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

Martin Bucer on the Christian Subject

We continue on with our series of Reformed exposition of Psalm 148:11, “Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth,” with Martin Bucer’s comments from his Sacrorum Psalmorum libri quinque1 Again, this may well be a “you heard it here first” kind of text.

Bucer gives a slightly different Latin translation of the verse, which I have included above the text of his comments.

The attentive reader will have noticed that the title for this particular post has been modified from those of the other posts in this series. The reason for the change is evident when one reads through Bucer’s remarks: while he concurs with Calvin, Musculus, and Strigel that most magistrates are bad men–and adds that they are generally foolish as well–he admonishes his readers of their duty to obey them nevertheless. He does not focus any attention on the responsibility of kings, princes, and magistrates to praise the Lord (though he does remind his readers of their function of rendering justice), instead remarking that they are an especial instance in which one can contemplate the miracles of God among men (causes of praise in others rather than givers of praise themselves). He is much more concerned to emphasize that magisterial power is directly ordained of God and thus ought not to be resisted–and thus to emphasize the duty of the Christian subject.

Text and Translation

Reges terrae & cuncti populi, principes, & universi magistratus terrae.

Contemplanda offert Dei miracula in hominibus, vers. 11 in his nominatim, qui potestate aliqua funguntur, ut sunt Reges, & populi suis legibus utentes, quibus vel regnum est, vel Respublica. Hi enim leumim vocantur. Principes et iudices, magistratus sunt, reddentes ius. Etenim cum hi fere stulti & mali sint, iuxta proverbium, aut Regem aut fatuum, & perpauci hominum sint, qui vel bonorum & sapientium imperium ferant, stupendum sane miraculum est, tot millia parere paucis, ac saepe uni, eique nihil vel iusticiae aut prudentiae habenti. Hic ergo illud re ipsa conspicitur, constitutione Domini omnem potestatem constare: & Dei statuto adversari, qui illi, qualis qualis sit, sese opposuerit. Dij nanque sunt, id est Deum referentes, Deique praefecti, utcunque sicut homines moriantur.

Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes, and all magistrates of the earth.

[The psalmist] puts forward miracles among men to be contemplated, in v. 11 among those particularly who discharge some power, as are kings, and peoples making use of their own laws, whether theirs is a kingdom [regnum] or a commonwealth [Respublica]. For these are called leumim [“peoples”]. Princes and judges are magistrates, rendering justice. And indeed, since these generally are foolish and wicked, according to the proverb, “either a king or a fool,” and there are very few men who endure the power even of the good and wise, it really is a miracle worthy of astonishment that so many thousands obey a few men, and often one–and him possessing nothing of either justice or prudence. Here, therefore, the following thing in reality is observed, that every power stands firm by the ordering of God; and that he who has opposed himself to it [i.e., to the established power], of whatsoever kind it may be, opposes the decree of God.2 For they are gods3–that is, they are those who represent God–and prefects of God, howsoever they die as men.


  1. I have consulted the Basel edition of 1547.
  2. Cf. Rom. 13:2.
  3. Cf. Psalm 82:6.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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