The Secularization of Hell in Hobbes’s Leviathan

25 de maig de 2010 0

“Those who believe in heaven on earth,

he said,

are creating hell

-he made it sound that way too-

it was very lucid”.

Greene Graham Our Man in Havana,[1]


Introduction: Conditions of Belief

The main goal of Hobbes’s theory of state is to secure peace[2]. Peace is for Hobbes the only possible road to prosperity[3]. Hobbes understands peace as absence of war: “For as to the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace”.[4] Peace within the boundaries of a country, -that is, peace under the jurisdiction of the state,- is reached through the erasing of all factions and their ideological or religious disunion. Unity is the foundation for peace and for a durable and stable form of government.

In order for unity to arise, Hobbes develops a series of political strategies. I call them “strategies” instead of “principles”, because Hobbes is a realist, like Maquiavelli, not a moralist. He does not seek a state that works based on certain moral principles; he just wants a commonwealth that works. With his theory of state Hobbes became one of the centers of the ever-growing spiral of modern political science, although he was and still is perceived as a negative, provocateur, figure in its development. He was a conservative, according to the advocates of modernity, because he didn’t see the new form of better governing that was coming to birth at his time, that is, a legal, limited form of government. On the other hand, he was the prophet of a mechanistic, totalitarian state, according to modernity’s detractors because he applied the scientific optimism of his age to the form of the state[5].

At first glance, it seems that what Hobbes is trying to do in his systematic project is to unify the methods of the natural sciences with the method of the civil sciences -that he claimed to have invented. From the study of natural phenomena, and their impact on our mind, he would be able to obtain scientific knowledge of political phenomena. In this hypothesis, we would just face a problem of scale. Nations behave as individuals, but on a bigger scene of forces. The study of movement, and the forces that cause it, is the object of study of the science of nature, the science of man, and the science of the state. The force of gravity puts world phenomena in order, brings cosmos to chaos, just as the force of the sovereign puts citizens-phenomena in order, brings political cosmos to the war-chaos. This is: facts, reason and experience against superstition, theology and opinion. If we had to summarize this manner of understanding Hobbes’s philosophical endeavor we could write the following motto: “Reason against chaos”.

However, Hobbes did not only use scientific concepts in creating his theory of the state. The monster Leviathan is the most apparent example of it: it is a myth that, beyond its metaphorical meaning, plays the role of a frightening myth in his system. It is true that this monster is, at the beginning, described as an automaton, but finally it is, above all, a mortal God.

In his time, Hobbes also faced political adversaries that went beyond religious ideas as they were understood in the middle ages. The use of some sort of science in thinking politics, the wave of modernization, was more spread out than some interpreters tend to think when they write about Hobbes as a unique figure. The work of humanists –as Quentin Skinner has explained throughout different works[6]— began as soon as XII century Italy, and developed a new way of understanding sovereignty that challenged the power of emperors and popes with the arrows of the new conceptions of freedom, republic or individual. And this development ended up creating a corpus of political thought aimed at limiting all power, religious or political. Hobbes’ work amounts to a direct attack on some of these conceptions of power, as well as on its anthropological and theological grounding. Hobbes is not an isolated figure who tries to introduce science into politics, but rather, to put it more accurately, an outstanding mind that wants to express and demonstrate his convictions with the means available to him at the time.

As Leo Strauss states:

“These obstacles [of his theory] are mainly due to the fact that Hobbes tried to base his political philosophy on modern natural science. The temptation to take this away could hardly be resisted. As traditional moral and political philosophy was, to some extent, based on traditional metaphysics, it seemed necessary, when traditional metaphysics was replaced by modern natural science, to base the new moral and political philosophy on the new science. […]. If the significance of Hobbes’s principle of “right” was to be duly recognized, it had, therefore, first to be shown that the real basis of his political philosophy is not modern science”.[7]

Furthermore, as Skinner has shown[8], some of Hobbes’ central ideas were in his mind and drafts before his conversion to science and beyond his poor understanding of mathematics. This is not to say that his scientific approach is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to conceal his ideology, but rather that the picture Hobbes’ paints would be incomplete if we didn’t explain his œuvre also as an appeal to fear, beyond his appeal to reason and sensuous experience.

Even his innovations in rhetoric or the theory of representation, (his linguistics, so to speak), have been understood sometimes as a way of creating new definitions of concepts based on facts. It is true that Hobbes challenges his tradition and to do so, he even challenges the definition of political science; and with it, the definitions of all political concepts. And he founds all his new definitions on reason, experience and a certain kind of political realism. This is absolutely clear in the Leviathan. Apparently, this method should get rid of the traditional use of language in politics –which is a mixture of symbolical power and identitarian ties–. However, not only does Hobbes seem not to imply that this kind of language is destined to disappear, but also it is evident –already from the title of the book we are analyzing– that he is using the symbolic and historical power of words to achieve his political goals. Throughout the Leviathan, Hobbes’ rhetoric is designed to have an emotional appeal. But, as we will see, an enormous part of his theory consists in a war over the meaning of words, and also consists, moreover, of a theory aimed at demonstrating who or what is to be the ultimate authority that determines what words mean. As a nominalist, words, for Hobbes, do not have a natural meaning. For him, concepts as such do not exist; the only thing that exists are men who utter words to signify things. The interpreter of words is thus always a political interpreter[9], an aribitor, and, for Hobbes, the meanings of words is valid only as long as it is oriented towards achieving peace in the commonwealth. The meaning of words must always be a public meaning, and this public meaning must always be hegemonic.

In summary, Hobbes has been understood as the pitiless founder of a social science based on calculative reason. We have said that the main goal of Hobbes’s theory of state is peace. In order to overcome human insecurity in the state of nature, which leads to war (that is, mistrust and competition) reason helps human beings in the form of rules. But reason alone is not enough; if it were, fear would be unnecessary. And fear is essential to make possible a life in accordance with reason. In other words, “if we want peace, we must also want an irresistible power that renders all violence absurd”.[10]

The birth of a modern political science, in one extreme, is part of “a painful and costly process of liberation from the religious burden and the theological confusions of the time”. At the other extreme, it is “the maximum proponent of leaving behind the practical wisdom contained in the works of Aristotle and Cicero”.[11] Free from religion and classical ethics. In this process, according to Hobbes, the role of fear is, at least, as important as that of reason.

We are witnessing in Hobbes’ work one of the first decisive steps of a enormous movement in the West. A movement that I call secularization. In this paper, I propose a reading of Hobbes that places him within the history of secularization broadly speaking. However, I aim to distance myself from other dominant intepretations of Hobbes. Historicist interpretations of Hobbes convincingly situate his work as a response to the the English Civil Wars, however, they often harbor a too narrow understanding of Hobbes, the political theorist. Also, the interpretation of Hobbes against the background of the Enlightment and scientific rationality provide arguments for Hobbe’s significance in the historical process of secularization. In addition, interpretations of Hobbes from the point of view of linguistics are successful in demonstrating the importance of rhetoric in Hobbe’s theory of the state, however, they tend to fail to understand that redefining political concepts from the point of view of power implies the beginning of the end of absolute meanings and this move is essential in the history of secularization. I include Hobbes among those who have created a theoretical basis for secularization, because in the Leviathan there is a strong attempt to turn all transcendence into contingence. It is an attempt to make temporal (that is, secular), everything that was understood as atemporal; visible all that was invisible; touchable all that was untouchable, etc. In sum, Hobbes’ Leviathan represents a way of turning belief into rational expectations of danger and price, namely, reasonable fear. I will claim that the ultimate result of this attempt is a complete secularization of the idea of hell. The idea of secularized hell, as we will see, is at the service of the sovereign’s power.

Besides the common understanding of Secularization, that is, turning human what was divine, I use in this paper Charles Taylor’s third definition of secularity[12]:

“So secularity 3 [in this third meaning]…, as against 1 (secularized public spaces), and 2 (the decline of belief and practice), consists of new conditions of belief; it consists in a new shape of the experience which prompts to and is defined by belief; in a new context in which all search and questioning about the moral and spiritual must proceed”.[13]

This passage raises an idea that I believe to be central to Hobbes’ goals. Once Hobbes founds his theory of the state upon fear, it is necessary for him to marginalize all other fears, especially if they are greater than the one he uses as the principal binding force of the state. If the fear of the sovereign did not eclipse all other fears, it would be a useless for Hobbes’ purposes. People must believe that what follows as a result of disobeying the sovereign is scarier than what comes from all other forms of disobedience, including religious disobedience. Thus, for Hobbes, it becomes necessary to create new conditions for belief. Hobbes’ new condition for belief–a sort of rationality that finds its limit in loyalty to the sovereign and the covenant of the commonwealth–is already a form of subordinating religion to politics. And, although he is not a moralist in our contemporary meaning, he does need to develop a new eschatology that makes the stability of the state become the only final goal, that is, a moral horizon. As Koselleck says: “We know the process of secularization, which transposed eschatology into a history of progress”.[14] In other words: he will negate all final spiritual goals. In this emptiness, politics’ and life’s contingencies are overcome only by the artificial immanence of manmade peace.

In this paper, I will attempt to show that Hobbes’ concrete battle against the Catholic Church and, by extension, the secular power of all spiritual institution needs to achieve (and ends up obtaining) a complete secularization of the idea of hell. By analyzing the work of fear in men’s behavior, he will transport religious fear into political fear. I will also show how, by doing this, he creates the theoretical conditions of possibility for an actual temporal hell (the worst conceivable evil) as a mean for politics.


The Role of Fear in Hobbes’ Theory of State

Hobbes founds his project on human flaws, rather than human virtues. This is the main difference between him and most humanists[15]. It can be understood as anthropological pessimism, but it also shows some confidence in men’s products, like politics. Politics do not change men, but they can improve life. In this sense, it is rather difficult to discern what is a flaw and what a virtue, what matters is the role both passion and reason play in securing peace and stability in the commonwealth. The passion known as “fear” is at the center of Hobbes’ conception of man. And, therefore, it will be at the core of his theory of state.

One idea is unveiled: Every particular fear is eclipsed in the more essential fear of pain and death. Fear is a powerful passion that overcomes all other incentives. Fear is the motor inside both the law of nature and the “right of nature. Fear of death is what leads men from the state of nature to the covenant of the Commonwealth. Fear of pain and death is what makes them obedient to a sovereign. And fear of death can lead to the end of a Commonwealth or the defenestration of the sovereign. Fear of death is a ubiquitous concept in Hobbes’ theory.

