Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Theonomy in the Early English Reformers: John Wycliffe and William Tyndale on a Ruler's Duties

John Wycliffe standing trial for charges of heresy by the Catholic church. Wycliffe
understood, however, that in a biblical society, the tyranny of popery would
be suppressed, as rulers are "to defend the law of God, to protect the servants
of Christ and to subdue the ministers of the Antichrist." -- John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe (1320-1384) and William Tyndale (1490?-1536) were two of England's earliest and most influential reformers. Both men penned translations of the Bible in English. Tyndale was a well-known figure (and martyr) of the Protestant Reformation, and while Wycliffe predated the reformation, he planted seeds for it and is considered the Reformation's "morning star." 

Consistent with their knowledge and high view of God's word, Wycliffe and Tyndale believed that even civil rulers are under God's authority. They understood that there is no neutrality: it is either theonomy or autonomy, God's justice or man's injustice. As the following quotes show, for them, God must be honored, His law enforced, the church defended, and heresies suppressed. 


Rulers and Honoring God
"The king is but a servant,
to execute the law of God,
and not to rule after his
own imagination."
-- William Tyndale

John Wycliffe:
Rulers should guide subjects to the honor of God
In his explication of the royal function, [Wycliffe] noted that the king should guide his subjects with prudence and circumspection to the "honor of God and the welfare of the realm and of himself."[1]

John Wycliffe:
Rulers should oppose those who dishonor God
It is not in the power of the prince to concede that which should turn to the injury of God, the destruction of the realm or the enervation of the regalian rights and laws through which he should rule his realm.[2]

John Wycliffe:
Kings should compel people to placate God
The king ought to compel the people to placate God.[3]

William Tyndale:
Civil rulers dishonor God by compelling subjects to disobey God; subjects dishonor God by seeing rulers as more than servants:
[I]f the officer, abusing his power, compel the subject to do that which God forbiddeth, or to leave undone that which God commandeth, so he dishonoureth God in withdrawing his servant from him, and maketh an idol of his own lusts, in that he honoureth them above God; and he dishonoureth his brother in that he abuseth him, contrary unto the right use which God hath created him for, and Christ hath bought him for, which is to wait on God's commandments. ... [I]f any subject think any otherwise of the officer (though he be an emperor) than that he is but a servant only, to minister the office indifferently, he dishonoureth the office, and God that ordained it. So that all men, whatsoever degree they be of, are every man in his room servants to other, as the hand serveth the foot, and every member one another.[4] 

Rulers and God's Law

John Wycliffe:
Rulers are to defend God's law
[T]his office is to defend the law of God, to protect the servants of Christ and to subdue the ministers of the Antichrist.[5] 

John Wycliffe:
God's law is to direct all civil laws
[R]egalian rights of the king and all human laws of the king should be directed by the law of God.[6]

"No one without wisdom is suitable
for ruling, but there is no wisdom,
unless in the law of the Lord.
Therefore, without knowledge of
this law, no one is disposed
for ruling." -- John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe:
As ministers of God, rulers must rule according to God's law

As a minister of God,
it is clear that the king is to rule the men of his realm according to the divine law.[7]

John Wycliffe:
Elements of a theocratic king's justice 

The king should, firstly, 
found just laws consonant with the law of God; secondly, he should destroy those laws contrary to God's; thirdly, he ought to compel the people to placate God; and fourthly, this theocratic king ought to appoint the secular branch to pacify his people. In these four elements consists the justice of the king.[8]

John Wycliffe:
Christ's law teaches how to punish criminals
The Law of Christ, when perfectly executed, teaches most rightfully how every injustice must be extirpated from the commonwealth, and how those offending against the law should be chastised.[9]

John Wycliffe:
Qualified rulers are knowledgeable of God's law
No one without wisdom is suitable for ruling, but there is no wisdom, unless in the law of the Lord. Therefore, without knowledge of this law, no one is disposed for ruling.[10]

William Tyndale:
The King's Law must be God's Law
[T]he Law is God's, and not the king's. The king is but a servant, to execute the law of God, and not to rule after his own imagination.[11]
[The king's] law is God's law, and nothing but the law of nature and natural equity, which God graved in the hearts of men.[12]

William Tyndale:
God commands rulers to rule impartially
[A]s God maketh the king head over his realm, even so giveth he him commandment to execute the laws upon all men indifferently.[13]

