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“RENDER THEREFORE TO CAESAR…” (Mt 22:21)

20 May

“The Kingdom of God which Jesus founded on earth is fundamentally a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom of the spirit. When Jesus acknowledged before Pilate that He was a king, He also said that His kingdom was not of this world. The objective of His kingdom was not worldly wealth or power but rather the salvation of men, the forgiveness of sin and the reunion of men with God both in time and eternity.

THE REUNION OF MEN WITH GOD BOTH IN TIME AND ETERNITY

But though His kingdom was primarily a kingdom of the spirit, the men who would compose it were not pure spirits. Men are spirits in bodies. As spirits men become conscious of the world and of themselves through the vital, sensitive activities of their bodies. Though it was theoretically possible for God to speak the message of salvation directly to the spirit of each individual man, He did not choose to do so. Instead He chose to speak to a few and commission them to transmit the message to the rest of men. In so doing God chose to respect and work with man as he is, a unit composed of body and spirit. It is through the human body and its senses, through human language, whether spoken, written or by gesture or sign, that men communicate with each other. God chose to use this normal means of human communication to transmit His message to all men.

GOD CHOOSES TO ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE NATURE OF MAN, HIS CREATURE

Similarly God could, if He had so chosen, give His grace to men, the grace which carries with it forgiveness of sin and a share in His kingdom in a purely spiritual way, operating secretly and invisibly in the interior of men’s souls. But God chose to act in accordance with the nature of man. He chose to enable men to know His invisible gifts to their souls by external visible signs, the Mass and the sacraments.

‘DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME’

Now therefore the external transmission of the divine message of salvation and the sensible means of salvation instituted by God make His kingdom on earth a visible kingdom. The necessity of safeguarding the integrity of His message and the need of preserving the sacramental means of salvation were provided for by Jesus. To His Apostles, under the leadership of Peter, He gave the power to teach His message without error and to bring to men the sacramental means of salvation. Consequently, though His kingdom on earth is primarily a kingdom of the spirit, it is also a visible kingdom; visible in the evident distinction between the Apostles, who possess the authority to teach, to sanctify and rule the members of the kingdom for eternal salvation, and the members, who receive this teaching, partake of the sacraments and follow the apostolic rule to their salvation; visible in the administration of the sacraments which can be seen and heard; visible and audible in the teaching of the Apostles; recognisable in the obedience in spiritual concerns which the members give to the Apostles and their successors, the Pope and the bishops of the Church.

SPIRITUAL AND VISIBLE

As a visible, organised society, with the most important mission in the world – the salvation of all men – the Church of God has the right to preach its divine message in the world, the right to administer the means of salvation to men and the right to rule the moral and spiritual behaviour of men for their salvation. Now, if all men were perfect, both in knowledge and in moral behaviour, if all men recognised at once the divine character of the Church of Christ, and if all men had at once the good will to recognise the divine authority of the Church to sanctify and rule men for salvation, the Church would experience no difficulty in the world of men. But men are not perfect, neither in knowledge nor in behaviour. It was to be expected therefore that the appearance in the world of a new society claiming the freedom and the right to teach, rule and sanctify men in the name of God would be neither unnoticed nor unhindered in its efforts to exercise this freedom and right. Over the centuries the weakness of men, both within and without the Church, would occasion not only misunderstanding but also conflicts between the Church and human states. Jesus Himself had given His disciples the general principles to follow: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.’ It is our intention now to trace briefly the working-out of this principle in human history.

CHURCH AND STATE

The Church, the Kingdom of God, was born in the Roman Empire. In matters of religion the Roman State was eclectic and tolerant. The Romans allowed all subject-peoples to retain and practise their own religions. They asked only that all the subject-peoples (except the Jews) acknowledge the Roman Emperor as a manifestation of the divinity. Since the conquered peoples were generally polytheists, believing in the existence of many gods, and since many of them were accustomed to the idea that kings or emperors were either gods or manifestations of gods, this practice caused no difficulty. On the other hand, it was a powerful symbol of the unity of the empire. The Jews, since they were monotheists, were not asked to worship the emperor. Besides, since they showed no very active inclination to convert the peoples of the empire to monotheism, they were not a threat to the worship of the emperor, nor to the symbol of imperial unity.

