Church and State

views updated May 21 2018


This article presents in four parts a chronological survey of the relations between Church and State in Western civilization. The doctrinal aspects of these relations are related more fully in other articles (see freedom of religion), as are historical and legal aspects that have particular reference to the New World and especially to the United States [see church and state in the u.s. (legal history); freedom of religion (in u.s. constitution].


In the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean world religious and civil functions were inseparable. The state was supreme in the religious as well as in the civil sphere, and its subjects or citizens were normally required to participate in public worship. Nonconformance was regarded as a form of treason or sacrilege. When akhnaton made his Aton cult the official religion of Egypt, the worship of Amon was proscribed and the nonconforming priesthood of Amon was persecuted. Even in the Greek city-states, acceptance of the gods of the state and participation in the official cults were likewise prescribed. The famous trials of anaxagoras and socrates at Athens on the charge of impiety indicated that the most enlightened Greek state could demand religious conformityalthough in these two instances religion was used as a pretext for attack by political enemies. However, it should be noted that plato assigned a central role to religion in the ideal state he described in the Laws and that he advocated the death penalty for persistent atheism.

The policy of ancient imperial states toward the religions of conquered peoples was, in general, based on toleration. The great Persian kings cyrus and darius even aided the Jewish exiles to return from Babylonia and to reestablish the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. There were important exceptions, however, to the policy of toleration. The Assyrians, as is evident from their own records and from the Bible, tended to impose the worship of their militant god Ashur on conquered peoples, and antiochus iv epiphanes, king of Syria, instituted formal persecution against those Jews who would not conform to his program of Hellenization. Some centuries later, the Sassanid kings of the New Persian Empire persecuted Christians, Manichaeans, and all others who would not accept or participate in the official Zoroastrian religion of the state. In practice, the acceptance of the religion of the conqueror or the toleration of the religions of conquered peoples presented no serious problems to adherents of polytheism, as the conquered could incorporate the worship of foreign divinitiesor even the worship of a divine king himselfinto their own cults. The Jews, on the other hand, as the chosen people of Yahweh, were committed to His worship alone. Owing in part to the historical circumstances of their association with Rome from the days of Judas Maccabee and in part to the general Roman policy toward subject ethnic groups, the Jews were granted special immunities out of respect for their religious beliefs and practices. Above all, under the early empire, they were freed from the obligation of participating in the imperial cult.

In summary, before the rise of Christianity, the official religion of a state was an essential and inseparable element in its structure and functioning. The problem of the relations of the religions of subject peoples and the ruling state had arisen, but in practice it was not a serious one except in the case of the Jews, whose uncompromising and exclusive monotheism constituted a unique phenomenon in a polytheistic world [see monotheism (in the bible)]. The Romans never attempted to understand judaism; they tolerated it, but with restrictions against proselytism.

Primitive Christianity and the Roman State. In the Jewish conception of the state, the religious and the civil were inseparably combined. The Jewish state was a kind of religious community, a theocracy, in which institutions and law were religious in origin, being founded in Scripture and interpreted and applied according to the spirit of Scripture. Given this background, subjection to a foreignand paganpower was particularly difficult to endure. Hence the question put to Christ regarding the payment of tribute to Rome was motivated in part by a desire to impugn his Jewish patriotism and in part to expose him to a charge of disloyalty to Rome. His answer, "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mk 12.17; see also Rom 13.7), marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of the relations between religion and the state. For the first time, a formal distinction was made between the obligations owed to God and those owed to the state, with a clear declaration that man has the duty to fulfill the obligations owed to both. St. Paul's teachings on civil authority and civil obedience merely applied concretely the principle enunciated by Our Lord. Subsequent Christian teachings, and their elaboration, on the relations of Church and State have necessarily been based on this same principle as their ultimate foundation.

The conflict between Christianity and the Roman state was occasioned by the nonparticipation of Christians generally in public and private life, and, above all, by their refusal to worship the emperor. The imperial cult had been instituted by Augustus and was promoted, by his successors as a means, strengthened and sanctioned by religion, for developing loyalty and unity throughout the Roman Empire. When, about the middle of the 1st century a.d., the Roman authorities became aware that Christianity was not identical with Judaism and that increasing numbers of non-Jews were joining the new religion, Christians, like other non-Jewish citizens or subjects, were expected to participate in various aspects of Roman public and private life and, above all, in the imperial cult. The hope of an Imminent Second Coming (see parousia), a strong spirit of pacifism among some, and the general deep religious fervor of the first two or three generations of Christians were all factors in developing and maintaining an attitude of aloofness toward the life around them, but the main cause of this aloofness was paganism itself. Every aspect of public and private life was permeated with pagan rites and customs. It was practically impossible for a Christian to serve even as a petty magistrate without having to take an active part in pagan ceremonies, and military service required an oath to the divine emperor and worship of the imperial standards and other rites. It is against this background that one should interpret the statement of St. Paul that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil 3.20), and should understand the consolation that it offered to those who first heard it.

Sometime between the principates of Nero (a.d. 5468) and Trajan (a.d. 98117), Christianity was condemned as a religion inimical to the state, and refusal to worship the emperor or to participate in official sacrifices was regarded as an act of treason against the state. From this period to the Edict of galerius (311) and the agreement on religious policy reached by constantine and Licinius (the so-called Edict of milan of 313), Christianity was proscribed by the Roman state. In practice, however, there were long intervals in which the law against the Christians was not enforced, at least on a universal basis. The rank and file of Christians, although often attacked or ridiculed, were not officially persecuted, and some Christians occupied important posts in the imperial service.

Meanwhile, the Church grew steadily in numbers, especially in the East, and developed a complicated and strong hierarchical organization. It became a great sacred corporation, although one not recognized by the state, that was regarded as a menace to imperial unity as symbolized in the imperial cult and in other official acts of pagan public worship. The elaborately organized persecutions of decius and of diocletian and Galerius were directed especially against the leaders of the Church and ecclesiastical organization, with the hope that Christianity might be eliminated by destroying its higher and lower clergy. Despite the severities of the age of persecutions, Christian martyrs and apologists constantly maintained that they were loyal citizens and that they were bound by the precepts of their religion to render obedience to civil authority. They could and did pray for the emperor, but they could not pray to the emperor, because they had to reserve their worship for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom the emperor himself belonged and from whom he derived his power (Martyr. Polycarpi 8.2; 9.2;10.1; Tertullian, Apol. 4).

From Constantine to the Death of Theodosius the Great (a.d. 313395). Constantine's extension of freedom of worship to Christians, which signified that Christianity was recognized officially as a religio licita beside paganism, was a revolutionary act that marked a great turning point in the history of the early Church and in universal history as well. By his legislation, Constantine continued to strengthen the position of Christianity. This policy was continued by his successors with the exception of julian, whose persecution of Christianity was brought to an abrupt end by his death. Finally, in the last quarter of the 4th century, theodosius the great made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and suppressed public pagan worship.

The Relation of the Church to the Christian Empire. The Church had emerged triumphant from its long struggle with the pagan Roman state and its pagan emperors, but its precise relations with the Christian Empire and Christian emperors remained to be worked out. By the age of Constantine, the Church had become a highly organized universal sacred society, conscious of its divine origin and divine mission. As is clear from the writings of the ante-Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, it regarded itself as the new people of god and its leaders, the bishops, as the successors not only of the Apostles appointed by Christ to rule His Church, but also of their prototypes, the Prophets of the Old Testament, as spokesmen of God. The Church, accordingly, in keeping with its divine foundation and its concern with the things of God, considered itself supreme in the theological and spiritual sphere and as possessing its own rights and privileges within that sphere. On the other hand, and in keeping with the doctrine laid down by Christ Himself, it recognized fully the supremacy of the state and its rulers in political or civil affairs.

The Christian emperors inherited the lofty absolutism of their office from their pagan predecessors, who were supreme in religious affairs, as was symbolized by the title pontifex maximus. This title was relinquished by gratian only in a.d. 382. Constantine considered that he was emperor by divine election and that he not only had the duty to promote the new religion that he had adopted but also the right to interfere directly in religious affairs in the interest of imperial order and unity. Thus he took for granted that he could summon ecclesiastical councils and even suggest the actions that should be taken. In any event, he considered that it was his duty to put into effect, by force if necessary, conciliar decrees. In their joy at deliverance from persecution, the Christian bishops did not perceive that Constantine's handling of the Donatist affair was to be ominous for the future (see donatism). Their joy over the imperial support received at the Council of nicaea i, however, was soon ended when Constantine exiled athanasius, the great champion of orthodoxy, and favored the Arians.

From this time forward, it became clear that the emperor would be a defender of the faith, but that in practice this would mean the faith to which he himself subscribed. It became evident also that an emperor could and would regard himself as superior to all bishops, including the pope, in matters ecclesiastical. Arianism, in fact, owed much of its success to the official support it received from The Emperors constantius and valens and the Empress Justina, regent of her son valentinian ii. Athanasius (for the second and third time), hilary of poitiers hosius of cÓrdoba, lucifer of cagliari, eusebius of vercelli, and Pope liberius were all exiled by Constantius, an ardent promoter of Arianism as the official religion of the state. Athanasius was exiled again by Julian the Apostate and by Valens.

Divergence between Eastern and Western Theories. Two main Christian attitudes or, rather, theories of the relations of Church and State began to take definite shape from the age of Constantine. In the West the idea of the two societies, the ecclesiastical and the civil, with their respective rights and privileges, was maintained and developed. In the East, eusebius of caesarea advanced the view that as the empire was becoming Christian the two societies were merging into a single Christian society with the emperor as its head. He thus laid the foundations for what has been called caesaropapism in practice, if not in theory. It was only natural, accordingly, that the Germanic kings who were converted to Arian Christianity should regard themselves as heads of the Church in their realms. At Constantinople and in the Arian kingdom, the Church thus became in many respects a department of government.

Despite the opposition of Athanasius and other Eastern Fathers to Eusebius's concept of the merging of the two societies and, above all, to the supremacy of the emperor in the field of religion, this concept received constant imperial support and elaboration until it culminated under justinian the great, who regarded himself as "priest-emperor." In the West, St. ambrose was the first great and successful champion of the rights of the Church, and he defended these rights with the vehemence and courage of an Old Testament Prophet. He maintained that the Church has certain sacred and inviolable rights, that it possesses jurisdiction over all Christians, and that the state cannot exercise jurisdiction over strictly ecclesiastical affairs (see his Enarr. in Ps. 37.43; Epist. 21.4). In his Sermon against Auxentius (36), he declared that the emperor had no title more honorable than "son of the Church" and that "the emperor is within the Church and not over it" (imperator enim intra Ecclesiam, non supra Ecclesiam est ). For the massacre of Thessalonica, he required the powerful Emperor Theodosius the Great to acknowledge his guilt publicly, thus demonstrating that the Church had the right and the duty to insist that even an emperor obey the Christian moral law.

From the Death of Theodosius to the Accession of Justinian (a.d. 395527). Following the death of Theodosius, the two halves of the empire remained separated until Justinian made the recovery of the West one of the major policies of his reign (his conquests in the West were largely temporary only). Beginning with the sack of Rome by Alaric (410), Roman authority in the West disintegrated steadily. The deposition of Romulus Augustus (476) marked the formal end of a Roman rule that for decades had been nominal only. Meanwhile, the bishops of the West, and especially the popes, developed the theory of the relations of Church and State much further; and they gave it the definitive form that became the inheritance of the Middle Ages.

St. augustine in his various writings, but above all in his De civitate Dei, dealt in a comprehensive manner with the idea of the two societies. Unlike Eusebius, he emphasized their different character and their continued separation. Despite his fear regarding the dangers of interference by the state in religious affairs, he felt obliged, because of the violence of the Donatists, to call upon the imperial government for help. This action set a fateful precedent for the future.

In the period after Augustine, the popes, as Roman civil authority crumbled in he West, were forced to assume an increasingly important political role as the protectors and defenders of the Christian communities against the evils resulting from the Germanic invasions. At the same time, they had to defend the rights and the freedom of the Church in the East as well as in the West against the State-Church theory of the Byzantine emperors and Germanic Arian kingsand the application of the theory in practice. Popes leo the great (440461), simplicius (468483), felix iii (ii) (483492), gelasius i (492496), and symmachus (498514) were understandably deferential in the communications that they addressed to the Roman emperors at Constantinople, for in their civil capacity they were really subjects of these exalted rulers. However, they all showed an uncompromising firmness in maintaining the rights, freedom, and supremacy of the Church in the spiritual sphere.

The theory of the two powers was given its clearest and most definitive form by Gelasius in his letter to the Emperor Anastasius:

There are two [powers], August Emperor, by which this world is chiefly governed. The two powers are the auctoritas sacrata pontificum and the regalis potestas. Of the two the charge of the priests [sacerdotes ] is heavier, in that they have to render an account in the Divine judgment for even the kings of men. For you know, most gracious son, that, though you preside over humankind by virtue of your office, you bow your neck piously to those who are in charge of things divine and from them you ask the things of your salvation; and hence you realize that, in receiving the heavenly mysteries and making proper arrangement for them, you must in the order of religion submit yourself rather than control, and in those matters you are dependent on their judgment and do not desire them to be subject to your will. For if, as far as the sphere of civil order is concerned, the bishops themselves, recognizing that the imperial office has been conferred upon you by Divine disposition, obey your laws with what zeal, I ask you, should you not obey those who are deputed to dispense the sacred mysteries? [Epist. 12.2; tr. Ziegler; see also Tract. 4.11.]

This exposition on the two powers served as the foundation for the medieval theological and political teaching on the two swords.

See Also: arianism.

Bibliography: h. rahner, Kirche und Staat im frühen Christentum: Dokumente aus acht Jahrhunderten und ihre Deutung (Munich 1961); et al., "Kirche und Staat, "Staatslexikon, ed. grres-gesselschaft (6th ed. Freiburg 195763) 4: 9911050, esp. 991997, 100516, and 104647, bibliog. daniÉlou-marrou, Christian Century v.1, ch. 7, 11, 1419, 2526, 31, 33. r. w. and a. j. carlyle, A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West,v.1, The Second Century to the Ninth (London 1927), esp. 81193. k. f. morrison, "Rome and the City of God: An Essay on the Constitutional Relationships of Empire and Church in the Fourth Century, "Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, NS 54.1 (1964) 355, with valuable bibliog., 5354. e. cranz, "De civitate Dei XV, 2, and Augustine's Idea of Christian Society, "Speculum 25 (1950) 215225; "The Development of Augustine's Ideas on Society before the Donatist Controversy, "Harvard Theological Review 47 (1954) 255316. p. r. l. brown, "St. Augustine's Attitude to Religious Coercion, "Journal of Roman Studies 54 (1964) 106116. a. k. ziegler, "Pope Gelasius I and His Teaching on the Relation of Church and State, "Catholic Historical Review 27 (1942) 328, a study of basic importance.

