A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Friday, January 08, 2010

Religious Freedom: Disputed Questions (Part IV)


Temporal and Spiritual

This segment will focus on the nature and relation between the temporal and spiritual powers in connection with the religious freedom debate.  We will also take a more detailed look at Bishop Ketteler’s teaching in response to certain criticisms raised by Mr. Ferrara in The Remnant (Cf. Part I in the edition of September 30, 2009).  Specifically, Mr. Ferrara criticizes Bishop Ketteler for having a defective conception of the distinction and relationship between the temporal and spiritual powers.  According to Ferrara, Ketteler would “compartmentalize” the temporal power to the extent that it becomes completely indifferent in religious matters and totally aloof with regard to its obligations towards religious truth and the Church.  According to Ferrara, the Bishop of Mainz advocates a brand of “separation” that excludes any kind of mutual support or harmonious and reciprocal cooperation between the two distinct powers (e.g., as compared to the orderly union that exists between the body and soul – each performing its distinct functions according to its nature and competence in view of the welfare of the whole person).  The Church, however, insists upon the distinction of powers in order to assert her rightful autonomy and to keep absolutist rulers (often times these are rulers with the best of intentions) in check or from arrogating to themselves an authority that does not properly belong to them according to the nature and scope of the temporal office.  Yet this distinction of competencies and jurisdiction does not involve a “separation” that excludes their necessary mutual cooperation in view of the temporal and spiritual welfare of their common subjects.  Perhaps the best way to clarify the matter is to present Bishop Ketteler in his own words.  Before doing so, however, it would be appropriate to briefly survey some key aspects regarding the distinction of powers and their orderly connection.

The “Separation” of Powers

The principle of the “separation” of powers was first alluded to by Our Lord in His distinction between the things that belong to Ceaser and those that belong to God (Matthew 22:21).  Cardinal Ratzinger, in contrasting Eastern and Western traditions, quotes Pope Gelasius I who explains why Christ had not consolidated and delegated all authority, both spiritual and temporal, to a single human power.

"In Byzantium, the empire and the Church were virtually identified with each other, and the emperor was also the head of the Church. He understood himself as the vicar of Christ and bore the official title "king and priest" from the sixth century onward, following the example of Melchizedek, who was both king and priest (Gen, 14:18). After Constantine left Rome and the emperors no longer resided in the earlier imperial capital, it was possible for the autonomous position of the bishop of Rome as successor of Peter and head of the Church to develop there, and the doctrine of the dual authority was taught in Rome from the beginning of the Constantinian epoch. The emperor and the pope each had an authority of his own, and neither of them possessed the totality of power. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) formulated the Western view in his famous letter to Emperor Anastasius, and even more clearly in his fourth treatise, in which he responds to the Byzantine use of the typology of Melchizedek by emphasizing that it is only in Christ that the two authorities are united: 'It is Christ himself, because of human weakness (superbia!), who separated the two offices for the subsequent ages, so that no one might exalt himself' (chap. 11). The Christian emperors require the priests (pontifices) for things pertaining to eternal life. In turn, the priests adhere to the ordinances promulgated by the emperor for the temporal course of affairs. In secular matters the priests must follow the laws of the emperor, who is installed in office by God's decree, but in divine matters the emperor must submit to the priests. This introduced a separation and distinction of powers that was to be immensely important for the subsequent development of Europe, laying the foundation of that which is typically Western. Since such demarcations did not suppress the desire on both sides to possess the totality of power or the yearning to subordinate the other side to its own authority, this principle of separation was also the source of unending suffering." (Cf. Cardinal Ratzinger, Address to the Italian Senate in Rome, May, 2004)

The “separation” of powers in this sense is intended to provide a kind of “balance of power” in such a way that promotes and preserves the principle of the “rule of law” while providing an effective check against tyranny (Cf. CCC, 1904; ST. i-ii, 90, 1).  Father Vermeersch articulates this principle as follows:

“Everywhere and always we insist on the distinction between the domain of religion and the domain of civil authority.  We maintain that above each of these there is an independent and sovereign authority, in order by this very distinction and this balance of power to set up a bulwark against tyranny and provide a refuge for liberty.” (Vermeersch, Tolerance, Benziger, 1913, p. 256)

The Scope of each Power and their Orderly Connection

The respective scope of authority for the spiritual and temporal powers was clearly articulated by Pope Leo XIII in the following terms:

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. (Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei)

What exactly does this mean?  Basically, we are to understand from this that Church and State are each “perfect” societies that are ontologically distinct (i.e., separate in a metaphysical sense).  At the same time, however, the Church and the State are intended by God to complement each other in view of man’s supernatural and temporal welfare (i.e., united in a moral sense).  Pope Pius XII gives further explanation of this teaching:

