Evil men do not understand justice

What recourse does one have when a King, who rules by Divine Right, is deposed and usurped by another? The Heavens who have chosen the now usurped King cannot be thought to sit idly by while an illegitimate sovereign now reigns. Shakespeare’s second installment of his Second Tetralogy explores how the Heavens resolve the problem of the illegitimate sovereign. In particular the First Part of Henry IV explores how the Heavens attempted to solve the question of the illegitimate King. The first act of the play demonstrates that an uprising of supporters of the slain King Richard II is underway and both Prince Hal and his friend Falstaff discuss the relation of the Moon’s power to govern the affairs of men. It appears that the Law, which governs the Heavenly Bodies and men, is personified by Shakespeare in the First Part of Henry IV as a means of gaining satisfaction against King Henry IV for his usurpation of God’s chosen King, Richard II.

Some have seen Henry IV, Part One[1] as a play about the creation of a Prince and King in the character of Prince Hal; however, the play focuses on the career of a usurper.[2] Falstaff and Prince Hal discuss the new situation that they find themselves in. Falstaff says to Hal, “let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 28-31.) The moon has the power to make the ocean rise and fall at will and that same power governs men according to Falstaff. The moon is governed by God, and therefore the moon appears with water, the prominent literary image of redemption and a new beginning.  The moon will be used by God to cleanse the Kingdom of England by stirring the passions of the people into a outright rebellion.   The rebellion of the Welsh seems to be caused by stirrings of the moon in accordance with Falstaff’s belief of the moon’s power over mankind. The Prince responds to Falstaff by saying, “Thou sayest well, and it holds well too, for the fortune of us that are moon’s men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon.” (Act 1, scene 2, lines 32-35) The question that Prince Hal now must face is how to protect stability in England despite the wrath of Heaven against his father. Yet, to demonstrate to the Heavens that he, Prince Hal, is deserving of the throne his father stole, Hal acknowledges, “And pay the debt I never promised” (Act 1 scene 2, 216) This prophetic statement by Hal indicates that his father will in fact be saved from Divine justice, instead the Prince and the English people will be forced to pay for the sins of Henry IV.

Having disposed the King, Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke is prepared to turn his attention to the restoration of time and the kingdom of England; he proposes a crusade to the Holy Land. However, as King Henry IV, Bolingbroke faces his first threat from the Welsh, who as supporters of the late King Richard II are prepared to revolt against the usurper King.[3] Because of threats to his throne the crusade must be put on hold.  The play of the First Part of Henry IV focuses around the hostilities the new king faces in the aftermath of his execution and disposition of the previous king. In particular, a theme of the play is posed by the King’s son Hal; he will be forced to pay for the actions of his father in taking the thrown. The play looks to the relationship of the Heavenly Bodies and political affairs; England’s political affairs throughout the play are chaotic. Something seems to be seeking retribution for the deposing of God’s chosen monarch. The Law appears in various forms throughout the play, each seeking retribution against the King. The threat of a Welsh uprising is also an indication that Shakespeare plans for Part 1 of Henry IV how the Heavens handle usurpers.  Henry’s rule has ushered in a period of lawlessness in England that will last until the last of the Lancaster Monarchs has reigned. As Falstaff states, “I am accursed to rob in that thief’s company.”(2, 2, 10) The only way to restore the rule of law and order in England is restore the monarchy to a King who represents lawfulness rather than lawlessness. Henry’s choice to overthrow his cousin Richard plays out in the play to show the consequences of his choice: England and his family will suffer Divine justice.

The final element of the story of Divine Justice against King Henry IV is the war against the Welsh.[4] Falstaff says, “Rebellion lay in his way….” (5.1.29.)  The rebellion, a result of the moon’s power over the passions of men, symbolizes the Divine Justice against King Henry and as Falstaff indicates the rebellion was predestined when Henry usurped Richard. Rebellion by the Welsh calls into question the English Constitution under Henry IV and even his successors; primarily the weakness and irresponsibility of the King. Prince Hal comes into his own during the war as his plan expressed in his soliloquy in the first act. He draws others to himself, much like a jeweler places a diamond against a black background. And by executing his plan, and taking part in the war, Hal has made himself the object Divine Justice will aim toward.[5] This is evident by the action of Part II of Henry IV as Henry IV is terminally ill rather than dying from an external condition. Prince Hal kills the rebel leader Hotspur at the end of the play; and if the rebellion is the heavens seeking Divine Justice upon Henry then Hotspur must be the chief sword for that Divine Justice. This action places Hal, and not Henry, in the sights of the heavens as they seek retribution for the death of their legitimate, Divine Right King Richard.  As the Kingdom is taking account of what has happened in the rebellion, the King observes, “Thus did rebellion find rebuke…”(5.5.1) The divinely ordained rebellion was rebuked by the son of the man who disobeyed the Lord’s command that Richard be King of England. The theme at the beginning of the play, the restoration of time and the Kingdom, alludes to the words of Henry after the rebellion has been put down. Time represents a temporal order, indicating that Henry has restored a temporal monarchy after a period of Divine monarchs.

