Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
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First Pub. Date
1881
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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1899
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CHURCH AND STATE

I.216.1

CHURCH AND STATE. Church and state can occupy with regard to each other but one of these four positions: 1. Where the church governs the state; this is the theocratic régime. 2. Where the state holds religious affairs under its control and regulates them according to its pleasure; this is what may be called Cæsaropapacy. 3. When the church and state limit each other by common consent; this is the régime of concordats. 4. When religions, separate from the state, are entirely free, on the same conditions as all other associations.

I.216.2

—Let us examine one after another these four forms of relations between church and state.

I.216.3

—I. Theocracy. The domination of the state by the church constitutes an order of things well known and very frequent in history. In ancient Egypt, in India from the remotest ages down to our time, and in the greater part of Europe during the middle ages, religion was supreme, not only over consciences and in spiritual affairs, but also over all human existence and consequently over civil law and government. In a pure theocracy there is no legislation except the religious code. In the Christian states of the middle ages the theocracy never attained this degree of perfection, notwithstanding all the efforts which it made in that direction; but, imperfect as it remained, it has none the less weighed with a mighty pressure on the governments of western Europe. The canon law held at that time a considerable place at the side of the civil law, and ecclesiastical rules often took precedence of, and determined ordinarily the laws of the state. It is not without reason that it was possible in those days to compare the religious power to the sun and the civil power to the moon, which, obscure of itself, borrows its light from the sun.

I.216.4

—All nations without exception have commenced with this régime. There are none which have not been governed at first by a religious power; a small number only have succeeded in acquiring a social form more or less independent of primitive religious institutions.

I.216.5

—That the theocratic régime has always been the first form of civilized nations is easily explained when we consider that religion alone has had the power requisite to wrest nomadic tribes from their wandering life, to fix them to the soil and render them accessible to civilization, or to subject barbarous peoples to the yoke of law and bend them to a civilized life. This fact is beyond all dispute; we know in our day that all primitive governments were theocratic.

I.216.6

—They all have this character in common, of treating men like children, as incapable of guiding themselves in the difficult paths of life. In fact, they found them in a state of childhood and were obliged to trace out a detailed scheme of all the duties of civilized life, without leaving anything to their free choice which could not be relied on in the beginning. The chiefs were not treated differently from the multitude. They were as barbarous as their followers, as undisciplined, as little capable of civilized life. Theocratic legislation was obliged to put even them under guardianship, and to trace out for them the duties of each day, of each hour, with as much precision as for all the other classes of society. Diodorus Siculus informs us that the kings of Egypt were bound by ancient laws. The seventh book of the code of Manu is devoted entirely to the enumeration of the duties of sovereigns. In the middle ages, without being subject to such minute rules, the kings and princes of western Europe were watched with jealous and constant care by the popes, who spared them neither counsel, encouragement nor censure.

I.216.7

—Theocratic legislation is condemned to immobility by its very nature. It makes this, however, a title to glory. Human laws are modified according to the changes which take place in the ideas of the nation. Theocratic legislation, claiming rightly or wrongly a divine origin, lacks this elasticity; it must remain what it is. How could the scant wisdom of man modify, improve or correct the decrees which come from God himself? This is why laws made for the childhood of nations know no other condition and allow no other, and why their most positive effect is to maintain or seek to maintain forever the primitive civilization to which they related and for which they have been constructed.

I.216.8

—And if, in consequence of certain events, the level of culture among the people submitted to this régime rises, let no one ask legislation to follow the movement. It is not at Rome alone that non possumus will be given as answer. This refusal is the forced result of the principles of theocracy. Since it comes from God it can not be changed. It must be accepted as it is; the concessions proposed to it can only appear to it logically as infidelity to the divine will.

I.216.9

—It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the fatal consequences of such a government. It paralyzes life and condemns all progress; it confines the nations which accept it to a very narrow circle, since it embraces only the primitive elements of civilization. Science can not extend beyond the limits of the creed of the ecclesiastical faith; industry, commerce, the arts, social relations are maintained at the point at which they are produced by a nascent civilization; liberty of thought is suppressed; rights of individual reason are not recognized; individuality is smothered by rules which press it down.

I.216.10

—At a certain period of social development this régime, excellent so long as it had only to guide the first steps of undisciplined tribes in civilized life, becomes an unendurable yoke. Two methods are presented to render it less crushing or even to shake it off entirely. The civil power, according as it is more or less strong or is more or less subject to ecclesiastical discipline, take possession of religious authority and declares itself the religious head of the nation, or it seeks to come to an understanding with the ecclesiastical power, and establishes, by a sort of treaty, the limits between the temporal and the spiritual.

