Erastianism

The doctrine that the state has the right to intervene and overrule in church affairs; it takes its name from Thomas Erastus. Born in 1524 in Switzerland, Erastus studied theology at Basle and then medicine and philosophy at Bologna and Padua. In 1558 he became physician to the elector Palatine and professor of medicine at Heidelberg. In the city there was a strong Calvinist party led by Kaspar Olevianus* which wanted to introduce the Presbyterian polity and discipline in the church. Erastus, a Zwinglian in theology, opposed this and eventually had to leave the city. Six years after Erastus's death, G. Castelvetro, who married Erastus's widow, published a work found among his papers and entitled, Explicatio gravissimae quaestionis utrum excommunicatio (1589). In this Erastus argued against excommunication being practiced by the church and for the rights of the state in ecclesiastical matters. An English translation appeared in 1659 as The Nullity of Church Censures. Its teaching was far from new in England. Richard Hooker* had given supremacy to the secular power in his Ecclesiastical Polity (1594), and there were both in the Long Parliament and in the Westminster Assembly of Divines those (e.g., Selden, Lightfoot, Coleman) who claimed the right of the civil magistrate to control to a large extent the administrative and disciplinary machinery of the church. The Church of England is sometimes described as Erastian in that bishops are appointed by the Crown and major liturgical changes must have the agreement of Parliament.