Many Shakespearean critics claim that the story of the play Part I of Henry IV is the story of Prince Hal and his career on the path to becoming king of England. Yet, the story of the play focuses on the Divine Justice planned out by the heavens against the usurper King Henry IV. The Prince interferes with this plan of the heavens by intersecting himself in the rebellion and killing the leader of the rebel army. The movement of the play does involve the establishment of Hal as the true and proper heir of Henry IV but in the sense that Hal becomes the focus of Divine Justice throughout Part II of Henry IV and Henry V where Hal becomes King Henry V. The rebellion is the main object of the play whereby Prince Hal reveals himself as the proper heir to the lawless, usurper King Henry IV. Rather than being good, this event actually shows the inevitable downfall of one of Shakespeare’s most important characters.

[1] All quotes from the play taken from Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994.

[2] David Berkeley and Donald Eidson, “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Winter, 1968), pp. 25-31 accessed from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2867838 on 5/1/10. The authors argue in “The Themes of Henry IV, Part I” that one of the themes in Henry IV, part One is the education of a prince. However, they ignore that the play also demonstrates Divine justice on usurpers. More importantly they fail to notice that Prince Hal, while “learning” to become King models himself on his father who is a lawless usurper in the eyes of the heavens. Thus, the Prince’s education is complete when he kills the leader of the divinely ordained rebel army, Hotspur.

[3] Trafton, Dain A. “Shakespeare’s Henry IV, A New Prince in a New Principality” in Shakespeare as a Political Thinker edited by John E. Alvis & Thomas G. West, (ISI Books: Wilmington, DE. 2000) pg. 94-104. This article is similar in the argument that I make in that the story of Henry IV is about Henry IV despite other underlying storylines. In addition, Trafton argues that Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 demonstrate the consequences of Henry’s decision to overthrow the Divine Right King Richard II.

[4]Leggatt, “Henry IV, Part 1: A Modern Perspective” in Folger Shakespeare Library: Henry IV, Part 1. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York, 1994. Similar to the argument made by Berkely and Eidson, Alexander Leggatt in his essay “Henry IV, Part 1: A modern perspective” argues that the movement of the play is towards the establishment of Hal as the true heir to Henry. However, his focus is on the battle of Shrewsbury where Hal proves himself the heir by killing Hotspur. This point I do not disagree with, as Hal’s killing of Hotspur shows him the proper object of Divine Justice.

[5] In Hal’s soliloquy at act 1 scene 2 he hatches a plan to make himself appear as the proper heir to Henry’s thrown. He says, “I’ll so offend to make offense a skill….”(1.2.223) Indicating that he will throw off attention on his father, making himself appear as “the sun.”

Roman Foreign Policy between 264 and 146 B.C: Why They Fought

From the First Punic War through the Third Punic War there was much change in the reasoning for Rome going to war.  Roman conquest of Italy in the years leading up to the First Punic War gave the Romans confidence about their military power. Their success at unifying most of Italy under the Roman banner must have given them an adrenaline rush to spur them into a war with Carthage in an attempt to take Sicily. Successive wars appear to have been encouraged by Roman desire to dominate trade throughout the Mediterranean world.

Roman involvement in the First Punic War was spurred on by ambition to add Sicily to their territory. The Second Punic War and the wars with Greece were brought on primarily through a desire to dominate trade.  The wars with Spain and the Third Punic War, however, appear to harken back to the desires which spurred on the First Punic War and the Italian wars.

According to Polybius, the First Punic War marked the first time the Romans engaged in sea warfare. Whether or not this is completely true or not does not detract from how important such an idea is to the motives of going to war. There is little doubt that the Romans probably engaged in at least some minimal trade prior to this war. Yet Polybius’ account of the construction of wartime vessels demonstrates that the Romans most likely had not yet engaged in naval battles[1]. If this account is true then the motives for going to war over Sicily were not about trade, at least not entirely. To some degree Rome must have sought to have dominion over Sicily and to remove foreign influence in Italy all together. Polybius’ account of the treaty between Rome and Carthage, which ended the First Punic War, gives further credence to the idea Rome was not fighting for the sole purpose of trade. Polybius says, “’The Carthaginians to evacuate the whole of Sicily…. The Carthaginians to give up to the Romans all prisoners without ransom. The Carthaginians to pay to the Romans by installments in twenty years 2,200 Euboen talents’’[2] Polybius also accounts that the Roman people demanded, “they reduced the time of the payment by one half, added 1,000 talents to the indemnity, and demanded the evacuation by the Carthaginians of all islands lying between Sicily and Italy.”[3] These accounts given by Polybius support the belief that Rome’s first conquest outside of Italy was spurred on by a desire to continue unifying Italy, or at least to expand the territory they possessed.

The Second Punic War and the wars subsequently with Greece on the other hand were almost entirely about improving trade and Roman economic status. The Second Punic War was triggered by Carthaginian interference with a Roman ally in Spain. While the sources concerning the war do not directly demonstrate that this war was about economic gain through trade, it is clear through the terms of the treaty that the war was at least on some level about trade. Polybius once again demonstrates, “they were to surrender their ships of war, with exception of ten triremes.”[4] Without their former naval power the Carthaginians would be hard pressed to continue trading on such a scale as they once enjoyed. This left Rome as the most dominate naval power in the Western Mediterranean both militarily and trade wise. Without war ships the Carthaginians could not protect their trading vessels from pirates and other warring states.

With the Western Mediterranean locked up Rome focused her attention on the Eastern half. Rome’s attempt to subdue the Eastern Mediterranean was not so much like their attempts in the West. Unlike the West, the Romans did not seek to have dominion over the East. Instead the Romans sought to dismantle the alliances and empires throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. By doing this Rome was successful in destroying the economic power of the East. Their tactics with the East resemble in some manner their attempts in Italy to subdue the Latin tribes.

The Third Punic War and the wars with Spanish tribes appear to be more about revenge and expansion of the Empire than about acquisition of wealth. Carthage had been the nail in the Roman’s side for better part of a century. When they finally broke the Treaty of Zama the Romans found the opportunity to finally put Carthage away for good. With Carthage completely destroyed the Romans were able to take dominion over all of North Africa and eliminated the only threat to Roman dominance in the Western Mediterranean for good. If for nothing else the Roman destruction of Carthage demonstrated for her enemies that Rome could, if brought to bear, annihilate any and all foes. The Third Punic War demonstrates an almost entirely unique episode in Roman foreign policy between 264 and 146 B.C. It was not about acquisition of land, nor of furthering trade. Rather the Third Punic War was about revenge for the Romans.

In Spain however, the attempts by the Romans were almost entirely over conquest of land. Unlike Carthage and the Eastern Mediterranean, Spain was not governed by formal empires or kingdoms. With the ever expanding population in Italy, the Romans needed more space for citizens. Spain was the prime location after the Second Punic War. Unfortunately for the Romans the Spanish tribes were troublesome and required a full on assault to attempt to subdue Spain; even then, the Spanish tribes were not completely subdue until the time of Caesar Augustus. Yet Rome’s conquests in Spain were necessary in order to provide more land for her citizens. Not only was this, but Spain was rich in minerals, specifically in silver which was important to the Romans.  However, the Roman desire to conquer Spain was not primarily out of a desire to exploit Spain but rather to incorporate it.

Rome’s foreign policy from 264-146 B.C. was spurred on by two primary motives: expansion and trade. Ultimately, however, the Romans desired to create a Mediterranean wide empire. The true motive behind the Roman foreign policy was simply and purely imperialism. While their foreign policy began with an attempt to have more sovereignty, such as in the First Punic War, it ultimately landed on the need and desire for more territory as was the case in the Spanish wars.

[1] Naphatali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 1, Selected ReadingsThe Republic and the Augustan Age, 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 159-160

[2] Lewis 161.

[3] Lewis, 162.

