Friday, November 18, 2011
Catholic and Constitutional Fiction: The Fatal Theory of Separation
“There are others…who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State…
For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enactments…
[A]lthough the civil authority has not the same proximate end as the spiritual, nor proceeds on the same lines, nevertheless in the exercise of their separate powers they must occasionally meet.”
-Pope Leo XIII, On the Nature of Human Liberty 1888
The following blog was originally posted in 2010 but has been revised for new Sky View readers:
Does it matter what book our elected officials swear an oath over? Can it be just any book? Can the Koran, the Origin of Species, or even the Book of Mormon be binding on the conscience of those who represent us in government? Many supporters of Secular-liberalism say that it does not matter. They might even wonder what the point is in swearing an oath at all. The opinion that there should be a total separation of Church and State is certainly consistent with their indifference to religion. But for those Americans who are not willing to go as far as saying that any book will due in oath swearing have to be just as consistent as their counterparts. Indeed, if the bible is sacred and therefore should be binding upon the conscience of elected officials, then logically the rejection of the radical separation between Church and State should follow. In other words, if using the bible in the swearing of oaths is acceptable, then Christian principles ought to have an influence on judicial proceedings and legislation.
But sadly, many Americans defend absurd and contradictory positions. Many elected officials, for instance, swear an oath on the Christian bible but turn around an attempt to purge every last vestige of Christianity from the public square. What is even more harmful to our Republic is the taxpayer supported public school systems which, if not in theory certainly in practice, indoctrinated American children with Secularism in most cases and an anti-Christian bias in a good many cases.
The Catholic Church, to the contrary, has always taught the following truth: Just as the union of the body and soul of any given individual is necessary for the sustenance of life, likewise, the collaboration between Church and State is necessary for a nation's longevity. This truth is at the heart of whether the United States of America will recover from what seems to be a decline. No doubt, the separation between Church and State as it is currently conceived is a fatal theory of separation as Pope Leo XIII warned in 1888. More on that below.
First Amendment and Separation:
The First Amendment reads as such: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The fact is that both the wording and the modern usage of “separation of Church and State” is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The prohibition of the Federal government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is a far cry from separating and excluding the Christian religion from the State. After all, at least 6 States of the original 13 States of the Union had government sponsored churches up to 1830.
Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Roy Moore wrote a compelling article called, Putting God Back into the Public Square in August of 1999. In it he provided at least five historical precedents which effectively refuted the secular idea that the First Amendment requires the exclusion of religion from the public square:
• Every president of the United States (with only one possible exception) has been administered the oath of office with his hand on the Bible, ending with the words “so help me God.”
• The Supreme Court begins every proceeding with the ringing proclamation, “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”
• Throughout our history, the executive and legislative branches have decreed national days of fasting and prayer.
• Public offices and public schools close in observance of religious holidays.
• United States currency bears our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
Catholicism on Separation:
What is the longstanding Catholic teaching on the separation of the Church and State? It might scandalize Catholics who subscribe to Secular-liberal principles (and even orthodox Catholics for that matter) that as recent as 1862, Pope Pius IX denounced the following proposition: “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” One might be tempted to chalk this up to some kind of an anomaly; that is, an isolated incident. But Pope Leo XIII confirmed twenty-six years later in his encyclical, On the Nature of Human Liberty, that the separation between Church and State is a “fatal theory.”
State neutrality with regard to Christianity as mandated by the Constitution is not only legal fiction, but it finds no sanction in Catholic doctrine; especially as it pertains to the two thousand years of papal writings. I would even argue that the statements of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII represent the vast majority of the popes, Church Fathers and General Councils as it pertains to the relationship between Church and State.
Effects of Separation:
The fruits of a long held secular understanding of the separation between Church and State are before us. The worries and concerns over jobs and the economy among the voters and the growing worries by Catholic bishops over religious liberty can be traced to banishment of the Christian religion from our public institutions. As Tocqueville said, religion is the guarantor of morality, and morality, in turn, is the guarantor of freedom. Is it any wonder that the free market has come under assault in recent years? Freedom, even as it applies to the economy, is simply unintelligible without Christianity. But throughout world history, freedom has been the exception, not the rule. It is precarious and for that reason it requires discipline and prudence among the citizenry. However, with all the focus on jobs and the economy- a legitimate concern, no doubt -I am afraid that the public is missing the bigger picture.
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.
Framers and Catholic Teaching:
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.
Understanding Civil Government:
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. As Pope Leo XIII said, “[A]lthough the civil authority has not the same proximate end as the spiritual, nor proceeds on the same lines, nevertheless in the exercise of their separate powers they must occasionally meet.” Nevertheless, the proposition that there should be a radical separation between these two institutions is what the same pope referred to as a "fatal theory." Like the total separation between body and soul for an individual, a radical dichotomy between Church and State leads to the death of the commonwealth as well.
Man not Created for the State:
Now, if civil authority is a mere invention of man without any inherent God-given purpose, then it can be defined by the powerful or the rich as they see fit. Instead of the authority of the State having the welfare of its citizens as its goal, the State can turn into an end in itself. Indeed, the purpose of government can be defined to mean that the people exist for the State; that the multitude ought to serve the interests of the few. As Pius XI said, “There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality, which is a mere cog-wheel in the Communist system.”
This perversion of power- so common in world history -explains why the twentieth-century was riddled with atheistic or Communistic dictators who killed more of its own people than all the wars put together during that same century. In the absence of God then, the State becomes supreme and rules according to its own whim. Cardinal James Gibbons, in his pastoral letter to the US Bishops in 1919, issued the following warning about the State taking the place of God:
“It lies in the very nature of man that something must be supreme, something must take the place of the divine when this has been excluded; and this substitute for God, according to a predominant philosophy, is the State. Possessed of unlimited power to establish rights and impose obligations, the State becomes the sovereign ruler in human affairs.”
The Check and Balance:
From this state of affairs, joblessness, a down trodden economy, and serfdom are but the sad result. This is where the Catholic Church has historically played a vital role. In centuries past, she has mediated between the State and the citizen; reminding the State it is a servant to the citizen and reminding the citizen that it owes both loyalty and obedience to civil authority for the common good. The Church has also assumed a prophetic role in holding the State accountable; accountable to the divine and natural law. Indeed, in ages past she was the “check and balance” against the overreaching arm of the State. With this, St. Thomas Aquinas’ saying is wonderfully fulfilled: A government which governs least, governs best. But a government can only govern least if the laws of God are daily impressed upon it.
The following question is indeed important: "Where in the Constitution is separation of Church and State?" If the passage, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" continues to be interpreted to mean that the Christian religion has no place in public education and in State institutions, then the State will possess unlimited power and will cease to see itself as the servant of its citizens. From this, who can doubt that the Catholic Church in America will at least lose some of her religious liberties? Indeed, her ministries will be closely monitored by the State and her mission to preach the fullness of the Gospel will be hindered.
Posted by Joe at 12:03 PM