The era of the Reformation

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Luther (1483 - 1546) and the principles of Lutheranism[edit | edit source]

We cannot understand the concept of the State if we are satisfied with Machiavelli's contribution, we must also look at the contribution of the Reformation. This thought emerged in Germany in the 1520s, and one man was to play a crucial role: Luther.

Luther is the second 'play' in the presentation. We will first discuss his theory and then the political implications of his theory.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Martin Luther.

Martin Luther, an emblematic figure of the Protestant Reformation, was born in Eisleben in Thuringia on 10 November 1483 to a family of peasant origin.

The son of a miner who had reached a certain material wealth, he attended the municipal Latin school at a very early age, then the cathedral school in Mansfeld, where he received a humanistic education (1491-1497). He continued his studies in Eisenach, where he learnt Latin and German, and at the age of 17 he entered the University of Erfurt, where he received a degree in the arts (humanities), for which he was awarded the title of Master of Arts in 1505.

While his father intended him to study law, which he began in May 1505, he decided to enter the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in mid-July 1505 after a serious personal crisis.

Ordained priest, he began theological studies in the summer of 1507 in Erfurt; he continued his studies at the University of Wittenberg, where he was promoted to doctor of theology in October 1512 and was awarded a chair of Sacred Scripture, where he taught and commented for years on the various parts of the Old and New Testaments, the first German translation of which he produced from 1521 onwards.

The Pope signing and selling indulgences seen as the Antichrist by Lucas Cranach the Elder according to Martin Luther's "Passional Christi und Antichristi" (1521).

After a trip, for the affairs of his order, to Rome in 1510, where the spectacle of the Renaissance Pontifical Court did not fail to edify him, he was deeply moved by the campaign for indulgences launched by Pope Leo X in 1515, when he began his course on the Epistle to the Romans, familiarising himself with certain mystical currents and becoming aware of what would be his fundamental revelation: justification by faith.

His inner development then led him to take a public stand against indulgences by posting 95 theses on the virtue of indulgences on October 31, 1517 on the doors of the castle church and the University of Wittenberg.

Invited to withdraw, he refused, took part in a few public disputes in 1518-1519 and ended up being condemned by the Pope in the Bull Expurge Domine of 15 June 1520, which he burned publicly in Wittenberg in December.

It was the same year that he published his great reformist writings setting out his conception of faith and the Church: the Appeal to the Christian nobility of the German nation on the amendment of the Christian state, the Prelude to the Babylonian captivity of the Church and the On the freedom of the Christian.

Luther's German Bible.

He was summoned to appear before the Imperial Diet by Emperor Karl V and in mid-April 1521 he travelled to Worms, where he testified to his faith. He was soon banished from the Empire and only owed his life to the Elector of Saxony, who had him kidnapped and hidden in Wartburg Castle (1521-1522). Although he then began his German translation of the Bible, his theses soon gave rise to radical interpretations, both among the Anabaptists and among the peasants who expected social reform.

After returning to public life, Luther, who left the monastic habit in 1524 and married a former Cistercian, Katarina Von Bora, in 1525, was forced to clarify his theses in an authoritarian manner, stressing the need for temporal power and the duty of submission to it: Sincere Admonition to all Christians to refrain from all riots and revolts (1522); Treaty of the Temporal Authority (1523); Exhortation to peace in response to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia (1525); Against the looting and murderous gangs of peasants" (1525), "Missive on the hard pamphlet against the peasants" (1525) and "If the People of War can also be in a state of bliss" (1526). Luther was increasingly conservative on the political and social level, and also clashed with Erasmus on the question of free will ('Du libre arbitre' (1524)), to which he replied with his treatise On the Bondage of the Will (1525); he nevertheless moved towards a relatively more moderate reform on the religious level, relying on the Temporal Princes for the external organisation of the Church.

Luther continued his work as a translator of the Bible into German and as a professor at the Wittenberg School of Theology, publishing his treatise "On Councils and the Church" and his Commentary on Genesis, but the last years of his life are clouded by increasingly virulent polemics with his opponents.

He died on 18 February 1546 in his native town, leaving an immense body of work as a theologian, exegete, liturgist and polemicist, but also as a jurist and politician, comprising almost one hundred octavo volumes.

By publishing a few years after the prince his The Ninety-Fifth Theses in 1517 Luther defied the medieval Catholic order and launched a radical attack on the church.

This radical attack will have immense consequences in the political order. One cannot understand Luther's political vision without understanding his theological premises.

Attention must be drawn to two points; Lutheran theology at its core is based on a very black, despairing and pessimistic view of human nature. This despairing vision is reflected in two breaks in the theology of the time, i.e. in the order of religious knowledge.

The first rupture is that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who is considered to be one of the fathers of the Catholic Church, who above all affirmed and reaffirmed that man is capable of apprehending the world through his reason. Somewhere, man is naturally endowed with reason and can understand the world in which he lives, unlike Luther.

The second break is that he, like Machiavelli a few years before him, very clearly broke with the humanist ideal of autonomy of will; humanists had affirmed that individuals were autonomous in their will to direct our lives, we are masters of our own destiny.

For Luther until 1517 - 1518, while man is free in everyday affairs, he is totally incapable of ensuring his salvation and choosing his destiny in any way.

Luther asserts that it is pretentious to want to know God's designs, "deus absconditus," that there is a mysterious god somewhere who knows and we do not know; the second adage on which Luther based his theology is that if man can do nothing, if man cannot know his destiny, if man is not autonomous in the management and control of his destiny, it is because god has an impenetrable design, but above all he can do anything, "omni potestas a deo", all power comes from god.

Somehow, all power comes from God, we are absolutely unable to control our destiny and our salvation.

It is true that Luther is obliged to defend an idea that will obsess him, if we cannot control our destiny because God's plans are impenetrable, if all power comes from God and we cannot in any way decide on our fate and our future, then how can man be saved, how can we explain that some men are saved while others are not?

Luther, until 1517 - 1518, will base his theory on the dogma of predestination.

Somewhere, man, for Luther, is predestined, God has decided who can have his grace and who cannot.

This view is rather Manichean and despairing, so the logical conclusion of such a view of the relationship between him and mankind leads Luther to adopt the doctrine of predestination.

Luther, faced with this rather depressing vision of the world, realised that he was going a bit against the wall with this predetermined vision.

From 1517 - 1518, he evolved, pragmatic man evolved, wanting to criticise the Catholic Church, reforming religion by basing his own doctrine on predestination was not very encouraging.

To want to convince people that one is defending a new approach to religion while advocating the dogma of predestination is not convincing. Luther's pragmatism takes the man back to his vision.

Beginning in 1520, he proposes a completely new doctrine, which is the doctrine of justification by faith.

This doctrine of justification by faith, which emerges in Luther's writings from 1518 onwards, can be summarized in a certain way in two points.

Basically, if man cannot receive his salvation through his own actions, if God decides everything because omni potestas a deo, if man cannot receive his salvation through his own actions, then he can receive God's grace, i.e., his faith in God somewhere saves man.

In other words, expressing one's faith, praying and believing will draw God's attention to us and in a certain way will draw God's grace and free us from our sins.

Faith is a human choice, but it is also a gift from God.

The second remark to explain what he means by justification by faith is that man is always a sinner.

Man remains a deep sinner for Luther, and the only chance he has of being saved is to believe and to express his faith loudly and clearly in order to attract God's attention.

This doctrine is very important in the theological order and will go hand in hand with and have two essential consequences.

  • a new vision of the church is emerging, if man is to attract the gaze of god, if man's faith is to ensure that he is given the gaze of god he no longer needs an intermediary to speak to god and act between him and god, he is speaking directly to god, the first theological and somewhat political consequence is that there is god and the faithful and no longer intermediaries, it is a frontal attack on the tradition of the church in force at the time.
  • It is no longer a vertical vision of the church with god, the priest and man, but a horizontal version in which there are men and servants of god on an equal footing.