I.216.11

—In the first case we have what has been called Cæsaropapacy; in the second, the régime of concordats.

I.216.12

—II. Cæsaropacy. The word Cæsaropapacy gives a clear enough description of that order of things in which the prince is both temporal ruler and religious head of his dominion. In ancient times, the kings of Egypt and the sovereigns of India tried repeatedly to overturn the priestly caste which ruled them; but they never succeeded. It is probable that if victory had settled on their side, they would have declared themselves the head of religion, and that religious affairs would have been governed by their administration on the same basis as finance, the army, and all the other branches of government. The emperors of Germany were not more successful in the middle ages against the theocracy of Rome.

I.216.13

—At the commencement of the eighteenth century the Tsar got the better of the Russian church more easily. From the end of the sixteenth century the patriarchs of Moscow, supported by the Russian bishops, broke with the patriarch of Constantinople; thenceforth they aspired to obtain supreme power in the church. These attempts disquieted the Tsar. Nicon was deposed in a council held at Moscow, in 1667; this defeat did not prevent his successors from cherishing similar schemes. Peter the Great put an end to all these ambitious views by declaring himself head of the Russian church in 1791. The following year he established for its government a council called the holy synod, composed of archbishops, bishops and archimandrites. But the Tsar reserved to himself the presidency of this synod and the nomination of all the members; and no act of this assembly is valid until after it has received the approbation of the emperor; the latter is absolute master in everything concerning religious affairs—belief, worship and discipline.

I.216.14

—It is easily seen that the emperor has gained by this order of things. His double quality of absolute sovereign and head of the church has given him, in the eyes of his subjects, a prestige which puts him far above any other power on this earth. He has besides all the members of the clerical order at his disposal, docile and submissive instruments who render him service which could not be expected from the other employés of the administration. But it is undoubted that religion has not reaped the same benefits from this régime; it has become neither more enlightened nor more spiritual. Add to this that liberty of thought does not meet with fewer obstacles in this than under theocratic rule. The chief of the state, who is at the same time the head of the church, may, without doubt, be more accessible than a purely ecclesiastical chief to the progress of ideas and the changes which the growth of science introduces by degrees into modes of thinking. But, on the other hand, what can he do for the cause of free thought in matters of religion when his political interests advise him to maintain the established order of things and not yield up so powerful a means of domination as the management of ecclesiastical affairs?

I.216.15

—In Protestant states, the course of events at the epoch of the reformation put the management of worship in the hands of princes. But, on account of the principle of free investigation, which is really the essence of Protestantism, men became accustomed to respect the rights of conscience to a greater or less degree; and, at the same time, less through the force of law than of public opinion, a certain independence was established in those states with regard to dogma. It is none the less true that the civil power is the judge of controversies, that it holds religion in its power, and that even without having recourse to violent measures it has a thousand indirect means of acting upon it. This justice, however, must be rendered to the governments of Protestant countries, that they have had the good sense not to abuse their authority in religious affairs.

I.216.16

—III. Régime of Concordats.*45 Concordats are treaties made between the civil and the religious power concerning ecclesiastical matters. Pacts of this nature can only be made when princes find themselves face to face with a powerful religious authority concentrated in the hands of one man. The count of Lanjuinais is mistaken when he assures us that they are unknown in all history outside of the Catholic church.*46 The Conventions repeatedly concluded between the Dalaï-Lama of Thibet and the emperor of China are absolutely of the same kind as the concordats concluded in Europe in modern times between temporal sovereigns and the popes. Similar agreements were made in Japan on different occasions, from the end of the twelfth century between the adïris, spiritual chiefs of that country, and the djogoons or tycoons who were the temporal chiefs.*47

I.216.17

—It is a remark not new that concordats are treaties of peace between the spiritual and temporal power. They have been brought about in reality only after long struggles between the papacy, which pretended to establish its rights to universal dominion, and the princes whose interest it was to restrict this action within the domain of ecclesiastical affairs. They had no object but to put an end to these disputes equally dangerous to both powers.

I.216.18

—Treaties of this kind can not in any way be reconciled with the principles of the Catholic church. Two powers of the same nature, whatever in other regards their respective importance may be, can of course terminate their disputes by mutual concessions. This can not be the case between the spiritual and temporal powers, because from the point of view of the Catholic church there is no equality between them, since the first was instituted by divine right to govern and direct the second. "If the holy see," says Gregory VII., "has received the right of judging in spiritual things, why should it not have the right of judging temporal things? Laymen perhaps believe that the royal dignity is above the episcopal dignity. The difference between them may be seen from the origin of the one and the other. The former was invented by human pride, the second established by divine goodness." Long before, St. Ambrose had proclaimed that the episcopacy is as much superior to royalty as gold is to lead. Such is the Catholic doctrine. It is not a question here of judging, but of stating it.

I.216.19

—I know well that there is a large number of persons who create for themselves a fantastic Catholicism, imagining they can rise above the Catholic church itself, and who flatter themselves they can convert the holy see to their theory. If history has not been able to disabuse them, it would be very useless to show them that they are the dupes of an illusion. Catholicism is an historical fact; it must be taken as it is; it is not in the power of any man to make it other than it has been made by a tradition which reaches back beyond the eighth century of our era; it could not itself modify itself, without perishing altogether.

I.216.20

—According to Catholic principles, princes and people have but to submit humbly to the decisions of the church, as to orders emanating from God. How under these conditions can the head of the church abandon a part of his rights to the temporal power? How can he let it judge what is good and what is not good for the church? Never, therefore, have the sovereign pontiffs asked for concordats unless to regain, under circumstances favorable to their interests, privileges which the misfortunes of the times had snatched away from them. Such were the motives which caused Leo X. to ask of Francis I. the concordat of the 15th of August, 1516, which abrogated the pragmatic sanction of 1438.*48 They never acquiesced in those unfavorable to them except when constrained by force or by feeling the impossibility of obtaining better conditions for the moment. Thus Pius VII. declared that he would not accept the concordat of July 15, 1801, were it not for the extraordinary circumstances of the time, and in view of the advantages of peace and the unity of the church.*49

I.216.21

—What is to be concluded from this, except that the holy see observes only those concordats which are advantageous to it, in order to advance to greater conquests, and that it observes those that are burdensome to it only on account of concessions made to it and to which it submits momentarily, waiting for better days and reserving all its rights. Treaties of this kind then have in the eyes of the contracting parties, at least in the eyes of one of them, only a provisional value, and can not constitute an order of things regular and constant.

I.216.22

—Would that concordats could, during their more or less ephemeral existence, eliminate the difficulties raised by the varied and sometimes opposing interests of the two powers. But they do nothing of the sort. The struggle continues under the régime of concordats in nearly the same forms as before the establishment of that régime. In France recriminations of parliament against the pretensions of the holy see have not been less lively since the sixteenth century than before it; they have been even more frequent. The opposition of the civil power has even been at a certain time so powerful that it might have provoked a schism. I refer to the declaration of 1682, the execution of which, though the contrary has been asserted, would have created an impassable abyss between the Catholic church in France and the court of Rome.

I.216.23

—Germany presents an analogous spectacle; in spite of the concordat of 1447 between Nicholas V. and Frederick III. and all those which followed, the German empire has not always lived on good terms with the holy see; and we have seen in these later times with what rapidity concordats were made and abolished in Austria.

I.216.24

—Concordats are not treaties capable of regulating disputes finally, because they never entirely satisfy either of the two contracting parties, each one of which thinks that it makes more concessions than it ought, and strives more or less openly for greater advantages. This takes place not only because they have no sanction and can not prevent one or the other of the two adversaries from obeying the principles on which its own authority rests, principles which ordinarily are in complete opposition, and which in any case have nothing in common; but still, and above all, because in the order of things which the régime of concordats supposes, and when there is a church in the case which like the Catholic church lays claim to universal dominion, it is impossible to fix the moral limits which should separate the two powers.

I.216.25

—This explains why no concordat can be final. In the countries where this régime has been adopted it has been necessary to modify unceasingly existing treaties by successive amendments, or replace them continually by new ones. Since the beginning of this century France has had three different concordats. It is by the twenties that those must be counted which were concluded during three or four centuries between Germany and the holy see. These incessant changes are a decisive proof of the impossibility of giving a fixed and solid basis to this régime. If we examine the relations of church and state from a general point of view we shall be brought to this conviction, that their alliance under any form whatever is an annoyance, a source of embarrassment as well for the state as for the churches.

I.216.26

—By putting itself under the patronage of civil government, a religion, whatever it may be, yields up its independence in whole or in part. Thenceforth it can no longer take counsel of itself alone; it commits a part of its interests to a power which has not precisely the same end in view that it has, it wishes in vain to be inspired only with its own principles, to have regard only for its own interests; it must take account also of the interests and the principles of the associate it has chosen, I was going to say of the master under whose protection it has placed itself.

I.216.27

—The ministers of religion, therefore, are placed by a concordat in an embarrassing, equivocal position between opposing views and duties. An emergency may arise which the state judges favorable to its interests and which the state church finds dangerous to the interests of religion. Must the wishes of the government be yielded to? Must they be resisted? The danger is perhaps equal on both sides. A decision, however, must be made, and either religious principles be sacrificed to the desire of remaining in the government's favor, or the clergy exposed to the displeasure of a powerful ally by obeying the voice of conscience. The bishop of Baltimore does not run the risk of finding himself in this difficult position. He has to think only of his religion and his flock. He has to take into account only spiritual interests.

