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Monarchist and democratic Christian perspectives preceding and subsequent to the reformation: a survey of selected authors.


As the flaws of democratic forms of government come to the forefront of political thought in recent years, (1) the natural question for Christians is whether their faith either mandates or prefers any particular form of government. In the early years of Christianity, Christians knew monarchy and little else in matters of government. In contemporary Christendom, Christian thinkers are most familiar with popular forms of government, ranging from constitutional monarchy to democratic republicanism to forms verging on direct democracy. To question the common form of government in one's day is generally unpopular. Thus, the centuries preceding and following the Reformation are a source of much interesting dialogue as they reveal a clash between Christian ideologies, including Christian perspectives about the proper form of government.

Part II examines the works of Sir Robert Filmer and Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, while Part III surveys the writings of Marsilius of Padua and John Ponet. Part IV evaluates and critiques each of the aforementioned authors, and Part V summarizes my conclusions.


1. Sir Robert Filmer

Sir Robert Filmer (c. A.D. 1588-1653) was an English philosopher who promoted the concept of absolute monarchy in his work, Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings. In addition to whatever attention the work's merits have attracted, Filmer's thought is also well-known for serving as John Locke's philosophical target in the first of his Two Treatises of Government, as fully explained by the rest of the first treatise's full title: The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown.

Filmer begins his polemic against democracy boldly, attacking the principle that "[m]ankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom from all Subjection, and at liberty to cho[o]se what Form of Government it please." (2) He claims that, despite the principle's popularity among academics and church figures, it is neither supported by the early Church Fathers nor in accordance with Scripture, ancient monarchical practice, or natural law. (3) He objects to it on grounds of both theology and pragmatism. (4) Filmer notes that a dangerous consequence of the idea of popular sovereignty is that it undermines the authority of kings. (5)

In objecting to popular sovereignty, Filmer makes theological, natural law, historical, and practical arguments for monarchy. Filmer's thesis is fairly simple:
   [i]t is true, all Kings be not the Natural Parents of
   their Subjects, yet they all either are, or are to be reputed
   the next Heirs to those first Progenitors, who
   were at first the Natural Parents of the whole People,
   and in their Right succeed to the Exercise of
   Supreme Jurisdiction; and such Heirs are not only
   Lords of their own Children, but also of their Brethren,
   and all others that were subject to their Fathers ... (6)

It is clear that Filmer's point relies heavily on the proposition that monarchical power is derived from patriarchal authority, as it existed under the Patriarchal Dispensation described in the book of Genesis.

However, since Genesis is not primarily a prescriptive text, but is instead descriptive, most, if not all, of Filmer's arguments from Scripture are based on inductive reasoning. This inductive approach extends to Filmer's treatment of other Old Testament historical books that discuss the Israelite monarchy.

For example, Filmer states that, by creating humanity from one man, God showed a natural preference for rule by one man. (7) Apparently thinking of the original command to Adam, "[f]ill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth," (8) Filmer writes, "[t]his Lordship which Adam by Command had over the whole World, and by Right descending from him the Patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the Absolutest Dominion of any Monarch which hath been since the Creation." (9) Indeed:
   Adam and the Patriarchs had Absolute power of
   Life and Death, of Peace and War, and the like,
   within their Houses or Families; [therefore they are
   at least] ... Kings of their Houses or Families; and
   if they be so by the Law of Nature, what Liberty
   will be left to their Children to dispose of? (10)

He notes that the patriarchs did not receive their paternal authority from their children, i.e., by consent of the governed. (11) Making an etymological argument, Filmer states that "the Hebrew Word for a Family ... is derived from a Word that signifies a Head, a Prince, or Lord ..." (12) Filmer even argues that to this day there is a single heir to the throne of Adam, one who is ostensibly entitled to wear the crown of all humanity. (13) However, since humanity has forgotten who that heir is, "the Kingly Power escheats in such cases to the Princes and independent Heads of Families: for every Kingdom is resolved into those parts whereof at first it was made." (14)

In later Biblical history, as the text begins to describe the beginnings of the Israelite monarchy, Filmer continues to find scriptural support for monarchy. Similar to Bossuet later, Filmer notes that even when Israel begged God for a king, they already had a King: God Himself. (15) As opposed to the view that Israel was a democracy that chose a king for itself, Filmer argues that Israel was a monarchy in which the people petitioned their King for another king. Significantly, Israel did not ask God that they be allowed to choose their own king, but instead asked that He choose their king for them. (16) In respect to those accounts in the Biblical narrative in which it is said that Israel "set up" a man as king, Filmer draws a distinction between a ceremonial coronation and an actual selection of a king. He states that the people of Israel had the authority to do the former, but not the latter. (17) In Filmer's view, Israel was never a democracy in which the people necessarily consented to their government, but a divinely sanctioned absolute monarchy.

Perhaps Filmer's strongest argument against democracy is rooted in his understanding of human nature. "[T]he Nature of all People is[] to desire Liberty without Restraint ..." (18) And majority rule is not wise because "the Wicked and Vicious [are] still the Greatest Part of the People." (19) The "[l]iberty without Restraint" that the people desire is only possible "where the Wicked bear rule." (20) On the off chance that wise, good men would be placed in office, Filmer thinks that they would eventually prevent the wicked from taking office and essentially establish a kind of aristocracy of the wise. (21) Therefore, in Filmer's view, a democracy results in either wicked, unrestrained chaos, or a non-democratic polity ruled by a wise aristocracy. Either way, democracy is to be eschewed.

