Part II: Vitoria and Althusius


Through the Papal Revolution the Church in Western Europe brought the community of European nations into being. By its resistance to the imperial ideal the Papacy provided the shelter within which the developing nation-states might become firmly established. Canon and civil lawyers gave shape to this new order by redefining legal and jurisdictional categories in its favor.

Almost as if it could not endure the novelty, the Papacy turned against the new reality which itself owed so much to the Papacy for its very existence. Contrary to the original ideal of the Papal Revolution, later Popes began to arrogate to themselves the same imperial attributes they had denied to the emperors. Rome began to consider itself the material as well as spiritual, the secular as well as sacred, head of Europe. The Papacy became a centralizing bureaucracy which strove to gain material control of the life of Europe as a whole. The Papacy itself became a model bureaucratic state; in fact it might be considered the first modern state.[1]

The demise of medieval civilization and the onset of Renaissance power politics and warfare between the nations of Europe can be attributed to the failure of the Papacy to recognize and reside within the spiritual boundaries of the jurisdiction of the Church. The Papacy centralized control of ecclesiastical institutions, in violation of the national boundaries of church jurisdiction; in addition to that, it strove to lord it over secular kings and princes in secular affairs. This twofold denial of legitimate jurisdiction discredited the Church in the eyes of laymen and made the Church just one more political actor in a field of antagonists. The Pope became simply one more Renaissance prince. With no recognized intermediary, the emerging nation-states of Europe acted as laws unto themselves. The ministry of the Church reached a nadir during this time prior to the Reformation (14th-15th centuries).

Out of this milieu arose reformation, both through Martin Luther and the the other Reformers, whose churches broke away from Rome, and through the efforts of churchmen who stayed loyal to Rome but nevertheless strove to purify it from within and return it to its true spiritual mission. Chief among the latter, and a true pioneer in the revival of Augustinianism which characterized reformers both within and without the Roman church, was the Dominican friar Francisco de Vitoria (c. 1485-1546).

The Vitorian Contribution

Vitoria was instrumental in the resurgence of Thomism, the via antiqua or “old way” in the Roman church over against the predominant nominalism of the so-called via moderna or “new way” which had held sway throughout the fifteenth century in the universities. Vitoria was no blind doctrinarian, however; he blended the teaching of Thomas Aquinas with later theological and philosophical developments and adapted these to the exigencies of the 16th century. In so doing he laid the foundations for both Catholic and Protestant thought in many areas. Chief among these areas were church/state relations, constitutional theory, and international law. These subjects were blended together into a new, Christian evaluation of nationality.

The Rights of Nations

For Vitoria, the nations were the primary integers in political life. The nations had specific rights which were crucial to the functioning of society and to the fulfillment of the purpose of mankind on earth.

In the first place, with respect to secular matters the nations were sovereign. Each nation by divine right had the authority to administer its own secular affairs without interference from other earthly powers. Thus for Vitoria the Holy Roman Emperor possessed no jurisdiction over any nation except his own, viz. Germany. Every other nation, such as France, England, and Spain, possessed its own sovereignty and had the right to act in independence of the dictates of the Emperor. The Emperor held jurisdiction in Germany because the German princes swore fealty to him: this definitive act of subjection formed his only legal claim to sovereignty. The Emperor possessed no a priori universal dominion, such as his own proponents claimed for him.

Neither did the Pope possess jurisdiction over the nations in anything except spiritual matters. Here Vitoria accepted the jurisdiction of the Pope over the Church International, but he restricted that jurisdiction to spiritual matters. Nevertheless, he attributed to the Pope the right to intervene in secular affairs when such affairs touched directly upon spiritual matters, such as war and peace. Where the destiny of the soul was concerned, Vitoria held, the Pope had the right and duty to intervene for the good of those involved. Nevertheless, such a right of intervention was severely restricted by Vitoria when one compares his position with the proponents of papal absolutism.

Sovereignty and the Community of Nations

Vitoria pioneered the idea of a community of nations in which no earthly institution held sovereignty, either de facto or de jure. In place of this he argued that the nations themselves, in cooperative effort, needed to recognize and enforce the jus gentium, the common law of nations, which was common to them all and which indelibly bound them together. This community of nations could even be considered as one republic in the sense that it legislated and enforced laws which bound the world-community. Totus orbis, the entire world, through mutual accord and common consent had the power to enact and enforce just and useful laws, laws which made up the jus gentium. The right to enforce these laws produced the doctrine of the just war.

