Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Theological-Political Origins of the Modern State: The Controversy between James I of England & Cardinal Bellarmine

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Theological-Political Origins of the Modern State: The Controversy between James I of England & Cardinal Bellarmine

Article excerpt

The Theological-Political Origins of the Modern State: The Controversy between James I of England & Cardinal Bellarmine. By Bernard Bourdin. Translated by Susan Pickford. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 2010. Pp. x, 282. $59.95. ISBN 978-0-813-21791-8.)

In this well-argued book, Bernard Bourdin contends that the debate between King James I and the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine, cardinal and saint, during the Oath of Allegiance controversy marked a "decisive step" in the "origins of modern politics" (p. 6). Arguing that the birth of modernity cannot be reduced to secularization, Bourdin maintains that "the advent of modern politics" was characterized by the "judicial distancing from papal authority" (p. 248). James's stance in the controversy was especially important, because it laid out a "clearer demarcation of secular and ecclesiastical powers" (p. 111).

The book begins by providing historical background to the controversy. It then discusses the Oath of Allegiance, imposed by King James after the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This oath, which included an article denouncing the pope's right to depose or excommunicate a ruler, set off a pamphlet war throughout Europe. King James and Bellarmine were among its most important disputants, and Bourdin expertly analyzes the two men's theological-political theories throughout the rest of the book. James argued that rulers are the sole sovereigns over their subjects by divine right and are above any ecclesiastical body in their domains. The Church, indeed, never can interfere in political affairs. Bellarmine disagreed. He argued that the pope possesses ultimate power in spiritual affairs and indirect power in temporal ones. This indirect temporal power means that the pope can intervene by admonishing, spiritually censoring, and eventually deposing rulers whose policies endanger the salvation of souls.

Bourdin' s analysis of the conflict between the king and the cardinal is convincing. His interpretation of James's theological-political views, as well as the Calvinist influences visible in them, also is supported by James's writings, those of his contemporaries, and the best of the secondary literature. …

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