Filmer is also skeptical of the "social contract" theory of government. He rhetorically asks where this social contract is that either elects one leader of the human race or designates a division of the people into separate polities. (22) He questions whether natural law states that a majority can make decisions for the minority. (23) If not, each individual governed must consent to grant authority to the government, and silent acquiescence to government is not consent, or every ruler could be said to have been "elected." (24) (Of course, Filmer does not believe that the consent of the governed is necessary for legitimacy; he is simply taking the social contract theory to its logical conclusion.) Filmer makes the point that even if the people do have a "contract" with the king, there is no human authority to judge a breach of that contract because the king is the ultimate judge in the kingdom. (25)

Not even the positive law limits the power of a king, according to Filmer, because "Kingly Power is by the Law of God, so it hath no inferiour Law to limit it." (26) Only God's Law has primacy to the king's law: "[w]e must obey where the Commandment of God is not hind[e]red; there is no other Law but God's Law to hinder our Obedience." (27) Just as a father has a duty to do his best to care for his family, so a king has a duty to keep the kingdom safe, but abrogation of either duty (paternal or royal) does not give rise (at the time of Filmer's writing) to a cause of action against the one in authority. (28) Filmer states that the only remedy an oppressed people might seek is in "crying and praying unto God," (29) referencing Samuel's words to the Israelites after they asked for a king. (30) Lord Bracton is quoted approvingly for the proposition that one should not even question the actions of the king. (31)

Lest a democrat or similarly-minded person make the argument that Romans 13 upholds obedience to the law rather than the king, Filmer scathingly replies that:
   [i]t is not the Law that is the Minister of God, or
   that carries the Sword, but the Ruler or Magistrate;
   so they that say the Law governs the Kingdom, may
   as well say that the Carpenters Rule builds an
   House, and not the Carpenter; for the Law is but the
   Rule or Instrument of the Ruler. (32)

Instead, positive laws exist only for the convenience of the monarch, so that the kingdom can be rightly ordered when he is not available to make his will known (for example, when he is away at war or otherwise preoccupied). (33) If the king's command contradicts the law of the land, the king's command takes priority. (34)

Clearly, Sir Filmer's thought represents a strong absolutist position that emphasizes the power and autonomy of kings and the foolishness of populist forms of government. Filmer's position is rooted in a notion that the authority the patriarchs held in Genesis has been passed down patrilineally, and monarchy is based on that authority. Additionally, Filmer's argument is based on a very negative view of human nature, a view based both in human experience and the Biblical teaching of man's fallen state. A more moderate position is found in the writings of the next author surveyed, Jacques-Benigne Bossuet. Bossuet will only indicate a Biblical preference for monarchy, based on examples Bossuet sees in Scripture that approve of both monarchy and other forms of government.

2. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (A.D. 1627-1704) was a French Roman Catholic clergyman who served as tutor to the French Dauphin Louis of France, eldest son of Louis XIV. (35) It was for his young student that he wrote the first six books of Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Scripture. (36) In this work, Bossuet makes theological and practical arguments for monarchy.

Like Filmer, Bossuet finds support for his pro-monarchy argument in inductive reasoning from the Old Testament. However, his focus is on the example found under the Mosaic Dispensation rather than the Patriarchal Dispensation. Bossuet views the nation-state of ancient Israel as the "finest and justest polity that ever was," because "the legislator was God Himself." (37) Taking ancient Israel as his model, Bossuet then derives principles for modern government.

Bossuet takes a more moderate position than Filmer, as he does not claim that monarchy is the only proper form of human government. In his argument from Scripture, he notes that "we see in several places in Scripture that authority can be located in community." (38) In particular, Bossuet views Israel as being, for a time, a "republic" with God as its king. (39) (Apparently, despite God's kingship over Israel, Bossuet still considers it to have been a republic while it had no human king.) Lest an overzealous reader in a non-monarchy be convinced of the righteousness of monarchy and seek to set up such a government, Bossuet admonishes that "one must keep to the form of government which he finds established in his country." (40) Such acquiescence is based on the principle that "God is a God of peace who wants tranquility in human affairs." (41) Bossuet appears to have in mind Paul's teachings that "God is not a God of confusion but of peace ... all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner," (42) and that Christians should pray for secular authorities "so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (43)

Regardless of the form of government, Bossuet calls upon the people to behave patriotically and be supportive of their government. (44) He points to the example of Jesus Christ himself, who did not interfere with the authority of civil rulers, as well as the examples of the apostles and the early church, who were submissive to government and patriotic within the bounds of faith. (45)

However, "royal and hereditary [authority] is the most proper for government." (46) First and foremost, Bossuet points out that in the ultimate scheme of things, God Himself is a King. (47) God acted as King of the world beginning with Adam and as late as David and Solomon. (48) Since God portrays Himself as King in Scripture, Bossuet reasons that monarchy is thus the most divine form of government. Perhaps anticipating the argument that Christianity is innately egalitarian and democratic because all human beings are God's subjects, (49) Bossuet stresses the fact that despite humanity's common brotherhood and requisite duty to love one another, this love does not diminish the respect owed to kings. (50)

