Friday, July 18, 2014

Theodore Beza and the Regulative Principle of the State

Theodore Beza (1519-1605), Huguenot Theologian, Calvin's Successor

Beza Advocates the Judicial Law

For Theodore Beza, the judicial law binds all civil magistrates. As H. M. Baird summarizes, Beza held to
the precepts given by the Lord in the Old Testament to slay without pity the introducer of strange gods, the false prophet, the blasphemer, and the profaner of the Sabbath. Such commands, he said, have never been repealed. The Mosaic Law remains in force, with the exception of the ceremonial part. Of the other two divisions, the Decalogue or Moral Law, being an accurate transcript of the Natural Law, in which man’s conscience agrees with the unchanging will of God, cannot suffer destruction before nature itself perishes, but abides the certain rule of right and wrong for all nations and for all ages. The third division of the Mosaic Law, the judicial, is also of universal obligation, insofar as its precepts do not relate to one people alone, nor punish the violation of ceremonies now abolished by the Gospel, but embrace that code of general equity which should everywhere prevail.[1]
And so, Beza states:
In fine, I do not hesitate to affirm that those princes do their duty who adopt as examples for their own imitation these [judicial] laws of God, by establishing, if not the very same kind of penalty, yet certainly the very same measure of penalty, and who, as against factious apostates, enact some form of capital punishment for horrible blasphemy and crime. For the majesty of God should be held to be of such moment among all men, through the everlasting ages, that, whoever scoffs at it, because he scoffs at the very Author of life, most justly deserves to be put to death by violence. This I say, this I cry aloud, relying upon the truth of God and the testimony of conscience. Let my opponents shout until they are hoarse that we are savage, cruel, inhuman, bloodthirsty. Yet shall the truth conquer and show at length that those deserve these epithets who, in their preposterous or insincere zeal for clemency, suffer the wolves to fatten upon the life of the sheep rather than do their duty in vindicating the majesty of God.[2]

Magistrates should not go beyond the law of Moses

Not only did Beza affirm the abiding validity of the judicial law, but, according to V. Norskov Olsen, magistrates were not authorized to go beyond it:
Having stated that the laws of divorce must be sought in the word of God alone, Beza asks two questions whose answers are implicit in his previous statements. First, "But I ask whether, if at the universal forum of conscience, there can by human laws be any excuse for straying one iota outside the word of God." Next, "Whether in fact it can be right for the magistrates in anything to go beyond the law of Moses?" Beza realizes that Bishops of old did not oppose the imperial laws, and that many during his own time favored these laws, but in the light of his exegesis his own opinion is: "It is not a question as to what was done, but what should be done."[3] 
See also our section on the Second Helvetic Confession.


[1] Henry Martyn Baird, Theodore Beza: The Counsellor of the French Reformation, 1519-1605 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1899), 68.

[2] Cited in Ibid., 68, 69.
[3] V. Norskov Olsen, John Foxe and the Elizabethan Church (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973), 208.


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