Important to understanding the position Vitoria was advocating is to consider his concept of sovereignty. Actually the juridical concept of sovereignty was yet to be elaborated: Jean Bodin would do so in his Six Books of a Commonweal published in 1576. Vitoria’s writing possessed the actuality of the concept while leaving it unnamed. He wrote of the nation as a societas perfecta, a “perfect community,” by which he meant that the nation held supreme political authority within its boundaries while recognizing no political superior outside of itself. In this manner, nations were self-sufficient entities. Additionally, this sovereignty was held by the nation as a whole: the people which made up the nation held the sovereignty jointly.

Sovereignty: A Relative Concept

The emphasis Vitoria places on the integral unity possessed, at least in principle, by the world-community might lead one to believe that he advocated the establishment of a world-government which would mediate the relationships between the nations.[2] But this is precisely what Vitoria is arguing against when he terms individual peoples and nations the sovereigns: the jus gentium, “law of peoples,” is therefore a law of sovereigns, i.e. a law respected and enforced by the authority of a community of sovereigns. One overarching earthly sovereign is expressly denied;[3] this is the significance of Vitoria’s denial of universal jurisdiction to either Pope or Emperor. He is arguing for another kind of supreme authority altogether: that of the transcendent, provident God whose absolute sovereignty is maintained through denying it to any earthly institution. That the community of nations possesses a joint “sovereignty” is the direct corollary to this position: in effect, the possibility of that sovereignty being localized in a single institution is denied.

This view of sovereignty complements the view of law which Vitoria argues for. The jus gentium which provides the standard of righteousness for all the nations is none other than the law of God expressed in natural law. For Vitoria the idea of natural law was not vague and lacking in substance; it was grounded firmly in divine revelation. Vitoria’s brand of “Neoscholastic political thinking . . . is firmly rooted in the assumption that the validity of the Old Covenant – in reality, as these publicists readily admit, nothing more than the Hebrew version of natural law – is eternal, and that for the purposes of political affairs . . . the coming of Christ made no difference whatsoever.”[4] For this reason Vitoria’s treatises are studded with references to the Old and New Testaments.

Divine Sovereignty and Higher Law

The dependence upon divine revelation to give content to the natural law reflects that Vitoria understood divine sovereignty to be the corollary to his concept of the community of nations. For Vitoria, international law was first and foremost a part of the natural law and thus unchangeable by the will of man. The community of nations could legislate and enforce universally binding laws, but they could only do so in terms of this unchanging “primary” law of nations. When one considers the content Vitoria actually gives to this category of law, one realizes just how firmly he believed in an unchanging divinely-established and -controlled universal order. Vitoria recognized another category of international law, a “secondary” law of nations which was derived from human will. These two categories of law were intimately related: the “primary” category gave the general, binding principles good for all times and places, while the “secondary” category constituted adaptation to specific circumstances through the enactment of human positive law. Thus “secondary” laws were simply derivations of the “primary” laws. As has been stated, this man-made law was made either as accepted custom or in the form of treaties.

Content of the Law of Nations

Within the category of the “standing” or unchanging law of nations, Vitoria recognized two sub-categories, natural and spiritual; the natural dealt with temporal or material things, the things of this life, while the spiritual dealt with eternal things. He grouped these categories further in terms of rights of communication: things which all peoples had the right and duty to communicate, i.e. distribute or share, amongst themselves.

First among the rights of natural communication was the jus peregrinandi, the right of passage. This right entailed that no nation had the right to bar foreigners from passing through its boundaries, or keep them from spending time within them. Because all men are united by duties of fraternity, of hospitality, and by the law of charity, the good that can be done one’s neighbor by allowing him free passage through one’s own land ought not be denied him, except where such might bring damage or harm along with it.

A complementary right of communication is that to passage on the high seas. The seas, being common to all nations, are open for all to travel upon. No nation had the right to monopolize any portion of waters, even though it might lie adjacent to it and derive much of its livelihood from it. Trade routes may not be considered any nation’s property, either, even if discovered and developed by a particular nation. The right to exploit fisheries may also not be infringed by any one nation’s pretended monopoly.

Freedom of trade Vitoria also includes among these rights of natural communication. This is quite noteworthy: remember, these rights belong to the “primary” law of nations and as such may never be denied! National governments may infringe the right of neither their own nor of foreign private citizens and subjects to freely engage in trade, so long as trade and business may be carried on without prejudicing the health and safety of the community.

Foreigners had the right to travel through, abide in, and carry on trade with any lands they desired. They even had the right to take up residence and become citizens of other lands, to work and to own property there. They had the right not to be expelled except upon just cause.

Such constituted the rights of natural communication, but Vitoria did not stop there. He went on to describe rights of spiritual communication, the right to preach the gospel, send missionaries into foreign lands, and the rights of the gospel message and its professors to be protected against all violence and hindrance from either private citizens or public authorities. Thus, the church has the right to extend herself throughout the world under the aegis of the civil authority. The rights of the gospel stem directly from Christ’s charge to the disciples in Matthew – the Great Commission.[5] And they constitute as much a part of the “natural law” as do the rights of natural communication. “It is a right which in terms of subject matter above all is divine-positive, or connatural with a Christian social order; but which to infidels comes clothed in the natural right to express and promulgate all of the truth, above all the religious truth necessary to salvation.”[6]

Right of Intervention

For violations of these rights of communication either natural or spiritual, nations could go to war. A just war, in fact, was one fought in fulfillment of the duties of nations to enforce the jus gentium common to them all. Here Vitoria again innovated in formulating his doctrine of the right of just intervention.[7] Because for Vitoria the sovereignty of nations was not an absolute but a relative sovereignty, a sovereignty bounded by higher law. Thus subjects being tyrannically oppressed may be liberated through the intervention of foreign powers. Barbaric treatment, such as cannibalism or human sacrifice, might be put an end to by armed intervention. Persecution of the church is just cause for armed intervention as well.

The Church and the Nations

Vitoria’s concept of a community of nations comprising totus orbis, the whole world, was complemented by a concept of the community of Christian nations which together made up the Church International. He considered this a veritable respublica christiana, a Christian republic, “one body formed by the spiritual Church and the Christian nations as true members of the mystical Body.” With respect to the rights of spiritual communication, which at any rate held precedent over those of natural communication, the Church exercised leadership over this body of Christian nations. Since the rights of spiritual and natural communication are complementary rather than contradictory, the secular and the spiritual power act harmoniously and in cooperation to ensure the well-being of the international community. “In Vitoria and in all sane jurisprudence the Church and the international community are to be harmonized . . . . The tight collaboration of both powers will always issue supremely efficacious to the peace and order of peoples.” This idea of the Church International is what made the idea of a community of nations possible: national sovereignty must be relativized, and it is relativized by the spiritual and not a supreme temporal power. Vitoria’s concept is theocratic to the core: it is what makes the “open society” for which he argues possible.[8]

Vitoria laid the groundwork for all future efforts in the development of international law. The School of Salamanca, to which he gave foundations and an international reputation which would last into the seventeenth century, became one of the leading universities of Europe insofar as jurisprudence was concerned. Luminaries such as Domingo de Soto, Diego de Covarrubias, Fernando Vásquez y Menchaca, and Francisco Suarez either studied or taught there (or both). Salamanca was also a center of free-market economic thought.[9] The influence of this school is difficult to overestimate: both Catholic and Protestant writers considered its authority to be preeminent, as is evidenced from the frequency with which their writings were cited.[10]

The Althusian Contribution

One important writer of the later 16th and early 17th centuries who drew extensively upon the writings of this school was the German Calvinist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638).[11] Althusius was a convinced proponent of the Reformation, especially the Calvinistic version, and produced works on politics, law, and constitutionalism which typefied and epitomized political Calvinism in its maturity. Importantly, Althusius continued the tradition of Salamanca, especially as represented in the writings of Vitoria; just as importantly, he brought this body of thought into a fuller maturity in terms of Biblical teaching.

Popular Sovereignty

Althusius took over and amplified the Vitorian framework of a community of sovereign nations. In his work he emphasized both the nature of sovereignty and the concept of the “people” who jointly possessed that sovereignty. Remember, Vitoria had developed the idea of popular sovereignty in tandem with his idea of a community of nations. Jean Bodin would later define sovereignty in the juridical sense, as an absolute and indivisible law-making power which recognized no earthly superior. Althusius accepted Bodin’s definition; but where Bodin argued that this sovereignty must be attributed to one supreme institution in society (such as the king), Althusius argued that sovereignty is always a possession of the people as a whole, the associated body of the realm.

Althusius’ doctrine of popular sovereignty is thoroughgoing and conclusive. For Althusius, the “people” who possessed the sovereignty were not individual citizens considered either in isolation or en masse; they were, rather, the whole community as an organized body of lesser associations, hierarchically arranged and ordered in a constitutional framework. Or as he puts it: “the members of a realm . . . are not, I say, individual men, families, or collegia, as in a private or a particular public association. Instead, members are many cities, provinces, and regions agreeing among themselves on a single body constituted by mutual union and communication.” Individuals took their places in the realm by virtue of membership in these lesser associations. “Individual persons from these group members are called natives, inhabitants of the realm, and sons and daughters of the realm.” To make the point clear Althusius draws upon an apt metaphor: “It can be said that individual citizens, families, and collegia are not members of a realm, just as boards, nails, and pegs are not considered parts of a ship, nor rocks, beams, and cement parts of a house. On the other hand, cities, urban communities, and provinces are members of a realm, just as prow, stern, and keel are members of a ship, and roof, walls, and floor are essential parts of a house.”[12]

A Society of Associations: Constitutionalism

Althusius’s social order is one in which every higher level of society is made up of the associations existing on the next lower level. The basic association is the family, in which all individuals find a place; Althusius terms this the private natural association. Private voluntary associations also find a place at this basic level of society. Public associations are composed of a composite of private associations, natural and voluntary, which come together on the basis of consent and trust, through covenants. The particular public associations are towns and cities together with their surrounding agricultural “watersheds;” these come together to form provinces. A union of provinces forms a universal as opposed to a particular public association, the commonwealth or republic, which alone is vested with rights of sovereignty.

This associational body exhibits a fundamentally constitutional character. Althusius is careful to specify that at every level, in every form of association, strong rule is necessary: there must be leadership, there must be authority, for social life to survive. Nevertheless he places just as much emphasis upon the need for institutional limitations on authority. From the family on up to the commonwealth, the authority of the head is bounded by higher law and by the constitutional authority of the association, which remains greater than its head. As he put it, “The inferior, or subject, is one who carries on the business of the social life according to the will of his chief, or prefect, and arranges his life and actions submissively, provided his chief does not rule impiously or unjustly.”

In the higher public associations of the province and the commonwealth, this constitutionalism is instituted in bodies of estates which represent all the lesser bodies in society. Typically the estates are three-fold: nobility, clergy, and commons (burgers and yeomen-farmers). These, according to Althusius, were protectors of the rights of the realm and exercised an oversight over the king or prince. The king was not an absolute master, and Althusius polemicized with Bodin for asserting the contrary. The estates had every right to call a wayward king to account for his actions; in fact, it was their God-given duty to do so.

Sovereignty as Non-transferable, Inalienable

But even the estates had to give account to the people whom they represented. The people, the organized associated body of the realm, always retained the rights of sovereignty and only delegated authority to the magistracy. The people could no more transfer or alienate their sovereignty to the magistrate than a person could cease breathing and go on living. An extended quotation from Althusius’ preface to the third edition of the Politics illustrates just how crucial this doctrine is to his overall scheme:

I have attributed the rights of sovereignty, as they are called, not to the supreme magistrate, but to the commonwealth or universal association. Many jurists and political scientists assign them as proper only to the prince and supreme magistrate to the extent that if these rights are granted and communicated to the people or commonwealth, they thereby perish and are no more. A few others and I hold to the contrary, namely, that they are proper to the symbiotic body of the universal association to such an extent that they give it spirit, soul, and heart. And this body, as I have said, perishes if they are taken away from it. I recognize the prince as the administrator, overseer, and governor of these rights of sovereignty. But the owner and usufructuary of sovereignty is none other than the total people associated in one symbiotic body from many smaller associations. These rights of sovereignty are so proper to this association, in my judgment, that even if it wishes to renounce them, to transfer them to another, and to alienate them, it would by no means be able to do so, any more than a man is able to give the life he enjoys to another. For these rights of sovereignty constitute and conserve the universal association.[13]

Thus for Althusius sovereignty is not an optional appendage, and it is not negotiable. A people if it is to be a people must possess these rights of sovereignty: otherwise it cannot exist. Sovereignty cannot be alienated or transferred: not to a king or prince or ruling body within the nation, much less to one outside or above the nation. Sovereignty is an incommunicable attribute of a people per se.

Protestantism and the Church International

In his involved, detailed, and convincing account of nationhood and sovereignty Althusius was furthering the development of the Vitorian schema. There is one point, however, where he makes a decisive break with his Romanist predecessor, and that comes precisely at the point where one would expect it: with the doctrine of the Church. Vitoria followed Thomas Aquinas in conceiving of church and state as two distinct “perfect societies:” the church was a spiritual societas perfecta, whose head was the Pope, while the state was a secular societas perfecta headed by the prince. Vitoria extended this notion, attributing to each individual nation the status of societas perfecta, explicitly recognizing the independent status of each nation; but the Church he yet regarded as one international body with one head, the Pope. This conceptualization remains Roman Catholic dogma to this day. It signifies that for Rome two entirely different justifications for authority exist for the sacred and secular powers: for the state, it is immediately the community and ultimately God – God establishes states through the community – while for the church, it is immediately God in Christ from whom the Pope and the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy directly derive their authority.

For Althusius as a Protestant such a notion was of course unacceptable. He was convinced that sovereignty was given by God to the community, and this sovereignty was exercised in both ecclesiastical and secular affairs. In fact, the chapter in which he begins his discussion of sovereignty, in which he argues for its inalienably popular (i.e. vested in the people) nature, is entitled “Of Ecclesiastical Sovereignty,” and goes on to divide sovereignty into ecclesiastical and secular halves, discussing the ecclesiastical side first. What comes out of this is that ecclesiastical sovereignty is grounded in the people just as much as secular sovereignty is, and it is exercised through a presbyterian-parochial church polity. Each nation has its own ecclesiastical establishment (which is not necessarily mono-denominational) which recognizes no earthly juridical superior, in the same way that the secular establishment recognizes no earthly superior.

What place does the Church International have in such an arrangement? Althusius does not explicitly discuss the matter. Nevertheless one can get an idea of what he would have said by taking a look at another Calvinistic document which Althusius gladly claimed as seminal to his own work: the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos (The Defense of Liberty against Tyrants) published pseudonymously by Stephanus Junius Brutus in 1579.[14] The fourth chapter (in a book of four chapters) is devoted to the question of whether a prince has the right to intervene in the domestic struggles of another land. The author argues in the affirmative, if done in order either to protect and defend the true religion from oppression and persecution, or to preserve justice by overthrowing tyrannical oppressors of the people. Althusius was entirely in agreement with this work, and refers to it repeatedly in his own discussions of the right of resistance. What is important in this context is to consider the concept of the Church International contained therein.

“First, all accord in this, that there is only one Church, whereof Jesus Christ is the head, the members whereof are so united and conjoined together, that if the least of them be offended or wronged, they all participate both in the harm and sorrow, as throughout Holy Scripture plainly appears: wherefore the church is compared to a body.”[15] This body has many members, each of which is given to the charge of particular princes since each is composed of the peoples of different nations. What touches on one member of the body touches them all; what harms one member harms them all. Therefore none can leave off the duty of intervening if in order to prevent the injury or procure the welfare of the body of Christ. “As this church is one, so is she recommended and given in charge to all Christian princes in general, and to every one of them in particular; for so much as it was dangerous to leave the care to one alone, and the unity of it would not by any means permit that she should be divided into pieces, and every portion assigned unto one particular; God has committed it all entire to particulars, and all the parts of it to all in general, not only to preserve and defend it, but also to amplify and increase it as much as might be.”[16] Although these Protestants did not acknowledge a single governing institution in the Church International, they were far from denying the existence of such a body, nor were they denying its place in the lives of the nations. Calvinists of the stamp of du Plessis-Mornay and Althusius were far from subordinating the church to the nation-state, or from privatizing the church. Rather, the community of Christian nations was a model for the community of nations on the secular plane. In this light, the further Protestant development of the Vitorian schema can be seen as its fulfillment.