[m. r. p. mcguire]


Both in practice and in theory, the relationship between Church and State did not remain static over the 1,000 years of the Middle Ages but changed as social conditions, levels of learning, and traditions of thought also underwent change.

Early Middle Ages. It was the common assumption in the early Middle Ages that there was only one Christian society, one "congregation of the faithful," and the great problem was to balance the authority of the two chief offices, the princely office, or regnum, and the priestly office, or sacerdotium, which God had established to rule over it.

Developments in the East. In the medieval Eastern, or byzantine, Empire, where strong imperial rule was unbroken by invasions and where ancient, especially Hellenistic, traditions were congenial with ideas of a sacred kingship, the emperors exercised the dominance over both Church and State that gave rise to the term caesaropapism. Emperor justinian i (517565) expressly counted among his responsibilities "the dignity and honor of the clergy" and "the true doctrines of the Godhead" (Corpis iuris civilis, Novellae 6). To maintain the clergy's dignity and honor, the emperors set the qualifications for ordinations, created bishoprics and changed their boundaries and status, appointed and even forced the resignation of patriarchs, supervised the monasteries and corrected abuses that recurred within them. Concern for true doctrine led them to summon councils, supervise their proceedings, and enforce their decisions. zeno in his Henotikon (482), heraclius in his Ekthesis (638), and other emperors attempted to settle dogmatic disputes even without conciliar support. The Patriarch Antonius, writing between 1394 and 1397 to Prince Vasili I of Russia, maintained that the Christian emperors "from the beginning established and confirmed true religion" and that it was unthinkable and impossible to have a Church without an emperor. Not only Byzantium but also the Eastern peoples that learned from Byzantium accepted a similar princely tutelage over the Church. The Russian Primary Chronicle, for example, describes how the Prince of Kiev, Iaroslav the Wise (101654), built and endowed churches, appointed and supported priests, looked to their education and "bade them teach the people and to go often into the churches."

This submissiveness in the East of the sacerdotium to the regnum permitted the prince to make free use of the wealth, administrative skills, and immense moral power of the Church; and this close cooperation was of inestimable value for harrassed peoples on Europe's frontier, struggling to survive against a barbarian sea. The priesthood in turn, largely freed from profane distractions, could devote itself to the sumptuous liturgy and rich mystical life characteristic of the Eastern churches. But submissiveness to princes also weakened contacts with sister churches and the universal Church, promoted a certain isolationism, facilitated schism, and compromised somewhat the prophetic liberty of the Church, in that it hampered it in its duty to denounce evil when tolerated or perpetrated by princes. Czar Ivan the Terrible could murder a patriarch, and Peter the Great could abolish the office altogether, with impunity.

The Church in the West. In the Latin West, the relations between the princely and sacerdotal powers developed under very different conditions. Up to the 11th century the low cultural level of the West, not fully relieved even by the carolingian renaissance in the 9th century, was not conducive to original speculation on the nature of Christian society. Those pre-Carolingian and Carolingian writers who touched on kingship isidore of seville, the unknown Irish author of the De duodecim abusivis saeculi (written probably between 630 and 650), Kathvulf (author of an address to Charlemagne), smaragdus of saint-mihiel, jonas of orlÉans, Sedulius Scotus and hincmar of reimsattempted no profound analysis of the nature of royal authority, and their assumptions may be described as vaguely Gelasian: the king had a right to rule, but priests must advise him for his own spiritual welfare. The coronation of charlemagne (800) also brought a revival of royal pretensions to dominance over the Church. Charlemagne himself, in a letter to leo iii, limited the pope's duties to praying "like Moses" for the emperor's victories, while he took charge of all other functions in the government of the Church, including the task of fortifying it "with the knowledge of the faith."

In the same period, amid a long-lasting vacuum of effective lay power, popes and bishops were developing a spirit of self-reliance and independence, as they exercised leadership not only in religious matters but in many secular affairs as well. gregory i (590604), for example, had to arrange for the economic support and military security of Rome. In the early 8th century, gregory ii and gregory iii vigorously rejected the iconoclastic policies of the Byzantine Emperor leo iii and denounced imperial interference in dogmatic questions. The donation of constantine, a crude but effective forgery redacted probably about 750, was tantamount to a papal declaration of independence from Byzantine authority (Constantine had supposedly given the whole Western Empire to the pope), and offered justification for the momentous papal decision to seek a new champion in the Frankish monarch. The donation of the Frankish king pepin iii, promised in 754 and completed in 756, further established the popes' claim to the temporal sovereignty over central Italy, the "patrimony of St. Peter," although throughout the Carolingian age the Frankish kings remained the effective rulers of the area.

Another expression of clerical independence were the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals, a collection of largely forged papal letters redacted probably between 847 and 852 in France and primarily intended to defend French bishops against mounting lay oppression (see false de cretals). Pseudo-Isidore emphasized clerical immunities and papal authority, but he does not seem to have envisioned a true priestly or papal theocracy. More forceful than Pseudo-Isidore in expressing the supremacy of the sacerdotium and papacy was the strong-willed Pope nicholas i (858867), whose letters contain, apparently for the first time, the unambigous assertion that the emperor derived his power not directly from God but from the Church and priesthood.

The early Middle Ages thus developed a broad spectrum of opinion concerning the proper distribution of power in Christian society, but a full confrontation of opposing views did not occur until the 11th century, until the great quarrel between the papacy and the holy roman empire known as the investiture struggle.

High Middle Ages. By the middle of the 11th century, a group of reformers, led by Cardinal humbert of silva candida, author of the highly influential Libri III adversus simoniacos (105458), by leo ix, nicholas ii, and above all by the great Hildebrand, gregory vii, had concluded that lay domination over the Church, and in particular lay control of clerical appointments, was flooding the Church with unworthy prelates, undermining clerical morality, and placing in jeopardy the salvation of Christians. These reformers demanded a full "liberty of the Church," which implied not only freedom from lay interference in clerical elections but also the immunity of the clergy from the law, courts, discipline, and even taxes of lay rulers. Emperor henry iv (10561106) resisted this program, which would have emasculated his power, but he was excommunicated and deposed (1076) and was forced to do a humiliating penance at Canossa (1077). The Concordat of worms (1122) patched together a compromise with respect to clerical appointments, but left unresolved the fundamental issue as to who, pope or emperor, exercised supreme authority over the medieval Christian commonwealth, the Respublica Christiana.

The Papalists. The essence of Gregorian thought, which dominated papal policy for the rest of the Middle Ages, seems to have been this: the priesthood, responsible for guiding the individual Christian to personal reform, was also responsible for actively leading the Christian commonwealth to the reform of its public morals, customs, and even institutions. The papacy, through its universal authority, provided unity and direction in this work of regenerating Christian society. Kings had to follow the leadership of priests and to place their swords at their service; to oppose them was to merit reprimand, excommunication, and even deposition. Despite these exalted views of priestly leadership, it does not appear that Gregory VII was a true theocratic "monist," in the sense of maintaining that all authority derived from the priesthood. In his letters, Gregory expressed only an Augustinian disdain for the office and works of kings and no claim that the priesthood was the source of their power. manegold of lautenbach, one of the ablest of Gregorian publicists, justified Gregory's deposition of Henry not because the pope could make and unmake emperors at will, but because Henry had violated a kind of social contract made with his subjects and had in fact deposed himself.

From the investiture controversy to the avignon papacy (1305), the period of their maximum prestige and power, the popes continued to pursue, with some success, these Gregorian ideals. The theory of papal hegemony was also strengthened. St. bernard of clairvaux, in a famous analogy, likened the priestly and regal power to the two swords mentioned in Lk 22.38 and held that both belonged to the Church and were to be employed in its service. The great development in the study of Canon Law, which the investiture controversy itself had stimulated, added a new precision, rigor, and systematic spirit to the papalist argument (see canon law, history of). Canonistsdecretists from the 12th century and, still more, decretalists in the 13thcontended that the pope, as vicar of God, must necessarily include royal authority within his plenitude of power and that a Christian society with two heads would be some sort of monster. To these ideas the papal publicists giles of rome (d. 1316) and augustine of ancona (d. 1328) gave the most extreme expression, attributing to the pope dominion over all men, Christian and pagan, and ownership of all their possessions.

The popes of the epochnotably innocent iii, innocent iv, alexander iv, and boniface viii remained in their public utterances distinctly more restrained than their enthusiastic theorists. Innocent III (11981216), for example, though often expressing exalted views on papal power, also, in the decretal Novit, written in 1204 to philip ii of france, disclaimed all intent of diminishing royal jurisdiction or of judging concerning fiefs. Even the bull unam sanctam (1302) of Boniface VIII, the most famous papal pronouncement on Church-State relations in the Middle Ages, was essentially a summons to Christian unity through obedience to the pope, but the document, oddly anachronistic in the allegorical and imprecise arguments used, left vague the extent of the obedience demanded.

Historians still disagree as to whether these medieval popes really envisioned a kind of theocratic "world monarchy" under absolute papal power. Certainly the popes welcomed and echoed the sweeping claims of their supporters, but they were also realistic men. They seem to have used these grandiose speculations not to define the primary aims of papal policy, but as useful arguments in the achievement of the more limited and more practical goals of maintaining ecclesiastical liberty, Christian unity, and papal leadership in spiritually significant affairs.

Development of the Concept of the State. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the papacy faced an ever-stronger lay challenge to its hegemony from such powerful rulers as the Emperors frederick i and frederick ii and the kings henry ii and Edward I of England and philip iv of France. Moreover, the renewed study of Roman law in the 12th century and the recovery of Aristotle's Politics in the 13th contributed strongly to what some historians call an emergent "lay spirit." Roman law attributed an unlimited sovereignty to a prince who drew his power directly from the community, and Aristotle located the basis for political authority in the very nature of man. In this creative period, medieval political thinkers were in fact fashioning the modern idea of the state; establishing its autonomy; and, through their acute constitutional speculations, exploring the management of its power.

In the face of this naturalistic and lay challenge to the religious premises of all prior medieval political thought, thomas aquinas, with characteristic prudence, attempted to defend in new terms the traditional Gelasian notion of a balance of spiritual and secular power. For Thomas, nature and the natural law established the autonomy of, but also limited, the sovereignty of princes. Revealed or divine law established the autonomy of, but also limited, the sovereignty of popes. God alone was truly sovereign, and both the natural and divine laws, and the State and Church they established, drew their authority from His sovereign will, from what Thomas calls the eternal law of the universe.

Close to Thomas in his ideal of balance, but far more explicit in defending the autonomy of kings and rebuking papal pretensions to sovereignty over them, was john of paris, author of the Tractatus de potestate regia et papali (1302). The De monarchia of dante alighieri (written between 1310 and 1316) used Aristotelian naturalism to show the necessity of a universal empire and used Aristotelian logic to refute the allegorical use of scriptural figures (two swords, sun and moon, etc.) that papalists had enlisted to support their claims. Far more radical challenges to papal authority were presented by the Englishman william of ockham (d. 1349) and especially by marsilius of padua, author of the Defensor pacis (1324). Marsilius, a true theoretical monist in that he conceded unlimited power to the community and to the prince who represented it, denied all substance to clerical authority and totally subjected priesthood and papacy to the prince's regulation, supervision, and discipline.

Late Middle Ages. The last two centuries of the Middle Ages were marked by the progressive disintegration of the medieval Christian commonwealth, brought about by the declining power and prestige of the papacy and the growing power of princes, who were able through their own enactments and through concordats with the papacy to gain ever-wider powers over their territorial churches. Political thought in this period was occupied more by the argument over conciliarism concerning the relation of popes and general councilsthan by questions of Church and State. But such conciliarist thinkers as conrad of gelnhausen, henry heinbuche of langenstein, Francesco zabarella, Jean gerson, and nicholas of cusa, in attempting to make the pope subject to the corporate community of the Church, in conceding to the princes a position of prominence within that community, also contributed, if indirectly, to the growing lay power over territorial churches. More directly favoring state power was the great heretic John wyclif (d.1384), who denied to the unregenerate clergy all rights of dominion and ownership and looked to the lay magistrate for leadership in reform.

The great medieval effort to build a commonwealth of Christian peoples and princes bound together by obedience to the pope and under his supreme guidance thus ended in failure. The popes themselves were perhaps too slow in recognizing that active world leadership carried grave risks of demeaning secular involvements and a degrading fiscalism and that many of their own ideals of social order and welfare could be achieved and were better achieved by the lay states that they had hoped to tutor. But that effort was not without value for the achievement in medieval Europe of a higher level of political order and an intensified political consciousness, and it also remains a rich and instructive chapter within the larger history of the Church's continuing quest to bear effective Christian witness within a complex and changing world.

Bibliography: e. barker, Social and Political Thought in Byzantium (Oxford 1957). a. michel, Die Kaisermacht in der Ostkirche, 8431204 (Darmstadt 1959). m. pacaut, La Théocratie: l'Église et le pouvoir au moyen âge (Paris 1957). w. ullman, Medieval Papalism: The Political Theories of the Medieval Canonists (London 1949); The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages (2d ed. New York 1962). b. tierney, The Crisis of Church and State, 10501300 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1964). g. tellenbach, Church, State and Christian Society at the Time of the Investiture Contest, tr. r. f. bennett (Oxford 1959). a. stickler, Sacerdotium et regnum nei decretalisti e primi decretalisti (Turin 1953). f. kempf, Papsttum und Kaisertum bei Innocenz III (Rome 1954). j. m. powell, Innocent III, Vicar of Christ or Lord of the World? (Boston 1963).

[d. j. herlihy]


The monarchical consolidation of power in the nation-states of western Europe was achieved at the expense of the anachronistic claims of the papacy to temporal sovereignty. By the early 1500s, several princes, imbued with the secular philosophy of marsilius of padua and Niccoló machiavelli, warred with the states of the church. Popes of the renaissance, as much secular as spiritual princes, engaged actively in diplomacy, sometimes compromising claims to temporal sovereignty in order to win allies. The holy roman empire was fraught with heresy, confederative tendencies, and nationalism. Germans, Czechs, and Swiss resented Spanish and Italian interference. There were strong anti-clerical traditions in England and France.

Momentous forces let loose by the crusades, recurring epidemics of the plague, nascent capitalism, overseas exploration, and the rise of the merchant-professional middle class played havoc with traditional political, social, and economic institutions. Great ecclesiastics were humbled by greater kings. Laymen often replaced bishops and abbots in government when the temporal claims of the papacy were opposed by nationalistic monarchs in struggles over lay investiture, ecclesiastical courts, clerical taxation, and similar issues. The prestige of the papacy had suffered through serious religious controversies from the Babylonian captivity to the rise of conciliarism. Effective leadership and spirituality were lacking in some Renaissance popes and bishops. Reform movements of the 15th century fell short of the achievements of those of earlier periods.

