Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Chapter xxxix

Of the Signification in Scripture of the Word Church

THE WORD Church (ecclesia) signifieth in the books of Holy Scripture diverse things. Sometimes, though not often, it is taken for God's house, that is to say, for a temple wherein Christians assemble to perform holy duties publicly; as, "Let your women keep silence in the churches":1 but this is metaphorically put for the congregation there assembled, and hath been since used for the edifice itself to distinguish between the temples of Christians and idolaters. The Temple of Jerusalem was God's house, and the house of prayer; and so is any edifice dedicated by Christians to the worship of Christ, Christ's house: and therefore the Greek Fathers call it Kuriake, the Lord's house; and thence in our language it came to be called kirk, and church.

Church, when not taken for a house, signifieth the same that ecclesia signified in the Grecian Commonwealths; that is to say, a congregation, or an assembly of citizens, called forth to hear the magistrate speak unto them; and which in the Commonwealth of Rome was called concio, as he that spake was called ecclesiastes, and concionator. And when they were called forth by lawful authority, it was ecclesia legitima, a lawful Church, ennomos Ekklesia.2 But when they were excited by tumultuous and seditious clamour, then it was a confused Church, Ekklesia sugkechumene.

It is taken also sometimes for the men that have right to be of the congregation, though not actually assembled; that is to say, for the whole multitude of Christian men, how far soever they be dispersed: as where it is said that "Saul made havoc of the church":3 and in this sense is Christ said to be Head of the Church. And sometimes for a certain part of Christians; as, "Salute the Church that is in his house."4 Sometimes also for the elect only; as, "A glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish";5 which is meant of the Church triumphant, or Church to come. Sometimes, for a congregation assembled of professors of professors of Christianity, whether their profession be true or counterfeit, as it is understood where it is said, "Tell it to the Church, and if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be to thee as a Gentile, or publican."6

And in this last sense only it is that the Church can be taken for one person; that is to say, that it can be said to have power to will, to pronounce, to command, to be obeyed, to make laws, or to do any other action whatsoever; for without authority from a lawful congregation, whatsoever act be done in a concourse of people, it is the particular act of every one of those that were present, and gave their aid to the performance of it; and not the act of them all in gross, as of one body; much less the act of them that were absent, or that, being present, were not willing it should be done. According to this sense, I define a Church to be: a company of men professing Christian religion, united in the person of one sovereign; at whose command they ought to assemble, and without whose authority they ought not to assemble. And because in all Commonwealths that assembly which is without warrant from the civil sovereign is unlawful; that Church also which is assembled in any Commonwealth that hath forbidden them to assemble is an unlawful assembly.

It followeth also that there is on earth no such universal Church as all Christians are bound to obey, because there is no power on earth to which all other Commonwealths are subject. There are Christians in the dominions of several princes and states, but every one of them is subject to that Commonwealth whereof he is himself a member, and consequently cannot be subject to the commands of any other person. And therefore a Church, such a one as is capable to command, to judge, absolve, condemn, or do any other act, is the same thing with a civil Commonwealth consisting of Christian men; and is called a civil state, for that the subjects of it are men; and a Church, for that the subjects thereof are Christians. Temporal and spiritual government are but two words brought into the world to make men see double and mistake their lawful sovereign. It is true that the bodies of the faithful, after the resurrection, shall be not only spiritual, but eternal; but in this life they are gross and corruptible. There is therefore no other government in this life, neither of state nor religion, but temporal; nor teaching of any doctrine lawful to any subject which the governor both of the state and of the religion forbiddeth to be taught. And that governor must be one; or else there must needs follow faction and civil war in the Commonwealth between the Church and State; between spiritualists and temporalists; between the sword of justice and the shield of faith; and, which is more, in every Christian man's own breast between the Christian and the man. The doctors of the Church are called pastors; so also are civil sovereigns: but if pastors be not subordinate one to another, so as that there may be one chief pastor, men will be taught contrary doctrines, whereof both may be, and one must be, false. Who that one chief pastor is, according to the law of nature, hath been already shown; namely, that it is the civil sovereign: and to whom the Scripture hath assigned that office, we shall see in the chapters following.

1 I Corinthians, 14. 34

2 Acts, 19. 39

3 Acts, 8. 3

4 Colossians, 4. 15

5 Ephesians, 5. 27

6 Matthew, 18. 17


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