Just Causes for War

That Althusius stood squarely in this Vitorian tradition is confirmed by consulting the criteria he puts forward for the right of just war and just intervention. A nation had the right to go to war for the following reasons:

  1. recovery of things taken away, through force, by another people;
  2. defense against and repulsion of violence committed against the people;
  3. preservation of liberty, privileges, rights, peace, and tranquility, and defense of the true religion;
  4. denial by a foreign people of peaceful transit through its territory without good reason (thus Althusius defends open borders);
  5. suppress rebellion against legitimate authority;
  6. contumacy of a prince or another in authority against the courts of justice;
  7. when agreements are not kept, especially when a king becomes a tyrant.

Althusius’ position on monopoly likewise follows that of Vitoria and the Spanish theorists. Monopoly is allowable only under the most restricted conditions, such as during periods of famine or political crisis. It is never allowable as a policy of course, in which the political authority may grant privileges to a merchant or groups of merchants in exchange for services rendered. Such actions were considered anathema by most church-oriented (i.e. theocratic) political theorists and jurists, Protestant and Catholic alike. Althusius considered especially odious the machinations of guilds to establish public monopolies.[17]

Law of Nations and Biblical Law

Althusius’ understanding of the jus gentium is likewise consonant to that of Vitoria’s: he speaks of it as the expression of the natural law and thus unchangeable by the will of man. Now for Althusius the natural law has a markedly Biblical-law content: in fact, he speaks much more often of Biblical law than natural law. “It is noteworthy that Althusius did not present natural law at any point in the Politica independent of the Biblical notions that informed it.”[18] Such an understanding of natural law is consistent with the Vitorian high view of Biblical law, but even surpasses it in that the Calvinistic philosophy of natural law was, to this author’s mind, much more consistently Biblical than was the Thomistic.

The Theocratic Heritage of International Law

We have before us represented in the work of these two thinkers a Christian vision for the nations of the highest order. It is informed by two considerations: that the relationships between the nations be free and open, maintained through the diligent oversight of and swift punishment of transgressions against the law of nations; and that the truth of the gospel and the spread of the church throughout the world be unhindered, in fulfillment of the Great Commission. The one informs the other; in fact, the one cannot be fulfilled without the other, for the gospel must have a concrete context in which to be fleshed out, and indeed Christ died that the world itself might be saved, in all its created fulness (John 3:16-17); and the material welfare and prosperity of man is meaningless and perverse, a stumbling block in the way of salvation, if it is pursued in isolation from its Provider.

The law of nations has been created and put in force by God Himself, and it cannot be set aside. This law in the first place maintains that always and everywhere, political sovereignty is vested in the community. This is not an abstract entity but a people, rooted in time and place, as every real-world people is. The world is made up of these peoples: “And He has made all nations of men of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth, ordaining fore-appointed seasons and boundaries of their dwelling, to seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though indeed He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17: 26-27, MKJV).

The sovereignty they possess is not one by which they pretend to define their own terms, make their own rules, shape their environments as they see fit. It is rather an authority to ensure the recognition and fulfillment of the law of God, both within the nation and between the nations. By the authority of this law nations may defend themselves and defend others against imperialist aggression of whatever form. They must also defend and promote the interests of the Church. And they must ensure that rights of spiritual and natural communication remain inviolable.

The nations today fall far short of adhering to the law of nations as divinely ordained. They rather make up the rules for themselves as they see fit because they deny any higher law and have redefined sovereignty to mean the right to do just this: make up your own rules. Popular sovereignty has become perverted to the point that it justifies this kind of law-creating as the legitimate expression of the will of the people. But the people never had the right to make up the rules: they only had the right to enforce them. Nor have they ever had the right to make treaties among themselves in violation of either the rights of sovereignty of other nations, or of the rights of natural and spiritual communication. Both imperialism and isolationism are violations of the divinely-ordained law of nations. And it is a foolish people indeed who would give up its rights of sovereignty because otherwise it cannot keep from abusing them. If the excuse for the European Community is the avoidance of the evils of “nationalism,” perhaps the member nations might rather learn obedience to the divine law-order than submit to a yoke of Euro-slavery.