THE CHURCH’S OBJECTIVE OF UNITING ALL MEN TO GOD THE FATHER, SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT IN JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, CLASHED WITH THE ROMAN EMPIRE’S EMPEROR-WORSHIP

But the Kingdom of God founded by Jesus proclaimed itself to the world as a society with a world mission. Its objective was to reunite all men to God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As men came to believe in Jesus, as they freely began to worship the Trinity which He preached, they ceased to worship the many gods of the empire. Most significantly they ceased to worship the emperor. And the more numerous the followers of Jesus became, the more evident it became to the imperial authorities that the Christian Church was a threat to the symbol of imperial unity, the symbol which helped to sustain that unity.

THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH WAS A THREAT TO THE SYMBOL OF IMPERIAL UNITY

Thus it was that the Church attracted the unfavourable notice of the Roman authorities. Viewed with suspicion, as a possible threat to the well-being of the Roman State, it could not escape persecution by the imperial authority. In the first three centuries of its existence therefore the Church was subject to persecution by the civil authority. The profession and practice of Christianity were forbidden by the State. Those who refused to give up their faith in Christ could be deprived of their titles and property, imprisoned, forced to work in mines, tortured and put to death. It was a time when, as Jesus had said, men would think they were doing God a favour by putting the disciples of Christ to death.

THE TENDENCY OF THE EMPERORS TO EXERCISE CONTROL OVER CHURCH MATTERS PREVENTED THE TRUE ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY FROM REALISING ITS PROPER FREEDOM IN MATTERS OF FAITH

The imperial persecution of the Church ceased with the advent of Constantine in the first quarter of the fourth century. Although Constantine himself was baptised a Christian only at the close of his life, he favoured the Church of Christ. But, as a Roman Emperor, he regarded himself as possessed of power over the Church, even in spiritual matters. Unfortunately for the Church in the eastern half of the empire, Constantine established his capital at Byzantium (Constantinople). The tendency of the emperors to exercise control over Church affairs prevented the true ecclesiastical authority from realising its proper freedom in matters of religion. The real dependence of the Eastern bishops on the power of the emperors and the human weakness and ambitions of the bishops made the Eastern Church unduly subservient to the civil power.

THE FACT THAT THE IMPERIAL POWER WAS CENTRED ELSEWHERE GAVE THE POPE, THE BISHOP OF ROME, A GREATER MEASURE OF FREEDOM FROM INTERFERENCE BY THE CIVIL RULERS

On the other hand, the removal of the capital from Rome to Constntinople proved fortunate for the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter, the supreme authority on earth in the Kingdom of God. The fact that the imperial power was centred at Constantinople in the East and at Milan or Ravenna in the West gave the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, a greater measure of freedom from interference by the civil rulers than that enjoyed by the bishops of the East. As a result the supreme authority to teach, rule and sanctify which Jesus had entrusted to Peter and his successors, the Bishops of Rome, not only became more clearly recognised in the Western Church but it also developed in greater freedom. The barbarian invasions of the empire, which began toward the close of the fourth century, also served to increase the freedom and prestige of the Popes. As the imperial organisation of the empire in the West began to break up under the successive waves of invasion, the Popes appeared to be not only the authoritative heralds of the religion of Christ [James 1:27] but also the champions [of fairness to all,] of the law and order which the old empire had realised.