These two consequences are important, as they provide an understanding of the political theory that gradually emerged in Luther from 1518 - 1519. If the church no longer had a raison d'être, then power relations would change.

Lutheran philosophy: theology[edit | edit source]

The question is what did the reformed bring to political thought and philosophy; there is a reflection on the right of resistance. How did Luther's theology lead to a reflection on the right of resistance?

Lutheran philosophy is based on the principles of the justification of doctrine by faith, the pessimistic view of the world and of people, a view that is based on the will to individual autonomy omni potestas a deo. Luther's assertion of the right of resistance gives him an almost depressing pessimistic view of human nature.

Lutheran theology has this rather pessimistic view of human nature, which leads Luther to propose a new view of the church as well. In the theological order, for Luther, since through prayer and faith we can attract the attention of God and his grace so that we no longer need an intermediary, such an affirmation implies a redefinition of the structure of the church, which until 1517 served as an intermediary between men and God.

The church that gradually emerges thus has a different purpose, but also a different structure. Luther is well aware that the faithful need an institution to find themselves, but while it no longer plays the role of intermediary between God and men it plays a much more organisational role, it does and must exist to provide baptism, marriage, and funeral services, but the sacred dimension of the church with Luther is greatly attenuated.

These three major theological propositions, these theological postures, have political implications. What are the political implications of Lutheran theology?

We see these implications in two texts from which four political implications of Lutheran theology can be drawn:

The first implication is a massive and marked rejection of any jurisdictional role, any power of the church in temporary affairs, in other words, the church world must be content to organize and care for the spiritual world, but must not in any way claim to interfere with the power of those in temporary power. This is a strict separation of the two spiritual and temporal powers, but above all the affirmation of the impossibility of spiritual power to encroach on temporal power.

The second consequence is the rejection of criticism of the church's legal order, the so-called canon law, which is the law of the church that governs relations within the church itself, in some law faculties there are still chairs of canon law. The political consequence is the rejection of this canon law, the law of the Romans has to be discarded because it is false and has no coherent legal and religious basis.

The third political consequence of this new worldview is the counterpart of the first consequence, if the two powers are separated, if spiritual power must not encroach on temporal power, temporal power must not attempt to influence the affairs of the church; political authority is independent and must remain independent of religious authority.

Somewhat following on from the first and third consequences is the affirmation of temporal power as having to play a higher political role than spiritual power; somewhere it separates the two powers to the end of its logic: if the two powers are different, however, political power must dominate.

The figure of the Christian prince emerges, it is this notion that brings together a political idea and a religious idea, the Christian prince must, without encroaching on the spiritual order, absolutely support the faith and the gospel and follow the commandments of God, being himself extremely pious and respectful of the Christian religion. This idea of the Christian principle is quite new, it brings together the idea that political authority must exercise its political power without interfering with religious power, but at the same time must defend a certain number of values; the idea of a Machiavellian politician whose morals are very flexible and very foreign to Luther.

The Christian prince must be a strong man, but at the same time he must defend a certain number of values; these are not humanist values, but Christian values. Logically and in a certain way, it is the antimachiavel, yes to the principle, that defends values, but not humanist values, but Christian values.

On the Bondage of the Will.

Let there be no confusion, Luther has a completely separate conception of religious and political power, the idea of the Christian prince is not the same as putting it together; he is in favour of political autonomy, but he defends the idea that political power must promote Christian values.

In other words, there is not in the idea of the Christian prince the idea of mixing political and religious power, but there is the will of a political power that defends religious values to perhaps support a certain coherence within society.

For Luther, the prince is above all a prince, but Christian in the sense that he must defend Christian values. In 1525, he wrote a work that criticized Erasmus by denouncing Erasmus' humanistic ideals, but also the free will that for him is an aberration since we are predetermined by God's will, the On the Bondage of the Will.[4]

Spiritual Power and Temporal Power[edit | edit source]

Luther does not have a political thought in the sense that Aristotle, Machiavelli and Rousseau do, but Luther is important because he develops a vision that gives political power and the Christian prince an increasingly important role; can one resist this Christian prince? Does the citizen have a margin of manpower in the face of this figure of the Christian prince who emerges with notable and important power? What is Luther's position from the point of view of the political opposition?

Luther separated power and strengthened political power, and the question is whether one should obey this political power? Are there cases where Christians have the right to disobey the Christian prince?

Luther has a particular answer that is increasingly ambiguous; when one reads his sermons and religious writings, the answer that emerges is clearly "no".

It is basically almost impossible for Luther except for the prince to order blasphemy or disavowal of his faith, unless in an extreme case Luther is not a follower of resistance theories; in other words, resisting the sovereign is a mistake.

He has an ambiguous position that has evolved into a pragmatic Luther. There is a reason for what is now called Luther's political hardening; the reason is context-related.

Facsimile of the 95 theses.

In 1517, Luther launched his Eighty-Fifth Revolutionary Theses, which were clearly aimed at overthrowing the political power in Rome. These theses had an important effect in Europe and Germany in particular. Luther was summoned by Emperor Charles V and subjected to the question, the church intervened, and Luther was put on trial.

He leaves the emperor's court between 1519 and 1520, there is a plot to assassinate him seeing the danger he could represent. What shocked Luther greatly at the time was the principle of indulgence. The church had set up the system of indulgence, which is the possibility of buying one's salvation in exchange for cash, allowing the faithful to feel good and the church to replenish its coffers; this principle of indulgence offended Luther.

The church saw the danger in Luther very well, the early writings against Lutheranism compared them to the Black Death, the church perceived the power of Luther's word, and therefore tried to intervene with the emperor.

He was saved because a German Elector took him under his protection, and he was able to live protected for about ten years. The Kaiser of the Holy German Empire is elected by seven electors, and one of the seven prince electors takes Luther under his protection. Luther was protected by a powerful prince. Luther had been protected by a large number of German princes who had also converted for political reasons because this created a counter-power, hence the reversal of the theory. Luther very quickly saw the political interest he could draw from this.

Rebellious peasants surrounding a knight.

Between 1524 and 1525 in Germany there was a revolt in Swabia by the peasants of Swabia who found in Lutheranism a number of arguments for revolt, the church should no longer have any influence in some cases, one can resist the prince. There are very important peasant revolts, and Luther became afraid, he realised how radical a reading of his theological writings could be.

From then on, he began to formulate the idea that it is wrong to oppose political power, with rare exceptions, because power comes from God and the policies that are instituted hold the power of God.

Luther realizes that his theology is revolutionary, but that a radical reading of his theology can lead to very powerful interpretations and revolts. The state of affairs is God's will, and God's will is not to be touched.

Luther wrote a book in 1525 entitled "Against the Looting and Murderous Gangs of Peasants"; as a good pragmatist, Luther chose his side.

Luther leaves us with a revolutionary theology and an extremely fixed vision of politics that does not allow and leaves no room for individual resistance to political power.

Luther's successors, the reformed, will take over Lutheran theology, but they will defend the right of resistance.

To the Christian nobility of the German nation[edit | edit source]

To the Christian nobility of the German nation.

The discourse is an eminently religious discourse, one does not resort like Machiavelli to humanist writings, Luther's doctrinal sources are the Holy Scriptures.

The examples Luther uses in both texts are biblical examples. Finally, the vocabulary and expressions are certainly religious, but methodically chosen; Luther knows very well, invokes God when it must be invoked and does not invoke him when it must not be invoked, he is political when it must be invoked.

At the beginning of the text, the institutional critique of the church is already very clear.

« I have collected a few articles on the amendment of the Christian state, in order to submit them to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, in case it would please God to use the secular state to help his Church, since the ecclesiastical state, to whom this task should rather fall, has shown itself to be quite negligent in its duties. »

The church no longer fulfils its role; Luther turns to the German nobility to play its political role.

On this first page, we see a thinly veiled criticism of the autonomist and humanist position that advocates autonomy of will.

« […] God cannot and will not allow us to undertake a good work, relying solely on his reason and power. »

We cannot make important decisions on the basis of reason alone.

