Archive Civic Polity Simon Kennedy The Two Kingdoms

Kuyper on Authority

In volume 1 of Pro Rege, Kuyper expounds upon the theme of the origins and nature of authority. In his exposition, he shows himself to be quite the political theologian. As a side note, this is one of the virtues of taking the effort to read these new Lexham Press translations of Kuyper’s public theology; they reveal a deeper, more detailed, more nuanced thinker than has previously been accessible to the English-language reader. His 1898 Stone Lectures are undoubtedly a tour de force, and the shorter writings and speeches that have made been translated  intoEnglish are valuable. But these tend toward the bombastic, and are tainted somewhat by the political environment in which he operated. The theological and theoretical reflection found in these recent volumes really is refreshing.

But I digress. In Pro Rege, after discussing the hypothetical of an authority-less world, he writes:

This was not the way things were ordained, however, with the creation of humanity … For the rest [apart from Adam], every person is born from other people, and by that very fact in one’s origin and birth one already has a relationship to other people. One does not stand independently of another, but one blood binds the lives of everybody together into a single unity … No one stands independently and on one’s own, but all people together form one human race; and within that human race an inequality comes to expression that calls into existence the authority of one person over another.1

This natural authority, that of a father and mother over their child, is not entirely original to humanity.

Parental authority cannot be original because, even if parents did procreate the child, the child did not receive his life and existence from his father but from God … God’s authority is therefore exercised in two ways: the first, directly and immediately over creatures without a soul; the second, mediately through a human being as an instrument, and therefore as an authority that is derived and conferred, being manifested in paternal and maternal authority.2

So there is, according to Kuyper, a kind of natural authority for parents. The other kind of natural authority is that of the ‘genius’; that is, one that is exceptionally gifted and therefore has authority over other people (doctors, lawyers, and so on). But both of these types of authority are derived from God himself. And this kind of authority was the only kind necessary for some time, ‘as long as common descent and blood relations dominated the bond’s formation.’ (p. 261) However:

This was no longer possible … when the distance separating the generations increased, and when need or violence required groups estranged from each other to live together in a national bond … But the nature of the case meant that these small formations could not survive, and gradually they joined into larger groups uniting millions and millions of people. Here in particular a bond of a well-regulated order was necessary, but this was unthinkable without a powerful man who would stand at the head.

This is why kings of nations arose. Also, these kings exercised nothing other than the divine authority of government, but … the character of their authority was not organic [as in the case of parents] but mechanical. The resulting situation may have been entirely suited to the fallen human race, but it still did not correspond to the creation ordinances. The nation did not come from the king. He was the natural, organic head of his people, but had been set up as a head to those who formed the body.3

Here we see Kuyper theorising his opposition to patriarchalist understandings of political authority, divine right theories, but also the position that civil government would have existed pre-Fall. Political authority is now, necessarily, ‘mechanical’ and not organic. This does not make it sinful, but it is different to the authority of a parent. And in both cases the authority is derived entirely from the authority of God.

Both kinds of authority will, of course, be done away with once God consummates His everlasting kingdom. Then there will be no derived authority. And paternal, ecclesiastical, and political authority will be properly combined into one.

  1. Abraham Kuyper, Pro Rege: Living Under Christ’s Kingship: Volume 1: The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship, eds. John Kok and Nelson D. Kloosterman, trans. Albert Gootjes, (Lexham Press: 2016) p. 258, 3.3.2
  2. Ibid., p. 258-9, 3.3.2
  3. Ibid., pp. 261-2, 3.3.4

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.

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