Friday, April 24, 2009

Mr. Muehlenberg on the origin of the State

Unlike many Catholics, Mr. Bill Muehlenberg, a Protestant, is under no illusion as to the origin of the State, as is clear from this excerpt from a comment that he made at his blog:

Biblical Christians cannot argue for no government because God created the institution of the state.
(my emphasis)
Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Martyr, A.D. 2009


Anonymous said...

Pole, which verses of scripture are most relevant to this, do you think?

Cardinal Pole said...


For Scriptural support for the doctrine of the Divine origin of the State, you can't go past Romans 13: 1-7:


1 Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God. 2 Therefore, he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. 3 For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God's minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. 5 Wherefore be subject of necessity: not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. 6 For therefore also you pay tribute. For they are the ministers of God, serving unto this purpose. 7 Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honour, to whom honour.


In this excerpt, we see that the State is a creature and servant ("minister") of God, since it is the personification of the civic authority ("power") of which the quotation speaks; we also see that the directives of the State in carrying out the ministry thus described are binding in conscience (verse 5--unless the directives contravene the natural law, of course), and we also see a recapitulation of the principle of 'render unto Caesar'.

The only question remaining, then, is whether the State originated after mankind's forfeiture of original justice, or whether the State would have emerged even if original sin had not been contracted. If I recall correctly, it was the opinion of St. Augustine that the State ruled 'by reason of sin', that is, it owed its emergence to man's fall into original sin, without which there would have been no need for States to arise. (This might be an over-simplification of St. Augustine's opinion, though; I'm just working from memory). Other Christian thinkers, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, argued that the State was necessary by reason of man's social nature, regardless of whether or not original justice had been lost. This seems like the more probable opinion, since it was adopted by Leo XIII in his great treatises on socio-political doctrine, such as Immortale Dei and Libertas. Also, I seem to recall that in Christ, King of Nations, a catechism-style unofficial companion to Pius XI's Quas Primas, Fr. A. Philippe C.S.S.R. observes that the human race would have developed into States and nations even if original justice had never been lost.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to check this thread again, Pole. Thanks for such a full answer.

I had always been inclined to agree with Augustine re the State! I may review this in light of your mention of Leo XIII etc. Also, I'm not generally inclined to disagree with the Angelic Doctor!

Cardinal Pole said...

"Thanks for such a full answer."

You're welcome, Louise.

I was interested to read in the profile of St. Robert Bellarmine (a Doctor of the Church) to which I linked at the end of yesterday's post that he wrote something called De Laicis: Treatise on Civil Government, in which, so the profile says, St. Robert

"Took a fundamentally democratic position - authority originates with God, is vested in the people, who entrust it to fit rulers"

I would be interested to see how St. Robert argues that authority is 'vested in the people' (assuming that the profile gives an accurate description), particularly whether he thinks this follows necessarily from his first (and obviously correct) principle of authority's Divine origin. I might check out whether the treatise is available on-line.

Anonymous said...

So here's the real question - how does one so young know so much? Did you ingest encyclicals with mother's milk? I am amazed!

Cardinal Pole said...

"So here's the real question - how does one so young know so much?"

Ahh, you are too kind Louise. I just try to keep as well-informed as I can so as to be as effective as possible a defender of Our Lord and His Kingship and for my own spiritual development.

Cardinal Pole said...

... and the spiritual development of others too, of course.

Cardinal Pole said...

Louise, just before I go, I'll just let you know that I've found, via Wikipedia, an on-line edition of the Treatise on civil government:

I've had a quick look and it seems like a rich vein of Scriptural, Patristic and Magisterial teaching on the nature and origin of State authority. Particularly interesting is Chapter VII, which examines the question of the nature of State authority before and after the Fall:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pole. I'll check it out.

Also, if you read nothing else of GK Chesterton's do read "Orthodoxy" and "The Everlasting Man."

I shall probably put up some quotes on the blog soon.