Good kings should imitate Constantine by preserving true religion and suppressing heresy and schism, argues Jacques Bossuet in his 1679 treatise on Politics Drawn from the Very Words of Holy Scripture(206).

Heresy and schism are easy to identify, he thinks. Antiquity is the mark of true religion, antiquity made visible in a succession of priests (196, 200). False religions innovate.

But then what happens when innovative religions persist? What happens when schismatics last long enough to have some plausible claim to antiquity?

Bossuet anticipates the question and answers that innovation remains innovation even with the passage of time (200).

It’s a lame answer, and exposes the weakness of any religion that gives prominence to arguments from antiquity. The Mosaic order was, after all, an innovation in its time. So too was the Davidic dynasty. So, of course, was Christianity.

More on: Politics, Theology

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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