Separation of Church and State- heresy?

see point 55 here:

Could it be argued then that the separation of Church and state is a heresy?!? or does it mean something else?
I mean I think the Church, like any organisation, has a right to comment about civil affairs, and to say that it doesn’t have that right and that it should “keep out” of political discourse is wrong but I also think the idea of a secular government is a good one where politicians are able to follow their consciences. I don’t like the idea of theocracy.

Also point 67
Does this imply that a nation should not have laws allowing for divorce? I have always thought that a state needs to have laws which allow for breaking civil the contract of marriage- even if I do not agree with divorce.

It depends on how “separation of Church and state” is defined. For example, it can mean that the state has no right to interfere with the Church in matters of doctrine or in the appointment of bishops.

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Separation of Church and state is a secular idea, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury, CT., Baptist association, a reply to their congratulatory letter after his election to the presidency. In this letter he wrote of a “Wall of separation between Church and state.” This was a direct reference to the first amendment to the US Constitution which read

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

This means that the US Congress shall not make laws about religion. Period. It means nothing else. It does not mean that religion has no part in Government, nor does it mean that civil authorities cannot make decisions based on the light of faith. That was not Jefferson’s intent.

That civil authorities must make all decisions based on the light of faith is exactly what Catholics are to do. The divine authority of God does not come before civil authority and civil authority must bow to the authority of God.

Sadly, God has been separated from the decisions of civil authority. This was not Jefferson’s intent.



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OK so I agree that the Church has a right to have a say in the state, but what I want to know is not the intricacies of the American constitution (I’m not American) but what the Church means when it condemns the separation of Church and state? Does it simply condemn the idea that religion should have NO IMPACT on government or does it mean something more?

For the benefit of those who don’t know, the Syllabus of Errors by Pope Pius-9 is a listing of things that the Church does NOT teach. That does NOT mean the Church “officially” teaches contrary (though, in many cases, the Church does). It simply means these contrary teachings are not part of Catholic doctrine.

Could it be argued then that the separation of Church and state is a heresy?!? or does it mean something else?

It COULD mean that the Church does not see an intrinsic relationship between government and religion. The Vatican State (a sovereign nation established in 1929) is a theocracy, ruled by an elected absolute monarch (the Pope). But the Pope could turn the administration of the State over to anybody. And Francis just might do so.

Also point 67
Does this imply that a nation should not have laws allowing for divorce? I have always thought that a state needs to have laws which allow for breaking civil the contract of marriage- even if I do not agree with divorce.

The Church has Her own laws regarding marriage. She is not obliged to observe civil laws in this regard (which might, for example, permit homosexual unions). Likewise, the Church has Her own laws regarding “divorce.” Marriage is both a civil and religious contract. The State can govern the civil aspect as it wills, and the Church can govern the religious aspect as the Holy Spirit guides.

Precisely, and people usually define it to fit their desires rather than what it really meant.

I am uncertain of the context you are referring. The only context I am aware of is American politics.

It means that divine law trumps civil law. The authority on matters of faith and morals - God’s moral law - is the Church.

This does not mean that the Church has the right to dictate to civil authorities what laws to pass and how they should be enforced. In fact, clergy and religious are forbidden from entering politics and running for political office. It means that the teachings of the Church should enlighten civil authorities when they make and enforce law.

Civil authority should never make law contrary to divine law. The perfect example is abortion in the United States - US law is counter to God’s will as taught through the Church. Another example is St. Bernard who was the first superior of the Cistercian order. Kings sought him for his guidance and wise council on both spiritual and civil matters.

I think the short answer is that it condemns the idea that religion should have no impact on government. That is impossible, and was an idea foreign to those who founded our nation in the late 1700’s. On the contrary, God’s teaching should enlighten everything we do from going to war to what we eat for dinner.


Below are excerpts from this webpage,

The Error: 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). This contradicts the oldest teaching of the Church, Leo XIII’s “Testem Benevolentiae Nostra,” etc.

The Truth: While it is often (perhaps more often than not) prudent and beneficial to the common good to tolerate error, while no one may ever be forced to believe against his conscience, and while those in error must be treated with charity and simple kindness, error has no positive “rights” in itself. A State whose laws are not based on natural law, whose laws don’t have the Christian understanding of the True, Good, and Beautiful at their center, and whose laws don’t have the good of the souls of its citizens/subjects at their heart is bound to lead to trouble with great eternal and temporal consequences.

If one stops to think about it, it is quite obvious that there are only a few options in this regard:

1.We can have no rule of law at all.
2.We can have a rule of law based on Catholic morality.
3.We can have a rule of law based on Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, or other non-Catholic views of morality, and have our civic holidays and symbolism based on that belief system.
4.We can have a rule of law based on “secular precepts” of radical individualism and tolerance for the sake of tolerance, the effects of which:

• deny any role of religion or of the religious in the public sphere unless they deny their own precepts. This forces the religious into “schizophrenic” lives split in half between their “religious, private selves” and their “public, political selves”;

• end in abortion, “homosexual marriage,” euthanasia, divorce, rampant pornography, un-Catholic economic systems, attacks on the family via social programs (or, in a libertarian system of this sort, result in no support via acknowledgment of the rights of fathers), etc. One need not be religious to see the social effects of such policies;

• secularize historically Christian holidays and symbolism in order to appease all religions, either denying those things any civic status at all, or forcing recognition of these aspects of all religious systems equally, giving equal weight in law, for ex., to Satanism, Scientology, and Catholicism;

• sacrifice: man’s needs for culture (rooted in the word “cult”); a society’s need of a shared vision of the Good, True, and Beautiful; and a sense of historical continuity and rootedness, all in favor of ideologies which have shown themselves to be divisive and socially and psychologically unsatisfying.