However, fear is not a rational mechanism, not even a word thinkable in terms of reason: “…in reasoning a man must take heed of words which, besides the signification of what we imagine of their nature, have a signification also of the nature, disposition, and interest of the speaker, such as the names of virtues and vices, for one man calleth wisdom, what another calleth fear, and one cruelty, what another justice; one prodigality, what another stupidity, &c. And therefore such names can never be true grounds of any ratiocination”.[16] Hobbes is very aware of the usage that fear has had in the history of power and deceit, and the importance of possessing and control its extent, its meaning. And he is obviously also aware of the need for fear in order to coerce men into a reasonable behavior and into founding a lasting form of Commonwealth. The reason for that comes from the observation of men’s behavior, and the understanding of the role of irrationality in everyday human affairs. As Leo Strauss affirms:

“It is striking that Hobbes prefers the negative expression “avoiding death” to the positive expression “preserving life”. It is not difficult to discover the reason. That preservation of life is the primary good is affirmed by reason and by reason only. On the other hand, that death is the primary evil affirmed by passion, the passion of fear of death. And as reason itself is powerless, man would not be minded to think of the preservation of life as the primary and most urgent good, if the passion of fear of death did not compel him to do so”.[17]

On the one hand, Hobbes sees in the fear of pain and death the basis for the commonwealth. It does not matter what the exact, historical or circumstantial origin for a commonwealth is. Neither the form of the government nor that of the commonwealth matters. The fashioning of civil society out of the state of nature is precisely the fear of such a state[18]:

“A commonwealth by acquisition is that where the sovereign power is acquired by force; and it is acquired by force when men singly (…) for fear of death or bonds do authorize all the actions of that man or assembly that hath their lives and liberty in his power. (…) And this kind of dominion or sovereignty differeth from sovereignty by institution only in this, that men who choose their sovereign do it for fear of one another, and not of him whom they institute, but in this case they subject themselves to him they are afraid of. In both cases they do it for fear”.[19]

In this sense, Hobbes is substituting the fear of pain and death in the state of nature for the fear of pain and death that could come from the sovereign. In transferring this fear, and in linking it to disobedience -that is, to law- the Commonwealth creates a fearless space and time that make progress possible. But the importance of fear in Hobbes’ theory of State as it is developed in the Leviathan is not limited to the origin of the commonwealth. From fear of pain and death comes the desire to obey a common power, the stability of the law and also the appearance of individual right outside the commonwealth.

In what concerns the “obedient desire,” fear of the sovereign’s power serves as a kind of liberation, because this always particular fear has universal significance: the individual’s fear is everyone’s fear; and since this fear stops others from attacking one’s life and property, it is possible to focus one’s capacities on pursuing prosperity. As if a sort of division of labor were proposed here, the existence of one central power feared in common supplants the fear of others:

“Desire of ease and sensual delight disposeth men to obey a common power, because by such a man doth abandon the protection might be hoped from his own industry and labour. Fear of death and wounds disposeth to the same, and for the same reason”.[20]

Once this fear is directed at the sovereign, since it is the most powerful passion, the law of the sovereign becomes the most protected good of the society. Law becomes the limit for all violence; and disobedience the first move that turns on the mechanism of punishment. “Of all passions that which inclineth men least to break the laws is fear. Nay (…) it is the only thing that makes men keep them”.[21] Outside the law there might be personal wealth and pleasure, but undoubtedly the monopoly of violence that the sovereign has guarantees that outside the law there is pain and death. Thus between the law and men there is only fear. It is not until that conscience of fear appears that men accept and understand the reasonability of a concrete law.

Accordingly, once understood that fear of death is the most powerful passion and the only thing that binds entirely, the danger the commonwealth faces is that the sovereign could not attract all fear or, at least, the greatest fear. Actually, a version of this strategy is stated by Hobbes as the just cause for breaking the covenant of the commonwealth: once the sovereign can no longer guarantee security, one is not bound to his law anymore. So, consistently, in any case, when fear of death is present, both the right and the law of nature allows an individual to disobey the law: “If a man, by terror of present death, be compelled to do a fact against the law, he is totally excused, because no law can oblige a man to abandon his own preservation”.[22] Again, this is not a moral law, it is a realist statement: if fear is the most powerful force, then it is so even beyond the sovereign’s force. The only limit of fear is another greater fear. “It is even shown that it is only on the basis of fear of death that life comes to concord and that the fear of death is the only ‘postulate of natural reason’”.[23]

Actually, notwithstanding the evident presence of fear in the origin of a commonwealth as such, — that is, its role in maintaining a stable obedience–, fear makes his work everywhere else. And it is used as a binding force everywhere else. Especially, all structures of power are based on this fear of pain and death. Consequently, if Hobbes wants to achieve his goal of total unity and loyalty to a certain form of state, he also needs for his commonwealth to destroy all other fears, or, at least, he needs to create a state lead by he who is most feared.

So, in some sense, Hobbes is relating a battle of fears. The fear of death in the state of nature against the fear of the sovereign. The one that appears as the greater will rule. Carl Schmitt sees this battle in the relationship between the Leviathan and the Behemoth:

“In essence, however, both the peace-enforcing function of the state and the revolutionary, anarchistic force of the state of nature are comparable elementary forces. According to Hobbes, the quintessential nature of the state of nature, or the behemoth, is none other than civil war, which can only be prevented by overarching might of the state, or leviathan. It follows that one of the monsters, the leviathan “state”, continuously holds down the other monster, the “behemoth” “revolutionary people”.[24]

Among all fears, though, the one that most threatens the power of the sovereign is spiritual fear. Hobbes repeatedly insists on denouncing the superstitious fears as they are grounded in religion. He wants to show that churches and priests channel the fear of God to secure their own power on earth. They take the greatest fear in order to get the greatest power. However, the fear with which the Church trades includes several types of deceit and grades of power. Some of them can be overcome through reason, but others will be only overcome by a greater fear. Superstition and folkloric religion is the first target for Hobbes, and he attacks it from the very beginning of the Leviathan. Here is the first formulation of it in the Leviathan:

“There is no doubt but God can make unnatural apparitions. But that he does it so often as men need to fear such things more than they fear the stay or change of the course of nature, which he also can stay and change, is no point of Christian faith. But evil men, under pretext that God can do anything, are so bold as to say anything when it serves their turn, though they think it untrue; it is the part of a wise man to believe them no further than right reason makes that which they say appear credible. If this superstitious fear of spirits were taken away, and with it prognostics of dreams, false prophecies, and many other things depending thereon, by which crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple people, men would be much more fitted than they are for civil obedience”.[25]

This passage shows one of the most important enemies that Hobbes’s faces in order to complete his theory of the State. The church will have the greater power unless the state can incorporate the fear that the church traffics in. Obviously, this is not Hobbes’ innovation. The relation of powers between the church and the state represents the main battle at the dawn of modernity. Hobbes needs to defeat the power of the Church, and more in general, the power of the atemporal, the power of transcendence, the power of God in people’s mind. At this point in the history of secularization, different paths were available. From Luther and his primacy of conscience to the separation of the State and the Church, all kinds of solutions were advertised. Hobbes’ solution is based on his theory of fear. He needs either to destroy religious fear or introduce it into the prerogatives of the State. As we will see, Hobbes’ way-out will be the concentration of all powers -that is, all fears- in the figure of the sovereign. And to do so, he transforms the invisible fear of the spiritual pain into a visible fear of the corporeal pain.


The Fight Against the Church

In his fight against the primacy of religion over politics Hobbes undertakes, at least, three main battles. The first is the battle of reason against superstition, the second is the battle of unity against division and the third, that includes them all, is between the sovereign’s power and the church’s power.

II.a. First battle: reason versus superstition.

In the first part of the Leviathan entitled Of Man, which is the anthropological part of his theory, there is a chapter (On Religion) that deals with the origin and deceits of “gentile” religion.

“And in these four things, opinion of ghosts, ignorance of second causes, devotion towards what men fear, and taking of things casual for prognostics, consisteth the natural seed of religion, which by reason of different fancies, judgements, and passions of several men hath grown up into ceremonies so different that those which are used by one man are for the most part ridiculous to another”.[26]

Of these four things the first two (“opinion of ghosts” and “ignorance of second causes”) are both consequences of the lack of rational skills. For, the first, comes from “not knowing that such apparitions are nothing else but creatures of the fancy” and, therefore, people “think [of them] to be real and external substances”; and the second, comes from the lack of scientific knowledge of the way that nature works. The forth “seed” (“taking of things casual for prognostics”) is an excess of faith, since it comes from believing either that because two things happened consecutively, the next time one happens the other will follow (especially concerning good fortune or ill success) or from “the like prognostics from other men of whom they have once conceived a good opinion”[27] are true. In some sense, it can be said that Hobbes has a “solution” for these three causes of superstitious religion: natural reason and absence of faith in improbable causes or in other men. The third (“devotion towards what men fear”), however, has no antidote. It comes from the anxiety of not knowing the future. That is, fear of the end of things; fear of final goals; fear of death.

“…For as Prometheus (which, interpreted, is the prudent man) was bound to the hill Caucasus (a place of large prospect where an eagle, feeding on his liver, devoured in the day as much as was repaired in the night), so that man which looks too far before him, in the care of future time, hath his heart all the day long gnawned on by fear for death, poverty, or other calamity, and has no repose, nor pause of his anxiety, but in sleep”.[28]

The three former causes are “unnatural”, because they are the consequence of the misuse of natural reason, but the latter is never accounted as induced by other man or by some sort of deceit. In some sense, it is understood as the natural cause for religion.

“And therefore, when there is nothing to be seen, there is nothing to accuse, either of their good or evil fortune, but some power or agent invisible; in which sense, perhaps, it was that some of the old poets said that the gods were at first created by human fear; which spoken of the gods (that is to say, of the many gods of the Gentiles) is very true”.[29]

It is worth noticing that Hobbes points out constantly that he is describing the religion of the “Gentiles” and not Christianity. However, the punctualisation is necessary because in the description itself it is impossible to see the difference between them. In the description of the structure and goals of the Gentile religion it is more than easy to recognize the role of the Catholic Church -among others’- in Hobbes’ time. Even more, later in the Leviathan Hobbes’ denounces of the Church’s power will be almost the same as these first accounts of the Gentile religion.

So, then, what is the difference between Christianity and Gentile religion? There are two main differences that will structure his battle against the Church throughout the book. The first one is evident: Christianity is a monotheistic religion, whereas Gentile religion is polytheistic. This difference is essential, because Hobbes links monotheism with rationality while renders polytheism with fear.

”But the acknowledgement of one God, eternal, infinite, and omnipotent, may more easily be derived from the desire men have to know the causes of natural bodies, and their several virtues and operations, than from the fear of what was to behalf them in time to come. For he that from any affect he seeth come to pass should reason to the next and immediate cause thereof, and from thence to the cause of that cause, and plunge himself profoundly into the pursuit of causes, shall at last come to this: that there must be (as even the heathen philosophers confessed) one first mover, that is, a first and eternal cause of all things, which is men mean by the name of God; and all this without thought of their fortune, the solicitude whereof both inclines to fear and hinders them from the search of causes of other things; and thereby gives occasion of feigning of as many gods as there be men that feign them”. [30]

What this first difference states is that Christian religion itself does not work out fear. And this is essential because what will be challenged latter in the text by Hobbes is the “strategies” that churchmen undertake in order to make men obey them above kings’ power, but not Christianity as such. However, as we will see, fear of the future, of the absolute future, that is the afterlife, will still be an obstacle for the undermining of Church authority. For now, though, this is enough to see that Hobbes’ divides Christianity into two spheres: philosophical, reasonable faith, and fear of absolute future from which the Church obtains its power. The second difference between Christianity and Gentile religion stresses this point:

“For these seeds have received culture from two sorts of men. One sort have been they that have nourished and ordered them according to their own invention. The other have done it by god’s commandment and direction. But both sorts have done it with a purpose to make those men that relied on them the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society.”[31]

So the second difference is the origin of the law. The Gentile religion is a human invention, while Christianity is the work of God. Hobbes does not explain why Christian revelation is reliable and classical mythology is not. This lack of explanations led some of his contemporaries and other interpreters since then and hitherto to consider his relation to Christianity a fruit of convenience, as if he was a utilitarian in appearing as a Christian. Indeed, what is important here is the fact that both religions share goals. Their utility is the same. Their purpose is obedience, and this means that all religion -true or false- is, finally, politics:

“So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics, and teacheth part of the duty which earthly kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics, and containeth precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God”. [32]

Henceforth, in this first battle of reason versus superstition, Hobbes closes the circle in the concept of “divine politics”. The political side of Christianity demands that reason be a judge of the means necessary to attain the goal of peace and obedience. Two consequences are derived from this concept. The first one is that there is no separation of the so-called political side and the religious side. Thus, the “separation of Church and State” understood as the separation of the temporal power and the intemporal power makes no sense. Both are the same and pursue the same goal. There is but one single power. Finally, the difference between the two kinds of religion, and therefore, between the two kinds of politics, ends up merely being its origin: one is human, the other is divine.

