n Journal for Christian Scholarship = Tydskrif vir Christelike Wetenskap - Die Reformatoriese herinterpretasie van die ephorale ampsidee as sinkretiese konstitusionele instelling in die antieke Spartaanse politieke lewe - research

Volume 55 Number 3-4
  • ISSN : 1013-1116


The Reformational re-interpretation of the idea of ephoral office as a syncretic political institution in ancient Spartan constitutional thought

Authors on the contribution of the Reformational political thought to the Western democratic political tradition tend to consider the references by Reformers to the ephoral office of ancient Sparta solely within the paradigm of resistance to tyrannical rulers. Such views focus mostly on John Calvin’s insistance that it was not without good reason that ephors were set up in Sparta to check the power of kings and that tribunes were established in opposition to the consuls at Rome. R.H. Murray, for example, regards the resistance of the Huguenots in particular as political action emanating from the oppression of Protestants in France and their appeal to Protestant authors who cited the examples of the ephoral office in order to protect the religious convictions of the subjects against tyrannical rulers. It is argued that the appeals of Reformational writers to the Spartan ephori extended beyond the sole justification of resistance to tyranny. Such appeals were made for diverse purposes, viz. to illustrate the limitations of monarchical office; to emphasise the principle of public governance subject to law; to campaign for the protection of civil liberties, and to ensure the protection of the political liberties for participating in public life within the context of rulership subject to law. The Reformational reliance on the idea of ephoral office was to an important extent an elaboration of the late medieval scholastic tradition of constitutionalism and republican liberty. The leading medieval view of the people (conceived of as an universitas and not merely the sum of individuals) fostered the notion of the sovereignty of the people and conceding to the monarch as the “ruling part” representing the mind of the people. The references to the ephoral office represent the culminating point of a need for a complex constitutional framework reflective of the reliance on various principles contained in the idea of ephoral office: the right to elect rulers, the recognition of limitations allowing minimal discretion in administering the law and a complex network of checks of magistrates and other political institutions.

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