Essay Against the Power of the Church To
Sit in Judgement on the Civil Magistracy
John Winthrop, Esq. (1637)
Winthrop Papers, III, 505-507, Massachusetts Historical
Society, Boston, 1943.
That a Church hath not the power to Call any Civill Magistrate,
to give Account of his Juditiall proceedinge in any Court of Civill Justice:
and what the Church may doe in such Causes.
1: The Scripture affords neither Rule nor example of any such power
in the Church, but diverse against it: for Christ disclameth it, where
he asketh who made him a Judge dividing Inheritances But if they should
have this power, they must of necessitye, be Judges of such thinges: for
putt Case, a Magistrate give sentence against a member of a Church, vpon
a title of Inheritance, or in an Action of debt or Trespasse, and he beinge
offended with the magistrate for it (as supposing it to be vniust) brings
him to the Church for it, then must the Church trye this title, and examine
the matter of debt or Tresspasse, with all the circumstances of it de integro:
else how shall they be able to Judge, whither the magistrate hath given
offence to his brother or not?
2: By occasion heerof the Church should become the supreme court in
the Jurisdiction, and capable of all Appeales, and so in trueth meerly
Antichrist, by beinge exalted aboue all, that is called God etc:
3: If this were allowed, then the Church should have power to Judge,
where it wants meanes to finde out Trueth: for the Churche cannot call
in forrein witnesses: nor examine witnesses vpon Oath, nor require the
view of the Records of the Court: all which may be needfull for findinge
out the trueth in many Cases.
4: To examine Civill businesse, in a way of Judicature (though it ayme
not at outward punishment) is an exercise of such Aut[horit]ye as Christ
forbidds his disciples: the Lords of the Gentiles exercise Aut[horit]ye
etc.: but you shall not do so.
5: Christ said his kingdome is not of this World, therefore his officers
in this kingdom, cannot Juditially enq[uir]e into affaires of this world.
6: Such power would confounde those Jurisdictions, which Christ hath
made distinct: for he is Kinge of Kings and Lord of Lords he hath sett
up another kingdome in this worlde, wherein magistrates are his officers,
and they are to be accountable to him, for their miscarriages in the waye
and order of this kingdome.
7: This would sett Christ against himselfe in his owne Ordinances, without
any ordinary meanes of redress and so there must needs be a defecte in
his dispensation which cant be: for if the Church (supposing the Civill
Magistrate had intrenched vpon Christs sp[irit]uall kindome) should
excommunicate them: and against the magistrate (supposinge the Officers
of the Church had vsurped vpon his Civill Aut[horit]ye) should imprison
or banishe them: now is Christs kindome divided, one Ordinance against
another, not to moderation but to destruction: and heere is no menes to
reconcile them: but if the rule of Christ be observed, Resist not evill,
and submitt yourselues to the higher powers, now is the honor and safetye
of . . . [At this point there appears to be at least one leaf of text missing.]
It was Luthers Counsell to the Anabaptists (from the example of himself
and others of those Churches) that thoughe their magistrates did oppresse
in iniure them, yet they should praye for them, and Commende them and seeke
to winne them by gentleness etc, and when the Church shall binde kings
chains and nobles in fetters of iron (ps: 149) (which cannot be meant of
Church Censures, for it shalbe in vengence and Judgement foretold against
the heathen) then meek shalbe beautified with salvation: then Kinges shalbe
their nursinge fathers etc: (Esay 49.23) they shall bowe downe to hir and
licke the dust of her feet: and none shall hurt or destroye in all the
holy mountaine (Isay 65.25): So that the wisdome, piety, and meeknesse
of the Church shall winne the hearts of Kinges, etc: and binde them so
to her in the power of the Gospell, as they shall love the verye earth
she treads on; they shall beare that Reverence to her, as she shall need
feare no hurt from them, no more than a Child doth from the nurse: therefore
no need to binde them by Church Censures: they were other kinges whom sayth
the people should curse in the dayes of their Calamitye; and yet when they
should Curse their Kings, he sayth they should Curse their God allso. (Esay
8.21:) a man may not say to a Kinge, thou art wicked: nor call Princes
vngodly, (Job: 34.18).
I denye not but that a private person may privatrely reprooue a magistrate
offendinge, but he may not do it publ[icly]: except he be publ[icly] called,
to beare witnesse to the Trueth, as Stephen was.
I Consent allso, the magistrates should beare with the faylinges of
their christian brethren, when in tender care of the publ[ic] good and
their honor and comfort, they chance to exceede the Limitts if their lib[er]ty:
but such breth[ren] must then see, and not Justifie their faylinges: for
Christ bidds us not, forgive our brother, till he saye, it repenteth him.
[ca. November 1637]