Why not a Theocracy?


#1

Dear all,

I usually just lurk in this subforum. I am posting a new thread after having read a bit of the thread on whether Catholic moral teaching should dictate civil law. Here: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=883790.

I am just curious. Why shouldn’t we desire a Catholic theocracy? That is what exists in the Vatican, and that is what nearly existed in many countries during the middle ages. When Jesus returns will we not have a Catholic Theocracy? I do not have a strong opinion on the subject but many in the other thread were heatedly against having a Catholic theocracy and I would like to know more about this. Thanks.


#2

I see you are a fellow Texan, so I will answer from a USAnian perspective :slight_smile:

In a religiously plural society, one can never be sure that one’s religion will always hold sway. You might want a Catholic theocracy, but Catholics are a minority; how would you like a Baptist one?

Better to maintain religious freedom and await the kingdom of God.

ICXC NIKA.


#3

Thank you for your response. But isn’t it possible to maintain religious freedom while still having a Theocracy? What if I said that I would prefer a Catholic Theocracy but I won’t force anybody to practice a religion that is opposed to their views. Rather it would be for the purpose of upholding morality in laws. (We both know that my question is hypothetical.)

Thanks again.


#4

More harm than good would come from that. A theocracy, even a Catholic one, is still prone to corruption of man.

We’ve already seen that even with the Vatican.

People who are strictly regulated and have to means to resist will do so.

I think in the end we could lose more souls than gain, because really a theocracy would hamper free will and people would find a quick aversion to the Catholic Church.

What we need is a government based on common sense and natural law.


#5

Well, what theocracy to you want: Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, Greek Orthadox? And then when that particular theocracy is in power just how free to you think you will be if it is not Catholic, or how free others will be if it is? What happens to the other faiths out there?

We are called to INVITE others to our Faith, not force them. There is a big difference between the two. And those who are forced will never believe, they will instead fight and rebel.


#6

Thank you all for your comments. Please feel free to keep the discussion going. I am interested in thinking through this issue. As I stated before I do not actually want a Catholic theocracy (or any for that matter). I’m just wondering what the ramifications would be if we had one. :slight_smile:


#7

Or worse, the corrupt ones in power will just find ways to subvert the Faith, insert some friends/family in the clergy, throw in medieval-style politicking, and the next thing we know there’s a Pope Alexander VI ver 2.0 :rolleyes:


#8

I suspect it’s more of a problem with them in practice than with the idealized versions of them (though I am not sure). For example, I can come up with a couple reasonable sounding Catholic theocracies (including a fairly week one, where you have a government that’s chosen by secular means as it is now, but where a the bishops of the country have collective veto power, and perhaps a few positive powers as well), and in an idealized society where everyone works for good (or at least good as they see it) and not for things like personal power, that would probably work.

But in actual society, what this would do is cause people to seek office in the Church for political reasons. A bishop ought to be a bishop because he wants to serve God, not because he wants temporal power, and the more temporal power a bishop has, the more likely you’ll have people seeking the office for the wrong reasons. We’ve had issues like that before. And so the corruption that always happens in government would seep into that into Church leadership. (Of course, things are never perfect with Church leaders either, but this would certainly exacerbate the problem.)

There are other issues as well - any real or perceived evil done by the (theocratic) government would be used as an excuse to attack the faith. We see this already, when people (sometimes justly, sometimes not) blame some of the evil done in the past on the Church at that time. Of course, the answer is that people aren’t perfect, and don’t magically become so when ordained and so still do evil, and that this doesn’t actually say anything about the truth of the faith they practice, but nevertheless there will be those who say “how could the Church do X if it were really what it claims to be?”

And then there is the problem that there are always those that don’t really support religious freedom, and all guarantees aside would work to force their religion on others. Of course, we have some of those in the government who don’t respect religious freedom already, but there’d be a whole new set of problems if we ended up with people trying to unjustly force what was actually right - it could easily interfere with both the governmental function and the religious function such a hypothetical Church-state would have. And similar.

I tried to find some sources on the subject, and ran into vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html from Pope Emeritus Benedict. About 2/3 of the way down:

a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”.[18] Fundamental to Christianity is … in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere.[19] The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.

Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. … But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.

Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

Those "…"s are unfortunate, the whole thing is worth reading, but there’s a character limit. I’m not sure this actually forbids a carefully made theocracy, but even so, I think the practical problems with carrying it out would make it pretty much impossible to justify.


#9

This is a very convincing point.


#10

It’s a bad idea.

Good governing is not just about instilling policies one wants more than anything else. It’s about understanding the realities of political society that provide certain constraints on policymaking.