That’s it. Those are the options. Which is the right choice for a Catholic? Which ends in sanity? Which builds community, a sense of place, of belonging and rootedness? Which system is more likely to be coherent and lead to happiness? Which is consistent with Catholic teaching? And, most importantly, which is most likely to lead to the salvation of souls?

Pope Leo XIII, Libertas, June 20, 1888:
18. 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 enactments. 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.

  1. To make this more evident, the growth of liberty ascribed to our age must be considered apart in its various details. And, first, let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none.

  2. But, assuredly, of all the duties which man has to fulfill, that, without doubt, is the chiefest and holiest which commands him to worship God with devotion and piety. This follows of necessity from the truth that we are ever in the power of God, are ever guided by His will and providence, and, having come forth from Him, must return to Him. Add to which, no true virtue can exist without religion, for moral virtue is concerned with those things which lead to God as man’s supreme and ultimate good; and therefore religion, which (as St. Thomas says) “performs those actions which are directly and immediately ordained for the divine honor,”[7] rules and tempers all virtues. And if it be asked which of the many conflicting religions it is necessary to adopt, reason and the natural law unhesitatingly tell us to practice that one which God enjoins, and which men can easily recognize by certain exterior notes, whereby Divine Providence has willed that it should be distinguished, because, in a matter of such moment, the most terrible loss would be the consequence of error. Wherefore, when a liberty such as We have described is offered to man, the power is given him to pervert or abandon with impunity the most sacred of duties, and to exchange the unchangeable good for evil; which, as We have said, is no liberty, but its degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin.

Continued. . . .

  1. This kind of liberty, if considered in relation to the State, clearly implies that there is no reason why the State should offer any homage to God, or should desire any public recognition of Him; that no one form of worship is to be preferred to another, but that all stand on an equal footing, no account being taken of the religion of the people, even if they profess the Catholic faith. But, to justify this, it must needs be taken as true that the State has no duties toward God, or that such duties, if they exist, can be abandoned with impunity, both of which assertions are manifestly false. For it cannot be doubted but that, by the will of God, men are united in civil society; whether its component parts be considered; or its form, which implies authority; or the object of its existence; or the abundance of the vast services which it renders to man. God it is who has made man for society, and has placed him in the company of others like himself, so that what was wanting to his nature, and beyond his attainment if left to his own resources, he might obtain by association with others. 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, engraven 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.

  2. All this, however, We have explained more fully elsewhere. We now only wish to add the remark that liberty of so false a nature is greatly hurtful to the true liberty of both rulers and their subjects. Religion, of its essence, is wonderfully helpful to the State. For, since it derives the prime origin of all power directly from God Himself, with grave authority it charges rulers to be mindful of their duty, to govern without injustice or severity, to rule their people kindly and with almost paternal charity; it admonishes subjects to be obedient to lawful authority, as to the ministers of God; and it binds them to their rulers, not merely by obedience, but by reverence and affection, forbidding all seditions and venturesome enterprises calculated to disturb public order and tranquillity, and cause greater restrictions to be put upon the liberty of the people. We need not mention how greatly religion conduces to pure morals, and pure morals to liberty. Reason shows, and history confirms the fact, that the higher the morality of States, the greater are the liberty and wealth and power which they enjoy.

(Close Quote)

First, a quick note on the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX. It is not intended to be read ina vacuum–rather it is meant to point to other authoritative sources (the citation at the end of each proposition).

The two cited in the OP come from a consistorial address the Pope made concerning the situation in New Grenada at the time–and therefore they apply to the situaiton. There you had a completely Catholic population where the government became anti-clerical, persecuted the Church, and encouraged other sects to come in and displace Catholics to break up the influence of the Church there. #55 therefore deals with the violent rupture of the prior harmonious relationship between Church and State. Likewise, the state was intruding into the Church and dissolving marriages for the Church as well–that is what #67 deals with.

Regarding the greater topic on the “separation of the Church and State,” this phrase can be given various meanings.

If it means the separation of truth from the State–ie that the State can govern by pure positivism, then it is condemned by the Church. The Church and State are both subject to the same God and have the good of man as their object, and therefore should work together harmoniously.

See the Catechism of the Catholic Church for exmaple:

On the other hand, the Church and State are separate in that each has their own sphere of authority–the state over the temporal and the Church over the spiritual.

Having the Catholic Church be the juridically “established religion” may be good in some circumstances or not in others. But whether it is juridically recongized as such or not, the State still has a moral duty toward the truth.

Also, since it often comes up as a related issue, this does not mean the state coerces people into being Catholic–this cannot be done. Faith must be free. But the state can suppress false religious activity that is harmful to the common good–and it has to make that determination in accordance with the truth.

Note, the “common good” is not a positivist or naturalist thing, but must take into account man’s spiritual well-being. After noting that the whole point of the State is the common good, Pope John taught:

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Thanks this is really helpful :slight_smile:

Exactly right. So many people claim that it has always meant what those ‘Freedom From Religion’ organizations like to pretend it means. If it always meant that, why did it not mean that until 40 years ago?

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