command of Christ. XXIII. The reasons are: (1.) the command and example of Christ because nothing like this was ever either commanded by Christ or approved by his example. Christ indeed orders the apostles to teach and to baptize, but nowhere commands them to kill those who are unwilling to hear, or compel them to believe by the authority of the secular arm. Nor does the passage where the servant is ordered to compel the guests invited to the feast of the heavenly Lord evince the contrary: “Compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). This compulsion is to be understood according to the subject matter, not of physical compulsion (which compels a man unwilling), but of moral compulsion (which influences and persuades the will). Thus is most fitly designated the soul-turning and most powerful force of the word and Spirit, which God employs in the conversion of men to work in them to will and to do (Phil. 2:13) and to draw them to Christ; sweetly indeed but powerfully, by a grateful invitation, but by a most efficacious persuasion which makes the unwilling man willing; and by an unconquerable power draws him torn from the world to Christ and introduces him into his communion; this sweet compulsion and persuasive necessity (πειθανάγκῃ) is discussed in Jer. 20:7, Jn. 6:44 and Acts 9:1–9.

2. From 2 Cor. 10:4. XXIV. (2) From the words of the apostle: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5). Thus the apostle points out that the means and instruments which we use and war for Christ in propagating the gospel are not carnal, such as are accustomed to be used by the kings and princes of the world to extend the boundaries of their empire (to wit, the sword and violence). But “the power of God,” that is, spiritual, which are most powerful for the destruction of strongholds, that is, of the desires by which men defend themselves in sins, as at the sound of the horn the walls of Jericho fell; and to the overthrow of the reasonings of human wisdom and of all high places of the flesh and to the bringing of every thought to the obedience of Christ). This truly cannot be accomplished by corporeal arms, which can bring the body indeed to order, but have no power over the mind; but the sole efficacy of the word of Almighty God and of the Holy Spirit, which so affects and moves the hearts of men, that overcome by the truth they are drawn to obey Christ and willingly come under his yoke.

3. Because no one has dominion over the conscience. XXV. (3) Because religion and faith belong to man’s conscience. Now no one can assume for himself dominion over the conscience except God. “We have not dominion,” says Paul, “over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24). And Maximilian II well remarks: “There is no tyranny more intolerable than to wish to dominate over consciences,” because God has reserved that dominion for himself alone. Seneca was not ignorant that the conscience can be subjected to no mortal: “Our bodies are exposed and committed to lords, but the mind has its own right, which is so free and roaming that it cannot be held even by this prison in which it is placed, from using its power and going forth to infinity as a companion to the gods, lib. 3 de benefi. cap. 20.

4. Because this is done in vain. XXVI. (4.) Because their success in this attempt is ineffectual. Nor can the effect ever be obtained, because faith is in the soul, which cannot be forced. “He who imposes upon me a necessity,” says Lactantius, “either of believing what I do not wish or of not believing what I do wish; nothing is so voluntary as religion, in which if the mind of the sacrifices is opposed, it is already taken away, it is already nothing,” lib. 5. Inst. c. 19. That cannot be sincere which is forced; nor anything pleasing to Christ unless it be voluntary. There is no profit in these means of the violent; either souls are more alienated and irritated or become hypocritical, holding one thing in the heart, professing another with the lips, and while they profess externally this or that faith, they are opposed to it in mind. Here belongs especially what Philo in his book relates concerning Calanus, a most ancient philosopher of the Indians, who is said to have written to Alexander the Great on this opinion: “Friends may persuade you to compel the Indian philosophers, not even in a dream having gotten sight of our affairs and our business. You will move bodies from place to place, you will do no violence to unwilling souls, no more than if you could compel walls and beams to utter a voice, &c. No king, no prince can make us do anything against the opinion of our minds.”

