Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – The Sixteenth Century: Part 3

Huguenot View that Power of KIngs Limited and established by God for Benefit of the People; Constitutions established through the Will of the People

Goulart’s Memoires de l’Estat de France sous Charles IX, and the treatises Du Droit des Magistrats, the Dialogue d’Archon et de Politie and the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, all considered that humanity had an obligation to God to obey properly constituted political authority, and that normally rebellion against authority was a rebellion against God. Nevertheless, kings were bound both by natural law and the law of Scripture. Their authority is limited, and they were established by God for humanity’s benefit. The Vindiciae quotes the medieval maxim, ‘magistrates were created for the people and not the people for magistrates.’ 23 All forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, and all princes and magistrates were established by the consent of the people and it is through the will of the people that constitutions continue to exist. ‘Politie’ in the Dialogue even states that hereditary monarchs are to be regarded as elected by the people.

View Memoires that Monarchy was always Checked by a Parliament, and Duties between King and Subject Reciprocal

The Memoires states that there have never been a monarchy that did not also have a representative assembly to check the monarch’s power. As monarchs derived their power from the people, they held it subject to certain conditions and were thus required to fulfil their duties to their subjects, just as their subjects were required to obey and fulfil their duties to them. This view, that secular power was constrained by the ends for which it existed, was related to Gerson and Pierre d’Ailly’s view that the pope’s power was limited by the ends to which the Church existed.

View of Vindiciae that Power of Ruler based on Contracts and Covenants between Himself, God and His People

The Vindiciae furthermore followed Calvinist Covenant theology in expressing the relationship between God, people and the prince as a series of contracts and covenants. The prince in his contract with God bound himself to serve God and to ensure that the people also did so. The people also bound themselves before everything else to worship God properly. The prince and the people were responsible to God for each other. The prince would be held responsible if the people abandoned the worship of God, while the people are also responsible if the prince becomes a traitor. There was also a second contract by which the prince bound himself to rule justly and respect and maintain the rights of each one of his subjects. The people were bound to obey him so long as he did so. The moment he violated the contract, they could disobey and resist him.

View of Vindiciae that Subordinate Authorities in Country – the Inferior Magistrates – have Power delegated to them by the Sovereign People to Check Power of Monarchy

In fact the Vindiciae declared that the true lord of sovereign of a country were the people, and that tyrannous kings were thus traitors and rebels to the sovereign people. Private individuals, ordinary citizens, did not, however, have the right to rebel against an unjust monarch. This could only be done by the permanent political representatives of the people. In the Du Droit and the Vindiciae, these were the feudal aristocracy, who originally had been normal magistrates, the parlements and the estates-generals. As the people’s delegates, they shared sovereignty with the monarch and had a right to depose him. These aristocrats and officials constituted the inferior magistrates Calvin considered safeguarded the people’s rights and the contracts that formed the basis of society.

Huguenot View that Power to Resist Monarch not Matter of Majority Vote, but Magistrates also represented their Particular, Individuals Communities

These treatises did not consider that resistance or rebellion against a monarch could be achieved through a majority vote, which is one of the central tenets of contemporary democracy. Indeed the dialogue states that even if the majority of people support a tyrant, the minority still have a right to rebel. Nevertheless, they did believe that a magistrate appointed or acting for a particular community, such as the local estates-general for a province or a magistrate or group of magistrates for a city, could rightfully raise a rebellion as the proper representative of that province or city.

Huguenots Not Democrats, but Placed Kings Partly at Level of Ordinary People through Sharing Common Obligation to Fulfill Duties of Vocation to the Best of One’s Ability

The Huguenots were not democrats and had no intention of abolishing the traditional social hierarchy, and viewed the aristocracy, not the ordinary people, as the true guardians of the constitution and liberty against the power of the monarchy. Nevertheless, despite the view that kings were, like other forms of government, ordained by God, from whom they received their authority, the view that they had been established and had the powers limited by covenants removed the personal charisma that surrounded the monarchy and gave it part of its immense prestige and authority. Kings had occupied a divinely appointed position above their subjects in the cosmic hierarchy. While they still did so, the most important aspect of monarchy was simply how well they performed their duties as rulers. This was indeed a religious duty, but everyone also had a religious duty to perform their occupation well, regardless of their particular social position. In this way the king was thus placed on the same level as the rest of humanity, as another member of society required to perform the responsibilities of his occupation properly and well, albeit at a particularly exalted level of society. 24

View of French Roman Catholics that Royal Power Limited and that Political Authority held by Estates-General