I.216.28

—Even outside of the contingencies of which I have just spoken, contingencies more frequent than is believed, in the ordinary course of affairs, every state religion is bound to continual sacrifices. It has not the right to modify and extend, as it judges opportune, its rules of discipline and its dogmatic definitions. Almost everywhere the pope's bulls are only published at the good pleasure of the government; and changes of discipline are not permitted if such changes displease it. In France the council of Trent has been received only in so far as concerns faith; all the rest is considered invalid. The state thus becomes in reality the judge of controversies and the head of religious affairs.

I.216.29

—The Protestants of France have not been better treated. Far from it. The government itself changed the ecclesiastical organization which was peculiar to them by the organic articles of Germinal, year X., which it imposed without even consulting them. Despoiled of the right of consulting each other on their common interests by the suppression of the national synod which gave offense no doubt to the civil administration, their churches have passed, contrary to their will, from the synodal to the independent régime.

I.216.30

—There are many other sacrifices to which every church united to the state must resign itself. It must renounce the right of meeting without authorization and surveillance; the right of forming pious associations whose existence seems to it useful for the maintenance and development of religious feeling; the right of establishing centers of prayer where it thinks it necessary, and of placing ecclesiastical directors where it sees fit, even in the case where it asks no assistance of the state. In one word, it is no longer master at home; it divides an authority which can not be divided, with the government which is not a competent judge in religious matters, and which is guided by other principles than its own.

I.216.31

—And what does it gain by all these sacrifices? Bread for its ministers and a protection for itself of which it can scarcely be sure unless in so far as it is not an obstacle in the way of the interests of the state.

I.216.32

—On the other hand, a government is deceived in believing itself interested in protecting several state religions. We understand what importance it may attach to giving itself a support in the ecclesiastical power. There are very few princes who have not sought to render it favorable to them by the concessions of great temporal advantages. Is there a single one of them, at least in modern Europe, whose sacrifices have not been followed by the most deplorable disappointments? How could it be otherwise? Every church, no matter what it be, on which the state wishes to lean, looks upon the use of the public power as an instrument to rule if not to oppress its opponents or rivals whom it treats as disturbers of the public peace, as the price of it co-operation. We know in modern times, the hatred which a ruling clergy brings upon itself. When this hatred has penetrated the masses it includes both the clergy whose yoke is odious and the government which supports their cause.

I.216.33

—The alliance of church and state has not always had such fatal results for the latter; but we can assert that it is never of any real; advantage to it; that it is to it the cause of solicitude which turns the state from the end it should have in view, and which exhausts the living force which it has to dispose of and which obliges it to make more effort to live in harmony with the ecclesiastical power than it would have had to make for the public prosperity. It is not rare that in the union of church and state each one of the two parties cherishes the secret design of making the other an object of its domination. Under the appearance of an entente cordiale there arises between them a silent continuous struggle to deceive each other, and uninterrupted efforts to escape the traps which each side sets for the other. The state would succumb infallibly before an adversary long trained by acquaintance with the subtleties of scholastic theology in the art of overcoming difficulties, were it not, at least in our times, for the powerful support of public opinion.

I.216.34

—If we wish to become convinced of the reality of difficulties inherent in the union of church and state, let us look at the epochs of French history when the throne and the altar had the desire and felt the need of supporting each other sincerely. Surely the feelings of attachment which Louis XIV. had for the Catholic church will not be denied; but how often was he obliged to resist the holy see. In 1667 he forbade the publication of the decree of Clement IX. against the New Testament of Mons. The following year he prohibited the nuncio's publishing the papal ordinance of April 9th against the ritual of Alet. In 1673 began the long discussions between this prince and the court of Rome on the subject of the right of the crown to receive the revenues of vacant bishoprics. In 1688 the interdict of the church of Saint Louis at Rome raised a quarrel between France and the pope, a quarrel which led to the seizure of the district of Avignon. When Innocent XI. died, in the middle of the following year, there was a great number of churches in the kingdom deprived of pastors, because, since the assembly of the clergy in 1681 and 1682, the pope had refused his bulls to those who had been named to benefices. This state of things lasted till 1693.

I.216.35

—When such quarrels and many others disturbed the reign of a king who carried his condescension for the Catholic church so far as to promise bishops independence of royal justice even in case of the crime of treason,*50 how should harmony between the spiritual power and the civil authority not be shaken many a time under the reign of princes who, however zealous they might be in the interest of religion, could never be supposed to make such astonishing concessions as Louis XIV.? We shall then witness the singular spectacle of a government believing that it ought to make every effort to save the church from its own excesses, or at least from those which seemed to merit that designation, while the church, caring little about being saved in spite of itself, looks upon the government only as on an imprudent friend plunged in profound error, and, consequently more dangerous than an open enemy.