“Of the former sort were all the founders of commonwealths and the lawgivers of the Gentiles; of the latter sort were Abraham, Moses, and our blessed Saviour, by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God”. [33]

A second consequence raises: since its is clear that Hobbes is doing here a treatise of “divine politics” (because he confesses to be a subject of the “kingdom of God”), the real question to which the Leviathan will answer appears: Who must behold the power that comes from God’s command?

“But where God himself by supernatural revelation planted religion, there he also made to himself a peculiar kingdom and gave laws, not only of behavior towards himself, but also towards one another; and thereby in the kingdom of God, the policy and laws civil are a part of religion; and therefore the distinction of temporal and spiritual domination hath there no place”.[34]

We are now at the end of the first battle. If Abraham, Moses and Christ -and only these three- are the lawgivers of the Kingdom of God, as the founders of Gentile commonwealths were of their kingdoms and republics, then the “Kingdom of God” and its laws are as earthly -and as political- as those were. It matters the effect, not the origin. Moreover, popes, priests and even apostles are excluded as “lawgivers”. The divine law, as a political corpus, becomes open to interpretation from the “civil science”, that is, scientific reason. We can already see here the unification of religion and politics, of temporal and intemporal powers, through reason. With this essential step, Hobbes has introduced political reason into the Church’s laws, and with it, the “raison d’état”: he’s broken the monopoly of interpretation that churches had in respect to divine law. And he has defeated superstition and other strategies that maintained this side of the single power in Church’s hands. Besides the question of who must be the interpreter of the designs of God, only fear of the absolute future remains untouched.

II b. Second Battle: Unity versus division.

However, the adversary that Hobbes faces is not only the Catholic Church. The Church of Rome -as he calls it- is the most powerful of all, and since it’s the motherland for all other Christian churches, it works as a paradigm of the fight against religious power. But, in fact, reformation and the appearance of several churches and doctrines that apparently diminished Rome’s power, ended up debilitating the state. As we have said above, the main goal of Hobbes’ State Theory is peace. That is, the absence of civil war. The existence of diverse churches -and other independent powers- is one of the main causes of this war. Hence, in his fight, Hobbes needs to challenge not only one particular conception of religion, not only the primacy of institutional religion as such, but also the division that the co-existence of many churches causes in a commonwealth. Since there is only one single power, there must be just one interpretation of divine laws. That is, one religion within the commonwealth. There must not be various loyalties to various churches.

If we assume that religion is politics, then each church must have its own political interest, beyond the state’s interest. As Reinhardt Koselleck puts it: “Hobbes asks what causes civil warfare. Guiding him in this quest is the idea that the plans and interests of various individuals, parties and churches must be unmasked before one can detect the underlying common cause of civil war”.[35] To attain the kind of unity that prevents civil war, it is then necessary to finish with diversity: “Politically, however, the monarchs strove to eliminate or neutralize all institutions with an independent base. Mercantilism, too, was an economic system subject to political planning and State guidance; similarly, religious and ecclesiastical questions were treated with an eye to their usefulness to the state”.[36]

The question that remained from the first battle (“Who must behold the power that comes from God’s command?”) finds its answer in this searching of unity. A “neutral” authority must overcome the division in factions and sectarian religious parties. This need for an authority must have two characteristics. First, it must hold both sides of “divine politics”, and, second, it must be the only interpreter of God’s commands. This is the birth of the official cult: state religion.

But, which of the different interpretations of those commands must be official? Hobbes will say that it must be the one that does not contradict natural right and laws of reason. In his scheme, however, this means that politics -that is, the search for peace- rule over religion. In order to have peace, then, religion becomes subordinate to the “raison d’état”. In other words, as Leo Strauss affirms: “Hobbes’s personal attitude to positive religion was at all times the same: religion must serve the State and is to be esteemed or despised according to the services or disservices rendered to the State”.[37]

While it has been shown that “the religious parties drew their energies from sources outside the domains of princely power”, and that, therefore, “the princes could not prevail over them unless they challenged the primacy of religion”[38], it is also true that this “sources outside the domains of princely power” include the inner source, namely, conscience. If, after the first battle above described, the problem of fear of the absolute future remained unsolved, from this second battle, another question arises. How can this new “civic science” deal with conscience? This question is not answered yet, because although the process of unification can effectively overcome division “the state’s power, however, determines only the external cult”, and this is how “Hobbes laid the groundwork for separating the internal from the external”[39] This new division will be a problem in his project of unification of all powers in the state, as we will see, and will ask for a conquest of the inner realm –this conquest will eventually fail, and as many commentators[40] have already explained, this private inner realm will open the possibility to defeat the absolutist state. But, according to the Leviathan, Hobbes thinks that with this distinction of the external and the internal, the sovereign can control what really matters, that is, actions (that include public speech and public religion), while there is enough leaving thoughts in the private domain. This is a complete turn-around of the work of reformation, based on personal faith more than in external –”pharisaical”– actions and speeches, with which the Catholic Church trades. Reinhardt Koselleck stresses the political dimension of this division, and, in doing that, he reinforces the idea that what Hobbes is primarily pursuing is to empty the political side of religion, while leaving faith as something private, unable to affect the fate of the commonwealth:

“The separation of inward and external, as well as of convictions and actions, thus took on completely new historical meaning, as an allusive comparison with the Reformers makes clear. Luther’s separation of inward and external springs from his absolute consciousness of Revelation, his certainty that his inner being was separated from this world. And out of the inner necessity to proclaim the word of God, objectively audible in his conscience, he encroaches on the external. (…) Thus the secular realm is subjugated to the spiritual realm in which conscience plays a role; the commonwealth becomes the “educational institution of the Christian nation”, and this is “unthinkable without intolerance. Hobbes is “intolerant” for precisely the opposite reason. He endows the State with all its powers precisely in order to find protection against those prophets of revelation (Leviathan, I, 2, passim) who, unlike Luther, believe they can absorb the worldly office completely. In doing so, Hobbes excludes the religious inner realm specifically, so as to analyze it as a political factor”.[41]

So Hobbes has fought the first battle by stating that reason is at the center of the work of interpreting the law of God, and has fought the second one by showing the necessity for a public -external- cult. The question of who must be the authority that interprets scriptures under the light of reason has been answered by subordinating religion to the peace and unity of the commonwealth. This has been possible thanks to the concept of “divine politics”, that makes clear the political side of religion -which is external- and reducing the matter of faith to a small, silent, inner realm. Although these two victories leave two casualties (the question of conscience and the problem of absolute fear of the future), they have transformed the problem of religious factions from a theological matter to a “civic science” problem.

III.c. Third Battle: Sovereign’s power versus Church’s power.

Notwithstanding this subordination of the inner faith to the external cult and the introduction of reason in the work of interpretation, a problem still remains to be solved: who must lead (and how) this public cult that is at the service of the entire commonwealth. Here comes the last battle of this fight, which is a combination of the former two.

The first step of this final battle is a direct attack on the Pope’s authority to judge and decide what is true and acceptable according to the Scriptures. Once Hobbes has shown that religion is political, and that reason is the tool to be used to know when this political side of religion is helping to achieve peace in the commonwealth, he needs to undermine the actual authority of priests, bishops and popes. To do so, he applies his political reason to the political side of the Church:

“…amongst the points by the church of Rome declared necessary for salvation, there be so many manifestly to the advantage of the Pope (and of his spiritual subjects residing in the territories of other Christian princes) that were it not for the mutual emulation of those princes, they might without war or trouble exclude all foreign authority as easily as it has been excluded in England. For who is there that does not see to whose benefit it conduceth to have it believed that a king hath not his authority from Christ unless a bishop crown him? That a king, if he be a priest, cannot marry? That whether a prince be born in lawful marriage or not must be judged by authority from Rome? That subjects may be freed from their allegiance, if by the court of Rome the king be judged heretic? That a king (as Chilperic of France) may be deposed by a pope (as Pope Zachary) for no cause, and his kingdom given to one of his subjects? That the clergy and regulars, in what country soever, shall be exempt from the jurisdiction of their king in cases criminal? Or who does not see to whose profit redound the fees of private masses and vails of purgatory, with other signs of private interest, enough to mortify the most lively faith if (as I said) the civil magistrate and custom did not more sustain it than any opinion they have of the sanctity, wisdom, or probity of their teachers? So that I may attribute all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause, and that is, unpleasing priests, and those not only amongst Catholics, but even that church that hath presumed most of reformation”.[42]

This last passage expresses a conceptual inflexion point in the advancing of Hobbes towards the unification of all powers -secular and divine- in one single ruler’s hands. Indeed, a secular ruler. Actually, the Pope’s power is accounted by Hobbes as secular because it is political, the Pope just does not admit it, and pretends to behold and intemporal power, while intervening as a temporal ruler. The opening sentence of the passage shows this contrast: Hobbes compares the “the points by the church of Rome declared necessary for salvation”, which is a list of requisites to obtain an intemporal reward, with the fact that “there be so many manifestly to the advantage of the Pope (and of his spiritual subjects residing in the territories of other Christian princes)”, that is, requisites of private, temporal matter and benefit. Moreover, this sentence, by invoking salvation, already deals with one of the two casualties of the other two battles: fear of the absolute future, fear of not being saved, fear of hell.

Furthermore, the rest of this opening sentence also shows two more, essential things: “that were it not for the mutual emulation of those princes, they might without war or trouble exclude all foreign authority as easily as it has been excluded in England”. First, that “those princes” are responsible for this situation, that is, they already have the power to overthrow the Church. It is just because of their “tolerance” that the Church retains this other power. And, second, that it is easy to accomplish the overthrowing, namely, Hobbes’ entire project: “without war or trouble exclude all foreign authority”. “Foreign” means in Hobbes not only an authority from another, geographical country, namely, the Pope, but also all authorities based on a theoretical space outside the boundaries of the commonwealth’s covenant. And, if it was not sufficiently clear that Hobbes is not creating a sheer historical system, but answering to a timeless tension, proper of human beings, he says, to close the sentence, that to achieve success in this projects is as easy as it has been in England. So it can be (and must be) done everywhere else.

But, let us enumerate the 10 characteristics of Hobbes’s project already apparent in the rest of the passage:

a) “For who is there that does not see to whose benefit it conduceth to have it believed that a king hath not his authority from Christ unless a bishop crown him?”

First of all, a sentence that asks for whose benefiting is a sort of rational question that points to the consequences, not to the justification of actions. Quid podest? Second of all, the question clearly implies that a King must not have his authority from interested rulers of churches’ offices and their “human politics”; but this does not mean that the King shouldn’t have his authority from Christ -”divine politics”-.

b) “That a king, if he be a priest, cannot marry?”

Third, beyond the concrete norm about marriages among the clergy –an important issue in the work of reformation, no doubt– the question does not ask: “That a priest, if he be a King, cannot marry?” but rather, on the contrary, it suggests the possibility for a King to be a minister of God. That is: to be the interpreter of God’s command, and the Sheppard for both people’s faith and life.

c) “That subjects may be freed from their allegiance, if by the court of Rome the king be judged heretic?”

Fourth, indeed, the commonwealth is subjected by a covenant, and “allegiance”, between the citizens, individually and as a whole. Only they can break it or maintain it.

d) “That a king (as Chilperic of France) may be deposed by a pope (as Pope Zachary) for no cause, and his kingdom given to one of his subjects?”