« The greater the power, the greater the distress if one does not act humbly and in fear of God. If the Popes and Romans have succeeded so far with the help of the devil in sowing discord among kings, they are able to do so even now, if we act without God's help, with our own power and ability. »

God helps us in our action.

« […] the Romanists have surrounded themselves with three walls, thanks to which they have so far been protected and have prevented anyone from reforming them, so that the whole of Christendom has, as a result, reached a state of dreadful decadence.

Firstly, when they were made to fear temporal power, they made it their principle to declare that temporal power had no rights over them, but that spiritual power was superior to temporal power. »

Luther wants to rebalance things, it is true that the division between spiritual and temporal power is very old, but over time the church had claimed that temporal power could only exist through him, between the years 800 and 1400 the church asserted its power over political power, both powers according to Luther must be limited to their role.

« Secondly, when they are reprimanded with Sacred Scripture, they establish on the contrary that no one has the right to interpret Sacred Scripture except the Pope. »

We are in a critique of a very important dogma, it is the dogma of infallibility, it is the idea that the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures can only be made by the church and its servants, Luther criticizes the claim to the exclusivity of truth.

« Thirdly, that they are threatened with a Council and they invent that no one can convene a Council except the Pope. »

They have an extremely narrow vision of power and that is a mistake.

Let's tackle the first wall first, which is the idea that the church must have an influence on temporal power.

« Therefore in consecrating, the Bishop does nothing other than if, instead of the whole assembly, he chose someone from among the crowd of those who all possess equal power and ordered him to exercise that same power in the place of the others, just as if ten brothers, royal children, also heirs, chose one of them to reign in their place over the inheritance, they would always be kings and equal in power, while the office of governing would be entrusted to one. »

What Luther means is that an authentic church should ideally be based on an equality of the faithful to the extent that the bishop could choose such and such to exercise the role of priest, for Luther we are all potential priests.

« For since we are all equally priests, no one should make himself known or undertake, without having been authorised or chosen by us, to do what we all equally possess the power to do. »

Basically, there is a very beautiful idea that the church is a church that must somehow proceed by election. What is emerging is a horizontal vision of the church where relationships are much less hierarchical.

« From this it follows that between laity, priests, Princes, Bishops and, as they say, between the clergy and the century, there is really no other difference except that which comes from the function or task and not from the state. »

It is a functionalist vision of individuals, one is a priest because it is a function; this idea is very important and still today. It is a functional vision of power.

« The second wall is even less solid and it holds even less: namely that they claim to be the sole masters of Scripture, even though they never study it throughout their lives, they arrogate to themselves the exclusive authority and make us increase by impudent words that the Pope cannot be mistaken in the field of faith, be he evil or good, but they cannot bring to this the slightest semblance of proof. »

Luther's criticism is the claim to a monopoly of interpretation claimed by the church. At a time when the world of publishing had barely emerged, what was at stake was knowledge of the biblical text. What annoyed Luther was the church's claim to interpret the bible; he did not agree with this method.

One of the first things Luther was to undertake was the translation into the vernacular of the Bible, which was in Aramaic for some parts, in ancient Greek for others and in Latin for a third; the challenge for Luther was not only to say and denounce the interpretation imposed by the church, but to combine theory with practice by proposing a translation of the Bible.

The Great Reformists and Luther in fact understood that behind the translation there was the issue of dissemination and the issue of access to the text, the church could no longer affirm certain precepts, individuals would have a different understanding.

This second wall is the criticism of the monopoly of interpretation, Luther was a very great translator making translation a major political issue.

« The third wall falls of its own accord if the first two fall, for if the Pope acts against Scripture, it is our duty to assist Scripture to rebuke him and compel him to obey, according to the word of Christ. »

The translation of the Bible will give us an understanding and direct access to the text which will allow us to contradict the interpretations of the church and to criticise the pope.

What is interesting about Luther is that he uses the Holy Scriptures as a basis for his support.

« They have no argument from Scripture to prove that it is only up to the Pope to convene or confirm a Council, except their own laws, which have no value when they do not harm the laws of God and Christianity. »

There is no text that challenges the power that the Pope has arrogated to himself, for this reason he translates and disseminates, reading people can become acquainted with the sacred text on their own.

Temporal authority and the extent to which it is to be obeyed[edit | edit source]

Luther reaffirms the separation between temporal and spiritual authority, but it is above all in this important text that he takes a stand against the right of resistance with few exceptions.

« […] That's why I have to turn my efforts in another direction and say now what they shouldn't do. I hope that they will do as little as they have followed the above-mentioned writing, so that they may remain princes and not become Christians! For Almighty God has driven our princes mad, so much so that they think they can do and command whatever they want to their subjects (and the subjects are also mistaken if they believe that they have a duty to obey everything without reserve), so much so that they have gone so far as to command people to hand over the books, and to believe and practise according to their instructions. »

Luther here attacks the German nobility because they did not use their power or used it badly, the German princes did not know how to be Christian princes, it is a badly put in place power that creates a malaise between the population and the German princes.

This is another way of correcting the radical reading of his writings. Before writing his book "Against the looting and murderous gangs of peasants", he addressed himself to the nobility; he warned the nobility and urged them to pull themselves together in order to anticipate revolutions.

This is the first political work in which he warns Christian princes to behave with dignity and to be politically responsible.

« In the first place, we must give a solid foundation to the temporal law and the temporal sword, so that no one doubts that it is by God's will and ordinance that they exist in the world. »

If all power comes from God, challenging power implies challenging God, it is a theological justification for political power.

He goes on to assert that God is raised up for us by the doctrine of Christ. At the beginning of this text, there is basically a drawing of the theological foundations of Luther's politics.

This is the theological justification for Luther's political vision. This theological justification is based on the division of the world and the social order into two worlds: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.

The kingdom of God includes Christians, but Luther is aware that the world is not composed only of Christians; non-Christians belong to another world that is not condemnable, but it is a social reality that is the kingdom of the world; the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world coexist.

The question arises for Luther, the reasoning being that he divides men into two worlds, those who belong to the kingdom of God and those who belong to the kingdom of the world.

For Luther, a good Christian would not need rules to frame him. Very prosaically Luther says that if we all lived under the kingdom of God, we would not need a legal framework to limit our actions.

The fact is," Luther notes, "that we are not perfect, there are good Christians, bad Christians, and for those who belong to the kingdom of the world, human laws are needed: the prince is there to be the 'ruler of the kingdom of the world', he is there to truly rule, to apply the law, to change it if necessary because the world is not ideal.

The fact is that we all belong to the kingdom of the world because man is a sinner, the definition of those who belong to the kingdom of the world.

« For since very few believe, and since only the minority behave in a Christian manner, not resisting evil or even doing evil themselves, God has created for others, alongside the Christian state and the kingdom of God, another kingdom, and has subjected them to the sword, so that, no matter how much they desire it, they may not act according to their evil nature, and so that, if they do, they may not do it without fear, nor may they do it quietly and successfully. »

The two important words are "evil nature", we are inveterate sinners and therefore the kingdom of God is an ideal kingdom ruled by a Christian Prince.

Faced with this kingdom of the world, are we allowed to resist under certain conditions?

For Luther, all power comes from God; to oppose power is to oppose God, so one does not oppose power.

« Christ does not say: You must not serve power or be subject to it, but "You must not resist evil". It is as if he were saying: Behave in such a way that you bear everything; for you must not need the power so that it helps you and serves you, whether it is useful or necessary; but on the contrary, it is you who must help and serve it, be useful and necessary to it. »

The principle of non-resistance is clearly being put in place. Kennedy said, "Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country".

Basically, we can see very clearly, the principle of non-resistance based on the word of Christ is emerging.

« […] you ask whether, under these conditions, the Christian can also wield the temporal sword and punish the wicked, since the words of Christ [...] the sword cannot exist among Christians: therefore you cannot wield it against and among Christians, since they have no need of it. »

He asks whether the Christian can carry the sword, resist power; the Christian is there to serve God, serving God he cannot and must not resist political power.

« Please do not be so sacrilegious as to claim that a Christian cannot exercise what is the very work of God, his institution and his creation. Otherwise, you would also have to say that a Christian cannot eat, drink or marry, things that are also God's works and institutions. But if this is the work of God's creation, it is good, and good in such a way that everyone can make use of it in a Christian and God-pleasing way. »

This implies that princes must be good Christians.

« It would also be good and necessary that all the princes were good and true Christians. For the sword and power, as a special service of God, is more incumbent on Christians than on any other man on earth. Therefore you must hold the sword and power in as high esteem as the state of marriage or the work of the chams or the handicrafts, which have also been instituted by God. »

« For those who exercise power are the servants and workers of God, who chastises evil and protects good. However, everyone must be free to abstain from it when it is not necessary, just as one is free to marry or not to marry, to work the land or not, when it is not necessary. »

The principle that those who exercise power are servants and workers of God has two consequences, it is the reaffirmation of the idea of the Christian Prince, the holder of political power must defend Christian values.

First, princes must serve religious precepts, but the faithful must obey the prince because they are only servants of god and were put in place by god; second, Luther reaffirms the impossibility of resisting the prince; the only thing he tolerates is non-obedience, in only one case if the prince orders blasphemy or denial of the Christian religion is non-obedience tolerated for Luther.

Fundamentally, it must be remembered that Luther was very hostile to radical interpretations of his ideas and theories of political resistance.

What is happening to the theory of resistance? What becomes of Lutheranism?

Luther's enemies will compare the Reformation to the Black Death because Lutheranism spread significantly throughout Europe.

The spread of Lutheranism[edit | edit source]

Religious situation in Central Europe in 1618, on the eve of the Thirty Years' War.

Luther will give rise to a number of disciples, Lutheranism will spread throughout Europe; this expansion has two important consequences in the political order:

The first important and reverse consequence of the second is that the princes, kings and monarchies of Europe will make a conservative reading of Lutheran theory, in other words, many princes and kings converted to Lutheranism and Protestantism will justify their power through Luther's writings. It is a monarchical and absolutist reading of Luther, it is a theological justification in Luther's doctrine of resistance.

The second political consequence of the expansion of Lutheranism is the opposite, one can also make a radical reading of Lutheranism, the radical reading was not to defend the theory of the right of resistance, but says that it is the duty of kings and princes to be good Christians, but if they are not good Christians then they must be overthrown.

Luther's theology can give rise to two different readings : an absolutist reading and a radical reading.

Which one has won? Which reading won out over the other?

It is essentially the radical reading that will prevail because the context of Europe will evolve in such a way that Protestants will feel a loss of power, will feel persecuted at times and will propose from 1530 to 1560 a radical reading of the Reformation and Lutheranism.

One man who was to play an important role in promoting this radical reading in defence of the reformed faith was John Calvin.

Calvin (1509-1564) and the theories of resistance[edit | edit source]

Calvin will follow Luther to some extent, but will distance himself from him.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Portrait of John Calvin (date unknown).

"Second Patriarch of the Protestant Reformation" according to Bossuet, Jean Calvin was born in Noyon in Picardy (France) on 10 July 1509 into a well-to-do family.

His father, a lawyer from a family of craftsmen, was a notable who, in addition to being a municipal clerk, held a number of positions in the service of the bishop and the cathedral chapter. As a result, John Calvin received a solid education as well as a complete religious upbringing, as his father had intended him to pursue either a legal or an ecclesiastical career.

With this in mind, after receiving rudimentary grammar and rhetoric in his native town, he was sent to Paris in 1523, first to Collège de la Marche (1523-1524), where he took lessons from Mathurin Cordier (1479-1564), then to Collège Montaigu (1524-1528), soon earning the rank of Master of Arts, along with further ecclesiastical benefits at Noyon.

He soon completed his early philological training with a solid legal education at the Universities of Orléans (1528-1529) and Bourges (1529-1530) with the masters of legal humanism Pierre de l'Estoile (1480-1537) and André Alciat (1492-1550), obtaining his licence and then his doctorate in law.

Although he came into contact with the German humanist Melchior Wolmar (1497-1561), who sought to win him over to Lutheranism, he nevertheless continued his philological training in Paris, where he attended the Collège de France of the Hellenists Guillaume Budé (1467-1540) and Pierre Danès (1497-1579), and published a scholarly commentary on "De Clementia" by Sénèque in 1532.

It was the following year that he rallied to the evangelical humanist and reformist circles in Paris, which took shape in his collaboration with the Sermon of All Saints' Day of the Rector of Nicolas Cop University, favourable to Lutheran theses (1533), and then especially in his conversion to the new faith. In May 1534, he began a new itinerant existence in the service of his faith.

After numerous peregrinations linked to the first persecutions in France, this existence will bring him to Basel, where he will publish the first edition of his "Institution of the Christian Religion" in 1536, and then to Geneva where he will remain Guillaume Farel (1489-1565) (July 1536).

It was in this city, recently (May 1536) rallied to the new faith, that he would henceforth carry out his reformist work. Although he initially met with strong opposition, which led to his exile with Farel (April 1538) and his exile to Strasbourg, where he became friends with Martin Bucer (1491-1551), he was soon recalled by the Geneva authorities (autumn 1540), returning definitively to the city with which he associated his name in September 1541.

Since then, he definitively reorganised his Church (Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541)) and reformed its legal order (Edict of the Lieutenant (1542) and Civil Edict (1568)) and political (Political Edicts (1543)) as well as its moral order (Sumptuary Ordinances (1558, 1564)), and its school organisation (Order of the College and Academy (1559)).

While Calvin will no doubt still have to fight the opponents of his reforms in Geneva itself, in the moral as well as in the doctrinal order (Affaires Sébastien Castellion (1543), Jérôme Bolsec (1551) and Michel Servet (1553)), his triumph was total from 1555 onwards, a turning point from which the Councils were entirely acquired and the magistrates, devoted to the ministers (pastors), worked to transform Geneva from a straw mattress City of fairs into a fundamentalist Republic governed by the sole Word of God, and into a true "Protestant Rome".

Calvin, in correspondence with his co-religionists from all over Europe, continued his work as a pastor and doctor, working on successive reeditions of his Christian Institution as well as his Commentaries on the Old and New Testaments; in doing so, he soon made Geneva the "Seminary of the Reformed Churches of France" and the metropolis of Protestantism.

Leaving a considerable body of work consisting of more than fifty volumes, Calvin died on May 27, 1564, not without having provided for his succession at the head of the Venerable Company of Pastors, in the person of the Rector of the Academy, the Burgundian Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605).

Calvin takes up Luther's theory, and more precisely the question of how he offers us this radical reading and how he defends the right of resistance.

Theology of Calvin[edit | edit source]

John Calvin at the age of 53. Engraving by René Boyvin.

Calvin's early writings stress the need to obey political authority. He supported a clear separation between state and church, but above all he stressed the need potestas a deo to respect the power willed by God.

A careful reading of Calvin shows that he becomes increasingly ambiguous: While he basically agrees with Luther in his distrust of resistance in politics, he introduces a whole series of exceptions into his work. For Luther, the only exception is if the prince forces him to blaspheme or deny his faith.

Calvin expands these exceptions, emptying the prince of non-resistance and turning it into a principle of resistance. Gradually he will present cases in which magistrates can act, intervene on behalf of the body politic.

Calvin is hostile to direct intervention by the body politic; however, although the body politic cannot basically rule by itself, he can mandate magistrates who can intervene with the political power, there is very clearly a vision and a broadening of the exceptions, the people cannot resist, but mandate people to do so or broaden the spectrum of possibilities.

This is the very clear beginning of a justification of political resistance if this resistance is made by legitimate and legitimate magistrates.

Calvin is really going to argue a thesis that has consequences in resistance: the question that occupies political philosophers is the following: Calvin read his classics of political philosophy and the works that reflect on the crucial question of who holds the imperium? Imperium is commonly translated as sovereignty. Who holds sovereignty?

