Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Clash Over the Judicial Laws of Moses in England in the 1570s

The debate over theonomy was heated during the 1570s, where English Prelates clashed with Puritans for holding that rulers are only authorized to rule by the judicial laws of Moses. 

The Puritan Thomas Cartwright was in the middle of this, whose advocacy of the regulative principle of the state we've already discussed. According to a one Bishop Sandys, this was the position of a number of Puritans. Kenneth L. Parker summarizes the situation:

While [John] Whitgift and [Thomas] Cartwright agreed that the moral law endured and the ceremonial law was abrogated, they clashed over the application of Old Testament judicial laws and penalties in English society. … Whitgift argued that these laws were established by God for one nation in a particular time and place. They did not bind the Christian magistrate or limit his power to make laws and assign penalties. The seventh of the 39 Articles affirmed that 'the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites do no bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth.' But in the 1570s, Cartwright and others objected to this teaching. Bishop Sandys of London complained to Bullinger in August 1573 that 'foolish young men' were disturbing the peace of the Church, and outlined their presbyterian programme. Among the points of contention was that 'the judicial laws of Moses are binding upon christian princes, and they ought not in the slightest degree to depart from them.'[1]
While Cartwright claimed that some parts of the judicial law were limited to the Jews, he denied that 'any magistrate can save the life of blasphemers, contemptuous and stubborn idolaters, murderers, adulterers, incestuous persons, and such like, which God by his judicial law hath commanded to be put to death.' [2]  The death penalty also applied to sabbath-breakers. Humphrey Roberts complained that 'if one do steal, or comit murder, the laws of the Realm doth punish with death. But for Idolatry, swearing, and breaking the Sabbath day, there is no punishment. And yet, the same God which said: Thou shalt not steal, said also … Thou shalt remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.' [3] While Charles George dismissed this adherence to the judicial laws as 'one of Carthwright’s wildest anachronisms'this view attracted a surprising number of adherents and influenced the legal codes in the colonies.[4]


[1] Hastings Robinson, ed., The Zurich Letters (Cambridge, 1842), pp. 295-6.
[2] John Whitgift, Works, volume 1 (Cambridge, 1851), p. 270.
[3] Humphrey Roberts, An Earnest Complaint of Divers Vain, Wicked, and Abused Exercises, Now Commonly Practised on the Sabbath Day (London, 1572), sig.B2V.
[4] Kenneth L. Parker, The English Sabbath: A Study of Doctrine and Discipline from the Reformation to the Civil War (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 57-58.

No comments: