Church and State in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church

This page is intended to collect examples of the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors on Church and State. I wanted to make this page because I think there has always been a distinction in the Church between the functions of Church and State, and I wanted to make that clear by showing it throughout Church history. By the way I would love to add to this. Do any of you know any other examples in history of the Church's teaching on Church and State?

Church and State in the Fathers and Doctors of the Church

96 A.D. - Pope St. Clement I wrote that our obedience is twofold: to God and “to our rulers and governors on the earth.” (1 Clement 61) He writes how God has set the rulers of this world in authority and we must obey them in everything that does not violate God’s will. “For you, O heavenly Lord and King eternal, givest to the sons of men glory and honor and power over the things that are on the earth. Do thou, Lord, direct their counsel.” (1 Clement 61)

157 A.D. - St. Justin Martyr - “To God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment.” (First Apology, Chapter 17)

180 A.D. - Donata - “Honour to Caesar as Caesar: but fear to God.” (Passion of the Scillitan Martyrs)

197 A.D. - Tertullian - “We respect in the emperors the ordinance of God, who has set them over the nations. We know that there is that in them which God has willed. ... [We] keep...the majesty of Caesar within due limits...putting it under the Most High [and] making it less than divine... [By doing this] I commend him to the favor of God....” (The Apology, Chapters 32-33)

248 A.D. - Origen - “We are to despise ingratiating ourselves with kings or any other men... [But] we do nothing which is contrary to the law and word of God...[nor do we] stir up against us the wrath of kings and princes, which will bring upon us sufferings and tortures, or even death. For we read: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” (Against Celsus, Book 8, Chapter 65)

286 A.D. - St. Maurice - “We are your soldiers, but are servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours, even whilst you reject him. In all things which are not against his law we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose all your enemies, whoever they are; but we cannot dip our hands in the blood of innocent persons. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you: you can place no confidence in our second oath, should we violate the first. You command us to punish the Christians: behold we are all such. We confess God the Father, author of all things, and his Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them; and we rejoice at their honour. Neither this extremity to which we are reduced, nor any provocation hath tempted us to revolt. We have arms in our hands; but we do not resist, because we had rather die innocent than live by any sin.” (Speech of St. Maurice to Emperor Maximian, in St. Eucherius, Passio Acaunensium Martyrum, excerpted and translated in Butler’s Lives of the Saints)

353 A.D. - Hosius of Cordoba - “Intrude not yourself into Ecclesiastical matters, neither give commands unto us concerning them; but learn them from us. God has put into your hands the kingdom; to us He has entrusted the affairs of His Church; and as he who would steal the empire from you would resist the ordinance of God, so likewise [you must] fear...lest by taking upon yourself the government of the Church, you become guilty of a great offense. It is written, Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. Neither therefore is it permitted unto us to exercise an earthly rule, nor have you, Sire, any authority to burn incense. These things I write unto you out of a concern for your salvation.” (Letter to Emperor Constantius 2 as recorded in St. Athanasius, History of the Arians 42-45)

375 A.D. - “[Emperor] Valentinian, who reigned over the Western regions, was an admirer of the [Catholic] doctrines, and was imbued with so much reverence for religion, that he never imposed any commands upon the priests, nor ever attempted to introduce any alteration for better or for worse in ecclesiastical regulations. Although he had become one of the best of emperors, and had shown his capacity to rule affairs, he considered that ecclesiastical matters were beyond the range of his jurisdiction.” (Sozemen, Ecclesiastical History written in 443 A.D., Book VI, Chapter 21)

385 A.D - St. Ambrose - “Let [Christians] receive the rule of obedience, to which we cling. [To] those who stir up ill-will against us on the emperor’s side [we say]: We pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Tribute is due to Caesar, we do not deny it. The Church belongs to God, therefore it ought not to be assigned to Caesar. For the temple of God cannot be Caesar’s by right.” (Sermon Against Auxentius on the Giving Up of the Basilicas.)

417 A.D. - St. Augustine - “[The Church], while it sojourns on earth...does not scruple about diversities in [national] manners, laws, and institutions... [It is] far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, [but rather] preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced.” (City of God, Book 19, Chapter 17)

439 A.D. - Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, criticized mixing of Church and State both when done by Church officials (chapter 13) and when done by State officials, which he calls a “degeneration” of “secular domination” (chapter 11).