OVER FOUR CENTURIES OF HARMONISING MAN’S DUTIES BOTH TO GOD AND TO CAESAR FOLLOWED

Thus, from the beginning of the fourth century to the end of the eighth century, two different ways of harmonising man’s duties both to God and to Caesar were being developed. In the Eastern empire, while the state became Christian, the bishops became too dependent on the civil power and the emperors gained too great authority over the Church in matters of religion. In the West the true and divinely given power of the Papacy was able to develop more freely according to its inner nature. The acceptance of the authority of the Popes also safeguarded the authority of bishops generally from the tendency of civil authority to encroach upon Church affairs.

HOW THE STATE TRIED TO INTERFERE TO MAKE PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT GOD

The tendency of the emperors to assume control of the Church was given free play during the rise and fall of the Arian heresy. The Arians denied that Jesus was God equally with the Father. Through the efforts of Eusebius, the Bishop of Nicomedia, they gained the favour of Constantine and of his son Constantius II (337-361). In the Church in the East the power of the emperor was used to depose the true bishops and impose Arian bishops in their place. The Pope and the Western bishops generally resisted these imperial attempts to make the Church Arian. With the advent of the Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) the imperial patronage of the Arian heresy ceased. But, in the East, it had already become customary for the emperors to interfere at will in the affairs of the Church. The bishops there were also accustomed to such interference.

THE WEST AVOIDS UNHEALTHY DEPENDENCY ON SECULAR POWERS

The influence of the emperor in ecclesiastical affairs was also responsible for the increase in power and prestige of the Bishop of Constantinople. At the time of the Council of Constantinople (381) the bishop of the imperial capital was a simple suffragan bishop of the Archbishop of Heraclea. But at the Council through the influence of the Emperor Theodosius, it was decreed that the Bishop of Constantinople was to hold a primacy of honour over all the bishops of the world except the Bishop of Rome. The Council granted the Bishop of Constantinople only a primacy of honour. It did not give him any added powers. But the granting of this honour was based on the principle that the presence of the emperor (or the imperial power) at Constantinople added prestige to the bishop of the see. In this way there was established between the Church in the East and the state a link that was to prove the downfall of the Eastern Church.

THE TENDENCY OF THE STATE TO LORD IT OVER THE CHURCH WAS MET WITH RESISTANCE

In the West the tendency of the state to lord it over the Church was met with resistance. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (where the Western capital of the empire was then located), gave an example to the rest of the Western bishops. When, with the support of Justina, the mother of the Emperor Valentinian II, the Arians asked that one of the Catholic churches of Milan be handed over to them, Ambrose refused, saying that ‘palaces are the concern of the emperor, but Churches belong to the bishop.’ He also pointed out that the ’emperor is within the Church, but not over the Church.’ It is worth noting that St Ambrose in this tilt with the imperial power, appealed constantly to the principle laid down by Jesus Himself: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ In the year 494 Pope Gelasius I, in a letter to the Emperor Anastasius, laid down the principle that the world is ruled by two powers, the sacred power of the Popes and the royal power. The power of the priesthood is more important because the priest must give an account to God even for the kings of men. In the West, then, both in principle and in fact, the Pope and the bishops maintained the independence of the Kingdom of God from the civil power. In matters affecting the conduct of the civil affairs of the state, the Church and its members would obey the laws of the state. But in matters of religion the Church is independent, subject only to God.

‘IN MATTERS OF FAITH THE CHURCH IS INDEPENDENT, SUBJECT ONLY TO GOD’

This teaching of Pope Gelasius was a clear re-affirmation of the principle laid down by Christ Himself. It helped to guard the Church of the West from the dangers of Caesaropapism. But the bishops of the Eastern Church were already too accustomed to subservience to the civil power. Moreover, the tendency of the peoples of the East to become embroiled in theological and liturgical controversies, coupled with the human ambitions of the bishops of Constantinople, helped to bring about the triumph of Caesaropapism and ultimately a rupture between the Eastern and the Western Church.

