Erastianism is the view that the civil government has authority over the Church in sacred things (in sacra).
Order of Contents
The History of Erastianism
. Quote, Articles, Books
. Lutheranism, Arminianism, Congregationalism, at Westminster,
. Church of England
London Ministers – ‘Of the Proper Receptacle and Distinct Subject of all this Power and authority of Church Government… That the Political Magistrate is not the Proper Subject of this Power’ being part 2, ch. 9, section 2 of Jus Divinum, the Divine Right of Church Government 1645, 1654
Gillespie, George 1645-6
These three tracts were instigated by a sermon by the Erastian, Thomas Coleman to the English House of Commons, July 30, 1645. For background to them, see pp. xxiv-xxv of ‘Memoir of the Rev. George Gillespie’ in The Presbyterian’s Armoury, vol. 1.
Byfield, Adoniram – ‘A Brief View of Mr. Coleman’s New-Model of church government, delivered by him in a late sermon, upon Job 11:20’ ToC 1645
Fergusson, James – ‘A Brief Refutation of the Doctrine of Erastianism’ Original 1652 36 pp. being Section 3 of A Brief Refutation of the Errors of Toleration, Erastianism, Independency, and Separtation, delivered in Sermons on 1 Jn. 4:1, pp. 86-122 with a preface by Robert Candlish in the 1843 reprint, the year of the Disruption
Brown of Wamphray, John – Section 12 of An Apologetical Relation, pp. 93-108 1665
Brown, writing from Holland, defended the Scottish covenanters by giving their history of resistance against Erastianism and Prelacy. This chapter lists the many reasons why taking the Erastian Oath of Allegiance to Charles II in 1661 was wrong, and exposes Erastianism in the process.
“There was little discussion upon this subject [of Erastiansim] in England after the Restoration . The controversy was then transferred to Scotland, where the Presbyterian Nonconformists, in defending their refusal to submit to the ecclesiastical establishment then imposed upon the nation, not only objected to the intrinsic unlawfulness of the things imposed, but to the sinful usurpation of the rights of Christ, and of His church, exhibited by the civil authorities in imposing them, and were thus led to expound the principles by which the interference of the civil authorities, in regard to religious matters, ought to be regulated.
The principle works in which their views upon this subject were set forth are–Brown of Wamphray’s Apologetical Relation, published in 1665; the Apology for the Oppressed, Persecuted Ministers and Professors of the Presbyterian Reformed Religion, in 1677; and Forrester’s Rectius Instruendum, etc., in 1684. There has not, from that period till our own day, been much discussion upon this subject in Scotland.” – Cunningham, HT 2.581
For more from this Scottish time period, see Defenses of Scottish Covenanting especially the works by James Stewart and Robert MacWard.
Gray, Andrew – ‘The Liberty of a Church of Christ Against the Civil Magistrate’ 1843 23 pp. in The Duty and Liberty of a Christian Church Asserted Against Popery, Puseyism and Erastianism, pp. 23-39
Gray (1805-61) of Perth was a Free Churchman. This was published in the year of the Disruption. Gray is also the author of A Catechism of the Principles of the Free Church (1845), amongst other works.
‘Erastianism’ 1863 6 pp. in Historical Theology, vol. 1, p. 396 ff.
Discussions on Church Principles 1863
‘The Westminster Confession on the Relation Between Church and State’ from a pamphlet published in May 1843 immediately before the Disruption of the Church of Scotland, entitled, “Remarks on the Twenty-third Chapter of the Confession of Faith as bearing on existing Controversies”, published later in his Discussions on Church Principles, ch. 8
Many people today charge the original Westminster Confession of 1646 with Erastianism (that the State is over the Church). This is a charge made out of ignorance. The Confession teaches against Erastianism, but does teach the Biblical and historic reformed doctrine of the Establishment Principle. Cunningham vindicates the original Confession.
‘The Principles of the Free Church of Scotland’ p. 257 ff. 32 pp. being ch. 10
Here Cunningham defends the views and actions of the Free Church of Scotland against State intrusion into the Church.
‘The Principle of Non-Intrusion’ p. 470, 78 pp. being Ch. 12
Delivered during the ten year Non-Intrusion controversy (of the State intruding into the affairs of the Church) that led up the the Disruption in 1843.
Bannerman, James – ‘The Headship of Christ: Opposing Theories: Erastian and Popish’ 1868 10 pp. being Part 2, Ch. 2, Section 2 of The Church of Christ, vol. 1, pp. 200-210
Walker, James – ‘The Headship of Christ and Erastianism’ 1888, starting on p. 127, 29 pages, from his The Theology and Theologians of Scotland: chiefly of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, 1888, 236 pages
An excellent refutation of Erastianism from the practice and theology of the 1600’s Scottish church
Rutherford’s work is aimed at refuting the Erastian doctrine of the absolute, Divine Right of Kings.
“[John] Maxwell had written his  book because he felt that it was appropriate for a divine to put the case for absolutism, since it had already been convincingly argued by eminent lawyers like Bodin and Barclay, and since it was so strongly supported by Scripture and Christian tradition. Rutherford clearly could not let this go unchallenged. The natural-law contractualism of the Scottish-parliamentarian alliance needed to be defended by a theologian.”
“According to the Scottish moderate, Henry Guthry, every member of the 1645 General Assembly [of Scotland] ‘had in his hand that Book lately published by Mr. Samuel Rutherford… [which was] so idolized that whereas [George] Buchanan’s treatise De Jure Regni apud Scotos, was looked upon as an oracle, this coming forth, it was slighted (as not anti-monarchical enough) and Rutherford’s Lex Rex only thought authentic.'” – Coffey, Politics, Religion, p. 148-9, 151
This whole work was intended against Erastianism. It is divided into 3 Books. The first book demonstrates the divine right of Church Government (as distinct from civil magistracy) in the Old Testament. The second book take up the same theme in the New Testament (which is the heart of the book). The third book treats of excommunication.
