Jessenius’ contribution to social ethics in 17th century Central Europe

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Abstract

The aim of the article is to examine and evaluate the social ethics aspects of the pamphlet Pro vindiciis contra tyrannos oratio by the scholar and rector of Prague University Jan Jesenský - Jessenius (1566-1621); first published in Frankfurt in 1614 and for the second time in Prague in 1620 during the Czech Estate Revolt. Therefore, the broader intellectual context of the time is introduced, specifically the conflict between two theories of ruling power correlating with that between the ruler and the Estates after the ideas of the Protestant reformation started to spread. The first theory supported the idea of a sovereign ruler whose authority would stand above the estates to be able to keep the kingdom under control. On the contrary, the so-called resistance theory strived to limit the monarch’s power and to justify a possible intervention against a malevolent ruler - the tyrant. I intend to show that Jessenius´ social ethics which refers to the latter resistance theory was of a premodern nature since its conception of State and its reign remained in a denominationally limited framework. Nevertheless; Jessenius’ polemics with the supporters of ruling sovereignty, which seem to be his original contribution, makes his writing a unique political work in Central Europe. Moreover, the second edition of Jessenius’ text (1620, Prague), which for a long time had disappeared from public view, can rightly be considered a remarkable projection of resistance theory toward actual political struggle at the very beginning of the Thirty Years War.

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