POLITICAL SOVEREIGNTY, AND ECCLESIASTICAL
Now that we have discussed particular and minor public associations, we
turn to the universal and major public association. In this
association many cities and provinces obligate themselves to hold, organize
use, and defend, through their common energies and expenditures, the right of
the realm (jus regni) in the mutual communication of
things and services. For without these supports, and the right of
communication, a pious and just life cannot be established, fostered, and
preserved in universal social life.
Whence this mixed society, constituted partly from private, natural,
necessary, and voluntary societies, partly from public societies, is called a
universal association. It is a polity in the fullest sense, an imperium, realm,
commonwealth, and people united in one body by the agreement of many symbiotic
associations and particular bodies, and brought together under one right. For
families, cities, and provinces existed by nature prior to realms, and gave
birth to them.
Many writers distinguish between a realm (regnum) and a
commonwealth (respublica), relating the former to a monarchical king and
the latter to polyarchical optimates. But in my judgment this
distinction is not a good one. For ownership of a realm belongs to the people,
and administration of it to the king. Thus Cicero, as cited by Augustine, says
'a commonwealth is the weal of the people, although it may be well and justly
ruled either by a king, by a few optimates, or by the whole
people.' Indeed, any polity whatever, including a city, can be
called a commonwealth, such as the Athenian, Spartan, Hebrew, and Roman
commonwealths, of which many have not been without their kings....
We will discuss, first, the members of a realm and, then, its right. The
members of a realm, or of this universal symbiotic association, are not, I say,
individual men, families, or collegia, as in a private or a particular public
association. Instead, members are many cities, provinces, and regions agreeing
among themselves on a single body constituted by mutual union and
communication. Individual persons from these group members are called natives,
inhabitants of the realm, and sons and daughters of the realm. They are to be
distinguished from foreigners and strangers, who have no claim upon the right
or the realm. It can be said that individual citizens, families, and collegia
are not members of a realm, just as boards, nails, and pegs are not considered
parts of a ship, nor rocks, beams, and cement parts of a house. On the other
hand, cities, urban communities, and provinces are members of a realm, just as
prow, stern, and keel are members of a ship, and roof, walls, and floor are
essential parts of a house....
The bond of this body and association is consensus, together with trust
extended and accepted among the members of the commonwealth. The bond is, in
other words, a tacit or expressed promise to communicate things, mutual
services, aid, counsel, and the same common laws (jura) to the extent
that the utility and necessity of universal social life in a realm shall
require. Even the reluctant are compelled to comply with this communication.
However, this does not prevent separate provinces of the same realm from using
different special laws. Plato rightly said that this trust is the foundation of
human society, while lack of trust is its plague, and that trust is the bond of
concord among the different members of a commonwealth. For the promise of so
many different men and orders has as its purpose that the diverse actions of
the individual parts be referred to the utility and communion of one
commonwealth, and that inferiors be held together with superiors by a certain
fairness in the law (jus)....
The more populous the association, the safer and more fortunate it
Therefore the depopulation of a city and realm is understood to be among
the more severe punishments. It is useful and necessary to have an abundance of
citizens both in time of war and in time of peace. In time of war a large
number can better restrain and hold out against external force. A small number
is more easily and quickly diminished and ruined by a baneful misfortune.... In
time of peace a large number of people augments the public treasury by their
taxes, tolls, fines, business, commerce, and goods....
On the other hand, a commonwealth or region overflowing with an excess
of people is not free from disadvantages, and is exposed to many corruptions.
For by such an excess of men all things are more easily consumed and exhausted,
a great scarcity of things develops, and poverty occurs. Nor can so many be
ruled easily and well. Nor can concord, good order, and proper discipline be
preserved as easily among many persons. They overflow with sycophants, with
wealth and corruption, until wealth is preferred among them to virtue, bribes
to justice, timidity to courage, and evil to good. Just as iron by its nature
produces rust by which it is gradually corroded, and just as ripe fruit
produces worms by which it is gradually consumed, so also large, populous, and
mighty imperia manifest many corruptions by which they are
gradually worn down. Experience testifies that might leads to over-confidence,
over-confidence to folly, folly to contempt, contempt to the weakening of
authority, and so to the loss of imperium. Might also leads to wealth, wealth
to the pursuit of sensual pleasures, and so to everything corrupt. When the
might of a commonwealth grows, fortitude and virtue decline. Thus the Roman
imperium was in its highest state of authority and dignity under Augustus.