5. From the suffrages of the ancients. XXVII. (5.) From the testimonies of ancient and more modern writers. Tertullian says, “It does not belong to religion to compel to religion, which ought to be voluntarily taken up, not by violence,” ad Scapul. cap. 2. Hilary says, “It is not becoming, it is not right that the unwilling and repugnant should be forced and compelled,” Ad Constant. Imperat. Lactantius: “There is no need of violence and injury, because religion cannot be compelled, the affair is to be managed by words rather than by stripes, that it may be voluntary, libro 5. Instit. capite 20). And afterwards: “The executioner and piety are far separated. Piety cannot be joined together with violence, nor justice with cruelty. Religion is to be defended, not by killing, but by dying; not by barbarity, but by patience; not by crime, but by faith.” Athanasius testifies that it belonged to heretics to propagate their religion by slaying. Speaking thus of the Arians: “They compelled the unwilling to a change of opinion which is by no means the part of men confident in their cause; for not by swords or darts or the military hand is the truth preached, but by persuasion and consultation. What, however, is the liberty of persuading, or the reason of consulting there, where he who opposes receives as his reward either exile or death? In the same place that new and detestable heresy is overwhelmed with arguments, falls with truth itself ashamed, strives to draw to itself by force, blows, and prisons those whom it could not induce by words, and thus manifests that it is not pious and a worshipper of God. For it is the property of a pious religion, as I have said, not to compel, but to persuade,” Episto. ad solit. vitam agentes. Hilary says, “God has taught rather than demanded a knowledge of himself, and by the admiration of his heavenly works conciliating authority to his precepts, he despises the will forced to confess him,” Orat. ad Constant. In the same place against Arius and Auxentius: “The church terrifies by exiles and prisons, and compels to be believed for herself what was believed by exiles and prisoners; she hangs on the worth of the communicants, what was consecrated by the terror of persecutors; she puts to flight priests, what was propagated by exiled priests,” Contra Arian. et Auxent. Gregory: “We were made pastors, not persecutors; and an illustrious preacher says, Reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and doctrine; but that preaching is new and unheard of which demands faith by stripes,” ad Johan. Constant. This was reduced to a law. Bernard: “Faith is to be won, not imposed,” Bern. Serm. 66. in Canti. The wiser of our opponents cannot deny this. Since the king of France, in the year 1553, had promulgated a severe decree for the extirpation of the Reformed, the Parisian Senate, in order to dissuade him from his purpose, among other things most weightily writes: “It seemed just that he should rather tread in the footsteps of the ancient church, which accomplished her object not by fire and the sword in the religion to be established and propagated, but by the example of the purer doctrine and the virtuous life of her bishops,” Thuanus, lib. 16. Here belong the golden words of the same author in his preface: “We are sufficiently taught by experience that the sword, fire, exiles, prescriptions irritate rather than heal the disease inhering in the mind: consequently to cure it, there is need not for those things which penetrate only the body, but of doctrine and diligent instruction which gently distilled descends into the mind; since all other things are sanctioned by the will of the civil magistrate; religion alone does not command, but from the taught opinion of the truth, the favor of the divine presence being vouchsafed, it is poured into minds well prepared; to this torments avail nothing because they rather strengthen minds to resistance, than break and persuade them”

6. From the practice of the ancient church. XXVIII. (6) From the practice of the ancient church. The church suffered, but did not arouse persecution; she conquered paganism as paganism had conquered her; but she did not render to it measure for measure. She did not employ the authority of the Constantines and Theodosians to force unbelievers to the faith or to sprinkle the shrines of false gods with the blood of their worshippers; as pagans used the swords of the Neros, Maximians, Decians and Diocletians to bathe the earth with the blood of Christians. And he must evidently be a stranger to ecclesiastical history who is ignorant that in the struggles which the orthodox church had with the Arians, Eutychians and other heretics, she commonly used no other weapons against them than exhortations, arguments and councils. But on the other hand, heretics brought fire and the sword into the living temples of the Holy Spirit and by the terror of torments and death (which they exercised against believers) disseminated their deadly errors rather than by other means.


XXIX. Although the magistrate ought to be anxious about the salvation of his subjects and to omit none of those things which are in his power to procure it, it does not follow that this ought to be done by violent and unjust means repugnant to divine and natural law, to the example of Christ, and to the spirit of Christianity, which breathes both pure charity and gentleness; also to the practice of the apostles and of the ancient church. Teachers and not torturers are to be employed here. More is gained by admonishing than by threatening and by teaching than by killing.