Theories of the Reformers. Into this maelstrom the Protestant reformation injected disquieting ideas that attacked papal temporal and spiritual sovereignty. Certain secular princes supported the Reformers against the pope in order to realize private political aims. The effect of the Reformation, therefore, was to encourage nationalism and absolutism through the removal of papal restraints and the emphasis on erastianism. Conversely, without help from antipapal princes, the Reformers probably could not have survived against the awesome papal weapons of excommunication, interdict, inquisition, and the index of forbidden books.

Luther. Martin luther was deeply concerned about the relation of Church and State, but he was inconsistent in his views. Strongly nationalistic, he resented Italian domination of the Church and Spanish interference in the Empire. Similar-minded German princes sustained him and promoted his doctrines. He originally advocated the separation of Church and State, holding that all authority originated with God and passed through Him to princes, whose power on earth was superior to ecclesiastical authority. Practical problems forced him to alter this theory, however. He condoned civil control over religion in connection with the Saxon visitation of 1527, arguing that the Elector's syndics should supervise preaching, suppress Catholicism, and punish schismatics such as the anabaptists. Luther also supported the Leagues of Torgau and Schmalkalden, which forcefully advanced his doctrines. He favored the aristocracy against the peasants in 1525, thereby supporting pragmatically the civil authorities and furthering lutheranism and German nationalism. He often stated theoretically that neither bishops nor princes should impose decrees or laws against the convictions of conscience, but he argued practically for theocratic absolutism. He denied papal supremacy and rejected episcopal authority as unscriptural. His advocacy of passive obedience to lawful temporal jurisdiction encouraged the 17th-century doctrine of the divine right of kings.

Calvin. John calvin of Geneva also taught the strict separation of civil and ecclesiastical power but later found it impractical to enforce it except at the cost of impairing the success of his tenets. Calvin's Institutes (1535) illustrate how well trained he was in theology and law and how easily he made the transition from Genevan minister to dictatorial head of the theocratic city-state. He considered the function of civil government to be simply the preservation of law and the enforcement of religion and personal piety according to his doctrines. All civil offices were divinely ordained so that it was unlawful and immoral to rebel against the state unless the state violated God's will (as Calvin interpreted it). Accordingly, civil obedience was a moral duty; and civil disobedience against immoral princes, a right. Calvin's doctrine of jusitifiable rebellion through magistrates was employed by his followers in Holland, Scotland, England, and France during the next century. His politicoecclesiastical system operated as an aristocratic theocracy headed by him and assisted by the consistory, composed of ministers and elders, which functioned as the coordinating body between magistrates and ministers. Although Calvin may have originally preached that Church and State were exclusive societies, the former admonishing citizens to moral and spiritual perfection and the latter enforcing uniformity by punishing sinners, in effect the temporal and ecclesiastical officers worked together to further calvinism.

Zwingli. Huldrych zwingli of Zurich, who wished to expel foreign influence and suppress aristocratic oligarchy, was a modern-day prophet-avenger. He hoped to establish divine law as revealed in Scriptures through the forcible implementation of civil authority. Each community or state, he said, should determine its religion and enforce it strictly through civil officers. Denying altogether the authority of the pope and bishops, Zwingli advocated the fullest cooperation between civil and ecclesiastical officers in ruling a government operated according to Christian precepts.

English Developments. Whereas Lutheranism and Calvinism were as much social and economic as religious movements, anglicanism was from the first almost entirely political. The long history of Anglo-papal controversy after the Conquest of 1066 culminated in henry viii's Act of Supremacy (1534), severing the link between England and Rome by making him supreme head of the Church in England. Not until the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559) under elizabeth i, however, did Anglicanism become doctrinally the Church of England. The English Church and Parliament established an episcopalian ecclesiastical polity under the primacy of the monarch. Erastianism became a cardinal policy of Anglicanism, the crown-in-convocation ruling the Church. Puritanism, rooted in Calvinism, sprang up quickly. Most puritans accepted Episcopalianism, hoping, however, to increase lay participation in ecclesiastical affairs. Some separatist Puritans in England and Scotland favored presbyterianism with its kirk sessions, synods, and general assemblies; John knox and George Buchanan in Scotland and Thomas cartwright in England were its chief theorists. Other separatists were congregationalists, advocating the doctrinal and governmental autonomy of each parish.

Caesaropapism found its exponents and opponents in 17th-century England. The principal Anglican apologist was Richard hooker, who in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594) defended episcopalianism against the incursions of Presbyterians. He favored monarchy that should be fully, albeit passively, obeyed. Divine-right monarchy, sanctioned directly by God (not by the pope, councils, or popular will) and invested with spiritual and temporal power flowered under the early Stuarts. Their struggles with Parliament were essentially constitutional (absolute versus mixed monarchy), but their quarrel was also vitally concerned with issues such as that of fundamentalism versus arminianism. Many parliamentarians favored the governmental enforcement of "true religion"; others wanted a strict separation of Church and State. Thomas hobbes argued that absolute monarchy, sovereign in civil and ecclesiastical affairs, was the best form of government. Revolution against it was therefore unthinkable, and religious uniformity was preferable to sectarianism. John locke later maintained that separation of Church and State was essential and that religious toleration would develop from noninterference by the government, whose authority lay outside questions of conscience. Yet neither he nor Hobbes included Catholics among the tolerated because they were allegedly subject to external papal authority.

Catholic Response. The vehement attacks against hierocratic doctrine by the Reformers and their magisterial supporters demanded firm answers, but the Emperor charles v and the popes from paul iii to pius iv differed over what the answers should be. Rome considered doctrinal issues vital, whereas Charles wished to promote Catholic-Protestant talks aimed at resolving political disunity. Charles had already compromised the Church's position in the Peace of augsburg (1529) and in concessions to Lutheran princes before Paul III convened the Council of trent (154563), which was in itself an admission that the pope alone could not solve the great issues. Charles disliked the choice of Trent as a site; and when the Council adjourned to Bologna in 1547, he prohibited Germans from going there. The Spaniards, remembering Spanish-papal disputes in Italy, were also unhappy. Meanwhile, Charles authorized unorthodox religious practices to placate the Reformers. Although the Council made no dogmatic pronouncement on papal infallibility, it did buttress papal authority by denying that princes could interfere with the Inquisition, excommunication, papal bulls, and ecclesiastical courts. Political problems involving the Holy See nevertheless arose soon afterward respecting England, Holland, and France. In addition, philip ii of Spain accepted papal help to suppress the Dutch Calvinists and the Anglicans; the pope lost prestige when both ventures failed.

Gallicanism. gallicanism in France posed a serious problem from the 15th century to the french revolution. The clergy had fallen increasingly under monarchical control since the reign of Philip IV (d. 1314), and caesaropapism became entrenched legally through the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438) and the Concordat of Bologna (1516), through which the king obtained the right to appoint hierarchs, subject only to pro forma papal approval. Naturally, francis i and his successors nominated hierarchs sympathetic to royal policy, whether or not it coincided with the interests of the Church. Gallicanism encouraged the evolution of a virtual French national Church dominated by the monarch, whose supervision of churchmen and Church property was coextensive with the degree of royal absolutism; this reached its apogee under louis xiv (d. 1715).

Political theorists about the turn of the 17th century avidly supported Gallicanism. Pierre pithou (d. 1596), for instance, argued that papal decrees had no force in France without the placet of the French bishops meeting in council. Edmond richer (d. 1633) maintained that the authority of ecumenical councils was superior to papal authority.

Theoretical Developments. About the same time two illustrious Catholic authors, the Jesuits Robert bellarmine (d. 1621) and Francisco suÁrez (d. 1617), upheld papal spiritual supremacy but denied the pope's right to interfere in temporal affairs. Bellarmine advocated the separation of Church and State and rejected the temporal power of the pope except to prevent the implementation of laws threatening the Church's rights or to depose heretical monarchs, but he later rescinded this view of the potestas indirecta. Suárez likewise made a distinction between papal temporal and spiritual jurisdiction, but he held it lawful for the pope to interfere in a state's religious policy because princes were subject to divine law, which superseded civil law. He also urged freedom of conscience, even for pagans and heretics.

Decline of Papal Power. Secular authorities no longer took papal temporal power seriously after the middle of the 17th century, and religious persecution waned. Princes dismissed, for instance, the pope's objections to the Peace of westphalia in 1648. Persecution in the Holy Roman Empire and England became uncommon. Henry IV (d. 1610), converted from Calvinism to Catholicism, issued the Edict of nantes (1598) in the hope of resolving the long struggle between Catholics and huguenots. richelieu and mazarin tolerated the Huguenots because they were important to the French economy, although they were attacked occasionally for political reasons. Louis XIV continued the lenient policy until 1685, when he revoked the edict, saddening innocent xi, who privately urged toleration by Louis and james ii of England. The persecution of Huguenots and Jansenists was a manifestation of divine-right absolutism aimed at regulating French life, though Louis also felt it his moral duty to suppress heresy. He frequently interfered in Church government even to the point of isolating French bishops from contact with Rome, espousing bizarre doctrines, and confiscating the revenues of vacant episcopal sees. In 1682, with Louis's approval, more than 70 French bishops rejected papal infallibility, reiterated Gallican liberties, and maintained that ecumenical councils had a higher order of authority than the pope.

The Age of Enlightenment. The ideas of the 18th-century enlightenment embodied a conception of a mechanistic universe regulated by immutable physical laws. rationalism, deism, and the social contract theory of government gave a materialistic explanation of the origin of matter and of the political and social order that challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church and, indirectly, the authority of Christ's vicar. Since rationalist political theorists maintained that the stale evolved from practical necessity and was dependent on popular will, the pope was excluded from any association with civil power.

Febronianism and Josephinism. It is surprising, however, that the principal opposition to the authority of the Holy See came not from the rationalists but from the Catholic exponents of febronianism and josephinism, two closely related theories that developed in Germany and Austria. Bishop John Nikolaus von hontheim of Trier (d. 1790), writing under the pseudonym Febronius, held that the popes had usurped primacy and were no more powerful than other bishops, a general Church council alone being authoritative. Moreover, neither papal nor conciliar decrees were binding in a country unless its ruler sanctioned them. Febronius recanted in 1778, but his ideas were widely adopted by German bishops, including the three ecclesiastical electors. At the Congress of ems (1786) these bishops demanded privileges of episcopal independence that infringed upon papal primacy, in effect emulating Gallicanism in what amounted to the government of a separate German Catholic Church. Febronianism and its Austrian counterpart, Josephinism, thrived during Prussia's and Austria's supremacy under frederick ii (the Great) and maria theresa. The Empress put the clergy and Church property under state control and rejected papal or episcopal decrees of which she disapproved. Her successor, joseph ii, appointed bishops without papal approbation, altered diocesan boundaries, changed the liturgy and Church calendar, suppressed women's religious orders, and closed hundreds of convents. Leopold II of Tuscany, his brother, made similar changes.

The First Secular States: the United States and France. Secularization in the Enlightenment led in part to the creation of secular states in France and the United States. Blaming the Church for evils that oppressed the lower classes, the French revolutionaries first confiscated Church property and later subordinated ecclesiastics to the state through the civil constitution of the clergy (1790). Many clergy, however, refused to acknowledge allegiance to what amounted to a French national Church in the face of pius vi's declaration that the constitution was heretical and that he would excommunicate clergy who submitted to it. The constitution therefore created schisms within France and between it and the papacy that were not healed until napoleon i, for political reasons, signed with pius vii the concordat of 1801.

Puritanism in America had admitted the close connection of ministerial and magisterial authority during the 17th century in the northern and mid-Atlantic colonies. But Congregationalism had found widespread support and the "saints" had gradually given ground. In most colonies the principle of Church and State separation had been commonly accepted by the mid-18th century so that, with the winning of American independence and the acceptance of a constitution, there was no question that the separation principle was firmly established. The first American Catholic bishop, John carroll, and others that followed him supported the principle as well as religious toleration for all.

Bibliography: o. f. von gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Ages, tr. f. w. maitland (Cambridge, Eng. 1900; pa. Boston 1958). f. gavin, Seven Centuries of the Problem of Church and State (New York 1938) 68128. c. c. eckhardt, The Papacy and World Affairs as Reflected in the Secularization of Politics (Chicago 1937). r. g. gettell, History of Political Thought (New York 1924), esp. ch. 6, 813, 18. f. mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, tr. n. thompson, 8 v. (St. Louis 193057) v.6, 7, passim. c. poulet, A History of the Catholic Church, tr. from 4th Fr. ed. by s. a. raemers, 2 v. (St. Louis 193435), v.2, passim. h. danielrops, The Church in the Seventeenth Century, tr. j. buckingham (London 1963). c. d. cremeans, The Reception of Calvinistic Thought in England (Urbana, Ill. 1949). g. donaldson, The Scottish Reformation (Cambridge, Eng. 1960). j. t. ellis, Perspectives in American Catholicism (Baltimore 1963) 139. a. simpson, Puritanism in Old and New England (Chicago 1955).

[m. j. havran]


Scholars are inclined to stress the relationships among the political movements of the late 18th century and to include them under a comprehensive titlethe democratic revolution (see democracy). In Europe and in North and South America these movements had a common element in the rejection of absolutist pretensions and hereditary privilege. There were similar demands for checks on executive power through popular representation, assertions of popular sovereignty and the natural equality of man, and appeals to individual rights of conscience, speech, and assembly.

Extension of Liberal Constitutionalism. If the proponents of change had a common base, they were faced with different situations. In England, the theory of Constitutionalism had already been accepted; there remained the tasks of extending civil liberties to unpopular minorities such as Catholics and Jews and of broadening the base of political participation. On the Continent, entrenched institutions and social groups provided determined resistance that was only gradually overcome in the course of the 19th century. In the United States the social structure offered no such resistance to ideas and institutions that had been maturing during the colonial period.

Implicit in the constitutional theory was the distinction between the state, with its specific centrally coordinated activities, and society, with its manifold uncentralized relationships. The Constitution of the United States made this distinction explicit in its concept of reserved and delegated powers and in its first 10 amendments. In Continental Europe there remained considerable ambiguity in this field both on the theoretical level, where a Rousseauist monism had some influence, and in the tendency of the state to continue the control of religion characteristic of the Old Regime. A clear example of the latter was the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790).

In broadest terms the 18th-century political revolutions can be considered as efforts to reestablish constitutionalism, or the limitation of governmental authority by private right, in opposition to theories of obedience to the state that had developed since the Renaissance. Medieval precedents could be cited to justify such efforts. But when proposed in the 18th century, constitutionalism had to face the problem that the Protestant Reformation had strengthened the tendency to consider a common religion as the necessary cement for a cohesive community structure. Various Christian churches had been established in many states through arrangements that afforded protection and support to a privileged religion over which the state exercised considerable control.

American Developments. As religion weakened as a social bond in the 18th century, "reason," "nature," and patriotism were appealed to as substitutes (see deism; rationalism). When specific circumstances made religious pluralism necessary, it was accepted. Thus, a combination of Catholic leadership and a Protestant majority led to the toleration acts in Maryland (1639, 1649); the royal charter for Rhode Island (1663) accepted the principle of religious liberty, though it was circumscribed in practice; and William penn's Frame of Government in Pennsylvania (1682) made his colony the freest in religious matters. This trend toward separation of Church and State was greatly extended by the American Revolution: Thomas Jefferson authored Virginia's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), which affirmed the neutrality of the state in matters of faith.

When the Bill of Rights was appended to the U.S. Constitution (1791), the opening words of the First Amendment declared: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The decisive factor in this solution was pragmatic: in no other way could the thirteen states, four of which had established churches and all of which had a mosaic of religious variations, be formed into a single nation. In only one other nation, Belgium, was full religious liberty written into the constitution at the foundation of the state. There, as in the United States, special circumstances made Catholics favorable to constitutional limitations on government and to freedom of religion.

Objections of Catholic Theorists. The doctrine of popular sovereignty associated with these developments met objection from Catholic theorists on the ground that it denied that God was the source of all authority. They also found disestablishment unpalatable on the premise that Church and State are independent societies, with the Church superior because of its end. Asserting the "indirect power" of the Church, they maintained that the state must support it when its aid is needed or when the temporal and spiritual converge (e.g., in education, marriage). With a variety of nuances this position continued to dominate Catholic thinking throughout the 19th century. The struggle to preserve the States of the Church strengthened this position, for the temporal power was incompatible with a theory of separation. Nor did the cause of separation recommend itself since many of its proponents wished to strip the Church of all public influence.

Theoretical objections, however, did not impede the gradual extension of liberal constitutionalism. On the practical level, circumstances determined the reaction of most Catholics to the disappearance of the confessional state. In areas where they were a minority, as in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and in some German and eastern European states, Catholics welcomed any steps that extended religious freedom. The same attitude prevailed where Catholics were a majority but the governing power was non-Catholic, as in Ireland and Poland.

Attempts at Accommodation. Even where religious liberty conferred the greatest benefits, as in the United States, few developed a consistent theory to explain their preference. Those who did so were mostly Europeans and were known as Liberal Catholics. Faced with the necessity of making some accommodation with reality, the majority accepted the formula of "thesishypothesis." The "thesis," or ideal, was asserted to be the situation in which civil society would recognize only the true religion and would value it as the foundation of public order; the "hypothesis" was applied to situations in which the Church would accept the actual circumstances of divided religious loyalty and would demand only the right to preach the gospel freely, to rule and guide the baptized, to organize private and public religious worship, and to possess property. Even the outstanding Liberal Félix dupanloup, Bishop of Orléans, appealed to this distinction to explain the apparent rigidity of the syllabus of errors of pius ix (1864). The favorable response he drew from bishops in all countries testified to the popularity of this partial accommodation to the disappearance of the confessional state.

Use of Concordats. The proponents of indirect power and of the thesis-hypothesis formula had some difficulty in explaining the concordats that became a prominent feature of ecclesiastical policy in the 19th century. Patterned on the arrangements made by Napoleon I with pius vii for France (1801) and Italy (1803), the concordats bound the Church and specific governments to mutual reciprocal obligations. Both in the negotiations and in the texts, these had the appearance of contractual engagements between sovereigns. They afforded no support to the assumption of superiority of the ecclesiastical power required by the thesis.

Liberal Catholics. The Liberal Catholics made a more explicit attempt to adjust to the condition in which the Church could no longer count on the coercive power of the state to support its mission. The term Liberal Catholic lacks precision; those whom it designates were not liberal in the sense that they raised the banner of personal autonomy against authority in institutionalized religion. Nor were they genuinely philosophical in their approach to political problems. They began with the conviction that privilege was dead and that the Church could count only on the free assent of its members. They did not consider the passing of the confessional state a tragedy. They welcomed it as a boon that had already proved its worth in Belgium and the United States. They were impressed by Daniel o'connell's use of the parliamentary process to gain Catholic emancipation, and contrasted the advantages of religious liberty with the deadening dependence of the Church on arbitrary power in the old regimes.

Nearly everywhere their views met resistance, notably in Rome. Early Liberal Catholics, such as Félicité de lamennais, were strong advocates of papal power, which they viewed as a necessary counterweight to the national state's control of religion. But gregory xvi's Mirari vos (1832), and particularly the determination of pius ix to oppose all political forms that posed a threat to the continued existence of the Papal States, caused the Liberal Catholics to drift from the ultramontanism that had been their hallmark. In the crisis leading to the disappearance of the temporal power, the term ultramontanist came to be applied to those supporters of the papal position who rejected all accommodation with representative institutions and individual liberties.

Growth of Catholic Institutions. While circumstances were adding to the difficulties of Catholics who wished to accept the new political order, there was a remarkable growth of Catholic institutions in democratic and liberal states. Conflicts over education led to the establishment of Catholic schools; interest in social questions increased the number of welfare institutions and stimulated the formation of Catholic workingman's associations; political conflicts, such as the kulturkampf in Bismarck's Germany, contributed to the strengthening of viable Catholic political parties. Even dramatic breaks with tradition, such as the unilateral denunciation of the concordat by Republican France (1905), ultimately diverted Catholic energies into social and apostolic tasks. As decision-making in government broadened to include some participation by the majority of citizens, compacts with heads of states no longer provided sufficient guarantees for the vitality or even the safety of the Church. In this context, Catholic social organizations were to provide new methods of achieving the Church's mission.

Reorientation of Papal Policy. leo xiii did not provide a new theoretical basis for Church-State relations. But he did give a new approach to modern political problems. He made strenuous efforts to detach French Catholics from their loyalty to monarchical government (Au milieu des sollicitudes ); he praised the religious situation in the United States (Longinqua ); he emphasized the God-given gift of liberty of the human person (libertas); and he declared that the people had the right to choose their rulers freely, though not to confer the right to rule (Diuturnum ). pius x made no notable contribution in this field, though he did remove the roman question from the arena of world politics and improved relations with Italy by modifying the non expedit. benedict xv removed the latter entirely and allowed Italian Catholics to form the Populari party on a nonconfessional basis.

Threat of Totalitarianism. The immediate consequence of World War I was a great expansion of the areas in which the form of the state was democratic with constitutions guaranteeing civil rights and full freedom of worship. Benedict XV and pius xi entered into cordial relations with most of these and negotiated concordats that accepted religious pluralism. But the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia gave birth to a Soviet totalitarian state that was avowedly hostile to religion. The March on Rome (1922) established a Fascist state in Italy that became increasingly totalitarian. In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany and established a dictatorship incompatible with Christianity. Dictatorships replaced democratic systems in several smaller states.

Pius XI made a determined effort to protect the rights of the Church with the lateran pact and concordat with Mussolini (1929) and a concordat with Hitler (1933). But the principles of these regimes made it impossible for the Church to operate normally, and Pius XI condemned their basic tenets in Non abbiamo bisogno on Italian Fascism (1931), Mit brennender sorge against German National Socialism (1937), and divini redemptoris against atheistic Communism (1937). Troubles with other dictatorships underlined the relatively favorable position of the Church in the democracies.

Papal Teaching on Democracy and Freedom of Religion. This experience was reflected in the wartime messages of pius xii, especially that of Christmas 1944 (Benignitas et humanitas ). In it the pope rejected absolutism in all its forms. While insisting on the right of peoples to choose their form of government, the pope noted that men "are demanding a system of government more consistent with the dignity and liberty of the citizen" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 37 (1945) 13]. The Church shared this interest and believed that citizens should be an active participants in social life. The pope contrasted the masses with a "people worthy of the name," free to hold opinions, to express them, and to use them for the common good. Later, in an address (Ci riesce ) to the national convention of Italian jurists (1953), Pius XII maintained that in the new international community with states professing a variety of religions, false religions and moral error could be tolerated to promote the common good. The state is not bound to repress error in all circumstances; the common good is the decisive element.

A comprehensive statement on the historic issues of Church and State is found in john xxiii's pacem in terris, which was intended to be a guide for the 2d session of vatican council ii. Throughout the document, the distinction between society and the state is explicit. Equally clear is the right of conscience: "Every human being has the right to honor God according to the dictates of an upright conscience, and the right to profess his religion privately and publicly" (14). Error does not destroy human rights (158). Among essential human rights based on "the dignity of the human person" is "the right to take an active part in public affairs and to contribute one's part to the common good of the citizens" (26). This is not in conflict with the principle that "authority comes from God," which can be accommodated to democracy (52). Fundamentally, "every civil authority must take pains to promote the common good of all without preference for any single citizen or civic group" (56). The basic function of government is to preserve rights: "For to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person and to facilitate the fulfillment of duties, should be the essential office of every public authority" (60). The description of the government that best corresponds to "the innate demands of human nature" (6877) reads like a sketch of American democracy. Throughout, liberty becomes a basic norm of political life (see social thought, papal).

The teaching of Pope John had been foreshadowed by a number of European and American theologians who described the confessional state as the product of historical circumstances rather than an ideal toward which Catholics were bound to strive. Their work was assisted by a growing awareness of the vocation of the laity in representing the Church in the temporal order and in the emphasis on autonomous bodies of laymen in catholic action. In the United States John Courtney murray, SJ attempted a restatement of the Gelasian formula. The Christian is both a child of God and a member of the human community as a citizen of the state. In each capacity he is endowed with a set of rights. Harmony between Church and State must be achieved in the human person. It is democratic man, conscious of his freedom and his social obligations, who must assure the primacy of the spiritual in human society. It is by his witness to the faith that the mission of the Church is furthered.

As a member of the subcommission of the Secretariat for Christian Unity that dealt with the church-state issues at the second Vatican Council Murray was a principal architect of the council's Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae ). Murray developed a doctrine of human freedom that showed that the position taken by the council did not contradict earlier papal teaching. In commenting the Declaration, Murray singled out its endorsement of three important doctrinal tenets: religious freedom is a human right (personal and collective); the function and right of the state in religious matters is limited; and the freedom of the Church is the fundamental principle defining the relations between the Church and the sociopolitical order. Together with the council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes ), Dignitatis humanae resolved a long standing ambiguity that seemed to posit a double standard freedom for the Church when Catholics are in a minority; privilege for the Church and intolerance for other religions when Catholics are in a majority. (W.M. Abbott, Documents of Vatican II, 672673). Gaudium et spes stated explicitly that the Church is not bound to any political system. "In their proper spheres," the consitution continues, "the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing," but their concern to serve the personal and social wellbeing of the same beings is best achieved with mutual cooperation (GS 76).

The archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojty·a, took special interest in the text of Gaudium et spes at Vatican II and later, as Pope John Paul II, addressed the issues of Church and state on numerous occasions. Many of his statements were made in defense of religious freedom and the rights of the Church in the new democracies that emerged after the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the demise of communist regimes. His most systematic and comprehensive presentation of norms and principles guiding Church-state relations appeared in the encyclical Centesimus annus, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Rerurm novarum. John Paul presented it as a "rereading" of Pope Leo's encyclical which, he says, was written to address political, socioeconomic issues that arose in the 19th century and resulted in "a new conception of society and of the State, and consequently of authority itself" (n. 4). The task of the Church is not to promote a particular model of government, but teach principles that insure the common good and the wellbeing of the human person. The Church's "contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the person revealed in all its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word" (nn. 43, 47). John Paul's approach to Church-state relations recognizes that political institutions are conditioned by historical circumstances and that it is the duty of both Church and state to promote and insure the dignity and rights of the human person.

Bibliography: h. a. rommen, The State in Catholic Thought (St. Louis 1945); The Natural Law, tr. t. a. hanley (St. Louis 1947). a. c. jemolo, Church and State in Italy, 18501950, tr. d. moore (Philadelphia 1960). j. n. moody, ed., Church and Society (New York 1953). j. c. murray, We Hold These Truths (New York 1960). j. maritain, Man and the State (Chicago 1951). l. sturzo, Church and State, tr. b. b. carter (London 1939; Notre Dame, Ind.1962). j. n. moody and j. g. lawler, eds., The Challenge of Mater et Magistra (New York 1963). g. weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York 1999).

[j. n. moody/eds.]

Church and State Relations

views updated May 21 2018


CHURCH AND STATE RELATIONS. The relationship between governmental institutions and Christian denominations changed dramatically and varied widely in Europe during the early modern period (14501789). The variations in this relationship hinged largely on the characteristics of local government, or the "state," and of local ecclesiastical institutions, or the "church." Those variations depended also on the intentions and abilities of each to exert its will and have its way. Such variations, by definition, were local. The relationship between church and state in any local configuration in Europe was also affected by broader, long-term factors in the political, religious, and cultural development of Western civilization. Those factors included the tradition of caesaropapism, the early modern growth of both national states and monarchical power, the religious changes generally understood under the heading "Reformation," and the cultural and political changes associated with the Enlightenment.


Caesaropapism, the approach to government in which both royal and priestly powers are held, in their fullness, by one ruler, was a theory that stood behind attempts by leaders of church and state to exert sovereign control over territories in Europe. This traditional theory had a very long lineage. The term is typically applied to the sort of government created in the Byzantine Empire, with church subordinated to the state. As such, it has been viewed mainly as a relic of the past after the fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks in the mid-fifteenth century. The concept, however, can arguably be found in descriptions of kingship from the earliest Western historical sources, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, a literary masterpiece from ancient Mesopotamia. The notion motivated much later efforts to establish complete control over European territories, and not just by secular rulers hoping to subordinate ecclesiastical persons and institutions. Some Christian leaders in early modern Europe had sought to create ecclesiastical control over governmental authorities.

Any explanation of the relationship between church and state in this era must be broad enough to account not just for caesaropapist political leaders in Italian communes and in Germany, Spain, France, England, and Germany, who had long claimed control over religion, but also for individuals like Martin Luther (14831546). He could insist that princely power was superior to ecclesiastical authority and, apparently, sense no implicit contradiction between that position and his view of individual religious conscience as being above the authority of either bishops or princes. In practical terms, he and other contemporary religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, often wrote like determined theocrats who felt comfortable defining truth. Luther rejected papal supremacy while asserting what should or should not be considered the Word of God. In Geneva, John Calvin (15091564) headed an aristocratic political system in which capital punishment, and other forms of restraint, could be meted out for holding anti-Trinitarian views. Divine right monarchy more in line with the standard definition of caesaropapism could be found in England under early Stuart rulers like James I (ruled 16031625) and Charles I (ruled 16251649), who argued that their power came directly from God. They demonstrated their commitment by making religious and political changes without recourse to Parliament or archbishops.