Rulers are to help the Church

John Wycliffe:
Rulers are to protect Christians
[T]his office is to defend the law of God, to protect the servants of Christ and to subdue the ministers of the Antichrist.[14]

John Wycliffe:
Rulers should not dominate subjects, but work for their spiritual improvement, which helps the church
[A] lord ought not treat his subjects in a way other than he would rationally wish to be treated in similar circumstances; the Christian lord should not desire subjects for love of dominating, but for the correction and spiritual improvement of his subjects, and so to the efficacy of the church.[15]

William Tyndale:
Rulers must protect from tyranny subjects in general, and Christians in particular
The kings ought, I say, to remember that they are in God's stead, and ordained of God, not for themselves, but for the wealth of their subjects. Let them remember that their subjects are their brethren, their flesh and blood, members of their own body, and even their ownselves in Christ. Therefore ought they to pity them and to rid them from such vile tyranny which increaseth more and more daily.[16]


William Tyndale understood the important role civil government could
play in reformation of the church, and thus his dying words were, "Lord,
open the eyes of the King of England."A year later, Tyndale's prayer was
answered, as King Henry VIII sanctioned the distribution of an English Bible
translation - allowing Englishmen to read the Scriptures in their own language.


Heresy must be Suppressed 


John Wycliffe:
Rulers must subdue false prophets
[T]his office is to defend the law of God, to protect the servants of Christ and to subdue the ministers of the Antichrist.[17]

John Wycliffe:
Rulers help the church by coercing its enemies
The temporal lords have power given to them by God, so that where the spiritual arm of the church does not suffice to convert the antichrists by evangelical preaching, ecclesiastical admonition, or the example of virtues, the secular arm may help its mother by severe coercion.[18]

John Wycliffe:
Rulers must defend the church from false prophets
I do not hesitate to affirm, that the temporal lords are bound to assist the humbler members of the church against these false brethren, just as they are bound to defend themselves against the clerks possessioners, as I have before said; for God could not receive from his subject, or confer anything upon him, without the return of a greater blessing. 
How, then, is it allowable for prelates or lords to receive anything from their subjects, without affording them, in their assistance, an equivalent recompense? For they ought, as far as possible, to follow Christ; but in this respect the false prophets, and all the vicars of Antichrist, boast, diabolically, that they are more free, as regards those subject to them, than is Christ himself. In fact, I see not in what way any one could be a secular tyrant, except by exercising tyranny in the withdrawing or withholding of such assistance; for it is not possible that Christ should withdraw assistance and defence for his people: and how then can these men be said to follow God, who refuse to assist and defend their dependants against their greatest enemy? 
I do not hesitate to affirm, that a just defence of these men would conduce to the worldly prosperity, the merit, and the everlasting glory of such temporal lords. But if temporal lords are bound to protect their dependants against thieves, robbers, and marauders, yea, and against public enemies, invading the realm in which they dwell, much more are they so bound against false brethren, inasmuch as the evils to be feared in the latter case are the greater. The friars should be especially opposed in that respect, in which they more directly oppose themselves to Christ, and in which temporal lords might, with most ease, moderate the abuse.[19]

William Tyndale:
Rulers must prohibit false teachings
[D]amnable is it for the spiritual officer, how high soever he be, to withdraw himself from the King's correction, if he teach false, or sin against any temporal law."[20]
"Damnable is it for the spiritual
officer ... to withdraw himself
from the King's correction, if
he teach false."
-- William Tyndale

