Zanchi on the Godly Prince

The Protestant Reformers were known as the Magisterial Reformers, which means that they worked closely with their kings.  Luther appealed to the German princes to Reform the Church, and the other Reformers followed suit.  Different regions had different political structures, largely influencing the various churches’ polities, but all were agreed on the basic position.

Zanchi was an Italian Reformer who studied in Geneva and eventually made his way to the University of Heidelberg.  He has a lengthy discourse on the Godly Prince in his De religione christiana fide.  He states:

Chapt. 26- Of the Magistrate

V. The office of a godly prince concerning religion is two fold and wherein it chieflie consisteth.

Now, sith the duetie of a godly prince, that is a magistrate, which hath a free power over any people and authoritie within his iurisdiction to institute and reforme religion, is twofold, which hee oweth to Christ and to the church in the cause of religion. One about such things as belong unto religion; the other respecteth men, which are in his iurisdiction and sbiect unto him. For the first, our beleefe is that he should diligently take heede that by the pure word of God rightly understood and expounded by the verie word it selfe and according to the principles of faith (that which they call the analogie or rule of faith), religion may be instituted in his dominion or kingdome; or where it is instituted, may be kept sound and pure; or where it is corrupted, may be restored and reformed to the glory of God and salvation of his subiects. For this we read hath beene commaunded of God and of Moses, and ever observed of all godlie princes.

VI. A declaration of the former opinion by parts.

We believe therefore the duetie of a godlie magistrate is, first, to knowe out of Gods word generally and according to the summe of the points of faith, which is the true and Christian religion and which is the apostolicall doctrine, whereunto the church is to bee reformed, that he may do or dare to do nothing only by the iudgement of others, but also upon his owne sure knowledge. Then, this being thus knowne, to have a care that ministers, which are meet men for the office, not by his owne choise, but according to the rule of God’s word may be chosen, called, and ordained. Thirdly, to bring to passé that by them both the doctrine of salvation delivered in the holie scriptures may be set forth, expounded and often beat upon, and also the sacraments according to Christs institution administered, yea, and the discipline ordained of Christ exercised. Fourthly, to have a regard to this, that schooles may be erected, wherein aswell good artes and tongues may bee diligently taught, as also the holie scriptures faithfully expounded and the studious may learne the summe of Christian wisedome. Fiftly, whereby ministers and teacher may be held in their duety and so true religion by them preserved in the church, to do their best that private consultations, yea, and also provinciall synods, as is saide before, may at least twise in the yeare be called. Sixtly, to carrie a speciall care to the goods of the church, that they maye bee bestowed on the right, that is on the true godly uses, and that all necessarie things bee supplied to the church and to the ministers thereof.

Zanchi then goes on to explain how the magistrate should treat non-Christians.  His answer is complex and flexible.  He calls for wisdom when he writes:

VII. A godly prince ought not to deale with all men of a diverse religion after one manner.

But seing (to say something brieflie of the other duetie of a prince concerning religion) there be diverse kinds of mene which a prince may have under his government, namely either mere infidels, or such as indeede professe Christ, but yet are also open idolaters or in manie things apostates from the apostolicall church, or in some article of the faith manifest heretikes, or else erre upon simplicitie, or such as are rightly persuaded in all matters, we doe certainly hold that a prince ought not to use one kinde of measure towards all these sorts. For some of them are to be loved, cherished and honored; some to bee winked at; some not to be suffred; other to be quite cut off. And none must be permitted to blaspheme Christ or to worship idols or retaine ungodly ceremonies.

The Reformers by in large did not believe that the magistrate had the right to command faith.  He did have to protect the public good though, as well as the visible church, and so his job was often complicated.  Zanchi’s thoughts are representative of the mainstream of Reformed political thought.

This entry was posted in church history, godly prince by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s