Second, echoing Filmer, Bossuet claims that human authority originated with paternal authority. He divides kingdoms into two types: those which originated from consent of the people and those which were established by force. (51) However, those that originated in the people's consent still arose out of an understanding of original paternal authority. (52) Emphasizing the naturalness of monarchy, Bossuet notes that "men are all born subjects: and the paternal empire, which accustoms them to obey, accustoms them at the same time to have only one leader." (53) Interestingly, according to Bossuet, those kingdoms established by force can be legitimized by the consent of the people conquered. (54)

In contrast to Filmer, Bossuet is much more amenable to the concept of law as a "covenant and solemn treaty" (essentially, a form of social contract). However, he does not go so far as to require the consent of the people to make the law authoritative. (55) He notes that God did not need the permission of Israel in order to establish His authority, but their "express and voluntary covenant" does render their obedience "more solemn, and more firm." (56) A covenant between king and people is not necessary to legitimize the king's authority, but it does provide another strong reason for them to obey him.

But the existence of a covenant or social contract between king and people does not entail a right to sue upon that contract. According to Bossuet, the person of the king is sacred, because his authority and power are from God. (57) "Even if rulers do not acquit themselves of this duty [to punish the evildoer and praise the good], one must respect in them their charge and [] ministry." (58) Here, Bossuet is referring to Peter's teaching that Christians should "submit [them]selves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right." (59) Because the king's authority is God-given, he must use it only for the public good. (60) Bossuet interprets the public good to include giving the subjects "perfect liberty" (defined as freedom "from all oppression and all violence") and protecting private property. (61) However, if the king fails to use his power correctly, the people still do not have any legal or moral cause of action. The king is not accountable to any human being for his actions, (62) nor does he have a co-equal. (63) Though the king is subject to the law, he is not subject to its penalties. (64) Indeed, he must not fear the people; (65) instead, he shall only fear God, (66) for "No power can escape the hands of God." (67)

One reason that the people are not allowed to bring legal (or violent) process against the king is because the king is assumed to have a greater understanding than the subject about governmental affairs and policies. (68) Instead of trying to circumvent or negate the king's authority, subjects should obey without complaining, since "murmuring shows a disposition to sedition." (69) The only case in which the king's commands are to be disobeyed is when something in them "seems to conflict with the commandments of God." (70) But generally, not even persecution by the king permits the subject to disobey. (71) When oppressed, the people may remonstrate respectfully to the king. (72) Their only other remedy is to seek divine intervention by praying to God for the ruler's conversion. (73)

Bossuet thus downplays the public role of the people in government, while at the same time taking a more moderate view as to the Biblical design for government. For Bossuet, monarchy is preferable, but not mandatory, because in Scripture he sees that when God sets up a government for His people, God chooses monarchy. However, Bossuet also recognizes other passages in Scripture that would indicate that other forms of government, including popular forms, are acceptable to the divine will. Bossuet is not willing to condemn what God does not, so he is thus unable to state a categorical imperative in favor of monarchy.


The democratic or populist perspectives examined below immediately distinguish themselves from the monarchist sources above by their focus on reasoning from natural law rather than Scripture. This is not to say that their reasoning lacks theological elements, but that they make fewer arguments directly from the Biblical text.

1. Marsilius of Padua

Marsilius of Padua (c. A.D. 1287-c. 1343) (74) was an Italian Roman Catholic scholar whose major work of political theory is titled Defensor Pads ("The Defender of Peace"). (75) In this work, Marsilius presents a relatively early Christian argument for democracy. Though initially surprising, Marsilius' democracy is better understood when one realizes his historical context. The Padua in which Marsilius was born had been a free commune since 1183. (76) As a free commune, Padua, like other city-states in northern Italy of that time, was governed by a system of councils and other elected officials. (77) With this background in mind, it is easy to see why Marsilius would be open to promoting popular forms of government.

According to Marsilius:
   [T]he legislator, or the primary and proper efficient
   cause of the law, is the people or the whole body of
   citizens, or the weightier part thereof, through its
   election or will expressed by words in the general
   assembly of the citizens, commanding or determining
   that something be done or omitted with regard
   to human civil acts, under a temporal pain or punishment. (78)

Marsilius's, determination that the people are the ultimate repository of political authority is ultimately rooted in his positive understanding of human nature. He states that "all or most [citizens] are of sound mind and reason and have a right desire for the polity and for the things necessary for it to endure, like laws and other statutes or customs." (79) On the other hand, only a minority will be such as should not govern. This fact is illustrated by his characterization of dissent from the majority opinion as stemming either from "malice" or "ignorance." Explaining why law cannot be subject to the will of the entire people, instead taking its authority from a majority, Marsilius writes, "[i]t is difficult or impossible for all persons to agree upon one decision, because some men have a deformed nature, disagreeing with the common decision through singular malice or ignorance." (80) In the end, dissent is "unreasonable," and "The common benefit should not ... be impeded or neglected because of the unreasonable protest or opposition of these men." (81)

Not only does Marsilius think that the majority are good-willed, reasonable people, but he also thinks that together they are excellent judges of truth and utility "That at which the entire body of the citizens aims intellectually and emotionally is more certainly judged as to its truth and more diligently noted as to its common utility." (82) At the root of this proposition are the principles that "[e]very whole, or at least every corporeal whole, is greater in mass and in virtue than any part of it taken separately," and "no one knowingly harms himself." (83) Marsilius thinks that it will be clear to the multitude whether a law serves special interests or tends to serve the common good. (84)

Again, Marsilius admits that a portion of the polity will be incapable of making proper decisions for the commonweal, but this "vicious and undiscerning" minority is not of too much concern to him. (85) Interestingly, the majority rule contemplated by Marsilius does take into account the quality of the citizenry, as he writes, "[b]y the 'weightier part' [of the body of citizens, the efficient cause of civil law], I mean to take into consideration the quantity and quality of the persons in that community." (86) (How such determinations of quality will be made is not a topic on which Marsilius elaborates.) Though perhaps not much can be done for the 'vicious,' Marsilius has hope that the "undiscerning" or ignorant citizen could be educated so that he "would judge about [legislative] matters equally as well as, or even better than, the few who are more learned." (87) "Although not every citizen nor the greater number of the citizens be discoverers of the laws, yet every citizen can judge of what has been discovered and proposed to him by someone else, and can discern what must be added, subtracted, or changed." (88)

Marsilius approves of both direct democracy and more representative forms of government.
   [The people] is the legislator regardless of whether it makes the
   law directly by itself or entrusts the making of it to some person
   or persons, who are not and cannot be the legislator in the
   absolute sense, but only in a relative sense and for a particular
   time and in accordance with the authority of the primary
   legislator. (89)

This political authority is merely delegated, not surrendered. The ruler is an instrument of the people, and he must govern "in accordance with the form which the legislator has given to him." (90) In contrast to the origins of some of the "people's republics" in the age of communism, Marsilius would not say a single vote by the people at a single point in time authorizes any one form of government in perpetuity. Instead, "[b]y the same authority [of the people] must the laws and other things established through election undergo addition, subtraction, complete change, interpretation or suspension, insofar as the exigencies of time or place or other circumstances make any such action opportune for the common benefit." (91) For Marsilius, government can only maintain its legitimacy as long as it possesses the mandate of the people.

According to Marsilius, the corollary of the power to elect is the power to correct and depose: "[T]o the legislator similarly belongs the power to make any correction of the ruler and even to depose him, if this be expedient for the common benefit." (92) Marsilius recognizes the fallibility of the individual human ruler. "[S]ince the ruler is a human being, he has understanding and appetite ... as a result of which he comes to do the contraries of the things determined by the law." (93) The ruler himself is subject to the law. (94) Thus, "the ruler is rendered measurable by someone else who has the authority to measure or regulate him, or his unlawful actions, in accordance with the law." (95) That authority to correct is either exercised by the people acting collectively or by individuals appointed by the people for that purpose. (96) Though Marsilius assumes that the people will appoint an official who will correct or remove the errant ruler from his office, he does not rule out the possibility that the people may have to take more drastic steps to depose the ruler for the common good. The object of subjecting the ruler to the law is the prevention of despotism. (97)

Thus, Marsilius shows himself to have a strong confidence in human nature's tendency toward good, a principle with expansive theological implications. Without this positive view of human nature, Marsilius cannot assume that the majority of a commonwealth's citizens will generally make the right choices in governing the polity. At the same time, Marsilius' optimism betrays particular views concerning sin and man's fallen nature, views that may minimize the significance of these theological realities. In contrast to Marsilius, John Ponet takes man's sinfulness and fallen nature very seriously, as seen below.

2. John Ponet

John Ponet (c. A.D. 1514-1556) was an English Protestant clergyman who attacked the divine right of kings in a tract entitled A Short Treatise of Political Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kings and Other Civil Governors, with an Exhortation to All True Natural Englishmen. (98)

Despite his populist tendencies, Ponet is no Christian anarchist, as he concedes that man is in need of external, human government. Though Ponet works from a natural law perspective, with the attendant emphasis on the ability of human reason, he acknowledges that since man's reason has been corrupted by the fall of man in Genesis 3, he is not able to rule himself and requires "a more excellent governor." (99) Despite a prudential preference for the "mixed state" (in which "king, nobility, and the people" govern together), Ponet claims that all states tend toward the maintenance of justice and the common good. (100)

Ponet traces the origin of political power to God's institution of the death penalty (executed by humans) in Genesis 9, and extrapolates from that grant of power the authority to make more laws. (101) (Unfortunately, Ponet does not go into detail about how he arrives at this conclusion of a general grant of power.) Despite this grant of political power, the divine law is still a higher standard by which "all men's laws [are] discerned, whether they be just or unjust, godly or wicked." (102) According to Ponet, God's law does not mandate a particular governmental structure, instead leaving that determination to the "discretion of the people to make so many [rulers] and so few as they think necessary for the maintenance of the state." (103)

In Ponet's thought, the discretion of the people does not reach its conclusion in choosing the form of government. Instead, their mandate is necessary as the ruler or rulers continue to govern. Ponet's position is based in Scripture, natural reason, and principles of agency law. Kings are not the political power themselves, but are simply "executors of God's power and men's just ordinances." (104) Rulers are "ordained for the people." (105) To the student of Scripture, these words are reminiscent of Paul's doctrine of government found in Romans, that:
   [T]here is no authority except from God, and those which exist are
   established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed
   the ordinance of God .... It is a minister of God to you for good
   .... It does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister
   of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices
   evil.... Rulers are servants of God. (106)

The command of Peter, speaks similarly, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right." (107)

