Difference of Religion does not Make Void the Magistrate’s Authority



Against Separation from Impure Civil Governments



Order of Contents

Excommunication does not Deprive a Magistrate of Civil Authority
The Roman Catholic View




The Confession of Saxony  1551

Quoted in ed. Peter Hall, The Harmony of Protestant Confessions (1842), p. 486.  This confession was authored by Philip Melancthon.

“Article 23, of the Civil Magistrate

…God would have all men to be ruled and kept in order by civil government, even those that are not regenerate


The French Confession  1559

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, vol. 2, p. 154

“Article 40, Obedience to Magistrates

Therefore, we affirm that obedience must be yielded unto their laws and statutes, that tribute must be paid to them, taxes and all other duties, and that we must bear the yoke of subjection with a free and willing mind, although the magistrates are infidels; so that the sovereign government of God may be preserved entire.  We detest all those who do reject the higher powers, and would bring in a community and confusion of goods, and subvert the course of justice.”


The Hungarian Catholic Confession  1562

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, vol. 2, p. 547

“Concerning the Two Kinds of Magistrates

Moreover, even the wicked and unbelieving, who hold legitimate power, must be obeyed, must be obeyed for the Lord’s sake and conscience (Rom. 13; Jer. 17, 27, 29; Dan. 2, 4; 1 Peter 2).  As Scripture commands: let us pray for all princes (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8), even the villainous; and as Christ commanded, pay taxes even to unbelieving rulers (Mt. 22:17; see Jer. 44).  How harshly the Lord commands the Jews to subject themselves to the Chaldeans.”


Confession of Tarcal (1562) and Torda (1563)

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, vol. 2, p. 750

“Article 33, Concerning the Obedience which we owe to the Magistrate

Whoever owes obedience to the rule of God (and all without exception do), likewise is subject to the commands of the magistrates, as those ordained by God (Rom. 13:1), whether merciful and quiet, or impious and harsh.  For one must at all times obey God, to whom alone belongs all power both to give and to withdraw authority; and one must gladly rely on His will, which is the steadfast rule of righteousness.

Thus Zedekiah was commanded to submit to the king of Babylon (Jer. 27:12-17), and when he did not he was deservedly punished.  It was also commanded to the Jews that were carried into captivity that they should pray for the health of Nebuchadnezzar, until God should set them free (Baruch 2:11).”


The Confession of La Rochelle  1571

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries, vol. 3, p. 322

“40.  Obedience Due to the Authorities

We affirm then that we must obey their laws and statutes, pay taxes, duties, and other charges and consent to this obedience from a good and free will–even if they are unbelievers–provided that the absolute sovereignty of God remains intact.  Therefore, we condemn those who would reject all hierarchy to establish community and confusion of goods and overthrow the order of justice.

Mt. 17:24-27; Mk. 12:17; Acts 4:17-20; 5:29″


Westminster Confession of Faith 23.4

“Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate’s just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to him:ª

ª 1 Pet. 2:13,14,16





Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 452-6, points 5-7  of Appendix to The Due Right of Presbyteries (London, 1644)



Robert Shaw – Section 2 on p. 252  on WCF 23.4  in An Exposition of the Confession of Faith  of the Westminster Assembly of Divines  4th ed. 1850

Shaw was a minister of the Scottish Secession Church who came into the Free Church of Scotland. 

MacPherson, John – p. 138  of The Westminster Confession of Faith, with Introduction and Notes  1881

MacPherson was a professor of the Free Church of Scotland.

Beattie, Francis – pp. 378-9 of The Presbyterian Standards, an Exposition  Buy  1896  440 pp.

Beattie was a very faithful, able and accomplished Southern Presbyterian, teaching as a professor in Louisville, KY.  See here for a bio and review of this work.