Caesaropapism remained a goal throughout the early modern period, but it was an increasingly unattainable goal, as the history of the papacy illustrates. Even today, one imagines the pope of this earlier period as possessing extraordinary political and religious power, and a determination to exert his against all opponents. This image remains despite the deep personal inconsistencies of prince-popes like Paul III. Although he reestablished the Roman Inquisition in 1542 and convened the Council of Trent in 1545, during his reign this tribunal demonstrated moderation toward those charged with heresy, and toward the control of suspicious religious texts. The legates Paul sent to Trent, moreover, exercised but limited control of the council's agenda. Popes like Pius V (reigned 15661572) and Paul V (reigned 16051621) were famous for their centralizing politics in the Papal States, and for their thunderous proclamations of religious and political right in controversies like the Gunpowder Plot in England (1605). Their plans did not have the effect of creating anything close to theocracy, however. Paul V attempted to centralize political control in Bologna during his reign, using client relationship with Bolognese nobles to do so. He was only partly successful, however, as family interests, both social and economic, were more important to those nobles than participation in papal-controlled government. Paul was no more successful in bringing the Venetian Republic to heel through his interdict in 1606 and 1607 than he was in convincing Catholics in England to reject the demand there for an oath of loyalty to the crown. By the third quarter of the seventeenth century, indirect challenges to papal authority fueled by Enlightenment thought culminated in political pressures that forced Clement XIV (reigned 17691774) to suppress the Jesuit religious orderthe group popularly remembered as unchallenged enforcers of the papal Counter-Reformationin 1773. The head of the Jesuit order, Lorenzo Ricci, died in the prison of Castel Sant'Angelo in 1775, and both Clement and his successor, Pius VI (reigned 17751799), were carried off to France as prisoners.


The expanding national states and growing monarchical powers came to dominate the relationship between church and state. The progressive extension of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in France, up until about the fourteenth century, was overcome at the beginning of the sixteenth with the 1516 Concordat of Bologna, which delivered to French monarchs control over episcopal appointments. In this, French kings like Francis I (ruled 15151547) exhibited the increasing tendency among such heads of state to assume responsibility for establishing and defending their local definition of "true" religion. In England, Henry VIII (ruled 15091547) reinforced plans to create full control over the church with the old medieval assertion that kings had to answer for the exercise of their authority to God alone. In doing so, he anticipated the full-fledged "divine right" argument elaborated by his Stuart successors, James I and Charles II. In other territories, especially within the Holy Roman Empire, princes and magistrates without monarchical claims sought to control religious behavior to a greater or lesser extent, and often for very practical reasons. Some found that toleration leading to relative religious pluralism was both financially profitable and politically necessary. More often, local rulers sought to advance state power into matters of human behaviorlike marriageearlier controlled by church courts. Some magistrates had begun to insist on the right to such control as early as the later fourteenth century, but the action is probably best seen as consistent with government growth by extension of competence and by restriction of previous held immunities from secular law. Such extension characterized monarchical and magisterial governments in the early modern period. For some historians, this growth added up to "social disciplining" that was widespread and effective. While there certainly are some examples where the combination of church and state authority resulted in genuine behavioral changeas in the low rate of illegitimate births in Geneva between 1560 and 1580whether or not the highly developed plans for social control were efficacious on any broad scale is yet to be determined. Instead, it might be better to view growing secular governments and their increasing control over church institutions as part of an established pattern going back to German kings who dominated the papacy in the tenth century. The increasingly successful attempts to exercise secular control over ecclesiastical institutions in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries targeted more than just the Roman Catholic denomination, of course, but the goal was strikingly similar to that of heads of state in earlier actions.


The religious changes usually categorized under the term Reformation also had a profound but local effect on the relationship between church and state in the early modern period. Efforts to improve religious life and devotion across European society, plus the rejection of papal leadership as decisive in creating any such improvement, constituted the beginningbut only the beginningof the dissolution of the idea that a Christian state had to be a religious and political unity. Writers from the age of Constantine (ruled 306337 c.e.) all the way through Martin Luther and the age of Reformation took for granted that essential unity. During this early modern era, however, relative religious pluralismmost often in the form of varying Christian denominationsbecame a fact of life. That pluralism emerged due to increasing examples of the expression of religious dissent, with Luther's Ninety-five Theses (1517) serving as the crucial instance of the amplification of such dissent. But dissent of this nature, delivered as it was in a context of presumed religious and political unity, was initially unacceptable to both authoritative institutions, church and state. Surely the critique of priestly authority implied in much Reformation religious dissent served to enhance secular authorities who could claim moral superiority, at least to the Roman Church, but free expression of religious dissent required a consent from secular authorities that was not always forthcoming. Reformation-era religious dissidents were as likely to be charged with "insurrection" by secular governments as they were to be charged with "heresy" by religious tribunals.

The result was a decidedly limited sort of religious liberty and toleration, a toleration both created and restricted by the same ecclesiastical and secular leaders and institutions. The Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), for example, delivered some religious liberty in German states, but only to rulers. It gave Lutheran princes all the jurisdiction in their own territories that had once been exercised by bishops. The subjects in these lands remained religious subjects: their religion was to be determined by their prince. Very few European governments allowed all Christian denominations without restrictions, and some that did were in unlikely places: Poland, for instance, after the Warsaw Confederation of 1573. Where papal authoritative structures were repudiated, freedom was not the result. Instead, structures designed to establish religious control were recreated in basically one of three ways: through consistories (local church councils) appointed by the secular government, through democratic bodies replacing church courts, or through royal institutions assuming traditional powers. Early on, Luther himself recognized the need of religious reformers for the assistance of secular governments, and not just for his own personal protection. In accusing Thomas Müntzer (c. 14911525) of heresy in 1525, Luther connected theological irregularities and civic disobedience. He increasingly called on secular authorities to intervene in ecclesiastical matters, and, of course, he recommended the slaying of German peasants who cited his ideas in order to secure relief from feudal restrictions. John Calvin, it must be remembered, presided over the repression of anti-Trinitarian thought utilizing various punishmentsincluding capital punishmentcarried out by civic authority. Overall, those who were initially vigorous in defending the right to express religious dissent and who expressed such dissent themselves were just as likely to recommend and carry out the persecution of it as were those who initially rejected out of hand any such "right."


During the eighteenth century, the intellectual, political, and cultural changes associated with the Enlightenment contributed to the continuing dissolution of the notion of a unified church and state, and had a long-term effect on the relationship between the two. As the leaders of an intellectual movement that encouraged the application of the scientific method to all aspects of human life and behavior, the philosophes who publicized and promoted Enlightenment thought conceived of the entire universe, including political institutions, as regulated by laws comprehensible through reason. They acknowledged a supreme being whose action in establishing these laws could be observed by finding order in nature. The philosophes, and in particular individuals like Voltaire (16941778), also aimed their criticism at what they considered unreasonable human behavior. Near the top of their list of targets were ecclesiastical institutions, and religious ways of thinking, that in their view promoted bigotry, intolerance, and violenceall unreasonable responses to the behavior of others. In Europe, Enlightenment thinkersat least by implicationcriticized all religious sects as prone, through their dogma, to intolerance and violence. In practice, European Christian denominations came under heaviest attack, and in particular, the Roman Catholic Church. Clerical misbehavior was identified and lampooned. Enlightenment authors also satirized dogma for creating meaningless distinctions that distracted the faithful. Such authors believed basic ethical standards to be the only worthwhile portion of religious thoughtprecisely because that portion was not especially religiousand insisted that it was common to all sects in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Protestant sectarianism that had contributed to political and religious violence, like Calvinism during the French version of the so-called Wars of Religion (15621598), or sectarianism that threatened to lead to further violence, at least for the philosophes, came under similar attack. Enlightenment thinkers idealized religious toleration, and even separation between the institutions of church and state, but these were not even consistently applied ideas, let alone achievements in fact. Catholics, most frequently, were not included in Enlightenment definitions of religious and political toleration.


Some might suggest that it was the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the states of Europe that changed most at the end of eighteenth century. Such a position may be a serious oversimplification, and certainly does not take the institutions and events in the history of earlier eras into sufficient account. Throughout Western history, the relationship has been contentious, and characterized by claims for the supremacy of one or the other institution. Those claims have been largely unrealizable, as both institutions have relied, at least in part, on the buttress to their own authority provided by the political, moral, and religious influence of the other. In most instances throughout that history, secular political authorities have, in the main, been the dominant authorities. Locally, and in short-term instances, dominant authority has been in the hands of ecclesiastical institutions, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. In the early modern period, some halting steps toward genuine separation of church and state were taken by both lay and clerical leaders. But those steps often had more to do with attitudes toward the way political and ecclesiastical power ought to be held and exercised than with the actual holding and exercising. And these steps were not boldly creative, for they had precedents in medieval controversies like the eleventh-century investiture crisis and the fifteenth-century development of conciliarist thought. In the early modern period, both political and ecclesiastical institutions attempted to assert themselves, the one over the other. In the attempt, they utilized justifications for their authority that appealed ultimately to the existence of God, and to their own representation of the true will of God.

See also Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555) ; Calvin, John ; Calvinism ; Divine Right Kingship ; Henry VIII (England) ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Papacy and Papal States ; Reformation, Protestant ; Trent, Council of


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Bedini, Silvio A. The Pope's Elephant. Manchester, U.K., 1997.

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Chadwick, Owen. The Popes and European Revolution. Oxford and New York, 1981.

Collins, James B. The State in Early Modern France. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995.

Duffy, Eamon. The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village. New Haven, 2001.

Fichtner, Paula Sutter. Emperor Maximilian II. New Haven, 2001.

Forster, Marc R. Catholic Revival in the Age of the Baroque: Religious Identity in Southwest Germany, 15501750. New York, 2001.

. The Counter-Reformation in the Villages: Religion and Reform in the Bishopric of Speyer, 15601720. Ithaca, N.Y., 1992.

Fragnito, Gigliola, ed. Church, Censorship and Culture in Early Modern Italy. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.

Freedman, Jeffrey. A Poisoned Chalice. Princeton, 2002.

Gavin, Frank. Seven Centuries of the Problem of Church and State. Princeton, 1938. Reprint 1971.

Kaufman, Peter Iver. Redeeming Politics. Princeton, 1990.

Knecht, R. J. The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France: 1483 1610. Malden, Mass., 2001.

Kooi, Christine. Liberty and Religion: Church and State in Leiden's Reformation, Leiden and Boston, 2000.

Reinhardt, Nicole. Macht und Ohnmacht der Verflechtung: Rom und Bologna unter Paul V. Studien zur frühneuzeitlichen Mikropolitik im Kirchenstaat. Tübingen, 2000.

Seidel Menchi, Silvana, and Diego Quaglioni, eds. Coniugi nemici: La separazione in Italia dal xii al xviii secolo. Bologna, 2000.

William V. Hudon

Church and State

views updated May 21 2018

Church and State






Relations between the sacred and the secular have long been important issues in Western democracies. In particular, legal questions surrounding the relationship between church and state in the United States have frequently animated American politics since World War II (1939 1945). The 1940 Supreme Court decision in Cantwell v. Connecticut had the effect of incorporating the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and applied these provisions to the acts of state governments. The incorporation of the First Amendment clauses dealing with religion has resulted in a large outpouring of case law during the final third of the twentieth century, as well as the first decade of the twenty-first.


The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution begins with the phrase, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This phrase, usually termed the establishment clause, has, in recent decades, defined the limits under which government (and, by extension, popular majorities) can provide symbolic support for religious values or material support for religious organizations.

There are two general theories by which the establishment clause can be interpreted. According to advocates of accommodationism, the establishment clause simply prohibits government from designating an official church, or providing preferential treatment to one church or religious tradition. Neutral, nonpreferential assistance to religion is considered permissible by accommodationists. By contrast, adherents of separationism believe that any assistance for religion by government is unconstitutional and that there must exist a high wall of separation between church and state.

The operative legal precedent with respect to establishment-clause jurisprudence is the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. In Lemon, the court held that government assistance to religion was not constitutional unless such assistance: (1) had a primarily secular purpose; (2) had a primarily secular effect; and (3) did not result in excessive entanglement between church and state. The Lemon test is considered to represent a generally separationist precedent, since it limits general assistance to religion, as well as assistance to particular religions.

In general, the Supreme Court has employed the Lemon test in cases posing establishment clause issues, but the Court has begun to relax its application of the criteria under which government assistance to religion can be rejected as unconstitutional. To illustrate, in Agostini v. Felton (1997), the Court ruled that state governments could provide (and fund) remedial instructors in parochial schools. Similarly, by a five-to-four margin, the Court held in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) that a program of government-financed tuition vouchers for students at private schools did not violate the effects prong of Lemon, despite the fact that a large majority of private schools in Ohio were religiously affiliated. Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court is gradually moving in a more accommodationist direction from a generally separationist precedent.

Of course, many governmental accommodations to religion are politically popular, and are therefore frequently enacted by elected officials. Most conspicuously, the policy of government-supported faith-based initiatives was proposed by President Bill Clinton and enacted with the support of President George W. Bush. The constitutionality of such initiatives had not been subjected to court tests as of 2006, and recipients of such grants had to conform to certain standards to ensure that government funds were only used for secular purposes. This trend is clearly moving in the direction of a looser interpretation of the establishment clause, although the actual amount of government assistance to religious bodies is uncertain.


The second First Amendment clause that deals with religionor prohibiting the free exercise thereofis generally termed the free exercise clause. The free exercise clause has usually defined the limits of governmental power to control religiously motivated activities.

There are two general theories of the free exercise clause. Libertarianism entails a belief that religious obligations often supersede the requirements of citizenship and that government should be very deferential to religious beliefs. Proponents of communalism believe that religion is accorded no special protection under the free exercise clause and that the clause simply prohibits government from singling out religious practices for specific regulation. However, communalists believe that generally neutral laws that happen to restrict religious liberty pose no constitutional difficulty.

In the 1990s the Supreme Courts free exercise jurisprudence took a drastic shift in the direction of communalism. Prior to 1990, the Courts reading of the free exercise clause could generally be characterized as libertarian. Based on precedents such as Sherbert v. Verner (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Court held that government could only interfere with religious free exercise if the restriction on religious freedom served an essential government purpose, and if the means of achieving that purpose were the least restrictive available. The Sherbert-Yoder test was thus quite deferential to the free exercise claims of religious minorities.

In 1990 the Court held in Employment Division v. Smith that otherwise valid laws that had the effect of restricting religious freedom were constitutionally permissible, unless religious practice was singled out for specific regulation, or unless the legislature had made an explicit exception. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Supreme Court reaffirmed this ruling and struck down a congressional statute intended to restore the Sherbert-Yoder standard. Thus, the Smith ruling signaled an important change in the manner in which the Court interprets the free exercise clause.

