The Duty of Magistrates?

I didn’t have time to prepare a proper “Melanchthon Monday” this week. On the other hand, I discovered via Twitter this morning that one of my essays is appearing in this forthcoming Davenant volume, the title of which is “‘Nursing Fathers’: The Magistrate and the Moral Law.” So I thought I’d share a relevant passage on the same topic from Melanchthon’s A Summary of Moral Philosophy, which I am currently translating, as I mentioned here: in fact, this comes from the same section quoted in the linked post, on the question “Whether Princes Ought to Change Ungodly Forms of Worship,” originally published as a separate treatise.

The third argument is taken from the duty of the magistrate. The magistrate is the guardian of the first and second table of the law, as far as external discipline is concerned, that is, he ought to prohibit external crimes and punish the guilty, and to set forth good examples. However, it is clear that idolatry and blasphemies are prohibited in the first and second commandments. Therefore, it is necessary that the magistrate remove external idolatry and blasphemies, and take care that godly doctrine and godly forms of worship are set forth. For, although the magistrate cannot change hearts and does not have the ministry of the Spirit, he nevertheless has his own duty to preserve external discipline also in the things that pertain to the first table. Paul therefore confirms the major premise when he says, “The law is ordained for the unjust, for the ungodly and prophane”– namely, to restrain them. Nor are we reviving the Mosaic polity; but the moral law is universal, and belongs to all ages. The commandment to prohibit and punish idolatry and blasphemies is moral and natural, because these things are prohibited in the first and second commandments, which are moral, just as all nations have punished perjuries, and without a doubt the magistrate ought to have punished the profane or ἀθέους [atheous, “atheists”], who delight in Epicurean discourses about God and about providence.


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