Jus circa sacra: Elements of theological politics in 17th Century Philosophy: From Hobbes and Spinoza to Leibniz

Mogens Laerke

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The theologico-political reflection in 17th Century rationalism was marked by a long experience of unresoluble religious division and by the dissociation of speculative theology and natural philosophy caused by the advance of the natural sciences. One of the main theological problems discussed in philosophy was that of the judge of controversies, i.e. the problem of the interpretative authority in religion closely linked to the key question concerning the political right over holy matters or jus circa sacra. Taking departure in these general determinations, and after a short historiographical review of the relations between Hobbes, Spinoza and Leibniz, the article outlines the theologico-political theories of Hobbes and Spinoza on jus circa sacra, and discusses how these are reflected and criticised in Leibniz's more moderate and traditional theory. Through expositions of their fundamentally different conceptions of divine nature and law, the article compares how these give rise to three different systems for formulating the relations of authority between Church, State and individual. The article concentrates in particular on showing how Leibniz proposes an alternative to Hobbes's absolutist position and Spinoza's defence of religious liberty that can be understood as a complex balance of authorities based upon a juridical logic of presumptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-64
Number of pages25
JournalDistinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • divine law
  • Hobbes
  • Leibniz
  • natural light
  • politics
  • rationalism
  • Spinoza
  • theology


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