Under Tiberius, however, the pursuit of sensual pleasures began, and virtue was
stifled by lust. Under Caligula, Claudius, and Nero virtue was utterly
destroyed. For awhile, first under Vespasian and then under Trajan and Anthony
Pius, virtue again came forth, and with it came imperial grandeur. However,
soon afterwards under Domitan, who followed Vespasian and Titus, and under
Commodus, who followed Trajan and Anthony Pius, virtue once more gave way, and
with it the imperial glory.
From these considerations one may conclude that a commonwealth of medium
size is best and steadiest. Such a commonwealth can resist external force, and
is not dominated by the corruptions I have discussed. It also labours less
under misguided affections, commotions, avarice, and ambition. As it is forced
to be suspicious of the might of its neighbours, so it also is forced to be
more cautious. The Roman commonwealth is an example. When it was of medium
size, it was free from many corruptions. When it grew to a great size, however,
with greater might and a larger population, as in the time of Marius, Sulla,
Pompey, and Julius Caesar, it abounded with corruptions so much that it was
thrown into great calamities. But the Venetian commonwealth, because it remains
of medium size and vigorously resists wilful corruptions by the severity of its
laws, has endured for the longest time, as one was also able to say of the city
Such are the members of the realm. Its right is the means by which the
members, in order to establish good order and the supplying of provisions
throughout the territory of the realm, are associated and bound to each other
as one people in one body and under one head. This right of the
realm (jus regni) is also called the right of sovereignty (jus
majestatis). It is, in other words, the right of a major
state or power as contrasted with the right that is attributed to a city or a
What we call this right of the realm has as its purpose good order,
proper discipline, and the supplying of provisions in the universal
association. Towards these purposes it directs the actions of each and all of
its members, and prescribes appropriate duties for them. Therefore, the
universal power of ruling (potestas imperandi universalis) is called
that which recognizes no ally, nor any superior or equal to itself. And this
supreme right of universal jurisdiction is the form and substantial essence of
sovereignty (majestas) or, as we have called it, of a major state. When
this right is taken away, sovereignty perishes....
The people, or the associated members of the realm, have the power
(potestas) of establishing this right of the realm and of binding
themselves to it. So Vasquez demonstrates from Bartolus and other
authorities. And in this power of disposing, prescribing,
ordaining, administering, and constituting everything necessary and useful for
the universal association is contained the bond, soul, and vital spirit of the
realm, and its autonomy, greatness, size, and authority. Without this power no
realm or universal symbiotic life can exist. Therefore, as long as this right
thrives in the realm and rules the political body, so long does the realm live
and prosper. But if this right is taken away, the entire symbiotic life
perishes, or becomes a band of robbers and a gang of evil men, or disintegrates
into many different realms or provinces.
This right of the realm, or right of sovereignty, does not belong to
individual members, but to all members joined together and to the entire
associated body of the realm. For as universal association can be constituted
not by one member, but by all the members together, so the right is said to be
the property not of individual members, but of the members jointly. Therefore,
'what is owed to the whole (universitas) is not owed to individuals, and
what the whole owes individuals do not owe'. Whence it follows
that the use and ownership of this right belong neither to one person nor to
individual members, but to the members of the realm jointly. By their common
consent, they are able to establish and set in order matters pertaining to it.
And what they have once set in order is to be maintained and followed, unless
something else pleases the common will. For as the whole body is
related to the individual citizens, and can rule, restrain, and direct each
member, so the people rules each citizen.
