Monday, July 14, 2014

John Wycliffe and the Regulative Principle of the State

John Wycliffe (1320-1384), pre-Reformation reformer, "the Morning Star of the Reformation"

Scripture as the basis for all civil law

Wycliffe says the following about God's law:
[R]egalian rights of the king and all human laws of the king should be directed by the law of God.[1]
[I]t is clear that the king is to rule the men of his realm according to the divine law.[2]
The Law of Christ, when perfectly executed, teaches most rightfully how every injustice must be extirpated from the commonwealth, and how those offending against the law should be chastised.[3]

Note that Wycliffe requires all civil laws to conform to God's law—everything from the prohibitions to the actual punishments. It seems hard to make the case that Wycliffe refers to natural law instead of Scripture, as natural law is not nearly perspicuous enough for one to discern a detailed ethical blueprint for civil government regarding prohibitions and punishments. And so Bernard Capp writes: 
Wyclif attacked the profiteering lawyers and argued that men were not bound to obey laws not based on scripture. He condemned the view that 'sinful men's laws, full of error, be more needful than the gospel.'[4] 
(There are some who use the term "gospel" both narrowly and broadly, with the former having to do with salvation in Christ, and the latter—as Wycliffe here uses it—to mean all of Scripture.)


[1] William Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974), 76.
[2] Johannes Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, eds. Reginald Lane Poole and Johann Loserth (4 vols; London: 1885-1904), 188. Cited in Ibid., 76.
[3] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, I, 432. Cited in Howard Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 33.
[4] Bernard Capp, The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study in Seventeenth-Century English Millenarianism (Faber & Faber, 2012) (no page number given, being part of a Google Books preview). The followers of Wycliffe known as the Lollards shared Wycliffe's high view of biblical civil law. In regards to advocating the Mosaic civil code, "The Lollards had held a number of views similar to the Fifth Monarchists. ... The chronicler, Henry of Knighton, claimed that the cry 'Legem dei, Goddis lawe', was the watchword of the Lollard movement." Ibid.


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