‘A CLEAR RE-AFFIRMATION OF THE PRINCIPLE LAID DOWN BY CHRIST HIMSELF’

The first open signs of this rupture are found in the story of the Photian schism. In 847 Ignatius, a son of the Emperor Michael I, was elected Patriarch of Constantinople. His opposition to Bardas, guardian of the emperor, brought about his deposition as Patriarch. Photius, a layman, was chosen in his place. Pope Nicholas I sent legates to Constantinople to mediate the dispute between the followers of Ignatius and those of Photius. His legates took the dide of Photius, but the Pope himself decided in favour of Ignatius. With the support of the emperor, Photius remained in power. But he had been alienated from the Papacy by the decision of Nicholas I. In his anger he wrote a number of works against the See of Rome. These have provided ever since an arsenal of arguments used by Eastern theologians against the Western Church. Even though, ultimately, Photius died in communion with the Pope at Rome, the seeds of the schism had been sown.

THE PRESERVERS OF THE CULTURE THAT WAS HANDED DOWN

In 1053 the Patriarch Michael Caerularius began an active campaign against the Church of the West. In 1054 he was solemnly excommunicated by the papal legates. This brought about the rupture between the Eastern and the Western Church. At the general councils of Lyons, in 1274, and Florence, in 1438, unsuccessful attempts were made to reunite the churches of the East and the West. But the schism remains to this day. Now and then, in the course of succeeding centuries, some bishops and peoples of the East have been reunited to Rome. But the majority of the Christian Churches of the East are still in schism. Thus Caesaropapism – the attempt of civil authority to dominate in a sphere where it has no real authority – helped to remove many of the followers of Christ from the unity of His sheepfold which He so ardently desired.

THE CHURCH AND CHARLEMAGNE

In the West the relations between Church and the state followed a different course. At that time when the Eastern Church was coming under the domination of the civil power, the activity of St Ambrose and the statement of Christian principle by Pope Gelasius, aided by the breakdown of the western empire, preserved the Church from the danger of Caesaropapism. The prestige of the Church in western Europe was greatly increased by the fact that the Church, in the persons of the Pope and the bishops, emerged from the chaos of the barbarian invasions as the symbols of law and order and the preservers of the ancient culture. The conversion of the Franks improved the position of the Popes as the leaders of the Church. Pepin, the founder of the Corolingian dynasty, gave Pope Stephen III a donation of lands in Italy for the protection of the Roman See. In the year 800 Charlemagne, by accepting coronation as Emperor of the West at the hands of the Pope, consolidated the position of the Pope. Though Charlemagne himself had tendencies toward Caesaropapism, his great empire broke up after his death and the Western Church was temporarily relieved of this embarrassing situation.

SOME BAD NEWS FOR THE CHURCH

But this relief was productive of its own embarrassments. The Mohammedans had begun a series of sea raids on the coasts of Italy and France. The Danes had begun their raids on Ireland, England and the continent itself. The breakdown of Charlemagne’s empire, with the consequent rivalry between kings and princes, helped to increase the chaos which spread through Europe. In these conditions the Papacy became subject to the intrigues of the nobles of Rome and Italy. In the tenth century, under three German emperors, Otto I, Otto II and Otto III, order was restored and the Papacy rescued from the local intrigues of the Roman nobility. But the Ottos tended to make the Church dependent on the imperial authority. Under Otto I the empire founded by Charlemagne was re-established. But, unfortunately for the Church, the emperors sought to nominate Popes or control their election. In addition it had become customary for emperors, kings and princes to nominate bishops and abbots. In the development of feudal Europe bishops and abbots had often become great landowners and feudal allies of the civil sovereigns. Thus it seemed just to the princes that they should have the disposal of ecclesiastical offices and dignities. But such a system of providing successors for the Apostles was extremely bad for the Church.

THE CONCORDAT OF WORMS, A.D. 1122

A movement of reform began during the reign of Pope Leo IX, who had been named Pope by the emperor in 1049. The aim of the reform movement was to liberate the Church from the dominance of the secular princes. The movement came to a climax in the reign of Pope Gregory VII. Gregory forbade laymen to appoint men to ecclesiastical offices and threatened anyone who did so with excommunication from the Church. The Emperor Henry IV disobeyed the decree. Gregory excommunicated Henry and deposed him. The deposition of Henry from the rule of his kingdom was the first case in which a Pope actually attempted to depose a king. In the actual struggle which ensued, Gregory did not obtain a victory. But his action was a manifestation of his own view on the meaning of the Christian principle ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’ Gelasius had recognised that there are two divinely instituted powers in the world, the civil authority and the authority of the Church. Gregory showed that in his mind the civil authority was ultimately subject to the power of the Church, since the Church had to render to God an accounting for the actions of princes. At any rate, the action of Gregory set the tone for the policy of the Church in relation to the state for the succeeding centuries. The particular question of laymen appointing and investing ecclesiastical officers – bishops and abbots – was settled at the Concordat of Worms (in 1122) under Pope Calixtus II. By the concordat it was agreed that in future all bishops and abbots should be elected by the proper ecclesiastical authorities. It was thus agreed that the civil authority should not control the Church by its custom of appointing bishops.

BECAUSE THE CHURCH STRIVED TO MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE OF WORLDLY POWERS, THE KING SENT HIS ARMY TO ARREST THE POPE

In the twelfth century the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa attempted again to subject the Church to the imperial power. His efforts were opposed by Pope Alexander III. It was not until 1177 at the peace of Venice that the struggle ended. Under Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) the Papacy reached the height of its power in both spiritual and temporal affairs.

The struggle was renewed during the reign of Emperor Frederick II. It did not end until Charles of Anjou defeated Conradin, the last of the Hohenstaufen emperors, in 1268.

Philip the Fair of France (1285-1314) quarreled with Pope Boniface VIII. Philip, seeking to increase the royal power in France, levied taxes on the French clergy. Boniface held that the Church could not be taxed without its own consent. Later Philip arrested the Bishop of Pamiers. Boniface threatened to depose him. Then, in the Papal Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’ the Pope reaffirmed the doctrine that the temporal authority ‘should be subjected to the spiritual.’ But Philip dealt a severe blow to the prestige of the Papacy by sending his army into Italy to arrest the Pope. Through the loyalty of the people at Anagni the Pope escaped. But the violent action of the king helped to reduce the awe in which the people had held the Pope.

THE POPES, IN THEIR EFFORTS TO MAINTAIN THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE CHURCH FROM THE STATE, WERE SUBJECTED TO MUCH HARASSMENT

From this point on the power and prestige of the Popes declined. Pope John XXII was denounced by Louis of Bavaria. Marsilio published a book ‘Defensor pacis’ in which he proposed the theory that everything was subject to the emperor. The Papacy was subject to a general council and councils were subject to the emperor. In 1378 there began the Great Western Schism. Some cardinals, contesting the election of Urban VI, elected Robert of Geneva as Clement VII. In 1409 a so-called general council at Pisa elected a third Pope, Alexander V.

The existence of rival claimants to the Papacy gave impetus to theories that the Church generally, especially as represented by general councils, was superior to the Pope. Practically, the schism was settled at the Council of Constance. Two of the rival Popes resigned their office. The council elected Martin V Pope. While this action of the council provided a practical solution to the schism, the council itself claimed power over the Papacy. This claim was later renewed at the Council of Basel. Thus the Popes, in their efforts to maintain the independence of the Church from the state, now found themselves compelled to resist the theory that a general council is superior to the Pope.

