Rick Santorum and the Kingship of Christ, Part Three

At this moment in history, in the United States of America, invoking the “separation of church and state” may seem an attractive option for those confronting the spectacle of an over-reaching government.  Yet holding or defending it is not a defense of Catholic teaching, nor does it have an “honorable history within the Church” as Dr. Stephen Klugewicz asserted in his recent article.

The first part of my article looked at the early Church on the matter of church and state; the second was a survey of trends relating to “separation” during the American founding.  This final portion of my remarks conclude with a review of the Church’s teaching on church-state relations during the modern period and ends with a critical review of John F. Kennedy’s speech in Houston to gathered Christian ministers in 1960.

The issue of church-state relations has moved to the center of Catholic conversation due to the over-bearing reach of the Obama Administration—manifest most violently in the Health and Human Service Mandate.  In the last days alone, several serious articles exploring this matter have been written not only by Dr. Steve Klugewicz, but Fr. Schall at The Catholic Thing, Andrew Greenwell at Catholic Online, and Christopher Manion at Catholic Exchange as well.  Catholics are called to act as citizens and as Catholic citizens.  Samuel Gregg’s remarks yesterday remind us that if we do not correctly understand the Church’s teaching, our actions are bound to be misguided and easily captured by the spirits of the Age.

The Kingship of Christ over All Human Societies: Modern Catholic Social Teaching on the separation of Church and State

 

The Apostolic letter Post tam Diuturnas and the later encyclical Quas Primas were both explicitly hostile to eighteenth-century notions of the separation of Church and State.  In Arcanum and elsewhere, Leo XIII envisioned the Church and the State as working together:  “If civil power combines in a friendly manner with the spiritual power of the Church, it necessarily follows that both parties will greatly benefit.”  St. Pius X was outspoken on the issue, and Pius XI asserted that the “Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs” was a “grave error.”  Casti Connubi is quite fulsome in its expressed desire that the State will “assist” the Church by creating laws that protect all those matters that we now identify with “the culture of life,” including the discouragement of divorce and birth control.

Papal statements denouncing any assertion for the “separation of church and state” are uniform in the eighteenth through twentieth centuries.  A summary of early statements can be found in the “syllabus” collected by Bl. Pius IX and promulgated in Quant Cura.  This encyclical and its syllabus were referenced throughout the first half of the twentieths century.  It contains a group of errors related to Church-State relations, all soundly condemned.  For our purposes, the citation of the following condemned proposition will suffice:

55. The Church should be separated from the State and the State from the Church.

 

As a universal proposition, then, the notion of “separation” was and is condemned.

The language of the Church on this matter—stretching back to Scripture, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gelasius—envisions distinct areas of operation (the temporal realm and the spiritual realm).  These distinct areas have always been understood as overlapping, for the Church has always asserted its right to educate and guide all men towards their ultimate happiness.  The social teachings have always held that a good government would enact laws and ordinances that reflect the natural law, and that the State would work with the Church to create entities to ensure these ends.  Leo XIII observed in Arcanum: “If the civil power combines in a friendly manner with the spiritual power of the Church, it necessarily follows that both parties will greatly benefit.”

Pope Pius XI, in Casti Connubi, declared that it was “sad” that the “absolute separation of the civil power from the Church” was commonly taught.  Instead, he hoped that there would be examples of the “one supreme authority … united and associated with the other without detriment to the rights and supreme power of either.”

More recently, Gaudium et Spes reasserted the Gelasian theory of distinct areas of activity and competence, but concluded that “the more that both [the Church and the political community] foster healthier cooperation, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all.”

Although some modern readers would like to see the last forty years as an abandonment of the traditional teaching on Church and State relations, neither Dignitatis Humanae nor the Catechism of the Catholic Church repudiate the traditional teaching—quite the contrary.  Dignitatis Humanae (section 6) speaks of the “special recognition” that a single “religious community” could be granted by civil authorities.  And both Dignitatis and the Catechism, while respecting man’s freedom to search for the truth, also clearly state that man must use this freedom correctly, that there are limits to freedom, and that situations may arise which encourage the State to intervene on the Church’s behalf or on behalf of the common good.

