CHURCH AND STATE FROM A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE
One of the more difficult relationships is that of Church and State. The reasons are many and must be explored from a variety of perspectives. In this article, Dr. Jeff Mirus presents a thoughtful understanding of this relationship, and its present difficulties, from a Catholic perspective.
He says, in part:
“The Catholic position has always been what Pope Gelasius described in the late fifth century as the doctrine of “the two swords”. The State (the temporal order) is a natural society over which government presides with a natural authority, exercising that authority for the common good of the community it rules. This is the “temporal sword”. The Church, on the other hand, is a supernatural society which presides with a supernatural authority over souls, exercising that authority for the spiritual welfare of the community, both as a contribution to the common good and so that all its members may attain their final end, which is eternal life with God. This is the “spiritual sword.”
It follows that the Church is our authority for defining moral truth (which is inscribed in natural reality by the Creator) and also the truth which God discloses to us solely through Revelation. To expound these truths is the purpose of what we call “Christian doctrine”. It also follows that the State is our authority for devising and implementing the measures necessary to enforce the moral law most effectively for the good of the commonwealth, as well as the many other measures which will be needed to secure and advance the common good of all under its jurisdiction.”…
“It is not the job of the State to determine what is right and wrong but rather what works best to advance the common good within a prior understanding of right and wrong. In the same way, it is not the job of the Church to decide the most effective means for protecting and promoting the common good of society as a whole, but rather simply to insist on the moral framework within which these prudential decisions must be made.
In a nutshell, morally speaking, both totalitarianism and theocracy are out of the question.”…
“In the West today we find a curious state of affairs. Church and State are supposedly separated. But in fact public opinion is very selectively horrified by apparent breaches of this misunderstood separation. Public outrage is conveniently generated whenever the Church seeks to correct the mistaken moral values created and implemented by the State, but the public remains perfectly serene whenever the State makes up moral values out of whole cloth in defiance of what the Church has taught over two millennia (and in defiance of what had been largely defined for far longer, when we consider Jewish history, the teachings of many other religions, and the natural law tradition inherited from the Greeks). This tells us something about the temptation to totalitarianism which is so characteristic of the secular West.”
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