Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Monarchist and Democratic Christian Perspectives Preceding and Subsequent to the Reformation: A Survey of Selected Authors

Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Monarchist and Democratic Christian Perspectives Preceding and Subsequent to the Reformation: A Survey of Selected Authors

Article excerpt


As the flaws of democratic forms of government come to the forefront of political thought in recent years, (1) the natural question for Christians is whether their faith either mandates or prefers any particular form of government. In the early years of Christianity, Christians knew monarchy and little else in matters of government. In contemporary Christendom, Christian thinkers are most familiar with popular forms of government, ranging from constitutional monarchy to democratic republicanism to forms verging on direct democracy. To question the common form of government in one's day is generally unpopular. Thus, the centuries preceding and following the Reformation are a source of much interesting dialogue as they reveal a clash between Christian ideologies, including Christian perspectives about the proper form of government.

Part II examines the works of Sir Robert Filmer and Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, while Part III surveys the writings of Marsilius of Padua and John Ponet. Part IV evaluates and critiques each of the aforementioned authors, and Part V summarizes my conclusions.


1. Sir Robert Filmer

Sir Robert Filmer (c. A.D. 1588-1653) was an English philosopher who promoted the concept of absolute monarchy in his work, Patriarcha, or, The Natural Power of Kings. In addition to whatever attention the work's merits have attracted, Filmer's thought is also well-known for serving as John Locke's philosophical target in the first of his Two Treatises of Government, as fully explained by the rest of the first treatise's full title: The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown.

Filmer begins his polemic against democracy boldly, attacking the principle that "[m]ankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom from all Subjection, and at liberty to cho[o]se what Form of Government it please." (2) He claims that, despite the principle's popularity among academics and church figures, it is neither supported by the early Church Fathers nor in accordance with Scripture, ancient monarchical practice, or natural law. (3) He objects to it on grounds of both theology and pragmatism. (4) Filmer notes that a dangerous consequence of the idea of popular sovereignty is that it undermines the authority of kings. (5)

In objecting to popular sovereignty, Filmer makes theological, natural law, historical, and practical arguments for monarchy. Filmer's thesis is fairly simple:

   [i]t is true, all Kings be not the Natural Parents of
   their Subjects, yet they all either are, or are to be reputed
   the next Heirs to those first Progenitors, who
   were at first the Natural Parents of the whole People,
   and in their Right succeed to the Exercise of
   Supreme Jurisdiction; and such Heirs are not only
   Lords of their own Children, but also of their Brethren,
   and all others that were subject to their Fathers ... (6)

It is clear that Filmer's point relies heavily on the proposition that monarchical power is derived from patriarchal authority, as it existed under the Patriarchal Dispensation described in the book of Genesis.

However, since Genesis is not primarily a prescriptive text, but is instead descriptive, most, if not all, of Filmer's arguments from Scripture are based on inductive reasoning. This inductive approach extends to Filmer's treatment of other Old Testament historical books that discuss the Israelite monarchy.

For example, Filmer states that, by creating humanity from one man, God showed a natural preference for rule by one man. (7) Apparently thinking of the original command to Adam, "[f]ill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth," (8) Filmer writes, "[t]his Lordship which Adam by Command had over the whole World, and by Right descending from him the Patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the Absolutest Dominion of any Monarch which hath been since the Creation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.