This power of the realm (potestas regni), or of the associated
bodies, is always one power and never many, just as one soul and not many rules
in the physical body. The administrators of this power can be many, so that
individuals can each take on a share of the function of governing, but not the
plentitude of power. And these individuals are not themselves in control of the
supreme power. Instead they all jointly acknowledge such a power in the consent
and concord of the associated bodies. Whence jurists have declared the rights
of sovereignty and of the realm (jura majestatis et regni) to be
indivisible, incommunicable, and interconnected, so that whoever holds one
holds them all. Otherwise two superior entities would be
established in one imperium. But a superior entity can have no equal or greater
superior. And imperium and obedience cannot be mingled. These rights can,
however, be lawfully delegated, so that in their administration someone other
than their owner may perform the duties of a supreme magistrate.
Bodin disagrees with our judgment by which supreme power is attributed
to the realm or universal association. He says that the right of sovereignty,
which we have called the right of the realm, is a supreme and perpetual power
limited neither by law (lex) nor by time. I recognize
neither of these two attributes of the right of sovereignty, in the sense Bodin
intends them, as genuine. For this right of sovereignty is not the supreme
power; neither is it perpetual or above law. It is not supreme because all
human power acknowledges divine and natural law (lex divina et
naturalis) as superior. Note the argument of Romans 13: the minister of God
is for your good. If he is the minister of God, he can do nothing contrary to
the commandment given by his Lord. Indeed, an absolute and
supreme power standing above all laws is called tryannical. Bartolus says,
'great is Caesar, but greater is the truth'. Augustine says,
'when justice is taken away, what are realms except great bands of
robbers'. On this point, however, not even Bodin disagrees with
us. For he does not release the power he calls supreme from the imperium of
divine and natural law (jus divinum et naturale).
Our question, therefore, concerns civil law and right (civilis lex et
jus). Should he who is said to have supreme power subordinate his imperium
and high office to civil law as well ? Bodin says no, and many others agree
with him. In the judgment of these men there is supreme power above civil law
and not limited by it. This is a judgment I would not hold. To liberate power
from civil law is to release it to a certain degree from the bonds of natural
and divine law (lex naturalis et divina). For there is no civil law, nor
can there be any, in which something of natural and divine immutable equity has
not been mixed. If it departs entirely from the judgment of natural and divine
law (jus naturale et divinum), it is not to be called law (lex).
It is entirely unworthy of this name, and can obligate no one against natural
and divine equity. Therefore, if a general civil law enacted by a prince is
fair and just, who can free him from the obligations of this very law? On the
contrary, it should be the judgment of the supreme legislator that whatever we
wish men to do to us, we should do those things to them. But
insofar as this civil law departs in certain respects from natural equity, I
will grant that he who has supreme power, and does not recognize any superior
except God, together with natural equity and justice, is not bound by this law,
especially in applying punishment to himself.
If law (lex), and freedom from law by a supreme power, are
accepted in this sense, I concede to the judgment of Bodin, Peter Gregory,
Cujas, Doneau, Duaren, and other jurists. But by no means can this supreme
power be attributed to a king or optimates, as Bodin most ardently endeavours
to defend. Rather it is to be attributed rightfully only to the body of a
universal association, namely, to a commonwealth or realm, and as belonging to
it. From this body, after God, every legitimate power flows to those we call
kings or optimates. Therefore, the king, prince, and optimates recognize this
associated body as their superior, by which they are constituted, removed,
exiled, and deprived of authority.... For however great is the power that is
conceded to another, it is always less than the power of the one who makes the
concession, and in it the pre-eminence and superiority of the conceder is
understood to be reserved. Whence it is shown that the king does not have a
supreme and perpetual power above the law, and consequently neither are the
rights of sovereignty his own property, although he may have the administration
and exercise of them by concession from the associated body. And only so far
are the rights of sovereignty ceded and handed over to another that they never
become his own property.
Bodin defends the opposite position by distinguishing between the
sovereignty of the realm and of the ruler. But if sovereignty is
therefore twofold, of the realm and of the king, as Bodin says, I ask which is
greater and superior to the other? It cannot be denied that the greater is that
which constitutes the other and is immortal in its foundation, and that this is
the people. Nor can it be denied that the lesser is that which appears as one
person, and dies with him. The king represents the people not the people the
king, as we explain later. And greater is the power and strength
of many than of one. Whence the supreme monarch is required to give an account
of his administration, is not permitted for his own pleasure to alienate or
diminish the provinces, cities, or towns of his realm, and can even be
We must now define this supreme power. We attribute it by right of
sovereignty to the associated political body, which claims it for itself alone.