French Roman Catholics also argued that the power of Crown was limited and that the people had a right, through constitutional institutions, to resist unjust legislation or depose the king as they attempted to defend Roman Catholicism against the spread of Calvinism, and particularly the possibility of the coronation of a Huguenot, such as Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV, as king. The Catholic League formed in 1576 included members who believed that estates-general had a constitutional role in government and shared sovereignty with the king. The League expressed this view of the political role and authority of the estates in its first declaration of 1575. The assembly of the estates at Blois in the same year also expressed their support for it. Thirteen years later in 1588 it was declared that the king should officially recognise the right of the citizens to resist by force any attempt at taxation that did not have the estates’ authorisation. The Miroir des Francais, published in 1581, stated that the estates had the power to depose the king if he acted unlawfully. A pamphlet published by the League in 1589 similarly declared that the king had to obey the estates just as the pope had to obey a general council. If the king refused to act according to the advice and wishes of the estates, he could be deposed.

View that People Possessed Right to Depose Unjust Kings

Many of the pamphlets written by the League to support their opposition to Henry of Navarre, stated that kings were established by the people for their welfare, and that sovereignty thus resided with them, rather than with the king. Thus, kings who acted unjustly and who threatened to harm the kingdom could be lawfully deposed. Some of the writers considered that the parlements had the power to do this, while others limited to the aristocracy and other government and legal officials. One of the major League writers, Jean Boucher, a doctor of theology at the University of Paris and Prior of the Sorbonne, in his De justa abdicatione Henrici tertii of 1589 argued that the people had the right to depose the king. In a volume of sermons, published in 1594, he stated that sovereignty resided with the people in the states-general. The French people had chosen to establish a monarchy as their particular form of government. Nevertheless, they retained the right to depose the king, and even to abolish the monarchy altogether. These rights were inalienable, and it was the estates-general who expressed the will of the people.

Ability of Community to Establish Form of Government it Wishes, and Limit Authority of Monarch

Similar views were expressed by the author of the book De Just Reipublicae of 1590. This stated that society and government had both arisen to satisfy human needs. The state had developed naturally, and communities had the ability to establish for themselves the form of government they considered most suitable. This ability, and the ability to elect and depose monarchs, was established by the nature of things as created by God and the rational nature of humanity. Kings and other magistrates were established according to human reason to perform certain functions, such as the protection of their subjects’ lives, property and their freedom. Kings did not possess a hereditary right to rule, and the people had the power to establish limits to the authority of the monarch, or even reject monarchy as a form of government. The book did not, however, state that sovereignty lay with the estates or any other institution or group. He did, however, state that once a king was declared to be a tyrant, anyone had the right to assassinate him.

View of Some Jesuits that Secular Authority Independent of Church, Delegated to King by People, who can Depose Heretic Prince

Some Jesuit writers such as Robert Bellarmine and Luis Molina also argued that secular authority was independent in origin from the church, having been established by the community for its benefit in this world. The king thus received his power from the people, and his authority was therefore limited and subject to certain conditions. People normally had an obligation to God to obey the prince, but this obligation did not exist if the king was a heretic. Furthermore, everyone, including the king, is equal in divine law and before the pope. Molina furthermore considered that the people had a right to depose the king as its delegate. This was done not by the pope, but by the state, although the state may be required to do so in accordance to a decision by the pope.

View of Jesuit de Mariana that Government Established by People in Remote Antiquity to Provide Security and Protection

The Spanish Jesuit, Juan de Mariana, who during his career was a lecturer at the universities of Paris and Rome, also believed in the sovereignty of the people and their right to depose tyrants and heretical princes. In his De Rege et Regis institutione, based on his studies of Spain’s history and constitution, he considered that government had similarly arisen in response to humanity’s primeval need for security and protection. Originally, humanity had lived in a state of nature very much like the animals. However, they formed groups and societies in order to protect themselves. In doing so, they recognised certain basic rights, such as the right to property. This, unfortunately, resulted in humanity, which had been relatively free of these evils in the past, becoming increasingly greedy, deceitful and treacherous, and requiring increasing levels of law to restrain and punish them.

View that Princes Granted Power Conditionally by Sovereign People, who Exercised Power through Govermental Assembly

Princes had originally been granted their power by the community. This grant of power was conditional, however, and continued to be made from day to day. He also considered that the community reserved to itself the right to levy taxes and pass legislation, and also possessed the right to establish the particular form of religion and the right of succession of a monarch in the state as fundamental and unalterable institutions. The community was only able to put its ability to pass legislation and raise taxes into action through a representative assembly, such as the estates. Although the estates shared their power with the king, ultimately authority and sovereignty lay with them as they represented the community and its will that first established the monarch.

