Archive Authors Civic Polity E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene The Two Kingdoms

Calvin on the Christian Prince

Psalm 148 

1  Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.

4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:

8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word:

9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:

10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:

11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.

14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord.

John Calvin, in his remarks on Psalm 148:11 (” Kings of the earth, and all peoples; princes, and all judges of the earth”), notes that there is special significance to the particular exhortation to kings, princes, and judges to praise the Lord. Offering such praise is of course a universal duty, but it has particular ramifications depending on one’s station (ruler, young man, old man, young woman, children). Those in power have an exemplary role to play, a moral duty in the cura religionis. But, in addition, those in power are especially tempted, Calvin says, to impiety: to think themselves mightier than they are and therefore to disregard the Lord of heaven and earth. But they, too, are under authority and are thus bound to pay their own “tribute.” His remarks do not preclude a kind of natural equality among men, but such “leveling” coexists with differences in social and political position, and each of the possible stations brings its own obligations. For the prince, Calvin seems to say, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.”

11. Kings of the earthetc. He now turns his address to men, with a respect to whom it was that he called for a declaration of God’s praises from creatures, both above and from beneath. As kings and princes are blinded by the dazzling influence of their station, so as to think the world was made for them, and to despise God in the pride of their hearts, he particularly calls them to this duty; and, by mentioning them first, he reproves their ingratitude in withholding their tribute of praise when they are under greater obligations than others. As all men originally stand upon a level as to condition, the higher persons have risen, and the nearer they have been brought to God, the more sacredly are they bound to proclaim his goodness. The more intolerable is the wickedness of kings and princes who claim exemption from the common rule, when they ought rather to inculcate it upon others and lead the way. He could have addressed his exhortation at once summarily to all men, as indeed he mentions peoples in general terms; but by thrice specifying princes he suggests that they are slow to discharge the duty, and need to be urged do it.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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