Beyond Religious liberty: Why We Need the Kingship of Christ

In recent times you frequently hear people, including Christians, and even amongst Catholics talk about religious liberty and the radical and secular idea of the separation of church and state. What many people fail to realize is that religious liberty and the separation of church and state as in the modern liberal sense has never been taught by the Church, but actually condemned by many Popes. It is true that Vatican II mentions religious liberty to some extent, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, however the traditional Catholic teaching has always put a strong emphasize on the Social Kingship of Christ in both our private as well as our public lives.

What the Church does not teach

It is best that we start by showing what the Church does not teach regarding Church and society. First and foremost the first of “the modern errors that we see in the modern secular sense is an embracing of false ideas of religious liberty and the radical separation of Church and State (as opposed to recognizing them as two distinct spheres, the secular being informed by but not controlled by the religious)”.1

Blessed Pope Pius IX stated in his Syllabus of Errors that it is erroneous to think that “In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship”.2

The Catholic Church has also never supported the idea of a theocracy, that is, that both ecclesiastical and secular authority are vested in the same individuals, so that a priestly class also holds the reins of government. Rather, the Church has always taught that the Church and the State are separate powers and each has its own legitimate sphere of influence, although, as Pope Leo XIII noted, “their subjects are the same, and not infrequently they deal with the same objects, though in different ways”.3

Another misconception is that the Church has before advocated forced conversion and using the state for that means. This is completely untrue as this would undermine the Catholic belief of free will and thus “the right of being immune to coercion, or rather the fact that the Church does not impose the Catholic Faith on anyone, but requires the freedom of the act of faith, does not arise from a presumed natural right to religious freedom or a presumed natural right to believe in any religion whatever, but it is founded on the fact that the Catholic Religion, the only true one, must be embraced in complete freedom without any constraints”.4Thus the Church has never taught that she nor the state can be used to coerce religious belief.

Lastly the Church has never declared Monarchy to be a perfect form of government. St. Robert Bellarmine states that although a monarchy has superiority and a lot of benefits, it is only true when monarchial power is wielded by an ideal monarch.

Monarchy theoretically and in the abstract, monarchy in the hands of God who combines in Himself all the qualifications of an ideal ruler, is indeed a perfect system of government; in the hands of imperfect man, however, it is exposed to many defects and abuses. A government tempered, therefore, by all three basic forms (i.e., monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy), a mixed government, is, on account of the corruption of human nature more useful that simple monarchy.5

What the Church does teach

Many Catholics believe that because the Church does not believe in forced conversions and thus in using the state as a means of doing that, and that at the same time because the Church doesn’t support a theocracy, therefore that the solution is for the State to be completely separated from the Church and should therefore treat all religions equally. To believe that because the State is forbidden to coerce belief, that it must declare itself completely separated from the Church and to treat all religions equally runs contrary to the Church’s teaching.

The Church throughout its history has always taught contrary to this radical belief of religious liberty and the separation of Church and State as we understand them in a liberal context.

The Church therefore teaches that the Church and the State are two distinct spheres, where the secular is informed but not controlled by the religious. This is not too different than what Jesus said in Matthew when asked about paying taxes to Caesar. He stated that Faith and the Church are distinct but not fully separated from civil authority.

Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s: and to God, the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

Authority comes from God

The Church as well as the Holy Scriptures have always stated that all authority comes from God. In Romans Paul tells the converted Jews that they are to pay obedience to Just authority, since all authority and power is from God.

Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is not power but from God and those that are, are ordinaed of God. Therefore he that resist the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. (Romans 13:1-2)

St. Chrysostom takes notice that St. Paul does not say that there is no prince but from God, but only that there is no power but from God, meaning no lawful power, and speaking of true and just laws.

Michael Davies states that “this quotation from Romans 13:1 states all that needs to be stated concerning the source of authority. Because those who govern derive their authority from God, and govern as His legates, and not as holding their authority from the people, no government can have a true right to enact any legislation contrary to the law of God, even if such legislation is the manifest wish of the majority of the people”.6

Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Immortale Dei states that the source of authority is clear and defined.

Every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its Author. Hence, it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything, without exception, must be subject to Him, and must serve him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern holds it from one sole and single source, namely, God, the sovereign Ruler of all. “There is no power but from God7

Similarly Pope Leo in another encyclical called Libertas further states that all authority comes from God.