In our judgment, it is derived from the purpose and scope of the universal
association, namely, from the utility and necessity of human social life.
According to this position, therefore, the nature and character of imperium and
power will be that they regard and care for the genuine utility and advantage
of subjects. Vasquez demonstrates this when he says that there is no power for
evil, but only for good, none for doing harm or for ruling in the interest of
pleasure or self-aggrandizement, but only for considering and supporting the
genuine utility of subjects. Whence Augustine says that to rule
is nothing other than to serve the utility of others, as parents rule their
children, and a man his wife.... Universal power is called
pre-eminent, primary, and supreme not because it is above law or absolute, but
in respect to particular and special subordinate power that depends upon it,
arises and flows from it, returns in time to it, and is furthermore bound to
definite places. Such is the power that is given to universal administrators,
and to special heads of provinces as their deputies, delegates, administrators,
procurators, and ministers. All have only the use and exercise of power for the
benefit of others, not the ownership of it.
This right of the realm (jus regni) is twofold. It pertains both
to the welfare of the soul and to the care of the body. Religion, by
recognizing and worshiping God, seeks the welfare of the soul. The care of this
life seeks the welfare of the body. Prayers are to be poured forth 'for kings
and all who are in high positions, that under them we may lead a peaceful and
quiet life in all piety and respectfulness'. We are trained 'to
renounce all impiety and worldly desires, and to live temperately, justly, and
piously in the present world'. We should live temperately toward
ourselves, justly toward our neighbour, and piously toward God. Piety is to be
understood according to the first table of the Decalogue, and justice according
to the second. Polybius says that the desirable and stable condition of a
commonwealth is one in which holy and blameless life is lived in private, and
justice and clemency flourish in public.
Each part of this right of the realm about which we have spoken consists
of universal symbiotic communion and of its administration. We
will first discuss this universal communion, and later its
administration. Universal symbiotic communion is the process by
which the members of a realm or universal association communicate everything
necessary and useful to it, and remove and do away with everything to the
contrary. And therefore this right of the realm pertaining to symbiosis and
communion can be described as living lawfully, as nourishing life, and as
sharing something in common.
Universal symbiotic communion is both ecclesiastical and secular.
Corresponding to the former are religion and piety, which pertain to the
welfare and eternal life of the soul, the entire first table of the Decalogue.
Corresponding to the latter is justice, which concerns the use of the body and
of this life, and the rendering to each his due, the second table of the
Decalogue. In the former, everything is to be referred immediately to the glory
of God; in the latter, to the utility and welfare of the people associated in
one body. These are the two foundations of every good association. Whenever a
turning away from them has begun, the happiness of a realm or universal
association is diminished....
Ecclesiastical communion of the realm is the process by
which those means that pertain to the public organizing and conserving of the
kingdom of Christ (regnum Christi) are established, undertaken, and
communicated according to his will throughout the territory of this universal
association. This is done to the eternal glory of God and for the welfare of
the realm. Whence the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal right of sovereignty of the
realm is called the business of Jehovah. Within the boundaries of the realm,
this right guides the enjoyment of a pious life by which we acknowledge and
worship God in the present world....
This sacerdotal or ecclesiastical right is properly instituted in the
territory of the realm when the same public and uncorrupted worship of God is
established, practised, and conserved according to the will of God in the
individual cities and provinces or members of the realm, and when the general
care of it is expressed by the universal association. This care is expressed,
first and foremost, by the public introduction, establishment, and conservation
of religion and uncorrupted worship of God, as they are approved by sacred
writings, in the territory of the realm, and in all the cities and provinces
thereof. 'Seek first the kingdom of God.' 'For the fear of the
Lord is the beginning of understanding.' All members, both
individually and collectively, are obligated to the profession of this religion
and divine worship.... The true and pure religion and worship of God are to be
established not by a majority of the citizens, nor by the weight or vote of
men, but by the Word of God alone, according to their agreement with faith.
