The Christian Renaissance and Reformation in Continental Europe
Eight reformers (Hieronymus Bock, Johann Buchenhagen, Johann Calvin, Johannes Hus, Martin Luther, Philipp M. / Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
By Dr. Stephen M. Feldman
Jerry H. Housel/Carl F. Arnold Distinguished Professor of Law
Adjunct Professor of Political Science
University of Wyoming
A first century AD bust of Cicero / Capitoline Museums, Rome
Toward the end of the Middle Ages, certain Italian cities such as Venice and Florence, spurred by fortuitous economic prosperity, strove for independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Already, in the mid-fourteenth century, Bartolus argued that the free people of the cities (or city republics) were exercising de facto merum Imperium (the highest power to make laws), so they effectively constituted sibi princeps (a prince unto themselves). During this era, though, the cities had to remain wary of papal domination, and thus many writers, such as Dante, still sided with the emperor to avoid the pope. Other writers nonetheless insisted that the Church should not interfere in the secular affairs of the cities. As early as 1324, Marsiglio of Padua anticipated a central Reformation theme when he argued that the city republics had secular jurisdiction separate from the Church. While the fate of these city republics fluctuated over the years, they provided fertile political soil for the growth of a modern theory of the state.
In particular, the civic humanism of the Renaissance bloomed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Just as Thomas Aquinas previously had turned to Aristotelian theory to develop the concept of the state, the early civic humanists turned to Cicero. The humanist emphasis on the Ciceronian concept of virtus—the single or highest virtue, uniting wisdom with eloquence—contrasted sharply with the Augustinian Christian view of human nature. Whereas Augustinians saw only human depravity and sin, the humanists believed people, as citizens, could achieve excellence in political and civil society. Nonetheless, the early humanists remained fervent Christians, struggling to force their ideas of virtus into a Christian framework, and the later Northern humanists even insisted that political rulers possess the godliness of a good Christian.
Indeed, despite their commitment to human achievement and dignity, many humanists, both earlier and later and from all over Europe, expressed their Christian commitment in, among other ways, antisemitic tirades. To these humanists, debilitative Judaic attitudes and practices had infected all aspects of society—the Church, the schools, and the city republics. This Jewish infestation had to be rooted out and eliminated. Thus, if anything, antisemitism worsened during this period. Moreover, advancing technology exacerbated the situation; the introduction and proliferation of the printing press during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries facilitated the rapid spread of antisemitic anecdotes and accusations. For example, a scholarly and politically progressive humanist press, Hieronymous Holtzel of Nuremberg, published the following report in 1510:
Herewith is published what formerly has been common knowledge. [A Christian stole a consecrated wafer from a Church and sold it to a Jew, Salomon.] Salomon … laid the sacrament [the consecrated wafer] on the edge of a table and, out of congenital Jewish hatred, battered it several times over and pierced it; even then he was unable to wound the Lord’s body. Finally, beside himself with rage, he yelled out, among other curses: “If you are the Christian God, then in the name of a thousand devils, show yourself!” At that moment, in reaction to the taunt, the holy body of Christ miraculously parted itself into three, just as the priest breaks it,—but with the result that the cracks took on the color of blood. The Jew carried the three parts of the wafer on his person for four weeks. [Salomon then gave two pieces of the wafer to other Jews.] The remaining piece, which was his own, he once again struck and pierced until blood flowed from it. He did everything he could to offend this last portion of the host—drowning it, burning it, and attempting in several other ways to destroy it—all to no avail. Finally it dawned on him to knead the sacrament into a scrap of matzo dough and to throw it into the oven at the Jewish Easter celebration.
The Dutch monk Erasmus tersely summarized the humanist viewpoint: “If hating the Jews is the proof of a truly Christian life, then we are all excellent Christians.” In fact, Jews were banished from most of western and central Europe during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Nonetheless, the most renowned later humanist, Niccolo Machiavelli, did not reveal such a firm commitment to Christianity and antisemitism. Writing in the early sixteenth century, Machiavelli articulated a humanist political theory remarkably limited in its Christian presuppositions. Thomas had introduced into Christendom the idea of the political. In so doing, Thomas had (re)introduced the study of politics as a practical science and had suggested that different values might apply in different realms of action. Machiavelli deepened these Thomistic currents in light of his own political fate. As a Florentine governmental official for almost fifteen years, Machiavelli had observed directly the political maneuvers of the various city republics as they vied for power, and in fact, he ultimately lost his governmental position and was arrested and tortured because of a transition in Florentine rule partially due to the pope. Thus, understandably so, Machiavelli studied politics as an eminently practical topic, and he insisted, quite strikingly, that Christian values do not apply in the political realm. To Machiavelli, the preservation and liberty of the republic are the highest values, and the citizen and ruler should do whatever is necessary to achieve those ends—the common good—regardless of consistency or inconsistency with Christian values. Indeed, Machiavelli argued that Christianity, at least as interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church, undermined a people’s devotion to liberty and hence damaged a republic; Christianity rendered people humble, feeble, and too willing to submit to tyranny.
Machiavelli therefore further opened the conceptual gap between church and state. His view of Christianity strongly suggested that the state would do better without religion: Christianity, in effect, corrupted political affairs. His focus on the well-being of the state contrasted starkly with the Augustinian (and medieval) condemnation of the state to the carnal world of the Jews. Machiavelli maintained the separation between the temporal and spiritual worlds that the Christian execration of Judaism had introduced, but he elevated the status of the temporal state far above its lowly Christian origins. Even so, Machiavelli argued that all secular states are doomed to eventual ruin. Yet, whereas the traditional Christian perspective maintained that God’s will damned the secular state to its degraded position, Machiavelli instead emphasized the role of sheer fortune in the ultimate collapse of every state. Indeed, subsequently, the Northern humanists attacked Machiavelli for his supposed godlessness.
Nonetheless, Machiavelli neither completely rejected Christianity nor was he “utterly secular in his thinking.” Machiavelli wrote: “Princes and republics who wish to maintain themselves free from corruption must above all things preserve the purity of all religious observances, and treat them with proper reverence.” Hence, it was the Christianity of the Roman Catholic Church, not religion in general, that undermined liberty and republicanism; paganism was better than Catholicism for preserving a devotion to liberty. Machiavelli, in fact, echoed the contemporaneous Reformation attack on the Catholic Church: the Church had corrupted Christianity by giving it a “false interpretation.” Properly understood, according to Machiavelli, Christianity teaches that “we ought to love and honor our country.”
What had prompted the Roman Catholic Church to warp Christianity so completely? Machiavelli responded decidedly: “[T]his [corruption of Christianity] arises unquestionably from the baseness of men, who have interpreted our religion according to the promptings of indolence rather than of virtue.” Many commentators assume that this typical Machiavellian emphasis on human baseness marked a pragmatic political realism grounded on Machiavelli’s personal political experiences. Undoubtedly, this assumption is at least partially valid, but a more ironic explanation harmonizes with Reformation accounts of human nature and seems just as plausible. According to this alternative (or supplemental) rationale, Machiavelli accounted for the “decadence” of Christianity with a typically Christian (and non-humanist) explanation: humans are depraved and ignoble by nature, and consequently, they garbled the true Christian message. Regardless of whether Machiavelli here intended a grim political realism or revealed a latent Christian world view (or both, which seems most likely), his characterization of human nature as base or sinful resonated with and was symbolically tied to the New Testament emphases on original sin and the separation of Christian spirituality from Jewish carnality. Moreover, it is worth noting, Christianity itself at least contributed to many of the historical developments that might ground a political realism (or cynicism). That is, the Christian focus on human depravity, as well as the Christian legitimation of imperialistic domination, helped shape western history for nearly 1500 years and thus provided ample evidence supporting a bleak view of political reality.
Significantly, Machiavelli’s (cynical and Christian) conception of human nature served as a foundation for his political thought. To Machiavelli, sheer fortune alone does not doom all secular states to ruination; rather, sheer fortune and human nature (sinfulness) together ensure the eventual collapse of all governments. The tension between, on the one hand, political order and, on the other hand, fortune and human nature—and the resultant struggle to maintain the fragile political community through secular time—was a constant theme for Machiavelli. He understood virtù (virtue) as the (at least temporary) overcoming of fortune and human nature as one pursued the common good: citizens and rulers alike must seek to disregard their “own passions” and instead act for the good of the community. Machiavelli thus reasoned that the best form of government—the one most likely to pursue the common good—is neither the pure monarchy, aristocracy, nor democracy, but rather the mixed republic, a mixture of government by the one, the few, and the many. This type of republic can maintain balance by drawing upon the diversity of its citizens. Meanwhile, Machiavelli advised the ruler that virtù required the “judicious alternation” of Aristotelian virtue and vice: the political leader, for example, must at times exercise liberality with money, but at other times must exercise miserliness; the political leader must at times display compassion, but at other times must act cruelly; and so on. A successful ruler, in short, cannot apply the same values or moral standards in public life as in personal (or private) life. Machiavellian virtù required one to do whatever was necessary to preserve the political community: “A prince … must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.” In sum, Machiavelli’s civic republican theory can be understood as placing the sinful human of Christianity within the Aristotelian polis as it careens through secular time. For Machiavelli, the problem—the realpolitik problem, if one likes—necessarily was how to maintain the polis in these dire circumstances.
The Lutheran Reformation
Portrait of Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529 / Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany
The Roman Catholic Church had long struggled against secular rulers for power and wealth, and the Church many times had weathered internal strife. But in 1517, a German priest and theology professor, Martin Luther, initiated an attack from within Catholicism that ultimately shattered the Church’s hegemonic hold over western Christianity. Luther wrote The Ninety-Five Theses primarily to criticize the Church’s practice of selling indulgences. According to Catholic doctrine, an individual was subject to divine and temporal punishment for committing a sin. The Church itself could remit the sinner’s guilt through the sacrament of penance and then could bestow indulgence, a release from the temporal punishment to be due in purgatory, provided the person performed works of charity and devotion. For many years, though, the Church had been selling indulgences as a means of raising money. Luther objected to this corruption of Christian doctrine, attributing it to the Church’s problematic involvement in worldly affairs. He insisted that “Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.”
Once Luther issued this first challenge to the Church, he began to develop theological views that increasingly distanced him from the papacy. As the controversy surrounding indulgences intensified, he claimed to discover that the New Testament did not command the performance of penance at all. To Luther, this sacrament therefore had to be abolished. Soon, Luther seemed to question most of the traditions and trappings of the medieval Church. He denounced the Church hierarchy (including the privileged status and authority of the clergy), the wealth and impiety of the clergy, the canon law, the Church’s involvement in political and military affairs, and the practice of monasticism. In 1519, Luther publicly questioned papal authority, and eventually, of the Church’s seven sacraments, he rejected all but two—baptism and the Eucharist. In 1520, the Church issued a bull of excommunication against Luther. He responded defiantly, publicly burning the bull and several volumes of the canon law for good measure.