XXX. Now although faith is not to be commanded, but persuaded; nor ought anyone to be compelled to abjure his heresy, it does not on this account follow that a confusion of religions and Samaritanism should be introduced into the state or the tolerance of any of the sects and especially of those which tear away the primary heads of Christianity (such as the Socinians and the like), which would be an evident injury to the glory of God and highly injurious to the safety of the state. Or that any heretics erring concerning the faith should be borne with and not coerced with any punishments (which the Socinians urge and other sectarians of the same class in order to scheme for their own advantage). Now because the Romanists go to the other extreme and think they should be pursued with the sword and with fire and punished capitally, as many as they judge have fallen into heresy (which they measure by the dissent from their faith, that thus they might the more sharply excite princes to the destruction of the Protestants and Reformers), we must briefly ascertain how between these two extremes the mean can rightly be held.

Ought heretics to be punished? Statement of the question. XXXI. And here above all we think the pious and Christian magistrate ought to do his duty in reference to heretics, both for the curing of them (with whatever gentle measures he can, if they are curable) and to restrain and check them (if they are incorrigible), in order to drive out the consuming plague from the churches. But a multiple caution must be used, lest it be sinned either by an excessive severity or too great mildness. For we must accurately distinguish between the seduced and the seducers, between “those deceiving (πλανωτες) and being deceived (πλανώμὲνοι)” (2 Tim. 3:13); between those who err slightly and those who err more grievously and obstinately. The former are to be mildly instructed; the latter are to be more strictly coerced. Between those who attack a single article of faith and those who overturn the principal foundations of Christianity. We must distinguish between those who sin from ignorance and keep their errors secret and to themselves, and those who teach them to others (ἑτεροδὶδασκαλουσι, 1 Tim. 6:3) and infect with the contagion of their errors whomsoever they can; and especially heresiarchs, blasphemous and factious, disturbers of the public peace, who not only pertinaciously defend the errors which they cherish, but also whenever an opportunity is presented, strive to spread them against admonitions and prohibitions often repeated, polluting heaven and earth by their horrible blasphemies, and who under this pretext excite disturbances and seditions in the state. For against these no one can doubt that greater severity should be used. Again we are to distinguish the multitude of a nation (which is infected with any error) from particular individuals who labor to head a school and sect that shall survive them. They are to be distinguished (with whom the magistrate has as yet entered into no agreement and in whose will therefore it is placed to tolerate or reject them) from those who live under the public faith of agreements and edicts granted to them before and frequently confirmed. For to the former nothing is owed; but to the latter covenants once sanctioned are to be kept, as they bind the magistrate no less than the people (unless they have rendered themselves by some crime unworthy of such a benefit of a subject). Finally, a great distinction ought to be made between heretics who are judged to be such by the consent of all Christians and are lawfully convicted by the word of God (such as are atheists, Deists, Epicureans, Socinians and the like) and those who are held to be such by some from prejudiced opinions, on account of dissent from their own belief, although they have never been lawfully convicted of their errors, nor do they teach anything (as to positive articles) which is not received by others.

1. Proposition: Heretics can be coerced. XXXII. These three propositions having been established, we set forth our opinion. The first is: “It is lawful for magistrates to coerce and also to inflict some punishment upon contumacious and obstinate heretics, who cannot be healed and who wound the peace of the church by their factions.” For since (as we have said before) they are the guardians of both tables and the care of religion belongs to them, they ought to see to it that she suffers no harm and prudently meet the approaching evil, that the gangrene may spread no further and may not become diffused over the whole body. Now they cannot conserve religion unless they coerce the pertinacious and factious despisers of it. This the glory of God (of which they are vindicators) and the safety of the state (of which they are the defenders) demand. If smaller evils are coerced by weighty punishments, this which is the greatest—that which injures the truth of God, which blasphemes his name, which wounds the church, which corrupts the faith and brings the salvation of believers into danger—ought not to be left without a remedy. Nay, there is sometimes need of so much the prompter and stronger remedy as thence the greater destruction threatens the whole body, unless it be provided against in season.


XXXIII. Here belong the laws enacted by Moses against apostates, blasphemers, false prophets, soothsayers and idolaters (recorded in Deut. 13:5; 17:12; Lev. 24:16). Also the examples of Moses and of pious kings in the Old Testament, who did not hesitate to purge religion and to coerce the false prophets and heretics and idolaters and to inflict upon them various punishments. And of the Christian princes under the New Testament, who enacted various laws against heretics, whom they not only punished with prison and exile, but also coerced with other heavier punishments. See Leg. 3 1. C. de Summa Trini. et fide Cathol. L. Manichaeos, de haeret. et Manich. L. quicunque 8, de haeret.