The natural law and agency law roots of Ponet's political theory are best seen in his words concerning the proper course when rulers fail to rule properly. It should be noted that, unlike many monarchist authors, Ponet holds that kings are not "exempt[] from [the laws], but ... bound[] to be subject and obedient unto them." (108) In a very egalitarian sentiment, Ponet claims that otherwise the ruler "take[s] away that equality ... whereby commonwealths be maintained." (109) Since the people ultimately hold political power due to the divine grant in Genesis 9, the king or rulers hold their power in trust. (110) When they abuse that power, the people may "take away [what] they gave." (111) Ponet points to the legal examples of proxies and powers of attorney, which may be revoked at the will of the giver, especially when such powers are abused. (112) Without citing Scripture, Ponet claims that just as God has ordained magistrates to adjudicate and punish, so He wills that the magistrates be held accountable, corrected, and punished "by the body of the whole congregation or commonwealth." (113)

Ponet's most striking (though by no means inevitable) conclusion is that "it is lawful to kill a tyrant." (114) To make his point, he appeals to a law of nature that tells "every man's conscience that it is natural to cut away an incurable member, which (being suffered) would destroy the whole body." (115) Though rulers are "the chief members [of the political body] ... they are but members." (116) In this argument one also finds a hint of the Apostle Paul's doctrine concerning the church's reaction to unrepentant erring Christians: "Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump.... Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." (117)

In case any overly zealous reader rush to assassinate a disliked ruler, Ponet does significantly circumscribe the circumstances in which a tyrant may be killed, writing:
   [I]t cannot be maintained by God's word that any
   private man may kill, except, where execution of
   just punishment upon tyrants, idolaters, and treacherous
   governors is either by the whole state utterly
   neglected, or the prince with the nobility and council
   conspire the subversion or alteration of their
   country and people, any private man have some
   special inward commandment or surely proved motion
   of God ... or be otherwise commanded or
   permitted by common authority upon just occasion
   and common necessity to kill. (118)

Ponet thus indicates a serious preference that any tyrant be punished by some other portion of the state, not by vigilante "justice." The four exceptions to this preference for legal procedure are complete failure to act on the part of the other branches of government, conspiracy at all levels of government, direct divine command, and scenarios in which the private man would be allowed to act within the bounds of the law (say, in self-defense or defense of another). (119)

Thus, while Marsilius finds support for his democratic position in his positive view of human nature, Ponet's populism is rooted in a realistic recognition of man's fallen nature. Because man's sinful nature cannot be trusted, rulers are not the political authority themselves, but mere stewards of divine authority. When they abuse that power, the people, either working through other elected authorities or, in rare cases, individual vigilantes must check them.


As this paper begins to evaluate the four authors analyzed above, it will be assumed that any evaluation of a Christian theological perspective must be based on two factors, one subordinate to the other. (It is realized that persons of other religious perspectives may very well have different theological commitments that would necessitate different evaluations.) The first factor is the degree to which the perspective evaluated is congruent with Scripture. The second factor is the overall quality of the reasoning that supports the perspective evaluated. Naturally, the second factor is subordinated to the first in the sense that clear Scriptural doctrine should take precedence over the evaluator's personal sense of what is "reasonable." (This is not to say that Scripture is ever truly unreasonable; it is simply not always clear to the human mind what makes a particular doctrine reasonable.) (120) Thus, where Scripture is ambiguous on a particular point, this paper will evaluate a Christian theological perspective by its reasonableness in light of the general context of Scripture as well as human experience. With these standards in mind, this paper moves to an evaluation of the selected authors.

1. Monarchists

The monarchist authors, Sir Robert Filmer and Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, immediately stand out to the reader for their profuse use of Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Though they differ in their degrees of support for their general position (that monarchy is superior to popular forms of government), both look to the Old Testament for models and principles for contemporary government. Their use of Scripture and resulting arguments are convincing to varying degrees.

a. Sir Robert Filmer

Sir Filmer's reasoning from Scripture is honestly disappointing. His inductive reasoning from the book of Genesis is especially troubling because he falls into a variant of the is-ought fallacy that one might call the "was-should be" fallacy. In other words, Filmer looks to the Patriarchal Dispensation, and not only does he assume that Moses' description of that dispensation was one of approval, but also that that manner of government is somehow a model for contemporary government. This hermeneutic leaves something to be desired. In addition, Filmer's claim that there is a single heir to the world's throne (whom humanity has just forgotten) appears somewhat fanciful. At least one can credit Filmer with consistency. If the patriarchal authority of Adam is hereditary, passing to the eldest of his sons, and so on, then it would be true that only one heir exists. Of course, Filmer has an explanation for the current scenario as well, that until the true heir is remembered, his power has devolved upon the heads of the individual "families" (peoples) of the world, the princes of which often claimed royal lineage from Adam in Filmer's day.

As Filmer moves on to the Mosaic Dispensation and the Israelite united kingdom, his argument does become somewhat stronger. His point is well taken that of all the forms of government Israel might have had, God saw fit to give them a monarchy, whether the king was God Himself, as in the early days of the Israelite nation-state ("You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests"), (121) or a human king, such as the one requested by the Israelites in First Samuel 8. Interestingly, even before God appointed a human king for Israel, He had made provision in His law for such a king. (122) It is certainly more reasonable to assume at least the preferred status of monarchy when one sees it was the divine standard for God's people in the Old Testament. At the same time, most Christians would acknowledge that the Old Law was intended to be temporary, as Paul teaches in his Epistle to the Galatians. (123) The current wisdom of monarchy from a Biblical perspective is thus somewhat ambiguous. The underlying question is, "when God acts in the Old Testament (or even in the New), how does one know whether God is expressing the eternal divine will for humanity or just acting with the current historical context and circumstances in mind?" If this question could be answered satisfactorily, the inductive arguments used by Filmer and Bossuet could be more easily evaluated.