In Calvin's day, this debate about who holds the imperium, about the ability to hold the power to make and break the law, to enforce the law, who holds that sovereign power? Calvin is interested in this and is fiercely debated; the answer will somehow oblige him to cut a hole in it, or at least to open up even more of the breach in the right of resistance.

To the question of who holds the imperium, Calvin will answer that it is the body politic that holds the imperium, and he delegates it to magistrates, to a prince. Delegation also means a break in this delegation, in other words we can decide not to delegate this power any more; if we delegate the power under certain conditions and they are not respected, we can take back the power.

Calvin in the name of an imperium held by a delegated political body will not only defend a right of resistance and in some cases an obligation of resistance, especially when the prince and magistrates betray and unjustly violate the contractual conditions given to them. By asserting that the body politic and the magistrates hold the imperium will very clearly nurture the possibility of resisting the prince.

One must be careful because when one reads Calvin carefully one never sees a very clear statement of the cases in which one must resist, this is a time when censorship exists, a certain terminology must be used. Calvin in an often metaphorical language defends in some cases the right of resistance.

Calvin gives political power, the body politic and the judiciary significant power; he is not a thurifer, he does not defend the right of resistance in every case, but in far more cases than Luther defended.

We had seen that John Calvin had to some extent taken up Luther's reticence about the right of resistance, and that he had gradually modified his point of view and opened up loopholes, exceptions that allowed and justified a form of resistance through the intermediary of the magistrates. If in Calvin's discourse omni potestas a deo and resistance is to be condemned, in fact it opens up the possibility for resistance to take place not directly by the body politic, but through the intermediary of higher magistrates.

Calvin has the idea that ideally resistance and disobedience are not a useful thing and a continuing process, but nevertheless, we can see a development in his discourse, he opens up this possibility. Calvin asserts himself as a priori opposed to the right of resistance at the beginning of his writings, and very soon he will open the possibility to resistance suggesting a series of exceptions making resistance and civil disobedience possible especially in the case of tyranny. This shift and this tension, which is also a contradiction in itself, is clearly visible. On the one hand, he does not wish to open the door to revolt in the tradition of Luther, but on the other hand Calvin is aware that one cannot endure everything.

Institution of the Christian religion[edit | edit source]

Cover of the latest edition of the 'Institution of the Christian Religion' which summarises its theology.

He explains this in a text from 1536 entitled "Institution of the Christian religion"; he questions in chapter XX what civil government is. What does he mean by civil government? What is the scope of the government's powers? Can it be resisted and disobeyed?

« We must now turn our attention to the second, which is responsible for establishing only civil justice and reforming social morality. If this subject seems far removed from the theology and faith that I deal with, further developments will show, however, that I am right to approach it together with this doctrine. Above all, because today there are violent anarchists who would like to overthrow the order in the city, even though it is established by God. On the other hand, those who flatter the rulers, by making an excessive apology for power, almost make them play at being gods. »

The title the differences between civil and spiritual government show that Calvin is in line with Luther's division of the world into the civil and spiritual worlds.

There is an adherence to Luther's philosophy, but although he is Luther's descendant, he distances himself on one point.

« We must now turn our attention to the second, which is responsible for establishing only civil justice and reforming social morality. If this subject seems far removed from the theology and faith that I deal with, further developments will show, however, that I am right to approach it together with this doctrine. Above all, because today there are violent anarchists who would like to overthrow the order in the city, even though it is established by God. »

It is a criticism of the Protestant radicals who made a radical reading of Luther's theses by using Luther's political theology to overthrow the rulers of Europe. Calvin is a thought of order in the good sense of the word, omni potestas a deo.

« On the other hand, those who flatter the rulers, by making an inordinate apology for power, almost make them play at being gods. »

On the one hand, he denounced violent anarchists and all those who flattered princes and kings; on the other, Luther had a certain tolerance for political power; Calvin tried to find a middle way between those who held power and those who wanted to overthrow everything. There is a middle way that is possible.

Augustine in controversy with heretics.

It takes up the arguments of Luther and Saint Augustine, the two worlds must work in convergence.

« The spiritual kingdom gives us, already on earth, a foretaste of ineffable and eternal happiness. The purpose of the temporal regime of government is, as long as we live in human society, to watch over and provide for the outward series of God, to watch over pure doctrine and religion, to protect the welfare of the Church, to help us observe the necessary equity, to promote civil justice in the field of morals, for the common peace and to maintain law and order for the good of all. »

There is a definition of "purposes of the state", but there is a Calvinian definition and rephrases on purposes of the state.

From paragraph three on, the responsibility of the civil government one gets the feeling that Calvin is not at all favourable to any form of resistance, one must not change the established order, omni potestas a deo.

« For the time being, we only wish to point out that to reject it is inhumanly barbaric, since it is as necessary for human beings as bread, water, sunlight and air, and its function is even greater (...) In short, it ensures the public exercise of religion among Christians and the maintenance of good relations among all. »

This chapter III is a definition of the very existence of the government and a marked reluctance for any form of resistance.

Subchapters V, VI governments are the servant of civil justice, VII and VIII assert the importance of government for living together, but the near impossibility for individuals to resist government in any case in an exaggerated way.

He opens a parenthesis from Chapter VIII where he paints a non-monarchical vision of power : Almost like Machiavelli's preference for the aristocratic form - according to Plato the aristocrat is the aristocracy of knowledge - Calvin uses the term aristocratic government.

Calvin did not believe in the monarchical system as such, but believed in the government of many who would rule the city for the good of all. It is easy to see that there are hints of mechanisms that call for Machiavelli and the Florentine, even Venetian, vision of the executive.

« If one compares these three categories of government that I have presented, the second, government by a small number of people who ensure the freedom of the people, seems to me preferable, not in itself, but because it does not often happen - it is even a miracle - that kings behave in such a way that their will never deviates from fairness and righteousness. »

It is a clear and firm criticism of the monarchy, the regime of kings is not a regime where it is a miracle that righteousness and justice can reign, it aims at the power of the King of France; it takes refuge in Geneva, making it the bastion of French-speaking Protestantism. Machiavelli wouldn't have said otherwise with the idea of government of a few.

« In fact, the best government is one where there is a well-tempered freedom that is destined to last for a long time (...) it will be on their part a thought that is not only crazy and useless, but bad and fruitless. »

Resistance is a crazy and fruitless thought, but the government of a few is a good thing.

In sub-paragraph 22, "Respect for the authorities", there is the question of the duty to resist.

« The first duty of the subjects towards their superiors is to hold their functions in high esteem, recognising them as given by God, and for this reason manifesting to the authorities the honour and respect due to those who are lieutenants and representatives of God. »

Political authority represents god, so it is extremely difficult to resist, and this reluctance to resist continues to be affirmed in Chapter XXIII.

Calvin should not be made a thinker of divine right, he separates political power from god's power, yet political power holds some of its power from god's power.

When the Sun King (Louis XIV) says that he holds his power as god and that he bases his power politically in the very existence of god, it is a different approach. Calvin does not say that the governing elite holds its political power as god. The king of France justifies his plique power with a pseudo power of divine right, but for Calvin the ruler does not hold his power by divine right, but by the men who have entrusted him with it, he is somehow adoubled and imbued with the spirit of god who wanted him to be the head of state.

For Calvin all power comes from God, and thus all political power derives in some way from the legitimacy of God's will. The kings of France who would later tell them that they held their authority by divine right was a somewhat different approach, since all their legitimacy in their view and in any circumstances rested on God's will.

Calvin does not want a politician to be able to do anything and everything in the name of God. The monarchies of divine right in the early 17th and 18th centuries justified their political authority in the name of divine right by the idea that they held the power of God.

Calvin was aware of the dangers of the precept omni potestas a deo. For Calvin, all power comes from God, but not every politician can do everything in the name of God, nor can he justify his political action or any political action in the name of God. For monarchies of divine right, all power comes from God and they can do everything because all power comes from God.

