Friday, October 17, 2014

Peter Martyr Vermigli and the Regulative Principle of the State

Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), Italian Theologian, "the International Reformer"

The Authority of the Judicial Law

In The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws of England of 1552, which Vermigli contributed to, blasphemy, idolatry, witchcraft, and adultery—all of which the Old Testament requires the state to punishare considered crimes.[1] For Vermigli, magistrates should not only punish offenses against the Second Table of the Law, but the First as well:
First, I said that the magistrate is the guardian of the divine law, which includes not only the second table, but the first also.  Therefore he is the guardian of both the one and the other.  I also mentioned the words of Augustine who said that both private men and kings should serve the Lord. It is written in the Psalms, When peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord. In another place, Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling. Augustine adds that a private man serves the Lord by confessing His name and living rightly.  This, however, is not sufficient for a king or magistrate.  He should  serve the Lord with his authority and power by punishing those who oppose Him.  Unless he does this, the magistrate appears to give his assent to blasphemy and heresy.  When the king sees and suffers these men, he joins himself to them and promotes their shameful acts.  When Nebuchadnezzar first came to know God, he proposed a decree promising capital punishment for those who should blaspheme against the God of Daniel.  Darius later made a similar decree.  Our magistrate should stamp out all idolatry, blasphemy and superstition. ... The law of God states that blasphemers should be put to death not by a private man or by priests, but by the magistrate. [Leviticus 24:16][2]
Note how in the last sentence, Vermigli, in discussing the death penalty for blasphemy, appeals to the judicial law as authoritative. Naturally, then, Martyr would say this about the execution of Servetus for his blasphemies:
I have nothing to say of him, except that he was the very son of the devil, whose pestilential and frightful doctrine should be everywhere hunted down; and that the magistrate who condemned him to death is not to be blamed, seeing that he gave no sign of improvement, and that his blasphemies were beyond endurance.[3]

The Sufficiency of the Word of God for Civil Rulers

Vermigli holds that God's word applies to all things in general, and to civil government in particular:
[T]he word of God is a common rule, whereby all things ought to be directed and tempered. For it teacheth in what manner the outward sword and public wealth ought to be governed: And generally also it showeth how all things ought to be done of all men. So Ambrose when as Theodosius the Emperor raged too cruelly and without all consideration against ye Thessalonians, persuaded him, that in all punishment of death, there should be xxx. days space after the sentence given, least the magistrate should do those things in a rage and fury, whereof although he afterward repented him, yet they might not be any more remedied. So, many Bishops oftentimes in things most weighty, used their authority, and many times either put away cruel wars, or else pacified them, and even while wars were in hand preached sermons out of the word of God. So that the Ecclesiastical power after this manner comprehendeth all things, because out of the word of God it findeth how to give counsel in all things. For there is nothing in the whole world whereunto the word of God extendeth not itself. Wherefore they are far deceived, which used to cry, what hath a preacher to do with the public weale? What hath he to do with wars? ... But let them tell me: when the minister of the word perceiveth the law of God to be violated in these things, why should he not reprehend them by the word of God? ... [T]he rule of either of them [civil and ecclesiastical powers] is to be taken out of the word of God ... [4] 
And so the English Puritan Thomas Edwards says that for Vermigli,
[I]n the law of Moses [is] the fountain of all punishments of wickedness against the second table, as of transgressions against the first; and therefore if the magistrates' punishing of murder, theft, adultery etc., for the taking away of evil from amongst the people, be an act of love to God and man, a vindication of the glory of God, then the punishing of blasphemy, idolatry, and such like for the taking away of the evil is an act of love to God and our neighbor.[5] 


[1] James C. Spalding, The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws of England, 1552 (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992), 82, 100, 130.
[2] Peter Martyr Vermigli, Of a Magistrate, and the Difference Between Civil and Ecclesiastical Power (1561) in W. J. Torrance Kirby, The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology (Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007), 116-17.
[3] Cited in Paul Henry, The Life and Times of John Calvin, the Great Reformer: Volume II, trans. Henry Stebbing (London: Whittaker and Co., 1849), 234.
[4] Cited in Peter Martyr VermigliThe Political Thought of Peter Martyr Vermigli: Selected Texts and Commentary, ed. Robert McCune Kingdon (Geneva, Switzerland: Librairie Droz, 1980), 33, 34. We have somewhat modernized the text.
[5] Thomas Edwards, The Casting Down of the Law Stronghold of Satan: A Treatise Against Toleration and Pretended Liberty of Conscience, 67.

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