Hodge, A.A. – pp. 404-5  on WCF 23. 4  in A Commentary on the Confession of Faith  1901



Morris, Edward – 5. ‘The Pope in the State: his civil jurisdiction denied’, pp. 573-6  in Theology of the Westminster Symbols: A Commentary, Historical, Doctrinal, Practical on the Confession of Faith and Catechisms  1900




Jerome Zanchi

Confession of Christian Religion, ch. 26, section 1, pp. 242-243

“1. Every magistrate, whether godly, or ungodly, is of God, and therefore no magistrate is simply to be resisted.

We believe, therefore, that every magistrate, as well impious as godly, (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13; Rom. 13:7) is from the Lord God and is the minister of God for revenge of evil-doers and for the praise of well-doers: and therefore that he is to be feared and to be honored, and his commandments, which may be done with a good conscience and without breach of God’s law (Rom. 13:5) [are] to be observed: and that not only for fear, but also for conscience’s sake: namely, because the Lord so commands.  Therefore in respect that he is God’s minister (Rom. 13:2) he is not to be resisted; for whoso resists it, resists God’s ordinance and God Himself.


Elnathan Parr

The Grounds of Divinity Plainly Discovering the Mysteries of Christian Religion… (London, 1615), pp. 361-4.  Parr (d. 1632?) was a reformed Anglican.

“The second duty is obedience, to be performed by all persons, and in all things possible (the contrary whereof God commands not), though hard and unequal…  and this obedience must be to all governors, to the king as superior, and to the rest appointed by him, and to these, whether Christian or heathen, good or bad, merciful or cruel, for there is no power but of God (Rom. 13:1).

The third is piety, that subjects pray for their governors, yea though they were infidels, or wicked:  Thus did Daniel, thus did the ancient Christians for the heathen emperors, for their long life and safety…

Use 2.  Hence it appears that the Pope with his limbs are the great rebels of the world; for not only pulling their necks as ecclesiastical persons from the yoke of the emperor and their sons’ reigns, but especially for seeking to overrule, depose and destroy the kings and kingdoms of the earth.

Use 3.  Learn they duty.  Thy calling is to be subject…  Pay all subsidies, tares, customs, etc….  and surely, if we must willingly pay to a heathen, much more to a Christian, religious, merciful, and renowned king.”


Samuel Rutherford

A Peaceable & Temperate Plea...  (1642), p. 295

“…these are essentially kings and lawful magistrates who either never heard of Christ, nor any thing of God; but only that He is Creator of the world, or then who persecute and hate the name of Jesus Christ…

Now Formalists, denying such to be lawful kings, as either know not Christ, or believe not in Him, join hands with Papists, and make way for Anabaptistical Anarchy, that a persecuting or an unbelieving king is no king, not to be obeyed, but to be turned out of his throne: And to this meaning, Calvin, Viret and Cartwright teach that the kingly power flows immediately from God the Creator, not from God in the Mediator Christ.”



Excommunication does not Deprive a Magistrate of his Civil Authority


Vermigli, Peter Martyr  1583

Common Places, Book 4

ch. 13, section 12, p. 232

“But although a king may remove an unprofitable and hurtful bishop, yet cannot a bishop (on the other side) depose a king if he have offended. (Mt. 14:4; Prelates of the Church have no authority to depose kings and princes, Lk. 13:32)  John indeed reproved Herod, but he displaced him not of his kingdom.  Ambrose and Innocentius excommunicated emperors, but they proceeded no further.  Yea, and Christ called Herod a wolf, but He took not away his kingdom from him, and He paid tribute unto Tiberius, a most wicked prince. (Mt. 17:27)  Neither was He at any time author to any man to shake off his yoke.  Wherefore let Popes take heed: by what right they remove at their own pleasure kings and emperors out of their places.  This did neither any of the prophets, nor the apostles, nor yet Christ.”

ch. 21, section 12, ‘Whether it be Lawful for Subjects to Rise Against their Prince?’ p. 324

“The godly soldiers of Julianus the Apostate obeyed the same Julianus in fighting and pitching their camps: neither did they at any time (notwithstanding they were armed) draw weapon against that most cruel tyrant.”


Bucanus, William  1606

Institutions of Christian Religion, ch. 49, ‘Concerning Magistrates’, ‘What are the Assertions of Papists in this Point?’ p. 901-902

“They [Papists] do not only say…  that one born in an heretical country may deny his country, but that by heresy a man, nay, a king, is deprived of all his jurisdiction, whether natural, civil or politic…

One of their own bishops says, “As soon as a Christian king becomes heretical, forthwith the people are freed from subjection.”  A cardinal says, “As long as the prince continues excommunicated (as he must do ever, if he be not a Romanist, for the Pope excommunicates ipso facto all heretics) the subject is freed from the oath of subjection,” but by whom?  By the Pope, says a Jesuit, who upon just cause has power to absolve from oaths both himself, (as Gregory the 12th did when he sware that if he were chosen Pope he would give it over) and all others.  If he be personally excommunicated, then, says their lawyer, subjects are freed from their allegiance and all his heretical assistants are to be rooted out, and their land to be exposed to be possessed of (strangers) Catholics.  Nay, says another lawyer, if he be not excommunicated, yet if his heresy be publicly known, there needs no pronunciation of the sentence of excommunication, so that (says the Jesuit) subjects may lawfully deny him obediencer?  How so?  For the evidence of the crime, (says their whole school, and make it a matter of certainty and faith) does infer a sentence of condemnations because (as the more common opinion does define it) there must we understand the Pope’s will to have him excommunicated, whom upon the knowledge of his fault he would excommunicate.  Nay, suppose that a Protestant prince have a just quarrel: yet, no war can be lawfully denounced or waged by the Queen (being excommunicated by name) though otherwise in itself it were most just: because her power is unlawful.”


Downame, George

As quoted in, Richard Baxter, The Safe Religion, or, Three Disputations for the Reformed Catholic Religion against Popery (1657), Appendix, ‘A Translation of Bishop Downame’s Catalogue of Popish Errors, Book 3, De Antichristo, ch. 7′, section 21, Of the Law’, p. 543

“54. That the Pope can forbid subjects to keep the oath of fidelity, to Christian Kings, if they be such as acknowledge not the Roman sea.

55. That the Pope can absolve subjects from the oath of fidelity.

56. That the Pope has power to depose Princes.

57. That the subjects of such Princes are bound to obey such a sentence, if it be published.

58. That if grave and learned men (such as the Jesuites especially are) shall judge any Prince to be a Tyrant, it is lawful for their subjects to overthrow them, and if they want power to poison them.

59 That the subjects of the most Christian Kings, whom they call Lutherans and Sacramentarians, are free from all bonds, and that they may lawfully de∣stroy their Kings.

60. That ’tis not lawful for Christians to tolerate a King that is an Infidel or a heretick indeavoring to draw men to his Sect, but they are bound to depose him.

61. That the ancient Christians did not depose such because they wanted power.

62. That the Pope may give the Kingdoms and Principalities, and Lordships of all those whom he judges hereticks unto his Roman Catholikes, or may adjudge them to those that can lay hold of them.

63. That ’tis not onely lawful, but meritorious to kill Princes that are excommunicated by the Pope.”


Turretin, Francis – Institutes, vol. 3, 18th Topic, ‘The Church’, 32nd Question, ‘Ecclesiastical Discipline and Excommunication’, section V, p. 294

“…obstinate heretics…  scandalous and incorrigible sinners, after one and another admonition are suspended from the use of the sacraments and if they persevere in their contumacy and rebellion, they are ejected from the church, so that it is not lawful for them to join with believers in the exercise of piety.

This ought not to be extended to political society…  or other things due and necessary from our vocation in the economic or political state, as the Romanists wish; as if wives should be prohibited from their husbands, children from parents, servants from masters, subjects from rendering obedience to excommunicated princes, to which they are bound by the law of nature.  For excommunication cannot sever the natural and moral bonds by which men are mutually held together.”


Du Moulin, Jr., Peter – pp. 82, 109,-10, 112, 114, 122, 125, 140 of A Vindication of the Sincerity of the Protestant Religion in the Point of Obedience to Sovereigns, opposed to the Doctrine of Rebellion, authorized and practiced by the Pope and the Jesuits  1679

Du Moulin, Jr. (1601-1684) was reformed.



The Roman Catholic View

See also Works Against the Roman Apologist Robert Bellarmine on the Civil Magistrate.


Althusius, Johannes – p. 194 of ch. 38, ‘Tyranny and its Remedies’ of ed. Frederick Carney, Politica  (1603/14, rep. Liberty Fund, 1995)

“But those writers are wrong who assign to the Roman pontiff the power of deposing kings and emperors.¹

¹ See Petrus Gregorius, De republica, XXVI, 5-7; Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of the Peace; Lupold of Bebenberg, De jure regni et imperii.  [Gregorius affirms, while Marsilius and Lupold deny, a papal power of deposing rulers.]”

Preston, Thomas

A Theological Disputation concerning the Oath of Allegiance…  whereunto has also added an appendix, wherein all the arguments, which that most learned divine Franciscus Suarez, hath lately brought for the Pope’s power to depose princes…  are sincerely rehearsed, and answered  ToC  (London, 1613)

Roger Widdrington’s last rejoinder to Mr. Thomas Fitz-herberts reply concerning the oath of allegiance, and the Pope’s power to depose princes, wherein all his arguments taken from the laws of God in the old and new testament of nature, of nations, from the canon and civil law, and from the Popes breves, condemning the oath, and the Cardinal’s decree, forbidding two of Widdrington’s books, are answered: Also many replies and instances of Cardinal Bellarmine in his Schulckenius, and of Leonard Lessius in his Singleton are confuted ; and diverse cunning shifts of Cardinal Peron are discovered  (London, 1633)

Roger Widdrington was Thomas Preston.

Rivet, Andrew – pp. 21-24 & 43-46  of The State-Mysteries of the Jesuits, by way of Questions and Answers. Faithfully extracted out of their own Writings by themselves published  (London, 1623)

Crakanthorpe, Richard – Part 2, ‘Of the Pope’s Temporal Monarchy’  in The Defense of Constantine with a treatise of [against] the Pope’s Temporal monarchy, wherein… the second Roman Synod, under Silvester, is declared to be a mere fiction and forgery  1621

Crakanthorpe was reformed.  The first three chapters of Part 2 are Biblical, showing that the kingdom of Christ and the Church is not one of worldly dominion over the empires of this world.  Chapters 4-12 document the Roman Catholic view and practice of excommunicating and deposing kings through the successive eras of Church history, and also document those who opposed this unBiblical tyranny. 

Prynne, William – p. 4 of The Sovereign Power of Parliaments and Kingdoms  1643

Laski, Harold J. – pp. 49-50 of ‘Historical Introduction’  in Junius Brutus, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (London, 1924)

Robbins, John

Ecclesiastical Megalomania (Trinity Foundation, 1995), pp. 130-1

“…the pope…  can excommunicate a ruler and thereby dissolve all obligations his subjects have to support and obey him, thus overthrowing governments at will.  Thomas [of Aquinas] wrote:

…if someone commits the sin of unbelief he can be deprived of his right to rule by judicial sentence, just as for other failings…  Therefore, as soon as someone falls under a sentence of excommunication for apostasy from the faith, his subjects are ipso facto absolved from his rule and from the oath of fealty by which they were bound to him. (Summa Theologiae, ii-ii, Question 12, in Basic Writings of Thomas Aquinas, Anton C. Pegis, editor. New York: Random House, 1945.)”




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