BLTC Press Titles

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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

Calvin and the reformation

by William Park Armstrong


Little, however, has yet been accomplished towards the refutation of that proposition, which can be regarded only as a catchword, similar to the various clever half-truths that appear in Troltsch's style. Students of recent history have long been agreed that the close of the seventeenth century, the conclusion of the religious wars, marks the beginning of a new epoch in Church history, the character of which, as Loofs8 judiciously puts it, "stands in no less sharp contrast with the previous period of the Reformation and CounterReformation, than that former period with the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages with the period of the ancient Church". The peculiarity of the new period is, expressed in one word, what is called, sometimes with pride, sometimes with contempt, "modernism", or "the modern spirit". But if the division is a real one, there arises the question, embarrassing to every evangelical Christian, How is the modern spirit, which, since the seventeenth century, in spite of the check that it received in the nineteenth, has been unfolding itself with ever-increasing vigor, related to the Gospel of the Reformation? How could the age of the Reformation with its conflicts of faith be followed so suddenly by an age whose views about historical criticism and natural science, about politics and social life, are in part directly opposed to the Reformation conception of the world? What forces of the Gospel had a part in the development of the new way of thinking? What other, unevangelical, tendencies intruded themselves, and therefore, because they arose, for example, in Catholicism (and hence in false belief), or in an unbelieving and therefore pernicious development of civilization, must be combatted and eliminated? Or perhaps the Gospel of the Reformation is no longer judge over modern progress? Perhaps it is rather the latter that shall decide how much of the former is still tenable and fit for use?

To these questions, which, although they concern the systematic theologian as much as the historian, are primarily historical questions, I desire to make a slight contribution by examining the relation between the Reformation and Natural Law. For there can be no doubt that "natural law"— primarily a school of jurisprudence, usually regarded as beginning with Hugo Grotius and not till the nineteenth century replaced by the historical school—was one of the principal historical factors in the formation of the modern spirit, a factor whose after-effects are still perceptible in the most diverse spheres. For not only have the laws of the evangelical Church itself been influenced thereby, both in the collegial law of the eighteenth century and also, though not so strongly, in the modern presbyterial-synodical constitutions; but especially all the political reversals up to the French Revolution are most intimately connected with the natural-law theories. Rousseau's Contrat social is the last great manifest of natural law. This itself is sufficient to show that natural law was more than a mere political and legal system; it became also the starting-point for "natural theology", the broad religious basis of the religion of the "Enlightenment".

How could this natural law spring up on the grqund of the Reformation, take such deep root and put forth such wide-spreading branches? Of course, it is far from my intention to include in the investigation the whole complicated phenomenon of natural law,4 especially on its juristic and purely political side. My endeavor is only to study the beginnings of natural law on Protestant ground (which in many ways were interwoven with theological points of view), and even in this, I am not attempting anything like completeness, but desire merely, by means of certain chief representatives, to show from the origin of the natural law of the "Enlightenment", how far that movement was influenced whether positively or negatively by the ideas and motives of the Reformation.

First of all, there can be no doubt that natural law received at one point in the Reformation theology itself, if not a formal treatment, at least an organic insertion into the general body of its dogmatico-ethical system, namely, in Melanchthon. So early as in the first edition of his Loci,s that echo of the Gospel of Luther, he mentions the most usual forms (communissimas formas) of the lex naturae or of the ius naturale, as the theologians and jurists were accustomed to set them forth. These he finds in three principal divisions of natural law—concerning the worship of God, concerning the formation of the state and the inviolability of the individual persons guaranteed in the state, and concerning property—and to these he appends a brief notice about the ius gentium with its regulations concerning marriage, business, trade and the like. Biblical attestation of the lex naturae with its innate moral principles is according to Melanchthon contained in the apostolic dictum, Rom. ii. 15. Nevertheless, he is unwilling at first to concede to natural law any influence upon his system, for, now that human reason has been darkened by the Fall, though the moral faculty of man survives, yet it would be a great mistake to suppose that the material content of the innate moral law can be disengaged from the corruptions that have intruded themselves.6 So in 1521; but the disposition of the Reformer becomes much more favorable in the editions of the Loci subsequent to 1535, after he had turned aside towards synergism. While he recognizes no relation between the naturalis notitia and the Gospel, both on account of the character of the Gospel as mysterium and on account of the grace that is contained in it, he now sets up the equation: legem divinam notitias esse nobiscum nascentes sicut aliarum artium principia et demonstrationes.7 Una est lex et natura nota omnibus gentibus et aetatibus.8 It is true that emphasis is still placed upon the fact that natural law, especially with regard to the first table, is much obscured, and above all lacks the power for the execution of its commands; yet there is no principial but merely an accidental opposition between the revealed and the natural law. The Decalogue has rather merely the function of elucidating and expounding the law of nature. Accordingly, a number of natural-law principles are again discussed; for 'example, in the regulations of the Mosaic law about the forbidden degrees in marriage, an element is discovered which, since it belongs to natural law, is therefore binding upon the whole of humanity. In proof is cited the assertion of Scripture that the Canaanites (though they were not subject to the revealed law) were exterminated on account of their incestuous disregard of the marriage laws8—an argument which appears afterwards in Hugo Grotius in almost the same form.

With the disquisitions in the Loci agrees the frequent mention of natural law in other writings of the Reformer. To select merely one class of instances, I may refer especially

to the frequent Declamationes de dignitate legum.10 God, so we hear in these passages, has infused a ray of His eternal wisdom and justice into the nature of men, and however weak that nature has become, God has left even to fallen men so much comprehension of His law that that law rules their outward behavior, indeed in a certain sense their will.11 This law of nature is best expressed in the Decalogue.12 Yet all other laws of the nations have issued from these initio et principia given by nature, and in spite of their diversity are, in accordance with the character of each nation, good and justifiable, in so far as they ad illum radium lucis divinae transfusum in mentes hominum congruant, qui vocatur ius naturae, ex quo vult Deus exstrui leges.18 Among all the legal systems that have been formed upon the basis of this law of nature, the Roman law deserves the palm; nusquam extat perfectior et illustrior imago iusticiae quam in his [Romanis] legibus.14 Such expressions, it is true, contain nothing about a primitive contract or the like, yet evidently something more is intended than the mere natural faculty for law-making; for natural law is called in to decide the most important legal questions—not merely, for example, in an academic discussion as to whether or no the assassination of Caesar was justifiable,15 but also in the extremely important question of practical polities': an liceat vi resistere Caesari vim iniustam inferenti. With regard to this question Melanchthon's finding on the basis of natural law in 1530 still runs: etiam sententiae iniustae iudicio sit obediendum.16 Later, on the other hand, in 1537, he expresses quite the opposite opinion: Evangelium non tollit magistratum et ius naturae; hence licita defensio contra inferentem iniustum bellum.17

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