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Archive Civic Polity Nota Bene Peter Escalante

Jesus, Lord of the 17th Century

Peter Leithart, as is sometimes his wont, makes a very curious historical assertion in order to underscore a theological point here; he claims that whereas Jesus was foundational to Western political thought for centuries, “By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jesus had become irrelevant.” But this thesis, tossed off as if it were so evident as to be commonplace, in fact needs to be argued– and it is an argument that would fail. Jesus is foundational for King James, Hobbes (vide Book III of Leviathan), Cromwell and the Army and the Levellers (vide The Putney Debates), Filmer, Overall, and the Jesuits (vide Mariana and Suarez). With regard to the more “secular” thought of Althusius, Pufendorf, and Thomasius, the Kingship of Jesus as expressed in dual mode is the quiet principle which constructs the “secular” civic sphere they undertake to discuss; Jesus is no more absent in their thought than He is from that of Richard Hooker or Thomas Aquinas.  More of a case can be made for the indifference to Jesus of many– though by no means all– 18th c thinkers, but this too would require serious argument and qualification (for instance, it makes little sense to look exclusively at political philosophers and not at actually existing 18th century laws and “cultural liturgies”), not a casual invocation of Whig history but with a reverse valence, that signature move of so-called Radical Orthodox writers.

By Peter Escalante

Peter Escalante is a founder and editor of The Calvinist International. He holds a MA in Philosophy.