William Tyndale:
Rulers must suppress heresy, but must not blindly determine heresy on the word of spiritual officers, but rather by the word of God; spiritual officers themselves are often heretics, and instigate the murder of God's people
[W]hen the spiritual officers have excommunicated any man, or have condemned any opinion for heresy: let not the king nor temporal officers punish and slay by and by at their commandment. But let them look on God's word and compare their judgment unto the Scripture, and see whether it be right or no, and not believe them at the first chop, whatsoever they say, namely, in things that pertain unto their own authorities and power. For no man is a right judge in his own cause. Why doth Christ command the Scripture to be preached unto all creatures, but that it pertaineth unto all men to know them? Christ referreth himself unto the Scriptures; (John v.) and in the xith chapter of Matthew, unto the question of John Baptist's disciples, he answered, The blind see, the lepers are cleansed, the dead arise again, &c. meaning that if I do the works which are prophesied that Christ should do when he cometh, why doubt ye whether I be he or no? as who should say, Ask the Scripture, whether I be Christ or no, and not myself.  
How happeneth it then that our prelates will not come to the light also, that we may see whether their works be wrought in God or no? why fear they to let the lay-men see what they do? why make they all their examinations in darkness? Why examine they not their causes of heresy openly, as the lay men do their felons, and murderers? wherefore did Christ, and his apostles also warn us so diligently of Antichrist and of false prophets that should come? because that we should slumber or sleep careless, or rather that we should look in the light of the Scripture with all diligence to spy them when they came, and not to suffer ourselves to be deceived and led out of the way? John biddeth judge the spirits. Whereby shall we judge them, but by the Scriptures? how shalt thou know whether the prophet be true or false, or whether he speak God's word or of his own head, if thou wilt not see the Scriptures? why said David in the second Psalm, Be learned ye that judge the earth, lest the Lord be angry with you, and ye perish from the right way? 
A terrible warning, verily: yea, and look on the stories well, and thou shalt find very few kings since the beginning of the world that have not perished from the right way, and that because they would not be learned. ...
Who slew the prophets? who slew Christ? who slew his apostles? who the martyrs and all the righteous that ever were slain? The kings and the temporal sword at the request of the false prophets. They deserved such murder to do, and to have their part with the hypocrites, because they would not be learned, and see the truth themselves. Wherefore suffered the prophets? Because they rebuked the hypocrites which beguiled the world, and namely princes and rulers, and taught them to put their trust in things of vanity, and not in God's word. And taught them to do such deeds of mercy as were profitable unto no man but unto the false prophets themselves only, making merchandise of God's word.
Wherefore slew they Christ? even for rebuking the hypocrites: because he said Woe be to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven before men: (Matt, xxiii.) that is, as it is written Luke xi. Ye have taken away the key of knowledge. The law of God which is the key wherewith men bind, and the promises which are the keys wherewith men loose, have our hypocrites also taken away. They will suffer no man to know God's word, but burn it and make heresy of it: yea, and because the people begin to smell their falsehood, they make it treason to the king, and breaking of the king's peace to have so much as their paternoster in English. And instead of God's law, they bind with their own law. And instead of God's promises, they loose and justify with pardons and ceremonies, which they themselves have imagined for their own profit. They preach, It were better for thee to eat flesh on good Friday, than to hate thy neighbour; but let any man eat flesh but on a Saturday, or break any other tradition of theirs, and he shall be bound, and not loosed, till he have paid the uttermost farthing, either with shame most vile, or death most cruel: but hate thy neighbour as much as thou wilt, and thou shalt have no rebuke of them; yea, rob him, murder him, and then come to them and welcome. They have a sanctuary for thee, to save thee; yea, and a neck-verse, if thou canst but read a little Latin, though it be never so sorrily, so that you be ready to receive the beast's mark. They care for no understanding; it is enough if thou canst roll up a pair of matins, or an even-song, and mumble a few ceremonies. And because they be rebuked, this they rage. Be learned, therefore, ye that judge the world, lest God be angry with you, and ye perish from the right way.[21]



"If temporal lords are bound to protect their dependants against thieves,
robbers, and marauders, yea, and against public enemies, invading the
realm in which they dwell, much more are they so bound against false
brethren, inasmuch as the evils to be feared in the latter case
are the greater." -- John Wycliffe

Rulers should Punish Rebellious Sons

William Tyndale:
Rulers should punish rebellious sons (if they don't, rebellious sons are nevertheless subject to God's wrath)
If thou obey, (though it be but carnally, either for fear, for vain glory, or profit,) thy blessing shall be long life upon the earth. For he saith, Honour thy father and mother, that thou mayest live long upon the earth. (Exod. xx.) Contrariwise, if thou disobey them, thy life shall be shortened upon the earth. For it followeth, (Exod. xxi.) He that smiteth his father or mother shall be put to death for it. And he that curseth, (that is to say, raileth or dishonoureth his father or mother with opprobrious words,) shall be slain for it. And (Deut. xxi.) If any man have a son stubborn and disobedient, which heareth not the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, so that they have taught him nurture, and he regardeth them not, then let his father and mother take him, and bring him forth unto the seniors or elders of the city, and unto the gate of the same place. And let them say unto the seniors of that city, This our son is stubborn and disobedient: he will not hearken unto our voice: he is a rioter and a drunkard. Then let all the men of the city stone him with stones unto death: so shall ye put away wickedness from among you, and all Israel shall hear and shall fear.
And though that the temporal officers (to their own damnation,) be negligent in punishing such disobedience, (as the spiritual officers are to teach it,) and wink at it, or look on it through the fingers, yet shall they not escape unpunished. For the vengeance of God shall accompany them (as thou mayest see Deut. xxviii.) with all misfortune and evil luck, and shall not depart from them until they be murdered, drowned, or hanged; either until by one mischance or another they be utterly brought to nought. Yea, and the world oftentimes hangeth many a man for that they never deserved: but God hangeth them because they would not obey and hearken unto their elders, as the consciences of many will find when they come to the gallows. There can they preach and teach other that which they themselves would not learn in season.[22]

