Rick Santorum and the Kingship of Christ, Part One

Let’s have Christ our President
Let us have him for our King
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That you call the Nazarene

The only way we can ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to run the money changers out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in.
—Woody Guthrie

 In his Rick’s Degrees of Separation, Stephen Klugewicz draws our attention to the latest attempt of an American politician to speak on matters of Church and State.  His article rightly demonstrates the shallowness of the media in their manner of reporting Senator Santorum’s recent remarks on Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association during the latter’s 1960 bid for the presidency.   Yet Klugewicz, I would suggest, obscures the Catholic Church’s actual teaching with respect to church and state. But in so doing, he reveals one of the gravest challenges Catholics in the modern world face: how to act as responsible Christians in a pluralistic democracy.

Again, Klugewicz gives us some fine insights, especially his revelation of the difficulties Catholics will face in their attempt to find a political rhetoric effective in American society, while remaining true to their Catholic traditions and teaching.  This is particularly evident in an age of rapid social communication.  Still, his argument is hampered by an insufficient grounding in history and Catholic social thought.  The essence of the problem can be seen in the following remark: “Santorum must also remember that the separation of church and state is a good thing for the Catholic Church, and for people of faith in general. The concept has an honorable history within the Church.”  Here, Klugewicz is simply wrong.

 

The relationship between the Catholic Church and the various political powers of the last two millennia is thorny, to say the least.  Over the next few days, I will make a few observations on this important issue for provocation, conversation, and, hopefully, clarification.

We begin today with an overview of the relations between the Church and the Roman imperial State in late antiquity, since this established for Catholics the practical and theoretical foundations of the Catholic Social Teaching on this matter.  The second portion of the essay will treat the experience of Roman Catholics during the Founding era, since this period establishes the particular milieu in which American political rhetoric was forged and continues to find its orientation.  Finally, we will end with a survey of the Encyclicals and other Church documents on the issue of church-state relations.  Such contextualization, I will argue helps to us to understand, if not defend, Senator Santorum’s difficulties in accepting the common “separation of church and state” arguments made by both liberals and certain forms of conservatives in the United States.  My concluding remarks will call for a re-discovery of the Catholic teaching about the Kingship of Christ—in both spiritual and temporal matters.

Two Cities, Distinct but Mixed: St. Augustine

First, let us consider St. Augustine, who is invoked by Klugewicz in his account of the desirability of the separation of church and state.  We do well to recall that St. Augustine, in the City of God and elsewhere, assumes a State religion and likewise assumes that—from the emperor to the common magistrate—government officials will act according to the natural law, Church teaching, and, at times, clerical prompting.   The state officials of Augustine’s day were uneven in their application of Catholic teaching.  Nevertheless, Augustine is quite clear on what it would mean if the State fully embraced Catholicism.  He writes in one of his letters (ep. 138): “Were our religion listened to as it deserves, it would establish, consecrate, strengthen, and enlarge the commonwealth in a way beyond all that Romulus, Numa, Brutus, and all the other men of renown in Roman history achieved.”  This was no theocracy, but neither was it the later notion of the absolute separation of church and state.

Where and when imperial officials could be persuaded to govern, legislate, and act in accord with the Church’s teaching, Augustine averred they should, and he enlisted all of his rhetorical and moral weight to ensure they did.  In a long letter (ep. 93) to one of his brother bishops, Vincentius, Augustine even countered the criticism that no explicit example could be found in the New Testament of “anything being requested from earthly rulers on behalf of the Church against the opponents of the Church.”  St. Augustine is here speaking of the use of state force to protect public order, but also to protect the Catholic Church against schism.  Although Augustine views such force as unfortunate and a final measure, he does not flinch at using it, and grounding its use through Old Testament examples. Clearly for Augustine, error had no rights, and under certain conditions Roman imperial power could and should be used to defend the truths of the Church.

