The Church has received from Jesus Christ all the powers necessary to attain her end, and all men must, in order to be saved, belong to her and obey her laws.


On the other hand, man, being a social being, naturally forms part of civil society, which has also received from God the necessary powers to realize its own end and rightfully exacts obedience to its laws.


It is important to know what relations should exist, by the will of God, between these two societies composed of the same members; in other words, to know precisely the reciprocal rights and duties of the Church and of the State.


Leo XIII, in his admirable Encyclical, Immortale Dei, on The Christian Constitution of States (A.D. 1885), has set them forth in the clearest light.

We shall cite some passages from it; and then recapitulate this doctrine in a few words. We will in this way help to determine with precision what are the true ideas to be entertained as to this important question.


This is especially necessary at the present time, when men endeavor to thwart and shackle the Church in the exercise of her authority and to subject her to the powers of the earth.


Pope Leo XIII says:


 “God has divided the government of mankind between two powers: the ecclesiastical power and the civil power; the one designed for heavenly, the other for earthly interests. Each of them is sovereign in its own sphere, each of them is confined within limits perfectly defined and traced in conformity with its nature and special purpose. There is, therefore, a circumscribed sphere within which each of them exercises its action, jure pro prio, through its own right. However, as their authority is wielded over the same subject, it may happen that one and the same thing, though from a different cause, may be nuder the jurisdiction and judgment of both powers. It is, therefore, necessary that there should be between both powers a well-defined system of rela­tions, not without analogy with the relations which in man constitute the union of the soul and of the body. We can form a correct idea of the nature and influence of these relations only by considering the character of each of these two powers, and by taking account of the excellence and nobility of their respective object or purpose, because, whilst the one has for its proximate and special end to concern itself with earthly interests, the other, on the contrary, aims at serving the eter­nal. Thus everything that in human affairs is sacred for any cause whatsoever, everything that refers to the salvation of souls and the worship of God, either by its intrinsic nature or on account of its end, all this evidently belongs to the au­tliority of the Church. As to things embraced in the civil and political order, it is but just that they should be subject to civil authority, because Jesus Christ has commanded us to render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”


Previous to this, in his Encyclical Diuturnum illud (A.D. 1881), Leo XIII had said:


 “The Church acknowledges and declares that everything which belongs to the civil order is under the power and supreme authority of secular rulers. In matters, the judgment of which belongs, for various reasons, both to the religious and to the civil authority, the Church desires that there should be a mutual agreement, through whose beneficent influence fatal dissensions are spared to both of them.”


As early as the year 492, the same principles were laid down by a predecessor of the reigning Pontiff, Pope Gelasius I wrote to the Greek Emperor Anastasius:


 “Two powers govern the world, the spiritual au­thority of the Roman Pontiff, and the temporal power of kings.”


These powers have for their end, one the spiritual happiness of man here and hereafter, the other, the temporal prosperity of society in the present world.


This distinction of powers is an essentially Christian principle, in direct oppo­sition to the Pagan axiom: “Cujus est regio, illius est religio”—The religion of a country is that of its ruler, a formula of abject servitude to a power to which the divine Lawgiver com­mitted no spiritual authority; a formula of revolt against those whom Christ invested with the fullness of religious au­thority for the government of souls.

The two powers are indeed essentially distinct; but they are, by no means, hostile. Far from it; they have reciprocal duties, the performance of which affords them a mutual support. They are like two cogwheels, producing uniform motion so long as they work harmoniously or regularly into each other.


If the temporal power, as in duty bound, causes the spiritual authority to be respected, and refrains from meddling with things beyond its competence, the spiritual authority, on its side, recognizes in the temporal prince a power that comes from God, and, by imposing on its subjects both interior and exterior submission, vindicates the majesty of the law, secures the triumph of order, and the stability of thrones and States. This is the basis of the Christian organization of society, as well as the guarantee of the dignity of man. (See “The Fact Divine,” by Broeckaert, S.J., p. 242.)




§ I. Independence of the Spiritual Power




Taken from the expressed will of Jesus Christ.


It was to St. Peter and to his successors that Jesus Christ confided the government of His Church.

Pope Leo XIII says, in his Encyclical Immortale Dei (A.D. 1885):

 “It is to the Church and not to the State that belongs the right to guide men to celestial things; it is to the Church that God has given the command to take cognizance of and to decide everything that relates to religion, to teach all nations, to extend, as far as possible, the frontiers of the Christian name; in a word, to administer freely and as she sees fit, the Christian interests of the souls confided to her care.”


It is evident that to attempt to subject the Church to any other power than that which God has established, would be to strive to overthrow the work of God Himself.



Taken from the more exalted end or purpose of the Church.


Civil society has for its direct object the securing to man of material comforts and protec­tion, aiding him in the preservation and development of his natural faculties and resources in the civil and intellectual order. Religious society, or the Church, has for its special end to enable man to reach perfect and eternal happiness.


To establish and spread the kingdom of God upon earth, to labor for the moral and supernatural perfection of man, to lead him to his supreme destiny, to secure to him the boundless happi­ness which consists in the eternal possession of God; all this evidently constitutes a mission immensely superior to that which belongs to civil power.


Pope Leo XIII says:

 “As the chief end of the Church is much more noble than all other purposes, it naturally follows that her power excels all other powers and it can in nowise be reckoned as inferior, or subject, or subordinate to the civil power.”




Deduced from the conduct of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.


Nowhere do we find Jesus Christ asking of the temporal rulers leave or authorization to preach, to assemble His disciples, to establish His Church.


Nowhere also does He command His Apostles to come to any agreement with civil Governments for the preaching of the Gospel and the exercise of their ministry.


He foretells to them, on the contrary, that they will be persecuted and cruelly treated by rulers and magistrates because of their mission.

Hence, we see that the Apostles announce everywhere the good tidings of salvation, they found churches, appoint Bishops, priests, deacons, enact disciplinary laws, obligatory on the Faithful, without ever concerning themselves in any way as to the powers of the world; if expelled from one place, they go to another; if they suffer injuries and cruel treatment, they rejoice at having suffered for the name of Christ. “And they, indeed, went from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.” (Acts 5, 41.)

They simply say: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4, 20.)


The Acts of the Apostles give us a striking example of this independence of the spiritual power.


The Jewish magistrates forbid the Apostles to preach the doctrine of Jesus, because, they say, they thereby disturb the public peace.

What is their answer? “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5, 29.)


Behold these two conflicting powers facing each other; on the one hand the Church, who insists on her right and duty of preaching the Gospel in order to realize her end, the salvation of souls, a matter of strictly spiritual interest; and on the other, the civil magistrates who forbid this preaching under the pretext of thus securing public peace, a matter of purely temporal interest.

And the Holy Ghost by the voice of Peter declares that the Church must not trouble herself about this prohibition. The inspired writer does not give any assurance that public order will not be troubled; he merely asserts the express will of God, that Christ’s Gospel should be preached everywhere.




Borrowed from ecclesiastical history.


The example of the Apostles has been faithfully fol­lowed by their successors in the Apostolate not only during the long period of sanguinary persecution, but throughout all the past ages.


As the above-quoted Encyclical tells us:

 “This authority, perfect and dependent only on its divine Author, the Church never ceased to claim as her own, and to exercise publicly without fear. Much more can she invoke in prin­ciple and as a matter of historical precedent the assent of rulers and heads of states, who in their negotiations and transactions, by the reciprocal sending of ambassadors and the exchange of other good offices, have always dealt with the Church as with a sovereign and legitimate power. And it was not without a particular disposition of Providence, we may say, that this authority was provided with a civil princi­pality or kingdom as the best safeguard of its independence in the exercise of its lofty functions.”




There is nothing in common between the su­periority of jurisdiction, of which we have just spoken, and theocracy, with which opponents strive to confound it.


Theocracy, which is the government of a civil society by a political law divinely revealed and by an authority established by God Himself, never existed except among the Jewish people, and that only during a certain period of its history.


It is true that frequently our adversaries designate by the name of theocracy a pretended domination, which they en­deavor to attribute to the clergy in things purely temporal.


But the Catholic doctrine, by proclaiming, as we shall now see, the absolute independence of the civil power in this matter renders such domination altogether impossible.


§ II. Independence of the Civil Power


Let the State adopt whatever measures it may desire in the matter of custom duties, taxation, the army, public works, etc., as long as it does not infringe upon the laws of God, and the rights of the Church, and the spiritual interests and chief end of man are not endangered by its legislation, the Church has nothing to say as to these purely secular mat­ters, which concern only the temporal happiness of the people.


In other words, the Church does not claim, by virtue of her institution, any power over civil society in matters purely temporal, which are connected only with earthly interests.


Civil order,” says Leo XIII in speaking of rulers, “is en­tirely subject to their power and sovereign authority.”




1. It follows from the preceding thesis that there exists between Church and State a real distinction, in­tended by Jesus Christ.

Let us, however, state at the same time that this distinction between the two powers is not rigor­ously essential. For God could have confided to the same authority at the same time the double task of securing the temporal and the spiritual end of man.

He might also have constituted the kings of the earth lieutenants of the Head of the Church, receiving their powers from Him and governing in His name; but He did not so will. In reality Jesus Christ willed that each one of those two ends should be procured by a special authority, distinct and independent in its own sphere of action.


2. From what we have said about the powers conferred by Jesus Christ upon His Church, and the independence which He guaranteed to her with regard to civil authority, it follows, by virtue of the definition already given, that the Church is truly a perfect society.

Hence, also, follows the condemnation of pagan Cæsarism and all the encroachments of the civil power upon the liberty of the Church which history records.


§ III. Rights of the Church


It will not be out of place to enumerate here some of the rights which the Church justly and lawfully claims.

To deprive the Church of any of these rights, is to attack the independence which belongs to her as a perfect society, pos­sessing in herself, according to the sovereign command of Jesus Christ, her Founder, all the means necessary for her preservation and action in order to attain her end.


A. The Church has the right to fulfill freely her mission and to exercise the powers that she received from her divine Founder, without having to ask the authorization of the civil power, nor can she be subjected to its control or intervention.


Accordingly, it depends upon herself alone, in all that con­cerns the teaching of dogma and morals, the administration of the Sacraments, the election of her Pontiffs; the founding and governing of seminaries and religious communities, the conferring of ecclesiastical offices, etc.

No one has the right to prevent the Sovereign Pontiff from communicating with the clergy and the Faithful, nor to impede the promulgation of his decrees, nor to prevent the execution of his Encyclical Letters, called bulls.


The so-called royal placet and exequa­tur, by which civil rulers sometimes claim to have the right to control the acts of the spiritual power, are illicit and invalid, unless they be the results of a concordat, that is to say, of a concession freely made by the ecclesiastical authority itself.


B. As every member of the Church is composed of a double nature, a body and a soul, so be is to be led to his last end by means appropriate to that double nature.


Hence, it follows:


a. The Church has the right to prescribe to her mem­bers not only things purely interior and spiritual, but also things external and corporal, such as fasting, alms-giving, attendance at Church services, etc.


b. That she has the right and the obligation, derived from her Founder, to exercise outwardly and publicly divine wor­ship, and consequently to prescribe exterior and public cere­monies, such as processions, pilgrimages.


She has the right to procure the material means necessary for the exercise of worship, the support of her ministers, the construction and preservation of sacred edifices; and since temporal possessions are absolutely necessary to her, she has the right to acquire and own them as her legitimate property, which the secular power is bound to protect.


c.  The Church has the right to exact obedience from her members, to constrain rebels to submission by spiritual as well as by corporal penalties, both for their own correetion and reform, and for the example and warning of others.




In temporal matters there are cases in which there intervenes, either regularly or exceptionally, a spiritual in­terest to be safeguarded by the Church, although the matters in question may not be completely transferred to her domain on account of some spiritual interest at stake.

This, for instance, is the case as to the temporal possessions of the Church. They are called “mixed things.”


“Everything,” says Leo XIII, “which in human affairs is sacred by whatso­ever title, everything which concerns the salvation of souls and the worship of God, either through its nature or with respect to its end, all these things belong to the authority of the Church.”


In all this the Church finds herself within the sphere of her own jurisdiction, and consequently she has the right to exercise her authority, as well towards Governments as towards private individuals.


Moreover, history attests that in questions of this nature, the Church always endeavors to come to an amicable understanding with the State, with a view to settle these questions by a common agreement, rather than to decide them by acts of her supreme authority.

Let us add the following words from the Encyclical already quoted above:


 “There are times when there prevails another way of se­curing concord, and guaranteeing peace and liberty. Heads of States and the Sovereign Pontiffs come to an agreement by a treaty as to some particular point. Under these circum­stances the Church gives striking proofs of her maternal charity by extending as far as possible her indulgent conde­scensions.”


The present thesis is a logical deduction from the preceding one. However, because of its importance in the times in which we live, it is advisable to insist upon some of the arguments usually alleged in its support.




Taken from the very purpose or end of the Church.


This purpose is infinitely more important than that of the State. What, indeed, are, after all, temporal goods compared to those of eternity? “What doth it profit a man,” says our Lord, “if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matt. 16, 26.)

All the goods of this earth, and civil society itself, are evidently nothing else but means given by God to man to lead him to the supreme and eternal goal, to the possession of heavenly happiness. Governments, having as their own and immediate purpose the temporal happiness of man, should, therefore, in all things which concern the last end of man, be subordinate to the Church.


“The art of the pilot,” says St. Thomas, “rules that of the sailor, the architect that of the mason, and the arts of peace those of war.”




Taken from Catholic Tradition and Pontifical decisions.


Cardinal Tarquini, S.J. (1874), in his excellent standard work, “Juris Ecclesiastici Publici Institutiones” (Disserta­tions on the Public Law of the Church), says:


“All the Fathers of the Church have always taught that the purpose of civil society and its government should be subordinate to the Church, just as the body is sub­ject to the soul.”


This is also shown by the decisions of the Holy See. Not only has Pius IX condemned the 42nd proposi­tion of the Syllabus which reads: “In the case of conflict between the two powers, civil law prevails”; but in his cele­brated Encyclical Quanta cura (Dec. 8, 1864), basing his words on the principles laid down by many of his predecessors, he expresses himself more clearly still:


 ‘‘It is certain that whenever it is a question of divine things, the best interests of earthly rulers would be secured, if they were to adhere to what God has wisely ordained, and submit the royal will to that of the ministers of Christ, and never prefer their own to theirs.”




The conflicts of which we have spoken are always to be regretted, and they invariably prove hurtful to the State as well as to the Church.

Hence it is necessary, as Leo XIII says, “That there should exist between the two powers a well-regulated system of relations, not without analogy to that which in man constitutes the union of soul and body.”


The wise providence of God, which has established both powers, has supplied their wants by indicating the relations which they are to bear to each other. It is these relations that form the object of this thesis, divided into two parts.


§ IV. The Church Owes Assistance and Protection to the State


This duty needs no demonstration, and the Church does not question this obligation, provided there be no denial of her right to determine in a sovereign, independent way its extent and practical bearing.


She fulfills this duty by her teaching as to the divine origin of the temporal power and as to the necessity of obedience to all lawful authority; she fulfills it by her prayers, her Sacraments and public worship, which furnish to the subjects of the State the moral strength needed to fulfill their civil obligations.


The Church should also, in case of necessity, make use of spiritual penalties to compel subjects to fulfill their duty to the State; finally, there may occur circumstances in which the Church would consider herself obliged to help the State by pecuniary sacrifices, even by the giving up to the civil power a part of her temporal possessions.



§ VII. The Temporal Power in Its Turn Owes Aid and Assistance to the Church




a. By causing justice, order and tranquillity to reign in the State, so as to permit the Church to exercise efficaciously her salutary action in behalf of the people.


b. In being careful not to encroach upon the rights of the Church, and not to permit anyone to interfere with her in the fulfillment of her divine mission, the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, the exercise of religious worship, and in the spiritual government of her flock.




The State owes to the Church positive and direct assistance, without, however, ever going outside of the sphere that belongs to it.

It is its duty, for instance, to place its legislation in harmony with divine and ecclesiastical laws; to sanction, as far as circumstances demand and permit, the laws of the Church, by enforcing temporal penalties on their transgressors; to provide, if necessary, for the support of the clergy and of divine worship.


We shall give a few proofs of this direct duty, which is frequently denied.




Taken from the very purposes or designs of Almighty God.

In creating man, God had in view both His own glory and the eternal salvation of His creature, raised by Him to the dignity of His adopted child.

It is to secure for him this happiness, that He sent His Son upon the earth, that He established the Church, and that He desires her propagation and the freedom to which she is justly entitled in the discharge of her mission.

If, therefore, He delegates a part of His authority to rulers of States, it is not only that they may assure to their subjects peace and prosperity here on earth, it is also that they may help them to reach the supreme goal of their present existence.

Hence, every man should desire and seek for the good things of this world only in so far as they help him to obtain eternal happiness.

Hence it results that the depositaries of civil power cannot demand obedience in the name of God, except in view of this same end.

They should, therefore, labor, as far as circumstances permit and within the limits of their sphere, for the maintenance and progress of the true religion, which alone leads to salvation.




Taken from the social royalty of Jesus Christ.


Jesus Christ is God: hence absolute sover­eignty over everything that exists belongs essentially to the Deity; He is the King of civil societies as well as of families and their individual members.

This royalty has been dis­tinctly proclaimed both in the Old and in the New Testament.