In rejecting medieval Roman Catholic traditions, Luther sought to return to more Pauline and Augustinian notions of human nature and faith. To Luther, his Protestant theology was not revolutionary; rather, it was a return to a purer Christianity, a Christianity of the New Testament. Consequently, Luther emphasized human depravity and sinfulness: humans are “full of sins, death, and damnation.” But, Luther argued, if “all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful, and damnable,” then one can never earn salvation because one’s actions, one’s choices, one’s very will are inherently sinful. Luther was especially scornful of Thomas Aquinas’s Aristotelian emphasis on human reason: the notion that humans could use reason to know God (even partially) was dangerous blasphemy. One could not use reason to bring salvation any more than one could earn or cognitively choose salvation: instead, salvation was achieved through God’s grace and an individual’s faith. Even faith cannot be chosen; instead God chooses or predestines certain individuals for grace, though everyone is potentially open to perceiving such grace. Luther maintained:
When you have learned [that humans are sinful and damnable] you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you so that, if you believe in him, you may through this faith become a new man in so far as your sins are forgiven and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone.
For the individual, then, “faith alone justifies” and enables salvation. In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther wrote: “[I]f only I believe. Yes, since faith alone suffices for salvation, I need nothing except faith exercising the power and dominion of its own liberty. Lo, this is the inestimable power and liberty of Christians.” To Luther, the Christian is free because works (or conduct) are unnecessary for salvation: all that matters is faith, and faith is a purely internal matter. Faith requires that “you ascribe to [God] the glory of truthfulness and all goodness which is due him.” Luther continued: “This cannot be done by works but only by the faith of the heart. Not by the doing of works but by believing do we glorify god and acknowledge that he is truthful.” Likewise, “[f]aith redeems, corrects, and preserves our consciences so that we know that righteousness does not consist in works.”
Because justification was by faith alone, and because faith was an internal matter of conscience and heart, salvation became more direct, immediate, and individualized. An individual did not build gradually toward salvation throughout life by performing works, such as the Roman Catholic sacraments. And an individual did not need clergy—especially Catholic clergy—to intercede on his or her behalf with God. Ecclesiastics only tended to interfere with the individual’s direct and immediate experience of the truth of Jesus Christ. Hence, Luther conceived of a “priesthood” of all Christians: “[A] 11 of us who believe in Christ are priests and kings in Christ.” Christians therefore did not need the institutional machinery of the Catholic Church; they should simply organize into congregations of the faithful. And once freed from the traditions and works of Roman Catholicism, the faithful could personally experience the primacy of “the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ.” Thus, the Scriptures, as the revealed Word, became the key to faith and a Christian life. To be clear, Luther did not suggest that each individual could idiosyncratically interpret Scripture, but rather that each person was free to receive its literal meaning.
Despite these reform teachings, Luther managed to remain somewhat conservative. He never advocated a radical individualism free of all ecclesiastical leadership. For instance, he insisted that “[a]lthough we are all equally priests, we cannot all publicly minister and teach.” In Church organization and governance, Luther found little direction in the Scriptures and thus often willingly accepted whatever was expedient or traditional—sometimes even surrendering control over the Church polity to the state ruler. Moreover, though Luther maintained that works cannot bring salvation, he still argued that if faith is present, works can “be done to the glory of God.” This notion of the faithful doing “righteous deeds” was the source of the idea of a calling, which would become more important in Calvinism. To Luther, “each one must attend to the duties of his own calling” because, regardless of faith, we still live in the temporal and carnal world:
Here the works begin; here a man cannot enjoy leisure; here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if it is other held in check.
Hence, faith liberated a Christian to obey God’s will, to fulfill one’s duties.
As one might expect, Luther’s focus on the authority of the New Testament led him to echo its antisemitic dogma. Luther repeated many (if not all) of the specific New Testament accusations against the Jews. For example, according to Luther, Jews deserve their suffering and persecution because they committed deicide and they still obstinately refuse to believe in Jesus as their savior. Similarly, Luther referred to the Jews as “unyielding, stubborn ceremonialists” who continue to follow “a blind and dangerous doctrine.” At a broader level, the symbolic foundation of Luther’s entire theology was the central New Testament dichotomy between Christian spirituality and Jewish carnality. His steadfast insistence that humans were thoroughly sinful and could be justified by faith alone directly reflected this crucial Christian dichotomy. To Luther, faith was the pathway to the Christian world of heavenly spirituality, while works (without faith) doomed one to wallowing with the Jews in this-worldly degradation. Indeed, his critique of works as a means of salvation was peppered with antisemitic references. For example, he wrote: “Human works appear attractive outwardly, but within they are filthy, as Christ says concerning the Pharisees in Matt. 23. For they appear to the doer and others good and beautiful, yet God does not judge, according to appearances but searches ‘the minds and hearts.’” Moreover, the New Testament condemnation of Judaism provided Luther with the symbolic imagery for his condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the lead of the humanists, Luther and other reformers believed the problem with the Church was that it was too Judaic: the Church was infected with a Jewish ethos that caused it to become overly involved in economic, legal, and other this-worldly affairs. The aim of reform was to purify Christianity, to cleanse it of this Judaic infestation.
Burning Jews blamed for the Black Death / Wikimedia Commons
Despite this pervasive antisemitism running through Luther’s theology, the early Luther enthusiastically solicited Jewish conversion. To him, the only reason that Jews had not become Christians was the corruption of Roman Catholicism. Once Jews understood the purified Christianity of Protestantism, they would willingly convert—or so Luther initially believed. When Luther’s efforts at conversion were thwarted, he became increasingly hostile toward Jews. The reading of Scripture was central to Luther’s reforms, but the Jewish reading of Scripture denied the Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible. In light of the Jews’ stubborn refusal to convert, they must, in Luther’s eyes, be condemned and persecuted; Jewish misfortune implicitly refuted the Jewish reading of Scripture.
Luther’s rage against the Jews drove him to advocate open violence. In 1537, Luther successfully instigated the expulsion of Jews from Saxony, and Jews were driven from other German areas over the next thirty years. A Jewish fugitive from the city of Brunswick wrote:
We were all suddenly expelled … on the advice of this foul priest Martin Luther and that of the rest of the council of scoundrels [that is, the council of the town]. These accursed and impecunious repudiators of this town and council have invalidated and broken everything. There was not even one among them who spoke peace. For several years they were constantly intent upon murder and destruction alone.
Luther’s violent turn against Jews culminated in his inflammatory essay Concerning the Jews and Their Lies. Luther began by emphasizing that the Jews were condemned because of “their lies, curses, and blasphemy.” Then, in an unrelentingly truculent passage, he recommended seven ways for Christians to deal “with this damned, rejected race of Jews.”
First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not wittingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians.… Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues. For this reason they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable … in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boast, but miserable captives Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught. Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more.… Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews.… Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury.
All their cash and valuables of silver and gold ought to be taken from them and put aside for safe keeping. For this reason, as said before, everything that they possess they stole and robbed from us through their usury, for they have no other means of support Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses as is enjoined upon Adam’s children. For it is not proper that they should want us cursed Goyyim [Gentiles] to work in the sweat of our brow and that they, pious crew, idle away their days at the fireside in laziness, feasting, and display.
If there had been any doubt before, this essay erased it: Luther’s reform theology did not include toleration for Jews (or Roman Catholics or any other religious group but his own).
Based largely on his theology—and hence also his antisemitism—Luther developed a theory of church and state. Just as Luther longed for a return to a more Augustinian theology, he also sought to elaborate Augustine’s position on church and state—colored, though, by the millennium of history that had passed, as well as by Luther’s personal situation. In 1523, when Luther wrote his foremost essay on church and state, Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed, he had just survived a precarious political crisis. He had, after all, alienated the two major individual bearers of political and social power: the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. On the one hand, Luther had initiated the Reformation largely because, in his view, the papacy and the Catholic Church had become, over several centuries, excessively involved in temporal affairs. Hence, in his essay, he certainly would be expected to argue for restricted eccclesiastical involvement in secular matters. On the other hand, Luther had good reason to assert some limitations on imperial powers. After Luther had been excommunicated, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear before the Diet at Worms. Charles demanded that Luther recant his books attacking the Roman Catholic Church, and when Luther adamantly refused, Charles condemned Luther as a heretic and placed him under the ban of the Empire. Luther might soon have died a martyr if the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony—asserting his own power against the emperor—had not stepped forward and offered Luther refuge.
Thus, in this context, Luther set forth to explicate the implications of his theology for the relations between church and state. As discussed, the central components of Luther’s theology—human sinfulness and justification by faith alone—reflected the crucial New Testament dichotomy between Christian spirituality and Jewish carnality. To elaborate the relations between church and state, Luther built further on this dichotomy (and echoed Augustine’s City of God). He divided humankind into two classes: those belonging to the kingdom of God and those belonging to the kingdom of the world. To rule these two classes or kingdoms, God ordained two governments: the spiritual, “by which the Holy Spirit produces Christians and righteous people under Christ,” and the temporal or secular, “which restrains the un-Christian and wicked.” Hence, each government operates in its own separate realm by its own appropriate means. Spiritual leaders should attend to spreading God’s Word through preaching and should avoid interfering in secular affairs, while secular authorities, using reason and force if necessary, must maintain “outward peace” despite the depravity of humankind. Hence, for example, only the secular government should promulgate law backed by coercion; the Roman Catholic Church’s extensive canon law system should be eliminated as a this-worldly corruption. Most important, then, exactly because the two governments should operate in different spheres by different means, they should not compete against each other. So long as the religious and secular rulers follow these strictures, they should complement each other’s authority. Luther wrote: “For this reason one must carefully distinguish between these two governments. Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other.”
In order to bolster secular authority in the face of papal interference, Luther urged adherence to the New Testament behest to respect (Roman) civil authority (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”). In particular, Luther stressed the beginning of Romans 13: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers [of the governing authority]. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power [of the civil authorities], resisteth the ordinance of God.” Consequently, Luther (more so than Augustine) emphasized the divine origin of secular authority. “[I]t is God’s will that [secular authorities use] the temporal sword and law … for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the upright.” Indeed, Luther’s Reformation sometimes is called “magisterial” because of his alignment with secular magistrates.
At the same time, though, Luther carefully circumscribed secular power. The secular rulers rightly have authority over “life and property and external affairs on earth,” but they have no authority over people’s consciences. Luther here built again upon traditional antisemitic dogma. New Testament discourse emphasized that Jews cannot be forced to convert: true faith can never be coerced. Luther extended this basic doctrine regarding Jews to delineate the limits of secular authority. Secular authorities can exercise the power of the sword to regulate conduct and other external affairs, but this power cannot be used to coerce Christian faith. Citing Augustine for support, Luther declared: “[Faith] is a matter for the conscience of each individual.… For faith is a free act, to which no one can be forced. Indeed, it is a work of God in the spirit, not something which outward authority should compel or create.” Even religious leaders, Luther added, should not coerce faith; rather, “God’s word must do the fighting.” Finally, Luther reinforced his position on secular and religious authority by explicitly referring to Jewish obstinence: “[E]ven if all Jews and heretics were forcibly burned no one ever has been or will be convinced or converted thereby.”