Church and State 

John Wycliffe:
Rulers need counsel of competent theologians

From commentary by William Farr, quoting Wyclif:
"[I]t is fitting that the king be regulated" not only through his own knowledge of Christ's law, but "through the wisdom of theologians." If God's law is to be the measure of truth, righteousness, legitimacy and justice, then absolutely no one is in a better position to apply this standard than Christ's theologians. If rulers are dependent upon the Bible to fulfill their trust, then theologians, as students of that law, must provide the proper instruction.[23]

"Christ will require a
reckoning from [civil
rulers] in the day of
judgment, of how they
have exercised in this
ministry the power
which he gave them."
-- John Wycliffe
William Tyndale:
Civil and ecclesiastical rulers are accountable to one another
[W]hen I say, there be two regiments, the spiritual and the temporal; even so I say that every person, baptized to keep the law of God and to believe in Christ, is under both the regiments, and is both a spiritual person and also a temporal, and under the officers of both the regiments; so that the king is as deep under the spiritual officer, to hear out of God's word what he ought to believe, and how to live, and how to rule, as is the poorest beggar in the realm. And even so the spiritual officer, if he sin against his neighbour, or teach false doctrine, is under the king's or temporal correction, how high soever he be. And look, how damnable it is for the king to withdraw himself from the obedience of the spiritual officer, that is to say, from hearing his duty to do it, and from hearing his vices rebuked to amend them; so damnable is it for the spiritual officer, how high soever he be, to withdraw himself from under the king's correction, if he teach false, or sin against any temporal law.[24]

Politics and God's Judgment

John Wycliffe:
Christ judges rulers for how they rule
[P]rinces ought faithfully to note the decree of Isidore where the opinion is advanced that whether the Church increases or decreases, Christ will require a reckoning from them in the day of judgment, of how they have exercised in this ministry the power which he gave them.[25]

John Wycliffe:
Sin is why commonwealths deteriorate 
The Law of Christ teaches most completely how every sin should be destroyed and avoided; but since it is not possible that a commonwealth deteriorate except on account of sin, therefore if the justice (of the Law of Christ) be observed by every person, the commonwealth will prosper.[26]

William Tyndale:
God judges tyrants/tyrants are scourges to wicked subjects
There is another care, that springeth out of the love of God (for every love hath her care), and is a care to keep God's commandments. This care must every man have. For a man liveth not by bread only, but much more by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. The keeping of God's commandment is the life of a man, as well in this world as in the world to come. As, 'Child, obey father and mother; that thou mayest long live on the earth.' And by father and mother is understood all rulers; which if thou obey, thy blessing shall be long life; and contrary, if thou disobey, short life, and shalt either perish by the sword, or by some other plague, and that shortly. And even so shall the ruler, if he rule not as God hath commanded. 'Oppress thou a widow and fatherless children (saith God), and they shall cry to me, and I will hear their voice; and then will my wrath wax hot; so I will smite you with sword, and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.'
Some will say, 'I see none more prosper, or longer continue, than those that be most cruel tyrants.' What then?  Yet say I that God abideth ever true: for where he setteth up a tyrant, and continueth him in prosperity, it is to be a scourge to wicked subjects, that have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God; and unto them his good promises pertain not, save his curses only. But if the subjects would turn and repent, and follow the ways of God, he would shortly deliver them. Howbeit yet, where the superior corrupteth the inferior, which else is disposed enough to goodness, God will not let them long continue.[27]