Aaron’s Rod was written after Rutherford’s treatise, as Gillespie cites Rutherford on p. 78. In this work, Gillespie responds at length to William Prynne’s Vindication of his Four Questions (below).
“…this controversy, as it had been conducted in Holland during the [early part of the] seventeenth century. I now turn to Great Britain, where the Erastian controversy broke out at the time of the Westminster Assembly… the two principal works produced at this period in defence of Presbyterian, and in opposition to Erastian, principles, are Gillespie’s Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, and Rutherford’s Divine Right of Church Government, both published in 1646–Gillespie’s work being much more luminous, and much better digested, than Rutherford’s; and the second book of it being perhaps, upon the whole, the best work to be read, in order to obtain a comprehensive view of the principles of the Erastian controversy.” – Cunningham, HT 2.581
Rutherford, Samuel – The Divine Right of Church Government… in which… the six books of Erastus against Excommunication are briefly examined, with a vindication of Beza against the aspersions of Erastus… and the arguments of Mr. [William] Pryn, insofar as they side with Erastus are modestly discussed… 1646
The great part of this work is against Erastianism.
Speaking of Mr. Coleman, “One of his intentions was to translate, and publish in English, the book of Erastus against excommunication. But, through God’s mercy, before the poison was ready, there was one antidote ready, I mean Mr. Rutherford’s answer to Erastus.” – Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 78
Christianus, Socrates – An Abstract of Common Principles of a Just Vindication of the Rights of the Kingdom of God upon Earth Against the Politic Machinations of Erastian Heretics out of the Vindication of the Deprived Bishops, etc. ToC 1700
Christianus (d. 1706) was in the Church of England.
Evans, Erastus – Erastianism 1931 90 pp. being the Hulsean Prize Essay in the Univ. of Cambridge
Walaeus, Antonius – vol. 2, ‘A Tract of the Ministry of the Church, and an Inspection of the Magistrate around [circa] it’, pp. 1-79 in All the Works (Includes vols. 1 & 2, Leiden, 1643)
Voetius, Gisbert – Ecclesiastical Politics, vol. 1 (1st part of the 1st part) (Amsterdam, 1663)
Voet’s main life-long opponent in this matter was Lewis Du Moulin, of the French school. See Cunningham, HT 2.580.
Book 1, Tract 2, Of the Power, Polity & Canons of the Churches
2. The Power and Right of the Magistrate Around the Sacred is Decided. 124
3. Fonts of Solutions and Responses to Arguments and Evidences that the Adversaries are Accustomed to Using are Set Down. 149
4. Some Particular Questions about the Power of the Magistrate Around the Sacred are Determined. 182
Appendix: Of the Presence of the Magistrate in All Presbyterial & Consistorial Assemblies… 199
5. Some Particular Questions are Determined about the Subject of Ecclesiastical Power [Who may Hold and Exercise it]: Is it of the Magistrate and other Political Confederations? At Least During a Corrupt or Turbulent State of the Church? [Is it held by] The Pope, Bishops, etc. Courts of them, Cathedrals of the Church, Councils; or of Solely the Ministry, a Court of Them, or an Ecumentical or Catholic Church; or the Populus? 211
Revius, Jacob – An Examination of the Dissertation of Nicholas Vedel on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great, or of the Power of Reformed Magistrates about [circa] Things Ecclesiastical (Amsterdam, 1642) Various judgments of theological faculties are appended at the end.
Vedel (1596-1642) had been a professor of philosophy at Geneva, but was a professor of theology at Franeker, Netherlands when his Erastian work appeared, A Dissertation on the Oversight of Constantine the Great, or of the Power of Reformed Magistrates about [circa] Ecclesiastical Things… (1642, 140 pp.). The work has commendatory prefaces by Andrew Rivet & Johannes Maccovius.
The early Church Father, Eusebius (d. 339) had recorded in his Life of Constantine the Great (Bk. 4, ch. 24) that Constantine told a group of bishops, “that he himself too was a bishop… You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the Church: I also am a bishop [overseer], ordained by God to overlook whatever is external to the Church.” Eusebius went on to say, “for he watched over his subjects with an episcopal [overseer’s] care, and exhorted them as far as in him lay to follow a godly life.” As the reformed held that magistrates could exhort the Church ministry to do its duty, clearly Constantine’s words are open to a bit of interpretation.
Trigland, Jacob – A Theological Dissertation on the Civil & Ecclesiastical Power, both being mutually subordinate and coordinate to each other, upon the occasion of Vedel’s Book on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great (Amsterdam, 1642) ToC See especially ch. 7 and following.
This was written especially against Erastianism.
Apollonius, Willem – The Right of Royal Majesty about Sacred Things, or a Theological Tract on the Right of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things, opposite the Tract of Nicholas Vedel on the Oversight [Episcopatu] of Constantine the Great, by the Authority and Command of the [Dutch] Classis [Presbytery] of Walcheren (1642) 411 pp. No table of contents
Apollonius (1602-1657) was a Dutch presbyterian minister. This work has been a classic on the Establishment Principle. Vedelius (1596-1642) was a reformed professor at Franeker, who, in refuting Arminians in a small work of 1641, assigned a much lesser role to the magistrate respecting religion, but even this was considered too Erastian for many of the Reformed. Apollonius’ work was one of three responses to Vedelius, being published just before the Westminster Assembly. See Cunningham, HT, 2.579-80.
“There is another very valuable work by the same author, written a short time before the meeting of the Westminster Assembly, but treating very fully of the Erastian theory.” – William Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, pp. 301-302
Table of Contents
1st Section, Of the Right of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things in General
1 – A Description of the General Sentiment of the Orthodox 1
2 – An Examination of the First Question Proposed by the Celebrated Vedel: Whether the Magistrate has no Power in Ecclesiastical Things, so that He is [only] a Defender of the Church & an Executor of its Sentence? 8
3 – Of the End of the Power of the Magistrate about Sacred Things & the Order that He Holds to that End 46
4 – An Examination of the Second Question Weighed out by Vedel: Whether it ought not to pertain to the Magistrate to take care of the True Religion without attending to the Prescription of the Ministers of the Church 58
5 – Of the Object, Form & Mode of the Power of the Magistrate about Sacred Things 82
6 – An Examination of the Third Question Shaken out by Vedel: Whether the Power of the Magistrate itself Ought to Extend to All Parts of the Office of the Ministers of the Church 100
2nd Section, Of the Right of the Magistrate about Sacred Things in Specific
1 – Of the Calling of Pastors, & of the Right of the Magistrate & Church in it 140
2 – An Examination of the 4th Question Proposed by Vedel: Whether the Magistrate ought to have a Power for Calling Pastors or Ministers of the Church 162
3 – Of Synods & the Authority of the Magistrate about them 212
4 – An Examination of the 5th Question Shaken Out by Vedel: Of Judgment in the Cause of Faith and the Things of Religion in Synods 252
5 – Of the Coercive Power of the Magistrate about Ecclesiastical Things & Persons 326
6 – An Examination of the 6th Question Shaken Out by Vedel: In this Question the Celebrated Dr. of Divinity widely extended the fringes of the coercive power of the Magistrate; a bit is gathered together in a true explication of the body of the question and especially in response to the considerations. 361
Brown of Wamphray, John – A Confutation of the Libertine-Erastian Sentiments of Lambert Velthus on the Ministry, the Ecclesiastical Kingdom & Discipline Ventilated in a Vernacular Book on Idolatry & Superstition (1670)
“Brown of Wamphray, while in exile in Holland, published, in 1670, an important and valuable work on this subject [of Erastianism], entitled Libertino-Erastianae… which is well worthy of perusal.” – Cunningham, HT 2.582
Latin: on Ecclesiastical Discipline & Excommunication with Respect to Erastianism
Ursinus, Zacharias – Judgment Concerning Ecclesiastical Discipline and Excommunication 1569 17 pp. in Works, vol. 3, pp. 801-818
“Yea, Dr. Ursinus, in his Judicium de Disciplina Ecclesiastica et Excommunicatione, exhibited to the Prince Elector Palatine Frederick III (who had required him to give his judgment concerning Erastus’ theses), does once and again observe, that all the reformed churches and divines, as well as those that did not practice excommunication as those who did practice it, agree, notwithstanding, in this principle, that excommunication ought to be in the church; which is a mighty advantage against Erastianism.”
“…I reckon Zecharias Ursinus a most solid and judicious divine… wherein [in this work] he does soundly confute the theses of Erastus; neither has any reply been made thereto, that ever I could learn of.” – George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 76, 78
Brochmand, Casparus – ch. 13, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Discipline’ 1638 59 pp. in A System of Universal Theology, vol. 2, pp. 977-1032
Brochmand (1585-1652) was a Lutheran and a Professor of Theology at Copenhagen. “…where he examines the most substantial arguments of Erastus.” – Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 78
Beza, Theodore – A Pius and Moderate Tract on the True Excommunication and Christian Presbytery contra Erastus 1590 138 pp.
“…which was not printed until Erastus’ reply unto it was first printed. Whereunto, as Beza, in a large preface, lays the foundation of a duply, so he had prepared and perfected his duply had he not been hindered by the great troubles of Geneva, at that time besieged by the Duke of Savoy; Beza himself being also at that time seventy-one years old: howbeit, for all that, he did not lay aside the resolution and thought of that duply, if he should have opportunity, and see it requisite or called for; all which is manifest from that preface.” – George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 78
See also Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. 2, pp. 569-70.
Bibliographies of Latin Works on Erastianism
Gillespie, George – Aaron’s Rod, p. 78
Cunningham, William – Historical Theology, vol. 2, pp. 578-81
Church & State Co-Extensive
Murray, Robert H. – Political Consequences of the Reformation: Studies in Sixteenth-Century Political Thought, pp. 276-7, 280-1 1960
“To a man of [Richard] Hooker’s frame of mind there was no point in discussing the relationship between the Church and State. ‘There is not,’ he says,
‘any member of the commonwealth which is not also a member of the Church.’ If men were born into the State, they were baptized into the Church. If they owed civil duties to the State, they owed spiritual duties to the Church. ‘With us,’ he points out, ‘therefore the name of a Church imports only a society of men, first united into some public form of regiment, and secondly distinguished from other societies by the exercise of Christian religion…’
‘We hold, that seeing there is not any man of the Church of England but the same man is also a member of the commonwealth; nor any man a member of the commonwealth which is not also a member of the Church of England; therefore as in a figure triangular the base does differ from the sides thereof, and yet one and the selfsame line is both a base line and also a side; a side simply, a base if it chance to be the bottom and underlie the rest; so, albeit, properties and actions of one kind do cause the name of a commonwealth, qualities and functions of another sort the name of a Church to be given unto a multitude, yet one and the selfsame multitude may in such sort be both, and is so with us, that no person appertaining to the one can be denied to be also of the other.’
In Essence the Church and the State are precisely the same body regarded from different angles. It follows, then that the legislature is competent to pass laws on spiritual matters as well as on temporal matters…”
“No one can understand the sixteenth century who does not grasp the fact [Edmund] Burke [1730-97] set forth: ‘In a Christian commonwealth the Church and the State are one and the same thing, being different integral parts of the same whole.'”
Samuel Rutherford, The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644) p. 70
“…the Church and State in Israel were two incorporations formally distinguished. And I see not, but those who do confound them [the Erastians], may also say that the Christian State and the Christian Church be all one State, and that the government of the one must be the government of the other; which were a confusion of the two kingdoms.”
