Monday, July 31, 2017

On William Cecil (Queen Elizabeth's right-hand-man) and Biblical Law

"[T]he state could never be in safety, where there was toleration of two religions. For there is no enmity so great as that for religion, and they that differ in the service of God can never agree in the service of their country." -- William Cecil

William Cecil (1520-1598), as known as 1st Baron Burghley, was an English statesman and Queen Elizabeth I's right-hand-man, serving as Lord High Treasurer and Chief Advisor. Here we discuss the following as it relates to Cecil:

  • Religious views and approach to Puritans and Catholics
  • On inflation
  • On a Protestant league 
  • Obedience to God necessary for national peace
  • The challenge of religious toleration
  • Applying Biblical law to the question of usury

Religious views and approach to Puritans and Catholics

While the Puritans were not treated the best during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Cecil could be said, at least at times, to be a friend of the Puritans:
The enigma of Cecil's religious views has produced conflicting comment. An early writer argued that in religious matters Cecil dissented from both Puritans and Catholics, disliking the singularity of the former and the superstition of the latter. Yet he shared the mood of the Puritans during the first dozen years of the era; he thought highly of John Calvin; he patronized the Puritan leaders Peter Wentworth, James Morice, and Robert Beale; he appointed the Presbyterian Walter Travers to a lectureship at the Temple and possibly as tutor to his son Robert; and he sought to mitigate Whitgift's hostility to the Puritans. Significantly, however, neither his advice to his son nor his will (the overseer of which was Whitgift) reveals Puritanism. Edward Dering, Puritan rector of Pluckley, Kent regarded him as a friend of the Puritans, yet chided him in 1570 that "you have Dealt hardly with God's children and your brethren." 
Richard L. Greaves, Society and Religion in Elizabethan England (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), 10, 11.

One author says this about the Christian life of Cecil, as well as his opposition to Catholicism:
William Cecil was a devout and learned Christian, deeply committed to the branch of Protestantism which had over the course of the middle decades of the sixteenth century become manifest in the Church of England. And, like many Englishmen of his generation who reached adulthood in the reign of Henry VIII, he harboured a deep-seated fear of Catholicism. For Cecil, however, an ideological opposition to Catholicism, born of an education in a Protestant environment at the university Cambridge and nurtured by an awareness, open to him through his political service, of the interrelatedness of religion and the survival of the Tudor monarchy, accentuated this fear. The rebellions in Munster and Leinster (1579-83), which enjoyed the military and financial support of Pope Gregory XIII, and then the ever-present threat of a Spanish invasion of the Tudor kingdoms in the 1580s and 1590s, served only to reinforce these sentiments. 
Christopher Maginn, William Cecil, Ireland, and the Tudor State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 165.

On inflation

Queen Elizabeth faced the challenge of inflation caused by coin debasement prior to her reign. This
made it harder and harder for English merchants to buy abroad. This, it was believed, was the source of the rapid inflation, a concept summed up in the economic law, named for Sir Thomas Gresham, that bad, debased money drives out good money. 
Norman Jones, Governing by Virtue: Lord Burghley and the Management of Elizabethan England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 143.
As such, Cecil wrote for Elizabeth a "Summary of Certain Reasons" in defense of recoinage: 
A thoroughly monetarist document, it explained inflation as caused by debased coins, since all products of the earth would otherwise have stable prices. Moreover, bad coins force English people to import more than export. He held that the realm cannot be rich if its coins are poor, clinching his point with a quote from Cato. The proclamation was carefully edited and improved by Cecil, in whose own hand we find the declaration that England is like "them that being sick receive a medicine, and in the taking feel some bitterness, but yet thereby recover health and strength, and save their lives."
Ibid. Citation from The National Archives of the UK, Kew, SP 12/13 fol. 115.
 Thus, Cecil concludes,
[H]er most honorable good meaning shalbe embraced of all her good loving subjects and every person with good will yield to bear a small burden for a time to avoid a perpetual oppression not only of themselves and their posterity but also of the whole commonwealth.
Ibid. Citation from The National Archives of the UK, Kew, SP 12/13 fols 105v, 107.

On a Protestant league 

Cecil proposed a united front with Protestant countries facing the tyranny of Catholicism. For Cecil,
[A]ll nations who accept the authority of the Bishop of Rome feel it is their duty, in conscience, to persecute "with all violence" the recusants in their midst. It follows that the same states that persecute their recusant Protestant citizens will also attack Protestant states. ...
[Cecil] proposed that England ally with all those who had a quarrel with the supporters of the tyranny of Rome
Norman Jones, Governing by Virtue: Lord Burghley and the Management of Elizabethan England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 200.

Obedience to God necessary for national peace

Cecil understood the role God's blessings and judgments played in a nation's prosperity:
England had, he said, "enjoyed, by God's goodness, a certain singular privilege of peace, when no other had it; so ought men to fear, for the displeasure of Almighty God against the abundance of sin and irreligion," that God would send civil and foreign war as a chastisement. ... he returns to pleasing God by enforcing the law as the first defense against condign punishment. 
Norman Jones, Governing by Virtue: Lord Burghley and the Management of Elizabethan England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 200, 201.

