Henry Bullinger on the Qualifications of Civil Magistrates

And how this place and argument do require, that I speak somewhat touching the office or authority of the magistrate: which (by God’s help) I will assay to do, not that I mean or can allege all that may be said thereof, but that which shall seem most properly to declare the meaning of it, and is most necessary for this present treatise.

Magistratus (which word we use for the room wherein the magistrate is) doth take the name a magistris populi designandis, “of assigning the masters, guiders, and captains of the people.” That room and place is called by the name of “power” or “authority,” by reason of the power that is given to it of God. It is called by the name of “domination,” for the dominion that the Lord doth grant it upon the earth. They are called princes that have that dominion: for they have a pre-eminence above the people. They are called consuls, of counseling; and kings, of commanding, ruling, and governing the people. So, then, the magistracy (that I may henceforward use this word of the magistrate’s power and place) is an office, and an action in executing of the same.


The magistracy, by the scriptures, may be defined to be a divine ordinance or action, whereby the good being defended by the prince’s aid, and the evil suppressed by the same authority, godliness, justice, honesty, peace, and tranquility, both public and private, are safely preserved. Whereby we gather, that to govern a commonwealth, and to execute the office of a magistrate, is a worship and service to God himself. God verily is delighted therein. For the office of a magistrate is a thing most excellent, and abounding with all good works, as in my former sermon I have declared.

Here I have to speak somewhat touching the election of magistrates: and first, to whom the choice and ordering of the magistrate doth belong secondarily, whom and what kind of men it is best to choose to be magistrates; and lastly, the manner and order of consecrating those which once are chosen.

Touching the election of magistrates, to whom that office should belong… Now for the good election of magistrates, the Lord himself declareth whom and what kind of men he will have to be chosen, in these very words: “Look over all the people, consider them diligently, and choose from among them men of courage, such as fear God, speakers of truth, and haters of covetousness, and make them rulers over thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, to judge the people at all seasons.” Four things the Lord requireth in a good governour. First, that he be a man of courage, of strength or force, that is, which hath ability to do the thing whereunto he is appointed. That ability consisteth in mind rather than in body. For it is required, that he be not a fool, but wise and skilful in that which he hath to do: because the office of a captain is to know how to set his army in order of battle, rather than to fight himself; or as a chariot-man ought rather to know how to guide his cart in driving, than to draw it himself. And therewithal too, there is demanded a boldness of stomach to dare to do the things that he already knoweth; for constancy and sufferance are very needful in every captain.

In the second place that is set down, which indeed is the first; let him fear God, let him be religious and not superstitious. No idolater preserveth the commonwealth, but rather destroyeth it; and a wicked man defendeth not truth and true religion, but persecuteth and driveth them out of his jurisdiction. Let this magistrate of ours therefore be of the right religion, sound in faith, believing the word of God, and knowing that God is present among men and doth repay to whom he list according to their deserts. …

Thirdly, there is required of him, which msut be chosen and called to be magistrate, that he be true in word and deed, so that he be not found to be an hypocrite, a liar, a deceiver, a turncoat, nor one which out of one mouth doth blow both hot and cold; but faithful, simple, a plain dealer, and blameless. He must not be more liberal in promising than in performing. He must not be one that setteth light by an oath, not a false swearer, nor a perjured man. Fourthly, because many are in the office desires riches, and seek to increase their wealth by bribes, the Lord removeth such from the magistracy and forbiddeth good magistrates to be covetous: yea, he doth expressly charge them to hate and abhor it; as he both also, in another place, not only forbid them to take bribes, but also command them to shake off and rid their hands of all rewards. Covetousness and greedy desires of bribes are the very plagues that choke good magistrates. …

This place is made more manifest by conferring it with other places in the law of God. Moses, in Deuteronomy, saith to the people: “Bring men of wisdom, of understanding, and of an honest life, according to your tribes.” [Deuteronomy 1:13] Three things here again doth the wise man, Moses, require in them that are to be appointed magistrates in his commonweal. First, saith he, let them be wise. But the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Let them therefore be ordained as magistrates, that are friends to God and true religion; let them be wise, and not foolish idiots. Secondarily, they must be men of understanding; that is, men of experience, who by long and continual exercise in handling of matters are able at the first brunt to deal in all cases according to the law. Lastly, they must be men of honest report, whose life and sound conversation are by their deeds perfectly tried and sufficiently witnessed of unto the people: and finally, they must be such as bear authority, and not be despised as rascal and vile knaves.”

-Henry Bullinger, The Decades


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: