Machiavelli lived during the Renaissance era of the Medieval times. In this time period many concepts and ideas were being reborn, including the Christian faith. He lived during a time period in which the people of the time thought of the Black Plague as a symptom of judgment upon the sinfulness of the land. These same people began to scourge themselves in order to express their sorrow and therefore remove God’s judgment laid upon them. Although Machiavelli lived long after the fall of the Roman Empire, he lived in an Italy that had evolved into a war-torn battleground between the city state dynasties. There were conflicts between the French and Spanish for the control of land. Machiavelli lived in a time of growing political powers and a Christian community that was adapting and changing according to the claims of the Reformers. Machiavelli had a goal: he sought to create a dichotomy between ethical Christianity and the Ethical demands of political rule.
The 15th and 16th century world focused on theologically reforming the Church. Many reformers of the time and before Machiavelli’s life, including the 14th century reformer John Wycliffe, wrote on how the papacy of the Church had grown far too powerful. During Machiavelli’s life St. Francis was teaching the commoners about Jesus, and the commoners began relating to Christ. The Church was not only effected by the reformers and the teachings of St. Francis, but it was also effected by itself; it was hurting itself. The church fought against the reformers, condemning them as heretics; the church was threatened by the words of reform. Machiavelli lived among the Christians and like many of the reformers he was seeking a reform between the Church and the State. Essentially, Machiavelli writes to prove that being a moral ruler and a person are two separate ideas, in the case of extreme circumstances and, like Luther, there are two kingdoms independent of each other.
Machiavelli probably would’ve been considered a think tank of his time and he believed that a ruler, or anyone may publicly state that they are Christians yet exhibit no real conviction. In the eleventh chapter of The Prince Machiavelli argued that Ecclesiastical principalities were to be desired because the people who inhabited them were governed by their own religious laws. Machiavelli viewed these laws as tools, tools to prevent unruly citizens within the principalities rather than to enforce outside rules. Machiavelli idealizes an idea completely different from the church, that politics is something that deals with facts and not abstracts, that it is a challenge to the notion of both Pope Gregory VII and Pope Innocent III’s “Divine Right to rule.”3 Machiavelli realized that the divine right to rule theory is nothing but a religious idea that does not work with the present state of man. Machiavelli also understood that human corruption and sin is an unending problem that rulers need to deal with.
Machiavelli continues by suggesting that being a moral leader does not mean that one is a good leader as good leadership leads to order, stability, and public good. He claimed that when order, stability, and public good are threatened a ruler cannot risk limiting their actions by piety or virtue. Machiavelli believed that morals stood in the way of success, that rulers need to learn how to not be good, and be willing to kill. While the religious leaders saw Machiavelli as non-Christian and destructive, Machiavelli states that leaders need to administer necessary evils in efforts to maintain order and stability within their rule, that humans can be predicted through reason. The Church saw his political agenda as lacking in Christian ethics; however, his political reform lines up with Christian thinkers and with Christian ethics of generosity, compassion, and even the golden rule as we see in Saint Augustine’s and St. Benedict’s writings.
An initial consideration of Machiavelli’s thoughts on generosity, we notice that he believes it is good to be considered a generous person, but that it is dangerous to do so. Although sounding contradictory to Christianity, Machiavelli’s reasoning lies in the Christian idea of doing the most good for as many people as possible. Machiavelli argues that being generous requires that the ruler imposes new ways of revenue collection and therefore make his subjects hate him and lead to a guarantee that no one will think well of him.1 Machiavelli makes a similar case for compassion, in that it is better to be seen as cruel then it is to be viewed as loving, if necessary. He asserts that as the head of an army a ruler needs to “be prepared to be thought cruel.” The same Christian idea can be used to explain his argument as before.
In the words of Star Trek’s Spock, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Machiavelli states that its more compassionate to impose harshness on a few rather than make use of compassion and risk chaos to take place.2 If we look back to St. Augustine’s The City of God 4 we learn that rulers and people are dominated by their own selfish lust for power, whereas in the City of God, which Luther also makes notions of in his Doctrine of The Two Kingdoms, people serve one another in charity.
Under this assumption we see that men do not serve out of charity, but rather serve in a situation of ‘do unto others as you would have done to yourself.’ Perhaps Machiavelli agreed with this view of Christianity. Machiavelli’s ruler never commits an act that they would not have done to themselves. I think the Machiavellian ruler loves their neighbor as much as themselves. Machiavelli sees the political field as a place for necessary evil. He believes, out of love, that some evil must take place in order to benefit the most people.
Machiavelli saw the world he lived in as a two kingdom place, like Luther and St. Augustine did. He viewed human history for what it was, not what it could be; he saw people as evil and sick. Machiavelli’s picture of human history took into account the human equation, that we are sinful and therefore predictable, which he believes will lead to a better understanding of the future.