Ecclesia et Imperium

Recently, the topic of Church and State has come up. It started with James’ (of Casual Histrionics) response to Mark Citadel‘s “Open Letter to Pope Francis” which then resulted in Mark’s revision of his position. I must commend James for his interesting and thought-provoking comments, but I take issue with a key point. I generally agree with the conclusion being drawn; my main concern is the analogy used — that of Church as feminine and Empire (or State) as masculine. While it seems quite fantastic at first glance, such an analogy fails to grasp the traditional understanding of the relationship between the two. As Bonald pointed out rightfully: “Recently, there has been some talk about the Church being feminine in her relationship with the State. Such analogies are to be avoided if they obscure the truth that the Church is the superior authority.”

There is an undeniable link between Church and Empire, which was observed in the early days of Christianity. “The condition of the commonwealth depends on the religion with which God is worshipped; and between one and the other there exists an intimate and abiding connection” (Sacr. Imp. ad Cyrillum Alexand.). To know their proper order for the future, we must look back.

Church and State relations have a long and complicated history. The Investiture Controversy was essentially the start of a great conflict in the High Middles Ages. The famous Guelph and Ghibelline factions arose during this time, the latter supporting the Pope and the former backing the Holy Roman Emperor. Both were concerned of the growing influence of the other. Popes dabbled in the affairs of the Empire, and the Emperor was keen on appointing his own bishops. Papal power peaked during this time, with practically all Catholic sovereigns swearing fealty to the Pope and the start of the Crusades and Inquisitions. Tensions calmed and flared over the centuries, but the Papacy ultimately lost its sway over Europe. The office was eventually subjected to immense pressure from the monarchs, such as during the Avignon Papacy, and was dominated by various noble families for political reasons, like the Borgias. The Western Schism exemplifies the decline of the Papacy; it saw the emergence of three “popes” who were the pawns of various kings.

During this period, however, the Popes saw themselves as the supreme rulers of Christendom. Pope Innocent III, one of the most powerful Pontiffs, stated “The Lord gave Peter the rule not only over the universal Church, but also the rule over the whole world.” He outlined the relationship between Church and Empire, which was demonstrated with a sun and moon allegory. “The priesthood is the sun, the kingdom the moon. Kings rule over their respective kingdoms, but Peter rules over the whole earth.” The sun is the source whereas the moon merely reflects what it receives from the sun; this means Papal supremacy, where kings are only legitimate if they submit to Christ’s Church and His clergy.

James is espousing a theory that was concocted by the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Although a Guelph, he was concerned that the Papacy was being too extreme and ambitious. One of the Popes during his life was Boniface VIII who was power-hungry and impious. Indeed, Dante placed him in Hell in his Divine Comedy. Dante presented his position in De Monarchia — the theory of the two suns. He thought that both Pope and Emperor derived their power directly from God, so they were coequal. The Emperor dealt with the temporal sphere while the Pope ruled over the spiritual sphere, and the two would not come into conflict as long as they stayed to their own affairs. Here is where the idea of masculinity and femininity comes into the picture. Man works to provide while Woman bears and raises the children; the two need each other, but are distinct.  Dante’s work was mostly a response to Boniface’s papal bull Unam Sanctam which reasserted Papal Supremacy in a way similar to Innocent’s formulation.

Dante’s position may seem like the more fair of the two. However, De Monarchia was later condemned and banned by the Church at the Council of Trent. His theory lacks nuance and misconstrues the appointment of monarchs. A king is only divinely appointed to be monarch through the Church, not by God directly. This is why the Pope coronated the emperors and kings; it was an investment of their Divine right, not some formal recognition. Furthermore, to say that the religious and political spheres are entirely separate is not true. A ruler is not a good ruler unless he acts according to Divine Law, which is given to man through God’s Church. The First Lateran Council affirmed Innocent’s view of the matter, which was later put into Canon Law. It is the Catholic view.

