Did Vatican II Endorse Separation of Church and State?

This year, 2015, marks fifty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council. Yet the “battle” for the Council, the battle for its authentic meaning, which began even before the bishops concluded their deliberations in 1965, continues still today.

A particular area of controversy is the Council’s teaching on the Church’s relationship to the state. Not a few people (and they span the spectrum between “progressive” and “conservative”) maintain that the Council fathers in some sense gave their blessing to the separation of Church and state and that in doing so departed from traditional Catholic teaching.

One prominent shaper of Catholic opinion (at least American Catholic opinion) who interprets the Council in this way is Michael Sean Winters. Winters recently expressed this interpretation of Vatican II while commenting on last October’s synod on the family in Rome. In Winters’s view, with the current question about the reception of communion by certain divorced and remarried Catholics, the Church finds herself faced with a decision about whether to change one of her teachings. Winters sees a parallel between this situation and the situation the Church faced during the Council in reflecting on her proper relationship to the state. He believes that those who are resisting change now—he mentions Cardinals Pell, Burke, and Napier—are taking the position that they do because they oppose any development in Church teaching. But they may find that their adversaries will triumph in the end, as John Courtney Murray eventually (and allegedly) did against opponents of his views on Church and state. Thus Winters:

Having never met +Pell or +Burke or +Napier, I have never had the chance to ask them: So, if doctrine never changes, what is the Church’s teaching on slavery today and was it always thus? In the 1950s, Fr. Murray was silenced for suggesting that the Church could endorse the separation of Church and State and in the 1960s the Second Vatican Council agreed with Murray, not with those who silenced him. If that was not a change in Church teaching, what was it?

Winters’s polemic against Pell et al. is surely misguided (not to mention a red herring), for no educated Catholic opposes development of doctrine on principle (as Winters appears to think Pell & Co. do), only developments that would conflict with scripture and tradition. But, of course, it is what Winters says about Vatican II’s teaching on Church and state that interests me in this essay, not his polemic against these “intransigent” cardinals. Winters’s above remarks on this teaching are consistent with what he has said about it on other occasions. Writing several years ago in Slate about the parts of Vatican II rejected by the Society of St. Pius X, Winters observes that the Council’s declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae, “recognized the separation of church and state as a valid form of constitutional arrangement.” And in a 1999 book review for The New Republic Winters explains to his readers that Fr. Murray “argued successfully” at the Council “that the Church should embrace the separation of Church and State.”

So, what should we make of Winters’s reading of Vatican II’s teaching on Church and state? There would seem to be a couple different ways to interpret him. He could be saying either (a) that the Council admits that in certain circumstances the Church can regard such a separation as acceptable, even good, but not necessarily ideal, or (b) that the Council holds up the separation of Church and state as the ideal. We could call the former the “weak” version of Winters’s claim and the latter the “strong” version. In either case Winters would add that we are talking about a break with past teaching.

If we go with the weak version of Winters’s claim, I don’t think it can be gainsaid, but he would be wrong to suppose that it constitutes a break with previous teaching. If we go with the strong version of Winters’s claim, this would be a break with previous teaching but I do not believe that it is something that the Council ever taught. I am inclined to think that the weak version of Winters’s “thesis” is what he actually holds but, just in case, I am going to evaluate the strong version too.

We’ll start with a consideration of the merits of the weak version. Indeed, Vatican II does propose that the separation of Church and state can be accepted in certain circumstances. Consider these words of Gaudium et spes:

The Church herself makes use of temporal things insofar as her own mission requires it. She, for her part, does not place her trust in the privileges offered by civil authority. She will even give up the exercise of certain rights which have been legitimately acquired, if it becomes clear that their use will cast doubt on the sincerity of her witness or that new ways of life demand new methods (§76).

There is no suggestion here that the Church’s renunciation of her rights in regard to the state is the ideal, only that sometimes this move might be prudent in order to establish her credibility. This is not a novel teaching of Vatican II. We can already find it, for instance, in Leo XIII. In Au milieu des sollicitudes, an 1892 encyclical addressed to French Catholics, urging them to accept the Third Republic, Papa Pecci, while denouncing the principle of the separation of Church and state as “absurd,” nevertheless, is able to observe (in the same paragraph no less) that in some circumstances this separation can be not only unavoidable but in some manner desirable.

