Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Theocratic Rule of the Visigoth Kings (Theonomy Applied)

The Visigoths were a western tribe of the Goths, who were nomadic groups of Germanic people. As Christianity's influence grew throughout the world, the Visigoths embraced Arianism, a heresy that denies the full deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. However, they would eventually embrace a more orthodox view of the Trinity following King Recarred I's conversion to Catholicism in 589. (We oppose the errors of Catholicism, but their view of God is much better than that of the Arians.)

In 681, the Visigoth King Ervig established the Ervigian Code. The code includes both some new laws established by Ervig, as well as a large number of laws promulgated in the past (including revisions of such laws).[1]

Visigoth King Ervig established
the theocratic Ervigian
Code in 681
In Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom, P. D. King draws on this code to describe the theocratic Visigoth king. For this king, God is the source of justice:
While the recognition of things noxious to the community was the responsibility of the king, then, the particular laws which he produced as a result had their ultimate origin in God Himself and His divine justice. An essential precondition of the formation of law was therefore knowledge of the norms of justice.[2]
The Bible was considered an important means to discover such knowledge. King writes, 
There was the Bible, for the revealed Word of God was in necessary harmony with His eternal justice. Scriptural foundations for particular provisions are far from rare in the code.[3]
God's justice was crucial to restraining man's sinfulness: 
The restraint of the depravity of man by means of the law is a theme, indeed, which runs throughout the code ... Legal coercion was necessary to deal with that which polluted the right order of living.[4] 
Not surprisingly, then, some of the sins prohibited in the Ervigian Code include divination, sorcery, blasphemy, and heresy.[5] (Unfortunately, Roman Catholicism, which itself embraces some heretical doctrines, cannot always discern heresy from orthodoxyas seen in its opposition to Reformed Protestantism.) 

In addition, the code was strong on protecting both women and the unborn: "The Ervigian code protected women against kidnapping and rape, punishing those crimes severely ... Abortion was ... a capital offense."[6] Adultery was also illegal.[7]

Of utmost importance to the theocratic
Visigoth king was defending Christian
society and doctrine by opposing that
which would undermine the faith.
Of utmost importance to the theocratic Visigoth king was defending Christian society and doctrine by opposing that which would undermine the faith:
The king had as one of his necessary aims the prevention of activity which threatened to undermine the faith which bound society together, and thus to bring about the destruction of society itself: at the same time, it was his duty, as it was that of any Christian ruler, to proceed against the enemies of the faith and, if possible, to bring them to salvation. It was to the fulfillment of these defensive and offensive obligations that nearly all the laws of the last book of the code were devoted. The king had hitherto issued measures to purify the ecclesia which was formed by the fideles of the realm, to bring peace and well-being to the faithful who dwelt in the house of the Lord: now he turned to deal with the infideles, that he might bring them 'ad concordiam religiose pacis'.
Heresy struck unambiguously at the roots of the faith, and it is only to be expected that the king should have used the law to defend orthodox doctrine and to drive out error. ...
Open or secret attacks upon the one, true, Catholic faith were forbidden: biblical, patristic and contemporary orthodox writings were similarly protected. The excitation of controversy was an offence, as wasthe 'moral' flavour of the stipulation is apparenteven the entertainment of thoughts contrary to the faith. The normal punishment for the individual who transgressed was loss of office, forfeiture of property and lifelong exile, under penitence [we do no endorse the Catholic doctrine of penitence - editor]: punished additionally by decalvatio and flogging were the particular offenses of blasphemy against the name of Christ or against the Trinity ... Return from exile and repossession of property were in any case open to the heretic who recanted, while the man detected in error held by ignorance rather than defended in deliberate public statement was subject to penalty only if the efforts of the clergy failed to correct his fault.[8] 


[1] P. D. King, Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 20.
[2] Ibid., 37.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 30.
[5] Ibid., 129, 130, 147. 
[6] Amy Katz Kaminsky, ed., Water Lilies: Flores del agua (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 3.
[7] Ibid.
[8] King, Law and Society in the Visigothic Kingdom, 129, 130.

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In discussing any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).   


Chuck said...

Interesting that God used this people finally to put an end to the Roman Empire.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Chuck, agreed, God's providence is always interesting. BTW, great blog idea - "Math is Christian."