A reply to John Coffey’s analysis of Samuel Rutherford’s theology and political theory
The seventeenth-century Scottish theologian and political theorist Samuel Rutherford is among others, known for his work Lex, Rex which, briefly stated, pertains to the civil authorities, civic participation, resistance to political oppression and the law. The historian John Coffey’s popular biography titled, “Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The mind of Samuel Rutherford”, also focuses on Rutherford’s political and legal thinking. The central concerns to Coffey in this regard comprise issues related to the parameters of ‘reason’ and ‘natural law’; the relationship between ‘religion’, ‘reason’ and ‘nature’; as well as the Christian Republic’s cause towards the protection of the true religion. This article critically responds to Coffey’s views in this regard. Coffey’s views are formed through an ideological lens that is foundationally different from the Presbyterian context and mind-set of early seventeenth-century Scotland. Coffey’s intimation that religion should be separated from ‘the secular’ or from ‘reason’ and that ‘religion’ also should be separate from constitutional, political and legal aspects, ignores the fact that ideology and science are ultimately connected to a pre-suppositional basis (whether religious or irreligious). The quest for freedom during Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries not only included theories in which religion, politics and the law were inextricably connected but also entailed more to society than an unlimited approach towards religious expression. Even though 1649 heralded the end of a national Presbyterian church of England, at the time Scotland shared Rutherford’s commitment to the universal suppression of unorthodox opinion and behaviour. Bearing the above in mind this article argues that Coffey’s analysis of the political and legal mind of Rutherford must be approached with the necessary caution.
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