Notes
________________________________

[1] William Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1974), 149. Farr cites from Johannes Wyclif, Tractatus de Officio Regis, eds. A. W. Pollard and C. Sayle (London, 1887), 97.
[2] Johannes Wyclif, Tractatus de Ecclesia, ed. Johann Loserth (London: 1886), 148. Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer,147.
[3] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, I, 189.  Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 82.
[4] William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue: The Supper of the Lord After the True Meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI. And Wm. Tracy's Testament Expounded, ed. Henry Walter (Cambridge: The University Press, 1850), 58.
[5] Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 64.
[6] Cited in Ibid., 76.
[7] Johannes Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, eds. Reginald Lane Poole and Johann Loserth (4 vols; London: 1885-1904), 188. Cited in Ibid., 76.
[8] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, I, 189.  Cited in Ibid., 82.
[9] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, I, 432. Cited in Howard Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 33.
[10] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, 191. Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 84.
[11] William Tyndale, "The Obedience of a Christian Man, and how Christian Rulers Ought to Govern," in Thomas Russell, ed., The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith: Volume 1 (London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1831), 369.
[12] Ibid., 273.
[13] Ibid., 369.
[14] Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 64.
[15] Wyclif, Tractatus de Officio Regis, ch. 1, 13.4-8. Cited in Lahey, Stephen, "John Wyclif's Political Philosophy," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved July 5, 2013 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wyclif-political/
[16] Tyndale, "The Obedience of a Christian Man," in Russell, ed., The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith: Volume 1, 272.
[17] Cited Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 64.
[18] Wyclif, Tractatus de Officio Regis, 186, as quoted by Kaminsky, "Wyclifism," 72, fn. 45. Cited in Ibid., 71.
[19] John Wycliffe, Trialogus, Book 4, in Robert Vaughan, ed., Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe: With Selections and Translations from His Manuscripts, and Latin Works (Blackburn and Pardon, 1845), 214.
[20] William Tyndale, "An Exposition Upon the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew," in Henry Walter, ed., Expositions and notes on sundry portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of prelates: By William Tyndale, Martyr, 1536 (The University Press, n. d.), 67.
[21] Tyndale, "The Obedience of a Christian Man," in Russell, ed., The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith: Volume 1, 273-276.
[22] Ibid., 203, 204.
[23] Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 84, 85. Farr cites from Wyclif, Tractatus de Officio Regis, 78.
[24] Tyndale, "An Exposition Upon the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew," in Walter, ed., Expositions and notes on sundry portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of prelates: By William Tyndale, Martyr, 1536, 67.
[25] Matthew Spinka, Advocates of Reform from Wyclif to Erasmus, "The Library of Christian Classics," Vol. XIV (Philadelphia, 1953), 60. Cited in Farr, John Wyclif as Legal Reformer, 76n. 
[26] Wyclif, Tractatus de Civili Domino, I, 432. Cited in Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution, 33.
[27] Tyndale, "An Exposition Upon the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Chapters of Matthew," in Walter, ed., Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures: Together with The Practice of Prelates, Volume 43, 111, 112.

3 comments:

Justin said...

Very nice! Thanks for these quotes!

The other day, a well-known 2K advocate/vociferous anti-theonomist told me that Samuel Rutherford was more "2K" than theonomic. I about fell out of my chair.

Often times theonomic believers are accused of being unorthodox. When I point out that the Westminster Divines were largely theonomic, the conclusion is that "they were wrong."

Imagine that. The Westminster Divines were "unorthodox," and wrote the WCF (which is anti-theonomic, the 2K folks claim) in opposition to their convictions.

*Rolls eyes*

They read into the Confession more than is there. The Confession's statement on "general equity" was not an "out" to escape the law, but rather gave us our reason for maintaining it. THey look at it backwards.

As you have shown here, the theonomic understanding is the orthodox, historical position of the Church.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi Justin,
If anything, I've found that the historical theonomists (e.g. Rutherford) are overall more theonomic than modern theonomists.

If the original WCF's requirement that "all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed" by civil rulers (which authoritatively cites the judicial law) is not enough, I don't know what is!

Justin said...

If anything, I've found that the historical theonomists (e.g. Rutherford) are overall more theonomic than modern theonomists.

I don't know how anyone could see things otherwise.

If the original WCF's requirement that "all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed" by civil rulers (which authoritatively cites the judicial law) is not enough, I don't know what is!

Which is why I am often left scratching my head. It is as if the phrase "general equity" is taken to mean "never," and the rest of the WCF's (fairly clear) teaching on this is ignored.

While I want to be careful in what I say here, it is almost as if this goes beyond a different understanding of Scripture and the Confession. It's likely that this is a matter of presuppositions as opposed to interpretation.

That is very troublesome.