Some critics have charged that the Smith ruling was intended to make it easier for government to regulate religions that lie outside of the theological or cultural mainstream. Indeed, one effect of Smith has been to permit government at all levels to be less deferential to unconventional religious traditions. However, the Courts reaffirmation of the Smith ruling in Boerne (which limited the free exercise prerogatives of the Roman Catholic Church in a predominantly Catholic area) suggests that the Court is willing to limit the scope of the free exercise clause in a relatively uniform manner. Of course, elected officials are more likely to regulate the activities of unpopular religious groups, and Americans have been shown to be less tolerant of practitioners of faith traditions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition.


In general, courts in the United States have tended to treat establishment clause issues separately from issues involving the free exercise clause. However, many actual controversies have seemed to involve both considerations, and supporters of different policies have typically invoked both clauses in support of their positions. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has, in a long string of decisions, restricted state-sponsored religious expression in public schools on establishment clause grounds. These decisions have proscribed organized classroom prayer, a moment of silence for prayer or meditation, ceremonial prayers at high school sporting events or graduations, and restrictions on the teaching of evolution in biology classes. In such cases, opponents of these decisions have criticized these court rulings on free exercise grounds.

Parties to these decisions, as well as members of Congress and state legislators, have argued that the right of religious free exercise entails the right to express ones religious beliefs publicly, and government policies that limit such expression violate the free exercise clause. Such arguments typically emphasize the voluntary nature of school prayer or an even-handed approach to the creation-evolution controversy, and suggest that the courts are restricting constitutionally protected religious expression with an overly broad interpretation of the establishment clause.

Arguably, it matters a great deal whether a particular controversy is characterized as an issue of religious establishment or a question of religious free exercise. While many legal scholars have attempted to provide a general solution to the tension between the Constitutions two religion clauses, such arguments typically involve the assertion that one of the religion clauses has priority over the other. However, neither the text of the Constitution nor recent Supreme Court rulings provide meaningful guidance as to how apparent conflicts between the establishment and free exercise clauses should be resolved.


Although the tension between the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a frequent source of confusion (as well as litigation), comparison with other Western democracies suggests that the combination of establishment and free exercise concerns may be fortuitous for the practice of American politics. Religion is a visible but hardly dominant force in political discourse in the United States, which provides multiple sources of transcendent values for political life.

By contrast, several other democracies provide government support for religious bodies (such as subsidies for schools or clergy salaries), which would be considered a violation of the establishment clause in the United States. Indeed, several European nations have legally established churches. Some analysts have suggested that this sort of governmental support results in a decline in religious membership and practice, since government support reduces the need for churches to attract support from members or potential members.

In other nations, such as France and Turkey, a policy of laicite constitutes attempts by the government to reduce or eliminate the presence of religion in the public life of the nation. In such settings, some religious adherents (especially those who identify with minority faith traditions) appear to experience divided loyalties between the demands of citizenship and discipleship. Religious behaviors (including such matters as clothing or the display of religious symbols) are frequent sources of social and political conflict in such nations.

SEE ALSO Church, The; Religion; State, The; Theocracy; Tolerance, Political


Black, Amy E., Douglas L. Koopman, and David Ryden. 2004. Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bushs Faith-Based Initiatives. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Davis, Derek H. 1996. Resolving Not to Resolve the Tension Between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Journal of Church and State 38: 245-259.

Jelen, Ted G. 2000. To Serve God and Mammon: Church-State Relations in American Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Jelen, Ted G., and Clyde Wilcox. 1994. Public Attitudes Toward Church and State. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.

Levy, Leonard. 1994. The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Monsma, Stephen V. 1993. Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Monsma, Stephen V., and J. Christopher Soper. 1997. The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Stark, Rodney, and Roger Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wald, Kenneth D. 2003. Religion and Politics in the United States. 4th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Ted G. Jelen

Church and State, Separation of

views updated May 08 2018


CHURCH AND STATE, SEPARATION OF. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, drafted by James Madison, declares that Congress "shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Madison's friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson was proud of his role in drafting and winning assent to Virginia's religious liberty law (1786). In a letter of 1802, he referred to the need for a "high wall of separation" between church and state. Both men considered religious liberty not just a convenient political response to the actual diversity of denominations in the new Republic but as a natural right.

Jefferson's wall metaphor has often been used but it has never been adequate. Everyone stands on one side or the other of a real wall. Citizens of the states, by contrast, often belong to churches too and defy the metaphor by appearing on both sides. Controversy over how to interpret the First Amendment has therefore absorbed immense quantities of time, words, and ink, especially in the years since 1940, when for the first time its religious clauses were extended from the federal to state level.

In the early days of the Republic, despite the First Amendment, several states continued to have "official" established churches. The courts then interpreted the amendment to mean that while Congress could make no laws about religion, the states were free to do so. The actual diversity of religious groups in the states—promoted especially by the fervently democratic mood of the Second Great Awakening—nonetheless encouraged disestablishment. The last established church, Massachusetts Congregationalism, was separated from the state in 1833.

Even so, the idea that the United States was a Protestant country remained widespread. When Horace Mann laid the foundations for the public school system, again in Massachusetts, he took it for granted that the education would be religious and that students would study the King James Bible, which was common to most Protestant churches. Catholic immigration, accelerating after the Irish famine (1845–1850), made this curriculum controversial. The Catholic archbishop of New York, John Hughes, argued that the faith of young Catholics was jeopardized when they studied in public schools and set about creating a parallel parochial school system. At that point, however, the federal judiciary left it to the states to make their own arrangements and most states were emphatic about their Protestant identity and their love of the King James Bible. Only after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 did the possibility arise that the Supreme Court could extend the Bill of Rights to the states.

The Court first took an interest in the religion clause of the First Amendment when it adjudicated Reynolds v. United States (1879). George Reynolds, a Mormon who was already married, had followed his church's injunction to take a second wife. Most Americans were bitterly critical of Mormon polygamy, and Reynolds was convicted under the bigamy statutes. On appeal, Reynolds claimed he was exercising his First Amendment right under the free exercise clause—but the Court was unimpressed. It answered that Reynolds was free to believe in polygamy but was not free to act on his belief. If he did so, it pointed out, he would in effect be violating the establishment clause by getting an exemption from the bigamy statutes because of his membership in a particular church.

In the twentieth century, cases testing the proper relationship between church and state became more common. Among the first was an Oregon case that the Supreme Court adjudicated in 1925, Pierce v. Society of Sisters. The re-formed Ku Klux Klan, powerful in Oregon, where its scapegoat was Catholics rather than African Americans, lobbied the state legislature to pass a law requiring all the state's children to attend public school. The legislation was aimed against Catholic private and parochial schools. Nuns belonging to the Society of Sisters, who ran such schools, sued the state and won their final appeal before the Supreme Court. The justices told Oregon that it was entitled to establish educational standards that all students in the state must fulfill, but that it had no right to forbid children from attending the religious schools their parents had chosen. Justice James Clark McReynolds wrote: "The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

Pierce was not a First Amendment case—it was argued under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1940, however, the Supreme Court for the first time decided that it would review a First Amendment free-exercise case arising in one of the states (Reynolds had arisen in the western federal territories). Its 9–0 adjudication of Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) was one of the very few occasions on which the Court has reached a unanimous verdict in a First Amendment case. It over-turned the breach-of-peace conviction of a Jehovah's Witness who had distributed anti-Catholic literature and played anti-Catholic gramophone records in a largely Catholic district. Justice Owen Josephus Roberts, writing for the Court, noted that Cantwell may have been provoking

but "there is no showing that his deportment was noisy, truculent, overbearing, or offensive." His intention had been to interest passers by in his religious views and the First Amendment protected his right to do so.

Cantwell opened the door to Supreme Court adjudication of other First Amendment cases, and they became a regular fixture on its docket from then on. Pierce had established the right of religious schools to exist. Many subsequent cases thrashed out the question of whether the state, while permitting children to go to religious schools, was also allowed to contribute to the cost of their education. Religious parents, whose children went to these schools, had a powerful motive to say yes. In their view, after all, they were sparing the state an expense by not availing themselves of the public schools. Was it not discriminatory to make them pay for the public schools through their taxes, then pay again for their own children in the form of tuition fees? In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court found, by the narrow vote of 5–4, that states could contribute financially to nonreligious elements of these children's education. In this instance, it could refund the cost of their bus travel to and from school.

Everson was important not only for the substance of its decision but also for its declaration of the general considerations that should govern such cases, all spelled out in Justice Hugo Black's majority decision. He wrote that the First Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, showed that no government "can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will, or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion," and that it could not penalize anyone "for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance."

Numerous subsequent cases refined the constitutional position on schools and had the collective effect of making schools far less religious places than they had been throughout most of the nation's history. In McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the Court ruled that religious teachers could not enter public schools during normal school hours even to give voluntary instruction in each of the religions practiced by the students. In three bitterly contested cases (Engel v. Vitale, 1962; Abington v. Schempp, 1963; and Murray v. Curlett, 1963), it went much further by ruling that public-school children could not recite a nondenominational prayer written by the New York Board of Regents, could not read the Bible or recite the Lord's Prayer, and could not have the Ten Commandments posted in their classrooms. This set of findings overturned laws in nearly every state and brought to a sudden end practices that had been hallowed by a century or more of continuous use. Critics, especially on the political right, demanded the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was already controversial for his judicial activism in other areas. A disgruntled Alabama congressman, mindful of the same chief justice's desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), declared: "First he put Negroes in the classroom—now he's taken God out!"

President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to occupy the White House, was in office at the time of these decisions. He had faced electoral opposition in 1960 from Protestant groups that believed his faith made him unfit for the presidency. Kennedy, determined to prove otherwise, had told a meeting of evangelical Protestant ministers in Houston just before the election that he, like all candidates, enjoyed freedom of conscience, that he believed in church-state separation, and that if ever an issue arose in which his religious conscience prevented him from doing his political duty, he would resign, as any president should. Once he was president, he refused to endorse draft constitutional amendments aimed at reversing the controversial school cases and urged citizens to obey the Court's rulings.

In considering these cases it is important to remember that religious groups were well represented among the litigants on both sides. Militant secularism, atheism, and agnosticism were always the preserve of a tiny minority. The American Civil Liberties Union, usually found on the "strict separation" side, counted many ministers, rabbis, and devout members of congregations among its supporters. In the tradition established by Roger Williams more than three centuries earlier and strongly upheld among most Baptist congregations, they feared that entanglement with the state would contaminate their faith. Defenders of school prayer and Bible reading, no less strongly supplied with outspoken clergymen, countered that such contamination was unlikely as long as the religious exercises were voluntary and nondenominational. The important point, in their view, was to underline the godly character of America in its great Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union and "Godless Communism."

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) was among the most important of all the First Amendment school cases, in that it laid down a set of three requirements (the "Lemon test") for judging the constitutionality of laws relating to religious education. The Court has followed the test more or less closely ever since. First, a law must be neutral between religions and between religion and nonreligion. Second, the law's primary intent and impact must be secular; and third, it must not "excessively entangle" the state with religion. The Lemon test could not resolve all controversies, of course, since "excessive entanglement" was itself open to a wide variety of interpretations.

Public opinion polls showed that the majority of Americans disliked the degree of church–state separation the Court specified, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s state governments looked for ways to reintroduce prayer and religious activities into public schools. The Moral Majority and other evangelical lobbies in the 1980s argued that "secular humanism" was itself a religious position, that it had displaced Christianity in public life, especially in schools, and that it there by violated the establishment clause. The Court remained skeptical but it did concede, in Board of Education v. Mergens (1990), that voluntary religious groups should be allowed to meet on public school property in just the same way as any other student sports team, club, or society.

Religious schools flourished, meanwhile, as ever more parents abandoned the secularized public system. They were heartened by the Court's decision in Mueller v. Allen (1983), which upheld the constitutionality of a Minnesota law that gave a $700 state tax exemption to the parents of private school children, whether or not the schools were religious. By the narrowest majority, 5–4, the Court argued that the law, by favoring a broad category of Minnesota's citizens, whatever their beliefs, did not fall afoul of the Lemon test.

Numerous establishment clause cases also arose in nonschool contexts. Depending on the details, the Court sometimes appeared to decide similar cases in opposite ways—further evidence that this was a complex and controverted area of the law. For example, in Braunfeld v. Braun (1961), it investigated the dilemma of a furniture-store owner who was forced to close his store on Sundays in accord with Pennsylvania's Sunday closing law. He was an Orthodox Jew, however, and also closed the store on his Sabbath, Saturday, with the result that he lost two business days every week while his Christian competitors lost only one. Was not the Sunday closing law a violation of the establishment clause, based as it was on the Christian tradition of Sunday as Sabbath? The Court said no; it was a matter of national tradition, rather than religious establishment, and as such was defensible.

Two years later the Court appeared to reverse itself but denied that it had done so. In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), it examined the plight of a woman who belonged to the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian group that (as with Judaism) takes Saturday as Sabbath. She was out of work, refused for religious reasons to take a job that compelled her to work on Saturdays, and found, when she applied for unemployment compensation, that she was denied it because she had declined to accept "suitable" job offers. This time the Supreme Court found in her favor, arguing that the state would only have been entitled to withhold her unemployment pay if it had had a "compelling" interest in doing so.

A related pair of cases, several years later, added a few more twists and turns to the labyrinth. The first was Yoder v. Wisconsin (1972). The state had passed a law requiring all children to attend schools until they reached the age of sixteen. Amish people in the state wanted to withdraw their children after eighth grade (age fourteen). They feared that the education their children received after that point was likely to draw them away from the Amish community, with its simple, unmechanized farming practices. Their claim for exemption from the state law, in other words, was based on the right to protect their religious free exercise. The Court found in their favor, even though, in doing so, it appeared to grant this one group special treatment because of its religion, which some commentators saw as a violation of the establishment clause.

In the second case, Employment Division v. Smith (1990), an Oregon citizen was fired from his job at a drug-rehabilitation clinic after eating peyote, the hallucinogenic fungus used by the Native American church of which he was a member. The drug was illegal in Oregon and the state government had not exempted religious users. When he was denied unemployment pay, Smith sued the state for violating his free-exercise rights. The logic of the Sherbert and Yoder decisions suggested that he would be upheld, but the Court used the Reynolds and Braunfeld precedents instead, declaring that Smith was entitled to hold his religious beliefs but that they did not excuse him from obeying generally applicable state laws.

Scholars and justices alike were uneasily aware by 2000 that whatever decision the Court made in a church–state case, it would have a line of precedents at hand to decide one way or the other. Take for example the case of the Christmas crèche owned by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and placed in the city's public square every December, which the Court might easily have condemned as a violation of the establishment clause. The ACLU and an alliance of ministers sued for its removal in 1980 and won. The city's indignant mayor, Dennis Lynch, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and finally achieved a reversal of the decision. The Court ruled in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)—at 5–4 another close decision—that the crèche was permissible because it was accompanied by a Santa, various elves, and a brace of plastic reindeer, whose collective effect was to make the display acceptably "traditional" rather than unacceptably "religious."

