When did the Church start becoming political and when did this end?

i know this is a very general question, but I don’t know much about Church history.

When did the Catholic Church become political and secular and when did this era end? I know it has something to do with the fall of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions, the Holy Roman Empire, etc. But I’m not really sure…

If anyone can point to a good article or just answer the question with specific dates, that would be great.

I would say it became political and secular starting with Emperor Theodosius though the political influence started much earlier. Some would say even before Constantine. The end of the church politically as a major power started with the Peace of Westphalia and ended with the Napoleon. It had roles politically in the 19th and 20th centuries particularly in WWII and the Cold War but that power was nothing like it was before Westphalia or Napoleon.

I think that it didn’t end. At least not in some areas of the world. Last week I was subjected to a political skit during Mass. Yes I said during Mass because we had not yet received the final blessing. This was at the largest Catholic Church in our area. I left not long after that skit began and was and still am furious with that priest and all who were involved. Especially the priest some Catholics don’t know what’s wrong with what they did but the Priest does. He is also BTW the Pastor.


The Church has always been political because humans always are. So it will never end until the end of time.

Sorry for the confusion. What I meant by *political *was that time period when the Church was mingled with the state and when many of the clergy were interested in temporal and secular matters more than spiritual.

4th century, then,. is when it became “political”

And is there a noted time to when this ended?


The Catholic Church’s technical introduction to politics was in 315, when it was legalized. By 400, it was the state religion, which brought it a step closer. Its priests and bishops had the ear of the emperors. As far as I am aware, though, the Church gained little from the relationship – in some places (the East), the bishops allowed themselves to become subject to the political authority. In others, the Church excommunicated authorities for perpetrating massacres and such, and harangued them for their riches in a world with so many poor.

When Rome fell in 453, it left an enormous power vacuum in the West – perhaps the largest in history. The Church, led especially by Pope Gregory the Great, was left as literally the only active authority in the area. (Technically, the West was still under the protection of Constantinople, but the only thing Constantinople cared about was Italian taxes – they otherwise left the West largely to the barbarians.) The Church had spiritual authority. It had great wealth, donated over the preceding centuries by nobles, who left their estates to the Church in many cases. And now suddenly the welfare of Rome and the surrounding area was pretty much the responsibility of the only institution that could protect the innocent: the Catholic Church.

By the 700’s and 800’s, the age of kings was dawning. Rome, threatened by pirates and Muslim invaders (who were marching through Italy, raping and pillaging, despite the best efforts of Papal forces), allied itself with kings like Charlemange, granting them recognition as legitimate successors to the emperors in exchange for protection.

This is when the corruption really got started. The Pope suddenly was playing as a major world political power. That made his position not just one of faithful servantship to his flock (in his role as bishop of Rome), but also an immensely powerful, immensely wealthy position. That attracted all the worst kinds of people to the job. We saw the great debasements of the Pornocracy; of the Medicis; of the Papal invasions and wars. Remarkably, the Church still did fairly well, especially compared to the rest of Europe (we held the line in the investiture controversy, which was nothing short of miraculous), but this was the golden age for the Church’s secular power.

It really ended with the Reformation. It took a few generations for it to sink in, but after Luther the Popes were never really able to exercise their dramatic spiritual/temporal power on a global scale again. They became administrators and leaders of the Papal States. Their allies among the Kings still functioned on behalf of the Faith, but rarely in close conjunction with the actual institutional Church. Cardinals were still wealthy and powerful and deeply involved with politics, but after the Reformation the structure started degrading quite quickly. The Enlightenment put much of the respect for the Church, even in the remaining Catholic countries, to flame. France effectively seceded from the Institutional Church in its 1789 revolution. And the Papal States themselves finally fell in Garibaldi’s invasion in the mid-1800’s.

The total de-secularization of the institutional Church – except for Vatican City, which exists only to ensure that the Pope is never subject to the authority of any temporal power (which might try to coerce the Pope, which would be disastrous) – came during the papacy of John Paul II, which issued and enforced a directive ordering all ordained persons to exit political life.

Source: a detailed class on the History of Rome, 315 - 1650, a class on the Church and Europe, 1789 - Present, and a lot of independent reading of my own.

Hope that helps.

On one hand, no, I think the Church is still political. But, one could argue that the loss of the Papal states in the latter 19th century finally removed the Church from politics in many respects.

I can’t turn on the radio or the TV without hearing about vocal catholic heirarchy or laypeople protesting the US policy on legal immigration.

A minor nitpick here… Rome didn’t fall in 453… Heck the last of the Theodosian Dynasty lasted until 454… and there would be emperors in the West, recognized by Constantinople until Juliss Nepos died in 480 (Though historians tend to look at his Usurper, Romulus Augustalis as the last emperor in the West, even though he was deposed in 476.

You’re right. I… have no idea why my brain spouted the year 453. Nothing particularly important happened that year at all, as far as I know.

Well, Attilla died, but that was hardly bad news for the Empire in the West.

476 is what I meant to say.

Not to mention lay people protesting the Bishops’ teaching on immigration.

What is the (I don’t think we need to guess which) Bishop’s teaching on immigration? And, why should any single Bishop have any authority to teach anything binding on all US catholics?
And, guess what? No Bishop, and No Pope can tell the US how to handle our affairs.

You know, part of the Church’s mission is to preach and educate and serve and lead on social justice issues. If that’s all that is meant by “political,” then the Church has always been political, is political today, and always shall be.

But that’s not what the OP was asking.

Actually, any person or institution that wants to, can tell the U.S.A. how to handle our affairs; thats what freedom of speech is all about. It does not mean that the United States is obliged to do it.

And note the post you quoted referred to Bishops’ as in the teaching of multiple Bishops. For the most part the Bishops have been speaking with more or less a constant message on this subject and thus the vast majority of American Catholics fall under one of their authorities.


Bishops and the Pope can tell Catholics how to “handle our affairs” regarding faith and morals. Their authority is independent of our national/political identity (and more important, imho).

If you’re interested in what the U.S. Bishops teach regarding immigration, this link from their web site should help: justiceforimmigrants.org/

Let’s clarify that Digger. The “Church” is about the teaching and guidance in spiritual matters, saving one’s soul, praying for the souls of others, following the Truths which Christ gave His Church over two thousand years ago. Some Church leaders do this very well. But 2/3 of our clergy, at least, have forgotten they have taken vows for a spiritual calling instead of a career. It’s ministers and the laity may be political, but the Church as Christ created it, is not.:wink:

First of all, I think too many of our Bishops have confused the issue of Political Social Justice and the Social Justice taught by Christ. The two are quite different. But the errors allowed by the clergy have dribbled down to the laity and confusion reigns. That is why Bishops need to stay out of politics and teach very strongly the Truths of what used to be taught by the Catholic Church from the pulpit. Sadly they have made little use of this little space in our Churches for a very long time. The Bishops have the authority to DIRECTLY teach us what we should learn and practice in our Faith. This doesn’t happen very often. They are too concerned with being Politically correct and afraid the tax exempt provision will be taken away from the parishes if they are too direct in their teaching and leadership.

It is only by their correct and direct teaching of our Faith by the clergy and our acceptance of it, no matter how strongly we must discipline ourselves, that we can form a "Catholic’'Conscience. And then WE can change the laws to bring this country back to a Just nation.

Wow, 2/3 of our clergy, at least, are out of line? Thanks for the info. Do you have a specific list of which ones are still spiritual and not only career-minded?

Humans are both political and religious. To suggest that the Church is only about “spiritual” matters and not real life here on Earth is problematic…is that what you are suggesting? Thanks for any clarification.

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