Sedulius Scottus (On Christian Rulers, 66-7) offers this lyrical description of the beauty of good rule: “There are seven things more beautiful than God’s other creations, as wise men say: the cloudless sky, when it marvelously resembles the color of silver; the sun in its brilliance, when in its orbit it illumines the world’s inhabitants with its glorious splendor; the moon in its fullness with its face uncovered by the retreating clouds, when in its proper course it follows in the tracks of the sun; the fruitful field, when it is painted with a multitude of flowers and curling buds; the perpetual motion of the sea, when the serenity of the heavens and the clouds is beautifully reflected in the waves as they softly tough the shores; the multitude of just men dwelling together in one faith; and a peace-loving king in the glory of his reign, when in the royal hall he bestows many kindnesses with rewards displayed and gifts distributed.”It’s Hrothgar in his meadhall, Hrothgar the ring-giver.

Sedulius expands on the description of the king:

“A just and peaceable king distributes gifts with a joyous countenance and diligently considers anyone’s cause, despising neither the sick nor the indigent among the people. Moreover, being veracious, he pronounces verdicts with counsel and judgment of mature and prudent men, abasing evil men and exalting the good. His days will be lengthened with glory, and his memory will last forever. A peaceable prince is like a flowery and fertile paradise near at hand and like a noble vine overflowing with abundant fruit, confounding every discord by the splendor of his presence. For, when he cherishes peace in the royal hall of his heart, without doubt he prepares a mansion for Christ, since Christ is peace and desires to dwell in peace. Furthermore, where there is peace, there is found truth in debates and justice in actions. Hence, just as a prudent pilot strives to evade the dangers of a turbulent sea with the favorable calm of the weather, so does a peaceable ruler with careful deliberation strive to restrain violent discords by serene tranquillity of mind and peaceful harmony.” The king must observe the threefold rule of peace - peace above himself, in himself, near himself, toward God, within himself, toward others around him.

Few Christians kings lived up to this ideal. But kings were offered this vision and measured by this standard, and that was not nothing. Christendom was flawed in many ways, but the very fact that princes were taught to see themselves in specula such as this shows that the gospel really did penetrate politics.

More on: Politics

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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