Thus, politically speaking and only politically speaking, the nations are sovereign and the peoples are the possessors of this sovereignty. The community of sovereign nations finds its unity not in an earthly institution but in the God who created it. He rules on earth, and has given this rule into the hand of His Son: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority is given to Me in Heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:16). This means that the law which binds the nations together is a law given and enforced by God in Christ. It is not a law which can be changed, but rather one which is adapted to the needs of time and place. It is a law which the nations need in order to maintain their own independent existence: apart from it, the law of empire must come into force.

Now this Christ, who rules the entire world because He sits now at the right hand of the Father, extends His rule through His Church: “And He has put all [things] under His feet and gave Him to be Head over all [things] to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Church exercises this rule on earth, this rule of a Kingdom not of this world, this spiritual rule. It is this rule which unites the nations and enables the peace to be kept between them; where the Church falters in maintaining this rule, antagonism, conflict, and warfare come quickly on the scene.

The pursuit of a “New World Order” apart from this Lord and His instituted means is a pursuit after the Tower of Babel. The choice, indeed, is between Jerusalem or Babel; or, to exchange examples, between Jerusalem and Rome. For if the nations of the world do not choose Mount Zion, which is the City of the living God and the New Jerusalem, as their capital city, they will get Rome, or the modern equivalent of it (wherever it might be), as their capital city, ruling from above in the interests of the elite and of the masses, destroying liberty that license may prevail, enslaving a rootless proletariat in the name of efficiency and progress. A community of nations cannot long exist without a capital city, and that city must be either a spiritual one or a material one. Empire had been the order of the day for the nations of the world from the time of the Tower of Babel up until the time of Vitoria. The drift in our day towards so-called “trading blocs” is nothing less than a drift away from the community of nations. And that is because only the Church International can sustain the existence of a community of nations. Vitoria and Althusius lived in a time when men yet believed that; until they recover such faith, they will yet see their fondest hopes and dreams of world peace disintegrate.

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[1]Harold Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 113ff.

[2]As does Urdanoz in his otherwise excellent exposition of the Vitorian doctrine. Urdanoz seems to see Vitoria as an early protagonist for the United Nations, actually not the United Nations Organization as it presently exists but rather the one often dreamed of by one-worlders, which would actually possess political and military power over the nations. To view Vitoria in this light is really to miss the entire point of what he is arguing for. Cf. Teófilo Urdanoz, O.P., Obras de Francisco de Vitoria [Works of F. de V.] (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1960), pp. 575-578, 580ff.

[3]As Reibstein correctly points out: Ernst Reibstein, Volkssouveränität und Freiheitsrecht I (Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber GmbH, 1972), p. 108.

[4]J.A. Fernández-Santamaria, The State, War, and Peace: Spanish Political Thought in the Renaissance, 1516-1559 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977), p. 122.

[5]See “Vitoria’s New World Order,” p. 1ff. above.

[6]Urdanoz, Obras, p. 616.

[7]Urdanoz, Obras, p. 614.

[8]Urdanoz, pp. 625ff.

[9]See Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Early Economic Thought in Spain, 1177-1740 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1975); Alejandro A. Chafuen, Christians for Freedom: Late-Scholastic Economics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).

[10]Reibstein emphasizes this in his Johannes Althusius als Fortsetzer der Schule von Salamanca (Karlsruhe: Verlag C.F. Müller, 1955).

[11]See ibid., passim.

[12]Frederick S. Carney (trans. and ed.), The Politics of Johannes Althusius (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1965), p. 62.

[13]Politics, p. 10.

[14]Junius Brutus, The Defence of Liberty against Tyrants trans. William Walker (repr. Edmonton, Ontario, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1989). The original author is considered by modern scholars to have been the French Huguenot Philip du Plessis-Mornay.

[15]Defence, p. 150.

[16]Defence, p. 151.

[17]On this point see Raymond de Roover, “Monopoly Theory Prior to Adam Smith,” in Julius Kirshner (ed.), Business, Banking, and Economic Thought in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Selected Studies of Raymond de Roover (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

[18] Frederick Carney, The Associational Theory of Johannes Althusius: A Study in Calvinist Constitutionalism (unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of Chicago, 1960), p. 165. He also remarks that for every reference to natural law there are three or four references to Biblical law (p. 164). Carney’s discussion of Althusius’ use of Biblical law, as well as his entire approach to constitutionalism, is simply outstanding.