Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church and State II

A Continuation of Catholic Fiction: The Separation of Church & State

The question about the separation of Church and State in First Amendment posed by Christine O’Donnell during the Delaware Senate debate at the Widener Law School, and the reaction of the audience which followed, points to the significance of the 2010 elections. And this significance, to be sure, goes beyond job security, the economy and freedom; all of which are shaped by how we approach Church and State relations. And the question of Church and State goes to the heart of the matter: Does God have a role in our public institutions? The answer to this question, in itself, holds the key to the future of America.

Allow me to propose that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution and the Catholic Church’s teaching on separation of Church and State bear much resemblance. Suffice it to say there are differences. Nevertheless, the theological principles which underscore the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution also have been articulated by Popes, Bishops and Councils of the Church long before the American Revolution.

One excellent source representing the Catholic position on Church and State matters is a treatise St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine wrote in the seventeenth century entitled, On Civil Government. Not only is this treatise a reliable summary of Catholic doctrine pertaining to the purpose of the State, but it can be argued that St. Bellarmine’s writings had influence on the Framers of the Constitution such as Thomas Jefferson (see link at the bottom of the blog). Below, are four basic principles from the treatise on On Civil Government which provides us a Catholic (and American) understanding of the State:

• Human nature was created by God in such as way as to require civil authority its well-being, order and protection. As such, the authority of the State originates from the wise counsel of God. Human beings cannot co-exist without these higher principles of civil authority.
• Although civil authority finds its origin in God, it is not directly communicated to any one particular individual as we find when a Bishop or priest is ordained; in the latter case, the sacramental grace of Holy Orders is communicated to particular individuals directly from the “hands of God.”
• Rather, the authority of the State resides in human nature, that is, in the people because it is for them that this authority exists to begin with.
• Since the people or the citizens of a nation are the purpose or end for which civil authority is ordained, it follows that it is the people’s prerogative to choose not only the form of government they see fit but the system through which their leaders are determined or chosen.

Now, from this Catholic perspective, if the State exists for the citizen then the citizen can be also considered to be the customer of the State. A customer chooses what kind of services it wishes to receive and from whom it wishes to receive it. According to Catholic political theology, people have the inherent right to choose what form of government they wish to be subject to. Furthermore, depending how they want to be ruled, they also have the right to elect who political rulers.

By virtue of this right of choice, the citizen can elect to create a government which invokes God and one that observes the principles of his Catholic Faith. After all, he is the customer of the State and the very purpose of the State is to serve his needs. Just as important, every man has spiritual needs that cannot be compartmentalized apart from his civic life. If the authority of the State comes from God- which the Catholic Church affirms that it does -then like the individual, the State is obligated to pay homage to its Creator. Yes, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. What is commonly overlooked, however, is that Caesar belongs to God too!

Human nature is composed of both body and soul. And in the end, the common good of society must be of a material and spiritual nature. The Catholic Church does hold to a kind of separation of Church and State in that they are distinct from one another. However, these two entities, like the body and soul, are to collaborate and interact with each other so that the common good of society may be brought about. The proposition that there should be a radical separation between these two institutions is what Pope Leo XIII referred to as a "fatal theory." Such a dichotomy leads to the death of the commonwealth.

More on this later-


St. Robert Bellarmine's Influence on the Writing of the Declaration of Independence & the Virginia Declaration of Rights, by Karl Mauer.