Thus, to Luther, so long as a secular ruler remains in the appropriate sphere of authority, subjects must obey his or her commands. Even a true Christian, who does not need worldly constraints, nonetheless should respect the secular power—if not the secular ruler. Luther emphasized that most rulers are evil fools and scoundrels, yet their authority must be respected because they are ordained by God to perform a necessary function: “to punish the wicked and to maintain peace.” The rulers themselves are relegated to controlling the degraded and carnal world of the Jews. Hence, the rulers might be worthy of scorn, but their authority must be respected. Luther explicitly equated civil law with Jewish law and declared that Jewish (and hence civil) law is necessary to restrain the wicked, including the Jews, who do not belong to God’s kingdom. The true “Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to function and be held in honor and fear.” According to Luther, a true Christian should disobey the secular ruler only if the ruler exceeds the boundaries of his or her sphere of authority—that is, only if the secular ruler attempts to command the Christian on a religious matter, such as siding with the pope or possessing Protestant books (recall Charles V’s demands on Luther). Yet, even in this situation, Luther conservatively advocated only passive disobedience, not active rebellion. Punishment must be endured: “[Should the secular ruler] punish such disobedience, then blessed are you; thank God that you are worthy to suffer for the sake of the divine word.” In his later writings, though, Luther assumed a more assertive stance, recommending that godly princes should actively resist an ungodly emperor (again, recall Frederick the Wise’s protection of Luther against Charles V).
To a great extent, Luther developed his theory of church-state relations by elucidating the relationship between Jews and civil authority embodied within the New Testament discourse. On the one hand, the New Testament discourse had emphasized the dichotomy opposing Jewish carnality to Christian spirituality. God condemned the Jews to suffer in the carnal and temporal (secular) world while they witnessed the blissful salvation of Christians in their spiritual Heaven. On the other hand, the New Testament demanded that Christians respect civil authority: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” To Luther, then, God had ordained both the secular and spiritual worlds; the secular world was degraded and sinful but nonetheless extant. God therefore had further ordained that civil authorities had the task of policing the actions of Jews and other wicked or unsaved souls in the secular world. Without the civil authorities, life in the secular world would truly be a hellish nightmare. Hence, according to Luther, Christians must respect the need for and the work of the civil or state authorities, but Christians should still recognize that those authorities themselves lived in the depraved secular world and, more important, had no power whatsoever in the spiritual world. Besides, all that truly matters is spiritual salvation in the other world, and spiritual salvation depends solely on an individual’s faith and God’s grace.
Luther maneuvered within this theoretical framework to suit his particular political and theological needs. His overriding initial concern, of course, was to argue for a reduced authority of religious leaders, particularly those of the Roman Catholic Church. In Luther’s framework, he needed only to emphasize that religious leaders should be concerned solely with spiritual salvation—which is all that truly matters anyway—and that therefore they should refrain from interfering in the secular affairs of the carnal and temporal world. With this diminution in religious jurisdiction, though, Luther necessarily expanded the rightful authority of secular rulers, though he did so cautiously, for he feared imperial power. Hence, in the end, Luther rejected both the Caesaropapist and hierocratic positions that had echoed down through the Middle Ages. To Luther, religious and secular authorities should complement and not compete with each other. Yet, while in theory neither authority was superior to the other, Luther always assumed that the secular authorities and their subjects would be Christian. He introduced Temporal Authority by writing: “I hope … that I may instruct the princes and the temporal authorities in such a way that they will remain Christians—and Christ will remain Lord.” Moreover, as mentioned, Luther in no way advocated toleration of or liberty for religious outgroups, and he expressly instructed preachers to tell kings and princes to fear God and follow the commandments. In fact, the later Luther expressly warned princes not to protect Jews: “You ought not, you cannot protect them, unless in the eyes of God you want to share all their abomination.” The secular law of the state would, in Luther’s view, always be the law of a Christian ruler. To be clear, then, while Luther sought to undermine the secular power of the Catholic Church, he opened the gap between the religious and secular spheres (thus further developing the concept of the separation of church and state) primarily to benefit his Protestant Church.
How do the somewhat contemporaneous political theories of Luther and Machiavelli relate to each other? Machiavelli and Luther had disparate purposes—they aimed in different directions—but interestingly, their theories weave together neatly in a complementary fashion. On the one hand, Machiavelli focused on the well-being of the state. He suggested that Christianity (that is, Roman Catholicism) corrupted political affairs by
discouraging citizen involvement in this-worldly civic affairs. On the other hand, Luther focused on the religious well-being of the people. He argued that the Church interfered with the salvation of Christians because of its excessive involvement in worldly affairs. When fit together, these two arguments seem to drive toward a greater separation between church and state. Machiavelli pushed for greater separation from the state or governmental side—the Church should remain outside of civic affairs to avoid corrupting the political sphere—while Luther pushed for greater separation from the religious or spiritual side—the Church should remain outside of civic affairs so that it could concentrate on saving Christians. When combined in this manner, their arguments seem to prefigure some modern conceptions of the principle of separation of church and state in a democracy: these modern conceptions emphasize a public square of democratic debate free of religious interference and, simultaneously, a religious sphere free of political interference.
Did Luther therefore implicitly support a democratic or civic republican form of secular government, as Machiavelli did? Probably not. To be sure, Luther’s concept of a congregation of the faithful, devoid of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, had populist and democratic implications in the religious sphere insofar as it suggested that all Christians are equal. His emphases on Scripture and justification by faith alone reinforced this populism because supposedly each individual could personally and directly experience the Word of God and the truth of Christ. This religious populism even resonated with the common Renaissance and civic humanist focus on human dignity in political and civil affairs. Nonetheless, Luther clearly did not intend to celebrate human dignity and excellence; to the contrary, he emphatically insisted that humans are sinful and depraved. Furthermore, as already mentioned, Luther maintained that everyone is not equally able to “publicly minister and teach” Christianity. Finally, in his political theorizing, Luther never incorporated civic humanist notions of private persons as citizens. For Luther, individuals were always subjects; rulers therefore remained superiors, princes, lords, or masters, never magistrates. As ordained by God, subjects had a duty to obey and rulers had a right to command. Thus, however contrary to Luther’s intentions, his political theory helped legitimate the emerging absolutist monarchies of Europe.
The Calvinist Reformation
Portrait of John Calvin, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1550s / Wikimedia Commons
While the split between Roman Catholics and Protestants was the major division within western Christianity, Protestant reformers themselves quickly fragmented into different sects. For example, by the mid-1520s, the Anabaptists had splintered off because they insisted that baptism during infancy was invalid and that true believers therefore should be baptized as adults. These divisions between various Protestant sects could be severe. In 1524, for instance, Luther managed to have an Anabaptist opponent expelled from Saxony. Luther also fell into a serious dispute during the 1520s with Huldreich Zwingli, an early leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. In particular, they disagreed about the proper interpretation of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. Luther had accepted the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist, but only with qualifications. In Catholicism, the doctrine of transubstantiation determines the meaning of the ingestion of the bread and wine (during the Eucharist): supposedly, the words of the priest miraculously transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, thus renewing Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. Although Luther accepted the Eucharist, he only partially accepted the doctrine of transubstantiation. To Luther, the bread and wine do not actually convert into the body and blood of Jesus, but nonetheless, Jesus’ body and blood become present in the sacrament. Somehow, the body and blood of Jesus coexist with the bread and wine. To Zwingli, however, the bread and wine are merely symbolic: they represent the body and blood of Jesus, but the body and blood are never actually present during the sacrament. The disagreement between Luther and Zwingli led to the distinction within Protestantism between the Lutheran and Reformed movements.
Jean Calvin was born in France but spent most of his adult life in Switzerland. Well educated as a humanist, Calvin was still living in France when he suddenly converted to Protestantism in 1534. Within two years, he had written the first edition of his remarkably systematic and thorough statement of reform theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and thus he quickly became a second-generation leader of the Reformed movement. On the issue of the Eucharist, Calvin tried to reach a position midway between those of Luther and Zwingli; according to Calvin, Christ was spiritually but not physically present. Nevertheless, in many ways, Calvin’s theological views strongly resembled those of Luther; the differences were one of degree, not of kind. Like Luther, Calvin stressed the authority of the Scriptures: “For by his Word, God rendered faith unambiguous forever.” To Luther, the Old Testament was relatively unimportant because it had been superseded by the New Testament, but to Calvin, the Old and New Testaments both remained authoritative as the Word of God. The New Testament, in effect, reaffirmed the Old Testament. The Calvinist notion of the covenanting community arose from Calvin’s respect for the Old Testament. To Calvin, the Laws of the Old Testament represented a series of agreements between humans and God necessitated by original sin. This contractual relationship served as a model: a community of believers could reaffirm, at any time, its covenant with Christ, contractually committing itself to uphold the laws of God. As early as 1537, under Calvin’s direction, all the citizens of Geneva, Switzerland, were asked to swear an oath binding them to follow God’s commandments.
Because Calvin, as a Christian, concentrated on the New Testament at least as much as on the Old Testament, he necessarily accentuated human depravity and sinfulness. Indeed, Calvin stressed, even more so than Luther, that original sin had condemned humans to degradation:
[L]et us hold this as an undoubted truth which no siege engines can shake: the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God’s righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breath out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity.
Like Luther, Calvin maintained that humans are justified by faith alone. Calvin defined faith as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Because Calvin emphasized human sinfulness even more so than Luther, Calvin also tended to stress, more than Luther, that humans cannot earn faith and salvation; good works cannot bring salvation. Instead, God gives faith. In a sense, then, whereas Luther tended to focus on faith as an inward experience, Calvin concentrated on God as the objective basis of faith. Calvin underscored that because humans are so depraved, faith itself must be grounded on God and not on human capabilities or resources. Yet, Calvin also emphasized a more inward experience, which he called “conscience.”
[W]hen men have an awareness of divine judgment adjoined to them as a witness which does not let them hide their sins but arraigns them as guilty before the judgment seat—this awareness is called “conscience.” It is a certain mean between God and man, for it does not allow man to suppress within himself what he knows, but pursues him to the point of making him acknowledge his guilt.
Conscience, then, is an inner awareness of one’s own inescapable depravity in relation to the greatness of the truth of Jesus Christ. Hence, to Calvin, conscience does not entail human choice or free will but rather irresistible convictions. Conscience does not offer options; conscience dictates turning to Christ. Moreover, conscience, as a bridge to God, has nothing to do with works; it is unrelated to the external and carnal world. Instead, “a good conscience is nothing but an inward uprightness of heart.” It is not a matter of cognitive understanding, but rather “a lively longing to worship God and a sincere intent to live a godly and holy life.” Indeed, conscience is “higher than all human judgments.” In short, conscience is an entirely internal faculty that mediates between the individual and God.
Calvin’s focus on human depravity led him to underscore (again, more so than Luther) the doctrine of predestination: God’s eternal plan or decree has designated or predestined each human for salvation or damnation. Humans are so evil and God is so great that human salvation must depend entirely on God’s election. “God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction.” Hence, the elect do not deserve salvation in any worldly sense; they simply have been chosen by God through His mercy. Meanwhile, the damned can do nothing to alter their future affliction. For both the elect and the damned, then, individual efforts and works are entirely unrelated to one’s eternal fate.
One might expect an emphasis on predestination to induce a grim lethargy: if one’s actions have nothing to do with one’s eternal future, why bother doing anything? But to Calvin, on the contrary, predestination led to the concept of the “calling” (which he also stressed more than Luther did):
[E]ach individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.… It is enough if we know that the Lord’s calling is in everything the beginning and foundation of well-doing. And if there is anyone who will not direct himself to it, he will never hold to the straight path in his duties. For no one, impelled by his own rashness, will attempt more than his calling will permit, because he will know it is not lawful to exceed its bounds.
Thus, each person should seek to fulfill his or her calling in life; one should accept one’s role and perform it as well as possible. Following one’s calling, though, cannot earn salvation; each individual already is predestined for salvation or damnation, and works cannot change that fate. Instead (somewhat paradoxically), one should follow his or her calling exactly because of predestination and human depravity. Because of original sin, human will and conduct are necessarily depraved and cannot bring salvation: humans cannot intend to do good, cannot pursue righteousness, and cannot choose to do godly works. Humans are emptied of even the potential for good purposes and works, so from Calvin’s perspective, individuals might as well do whatever task God has assigned to them. In other words, there is no good human reason to act and no good human reason not to act. But there is a godly reason to act—namely, to fulfill God’s plan as revealed in one’s position and status in life. Consequently, we should follow our calling with religious zeal, for it is to the glory of God. J.G.A. Pocock aptly characterizes the Calvinist predicament: “[H]aving been created to an end unfixed by him, by a being of whom he knows nothing, his first duty is to preserve himself to that end.” Thus, while works cannot earn salvation, works nonetheless can show one’s “obedience to God” and can be a sign of salvation. As Max Weber observed, the Calvinist concept of the calling spurred the so-called Protestant ethic, a rigorous asceticism combined with an insatiable drive to work—all to the greater glory of God.
Weber added that this Protestant ethic strongly contributed to the development of a capitalist desire to use the earth’s resources in order to acquire more and more wealth; other historians, though, question Weber’s conclusions regarding the precise ties between Calvinism and capitalism.
Understandably, many commentators have noted that Calvin was friendlier than Luther to Jews. Such commentators often stress Calvin’s insistence that the Old Testament remained authoritative; indeed, some of Calvin’s opponents accused him of Judaizing because of his attitude toward the Old Testament. Moreover, Calvin never wrote a virulent essay such as Luther’s Concerning the Jews and Their Lies, nor did he ever advocate violence against Jews, as Luther had done. Nonetheless, Calvin’s theology must be perverted beyond recognition in order to conclude, as some have done, that he was not antisemitic and instead was even philosemitic. To the contrary, as one might expect from a Christian committed to the authority of the Christian Scriptures, Calvin repeatedly echoed the standard doctrinal antisemitism embodied within the New Testament. Even a casual browsing through a sampling of Calvin’s works reveals pervasive antisemitism. For example, Calvin wrote that Jews “had an inordinate love of themselves, and proudly despised God and his gifts.” Jews are hardhearted and sottish hypocrites who “willfully deceive themselves,” yet Jews “regard the salvation of the Gentiles with envy.” All Jews should be blamed for killing their own prophets and Jesus Christ. All Jews are guilty of sacrilege and therefore are cursed “deservedly.” Their suffering is warranted because they “were the cause of all their evils.”
Even Calvin’s respect for the Old Testament as God’s Word resounded with antisemitic undertones. Calvin quite clearly honored the Christian interpretation of Jewish Scripture—that is, Calvin focused on the Old Testament and not the Hebrew Bible. To Calvin, the Jewish law of the Old Testament, “unless it be directed to Christ, is a fleeting and worthless thing.” Calvin read the Old Testament to foretell the coming of Jesus as Christ and to condemn Jews to suffer for their apostasy and deicide. Calvin’s respect for the Old Testament thus did not extend to Jews themselves. His writings even vindicated the segregation of Jews in ghettoes, as well as their expulsion from entire cities and countries. Calvin wrote: “[Christian] believers must carefully avoid the society of those whom the just vengeance of God pursues, until they perish in their blind obstinacy.” Hence, unsurprisingly, the Calvinist Reformation invigorated the movement to exclude Jews from western and central Europe. For example, Jews had already been expelled from Geneva in 1491, but in 1582, after the Calvinist Reformation, the city council, clergy, and populace all overwhelmingly denied a Jewish request for readmission. And in Germany, the principal Calvinist state, called the Palatinate, barred Jews in 1575.
At a broad level, as with Luther, the symbolic foundation of Calvin’s entire theology was the antisemitic New Testament dichotomy between Christian spirituality and Jewish carnality. The central tenets of Calvin’s theology—human depravity, justification by faith alone, conscience as an internal experience, and predestination—all directly reflected this crucial Christian dichotomy. Calvin stressed the opposition between outward and inward forums—a “distinction between the earthly forum and the forum of conscience.” The earthly forum is, of course, the carnal and temporal world of the Jews. Whereas at least some Christians can attain spiritual fulfillment in eternal salvation, all Jews fail to realize that nothing depends “on human merits,” so they mistakenly continue to “glory in the flesh.” Hence, according to Calvin, Jews and others who focus on works as a means to salvation necessarily grovel in the human depravity of the earthly forum. Because even Christians are predestined to salvation or damnation, works cannot affect one’s fate by bringing salvation. Rather, justification is by faith alone—the inward experience of conscience as a bridge to the salvation of Christian spirituality.
Calvin expressed his views on the relations between church and state in the final chapter of his Institutes, which was entitled “Civil Government.” Like much of Calvin’s theology, his views largely echoed those of Luther, though Calvin’s theory of the separation of church and state emerged more as an integral part of his theology. And as such, Calvin’s theory on church and state reflected the New Testament dichotomy between Christian spirituality and Jewish carnality—which, as discussed, undergirded Calvin’s theology. Calvin insisted that society must have both the church and the state, but the two institutions must be kept separate: “Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct.” The two institutions—church and state—manifested Christian spirituality and Jewish carnality, respectively. In the very first section of “Civil Government,” Calvin expressly linked the separation of church and state to the opposition between Christianity and Judaism.
[W]hoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world, let us rather ponder that what Scripture clearly teaches is a spiritual fruit, which we gather from Christ’s grace; and let us remember to keep within its own limits all that freedom which is promised and offered to us in him.
Although the New Testament seemed to oppose Christian spirituality to Jewish carnality, when Calvin transferred this dichotomy into the realm of church-state relations, he subtly but significantly adjusted the relationship.
Instead of directly opposing the state (or civil government) to the spiritual government, he maintained that they are absolutely separate but not antithetical. Calvin wrote: “[Secular] government is distinct from that spiritual and inward Kingdom of Christ, so we must know that they are not at variance.” Thus, to Calvin, secular and spiritual governments cannot be antagonistic exactly because they are completely separate: when two realms have no overlap, no point of contact, no interaction, then they cannot be antithetical.
Calvin continued, then, by enhancing the status of the secular state, following a trend running from Thomas Aquinas to Machiavelli to Luther. Calvin unequivocally declared that civil government is necessary and should be respected; at one point, Calvin even accorded secular government a “place of honor.” Like Luther, Calvin argued that secular government is needed to maintain order and peacefulness. Humans are hopelessly depraved and sinful, and they must live (at least temporarily) in the secular world. Consequently, “to provide for the common safety and peace of all,” civil government must severely punish criminals and other wicked individuals. To Calvin, the “function [of civil government] among men is no less than that of bread, water, sun, and air.” In light of his respect for secular government, Calvin predictably echoed Luther’s conservatism by insisting that subjects should obey rulers or civil magistrates. To Calvin, resisting the magistrate is equivalent to resisting God since the civil order represents God’s will. Subjects therefore should obey even unjust magistrates, who represent God’s punishment for human wickedness. In short, private individuals should not “undertake anything at all politically,” leaving public affairs entirely to magistrates.
Yet, Calvin tempered his conservative tone with three qualifications. First, he argued that though the subject should obey even unjust commands,
respect is due to the office more than to the officeholder. Extending Luther’s argument that rulers themselves may be personally unworthy, Calvin wrote:
I am not discussing the men themselves, as if a mask of dignity covered foolishness, or sloth, or cruelty, as well as wicked morals full of infamous deeds, and thus acquired for vices the praise of virtues; but I say that the order itself is worthy of such honor and reverence that those who are rulers are esteemed among us, and receive reverence out of respect for their lordship.
Calvin here contributes an important component to the modern concept of sovereignty: the subject owes allegiance to the government, not to particular officials. Second, Calvin further tempered his conservative approach by reasoning that ultimate obedience must be owed to God, not to secular authorities. “If [secular rulers] command anything against him, let it go unesteemed. And here let us not be concerned about all that dignity which the magistrates possess; for no harm is done to it when it is humbled before that singular and truly supreme power of God.” Calvin here did not advocate active private resistance to unjust rulers, but rather a type of passive disobedience. In the event of a conflict between a civil magistrate’s will and God’s ordained plan, the private individual owed allegiance to God; after all, secular government always remained within the degraded temporal and carnal world of the Jews. Third, and most important with regard to the development of modern sovereignty, Calvin suggested that subjects can elect and be represented by inferior magistrates who can actively resist unjust rulers. Whereas private individuals should never directly resist a king or another secular ruler, “magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings (as in ancient times the ephors were set against the Spartan kings),” actually have a duty to resist injustice. These inferior magistrates or ephors “have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.” Therefore, if they fail to actively resist an unjust ruler, they “betray the freedom of the people” and also violate God’s will. At this point, in other words, Calvin seemed to allude to some notion of citizenship. Scholars disagree about whether Calvin intended to emphasize that the ephors represented either the people, on the one hand, or God, on the other. Yet, in any event, Calvin clearly understood the ephors to be popular magistrates who should function to protect the people’s freedom. It is worth noting, then, that although Calvin most often referred to “subjects” and “rulers” (which Luther always did), he nonetheless somewhat frequently talked of “magistrates” and, on occasion, explicitly mentioned “citizens.” Some of Calvin’s followers extended this at least implicit conception of citizenship by advocating for a right of all people—not just the ephors—to actively resist unjust rulers, thus presaging the idea of a citizen in a modern state who actively participates in the political process.