I.216.36

—We can understand that as long as a state recognizes but a single church and proscribes all the others, it should bind itself by treaties with that church, and that in return for the preference which it gives it above its rivals, it should demand certain sacrifices of it, claim the right to take part in its affairs, and interfere partially in its administration. It would run too great a danger if it left complete liberty to this only church which, by the fact itself of representing alone the religious sentiment, exercises an enormous power over consciences still incapable of governing themselves. Whatever difficulty there may be in the way, it is its most pressing interest to exercise over the church a sort of control, endeavoring at the same time not to make it an enemy. But the face of everything changes entirely the moment liberty of conscience is proclaimed and admitted, at least in principle, and that the state recognizes and engages to protect, not a single but several different religions, lately enemies and still arrayed against each other. Such is the present state of things in nearly all the countries of Europe. How is it in countries where there is no longer, properly speaking, a state religion, and where several religious are authorized and protected? Can the government undertake, I will not say, to administer them with an equal justice, but in such a way that this justice itself shall not appear to each one of them an excess of favor to its rivals and a species of injury to itself?

I.216.37

—Would it be boldness to suppose that in this case strict impartiality is a pure fiction? I do not doubt the intention of the government to hold an equal balance between the churches. But will it not be drawn by the very force of things, by sympathy, by some public necessity, by some secret pressure of which it is itself unconscious to incline toward one, in preference to the others, probably toward the one which will seem to it the most powerful or the best fitted to favor its tendencies and enter into its views? It will not persecute the others, I admit; persecution is no longer the order of the day; but the government will not show them the same kindness as it shows to the one which seems most useful or the best. And the favors which it heaps on this one will be likely to alienate the others, while it may happen that the simple toleration which it accords them will be enough to displease the church which it wishes to gain over by its benefits.

I.216.38

—But let us suppose the state to have the most complete impartiality. Let us carry this supposition even to the point of impossibility, and suppose that all these religions live in peace side by side, that they are converted to the idea of liberty of conscience, that they have learned mutual respect and esteem. Even in this case the position of the state which protects them and administers their affairs would be false, full of embarrassments, if not of dangers, and would poorly serve the prosperity of these religions and consequently not effect the good expected of it. How could it manage them understandingly? How could it have an intimate acquaintance with their different principles often opposed, and accord to each one precisely that which belongs to it? Take an administrator reared a Catholic, an absolute stranger to the spirit and traditions of Protestantism; how could he manage the affairs of dissenters holding, as he does, opinions directly opposed to theirs; or a free thinker called to direct the different religions in a state. He will promise, no doubt, to set aside his personal opinions in his administration; but how far can he succeed? Will he not come to consider as an enormous demand that which is really but an unavoidable necessity for this or that church? In truth, each church only can understand what is fitted to it. A stranger to a church is lost infallibly in deciding what to do or to leave undone in respect to it. Although his intentions be the best in the world, if he is an administrator of religious affairs, he will make mistakes at every step which will deeply would the churches committed to his care.

I.216.39

—There is against the principle of church and state another consideration, which, though of a lower order, has nevertheless some value. Justice requires that every citizen should contribute only to the church to which he belongs. With what right, unless it be the right of the strongest, will you force him to maintain with his property a church which is hateful to him, which he considers harmful, which is perhaps to him a declared enemy? It is this, however, which takes place when there is a union of religious affairs with the state.

I.216.40

—For a long time the Protestants of France have paid, not only the clergy who preached against them but also the dragoons who cut their throats, burnt their houses, violated their wives and daughters and carried off their children. They have to fear these horrors no longer; but they pay for religion much more than the maintenance of their own church demands from the budget.

I.216.41

—There is, says Vincent, in Europe, a great people a living example of the excess to which this injustice may be carried and the evils which result from it: it is Ireland. The distress of this unhappy land, the abyss of misery into which it is plunged, an abyss from which the most expert do not know where to find an escape, its moral degradation and its invincible ignorance, arise far more from this source than from the nature itself of the religion to which its inhabitants are so strongly attached. It arises from the tithes with all their rigor, from the coalition of a fanatical aristocracy with a fawning clergy, which is the great and perhaps the only cause of the desperate suffering with which Ireland terrifies the nations. The Anglican religion appears as a vampire attached to this great body, sucking it unceasingly and leaving it just blood enough to live and go on producing. Thus the substance is devoured and the generous sentiments of his people are perverted to gorge with gold a clergy whom it does not want. The example is extreme, doubtless; it is unique, perhaps, but it exists; and it alone suffices to show us to what length vexation and injustice may go before the clergy will draw back.