To say that the Church is feminine and the Empire is masculine presents many difficulties. In our sphere in particular, there are those who say that wives must always obey their husbands to the point of absolute servitude, where even pointing out the sins and wrongdoings of the husband is not allowed. If we are to accept this, then the Church would be subservient and deferent to Empire, if not flat out inferior. Just as husband leads wife, Empire, in this model, leads Church. The Church is completely passive. However, this is completely backwards. It is the Church who guides the State on how to wield power morally and in line with God’s commandments. The Church may be passive with respect to God’s Law, but it is the Church who spreads the faith and defends it on the intellectual level. It is most certainly not passive towards the State, whom it legitimizes and teaches.

I can understand why many will see Papal Supremacy to be despotic and thus deny it. Such misgivings are a result of misinterpretation  I will borrow a different analogy to illustrate what is meant by the sun and moon allegory. Pope Leo XIII wrote extensively on Church and State relations. I want to bring your attention to a part of his encyclical Immortale Dei (with my own emphasis added):

The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing — related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing — might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. “For the powers that are, are ordained of God.” Were this not so, deplorable contentions and conflicts would often arise, and, not infrequently, men, like travellers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two.

Pope Leo XIII crafted Latin riddles for Roman magazineBut it would be most repugnant to them to think thus of the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgement of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar’s is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God.

The analogy of body and soul is most apt. The soul rules over the body to keep it properly maintained and in accord with what is appropriate. When the body starts to take over, we have degeneration in the form of hedonism, intemperance, and vanity. If the soul receives too great a focus, the body will be left to ruin due to improper sustenance and upkeep. There is a sort of balance that must be struck. However, the two are not equal nor in direct conflict with each other. A soul separated from a body will live on. Isolated, it lacks any of the functions that the body grants it; it does not possess the faculties to sense. Yet, it survives. The body without a soul is dead. It is lifeless and will therefore decay rapidly. The two are complementary. Man is only fully realized with both body and soul. Christians do not hold to a Manichean or Platonic belief that bodies “trap” souls and are thus evil. Otherwise, why would Christ have risen with His body, or why would we believe in a general resurrection of the body before the Last Judgement?

Now, apply this to Church and State. The Church instructs the State on how to act and govern, not through direct intervention but by studying, interpreting, and disseminating Divine Law. You cannot have proper Civil Law unless it is modelled after Divine Law. In turn, the State acts as the protector and vehicle for the Church. They assist one another. But, the Church is superior, just as its goal is higher. The salvation of souls trumps the temporal safety and government of humanity. The Church without the Empire is vulnerable, isolated, and incapable of carrying out many of its functions and duties to the people. Still, it will endure in its weakened state for as long as it is separated. The State without the Church lacks its animating force and must turn to wicked ideologies to give it some semblance of life. No matter, it will quickly deteriorate, decompose, and turn to ash.

The proper order of Church and State is just like soul and body. You need the Church to rule on matters of faith and morals, the highest and most important subjects, to allow the State to effectively bring order and stability to its subjects. Caesaropapism is the body ruling over the soul, and extreme theocracy is the soul suffocating the body. Separation of Church and State is no less than death itself.

In act, this would be very similar to how papacy and monarchy interacted in the Middle Ages. The Pope coronates the kings and emperors who are fit to be rulers, and then leaves them to do their duty, only intervening if it is ever necessary. Monarchs pay homage to the Pope and obey him in matters of faith and morals which will help them govern. The Pope is the universal arbiter but allows kings to have jurisdiction in their realms. Of course, this is all extremely idealistic, but it worked well for a time. Kings would have to resist a bad pope who overreaches, and popes would need to be able to swiftly deal with rebellious kings. The system only works when authority is obeyed and respected.

The solution to our modern problem is to reunite the body and soul. Do not pretend that the soul can act like a body, or the body like a soul. Resurrect what is dead. In this sense, I agree with James. We cannot have a thriving Church without a State for it to flourish in. We much first solve our civil crisis or else the Church will continue to endure in its current form.

Ultimately, the masculine/feminine analogy being tossed around is insufficient. Perhaps, it can be salvaged if it is explained with the correct amount of nuance, but then why have the analogy at all? Indeed, some have already used it to come to heretical and misguided conclusions.