XXXIV. Nor are the following opposed to this opinion or the parable of the tares. As was said before (Question 32, Section 23), this does not refer to the civil magistrate or to the ecclesiastical ministry so as to deny that any guilty persons are either to be visited with political judgments or to be restrained by ecclesiastical discipline, which would be by far the most absurd; but that we may know that offenses in the church will never be wanting until the end of the world and that evils are to be borne which cannot be corrected without damage. Or the example of Christ, who did not quarrel and contend (Isa. 42:2, 3), or break the bruised reed, but sweetly called men to himself. Gentleness is ascribed to him, which supports the weak, not which hardens more strongly wickedness. He is gentle that he may not break the bruised reed, but not that he may encourage their obstinacy who break the weak; rather he is armed with an iron scepter with which to bruise the heads of his enemies. Or Christian kindness, because this does not take away the right of the magistrate to bear the sword, and it ought not to cause him to sheathe his sword as the avenger against the wicked. It causes indeed that there should be a place for mild remedies and that all things should be tried first, before going to extremes. But this mild and humane method of healing differs much from a weak irresolution, which is nothing else than an encouragement of evil. Cruel is the mercy which exposes the sheep as a prey that the wolf may be appeased; and which suffers the body of Christ to be lacerated and their minds to be tainted with the poison of corrupt doctrines that the stench of one rotten member may remain entire. Or that the civil magistrate has no power over the soul in which the heresy inheres. Although he does not have a right over the soul, he has over the tongue, as over the hand; and he can punish the heretic teaching another doctrine (ἑτεροδὶδασκαλουντα) no less than the thief who steals another’s property, or the robber who kills a man, because he corrupts society, the care of which the magistrate ought to have. Therefore coercive power does not apply to internal faith, but is concerned with external acts, over which the magistrate has power. For as an opinion of the mind is not to be punished, still neither is a pestilent and impious profession to be endured.

2. Proposition: It is not lawful to punish all heretics with capital punishment. XXXV. Second proposition. “It is not lawful to inflict capital punishment upon all errorists and heretics.” Against the Romanists, who think that all heretics should be persecuted with fire and sword, whether they sin by simple error and from weakness, or wickedly and inflexibly; whether they truly err about faith and by the common consent of Christians, or are considered such by their own judgment on account of dissent from the church of Rome. This they confirm too well by their practice and by the accursed tribunal of the Inquisition and the torture of consciences and the dreadful manglings of the pious worshippers of God most falsely stigmatized with the odious name of heretics; exercised both in former ages and even in our own; not only upon particular individuals, but upon entire peoples and nations; upon myriads of men of all races, of every age, sex and condition (as appears from the martyrologies).

It is proved: (1.) because this is repugnant to the spirit of Christianity. XXXVI. The reasons for our opinion are: (1.) this barbarity and cruelty is repugnant to the spirit of Christianity and the design of the gospel, which is to save, not to destroy; to allure men to the faith by the word, but not to compel them by the sword; to destroy errors and vices, but to spare persons as far as possible. It belongs to Mohammed to advance with slaughter and blood and to establish his empire by cruelty and torments. But Christ reigns in us by the Spirit of grace and love. He seeks the salvation of men, not their blood. Hence Christ said to the apostles asking him to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55, 56). He was teaching that such vengeance does not agree with the evangelical spirit even to the end of his advent. Nor can Maimburg deny it in his History of Calvinism, while he maintains that “Calvinism shows itself sufficiently to be the false, nor even from Christ, who is the God of peace, proceeding in a violent manner and opposed to the gospel, by which it wishes to be established,” Hist. Calvin. lib. 1.


XXXVII. (2.) This shuts up the way to the conversion and salvation of men, which ought to be the end of religion and of the ministry. For while the erring enjoy life, there is always room given for repentance, which is wrested away by death; it is sought in vain after that. (3.) This is a mark of Antichrist, who was to be distinguished by persecutions and blood. “The beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit,” it is said, “shall make war against the saints, and kill them” (Rev. 11:7). “He shall cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed” (13:15). The same thing also appears in what is said of the Babylonian harlot: “She was drunken with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:6); and “that in her was found the blood of the prophets and saints and of all who were slain in her” (18:24).