[4] Lewis, 180

Religion in Modernity: The Solution of a Christian Civil Religion

Civil religion was a vital part of ancient life, religion and politics were joined harmoniously. With the dawn of Christianity, a religion whose focus is not on the state primarily but on the afterlife, the world slowly began to change. Religion was often used to divide rather than unify the commonwealth. Modernity’s problem with Christianity came at the dawn of the Reformation, where Christianity was used to pull people apart and start wars between nations who share ethnic, cultural and religious ties. America is the shinning product of modern thought; the brain child of men such as Niccolo Machiavelli and John Locke. Both men drew an outline of civil religion for the purpose of maintaining and promoting the state. Machiavelli faults Christianity while praising Roman civil religion for its aim towards the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s examination of religion, namely civil religion, in the Discourses on Livy is expanded into a natural Christian religion in John Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration. Picking up on these concerns, John Locke laid down the policy of religious toleration in four letters. The issue at hand is not one of Church and State, but of religion and politics. As Jon Meacham explains in regards to the American situation, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics. Church and state are specific things.”[1] This definition explains what is at the heart of Locke’s argument in The Letter Concerning Toleration. Further it even comes to the heart of Machiavelli’s argument. It says that religion and politics do have a place together, but the church and state do not. The importance of civil religion in the maintenance of the state is clear; for without civil religion the state would not be able to hold together her citizens and thus dissolve into oblivion.

            According to tradition the Roman civil religion was founded by Numa Pompilius. Numa was king following Romulus’ assumption into heaven and his deification as the god Quirinus. Numa was chosen by the Roman senate to become king after a period of interregnum. Numa is said to have been a very pious man, as Plutarch tell us:

He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and while citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.[2]

It was Numa, who according to tradition gave to the Roman people their religion. It was important to provide the Romans with religion because without it they would have fallen victim to the brute passions of a warlike people. The impact of the Roman civil religion is explained by Machiavelli, “It will also be seen by those who pay attention to Roman history, how much religion helped in the control of armies, in encouraging plebs, in producing good men, and in shaming the bad.”[3] Numa instituted many changes to the Roman state whence he became king.

            Among the first things he did, Numa introduced an additional month into the calendar; this month was called Mercedinus. Under Romulus there had only been eleven months, starting with the month of March in honor of Mars, the god of war. March was placed at spot of the third month and January and February went from the end of the year to the first two months. It was fitting for Numa to place January at the beginning of the year, “he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are preferred before those of war.”[4] January was named for the god Janus, god of doors and beginnings. February comes from the word februa; the month was one of purification filled with offerings to the dead. Within the calendar Numa instituted a number of games and festivals in honor of the gods as Plutarch explains once more, “He also began markets and games and all sorts of occasions for gatherings and festivals. By these institutions he restored to humane and gentle behavior the minds of men who had become savage and inhuman through their love of war.”[5] The intent of the festivals and games were to divert the attention of the people away from war and conquest to the gods.

Among others, Numa introduced a number of new offices, which were of religious significance; among these offices was the Pontifex Maximus whose job it was to declare divine law and to rule over sacred ceremonies; the Pontifex Maximus was fifth in the religious hierarchy behind “the rex sacrorum and three great flamens.”[6] The Pontifex Maximus was also charged to lead the six Vestal virgins. [7] Numa constructed a temple to the goddess Vesta who was the oldest of all Roman goddesses and a symbol of purity. Her priestesses, called Vestal virgins, were given the task of keeping lit the sacred flame. The virgins were to remain as such for thirty years, if they broke their vow of chastity or allowed the sacred flame to go out the offending virgin would be buried alive. This office was the most sacred of all holy offices within the Roman state. The first ten years of a Vestal’s service were spent in training, the second ten were spent performing her duties while the final ten were spent training new Vestals. The Vestal Virgins were so important that it is said when another official passed one that they would order the fasces lowered.

Numa’s legacy on the Roman people lead them to become prosperous, Machiavelli writes, “All things considered, therefore, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the primary causes of Rome’s success, for this entailed good institutions; good institutions lead to good fortune; and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings.” [8] It was through religion, and not war, that the Romans became a successful and great civilization. Under Romulus the Romans acquired their name and ability for warfare but under Numa they acquired their culture, their civilization. Dr. Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich defines culture as, “the synthesis of a community’s traditions, customs, moral values, religious beliefs, and all other informal norms of behavior that have passed the test of time and bind the generations.”[9] Under this definition, it is clear that Numa and not Romulus was the result of Rome’s culture. Rome was so attached to Numa that Machiavelli tells us, “Marveling, therefore, at Numa’s goodness and prudence, the Roman people accepted all his decisions.”[10] The Romans revered Numa for his qualities and virtue, and they wished to imitate them as much as they desired to follow Numa without question. This is how Machiavelli begins to praise of the importance of religion; and how he demonstrates the greatness of Roman civil religion.

Following a discussion of the Roman religion, which is similar to the one given by Machiavelli in the Discourses on Livy, he begins section twelve of the Discourses by saying:

Those princes and those republics which desire to remain free from corruption, should above all else maintain incorrupt the ceremonies of their religion and should hold them always in veneration; for there can be no surer indication of the decline of a country than to see divine worship neglected.[11]

It is the duty of the princes and magistrates of the commonwealth to uphold the religious practices of the people. Religion for Machiavelli is the glue of, and provides for allegiance to, the commonwealth. Machiavelli goes on to say, “The rulers of a republic or of a kingdom, therefore, should uphold the basic principles of the religion which they practise in, and, if this be done, it will be easy for them to keep their commonwealth religious, and, in consequence, good and united.”[12] Without religion the commonwealth cannot keep itself together. Furthermore, as Harvey Mansfield points out, Observance of the divine cult is the cause of greatness in republics.”[13]Religious observance, above all else creates the greatness in republics. But the end to which religion is important in the commonwealth is defined even further by Machiavelli, “And the more should they do this the greater their prudence and the more they know of natural laws.”[14] It is here that religion plays it’s most important role in the commonwealth; for the commonwealth must be in line with the natural laws and natural law is discovered through religion. Without religion one cannot determine the natural law fully, and so one must attach themselves and their commonwealth to religion.

            But to what religion ought the commonwealth to attach itself, whether it should be a Pagan society or a Christian society. Machiavelli denounces the Church of Rome’s attitude of religion despite calling Christianity a strong religion. Machiavelli recounts the story of the fall of the city of Veii. After the Romans conquered the city they entered the temple dedicated to Juno and asked her statue if she wished to be moved to Rome; as Machiavelli tells us, “To some it seemed that she nodded. To others that she answered, Yes.”[15] This was possible due to the religious piety the Romans were imbued with by their rulers. According to Machiavelli when the soldiers entered the temple they did not enter as marauders, but as pious and religious men. This religious attitude was promoted by the city rulers. A similar religious attitude of the Romans is found wanting in the Christians by Machiavelli. He asserts, “If such a religious spirit had been kept up by the rulers of the Christian commonwealth as was ordained for us by its founder, Christian states and republics would have been much more united and much more happy than they are.”[16] Italy, as attested to by Machiavelli, lacked religious observance in his day (as it might be even said to be lacking now.) He assaults the Church of Rome as the cause of the Italian “irreligious and perverse”[17] nature. Further, the Church did not attempt to unify the Italians under one prince. Machiavelli believes, “no country has ever been united and happy unless the whole of it has been under the jurisdiction of one republic or one prince, as has happened to France and Spain.”[18] These are the greatest faults Machiavelli finds with the Christian religion, at least in regards to Italy. Certainly the Roman religion was a means of unifying the people of the Italian peninsula, like the people of Machiavelli’s time the people of Italy at the time of the Roman republic all shared similar religious convictions. The Romans were able to use the religion to unify Italy, and much of Europe and North Africa under the banner of the Roman city. In the 1200 years of Christian dominance in Europe the continent slowly began to break apart first with a divide between East and West[i] and slowly more with the development of nation-states such as England, France and Spain. The Christian religion was even unable to keep Italy all one nation and it was not for another three hundred years after Machiavelli’s death that Italian unification was realized.

            At least one explanation can be proposed for why the Christian religion failed, while the Pagan religion of the Romans succeeded, which is as Machiavelli points out the different aims of the religions. Christianity has the aim of the after life; they are citizens first and foremost of the city of God. Romans were citizens first and foremost of their own city and the religion was focused on the temporal success rather than salvation in the after life. Christianity, until much later was unable to successfully create a civil religion of itself. The Romans used their religion in order to secure certain outcomes in the city. As Machiavelli accounts:

The Roman people, having created tribunes with consular power, all of whom, save one, were plebians, there occurred in that year pestilences and famine, and certain prodigies took place. Availing themselves of this opportunity in the next appointment of tribunes, the nobles said that the gods were angry with Rome for having abused the majesty of her authority, and that the only way to placate them was to restore the election of tribunes to its proper position.[19]


Machiavelli mentions two other events in the Roman republic, which used the religion in order to seduce the people. The first is in regards to the war with the city of Veii previously mentioned; the Roman generals used religion to keep the soldiers primed for attack. The second is with the tribune Terentillus who wished to pass a law, which Machiavelli does not describe, but the nobles used religion to stir the people into a fear that they did not allow for the law to pass. [20] The Romans used religion for the sake of the city, which with the devotion the people had to religion caused them to have a deep devotion to the city and so that religion could stir the people to its defense. Harvey Mansfield observes, “Machiavelli concludes that Numa’s religion was among the first causes of Rome’s happiness, because it caused good orders, which produced good fortune in successful enterprises.” [21] This observation is the issue Machiavelli has with the Christian religion in regards to the commonwealth.

