Machiavelli John Calvin and Thomas Term Paper

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John Calvin, Thomas More & Niccolo Machiavelli

The Degree of Separation and Limits to Power of the Church and the State: Insights from John Calvin, Thomas More, and Niccolo Machiavelli

Religion has served an important function to human society for many civilizations and generations: it acts as a "social glue" that binds people together and unites them under one belief and set of values. While Marx also claimed that religion is a dysfunction in the society, in that it creates the illusion of the maintenance of the status quo, it cannot be denied that religion is an imperative feature of every society or culture because of its ability to create communities among people of diversity.

Moreover, people see their respective religions as "arbiters" wherein it can also function as a 'watchdog' to the government or leadership under which the people fall under. As arbiters of the government or political leaders, religion, in effect, is more than just a cultural element of human society; it is also a political instrument that allows room for improvement of governance in the society.

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This paper discusses the "arbiter" role that religion played to the government and civil society, as reflected in the works of the theologians John Calvin and Thomas More, and political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli. Looking into Calvin's "Conversion and Call to Geneva" and More's "Utopia," comparatively analyzed against Machiavelli's "The Prince," the discussion and analysis contained herein posits that Calvin, More, and Machiavelli recognized the important role of religion in safeguarding governance to civil society; however, Calvin and More differed from Machiavelli in that the latter believed that political decision-making must be left alone to the State -- that is, Church must be distinct and independent from the functions and nature of the State.

Term Paper on Machiavelli John Calvin and Thomas More Assignment

Calvin, in his essay, "Conversion and Call to Geneva," elucidated on the role that religion plays to civil society and the government. As a Christian, Calvin held radical yet reformist view of religious activities and views as inevitably intertwined with political activities and views. Political groups and movements comprise of individuals who have their respective religious beliefs and values -- therefore, decisions made regarding the governance of civil society are not created and developed independent of the influence of the Church.

The relationship between the Church and the State is so intertwined in Calvin's view, that he discussed an important issue that 'plagues' his society during his time (16th century): the prevalence and proliferation of "papists." As criticized also in Swift's "A Modest Proposal," papists are Christians who elevated the Pope to the status of more than just a religious leader; instead, papists tend to put their faith on the Pope himself rather than God. It is this misdirected view of one's faith that Calvin criticized about the papists, which made him consider them and their practice and beliefs as "unholy" and an act of "apostasy."

It is in relation to this issue that Calvin considered it important for the Church to have a significant role in governance. For Calvin, the presence and influence of the Church in the State's political decision-making is imperative, however not to a point wherein people will utilize religion in order to 'provide' salvation to people via politically means: "...when the salvation of a remnant of the people is ascribed to the election of grace, then only is it acknowledged that God of His mere good pleasure preserves whom He will, and moreover that He pays no reward, since He can owe none."

Calvin further elaborated on this point, arguing that religion must not interfere with State affairs, on the belief that religion (or specifically, Christianity) alone can relieve civil society from its problems. That is, the Church can interfere up to a point wherein civil society can be guided accordingly in their ways of life, but not to the extent that "the whole world is reshaped to a new form, where there are neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything which in their opinion restricts their freedom." From this statement, Calvin made clear that Church and State, while interdependent to each other, have certain limits that should be put upon on each other. Both must not impose on civil society that life can be lived independently by political or religious means alone; instead, life is lived through a combination of both political and religious interventions, in addition to the person's free will and individual rights.

In effect, Calvin tried to reach a "middle ground" in describing the relationship between the Church and the State. While he recognized the wisdom and knowledge of the Church with regards to proper and Christianly way of living, he also recognized that there are specific functions for the civil society that the Church can accomplish by itself, such as governance. By bringing in the State to govern civil society, Calvin avoided the problem that papists are known to bring about, which is the creation of the assumption that civil society can be governed by religion alone, and that it is self-sufficient (with religion) even in the absence of a government or the State. This bilateral view of governance of civil society will, according to Calvin, ensure that human society remains holy and lawful.

More and Calvin shared the same view that both Church and the State can help build a disciplined and moral civil society. However, while Calvin characterized the Church-State relationship as negatively, mutually interdependent, the Church-State relationship in More's terms should be positively, mutually interdependent with each other. That is, Calvin identified the role of the Church as the 'watchdog' of the State for the civil society; More, however, considered the Church as cooperating with the State in the implementation of a lawful and moral society.

This point is illustrated in "Utopia," wherein he described society in its 'idealized' form. In Utopia, religious members such as priests do not have the special privilege and leadership roles, functions that the clergy had assumed when Christianity dominated Western societies in the 16th century. In More's idealized version of civil society, priests work hand-in-hand with the government in implementing a moral society, participating in wars whenever they are needed, and returning to their "employment" once war is over. "Employment" of priests include functions such as acting as 'secret magistrates' that attempts to prevent factions, "care of all sacred things," "the worship of God," and "inspection into the manners of the people."

Apart from creating a moral society, the priests also act as teachers that educate Utopia's youth. In line with this, More further noted that Utopia is not only characterized by its positive and mutual relationship between the Church and the State, it is also a society wherein different religious beliefs and traditions are allowed to be practiced and are tolerated. More offered this pragmatic view of religion and religious diversity, taking into consideration that Christianity is not the only religion that exists and dominates in Western societies:

And indeed, though they differ concerning other things, yet all agree in this, that they think there is one Supreme Being that made and governs the world, whom they call in the language of their country Mithras. They differ in this, that one thinks the god whom he worships is this Supreme Being, and another thinks that his idol is that God; but they all agree in one principle, that whoever is this Supreme Being, He is also that Great Essence to whose glory and majesty all honors are ascribed by the consent of all nations.

What distinguishes More from Calvin, then, is his acceptance that there exist religions other than Christianity, which can dominate and also cooperate mutually, with the State. His openness to other forms and expressions of faith demonstrates that, in an ideal society such as Utopia, diversity is recognized. Further, More seeks more than just a "middle ground" in discussing the relationship between Church and State, as well as Christianity vis-a-vis other world religions. Thus, More's analysis of the religion of Utopia is an attempt to illustrate two important points about what society should be: (1) it should be guided both by the Church and the State, positively and mutually, and (2) there should be tolerance to religions other than Christianity, taking into consideration that there also exists more than one expression of faith.

Machiavelli, in "The Prince," offered a different viewpoint in elucidating on the Church-State relationship. Compared to Calvin and More, Machiavelli argued that Church should be independent from the State -- that, in decisions that are politically relevant to civil society, political leaders such as magistrates should be given this function rather than religious leaders.

Case in point shown in Machiavelli's discourse is the inability of Church leaders to help lead civil society towards betterment and improvement of its state, as Western history had shown. The Pope, as he pointed out, did not have the political power to govern his own clergy, which demonstrates the Pope's inability to govern a bigger number of people, such as civil society. Evidence of the Pope's… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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