It is the great difference with Calvin that does not justify any action in the name of God, the cursor is not in the same place, it is the use of this principle that is different, the instrumentalization of this principle is different by Calvin and those who claim divine right.

In other words, Calvin makes god the theological basis of political power, whereas the king of France makes the political basis of theological power; Calvin does not want political power and authority to justify its power by the existence of God, whereas the French monarchies justified their political action by the fact that they held their power through god.

There is something of God's will in every political authority, but this does not justify that it can do everything.

« It follows something else: honouring and respecting the authorities in this way, we must obey them by observing their orders, either by paying taxes, or by taking on a task that is part of the common defence, or by obeying any other order (...) Let no one be mistaken about this. Since one cannot resist rulers without resisting God, if it seems possible to resist a weak government without authority, let us be careful because God is strong and armed enough to punish contempt for his ordinances. Moreover, in this obedience I include the measure that private citizens must have in public affairs (...) I mean that individuals do not have to act without an intermediary. »

We must obey the political authority and the rulers, we must not resist them without an intermediary. Somehow it shows that non-resistance has gone from non-resistance to non-resistance without an intermediary, which turns the problem around. This will allow him to clearly recognise the possibility of resistance, he turns the argument of non-resistance on its head, but not under any conditions.

Calvin says that all power comes from God, it is madness to resist political authorities, he adds that it is madness to resist without intermediaries: he opens the door to the possibility of resistance, but not under any conditions.

In sub-chapter XXXI - title; Calvin is confronted with the question of whether there are no situations in which one must resist, he cannot conclude that one can never resist.

As he wants to frame resistance, he is hostile to resistance, but we can see that he is not hostile to it, but he wants to frame resistance by using intermediaries.

« Indeed, if there were, in our time, magistrates established in defence of the people to curb the excessive ambition or freedom of kings - as there were in ancient times among the Spartans with their ephors, among the Romans with their popular defenders and among the Athenians with their demarcations and, as today in every kingdom when the three states are assembled - I would not forbid them at all to oppose and resist the intemperance or cruelty of kings in the exercise of their office. I even think that, if they saw how the kings abusively mistreated the poor people and acted as if this were not the case, they should be accused of perjury and treason against the freedom of the people, when they should have recognised that they were ordained the protectors of it by the will of God. »

Calvin opened the door under certain conditions to resistance to the king and especially to certain kings who abused their power and authority. Resistance is possible, but under certain conditions. Kings who were not instituted by God but whose power rests on theological foundations have betrayed God's will by behaving abusively; as such, the adage omni potestas a deo no longer applies.

In subchapter XXXIII The limits of our obedience to men we must remember :

« If they come to command us to do things against the Lord, we must not put up with it. We must have no regard for the dignity of superiors, which we respect, when it is subject to the power of God, which is the only true power above all others. »

This argument is a response to Luther's argument that it is resistance in the case of blasphemy or in the case of a political decision that invites us to renounce and deny our faith. In this text Calvin tries to hold a middle position between the need to obey political authority and the impossibility of obeying in all circumstances, he tries to place himself "on Luther's left".

He believes that Luther's dogma of non-resistance has no future and is erroneous, but he does not want to go as far as radical anarchists go.

"Yes" to the principle of resistance insofar as it is framed through intermediaries who are magistrates, "no" to revolt at all costs and to resistance in all circumstances.

Calvin is between Luther and the last group of Protestants who will say "yes" to resistance in any circumstance, the monarchomaques. Since Luther there has been a shift towards the right of resistance which is not yet affirmed as a right, but in Calvin as a possibility, political resistance will become a right with the third wave of reformers who will make resistance a real right, the monarchomachs.

The Monarchomachs[edit | edit source]

If we translate the term monarchomach it is literally "who is against magistrates". Monarchomachs will play an important role in defining the right of resistance that is so important in the concept of the state. If Luther and Calvin were more "lukewarm", if Calvin opened the possibility for resistance and civil disobedience, it is up to the monarchomachs to put forward a real political theory of resistance.

Why? Why is it that in the 1570s theories of resistance emerged?

There are contextual reasons: Luther wrote in 1520 - 1523, Calvin between 1520 - 1536, there are a number of events in the context that explains the turn and radicalisation of the Protestants; it is the context of the wars of religion.

From 1540 onwards in Europe, in the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, in France and to some extent in England, there were authentic wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants.

Representatives of the German estates at the Augsburg conference discuss the possibilities of a religious peace.

The reformed had to defend their faith, so they became politically radicalised; the religious wars in Germany were very important and ended in 1555, almost 20 years after the publication of Calvin's book, the Holy Roman Empire, which experienced these religious wars in a significant way, saw peace arrive in Augsburg, which sealed the fate of the Holy Roman Empire between the Protestant and Catholic states according to the principle "Cujus regio, ejus religio" which means "to each kingdom its own religion", this was tantamount to denouncing the following principle: one adopts the religion of the prince of the state in which one lives.

This is a confessional division in the Augsburg peace of 1555.

Like the Holy Roman Empire, England also experienced clashes between Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics from 1535 onwards; things calmed down from 1547 onwards and especially after the advent of Elizabeth I of England, who from the 1560s onwards appeased and protected Protestants and gave them rights.

From 1555 and 1560, Germany and England were more or less pacified with regard to the religious wars; an arrangement was made to live together and live one's faith.

The country that did not reach an agreement was France, which entered into a religious war from 1540, religious wars raged in France for 30 - 40 years, some regions came under the political domination of Protestants, others remained faithful to Catholicism.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre played an essential role in the emergence of monarchical theses.

We must remember the date of 1572, which is the date of the St Barthélémy massacre where Protestant dignitaries were assassinated by Catholic dignitaries, this massacre was to really panic the Protestant world, it is not for nothing that the monarchical works we are about to see were published.

It is necessary to resist the French monarchy which does not want to leave any rights to the Protestants, it is necessary to resist, starting from a religious resistance the monarchomacs will propose a political resistance. The monarchomachs in France from 1560 after the St Bartholomew's Day massacre - the French reformed - woke up and fought for their survival.

The monarchomacs who are theorists of the right of resistance are François Hotman who published in 1573, one year after Saint Barthélémy, "Franco-Gallia", Theodore de Bèze who published in 1574 "Du droit des magistrats sur leurs sujets", in 1579 it is supposed that it is a text signed by Junius Brutus and Hubert Languet who published a pamphlet entitled "Défense de la liberté contre les tyrants" (Defence of freedom against tyrants). Whether it was the Franco-Gallia, Du droit des magistrats sur leurs sujets and Défense de la liberté contre les tyrants, marked the thought of the monarchomachs and advanced the theory of the right of resistance..

The monarchomachs are radical reformed Protestants who want to defend the law.

The first remark is that these treaties do not have a democratic finality, we should not make the monarchomachs the first democrats of modern times, it is not a question of defending the sovereignty of the people, it is above all a question of defending the right to existence of the reformed faith and Protestantism, it is a question of religious survival, they have no political ambitions other than to defend the reformed religion.

It is a spiritual conflict that motivates the monarchs, not a political conflict; their intentions are not a priori political.

When they won their case with the Edict of Nantes of 1598, their claims faded because they had important religious guarantees; their motivation was essentially religious and not political, which does not mean that their theory will be instrumentalized in politics.

The second remark is that a certain number of ideas can be found among the monarchs:

  • they are all partisans of the idea that the government, whether it is a king or several people, cannot do everything, the government has made a contract with the governed; for the monarchomachs they have a vision of political power that is contractualized, the prince cannot do everything religiously and politically, he is bound by a contract that he has made with his governed.
  • a sovereign, prince, unworthy king who does not respect the terms of the contract, that is to say respect, justice and equity, can be deposed or overthrown; this idea is the possible resistance, some will even go as far as defending, like Junius Brutus, the idea that one can kill a king who does not respect a certain number of fundamental rules and who becomes a tyrant, they are partisans of tyrannicide.
  • Fundamentally, they base their arguments on the scholastic tradition. There are many scholastic arguments, that is to say, arguments that emphasise the importance of institutions and constitutions in the balance of power much more than on the virtues and qualities of rulers. Monarchomachists are not so much interested in whether a government has fears or not, but they are interested in creating a system that guarantees rights. Many of their arguments will be taken from 1648 onwards for the whole issue of minority rights, they will draw arguments that aim to guarantee constitutional rights to minorities.

The third remark is that basically they have a very traditional view of the word "people". In other words, the people, for a monarchomaque, is taken as a whole as a political body, as a legal person. It is a kind of community. In no case when a monarchomachist speaks of people, he thinks of autonomous individuals who think of themselves as a people.

François Hotman - Franco-Gallia, 1573[edit | edit source]

François Hotman.

There are four arguments that are indicative of the constitutional position of the monarchomachs.

When Hotman published "Franco-Gallia", a work that was a great success, he went back to the history of France to go against the idea that the king holds all the powers, when we read the French constitution we realize that the Frankish monarchy was elective, elected by bodies of the state, the dimension of the election was lost with time; the French monarchy must be based on the elective principle.

The second argument is that royal power in France has always been limited by a Public Council that represents the different elements of the kingdom's population, the States General. Hotman says that the king claims to have all the powers, but first of all the constitution does not say so and in the past there were institutions that limited the king's power.

The third argument is that when you read the French constitution, which at the time were the fundamental laws of the kingdom, you realise that the Public Council held the imperium, the real sovereign power, sovereignty was in fact not held by the king alone: the king's power was limited.

The fourth argument is that, basically, the king could not take important decisions about taxes, foreign policy, etc. without the approval of this Public Council; the picture Hotman paints is one that provoked a lot of criticism at the time from supporters of the law and centralised, monarchical power.

It proposes a radically different reading of the laws that the royal jurists were making. His work will make a lot of noise, it will challenge the authority of the king.

Basically, Hotman developed a theory of the supremacy of the intermediate body, which is in a way the ancestor of the theory of popular sovereignty.

To say that the king does not have sovereignty alone, but that it is within a council, an "assembly" that delegates some of its powers to the king is a new and innovative idea, especially a radical idea that runs counter to the dominant ideology of the French monarchy.

The king does not have all the powers and the king cannot do everything because the monarchy at the beginning was a monarchy limited in its power.

Théodore de Bèze - On the law of magistrates on their subjects, 1574[edit | edit source]

This text is a development of Calvin's draft on the right of resistance; in 1574 he published the magistrates' law, which was the first treatise defining the conditions for exercising the right of resistance.

His work is an authentic treatise on resistance, Theodore de Bèze is marked by Hotman.

Theodore de Bèze's starting point is first of all the affirmation that one must obey God and that all power comes from God, he turns this adage around.

If all power comes from God, this means that there are circumstances in which man must disobey human law in the very name of his fidelity to God; if all power comes from God, there are cases or situations in which man must disobey not divine law but human law. It is because God holds power that one can disobey a human power, one simply cannot disobey and resist it in any way.

His treatise on resistance is extremely marked, he defends two ideas that take up the theory of the contract in particular: firstly, there is a first idea that the tyrant by usurpation must be deposed, he distinguishes two forms of tyranny, he can be deposed and one must resist the legitimate tyrant, that is to say the one who has legitimately inherited the throne, but becomes a tyrant in the very exercise of power.

In France, the king's son succeeds the king, the legitimate tyrant is a tyrant who is legitimate in the sense that he has the right to reign, but becomes a tyrant in the very exercise of power.

Up to him a tyrant by usurpation could be deposed, but what is new with De Bèze is that a legitimately crowned king can also be deposed and can be resisted.

The second idea is that he cannot be resisted in any way, in Theodore de Bèze the intermediaries are the lower magistrates.

Théodore de Bèze is in favour of political resistance through the intermediary of the lower magistrates.

« This is therefore the origin of the republics and Potentates reported for good reason to God, who is not the author of all good. Homer's words were congealed and he wanted to put an end to this, calling the infant kings of Jupiter and shepherds of the peoples. »

From this point of view De Bèze is quite classical, all power comes from God. Nevertheless, he started his chapter with an important sentence.

« therefore that the peoples are not created for magistrates, but magistrates for the peoples. »

The roles must not be reversed, kings are there to serve the body politic and not the other way round, magistrates have duties towards the body politic.

« Everyone therefore confesses, when it comes to the duty of magistrates, that they can be admonished, or even, if need be, frankly reprimanded when they go astray from their office. But if it is a question of repressing or chastening, according to their own merits, the tyrants who are all manifest, then there are some who so recommend patience and prayers to God, that they call seditious, and condemn as false Christians all those who present their collars. »

It is a barely veiled criticism of Luther, he criticizes all those who want to resist or complain, some recommend patience and prayer to the point of saying that those who want to resist are wrong.

« This is a very slippery passage, and yet I would again ask the readers to remember what I said a little earlier, at the end not to draw the wrong conclusions from what I have to say on this point. I therefore praise Christian patience as a very recomendable virtue among other virtues, and recognise that it is necessary to encourage men in it, as being the one that takes away the prize of eternal bliss. I detest seditions and all confusion, as horrible monsters (...) I deny that for all this it is not lawful for oppressed peoples to use just remedies in conjunction with repentance and repentance; and these are the reasons on which I base myself. »

It is not true that we cannot resist, there are cases where we can resist and where we must resist.

On the other hand, the case and the king who has become a tyrant in the very exercise of his power, there are clearly cases where it is necessary and a duty to resist; one cannot simply take to the streets, De Bèze is a thought of order, which is why it is necessary to have recourse to intermediate magistrates who are the transmission belt between the political power and the body politic.

What is the duty of the submissive to the legitimate sovereign has become an overt tyrant, one must resort to the subordinate and inferior magistrates. It is the magistrates who are truly the receptacle of the people's resistance.

« I come now to the lower Magistrates, who are, as it were, in a subordinate degree, between the sovereign of the house of a King, and more likely to assign to a King than to a King's Kingdom, but those who hold public offices and the State, either in connection with the administration of Justice, or because of war, call for this cause in a monarchy Officers of the Crown, and more likely to assign to the King's Kingdom than to the King, being these two quite different things. »

The lower magistrate is the officer of the crown, it is the magistrate who represents the king, it is the representative of the king, it is not the prince or the high nobility, but it is a lower nobility and especially people who hold an important political position and represent the crown.

De Bèze goes further, he asserts an essential idea: if the lower magistrates are the channel through which the body politic can complain and resist the king's decisions, they are so because they are custodians of part of the sovereignty.

« they remain in their estates as they are, just as sovereignty also remains in its entirety (...) But from a cost, then that these inferior officers of the kingdom have received, by virtue of their sovereignty, the observation and maintenance of the ties between those who have been appointed to them, to which they are obliged by reason of the sage (from whom they cannot absolve them from the coupe of the one, (Who of the King became Tyrant, and manifestly transgresses the conditions under which he was received as King and under which he was sworn) is it not reasonable, by every divine and human right, that something should be permitted to such inferiors Magistrates for the duty of their oath and conversation of laws, more than to those who are at all deprived and without charge? »

Since they have a parcel of sovereignty, don't they have a role to play?

« I therefore say that, if they are reduced to such and such a necessity, they are bound (by force of arms if possible) to provide for the salvation of those in their charge against a manifest Tyranny. »

In certain circumstances even by the use of arms, lower or subordinate magistrates have a duty, even by the use of arms, to resist or even to lay down the legitimate tyrant, admittedly at first, but who gradually drifts away and whose power gradually becomes arbitrary and abusive.

The right to resist is recognised and even becomes a duty to resist for these inferior magistrates.

One author will go so far as to say that the right of resistance is a sacred right even if it costs the tyrant his life, another will say that one can kill the tyrant who takes advantage of the rules through arbitrariness, that is the last of the monarchomachs.

Theodore de Bèze had toppled and opened the way for the right of resistance by making it a duty where individuals go through lower magistrates to resist.

