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 in 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]



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