“All kings of the earth shall adore Him,” says David, “all nations shall serve Him.” (Ps. 71, 11)

“The nation and the kingdom, that will not serve thee, shall perish.” (Is. 60, 12)

“And He (the Lord) gave Him power and glory and a king­dom; and all peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve Him; His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away; and His kingdom that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7, 14)

“God hath exalted Him,” says St. Paul, “and hath given Him a name which is above all names. That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those that are in heaven, in earth and under the earth.” (Philip. 2, 9-10)

“Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet; He left nothing not subject to Him.” (Heb. 2, 8)

■ Also the emphatic affirmation of the Savior Himself: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28, 18.)

By virtue of the authority, which belongs to Him as God, Jesus Christ might have taken into His own hands the temporal sceptre of the whole world, just as He did assume to Himself the spiritual.

He did not so will; it pleased Him to leave to rulers power over things purely human. But if His kingdom is not of this world, if He commands men to render to Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar, He cannot permit that man should with impunity refuse to render to God what belongs to God.

He made His religion obligatory not only on isolated indi­viduals, but also on civil society itself.

Nations like individ­uals are bound to obey the law of the Gospel, and the holders of political power are obliged in conscience to help as much as they can, in order that God’s sovereign will may be carried into execution, for “He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords.” (Apoc. 19, 16.)




Drawn from the interest and well-being of the State itself.


The prosperity of the State and the realization of its proper and immediate end, that is, the temporal happiness of its members, require that it should con­tribute according to its ability to the prosperity of the Church.

Without religion no civil society can be permanent and prosperous.

It is religion that is its basis, because it explains in an authoritative manner the origin of society and the legiti­macy of the social power.

It is religion that points out what, in the designs of God, is the firm foundation on which loyal obedience rests, and causes justice, charity, peace and concord to reign among its citizens.

Evidently, it is the true religion that is here referred to, that is, the religion which contains all the truths without mingling of error, the religion that renders to God the legitimate worship due to Him and gives to man through the Sacraments instituted by Christ the supernatural strength needed to accomplish his duties to God, to himself and to his fellow men.

Such religion becomes thereby the strongest support of the State and contributes most effica­ciously to the attainment of its special immediate end, which is the temporal welfare of its subjects.

Above all, religion should preside over civil legislation. All laws must be in harmony with God’s eternal law, which is the infallible rule of right and wrong.

Deprive political legislation of this essential condition, and you strip your legis lative measures of all validity before God as well as before men.

It was for this reason that the great legislators of an­tiquity pretended to a divine assistance and sanction in fram­ing and promulgating their code.

Whoever imagines that he can make laws without regard to religion is more a tyrant than a legislator, for, by ignoring or disregarding the rights of God, he will trample under foot those of man.

History tells in its every page that the decline and downfall of nations have ever been caused by immorality and irreligion.

This is but the fulfillment of the divine words registered in the book of Proverbs, ch. 14, 34. “Justice exalteth a nation; but sin maketh nations miserable.”

See the able essay of the late Cardinal Manning entitled, “Without God no Common­wealth,” in which he proves that the social and civil common­wealth of mankind has its origin and its perpetuity in the knowledge of God, and in obedience to Him springing from that knowledge, so that without God no commonwealth is possible.




Taken from the formal and explicit declarations of the Church.


See, for instance, the Encyclical of Gregory XVI (1832) and of Pius IX (1846), and the 55th, 77th and 78th condemned propositions of the Syllabus, issued by Pius IX, Dec. 8, 1864.


But let us hear what Leo XIII says on this subject in his Encyclical Immortale Dei (1885):


 “Political societies can­not, without crime, so conduct themselves as if God did not exist in any manner, or dispense with religion as a foreign and useless institution, or acknowledge one indifferently, viz., regardless of its truth or falsehood, according to their good pleasure. In honoring the Deity, they must strictly follow the rules and method according to which God has declared that He wished to be honored. Rulers of States must, therefore, hold as holy the name of God and place among their principal duties to befriend religion, to foster it by their benevolence, to protect it with the tutelary authority of the laws and to enact or decide nothing which may be contrary to its integrity.

“Civil society must, by promoting public pros­perity, provide for the welfare of the citizens in such a way as not only to place no obstacles, but to afford every facility to the pursuit and acquirement of that supreme and im­mutable welfare to which they aspire.”


And again in his Encyclical Libertas præstantissimum (1888):

 “Public power was established for the advantage of those who are governed, and though its proximate end is to lead citizens to prosperity in this terrestrial life, yet it is its peremptory duty not to lessen, but rather to increase for man, the faculty of attaining the supreme and sovereign good which is the eternal felicity of men in the world to come, a task which becomes utterly impossible without religion.”


[1] Taken from « Christian Apologetcics », by Rev. W. Devivier, S.J., Vol. II ; 1924.