The Catechism (section 2105) speaks once again of “the Kingship of Christ” over all “human societies”, citing both Quas Primas and Immortale Dei.   The notion of the unqualified religious liberty that was envisioned in certain secular notions of the separation of Church and State is rejected.  Indeed, it is an expectation that the State will be involved in securing religious freedom properly understood:  “the right to religious liberty,” the Catechism states “is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right” (2108).

It is true that once, as Cardinal, Benedict XVI spoke of “the separation of the authority of the state and sacral authority,” but this essay in its integrity merely expresses the Gelasian theory, for in the same essay Cardinal Ratzinger went on to explain that “the Church must make claims and demands on public law and cannot simply retreat into the private sphere” (The Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, 1988).  As Pontiff, Benedict has continued to uphold with clarity the Church’s traditional teaching.  In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father spoke at length on the matter (in sections 28 and 29).  For our purposes, only one sentence regarding the Church and the State need be cited: “The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.”  Benedict has been consistent as Pontiff in using the traditional language. So, for example, in a 2008 diplomatic address, he stated that the Church always pursues its mission aware of “the respective autonomy and competence of Church and State.” He continues:

Indeed, we may say that the distinction between religion and politics is a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions. The Church is equally convinced that State and religion are called to support each other as they together serve the personal and social well-being of all (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 76). This harmonious cooperation between Church and State requires ecclesial and civic leaders to carry out their public duties with undaunted concern for the common good.

This backdrop must be considered if we are to understand what the Holy Father meant when he invoked a kind of “separation” when addressing the Bishops of the United States in their ad limina visit this year:

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.

In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.

The Holy Father concluded by calling attention to the urgent “need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”  The use of “separation” in the above remarks is unique and testifies to the Holy Father’s awareness of language and political rhetoric.  The qualification of “legitimate” and the overall context for the expression do not point to a radical secular understanding of “separation,” but to a contemporary application of the Church’s tradition in the American idiom.

The Holy See has long viewed the situation in America as distinct.  Leo XIII in presenting the general teaching of the Church, gave public voice that in certain circumstance (and here he was surely thinking of the United States) toleration of the Church through a legal arrangement which gave no special recognition to Catholicism and, in fact, lowered it so as to be equal with any other religious body was an acceptable arrangement.  As he states in the encyclical Au milieu des solicitudes (28):

We shall not hold to the same language on another point, concerning the principle of the separation of the State and Church, which is equivalent to the separation of human legislation from Christian and divine legislation. We do not care to interrupt Ourselves here in order to demonstrate the absurdity of such a separation; each one will understand for himself. As soon as the State refuses to give to God what belongs to God, by a necessary consequence it refuses to give to citizens that to which, as men, they have a right; as, whether agreeable or not to accept, it cannot be denied that man’s rights spring from his duty toward God. Whence if follows that the State, by missing in this connection the principal object of its institution, finally becomes false to itself by denying that which is the reason of its own existence. These superior truths are so clearly proclaimed by the voice of even natural reason, that they force themselves upon all who are not blinded by the violence of passion; therefore Catholics cannot be too careful in defending themselves against such a separation. 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.

These last two sentences clearly apply to the United States.

The contrast drawn between America and France is not limited to Leo XIII’s writings. Benedict, in his ad limina address to the American Bishops, may have had one of the last letters of John Paul II in mind: a letter to the Bishops of France reflecting on the centenary of the separation of church and state in French law:

Correctly understood, the principle of laïcité (secularity), to which your Country is deeply attached, is also part of the social teaching of the Church. It recalls the need for a clear division of powers (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nn. 571-572) that echoes Christ’s invitation to his disciples: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Lk 20: 25). For its part, just as the non-denominational status of the State implies the civil Authority’s abstention from interference in the life of the Church and of the various religions, in the spiritual realm it enables all society’s members to work together at the service of all and of the national community. Likewise, as the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recalled, the management of temporal power is not the Church’s vocation for: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 76 2; cf. n. 42). Yet, at the same time, it is important that all work in the general interest and for the common good. The Council also stated: “The political community and the Church… each serves the personal and social vocation of the same human beings. This service will redound the more effectively to the welfare of all insofar as both institutions practice better cooperation” (ibid. 3)… Trusting relations and collaboration between Church and State cannot but have positive effects for building together what Pope Pius XII termed “legitimate and healthy secularity” (Alla vostra filiale, Address to Residents in Rome from The Marches, 23 March 1958: La Documentation Catholique 55 [1958], col. 456), and, as I said in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, would not be “a type of ideological secularism or hostile separation between civil institutions and religious confessions” (n. 117).

A “clear division of powers,” “trusting relations and collaboration,” not “a type of ideological secularism or hostile separation”—these are the legitimate ways of expressing the relationship between the Church and the State.

Similarly, John Paul II had sketched out the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate relations between the Church and the State in his final address to the Mexican ambassador:

You must not succumb to the claims of those who, hiding behind an erroneous conception of the principle of the separation of Church and State and of the lay character of the State, seek to reduce religion to the merely private sphere of the individual and refuse to recognize the Church’s right to teach her doctrine and pronounce on moral issues which affect the social order, when the fundamental rights of the person or the spiritual good of the faithful so require.

This, though brief, provides a fine update of how the Church would continue to intervene within the secular realm.  Such a renewal has been on the mind of Pope Benedict for some time.  Of course, this fits his general disposition to seek continuity with tradition, where others have looked for rupture.  In many respects, Benedict has triggered a Gelasian renewal.  Such renewal is most evident in his Address to Catholic jurists on the subject of a true “secularity”—the legitimate form of the temporal realm, autonomous, but not impervious.

In this speech, he notes the dangers expressed in “the total separation between Church and State.”  The Holy Father announced the nascent danger that such a hard separation implies, for it would usher in not a proper understanding of the temporal realm, but its “degeneration into secularism, hostility to every important political and cultural form of religion; and especially to the presence of any religious symbol in public institutions.” “Likewise,” Benedict continues “to refuse the Christian community and its legitimate representatives the right to speak on the moral problems that challenge all human consciences today, and especially those of legislators and jurists, is not a sign of a healthy secularity.”  What the Holy Father calls for is not “undue meddling by the Church in legislative activity that is proper and exclusive to the State but, rather, of the affirmation and defense of the important values that give meaning to the person’s life and safeguard his or her dignity.”  Bellarmine’s “indirect power” is now to be found in the Church’s right to make pronouncements on moral issues.

Finally, the recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (sections 425-427) states unequivocally that “the mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation.”  As always, in concrete political acts, the Church leaves it open to prudence as to how this cooperation will be achieved.

The Church’s position of distinctiveness and cooperation—rather than a hard “separation”—between church and state is not merely the essential position for Catholics. Being true, it is the only truly conservative and sustainable notion of government.  Government should observe its limits.  The Church should uphold and encourage the autonomy and competence of all parts of the temporal realm.  But if the two do not overlap, if they remain separate, then America will silence the oldest and greatest voice for moral norms which the West has known. If we embrace such separation, we must conclude that the Ten Commandments and prayer have no place in public schools or government; we must likewise acknowledge that the Obama Administration’s recent decision on the Health and Human Services Mandate is correct, since it does not touch on private belief, only public actions.

A principled Catholic statesman understands that the State, on its own, cannot fulfill its objective.  The State does not create truth.  The State must be open to receiving guidance on the source and measure of truth, the source and measure of all that can be called good, and the ultimate end of man.

Leo XIII had stated unequivocally in Longinqua Oceani that it was a blessing that Catholics in America enjoyed equity under the law and were not hindered in the practice of the Faith, but that it was “erroneous” to believe that the church-state model found in America was the “most desirable.”  That view was developed slightly by Pius XII, who thought it would be “interesting, and perhaps even surprising, for history to find in the United States an example among others on how the Church managed to flourish in the most diverse situations.”  Despite these honors, Catholics in America would do well to imitate the shepherds of the Church and use the expression “separation” rarely, if at all.