See Gillespie argue against the Erastian position in Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, Book 2, ch. 4, the 8th Difference, p. 89
Divine-Right Church Government
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions n.d.
ch. 1, ‘That the Ministry is a Perpetual Ordinance of Christ in the Church, and that ministers are to be received as the ambassadors of Christ now as well as in the primitive times’ n.d. 4 pp. in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions, pp. 1-4
“That which has long lurked in the hearts of many Atheists is now professed and argued for by that fierce furious Erastian, whose book was published the last year at Franeke. He cries out that the world is abused with that notion of a pretended sacred ministerial calling…” – p. 1
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions n.d.
“Also, in the Queries Touching the Ordination of Ministers , written in opposition to the learned and much-approved book entitled Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici [The Divine-Right of Church Government], the same controversy is touched upon frequently with more railing than reason by that furious Erastian [William Aspinwall, †1662] who composed the Grallae [Stilts] against [Willem] Apollnius [1602-1657]…”
ch. 4, ‘Objections Against the Necessity of Ordination Answered’ 4 pp. pp. 23-27
The Lord’s Supper & Excommunication
Erastianism held either that there was no excommunication at all taught in Scripture, or that, if there were, it was in the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate.
Erastians also tended to deny the distinction between lesser and greater excommunication (a person only being barred from the Lord’s Supper, yet remaining a member of the Church, versus being kicked out of the Church altogether). Having manifest unbelievers taking the Lord’s Supper necessitated the nature of the Lord’s Supper to be a converting ordinance (contra presbyterianism).
In addition, if an Erastian held that there were some amount of discipline in the membership of the Church (whether exercised by the Church or State), it was a much lower standard (tolerating far more) than what presbyterians argued from Scripture.
Four Serious Questions of Grand Importance, Concerning Excommunication and Suspension from the Sacrament propounded to the Reverend [Westminster or Parliament?] Assembly and all moderate Christians to prevent schisms, and settle unity among us in these divided times 1644 4 pp.
The presbyterian Herbert Palmer responded to this (below).
“Prynne maintained the supremacy of the state over the church, and denied in his pamphlets the right of the clergy to excommunicate or to suspend from the reception of the sacrament except on conditions defined by the laws of the state… He was answered by Samuel Rutherford in ‘The Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication,'” – DNB
A Vindication of Four Serious Questions… from some… unjust Exceptions lately taken against them; both in the pulpit, by a Reverend Brother of Scotland, in a Sermon at Margarets Church in Westminster… and in the Press, by three New-printed Pamphlets… Wherein some Scripture Texts (commonly produced for Excommunication, and bare Suspension from the Lord’s Supper only) are cleared… The grounds of sole Suspension from the Sacrament, of unmixed Communions, Independency, Separation from our Churches, Sacraments, examined, refuted, subverted; Judas his reception of the Lord’s Supper, cleared; It manifested, to be a converting, as well as a confirming Ordinance; a means to beget, as well as increase Grace: With other particulars… 1645 60 pp.
One of the pamphlets this is likely to be in response to is that of the presbyterian Herbert Palmer, below. Gillespie responds to this work of Prynne’s Aaron’s Rod, especially the third book of it.
Suspension Suspended: or the Divines of Syon College Late Claim of the Power of Suspending Scandalous Persons from the Lord’s Supper 1646 41 pp.
Administration of the Lord’s Supper
Gillespie, George – ch. 6, ‘Whether any other but a Minister, Lawfully Called and Ordained, may Administer the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?’ n.d. 3 pp. in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions, pp. 36-38
“The Socinians, and the Erastian crutch-maker before-mentioned, so plead against the necessity of ordination, that they hold it lawful and free to gifted persons not ordained, not only to preach, but to administer the sacraments.” – p. 36
The Lord’s Supper is not a Converting Ordinance
Gillespie, George – Aaron’s Rod, Book 3 1646
On Excommunication Generally
Withers, George – ‘A Brief Refutation of the Sophisms by which certain persons attempted to overthrow Ecclesiastical Discipline in a Public Discussion held in Heidelberg’ 1568 11 pp. in Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 453-363 Buy 1591, translated by George W. Williard
“…a public dispute at Heidelberg, in the year 1568, upon certain theses concerning the necessity of church government, and the power of presbyteries to excommunicate; which theses were exhibited by Mr. George Withers, an Englishman, who left England because of the ceremonies, and was at that time made doctor of divinity at Heidelberg.”
Ursinus, Zecharias – Question 83, ‘What are the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?’ from 31st Lord’s Day in Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 440-453 d. 1583
In this “…he plainly disputes against the Erastian principles. The more strange it is, that Mr. Hussey [an Erastian], in his Epistle to the Parliament, would make them believe that Ursinus is his, and not ours, in this controversy.” – Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 78
Palmer, Herbert – A Full Answer to a Printed Paper, entitled, Four Serious Questions Concerning Excommunication, and Suspension from the Sacrament, etc.: Wherein the several arguments and texts of scripture produced, are particularly and distinctly discussed: and the debarring of ignorant and scandalous persons from the sacrament vindicated ToC 1645
Answers the Erastian Prynne’s piece above. This was (likely) answered by Prynne in another piece (above).
Gillespie, George – Book 3 of Aaron’s Rod Blossoming 1646 130 pp.
The fullest discussion of the Erastian views on excommunication, especially in response to William Prynne.
Humfrey, John – A Second Vindication of a Disciplinary, anti-Erastian, Orthodox, Free Admission to the Lords-Supper; or, The state of this controversy revised and proposed ToC 1656
Humfrey (1621-1719) was reformed.
Blake, Thomas – Mr Humphrey’s ‘Second Vindication of a Disciplinary Anti-Erastian, Orthodox, Free-admission to the Lord’s-Supper’, taken into Consideration, in a Letter ToC 1656
Blake (1597?-1657) defends Humfrey. Blake is known for his Treatise of the Covenant of God, which has been reprinted.
