Cocq vs. Hobbes on the Church and Ministry

by Matthew Gaetano

Dutch Calvinist (discussed elsewhere at TRF) Gisbertus Cocq opposes Thomas Hobbes’s view of the Church and ministry in his Anatomy of Hobbesianism. In reply to Hobbes’s teaching that there are as many churches as there are Christian kingdoms or republics, Cocq says, “If there exist particular churches, there necessarily also exists a universal Church, for the universal Church is nothing other than all the particular Churches taken collectively.” He continued, “The whole number of Christians, although they are not comprehended in one state (civitas), is one person, one mystical body whose head is Christ” (575).  The authority by which Christians, of whatever people, place, or time, are to be ruled in the Catholic Church exists in Christ (Matthew 28:18), who is the only bridegroom, king, paterfamilias, and head of the Catholic Church. Cocq is opposing the famous image of Leviathan with sword and crozier. Of course, Cocq also intends to rule out the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy.

But then what is the role for the ministers of the Church? Cocq says that the ministerium is very diverse from the task of the magistrate. It is purely ministerial without any command (imperium) or coercive power (576). Our Dutch Reformed theologian sees the magistrate or government official as being one of “command with legislative and coercive power.” The minister cares for the eternal salvation (salus) of human beings, while the magistrate cares for the peace and temporal and external health (salus) of each and every citizen. The difference between minister and magistrate, at least in part, is the sort of “health” for which they have primary concern and, of course, the tools which they have at their disposal. At this stage, Cocq links Hobbes with the Erastians who, he says, “dream that the ecclesiastical ministry is a political function and immediately derived from the office of the magistrate” (577).

But then isn’t Cocq’s opposition to Hobbes just an extension of the debate between Calvinists and their opponents about the power of ministers over excommunication and other related issues? Is this opposition to Hobbes merely a continuation of the debate of the previous century or so? Of course, Cocq tackles Hobbes’s doctrines of God, the Incarnation, creation, etc., issues that did not feature in the debate between Geneva and the Erastians.

Nonetheless, even on the issues of the magistracy vs. ministry, it seems rather clear that the controversy with Hobbes has an entirely different shape from the intra-Protestant debates of past decades. Let’s take a brief look at John Bramhall’s Anglican reply to the Leviathan. (To be clear, I don’t mean to associating Anglicanism directly with Erastianism. See here for a helpful discussion.) Bramhall (1594-1663), who became Bishop of Derry and later Archbishop of Armagh at the Restoration after abandoning England for the Continent during the Civil War, was one of Hobbes’s fiercest opponents. And he has a very important place in the Anglican theological tradition; indeed, Bramhall was praised during his funeral as uniting the gifts of the great Anglican divines–the judiciousness of Richard Hooker (d. 1600), the learning of John Jewel (d. 1571), and the acuteness of Lancelot Andrewes (d. 1626).

In The Catching of Leviathan, Bramhall deals with some of the questions raised above rather indirectly. He unfortunately says that he would “pass by [Hobbes’s] errors about … the kingdom of Christ, about the power of the keys, binding, loosing, excommunication, etc., … for fear of being tedious to the reader. His whole works are a heap of misshapen errors, and absurd paradoxes, vented with the confidence of a juggler, the brags of a mountebank, and the authority of some Pythagoras, or ‘third Cato,’ lately ‘dropped down from heaven'” (546-547). So, while we don’t have much detail here, it is quite clear that the Anglican Bramhall and the Dutch Calvinist Cocq both find Hobbes’s view of the kingdom of Christ, the ministry, excommunication, etc., objectionable, even though they would likely have a different approach to the Hobbesian teaching.

Like Cocq, Bramhall takes up the passage from Leviathan about there being as many churches as there are states. In reply, Bramhall points, as Cocq did, to the creedal teaching about the universal Church. (It is noteworthy that Bramhall’s evidence against Hobbes is the authority of general councils (531).) Brahhall also distinguishes between the Church and the commonwealth in opposition to the Hobbesian account. Bramhal says that “all other men” make this distinction; Hobbes is the “only” one who “maketh them one and the same thing.”

Bramhall sees Hobbes’s view as entirely off the spectrum of standard theological debate from the sixteenth century. While the Cocq does link Hobbes with Erastianism, it is clear from other passages that Cocq sees Hobbes as far, far more radical than his typical Erastian opponents.

Both Cocq the Dutch Calvinist and Bramhall the Anglican bishop saw Hobbes as a threat to the universality of the Church and to Christ’s kingship. As Bramhall put it, “[Hobbes] deposeth Christ from His true kingdom office, making His ‘kingdom not to commence or begin before the Day of Judgment.'” Brahmhall rejected Hobbes’s teaching that ‘the regiment, wherewith Christ governeth His faithful in this life, is not properly a kingdom, but a pastoral office, or a right to teach'” (527-28).

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