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

Mistranslating Turretin?

The other day I was reading through parts of the eighteenth Topic, or Locus, of Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology–specifically, the 34th question on “The Political Government of the Church”–and came across a paragraph that seemed important in the argument but that I simply could not get to compute (operator error, perhaps?). I’m not sure how many times I read it; lots. It didn’t matter. I still couldn’t get it to “click.”

The paragraph in question is XVII. Here it is, in George Musgrave Giger’s translation:

Although political, external and objective power in reference to sacred things presupposes a formal, proper and intrinsic ecclesiastical power and the exercise of it; still in its kind it is always first and antecedent (yea, even alone, if we wish to speak accurately) because the other public, supreme and architectonic power does not precede or attend or follow it, but only the subjection and obedience of all citizens; and the subordinate and ministerial power of the political officers follows and accompanies it. Nor if the magistrate is subjected to Christ, the head of the church, and to his word, is he forthwith properly subjected to his minister, who proclaims his word. As the prince is subordinated to the king, but not to the herald or ambassador by whom the commands of the king are borne to him. It is one thing to obey and to be subject to another as a lord; another to hear one and obey his teachings. An uneducated father obeys his son, skilled in law, medicine or theology, especially if he is furnished with the doctorate; the prince obeys the counselor and the bench of judges, when a cause is decided in favor of any citizen against himself; nonetheless his supreme dominion remains.

It was the first part of the paragraph especially that was giving me problems, so I decided to have a look at the Latin (thanks, PRDL!). A couple of matters of translation and punctuation make that portion more ambiguous and obscure in Giger’s English than they need to be.

Here is Turretin:

Licet Potestas Politica externa & objectiva circa sacra, praesupponat formalem, propriam, & intrinsecam Ecclesiasticam, ejusque exercitium, tamen in suo genere est semper prima & antecedens, imo & sola, si accurate loque volumus, quia non praecedit, aut comitatur, aut sequitur eam alia potestas publica, suprema, & architectonica, sed tantum sequitur & comitatur eam omnium civium subjectio & obedientia, & potestas subordinata ac ministerialis Praefectorum Politicorum. Nec si Magistratus subjicitur Christo Capiti Ecclesiae, & Verbo ejus, continuo subjicitur proprie ejus Ministro, qui Verbum ejus annunciat. Ut Princeps subordinatur Regi, sed non Praeconi vel Nuncio, per quam mandata Regis ad eum deferuntur. Aliud est parere & subjici alicui tanquam Domino, Aliud audire aliquem & monitis ejus parere. Pater Idiota paret filio Juris, Medicinae, aut Tholgiae [sic] perito, inprimis si facultate doctorali sit instructus, Princeps paret Consiliario, & Collegio Judicum, quando civi alicui contra ipsum causa adjudicatur; Nihilominus manet semper supremus Dominus.

So, here is a new translation of this paragraph, with annotations:

Although external and objective political [or civil] power1 in relation to sacred things presupposes a formal, proper, and intrinsic ecclesiastical [power]2 and its exercise, nevertheless in its own kind [the political power] is always first and antecedent–nay, rather, even alone, if we wish to speak accurately, because another3 public, supreme, and architectonic power neither precedes, accompanies, nor follows it, but the subjection and obedience of all citizens, and the subordinate and ministerial power of political [or civil] officers [or governors, vel sim.: subordinate ministers of state] only follows and accompanies it. Nor if the magistrate is subjected to Christ as the Head of the Church, and to His Word, is he directly subjected to His minister,4 who proclaims His Word–[just] as the prince is subordinated to the king, but not to his herald or messenger, by whom the commands of the king are reported to him. For it is one thing to obey and to be subjected to someone as master; it is another to listen to someone and to obey his advice. The bumpkin father obeys the son who is skilled in law, medicine, or theology, especially if [the son] has been educated by the doctoral faculty; the prince obeys his counselor and the company of the judges, when a case against him is judged in favor of some citizen; nevertheless he always remains the supreme master.

I hope that this makes what Turretin is driving at in this particular passage clearer, particularly what he means by the “political” or “civic” power, how he attempts to safeguard it from domination by the Church, and how he envisions public hierarchy to be organized.

  1. The lack of a comma and the parallel with Ecclesiasticam leads me to believe that “political” should be taken directly with “power,” which phrase is further modified by “external” and “objective” (one might also take them basically predicatively, “a political power that is external and objective), rather than all three being on the same level in a series, as Giger has it.
  2. Note the nice chiasmus from politica to ecclesiasticam.
  3. This is perhaps the biggest problem in the other translation. Giger translates alia as “the other,” and so implies that there actually is another public, supreme, and architectonic power. But the Latin for that would be expressed with altera. Turretin’s point is precisely that there is no other power of that kind.
  4. eius makes clear that this means “minister of Christ,” rather than “his own” minister (which would be expressed by suo).

By E.J. Hutchinson

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