In Augustine’s view, it was normative for a Bishop to guide a magistrate.  This was the common view in the early Church. In Augustine’s day, the imperial government was funneling resources into the Church for the construction of basilicas, hospitals, orphanages, and monasteries, and had been for well over a century.  What we would now identify as “social services” were heavily financed through State subvention, but overseen by Church officials.  This is worth keeping in mind, in light of the recent sport of pillorying the Catholic hierarchy for their apparent aberrant cooperation with the government.  I am not suggesting that productive criticism cease, only that we need to recognize that when viewed in the light of Catholic tradition, “faith-based initiatives” have not been seen as an intrinsically unholy alliance between church and state.

St. Augustine’s magisterial Civitas Dei, with its depiction of two cities—the City of Man and the City of God—is, contrary to modern understandings, not a work about church and state relations.  Neither “the City of Man” nor the “earthly city” is equal to the State, but rather exists as a symbol for those who follow their own interest out of contempt for God.  The “City of God” is not the institutional Church, but rather those who rise above their own interests out of a love for God.  Augustine makes it clear that members of the government and indeed all lay vocations may ultimately be part of the City of God.  He also makes it clear that members of the institutional Church may ultimately, in fact, remain only citizens of the City of Man—and thus eternally damned.  This realization should be ever a source of sorrow and consolation to the Catholic.  The good and bad will receive their reward regardless of their vocation, title, office, or social status in this life.

While on earth, says Augustine, the two cities intermingle.  Men have a temporary “dual citizenship,” as it were, in both the earthly and the heavenly cities.  Good statesmen and state officials—from the emperor on down—“make their power the servant of God’s majesty by using it for the greatest possible extension of his worship” (City of God, 5.24).  A great part of Book 15 of the City of God speaks of the precarious peace that is established in this world when the two cities blend, while admitting that the temporal goods of the earthly city cause division, because these goods are not final goods of eternal happiness.  Without customs, laws, and institutions that direct men towards their final happiness with God, the earthly goods become a source of contention.  The need to guide men—in all parts of life—towards their final happiness explains why St. Augustine was willing to embrace a far greater use of temporal power than most Americans would countenance. As one of Augustine’s final works, then, The City of God provides Catholics with a sober account of how one should consider the institutional powers of the world.

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Renewal of Political Science

Although many minor figures struggle with both the theoretical and practical side of church-state relations throughout the early Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas is the next major figure crucial for our examination.  Aquinas, of course, develops and refines Augustinian thought, arguing for greater integrity and autonomy for the temporal realm. In part, this enhanced place for the temporal order—in other words, for “the state”— comes from Thomas’ reflection on the contemporary struggle to work out what we now call “church-state relations.”  The Investiture Crisis, the sacred nature of medieval kingship, and the overlapping civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions in Aquinas’ day all made quite a work-shop for discovering and testing how the City of God and the City of Man could collaborate.   In part, Thomas’s brilliant insights are also due to the influence of Aristotle and the renewed interest in classical political theory.  In the prologue to his Commentary on Aristotle’s Politics, St. Thomas speaks of the political community as “the most perfect human association,” since the temporal realm gives men the place to work out their destiny: in the earthly sphere, the political community represents the highest association men form for bringing rational order to their lives. For that reason, Thomas concludes that a special science—the science of politics—must be studied and understood if men are to govern themselves under reason and in pursuit of virtue.

In his Commentary, St. Thomas closely follows and yet subtly purifies Aristotle. Aristotle had presented a virtue-based political theory well-suited for the temporal order, but, as Aquinas recognized, even the most naturally virtuous men are created for an end beyond this world.  As St. Thomas says in his work commonly called On Kingship: “because the man who lives a virtuous life is destined for an higher end, which we have stated before as the enjoyment of divine things—this higher end must be understood as the final end of human society.”  And so, St. Thomas explains that the two realms—temporal and spiritual—are established to help man in their respective ends: on earth, peace and virtue; ultimately in heaven, friendship and happiness with God.