As stated above, Filmer's strongest argument for monarchy is not found in his inductive reasoning from the Biblical narrative, but instead in his understanding of human nature--that most human beings desire unrestrained liberty and thus are more likely to appoint a government that allows that kind of freedom. (124) Scripture supports this view of humanity. For example, Paul in the Epistle to the Romans quotes from several Old Testament passages attesting to the sinful nature of man: "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one." (125) In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded, "[y]ou shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice." (126) Christ warned, "[e]nter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (127) These are all Biblical statements that warn that often the majority is simply wrong. This is a strong argument against democracy, but in the end it may be more practical than theological.

Likely the most difficult aspect of Filmer's argument is its categorical nature. Without more unambiguous statements in Scripture about God's desire for government in the New Covenant, one is in dangerous intellectual territory when one claims that monarchy is the only legitimate form of government.

b. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

Compared to Filmer, Bossuet is certainly more convincing in both his hermeneutic and his general reasoning. He avoids Filmer's mistake of trying to reason from the somewhat vague description of the Patriarchal Dispensation, instead focusing on the description of the Israelite nation-state as support for the proposition that monarchy is preferable. Again, this makes more sense because it is a reasonable assumption that a form of government endorsed by God Himself is a good or even superior form of government. Also noteworthy is Bossuet's point that God portrays Himself as King of humanity. God could choose to style Himself in some other way, but He has chosen to reveal Himself as a King. This may give the Christian insight into God's desire for human government.

On the other hand, since God is exponentially greater than any human being, perhaps the appropriate conclusion is that expressed in the words of some, "No King But Jesus!" In addition, if one assumes that God's portrayal of Himself in a particular role creates an imperative binding on humans, does it not follow that, since God portrays Himself as a Father, (128) every man must have children? Christians recognize from Scripture that such is not the case, so the "God portrays himself as X, therefore X is required" argument loses much of its force. It is very possible that God portrays Himself in a manner meant to make sense to the original audience in its historical context, as alluded to earlier. When the historical context does not include well-known examples of popular government, it would likely be confusing to an audience to hear God refer to Himself as "President" or "Chairman."

At the same time, few reasonable believers would argue that God portrays Himself in inherently evil or bad roles. This author has been asked whether God's portrayal of Himself as master and the Christian as a slave (129) is an indication of God's will that men enslave other men. This author's response is that while Scripture obviously condemns certain practices that sometimes accompany slavery, (130) it does not categorically condemn slavery itself--God apparently chose to regulate it rather than abolish it. (131) Therefore, God's portrayal of Himself as a master of slaves is not problematic in relation to the argument discussed here. The end result is at the very least a conclusion that monarchy is not an inherently wrong form of government from a Christian perspective, and prudential considerations may very well tend to favor monarchy.

Bossuet is also more palatable than Filmer, because he refuses to make a categorical statement that monarchy is the only divinely sanctioned form of government. Instead, he only states a Scriptural preference for it. In stating that the subject or citizen should not try to change the form of government under which he is born, Bossuet echoes the practice of the Early Church, which prayed for earthly rulers while avoiding significant political involvement. The Early Church was certainly not politically revolutionary (in the sense of attempting to change the very form of human government).

Overall, Bossuet makes a well-reasoned Biblical argument for monarchy. Though counter-arguments that attack the basis of his inductive reasoning are well taken, I do not believe that they are sufficiently strong to negate a conclusion that monarchy is viewed favorably in Scripture. On the other hand, it is not quite clear how practical Bossuet's work is for the average reader, since he discourages any attempts to establish a monarchy where one does not exist. But that is likely beside the point, since in the end Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Scripture was not written for subjects or citizens but for a future king.

2. Democrats

One of the most noticeable contrasts between the two camps analyzed here is that the democratic authors, Marsilius and Ponet, use very few direct references to Scripture as compared to the monarchists above. This does not discount the theological nature of their arguments, but it must be realized that the democrats rely much more heavily upon natural law theory, relying on reason and their own conceptions of justice.

a. Marsilius of Padua

Marsilius of Padua's strong populism is surprising from a historical perspective, because the democratic perspective is more generally associated with Protestant thinkers living during and in the wake of the Reformation (though earlier this author noted that Marsilius' unique political and geographic context make the origins of his ideas easier to understand). But Marsilius is just as radical of a populist as his Protestant comrade-in-thought, John Ponet.

With his constant talk of "efficient causes," Marsilius instantly shows himself to be a natural law theorist in the same vein as Aristotle and Aquinas. If one idea of Marsilius directly implicates theology, it is his view of the nature of man. While it is almost certain that Marsilius, as a Roman Catholic scholar, would have believed in the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the doctrine of Original Sin, his understanding of human nature is surprisingly positive. Not only does he believe that mankind is generally able to make learned judgments about the quality of proposed laws, but he believes that most men are men of good will. This is interesting in light of Biblical passages such as Romans 3:10-12 and Matthew 7:13, referenced above, which indicate very negative views about the choices of the majority of mankind. The only Scriptural explanation of Marsilius' understanding of humanity is if one assumes that he is thinking only in terms of a citizenry that is primarily Christian. Thus, the theoretical majority are living lives of Christian regeneration, "walking] in the light as He Himself is in the light." (132) Perhaps a people that is "walking] in newness of life" would act as Marsilius claims. (133) The problem with this explanation is that Marsilius makes no such qualification of his theory.