Fifth, besides the historical evidence that here is provided to support the main claim, the inaccurate use of this “for no cause” is stressing the arbitrarily of the Pope’s rule. An arbitrariness that is not meant as a free use of the power at the ruler’s disposal, which is the essence of his authority, but the uncaused, ungrounded (neither in covenant nor in conquest), capricious, self-profitable decision-making process.

e) “That the clergy and regulars, in what country soever, shall be exempt from the jurisdiction of their king in cases criminal?”

Sixth, penal system must be entirely on the sovereign’s hands.

f) “Or who does not see to whose profit redound the fees of private masses and vails of purgatory, with other signs of private interest, enough to mortify the most lively faith if (as I said) the civil magistrate and custom did not more sustain it than any opinion they have of the sanctity, wisdom, or probity of their teachers?”

Seventh, the self-profitable use of “purgatory”, (again, the absolute future), by the Church is the cause for weak faiths. Eighth, apart from “civil power” (“those princes”) it is the contingent cultural environment –namely “custom”– that makes this situation possible. Ninth, as a reverse of the lacking virtues of the clergy “teachers”, priests, bishops and popes are, actually, sinful, ignorant and untrustworthy.

g) “So that I may attribute all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause, and that is, unpleasing priests, and those not only amongst Catholics, but even that church that hath presumed most of reformation”.

And, tenth, “unpleasing priests” from all churches, with their “human politics” are to blame not only for division within the commonwealth, but also for the decadence of religion itself. Thus, the corollary is clear. First premise: in order for peace to be there must be one single public religion. Second premise: Of the two possible leaders of such a religion, namely the Pope/priests and the sovereign, the former is corrupt and causes division and war. Corollary: The sovereign must be the head of the public church and the interpreter of Scriptures. According to Leo Strauss, Hobbes’s thought evolved in this matter, and this, his final opinion about it, opened the door for his own interpretation of Scripture:

“The fundamental question: On what authority does one believe that Scripture is the word of God? Is differently answered in different presentations. In the Elements: On the authority of the Church, the successors of the Apostles. In De Cive: Not on the authority of the Church, but on that of Jesus. In the Leviathan: On the authority of the teachers whose teaching is permitted and organized by the sovereign power, i.e. one confesses verbally -for thoughts are free- that Scripture is the word of God, because secular authority commands this confession”.[43]

The church obtains his authority from Scripture; therefore, beyond denouncing its corruption, Hobbes needs to challenge the content of that grounding. Through this long fight Hobbes has acquired his tools: reason, raison d’état, public cult and sovereign’s interpretative authority of the Divine Law. All of them are “formal” tools, so to speak, and with them, he will build up a system of government adding the “matter” of religion to the political matter of all states.

Through the interpretation of the content of Scriptures the dilemma between obedience to God and obedience to the sovereign must be reduced ad absurdum and the problem of conscience and the problem of fear of the absolute future must be solved:

“That the condition of mere nature (that is to say, of absolute liberty, such as theirs that neither are sovereigns nor subjects) is anarchy, and the condition of war; that the precepts by which men are guided to avoid that condition are the laws of nature; that a commonwealth without sovereign power is but a word without substance, and cannot stand; that subjects owe to sovereigns simple obedience in all things wherein their obedience is not repugnant to the laws of God, I have sufficiently proved in that which I have already written. There wants only, for the entire knowledge of the civil duty, to know what are those laws of God. For without that a man knows not, when he is commanded anything by the civil power, whether it be contrary to the law of God, or not, and so, either by too much civil obedience offends the Divine Majesty, or through fear of offending God transgresses the commandments of the commonwealth. To avoid both these rocks, it is necessary to know what are the laws divine”.[44]


Interpreting Scriptures (Redefining Christianity)

Hobbes interprets the Scriptures at various junctures in the Leviathan. Actually, the third and fourth parts of the book are entirely -and constantly- grounded in Scripture. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus my attention on the first eight chapters of part three (from chapter XXXII to chapter XXXIX). These chapters mark the beginning of his interpretation of Scriptures. Although in the fourth part of the book Hobbes focuses his attention on the Churches’ self-interest in its interpretation of Scriptures, it is in these first eight chapters that he develops the core of his understanding of the “Word of God” and his strategies grounded in the power that God’s Word gives to those who decide its meaning.

In the first 8 chapters of Part Three of the Leviathan Hobbes attempts to prove that the Commonwealth he has described in the previous sections is not opposed to Christianity or to God’s will. On the contrary, he argues that the uncontestable authority of the Church is opposed, not only to the interests and survival of the Commonwealth, but, moreover, to the meaning of Holy Scripture and God himself. Thus Hobbes’ project is compatible with, and in fact derived from, the essence of Christianity.

While he emphasizes the sovereign’s arbitrating power in matters concerning religion, he will also delineate the duty of his subjects, if they are to be both good citizens and good Christians. He does this by arguing for the identity of these two behaviors: Being a good citizen in the Hobbesian commonwealth is exactly the same as being a good Christian. He reinterprets Christianity to secure the power of the sovereign, robbing it from those (e.g. the priests and the Pope) who would invoke it against the Sovereign’s authority. At the end of the first 8 chapters, he writes:

“The maintenance of civil society depending on justice, and justice on the power of life and death (and other less rewards and punishments) residing in them that have the sovereignty of the commonwealth, it is impossible a commonwealth should stand where any other that the sovereign has the power of giving greater rewards than life, and of inflicting greater punishments than death.”[45]

So, how can he overcome this great challenge to the power of the sovereign? How will he secure the commonwealth? Hobbes’s strategy is to highlight the aspects of Papal doctrine that concern salvation and then invert their meaning to buttress his state theory. Each of the 8 chapters corresponds to a singular aspect of the Church. Hobbes considers these aspects in their essentially to be a constitutive role for the Church’s supernatural authority. All of them put together form a a succinct definition of the Church: the basis for the Church’s authority is irrational; it identifies itself as the sole authorized interpreter of Scriptures; as the spiritual lord (inspired by God) of an atemporal realm; as the holy benefactor of sacraments; as the prophetic and miraculous agent of God; and the only path to salvation and eternal life.

We see a certain repetition at the level of method in Hobbes’ task of modifying the ideological foundation of the Church. Throughout his analysis, he begins by defining a given attribute of the Church. He considers it from the point of view of popular understanding and also from the point of view of the Church’s own self-definition. This is what I call “traditional” or “first” definition of an attribute. Then, he exposes what Scripture says about that particular attribute (“miracles”, “sacraments”, “inspiration”, and so on). Under the light of the literal meaning of each attribute, he shows that what Scriptures say about them is not alien to rationality, and he compares this rational account of a certain attribute with what the Church says about it. Once he has compared this textual definition with the “traditional” or “first” interpretation, he puts forth a new, ¨Hobbesian¨ definition of the Church’s attributes. This new or “second” definition is always compatible with his idea of commonwealth, destroys Church’s authority, and strengthens that of the sovereign. His “second” definitions are always secular, and all of them are aimed at the most powerful attribute of the Church, that is, control over salvation. But, in order to get to the secularization of salvation, and, hence, of hell, he must follow a particular order. First, he removes Scripture from the Church’s hands, on the basis of what is found in Scripture itself. To do so, he empties the meaning of terms like “prophet” and “word of God”; both used to buttress the authority of church’s interpreters. Once the Church is stripped of the power of the word, Hobbes secularizes all what was once considered supernatural: the idea of “spirit”, the nature of angels and even the Kingdom of God, the linchpin for the Church’s authority and their monopolization of the notions of heaven and hell. The last step will be a re-definition of salvation and condemnation along the lines of the secularization of hell. I will treat this last development in a separate section in this paper.

1. Taking the Word Away

In Chapters XXXII, XXXIII and XXXIV of the third part of the Leviathan Hobbes effectively strips the power of the word of God from ecclesiastical interpreters. In earlier sections of the Leviathan we have seen how Hobbes’s conception of the commonwealth excludes any sharing of power between the state and the church. But, now, he needs something more. He needs to vacuate the Church of every last bit of authority, especially, that ¨bit¨ of authority that licenses the church to determine the afterlife. Hobbes realizes that Scripture is the principal source for its authority. Thus it is no surprise that he embraces Scripture. He then reinterprets it in relation to his theory of the state, and finally, he finally claims that in case of doubt only civil authority has the authority to arbitrate between conflicting interpretations.

The interpretation of Scripture that Hobbes undertakes is based on three strategies[46]. The first is the ¨deference¨ to Scripture (“the ground of my discourse must be, not only the natural word of God, but also the prophetical”[47]); second, reason (“We are not to renounce our sense and experience, nor [that which is the undoubted word of God] our natural reason”[48]); and third, the justification of obedience to, and only to, the sovereign (“But by captivity of our understanding is not meant a submission of the intellectual faculty to the opinion of any other man, but of the will to obedience[49], where obedience is due”[50]). That is: although we accept the primacy of Scripture over reason, from this it is not implied that we ought to accept the primacy of any other man as an interpreter of them, except for the sovereign. However, here Hobbes faces the first obstacle in his purpose of vacuating the Church’s authority. As long as Scripture is assumed to be the prophetic Word, what the Church says about it can be -and was- understood as prophetic as well. Hobbes asks: who else but the sovereign possesses validity for our trust in him qua interpreter?[51]. And he answers: This man would be a true prophet. But how can we know that a man is a true prophet?

The signs that Scripture provides to recognize a true prophet are, according to Hobbes: a) that he teaches the established religion and b) he performs miracles. Hobbes claims here that because the age of miracles is passed, the only sign we have to acknowledge the Prophetic law of God is the Holy Scripture.[52] This clears the way for him to incorporate Scripture into his project. Once the borders of the text are fixed, that is, once no further “prophetic word” can be added, neither from revelation nor as a prophetic interpretation, then reason can be applied to comb every corner of the Old and the New Testament for the consolidation of the sovereign’s power.

In the first condition for a genuine prophet that he states (a) we see the first instance of the process of secularization. As we have witnessed, what Hobbes understands by established religion is what the sovereign says it is. So, what was understood as an inspired, supernatural gift of predicting the future, as speaking in the name of God and as the ability to perform miracles is reduced to the teaching of what the civil power understands as convenient for the peace of the commonwealth. It is worth noticing that he makes use of a certain parallelism between God and the sovereign to justify this claim: “For these words, ‘revolt from the Lord your God’, (that we find in the Deuteronomy) are in this place equivalent to “revolt from your King”[53]. This first secularization is exemplary: what begins by turning some divine power into a human task, ends up divinely ¨metaphorizing¨ the sovereign’s own attributes.

Notwithstanding the secularization of prophecy, the Church remains the best suited to be the authoritative interpreter of Scripture[54]. The Church decides on both the validity of the scripturual texts (which are to be included in the Book) and their meaning. Hobbes will solve this problem politically by asking: what is the nature of the power of the ¨well-suited¨ authority over the interpretation of Scripture? Hobbes understands Scripture as a source of (regulated) submissiveness: “In sum, the histories and prophecies of the Old Testament, and the gospels and epistles of the New Testament, have had one and the same scope, to convert men to the obedience of God”[55]. Therefore the important thing is to determine who is the representative of God on earth, in order to determine to whom we must submit.[56] God speaks to humanity, and from His word authorizations and prohibition are given. Sometimes God speaks to one man, other times he speaks to humanity. In the former case, His word is private, in the latter, it is public. If its private, it only binds he to whom God has decided to reveal his will, because private inspirations -since they are subjective evidences- cannot be imposed on all. If the validity of evidence is subjective, we run the risk of falling prey to false prophets. On the other hand, His public “Word” gives authority either to the Commonwealth or the Church. To decide which one possesses the authority, once the prophetic ground has been discarded as private, only the value of their public actions and political nature must be considered, because both of them are earthly powers. But in order for any Institution to hold authority over a number of men and act on their behalf, it needs to be a “person” (as “person” is understood in Hobbes’ legal theory of “author” and “person”).