THE SUPREME AUTHORITY WHICH JESUS HAD GIVEN TO THE PAPACY IN THE PERSON OF PETER AND HIS SUCCESSORS AT ROME WAS ATTACKED

The dissensions within the Church occasioned by the Great Schism enabled the princes of Europe to strengthen their own authority over the Church. In 1438 Charles VII of France promulgated the Pragmatic Sanction whereby all papal nominations of clergy in France were forbidden. The German princes were not slow to imitate this action. Meanwhile there developed the tendency to appeal from Papal decisions to a future general council, as if such a council was superior to the Pope. In this way, through the so-called Concilliar Theory, the supreme authority which Jesus had given to the Papacy in the person of Peter and his successors at Rome was attacked and weakened.

THE PRINCES FINALLY SUCCEED IN BRINGING A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS INTO THEIR WORLDLY POWER

This weakening of papal authority paved the way for the great disaster which befell the Church in the sixteenth century – the Protestant Reformation. Whatever faults of the Church needed correction, whatever the numerous and interwoven causes which led to this so-called Reformation, one thing is clear – the ‘Reformation’ destroyed the religious unity of Europe and separated from the true Church of Jesus many nations. Parts of Germany, Denmark, sweden and Norway, England and Scotland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and a small but influential group in France, were separated from Christian unity of belief and practice. The princes of these nations, anxious to assert their independence of the Popes and to gain complete domination over religious affairs, aided the so-called reform movement. The reformers, for their part, anxious to establish their own interests against the Popes, accepted the idea that civil princes had authority over the Church in their own domains and could dictate the kind of religion which would be practised there. Thus, in the new Protestant lands the Caesaropapistic tendency finally triumphed.

For centuries the Popes had fought the tendency of princes to rule the Church. But the secession of the reformers from the Church, while it freed them from the exercise of papal authority, subjected them to the sovereignty of the civil power. Unfortunately through conquest and colonisation, the influence of the new religious views spread to the American continent.

WHERE WORLDLY POWER HAD TRIUMPHED, CATHOLICS WERE EITHER PERSECUTED OR FORCED TO EMIGRATE

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was a recognition of the division of Europe into a Catholic and a Protestant sphere. The concurrent rise of nationalism made matters even more difficult for the Church. In non-Catholic countries Catholics were either persecuted or forced to emigrate. Even in Catholic countries the kings found it expedient to gain control of the Church for their own nationalistic purposes. At this time the theory of the ‘divine right of kings’ came to the fore. Monarchs claimed that their authority came to them directly from God and they could be held to account by God alone. Since royal power was now much more stable than heretofore this claim could be made with greater success. This reinforced the claim of civil rulers to determine the religious views and practices of their subjects. In non-Catholic countries it meant the outlawing of Catholicism, the true Kingdom of God. In Catholic countries it signified the intention of Catholic monarchs to control the Church.

THE PROPERTY OF THE CHURCH WAS CONFISCATED BY THE WORLDLY POWERS AND DISCRIMINATORY LAWS PASSED AGAINST THE MEMBERS OF GOD’S KINGDOM ON EARTH

Thus in Switzerland, Holland, the Scandinavian countries and England the property of the Church was confiscated and discriminatory laws were passed against Catholics. It was not until Frederick the Great of Prussia (1740-1786) granted religious toleration to the Catholics of Silesia that the rigour of non-Catholic religious intolerance began to abate. This move toward toleration was not an unmixed blessing. If it had been the result simply of a due regard for the sanctity of individual consciences it might have been truly a step forward in the relations between Church and state. But it was also the result of the new intellectual atmosphere generated by what was called the ‘Enlightenment.’

THE SO-CALLED ‘ENLIGHTENMENT’

The cardinal principle of the Protestant Reformation was ‘private judgement.’ The reformers, in seceding from Rome, had repudiated the authority of the Pope and bishops to teach and interpret infallibly the teaching of Christ. Instead they claimed that each individual believer, by reading the Bible, could judge for himself the content of God’s revelation to man. If God’s revelation had been concerned only with natural truths easily accessible to human reason, such a principle might have worked. But, as we have seen, God’s message is concerned chiefly with supernatural mysteries which man could not discover for himself and which he cannot completely understand even after he has learned them from the Church. In history therefore the principle of private judgement broke down. As men began to read the Bible with only their own talents and prejudices to guide them, they began to question more and more the content of the divine message.