Even if Marsilius had made such a qualification, a Christian's righteousness as he "walks in the light" is no guarantee that he is an excellent judge of complex statutory schemes or political candidates who may not be entirely transparent about their ulterior motives. Put simply, Marsilius not only assumes that the majority of the polity is good but that it is intelligent and knowledgeable. Human experience tends to make one skeptical of such claims. Therefore, Marsilius' argument for popular sovereignty is not convincing.

b. John Ponet

Unlike Marsilius, John Ponet attempts to use Scripture to justify his claim that ultimate political authority resides in the people. He acknowledges that man's reason has been corrupted by the Fall, thus preventing an argument like Marsilius' that the people should rule simply because the majority are good. Instead, he claims that in Genesis 9, when God commands the death penalty, God thus gave mankind political authority in general. (134) The problem with this argument is simply that the conclusion does not follow from the Scriptural premise. In Genesis 9:5-6, God commanded Noah and his sons, "Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." Nowhere in the chapter of Genesis is there a grant of political authority. This appears to be a simple command to use the death penalty in cases of homicide. Ponet's theological argument for popular sovereignty depends on this one argument from Genesis 9, and that argument does not hold up under even casual scrutiny.

Based on the preceding analysis of the four authors above, Bossuet appears the most reasonable and faithful to Scripture. While Filmer's zeal is admirable, his exegesis and hermeneutic simply assumes too much from the text of Genesis. However, his evaluation of humanity, in general, appears to be correct in that democracy is essentially government by a generally selfish majority. It is true that monarchy may often be ruled by a selfish king, but it is more probable that one man, a king, will be righteous than a majority of any polity will be righteous. In addition, kings (both righteous and unrighteous) always die, but the majority of citizens will almost always be unrighteous. So an unrighteous king will die, possibly to make way for a righteous king, but an unrighteous majority will rarely give way in death to a righteous majority.

When Bossuet writes later, his greatest contribution to this discussion is a look at the Bible's treatment of monarchy. Though his arguments from God's portrayal of Himself as Monarch and God's choice of monarchy for His people Israel are not conclusive, they are quite persuasive. Again, at the very least, they indicate that Scripture does not condemn monarchy and that lack of condemnation, in addition to prudential arguments against popular government, may very well carry the day for monarchy.

At the same time, Marsilius and Ponet fail to make persuasive arguments for popular government. Their general failure to appeal to Scripture is an immediate red flag to an evaluator using the standards of evaluation described above. (135) Appeals to reason can be persuasive, but when contrary arguments can be made from both Scripture and reason, mere appeals to human logic are found lacking. In addition, Marsilius' rosy view of humanity immediately makes one wonder how detached from reality Marsilius is, considering all of the selfishness and ignorance one sees in human beings. While Ponet concedes the reality of human wickedness, his conclusions fall short as well. Apart from his bad argument from Genesis 9, his sole justification for tyrannicide is found in a "natural law" that one ought to amputate gangrenous limbs.

In light of the failure of Marsilius and Ponet to make sound Christian arguments for popular government, Filmer's mixed theological and prudential argument, combined with Bossuet's insights into Scripture's treatment of monarchy, convince this author that, according to Scripture, monarchy is preferable to democracy. Like Bossuet, this author cannot declare monarchy a categorical imperative from a Christian perspective, but we should not be as quick to dismiss monarchy as a viable form of government as we American Christians often are.


Both the monarchist and the democratic authors face significant difficulties in making Christian theological arguments for their preferred forms of government. The monarchists tend to use inductive reasoning from the Old Testament, which is questionable, especially as they sometimes stretch the Scripture beyond recognition. The democratic authors surveyed have difficulty finding textual support in the Bible for their position as well. Likely the best argument made among the four authors analyzed here is that made by Bossuet: that monarchy is preferable but not mandatory from a Christian perspective.

(1) See, e.g., Glen Harlan Reynolds, Is Democracy Like Sex, 48 Vand. L. Rev. 1635 (1995) (arguing that making the current system "more democratic" may only increase the influence of special interests); Kimon Valaskakis, The Perils of "Dumb " Democracy, 13 Widener L. Rev. 295 (2007) (conceding that "like every human endeavor, democracy is imperfect and, when misapplied or incorrectly interpreted, can be saddled with flaws and weaknesses").

(2) Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings, 2 (1680),

(3) Id. at 3.

(4) Id.

(5) Id. at 4.

(6) Id. at 19.

(7) Filmer, supra note 2, at 49.

(8) Genesis 1:28 (NASB Version).

(9) Filmer, supra note 2, at 13.

(10) Id. at 35.

(11) Id. at 26-21.

(12) Id. at 34.

(13) Id. at 20-21.

(14) Filmer, supra note 2, at 21.

(15) Id. at 51.

(16) Id. at 52.

(17) Id. at 46.

(18) Id at 62.

(19) Filmer, supra note 2, at 62. 20

(20) Id

(21) id.

