Monday, September 15, 2014

Pierre Viret and the Regulative Principle of the State

Pierre Viret (1511-1571), Swiss Reformer, "the Angel of the Reformation"

God is the Source of Law and Justice

For Viret, God is the sole source of law by which rulers must govern:
For as it can only be God Himself who is able to give us such a perfect Law by which we are truly enabled to govern ourselves, likewise it is only He who can provide us with Princes and Magistrates, Pastors and Ministers gifted with the capacity of applying this Law.[1]  

Civil Law must be Based on God's Law in Scripture

Since God is the source of law, all just civil laws must conform to God's law: 
My aim in this volume [Instruction chretienne] has been to produce an exposition of the Law of God, Law which must be regarded as the rule for every other law through which men are to be directed and governed.[2]
There is not any law which could be considered just or holy, except in as far as it is conformed to the Law of God, and based on it. For it is the fountain from which all other laws must flow, like streams flowing from it as their source. Because God who gave it, is the Law himself, according to whose will is the only rule of justice.[3]

Indeed, the state must be regulated by God's law:
Consequently, in order that men do not undertake anything according to their own caprices, concerning such subjects, God himself has desired to give them a Law and standard, by which he has shown them, how they should regulate all their affections, and all their words, and all their works, in order to conform them to his will. For this same reason, he has declared to them in the Law, which things are right or wrong, and how they please or displease him, and how he can be honored or dishonored by them.[4] 
Naturally, then, we find Viret agreed with the Old Testament in prohibiting by law such sins as adultery, blasphemy, idolatry, and Sabbath-breaking.[5]

Robert T. Linder, summarizing Viret's position, holds that Viret considered those who did not legislate according to God's law as "wicked tyrants":

God’s plan for men included a peaceful and orderly existence and the state was the means whereby this kind of life was assured. The rulers of the secular state were to legislate in accordance with the Bible and fulfill the office outlined for them in the Scriptures. Viret had to make the civil authorities see that all justice and law emanated from the sovereign will of God and that they were the dispensers of God’s justice and law. If they did not do this, these secular authorities were considered “wicked tyrants” and in danger of the judgment of Almighty God.[6]
Viret, then, "differentiated a 'true kingdom' from a spurious one on the basis of whether or not the civil laws of the realm followed the written Law of God found in the Scriptures."[7] As such, he believed that all existing law codes must completely conform to Scripture: 
Viret stressed that in every instance the true Christian should subjugate the Justinian Code and all Roman Law to the Word of God.[8]


[1] Pierre Viret, Instruction chretienne en la doctrine de la Loy et de l'Evangile, Vol. 1 (Geneva, 1564), 249. Cited in Jean-Marc Berthoud, Pierre Viret: A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation, ed. R. A. Sheats (Tallahassee, FL: Zurich Publishing, 2010), 29.
[2] Viret, Instruction chretienne, 249. Cited in Ibid., 28.
[3] Viret, Instruction chretienne, 91. Cited in "Law of God," Pierre Viret Association (Tallahassee, FL). Retrieved July 28, 2014 from
[4] Viret, Instruction chretienne, 121. Cited in Ibid.
[5] Robert T. Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret (Droz, Geneva: 1964), 61. Cited in Berthoud, Pierre Viret: A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation, 33, 34.
[6] Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, 56. Cited in Ibid., 31.
[7] Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, 59. Cited in "Law of God," Pierre Viret Association.
[8] Linder, The Political Ideas of Pierre Viret, 61. Cited in Berthoud, Pierre Viret: A Forgotten Giant of the Reformation, 33.

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