I.216.42

—IV. Régime of the Liberty of Worship. The only régime capable of eliminating all these difficulties and in accordance with all the principles of liberty of thought, and which answers to the present multiplicity of religions, is that which leaves to all religious societies the care of managing and regulating their own affairs themselves, aside from all interference of the state. This solution is so simple that we can only blame habits and prejudices if it has not been generally accepted before now in all countries where any value is attached to liberty of conscience.

I.216.43

—The régime of entire liberty of worship is rejected either in the name of religion, which, it is said, will perish or at least decline as soon as it is left to its own resources, or in the name of the state, which will find itself continually menaced by the spiritual power the moment it ceases to weight directly upon it and keep it within just limits. These fears, inspired by sentiments which contradict and therefore mutually destroy each other, are entirely chimerical. A few hasty considerations prove this.

I.216.44

—People fear that the régime of liberty will be fatal to religion. They think, therefore, that it has no vital force of its own, and that it can only exist on condition of being sustained and protected by the civil authorities. This is indeed a poor idea of religion, and those who admit it seem to me little authorized to plead in its favor. If its case were such as they think, it would be merely a matter of convention, without root in human nature, invented, without doubt, to serve as an instrument of despotism and to lead the people on like a low herd. In such a case its loss should not excite very lively regrets.

I.216.45

—But we can not accept this idea. Even a superficial analysis of the spiritual nature of man shows that he has an unconquerable aspiration toward the ideal. This aspiration is exhibited under the most varied forms according to the degree of general culture, under strange forms among nations in their childhood, in pure and noble forms among men who have arrived at the maturity of reason; but it always appears under one form or another. It is an undoubted fact, that there is no nation and no people without a religion. If it is an integral part of human nature, it will not disappear under any régime.

I.216.46

—It only remains to seek that which is most favorable to its purest manifestations. It certainly can not be the one under which it is fettered with hindrances, nor where it can not live except through arbitrary rules. Between a regulated religion and a free religion there is the same difference as between trees which the scissors of a stupid gardener, pretending to be an artist, gives the form of a fan or a vase, and the trees growing in the full liberty of the fields.

I.216.47

—Will it be said that we must save it from its own excesses and prevent it from degenerating into superstition and empty formalism? Without doubt; but it is not the hand of the state that will direct it best in its development. Irrespective of its unfitness to judge religious matters, the state is naturally led by its own interests to keep religion in what is called order, that is to say, in a fixed immobility. Governments are not fond of activity of thought and sentiment; they see in them elements of disorder. They are perhaps right in one sense and from their own point of view. But under this guardianship religion becomes a pure formality, with many ceremonies, few feelings, and still fewer ideas. The statesman is satisfied with this condition; the truly religions man is less satisfied; he prefers life to this state of somnolency.

I.216.48

—Add to this that the state which protects a church impels men to hypocrisy, without wishing it. There is no trouble and there may be some profit in professing the religion of the state. Even in France, under the empire, little calculations of this kind were made. What is more general, without being less fatal to religious life, is, that classification by religion becomes fixed in countries where the affairs of religion are in the hands of the government. A man belongs to this or that religion by birth and not by conviction. I know well that in the state of indifference which predominates in religious matters, men fear to appear singular by abandoning the religion in which they were born, to join one which they find preferable. But, besides, this general indifference constitutes a species of hypocrisy, since men continue to belong in fact to a church whose doctrines they reject and whose discipline they do not observe. This is a consequence of the desire of governments, protectors of one or several religions, to maintain that which is established. It may be that in truth these governments are very little concerned whether people are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mussulmans, orthodox or rationalists; but changes of religion would trouble the established order in some point, they would establish a bad precedent. Nothing of all this can please a well regulated governmental administration, and we can not find fault with it for this. We should be permitted, however, to blame an administration which of necessity produces such effects whether they are desired or not; and religion, it seems to us, has no reason to congratulate itself on an order of things which is in reality so fatal to it.

I.216.49

—To elevate religion, to make it a serious thing, an affair of conscience and not of expediency, make it independent! As soon as there shall be no more profit in belonging to one church rather than another, men will join a church only because they have adopted its principles sincerely. The profession of a religion will be a truth; the members of a church will belong to it in reality. Such a church may see the number of its adherents diminish, but what it loses in quantity it will gain in quality. This change, far from injuring it, will be entirely to its advantage. The lukewarm and unbelieving, which the church drags in its train, are only an inconvenient burden, which hinders its progress and chills the life in its breast.

