Politics Essay – the Longstanding Catholic View

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The longstanding Catholic view that church and state should work together yet independently for the betterment of the community and that catholic citizens should use their faith in everyday responsibilities and decision-making, including the political, has evolved throughout time. Religion and politics under Christian thought are not separate domains, since each person much live out their religious lives with their social, economical and political lives. Historically, Roman Catholic views on matters of church and state have been in favor of a strong union of the two, although it took centuries to settle this ideal.

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In fact the modern idea of the separation of church and state has its beginnings in Christianity. The idea of separate religious and political entities came to be during the earliest of times of Christianity. The concept of bringing religious and political powers together in one distinct entity were part of the words of Jesus: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Since it was favored for the lives of people to be governed separately between religious and non-religious entities, this view became a pillar of Christian teaching and philosophy starting from ancient times. According to Catholic points of view this was the optimal way to rule because in order for everyone to reach the common good, God has to embodied a country’s temporal powers. This connection has a long history of church law dominating the state and the state law dominating the church over many centuries. Many empires had a declared religion where typically the king or emperor would rule according to the religion. At the start of the Roman Catholic religion, the Pope had a heavy influence over the land he ruled and would chose the emperors of Rome, such a Pope Leo III choosing Emperor Charlemagne. Although the view of separate entities existed, the precise role of the church in matters of state have sparked debates since from the onset and in some societies, continue to do so. From Constantine in the fourth century, to Vatican II in the 1960s, the church’s relationship with politics reflects a long past of contention over such questions as man versus God, the divine rights of kings against the rights of people, emperor versus pope, and pope against enumenical councils, ultimately leading to the decision by the church to recognize the necessity of a modern state governed by the people free of religious interference.


In the 4th century, under Emperor Constantine, the church and state were made one. Constantine converted from Paganism to Christianity and made it the civil religion of Rome. Before the emperor’s conversion, the Roman Empire was going through years of prosecution against the Christian faith. When he converted, the prosecution of Christians diminished and there was a change in spiritual dynamic within the empire. His conversion impacted Christianity by increasingly making it more popular among the people in Rome. In his rule, he shifted the direction of Christianity by uniting the church and state in one body where church was dominating the state. Most of his legislation was greatly influenced by Christianity. He ruled his empire as a state-church, which was not unusual at this time, and he viewed himself not only as the head of the state but also as the head of the church. With his power, Constantine as emperor attended the church’s councils and ruled over the bishops of the church. He, as emperor of over the state of Rome, not only gave himself the power over the church, he also gave the bishops the authority over the state as well as religious authority. The citizens were split on Constantine’s political philosophy, “While some Christians wanted to argue that this was God’s providential way of spreading the Gospel with the help of the political order, others feared that this new arrangement meant that the church was sacrificing her true identity”(Pecknold). When Constantine moved the capital city to Constantinople, he created a big divide between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, showing that politics and religion coming together as one can sometimes have a dire effects on both powers. In Emperor Constantine’s time, he made huge impacts on both the church and state of Rome. Constantine established the precedent of the churches councils to be called by the Roman emperor (Pecknold).


Saint Augustine’s view on church and state was to keep them as separate entities, however in order for a nation to work properly the two much work together. In Saint Augustine’s City of God, his overall point was to show that Christianity was not to be blamed and how it was its only hope during the fall of the Roman Empire. Augustine talked about how pagan Gods were not capable of helping the Empire, but the Christian God would be its true savior of Rome. In his philosophy, the Christian religion had an important role in making government decisions. In his book, he explains that there is no just government or empire without God. He believed that the state needs justice in order for the country to have justice, but justice can only be reached through God. Augustine wanted to do justice to those who were suffering injustice in Rome. He believed that there is never really any justice if God is not getting what is due (?? not sure what this means?). In his book, he describes the church and state as two different entities but describes them using the same ideas. He indicates the church and state as two cities, the city of God and the Earthly City. The difference between the two is that of who is destined to eternal life with God. The City of God is of those who love God justly and express honor for God. The Earthly City is created by self-love that turns in on one’s self and condemns God. A community can not identify with one of the cities but with both because they exists side by side. The two cities are unite in the realm of temporal existence in which politics take place. In Augustine’s views, he believes politics should be based on morality and religion. He continues to say that God is above everyone, including the king and The Pope, which shows that in order to make an nation happy, the king must rule with religion in mind. In the Catholic vision, the government should always include a religious point of view. Catholicism’s philosophy on church and state should not be entirely different.

Coronation of Charlemagne

Pope Leo III, strongly believed that the church should be completely in charge of the Roman Empire and took it upon himself to take over Rome as ruler. The way he governed turned into a tyranny. According to Aquinas’ De Regno, a tyrant is a ruler of an unjust government that rules with hate towards the common good and with the love of power. The Roman people started to backlash and attacked their Pope. During the strike, Charlemagne was with him protecting Pope Leo III from any danger or peril. After this attack, in the 8th Century, Pope Leo III made the decision to crown Charlemagne as the first Roman Holy Emperor to avoid conflict. Through the coronation of Charlemagne, he was able to gain authority to recover the unity of the Roman empire. Charlemagne was a student of Augustine’s work, so he believed in the unifying and r the church and state. His goal was to rule honorably and with Augustine’s philosophy of the City of God in the Roman Empire. Charlemagne made reforms both within the church and within the city such as educational, religious, and legal changes. When The Pope crowned Charlemagne, It showed the public that he had the ultimate authority over any temporal leaders. Pope Leo wanted power over Rome without having to be the emperor in order to make the Roman people happy. Essentially, the ope wanted the emperor’s job to enforce religious conformity and unity and carry out the Pope’s authority over the people. The church was the spiritual power over the citizen and the emperor is in charge of the political and state power. Pope Leo wanted the bishops to be backed up by the military and he recognized that Charlemagne could provide such request. Charlemagne believed that the Church was necessary in uniting the empire and establishing his authority over the people.

