PUFENDORF, SAMUEL (1632-1694), German jurist, was born at Chemnitz, Saxony, on the 8th of January 1632. His father was a Lutheran pastor, and he himself was destined for the ministry. Educated at Grimma, he was sent to study theology at the university of Leipzig. Its narrow and dogmatic teaching was profoundly repugnant to him, and he soon abandoned it for the study of public law. He went so far as to quit Leipzig altogether, and betook himself to Jena, where he formed an intimate friendship with Erhard Weigel the mathematician, whose influence helped to develop his remarkable independence of character. Pufendorf quitted Jena in 1637 and became a tutor in the family of Petrus Julius Coyet, one of the resident ministers of Charles Gustavus, king of Sweden, at Copenhagen. At this time Charles Gustavus was endeavouring to impose upon Dennark a burdensome alliance, and in the middle of the negotiations he brutally opened hostilities. The anger of the Danes was turned against the envoys of the Swedish sovereign; Coyet, it is true, succeeded in escaping, but the second minister, Steno Bjelke, and the whole suite were arrested and thrown into prison. Pufendorf shared this misfortune, and was subjected strict captivity of eight months' duration. He occupied himself during this time in meditating upon what he had read in the works of Grotius and Hobbes. He mentally constructed a system of universal law; and, when, at the end of his captivity, he accompanied his pupils, the sons of Coyet, to the university of Leiden, he was enabled to publish, in 1661, the fruits of his reflections under the title of Elementa jurisprudentiae universalis, libri duo. The work was dedicated to Charles Louis, elector palatine, who created for Pufendorf at Heidelberg a new chair, that of the law of nature and nations, the first of the kind in the world. In 1667 he wrote, with the assent of the elector palatine, a tract, De statu imperii germanici, liber unus. Published under the cover of a pseudonym at Geneva in 1667, it was supposed to be addressed by a gentleman of Verona, Severinus de Monzambano, to his brother Laelius. The pamphlet made a great sensation. Its author directly arraigned the organization of the Holy Roman Empire and exposed its feebleness, denounced in no measured terms the faults of the house of Austria, and attacked with remarkable vigour the politics of the ecclesiastical princes. Before Pufendorf, Philipp Bogislaw von Chemnitz, publicist and soldier, had written, under the pseudonym of “Hippolytus a Lapide,” De ratione status in imperio nostro romano-germanico. Inimical, like Pufendorf, to the house of Austria, Chemnitz had gone so far as to make an appeal to France and Sweden. Pufendorf, on the contrary, rejected all idea of foreign intervention, and advocated that of national initiative. In 1670 Pufendorf was called to the university of Lund. His sojourn there was fruitful. In 1672 appeared the De jure naturae et gentium, libri octo, and in 1675 a résumé of it under the title of De officio hominis et civis.
In the De jure naturae et gentium Pufendorf took up in great measure the theories of Grotius and sought to complete them by means of the doctrines of Hobbes and of his own ideas. His first important point was that natural law does not extend beyond the limits of this life and that it confines itself to regulating external acts. He combated Hobbes's conception of the state of nature and concluded that the state of nature is not one of war but of peace. But this peace is feeble and insecure, and if something does not come to its aid it can do very little for the preservation of mankind. As regards public law Pufendorf, while recognizing in the state (civitas) a moral person (persona moralis), teaches that the will of the state is but the sum of the individual wills that constitute it, and that this association explains the state. In this a priori conception, in which he scarcely gives proof of historical insight, he shows himself as one of the precursors of J. J. Rousseau and of the Contrat social. Pufendorf powerfully defends the idea that international law is not restricted to Christendom, but constitutes a common bond between all nations because all nations form part of humanity.
In 1677 Pufendorf was called to Stockholm as historiographer-royal. To this new period belong Einleitung zur Historie der vornehmsten Reiche und Staaten, also the Commentarium de rebus suecicis, libri XXVI., ab expeditione Gustavi Adolphi regis in Germanium ad abdicationem usque Christinae and De rebus a Carolo Gustavo gestis. In his historical works Pufendorf is hopelessly dry; but he professes a great respect for truth and generally draws from archives. In his De habitu religionis christianae ad vitam civilem he traces the limits between ecclesiastical and civil power. This work propounded for the first time the so-called “collegial” theory of church government (Kollegialsystem), which, developed later by the learned Lutheran theologian Christoph Mathäus Pfaff (1686-1760), formed the basis of the relations of church and state in Germany and more especially in Prussia.
This theory makes a fundamental distinction between the supreme jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters (Kirchenhoheit or jus circa sacra), which it conceives as inherent in the power of the state in respect of every religious communion, and the ecclesiastical power (Kirchengewalt or jus in sacra) inherent in the church, but in some cases vested in the state by tacit or expressed consent of the ecclesiastical body. The theory was of importance because, by distinguishing church from state while preserving the essential supremacy of the latter, it prepared the way for the principle of toleration. It was put into practice to a certain extent in Prussia in the 18th century; but it was not till the political changes of the 19th century led to a great mixture of confessions under the various state governments that it found universal acceptance in Germany. The theory, of course, has found no acceptance in the Roman Catholic Church, but it none the less made it possible for the Protestant governments to make a working compromise with Rome in respect of the Catholic Church established in their states.
In 1688 Pufendorf was called to the service of Frederick William, elector of Brandenburg. He accepted the call, but he had no sooner arrived than the elector died. His son Frederick III. fulfilled the promises of his father; and Pufendorf, historiographer and privy councillor, was instructed to write a history of the Elector Frederick William (De rebus gestis Frederici Wilhelmi Magni). The king of Sweden did not on this account cease to testify his goodwill towards Pufendorf, and in 1694 he created him a baron. In the same year, on the 26th of October, Pufendorf died at Berlin and was buried in the church of St Nicholas, where an inscription to his memory is still to be seen.
Pufendorf was at once philosopher, lawyer, economist, historian and statesman. His influence was considerable, and he has left a profound impression on thought, and not on that of Germany alone. But the value of his work was much under-estimated by posterity. Much of the responsibility for this injustice rested with Leibnitz, who would never recognize the incontestable greatness of one who was constantly his adversary, and whom he dismissed as “vir parum jurisconsultus et minime philosophus.” It was on the subject of the pamphlet of Severinus de Monzambano that their quarrel began. The conservative and timid Leibnitz was beaten on the battlefield of politics and public law, and the aggressive spirit of Pufendorf aggravated yet more the dispute, and so widened the division. From that time the two writers could never meet on a common subject without attacking each other.
See H. von Treitschke, “Samuel von Pufendorf,” Preussische Jahrbücher (1875), xxxv. 614, and xxxvi. 61; Bluntschli, Deutsches Staats-Wörterbuch, viii. 424, and Geschichte des allgemeinen Staatsrechts und der Politik, p. 108; Lorimer, The Institutes of the Law of Nations, i. 74; Droysen, “Zur Kritik Pufendorfs,” in his Abhandlungen zur neueren Geschichte; Roscher, Geschichte der National-Oekonomik in Deutschland, p. 304; Franklin, Das deutsche Reich nach Severinus von Monzambano.