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Stephanus Fabricius on the Christian Prince (3)

At long last, the next installment of Stephanus Fabricius’ comments on Psalm 148:11-12, from his twelfth discourse on that Psalm (part 1; part 2).

If it is granted that magistrates have a duty to render praises to God along with all other men, one might ask in what, particularly, that consists for a magistrate. It consists, Fabricius says, in the magistrate doing his duty (officium). This duty can be subdivided into two general areas of concern: he has a duty in respect to  religion (circa religionem & cultum Dei) and in respect to temporal matters.

Fabricius then further subdivides their religious duty, which is double (duplex) into a common, or shared, aspect–one that is shared with other men–and a proper, or peculiar, aspect–one that belongs to the magistrate as such. This post includes the material on the officium commune; I hope to get to the officium proprium in the near future.

The common duty of magistrates consists of several different things: submission to the authority of Christ as King of kings; reverence for the Word of God; prayer and religious exercises. This duty could be considered as belonging to the magistrate’s “private life” (privatam…vitam). He cites several instances of men who excelled in this regard, comprising Old Testament kings and Christian Roman emperors (Valentinian and Theodosius).

But even this aspect of “private life” has public ramifications for magistrates. While bearing in mind that he is still speaking about their officium commune, shared with other men, and not their officium proprium, even within the realm of common duty magistrates have an exemplary role to play. This is because those who are set in a position of prominence are more likely to be imitated by others. That is perhaps a matter of common sense, and so he uses two similes to illustrate, but it is also remarked upon in the Psalms and the apocryphal Sirach.

Text and Translation

Sed concedetur forte, Regum quoque, principum, iudicum & magistratuum esse, cum aliis omnib. Deum laudare.

At vero quaeretur fortasse, in quib. haec illorum laus consistat, & quomodo Deum laudare debeant?

Uno verbo responderi potest: Diligenti, fida & sedula officij sui exsecutione. Quod ipsorum officium versatur.

I. Circa religionem & cultum Dei.

II. Circa res temporales & corporales, hanc potissimum vitam spectantes. Quemadmodum planum est ex loco Apostoli, I. Tim. 2.2.

Religionem et cultum quod attinet, eorum officium duplex est: nempe commune & proprium.

Commune est, ut ipsi, quanquam magistratus, subdant collum suum Christo Regi Regum, & Domino dominorum, & iugo eius, i.e. doctrinae & disciplinae obediant, non minus, quam subditi ipsorum. Nam hac in parte non est discrimen in regno Christi, inter Magistratum & privatum.

Itaque verbum Dei in honore & pretio habeant, illud diligenter audiant, legant, meditentur, precibus & aliis pietatis exercitiis invigilent: Deut. 17.18.seq. Ios.1.7.8.Ps.2.10.

Atque tales sese praestiterunt semper, quod ad privatam suam vitam, omnes pij Reges & Principes. Ut David, Iosaphat, Ezechias, Iosias, Valentinianus M. Theodosius M. alijque pij Imperatores.

Imo vero non tantum cum aliis pietati & religioni deditos esse decet, sed etiam illorum est, in his omnibus aliis bono exemplo praelucere. Siquidem illorum exempla efficacissima sunt ad alios flectendos in utramque partem. Vide Ps.12.9 Sir.10.2. Consule experientiam in Regibus populi Dei illustra simili morbi a capite diffusi, adeoque omnium periculosissimi & gratissimi: arboris item magnae cadentis & secum alias minores deijicientis & prosternentis.

But perhaps it will be granted that it belongs to kings too, to princes, to judges, and to magistrates, together with all other people, to praise God.

But perhaps it will be asked, in what things does this praise of those men consist, and how ought they to praise God?

An answer can be made in one word: by the diligent, faithful, and constant performance of their duty. This duty of theirs revolves

I. Around religion and the worship of God.

II. Around temporal and bodily affairs that have a view most of all to this life, as is plan from the passage of the Apostle, 1 Tim. 2:2.

As far as it pertains to religion and worship, their duty is twofold: namely common [or “shared”] and proper [or “their own”].1

The common [duty] is that they, although they are magistrates, submit their neck to Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that they yield obedience to his yoke, that is, to his doctrine and discipline, not less than their subjects. For in this respect there is no difference in the reign2 of Christ between a magistrate and a private citizen.

Therefore they should consider the Word of God as a thing of honor and value, they should diligently hear, read, meditate, be intent upon it with prayers and other exercises of piety: Deut. 17:18ff.; Iosh. 1:7-8; Ps. 2:10.

And all pious kings and princes have always shown themselves to be people of such a kind, as far as it pertains to their private life–[people such] as David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, Valentinian the Great, Theodosius the Great, and other pious emperors.

Nay, rather: it is not only fitting that they be devoted to piety and religion together with other men, but also belongs to them [i.e., magistrates] that they outshine all others in these things by their good example: since, indeed, the examples of those men are most efficacious for turning others to good or to evil. See Ps. 12:9;3 Sir. 10:2.4 Consider the experience of the kings of the people of God; elucidate it [for yourself] by the similitude of a disease that has spread from the head, and thus the most dangerous and most serious of all; likewise, of a great tree falling, and felling and knocking to the ground other smaller trees together with itself.


  1. That is to say, there is a duty which they share with all men, and one that is proper to the magistracy as such.
  2. Or “kingdom.”
  3. There is a slight difficulty here. In modern editions of the Bible, there is no verse 9 in Psalm 12. Presumably, Fabricius is using an edition of the Psalter that begins verse-numbering with the superscriptions at the heads of Psalms, as happens for instance, in the Vulgate (though there Psalm 12 would be Psalm 11). Fabricius, then, seems to mean the verse that in, e.g., the ESV would be 12:8, a verse that is contextually appropriate here: “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the chidren of man.”
  4. “Like the judge of a people are his officers, and like the governor of a city are all who live in it” (trans. Edgar J. Goodspeed).

By E.J. Hutchinson

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

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