In the end, Calvin’s respect for the state and its magistrates arose largely from their ability to support and promote Christianity. Civil government, according to Calvin, “provides that a public manifestation of religion may exist among Christians, and that humanity be maintained among men.” Indeed, Christianity is a prerequisite for good government: “[N]o government can be happily established unless piety is the first concern.” Yet, simultaneously, Calvin emphasized that civil government does not have the “duty of rightly establishing religion.” Civil laws, in other words, should not presume to determine the religious conscience of Christians—for conscience is an internal experience beyond the realm of the external and temporal world—yet the civil laws nonetheless should provide extensive support for the flourishing of a Christian society. Moreover, again because of the need to allow Christians to experience freely the dictates of their consciences in turning to Christ, the Christian Church itself also should not attempt to coerce faith. Civil coercion (of any type or source) belongs solely in the secular and temporal (Jewish) world, while conscience and faith remain entirely distinct and within the spiritual (Christian) world. Just as the New Testament declared that Jews should not be forced to convert and have faith in Jesus Christ, so too Christians should not (and cannot) be compelled to true faith. In a manner of speaking, Calvin insisted upon the strict separation of church and state as a tenet of his reform theology. The Reformed Church, without attempting to force faith, should spread Christianity throughout society. The secular government should lend its support, when possible, and otherwise should keep the depraved from turning life into an “outrageous barbarity.” And both church and state should leave each individual to his or her conscience, so that each person can remain free to experience inwardly Christ and Christian faith.
Despite their similarities, Calvin and Luther differed somewhat in their practical attitudes toward the separation of church and state. Whereas Luther accepted occasional state control over church polity, Calvin insisted that church organization and governance should never be surrendered to secular rulers. At the same time, Calvin was willing to allow the church to intrude in secular affairs. In light of Calvin’s theorizing, this position might seem paradoxical or even hypocritical; as already discussed, Calvin insisted that spiritual and secular affairs are absolutely distinct. Yet, from a Calvinist standpoint, this complete separation of the spiritual and secular actually justified church involvement in political or secular affairs. In his theory, Calvin enforced such a thorough disjunction between the spiritual and secular—based on the New Testament opposition of Christian spirituality to Jewish carnality—that the secular lacked all purpose, substance, or direction. The secular became, to Calvin, purely material. Furthermore, humans, in their degraded and sinful position, could never create or impose any legitimate purposes for secular government. Within a Christian world view, purpose and substance might possibly come from only one place, the spiritual; within Thomistic (Roman Catholic) political theory, Christian spiritual salvation provides the comprehensive good or end that determines how rulers should govern politically. But to Calvin (and contrary to Thomistic theory), Christian spirituality cannot provide the end or purpose for secular affairs because the spiritual and secular are so radically distinct. For Calvin, secular affairs can have no final end or purpose other than the glory of God: civil authorities should seek to preserve society and fulfill their callings only because it is God’s plan. The only ultimate reason for any human action is that God has ordained it—the secular order, in short, is part of the divine order. Thus, according to Calvin, civil magistrates act as “vicars of God” or “God’s deputies,” and do nothing by themselves but rather carry out “the very judgments of God.”
In this somewhat paradoxical sense, then, Christian spirituality—or the divine Christian order—should not only dominate the other-world, but now it should also dominate this world. Consequently, not only should the secular government support the Christian Reformed Church, but the Church itself should legitimately penetrate and inform secular affairs, whether governmental or otherwise. Thus, as discussed, the concept of one’s calling and the Protestant ethic in social and even economic affairs make perfect sense. And in secular government, Calvin unsurprisingly established a despotic and theocratic regime in Geneva, and once even used his political strength to ensure the conviction and burning of a theological opponent. Ultimately, Calvin seemed intent upon establishing a Christian society, nurtured by both religious and secular authorities.
Despite Calvin’s and Luther’s attempts to minimize the enhancement of secular authority, the political reality was otherwise; many secular rulers were able to use the Reformation to enhance their powers mightily. The success of the Reformation was as much a political phenomenon as it was a religious or theological one. In particular, the religious achievements of the Protestant Reformation were, to a great extent, due to the support Calvin, Luther, and other reformers received from secular rulers, who in turn saw their own wealth and power increase. For example, not only did Frederick the Wise of Saxony protect Luther in his confrontation with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but five years later, his son, the Elector John, transformed Saxony into a Lutheran principality. Although many subjects supported their secular rulers in adopting Protestant reforms, others did not. Thus, regardless of the details of Calvin’s and Luther’s theories on church-state relations, secular rulers in some parts of Europe often demanded that their subjects accept the new Christian theology. On the other side, by the 1540s, Roman Catholic rulers began to suppress Protestantism with force, and religious wars lasting for many years commenced. In Germany, for instance, the division between Lutheran Reformers and Catholics led eventually to outright civil war. Peace was restored in 1555 only because Charles V and his brother, King Ferdinand, determined to negotiate a settlement with the Lutherans at any cost. The Peace at Augsburg established that each prince could decide the religion to be followed in his territories. Subjects who did not like the decision of their prince would be allowed to emigrate to another territory. These concessions, however, extended only to Catholics and Lutherans, not to members of other reform sects. Thus, in a practice that would become increasingly common, religious toleration (albeit limited) was born—not because of a principled theological or political commitment to toleration, but rather because harsh experience revealed that neither side in the dispute could crush the other. Toleration became a political necessity.
The Huguenot cross / Wikimedia Commons
For many decades, though, toleration was a slippery resting point in the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. In the latter half of the sixteenth century, France demonstrated the potential for political intrigue and recurrent war within the Reformation context. In the 1550s, the number of Huguenots (or French Calvinists) increased significantly despite severe persecution. Between 1560 and 1572, Catherine de Medici, queen mother of the Holy Roman Empire, was struggling politically to preserve her power in France; for that reason, she extended a measure of religious liberty to the Huguenots. French Catholics, opposed to Catherine, provoked a series of wars with the Huguenots, yet in 1572 Catherine herself, for unknown reasons, either engineered or allowed the massacre of thousands of Huguenots. Meanwhile, the French Catholics eventually divided among themselves: some sought a Catholic victory at any cost, while others (called the Politiques) supported religious toleration as a political necessity for preserving French liberty. Despite the emergence of this politique position, religious wars racked France until 1598, and they began again in 1610.
These violent events spurred the development of theoretical positions that contributed further to the modern concept of the sovereign state. In particular, after the massacres of 1572, the Huguenots sought to incite revolution, but they lacked sufficient numbers to appeal solely to coreligionists. Consequently, they sought to develop a theoretical position that appealed to moderate Roman Catholics who otherwise were disposed to oppose Catherine. Most important, following Calvin’s argument regarding the Spartan ephors, the Huguenots maintained that specially chosen magistrates, representing the people, have a moral and legal right to forcefully resist a tyrant. But whereas Calvin tied the rights and duties of ephors to the will and laws of God, the Huguenots argued explicitly that magistrates have a right to resist any ruler who has failed to pursue the welfare of the people. Thus, because of political exigencies—that is, the need to appeal to Catholics as well as other Huguenots—the Huguenots articulated a theory of resistance and revolution that was political rather than religious. The Huguenots, in other words, grounded their theory on the interests of the people, not in God’s order and will. Significantly, Jean Bodin, who previously had supported the Huguenots, attacked this theoretical position. In his Six Books of a Commonweal, published in 1576, Bodin articulated, perhaps for the first time, a modern theory of sovereignty. While the Huguenots sought to encourage resistance and revolution, Bodin instead advocated the pursuit of social and political order, even at the cost of liberty. To Bodin, the only means for ensuring peace and order was to accept a sovereign, an absolute monarch who commands but is never commanded. Quite simply, with the temporal powers of the Roman Catholic Church significantly diminished, the idea of an absolute ruler with unshared secular power became imaginable.
During the religious wars, Jews (if they had not already been banished) could be a useful pawn. In Germany, for example, as Luther intensified his prince-bishops, helped save the Jewish population from total collapse. This protection of German Jewry, of course, did not mean that Catholicism suddenly had become less antisemitic. Rather, Charles and his German supporters protected Jews as “a kind of counterweight, however limited in scope, to the Protestant bourgeoisie.” Thus, German Jews lived through a political reality that would epitomize the position of Jews in western societies far into the future: Jews enjoyed the benefits of religious toleration because the splintering of western Christianity led to embattled and deadlocked Christian sects. While, as discussed, toleration between Christian sects eventually became a political necessity, toleration of Jews became “a matter of political expediency.” Outside of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles himself expelled the Jews from Naples and persuaded the papacy to initiate a Spanish-style Inquisition in Portugal. And the papacy was more than happy to support its imperial ally in this manner. Indeed, the Catholic Counter-Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century managed to intensify the usual Catholic antisemitism. In Italy, papal decrees forced Jews into ghettoes, caused some Jews to be burnt alive, and finally expelled Jews from most of the Papal States. At times, Catholics and Protestants seemed locked in a competition to prove who were the better Christians by being the greatest antisemites.
In any event, why did so many secular rulers support the Protestant Reformation, even with force when necessary? For centuries, of course, monarchs had wrangled with the papacy for wealth and power. By the early sixteenth century, in some parts of Europe, eager monarchs already had found one ideological justification for questioning papal authority. A properly nurtured and growing sense of national identity tended to conflict with the Church’s long-standing claim to possess supra-national jurisdictional powers. For many secular rulers, the religious Reformation provided an alternative ideological justification for challenging papal authority. In other words, from the viewpoint of many secular rulers, the Reformation primarily offered a fortuitous opportunity to enhance their wealth and power (and sometimes national identity) vis-à-vis their rival, the Roman Catholic Church. A successful religious conversion meant, at the least, that the secular ruler was freed of conflict with the asserted temporal powers of the Church. The secular ruler, then, could claim to possess undivided power; as noted, during the sixteenth century, the concept of the sovereign with absolute power crystallized. To a great extent, in countries that remained predominantly Catholic, such as France and Spain, the monarchs previously had negotiated concordats (agreements) with the papacy providing for the Church to relinquish some of its power and wealth. Other to seize the opportunity to undermine the Catholic Church. As Quentin Skinner succinctly observes: “[T]he price of princely avarice proved to be the endorsement of a ‘full and godly’ reformation.” Secular support for religious reform often was an incidental though ultimately significant byproduct of this yearning for wealth and power.
In a sense, the Protestant Reformation of Luther and Calvin can be understood as a strategic change in the orientation of Christian power in European society. For over a millennium, the Roman Catholic Church had asserted substantial control over western society. Quite often, as during the Crusades, the papacy and the Church hierarchy had exercised enormous political strength to impose their purposes on the laity and on non-Christians. The Protestant Reformation, however, shattered the Catholic Church’s monopolistic control over western religion; thus, the Church was, to some extent, forced to withdraw from secular affairs. Yet, Christianity itself did not recede: to the contrary, the Protestant churches proceeded to spread their influence throughout society. In some areas, such as Calvin’s Geneva, the Protestant Church was able to impose its form of Christianity forcefully on society; as already discussed, secular rulers (for their own reasons) often played crucial roles in these imposed transformations. In any event, these forced religious changes arose from exercises of political strength that resembled the politically enforced actions of the medieval Catholic Church. But the Protestant churches also spread their influence through their congregations of the faithful. This influence was, at one and the same time, less obvious but more direct and immediate than the influence that the Catholic Church hierarchy could impose on the laity and on non-Christians. In the Protestant world, the laity effectively was the Church. Hence, Christianity could spread insidiously throughout society with no apparent imposition by a Church hierarchy or a state. From this perspective, the Reformation’s separation of church and state theoretically withdrew the bureaucratized institutions of church and state from civil society, but only to allow the Protestant faithful to control civil society themselves. If the Catholic Church’s greatest successes tended to be through colonization by conquest, then Protestantism’s greatest successes would tend to be through colonization by infiltration and settlement.