On Fencing the Table
Gillespie, George – ‘Whether it be a Full Discharge of Duty to [only] Admonish a Scandalous Person of the Danger of Unworthy Communicating; and whether a minister, in giving him the sacrament, after such admonition [and not barring him from the Table], be in no way guilty?’ 1646 6 pp. being ch. 11 of book 3 of Aaron’s Rod Blossoming
Proving that Lesser Excommunication (from the Table) is Distinct from Greater Excommunication (from the Church)
Gillespie, George – Propositions 9-29 of 111 Propositions Concerning the Ministry and Government of the Church 1647
That Excommunication does not Involve Civil Shunning
Gillespie, George – ‘A Further Demonstration that these Words, ‘Let Him be Unto Thee as an Heathen Man and Publican,’ are not Meant of Avoiding Civil, but Religious or Church Fellowship’ 1646 being ch. 3 of Book 3 of Aaron’s Rod
Mediatorial Kingdom & that the King is the Vice-Gerent of Christ
George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 90, 96-97
“The controversy which has been moved concerning the civil magistrate’s vice-gerentship, and the holding of his office of, and under, and for Jesus Christ, as He is Mediator, has a necessary coherence with, and dependence upon, another controversy concerning a twofold kingdom of Jesus Christ…
It is a distinction which Mr. Hussey [an Erastian] cannot endure, and no marvel, for it overturns the foundation of his opinion. He looks upon it as an absurd assertion, p. 25, ‘Shall He have one kingdom as Mediator, and another as God?’ He quarrels all that I have said of the twofold kingdom of Christ, and will not admit that Christ, as Mediator, is King of the church only, p. 25-27,35-37.
He holds that Christ, as Mediator, has placed the Christian magistrate under Him, and as his vice-gerent, and has given him commission to govern the church, which, if he or any man can prove from the word of God, it will go far in the decision of the Erastian controversy…
Mr. [Thomas] Coleman [c.1597-1646] in his Re-Examination, p. 19, was fearful to set his foot upon so slippery ground. He was loath to adventure upon this assertion, that magistracy is derived from Christ, as Mediator, by a commission of deputation and vice-gerentship… Wherefore he made a retreat and held him at this: ‘That magistracy is given to Christ to be serviceable in his kingdom.’ But out steps Mr. Hussey and boldly avers a great deal more. I much mistake if he shall not be made either to make a retreat, as Mr. Coleman did, or to do worse.”
Hooker, Richard – Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 8, ch. 4, sections 6-7, pp. 374-384 ff. d. 1600
Hooker was the preeminent, foundational theologian for the Anglican Church.
Maxwell, John – ‘All Christian Kings are Dependent from Christ, and may be called his Vice-Gerents’ 1644 being ch. 5 of Sacro-Sancta Regum Majestas, or, The Sacred and Royal Prerogative of Christian Kings
John Maxwell was an English Erastian. Rutherford refutes this chapter in Lex Rex (below).
ed. Fentiman, Travis – All of Gillespie’s Writings on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom is the Church Only 2017 110 pp.
Gillespie argues against the Erastians Thomas Coleman (c.1597-1646) and Mr. Hussey.
Rutherford, Samuel – ‘Whether all Christian Kings are Dependent from Christ and may be Called His Vice-Regents?’ 1644 being Question 42 in Lex Rex, p. 210 ff.
This is a point-by-point refutation of John Maxwell’s (c.1590-1647) chapter above. Maxwell was an English Erastian.
See also our page, The Extent of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom
Scriptural ‘Qualifications’ of Civil Rulers
Rutherford Argues Against an Erastian, that the Scriptural commands to magistrates are moral injunctions, not qualifications as to the essence of civil authority.
Samuel Rutherford, Divine Right of Church Government, p. 547-8
“Objection 4: When it’s required that the magistrates be men fearing God, hating covetousness, etc. [Ex. 18:21; 2 Sam. 23:3-4; Prov. 28:16], is not this an essential ingredient of a king as a king, that he read in the Book of the Law, that he may fear God (Deut. 17:18-19)?
Answer: There is a twofold goodness here to be considered: (1) of the magistrate as a magistrate, another (2) as a good and Christian magistrate.
(1) The former is an official goodness, or a magisterial prudence, justice and goodness. This is required of all magistrates as such in order to judge the people. So the acts of an heathen magistrate done according to common, natural equity by Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate, Cesar, Felix and Festus are to be acknowledged as acts of a lawful magistrate, valid and no less essentially magisterial, than if performed by King David. And of this goodness the Scriptures speak not as essential to a magistrate as a magistrate.
(2) But there is another goodness required of magistrates as they are members of the Jewish Church and as they are Christians, and of these the Scripture speaks. And so magistrates, not as magistrates but as good and Christian, are to be such as ‘fear God, hate covetousness, respect not the face and favor of men.’ So it’s denied that the fear of God and hating of covetousness are essential ingredients of kings as kings.
For kings as kings intend justice, peace and godliness materially considered, both ex conditione operis [from the resultant condition the work produces], and operantium [the intention of the working itself]. But for justice and righteous judgment in a spiritual and an evangelical way, that belongs not to the essence of a magistrate nec ex conditione seu ex intentione operis, nec ex conditione operantis [from the quality or intention of the work, nor of the quality of working].
The Holy Ghost requires it of judges as they would approve themselves to be truly holy and religious and would be accepted of God. And in this sense kings as kings do not serve God, nor the Mediator Christ, nor yet as men; only they serve God and the Mediator Christ as Christian kings, or as Christian men rather.”
Do Heathen Magistrates have the Authority of God
Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod, p. 108
“But what will Mr. Hussey say, if his great master Erastus be found… Confirm. Theses, book 3, ch. 2, p. 184, speaking of the heathen and unbelieving magistrates, before whom the Corinthians went to law one against another, he says, An non est impius quoque magistratus a Deo praepositus, ut subjectos quoslibet ab injura et vi tueatur? Is not the ungodly magistrate also preferred by God, that he may defend any of his subjects from injury and violence?”
See pp. 107-8 of Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod.
“It is justly condemned as one of the errors of the Anabaptists, that an heathen magistrate is not to be acknowledged as a lawful magistrate, or as being from God. See [Johann] Gerhard, Loc. Com., vol. 6, pp. 498-99; P. Hinkelmannus, de Anabaptismo, disp. 13, ch. 1.”
On Erastus & Erastians
The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644) p. 70
…the Church and State in Israel were two incorporations formally distinguished. And I see not, but those who do confound them [the Erastians], may also say that the Christian State and the Christian Church be all one State, and that the government of the one must be the government of the other; which were a confusion of the two kingdoms.
It is true, God has not prescribed judicials to the Christian State, as He did to the Jewish State, because shadows are now gone when the body Christ is come; but God’s determination of what is morally lawful in civil laws is as particular to us as to them; and the Jewish judicials did no more make the Jewish State the Jewish Church, than it made Aaron to be Moses and the priest to be the king and civil judge…
Divine Right of Church Government (1646) pp. 383, 493-494
[If Erastus’ argument were true:] Then the Christian Church should be conform[ed] yet to the Jewish, we should have those same bloody sacrifices, judicial laws, ceremonies that they had. The judicatures and officers are positive things, flowing from the positive will of God who does appoint one jurisdiction for them, most wise, and another to Christians different from them, and in its kind, most wise.
“But we read not” (says Erastus) “where Christ has changed those laws in the New Testament.” It is true, Christ has not said in particular: “I abolish the debarring of the leper seven days, and he that is thus and thus unclean shall be separated till the evening;” nor has He said particularly of every carnal ordinance and judicial law: “it is abolished.” But we conceive the whole bulk of the Judicial Law, as judicial, and as it concerned the republic of the Jews only, is abolished, though the moral equity of all those be not abolished…
But sure Erastus errs who will have all such to be killed by the
magistrate under the New Testament because they were killed by him in the Old: Why, but then the whole judicial law of God shall oblige us Christians as Carolostadius and others teach? I humbly conceive that the putting of some to death in the Old Testament, as it was a punishment to them [the malefactors], so was it a mysterious teaching of us how God hated such and such sins; and mysteries of that kind are gone with other shadows.
Aaron’s Rod, p. 2. Gillespie is arguing against an Erastian:
“Now all this being unquestionably true of the Jewish Sanhedrin: if we should suppose, that they had no supreme Sanhedrin but that which had the power of civil Magistracy, then I ask where is that Christian State, which was, or is, or ought to be molded according to this pattern.
Must ministers have vote in parliament? Must they be civil lawyers? Must all criminal and capital judgments be according to the Judicial Law of Moses, and none otherwise? Must there be no civil punishment, without previous admonition of the offender? Must Parliaments sit, as it were in the Temple of God, and interpret Scripture, which sense is true, and which false, and determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience, and judge of all false doctrines?”
The History of Erastianism
The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, ch. 7, ‘Calvin & Beza’, pp. 350-1
“A class of subjects same to be discussed in the latter part of the sixteenth century which had not engaged so much of the attention of the earlier Reformers–especially the Erastian and the Prelatic controversies–and in the discussion of these matters Beza bore his part nobly as an able and faithful champion of the truth.
The Erastian controversy, indeed, as conducted between Erastus and Beza, turned mainly upon the particular subject of the excommunication of church members; and it was not till the following century, that the whole of the principles usually regarded by Presbyterian divines as comprehended in the Erastian controversy, were subjected to a full and thorough discussion.
Still, even at that early stage, the quested was mooted, on which the entire progress of the subsequent discussion, down even to our own day, has made it more and more manifest that the whole controversy hinges–viz. whether or not Christ has appointed in His church a government, distinct from, independent of, and in its own province not subordinate to, civil magistracy. And on this great question, as well as on the particular topic of excommunication comprehended under it, Erastus took the side which has always been supported by politicians, sycophants [obedient flatterers], and worldlings, while Beza ably defended that which has been adhered to by all intelligent and conscientious Presbyterians.”
Gillespie, George – ‘Of the Rise, Growth, Decay and Reviving of Erastianism’ being Book 2, ch. 1 of Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, pp. 75-79
A historical (and satirical) account of the rise of Erastianism from Erastus in the late-1500’s to Gillespie’s day.
Wilberforce, Robert Isaac – A Sketch of the History of Erastianism, together with Two Sermons on the Reality of Church Ordinances and on the Principle of Church Authority 1851 150 pp.
Cunningham, William – ‘The Erastian Controversy’ 30 pp. in Historical Theology, vol. 2, pp. 557 ff.
Allen, J.W. – ‘The Erastian Point of View’ 1938 6 pp. being ch. 5 of Part 5 of English Political Thought, 1603-1660, vol. 1 (1603-44), pp. 339-345
Gunnoe, Charles – Thomas Erastus and the Palatinate: A Renaissance Physician in the Second Reformation Buy 2010 525 pp. Brill
On Martin Luther & Lutheranism
Cunningham, William – Historical Theology, vol. 2, p. 567
ed. Schmid, Heinrich – Sections 5-9 of ch. 60, ‘The Political Estate’ 1875 2 pp. in The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, pp. 60-61
This is an anthology of excerpts from the early (1500’s-1700’s), classic Lutheran writers. While the early Lutherans were good on the magistrate upholding both tables of the Law, and establishing the Church in the land, yet they erred somewhat on the side of Erastianism.
Instances include: the magistrate, ‘directing the Church and the Christian religion in their external government’, ‘appointing suitable ministers of the Church’, ‘the framing and maintenance of the laws of the Church’, etc.
William Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. 2, p. 577-8
“The earliest discussions upon this subject, in the seventeenth century, were connected with the rise and progress of the Arminian controversy in Holland, and arose out o the interference of the civil authorities in the theological disputes which the views of Arminius and his followers produced –so much so, that it has been said that this might be regarded as a sixth point or article in the Arminian controversy. The Arminians generally adopted Erastian views… The cause of this was partly, no doubt, because they found that, during the earlier stages of the controversy, previous to the calling of the Synod of Dort, the civil authorities generally favored them, and were disposed to promote their views…
But their leaning to Erastianism had a deeper foundation than this, in the general character and tendency of their doctrinal views, especially in their latitudinarianism, which implied or produced a want of an adequate sense of responsibility connected with the discovery and the maintenance of all God’s truth; and thus tended to dispose them towards an allowance or toleration of the interference of a foreign and incompetent authority in the decision of religious controversies, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs.”
William Cunningham, HT 2.580
“…Lewis Du Moulin… a son of the famous Molinaeus, who took so active a part in the Arminian controversy, and was long the leading divine in the Protestant Church of France. Lewis settled in England, and obtained a chair in Oxford during the Commonwealth. He adopted Independent, or Congregational, views on church government, chiefly, it would appear, because he thought them more favorable to Erastianism than Presbyterian principles, a notion for which he could plead the authority of Congregational divines of the highest eminence–namely, the five dissenting brethren, as they were called, in the Westminster Assembly.
They, in their Apologetical Narration, had asserted that they gave as much, or, as they thought, more, power to the civil magistrate in religious matters than the principles of Presbyterians would allow them to do, a declaration which, whether it be regarded as made honestly or hypocritically, has been very galling to those who have succeeded them in the maintenance of Congregational principles.”
See also the appendix to Rutherford’s Due Right, where he argues against Erastian notions of the New England, congregational puritans.
Hetherington, William – Ch. 6, ‘The Erastian Controversy’ 1878 42 pp. in History of the Westminster Assembly, pp. 232-274
Gillespie contra Erastianism at the Assembly
pp. xxi-xxviii of ‘Memoir of the Rev. George Gillespie’ in The Presbyterian’s Armoury, vol. 1.
The Famed Anecdote of Gillespie debating Selden, ‘Lord give Light!’
pp. xxii-xxiii of ‘Memoir of the Rev. George Gillespie’, in The Presbyterian’s Armoury, vol. 1
On the Church of England
Cunningham, William – ‘Royal Supremacy in the Church of England’ 1863 30 pp. being Ch. 6 of Discussions on Church Principles, pp. 164 ff. 1863
Bruce, Archibald – A Historico-Politico-Ecclesiastical Dissertation on the Supremacy of Civil Powers in Matters of Religion, Particularly [Against] the Ecclesiastical Supremacy Annexed to the English Crown 1802 152 pp.
Bruce (1746-1816) was a Secession (Anti-Burgher) minister author and professor of Divinity (successor to Moncreiff).
Pretyman, J.R. – The Church of England and Erastianism since the Reformation 1854 380 pp. London
Kilcrease, Bethany – The Great Church Crisis and the End of English Erastianism, 1898-1906 Pre
Fuller, David – English Church and State: a Short Study of Erastianism Pre 2016 LuLu
Works of Erastians
The 75 Theses of Erastus Touching Excommunication 1st ed. 1589, rep. 1844 ed. with a preface by Robert Lee. A speech by Bulstrode Whitelocke (an Erastian) to the English Long Parliament, 1645, is appended
This was the major work of Erastus on the topic that is available in English. In his Theses, Erastus explained that sins of professing Christians are to be punished by civil authority, and not by the withholding of sacraments on the part of the clergy. Lee (1804-1868) was a progressive in the Church of Scotland.
Erastus reveals his position of State control over the Church in the preface and conclusion of this work. For more background to this work, see Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. 2, pp. 569-71.
Hooker (1554-1600) was an Erastian and perhaps the most, foundational theologian for the Church of England. This, his major work, was ‘the first major work in the fields of politics, theology and philosophy to have been written in English’ (A.S. McGrade) and was largely a defense of the status quo Church of England against the puritans.
Table of Contents:
1 – Of Laws in General
2 – Contra the Regulative Principle of Church Government & Worship
3 – That there is not an unalterable form of Church Government prescribed in Scripture
4 – Defending Popish Ceremonies in the Anglican Church generally
5 – Defending specific Anglican worship practices: Church Buildings, Preaching, Reading, Liturgy of Prayer, Vestments, Responsive Readings, Instruments, Hymns & creeds, Natures of Christ & Sacraments, Festival Days, Endowments, Tithes, etc.
6– Contra Ruling Elders
7 – Defending Prelacy
8 – The English King’s human-right of supreme authority over the Church
Here is a scholarly Commentary on The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, vol. 1 (Books 1-4), 2 (Books 5-8) 1993 ed. W. Speed Hill.
Maxwell, John – Sacro-Sancta Regum Majestas, or, The Sacred and Royal Prerogative of Christian Kings 1644
John Maxwell was an English Erastian. This work defends the ‘divine right of kings’.
“The immediate reason for the rewriting of the earlier manuscript [of Lex Rex by S. Rutherford] was the publication, in January 1644, of a royalist treatise, Sacro-Sancta Regum Majestas… Its author was John Maxwell, the deposed ‘Canterburian’ Bishop of Ross and one of the major architects of the notorious Scottish Prayer Book. Rutherford found this treatise by an old enemy deeply provocative, and over the winter, spring and summer of 1644, he spent much of his free-time away from the Westminster Assembly writing a detailed refutation…
Maxwell had written his book because he felt that it was appropriate for a divine to put the case for absolutism, since it had already been convincingly argued by eminent lawyers like Bodin and Barclay, and since it was so strongly supported by Scripture and Christian tradition. Rutherford clearly could not let this go unchallenged. The natural-law contractualism of the Scottish-parliamentarian alliance needed to be defended by a theologian.” – Coffey, Politics, Religion, p. 148-9
Calumny Arraigned and Cast. Or A brief answer to… William Prynne… in a late discourse, entitled, Truth Triumphing over Falsehood, etc. against Mr. John Goodwin. Wherein the loyal, unfeigned and unstained affection of the said John Goodwin to the Parliament, and civil magistracy, is irrefragably and fully vindicated and asserted… 1645
Goodwin (1594–1665) was an Arminian, , Erastian, Latitudinarian Church of England theologian. The Arminians were at the same time Erastians and for a broad toleration of doctrines, sects and schisms (especially their own).
Prynne was also an Erastian, but “loudly called on parliament to crush the sectaries (Just Defence of John Bastwick, 1645; The Liar Confounded, 1645; Fresh Discovery of some prodigious new wandering blazing Stars, 1645). Yet, while vehemently opposing the demands of the independents for liberty of conscience…” – DNB
Thirty Queries Modestly Propounded in order to a discovery of the truth, and mind of God, in that question, or case of conscience; whether the civil magistrate stands bound by way of duty to interpose his power or authority in matters of religion, or worship of God 1653
The Apologist Condemned: or, A Vindication of the Thirty Queries (together with their Author) concerning the power of the Civil Magistrate in matters of Religion. By way of answer to a scurrilous pamphlet, published (as it seems) by some poposalist, under the mock-title of ‘An Apology for Mr. John Goodwin’. Together with a brief touch upon another pamphlet, entitled, ‘Mr J. Goodwin’s Queries Questioned’ 1653
Prynne, William – The Sword of Christian Magistracy Supported, or, A Vindication of the Christian Magistrate’s Authority under the Gospel, to punish idolatry, apostasy, heresy, blasphemy, and obstinate schism, with corporal, and in some cases, with capital punishments 1653 174 pp.
Prynne (1600–1669) “loudly called on parliament to crush the sectaries… Yet, while vehemently opposing the demands of the independents for liberty of conscience, Prynne was equally hostile to the demands of the presbyterian clergy for the unrestricted establishment of their system. ‘Mr. Prynne and the Erastian lawyers are now our remora,’ complains Robert Baillie in September 1645 (Letters, ii. 315).” – DNB
Selden, John – Table Talk d. 1654 190 pp.
This is a collection of familiar anecdotal quotes from Selden, arranged by topic in alphabetical order.
For some interesting quotes revealing of Erastianism, see Abbeys, Articles, Bishops, Chancellor, Church, Clergy, Excommunication, Jurisdiction, Jus Divinum, King of England, Ministers, etc.
Du Moulin, Lewis – Of the Right of Churches and of the Magistrates Power over Them ToC 1658
Du Moulin (c.1605-1680) was an antagonist to Voet.
“…Lewis Du Moulin… a son of the famous Molinaeus, who took so active a part in the Arminian controversy, and was long the leading divine in the Protestant Church of France. Lewis settled in England, and obtained a chair in Oxford during the Commonwealth. He adopted Independent, or Congregational, views on church government, chiefly, it would appear, because he thought them more favorable to Erastianism than Presbyterian principles…” – Cunningham, HT 2.580-1
Honyman (1619-1676) was a zealous covenanter before the Restoration of 1660, though turned his back to the cause and became a chief antagonist. Honyman, in his works, argues for the Erastian divine-right of kings.
A Survey of the Insolent and Infamous Libel, Entitled, Naphtali etc., wherein several things, falling in debate in these times are considered, and some doctrines in Lex Rex and the Apologetical Narration (called by this author martyrs) are brought to the touch-stone 1668 140 pp.
For the covenanting works Honyman is responding to see Defenses of Scottish Covenanting.
Survey of Naphtali: Part II, discoursing of the heads proposed in the preface of the former, together with an examination of the doctrines of the Apologetical Narration concerning the King’s Supremacy in and about Ecclesiastic Affairs, and the Obligation of the Covenants 1669 275 pp.
Mackenzie, George – Jus Regium, or, The Just, and Solid Foundations of Monarchy in General, and more especially of the Monarchy of Scotland: Maintained against Buchannan, Naphtali, Dolman, [John] Milton, etc. 1684 160 pp.
Mackenzie (1636/1638–1691) was a Scottish lawyer, Lord Advocate, essayist and legal writer. This work was written against the political-resistance writings of George Buchanan, Rutherford’s Lex Rex and James Stewart’s Naphtali and Jus Populi Vindicatum, amongst others, and advocates the divine-right of kings. It was written during some of the worst days of the Killing Times.
Pusey (1800–1882) was a High-Church Anglican. On the one hand, this work documents helpful historical references guarding the power of the Church, on the other-hand, it does the same for some principles that are considered by presbyterians to be Erastian.
William Cunningham responds to this work in his article (above) on the Royal Supremacy in the Church of England.
Erastus, Thomas – Thesium Confirmatio in 6 books 1570
This was Erastus’ further reply to Beza’s piece against Erastus’ 75 Theses.
“Erastus’s name, however, could not probably have been generally employed to designate a controversy which for more than two centuries has been commonly regarded and spoken of amongst Protestants as comprehending a discusssion of the whole subject of the relation that ought to subsist between the civil and the ecclesiastical authorities, if he had confined himself rigidly to the one topic of excommunication…
And accordingly we find that, in the preface, and in the conclusion to his  Theses, and still more fully in the first chapter of the third book of the Confirmation, he has distinctly entered upon the wider field above described, as embraced by the controversy which has since been called after his name.” – Cunningham, Historical Theology 2.571
Selden, John – Of the Sanhedrims and Juridicial Governments of the Ancient Hebrews, vol. 1, 2, 3 1650-55
Selden (1584–1654) was an English jurist, a scholar of England’s ancient laws and constitution and a scholar of Jewish law, who debated in the Westminster Assembly.
“The chief Erastian book of this period [mid-1600’s] is Selden, De Synedris, which is directed to the object of assailing Presbyterian principles with materials derived from the Old Testament and the Jewish polity, materials which are discussed in the first book of Gillespie’s Aaron’s Rod Blossoming.” – Cunningham, HT 2.581
Grotius, Hugo – A Commentary on the Sum of the Commanding Powers around the Sacred 1661 402 pp.
“An elaborate defence of a system of the grossest Erastianism, such as some even of his Prelatic correspondents in England could not digest.” – Cunningham, Historical Theology 2.578