29 May 2017

"Calvin and the Whigs" Part 1

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If the book's title doesn't grab you, how about the subtitle: "A Study in Historical Political Theology."? A potboiler it's not but Ruben Alvarado's latest book makes a significant contribution to answering the question of how, theo-politically speaking, the largely unified front of early-modern Christendom became modern Enlightenment secularism.  (For some observations about other writings by Alvarado go here and here.) For this Part 1 I'll summarize what I take to be Alvarado's principal argument through his chapter 4.

Augustine marks the headwaters for much of Western theology generally and political theology as well. Summarizing The City of GodAlvarado concludes that for Augustine:
There are two kinds of peace, temporal and eternal, which are intimately related in the purpose of God in history. The temporal [City of Man] receives a significance in the Christian life; it is neither useless nor dangerous, but rather is to be put to use in terms of the eternal end [of the City of God]. The fulfillment of such purpose demands an ordered life in society. ... The existence of coercive authority, dominium ... is therefore a part of God's divine order; it was, however, never a part of nature per se but rather a punishment for sin and a necessity for the preservation of order ...
In other words, both cities are legitimate even though only one is ultimate. The City of Man should be oriented to justice; justice is a good; therefore the City of Man is good. The City of God is oriented toward eternal blessedness in the presence of God; blessedness in the presence of God is the greatest Good; therefore the City of God is greater than the City of Man.

The concurrent relationship between the two cities roiled the West for nearly the next 1000 years before one was effectively ushered from the scene. The City of God appreciated a well-functioning earthly city in which to carry out its mission of evangelism and education. In turn, the City of Man needed the divine city to carry out its mission of educational discipline in the virtues of godliness, which would make civil governance much easier.

Both cities, Church and society, had its field of jurisdiction. The two jurisdictions overlapped but differed in ultimate aims. Each of course, represented as they were by real flesh-and-blood (read: sinful) leaders, wanted jurisdiction over the other but despite the best efforts of Popes, kings, and emperors, none achieved anything more than temporary and local victories.

This duality of jurisdiction in the West permitted space for the development of organic and corporate bodies. Over time these bodies--lower feudal authorities, freemen, cities, guilds, universities, etc.--wrangled sets of rights from political leaders higher up the chain (think: Magna Carta). It was, however--and this is a point to which Alvarado regularly returns--the disciplinary power of the Church (culminating in excommunication) that made these covenants enforceable and long-lasting., Thus from before and through the Middle Ages and beyond, oath-bound covenants represented the formal structure of European constitutionalism.

Nor did two-city/oath-bound covenantal constitutionalism disappear with the Reformation. The deeply Augustinian roots of the magisterial Reformers extended not only to much of their general theology, it included their fundamental approach to political theology as well.

Not surprisingly, John Calvin and those who followed in the Reformed tradition carried forward historically-formed Augustinian political constitutionalism. And it is at this point that Alvarado slows down and spends time on one of my favorite works of political theology, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos frequently attributed to French Huguenot author Philippe du Plessis Mornay. Often characterized as the "double covenant theory," I outlined it as follows for my students this past spring:

King and people promise: (i) that God will be their Lord, (ii) that God will be honored and served purely according to his will revealed in his Word, and (iii) to serve God before all things.
King promises: (i) he will reign to permit the people to serve God and to enforce obedience to God’s law, (ii) he will reign in accord with law of God, and (iii) he will keep the commandments in the book of the covenant

People promise: to obey the king while he rules uprightly.

Two matters should be noted. First, this double covenant account requires the intimate involvement of the civil ruler in what we think of today as "religion." And second, it incorporates a built-in means of of popular resistance to tyranny. Notwithstanding Catholic and Reformed agreement on the form of Augustinian constitutionalism, both matters became problematic for reasons Alvarado describes in succeeding chapters. Which I'll summarize in Part 2.

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