Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thinking about Government - Part IV Confessional Tensions?

I now want to delve a bit into several passages in the Confessions about civil government that seem to be in some tension with each other. In this and the next post, we’ll look at these passages, then consider several ways that they may all be understood to cohere together.

On the one hand, the top text in the Tappert translation of article xxviii in the Augsburg Confession provides a statement with which I think even most libertarians would be satisfied:

“Temporal authority is concerned with matters altogether different from the Gospel. Temporal power does not protect the soul, but with the sword and physical penalties it protects body and goods from the power of others.” (art. xxviii.10-11).

Not only does the translation of the article seem to endorse a first table/second table division regarding the jurisdiction of civil government, it also seems entirely consistent with the notion that state authority does not encompass “victimless” crimes. After all, here the civil authority “protects body and goods from the power of others,” in distinction from protecting it from oneself. (Exactly what defines a “victimless” crime is quite another matter. But this translation seems to suggest that the state protects individuals only from others, not from themselves.)

Other translations of this passage do not go quite as far. The bottom translation in the Tappert edition renders the passage this way:

“For civil government is concerned with other things than the Gospel. The state protects not souls but bodies and goods from manifest harm, and constrains men with the sword and physical penalties, while the Gospel protects souls from heresies the devil, and eternal death.”

And the Triglotta translates it this way:

“For civil government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain men with the sword and bodily punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace.”

While lacking the phrase “from the power of others,” both of these other translations nonetheless speak about the state protecting “bodies” from “manifest harm” or injury. So here the civil government would again seem not to have authority to protect the “soul” or “mind” from harm. This would include not only matters of the first table of the law, but also some matters of the second table. Or perhaps think of pornography here.

Further, these translations would allow the government to regulate only those actions that threaten “manifest” harm or injury. So injuries that are not plain and obvious would seemingly not be within the jurisdiction of the government.


So what are some other passages that seem to me in tension with this passage, however translated? There are several.

First, the many confessional passages regarding the “first use of the law” (quoted in earlier posts) do not seem to limit civil authority to things of the body (as opposed to those of the soul) or to the first table. It seems to me that the only limitations in those passages is the practical limitation of whether the sin involves an observable action or not (since the civil government can only act on what it can see). So matters of the first table of the law would come within the scope of the civil government, as well as sins against oneself, or that involve only consensual behavior.

More pointedly, though, is that other parts of the Confessions seem to suggest that the civil government does have authority over some spiritual matters. Here are three passages:

“Especially does it behoove the chief members of the church, the kings and the princes, to have regard for the interests of the church and to see to it that errors are removed and consciences are healed. God expressly exhorts kings, ‘Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth’ (Ps. 2:10). For the first care of kings should be to advance the Glory of God. Wherefore it would be most shameful for them to use their authority and power for the support of idolatry and countless other crimes and for the murder of the saints” (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 54, emphasis added).

“Emperor Charles . . . It is your special responsibility before God to maintain and propagate sound doctrine and to defend those who teach it. God demands this when he honors kings with his own name and calls them gods (Ps. 82:6), ‘I say, “you are gods.”’ They should take care to maintain and propagate divine things on earth, that is, the Gospel of Christ, and as vicars of God they should defend the life and safety of the innocent” (Apology XXI.44).

“If any refuse your [i.e., pastors and preachers] instructions [from the catechism], tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians. . . . In addition, parents and employers . . . should notify them that the prince is disposed to banish such rude people from his land.
“Although we cannot and should not compel anyone to believe, we should nevertheless insist that the people learn to know how to distinguish between right and wrong according to the standards of those among whom they live and make their living. For anyone who desires to reside in a city is bound to know and observe the laws under whose protection he lives, no matter whether he is a believer or, at heart, a scoundrel or knave” (Small Catechism, Preface 11-13).

This post is long enough. I’ll continue the discussion, along with ways all the passages may possibly cohere together, in another post.


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