One particular constraint has been pointed out numerous times in this thread: pluralism. A Catholic policy might be wonderful to Catholics, but be less advantageous for Baptists. Part of living in a diverse society is the political and social compromises that results from the acceptance and even the cherishing of the rights and civil liberties granted to all members of the community.

That having been said, that particular constraint might not exist in a less diverse society. What then?

There are other constraints, I think, that would tend to make a theocracy an undesirable form of government. For one thing, religious leaders are good at being religious leaders. But they’re notoriously poor at managing matters of social or political importance (see, e.g., the Vatican Bank).

The best set of affairs for a society, I believe, is essentially technocratic. Those with the best understanding of a given subject are likely those who ought to be given authority over those types of issues. And at the very highest level, which would be the subject of ordering the order, is given to the people themselves through a democratic process (with certain caveats).


#11

I really liked this. I’m sort of surprised - Pope Benedict really cabined the influence of the Church in the political order more than I would have expected. But I think his comments are exactly correct.


#12

You are either wrong in your understanding of history or wrong in your understanding of theocracy. Theocracy is rule by religious authorities. Except for the very special case of the Pope’s temporal power in the Papal States and them the vatican, there is no real historical examples of theocratic forms of government in Vatholic countries and societies. It has just never been part of Catholic culture.

The church has a long tradition if understanding a difference between temporal rule and religious authority.
Theocratic forms of government have almost always been associated with heresies ( eg Islam, Calvin, Mormanism) or with pagan societies ( eg Aztecs).

It is a very bad concept from a Catholic point if view.


#13

I’m uncertain one way or the other, but it does seem that a majority of Catholics oppose it out of love for the secular rather than right reason.

I figure that if everyone in the world converted that we would live in a theocracy, because we would simply live by the objective truth. There is going to be corruption one way or the other, so it isn’t something that need enter the equation. Pluralism seems only good as a backup plan (in a society, NEVER good as an ideology of course) That’s about as far as I have worked out.


#14

See my above post:

One particular constraint has been pointed out numerous times in this thread: pluralism. A Catholic policy might be wonderful to Catholics, but be less advantageous for Baptists. Part of living in a diverse society is the political and social compromises that results from the acceptance and even the cherishing of the rights and civil liberties granted to all members of the community.

That having been said, that particular constraint might not exist in a less diverse society. What then?

There are other constraints, I think, that would tend to make a theocracy an undesirable form of government. For one thing, religious leaders are good at being religious leaders. But they’re notoriously poor at managing matters of social or political importance (see, e.g., the Vatican Bank).

The best set of affairs for a society, I believe, is essentially technocratic. Those with the best understanding of a given subject are likely those who ought to be given authority over those types of issues. And at the very highest level, which would be the subject of ordering the order, is given to the people themselves through a democratic process (with certain caveats).


#15

I disagree, strongly. The Cstholic church, even in societies which were 100% catholic, did not support theocratic forms of government. There have certainly been individual clerics involved in secular government, but these were the exceptions, not the rule. And always, the government was headed and predominantly run by laity.

The Church had never taught that clerical rule if society was proper.


#16

Oh, no sorry, by theocracy I didn’t mean cleric-only rule. You are right though, in that even the governments from the ancient Jewish times until the recent centuries have been ruled almost entirely by laymen. In hindsight, unless I am confused on the term, theocracy seems to have always been the rule until recently.


#17

The general use of the word is dedined as clerical rule. From Wikipedia:

“Taken literally or strictly, theocracy means rule by God or gods and refers primarily to an internal “rule of the heart”, especially in its biblical application. The common, generic use of the term, as defined above in terms of rule by a church or analogous religious leadership, would be more accurately described as an ecclesiocracy”

Theocracy has almost never been the “rule”. Again, the Papal States and vatican is a special case, it is only practiced there so that the Pope is not subordinate to a civil ruler. Besides that case, you must look to other religions.


#18

Hmm. I think ecclesiocracy is different than theocracy, though similar. Is that not right? That is how I am reading that excerpt.


#19

Technically, theocracy is rule by a god, the common use of the term is equivalent to ecclesiocracy. The supposed definition you guys are assuming ( I think) is simply a state-established religion, perhaps you mean a Catholic monarchy. I am not for sure, but I am positive you are using the term theocracy wrongly.

Give a couple if examples of these supposed theocracies that you believe we’re so common, and I will be more clear .


#20

Ah I see, possibly. I was thinking more along the lines of a state established religion in that case, I didn’t know that there was a distinction. I suppose for example, the ancient Hebrew people (through all their stages of judges and monarchy). Modern day Canon Law reflecting civil law to certain extent and that sort of thing. Would there be another term for that or would it be simply be called a Catholic state?


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