Christianity, from its origins in the New Testament, had asserted two discourses of domination. The first discourse differentiated, objectified, and denigrated the secular world—the carnal and temporal world of the Jews. The second discourse asserted the universalism of Christianity: all individuals, including Jews, were deemed within the unity of the Christian body. Throughout the Middle Ages, the first discourse largely justified the various distinctions supporting the hierarchical organizational structure of Roman Catholicism: the distinctions between Christians and non-Christians, between clergy and laity, and between different ecclesiastics within the Church structure itself. But the second discourse—the discourse of universalism—was the primary justification for the Roman Catholic claim to exercise jurisdictional power over all of society, including secular rulers, Jews, and infidels. Asserting and maintaining the unity of the body of Christ justified, even necessitated, Catholic conquests. Whenever possible, the Catholic Church sought to impose its Christian purposes on all of western society and beyond; of course, those Christian purposes often seemed strangely temporal and carnal.
With the coming of the Reformation, however, the Christian discourse of domination shifted by intensifying the first discourse. That is, the Reformers differentiated, objectified, and denigrated the secular world with such ferocity and thoroughness that the secular became the material, bereft of any worth, substance, or purpose. Humans could neither create nor impose any legitimate reason for acting in the secular world. The second discourse—that of universalism—then became less jurisdictional and more justificatory. The only reason for the existence of anything in either the secular or spiritual world was God’s own will; the difference between the spiritual and secular worlds was therefore denied. This denial of difference symbolically justified the Christian infiltration and settlement of the secular world, which otherwise lacked all meaning and purpose; in this way, the divine Christian order colonized the secular world. Most important, though, this denial of difference remained within a Christian dialectic: Christianity seemed to deny the difference between the spiritual and secular worlds while still simultaneously asserting the radical difference between those worlds. In fact, paradoxically, it was the radical difference between the worlds that enabled the denial of difference. That is, Christianity first contrasted its own spirituality with the empty materiality of the secular world, only then to assert its right to lay claim to that otherwise worthless secular realm. Ultimately, this Christian dialectic, simultaneously asserting and denying difference, helped propel a turn toward modernism by encouraging individuals to focus on this-worldly activities. With roots in the New Testament condemnation of Jewish carnality, Christianity clearly placed the spiritual above the secular and temporal. Yet, Protestantism severed the two realms so completely that human activity in the secular world seemingly could not derive its purpose or meaning from the spiritual world. With spiritual salvation thus no longer an attainable goal (at least through temporal activities or works), individuals had no choice but to focus, with all their abilities, on their respective callings in the secular world—for this must then be for the greater glory of God.
In conclusion, the Reformation significantly altered the relationship between church and state in western society. Since the beginnings of Christianity, the New Testament had provided a discursive framework for the relations of church and state, with the state condemned to the carnal and temporal world of the Jews. For over a thousand years, the Roman Catholic Church and various secular rulers had struggled politically, further developing the relationship between church and state, with the Catholic Church emerging as a powerful bureaucratic institution distinct from secular rulers. The Reformation influenced this relationship in at least four ways. First, both Luther and Calvin, returning to the New Testament discourse, stressed the division between the spiritual and secular realms: the separation of church and state thus more clearly became a matter of theology (or theory). Second, Protestantism’s odd modernist twist accorded a new respectability to the state. The reformers respected and even honored secular authorities insofar as the authorities fulfilled their calling, performing an important function in God’s plan. Third, and most practically, the Reformation’s split of Christianity almost ensured that the weakened Catholic Church would eventually lose its long-running political battle with the state for supremacy in secular and temporal affairs. Thus, insofar as the victors write history, the state became increasingly respectable within political theory despite its permanent condemnation within New Testament discourse. Fourth, despite the state’s victory over the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches began to emerge as powerful social forces. Whereas the Catholic Church, as a bureaucratic and hierarchical social institution, had tended to compete with state authorities, the Protestant churches tended instead to complement and cooperate with the state in their mutual domination of society. Indeed, the term “separation of church and state,” makes better sense if applied to western society before the Reformation, when the Catholic Church could be understood as a state-like organization that was clearly distinguishable from other societal institutions. After the Reformation, the Protestant churches were effectively spread throughout society—the congregations of the faithful were society (or at least, most of society). To think of society itself as embodied in the churches, as somehow completely separate from certain societal institutions, whether the state or otherwise, does not seem quite as sensible. Unsurprisingly, then, state-established or -supported churches were the norm well into the eighteenth century in Protestant as well as Catholic countries.
1. Max Lerner writes:
What gave the city-states of Italy their Renaissance grandeur was not some mysterious flowering of the humanist spirit at the time. It was the fact that with the opening of the East by the crusades, the breakup of the manorial economy and the growth of trade and handicraft manufacture, the cities of Italy found themselves strategically placed with respect to the world trade routes. . . . The expansion of the economic power of these cities went on apace into the end of the fifteenth century.
Max Lerner, Introduction, in Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince and the Discourses xxxiii (Modern Library ed. 1950); see J.M. Roberts, The Penguin History of the World 477 (1987) (emphasizing the rise of commercial wealth from the 1100s on). But cf. The Columbia History of the World 487–88 (John A. Garraty & Peter Gay eds., 1972) (arguing that the commercial status of Renaissance Italy was complex and that many historians overestimate the degree of economic prosperity) [hereinafter Columbia].
2. See Quentin Skinner, 1 The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: The Renaissance 11–22 (1978) [hereinafter Skinner I]. Skinner writes:
The theory of popular sovereignty developed by Marsiglio and Bartolus was destined to play a major role in shaping the most radical version of early modern constitutionalism. Already they are prepared to argue that sovereignty lies with
the people, that they only delegate and never alienate it, and thus that no legitimate ruler can ever enjoy a higher status than that of an official appointed by, and capable of being dismissed by, his own subjects. It was only necessary for the same arguments to be applied in the case of a regnum [kingdom] as well as a civitas [city-state] for a recognisably modern theory of popular sovereignty in a secular state to be fully articulated.
Id. at 65.
3. See id. at 87–88, 92–93, 231.
4. See Heiko A. Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism: In the Age of Renaissance and Reformation (James I. Porter trans., 1984); see also Jonathan I. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 1550–1750 at 13–15 (2d ed. 1989); Skinner I, supra note 2, at 92 (on the ways other than antisemitism that the humanists expressed their Christian views).
5. Oberman, supra note 4, at 97–98; see id. at 50, 80. The published report continues by turning to a related matter:
[While all the Jews in the town of Braunschweig] were in jail, the obstinate, blind dogs confessed that in the past few years they had purchased seven Christian children, one from his own peasant mother for twenty-four groschen, another for three guilder, and a third for ten. These children they pierced with needles and knives, tortured, and finally killed them. Then they prepared the blood with pomegranates and served it for dinner.
Id. at 98–99.
6. Id. at 74. This statement is usually (mis)understood as showing Erasmus’s toleration for Jews (see id. at 109), but Erasmus was “the towering exponent of Christian humanist anti-Semitism.” Israel, supra note 4, at 14.
7. See Israel, supra note 4, at 6–13.
8. Machiavelli’s major works include the following: Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, reprinted in The Prince and the Discourses 99 (Christian E. Detmold trans., Modern Library ed. 1950) [hereinafter Machiavelli, Discourses]; Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, reprinted in The Prince and the Discourses 2 (Luigi Ricci trans., Modern Library ed. 1950) [hereinafter Machiavelli, Prince]. For discussions of Machiavelli’s thought, see J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment (1975); Skinner I, supra note 2; Leo Strauss, Niccolo Machiavelli, in History of Political Philosophy 296 (Leo Strauss & Joseph Cropsey ed., 3d ed. 1987).
9. There is strong disagreement about the significance of scholastic thought to the development of Renaissance political theory. See Skinner I, supra note 2, at 49. For my purposes, I do not need to take a stance on how directly the line of descent runs from the scholastics to the Renaissance thinkers. I do maintain, however, that Thomas’s (re)introduction of political science had lasting influence, even on writers who rejected his other arguments and themes. Hence, I argue that Machiavelli quite clearly rejected a Thomistic commitment to Christianity, yet he still wrote within a genre (political science) that had developed partly because of Thomas.
10. See Lerner, supra note 1, at xxv–xxviii.
11. See Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. I, ch. 26; bk. Ill, ch. 41; Skinner I, supra note 2, at 183. Skinner argues that Machiavelli’s separation of Christian values from politics (and the pursuit of the common good) differentiated him from his contemporaries, though Skinner also notes that Guicciardini agreed that Christianity corrupts a people. See Skinner I, supra note 2, at 167–68, 182–85. In The Prince, Machiavelli emphasized that a political leader’s most important goal must be the preservation of the state or political community, and that overarching goal justifies the use of any means necessary. Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 18.
12. See Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. II, ch. 2; cf. id. at bk. Ill, ch. 1 (the orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic revived the sentiment of Christianity whereby the people do not criticize even wicked rulers, instead obeying them and leaving their punishment to God).
13. See id. at bk. I, ch. 2. Fortune stands for the random changes of the world that are, for the most part, beyond human control. See Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 7, 25. In a sense, even though Machiavelli elevated the status of the state, he also destabilized the state. Within more Christian-oriented theories, the state was typically degraded but it nonetheless remained within God’s plan. To Machiavelli, the fate of the state was removed from God’s plan; the state rose and fell with the whims of sheer fortune. See Pocock, supra note 8, at 400.
14. See Skinner I, supra note 2, at 250–51. Nonetheless, as the sixteenth century wore on and political turmoil (due to religious hostilities) mounted, Machiavelli’s views were increasingly accepted. See id. at 251–54.
15. Lerner, supra note 1, at xxxviii.
16. Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. I, ch. 12.
17. See Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. II, ch. 2. Machiavelli wrote:
[I]f the Christian religion had from the beginning been maintained according to the principles of its founder, the Christian states and republics would have been much more united and happy than what they are. Nor can there be a greater proof of its decadence than to witness the fact that the nearer people are to the Church of Rome, which is the head of our religion, the less religious are they. And whoever examines the principles upon which that religion is founded, and sees how widely different from those principles its present practice and application are, will judge that her ruin or chastisement is near at hand.
Id. at bk. I, ch. 12. Despite Machiavelli’s criticism of the Catholic Church, he seemed to admire its “temporal power.” Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 11.
19. See, e.g., Lerner, supra note 1, at xxxi.
20. Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. I, ch. 12.
21. See id. at bk. I, ch. 3; Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 18. Thus, according to Machiavelli, a prince is better to be feared than loved. See Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 17.
22. I am not suggesting that the world would be all peaches and cream without Christianity, though it certainly would be different. Exactly what the world would presently be without Christianity is, of course, a matter of hopeless conjecture.
