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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Magistris, Simone de
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In the early Church, magistrates, whatever the grade of their office, were under the spiritual jurisdiction of the clergy; and if they were impious or profane, they were subject to censure and excommunication. The Council of Aries, called by Constantine, ratified this ecclesiastical power. Synesius, bishop of Ptolemais, excommunicated Andronicus, the governor, for his blasphemies and cruelties, and with him all his accomplices. Athanasius pronounced a similar sentence on the governor of Libya. Ambrose denied the communion to the emperor Theodosius. But such a spiritual sentence did not deprive the magistrate of his lawful civil authority. The Church rendered allegiance to the rightful governor, whether heathen or heretic; but she had a perfect right to exclude from her fellowship any magistrate of erroneous creed or depraved life. She did not attempt to interfere with a magistrate's authority while she refused him ecclesiastical fellowship. The Roman Catholic Church has sought, in this practice of the early Church, an authority for her interference in temporal affairs. (See KEYS, POWER OF THE); (See TEMPORAL POWER OF THE POPE).

In Protestant Churches that are united with the state, these Romish views are manifest, though in a somewhat different form. The state controlling the Church, the magistrate is clothed with authority even in matters really pertaining to the domain of the ecclesiastic. Thus in Scotland the Westminster Confession gives to the magistrate extraordinary power in or about sacred things. The earlier Scottish Reformers went still further, as in the first Confession. The Books of Discipline are no less explicit. The First Book says, "We dare not prescribe unto you what penalties shall be required of such; but this we feare not to affirme, that the one and the other deserve death; for if he who doth falsifie the seale, subscription, or coine of a king, is judged worthy of death, what shall we think of him who plainly doth falsifie the seales of Christ Jesus, Prince of the kings of the earth? If Darius pronounced that a balk should be taken from the house of that man, and he himselfe hanged upon it, that durst attempt to hinder the re-edifying of the materiall temple, what shall we say of those that contemptuously blaspheme God, and manifestly hinder the temple of God, which is the soules and bodies of the elect, to be purged by the true preaching of Christ Jesus from the superstition and damnable idolatry in which they have bene long plunged and holden captive? If ye, as God forbid, declare your selves carelesse over the true religion, God will not suffer your negligence unpunished; and therefore more earnestly we require that strait lawes may be made against the stubborne contemners of Christ Jesus, and against such as dare presume to minister his sacraments not orderly called to that office, least while that there be none found to gainstand impiety, the wrath of God be kindled against the whole."

Nay, blasphemy was to be tried by the civil judge, but false weights and measures by the kirk. The Scottish Parliament, in 1560, enacted not only that the power and jurisdiction of the pope should cease in Scotland, but that all who either assisted or were present at mass should be punished, for the first offense, by confiscation of goods; for the second, by banishment; for the third, by death. It was believed that the magistrate had the same power in regard to the first table as to the second, a theory which, restoring the Jewish theocracy, would justify persecution, and put an end to toleration. For example, the Scottish Parliament in 1579 passed an act ordaining every householder worth three hundred merks of yearly rent, and every burgess or yeoman worth 500 stock, to have a Bible and psalm-book in their houses, under a penalty of 10.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Magistrates'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/magistrates.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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