Wherefore, civil society must acknowledge God as its Founder and Parent, and must obey and reverence His power and authority. Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the State to be godless; or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness-namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow upon them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. Since, then, the profession of one religion is necessary in the State, that religion must be professed which alone is true, and which can be recognized without difficulty, especially in Catholic States, because the marks of truth are, as it were, engravers upon it. This religion, therefore, the rulers of the State must preserve and protect, if they would provide – as they should do – with prudence and usefulness for the good of the community. For public authority exists for the welfare of those whom it governs; and, although its proximate end is to lead men to the prosperity found in this life, yet, in so doing, it ought not to diminish, but rather to increase, man’s capability of attaining to the supreme good in which his everlasting happiness consists: which never can be attained if religion be disregarded.8

Pope Saint Pius X similarly states that it is wrong to think that since authority comes from God that it is lawful to think that society should be completely separated from the true religion. Although it is true that religion including Catholicism does not have the right to use the state to coerce belief upon anyone, society itself still has the obligation to form itself upon the truth found in God’s laws.

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize 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 honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order… Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.9

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church itself states that we have a duty to give God genuine worship, and because of this to form society with His laws and not separated from them.

Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man’s origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man…The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. “The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen…It is a part of the Church’s mission “to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. (CCC 2244-2246)

The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is “the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.” By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them “to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which [they] live.”31 The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies”.(CCC 2105)

Christ the King privately and socially

Christ is obviously king from within before he can be king from without. This means that before we can re-institute or even bring forth the Social Reign of Christ the King in society, he must reign within the heart. This includes us knowing the Catholic faith, as well as having a deep prayerful life. This means that we must institute and consecrate ourselves to Christ, specifically in the Sacred Heart devotion. When he reigns from within, and is the focal point of our lives we take him everywhere we go. This means that we take Christ throughout all our daily lives, whether it is work, school, the voting booth, the parish, and everywhere else. When we begin to do this, we can bring forth the Social Reign of Christ the King to public life.

This is the only way we can ever truly get Catholic politicians, not those who profess to be Catholics, but much more those who actually put it into practice. This would do away with a Catholic type of president who shows up to Mass on Sundays for example, but keeps his faith only privately. Much more so it would do away from so called Catholics such as Joe Biden and company who support things that would appall Catholics just over a century ago. Religion and the Catholic faith is not to be a private thing, but is to be public and that means taking the Kingship of Christ first by forming it within the heart, and then making it public.


In a nutshell the Kingship of Christ is a phrase that points to the doctrine that Christ is the King of Kings and that all authority comes from God. This means that temporal rulers are subject to the same God and truth as everyone else is. The teachings of Christ including the gospel and everything else that God has Divinely revealed to His Church is meant for public and not only private life.

It means first taking Christ into our hearts by fully living out the Catholic faith in its entirely. This includes first knowing the Faith through catechizes, and then applying it to everything else. Going to Mass as much as possible, recreating the family, by praying the rosary, reading the bible, having a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Once we start to do this privately, it does not stop there, rather we ought to be moved to take Christ wherever we go, and that means to public life. If this happens, we can as stated before get truly Catholic politicians, judges, cops, and so on.

As Michael Davies once said in his work on the Kingship of Christ The Reign of Christ the King regarding the problem we have with abortion. Davies states “By what right can a Catholic policeman arrest those who try to rescue the unborn from abortion? By what right can a Catholic district attorney prosecute them? By what right can a Catholic judge convict them? Let such public officials not protest that they have sworn to uphold the law, because any human law contrary to the eternal law cannot be considered valid by any Catholic”.10

Davies also states in his same work that we should not wait until the clergy takes the first step, but it is the laity whom should take the first step so that the clergy would follow. He also mentions that it is wrong for someone to say that we could not possibly change society and bring back the Kingship of Christ to public life. He states “If anyone reading this honestly believes that society cannot be changed, I can only reply: “Tell that to the homosexuals, tell that to the abortionists.” They have changed society, they have corrupted it, dehumanized it, but they knew what they wanted and they were prepared to fight for it, and they are still prepared to fight for it. Shall the children of light show less zeal than the children of darkness?

Long Live Christ the King! Viva Cristo Rey! Vive Christus Rex!

An excellent essay. However, the problem is this - how do we get this across to people? I’ve met people who treat “separation of Church and State” as a sacred cow, with the very idea of opposing it, or even failing to support it, being seen as evidence of complete and utter depravity. This argument would have no force with them, because they seem to think that the Church will somehow “poison” the State with their pernicious superstitions. I think it’s largely because Thomas Jefferson said it.

…Anyway, my point is that it would be very difficult to have a meaningful conversation on this topic with somebody who disagreed with it.

I think one way to approach the dialog amicably would be to start with the doctrine that Church and State are distinct powers. By illustrating this doctrine through the social doctrine of the Church, a great step forward could be made in dialog with those who believe in the separation of Church and State.

I agree. It’s a terrific essay.

However, we must be clear (as you are) that when we talk of the Church in this context, we mean the Catholic Church, which alone has the fullness of Christian teaching and has preached Christ’s kingship. A State informed by Protestant teaching - while still not as abominable as a secular society - would still have its problems, for out of bad theology flow bad governance, bad morals, bad economics and bad foreign policy. :slight_smile:

Excellent post!! Separation of Church and State means no church and State worship. The Founding Fathers knew this all to well.


This post would be one way, The reader could reflect in private without the tension that discussion’s sometimes cause. I can highly recommend a book, “Liberty The God That Failed.” The author is Christopher Ferrara. Another book “Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church”, by William Cavanaugh.

Another effective option is getting children out of government school.

As John Medaille correctly states: “The State is never neutral; it replaces the church with its own liturgies. The “Holy” migrates from the Church to the state, till we are asked to die to prove our loyalty.”


Sorry to throw water on this, but I have heard all these arguments from the SSPX, and they use these arguments to justify disobedience of the Magesterium. These arguments are used to refute Dignitatis Humanae.

That may be true but never less the Church has taught by various popes that society should be formed on the laws of God including the natural law. The laws in society thus ought to reflect the Divine Law. This does not mean that only monarchy is the acceptable form of government for example. It simply means that regardless of the form of government that exists in any given place, all governments and societies have the duty to reflect legislation and laws that reflect the Divine and obviously the natural law. This means accepting God in the first place and further more accepting the Catholic Faith as superior to other religions.

This brings us to the second point, that of religious liberty and the SSPX using it as a tactic against obedience to the magisterium. I can only say that the Church does allow religious liberty to some extent. Not because it is ideal, but rather because sometimes you have to tolerate evil and wrong. The only thing the article is saying is that it would be wrong and erroneous to hold the idea that this is the ideal, and thus to hold the modern liberal understanding of religious liberty and the separation of Church and State that holds both, that all religions are the same, and thus that society should treat all religions equally. Even worse, that they should not accept any, or promote any, since they are all the same.

Yes the SSPX might use this type of article or thinking to detract from the magisterium but that is not my intent, nor do I plan on making that my intent.

The main problem I see is this:

In practice we distinguish, from a religious point of view, four kinds of civil authority.

-First, in a Catholic State, in which, namely, the physical persons constituting the moral personality of the State are Catholic, the Church’s jurisdiction in matters of her competency is in every way complete.
-Secondly, in a non-Christian State, for instance that of the Turks, where the constituency is not even baptized, the Church claims no jurisdiction over the State as such: the foundation of such jurisdiction is lacking.
-Third, in a Christian but non-Catholic State, where the constituency, though by baptism subjects, are not members of the Church, per se the jurisdiction of the Church would stand, but per accidens its exercise is impossible.
-Fourth, a mixed State, one, namely, the constituents of whose moral personality are necessarily of diverse religions, practically lies outside the reach of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, since the affiliation of some of the constituents could not make a subject of the Church out of the moral personality constitutionally made up of elements not all of which share such affiliation. The subordination here indicated is indirect: not that the Church does not directly reach spiritual and mixed matters, but that in their regard it directly reaches only its immediate subjects, and indirectly, through them, the State which they constitute.

The problem is that, with the increasing interconnectedness and increasing migrations of peoples, even many traditionally Catholic countries would, in fact, fall under the fourth category, because there are significant non-Catholic populations that have significant social voice. Certainly the United States or France or Germany or (to a lesser extent) Argentina would be a mixed society. It would be unjust and impractical to impose the Social Kingship of Christ on a mixed society. True, it is not the ideal. But such situations have to obtain until the Church can obtain the voluntary conversion of a near unanimity of the people of a country.

These arguments really confuse me. During the reign of Christendom, when the Pope would literally crown the king, then I could understand these arguments. But the Catholic Church no longer has a part in any government. In fact, in communist countries it is explicitly outlawed, along with all other religions. So it seems to me that the Church has adjusted to this reality by telling the governments that they do not have a right to take away anyone’s right to worship God. THAT is what religious liberty means in our post-Christian world. Separation of church and state is the reality we live in. The Church has no part in government anymore, so how can they tell the government that they need to be treated differently than other religions? That just doesn’t exist anymore.

There’s the reality we have and the ideal to strive for. The ideal is that the truth should permeate and govern all aspects of human society. This has to come about through evangelization, not coercion, and until then we make the best of the situation we have, as you describe.

This idea is not contradicted by the declaration Dignitatis Humanae, which simply states that states cannot coerce religious faith or repress religious acts within the limits of the common good and the objective moral order (see also CCC 2109) (the objective moral order, ie the natural law, is within the state’s general coercive power, however, otherwise we could not have criminal laws). It also declares that given present circumstances, a broad liberty is best.

The Church, however, still must profess the truth to strive for, in season and out. The Catechism warns what happens when states reject the divinely revealed religion:

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