In fact, to wish that the State would separate itself from the Church would be to wish, by a logical sequence, that the Church be reduced to the liberty of living according to the law common to all citizens. It is true that in certain countries this state of affairs exists. It is a condition which, if it have numerous and serious inconveniences, also offers some advantages—above all when, by a fortunate inconsistency, the legislator is inspired by Christian principles—and, though these advantages cannot justify the false principle of separation nor authorize its defense, they nevertheless render worthy of toleration a situation which, practically, might be worse (§28).

So, the weak version of Winters’s claim—namely, that the Council teaches that at times it can be advantageous for the Church and state to be separate—is true. But his belief that this is a break with previous Church teaching is false.

What of the strong version of Winters’s claim? Some commentators (Norman Tanner, for example, at least as I read him) have pointed to the following lines of Gaudium et spes as, in fact, proposing a separation of Church and state as the ideal:

The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other (§76).

This passage simply notes that the Church is to be differentiated from the state and the various political systems and that the Church and the state have their own formal areas of competence. These distinctions do not in themselves preclude the Church and state working closely together or the Church guiding the state according to a publicly recognized privilege in questions where she has an even greater competence. It is not surprising, then, that in the very next lines we read:

Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all. For man’s horizons are not limited only to the temporal order; while living in the context of human history, he preserves intact his eternal vocation (§76).

In light of these further clarifications, I do not see how the previous quote can be taken as conclusive evidence of Vatican II teaching a separation of Church and state as ideal. The above clarifications would, on the contrary, appear to suggest the Council’s opposition to the principle of separation of Church and state.

There is yet another text from Gaudium et spes that might seem to some people to propose a separation of Church and state as ideal. In §42 we read that “Christ … gave his Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which he set before her is a religious one.” I gather that this statement is about the Church’s ultimate end, not the proximate ends she pursues in view of her ultimate end. The statement would have to be understood thus if the Council fathers are not to contradict what we saw them saying previously (in Gaudium et spes) about the Church making use of “temporal things insofar as her own mission requires it.” Indeed, we saw in that context that the “temporal things” had to do specifically with “the privileges offered by civil authority.” But if Gaudium et spes §42 is only about the Church’s ultimate end and not her proximate ends, then it cannot be used to justify the principle of separation of Church and state.

It might be objected that so far I have left out of consideration Dignitatis humanae, the most important document of Vatican II on the subject of Church and state. From what we saw earlier, Dignitatis humanae would appear to be Winters’s principal proof text for his thesis about Vatican II’s endorsement of the separation of Church and state. Well, it must be said that while this document does in some places mention the relationship between the Church and state, it does not take a position on what their ideal relationship is.

But, it might be argued, since Dignitatis humanae advocates freedom of practice even for non-Catholic religions, it must by implication reject any established religion. The problem with this way of thinking is that the Council fathers do not accept its logic. They evidently believe that established religion and a certain amount of religious freedom can coexist in the same state:

If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice (§6).

So, the Council envisions the possibility of a state both privileging one religion and allowing some freedom of practice to other religions. It is exceedingly improbable that the bishops meant to exclude from this scenario a situation in which the Catholic Church was the religion with the privileged status. In any case, we must stick to what the text actually says, and it does not actually call for such an exclusion.

I am not aware of any texts of Vatican II that plainly endorse the separation of Church and state as ideal. We have looked at the texts that seem most relevant to the question and have seen that they cannot be used to support such a teaching. So, the strong version of Winters’s claim (which I doubt he holds) is false. But if Vatican II does not teach the separation of Church and state as ideal, it cannot break with a previous teaching that rejects that separation.

Winters assumes—and in this essay I have also assumed—that prior to Vatican II the Church did oppose the principle of separation of Church and state. This assumption is correct. We have already seen that Leo XIII calls this principle “absurd” and “false.” It would be easy to cite a number of further statements of Leo and several other popes to the same effect. But there is not the space here to reproduce and comment on all the relevant texts. Although some people might point to the famous fifth century letter of Gelasius I to Anastasius as endorsing separation of Church and state, this document merely distinguishes the areas of formal competence of ecclesiastical and political authority (in a way that bears some resemblance to the text of Gaudium et spes that we looked at earlier), and distinction, of course, can exist within unity (and it must when it is a question of collaboration between Church and state).

To sum up: The weak version of Winters’s claim (that Vatican II admits that in certain circumstances separation of Church and state is acceptable, even good, but not necessarily ideal) is true but it does not constitute a break with past teaching. The strong version of Winters’s claim (that the Council holds up the separation of Church and state as the ideal) is false and, therefore, cannot constitute a break with past teaching. But, as I have already noted, my impression is that Winters holds the weak rather than the strong version of his claim.

Joseph G. Trabbic

By

Joseph G. Trabbic is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University and is the assistant editor of Thomistica.net, a website for the academic study of St. Thomas Aquinas. Professor Trabbic earned his doctorate from Fordham University in 2008.

  • Wonderful article, on a timely topic…indeed a topic about which most Catholics are quite confused. Obviously, Mr. Winters missed this little tidbit from paragraph 1 of Dignitatis Humanae “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 [the Council] leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” Now, the traditional Catholic doctrine is, as you describe above, that the Church and State should not be separated. So his argument that Dignitatis Humanae somehow abandoned that doctrine is refuted by the words of the declaration itself.

    • Carol Leeda Crawford

      Thank you! I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study the documents from Vatican II. I particularly loved Dignitatis Humanae (On the dignity of the human person or Human Freedom). Please Fathers and Doctors of the church intercede for us, and I pray for the conversion of Winters and the others who hold erroneous beliefs about the True Faith passed on by Christ to His apostles.

  • The Truth

    Vatican II did much more harm than good to the church.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      Not necessarily. Doctrinally, most of the VII documents were mere affirmations of previous doctrines (except for a minuscule amount of “new” doctrine, like perhaps religious freedom). To me, the sacred Liturgy was the most grave damage. But was Liturgy related at all to anything called for by Vatican II itself (the documents)? No. Not at all. Here’s a brilliant article on this by Monsignor Charles Pope (Washington, DC):
      http://blog.adw.org/2015/01/if-the-second-vatican-council-never-happened-would-we-have-a-new-mass-quite-possibly/

      If the Second Vatican Council Had Never Happened, Would We Still Have a “New Mass?” … Quite Possibly

      • Anglicanæ

        Ignorant unconverted Anglican here with an earnest question for my brothers and sisters: What did Vatican II accomplish positively for the Roman Catholic Church that could not have happened apart from it?

      • jacobhalo

        Ecumenism, religious liberty and the change in the mass were changes in doctrine. According the Council of Trent, the mass was not to be changed.

        • Dagnabbit_42

          I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood Trent and prior doctrine.

          Re: Trent: The relevant instruction was to prevent unauthorized changes to the usages of the existing Mass; i.e., liturgical abuses.

          It would be absurd to say that Trent taught that the Tridentine liturgy itself was the only permitted liturgy for all time because (a.) it, itself, had been changed over time, and (b.) it, itself, was not the sole existing form of the liturgy at that time even in the Western churches, to say nothing of the Eastern churches. To interpret Trent in that way would be to exercise the “hermeneutic of rupture” whereas the Catholic Church requires that all Magisterial teachings be interpreted using the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

          Religious liberty existed, in seed form, in prior doctrine; this was true at least as early as St. Augustine who, despite the Catholic church having the political upper hand, advocated tolerance of the Jews and heretical Christian groups in North Africa towards the end of reconciling the latter to the Church (a little ecumenism, there, also).

          So, in these areas, Vatican II (as properly interpreted, in accord with the hermeneutic of continuity) represents a development of doctrine, but contains no reversals of doctrine of any kind.

          There is, of course, a change of discipline, of liturgical practice; namely, the permission of the vernacular in the liturgy.

          But even that is not as much of a reversal as one might think, because if you read the documents of Vatican II you find that Latin was still to have “pride of place!”

          In short, any Mass you currently attend containing no use of Latin at all has taken Vatican II’s permission of some vernacular (with Latin retaining “pride of place”) and has run away with it to an unauthorized degree, like a teenager whose bedtime is relaxed from 10:30pm to 11pm, who responds by not coming home until 2:45am.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      No, that’s not quite it.

      The correct way to say it is:

      1. There are two ways a human person may react to a teaching received from the Church: He may misinterpret or abuse that teaching; or, he may correctly interpret it and put it into practice.

      2. The teachings of Vatican II were misinterpreted and abused far more often than they were correctly interpreted and used;

      3. The misinterpretation and abuse of the teachings harms the Church;

      4. The correct interpretation and use of the teachings helps the Church;

      5. Since the misinterpretation and abuse far outnumbers the correct interpretation and use, it is true to say that thus far, the reactions of fallible humans to the teachings of Vatican II, taken as a whole, have harmed the Church much more than helped it.

      HOWEVER,

      6. Were all the persons who react to the teachings of Vatican II from this day forward to adopt correct interpretations and usages, that damage would be attenuated and eventually reversed.

  • TabithaRaised

    The rights of the Church are separate from the states rights that exist only because God allows the current state. But, the Church will always exist and will always have the right to be separate from civil law whenever her divine constitution made visible through apostolic authority, deems it needs to be separate. There has never been a break that caused the Church to believe in a total break from the state, she could never state that because the state exists through divine law only to help the Church and the people of God. When the state ceases to be of assistance to the people of God, it will fall. When civil authorities fall, we can see the Church more clearly for whom she is. Her Head, the Son’s glory comes through visibly in the earthly kingdom.

  • Carol Leeda Crawford

    If you study the documents from Vatican II you discover amazing insights and clarity regarding doctrine and the teachings of the church. It was HOW these documents were interpreted that caused all the problems. Like Winters, holding an opinion that change is necessary, changes that would allow Catholics to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin (divorced and remarried). Doctrine is not to be changed! Only more profound insights into God’s commandments that acclaim and reflect that God made us to know, love and serve HIM. We do this by being faithful to His word and the doctrine passed on by the apostles. We need faithful bishops like the three mentioned above.

    • Martha

      But if you ‘discover amazing…clarity’ in the documents, then how were they interpreted differently? The documents are snaky and sneaky. There will be a sentence with beautiful, timeless Catholic profundity followed by a 60’s hippy-love wishy-washy sentence that is completely ambiguous. That is how it was engineered. It has been admitted so by Cardinal Kasper himself:

      “In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise
      formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located
      immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them.
      Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict,
      open the door to a selective reception in either direction.”

      How do you like them apples? I find them rather rotten.

      • fredx2

        No, I think this style of writing is quite common – you state the principle, then you limit the principle and say what it is not. You keep hemming the concept in on all sides until you get to what it is. It’s kind of like Aquinas with his statement of the principle, then the objections to the principle or arguments against it. By going back and forth, you begin to understand where on the spectrum you intend to end up.

        The problem is no so much with the documents of Vatican II., It is that people decided to blatantly ignore many parts of the documents, to invent “the spirit of” instead, and so on. They pretty much ignored the documents and believed the media hype that said the church could become anything they wanted it to be. That is the problem.

        • Martha

          The ‘concept?’ Catholicism is about timeless Truths. I think we’ve had the concepts nailed down for awhile.

          I agree with your second paragraph, of course, but that’s oversimplification of what really happened. Read Kasper’s comment again.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            Recall Socrates: “Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself..”

            The only alternatives are the submission of faith to a living authority or a reliance on private judgment. An appeal to the records of the past is always and inevitably an appeal to one’s own interpretation of them for, “σεμνῶς πάνυ σιγᾷ” – they preserve a solemn silence.

            • Martha

              Provocative quote, to be sure. It is not worthy of note in this discussion, however, because when the Church speaks plainly, there is no mistaking Her meaning. That was the whole point of my comment. The ambiguities are there purposely. They are meant to confuse. That was what Kasper was referring to.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                I am not sure. As Bl John Henry Newman said, “Doubtless, a certain interpretation of a doctrinal text may be so strongly supported by the Fathers, so continuous and universal, and so cognate and connatural with the Church’s teaching, that it is virtually or practically as dogmatic as if it were a formal judgment delivered on appeal by the Holy See, and cannot be disputed except as the Church or Holy See opens its wording or its conditions.” That proviso is important; we must always allow for subsequent insights.

                A magisterial teaching may appear plain, but be open to reinterpretation. Thus, the Fifth Ecumenical Council qualified the Fourth in its 8th canon, where those are anathematized who say “one Nature incarnate of God the Word,” unless they “accept it as the Fathers taught, that by a hypostatic union of the Divine nature and the human, one Christ was effected.” Thus, the Council recognised that an apparently heretical statement might bear an orthodox sense.

                • Martha

                  Well, Michael, you are truly well read. I may be mistaken on this point. I suppose if one has nefarious purposes, one can warp things to mean what they desire (or at least try their best to do so!).