23. See Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. I, ch. 2.
24. Id. (democracy fails when each individual consults “his own passions”). For a discussion of the common good, see id. at bk. Ill, ch. 47. Machiavelli was not the only political theorist of his time to understand virtù (virtue) in this manner, though he differed somewhat from his contemporaries in his understanding of how one can attain virtù. See Skinner I, supra note 2, at 117–38; 175–85.
25. See Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. I, ch. 2, 9, 20, 59.
26. Strauss, supra note 8, at 301; see Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 15–19.
27. Machiavelli, Prince, supra note 8, at ch. 18.
28. Martin Luther, The Ninety-Five Theses (1517), in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 21, 25 (Timothy F. Lull ed., 1989).
29. Luther wrote: “It does not help the soul if the body is adorned with the sacred robes of priests or dwells in sacred places or is occupied with sacred duties or prays, fasts, abstains from certain kinds of food, or does any work that can be done by the body and in the body.” Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (1520), in 31 Luther’s Works 327, 345 (Harold J. Grimm ed., 1957) [hereinafter Luther, Freedom]. In his essay, Temporal Authority, he added: “Among Christians there is no superior but Christ himself, and him alone. What kind of authority can there be where all are equal and have the same right, power, possession, and honor, and where no one desires to be the other’s superior, but each the other’s subordinate?” Martin Luther, Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed (1523), in 45 Luther’s Works 75, 117 (Walther I. Brandt ed., 1956) [hereinafter Luther, Temporal].
30. Luther wrote: “I have truly despised your [the pope’s] see, the Roman Curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godless-ness.” Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 336.
31. See, e.g., Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 101 (1535), in 13 Luther’s Works 143, 198–99 (Jaroslav Pelikan ed., 1956).
32. See generally Robert C. Monk & Joseph D. Stamey, Exploring Christianity: An Introduction 122 (2d ed. 1990); Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind 233–34 (1991).
33. Luther wrote:
If the influence of custom is added and confirms this perverseness of nature [that works can bring salvation], as wicked teachers have caused it to do, it becomes an incurable evil and leads astray and destroys countless men beyond all hope of restoration. Therefore, although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and and do not go on to teach about faith.
Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 363; see Monk & Stamey, supra note 32, at 69. The seven Catholic sacraments are as follows: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper or communion), penance, holy orders, marriage, and anointing of the sick. Luther accepted the Eucharist but only
with qualifications. In Catholicism, the meaningfulness of the ingestion of the bread and wine (during the Eucharist) is determined by the doctrine of transubstantiation: the words of the priest miraculously transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, thus renewing Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. Luther accepted the Eucharist, but he only partially accepted the doctrine of transubstantiation. To Luther, bread and wine are not actually converted into the body and blood of Jesus; nonetheless, Jesus’ body and blood are somehow present in the sacrament. Luther’s position is sometimes known as “consubstantiation” because the body and blood of Jesus coexist with the bread and wine. See Monk & Stamey, supra note 32, at 58, 72.
34. See Martin Luther, Why the Books of the Pope and His Disciples Were Burned (1520), in 31 Luther’s Works 379 (Harold J. Grimm ed., 1957).
35. In 1529, Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, demanded that previous concessions to Lutheran Reformers be withdrawn. The Lutherans replied with a formal protest, which led to the designation “Protestant.” See Quentin Skinner, 2 The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: The Age of Reformation (1978) [hereinafter Skinner II]. It is worth noting that Luther, during his lifetime, denied that there was a “Lutheran Church.” See Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People 76 (1972).
36. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 346–47, 351; see Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation (1518), in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 30, 30–31 (Timothy E Lull ed., 1989) (free will to do good works cannot gain grace, and thinking so is a sin) [hereinafter Luther, Heidelberg]; Martin Luther, Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517), in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 13, 14 (Timothy F. Lull ed., 1989) (human will is “innately and inevitably evil and corrupt”) [hereinafter Luther, Disputation]; Tarnas, supra note 32, at 235.
37. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 347; see Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (1525), in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings 173, 178–82 (Timothy F. Lull ed., 1989); Luther, Disputation, supra note 36; see also Joshua Mitchell, Not By Reason Alone 20–24 (1993) (on Luther’s attacks on Aristotle and Thomas); Skinner II, supra note 35, at 8; Duncan B. Forrester, Martin Luther and John Calvin, in History of Political Philosophy 318, 321 (Leo Strauss & Joseph Cropsey eds., 3d ed. 1987) (Luther’s attacks on reason in religion). Luther declared:
Since human nature and natural reason, as it is called, are by nature superstitious and ready to imagine, when laws and works are prescribed, that righteousness must be obtained through laws and works; and further, since they are trained and confirmed in this opinion by the practice of all earthly lawgivers, it is impossible that they should of themselves escape from the slavery of works and come to a knowledge of the freedom of faith.
Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 376.
38. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 346–48, 353, 355, 373; see Martin Luther, Lectures on Titus (1527), in 29 Luther’s Works 4, 7 (Jaroslav Pelikan & Walter A. Hansen eds., 1968) (“nothing justifies except believing in Christ”). To Luther, faith was an “inner awareness of, need for, and dependence on God.” Monk &c Stamey, supra note 32, at 68. Faith cannot be a cognitive or intellectual experience, but rather is an “an innate orientation of the self as a spiritual being to its creator.” Id. at 142. In the Thomistic lexicon, on the other hand, faith was “the intellectual acceptance of a belief not conclusively demonstrated by rational means.” Id.
39. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 345, 354, 356; see Monk 8c Stamey, supra note 32, at 70; Tarnas, supra note 32, at 239.
40. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 356; see Monk & Stamey, supra note 32, at 68 (not a radical individualism).
41. See Forrester, supra note 37, at 328.
42. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 353.
43. Luther, Disputation, supra note 36, at 16.
44. Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 101.
45. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 358–59. In a sense, Luther not only was conservative, he was downright reactionary. As discussed, Luther sought to return to a Pauline and Augustinian Christianity. To Luther, the pagan philosophy of Aristotle, so important to Thomas, had corrupted medieval Christianity.
46. See Luther, Heidelberg, supra note 36, at 39–40. Luther wrote:
It is known well enough that the Jews have at all times been Christ’s greatest enemies, their claim to be God’s most loyal friends notwithstanding. It is undeniable that this verse [of Psalm 68] chronicles their fate: their head is shattered; they no longer have a kingdom, a government, and priesthood. Soon after Christ’s ascent they lost that head and never regained it, which is the result of but one crime, namely, their hostility to Christ and their refusal to let Flim be God.
Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 68 (1521), in 13 Luther’s Works 1, 23 (Jaroslav Pelikan ed., 1956).
47. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 353, 373. In addition, to Luther, salvation through the Jewish law was utterly impossible, and this impossibility prepared people to believe in Jesus as Christ. See id. at 348–49.
48. Luther, Heidelberg, supra note 36, at 34.
49. See Oberman, supra note 4, at 43, 50, 105.
50. See Martin Luther, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, reprinted in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315–1791 at 166 (Jacob R. Marcus ed., 1938); Oberman, supra note 4, at 22.
51. See, e.g., Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 110 (1535), in 13 Luther’s Works 225 (Jaroslav Pelikan ed., 1956). In this Commentary, Luther argued that Jewish history had prepared for the coming of Jesus, that the Jews nonetheless refused to believe Jesus because he lacked the trappings of this-worldly power, and that the Jews then committed deicide and therefore deserve to suffer. See id. at 265, 273, 284.
52. See Richard L. Rubenstein, Luther and the Roots of the Holocaust, in Persistent Prejudice: Perspectives on Anti-Semitism 11, 31–34 (Hebert Hirsch & Jack D. Spiro eds., 1988).
53. Hayim Hillel Ben-Sasson, The Reformation in Contemporary Jewish Eyes, 4 Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences & Humanities 239, 289 (1969–1970) (this report was written in 1547).
54. Martin Luther, Concerning the Jews and Their Lies (1543), in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315–1791 at 167, 167 Qacob R. Marcus ed., 1938).
55. Id. at 167–68. Any Jews who refused to work should be stripped of their money and banished from the country. See id. at 168–69. Richard L. Rubenstein understandably links Luther’s dehumanization of Jews and his advocacy of violence to the Holocaust. Rubenstein, supra note 52.
56. As early as 1524, Luther managed to have an Anabaptist opponent, Carlstadt, expelled from Saxony. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 74–81.
57. See Harro Hòpfl, Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority vii–xvi (1991); Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church 309–10 (3d ed. 1970).
58. Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 88, 91; see id. at 128–29 (secular laws should be based on reason); Luther, Psalm 101, supra note 31, at 196–99; Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 82 (1530), in 13 Luther’s Works 41, 42–43 (Jaroslav Pelikan ed., 1956). Luther explained that even though reason is unrelated to salvation, a secular government should use reason because that government has nothing to do with attaining salvation. See Luther, Psalm 101, supra note 31, at 198. Reason alone, though, is insufficient for maintaining civil order; sometimes coercion must be used. Quentin Skinner notes that to Luther, “[a]ll coercive powers are . . . treated as temporal by definition.” Skinner II, supra note 35, at 14.
A true Christian has no need of secular constraints, but without the secular authorities, “men would devour one another, seeing that the whole world is evil and that among thousands there is scarcely a single true Christian.” Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 91.
59. See Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition 30 (1983).
60. Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 92.
61. Mark 12:17. Luther cited several New Testament passages echoing this sentiment. See, e.g., Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 77, 85–86, 111.
62. Rom. 13:1–2; see Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 77. According to Quentin Skinner, “Luther’s influence helped to make this the most cited of all texts on the foundations of political life throughout the age of the Reformation.” Skinner II, supra note 35, at 15.
63. Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 87 (emphasis added).
64. See Hòpfl, supra note 57, at viii; Skinner II, supra note 35, at 77.
65. Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 105–08, 114–15.
66. Id. at 94, 102, 110–13. Luther added: “Outrage is not to be resisted but endured.” Id. Luther also wrote: “Although tyrants do violence or injustice in making their demands, yet it will do no harm as long as they demand nothing contrary to God.” Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 370.
67. See Hòpfl, supra note 57, at xiii–xv; Skinner II, supra note 35, at 74.
68. Mark 12:17.
69. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 14–15; Forrester, supra note 37, at 325.
70. See Luther, Temporal, supra note 29, at 83.
71. See Luther, Psalm 101, supra note 31, at 195.
72. Luther, supra note 54, at 168.
73. See Berman, supra note 59, at 30, 197; Mitchell, supra note 37, at 38 (to Luther, the political realm was not disenchanted).
74. Luther, Freedom, supra note 29, at 356; see Monk & Stamey, supra note 32, at 68 (not a radical individualism).
75. See Hòpfl, supra note 57, at xiii–xv; Skinner II, supra note 35, at 73. Machiavelli had already discussed citizens and magistrates. See, e.g., Machiavelli, Discourses, supra note 8, at bk. Ill, ch. 34, 47.
76. The opponent was named Carlstadt. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 74–81; Walker, supra note 57, at 326–32.
77. See Ahlstrom, supra note 35, at 72–81; Monk & Stamey, supra note 32, at 58, 72; Walker, supra note 57, at 324–25. Luther’s position is sometimes known as “consubstantiation” because the body and blood of Jesus coexist with the bread and wine.