(22) Id. at 42^3.

(23) Id. at 45.

(24) Filmer, supra note 2, at 45-46.

(25) Id at 12-13.

(26) Id at 78.

(27) Filmer, supra note 2, at 86.

(28) Id at 78-79.

(29) Id. at 81.

(30) 1 Samuel 8:18 ("Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves") (NASB Version).

(31) Filmer, supra note 2, at 87.

(32) Id. at 88-89.

(33) Id. at 92-93.

(34) Id. at 97-98.

(35) Patrick Riley, Jacque-Benigne Bossuet, Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Scripture, in Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Bossuet Politics Drawn From the Very Words of Holy Scripture, lxix, lxix-lxx (Cambridge Univ. Press 1990).

(36) Id. at xiii-xiv.

(37) Id. at 1.

(38) Id. at 45-46.

(39) Id. at 46.

(40) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 52.

(41) Id. at 55.

(42) 1 Corinthians 14:33,40 (NASB Version).

(43) 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NASB Version).

(44) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 31-36.

(45) Id.

(46) Id. at 39.

(47) Id.

(48) Id. at 40-41.

(49) See, e.g., Michael W. McConnell et al, Old Liberalism, New Liberalism, and People of Faith, in Christian Perspectives ON Legal Thought 5, 15 (Yale University 2001).

(50) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 5.

(51) Id. at 43-44.

(52) Id at 44.

(53) Id. at 47.

(54) Id. at 44.

(55) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 21.

(56) Id. at 22.

(57) Id. at 57-59.

(58) Id. at 60.

(59) 1 Peter 2:13-14 (NASB Version).

(60) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 61-62.

(61) Id at 264.

(62) Id. at 81.

(63) Id. at 83.

(64) Id. at 85-86.

(65) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 100-01.

(66) Id. at 87-88.

(67) Id. at 251.

(68) Id. at 167-168.

(69) Id. at 168.

(70) Bossuet, supra note 35, at 175.

(71) Id. at 179-81.

(72) Id. at 181.

(73) Id.

(74) Frank Godthart, The Life of Marsilius of Padua, in A Companion to Marsilius of Padua 13,15, 55 (Gerson Moreno-Riano and Cary J. Nederman eds., 2012).

(75) Id. at 14-16.

(76) Francesco Maiolo, Medieval Sovereignty: Marsilius of Padua and Bartolous of Saxoferrato 161 (2007).

(77) Annabel Brett, Introduction to Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of the Peace xi, xiii (Annabel Brett ed., 2005).

(78) Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pads, in From Irenaeus to Grotius: a Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 427,432 (Oliver O'Donovan and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan eds., 1999).

(79) Id at 433.

(80) Id. at 432.

(81) Id.

(82) Id. at 433.

(83) Marsilius, supra note 78, at 433.

(84) Id.

(85) Id.

(86) Id. at 432 (emphasis added).

(87) Id. at 434.

(88) Marsilius, supra note 78, at 433.

(89) Id. at 432.

(90) Id. at 435.

(91) Id. at 432.

(92) Id. at 434.

(93) Marsilius, supra note 78, at 435.

(94) Id. at 436.

(95) Id. at 435.

(96) Id.

(97) Id. at 435.

(98) John Ponet, A Short Treatise of Political Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kings and Other Civil Governors, with an Exhortation to All True Natural Englishmen, in From Irenaeus to Grotius: a Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 696,696 (Oliver O'Donovan and Joan Lockwood O'Donovan eds., 1999).

(99) Id. at 696-697.

(100) Id. at 699.

(101) Id at 698.

(102) Id at 697.

(103) Ponet, supra note 98, at 698 (emphasis added).

(104) Id. at 699.

(105) Id. at 700.

(106) Romans 13:1-2, 4, 6 (NASB Version).

(107) 1 Peter 2:13-14 (NASB Version).

(108) Ponet, supra note 98, at 699.

(109) Id.

(110) Id. at 700.

(111) Id.

(112) Id.

(113) Ponet, supra note 98, at 700.

(114) Id.

(115) Id.

(116) Id.

(117) 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, 13 (NASB Version).

(118) Ponet, supra note 98, at 701.

(119) Id.

(120) See Isaiah 55:8 (NASB Version).

(121) Exodus 19:6 (NASB Version).

(122) Deuteronomy 17:14-19 (NASB Version) (predicting the Israelites' future desire for a king and setting forth laws to restrain the king in his personal life, foreign policy, and spirituality).

(123) Galatians 4:1-7 (NASB Version).

(124) Filmer, supra note 2, at 62.

(125) Romans 3:10-12 (NASB Version).

(126) Exodus 23:2 (NASB Version).

(127) Matthew 7:13 (NASB Version).

(128) Galatians 4:6 (NASB Version).

(129) 1 Corinthians 7:22 (NASB Version).

(130) See, e.g., 1 Timothy 1:10 (NASB Version) (condemning "kidnappers").

(131) See, e.g., Ephesians 6:5-9 (NASB Version) (commanding slaves to obey masters and commanding masters to abstain from threatening).

(132) 1 John 1:7 (NASB Version).

(133) Romans 6:4 (NASB Version).

(134) Ponet, supra note 98, at 698.

(135) Ponet's one major reference to Scripture is an abject failure, as mentioned above.
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Author:Gee, Todd W.
Publication:Faulkner Law Review
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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