Relationship Between Church and State
In attempting to reconcile the ends of man with the ends of the State, we are brought to an examination of the proper relationship between the Church and the State. Because of the timeliness of this subject, and because it appears frequently in contemporary political debates, we will dwell on it at length.
a. Liberal secularism and practical atheism
The problem with liberal secularism, which is the governing mentality in most modern States, including the U.S., is that such regimes attempt to take a stance of indifference toward religion. Unfortunately, as we mentioned above, a purely negative stance toward religion is not in reality a neutral one, as is supposed; to stand aloof and refuse to make affirmative statements about religion inevitably leads to a positive exclusion of religion from all public considerations, even if this was not necessarily the intention the founders of such regimes. On this point, Leo XIII is in agreement:
“To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name.”
In short, liberal regimes are based on the absurd idea that a man can have freedom of religion while his neighbor has an equal share of freedom from religion, as if the two ought never to come into conflict. For this to be true, the two men would essentially have to live entirely in isolation from one another, which is to say they would have to cease to live in the same community.
The expression of one’s religion will always come into direct conflict with the freedom from religion. It is of its very nature to find social expression. There is no such thing as “private religion.” Thus, to create a society that exists free for, and at the same time free from, religion is impossible. For the State to choose not to choose is for it to adopt a negative position against all positive positions, and this negative position is atheism. Even agnosticism, for the State, is not a possibility.
b. Leo XIII on the separation of Church and State
It is for this reason that the Church has always insisted that the State absolutely cannot make pretenses at neutrality. The State must not only acknowledge God, but must acknowledge the Christian God. There can be no separation between church and state in the modern sense, as the following excerpts from Leo XIII’s Libertas clearly show:
“There are others, somewhat more moderate though not more consistent, 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. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. Nature herself proclaims the necessity of the State providing means and opportunities whereby the community may be enabled to live properly, that is to say, according to the laws of God. For, since God is the source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the State should pay no attention to these laws or render them abortive by contrary enact menu. Besides, those who are in authority owe it to the commonwealth not only to provide for its external well-being and the conveniences of life, but still more to consult the welfare of men’s souls in the wisdom of their legislation. But, for the increase of such benefits, nothing more suitable can be conceived than the laws which have God for their author; and, therefore, they who in their government of the State take no account of these laws abuse political power by causing it to deviate from its proper end and from what nature itself prescribes. And, what is still more important, and what We have more than once pointed out, although the civil authority has not the same proximate end as the spiritual, nor proceeds on the same lines, nevertheless in the exercise of their separate powers they must occasionally meet. For their subjects are the same, and not infrequently they deal with the same objects, though in different ways. Whenever this occurs, since a state of conflict is absurd and manifestly repugnant to the most wise ordinance of God, there must necessarily exist some order or mode of procedure to remove the occasions of difference and contention, and to secure harmony in all things. This harmony has been not inaptly compared to that which exists between the body and the soul for the well-being of both one and the other, the separation of which brings irremediable harm to the body, since it extinguishes its very life.”
“For, to reject the supreme authority to God, and to cast off all obedience to Him in public matters, or even in private and domestic affairs, is the greatest perversion of liberty and the worst kind of liberalism…From this teaching, as from its source and principle, flows that fatal principle of the separation of Church and State; whereas it is, on the contrary, clear that the two powers, though dissimilar in functions and unequal in degree, ought nevertheless to live in concord, by harmony in their action and the faithful discharge of their respective duties.”
“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. Against such as these, all the arguments by which We disprove the principle of separation of Church and State are conclusive; with this super-added, that it is absurd the citizen should respect the Church, while the State may hold her in contempt.”
c. Martin Luther on the separation of Church and State
The notion of a beneficial “wall of separation between church and state” has its roots in liberal philosophy, and in fact this idea follows very naturally from its basic premises. So inevitable was this conclusion that we find it rearing its head not only in the political philosophies of John Locke and J.S. Mill, but even from religious reformers such as Martin Luther, who advised princes as follows:
“…you have people under you and you wish to know what to do. It is not Christ you are to question concerning the matter but the law of your country…Between the Christian and the ruler, a profound separation must be made…Assuredly, a prince can be a Christian, but it is not as a Christian that he ought to govern. As a ruler, he is not called a Christian, but a prince. The man is a Christian, but his function does not concern his religion…Though they are found in the man, the two states or functions are perfectly marked off, one from the other, and really opposed.”
And while the Catholic Church had warned kings that “through this crown, you become a sharer in our ministry,” the secularism of Luther was to become the unconscious status quo in all the later liberal-democratic regimes with which Protestantism would form an unhealthy union. In nations built on this philosophy, even those Catholics who wished to participate in public life would have to sacrifice their principles to the liberal altar. Consider the following statements of the Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and consider how perfectly they mirror the thinking of Luther, while at the same time flatly contradicting the teachings of Kennedy’s own Church:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute… I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me…Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision…in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”
d. Confession versus coercion
Now it seems wise to remind the reader of that document which we mentioned early on in our discussion, namely Dignitatis Humanae. There is a very distinct difference between confession of faith on the part of the State, and acts of coercion by it. The confession of faith by a public authority need not entail—and in fact must not entail—coercion of the citizen with respect to religion, for the conscience of the individual is a thing that cannot be coerced. Dignitatis Humanae therefore affirms the Church’s traditional condemnation of the latter, while at the same time it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”
As an example of this arrangement working in a healthy manner, which is also proof that Dignitatis Humanae was not revolutionary in its nature, we might remind the reader of the role of the Church in combating popular oppressions in the past, such as those against the Jews and against women accused of witchcraft. Churchmen of the Inquisition itself were some of the most determined voices in attempts to curb the persecution of “witches” and “sorcerers” in Europe. Pope Alexander IV even declared a canon prohibiting even the investigation of alleged witches.
As a counterexample to show what happens when popular movements are allowed to go unchecked by an active spiritual authority, the Salem witch trials in the United States can teach us a great deal.
Returning again to the issue of conscience, we must remember that Leo XIII, that towering warrior against the political errors of liberalism who is himself cited in Dignitatis Humanae, vigorously stated his agreement with Vatican II’s position, saying that “the Church is wont to take earnest heed that no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic faith against his will, for, as St. Augustine wisely reminds us, ‘Man cannot believe otherwise than of his own will.’ ”
 Luther’s Works (Wiemar Edition) XXXII, pp. 391, 439, 440.
 Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power (Indianapolis, 1976), p. 33.
 Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association delivered Sept. 12, 1960.