This last difference between the two societies, based upon their respective ends, undoubtedly excludes that violent subjection of the Church to the State…But it does not exclude every kind of union between the two societies…Such a view would…leave out of consideration the fact that the Church and the State both have their origin in God and that both are concerned with the same subject – human beings…All this could not and did not escape the attention of Pope Leo XIII when, in his encyclical Immortale Dei…he defined clearly the limits of the two societies in terms of their ends, observing that the proximate and special end of the State is to care for man’s earthly prosperity, while that of the Church is to procure their heavenly and eternal welfare. (Pius XII, Allocution to the Roman Rota, October 29, 1947)

The two distinct societies, therefore, are intended by God to cooperate and complement one another in view of the welfare of the whole Man and all men.  In order for Church and State to accomplish their respective spiritual and temporal missions, Pope Leo XIII indicates that they should observe the principles of an “orderly connection” analogous to that between body and soul.  Each performs its own function (within its sphere of competence) in view of the good of the entire man.  One power has competence in the civil and political order while the other is concerned above all with man’s eternal life and matters of a sacred character.

There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar's is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God. (Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei)

This “orderly connection” presupposes that there exists a mutual cooperation between the two powers where each fulfills its own proper function in view of the spiritual and temporal welfare of man.  Therefore, we need to carefully distinguish the sense in which the two powers are united from the sense in which there is a distinct separation.  In other words, there is never a total separation but only when considered under a certain aspect.  We will now refer back to Bishop Ketteler’s teaching who throws additional light on this subject.    

Church and State: Union and Separation

Bishop Ketteler begins by distinguishing the two senses of union and separation with respect to the two powers.  By virtue of the mutual cooperation that ought to exist it is never appropriate to exaggerate the aspect of separation into an unqualified and total separation.

“The quest for the freedom of the Church is often referred to as separation of church and state.  Used in one sense, this concept gives no cause for concern, since it comes to grips with and puts to an end some of the practices which have obscured the real difference in the functions of church and state.  So far as a separation in the essential relationship between church and state is concerned, the Catholic cannot even consider it.  Predictably, our enemies have seized upon the ambiguity in this term.  They have made wrong use of it the only use; and they have drawn conclusions which are not only totally unjustified but even completely detrimental to both Church and state.  To the Church’s demands for its freedom, these people answer: Good, we’ll separate Church from the state as you demand and give the Church its freedom.  But then the state must divorce itself completely from the Church and leave the Church completely to its own resources.  This requires, among other things, that the schools too will have to be separated from the Church and made entirely into state institutions.  Such proposals are then activated as though they had to follow as logical consequences of the separation of Church and state.  Regretably, Catholics too have allowed themselves to be misled by such tactics.  A brief examination of the matter will clarify it and show how untrue and deceptive these supposedly “logical” consequences are.

The relationship of Church and state does not have to do with whether state rather than Church officials will manage ecclesiastical affairs.  There is an entirely different and deeper meaning.  Autonomy of the Church has nothing at all to do with separation of Church and state.  If we demand of the absolutist state authority that it restore certain rights to the family, the community, the corporation, so that these are able to operate in their proper spheres without interference, it doesn’t occur to anyone to call that a separation of the family, of the community, of the corporation from the state, and to conclude that the state has divorced itself completely from these institutions.  Church and state because of their essence cannot be completely separated, because in God’s overall plan for order, they belong together.  They are necessary supports for each other, and they ought therefore to cooperate in serving God’s purposes to promote the salvation of mankind.  It is a totally superficial way of looking at the relationship between Church and state to regard as separation of Church and state the consignment of a few minor rights to the Church, which of their very nature belong to her in any case.  That is a hollow play on words used to deceive people and as a front for actions which are bound to harm both the Church and the state.  As a marriage is not separated because the husband does what a man ought to do and the wife does what she ought to do, so Church and state tend to their own proper functions.  If the preservation of the liberties which the Church seeks is separation, then it is a separation which necessarily leads to unity.  It is our deepest conviction that by the safeguarding of their proper autonomies, Church and state are not separated; rather they are truly and firmly united.

The Church can and may not separate itself from the state, because the Church cannot separate itself from anything which comes from God.  She has to respect the state as a Divine arrangement for helping mankind reach its proper destiny.  She has to require of her members that they conform to the demands of the state insofar as these conform to the Divine plan.  She must use all of the spiritual resources at her command to foster the welfare of the state, rejoice in the orderly conduct of the state’s business, and griev when the state’s essential processes are somehow disrupted. Finally, she must serve notice to one and all that whoever opposes temporal authority opposes God and merits condemnation. (Romans 13:2)

The state may not remain indifferent to the Church but has an obligation to protect the rights of the Church as well as provide positive support.