Public schools provide for the conserving of true religion and the
passing of it on to later generations, for informing the life and customs of
citizens, and for acquiring knowledge of the liberal arts. Schools are to be
opened in the cities and provinces of the commonwealth in order that professors
and instructors of liberal arts may publicly teach, that they may distribute
prizes and honours for merit, and that they may confer upon their scholars the
insignia of the master, the licentiate, and the doctor. In these schools the
seeds of piety and virtue are adroitly poured into the youth from sacred
writings and the more human liberal arts, so that good citizens may go forth as
pious, manly, just and temperate persons.... Moreover, these schools are the
custodians of the keys of science and doctrine, by which the resolution of all
doubt is sought and the way of salvation is disclosed. Whatever the quality of
rulers and citizens the school produces, of such is the commonwealth and church
Also pertaining to the conservation of religion, of divine worship, and
of the church is their defence against all disturbers and scorners. Whence
arises the right and power of restoring the uncorrupted worship of God, of
expelling from the territory those alien to uncorrupted religion, and for
compelling the citizens and inhabitants of the realm, by public ordinances and
even by external force, to worship God.... On the other hand, the worshippers
of the true God are to be defended and protected in the realm, even if they are
few in number and there are many who profess another religion....
Nevertheless, a schism should not be made, nor a separation from the
church be granted, merely because of some error, sacramental reason, or other
cause, provided the foundation of the true religion is retained and other human
opinions merely added to it.... 'Welcome the man who is weak in
faith.' The Apostle Paul recognized as brothers those who came
close to idolatry, profaned the supper of the Lord, and erred concerning the
resurrection. 'If you bite and devour one another, watch out
that you are not in turn consumed by one another.' Christ
suffered disciples who were weak, sinful, crude, inexperienced, and
erratic. The Gospel collects in its net not only good fishes,
but others also. It further advises that tares not be rooted out
from good seeds. "In a great house there are vessels of gold and
of clay, and some perform with honour and others with
dishonour.' The church is likened to a granary in which there
are both grain and chaff, to a banquet in which both good and
evil feast together, to the ten virgins, and to a
sheepfold in which there are both sheep and goats.
Moderation should be observed, as Benedict Aretius says. The problem is
to be handled in one way for authors of schisms and those who have openly
separated themselves, and in another way for those who have been misled by a
jealous piety and a certain simple ardour. It is indeed handled very badly when
we demand a decision on all opinions in even the most minute matters, and,
unless this decision is subscribed to in all particulars, we give way to
thunderbolts, factions, sects, curses, even to prisons and deaths. For no mode
of thought has ever come forth as so perfect that the judgment of all learned
men would subscribe to it. Aretius concludes that if the principal articles of
faith are preserved, nothing should stand in the way of disagreement on
opinions in other Christian matters.
To be sure, persons are not to be suffered who are openly and publicly
atheists, who take action against the magistrate, who promote unnecessary wars,
who support shameful acts in public, and who deny, break, or call into doubt
the articles necessary for salvation. It is not permitted that everyone should
be free to enjoy his religion in total opposition to the Christian faith. For
as God is one, so there is one formula for rightly worshipping him, which he
has set forth for us, and outside of which it is not possible to please him.
There is no communion of light with darkness, of Christ with Satan. And if
Jehovah is your God, why do you not follow him? God wills that violators of
orthodox religion be severely punished. He makes the magistrate the defender of
his cause, and commends to him the protection and defence of the pious.... For
this kind of liberty fights with faith and renders it uncertain. Many faiths,
and many diverse churches, introduce idolatry and impiety. Moreover, diversity
destroys unity. 'Whoever is not with me is against me.' To what
extent a magistrate in good conscience can tolerate men who stray from true
religion in his realm will be discussed later.
1. [universalis: inclusive of all other associations within a given
large area, and recognizing no superior to itself; sovereign in its own
2. [fundamental law of the realm.]
3. [optimates: the chief men of the realm; those who hold the more
powerful offices. In some realms optimates are not merely nobles, but also
leading burghers or their representatives.]
4. Cicero, The Republic, III, 27; Augustine, The City of God, II, 21. [A
more accurate reference in Cicero for this notion is in I, 26 of the same work.
The precise quotation used by Althusius, however, is found in the Augustine
5. [imperium (pl. imperia): sometimes empire, sometimes rule, and
sometimes both empire and rule. In the universal public association, it very
often means empire, as it does here. However, in smaller associations, both
private and public, the word means merely rule. Throughout this translation the
word has usually been rendered 'imperium' in order to convey Althusius'
understanding of the centrality and continuity of the principle of rule in all
6. 'Then Samuel proclaimed the right of the realm (Jus regni)
among the people, and wrote it in a certain book." I Samuel 10: 25.
7. [In the equivalent chapter (VI) of the edition of 1603, Althusius
limited the right of sovereignty to the power of administration, which he
placed under the fundamental right or law of the realm. Here, of course, it is
identified with this right or law. Sovereignty henceforth pertains to the
people and their constitution, not merely to the chief administrator and his
8. Fernando Vasquez, Illustrium controversiarum, I, 47; Bartolus,
Commentarii (Digest I, 1, 9; I, 4, 1; I, 1, 5; XII, 6, 64); Conrad Lancellot,
Templum omnium judicum, I, 2; Paul Castro, Commentaria (Digest I, 1, 5).
9. Digest III, 4, 7, 1.
10. See Francis Hotman, De antiquo jure regni Gallici, I, 19 and 23;
Fernando Vasquez, Illustrium controversiarum, I, 47.
11. However, Vasquez wrongly rejects this comparison.
12. Roland a Valle, Consiliorum, I, cons, 1, num. 138; Marc Antony
Natta, Consilia, cons. 636 and 640; Charles DuMoulin, Consuetudines
Parisienses, tit. 1, art, 8, glos, 4, num. 16 f.; Diego Covarruvias,
Practicarum quaestionium, 4.
13. The Commonweale, I, 8. Jacob Bornitius further develops his idea of
sovereignty in De majestate politica, I.
14. See also Deuteronomy 17: 18-20; Joshua 1: 7 f.; Psalm 119.
15. Commentarii (Digest IV, 4, 38).
16. The City of God, IV, 4.
17. [Althusius seems to make no distinction between lex divina et
naturalis and jus divinum et naturale.]
18. Matthew 7: 12; Luke 6: 31.
19. Jacob Bornitius, however, would indiscriminately subordinate the
prince to civil law to the extent that such law can be analogically
accommodated to him. De majestate politica, I, 10.
20. The Commonweale, I, 7 and 8.
21. Chapters XVIII and XIX.
22. Illustrium controversiarum, I, 3.6 and 45.
23. The City of God, XIX, 15. [XIX, 14 in the Modern Library
24. Timothy 2: 2.
25. Titus 2: 12.
26. Histories, VI, 47.
27. [communio: communication; sharing.]
28. [The rest of this chapter and the whole of Chapters X-XVII.]
29. Chapter XVIII and following.
30. [The rest of this chapter is devoted to ecclesiastical communion,
and Chapters X-XVII to secular communion. Ecclesiastical matters will be
discussed again in Chapter XXVIII, but therein as an element of administration,
not as part of the discussion of communion. Note also that Althusius uses
'communication' and 'communion' interchangeably.]
31. Matthew 6: 33.
32. Psalm 111: 10.
33. Romans 14: 1.
34. Corinthians 8: 9 f.; 11: 20 ff.; 15: 12 ff.
35. Galatians 5: 15.
36. See Zachary Ursinus, Dispositiones, II, in fine; Benedict Aretius,
Problemata theologica, I, loc. 9 and 58 f.
37. Matthew 13: 47.
38. [Matthew 13:29.]
39. II Timothy 2: 20.
40. Matthew 3: 12.
41. Matthew 22: 1 ff.; Luke 14: 16 ff.
42. Matthew 25: 1 f.
43. Matthew 25: 32 f.
44. Problemata theologica, I, loc. 58.
45. Luke 11: 23.
46. Chapter XXVIII.