MEN BEGAN TO READ THE BIBLE WITH ONLY THEIR OWN TALENTS AND PREJUDICES TO GUIDE THEM

It was easier to reject mysteries than to accept them in submission to the wisdom of God. From the rejection of divine mysteries to the rejection of reason itself – a philosophical position known as scepticism – was not a difficult step.

IT WAS EASIER TO REJECT MYSTERIES THAN TO ACCEPT THEM IN SUBMISSION TO THE WISDOM OF GOD

Nor did it take the sceptics long to question even the existence of God Himself. In such an intellectual atmosphere – generated remotely by the ‘Reformation’ with its principle of private judgement, and proximately by the scepticism of the ‘Enlightenment’ – the tolerance of Frederick the Great reflects not so much a tenderness toward the rights of the individual religious conscience as a supercilious attitude toward all forms of religion. Since all religion, as he held, is simply a matter of questionable opinion it matters not what form of religion the subjects of a state may embrace as long as all forms are subject to the power of the absolute monarch.

MARTIN LUTHER’S CAN OF WORMS: THE CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION, ‘PRIVATE JUDGEMENT’, IS SUBSEQUENTLY APPLIED TO THE QUESTION THE EXISTENCE OF GOD HIMSELF

In Catholic states at this same period the Church also experienced difficulty. In Austria Joseph II, imbued with the same absolutist tendency which motivated Frederick in Prussia, attempted to place the Church completely under the control of the royal power. His rules and regulations for the governance of the Church were so minute – descending even to the details of the appointments of a Church altar – that he became known to his fellow-monarchs as ‘Joseph the Sacristan.’ In France, under Louis XIV, this tendency to gain control of the Church was also manifested. In 1682, under the urging of Louis, there was promulgated a ‘Declaration of the Gallican Clergy.’ It declared that the power of the Pope was restricted to spiritual affairs; that kings and princes were not subject to any ecclesiastical authority in temporal affairs. To protect and strengthen his monarchy Louis felt it necessary to maintain complete control of the Church within France itself.

IN PRACTICE THIS MEANT THAT WORLDLY POWER WERE NOT TO BE HAMPERED NOR GUIDED IN THEIR ACTIONS BY THE PRINCIPLES OF EITHER RELIGION OR MORALITY

The combination of growing nationalism, of absolute monarchies and of scepticism made it difficult for the Church, by nature an international organism [Jesus Christ: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ etc.], to preserve its proper independence of civil authority. Absolute monarchs (whose minds were often tinged with religious scepticism), intent upon strengthening their own powers and extending the borders of their kingdom, found it expedient to seek to control even the affairs of religion within their own borders. This tendency was a threat to the international, in fact the supra-national, character of the Kingdom of God on earth.

‘THE WORLD HAS HATED THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT OF THE WORLD, JUST AS I AM NOT OF THE WORLD’ (Jn 17:14)

In the nineteenth century the forces of nationalism and scepticism combined to produce an even more hazardous situation for the Church. The French Revolution of 1789 was the first of a series of revolutions against the absolute monarchies in Europe. The first French Republic sought to eliminate papal influence in the French Church by insisting that bishops and priests should be chosen by the people. In addition the properties of the Church were confiscated.

THE SEEDS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

Throughout the century the philosophy of liberalism propagated the idea that faith had nothing to do with politics. In practice this meant that politicians were neither to be hampered by nor guided in their political actions by the principles of either religion or morality. On the other hand, politicians, moved (even, if not fully conscious of the fact) by the idea of the Absolute State, felt it quite proper to interfere in matters of religion. Thus, in Italy, after the unification of Italy under the House of Savoy, monasteries were suppressed and ecclesiastical property was secularised. In Germany in 1872 the ‘Kulturkampf’ sought to impose state control of all religious schools and expelled religious orders. In France at the end of the century similar measures were taken and religious orders were not allowed to teach in the schools and many of them were expelled.

