Excerpt from Patriarcha (c. 1630).
I come now to examine that argument which is used by Bellarmine, and is the one and only argument I can find produced by any author for the proof of the natural liberty of the people. It is thus framed: that God hath given or ordained power is evident by Scripture; but God hath given it to no particular man, because by nature all men are equal; therefore he hath given power to the people or multitude.
To answer this reason, drawn from the equality of mankind by nature, I will first use the help of Bellarmine himself, whose very words are these: 'if many men had been together created out of the earth, all they ought to have been princes over their posterity' (book 1 De Pontifice Romano, chapter 2). In these words we have an evident confession that creation made man prince of his posterity. And indeed not only Adam but the succeeding patriarchs had, by right of fatherhood, royal authority over their children. Nor dares Bellarmine deny this also. 'That the patriarchs,' saith he, 'were endowed with kingly power, their deeds do testify' (De Romano Pontifice book 1, chapter 2). For as Adam was lord of his children, so his children under him had a command and power over their own children, but still with subordination to the first parent, who is lord paramount over his children's children to all generations, as being the grandfather of his people
I see not then how the children of Adam, or of any man else, can be free from subjection to their parents. And this subjection of children is the only fountain of all regal authority, by the ordination of God himself. It follows that civil power not only in general is by divine institution, but even the assignment of it specifically to the eldest parent, which quite takes away that new and common distinction which refers only power universal as absolute to God, but power respective in regard of the special form of government to the choice of the people. Nor leaves it any place for such imaginary pactions between kings and their people as many dream of.
This lordship which Adam by creation had over the whole world, and by right descending from him the patriarchs did enjoy, was as large and ample as the absolutest dominion of any monarch which hath been since the creation. For power of life and death we find that Judah, the father, pronounced sentence of death against Thamar, his daughter-in-law, for playing the harlot. 'Bring her forth,' saith he, 'that she may be burnt' (Genesis xxxviii, 24). Touching war, we see that Abraham commanded an army of 318 soldiers of his own family (Genesis xiv, 14); and Esau met his brother Jacob with 400 men at arms (Genesis xxxiii, 1). For matter of peace, Abraham made a league with Abimelech, and ratified the articles by an oath (Genesis xxi, 23-4). These acts of judging in capital causes, of making war, and concluding peace, are the chiefest marks of sovereignty that are found in any monarch.
Not only until the Flood, but after it, this patriarchal power did continue - as the very name of patriarch doth in part prove. The three sons of Noah had the whole world divided amongst them by their father, for of them was the whole world overspread, according to the benediction given to him and his sons: 'Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth' (Genesis ix, 1) Most of the civillest nations in the world labour to fetch their original from some one of the sons or nephews of Noah, which were scattered abroad after the confusion of Babel. In this dispersion we must certainly find the establishment of regal power throughout the kingdoms of the world.
It is a common opinion that at the confusion of tongues there were seventy-two distinct nations erected. All which were not confused multitudes, without heads or governors, and at liberty to choose what governors or government they pleased, but they were distinct families, which had fathers for rulers over them. Whereby it appears that even in the confusion, God was careful to preserve the fatherly authority by distributing the diversity of languages according to the diversity of families. For so it plainly appears by the text. First, after the enumeration of the sons of Japhet, the conclusion is: 'By these were the isles of the gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations' (Genesis x, 5). So it is said: 'These are the sons of Ham after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations' (Genesis x, 20). The like we read: 'These are the sons of Shem after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. These are the families of the sons of Noah after their generations in their nations, and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the Flood' (Genesis x, 31-2).
In this division of the world, some are of opinion that Noah used lots for the distribution of it. Others affirm that he sailed about the Mediterranean sea in ten years and as he went about, pointed to each son his part, and so made the division of the then known world into Asia, Africa, and Europe, according to the number of his sons, the limits of which three parts are all found in that midland sea.
But howsoever the manner of the division be uncertain, yet it is most certain the division itself was by families from Noah and his children, over which the parents were heads and princes.
Amongst these was Nimrod, who no doubt (as Sir Walter Raleigh affirms) was by good right lord or king over his family (Raleigh 1, I, 10, i). Yet against right did he enlarge his empire by seizing violently on the rights of other lords of families, and in this sense he may be said to be the author and first founder of monarchy. And all those that do attribute unto him the original of regal power do hold he got it by tyranny or usurpation, and not by any due election of the people or multitude, nor by any paction with them.
As this patriarchal power continued in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even until the Egyptian bondage, so we find it amongst the sons of Ishmael and Esau. It is said: 'These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names by their castles and towns, twelve princes of their tribes or families' (Genesis xxv, 16). 'And these are the names of the dukes that came of Esau, according to their families and their places by their nations' (Genesis xxxvi, 40).
Some, perhaps, may think that these princes and dukes of families were but some petty lords under some greater kings, because the number of them are so many that their particular territories could be but small, and not worthy the title of kingdoms. But they must consider that at first kings had no such large dominions as they have nowadays. We find in the time of Abraham, which was about 300 years after the Flood, that in a little corner of Asia nine kings at once met in battle, most of which were but kings of cities apiece, with the adjacent territories, as of Sodom, Gomorrha, Shinar, etc. In the same chapter is mention of] Melchisedek, king of Salem, which was but the city of Jerusalem (Genesis xiv). And in the catalogue of the kings of Edom, the name of each king's city is recorded as the only mark to distinguish their dominions (Genesis xxxvi). In the land of Canaan, which was but of a small circuit, Joshua destroyed thirty-one kings (Joshua xii, 24), and about the same time Adonibezek had seventy kings whose fingers and toes he had cut off, and made them feed under his table (Judges i, 7). A few ages after this, thirty-two kings came to Benhadad (1 Kings xx, 16), king of Syria, and about seventy kings of Greece went to the wars of Troy. Caesar found more kings in France than there be now provinces there, and at his sailing over into this island he found four kings in our county of Kent. These heaps of kings in each nation are an argument that their territories were but small, and strongly confirm our assertion that erection of kingdoms came at first only by distinction of families.
By manifest footsteps we may trace this paternal government unto the Israelites coming into Egypt, where the exercise of supreme patriarchal jurisdiction was intermitted because they were in subjection to a stronger prince. After the return of these Israelites out of bondage, God, out of a special care of them, chose Moses and Joshua successively to govern as princes in the place and stead of the supreme fathers, and after them likewise for a time He raised up Judges to defend His people in times of peril. But when God gave the Israelites kings, He re-established the ancient and prime right of lineal succession to paternal government. And whensoever He made choice of any special person to be king, He intended that the issue also should have benefit thereof, as being comprehended sufficiently in the person of the father - although the father only were named in the grant.
It may seem absurd to maintain that kings now are the fathers of their people, since experience shows the contrary. It is true, all kings be not the natural parents of their subjects, yet they all either are, or are to be reputed as the next heirs to those progenitors who were at first the natural parents of the whole people, and in their right succeed to the exercise of supreme jurisdiction. And such heirs are not only lords of their own children, but also of their brethren, and all others that were subject to their fathers.
And therefore we find that God told Cain of his brother Abel: 'His desires shall be subject unto thee, and thou shalt rule over him' (Genesis iv, 7). Accordingly, when Jacob had bought his brother's birthright, Isaac blessed him thus: 'Be lord over thy brethren, and let the sons of thy mother bow before thee' (Genesis xxvii, 29). As long as the first fathers of families lived, the name of patriarchs did aptly belong unto them. But after a few descents, when the true fatherhood itself was extinct and only the right of the father descended to the true heir, then the title of prince or king was more significant to express the power of him who succeeds only to the right of that fatherhood which his ancestors did naturally enjoy. By this means it comes to pass that many a child, by succeeding a king, hath the right of a father over many a grey-headed multitude, and hath the title of pater patriae father of the fatherland.
It may be demanded what becomes of the right of fatherhood in case the crown do escheat for want of an heir, whether doth it not then devolve to the people? The answer is:
1. It is but the negligence or ignorance of the people to lose the knowledge of the true heir, for an heir there always is. If Adam himself were still living, and now ready to die, it is certain that there is one man, and but one in the world, who is next heir, although the knowledge who should be that one man be quite lost.
2. This ignorance of the people being admitted, it doth not by any means follow that for want of heirs the supreme power devolves to the multitude, and that they have power to rule, or choose what rulers they please. No: the kingly power escheats in such cases to the prime and independent heads of families, for every kingdom is resolved into those parts whereof at first it was made. By the uniting of great families or petty princedoms, we find the greater monarchies were at the first erected, and into such again - as into their first matter - many times they return. And because the dependency of ancient families is oft obscure or worn out of knowledge, therefore the wisdom of all or most princes hath thought fit to adopt many times those for heads of families and princes of provinces whose merits, abilities, or fortunes have enabled them, or made them fit and capable of such royal favours. All such prime heads and fathers have power to consent in the uniting or conferring of their fatherly right of sovereign authority on whom they please. And he that is so elected claims not his power as a donative from the people, but as being substituted properly by God, from whom he receives his royal charter of an universal father, though testified by the ministry of the heads of the people.
If it please God, for the correction of the prince or punishment of the people to suffer princes to be removed and others placed in their rooms, either by the factions of the nobility or rebellion of the people, in all such cases the judgment of God - who hath power to give and to take away kingdoms - is most just. Yet the ministry of men who execute God's judgments without commission is sinful and damnable. God doth but use and turn men's unrighteous acts to the performance of His righteous decrees.
In all kingdoms or commonwealths in the world, whether the prince be the supreme father of the people or but the true heir of such a father, or whether he come to the crown by usurpation, or by election of the nobles or of the people, or by any other way whatsoever, or whether some few or a multitude govern the commonwealth, yet still the authority that is in any one, or in many, or in all of these, is the only right and natural authority of a supreme father. There is, and always shall be continued to the end of the world, a natural right of a supreme father over every multitude, although, by the secret will of God, many at first do most unjustly obtain the exercise of it.
To confirm this natural right of regal power, we find in the decalogue [i.e. The Ten Commandments]that the law which enjoins obedience to kings is delivered in the terms of 'honour thy father' (Exodus, xx, 12) as if all power were originally in the father. If obedience to parents be immediately due by a natural law, and subjection to princes but by the mediation of an human ordinance, what reason is there that the law of nature should give place to the laws of men, as we see the power of the father over his child gives place and is subordinate to the power of the magistrate?
If we compare the natural duties of a father with those of a king, we find them to be all one, without any difference at all but only in the latitude or extent of them. As the father over one family, so the king, as father over many families, extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole commonwealth. His wars, his peace, his courts of justice, and all his acts of sovereignty, tend only to preserve and distribute to every subordinate and inferior father, and to their children, their rights and privileges, so that all the duties of a king are summed up in an universal fatherly care of his people.
More of Patriarcha.