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Victorinus Strigel on the Christian Prince

Today’s commentary on Psalm 148:11 comes from Victorinus Strigel (1524-69).1 PRDL lists him as Lutheran-Reformed, presumably at least in part because he was my favorite kind of Lutheran, which is to say, a Philippist (with apologies to any LCMS readers).2

The following excerpt is from his Hypomnemata in omnes Psalmos Davidis.3 I am almost certain that his has never before appeared in English.

Strigel goes yet further than the other commentators we have examined so far, in maintaining that the chief purpose of civic polities is to propagate the knowledge of God. Men have the “social instinct” so that they can join together in the knowledge and praise of God. At the same time, he is realistic about the prospects for this in the world he observes about him: just as Calvin and Musculus remarked, Strigel too admits that few who are in positions of authority wish to do their duty. Still, he believes, it would be better if they did, and Christians in the Church ought to think about the civic body in the way he describes regardless of whether their betters do or not. It is not as though the presence or absence of the purpose of propagating the knowledge of God makes civil order legitimate or illegitimate in his view (and this is true as well for the others we have examined so far); for him (and the others) it is not a question of the legitimacy of civil government, but of better and worse ways of carrying out its tasks.

Text and Translation

Ideo conditi sunt homines ad societatem, cui multis gradibus personarum & officiorum opus est, sicut concentus in fidibus ac tibijs atque cantu ipso ex dissimilimarum vocum moderatione concors efficitur & congruens, ut in hac frequentia luceat noticia Dei, & Deus celebretur atque invocetur. Etsi autem pauci gubernatores ad hanc metam tendunt: tamen in Ecclesia omnes prudentes illum optimum finem prospicere decet, constituendas esse & muniendas ac tegendas politias, ut in eis noticia Dei propagetur. Huic summo operi, scilicet doctrinae propropagationi servire curia, duces, exercitus, agricolae, opifices, denique omnes vitae gradus debent, ut Psalmo 102. dulcissime dicitur, Cum colligentur populi & reges in unum, ut serviant Domino. Monet enim reges, principes, civitates, doctores, patresfamilias, ut cogitent hoc praecipuum esse officium suum, ut puram doctrinam ad gloriam Dei conservare & propagare, & Deo obedire studeant.

Men have been created for society (for which there is a need for many ranks of persons and offices, just as music on strings or pipes and even in singing itself is made harmonious and proportioned from the tempering of dissimilar voices) for this reason: so that in this multitude the knowledge of God may shine forth and God may be praised and called upon. Moreover, although few of those who govern hasten toward this goal, nevertheless in the Church it is fitting that all prudent men look toward that best end: that polities ought to be established and fortified and protected so that the knowledge of God may be propagated in them. The Senate, the military leaders, the army, farmers, craftsmen–in short, all ranks of life ought to be in service to this highest work, namely, the propagation of doctrine, as is said most sweetly in Psalm 102, “When the peoples and kings will be collected together, so that they may serve the Lord.” For he advises kings, princes, political bodies, teachers, heads of households that they think of this as their chief duty: to be zealous to preserve and to propagate pure doctrine to the glory of God, and to be obedient to God.

 

  1. Previous installments: John Calvin, Wolfgang Musculus, Matthew Henry.
  2. He also ended his career teaching at the university in the Reformed city of Heidelberg, after having taught at Jena and Leipzig.
  3. I consulted the 1567 Leipzig edition.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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