Luther clearly said no to resistance in politics, for Calvin in some cases only by opening the door to a series of exceptions, de Bèze said that resistance had to be resisted under specific conditions.

Junius Brutus' 1579 book Defending Freedom from Tyrants provides an understanding of the radical break in the right of resistance; this book is very important.

Junius Brutus - Defence of freedom against tyrants, Vindiciae contra tyrannos, 1579[edit | edit source]

This is the most popular work, the one that has had an echo as well, if not greater, than de Bèze's 1574 work of theory entitled On the Right of Magistrates over their Subjects. This work has been edited and republished 23 times, translated into seven languages, but above all it will be republished in vernacular languages such as English seven times, French six times, and German three times.

It is an anonymous pamphlet entitled Vindiciae contra tyrannos by Junius Brutus, which is in its form a classical work qualified as scholastic, it asks questions and gives very methodical answers; the monarchomach who is the author, either Hubert Languet or Du Plessis-Mornay, the Protestant who wrote it, adopts a very scholastic formula in the very construction of his pamphlet.

There are four such questions:

  • Do subjects have to obey a prince who orders something that goes against God's laws? Luther had already asked himself this question by deciding in the negative, but it is a question that monarchomachs ask themselves as well, and all supporters of reform will ask themselves this question.
  • Is it legitimate to resist a prince who deviates from the law of god?
  • Is it legitimate to resist a prince who oppresses the body politic or who shows authority and authoritarianism?
  • Can neighbouring monarchs come to the rescue of subjects and individuals tyrannized in their own country?

The answers are "no", "yes", "yes", "yes".

"No' to the first question, Junius Brutus is in the Lutheran and Calvinist tradition, 'yes' it is legitimate to resist a principle that deviates from God's law, 'yes' for Junius Brutus very clearly, and for the last question the answer is 'yes'.

The most interesting part of these questions is the last two more precisely; to ask the question and to say that it is legitimate to resist a prince who oppresses the state, and without mentioning a prince who violates the laws of God, shows that the theory of resistance and the principle of resistance in politics is a secular vision.

It is the first time in the history of philosophy and especially political philosophy that a secular theory does not justify resistance from the point of view of violating divine laws, but says that if I am not respected as a being it is possible to resist power.

To affirm this secular view, the word consent must be stressed; the monarchomach who writes this text defends a secular view of resistance and a view of political authority that is based on the consent of the body politic.

In other words, it is very clearly stated that a monarch is at the service of the political body whose power he holds, in a way the political body, the monarch is only the representative of the political body that has delegated power to him.

This view is important because for the first time in the history of thought there are actually political and legal theorists who affirm that the supreme political authority does not hold its power by any heredity, but holds its power above all by the consent of the political body that has delegated that power to it.

Imperium, or sovereignty, is not held by the monarchy, but by the political body that actually delegates the exercise of this sovereignty to the monarch.

Quite logically, the conclusion is indisputable: if the delegation of power is abused, then the one who inherited it can be killed; this text is an apology for the tyrannicide of political authority that has become a tyrant that can be eliminated by virtue of the founding principle of consent.

Junius Brutus moves from a right of resistance to a duty of resistance, it is an innovative work.

The fourth question opens the door to the internationalisation of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, to internationalise the struggle of the Calvinists who have to call on Protestant monarchs who could help them.

The two great powers in Europe in 1579 were England and the United Provinces freed from the Spanish yoke, which had become independent; the argument was very clear that if French Protestants were subject to arbitrary rule, it was their duty to call on a Protestant prince to help them.

« We have shown here that it is God who influences the Kings, who elects them, who gives them kingdoms. Now we say that it is the people who establish the kings, who put the kings in their hands, who put their fetters in their hands, and who by festive festivities approve their election. »

If all power comes from God, kings derive their power only from the body politic and by the consent of the people.

« Then from the confluence of all the pleople, Saul, known as the hiftoire, was named King. »

Saint Paul owes his appointment to the consent of the body politic.

« And that there never was a man, who was born with the crown on his head, & the sceptre in his hand, that no one can be king by faith nor rule without a people: & that on the contrary the people can be people fans king, & that it was a long time before there were kings, that all kings were first established by the people. »

It's a "pseudo-revolutionary" discourse, it's a sure thing that every king was established by the people.

« Now, what we say of all the people universally must also be understood, as was said in the second Question, by those who in any kingdom or city legitimately represent the body of the people, & who ordinarily call the Officers of the kingdom (...) the Officers of the kingdom, receiving their authority from the people, in the general assembly of the States. »

There is the idea of representation in politics that is affirmed here; the legitimate representatives of the body of the people are the officers of the people.

There is the draft of the idea of political representation:

« If the prince pursues, & does not care about the various admonitions which will have been made to him, then he is guilty of tyranny, & can one practice against him all that the law & a just violation permit against a tyrant. »

There is the affirmation of the right and duty of resistance.

« Further, we have proved that all Kings receive their Royal dignity from the hand of the people: that every people considered in one body is above & greater than the King: that the King is so much only first sovereign governor & servant of the Kingdom, whose master & true Lord is only the people. »

The sovereign is the people and because he is sovereign he can depose and kill the usurping king; all this vision is explained on pages 210, 211 and 212 where Junius Brutus will justify the need to kill the tyrant king. The sovereignty of the people is delegated in the person of the monarch who holds his power only by consent, which Rousseau calls the popular will.

This last monarchomach pamphlet had colossal repercussions, and with it ends the vast reflection since Luther on the conditions of resistance in politics.

With Junius Brutus ends the most radical vision of the right of resistance which has become a duty of resistance. The monarchomachs paved the way for a shift in the very idea of sovereignty; for Junius Brutus to say that kings hold the power of the will of the people is a capital and fundamental overthrow of political power. It is a more radical and ascending vision of power that is taking shape and which, together with the monarchomachs, and more precisely Theodore de Bèze and Junius Brutus, is imposing itself.

These works were to mark the minds causing a jolt in the conceptual order; it was up to one man to take back the reins and clarify this notion of sovereignty which had completely left royal power in order to find itself in the body politic, and that man was Jean Bodin.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

  • Teisseyre Charles. Le prince chrétien aux XVe et XVIe siècle, à travers les représentations de Charlemagne et de Saint Louis. In: Actes des congrès de la Société des historiens médiévistes de l'enseignement supérieur public. 8e congrès, Tours, 1977. L'historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. pp. 409-414.
  • Vindiciae contra tyrannos. (2016, mars 3). Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie libre. Page consultée le 09:11, avril 4, 2016 à partir de
  • Paul-Alexis Mellet. Les Traités Monarchomaques. Confusion des temps, résistance armée et monarchie parfaite (vers 1560-vers 1600).. Genève, Droz, pp.568, 2007, Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 434, 978-2-600-01139-6.
  • Belmessous, S. (2014). THE PARADOX OF AN EMPIRE BY TREATY. Empire by Treaty: Negotiating European Expansion, 1600-1900, 1.
  • Murray, A. H. (1956). Franco-Gallia of Francois Hotoman, The. Butterworths S. Afr. L. Rev., 100.
  • Johnston, R. P. (2005). Jean Jacques Burlamaqui and the theory of social contract. Historia Constitucional, (6), 331-374.
  • “How Do People Rebel? Mechanisms of Insurgent Alliance Formation.” The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,
  • BBC. (2018). The Thirty Years War, Germany, The Invention of... - BBC Radio 4. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Aug. 2018].
  • Université de Genève. “Calvin - Histoire Et Réception D'une Réforme.” Coursera,

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Alexis Keller - Wikipedia
  2. Alexis Keller - Faculté de droit - UNIGE
  3. Alexis Keller | International Center for Transitional Justice
  4. Rougemont (de), Denis. “Luther Et La Liberté (À Propos Du Traité Du Serf Arbitre).” Luther Et La Liberté (À Propos Du Traité Du Serf Arbitre)&;(Avril 1937);Foi Et Vie; Rougemont 2.0, Foi Et Vie (1928-1977), 1937,