Leviathan

by: Thomas Hobbes

Book III

Summary Book III

The same is true for miracles or the word of God delivered prophetically. Hobbes writes that most supposed miracles can be explained by natural causes, which, once known, diminish the wonder of the miracle. But people are easily deceived by false miracles and easily swayed by the interpretations of others. The only real miracles are those coordinated by God to make evident the mission of some minister of His will, but the miracle is caused by God and not by the abilities or faculties of the minister. Accordingly, saints, priests, and prophets who claim special access to divine power must not be worshipped because they are only conduits of God's will.

The concepts of Hell, damnation, and devils have also been used to sway the beliefs of the ignorant and make them turn from their lawful sovereign. These beliefs relating to eternal punishments or tortures for sins committed in this world have been employed as tools by ecclesiastical authorities to affect the actions of individuals. But Hobbes reads scripture and argues from the philosophy of materialism that these concepts are impossible and can be used only metaphorically. A corporeal human body cannot be tortured in an incorporeal place, and incorporeal devils cannot exist, so the threat of eternal tortures and damnation is neither logical nor supported by scripture. In contrast, salvation is the resurrection of the body after the arrival of the kingdom of God on earth; thus it is not inconsistent with a material understanding of the current world.

Hobbes argues that Christian scripture and natural law support his determination that the sovereign be head of religion. If ecclesiastical authority is not subordinate to the sovereign, people will be taught contrary doctrines, and civil war will result. In the case of two contrary doctrines, both cannot be true; rather, one or both must be false. Peace is protected by the sovereign's power to determine which, if either, is true. But what if the sovereign chooses the doctrine that is false in the eyes of God? Hobbes argues that the only necessary doctrine is that Christians must have faith that Jesus is the Savior. Also, the laws of nature must be obeyed, because they are evident as the natural word of God. All other doctrines are interpretations written by humans and so cannot be declared the true word of God; accordingly, the sovereign, if a Christian, cannot command a doctrine that forces a subject to believe something contrary to the word of God.

But what if the sovereign is not a Christian? Hobbes argues that faith can never be commanded and that a subject whose sovereign commands him not to believe in Jesus as the Savior can never be forced to obey that sovereign. The subject may be required to speak this un-Christian belief publicly, but real, inner faith is impossible to command. If the subject is punished by death, then his or her martyrdom is only further proof to God of their faith. So even in the case where the sovereign makes a command that is obviously contrary to the word of God, a Christian subject is never in danger of disobeying God.

To ensure peace, a subject must obey his sovereign in all things, and Hobbes shows that obedience to the Single Master of the sovereign always provides security in this life and the next. There should never be two heads of a Leviathan, and the sovereign should always be the foundation of religious doctrine; churches, popes, and pastors should always be subordinate to the sovereign. Having determined--by natural reason and scriptural exegesis--which elements of religion are true and which are superstitious or false, Hobbes demonstrates that his program for the creation of the perfect commonwealth accords entirely with the necessary articles of Christianity.

Commentary

Hobbes has argued that, because of the material plenum of the universe, there can be no spiritual presence of God in this world. While evidence of God may be found through reason and the miracles or prophetical words He sends, God is not within this world, but can only be outside of it. The kingdom of God can therefore only exist at the end of the world, but must be thought of as if located in the world in order for human bodies to be subjects of this kingdom. Hobbes cites the words attributed in scripture to Jesus to show that Christ will not rule as king until the world ends. Thus the belief in two masters in this world--one civil and one divine--is not only contrary to peace but is also contrary to logical and religious truth.