The sixty-year constitutional struggle over the First Amendment from 1940 to 2000 was largely symbolic; no one seriously believed that any one church was going to be established by law or that any of the citizens' religions were going to be proscribed. No one suffered serious harm from the Court's verdicts. While these cases were argued with so much anguish, few commentators, ironically, paused to observe the fate of twentieth-century Europe's still common established churches. Their lesson was that in the twentieth century establishment was synonymous with religious weakness and indifference, rather than with the tyranny and intolerance it was alleged to imply. While America's disestablished churches drew in nearly half the nation's population every week, the established Church of England, nemesis of the revolutionary generation, could scarcely attract 3 percent of the British people. American experience showed that disestablishment and religious vitality went hand in hand.


Alley, Robert S, ed. The Supreme Court on Church and State. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Eastland, Terry, ed. Religious Liberty in the Supreme Court: The Cases that Define the Debate over Church and State. Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1993.

Frankel, Marvin. Faith and Freedom: Religious Liberty in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

Hunter, James D. Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace: The Religious Liberty Clauses and the American Public Philosophy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1990.

Kramnick, Isaac, and R. Laurence Moore. The Godless Constitution: The Case against Religious Correctness. New York: Norton, 1996.

Levy, Leonard. The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment. 2d rev. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Menendez, Albert. The December Wars: Religious Symbols and Ceremonies in the Public Square. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1993.

Noonan, John T., Jr. The Believer and the Powers that Are: Cases, History, and Other Data Bearing on the Relation of Religion and Government. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Reichley, James. Religion in American Public Life. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1985.

Patrick N.Allitt

See alsoChurch of England in the Colonies ; Civil Religion ; First Amendment ; Religious Liberty ; Reynolds v. United States .

Church and State

views updated Jun 11 2018

Church and State


Separation. The separation of church and state in the United States was one of the most remarkable achievements of the new nation. The United States was unique among western nations in valuing this principle. In the late eighteenth century many people believed that without a close alliance between church and state a nation would be too unstable to survive. In Great Britain all members of Parliament and other public officials were required to be members of the established Anglican Church. In fact, in 1787 some non-Anglicans were just beginning a long effort to persuade Parliament to remove this requirement. At the same moment Americans were writing their Constitution and including in Article VI a prohibition on any such religious tests for American federal officeholders. Separating church and state was not an easy process for Americans, despite their willingness to entertain the possibility that their nation could thrive even without a state church. If the principle was important to many Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, turning the ideal into reality required a complex political and social struggle. Like the evolution of other features of early national society, the separation of church and state was much more than simply enshrining an ideal in a constitution.

Virginia. The factors leading to the national separation of church and state appeared first in Virginia. In January 1786 the Virginia legislature passed an Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, written some seven years earlier by Thomas Jefferson. Almost a decade passed between Jeffersons writing the bill and the state adopting it, suggesting how difficult it could be to separate church and state. Jeffersons bill started from the premise that Almighty God hath created the mind free and objected to the tyranny of forcing people to observe a religion they did not choose for themselves. Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry, the act declared, asserting truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, without help from the state, which would only cheapen and corrupt it. It concluded that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. In forbidding the state to control religious beliefs, Jefferson was clearly supporting the inalienable rights of humanity which he had written about in the Declaration of Independence.

Opposition. As extended to religion, however, those principles were not universally accepted at that time, even by people closely associated with the cause of American freedom. When it came time to debate Jeffersons bill in the Virginia legislature, it was opposed by Patrick Henry, whose Give me liberty or give me death speech in 1775 had inspired many Americans. Henry proposed a different answer to the question of the relations of church and state. Henrys bill would have made the Christian Religion the established religion of Virginia, and it would have provided tax support for all Christian churches. James Madison, who was promoting Jeffersons bill (Jefferson was the minister to France from 1785 to 1789), published a Memorial and Remonstrance in 1785, arguing against Henrys bill on grounds of natural rights and rationality. These arguments alone would probably not have carried the day against Henry, whom many considered to have a more moderate position, one that acknowledged that most Virginians were, after all, Christians, and respected religion and its social benefits.

The Baptists. Madison had some powerful, if unexpected, allies in the Baptists. The Baptists opposed Madisons and Jeffersons rationalist and deist principles, but they had their own reasons for supporting a clear separation of church and state. Before the Revolution the established Anglican Church, supported by taxes, had hindered the Baptists every step. The Baptists reacted with intense suspicion of any government involvement with religion. They held strongly to the view that religion was a personal matter between individuals and God. State involvement, even in a positive way, would corrupt that divine relationship, thus endangering the soul of the believer. Jeffersons bill echoed these beliefs, and with support from legislators from the western part of the state, responding to the wishes of their Baptist constituents, it was passed on 16 January 1786.


Although they were both prominent revivalists and supporters of evangelical religion, Baptist Isaac Backus and Congregationalist Lyman Beecher differed on the question of religious freedom. Backus was tireless in his efforts to limit strictly the states role in religion, as in this excerpt from a 1779 letter proposing a bill of rights for Massachusetts:

As God is the only worthy object of all religious worship, and nothing can be true religion but a voluntary obedience unto his revealed will, of which each rational soul has an equal right to judge for itself; every person has an unalienable right to act in all religious affairs according to the full persuasion of his own mind, where others are not injured thereby. And civil rulers are so far from having any right to empower any person or persons to judge for others in such affairs, and to enforce their judgments with the sword, that their power ought to be exerted to protect all persons and societies, within their jurisdiction, from being injured or interrupted in the free enjoyment of this right.

In contrast to Backuss argument for limiting state control of religion, Beecher strenuously defended state support for the Congregational Church. He greatly feared that disestablishment would soon lead to religious and moral decline, arguing in this 1804 sermon that government and religion had to work together :

Our religion is unquestionably our greatest security, and the preservation of divine institutions, an object of the first magnitude. Let the Sabbath be annihilated and the sanctuary abandoned; let irreligion and vice be extended through the mass of our nation, and our liberties cannot be preserved. We may form free constitutions, but our vices will destroy them; we may enact laws, but they will not protect us.

Yet after his state had disestablished the Congregational Church in 1818, Beecher came to think differently, and later said it was the best thing that ever happened to the State of Connecticut. It cut the churches loose from dependence on state support. It threw them wholly on their own resources and on God. They say ministers have lost their influence; the fact is, they have gained.

Sources: Lyman Beecher, The Practicability of Suppressing Vice (New London, Conn.: Printed by Samuel Green, 1804), p. 19;

Barbara M. Cross, ed., The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 252-253;

Isaac Backus to Noah Alden, August 1779, reprinted in William G. McLoughlin, ed., Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism: Pamphlets, 17541789 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 487-488.

Bill of Rights. When Madison came to draft the federal Bill of Rights in 1789, he remembered the lessons of the earlier struggle over religious freedom in Virginia. The First Amendment took up the question of religion, suggesting that religious freedom was a fundamental human right. Madison also considered it a political necessity, remembering how Baptist votes helped elect him to the first Congress. The First Amendment includes two clauses about religion: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The first clause clearly prohibits the United States from setting up a state church as in Britain. The second clause reflects the importance Americans placed on freedom of conscience. In understanding the amendment, however, it is important to keep in mind that most Americans at that time valued freedom of conscience within a Christian context. That is, many wanted religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment more because of their historical experiences with taxation to support one Protestant church at the expense of all others than because of an abstract belief that all religions are equal. One historian has called the passage of the First Amendment mainly a symbolic act since the exact meaning of the clauses remains debatable, despite their importance over the last two centuries. One way to think of it is as an expression of an ideal, which early Americans thought was important but which they realized only imperfectly in practice. Despite the

principle, government involvement with religion did not cease absolutely with the First Amendments ratification in 1791. For instance, a few days after passing the First Amendment, Congress called a day of thanksgiving for the many signal favors of Almighty God.


The two phrases of the First Amendments guarantee of religious freedom took shape in the course of the congressional debates about the Bill of Rights in August 1789. In discussing the scope of American religious freedom, Rep. Daniel Carroll of Maryland (a Catholic, and the brother of John Carroll, later the first American Catholic bishop), argued in favor of a broad protection against government interference in religion, saying, the rights of conscience are, in their nature, of peculiar delicacy, and will little bear the gentlest touch of governmental hand. He also thought these guarantees were politically important and would tend more towards conciliating the minds of the people to the government than almost any other amendment. Others worried the protections offered were too broad; Peter Sylvester of New York feared it might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether. Connecticuts Benjamin Huntington worried that the words might be taken in such a latitude as to be extremely hurtful to the cause of religion, noting that his state, for one, still paid ministers with tax money. Several representatives thought the amendment unnecessary; Roger Sherman of Connecticut pointed out that Congress had no authority whatever delegated to them by the constitution to make religious establishments. James Madison was not so certain. The constitution did give power to Congress to make all laws necessary and proper to carry into execution the constitution, and the laws made under it [and this arguably] enabled them to make laws of such a nature as might infringe the rights of conscience, and establish a national religion. Accordingly, Madison argued for the amendment, which he said meant that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.

Source: Thomas Hart Benton, ed., Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, volume 1 (New York: Appleton, 1857), pp. 137-138.

State Governments. The Bill of Rights established the idea of the separation of churches from the federal government, but the same was not true of the state governments. State legislatures regulated religion far more actively than Congress. Although Virginia had passed a broad guarantee of religious freedom, and many other states had included similar statements in their constitutions or bills of rights, most state governments remained involved in religion. Many states continued to restrict public offices to Protestants, or to Christians. In Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts the Congregational churches remained the official, established churches, supported by taxes collected from all citizens, Congregationalists and non-Congregationalists alike. There was constant agitation to change this system. Baptist minister Isaac Backus, for example, was a tireless advocate for reform. Backus spoke for many Baptists who considered any state involvement with religion as an opportunity for corruption to sneak in and undermine true godliness. More practically, Backus and the Baptists resented the need to petition for exemption from religious taxes. Officials often denied these petitions, distrusting religious scruples as attempts to avoid taxes. The Congregationalists, of course, strenuously resisted disestablishment. One of their leaders was Lyman Beecher, minister in Litchfield, Connecticut, and one of the best-known preachers of the day. Beecher considered state support for the true religion of Congregationalism as crucial, and he saw attacks on the established churches to be as bad as atheism, whether they came from deists or Baptists.

End of Established Churches. Beecher fought hard, but he lost in 1818 when Connecticut ended establishment policies (New Hampshire followed in 1819, and Massachusetts held out until 1833). Beecher was able to turn defeat to victory, however. He embraced the principle of voluntarism, that religion was strongest when people accepted God from purely spiritual reasons, with no hint of state coercion. This idea gave new fire to American Protestantism, and meant that it was still possible to see America as a godly nation, even without state support of churches. Beechers view was justified in 1835 by the great French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote that he found no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, where there was a close union between the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom.


Stephen Botein, Religious Dimensions of the Early American State, in Beyond Confederation, edited by Richard Beeman and others (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987);

Thomas J. Curry, The First Freedoms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986);

Stuart C. Henry, Unvanquished Puritan (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerd-mans, 1973);

William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 16301833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971);

William Lee Miller, The First Liberty (New York: Knopf, 1986).

Church and State

views updated May 18 2018

Church and State

All enduring societies have arrangements for governing (a "state"), and all have arrangements for expressing ultimate things (a "church"). But both sets of arrangements are involved in the "good life"—the state in efforts to bring it about, the church in efforts to define and justify it. No political order will declare itself in search of what is bad, and no religious order leaves the good life unexamined; even the most ascetic, monastic religion, in ignoring this life to focus on the next, has consequences for the earthly world. As a result, all enduring societies have some arrangements for relating church and state.

For most of human history this relationship was not complicated, because in simple, small-scale societies the arrangements for governing and those for expressing ultimate things were identical. The political leader was also the religious leader, and society members probably did not differentiate their "politics" from their "religion." By the time large-scale societies came into existence, however, the two spheres were differentiated, and some conscious thought had to address the issue of the relationship between them.

One obvious solution, called caesaro-papism, was for the state to give one religion a monopoly, making all citizens be members of that church (or face persecution). The head of the church (the pope in medieval Europe, hence "papism") would legitimize the political leader (hence "caesaro") in exchange for the state's endorsement. This solution was imperfect, however, as evidenced by witch-hunts, heresy trials, and even disputes between kings and popes. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the time of the Protestant Reformation (sixteenth century) overlapped the time of emerging nation-states. While caesaro-papism did not disappear—even today in Europe, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries maintain "established" churches—the presence of the ever more bureaucratized state and the ever more pluralistic religious population in every society have stimulated development of other ways to structure the relationship between church and state (Demerath, 1991).

When the United States of America was born, the founders and framers had no choice but to devise a church/state policy. Their solution, found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." While much scholarly debate occurs over the meaning of these words and over the "real" intention of those who wrote, adopted, and/or ratified them, for all practical purposes their meaning is found in the succession of judicial decisions based on these religion clauses. Our understanding, at least of the past, is aided by the clean "order" to be found in that succession of cases, following two paths, one having to do with the "establishment of religion," the other with its "free exercise" (Flowers, 1994). Before we take those paths, however, five background generalizations must be stated:

  1. The first American citizens were religiously concerned, even though only a minority were formally church members.
  2. They, and especially their political leaders, believed that the good society required morally upright citizens and that religion led to morality.
  3. It was common in the colonies (and continued in some of the first thirteen states) to use tax money to support the teaching of religion and morality, generally by paying a clergyman of the most favored Protestant denomination in each town to be a teacher.
  4. It makes sense to suppose, therefore, that the First Amendment prohibition on laws "respecting an establishment" meant not only that Congress could not set up a national church but also that it must leave alone whatever "establishments" of religion existed in the several states.
  5. Though evidence exists that some religious persecution occurred in the colonies, by the time of the Constitution, most Americans were in favor of free exercise of religion, and even where religious prejudice was found, it took the form of denying rights (e.g., to hold office if Roman Catholic or atheist) rather than active punishment.

Over the next two hundred years, many of the conditions implied in these five generalizations have changed in the direction of greater separation between church and state (Handy, 1991). Two huge causal forces can be seen to have operated. One is the enormous waves of immigration that began in the nineteenth century and continue today, bringing infinitely greater religious pluralism and therefore pressures to redefine what can be "freely exercised." The second force is the enormous growth of the bureaucratic state, especially since World War II, which, by intruding more and more into once private matters, increasingly exposes unconstitutional "establishments" of religion. Each force generated a path of change in the interpretation of the two religion clauses. We begin first down the path of free exercise (Hammond, 1998).

The constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion was never understood as a license to do anything in the name of one's faith. Of course, human sacrifice at an altar is illegal, but so is failure to pay taxes even if one believes that that is what God demands. In effect, while laws could not be enacted that targeted religion, laws that are religiously neutral were to be obeyed by everyone, including those whose religious practices were thereby inconvenienced or compromised.

In 1879 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the practice of polygamy was unconstitutional (Reynolds v. United States). Reynolds had claimed that his Mormon religion required him to have more than one wife, and the Court responded that while he was free to believe in polygamy, he was not free to behave in accord with his belief.

This belief-behavior distinction was the principle for deciding church-state cases for the next six decades. In 1940, however, a case came before the Supreme Court that altered the free-exercise path. It involved a Jehovah's Witness who was arrested for disturbing the peace when he played a phonograph recording castigating the Roman Catholic Church in a heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood. The Court overturned his conviction, and in so doing declared that persons who are religiously motivated in their behavior may have a right that other persons do not have (Cantwell v. Connecticut).

The Cantwell decision led inevitably to a recognition that some systematic method must be found for deciding between religious behaviors that had such protection and those that did not. The clearest expression of this method emerged in 1963 in Sherbert v. Verner. Mrs. Sherbert was a Seventh-Day Adventist whose employer wanted her to work a Saturday (her Sabbath) shift. When she refused she was fired and then applied for unemployment compensation, which was denied. Reading this case makes clear that the Supreme Court was addressing three questions that, together, came to be called the "Sherbert test." They are: (1) Does the regulation in question place a burden on the plaintiff, and if so, how heavy is it? (2) How important to the state is it to apply the regulation in every instance, and what would be the consequence of not doing so? (3) Are there alternative means the state might take to achieve the regulation's purpose without burdening the religious plaintiff?

Many cases of free exercise after Cantwell and before Sherbert had been decided, but with the Sherbert test, subsequent cases followed a routine procedure, the most important element of which is the requirement that the state demonstrate a "compelling interest" served in burdening someone's religion.

Just as Cantwell led to the need for something like a Sherbert test for deciding which religious behaviors are protected, so, at about the same time (1944), did United States v. Ballard force the Court to answer another question: What is religion? Guy Ballard and his family were arrested for mail fraud because they used the U.S. Post Office to announce their capacity to heal—for a fee—ailments that medical doctors had been unable to cure. In a lower court hearing the case, the judge instructed the jury to ignore the question of whether Ballard's beliefs were true but decide only whether Ballard sincerely believed them. The jury decided Ballard was sincere, and, on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and agreed. In effect the Court said the state has no business judging the theological merits of anyone's religion, no matter how bizarre. Religion now was to be defined not by its contents but by how conscientiously it is held.

The implications of this ruling became fully explicit in 1965 in United States v. Seeger, when the agnostic Seeger sued for conscientious objector status and won a unanimous decision. The Court declared that, though Seeger was not religious in the usual sense of that word, the state could ask if his beliefs occupied the same place in his life that orthodox beliefs occupy in the lives of "religious" people. The answer in his case, the Court said, was yes.

It is not a great stretch to see that the Supreme Court was concluding that even if Seeger did not articulate his conscience in religious language, he nonetheless had a conscience, and the conscience, the Court was seeing, is what the Constitution says may be freely exercised. But then came a bump in the free-exercise path.

In 1990 the Court heard a case in which two members of the Native American Church had been denied unemployment money because they lost their jobs for admitting their use of peyote in their church's ritual. The Court upheld that decision (Oregon Unemployment Division v. Smith). Remarkably, however, in his majority decision Justice Scalia declared that since the state had not classified peyote an illegal drug in order to target Native Americans, it therefore did not have to find a compelling reason for burdening these members of the Native American Church. In other words, the majority voided the Sherbert test and returned, in effect, to the pre-Cantwell, 1879 Reynolds standard.

The Smith decision upset many Americans, including a few justices on the Supreme Court. A movement in response to Smith led to Congress's passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993, which, though worded slightly differently, said that the government must follow the rules of the Sherbert test if any religion is burdened. Many observers hoped the Supreme Court would find a church-state case in which it could undo its Smith decision, but instead, in the first opportunity it had (Boerne v. Flores, 1997), it reaffirmed the Smith reasoning and announced that RFRA was unconstitutional because Congress was usurping the authority of the judicial branch. Though the justices were unanimous in the second of these statements, several wanted to revisit the Smith case and/or reinstate the Sherbert test. At this time, the free-exercise situation is ambiguous in the extreme. We must await further decisions before knowing where the path will go.

So is the situation surrounding the establishment clause ambiguous, though for different reasons.

As noted earlier, several of the first thirteen states of the new union had established religions of a sort. These were seen as accommodations by the government to enable communities to educate children in an acceptable manner. In retrospect it can be shown that the government permitted all manner of accommodation, much of which was later found to be unconstitutional, or was voted out of existence, or simply ceased to exist. Such practices as opening government meetings with prayer, using only the Protestant version of the Bible in schools, prohibiting many activities on Sunday, and arrests for blasphemy are examples where the state was preferring one kind of religion over others, or preferring religion over irreligion. Little by little, these things—at one time unquestioned—were questioned, and the state found itself more and more separated from religion.

Many accommodations of religion still exist, and some Americans would restore practices that now are outlawed, such as allowing public schools to sponsor prayers. (Anyone in public school is free to pray now, subject only to restrictions of time, place, and manner. The political football called "prayer in the schools" is a deception; what its supporters really want is government endorsement of prayer, something the establishment clause seems clearly to prohibit.)

Since its founding, then, the country has shifted from more accommodation to less, and from less separation to more. As particular issues have arisen, the Supreme Court—much as it did with the Sherbert test of free-exercise issues—eventually developed a method for deciding establishment cases. It is called the "Lemon test," because it was formalized in the 1971 court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman. At issue was whether a government can pay some of the costs—for example, pay the salaries of teachers of secular subjects, or provide secular textbooks—of religiously operated schools. In deciding that governments may not provide such aid, the Court declared that a publicly funded program, to be constitutional, must meet three criteria: (1) Its purpose must be neither to advance nor to inhibit religion, (2) its primary effect must be neither to advance nor to inhibit religion, and (3) it must be free of "entangling alliances" between religion and government (e.g., it cannot require constant monitoring by the state to ensure that religion is being neither advanced nor inhibited).

Like the Sherbert test, the Lemon test is not automatically applicable. Justices do not always agree on what constitutes an "advance" or an "inhibition," or how much entanglement is too much. Justice O'Connor in several opinions has argued that the purpose and effect criteria should be changed to the question of whether the government's program appears to "endorse," by intention or effect, a religion.

The fact is that considerable disagreement exists both in the American public and in the courts regarding how much religion should exist in public places in a manner that connotes governmental approval of religion. To some, outlawing prayer by a local clergyman before a Friday night football game in a town where no known non-Protestants exist is simply idiotic. Such people are unable even to see the matter as an establishment issue because they see it as curtailing their free exercise. To others, a Roman Catholic hospital that receives government support should not be allowed to display images of the Virgin Mary in the hallways or on the grounds, for that puts the state in the position of fostering Catholicism.

The Lemon test thus is controversial, not—like the Sherbert test—over fundamental jurisprudential principles, but over the confusing, even contradictory, decisions the test has led to. Just as with free exercise, then, the establishment path's direction is hard to predict. In the long run, the order found along each path will be followed, but as long as controversy envelops the U.S. Supreme Court's various rulings in church-state cases, disorder may appear more the order of the day.

See alsoCivil Religion; Conscientious Objection; Freedom of Religion; Prayer in School; Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Religious Persecution.


Demerath, N. J., III. "Religious Capital and Capital Religions: Cross-Cultural and Non-Legal Factors in the Separation of Church and State." Daedalus 120 (1991): 21–40.

Flowers, Ronald B. That Godless Court. 1994.

Hammond, Phillip E. With Liberty for All. 1998.

Handy, Robert T. Undermined Establishment: ChurchState Relations in America, 1880 –1920. 1991.

Journal of Church and State Quarterly.

Miller, Robert T., and Ronald B. Flowers. TowardBenevolent Neutrality: Church, State, and the SupremeCourt.

Phillip E. Hammond

Church and State

views updated May 23 2018

Church and State

Gregory of Tours …93
Shotoku Taishi …103
Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII …111
Dante Alighieri …121

C hurch and state" is another term for "religion and government." Both are powerful and influential forces that sometimes find themselves in conflict, a conflict that still concerns people today. For instance, many Christians in America believe that public schools should hold prayer each morning, whereas a wide array of people in groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) oppose this on the grounds that it goes against "the separation of church and state." This expression refers to the fact that in America, no religious body is allowed to dominate the government. Though they do not agree on what "separation of church and state" means, most Americans agree with the basic principle. This was not the case in the Middle Ages, a time when people had no concept of separation between religion and government.

The relationship between the Catholic Church and the governments of medieval Western Europe became so strong, in fact, that it was hard to imagine a time when the two were not linked. Certainly there had been a connection between government and religion of some kind since history began, but only with the emperor Constantine (KAHN-stunteen; ruled 306–37) in 312 did Rome abandon its old gods in favor of Christianity.

After the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, the popes—spiritual and political leaders of the Catholic Church—needed to make an alliance with one of the kings from among the "barbarian" or uncivilized tribes that had taken Rome's place. But most of these barbarian kings had embraced a form of Christianity called Arianism, which the Catholic Church had declared a heresy (HAIR-uh-see), or something that goes against established Church teaching.

Thus the conversion of Clovis (ruled 481–511), king of a tribe called the Franks, to mainstream Christianity was a particularly significant event. As Gregory of Tours (TOOR; 538–594) wrote in his History of the Franks, Clovis had married a Christian wife, but had long rejected her religion until the day when he found himself losing a battle with a rival tribe. Clovis called on the Christian God's help, Gregory wrote, and won the battle, whereupon he and his people converted to Christianity. The Franks, who gave their name to the nation of France, went on to become the dominant power in Europe.

In 800, a pope crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne (SHAHR-luh-main; ruled 768–814) as "Emperor of the Romans," thus in effect creating a new Roman Empire linked to the Catholic Church. The Holy Roman Empire, as it came to be known, was never more than a collection of smaller states within what is now Germany and surrounding countries, but it was a powerful idea, and eventually the Holy Roman emperors came to see themselves as figures on a par with the popes.

The two forces vied for leadership of Western Europe, and this struggle came to a head in a conflict between Emperor Henry IV (ruled 1056–1106) and Pope Gregory VII (ruled 1073–1085). When Gregory ordered Henry to stop appointing bishops, church leaders with authority over the priests and believers in a given region, Henry responded with an angry letter in which he denounced Gregory as a "false monk." Gregory in turn issued orders to Henry's subjects that they were no longer required to obey him.

In the struggle between Henry and Gregory, neither man came out the winner, though in the end it appeared that the Church had triumphed over the state. In 1095, Pope Urban II (ruled 1088–99) launched the first of many crusades, wars intended to win back control of the Holy Land or Palestine from the Muslims who controlled it. Two centuries later, however, in the time of Dante Alighieri (DAHN-tay al-eeg-YEER-ee; 1265–1321), the enthusiasm that fueled the Crusades had been spent. Much of Dante's Divine Comedy, a classic of world literature, was concerned with corruption among the religious leadership of his time, which saw a shift in power away from the Church and toward the political leaders of Europe.

So far the relationship between Church and state has been discussed purely in terms of the West, or cultures influenced by ancient Greece and Rome. But the relationship of religion and politics was no less powerful in the East, as illustrated by the "Seventeen-Article Constitution" of Japan by Shotoku Taishi (shoh-TOH-koo ty-EE-shee; 573–621). In Japan, of course, Christianity was not even a factor—but the belief systems of Buddhism and Confucianism, both imported from China, along with Japan's native Shinto religion, were.

The Japanese constitution represents a level of agreement between religion and politics that would have been practically impossible in the West, where even in the Middle Ages people felt much more free to hold their own opinions. This harmony was possible precisely because there was even less separation of church and state in Japan than there was in medieval Europe.

Church and State

views updated Jun 11 2018

Church and State


Established Churches. For hundreds of years the official church of western and central Europe was the Roman Catholic Church. After the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s divided Christians into different churches, the nations of Europe had to choose. Countries like France and Spain kept the Roman Catholic Church as the official, or established, church of the nation. Other nations became officially Protestant: Scandinavian countries became Lutheran; the Netherlands became Reformed; and England created the Anglican Church, which combined elements of both Catholicism and Protestantism.

Non-English Colonies. The church therefore was actively involved in European expansion in North America. French and Spanish settlements included Catholic churches and various religious orders, and the Reformed Church enjoyed state sanction in Dutch New Netherland. The later American idea of separation of church and state was nowhere to be seen in any of these European colonies. Instead, the church actively participated in governmental affairs.

Confusing Example. But maintaining one official church became difficult. England itself had different established churches at different times. In the 1500s England went back and forth between Catholic and Anglican before becoming permanently Anglican in 1660. This vacillation helps explain why some English colonies became Anglican while others became Congregationalist.

English Colonies. The English settlers also expected to create an established church, and nearly all of the early colonies set up an official church, but it was not always the Church of England. The Anglicans constituted the official church in all the royal colonies, which by the end of the colonial period included all the colonies south of Maryland. The New England colonies, heavily influenced by the zealous Protestants called Puritans, usually made the Congregational Church the official one, as happened in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

Pluralism. But the mixture of peoples and ethnic groups in America made established churches even more difficult to keep. New York had two established churches after the English conquest in 1664, the Dutch Reformed Church (left over from the days of New Netherland) and the Anglican Church. And other colonies had different ideas about official churches. Many of Rhode Islands settlers disliked Massachusetts and its tough attitude toward religious dissenters, so Rhode Island had no official church. Pennsylvania was created in part as a refuge for Quakers, who had been persecuted by both Anglicans and Puritans back in England, so Pennsylvania did not establish an official church either. The American traditions of the separation of church and state and the respect for a mixture of religious sentiments was pioneered in colonies such as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Some officially Anglican colonies such as Georgia and North Carolina had few enough Anglicans that religious pluralism and toleration became the dominant practice, whatever the law might say.

Virginia. Even in colonies where there was little initial opposition to the official church, problems could arise in time. Virginias established church faced little opposition until the mid 1700s. But beginning in the 1750s, after the revivals of the Great Awakening, other religious groups grew rapidly, especially the Baptists, even though the ministers of these other groups were not officially recognized by the colony, could not perform marriages, and could be jailed for preaching without a license. After the American Revolution, Virginia became one of the first states to disestablish its church. Massachusetts did not disestablish its church until 1833, making it one of the last of the original thirteen colonies to do so.


Thomas Buckley, Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776-1787 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977);

Thomas Curry, The First Freedoms: Church and State in America to the Passage of the First Amendment (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

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