I leave you with a great comment from Aurelius Moner on the last article linked. Let it serve as my TL;DR:

The traditional Catholic (and Orthodox) doctrine, when understood, is best: the transcendent principles of Truth and morality, which must animate the State’s laws and identity, necessarily are the domain of the Church; the State is thus subordinate to the Church insofar as it is the universal judge and teacher of justice; yet the State bears the duty, and therefore also the right, of temporal authority and jurisdiction; the Church only intervenes if the State has perverted itself in this regard, but for so long as the State is Catholic in its laws and character, and its princes are not flouting the popular respect for Truth and morals by egregiously bad example, in all temporal matters the Church yields to the State its proper sphere of direct influence, jurisdiction and authority…


James’ response to this article can be found here.

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Testis Gratus

Catholic, reactionary, traditionalist — "Ego vox clamantis in deserto: dirigite viam Domini"

10 thoughts on “Ecclesia et Imperium

  1. Thanks for the tip ‘o the hat. I’ll return the sentiment, and thank you for an excellent article. I’m embarrassed to have forgotten the analogy of the Church being to the State as the soul is to the body. Trying to preserve the “feminine” language of Citadel, I used the analogy of the Queen Mother and her royal son: she has an authority and influence over him, but obviously it’s her son’s job to swing a sword at people. Soul and body is a better analogy by far!

  2. The idea that the Church somehow could stand in relation to the State as female to male is very, very poorly thought out at best. If anything, it would be the other way around. Georges Dumezil, in his landmark analysis of the concept of sovereignty as it figures in Indo-European religion, has described a highly suggestive Hindu conception of the relation between Mitra (representing the spiritual authority) and Varuna (representing temporal sovereignty):

    “The Satapatha Brahmana, 11, 4, 4, 19, says that “Mitra ejaculated his seed into Varuna” (mitro varune retah sincati). The same Brahmana (XII, 9, 1, 17), though contrasting him this time with Indra as the male, confirms that “Varuna is the womb” (yonir eva varunah) . This sexual primacy of Mitra’s, and this sexual impregnation of Varuna by Mitra, indeed link up nicely with Mitra’s conceptual primacy and Varuna’s conceptual impregnation by Mitra which are expounded, for example, in Satapatha Brahmana, IV, 1, 4,3 an important text in which Mitra and Varuna are successively opposed as the kratu (who formulates desire) and the daksa (who executes desire), as the abhigantr (“conceiver”) and the kartr (“actor”), as brahman and ksatra (more or less, as we say, “spiritual power” and “temporal power”) . This text explains that Mitra and Varuna were once distinct (agre nanevasatuh ) ; but that, whereas Mitra (brahman) could subsist apart from Varuna (ksatra) , the reverse was not the case”.(Dumezil 1988, p.178)

    1. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is poorly thought out. Upon further discussion with James, I have a better understanding of what he means by the analogy, but it is a simplification of a very complex topic (as many analogies are) and requires a large amount of nuance to be conveyed properly. The masculine/feminine dichotomy can be helpful to explain certain aspects of the relationship, though there are masculine and feminine parts of both Church and State. My greatest fear, which has since been realized, is that his analogy would be abused to propose the subjugation of Church to State, an insupportable position from a Catholic perspective.

  3. And the main reason for referring to the Church as “She,” is because Scripture and Tradition have always regarded the Church as She. Ecclesia is Feminine in Greek and Latin, she is described as the Bride of Christ, “Holy Mother Church” in the Tradition, etc. Though, the Church is Virgo and Virago – I always think of Galadriel, full of all beauty and delicacy and grace, utterly feminine, yet the most terrifyingly potent entity in Middle Earth, whom even the Eye regards with a certain fear. An exact analogue of the Blessed Virgin, in fact: She Who, full of the Holy Ghost, gives birth to Christ; a virgin utterly suffused and overflowing with a share in the Omnipotence by grace.

