between Church and State:
What is the teaching
of the Holy Roman Catholic Church?
The Separation of Church and State: its ideology and its
What ideology inspires those who work for the separation
of Church and State?
"There are (...) who affirm that the morality of individuals
is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality
of the State, for that in public affairs the commands
of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded
in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal
theory of the need of separation between Church and State."
[Leo XIII: Encyclical: Libertas, June 20, 1888 (PE 103;
principles push them towards a total and radical separation
of Church and State?
"Many wish the State to be separated from the Church wholly
and entirely, so that with regard to every right of human
society, in institutions, customs and laws, the offices
of State, and the education of youth, they would pay no
more regard to the Church than if she did not exist; and,
at most, would allow the citizens individually to attend
to their religion in private if so minded." [Leo
XIII: Encyclical: Libertas, June 20, 1888 (PE 103; 39)]
are the political results of the separation of Church
and State, in those countries where such is practised?
"If in any State the Church retains her own agreement
publicly entered into by the two powers, men forthwith
begin to cry out that matters affecting the Church must
be separated from those of the State.
Their object in uttering this cry is to be able to violate
unpunished their plighted faith, and in all things to
have unchecked control. And as the Church, unable
to abandon her chief and most sacred duties, cannot patiently
put up with this, and asks that the pledge given to her
be fully and scrupulously acted up to, contentions frequently
arise between the ecclesiastical and the civil power,
of which the issue commonly is that the weaker power yields
to the one which is stronger in human resources.
Accordingly, it has become the practice and determination
under this condition of public policy (now so much
admired by many) either to forbid the action of the Church
altogether, or to keep her in check and bondage to the
State. Public enactments are in great measure framed
with this design. The drawing up of laws, the administration
of State affairs, the godless education of youth, the
spoliation and suppression of religious orders, the overthrow
of the temporal power of the Roman Pontiff, all alike
aim to this one end - to paralyse the action of Christian
institutions, to cramp to the utmost the freedom of the
Catholic Church, and to curtail her every single prerogative."
[Leo XIII: Encyclical: Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885 (PE
The Separation of Church and State: the Catholic position:
Has the need to separate Church and State been admitted
by the Popes?
No, it has been rejected by numerous Sovereign Pontiffs,
notably such as:
XVI: Encyclical: Mirari vos, Aug. 15, 1832.
(PE 33; 20)
Pius IX: Allocution to the Consistory: Acerbissimum,
Sept. 27, 1852.
Encyclical: Quanta cura, Dec. 8, 1864. (PE 63)
Syllabus, Dec. 8, 1864: prop 55.
Leo XIII: Encyclical: Cum multa, Dec. 8, 1882.
Encyclical: Humanum genus, April 20, 1884. (PE 91; 13
Encyclical: Immortale Dei, Nov. 1, 1885. (PE 93; 27 ff)
Encyclical: Libertas, June 20, 1888. (PE 103; 18 ff)
Encyclical: Au milieu des sollicitudes, Feb. 16, 1892.
(PE 119; 28 ff)
Letter Longinqua, Jan. 6, 1895. (PE 134; 3 ff)
Saint Pius X: Allocution to the Secret Consistory,
Amplissimum coetum, March 27, 1905.
Encyclical: Vehementer Nos, Feb. 11, 1906. (PE 169; 1
Allocution to the Consistory: Gravissimum apostolici,
Feb. 21, 1906.
Encyclical: Gravissimo officii, Aug. 10, 1906. (PE 172;
Letter: Le moment, May 17, 1908.
Encyclical: Jamdudum, May 24, 1911. (PE 177; 2 ff)
Pius XI: Encyclical Maximam Gravissimamque,
Jan. 18, 1924. (PE 196; 2 ff)
Allocution: Jam annus, to the Secret Consistory, Dec.
Encyclical: Iniquis afflictisque, Nov. 18, 1926. (PE 200;
Encyclical: Dilectissima Nobis, June 3, 1933. (PE 215;
Pius XII: Allocution to some Italian Catholic
Jurists, Dec. 6, 1953.
is the saying that the State and the Church must necessarily
be separated a false and dangerous theory?
There is a pernicious error in saying Church and State
necessarily must function separately:
"Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must
not recognise any religious cult, it is in the first place
guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of
man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves
their existence as He preserves our own. We owe
Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public
and social worship to honour Him."
"This thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural
order. It limits the action of the State to the
pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which
is but the proximate object of political societies; and
it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this
is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is
man's eternal happiness after this short life shall have
run its course. But as the present order of things
is temporary and subordinated to the achievement of man's
supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil
power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this
achievement, but must aid us in effecting it."
"The same thesis (...) upsets the order providentially
established by God in the world, which demands a harmonious
agreement between the two societies. Both of them,
the civil and the religious society, have in fact the
same subjects, although each exercises in its own sphere
its authority over them. It follows necessarily
that there are many things belonging to them in common
in which both societies must have relations with one another.
Remove the agreement between Church and State, and the
result will be that from these converging interests will
spring the seeds of disputes which will become very conflicting
on both sides; it will become more difficult to see where
the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise."
