Monday, January 21, 2008

From the Old Testament to Ivan IV (the Terrible): Selected Texts

A case study in the origins, rise, and corruption of the ideal of the divinely-anointed Monarch:

1. I Samuel 8:4-8

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to govern us.’ And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.’

2.Justinian’s Sixth Novella, sixth century.
The sacerdotium and the imperium are the greatest gifts that God has given unto men of His supernal mercy. The sacerdotium concerns things divine, the imperium presides over mortals and administers (them) attentively, both proceeding from the same principle, they embellish human life. The emperors should take great care to honor the sacerdotium which prays to God ceaselessly for their salvation. For it, the sacerdotium, pure in its habits, and the imperium, fully confident in God, wisely administer the republic. There from will result such a good agreement [symphonia] that all things will be brought to the advantage of the human race.

3.St. Joseph of Volotsk, 1439/40-1515.
It is pleasing to God to be submissive and obedient to authorities, since they must care and provide for us… The Tsar is God’s servant, with the authority to grace and punish men. But if the tsar ruling over men is himself ruled by passions and sin, avarice and wrath, evil and injustice, pride and fury, and worst of all, unbelief and blasphemy, such a king is not God’s servant, but the devil’s, and not a king but a tyrant… Do not obey such a tsar or prince who leads you to impiety and evil, even if he tortures or threatens you with death.

4. Filofey of Pskov, 1511.
[T]wo Romes have fallen, the third stands, and there shall be no fourth.

5.Ivan IV, writing to the Polish Count Khodkiewicz on behalf of Vorotynsky
God is autocratic; He obeys no one, and He gave Himself to be crucified for the salvation of the world out of His own free will; but you hold your sovereign in slavery. This is not an example of Divine love for mankind, but rather a life in the delusion of Antichrist, hostile to the will of God. […] Concerning your words that your Sovereign rejoices with the joyful and weeps with the sad, [I must say] that your Sovereign can do nothing outside of your will;… you call your Sovereign holy and merciful while you have taken his freedom from him – but what kind of mercy can he offer if he is not altogether free in everything? Only one mercy is real – that which is offered by one who has authority.

6. Ivan IV, writing to Sigismund Augustus of Lithuania
You… have written that when God created man He gave him freedom and honor, but what you write is far from the truth; even to the first man Adam, who was created with the capacity for self-determination [samovlasten, lit. autocratic], God gave a commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree; when Adam violated that commandment he was consigned to a terrible punishment! Here is the first slavery [nevolya] of dishonor: from light to darkness, from glory to garments of skins, from rest to eating his bread in hard labor, from incorruption to corruption, from death to life. And then God sent the flood upon the wicked, and after the flood again gave a commandment, that no one should consume blood. Then, after the construction of the tower of Babel, He scattered the people again. He commanded Abraham to establish circumcision in the name of faith, and he gave testament to Isaac and the law to Jacob. Through Moses the law for justification and purification was given; and Deuteronomy prescribes the condemnation of death for transgressors. The same truth was established through Jesus Christ – the commandment, law, and punishment for transgressors. Do you see now… that freedom never existed so that your letter is far from the truth.

7. Machiavelli, The Prince
I know that everyone will admit that it would be highly praiseworthy in a prince to possess all the… qualities that are reputed good, but as they cannot be possessed or observed, human conditions not permitting of it, it is necessary that he [the prince] should be prudent enough to avoid the scandal of those vices which would lose him the state and guard himself if possible against those which will not lose it him, but if not able to, he can indulge them with less scruple. And yet, he must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices, without which it would be difficult to save the state, for if one considers well, it will be found that some things which seem virtues would, if followed, lead to one’s ruin, and some others which appear vices result in one’s greater security and well-being.

8. Ivan IV to Kurbsky
There is a great difference between serving one’s own soul and caring about the bodies and the souls of many people; there is a great difference between the hermitic life and monasticism, sacerdotal authority and imperial rule. The hermits are like lambs who resist no one…; the monks, however, even though they have rejected the world, still have cares and obey rules and commandments, for if they are not obedient their common life is ruined; the priestly life demands powerful oral rebukes against sin and evil and allows glory, honor, decorations and submission to one another which is not permitted to monks; and authority of the tsar is allowed to act through fear, prohibition, and restraint, so that in the strictest manner it can restrain the madness of the most evil and crafty persons. Therefore, understand the difference between hermitic life, monasticism, priesthood and authority of the tsar! Is it befitting for the Tsar to offer the other cheek when he is struck on one? It is the most perfect commandment, but how can the Tsar govern his realm if he allows himself to be dishonored? Yes, priests need humility, but you will find many heavy punishments even among those who have rejected the world. How much harder must authority of the tsar punish those who are evil?!


Nomodiphas said...

Interesting post. It is so sad how many self-serving men have misinterpreted the scriptures to shore up their power.

I just found your blog today and have read quite a few posts (it is hard to get any good information on Russia in English and even less is said about the Orthadox Church). It is very interesting and very good. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Aaron Taylor said...

Did you ever see the EP's comments on the 'Third Rome' idea? If I recall, his understanding of it was that it was purely Russian phyletism--in sharp contrast to the way I'd always understood it.