78. See Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Ford Lewis Battles trans., John T. McNeill ed., 1960) (first published 1536) [hereinafter Calvin, Institutes]; Walker, supra note 57, at 348–49. Williston Walker notes: “The Institutes . . . were, as published in 1536, far from the extensive treatise into which they were to grow in Calvin’s final edition of 1559; but they were already the most orderly and systematic popular presentation of doctrine and of the Christian life that the Reformation produced.” Walker, supra note 57, at 350. Two excellent works on Calvin’s political thought and the political implications of his theology are the following: Ralph C. Hancock, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics (1989); Skinner II, supra note 35.
79. See Walker, supra note 57, at 352. Like Luther, Calvin accepted only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. See id.
80. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 1, ch. VI, § 2. Walker suggests that “Calvin’s mind was formulative rather than creative.” Walker, supra note 57, at 350. Calvin’s main ideas were drawn from Luther and Butzer. See id.
81. Calvin wrote:
What then? You will ask: will no difference remain between the Old and New Testaments? What is to become of the many passages of Scripture wherein they are contrasted as utterly different? I freely admit the differences in Scripture, to which attention is called, but in such a way as not to detract from its established unity.
Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 2, ch. XI, § 1; see Skinner II, supra note 35, at 236 (on reaffirmation of the Old Testament).
82. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 236; Walker, supra note 57, at 352–53.
83. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 2, ch. V, § 19.
84. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 3, ch. II, § 7; bk. 3, ch. XI, § 19; bk. 3, ch. XIII, § 5; bk. 3, ch. XVII, § 1; bk. 3, ch. XVIII, § 9; bk. 4, ch. X, § 3; see Hancock, supra note 78, at 128–29, 132.
85. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. X, § 4; bk. 4, ch. XX, § 5; see id. at bk. 3, ch. XIX, § 16 (“A good conscience . . . is nothing but inward integrity of heart”). See generally Michael J. Sandel, Freedom of Conscience or Freedom of Choice?, in Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace 74, 88 (James Davison Hunter & Os Guinness eds., 1990) (“conscience dictates, choice decides”).
86. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 3, ch. XXI, §§ 1, 5, 7. Calvin added: “We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible judgment he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation.” Id. at bk. 3, ch. XXI, § 7; see David C. Williams & Susan H. Williams, Volitionalism and Religious Liberty, 76 Cornell L. Rev. 769, 867–68 (1991).
87. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 3, ch. X, § 6.
88. See Hancock, supra note 78, at 98–99, 108–09, 133.
89. Pocock, supra note 8, at 370.
90. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 3, ch. XI, § 20; bk. 3, ch. XVII, § 6; see Hancock, supra note 78, at 134.
91. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Talcott Parsons trans., 1958); see Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints 304–07 (1965).
92. See, e.g., William Nicholls, Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate 273–74 (1993); Oberman, supra note 4, at 139–41; Robert S. Wistrich, Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred 38 (1991).
93. See Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews 242–43 (1987); 5 Encyclopaedia Judaica 66–67 (1971).
94. See, e.g., Nicholls, supra note 92, at 273–74, 261, 465 n.l; Oberman, supra note 4, at 139–43.
95. See 5 Encyclopaedia Judaica 67 (1971); cf. Eugene J. Fisher, Anti-Semitism and Christianity: Theories and Revisions of Theories, in Persistent Prejudice: Perspectives on Anti-Semitism 11, 23 (Hebert Hirsch &c Jack D. Spiro eds., 1988) (almost all major reformers, including Luther and Calvin, were united as anti-Jewish). Calvin even accused some of his opponents of Judaizing. See 5 Encyclopaedia Judaica 66 (1971).
96. Jean Calvin, 1 Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke 361 (William Pringle trans., 1956) [hereinafter Calvin, Harmony].
97. Jean Calvin, 3 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 338, 345 (John Owen trans., 1950); accord Jean Calvin, 4 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 202 (John Owen trans., 1950) (Jewish practices are “all hypocrisy and deception”).
98 Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians 260 (John Pringle trans., 1957) [hereinafter Calvin, Epistles of Paul].
99. Id. at 259.
100. Jean Calvin, 5 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 587 (John Owen trans., 1950); see Jean Calvin, 4 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 202 (John Owen trans., 1950) (Jews are guilty of “false worship”).
101. Jean Calvin, 5 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 587 (John Owen trans., 1950); see Jean Calvin, 3 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 356–59 (John Owen trans., 1950).
102. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XIV, § 25; see id. at bk. 2, ch. X, § 23. Calvin wrote that Jews worship “an idol instead of the true God. . . . Whosoever, then, seeks really to know the only true God, must regard him as the Father of Christ.” Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles 28 (John Owen trans., 1959).
103. See Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 2, ch. X, § 23; Jean Calvin, 3 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 338, 345, 356–59 (John Owen trans., 1950); cf. Jean Calvin, 4 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 202 (John Owen trans., 1950); Jean Calvin, 5 Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets 587 (John Owen trans., 1950) (these commentaries on Jewish prophets repeat standard antisemitic accusations against Jews). In another essay, Calvin declared that the Jewish prophets gave testimony to the coming salvation in Jesus Christ, but Jews “wander wretchedly” because they misread Scripture. Calvin, Harmony, supra note 96, at 69–70.
104. Calvin, Epistles of Paul, supra note 98, at 261.
105. See Israel, supra note 4, at 13; Johnson, supra note 93, at 243. In fact, Calvin himself had little actual contact with Jews because, during the first twenty-five years of his life, he lived in parts of France from which Jews had long since been expelled. Then, for his last twenty-five years, he lived mostly in Geneva, from which Jews had been expelled in 1491. 5 Encyclopaedia Judaica 66 (1971).
106. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. X, § 5; accord id. at bk. 4, ch. X, § 3.
107. Calvin, Harmony, supra note 96, at 91.
108. Cf. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 3, ch. XIX (on Christian liberty).
109. See id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, §§ 1–32.
110. Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 1.
111. Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 2.
112. Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, §§ 2, 3, 9. In one of his Commentaries, Calvin wrote:
It would, indeed, be better for us to be wild beasts, and to wander in forests, than to live without government and laws; for we know how furious human passions are. Unless, therefore, there be some restraint, the condition of wild beasts would be better and more desirable than ours.
John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah 30:9, in A Calvin Reader 66, 66 (William F. Keesecker ed., 1985)
113. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XX, §§ 22–23. Calvin wrote: “[T]hey who rule unjustly and incompetently have been raised up by him to punish the wickedness of the people; that all equally have been endowed with that holy majesty with which he has invested lawful power.” Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 25.
114. Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 22; see Hopfl, supra note 57, at xliii..
115. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 32.
116. Id. at bk 4, ch. XX, § 31; see id. at bk 4, ch XX, §§22–31 (using terms: rulers, subjects, magistrates, and citizens); see also Skinner II, supra note 35, at 231–34 (discussing conflicting scholarly interpretations of Calvin); Walzer supra note 91, at 60 (arguing that the ephors should not be understood as true representatives of the people because ordained by God and not the people); Hopfl, supra note 57, at xiv (suggesting that Calvin, unlike Luther, qualified the notion of subjects and ruler with civic humanist ideas of citizenship).
117. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XX, §§ 3, 9.
118. See id. at bk. 4, ch. X, § 5; bk. 4, ch. XI, § 16; cf. Forrester, supra note 37, at 328–29.
119. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 3. Calvin wrote:
[C]ivil government has as its appointed end, so long as we live among men, to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquillity.
Id. at bk. 4, ch. XX, § 2.
120. See Forrester, supra note 37, at 328.
121. See Hancock, supra note 78, at 98–99, 108–09, 133. As Ralph Hancock notes, “Calvin is very much concerned to ground human institutions by establishing the political order as part of the divine order.” Id. at 34. Hancock emphasizes that Calvin rejected the effectiveness of classical reason in the natural world. Classical (or natural) reason was significant to Catholicism because of Aristotle’s influence on Thomas. Moreover, Hancock argues that Calvin’s reform theology has much in common with modern rationalism. Unlike classical (or natural) reason, modern rationalism views the world as bereft of purpose and substance. See, e.g., id. at 20.
122. Calvin, Institutes, supra note 78, at bk. 4, ch. XX, § § 6, 10.
123. See Hancock, supra note 78, at 25–35.
124. See Walker, supra note 57, at 355–56; 5 Encyclopaedia Judaica 67 (1971); see also Anson Phelps Stokes, 1 Church and State in the United States 107 (1950).
125. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 20, 81–89, 189–91.
126. See Religious Peace of Augsburg (Sept. 25, 1555), reprinted in Church and State Through the Centuries: A Collection of Historic Documents With Commentaries 164 (Sidney Z. Ehler & John B. Morrall trans. & eds., 1954) [hereinafter Ehler].
127. I draw most of the information regarding the Huguenots and the French religious wars from Skinner II, supra note 35, at 242–55, 332–39; Walker, supra note 57, at 380–85; Columbia, supra note 1, at 564–66.
128. Catherine was the virtual ruler of France for two decades after the death of Henry II in 1559. See Columbia, supra note 1, at 564.
129. Jean Bodin, Six Bookes of a Commonweale, at bk. I, ch. 8 (Harv. Univ. Press ed. 1962, a facsimile of the English translation of 1606) (originally published in French in 1576). Bodin wrote: “Sovereignty is the most high, absolute, and perpetual power over the citizens and subjects in a Commonweale.” Id.; see Skinner II, supra note 35, at 284–88. According to F.H. Hinsley, sovereignty entails “the idea that there is a final and absolute political authority in the community,” F.H. Hinsley, Sovereignty 17 (2d ed. 1986), while to Charles Tilly, a theory of sovereignty appears to be “a set of coherent justifications which could be widely used in the consolidation of power.” Charles Tilly, Reflections on the History of European State-Making, in The Formation of National States in Western Europe 21 (Charles Tilly ed., 1975). Hinsley argues that the concept of sovereignty was first formulated in ancient Rome and then again in sixteenth-century Europe, probably first by Bodin. See Hinsley, supra, at 70, 126, 140–41. Michael Wilks, on the other hand, argues that a theory of the absolute sovereignty of monarchs existed during the Middle Ages, though it was articulated most often by the papacy. See Michael Wilks, The Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages viii (1963).
130. Israel, supra note 4, at 15; see Ben-Sasson, supra note 53, at 291–92.
131. Israel, supra note 4, at 16 (emphasis added).
132. See id. at 16–23; Ben-Sasson, supra note 53, at 307–12.
133. See Skinner II, supra note 35, at 54–64; Columbia, supra note 1, at 535–37.
134. See, e.g., Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges enacted by Charles VII, King of France (July 7, 1438), reprinted in Ehler, supra note 59, at 112; see Skinner II, supra note 35, at 59–60.
135. Skinner II, supra note 35, at 64.
136. See generally Tarnas, supra note 32, at 285–86 (modernity inverts the Christian priority of the spiritual over the material world).
137. See Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People 10–12 (1990).
From Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State, by Stephen M. Feldman (New York University Press, 1997)