The challenge of religious toleration
In the Western experiment of toleration of all religions, we are seeing increasing societal breakdown, tyranny, and anarchy, as well as the persecution of Christians. Cecil understood well the antithesis between Christianity and other religions, and thus said, 
[T]he state could never be in safety, where there was toleration of two religions. For there is no enmity so great as that for religion, and they that differ in the service of God can never agree in the service of their country.
Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History 1509-1660 (Oxford University Press, 1971), 149.

"[Cecil] clearly believed that human law must conform to
God's law, and that God was the ultimate arbiter of
the legal issue." -- Norman L. Jones, on Cecil's approach
to legislation about usury

Applying Biblical law to the question of usury

(Note: here we explore Cecil's views of usury in the context of him attempting to apply Scripture to law and society, regardless of whether he properly understood what Scripture has to say in the matter. However, for a historical perspective on usury, a good place to start may be The Economists of the Reformation: An Overview of Reformation Teaching Concerning Work, Wealth, and Interest by David H. Eaton.)

Cecil's thoughts on a Bill in the House of Commons in April 1571 regarding usury shows how he considered Scripture in the making of law. These thoughts are reflected in a written formal analysis by Cecil. [Norman L. Jones, "William Cecil and the making of economic policy in the 1560s and early 1570s," in Paul A. Fideler and T.F. Mayer, eds., Political Thought and the Tudor Commonwealth: Deep structure, discourse and disguise (New York, NY: Routledge, 1992), 177.]

Prominent in his analysis is whether God's Word forbids usury. Norman L. Jones writes, 
Cecil notes that it is forbidden in Exodus 22, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 23. It is dissuaded in Nehemiah, Psalms and Ezekiel. (Ibid., 182)
Some passages on usury (lending at interest) considered by Cecil include the following: 
If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. (Exodus 22:25)
You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 23: 19, 20)
Cecil considered whether lending at interest is forbidden absolutely in Scripture, or only insofar as it amounts to oppression. (Ibid.)

In looking to the Old Testament and considering whether the law against usury was binding, Cecil appears to affirm the standard Reformed position that, while the judicial laws of Moses were to some extent uniquely framed for the Jews, their moral equity applies to all nations. 

There is, then, a two-fold division of the judicial law, which identifies some judicial laws as not being based on the moral law (the "judicial law proper"), and other judicial laws being grounded in the moral law. The former category was just for the state of Israel, while the latter category is for all men at all times. However, there may have been a degree of general equity for even judicial laws primarily for the state of Israel. 

(More on the historical view of the judicial law here.)

And so, on Cecil's consideration of the judicial law and usury, Norman L. Jones writes: 
Thus for Cecil to answer his questions about usury he had to resolve for himself the problem of whether the anti-usury passages in the Old Testament applied to everyone at all times -- were a moral law -- or whether they formed a judicial law, binding only the Jews at the time they were promulgated. If they were a moral law, lending at interest must always be forbidden. If they were a judicial law, the judicial law of England need not slavishly follow their lead so long as the rule of equity was not broken. 
His analysis of the question of whether the biblical prohibition of usury had to be enforced by Parliament begins with an objection: that it was a judicial law not a moral one. He answers with two responses. The first is summarized in his comment that to argue that it was a Jewish law and does not apply to 'us' is to argue to the person, not to the thing. 
His second response was to observe that it was a moral law, and that it still prohibited usury, for under the precept 'you shall not steal' usury is prohibited because it is a form of theft. Besides, all judicial laws are reducible to moral laws at some point. Moral law that gave rise to the judicial law was based on God's general prohibitions of theft and oppression, especially oppression of widows and orphans. (Ibid., 184.)
Note how carefully Cecil tries to understand the applicability of the Scriptural prohibition of usury to today; he seeks to determine whether there is equity within the Old Testament prohibition of usury based on whether it was grounded in a moral law (in this case, the Eighth Commandment). 

Not all of Cecil's considerations when determining whether usury should be prohibited are biblical; for instance, he also ponders whether it is convenient for the state to prohibit usury, even if it is lawful in the New Covenant era. Hence here we find Cecil lacking a total regulation of the state by Scripture. 

Nevertheless, his thorough consideration of Scripture to this matter is admirable. Rightfully or wrongfully, Cecil ultimately came to the following conclusion:
Having clearly concluded that usury was wrong and forbidden by God, he also seems to have decided that the definition of usury allowed some lending at interest to be done, so long as it was permitted in order to prevent a greater evil. (Ibid., 190)  
England's bill on usury that was being considered ultimately conformed to this view (Ibid., 190, 191). 

Norman L. Jones summarizes Cecil's approach to legislation:
The attempt made by Cecil, the most powerful man in the English government, to define usury shows how closely his approach to legislation was linked to his religion and his education. (Ibid., p. 191) 
He clearly believed that human law must conform to God's law, and that God was the ultimate arbiter of this legal issue. (Ibid., 178)

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