Thomas never speaks of a “separation” between these two realms or their respective institutions; instead he speaks of collaboration where there is distinction but also hierarchy between the two: “Spiritual and earthly matters may be distinguished—the ministry of [the spiritual] kingship has been entrusted not to earthly kings, but to the priests, and most especially to the highest priest, the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, to whom all kings over Christian peoples should be subject as to Christ himself. . . . Under the New Law there is a higher priesthood that directs men to the joys of heaven, so that under the law of Christ, kings should be subject to priests.”  The remark “over Christian peoples” is worth noting. In time, the chief challenge to implementing Catholic teaching on the role of the State with respect to religion would become extremely complicated with the emergence of Protestant sects.

St. Robert Bellarmine and the Roots of Modern Social Teaching 

Finally, we should consider in this brief survey of Catholic
thought on church and state relations the Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine, who presents a kind of summation of Catholic social thought from Scripture to his own day.  In his work On the Laity, found among his mammoth study On Controversies, Bellarmine concluded his discussion of the temporal order by setting out the care magistrates and rulers must exercise with respect to religion, and the active steps they should take in fostering and protecting the Catholic Faith:

[T]he temporal and spiritual power… are not two separate and distinct things, as two political kingdoms, but they are united so that they form one body; or rather they exist as the body and soul in one man, for spiritual power is as the soul, and temporal power as the body…Therefore, temporal power ought to serve the spiritual and to protect and defend it from enemies.

It would be wrong to limit Bellarmine’s sphere of influence to the medieval worldview.  The Controversies were written purposely to deal with the fragmentation of Christianity in Europe.  Throughout his life, Bellarmine remained preoccupied with the question of how to express Catholic teaching in the face of a changing world.  In published and secret works, Bellarmine expended enormous energy considering the plight of Catholics under Protestant rule in British Isles and the German-speaking world.  Bellarmine’s greatest contribution to the issue of church-state relations was his understanding of the indirect power of the Papacy, that is the ongoing influence that the Church had over the temporal order—due to its higher mission.  As Bellarmine expressed it, there was a distinction to be observed between the Pope’s direct and indirect authority:

By the words ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ we do not mean, as it has been jokingly said, that the spiritual power is in the Pope directly, that is, lawfully and legitimately, and the temporal power indirectly, that is, unlawfully and by usurpation. Rather we mean that the papal power is of itself properly spiritual, and therefore directly regards as its primary object spiritual affairs; but indirectly, that is, by reason of their relation to spiritual things, reductively, and by necessary consequence it regards temporal things as its secondary object.

and

In regard of persons, the Pope as Pope cannot by ordinary jurisdiction depose temporal rulers even for a legitimate reason, after the manner in which he deposes bishops, as their ordinary judge; nevertheless as the supreme spiritual ruler, he can change the royal power, taking it away from one and conferring it on another, if this be necessary for the salvation of souls. . . .

In regard of laws, the Pope as Pope cannot by ordinary jurisdiction make a civil law or confirm or invalidate the laws of princes; for he is not himself a political ruler of the all Christians; nevertheless, he can do all these things, if a particular civil law is necessary for the salvation of souls and a ruler is unwilling to pass it, or if a particular law is harmful to the salvation of souls and the prince is unwilling to abrogate it. . . . .

In regard of judicial sentences, the Pope as Pope cannot by ordinary jurisdiction decide civil cases. . . . Nevertheless, in a case in which this is necessary for the salvation of souls, he can assume civil jurisdiction.

In many respects, Bellarmine provides the essential articulation for why the Church continues to speak with authority on social issues in a pluralistic world of fragmented Christianity (and non-Christian religions).  Spiritual and moral needs may demand, especially in a world of deficient political leadership, that the Church enter into the public debate and—in fact—intervene in political matters.

In the next section of this essay, we shall survey the development of church-state relations during the American Founding with attention to the challenges and opportunities met by Catholics in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.

William Edmund Fahey

By

Dr. William Edmund Fahey is President and Fellow of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

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