Pope Gelasius I

During Gelasius reign as Pope, Emperor Anastasius came into power where he ruled with the idea that the church and state were completely separate beings. Pope Gelasius was not supportive of this method of ruling. Gelasius wrote a powerful letter to Emperor Anastasius called “On Spiritual and Temporal Powers” to express how he sought the Roman Empire to be ruled. Even though Emperor Anastasius did not reciprocate that the Pope hoped, many future Popes and emperors used his ideology in their reign. In this letter, he explains the difference of the two powers of church and state of one being the sacred authority of the priests and the other of the royal power. He defines the power of state as the temporal power and the power of the church as the spiritual power. The spiritual power is the more powerful of the two because the priests have to make an account for the emperors in the divine discernment. Even though he acknowledges the right of temporal leaders to rule over mankind, he makes note that people are mortal. According to Gelasius, if temporal leaders receive salvation they must respect and bow down in front of clergical leaders and “await from their hands the means of their salvation.” Spiritual leaders should recognize the authority of the state. Pope Gelasius believes in the idea that church and state should be working together to govern a just city for the Roman people but that the spiritual power has more power than that of the temporal. Religious leaders understand when to allow temporal emperors to govern and when they should step in. Gelasius believes in a distinction between the church and state but have them work together in harmony at the same time. Even though he argued for the separation of the two entities, he did not argue for the bodies to be equal. Gelasius makes it clear that he is striving to have the church as the most powerful but wants both the church and state to be respectful of each other and understanding of where the power lies.

Conflicts Between Pope Boniface and Philip IV

In the Middle Ages, Pope Boniface and King Philip IV of France faced many controversial disagreements over their difference in beliefs on the separation of the church and state. Neither of the two leaders wanted to be controlled over the other which stirred up much conflict because both leaders believed they had power over the other. At this time, majority of the french people were Christian. Because of this, Boniface felt as if he had power over these French citizens. Seeing what the Pope was doing, King Philip IV became infuriated which started the conflict between the two leaders. During Boniface’s papacy, “he used the conflict with Philip, King of France, to expand the power of the church, protect the Church from secular rulers’ influence.” They both thought they were trying to control each other’s territory. These conflicts caused Boniface to order papal bull, or public decree. Unam Sanctam was one of Pope Boniface’s last papal bulls that was decreed which caused great controversy. In the Unam Sanctam, which seems to be directed towards the secular rulers, he writes that salvation and forgiveness of sins could only be found in the church. He also states that we must recognize the Pope as the head of the church and that our salvation is subject to the Pope. In order to reach eternal salvation, we must recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the church. The document is inferring that if one does not listen to the Pope’s orders than that person is rejecting God and church law. Boniface makes it clear that he wants his followers to understand that any temporal leader is below any religious leader. Pope Boniface has a strong belief in the papal supremacy over any other religious or secular body. The Pope was so involved with this conflict, that he began to lose his own bishops and began to not listen. Through this bull and their conflict, it was clearly shown that power struggles can have a negative role in how the leader rules.

Luther and the Start of the Reformation

In Luther’s philosophy, the church is not to have more power over the state in temporal matters and the state does not have more power to the church in spiritual matters. He saw that “the institutional side of church life as a obstacle to authentic faith. […] Luther had made “authentic faith” dependent only upon the spiritual.” Luther clearly shows that he is in favor on the matters of the separation of church and state and wants to reform the papacy. Luther started a protest against the papacy and the catholic church for a separation between the two bodies which sparked the Reformation. Luther’s document, “Address to the Nobility,” was for the general public to become aware of the basic principles of the Reformation in which he described the corruptions within the church and their abuse of power. Pecknold describes that Luther’s notion was a renewal or improvement of divine life in the church by depoliticizing it. Luther believed that the power needed to be spiritualized and in the government the temporal power needs to be desacralized. His movement was to encourage the church to have no temporal jurisdiction and for the state to have no spiritual jurisdiction. This indicates that the state matters should be in power of the state and the church matters should be in power of the church. Bishops should be dealing with matters of religion and faith where kings and temporal judges deals with matters of money, property, life, and honor. According to Pecknold, Luther “was eager to give as much of the institutional power of the church as possible to the state.” Luther wants there to be no debate on who, the church or the state, has power over the other. He wants the two systems to be equal in power and completely different entities. The two powers should have two distinct and disparate goals. In this philosophy, Luther describes, There is a clear separation of the two powers.”

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Politics essay - The longstanding Catholic View. (2021, May 20). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/politics-essay-the-longstanding-catholic-view/