    • Danielius

      Amazing insights and clarity ? Let me drop this here:

      “The accelerated pace of history is such that one can scarcely keep
      abreast of it. The destiny of the human race is viewed as a complete
      whole, no longer, as it were, in the particular histories of various
      peoples: now it merges into a complete whole. And so mankind substitutes
      a dynamic and more evolutionary concept of nature for a static one, and
      the result is an immense series of new problems calling for a new
      endeavor of analysis and synthesis.” (p. 907) #5. Gaudium et Spes. From
      The Vatican Collection: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. (Austin Flannery, O. P. General Editor) Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company.

      Tailhard would be proud!

      • michael susce

        As a person who has taken an avid interest in late 19th and 20th century thought, this “dynamic and more evolutionary concept of nature” was espoused during this period i.e. get rid of religion and science will save us. Hitler, Stalin and Mao proved that the static nature of man is the true unchanging nature of mankind i.e. Original Sin. Man is still wolf to man.

  • mortimer zilch

    typo? “something the Church has ever taught.” did you mean NEVER???? please.

    • Crisiseditor

      No. You can’t replace “ever” with “never” in that sentence. The adverb “ever” is a universal reference meaning “always.” Thus the author denies the Council “ever” taught that separation is ideal. It would help if you quoted the sentence accurately.

  • St JD George

    Not having a Catholic faith that stretches that far back I read these and other conversations about VII with a lot of curiosity. Interesting to read the very strong feelings that come out about it. Don’t ask me why, but when I read my mind wanders to places like what the first council of Jerusalem must have been like sitting there listening to Peter when he stood up and said that we must embrace gentiles and welcome them to a faith in God. That I know was blasphemous to most. Or the first ecumenical council in Nicea later with the Arians not accepting the nature of God in the Trinity. The point being only that people of deep faith have argued over matters for all time. I’d rather be in the middle of a discussion involving matters of faith among people of faith though, than elsewhere. I am not convinced that VII itself was as harmful as some make it out to be. However, I do acknowledge that there were harmful cultural forces at work in the world at the time and that they did manage to infiltrate and influence people including many inside the church.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      Good summary. I’m of the same mind. All ecumenical Church Councils (which includes Vatican 2) were good of themselves. The results (documents) of all Ecumenical councils were clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit. It’s what the faithful do with the Council(s) that is either good or bad. Some will ignore the Council(s). Some will ignore what the Council(s) actually say but use the Council as a License to do silly stuff. But some will use what the Council(s) *actually* says & do great things with it.
      Having said that, I hope Vatican 3 is a long, long time away from now. We don’t need another Council right now, we’ve got enough Councils.

      • St JD George

        Amen to that. However, I do believe in what Prof Esolen said yesterday in that we need renovation.

  • Charles Lewis

    It’s times like these I had the proper theological training to discuss this more intelligently but I have been interested in the subject since reading some recent works on Vatican II. BTW: I’m open to correction as long as its civil. My understanding is the reluctance came from countries in which Catholicism was the state religion. Those felt they’d be ceding hard-won ground. However, remember this was the time when Communism was a major force and Communist states were officially atheistic. Religion of all kinds were restricted. Just look at China’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church today. So those who favoured separation saw this as a way for the Church to win more members but at the same time they couldn’t very well declare that there should only be freedom of religion for Catholics in countries when there was no freedom of religion. Finally, when you look around the world today the countries with the most vibrant Christian scene are countries with no state religion. The United States is a prime example. As far as I’m concerned the U.S. is the model for the world. The truth will alway win out but when it’s forced on people it will not only be ignored but hated.

  • ken

    some say VII took the “Catholic” ( capital “C” emphasis) out of Catholicism , the flip side before VII may have been that the Church legislated the “catholic”( little “c” emphasis) out of Catholicism . Jesus said , “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.
    Jesus did not have a political agenda. Church will influence the State and visa versa due to
    man’s political nature, not God’s nature. As each of us choose to be a practicing individual in the one , holy and apostolic “c”-atholic church( as stated in the Creed) we will influence the State in ways we will never know while on our earthly pilgrimage. The simple saying of St Francis, “preach the Gospel always and if need be use words” may be the better way to expend our efforts to grow the Church. As noted in earlier comments, the church has always been in “crisis”. The newsletter ‘s name is nothing new, as crisis in the church is noted in the epistles. The solutions offered then are still applicable today. A bit more challenging on account of the many bureaucrats in the Curia. I wonder if changing the newsletter’s name to Catholic “Solutions” would prompt articles and comments that are less about drawing upon the differences occurring between “us” and “them” ( how ever you want to define it) and more about a way to the truth, subtly found in the new Testament.