"This thesis inflicts great injury on society itself,
for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place
is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and
the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights
and duties of men." [Pius X: Encyclical: Vehementer
nos, Feb. 11, 1906. (PE 169; 3)]
can it be claimed that the separation of Church and State
"As soon as the State refuses to give to God what belongs
to God, by a necessary consequence it refuses to give
to citizens that to which, as men, they have a right;
as, whether agreeable or not to accept, it cannot be denied
that man's rights spring from his duty toward God.
Whence it follows that the State, by missing in this connection
the principal object of its institution, finally becomes
false to itself by denying that which is the reason of
its own existence. These superior truths are so
clearly proclaimed by the voice of even natural reason,
that they force themselves upon all who are not blinded
by the violence of passion." [Leo XIII, Encyclical:
Au milieu des sollicitudes, Feb. 16, 1892. (PE 119; 28)]
Consequences resulting from the Catholic position concerning
the separation of Church and State:
Following on the decisions of the Popes in this matter,
what are the truths which every Catholic must hold on
"From these pronouncements of the Popes it is evident
that the origin of public power is to be sought for in
God Himself, and not in the multitude, and it is repugnant
to reason to allow free scope for sedition. Again,
that it is not lawful for the State, any more than for
the individual, either to disregard all religious duties
or to hold in equal favour different kinds of religion;
that the unrestrained freedom of thinking and of openly
making known one's thoughts is not inherent in the rights
of citizens, and is by no means to be reckoned worthy
of favour and support. In like manner it is to be
understood that the Church no less than the State itself
is a society perfect in its own nature and its own right,
and that those who exercise sovereignty ought not so to
act as to compel the Church to become subservient or subject
to them, or to hamper her liberty in the management of
her own affairs, or to despoil her in any way of the other
privileges conferred upon her by Jesus Christ. In
matters, however, of mixed jurisdiction, it is in the
highest degree consonant to nature, as also to the designs
of God, that so far from one of the powers separating
itself from the other, or still less coming into conflict
with it, complete harmony, such as is suited to the end
for which each power exists, should be preserved between
them." [Leo XIII, Encyclical: Immortale Dei, Nov.
1, 1885. (PE 93 35)]
then is one to think of the reasoning of them that want
to have Church and State separated?
"To have in public matters no care for religion, and in
the arrangement and administration of civil affairs to
have no more regard for God than if He did not exist,
is a rashness unknown to the very pagans; for in their
heart and soul the notion of a divinity and the need of
public religion were so firmly fixed that they would have
thought it easier to have a city without foundation than
a city without God. Human society, indeed for which
by nature we are formed, has been constituted by God the
Author of nature; and from Him, as from their principle
and source, flow in all their strength and permanence
the countless benefits with which society abounds.
As we are each of us admonished by the very voice of nature
to worship God in piety and holiness, as the Giver unto
us of life and of all that is good therein, so also and
for the same reason, nations and States are bound to worship
Him; and therefore it is clear that those who would absolve
society from all religious duty act not only unjustly
but also with ignorance and folly.
men are by the will of God born for civil union and society,
and as the power to rule is so necessary a bond of society
that, if it be taken away, society must at once be broken
up, it follows that from Him who is the Author of society
has come also the authority to rule; so that whosoever
rules, he is the minister of God. Wherefore, as
the end and nature of human society so requires, it is
right to obey the just commands of lawful authority, as
it is right to obey God who ruleth all things; and it
is most untrue that the people have it in their power
to cast aside their obedience whensoever they please."
[Leo XIII, Encyclical: Humanum genus, April 20, 1884.
(PE 91; 24-25)]
What conclusions can we draw from this Catholic Teaching?
"The spiritual and temporal orders being, therefore, distinct
in their origin and in their nature, should be conceived
and judged of as such. For matters of the temporary
order - however lawful, however important they be - do
not extend, when considered in themselves, beyond the
limits of that life which we live on this our earth.
But religion, born of God, and referring all things to
God, takes a higher flight and touches heaven. For
its will, its wish, is to penetrate the soul, man's best
part, with the knowledge and the love of God and to lead
in safety the whole human race to that City of the Future
for which we seek..
is then right to look on religion, and whatever is connected
by any particular bond with it, as belonging to a higher
order. Hence, in the vicissitudes of human affairs,
and even in the very revolutions in States, religion,
which is the supreme good, should remain intact; for it
embraces all times and all places. Men of opposite
parties, though differing in all else, should be agreed
unanimously in this: that in the State the Catholic religion
should be preserved in all its integrity. To this
noble and indispensable aim, all who love the Catholic
religion ought, as if bound by a compact, to direct all
their efforts; they should be somewhat silent about their
various political opinions, which they are, however, at
perfect liberty to ventilate in their proper place: for
the Church is far from condemning such matters, when they
are not opposed to religion or justice; apart and removed
from all the turmoil of strife, she carries on her work
of fostering the common weal, and of cherishing all men
with the love of a mother, those particularly whose faith
and piety are greatest." [Leo XIII: Encyclical:
Cum multa, Dec. 8, 1882 (PE 88; 8-9)]
All the above texts cited have been drawn from the following
book: The Papal Encyclicals, by Claudia Carlen
IHM, The Pierian Press, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 1990.
For easy reference, it has been abbreviated: PE, followed
by the encyclical's number and occasionally also the paragraph's