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Jean Bodin

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Born at Angers, 1520, probably of Jewish origin: died at Laon, 1596. He studied and taught law at Toulouse, where in 1559 he pronounced his "Oratio de instituenda in republica juventute", on the public instruction of youth. At the age of forty he went to Paris, his name being still obscure. By his "Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem" (1566) he laid the foundation of the philosophy of history, and set forth his theory of the effect of climate on society and government, likewise his theory of progress, both of which were later expanded in "La Republque". In his "Réponse aux paradoxes de M. de Malestroit, touchant le fait des monnaies et l'encherissement de toutes choses" (1568), he developed his thesis on the necessity of free trade. The "République" in six books (French, 1577; Latin, 1586) was written to defend the principle of authority and to describe the ideal commonwealth. Bodin represents a reaction against Machiavelli in the field of moral and political science. Unlike Cujas and the "Romanist" jurisconsults, who confined themselves to the observation of Greek and Roman antiquity, he drew upon the modern history of Germany, England, Spain, and Italy. His theory of the influence of climates foreshadows that of Montesquieu. Bodin collects carefully numerous small facts, definite and concrete information; daily experience and the observation of current events are the sources of his almost "scientific" researches concerning the laws of political life. It is somewhat surprising to note that as early as 1580 this thoughtful writer wrote a work (La Démonomanie des Sorciers) to demonstrate the existence of sorcerers and the legality of their condemnation, on the basis of "experience" and respect for res judicatae or the reliability of the courts. This belief in witchcraft rests on the same arguments as his theory of civil government.

In 1576 this somewhat puzzling man was chosen a deputy of the Third Estate (tiers état) to the States-General of Blois where he championed the cause of the Reformers, thereby incurring the royal displeasure. Fourteen years later (1590) as Attorney-General at Laon, he sided with the "Ligue", persuaded the citizens to do likewise, and finally went over to Henry IV. This superstitious believer in sorcery left in manuscript a work known as "Colloquium Heptaplomeres" which propounds a certain rationalistic spiritualism. Though a civil magistrate and a partisan of the Ligue, his writings exhibit him as one of the earliest advocates of the theory of religious toleration. Brunetière assigns Bodin a place in French literature beside Henri Estienne and Amyot; at a time when men looked to antiquity for guidance only in the domain of good taste, all three showed that from the same source could be drawn lessons in history, politics, and morality

Though Bodin never abandoned the Catholic religion, and was buried in the Franciscan Church at Laon, his writings often betray an un-Catholic temper, when they are not more or less openly hostile to the existing ecclesiastical order. In religion he inclines to an abstract theism. In keeping with the Gallican legists of France he champions the absolute supremacy of the State, though he bases it on the Divine will and the natural law; his ideal prince is not an impious and unjust ruler of the Machiavelli type. All the works of Bodin were placed on the Index in 1628; the edition of 1900 continues the prohibition of his "Universae naturae theatrum". Catholic theologians' like Possevin have noted and refuted in the "République" certain errors and anti-Christian subtleties. "To judge by his writings," says Toussaint (Dict. de théol. cath., II, 918), "he was a bizarre, inconstant, and superficial" man.


BAUDRILLART, Jean Bodin et son temps (Paris), 1853); FRANCK, Reformateurs et publicistes de l'Europe (Paris, 1864); JANET, Histoire de la science politique (Paris, 1887); BRUNETIERE, Trois artisans de l'ideal classique in Revue des deux mondes (1 March, 1907); GRAMICH-WEINARD in Staatslexikon) 2d ed., Freiburg, 1901), I, 946-952.

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1907). Jean Bodin. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Jean Bodin." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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