One the one hand, If the Church was a person, it would be exactly the same as a Commonwealth of Christians, called “commonwealth” because it is formed by men united in one person, namely the sovereign, and called “of Christians” because it is formed by men, united under a Christian sovereign. If the Church was a commonwealth, then, all Christian kings and their states would be considered particular persons, and they would be subjects susceptible of being judged, deposed or punished by the universal sovereign governing Christendom. Consequently, the question of the authority of the Holy Scripture is this: whether all Christian kings, and the sovereign assemblies in Christian Commonwealths, are absolute in their own territories, immediately under God, or whether they are subjects to the Vicar of Christ, constituted over the universal church, and thus can be judged, condemned, deposed and killed in the manner that the Vicar deems opportune or necessary for the common good.[57] However, the Church is not a “person” because it does not have a covenant conferring on it the title of “author” over its Christian subjects. In this sense, it has no authority at all. It cannot command or perform any action whatsoever in the name of any number of men, nor is it capable of having any power, nor right to anything. It has no will, no reason, no voice, because all these things are personal. Therefore, if the whole of Christians are not united in a commonwealth, they are not a person, nor is there such a thing as a universal church with authority over them and, hence, the Scriptures are not laws for the universal church.

On the other hand, if the first “traditional” definition of authority simply involved interpretation of Scripture by the Church, Hobbes has now provided his second definition: authority over scriptural interpretation entails authority over the commonwealth and its laws. In the case of disagreement between the church and the sovereign of the commonwealth over the interpretation of Scriptures, citizens are left with no recourse to determine which is in accordance with God’s will, namely, peace and justice. But “peace and justice” are exactly the content of the law and it was exactly because of this kind of discord that the commonwealth came to be in the first place. The Christian commonwealth has already in its nature the warrant to be the interpreter of God’s will :

“But the question is not of obedience to God (this is out of dispute) but of when and what God hath said, which to subjects that have no supernatural revelation cannot be known but by that natural reason which guided them, for the obtaining of peace and justice, to obey the authority of their several commonwealth (that is to say, of their lawful sovereign).” [58]

Coherently, even the question about which corpus is valid for interpretation corresponds to the sovereign, as well as the submission that the true interpreter deserves as the representative of God: “According to this obligation, I can acknowledge no other books of the Old Testament to be Holy Scripture but those which have been commanded to be acknowledged for such by the authority of the Church of England.”[59]

The first step has hereby been completed. The power of the Holy Word has been removed from the Church by denying its prophetic power, by showing that the Scriptures themselves do not command to take for truth what the Church say about them, by denouncing -as previously shown- its untrustworthiness; but, most importantly, because, once the only problem that remains is disagreement over the question of justice and the best way to achieve peace, the problem reveals itself as being just a rethorical question: how could the subjects authorize the Church if they have already made a covenant (i.e. the Commonwealth) to solve those kinds of questions?

Because Scriptures are now authoritative, “It is necessary before I proceed any further,’’ says Hobbes, ‘’to determine out of the Bible the meaning of such words as by their ambiguity may render what I am to infer upon them obscure or disputable.”[60]

2. Against all supernatural

In chapters XXXV, XXXVI and XXXVII of the third part of the Leviathan, Hobbes argues against divine inspiration as the ground for the Church’s legitimacy, against the authority of visions, against the possibility for the sovereign to be contradicted (even by an angel), against the authority obtained from that which is called “spirit”, against the idea of an intemporal Kingdom of God, against the common understanding of the words “sacred” and “sacrament”, and against the use of the word “miracle” to ground religious rituals such as the Eucharist. All of these challenges are textually supported in Scripture and aim at one and only one thing: the primarily supernatural reference for the justification of the Church’s authority.

Hobbes’ argument[61] begins with the words “body” and “spirit”: “which in the language of the Schools are termed substances, corporeal and incorporeal.[62] It proceeds by way of demonstrating the impossibility of incorporeal substance. He goes on to conclude that spirits and angels are either corporeal or they do not exist at all. First definition of spirit: “So that the proper signification of spirit in common speech, is either a subtle, fluid, and invisible body, or a ghost idol or phantasm of the imagination”.[63] He subsequently goes on to describe the various meanings of “spirit” in Scripture, in order to show that it is impossible for the Church to utilize its alleged spiritual (supernatural) nature to claim authority over civil matters. Hobbes finds six meanings of “spirit” in Scriptures: First, the spirit of God taken for a wind or breath. Second, extraordinary gifts of the understanding. Third, extraordinary affections. Fourth, the gift of prediction by dreams or visions. Fifth, life. Sixth, used as means to achieve subordination to authority. Given this six meanings, Hobbes offers a new and proper definition: “The word spirit in the text signifieth no such thing (Ghost), but either properly a real substance, or metaphorically some extraordinary ability or affection of the mind or the body”.[64]

What is common to all these determinations of spirit is that they are either totally excluded from priests and other churchmen in their literal meaning or they are accessible universally, to all men, in their metaphorical meaning. Thus, the “spiritual authority” is dismantled, and not in a minor way: the corporeality of spirit establishes a pattern for the continuing process of dismantling Church’s doctrine. This pattern consists in making terrestrial what putatively belonged to heaven alone: a spirit is in reality a body. Hobbes pursues the same approach in his ‘‘scriptural’’ interpretation of angels. The first definition is: an angel is a messenger of God and a kind of ghost. It follows that they too cannot be incorporeal, because incorporeal substance is an absurdity. After analyzing what scripture says about angels, and especially about the space they occupy and the physical movement they perform he concludes: “Angels, therefore, are not thence proved to be incorporeal”,[65]and also: “it proves the permanence of angelical nature, it confirmeth also their materiality”.[66] Why is it important, after all, (for Hobbes) that angels be corporeal? First, because it negates the incorporeal spiritual power on earth, that is, the possibility of incognizable and irrational things that rule over men; and second, because this second definition of angels as corporeal allows Hobbes to establish a comparison between angels and men: “But in the resurrection man shall be permanent, and not incorporeal, so therefore, also are angels”. There is nothing unusual or supernatural in angels then, nothing “more than” or “more powerful” than human beings. Once more, Hobbes renders something divine in nature earthly and human.

Moreover, all these materialist conceptions of supernatural beings lead him to deny the power of inspiration. Its literal meaning is (first definition): “blowing into a man some thin and subtle air or wind”[67]. But in Scripture –once reason is used to interpret it– the reader realizes that it is used only metaphorically: sometimes it means “life” and sometimes it means that “God inclined the spirit or mind of those writers to write that which should be useful in teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing men in the way of righteous living”[68] Therefore, inspiration is not essentially a property of the Church, that is, it does not fall within its monopoly. On the contrary: it is available to all men if God wants and, above all, it leads to the education of men, so they can live righteously: that is, again, a duty of educators authorized by the sovereign.

However, at the center of the Church’s supernaturalism is the claim that the Church is the earthly ambassador of the kingdom of God.[69]. This claim is supernatural insofar as the Kingdom of God is conceived as a non-physical, non-temporal realm over which the Church rules. It is a kingdom with subjects (souls), an army (angels), judges (clergymen), currency (bulls), regent (the Holy Pope), embassies (cathedrals), sovereign (God), “raison d’état” (sacred), rewards (heaven) and punishments (hell). All these attributes of the Kingdom of God are supernatural in some sense. All of them are universal. All of them are based on a power superior to the commonwealth’s attributes. The notion of the Kingdom of God is the main argument put forth by religious men to justify the existence and the role of the Church in the world. And it is the argument most disputed by all sides since the late middle ages when it comes to clarifying the meaning and form of politics and ethics.

As Quentin Skinner has shown, the humanists used the discoveries they made when they began to translate antique documents and speeches, more than a century before Hobbes’s Leviathan, to demonstrate that some of the practices and jurisdictions of the Church were derived from the political configuration of the Roman Empire and that they represented self-serving interpretations of its laws. The revival of republicanism is also linked with the discovery of the virtues of the roman republic against the vices of the imperial period. [70]In the same way, some imperial ambitions and their juridical and philosophical assumptions were fought with the help of the classical republican values, as Machiavelli did in his Discourses. While at the beginning of this ideological and actual battle the Church seemed to be an ally for the new republican forces, soon enough the new philosophical and juridical corpus became and enemy for most the Church’s terrenial actions. The work of reformation was also a variation of this melody spread around Europe, although with different lyrics.

The definition of this Kingdom of God, its boundaries and its legitimacy became an essential quest for all sides. The coexistence of heavenly (atemporal) power side by side a temporal one was widely discussed. However, while practices in the secular realm and the corruptions of the Church were criticized and vilified by humanists, reformists and officials, the existence and supernatural reality of the Kingdom of God was not questioned, only its effects were scrutinized. Hobbes’ œuvre consists in the same tone only with different lyrics and a sharper pitch. The problem for Hobbes is not how to delimit the frontiers of this godly realm, but rather only the calculation of which power is greater. Once it is recognized that a supernatural thing will always be greater than a natural one, he must get rid of the prefix “super”. It is not enough to prevent the encroachment of the supernatural kingdom because it is impossible to circumscribe. Hence Hobbes’ position must consist in negating the existence of such a supernatural commonwealth beyond the natural commonwealth, and transferring the effects of its power to the new Mortal God, that is, the sovereign. As Carl Schmitt (following Leo Strauss) says:

“The distinction between the secular and the spiritual power was, according to Hobbes, alien to the heathens because religion was to them a part of politics; the Jews brought about unity from the side of religion. Only the Roman papal church and the power-thirsty Presbyterian churches or sects thrive on the state-destroying separation of the spiritual and the secular power. Superstition and misuse of alien beliefs in spirits arising from fear and illusion have destroyed the original and natural heathen unity of politics and religion. The struggle to overcome the Roman papal church’s division between the “Kingdom of Light” and the “Kingdom of Darkness” -that is, the restoration of the original unity–is, as Leo Strauss ascertained, the actual meaning of Hobbes’ political theory”. [71]

But, what is, then, the such called “Kingdom of God” if not a spiritual kingdom? Of all the meanings that “Kingdom of God” had, Hobbes explicitly asserts that the one used by the Church as a means to obtain political power is: “The Kingdom of God in the writings of divines, and specially in sermons and treatises of devotions, [that is, including reformed churches] is taken most commonly for eternal felicity after this life, in the highest heaven”.[72] But, its literal meaning is rather mundane:

“I find the Kingdom of God to signify in most places of Scripture, a kingdom properly so named, constituted by votes of the people of Israel in peculiar manner, wherein they chose God for their king by covenant made with him, upon God’s promising them the possession of the land of Canaan”. [73]

