Monday, July 16, 2012

Henry Bullinger on Magisterial Discretion when Restraining Heretics

But in the execution of this punishment there must a great consideration be had and observed; first, of the persons; then, of the errors; and, lastly, of the penalties.  For in persons there is great diversity: because there are some standard-bearers, and heady grand captains, which are stout, hypocrites, and full of tongue, and therefore the aptest for to seduce; who, falling headlong without amendment to their own destruction, do with themselves draw other[s] into danger.  They must by all means be bridled and kept under, as plagues to the church; lest, like a canker, they spread all over.  Again, there are some silly seduced souls, made fools by other men, which err not of malice nor stubborn stomach, but do repent and amend in time.  These the magistrate must not straightway condemn, but pray to the Lord, and bear with their error, and teach them in the spirit of gentleness, until they be brought to a better mind.

Moreover, in erroneous doctrines some are more intolerable than other some are.  Some there be so wicked and blasphemous, that they are unworthy to be heard, much less to be done.  Some there are which do directly and openly tend to the overthrow of the commonweal, unless they be in time appeased and resisted.  But those crimes that are brought in and accused, ought first to be by the scripture and manifest truth convinced to be such as they are said to be.  When the truth is known, and manifest proofs of scripture alleged, then is it lawful most sharply to punish those blasphemers of God and overthrowers of the church and commonweal.  But a light and easier penalty must be set on the heads of them whose offence consisteth in light and smaller errors: for some do err so, that by their error God is not blasphemed, the church not subverted, nor the commonweal in any danger at all.  Where, by the way, every one must think of that saying of the apostle: “Bear ye one another’s burden.”  And again: “The weak in faith received ye, not to the doubtfulness of questions.”

Furthermore, in punishment and penalties there is great difference.  They that err stubbornly, and do their endeavour to draw in and keep other men in their errors, blasphemers, troublers, and subverters of churches, may by law be put to death.  But it followeth not thereupon, that every one which erreth must therefore by and by suffer loss of his life. [...] And Josue, before he made open war to be proclaimed upon the children of Reuben, did first by embassage command them to dig down the altar, which they seemed to have made contrary to the law of the Lord.  The emperor Justinian also granted pardon to them which repented, and turned to a sounder opinion, Constitut. 109.  Moreover, Josias did not utterly kill all them that were wrapped in error and idolatry, but those especially that were incurable, and would not recant.  The magistrate therefore must wisely moderate the matter, and be very circumspect in punishing offenders.

Henry Bullinger, Fifty godly and learned sermons divided into the five decades containing the chief and principal points of Christian religion, ed. Thomas Harding (1849-52 Parker edn; 4 vols, Grand Rapids, 2004), i, 360-2.

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