XXXVIII. (4.) The fathers acknowledged this, as appears from the passages before cited. Augustine is on our side: “This pleases no good persons in the Catholic church, if it is vented in rage even unto death against anyone, although a heretic,” lib. 3. cont. Cres. And: “We desire them to be corrected, not to be slain; nor do we wish discipline regarding them to be neglected, nor to be exercised with punishments, of which they are worthy. So therefore deal with their sins that they may be ashamed that they have sinned,” Epist. 127, ad Donatum Procons. de Donatistis. And: “Love men, destroy errors, contend for the truth without cruelty,” libro. 1. cont. lite. Petili. capite 29. Chrysostom: “The Lord does not forbid us to disperse the assemblies of heretics, to stop their mouths, to deprive them of the liberty of speaking, but he forbids us to kill and butcher them,” Hom. 46, in Matth. 13, et hom. 67. ad popu. Antio. Arnobius: “We have received from the teaching and laws of Christ that we ought rather to pour out our own blood than pollute our hands and consciences with the blood of others,” lib. 1. cont. Gentes. Nor do we find the practice of the ancient church to have been different, as we have already said. And if, after the emperors became Christians, certain punishments were decreed against heretics that they might be restrained by them, still their lives were spared; or if stricter laws concerning capital punishments were enacted against certain ones (as against the Manichaeans, Donatists, Circumcellions and others), they did not so much regard them as heretics as factious, disturbers of the church, seditious, who had reached even the highest point of crime, who were in the habit of slaying those who differed from them and exposing them to exquisite torments, and filling all things with fury, conflagrations and murders, as Augustine remarks in various passages; Epist. 88, ad Janua. et lib. 1. cont. Episto. Parmeni. c. 7. et epist. 166. adversus Donat.

XXXIX. Although heretics can by right be excommunicated, they cannot on this account be rightly slain; otherwise fornicators, gluttons, brawlers and the like could rightly be slain because they can be excommunicated. There is a different reason for political and ecclesiastical punishment. He who deserves the greater punishment in the same class, deserves also the lesser; but it does not hold good from one species to another—from the civil to the ecclesiastical. Besides, excommunication cannot be called in this respect a greater punishment than killing because it always leaves room for conversion and salvation, which capital punishment does not.


XL. Although the magistrate has the right of the sword against the wicked and impious, it does not follow that it ought to be unsheathed promiscuously against all heretics (as neither against all sinners). Only this is rightly gathered—that the magistrate can coerce heretics and punish them and in proportion to their criminality (to wit, if they are blasphemous, factious and rebellious), can inflict upon them capital punishment also, as will hereafter be said. But not upon simple heretics and the seduced, who sin through ignorance and weakness, who deserve commiseration rather than punishment and who on this account are to be instructed and cured (if it can be done), not to be punished.


XLI. A general rule cannot be deduced from extraordinary, particular and heroic examples. Hence the deed of Elijah (causing the four hundred prophets of Baal to be slain) does not belong here; nor that of Peter adjudging Ananias and Sapphira to death (Acts 5:1–10); of Paul striking blind Elymas the sorcerer. These were wholly extraordinary to conciliate authority to the prophet of the Lord and to the apostles; but not that any rule should be prescribed to the magistrate.


XLII. The relation of murderers, poisoners and perjurers differs from that of simple heretics. The former sin against society and the state. On this account, they are justly slain as much for the punishment of their crime as for an example. But heretics injure themselves alone provided they keep their errors to themselves.


XLIII. Those of our divines who on the question (Ought heretics to be capitally punished?) contend for the affirmative, do not speak of all kinds of heretics, the simple and seduced, who sin from ignorance and infirmity and injure themselves alone; but of the factious, contumacious, seditious and blasphemous, disturbers of the public peace. This Beza often tells us, pag. 95.: “Far be it from us to arm the magistrate against those who sin even from simplicity rather than from wickedness, without injuring others and without bold blasphemy. We are not so foolish, nor do we divest ourselves of all feeling of humanity; nay, we wish all milder remedies to be first applied even to contagious and moral diseases and to be directed to the glory of God and the love of our neighbor,” pag. 118. And: “This I say, that we do not speak of those, who are weak in the faith, for we have in fact shown that they ought to be taught, and not punished; still in such a way that their weakness be not cherished. But of self-condemned (αὐτοκατακρίτοις) heretics, that is, domestic enemies of the church, obstinate and factious” (pag. 143). And: “We have shown that they only are to be called heretics, when they seek to gain the name of believers, and are convicted lawfully from the word of God, still following their own judgment so pertinaciously and refractorily defend certain false doctrines in religion against the church, that they do not hesitate to wound its peace and harmony by their factions.” This Calvin had already remarked: “For neither when we appoint magistrates as guardians for the protection of religion, do we sharpen their swords, as about to punish every error, they may presently leap to blood; for we know that there are three grades of errors, and to some we confess pardon is to be extended, for others a moderate chastisement is sufficient, so that only manifest impiety should be visited with capital punishment,” refutat. Error. Serveti pag. 823. Namely, as he afterwards explains: “Where religion is torn up from her foundations, detestable blasphemies against God are indulged in, souls hurried to destruction by impious and pestiferous doctrines, finally where defection from the sole God and pure doctrine is openly essayed, it is necessary to descend to that extreme remedy that such poison may spread no farther” (ibid.). And: “Now both prudence and gentleness is to be exactly preserved by us, there is no doubt that a mild and religious knowledge of doctrine ought to go before judgment. But this is by no means an obstacle, why it is not the duty of the magistrate to coerce with the sword and punishments those who since they are themselves apostates from the right faith, solicit others to defection, and contemning God ensnare wretched souls in their fallacies, disturb the peace of the church, and rend and tear the harmony of piety,” (pag. 821. Bullinger: “There is a great difference in persons. For there are standard-bearers, and obstinate leaders into error, who are bold hypocrites, and babblers, and therefore best fitted for seducing, themselves indeed rushing unto their own destruction without hope of amendment, and dragging others along with them. And these are to be coerced by all measures, as pests of the church, that their contagion may not as a cancer spread more widely. Again there are certain ones seduced and crazed by others, who err, but not through wickedness; nor obstinately. These we ought not to condemn forthwith, but to pray to the Lord for them and to instruct the wanderers in the spirit of gentleness and kindness, until they return to a better mind, Decad. 2, Sermo. 8. And afterwards: “Now there is a notable difference between sufferings and punishment. The pertinaciously erring, and striving to lead others with them into error and to hold them in errors, blasphemous and disturbers, nay, subverters of the churches can rightly be slain; still on this account every one who errs is not forthwith to be capitally punished. And they who can be cured by threatenings and rebukes, ought not to be dealt with more severely; moderation is best in every thing.”

3. Proposition: It is lawful to kill blasphemous arch-heretics. XLIV. Third proposition. “We think that incurable (ἀνιάτους) factious and blasphemous arch-heretics, not ceasing to scatter their poison, against interdicts often repeated and a pledge given, disturbing both the state and church, can be punished with death.” Yet that this is not resorted to unless all other mild means have been tried without avail to cure them and restore them to a better mind. For when it is evident that such remedies not only do not cure the evil, but rather exasperate and increase it, then at length (although sorrowfully) the magistrate compelled by the necessity of his office will direct his attention to it; like physicians, who are wont to employ extreme remedies for desperate and extreme maladies that what cannot be corrected and cured may be stopped by the knife and cautery so that the healthy parts may not be affected. In the meantime, that the magistrates may rightly perform their duty in this particular, they ought to remember that they should keep themselves within the bounds of their power, nor alone presume to judge of heresy, since they do not so much belong to the magistrate as they are parts of the church. Again, that they should take care that the judgments of errors be exercised in a holy and incorruptible manner, not from any authority of men (whoever they may be) or from any prejudice either of time or custom, but from the pure and sincere declaration of the word of God, lest they afford themselves (through error) not vindicators of God’s truth, but ministers of another’s cruelty. Finally, that after an accurate examination and diligent consideration of all circumstances, they decree that punishment by which his honor may be asserted for the majesty of God and the peace and tranquility of the church secured.

It is proved: (1.) from the atrociousness of the crime. XLV. The reasons why we so determine are various, indicated already by us in Section 32 and the following, to which we add the atrociousness of the crime. For if punishment ought to increase with the greatness of the crime, no one can doubt that the blasphemy and impiety by which the majesty of God is directly assailed, is the greatest of all crimes and one which on that account ought to be visited with the greatest punishment; especially if an obstinate and pertinacious contempt of political and ecclesiastical order is joined with it as also perjury and an insane fury for corrupting others with the same poison. Such monsters of men ought to be regarded as public pests and cancers, as disturbers of the church and state whom it is of the highest importance to remove, whether to vindicate the glory of the offended supreme majesty or to conserve human society.

(2.) From the authority of God. XLVI. The second is the authority of God, who enacted various capital laws against apostates, false prophets, idolaters, blasphemers and the like (Deut. 13:1, 2; 17:12; Ex. 22:20; Lev. 24:15), of which we have spoken before. This is so for no other reason than that he might exhibit the greatness of their crimes and the justice of the vengeance which he was about to take on them. Now although we do not deny that these had something peculiar by reason of the more rigid Mosaic polity (which does not belong to us living under a milder economy), still it is certain that they have also their use in general among us and two things can rightly be gathered thence. First, since defection from religion, which was established by the word of God, and persuasion to defection are punished by the civil magistrate, the same crimes ought not to remain unpunished, but ought to be punished now also. Again, since no reason can be given why the majesty of God and the safety of the church and state should be of less weight with us than it was formerly among the Jews (nay, on this account the greater, as the Father has manifested himself more clearly by the Son than by the prophets), Christians can have less excuse if they despise the true religion or defend it with less zeal than the Jews. We might here bring forward also the various examples of severity against the impious, idolaters and blasphemers: of Moses against idolaters (Ex. 32:27, 28), of Josiah slaying the priests of the high places at the altars (2 Kings 23:20), of Jehu killing the priests of Baal (2 Kings 10:25) and the like. For although it is not to be denied that there was something extraordinary in these cases, still it is gathered from them that such crimes deserved this punishment and it could justly be decreed by God.


XLVII. Here also belong those various laws of which we have spoken above, which were enacted by emperors against the Manichaeans, Donatists, Apollinarians, Eutychians—some of which consigned them to exile and deportation, infamy and the deprivation of goods; others devoted them to capital punishment. Marcian wished that “those who attempt to teach unlawful things be coerced with the ultimate punishment,” L. Quicunque codi. de Haeret. et Manichae. Speaking of those who return to Manichaeanism, the code wishes them “to be handed over to extreme punishment,” L. Arian. 5. And: “He wishes the Encratites to be visited with capital punishment” (L. quisquis).


XLVIII. Lest this opinion may be said to be the opinion of only some of our divines, Zanchius tells us, “Almost all of our men are of this opinion, that heretics should be punished with the sword,” Tom. 2. Miscella. C. de Magist. Bucanus: “Is it lawful for the magistrate to proceed against heretics with the sword?,” Institut. Theol. l. 49. He answers affirmatively. Besides Calvin and Beza, the same thing is asserted by Bullinger, Aretius (in histo. Valentini. Genti.) Junius (in defens. 2. de Trinit.), Danaeus (Ethi. Christ. l. 2. c. 13) and others. Gerhard himself, although he strongly opposes the capital punishment of all heretics, confesses that it can justly be used against some: “It is not a question concerning the seditious, blasphemous, heretics, who besides the propagation of false doctrine, excite sedition in addition, instigate subjects against magistrates and utter direct and open blasphemies against God; for that they can be capitally punished on account of sedition and blasphemies we do not wholly controvert,” pag. 1047. And: “No one of us denies that pertinacious heretics can be excommunicated, no one hinders the punishment of seditious heretics, disturbers of the public peace, with the sword,” (pag. 1004). So Antonius de Dominis, who solidly proves by various reasons that no one should be forced to the faith, still acknowledges that Christian princes and magistrates can and ought to rise against true heretics and schismatics by the laws and sometimes also by capital punishments (lib. 7 c. 8). (1.) That they may have a tranquil state, which is for the most part wont to be disturbed by heresies and religious controversies. (2.) From their due and proper office, by which Christian princes are bound to preserve religion pure and untarnished. (3.) That they may prevent blasphemies against God and Christ. (4.) That terrified by the disadvantages from the laws and the stripes of punishment, if not compelled, they may at least be inclined to embrace the truth.


XLIX. Nor ought it to be said here that in this way arms are furnished to the Romanists and their swords sharpened to the persecution of us with fire and the sword. Everyone sees how much we differ from them on this subject; nor except most unjustly is our opinion brought forward to excuse their cruelty. Who does not acknowledge that it is one thing to wish blasphemous arch-heretics and factious disturbers of the church to be punished; another that the sword can be drawn promiscuously against all the erring, whether they are seducers or seduced, whether weak or contumacious, whether they sin ignorantly or wickedly? It is one thing to be able to punish justly (but very rarely) one or another heretic, openly impious and blasphemous; another to be able to exercise dreadful manglings upon whole nations and myriads of wandering men, but in other respects honest and quiet, of every sex, age and condition, so as to utterly destroy them and to be able rightly to visit with capital punishment; one thing to decree the punishment of death to those who, convicted lawfully of their deadly error, show themselves to be incorrigible (all milder measures having been used to no purpose), nor cease to spread as far as permitted their poison, against warnings and interdicts; but another to rage unmercifully against the pious worshippers of God who have never been convicted of their heresy, nor can they be proved guilty of any error, except that they are unwilling to subject themselves to the papal yoke, that they do not recognize any other word of God than the written, other redeemers and another head of the church than Christ, another sacrifice than his death, another religious worship than that which is due to God alone. Let every pious person judge whether such ought to be traduced by the odious name of heretics. Certainly it is not lawful by the royal edicts in France which have often prohibited this. And yet these are the harmless men whom the Romanists have persecuted and daily persecute with the sword and fire and all manner of cruelties, even the very thought of which strikes the mind with horror. As sad experience too well teaches, and the martyrologies relate in full, and as many as have written the history of the atrocious persecutions and cruelties practised at various times in Spain, France, Ireland, Bohemia, Belgium, Piedmont and elsewhere, and most recently the celebrated author (Resp. ad hist. Calvi. p. 3, In 2 Crimin. c. 1, 2, 3, 4), where he describes also the dreadful cruelties of the Spaniards exercised towards the Indians under the pretext of conversion. From all of this, as from the detestable tribunal of the Inquisition, he most certainly proves that no one of all the sects is more cruel than the Roman.

L. They who traduce the punishment inflicted upon the most impure Servetus as unjust and cruel, that from it they may excite hatred against the distinguished magistracy of Geneva and especially against that great man of God, Calvin, have never sufficiently weighed the atrocity of his crime. (1.) It was not a simple heresy lying concealed in the heart about one or another head of faith, but a complicated heresy, the basest of all, bursting forth with regard to the principal heads of Christianity and especially the adorable mystery of the Trinity, which that wicked man blasphemously did not blush to call (I shudder in repeating it) “the three-headed dog” with many other horrible blasphemies. (2.) Not once and transitorily, but often and for a long time (namely for 30 years), he did not desist from disseminating this deadly poison; not in one place only, but in many parts of Europe; not only with abusive mouth, but also in most virulent writings against warnings and interdicts frequently repeated. (3.) Calvin did not approach the matter except sorrowfully; and while all other means had been tried in vain to overcome his obstinacy and recall him to repentance, still he could have escaped the punishment, if he had wished. “No danger of a heavier punishment pressed,” says Calvin, “if in any way he had been curable. It would have been allowed him to escape punishment even by moderation alone” (in refutat. Errorem Serveti). (4.) Nothing was done here rashly and precipitately by the magistrate, but all the circumstances were maturely weighed in the fear of God and not without a consultation also with the most distinguished chiefs of Reformed Switzerland, who acknowledged the equity of the judgment and approved it by their votes. (5) Bucer judged that “he deserved to be torn asunder.” Melanchthon affirms that “the Genevan magistrates did right for killing this blasphemer after a regular trial.” When Grotius, however, endeavors to throw the whole blame of this punishment upon Calvin, calling him with scurrility “the burner of Servetus,” he boldly calumniates him against the faith of the whole history and the testimony of all writers, who assert that Calvin did what it was his duty to do, that he might be convinced of his unnatural and dreadful heresy and return from his pestiferous error to bring forth better fruit. But that he prompted the magistrate to burn him, neither do they anywhere say, nor is it confirmed by any proof. Nay, it is evident that with the college of pastors, he tried to dissuade them from this kind of punishment; but the magistrate was horrified at so many blasphemies and did not wish to deal with him mildly. But who wonders that the punishment of that devoted head, which is deservedly placed among the standard-bearers of an impious sect, displeased the Socinian?


LI. We conclude that the Christian magistrate can inflict capital punishment upon similar pests and monsters of men; but so that extreme remedies should be applied only to extreme evils and even in these great moderation should be used, that the love and clemency worthy of a Christian should never be violated.