I.216.50

—This condition of independence can alone enable each church to live and develop according to its own principles. Free from all restraint, being no longer bound by the sacrifices imposed on it by its connection with the state, it will have to take counsel only of its beliefs, and will decree doctrines as it understands them; it will impose on its members the discipline which is the consequence of its doctrines.

I.216.51

—The objections raised against the separation of church and state in the name of public order and great social interests, are not better founded than those raised in the name of the prosperity of religion. Far from being a danger to states, religious independence would be a great advantage to them. And first of all, it would free them from the embarrassments without end, brought on by the administration of ecclesiastical affairs. It is needless to insist on this point. It is but too well known how many false measures governments are engaged in, either through the desire to become popular with one or another religious party, or merely through the protection which they think themselves obliged to yield to one church or another.

I.216.52

—Let it not be said that even under the régime of religious independence the state will always have an interest in looking after the religion of the majority of its citizens. What is meant by that? That it should protect it to the detriment of others? But that would be to return to the union of church and state once more, and we have supposed this régime abolished. Let it be well understood what it is that the separation of church and state brings with it in the social order, and immediately all the objections will be seen to disappear which do not start from the point of view of the actual state of things. The régime of church independence supposes that the government will not interfere in religious affairs at all, neither to oppress, protect nor guide them. It will be for the churches to provide for their own wants as they understand them, while conforming, however, to the general measures relating to public order. I do not say that the cessation of the protection of religion by the state should not bring with it the cessation of many other kinds of protection, and many regulations which treat citizens as if they were incapable of struggling alone with advantage against the difficulties of life; we can not, however, but congratulate ourselves on this progress.

I.216.53

—The opponents of the separation of church and state repeat unceasingly that the result of this system would be to create a state within the state, and to incur a danger menacing to the public peace. Nothing could be more unfounded than these fears. It is not under the régime of liberty, it is under that of concordats, that a church forms a state within the state. The concordat itself is a proof of this, since the concordat is a treaty between two powers. The state, in treating with a church, recognizes publicly that it is a power similar to that which it represents itself. And this power is more formidable since the state lends it arms, puts itself as its service, and endeavors to increase its prestige.

I.216.54

—Separated from the state, the church commands only the resources that belong to it, and finds itself confined altogether to religions affairs. Willing or not, it can no longer do anything but practice the medicine of the soul, and if it has any desire to influence the course of affairs there are no other means of action for it than free discussion and persuasion.

I.216.55

—It will be said this is a great error; that a church, and particularly the Catholic church, will always have means of action which can not be possessed by a philosophical school or any other association. Very true, but, without stopping to discover whether in a state of independence it will not have to use all its activity in providing for the needs of worship and church administration, I ask what action it could wish to exercise on a government which has nothing to give it but what it gives all the rest of its citizens, that is to say, security and the opportunity of living without annoyance. Is it wished to consider it as a permanent conspiracy against the state? But why should it conspire? To get possession of the government and change the order of things to its own way of thinking? Let the world be at rest on that point. It is not in this direction that the breeze of modern civilization is blowing. In a state where liberty really exists, and with it education and prosperity, conspiracies are chimers; no one even dreams of forming them except among an enslaved people. Whatever may be the fickleness of men and the caprices of the crowd, change is neither sought for nor desired where every one is satisfied. There is a preventive, an infallible remedy against conspiracies from whatever side they come—to spread education and well being, to put each citizen in a position to think, to reflect, to judge soundly; and at the same time to encourage labor, to honor it, and to make it loved.

I.216.56

—But if a nation placed in these conditions does not know how to appreciate its happiness, and prefers slavery to liberty, ignorance to development of mind, misery to well being, the institutions of the middle ages to those of the age of independence and maturity of reason, I do not see how its loss could be regretted. Let such a nation perish, since it is not worthy to live.

I.216.57

—These extremes are not to be feared, however. We have not yet arrived at this era of despair. Everything is moving toward liberty, the church and the rest, although it does not seem very much inclined at this moment to follow the general movement. Its independence would give it better counsel than its present position. The régime of separation of church and state will bring about altogether a different order of things from that which has reigned for centuries in most countries. In Frances the continuous exclusive dominion of Catholicism has accustomed Frenchmen to think of only one church. Men will tell us that there is no other church but that of Rome. In reality there are as many churches as there are ways of understanding Christianity, and the ways of understanding Christianity are very numerous, I was going to say almost infinite. If they have not yet appeared in France, it is simply for want of freedom. There has never been liberty of worship in France, in the true sense of the word. But if religious affairs ever come within ordinary law, if it comes to pass that every man can express his opinions in religious matters, and preach them publicly, be sure the church will break up into a number of separate churches which will counter-balance each other, and have no more important occupation than to surpass each other in zeal, in morality and learning. In default of this breaking up, which, however, is unavoidable, the dissident religions, reduced to silence to-day, will be able to compete with the Catholic church in a way which will not be without danger for the latter.