            It appears that for Machiavelli the biggest concern for Christianity is her inability to rally her followers. As a result of Christianity’s inability to keep Europe unified, individual nations began to spring up. Citizens were forced to choose between remaining loyal strictly to Rome or to their new nation. The kings of France, Spain and England demanded that their subjects be loyal first and foremost to the state and second to the religion. England in a way was able to create a civil religion when Henry VIII separated himself and his kingdom from Rome. He became the new head of religion and was thus able to unify the state and the Church. However, the problem still laid in that the Christian religion is focused on the salvation of souls and not on the preservation of the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s arguments for religion are only strong enough to support that in order to be successful religion must be present in the commonwealth; and that religion be aimed at the preservation of the commonwealth. As J. Patrick Coby explains, “Religion, understood as the fear of God, produces civil obedience”[22] which is what Machiavelli praises about the Roman religion and detests about the Christian. Christianity’s lack of primary concern for the commonwealth creates a lack of concern for the commonwealth within the people and ultimately can lead to civil disobedience. By this civil disobedience, it is to be understood simply as a disobedience to the commonwealth. However, John Locke’s argument for toleration of religion permits the creation of a civil religion that is unconcerned for the salvation of souls but with the continuance of the commonwealth.

            Before divulging into John Locke’s beliefs on religious toleration and how it creates a civil religion, it should be noted that Locke himself does not officially promulgate a civil religion rather he outlines the duties of the magistrate, which in turn can be used to create a civil religion. Within his Four Letters Concerning Toleration, Locke begins by denouncing the belief that religion and/or the civil magistrate has the authority to coerce people into attending a national church. However, too much attention is often paid to that which the magistrate cannot do; that it is often over looked to what Locke says the magistrate can and must do for the preservation of the commonwealth. And it is with what the magistrate can do that the civil religion of Christianity can be born.

            Machiavelli’s analysis of religion in the Discourses can viewed in the same light as Thomas Paine’s discussion of government in  Common Sense.[ii] Machiavelli discusses the role religion in both the Christian and Roman commonwealths, but fails to offer advice on how to cure Christianity’s problems. Similar in style to John Adams’s argument in “Thoughts on Government”, John Locke takes up the task of outlining a new role for religion in the modern commonwealth. Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration is beneficial in helping to reorder the Christian commonwealth for a civil religion based on Christianity. Locke has the benefit of living in a post Reformation world where it is clear that there can no definite church pegged as the true church. As all churches use force and intolerance, Locke states, “That I esteem that Toleration to be the chief Characteristical Mark of the True Church.”[23]  Clearly, as no church in Locke’s time practiced toleration none can be properly said to be the “True Church.”

            Locke uses the term toleration to mean that no person or magistrate has the authority to force another individual into attending a certain church against their own conscience. Time and again Locke suggests that force should not be used by the magistrate, church or individual against anyone in regards to religion. Furthermore, the magistrate or church cannot deprive an individual who fails to attend a national church of their life, liberty or property. The ends of the Church and the Commonwealth are completely different, as Locke describes the Commonwealth as, “a Society of Men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing of their own Civil Interests.” [24] The Church’s end is for the salvation of souls and in order for this to occur members must consent in their consciences to the Church’s doctrines. No person can be forced to believe something that they themselves have not accepted as truth. In his Second Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains, “But that which he denies, and you grant, is, that force has any proper efficacy to enlighten the understanding, or produce belief. And from thence he infers, that therefore the magistrate cannot lawfully compel men in matters of religion.”[25] The first characteristic that Christianity must adopt in order to be successful in the modern commonwealth is toleration insofar as the magistrate cannot force any individual against their own conscience to attend a national church under penalty of loss of life, liberty or property.

            Yet this is not all that Locke promulgates in his letters. In fact, this is only the beginning. Acknowledging that the magistrate does not have the authority to force individuals to attend a national church, Locke clarifies his position as to what the role of the magistrate and the commonwealth is in the matter of religion. The magistrate, per his rights as an individual, retains the authority to use words to persuade individuals to religion. Such an example of this persuasion to the faculties of human understanding, include the posting of the Ten Commandments or calling for a day of Thanksgiving throughout the nation. Locke explains, “‘Go and teach all nations,’ was a commission of our Savior; but there was not added to it, punish those that will nor hear and consider what you say.”[26] Preaching, without physical and outward force, is permitted according to Locke within the commonwealth. In fact it “was a commission of our Savior” to “Go and tell all nations.”[27] This is the right of all mankind, including the magistrate, to tell all who they encounter of the Lord.

            However, there is something more simplistic in Locke which calls for a civil religion. All commonwealths must be in line with the natural law and cannot violate it. Therefore, Locke says of the duty of both the commonwealth and the church:

A Good Life, in which consists not the least part of Religion and true Piety, concerns also the Civil Government: and in it lies the safety both of Mens Souls, and of the Commonwealth. Moral Actions belong therefore to the Jurisdiction of both the outward and inward Court; both of the Civil and Domestick Governor; I mean, both of the Magistrate and Conscience. [28]


This is merely only the beginning of the duties granted to the commonwealth in regards to religion. Morality is the basis of a good regime, and morality is acquired through religion. Laws concerning morality may be created within the commonwealth in order to secure the safety and happiness of the citizens. Religion, as we have seen, can be used in the public sector as long as it is not forced upon them, or used to harm the natural rights of citizens. One of the means of incorporating religion into the commonwealth is through moral laws, which promote the laws of nature. Locke explains further in the First Treatise on Government when he says:

If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultry, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have their Principal Aggravation form this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto. [29]


This example from Locke demonstrates that not only can the magistrate ban such immoral and unnatural behavior but that he must ban it.[30] The morality of the people will thus be secured and will unify the people under a similar moral code promoted through the law of nature, which is revealed to humanity through God. In his Third Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argues, “Indeed they all agreed in the duties of natural religion, and we find them by common consent owning that piety and virtue, clean hands, and a pure heart not polluted with the breaches of the law of nature, was the best worship of the gods.”[31] This harkens to Machiavelli’s argument for the Roman religion and further within the commonwealth the best form of worship is to keep to the laws of nature. Machiavelli’s desire for religion to be a unifying force within the commonwealth is secured in part by Locke’s mandate that immoral and unnatural behavior be banned within the commonwealth.

            Yet there is still another way in which Locke secures the commonwealth’s unification and stability and that is that no church is permitted from preaching ideas contrary to the moral law, law of nature, or the commonwealth. As Locke states in his first letter:

No Opinions contrary to human Society, or to those moral Rules which are necessary to the preservation of Civil Society, are to be tolerated by the Magistrate. But of these indeed Examples in any Church are rare. For no Sect can easily arrive to such a degree of madness, as that it should think fit to teach, for Doctrines of Religion, such things as manifestly undermine the Foundations of Society, and are therefore condemned by the Judgment of all Mankind: because their own Interest, Peace, Reputation, every Thing, would be thereby endangered.[32]


The magistrate is permitted to ban opinions which teach the undermining of the authority of the commonwealth. Thus, religion is molded to support the commonwealth and to promote unity within it. There is an inherent obligation of religion to teach its members to obey the laws of the commonwealth. If the religion teaches something contrary to the public good, the magistrate has an obligation not to tolerate it. The religion may also not profess authority to relieve members of allegiance to the prince of the commonwealth. Further Locke states, “That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate, which is constituted upon such a bottom, that all those who enter into it, do thereby, ipso facto, deliver themselves up to the Protection and Service of another Prince.”[33] Thus the unity of the commonwealth is preserved in Locke’s teaching by requiring that all churches promote loyalty to the magistrate. Churches must teach the natural law and moral law as well as promote allegiance to the civil magistrate. This is a divorce from early Christian teachings which promote allegiance primarily to the city of God.

            The final piece to the civil religion of John Locke and the promise of a stable and unified commonwealth is through the banishment of those who do not profess a belief in God. In his first Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains:

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, tho but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their Atheism undermine and destroy all Religion, can have no pretence of Religion whereupon to challenge the Privilege of a Toleration. As for other Practical Opinions, tho not absolutely free from all Error, if they do not tend to establish Domination over others, or Civil Impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no Reason why they should be tolerated. [34]


Locke’s understanding is in line with Machiavelli’s belief that religion is of the utmost importance in the commonwealth, specifically the republic. As a result those who do not profess a belief in God cannot be tolerated if the commonwealth is to survive. Furthermore, as Voltaire says, “All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.”[35] Morality cannot be learned by one who does not believe in God. Without the moral base, a person is apt not to follow the laws of the commonwealth, adhere to their contracts or follow the natural law.

            Simply put John Locke’s civil religion can be outlined as follows:

The magistrate and citizens have a right and divine duty to “tell the nations” of God and Jesus Christ. As such, no law should prohibit public preaching and public displays of religion.The commonwealth should prohibit immoral and unnatural behavior by the citizens. Examples of such: Sodomites, Adulterers, and Murders.The commonwealth should not tolerate religions that preach openly against the authority of the magistrate, or those which preach openly against the laws of nature and morality, which are the basis of civil society.That the commonwealth ought to not tolerate those who openly profess against a belief in God.[36]

This religion can properly called a civil religion as it is aimed not at the salvation of one’s soul, which is the proper place only of the Church as it belongs to speculative opinions, but of the promotion and security of the body politic.