It is worth pointing out that Hobbes does not deny the existence of heaven itself, nor an ever-happy afterlife. But, his eschatology differs from that of the church in the spiritual or ghostly nature of that future heaven: heaven –as will be shown– is on earth, and in arguing this Hobbes will complete the secularization of the after-life; but we are not yet there. Hitherto, Hobbes only denies the connection between the church and that Kingdom of Heaven, of which the concept of atemporal power, or “Kingdom of God” was the most important argument. Then, if the Kingdom of God was an historical kingdom, two questions must be answered. First, what historical period do Hobbes and his contemporaries belong to, and, second, how was that Kingdom of God actually organized, and what can we learn about it, considering that God Himself established it? The kingdom of God that was established with the people of Israel is over, and the Kingdom of God that will come with redemption, resurrection, under the rule of Christ Himself in his second coming has yet to arrive. So we live in a kind of a historical in-between. Christ came to teach us how to prepair for the just kingdom that shall come with his second coming. In the meantime people have only to accept that He is the Lord, the Son of God. A close reading of the Scriptures teaches us that even that Kingdom of God that came due to the covenant of the people of Israel was the type of commonwealth in which the office of sovereign and the office of the high priest were united.[74] Abraham and Moses, as paradigms of it, were both the sovereign and the high priest, and when that was not the case, the office of the high priest was ministerial to the sovereign, not magisterial.[75]As Laurence Berns points out:

“Again, only Moses, as civil sovereign under God, was called up to God, not Aaron, the chief priest, nor any other priest, nor the aristocracy of seventy elders, nor the people. By Moses throwing over the calf made by Aaron, and by Moses’ control of those who prophesied in the camp, it was shown that all priests and prophets in a Christian commonwealth derive their authority from the approval and authority of the sovereign”. [76]

According to the example of that past Kingdom of God, and considering that we live in the meantime before Christ’s return, people must accept the authority of the sovereign instead of the false testimony of the Church when it intends to rule over civil sovereigns. “From all this is clear that the distinction between spiritual and temporal government is false. All government in this life, both of the state and of the religion, is temporal and under the command of one civil sovereign”. [77] Only three supernatural assets remain then and their secularization will fall dramatically: the concept of “holy” or “sacred”, the meaning of “sacrament”, and the nature and validity of miracles in this meantime. What is understood by “holy” or “sacred”, i.e. “of God”, must be now understood as “public “or “of the sovereign”, because the sovereign is God’s representative on earth, both as head of the government and head of the public religion. Equally, the Church’s business –that is, sacraments– are not a magic thing that only “divines” can provide. In Scriptures we can only find two sacraments prescribed: baptism (that substituted circumcision) and Eucharist.

Both are solemn oaths that we make as a sign of our allegiance to God, that is, a form of covenant or as a remembrance of it: “Sacrament is a separation of some visible thing from common use, and a consecration of it to God’s service, for a sign either of our admission into the Kingdom of God (to be of the number of his peculiar people) or for a commemoration of the same”.[78]

Finally[79], the last asset that remains, before we consider salvation, is the power to make and sanction miracles. Miracles are dangerous because they cause admiration, and suspend reason. Therefore, they must be “rare” and with “no natural cause known”. But to believe something against reason is almost against the will of God: reason is what He has given us to understand His law and works. So why should any miracle exist at all?

“It belongeth to the nature of miracle that it be wrought for the procuring of credit to God’s messengers, ministers, and prophets, that hereby men may know that are called, sent, and employed by God, and thereby be the better inclined to obey them.(…) A Miracle is a work of God (besides his operation by the way of nature, ordained in the creation), done for the making manifest to his elect the mission of an extraordinary minister for their salvation”[80]

However, this irrational nature of the belief in miracles makes them especially dangerous, because men are easy to deceive. It would be too easy for a false prophet to deceive people through false wonders and tricks, in order to gain authority over them. Caution is necessary. Reason must ask for its own exhaustion:we must see it done, and use all means possible to consider whether it be really done[81], but, more importantly, only the competent authority can decide if a miracle is real or false: “And in this also we must have recourse to God’s lieutenant, to whom in all doubtful cases, we have submitted our private judgements”.

In giving authority to the sovereign beyond private opinion on miracles, in emptying the supernatural nature of all “sacred” and of all sacraments, Hobbes has turned them into a ridiculous, meaningless dance of rituals, unless they are prescribed by the sovereign, in which case they are political means to achieve peace and justice. Eucharist is the main target here:

“For example, if a man pretendeth that after certain words spoken over a piece of bread, that presently God hath made it not bread, but a god or a man (or both), and nevertheless it looketh still as like bread as ever it did, there is no reason for any man to think it really done, nor consequently to fear him, till he enquire of God, but his vicar or lieutenant, whether it be done or not”. [82]

Finally, the reason by which this essential truths are not known is, according to Hobbes, a sort of conspiracy. Some “divines” want the power of the kings: “There be so many other places that confirm this interpretation that it were a wonder there is no greater notice taken of it, but that it gives too much light to Christian kings to see their right of ecclesiastical government”[83].


The Secularization of Hell

The last step[84] in granting absolute power to the sovereign consists in answering the question that remains open since Hobbes described his concept of fear in the first and second parts of the Leviathan. Fear is the most powerful passion. Reason also has an important place, but when it collides with fear, fear is always the stronger. Fear of violent death in the state of nature is what leads men, in the first place, to form a covenant and create the commonwealth. Fear of a common power, that is, fear of the sovereign, is what makes men obey a common law, guaranteeing peace in the commonwealth. As we discussed above, in order for these two fears to work it is necessary that there be no fears that eclipse:

“The maintenance of civil society depending on justice, and justice on the power of life and death (and other less rewards and punishments) residing in them that have the sovereignty of the commonwealth, it is impossible a commonwealth should stand where any other than the sovereign hath a power of giving greater rewards than life, and of inflicting greater punishments than death.”[85]

Hobbes is here referring to eternal reward and punishment. Thus, he needs to find a way out of this problem. He needs to redefine these two incentives, and grant their power to the sovereign. As in the previous chapters he will do it by reinterpreting Scripture:

“Now seeing eternal life is a greater reward than life present, and eternal torment a greater punishment than the death of nature, it is a thing worthy to be well considered, of all men that desire (by obeying authority) to avoid the calamities of confusion and civil war, what is meant in Holy Scripture by life eternal and torment eternal; and for what offences, and against whom committed, men are to be eternally tormented; and for what actions they are to obtain eternal life”.[86]

Continuing his argument about the Kingdom of God, Hobbes states that “life eternal” is to be on earth, not in the upper place called “heaven”. The paradise of eternal happiness is not “coelum empyreum”, “the highest heaven”:

“…seeing it hath been already proved out of divers evident places of Scriptures (…) that the Kingdom of God is a civil commonwealth, where God himself is sovereign, by virtue of the Old and since of the New covenant, wherein he reigneth by his vicar or lieutenant, the same places do therefore also prove that after the coming again of our Saviour, in his majesty and glory, to reign actually and eternally, the kingdom of God is to be on earth”. [87]

To prove this, Hobbes uses two new arguments, besides what he has already stated about the Kingdom of God. The first one comes out of an analysis of Adam’s paradise in the Scripture. The second one is an analysis of the world to come in Scripture.

Adam possessed eternal life thanks to the tree of life and became mortal due to his disobedience when he tasted the fruit of the tree of good and evil.[88] However, according to Hobbes, Adam was not condemned to death, a fact which can be inferred from his giving rise to offspring. Adam’s paradise was an earthly paradise, not in heaven, and his condemnation consisted in the certainty of a future death, and a life of misery and unhappiness. From this, Hobbes deduces that what we have lost and what we will recover, namely paradise, are eternal life and happiness, rather than a place. On the other hand, the world to come, that is, salvation, will be brought by Jesus in the Second Coming. He will reign as sovereign, and will establish a commonwealth with the faithful as His subjects. Jesus will resurrect all men, and will grant to the faithful eternal life under His command, and they will all be eternally happy. Resurrection does not mean that all the faithful will ascend to heaven, but rather that everyone will recover their life and their body. Some of them will be condemned to hell, while the others will remain forever subjects. Hobbes provides many examples of this in Scripture both negative: “That the place wherein men are to live eternally after resurrection is the heavens (…) is not easy to be drawn from any text that I can find.”[89] …and positive:

“And this differs nothing from what that which two men in white clothing (that is, the two angels) said to the apostles that were looking upon Christ ascending (Acts 1:11) ‘This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him go up into heaven’, which soundeth as if they had said he should come down to govern them under his Father, eternally here, and not take them up to govern them in heaven, and is conformable to the restoration of the Kingdom of God instituted under Moses, which was a political government of the Jews on earth”.[90]

All of them leading to the same conclusion:

“And when our Saviour Christ [returns] (…) then shall there be a new kingdom of heaven, because our king shall then be God, whose throne is heaven, without necessity evident in the Scripture, that man shall ascend to his happiness any higher than God’s footstool, the earth”. [91]

Once heaven has been placed on earth, Hobbes has solved the first part of the problem: there is no greater reward than life on earth, because heaven means precisely life on earth, though eternal. From this it is impossible to see any difference between a fulfilling, peaceful life in the present and the promise of the kingdom of God, except for its duration. The second part of the problem, however, is more difficult to solve. The threat of an eternal punishment will always be greater than a temporary period of pain and simple death. Hobbes, then, will discuss not only Hell as place, he will also describe the nature of torment, with the purpose of assimilating it to the threat of punishment that the sovereign holds over his subjects.

Concerning Hell understood as place, Hobbes states, “As the kingdom of God and eternal life, so also God’s enemies and their torments after judgment appear by the Scripture to have their place on earth”[92]. Following his method, Hobbes moves on to discuss the traditional understanding of hell, that is, the traditional confusion. All the traditional characterizations of hell that Hobbes finds in Scripture correspond to a place: “inferno” is underground; where “the congregation of Giants” is underwater; “utter darkness”, a place without God; “Gehnma and Tophed”, a place outside Jerusalem where garbage was burned, that is, a pyre. But from these divergences in Scripture, “it followeth, me thinks, very necessarily that that which is thus said concerning hell fire is spoken metaphorically, and that therefore there is a proper sense to be enquired after.”[93]

At this point in Hobbes’ argument, hell has not yet been secularized. If Hobbes had merely modified the traditional notions of heaven and hell by showing that their place was on earth, without modifying their atemporal status–i.e., eternal reward and eternal punishment–the problem would remain unresolved, and I would not claim that the Leviathan presents a complete secularization of hell. But the inquiry that Hobbes requires at the end of the last passage quoted will lead him to a conclusion that will provide both a solution to the problem of the greatest fear, that is, fear of the absolute future, and a complete secularization of hell.

What does secularization mean in this context? It means turning what was non-terrestial into terrestrial (as we have seen: heaven into earth), turning what was atemporal into temporal and turning what was once supernatural into natural, thus creating a new structure of high and low, great and small, best and worst that produces new conditions of belief to ground how we conceive life and truth, including politics, ethics, and natural sciences.

The temporal nature of this new conception of hell (and heaven) has two characteristics. First, it is a historical time. The moment of punishment will be a historical moment shared by all humanity, once God resurrect us. But, above all, the temporal nature of hell is expressed by the transformation of eternal torture in an “estate” of mind and body rather than a place: “The fire prepared for the wicked is an everlasting fire, that is to say, the estate wherein no man can be without torture[94], both of body and mind, after the resurrection, shall endure for ever”.

This state, apparently, arrives after the second coming of Christ. However, the way this “estate” is described, including its causes and agents, makes this state conceivable, even possible, in the present time, the time in between the First and the Second Coming. Continuing with this naturalization of hell, Hobbes addresses the question of the “tormenters”. Their names as they appear in the Bible have literal meaning: “Satan” means enemy, “Diabolus” means accuser, and “Abaddon” means destroyer. The fact that they have not been translated along with the rest of the Bible makes people think that they are invisible ghosts or forces, like the “demons” of the gentile religions, instead of what they really are:

“And because by the Enemy, the Accuser, and Destroyer, is meant the enemy of them that shall be in the kingdom of God, therefore, if the kingdom of God after the resurrection be upon earth (…), the Enemy and his kingdom must be on earth also. For so also was it in the time before the Jews had deposed God. For God’s kingdom was in Palestine, and the nations round about were the kingdoms of the Enemy; and consequently, by Satan is meant any earthly enemy of the Church”.[95]

From all this, it is clear that what was usually understood by the Prince of Darkness, that is, a fallen angel with his own domain -hell- where he directs a set of tortures to the condemned, is, in Hobbes’ explanation, not a proper name but a common name that refers to all enemies of the Kingdom of God and the Church. The enemies, destroyers and accusers of the Christian commonwealth are the agents of hell on earth, both present and future. Notwithstanding this naturalization and temporalization of Satan himself, what really challenges the supposed atemporality of hell is Hobbes’ description of its sufferings and tortures.

“The torments of hell are expressed [in Scripture] sometimes by weeping and gnashing of teeth (…), sometimes by the worm of conscience (…), sometimes by fire (…), sometimes by “shame and contempt” (…). All which places design metaphorically a grief and discontent of mind, from the sight of that eternal felicity in others which they themselves through their own incredulity and disobedience have lost. And because such felicity in others is not sensible but by comparison with their own actual miseries, it followeth that they are to suffer such bodily pains and calamities as are incident to those who not only live under evil and cruel governors, but have also for enemy the eternal king of saints, God Almighty”[96].

The state of hell is a psychological state of discontent caused by comparing the happy life of the “elected” with the tortured life of the faithless and disobedient. The definition of the torments fits in perfectly with two other moments of Hobbes’ state theory. First, the disobedience of civil law, that leads to punishment at the hands of the sovereign: misery and calamities are both effects of the punishments of the sovereign. Second, the state of war, or the state of nature, is precisely a state of grief and misery, plus the fear of imminent death. However, one could claim that at least these two moments of “hell on earth” are transient and eventually come to an end when the commonwealth is established, or when punishment subsides (including the moment of death, especially if one is a good Christian awaiting resurrection and salvation). The torments of hell, on the other hand, are eternal, and thus remain a source of greater fear than any threat that might come from the state of war or the sovereign. That is why Hobbes’ final stroke involves the negation of the eternal life of punishment of those condemned to hell:

“And amongst these bodily pains is to be reckoned also to every one of the wicked a second death. For though the Scripture be clear for a universal resurrection, yet we do no read that to any of the reprobate is promised an eternal life. For whereas St. Paul (…), to the question concerning what bodies men shall rise with again, saith that “The body is sown in corruption, and is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power,” glory and power cannot be applied to the bodies of the wicked, nor can the name of second death be applied to those that can never die but once. And although in metaphorical speech a calamitous life everlasting may be called an everlasting death, yet it cannot well be understood of a second death”. [97]

What this scheme of hell shows us is that hell is no worse than the worst imaginable life possible in the commonwealth. Hell is on earth, tormentors are enemies of the Christian commonwealth, torment is grief and discontent and envy for other’s happiness due to disobedience to the law and, above all, hell turns out to be a violent second death. Fear of hell equals fear of violent death and misery in life. Not only is hell no worse than the sovereign’s worst punishment, but also the latter is the greatest possible harm to one’s life and body. With this move, Hobbes has granted the sovereign the power to threaten “hell on earth,” or something with exactly the same characteristics and effects. If a citizen becomes a Satan, that is, an enemy of the state, he will automatically be condemned to an earthly, temporal, terrene, civil, secular hell. There is a hint in Leo Strauss, as well, that this moment in the Leviathan is essential:

“For what is the antithesis between vanity and fear of violent death, if not the “secularized” form of the traditional antithesis between spiritual pride and fear of God (or humility), a secularized form which results from the Almighty God having been replaced by the over-mighty enemies and then by the over-mighty State, “the Mortal God”? (…) On the contrary, this antithesis is an essential indispensable element, or, more accurately, the essential basis, of Hobbes’s political philosophy”.[98]

Moreover, the State of Nature is also a state of grief and discontent that leads to calamities, misery and violent death. It is a state without the light of authority; the state of envying other people’s happiness; and a state in which no industry, art, culture or life can outcrop. Consequently, the perils of disobedience, the perils of creating division within the commonwealth, the existence of such a thing as “ghostly power” competing with the sovereign’s power, the rising of factions and political divisions, in a word, all that leads to the destruction of the commonwealth and to the state of war causes hell to appear on earth for all subjects. This is what I call “secularization of hell” because it transfers the power that hell granted to the Church, through its atemporal, immaterial nature, to the secular, civil, and political purposes of the sovereign’s office, that is, the state and its historical circumstances and needs. By eliminating its spiritual, its eternal, and its supernatural nature, hell becomes available for terrene, temporal and natural purposes.

Logically, salvation becomes, through this secular scheme, a synonym for the peaceful commonwealth, that is, the absence of war: “To be saved from sin is to be saved from all evil and calamities that sin hath brought upon us. And therefore, in the Holy Scripture remission of sin, and salvation from death and misery, is the same thing”.[99] Thus, in the first place, salvation is –according to Scripture– a life uncorrupted by sin, and protected against the trespasses of others. But also –according to reason– salvation is a way of avoiding the consequences of sin in one’s own life, namely, misery and death: “And it is besides evident in reason that, since death and misery were the punishments of sin, the discharge of sin must also be a discharge of death and misery, that is to say, salvation absolute.”[100] In sum, to be saved is “to be secured, either respectively, against special evils, or absolutely, against all evil (comprehending want, sickness, and death itself).”[101]

The rewards that salvation brings are exactly the same as the obligations of the sovereign in Hobbes’ state theory. Peace and security are the main goals of his theory, and submission to a single power is necessary to avoid war and discontent. If this parallelism was not sufficiently clear, Hobbes himself makes explicit situations that fall exactly under sovereign responsibility:

“Concerning particular salvations such as are understood (1 sam. 14:39) “as the Lord liveth that saveth Israel,” that is, from their temporary enemies, and (2 Kings 13:5) “God gave the Israelites a Saviour, and so they were delivered from the hand of the Assyrians,” and the like, I need say nothing, there being neither difficulty, nor interest, to corrupt the interpretation of texts of that kind”.[102]

All the attributes of God have been rendered secular and have been granted to this sole power on earth, a head of state that is the King of the Proud, a Leviathan, or, more accurately, now a “mortal God”, a secularized God. Apparently, the problem of fear of the absolute future, the problem of the existence of a reward or punishment greater than those which the sovereign can bestow has been solved. However, there can still be a greater punishment than death, that is, in second death, beyond pain, one ends up being denied access to the eternal Kingdom of God, whose existence Hobbes, by the way, does not deny. The faithful receive “eternal life” in the everlasting peaceful commonwealth. So, the dilemma between obeying one’s own personal conviction of God’s commandments and the commands of the sovereign -when they are not the same- remains a problem for the unified, secularized form of “divine politics.” Hobbes completes the circle, however, by inferring from Scripture the only two requirements for salvation, once all the Church requirements have been abolished. First, the profession of faith: Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God, the Sovereign of the Kingdom of God to come, while God-father is the Sovereign over all of nature. Second, obedience to the law of the civil sovereign, who is the true interpreter of God’s commands and God’s law. This is crucial, as Leo Strauss states:

“Hobbes declares that unconditional obedience to the secular power is the bounden duty of every Christian, in so far as that power does not forbid belief in Jesus as Christ. But the crucial question: Is the Christian obliged to obey the secular power when that power forbids him the profession of his faith? is answered in the earlier presentation with the finding that the right and duty of the Christian in such a case is only passive resistance and martyrdom, while the Leviathan denies the obligation and even the right of martyrdom to the ordinary Christian who has not the special vocation of preaching the Gospel. According to De Cive it is a Christian dogma that Christ’s kingdom is not of earth but of heaven; in the Leviathan, on the other hand, the Kingdom of God under the Old and also under the New Covenant is to be understood as a purely earthly kingdom. According to the Elements, the first duty of the sovereign is to establish the religion they hold for best”; in De Cive the corresponding paragraph concludes with the words: “Difficultatem autem hanc in medio relinquemus”; in the Leviathan the whole matter is no longer even mentioned.”[103]

If a sin is commanded, the sovereign is the sinner, not the subject that obeys. But, in disobeying the law out of one’s own moral conscience gives personal opinion a role in the commonwealth. This is the main problem of the age:

“The sovereign’s absolute responsibility required and presupposed his absolute domination of all subjects. Only if all subjects were equally under the ruler’s thumb could he assume sole responsibility for peace and order. Thus, a deep breach was laid in the subject’s position. Previously they had their places in a manifold, if loose, structure of responsibilities: as members of a Church, as dependent vassals, in the framework of their own political institutions or of the feudal order of estates. But the more of the sense of this pluralistic world was reversed into senselessness of civil warfare, the more the subjects faced a similarly cogent alternative as that facing the King himself: “Know then that almost all men have been reduced to this point: to be on bad terms either with their conscience or with the course of the century”. [104]

To follow one’s conscience -what Hobbes calls “opinion”, as we have seen, can lead to division and war, that is, hell. As Koselleck points out: “The need to found a state transforms the moral alternative of good and evil into the political alternative of peace and war”.[105] That is, also, from a metaphysical dilemma to a historical and political one. Keeping in mind Taylor’s third definition of secularization, one final aspect of Hobbes’ theory is unveiled. What Taylor calls the “new conditions of belief” that subtitute plain enchanted faith, is, in Hobbes’s theory, split in two: on the one hand, condtitions to believe in Christ and to follow the public religion are, in fact, simple obedience to the absolute sovereign. On the other hand, a sphere remains where one can believe whatever he or she wants, that is, the private sphere of belief. One can follow his private religion, insofar as one professes the public faith in the public sphere. That is the new condition of belief. Outside the private domain, all religion becomes, in fact, secular, that is, in this case, political.


[1] Vintage Random House: London 2004. First published in Great Britain in 1958 by William Heinemann pp6.

[2] “And consequently it is a precept, or general rule, of reason that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantatges of war”. pp 80 ChXIV .4 “From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavour peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself”. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1994. XIV .5 p80 Hereafter all internal quotations from the Leviathan will be marked by an “L”, the chapter, the section number and the page of this edition.

[3] Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time whereing men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, no culture or the earth, no navigation, nor use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, ni knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. L. XIII .9 p76

[4]L. XIII .8 p76

[5] Hernández, José Maria. El retrato de un Dios Mortal, Estudio sobre la filosofía política de Thomas Hobbes. Anthropos Ed. Barcelona 2002. pp 11-22 (This introduction owes a great deal to Hernández’s book)

[6] Specially, Skinner Quentin, The foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol 1 The Renaissance. Cambridge University Press. New York, 1997. pp 3-48

[7] Strauss, Leo, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes. Its Basis and Its Genesis, The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1952, (first published in 1936 by The Clarendon Press, Oxford, England). Preface, p IX

[8] Skinner, Quentin, Reason and Rethoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK) 1996 pp 294-316

[9] Pettit, Philip, Made with Words, Princeton University Press, Princeton, Indiana, 2008. Especially in Ch.8 Commonwealth of Ordered Words.

[10] Hernández, Jose Maria, Op. Cit. p20 (I am translating and paraphrasing)

[11] Hernández, Jose Maria Op. Cit. p12 (I am translating and paraphrasing)

[12] It would take too long to challenge what I think is incomplete about this definition, and it would lead us too far from the purpose of this paper. Taylor’s definition is good enough for the purposes of this paper.

[13] Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachussets, 2007. p20

[14] Koseelleck, Reinhart. Critique and Crisis. Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. The MIT Press: Cambirdge, Massachussets 1988. Originally published as Kritik und krise. Eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt by. Verlag Karl Alber GmbH, Freiburg/Munich, West Germany 1959. p10

[15] Skinner, Quentin. Reason and…pp. 66-87

[16] L. IV .24 p22

[17] Strauss, Leo, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes. Its Basis and Its Genesis, The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 1952, (first published in 1936 by The Clarendon Press, Oxford, England).

pp 16

[18] This leads us to understand that when Hobbes writes about the “State of Nature” as an origin, he is not talking about a temporal origin as such, he is talking about an essential origin that can be seen at every time a political condition is analyzed.

[19] L. XX .1 .2 p127

[20] L. XI .4 p58

[21] L. XXVII .19 p196

[22] L. XXVII .25 p198

[23] Strauss, Leo, Op Cit. p22

[24] Schmitt Carl. The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes. Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol. Translated by George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein. University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1996. (Originally published in 1938 as Leviathan in der Staatslehre des Thomas Hobbes) p21

[25] L. II .8 p10

[26] L. XII .11 pp 66-67

[27] L. XII .11 pp 66-67

[28] L. XII .5 p64

[29] L. XII .6 p64

[30] L. XII .6 p64

[31] L. XII .12 p67

[32] L. XII .12 p67

[33] L. XII .12 p67

[34] L. XII .22 p71

[35] Koselleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. p24

[36] Koselleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. p18

[37] Strauss, Leo. Op. Cit. p74

[38] Koselleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. p17

[39] Schmitt, Carl. Op. Cit. p57

[40]For example: Squinner, Quentin. Hobbes and Republican Liberty. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK) 2008; Hernández, Jose Maria, Op. Cit.; Pettit, Philip. Op. Cit. Carl Schmitt states (Op. Cit.): “Although Hobbes defended the natural unity of spiritual and secular power, he opened the door for a contrast to emerge because of religious reservation regarding private belief and thus paved the way for new, more dangerous kinds and forms of indirect powers”. p83

[41] Koselleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. P 29-30 footnote 27. And also: “The Reformation and the subsequent split in religious authority had trhown man back to his conscience, and a conscience lacking outside support degenerates into the idol of self-reighteousness. No wonder this very conscience imbued the embattled parties with the courage and energy to keep fighting. Mere conscience which, as Hobbes put it, presumes to mount the throne is not a judge of good and evil; it is the source of evil itself. It was not just the will to power that kindled civil; those flames – and herein lies the crucial step Hobbes had taken- were fanned equally by appeals to a conscience without support. Instead of being causa pacis, the authority of conscience in its subjective plurality is a downright causa belli civilis”. p29

[42] L. XII .32 pp 72-73

[43] Strauss, Leo. Op. Cit. p72

[44] L. XXXI .1 pp 233-234

[45] L. XXXVIII .1 p301

[46] L. XXXII “Of the principles of Christian Politics” pp 245-250

[47] “I have derived the rights of sovereign power, and the duty of subjects, hitherto from the principles of nature only; such as experience has found true or consent (concerning the use of words) has made so; that is to say, from the nature of men, known to us by experience, and from definitions (of such words as are essential to all political reasoning) universally agreed on. But in that I am next to handle, which is the nature and rights of a CHRISTIAN COMMONWEALTH, whereof there dependeth much upon supernatural revelations of the will of God, the ground of my discourse must be, not only the natural word of God, but also the prophetical”.

L. XXXII .1 p245

[48] “Nevertheless, we are not to renounce our sense and experience, nor (that which is the undoubted word of God) our natural reason. For they are the talents which he hath put into our hands to negotiate till the coming again of our blessed Saviour; and therefore not to be folded up in napkind of an implicit faith, but employed in the purchase of justice, peace, and true religion. For though there be many things in God’s word above reason (…), yet there is nothing contrary to it; but when it seemeth so, the fault is either in our unskilful interpretation or erroneous ratiotination”.

L. XXXII .2 pp 245-256

[49] Note the difference between the “intellectual capacity” and the “will to obedience”, which refers to the difference between the internal and the external, action and conscience.

[50] L. XXXII .4 p246

[51] It is, as we have discussed, not enough to assert reason over scripture or faith. He is cognizant of the fact that he still needs to appeal to the authority of scripture. Reason is involved, however, in determining the right to the authority over the interpretation of scripture

[52] “Seing therefore miracles now cease, we have no sign left whereby to aknowledge the pretend revelations or inspirations of any private man, nor obligation to give ear to any doctrine farther that it is conformable to the Holy Scripturesm which since the time of our Saviour supply the place and sufficiently recompense the want of all prophecy, and from which, by use and learned interpretation and careful ratiocination, all rules and precepts necessary to the knowledge of our duty both to God and man, without enthusiasm, or supernatural inspiration, may easily be deduced”.

L. XXXII .9 p249

[53] L. XXXII .7 p248

[54] L. XXXIII “Of the Number, Antiquity, Scope, Authority and Interpreters of the Books of Holy Scripture” pp 250-261

[55] L. XXXIII .20 p258

[56] “How we know them to be the word of God?” is not the question because, “all true christians believe it”, and “there can be rendered no one general answer for them all. The question truly stated is: “By what authority they are made law? […] As far as they differ not from the laws of nature, there is no doubt but they are the law of God, and carry their authority with them, legible to all men that have the use of natural reason; but this is no other authority than that of all other moral doctrine consonant to reason, the dictates whereof are laws, not made but eternal” […] He, therefore, to whom God hath not supernaturally revealed that there are his, nor that those that published them were sent by him, is not obliged to obey them by any authority but his whose comands have already the force of laws”. L. XXXIII .21 p259

[57] “So that the question of the authority of the Scriptures is reduced to this: whether Christian kings and the sovereign assemblies in Chirstian commonwealths be absolute in their own territories, immediately under God, or subject to one vicar of Christ, constituted over the universal church, to be judged, condemned, deposed, and put to death, as he shall think expedient or necessary for the common good?” L. XXXIII .24 .25 pp 260-261

[58] L. XXXIII .1 p250

[59] L. XXIII .1 p250

What is problematic of this assertion is that Hobbes will deduce from the cannon chosen by the sovereing, the right of sovereign to an absolute power, and this is, obviously, a vicious circle.

[60] L. XXXIV .1 p261

[61] L. XXXIV “Of the Signification of Spirit, Angel, and Inspiration in the Books of Holy Scripture” pp 261-271

[62] L. XXXIV .1 p261

[63] L. XXXIV .3 p262

[64] L. XXXIV .14 p265

[65] L. XXXIV .23 p269

[66] L. XXXIV .23 p269

[67] L. XXXIV .25 p270

[68] L. XXXIV .25 p270

[69] L. XXXV “Of the Signification in Scripture of Kingdom of God, of Holy, Sacred and Sacrament”. pp 271-278

[70] Skinner Quentin, The foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol 1 The Renaissance. Cambridge University Press. New York, 1997. pp139-193

[71] Schmitt, Carl. Op. Cit. pp 10-11

[72] L. XXXV .1 p271

[73] L. XXXV .2 p272

[74] Hobbes offers in this chapter an interpretation of the history of Israel in the Old Testament, as a prove of his historical concept of the Kingdom of God, and to show the legitimacy of the sovereign as a unique power, beholding both the religious and the political side of it, even during the times of the real Kingdom of God. Laurence Berns has summarized it in an accurate way (I am summarizing and paraphrasing): Adam and all those living up to the flood and Noah and his family after the Flood were commanded by God directly through his voice. The first in Kingdom of God by covenant was Abraham with whom God made a contract, offering Abraham the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession in return for his obidience and the obidience of his posterity. Thus God was instituted as the civil sovereign of the Jews. God needed to speak only to Abraham, the father, lord, and civil sovereign of his family, for the wills of all his family and seed were involved in his will. As the family and seed of Abraham received the positive comands of God from their earthly sovereign, Abraham, so in every commonwealth those with no spuernatural revelation to the contrary ought to obey the laws of their own sovereign in all external acts and professions of religion. Every sovereign, as did Abraham, has the right to punish anyone who pretends to a private revelation in order to oppose the laws. As was Abraham in his family, so only the sovereign ina Christian Commonwealth can be the authoritative interpreter of the Word of God. God’s contract was renewed with Isaac and Jacob, but was suspended while the Jews were under the sovereign of egypt. (note that, God, his sovereing, wasn’t protecting them). The contract was renewed again by Moses at Mount Sinai. Since Moses could not inherit Abraham’s authority, his authority was grounded in the consent of the people and their promise to obey him. The kingdom, then, was a sacerdotal kingdom: Moses ruled as God’s high priest and viceregent on earth. After some generations of this covenant, by deposing Samuel, the high priest, the people deposed the peculiar kingdom of God and instituted a monarchy of the usual type. […] After the election of Saul, the priest’s office was ministerial with respect to the sovereign, not magisterial. […] In sum, the Kingdom of God is a civil kingdom that consists, first, in the obligation of the people of Israel to obey the law that Moses brought from Sinaí, and later on, the laws that the High Priest in office, brought from the querubines of the Sancta Sanctorum. This is a Kingdom that, interrupted by the rejection of God, and once elected Saul, was anounced by the prophets that it would be renewed by Christ. We pray every day for His return in the “Our Father”. Berns, Laurence. Thomas Hobbes in History of Political Philosophy edited by L.Strauss and J. Cropsey. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (USA) 1987.

[75] “When we say ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory’, it is to be understood of God’s Kingdom by force of our covenant, not by the right of God’s power, for such a kingdome God always hath, so that it were superfluous to say in our prayer, “thy kingdom come”. L. XXXV .11 p276

[76] Berns, Laurence. Op. Cit. p417

[77] Laurence Berns. Op. Cit. p418

[78] L. XXXV .19 p278

[79] L. XXXVII “Of Miracles, and their Use” pp 293-300

[80] L. XXXVII .6 p295

[81] L. XXXVII .13 p299

[82] L. XXXVII .13 p299

[83] L. XXXV .12 p276

[84] L. XXXVIII “Of Signification in Scripture of Eternal Life, Hell, Salvation, The world to Come, and Redemption”

pp 301-314

[85] L. XXXVIII .1 p301

[86] L. XXXVIII .1 p301

[87] L. XXXVIII .5 p305

[88] It is worth noting that there is a parallelism between the role that private opinion plays in destroying the peace of the commonwealth and the significance of the tree of Good and Evil in the myth of the fall. Adam’s exposure to the categories of Good and Evil mark the moment in which he develops a personal conscience.

[89] L. XXXVIII .4 p303

[90] L. XXXVIII .3 pp 302-303

[91] L. XXXVIII .4 p303

[92] L. XXXVIII .6 pp 305-306

[93] L. XXXVIII .11 p308

[94] L. XXXVIII .14 p309 (Italics are mine)

[95] L. XXXVIII .13 p308

[96] L. XXXVIII .14 pp 308-309

[97] L. XXXVIII .14 p309

[98] Strauss, Leo. Op.Cit pp 28-29

[99] L. XXXVIII .15 p310

[100] L. XXXVIII .15 p310

[101] L. XXXVIII .15 p310

[102] L. XXXVIII .16 p310

[103] Strauss, Leo. Op. Cit. p73

[104] D’Aubigné, Agrippe. La confession du Sieur de Sancy, ed. Réaume et Caussade, Paris, 1877, II, 369f

in Kosseleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. pp 18-19

[105] Kosseleck, Reinhardt. Op. Cit. p25


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