THE ANATOMY OF A HYBRID, A Study in Church-State Relationships, by Leonard Verduin; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976; 274 pp., $4.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)
The question of the relation between the Church and the secular state is a favorite one with Verduin. His earlier book, “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren,” dealt with the same question. Verduin is a champion of the complete separation between church and state and a strong promoter of the free exercise of religion.
This book is divided into four parts. The first part, entitled “The daughters of men,” deals with early “sacral” societies where church and state were one. The second part, “The sons of God,” deals with the influences of early Judaeo-Christian thought which influenced the separation of church and state. The third part, “The birth of the hybrid,” deals with the new union of church and state under Constantine the Great and its resulting sacral society. The fourth part, “And also afterwards,” deals primarily with the Reformation and Post-reformation times when all the Protestant Churches favored a union of church and state with the exception of a few, notably William Rogers in this country, who sought a separation. The literary framework of the book is, therefore, dependent upon the passage found in Genesis 6:1-4.
The book is a very convincing argument for the need to keep church and state separate. Especially the author’s emphasis on the horrible persecutions which resulted from an effort to promote religion by the sword of the magistrate are convincing proof that when the church and state forge a bond to promote a certain religion, the end is disastrous. Not only the Roman Catholic Church must share the blame for such persecutions, but also the Churches of the Reformation have the blood of men on their hands, especially in their persecution of the Anabaptists. All this makes the book interesting reading.
The main weakness in the book is a serious overstating of the whole case. Verduin sees almost all of history and all the development of doctrine in the history of the Church as explainable from the viewpoint of the struggle to resolve this issue. One gets the impression from the book that there really is no other significant controversy in all history than the controversy over this question.
A few instances to support this thesis will demonstrate the truth of it.
Verduin begins incorrectly when he speaks of the fact that the issue is basically one of grace. He discusses this especially on pp. 33ff., although he comes back to it again and again. The point he makes is this. Common grace is preserving grace. This kind of grace belongs to the sphere of the state. Special grace is saving grace and belongs to the sphere of the Church. Preserving (or common) grace is but to aid special grace, as the state is but to create a climate in which the Church can function. When common grace is denied, then grace is made one, and a “sacral” society in which church and state are united is the result. It would have been far more Scriptural to answer honestly the question of whether common grace is also merited through the cross of Christ—a question which Verduin avoids; and to show that, not common grace, but the universal rule of Christ over His people in grace and over the wicked in wrath is the key point.
In the interest of his thesis Verduin faults the returned captives for rebuilding the temple and Jerusalem because they were recreating a sacral society. (p. 47.) The ministry of John the Baptist was the preparation of a composite society in which each man was free to exercise the religion of his choice. (p. 54) Augustine hit upon the idea of predestination in defense of an ecclesiola in ecclesia, an idea inherent in the Roman Catholic conception of the relation between church and state. (p. 106) Calvin adopted this view of predestination from Augustine in support of the same notion. (p. 185) Calvin’s views show that he never escaped the influence of the pagan philosopher Seneca. (p. 199) The whole conception of infant baptism is closely related to the defense of a union between church and state. So strongly is this point made repeatedly in the book that one begins to wonder whether Verduin actually accepts the doctrine of infant baptism. Verduin also rejects the distinction between a visible and an invisible church on the same grounds; i.e., as an invention intended to support a union of the church and state.
Throughout the book there is a glorification of dissenting groups in the history of the Church, while the faithful defenders of the truth are scorned and mocked. The Donatists, Cathari, Waldensians, Anabaptists, etc. are extolled for their efforts to fight against a sacral society, while Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Reformers, and many others are derided because they sought a union of church and state. While it may be true that dissenting sects did stand for such a separation between church and state, and while it may also be true that many defenders of the truth did not, nevertheless the fact remains that some of the dissenting groups were heretical, and one ought not to ignore the fact that the truth was preserved through the labors of faithful men of God who may have erred on this point.
Verduin’s style is always somewhat distasteful to me. He writes in such a way that solemn and sacred matters are treated offhandedly and in a light and facetious manner.
And, finally, Verduin never faces foursquare the vexing question of whether or not the magistracy, ordained by God, has the responsibility to enforce both tables of the law. It is obvious that Verduin does not believe that the magistracy has any responsibility to enforce the first table of the law. But this is the central question; and Verduin should support his position with proof which shows why this is not true. It is possible, I think, to take the position that the magistracy must enforce the first table of the law and still avoid entanglements with the Church. But this is another question involving another discussion.