            Machiavelli’s praise of Rome is clear because it promoted and made secure the Roman state. His opinions of Christianity as being a divider and not a unifier are made clear by Locke as Christianity promotes speculative opinion, which is open to interpretation. Locke promulgates a modern ideal for civil religion by permitting the state to publicly teach religion (so long as it does not force individuals to attend or believe in a national church), to create laws for the moral excellence of the people, to ban religions which preach against morality, the laws of nature and the authority of the commonwealth, and to ban individuals who openly preach that there is no God. These concepts can be found throughout the new Rome, or the United States. Religion was for Modernity the major obstacle to the creation of the modern nation state. In order to be successful religion had to be placed into a proper role. This role resembles the one religion played in the ancient cities like Egypt, Athens and Rome. Machiavelli and Locke together promulgate the necessity of civil religion within the modern commonwealth as a means of promoting unity and stability.


 [1]Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation. (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks), 2006. Introduction page 19.

[2] Plutarch,  83

[3] Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Translated  by Leslie J. Walker, S.J. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.  Book I section 11 pg. 140

[4] Plutarch, 98

[5] Cicero, 41

[6] Hus, Alain. Greek and Roman Religion. Translated  by S.J. Tester. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962. pg. 103

[7] Hus, 103

[8] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[9]Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich, “Why is Culture Important?”, Walter Eucken Institut. Freiburg, Diskussionpapiere/Vortragsliste Nr. 288 (2003), http://www.eucken.de/veranstaltungen/Paper_Pejovich.pdf  (accessed on September 13, 2007)

[10] Machiavelli.

[11] Ibid. section 12


[13]Mansfield, Harvey, Machiavelli’s New Modes of Orders: A Study of the Discourses on Livy, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 1979. pg. 73

[14]Machiavelli, section 12





[19]Ibid. section 13

[20]Ibid. “One note also in the siege of the city of Veii….” & “There had arisen in Rome a number of tumults occasioned by Terentillus….”

[21]Mansfield, 73

[22]Coby, J. Patrick, Machiavelli’s Romans: Liberty and Greatness in The Discourses on Livy, (New York: Lexington Books), 1999. pg. 68

[23]Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration, edited by James H. Tully, (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.), 1983. pg. 23

[24]Ibid. pg. 26

[25]John Locke, Second Letter Concerning Toleration, in The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, volume 5, Four Letters concerning Toleration 12th Edition, edited by T. Longman, (London: Rivington), 1824.  http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1725&Itemid=28 John Locke did not admit to writing the first Letter Concerning Toleration until close to his death; thus in the second letter Locke writes in the third person when speaking of the initial letter.



 [28]Locke, page 47

 [29]John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett (New York: Cambridge University Press), 1988. pg. 183 paragraph 59.

[30]A further example of this can be found in Locke’s statement, “Those that are Seditious, Murderers, Thieves, Robbers, Adulterers, Slanders, etc. of whatsoever Church, whether National or not, ought to be punished and suppressed. But those whose Doctrine is peaceable, and whose Manners are pure and blameless, ought to be upon equal Terms with their Fellow-Subjects.”, Locke, Letter on Toleration page 54.

 [31] Locke, John, Third Letter Concerning Toleration. in The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, volume 5, Four Letters concerning Toleration 12th Edition, edited by T. Longman, (London: Rivington), 1824.

 [32]Locke, pg. 47

[33]Locke, pg. 50

[34]Ibid.  pg. 51

[35]The Quotations Page, Voltaire, copyright 2007, http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/29134.html accessed on December 5, 2007

[i]The Great Schism of 1054 officially split Europe between East and West, or Orthodox and Catholic. A separation was already begun however when Charles the Great was crowned Caesar of the Roman Empire.

[ii]In a brief introduction to John Adams’ essay “Thoughts on Government” in The Portable John Adams, John Patrick Diggins says, “Adams’s essay was a response to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense…Adams believed, as he told Abigail, that Paine was more interested in tearing down government than in giving any thought to reconstituting it.” I believe that this is a similar situation with Machiavelli’s argument of religion in the Discourses and Locke’s argument of religion in the Letter Concerning Toleration. Machiavelli provides thoughts on how to reconstitute the Christian religion to create the proper aims religion ought to have in the commonwealth.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers