Archive Civic Polity Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy The Two Kingdoms

‘For the welfare of the church’

Althusius’ two kingdoms doctrine, as outlined in chapter XXVIII of the his Politca methodice digestica, has further knock-on effects for his political science than what I discussed in my previous post. Immediately following the instructions about the civil magistrate and freedom of conscience, Althusius explains that the prudent ruler will ‘abstain from persecutions’ of sects which are contrary to his own. While should not ‘permit the practice of a wicked religion’, he must balance this duty with the overall good of commonwealth.

We may say … that the magistrate who is not able, without peril to the commonwealth, to change or overcome the discrepancy in religion and creed ought to tolerate the dissenters for the sake of public peace and tranquility, blinking his eyes and permitting them to exercise unapproved religion, lest the entire realm, and with it the house hold of the church, be overthrown … Just as amidst these winds and waves the navigator brings his ship safely into the harbour, so the magistrate directs the commonwealth in a manner that keeps it free from ruin for the welfare of the church.1

It is important to note that Althusius is responding to a situation where there is more than one sect which claims to be worshiping according to the Bible. He is operating under the premise that the civil magistrate is tasked with upholding the first table of the Decalogue, and therefore is to establish proper Christian worship. He is also operating in the religiously-mixed Holy Roman Empire. It is left up to the political prudence of the magistrate as to what sort of error warrants action.

Althusius is concerned with the welfare of the commonwealth because he is for the welfare of God’s people. Even in a religiously mixed jurisdiction, Althusius would rather have false religion tolerated than see anarchy and violence destroy the acceptable offering of God’s Church.

  1. Politca methodice digestica, XXVIII.66

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.