I.216.58

—It is not that this church would be menaced in its existence by the separation of church and state, and would be unable to endure the régime of liberty. It represents the principle of authority in religion; there will always be men, and many of them, who, distrustful of themselves or little capable for one cause or another of venturing on the examination of difficult religious problems, will feel the need of a support and will be happy to find it in a church which, to the prestige of a pompous ceremonial, unites the prestige, not less imposing to certain minds, of a dogmatism absolute in its affirmations. It may happen, nevertheless, that this of all the different churches should be the one which by reason of the considerable expense of its worship, the princely habits of its high dignitaries, the difficulties in organizing the numerous personnel of the clergy, would lose the most by losing the support of the state; and perhaps this feeling has something to do with the repugnance with which the separation of church and state seems to inspire it.

I.216.59

—Men seem alarmed at the division which would naturally take place in religions institutions in consequence of an absolute liberty of conscience, of the discussions which would arise between different religions, and of the troubles which it is supposed would arise from these controversies. Let there be no alarms. Theological discussions become dangerous only when one party can invoke the aid of the secular arm. We do not see the public peace troubled in the United States by the controversies of sects, no matter how excited some of them are.

I.216.60

—You will see the door open to all follies, those will be sure to say who only understand order born of constraint. It is possible, indeed, that extravagant opinions may appear, but they will die out of themselves very soon. Follies do not last except where they are persecuted. The American revivals are only transitory, without influence on the public peace and the general course of affairs. The Tûrlupins, the Beghärds and the Flagellants excited storms solely because, instead of letting these feverish movements disappear of themselves, it was held a duty to rage against and repress them. Moreover, attacks of mental delirium are not without compensation. From time to time the youth of Sparta were treated to the spectacle of drunken men, in order to excite to them disgust for debauchery and love for sobriety. Religious follies will cause us to feel the worth of south doctrines and of a piety sanctioned by right reason.

I.216.61

—If we now draw right conclusions from the considerations which we have just presented we shall be able to establish, it seems to me, the following propositions: 1. The course of affairs itself always leads to the separation of church and state. In the beginning religion rules all human affairs; a second state follows when the state seeks to guard social interests against the encroachments of the church, either by submitting it to its own authority or by restricting it in a circle more or less contracted through an agreement with the church itself. The movement which is made in the sense of limiting the action of the church in the state, should naturally result in separating it altogether from public affairs. 2. The régime of state rule of religion takes away all independence from the religious sentiment, and in that way all dignity and real life. It is an unhappy system, because it completely stifles thought. 3. The régime of concordats is disadvantageous both to church and state. It keeps up a continual struggle between the two contracting parties, a struggle which exhausts without utility the forces of both, and prevents the state from devoting itself entirely to its mission, which is to labor for the increase of public wealth, by occupying it unceasingly with questions which have no relation to this end; which prevents the church from carrying on its work in peace which is to console, to edify and to spiritualize, by turning its attention toward plans of earthly power. 4. The only régime proper to the spirit of our time is the separation of the two powers, leaving to each its proper sphere. The objections brought against this system arise altogether from an erroneous conception of the order of things which it might produce. By placing one's self at the standpoint of this new régime all difficulties disappear, and at once is found, not absolute perfection, of course, which is not to be looked for in human affairs, but a just distribution of functions, a proper liberty left to the expression of religious opinions, the final suppression of importunate cares, such as the administration of ecclesiastical affairs has been to governments for centuries past; in one word, an organization in which the various interests will find all the satisfaction desirable without coming into collision and without injuring each other.

MICHEL NICOLAS.


Notes for this chapter


45.
Under the word CONCORDAT is found an explanation of this question from the liberal Catholic point of view.
46.
Encyclopidie de Courtin article "Concordat."
47.
Thunberg, Voyage en afrique et en Asie, principalement au Japon, translated from Swedish, 353-355, et Voyage au Japon, translated by L. Langlois, vol. iii., p. 206.
48.
Des Odoards-Fantin, vicar general of Embrun, Dictionnaire du gouvernment, des lois, des usages et de la discipline d l'Eglise, t. 11, p. 238, and following.
49.
Quœ extraordinariae temporum rationes atque bonum pacis et unitalis Ecclesiœ a nobis postulaverunt. (Bull of Pius VII. of the 18th calends of September, 1801.)
50.
Abrégé chronologique de l'histoire ecclesiastique par Marquer, vol. iii., p. 508.

Footnotes for CHURCHES, Protestant

End of Notes


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