At the same time, the state authority cannot separate itself from the Church without failing in its own essential duties.  The state must safeguard the rights of the Church just as it has to protect the right of all who are in its care.  The preservation of justice is the God-given mission of the state, and justice must be preserved for all concerned.  The state has an obligation to look upon the Church with benevolent concern and support her in accomplishing her tasks.  This is a part of the state’s responsibilities.  These responsibilities come from God and therefore they stem from the very nature of the state’s authority. 

These duties of the state flow from the moral law – God demands it.  In addition, the duty of the state towards the Church (and other legally established religious communities) arises from its duty to respect the religious convictions of the body politic.

The state must see to it that the Church's rights are safeguarded not merely because God demands this, but because the state's own well-being requires it. If it separates itself from the Church and from the religious convictions of its subjects, it separates itself from God and thereby destroys its own foundation.

Finally, the state is obligated to protect these rights and to support the Church on behalf of its own citizens. They have a right to expect that the state will respect their religious convictions, and to the protection and support of their ecclesiastical society. The state is not some arbitrary abstraction which floats on clouds but rather a reality determined according to the needs of the people who make it up.  Therefore, to separate it from their highest interests represents delinquency to duty on the part of state authority.

What I have said here regarding the obligation of the state to protect the rights of the Church and to support it, is meant to apply not only to the Catholic Church.  It applies to any religious society once it is recognized as such by the state, provided only that such a society upholds the requirements of natural morality and honors the one true God, as we discussed earlier. 

Bishop Ketteler concludes by denouncing that erroneous notion of total separation between Church and state while highlighting the duty of the state towards religion and the religious convictions of its people.

That opinion regarding the relationship of church and state, which goes contrary to all sound thinking by suggesting that the state could separate itself from the Church, and have the latter go completely on its own without protection of its rights and without any assistance, is one that is widely propagated by a part of the press and by certain popular spokesman.  It is therefore urgent that we rise up in opposition to it and remind the public authorities of their responsibilities toward religion and to their constituents". (Taken from Ketteler, The Social Teachings of Wilhelm Immanuel von Ketteler, Translated by Rupert J. Ederer, University Press of America, 1981, pp. 241-243)

Continutity of Principles

Man has the duty to seek out and adhere to religious truth.  Furthermore, he has the corresponding right to fulfill his moral and religious duties.  Therefore, this necessary religious freedom can only be properly understood in continuity with the traditional teaching regarding the “moral duty of men and societies towards the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”

“On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.  This Vatican Council likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force...Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” (DH, 1)

This duty towards the good and the true applies to all men – even those vested with political authority.  That is why political leaders must “favor” religious truth – not only for the sake of their own soul – but also for the sake of others and the common good.

All who rule, therefore, would hold in honor the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favor religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws, and neither to organize nor enact any measure that may compromise its safety. (Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, 6)

Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. (DH, 3)

Aside from affirming the "traditional Catholic doctrine", and perhaps in part due to its limited scope, Dignitatis Humanae does not treat in detail how Catholic political leaders should fulfill their duty towards favoring the true religion and the one Church of Christ.  This theme, however, is taken up in greater detail by the decree Apostilicam Actuositatem on the apostolate of the laity.

The apostolate in the social milieu, that is, the effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which one lives, is so much the duty and responsibility of the laity that it can never be performed properly by others…The laity fulfill this mission of the Church in the world especially by conforming their lives to their faith so that they become the light of the world as well as by practicing honesty in all their dealings so that they attract all to the love of the true and the good and finally to the Church and to Christ…Catholics should feel themselves obliged to promote the true common good.  Thus they should make the weight of their opinion felt in order that the civil authority may act with justice and that legislation may conform to moral precepts and the common good.  Catholics skilled in public affairs and adequately enlightened in faith and Christian doctrine should not refuse to administer public affairs since by doing this in a worthy manner they can both further the common good and at the same time prepare the way for the Gospel. (AA, 13)

The Catholic political leader, therefore, must take into account two complimentary principles in this context.  First, he must show positive favor to the Catholic faith and the Church.1  At the same time, however, he must favor religious truth in such a way that respects the duties and rights of conscience in religious matters.  In other words, he may not impose religion on his subjects but rather must respect their religious convictions while gently striving to freely “attract all to the love of the true and the good and finally to the Church and to Christ”.

Back to Part III            Forward to Part V


1 See also the 1998 statement by the USCCB on "Living the Gospel of Life" (especially paragraphs 24, 25, 29, 31): "Catholics who are privileged to serve in public leadership positions have an obligation to place their faith at the heart of their public service..."   


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