A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE DOCTRINE OF NON-RESISTANCE

IT was a very simple doctrine concerning the duty of subjects that was being taught in England under the Tudors. It was, under Henry VIII and Edward VI, almost but not quite Lutheran. Luther had taught, simply that God forbids forcible resistance to the magistrate in all cases, and commands positive obedience to him except where He forbids it. In England the doctrine was not quite so simple as that. Luther, in Germany, could see nothing but a confused complex of magistracies in indeterminate relation to each other. The Emperor could not be for him what the King was to Tyndale or Cranmer. A German nationalism, had it really existed, must have supported Charles V: it would have been Catholic like the nationalism of France. But in England in 1529 there already actually existed clear outlines of a national State, and along with this a national sentiment and desire for complete independence. Tyndale's patriotic sentiment found an English commonwealth ready-made. It needed only the repudiation of Papal claims and a full assertion of the principle that the clergy are subjects in the same sense as other men, to make England stand forth as a fully-developed secular State, 'absolute' in the sense that it was ideally self-sufficient and independent of all external jurisdiction, as unhampered by ecclesiastical pretensions as by the Corpus Juris Civilis. The English reformers had before them a national and political ideal as well as one that was religious. It is a special peculiarity of English Protestantism that from the first it was allied and associated with national sentiment. It was the realization of the national State in fact and in law that was the work of the government of Henry VIII. But even before its full realization, Englishmen were able to see the state as much more than a mere system of magistracy. 'This realm of England is an Empire' expressed what was implicit in the minds of Englishmen long before the formula was officially adopted. The realm of England was to Englishmen of Henry VIII's reign a true commonwealth, united under a law that was wholly its own and under a crown which had no superior. There was an element in English feeling and belief on the question of political obligation which was not present in the teaching of Luther.

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