  4. The Church is rightly conceived as a female in relation to Christ, and to the Pope, but cannot possibly be a female in relation to the State. Christ, after all, had the Disciples procure two swords, not one sword and a knitting-needle. If the Church were the bride of the State, then by definition the Church would not be able to teach *anything* without the power of the State to give those teachings the full force of Reason (we learn from Aristotle that, by nature, a female cannot have Reason in perfection, since Reason in the female lacks authority), and the Church could not possibly be a self-sufficient spiritual authority. Henry VIII would have been right all along, and the governance of the Church of England in full agreement with the nature of things. Since the conclusion is absurd, the premise must also be.

    The reason that the idea that the Church is a female in the temporal order of things, although manifestly wrong, is intuitively plausible to many is precisely because the modern State has reduced the Church to the level of a woman for longer than any living person can remember. For example, the idea that the Church is a female because the Church must rely on the State for protection must already assume that the Church is feminine or otherwise totally subjugated, since a superior never loses his manhood by delegating security detail to retainers or other armed servants. If, say, a rock star, a billionaire, or a high-ranking gangster is never seen in public without a menacing bodyguard, we don’t think him any less of a man for it; on the contrary, if anything having goons around him enhances his arch-alpha-male status instead of detracting from it. Likewise for the idea that the Church is a female because the Church is “passive” and the State active; it would be like saying that an aristocrat who disdains physical work is a female relative to his serfs, since after all lordly otium is “passive”, and the serfs likely much more buffed-out and vigorous than their master.

    1. Indeed, it can be argued that having others defend you physically, such as the Church does with the Swiss Guard or Empire and the like, is feminine, but that does not change the fact that the Church is inherently “superior” to the State. It’s purpose is much more important, and in any case where overlap occurs, the State must submit to the authority of the Church since it was founded by God Himself to watch over His flock. The masculine/feminine analogy can work if its scope is limited to force in the form of armies or soldiers or whatever, but I do not believe that it fully captures the essence of the relationship. Also, (as I have stated many times) it will be abused to support the State ruling over the Church. The soul and body analogy seems better, which is why I felt the need to present it.

      In his defence, James only presented the analogy to refer to the material realm, which I did not grasp at first, and granted that my analogy is “superior” from a metaphysical perspective.

      1. It is also important to note that the so called “absurdity” of the examples of Henry VIII is misleading because that is like saying that the presence of abusive husbands negates the concept of marriage. The office of Emperor is not synonymous with the modern concept of nation-state. Indeed, the question of “Church” and “State” is, presently, being influenced by the very modern concept of State that so many individuals, perhaps the previous poster also, understand. This is why I specifically use the term “Empire” which is a transcendent idea and not a modern one. Nonetheless, the question of marriage between church and state has become a strawman that has gone outside the boundaries I had set out in my analogy of “feminine.” If it is more palatable for the Catholic who is so enamored with the idea of a “muscular mother,” then it is no wonder that modern Catholicism, in its polity, has become so degenerate. The position of protector, provider, and leader in temporal matters as the masculine art is completely compatible with the Empire lest the Church become polluted (as it had often done in the past) with temporal matters.

        Furthermore, I pointed out in my response to your comment on my blog that the question of the changing of gender roles between realms of temporal and spiritual is not without precedent. After all, our position is a feminine one in relation to God even if we are masculine by birth.

        1. Part of that is my fault. I failed to account for the set bounds of your argument with Mark, which certainly led to a misunderstanding and sense of hostility in this article. Nevertheless, these dialogues have gotten people thinking about the issue, and I hope that further productive discussion will take place.

  5. What about the relationship between Father and Son as an analogy for the relationship between Church and Empire?

    The Son goes to the Father (avuncular and wise) for solutions to his problems, where the Father has answers, and also acts imperiously towards the Son. The Son is passive in this state, but is active in carrying out his Fathers orders.

    1. Sure, there’s some truth to that. But, the Church is not masculine in the sense that it creates its doctrine or anything like that. In relation to God, the Church is feminine. Using any sort of masculine or feminine distinction is bound to fail at some point unless it is intentionally limited to a specific aspect of the relationship. Considered as a whole, I will stand by Leo XIII’s analogy.

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