Ability of Governmntal Assemblies and Private Individuals to Discern and Depose Tyrants

The people had a right to restrain by force, rebel against or even depose and kill a prince who exceeded the limits of his authority. He did not consider that private individuals had the right to do this on their own initiative, but that they should only do so when authorised by the representative assembly. Any king that acted against the decision and advice of the estates, or refused to allow them to meet, was a tyrant. Princes, who were revealed as tyrants either by their own actions or those of the estates, could be deposed and killed by private citizens. People naturally possessed the ability to discern tyrants, just as they naturally possessed the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Thus, although Mariana was a Jesuit who believed that the Church definitely had a power to direct political decisions, he also viewed the state as a product of the nature of humanity and justified by humanity’s need for it. He thus appears to have developed, with some qualifications, a conception of the secular, national state, based on earthly needs, such as those of peace and security, as a complete entity in its own right, independent of the church.

View of Scots Philosophers that KIngs’ Authority Delegated to them by Sovereign People, Who could Depose Them

The influential Scottish philosophers John Major and George Buchanan also believed that sovereignty lay with the people and that a king who overstepped the limits of his authority could be deposed by the estates. John Major was a historian as well as a philosopher, whose History of Great Britain was one of the great works of sixteenth century British history. His political philosophy was strongly based in medieval scholasticism. He considered that the sovereignty of the people was absolute, and that it was merely delegated to the king. Kings should not be given the power to raise taxes arbitrarily, except in times of special emergency. Those monarchs who ruled unjustly could, if they refused to be corrected, be deposed and executed. He believed that this could only be done by duly constituted authority, and not solely by acts of private violence. The estates, however, possessed at all times the authority to so act against a tyrant. Major stated in his History of Britain that these principles had always been a fundamental part of the Scottish constitution.

View of Buchanan that Primitive Humans formed Societies through Natural Law and Love of Company and Sense of Reciprocal Obligation Implanted by God

While Major’s views were derived from medieval philosophy, Buchanan was a Renaissance humanist. He lectured at Sainte Barbe and Le Moine in Paris and taught Latin at the universities of Bordeaux and Coimbra. His book, De Jure Regni apud Scotos, although published in 1578, appears to have been written much earlier, possibly before 1570, in order to justify the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots. Like Mariana, Buchanan believed that originally human existence had been extremely primitive without law, with people living either in huts or in caves, wandering about the earth. Humans started to form societies, not because of any feelings that such societies were useful, but because they were guided by natural law and the innate human inclination to form societies. God implanted in everyone a natural love of company and a sense of reciprocal obligation. In that sense, states and communities, for Buchanan, were founded by the Almighty. Of the various communities and associations humans form, he considered states to be the most pleasing to God.

Kings Established by Will of the People, who Impose Conditions on, and Can Depose Him

Kings were established solely for public purposes by the will of the people. The law nature prohibits any one individual from possessing power over another, so the people established kings by delegating their authority to them. Nevertheless, there were limits set to royal authority, Law was made by either a representative assembly or by the people themselves, possibly through a plebiscite, and the king was bound by it. As the king’s power is merely delegated to him by the people, he is responsible to them, and they can remove these powers from him when there is a good reason for doing so. Although monarchies are hereditary, this does not guarantee their power or right to rule, as they were granted this power through legislation passed by the people, which the people can also repeal. Kings were granted their authority through a contract between themselves and their subjects. If they broke this contract by not governing for the benefit of their people, or by claiming greater powers than those originally granted to them, then they were tyrants who could be justly deposed.

View that War against Tyranny the Most Just War, and that Political Decisions May Be Properly Settled through Majority Vote

Indeed, Buchanan regarded war against a tyrant to be the most just of wars, and considered that not only a tyrant’s oppressed subjects, but that every human had the right to kill them. Tyrants were criminals who should be punished like anyone else who broke the law. Unlike other contemporary political theorists, who believed that sovereignty lay with the people, but did not consider that political decisions could be decided simply by the majority, Buchanan did believe that the decision of the majority was sufficient to pass legislation as humans were never unanimous in their views. This view, that the majority can make decisions on behalf of the wider community, was one of the great practical political discoveries of the Middle Ages and has naturally been accepted by politicians. 25

Notes

  1. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 316.
  2. Koenigsberger and Mosse, Sixteenth Century, p. 279.
  3. Allen, History of Political Thought, p. 341.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Christianity and the Origins of Democracy – The Sixteenth Century: Part 3”

  1. suppose Says:

    Thank you. This is a very important study and I wish more could know of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: