Jurisdiction Regal, Episcopal, Papal
By George Carleton, published 1610
Edited by Dr. Andre Gazal
Davenant Press, 2021
Summary by Dr. Andre Gazal
The foiled Gunpowder Plot against King James I of England and Parliament on November 5, 1605 touched off a firestorm of controversy regarding the relationship between ecclesiastical and temporal authority throughout Europe. It called attention to the question of papal influence on Catholics living in Protestant countries. As exemplified by Pope Pius V’s bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I (1570), Catholics not only had a responsibility to disobey their Protestant rulers, but actively rebel against, and overthrow them. The Gunpowder Plot illustrated vividly this doctrine advanced by Counter-Reformation popes. In 1606, a year after the Gunpowder Plot, all of James’ subjects were required to swear to the Oath of Allegiance. Officially proclaimed on June 22, 1606, the oath contained seven affirmations directed specifically against the papal claims to depose rulers. At the same time, the Oath confirmed the king’s spiritual authority in the kingdom. Numerous treatises were published defending the king’s ecclesiastical authority while refuting the pope’s claims to power over monarchs. One of the most important of these was George Carleton’s Jurisdiction Regal, Episcopal, Papal.
Published in 1610 at the height of the Oath of Allegiance controversy, Carleton’s main argument is that the pope’s claim to coercive power, from which stems his authority to depose the civil magistrate, is illegitimate. In substantiating his thesis, Carleton distinguishes the types of power lawfully possessed by kings and bishops while incisively critiquing the pope’s assertions. On biblical and historical grounds, Carleton contends that external, coercive power did not exist in the Church during the period in which there were no Christian magistrates. Rather, the Church only possessed spiritual jurisdiction, which did not in any way lead to coercive authority. Even the Church’s corrective power of excommunication, Carleton maintains was not coercive. Such authority, by divine appointment, has been and always will be the sole property of princes.
Taking Scripture as his point of departure, Carleton proceeds with an analysis of patristic writings and early church councils. Moreover, he engages extensively with the arguments of prominent Catholic apologists for papal coercive jurisdiction. However, Carleton’s significant contribution is his thorough examination of the development of papal coercive jurisdiction over magistrates during the Middle Ages. The historical narrative that Carleton constructs in this treatise provides detailed interaction with sources by the emperors, kings, popes, theologians, and canonists who played pivotal roles in defining various types jurisdiction amid papal attempts to assert coercive power over temporal rulers. Furthermore, Carleton makes his formal refutation of papal coercive jurisdiction, appealing to late medieval conciliarists as well as the reform councils of the period (1378-1415).