494 A.D. - Pope St. Gelasius I - “There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. ... [The kings] are permitted honorably to rule over humankind, yet in things divine [they] bow [their] head humbly before the leaders of the clergy.” (Letter to Anastasius I)

Before 514 A.D. - Pope St. Symmachus -“Let us compare the honor of the emperor with the honor of the Pontiff, between whom the distance is as great as [this:] that the former bears the care of human things and the latter of divine. ... You administer human things, [the Church] dispenses to you divine things.” (Apology against the Emperor Anastasius, as it appears in “Defense of the Catholic Faith” by Francisco Suarez, Book III, chapter 6, paragraph 17, translated by Peter Simpson)

~727 A.D. - Pope St. Gregory II - “[M]atters of faith and practice concern not the emperor, but the pope, since we have the mind of Christ [1 Cor. 2:16]. The making of laws for the church is one thing and the governing of the empire another; the ordinary intelligence which is used in administering worldly affairs is not adequate to the settlement of spiritual matters. Behold, I will show you now the difference between the palace and the church, between the emperor and the pope; learn this and be saved... Just as the pope has not the right to interfere in the palace or to infringe upon the royal prerogatives, so the emperor has not the right to interfere in the churches, or to conduct elections among the clergy, or to consecrate, or to administer the sacraments, or even to participate in the sacraments without the aid of a priest; let each one of us abide in the same calling wherein he is called of God [1 Cor. 7:20].” (Letter to Emperor Leo III)

~730 A.D - St. John Damascene - “Kings have no call to make laws in the Church. What does the holy apostle say? ‘And God, indeed, hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors and shepherds for the training of the Church.’ He does not say ‘kings.’ … The political prosperity is the king's business; the ecclesiastical organisation belongs to pastors and doctors, and to take it out of their hands is to commit an act of robbery.” (Apology Against Those who Decry Holy Images Part II)

796 A.D. - Emperor Charlemagne - “It is our part with the help of divine holiness to defend by armed strength the holy Church of Christ... It is your part, most holy Father, to help our your intercession and by the leadership and gift of God.” (Letter sent in 796 to Pope Leo III, translation from: Church and State Through the Centuries, by Sidney Ehler and John Morrall)

829 A.D. - Council of Paris - “Principally therefore we know that the body of the holy Church of God is divided into two distinguished persons, namely the priestly and the royal, as we accept has been passed on by the holy Fathers.” (Annals of Worms, Relation of the Bishops to the Emperor Capitulary 1 Paragraph 3)

~886 A.D. - Pope Stephen V (VI) - “[The] sacerdotal and apostolical dignity is not subject to the power of kings. For though on earth you [Emperor Basil] are the image of our emperor Christ, you ought to confine your attention to what belongs to this earth—as we pray God you may be spared for many years to do. As you have been by God set over worldly affairs, so through Peter, the prince (of the apostles), have we been placed by God over spiritual concerns. Take, we beg you, in good part what follows. It is yours to break the might of tyrants with the sword of power, to dispense justice to your subjects, to make laws, to regulate the military and naval forces (of the empire). These are the chief duties of your imperial power. But a care of the flock has been entrusted to us, a care as much more noble as heaven is distant from earth. Hearken to the Lord's words to Peter: 'Thou art Peter,' etc. (Matt. 16:18). But what says He about power and empire: 'Fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul' (Matt. 10:28).” (Letter to Emperor Basil I as quoted in Horace Mann’s Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages Volume 3)

Before 1073 - St. Peter Damian - “[T]he human race [is] governed by...two sovereign powers, which preside, the one over the temporal, the other over the spiritual… [And since] Jesus Christ, sole mediator between God and man, has established, by his divine wisdom, a harmony between the two powers[,] the priestly and the royal...let the pope, as father, have the pre-eminence due to that august title, and let the prince, as his only and well-beloved son, repose in his bosom.” (Opusculum 4)

~1123 A.D. - Ninth Ecumenical Council - “[In] accordance with the statute of the most blessed pope Stephen, [we resolve] that lay persons, however religious they may be, have no power to dispose of any ecclesiastical business; but following the apostolic canons, let the bishop have the care of all ecclesiastical matters, and let him manage them as in the sight of God. Therefore if any prince or other lay person should arrogate to himself the disposition or donation of ecclesiastical things or possessions, let him be regarded as sacrilegious.” (Canon 8)

1152 A.D. - St. Bernard of Clairvaux - “Which seems to you the greater dignity and power, that of forgiving sins, or that of dividing estates? The truth is that there is no comparison between them. These lower earthly things have their own judges, the kings and princes of the earth. Why trespass on another man’s province? Why put your sickle into another man’s harvest? Not that men in [religious] position[s] are unworthy, but because to devote yourselves to such matters when you have enough to unworthy of you.” (Book of Considerations Book I, Chapter 6, Paragraph 7)

1250 A.D. - The Speculum Regale, or Mirror for the King - “King Solomon illustrated the division of duties that God made between Moses and Aaron; and he did not wish to disturb this arrangement, lest he should fall into disfavor with God. For God had marked out their duties in such a way that Moses was to watch over the rules of the holy law, while Aaron was to care for the sacrifices that might come to the sacred altar. And you shall know of a truth that this arrangement ought by right to stand even at this day... [For] God has established two houses upon earth, each chosen for a definite service. The one is the church... These two houses are the halls of God, and He has appointed two men to keep watch over them. In one of these halls He has placed His table, and this is called the house of bread; for there God's people gather to receive spiritual food. But in the other hall He has placed His holy judgment seat; and there the people assemble to hear the interpretation of God's holy verdicts. And God has appointed two keepers to guard these houses: the one is the king, the other the bishop.” (Speculum Regale Section 3)

1493 A.D. - The Nuremberg Chronicle - “[Jesus] endured the taxes of Augustus, and paid tribute for himself and for Peter. When he was asked whether it was becoming to pay tribute to the emperor, and was shown the coin, he said, Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. And so the holy Ambrosius says, If the emperor desires tribute, we are not opposed to him, the property of the church, and all farms and fields shall pay it. And so emperor Justinian says that his power was given him by heavenly majesty. … [A]mong the clergy, all patriarchs, primates, and other bishops and prelates are subject to the Roman pope…[and] all laymen are subject to the Roman emperor.” (Nuremberg Chronicle Sixth Age Folio 188 Recto)

1596 A.D. - Robert Persons - “[Jesus’s] coming [was] only for [the] gaining of Souls, [and] not…[for] Temporal Government… [The Church’s] jurisdiction over Souls...[does] not depend...[in] any way [on] the Temporal Jurisdiction and Government of Emperors, Kings, and Princes, which [govern] Temporal ends... [The] Government of Secular Princes [is not] impeached, taken away or hindered by [the] Spiritual Government of the Clergy, but rather confirmed and established by the same…” (Memorial for the Reformation of England Part 3 Chapter 1)

And: “[W]hen [ancient] Princes began to be Christians, and to subject themselves also to [the Church’s] Spiritual Government...they were [converted] without [reducing] their Temporal State and Government, [insofar] as it concerned the Temporal good of the Commonwealth, which is Peace, Wealth, Justice, and the like; but [were told that] they should not meddle, or challenge [the Church’s] power [over] the Spiritual Jurisdiction of Souls, but be subject therein, and leave that Government to Clergy-men... And therefore came the distinction of Spiritual Governors, and Temporal Governors, of Clergy-men and Lay-men, of Christian Pastors, and Christian Sheep…” (ibid.)

And: “Christ himself, when he was requested to judge between two Brothers, in a Temporal matter...refused [to do so]...[and] fled when the People would have made him a Temporal King...[and] said his Kingdom was not of this World... [For] Spiritual Pastors and Governors of Souls do teach, and command all due reverence, and obedience to be done in Temporal matters to Temporal Princes, and do exhibit the same also themselves, and do punish the contrary by Spiritual and everlasting punishments… [Therefore] both these Governments [should be] joined together in a Christian Commonwealth, [with] one not disdaining or emulating the other, but honouring rather, respecting, and assisting [it], [so that] all [may go] well both for the Temporal, and [Spiritual] felicity of all.” (ibid.)

1613 A.D. - Francisco Suarez - “It is manifestly clear that this spiritual power is altogether distinct from the temporal. ...[F]or the temporal power is ordered to preserving the peace and moral decency of the republic...[b]ut the ecclesiastical power is ordered to attaining eternal salvation... And for that reason, finally, these powers differ as material and spiritual, natural and supernatural, earthly and heavenly.” (Defense of the Catholic Faith Book 3 Chapter 6 Paragraph 17)

1885 A.D. - Pope Leo XIII - “[God] 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.” (Immortale Dei 13)

1965 A.D. - 21st Ecumenical Council - “It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians citizens...and the activities...[which] they carry out in the name of the Church. ... The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. ... The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other.” (Gaudium et Spes 76)

2004 A.D. - Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church - “Although the Church and the political community both manifest themselves in visible organizational structures, they are by nature different because of their configuration and because of the ends they pursue. ... The Church is organized in ways that are suitable to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, while the different political communities give rise to relationships and institutions that are at the service of everything that is part of the temporal common good.” (CSD 424)

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