  • timothygordon

    JCM’s beliefs, and to some extent this article, were based upon a a false premise. American constitutionalism and Roman Catholicism are compatible not because the former actually posited any “separation of church and state”, as Murray presumed, but rather because the Constitution itself stands for something akin to the “weak” form of the argument this article makes reference to. “Separation of c & s” is an unconstitutional doctrine (20th century, rather than 18th century, 1st amendment jurisprudence) coming first from Jefferson’s correspondence in 1804 with the Danbury Baptists. Indeed, at and after the Constitution’s ratification in 1788, eight of the thirteen States HAD official state sects of Protestantism! The first eight amendments (Bill of Rights) didnt even apply to state governments until after 14th amendment jurisprudence “hollowed out” into “incorporation doctrine” a century later! First Amendment (as well as 2nd through 8th) only applied to the NATIONAL Congress until judge-made perversion in the 1900’s.

  • James Glaeg

    It seems to me that each and every part of this argument is most satisfactorily settled by just the following few words from Gaudium et Spes (#76): “The Church…is not…bound to any political system.” That would include any mode whatsoever of being joined or separated from the state. I say, let us make no more bones about it.

  • hombre111

    Professor Trabbic could have said that Winters had compared apples and oranges, and been done with it. Instead, he seems to favor of some kind of union between church and state, and argues that this teaching has never gone away. This plays right into the hands of Protestants and secularists, who say that the Church practices the “tolerance” found in Muslim lands, which will end as soon as the Muslims can force everybody to accept Sharia Law.

    The good thing is, Trabbic caused me to read Dignitatis Humanae from beginning to end, and wonder if he really read the Decree. It labors under the usual burden of ecclesiastical authority dragged kicking and screaming into the new era. And so the document tries to say, “As the Church has always believed and taught,” and then goes on to a teaching the Church emphatically did not believe or teach. So, with the separation of church and state.

    The basic argument over so many centuries was: Who gets to tell whom what to do? Beginning with Constantine, the emperor said the Church served the state, and the Church said the emperor serves the Church. This was the great argument that never went away. Occasionally, the Church got the upper hand, but in the end, with the post-Feudal despot kings, the Church served the state until the modern era. The only place where the Church had freedom was in the United States, and Rome, suspicious as usual at a new idea, declared that the U.S. Church had fallen into the heresy of “Americanism.” The Decree ignores such history, along with the state torturing and murdering people at the instigation of the Church because heresy was considered a threat to the whole society, or the famous dictum that brought peace after the Reformation: “Cuius regio, eius religio,” that is, the people of each kingdom will be obliged to follow the religion of their ruler. Sounds like union of Church and state, ruled by brute force.

    • papagan

      This is certainly a complex question; however, I’d agree that the idea of a “Catholic state” is not oxymoronic, and it isn’t absolutely precluded by Catholic doctrine.

      • hombre111

        Thanks. I will have to think about this. Certainly a state that is sympathetic to Catholic social values. The United States, rooted in Protestant individualism, is very suspicious of community and the common good.

        • papagan

          “The United States, rooted in Protestant individualism, is very suspicious of community and the common good.”

          I wouldn’t dispute that claim. American culture is deeply immersed in individualism.

  • Jacqueleen

    Pondering the question faced by the Synod regarding giving Communion to the divorced and re-married….my question is this….”if one party of the marriage wants the divorce but the other does not….should the one who does not want the divorce be penalized and denied the Sacraments because his/her partner wants out? Seems to me that a couple contemplating divorce should be required to have a conference with a priest to establish if both parties want out or if only one wants out of the Sacrament of Marriage. Then, the party who does not want out can remain in good standing in the church even if he/she re-marries in time. (Punishment of victims is unjust….what say you?)

    • craig

      It’s the remarriage that is the concern, not the divorce. The severing of the marriage under civil law does not affect the original validity and irrevocability of the sacrament: if it was a valid sacrament originally it is still valid despite the divorce.

      • Jacqueleen

        That is understood…However, the party who does not want the divorce cannot re-marry as it stands. This is more complicated than it seems. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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