STATE VERSUS THE BODY OF CHRIST: THE MENACE OF TOTALITARIAN STATES

In the twentieth century the Church found herself confronted with the menace of the ‘totalitarian states.’ Communism, nazism and fascism, each sought to control the Church for its own advantage. In Italy fascism accepted the existence of the Church and came to a kind of uneasy peace by the settlement of the Roman Question in 1929. In Germany nazism, even though it made a concordat with the Church, persecuted all forms of religion. In Russia (and in the countries subject to or allied to Russia after the Second World War) communism [was] the overt enemy of all religion. Its avowed object [was] to destroy all religion.

THE SITUATION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH IS DEFINITELY NOT HOPELESS

The far-reaching extent of communist domination – [which reached all the way] from China in the East to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Jugoslavia in the West – [had] made it difficult for the Kingdom of God to function or exist in a great part of the world. But the situation of the Church is not hopeless. In Western Europe and the Americas the movement of religious tolerance has grown. England, by the Emancipation Act of 1829, restored Catholics to equal rights with the other citizens of England and the British Isles. In 1850 Prussia also granted equality to Catholics. In Central and South America, while liberalism and communism for a time sought to exterminate the Church, there are signs that a more tolerant policy is being adopted. In the United States and Canada the Church is [nominally] allowed to function freely.

CATHOLICS WERE [NOMINALLY] RESTORED TO EQUAL RIGHTS WITH THE OTHER CITIZENS

It can be seen that the existence and functioning of the Kingdom of God on earth has not been easy. As a divine supra-national organism it must surpass the particular interests of individual nations, states and empires. As an independent, autonomous organism of the spiritual order it must possess the freedom necessary for the accomplishment of its own goal, the salvation of all men. On the other hand, nations and states possess their own, though lesser, goals, the common welfare of their members in this world. The Church has sought always to employ the principle given it by Jesus – “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’ – in the solution of the problems of the relation between states and the Church.

AS AN INDEPENDENT, AUTONOMOUS ORGANISM OF THE SPIRITUAL ORDER THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH MUST POSSESS THE FREEDOM NECESSARY FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF ITS OWN GOAL, THE SALVATION OF ALL MEN

While at times it may seem that difficulty arises between the Church and the state because individual churchmen have sought or obtained an excessive influence in temporal affairs, the chief cause of difficulty has always been the tendency of states to control the spiritual world of the Church; to control it either to the advantage of the state or to the extermination of the Church.

THE CHIEF CAUSE OF DIFFICULTY BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL STATES AND THE SUPRA-NATIONAL CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE TENDENCY OF STATES TO CONTROL THE SPIRITUAL WORLD OF THE CHURCH

The Church, of course, is not surprised to encounter this difficulty. Its divine Master, Jesus Himself, told it it would meet suspicion, hatred and persecution. The servant is not greater than her Master. She represents God, God stooping down from eternity to the world of time, seeking to save men, to invite men to enter freely into the Kingdom of God. But she knows that men must enter freely into God’s kingdom. She knows that the sinful wilfulness of men cannot be changed completely in all men in a day or in centuries. Her task is universal not only in space but in time. In each generation she must repeat the divine invitation to salvation and in each generation she must meet the same wilful, sinful tendencies of the free human will.

IN EACH GENERATION THE CHURCH MUST REPEAT THE DIVINE INVITATION TO SALVATION, AND IN EACH GENERATION SHE MUST MEET THE SAME WILFUL, SINFUL TENDENCIES OF THE FREE HUMAN WILL

So in divine patience, if not always in peace, she seeks to exist and to function among all nations, in all states, applying as circumstances suggest the divine principle regulating her relation to human temporal states: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.'”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959 (Headings in capital letters added afterwards)

 

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