When the Church is separated from the temporal realm, nothing will stop a wayward government from trying to dominate the Church.  The reason is simple: the Church becomes merely a corporate symbol of aggregated private thinking within the State.  The Obama administration has now adopted a clear position of lording all within the State.  The State is the highest order, there is nothing else now.  Logically, this position comes to its conclusion: that the State will lecture and guide the affairs of the Church, just as it regulates the affairs of other conglomerations of individual citizens.  The ironic result: an established religion—the State.   This new totalitarianism is manifest in the way in which the Obama administration now adjudicates and lectures the Bishops.

Even in this dark hour, the very letter released yesterday by the USCCB—a letter which discloses the abuse now suffered at the hands of the administration—still speaks in terms of “the long tradition of effective partnership with the government.”  Cardinal Dolan’s resolution must be applauded and actively supported by an informed laity.  Part of our being informed will come from a clear understanding the Church’s teaching and the path to enslavement that our own politicians took through embracing erroneous non-Catholic teachings.

Kennedy versus Santorum—the Challenge Before Us

Perhaps this reflection may help us to understand why Mr. Santorum (and others who attempt to balance their Catholic faith with the American political tradition) often sounds reactionary when attempting to address the issue.  The route Kennedy took in 1960 was to wrap himself in the rhetorical mantle of Protestantism.  He also twisted the truth.  He stated in that address that the Church did not speak for him and he did not speak for the Church.  He then spoke about “the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation.”  No such endorsement was given.  The key remark of the hierarchy was a simple restatement of the Catholic teaching as understood in the United States:

We feel with deep conviction that for the sake of both good citizenship and religion there should be a reaffirmation of our original American tradition of free cooperation between government and religious bodies—cooperation involving no special privilege to any group and no restriction on the religious liberty of any citizen.

In short, I believe Klugewicz lets Kennedy (or Sorensen) off too lightly.  Kennedy was advancing a false notion of the hard separation of Church and State, even if he did not originate that notion.  He may have thought he was adopting a Protestant notion, but the way he did radically changed American politics, by privatizing religion well beyond the intent of the majority of the American Founders, well beyond presidential rhetoric, and certainly well beyond anything acceptable to a Roman Catholic.  If one looks to the current interpretation of “religion” and the First Amendment by the present Administration, we can see the bitter fruits of Kennedy’s self-serving and promiscuous mixing of political rhetoric and pragmatism.  Cloaked in superlative rhetoric, Kennedy’s speech does set out some very traditional and wise notions.  But consider two remarks from the speech:

I believe in an America … where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.

Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views—in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.

In the first instance, much depends on what Kennedy meant by “instruction” or “will”.  The Catholic Church, with its teaching on conscience, does not impose its “will” on the mind of anyone.   The first passage clearly supports a view of separation which would discourage or even make illegal what, in fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does and has done since it was created.

In the second instance, “pressure” or “dictates” could save the remark, but probably not.  The path is set here for Catholic politicians to believe that in departing from Catholic teaching (and the truth), they are acting according to their conscience—that somehow the conscience of a politician is something separated from religious teaching.  This is neither the conscience of a true conservative, nor of a Catholic.

There is a very good reason why Senator Santorum appears somewhat tongue-tied and sea-sick when speaking on the issue.  We are not dealing with a false interpretation, but a false teaching.  To embrace the separation of Church and State as “vitally important” is not conservative, but pragmatic, progressive, and secular.  The Catholic tradition speaks of overlapping spheres of operation; it speaks of different ends for those who hold office in the temporal and the spiritual realms; it speaks of the indirect power of the Church over the political authorities; it speaks of a harmonious cooperation between State and Church.  These are not the stuff of which sound-bites and headlines are made; rather, they are subtle, often nuanced concepts which demands the virtue of prudence.  How does one express all that in American political rhetoric?  Can one do so successfully?

Perhaps it is time for a renewed study of the Kingship of Christ, which envisioned the recognition of Christ and his sovereignty (including political) within all parts of society.  Again, this is not theocracy: rather, it is an invitation to create a prudential, Catholic political imagination.  How do Catholic laymen advance—or at least protect—the good through legitimate public agencies?  In the face of current governmental abuse, must we now adopt not merely restraint, but a hard-line libertarian position?  Must all collaboration with local, state, and federal government be abandoned?  If so, that act will be at variance with much that has been suggested over the last century in the social teaching of the Church.

William Edmund Fahey

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

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