The Church functions within a monarchical structure – this is important to remember. In addition to this, though, Her system applies to operations in the political realm. There is indeed a necessary temporal aspect to the Church.
The Pope, essentially, operates as a monarch. He may choose to convoke councils and synods, which act as versions of a parliament, and he can even set self-imposed limits on his authority, but it is his divine right to act in the way that he sees fit. After all, “full power was given to him in blessed Peter by our Lord Jesus Christ, to feed, rule, and govern the universal Church” (Council of Florence).
The Church even uses “purple and scarlet” and “gold and precious stones,” the traditional signs of power and prestige. Oddly, fundamentalist Protestants tell us that our utilization of these colors is proof that the Church is the “whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:1-18). Of course, they are wrong and divorced from historical context.
Further, some of the Biblical evidence for the primacy of Peter hints at a temporal aspect. Eliakim, the forerunner of the Papacy, was entrusted by God with a political position.
And do not forget the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). One line from it reads, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Again, a temporal aspect is hinted at.
Keeping all of that in mind, think about the damage that secular authorities have done to the Church. It was the princes in Germany that secured a place for Martin Luther’s religion. And it was King Henry VIII who, just to secure a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, started the Protestant Church of England. On top of that, the Act of Settlement (1701) in that latter country prevents Catholics from sitting on the throne.
Nonsense from the State must be reined in, and profane governance must be brought to the heel of sacred morality. The State should stay under the auspices of the Church – only She can provide much-needed balance to the fickleness of politics. “It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men” (CCC #1904).
Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian Orthodox theologian who was sympathetic to Catholicism, once wrote, “But if the faith communicated by the Church to Christian humanity is a living faith, and if the grace of the sacraments is an effectual grace, the resultant union of the divine and the human cannot be limited to the special domain of religion, but must extend to all Man’s common relationships and must regenerate and transform his social and political life.”
The prevalence of dissonance between faith and life is striking. The Church even now suffers disobedient laymen that appear completely beholden to political parties and candidates that oppose Her on nearly every issue. In 2012, for example, the bishops of the United States heartily warned against supporting those that promote immorality. Bishop Thomas Paprocki cautioned, “You need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” These warnings were, as we know, largely ignored. That must be corrected for the future.
Solovyov also said that “the papal monarchy [was the] foundation of [past] imperfect but genuine unity” — I concur. The Papacy has often offered the most unitive and peaceful solutions to the sometimes-primitive world, in contrast to the rash impulses of many kings and princes.
Popes have historically maintained the Church’s superiority to the State. Pope St. Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anastasius in 494, “There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.”
It is true that the Church “cannot and must not replace the State” (Deus Caritas Est), but the two must work in harmony, and for that to be possible, the State must give up its immoral frivolities and stay in the Faith.
Great leaders such as Constantine, Pepin, and Charlemagne understood this. These monarchs (as well as many lesser-known others) endowed the Church with gifts beyond measure, and we should express gratitude for them daily. Unfortunately, such greats are rare in modern politics. This bothers me very much, because all civil authorities are supposed to act in alike manner.
The Papacy is the pinnacle of civilization; it is our most tangible link to God. That is why all, no matter their circumstances, are called to show tremendous deference to the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the leader of God’s Church. He has no equal, and he should never be treated as a human peer, but as our divine guide. Our politics need to reflect that.
Sts. Thomas More and Thomas Becket, pray for us.
For more insight on the relations between Church and State, see my previous column on the subject.