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)

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