Church and State

An understanding of the relationship that should exist between Church and State in a Catholic country such, at present, as Italy, requires a clear perception of the nature and functions of each. Both are perfect societies. That is, each has its own paramount purpose to attain, and each is endowed with the rights and powers necessary to secure that end. The purpose of the State is to provide for the natural well-being and happiness of its citizens, and to this end it has dominion, within the scope of its rights, over all individuals and groups that comprise it, with power of coercion limited only by the Divine law either of nature or of revelation. The purpose of the Church is to secure the supernatural well-being of her members, that is, to prepare them for the state of supernatural beatitude after death to which the Divine Will has destined them. The spheres, then, of these two societies are separate, that of the State being whatever concerns the material welfare, the peace and order of human society, and that of the Church being what concerns the spiritual welfare of men. Their jurisdiction, however, is over the same individuals. Both are of Divine origin, the State indirectly through the natural law and the Church directly through the ordination of Christ. Each is supreme in its own field and not subject to usurpation of its rights by the other. Should a question arise, however, of disputed jurisdiction, and agreement is impossible of attainment, strictly speaking the position of the Church should prevail as being a higher society than the State in its origin and end. However, as Leo XIII points out, in his Encyclical Christian Constitution of States, the two powers can find a way of agreement or modus vivendi, as the present pope has done and is still doing in so many instances. Furthermore, since the natural welfare of men cannot be dissociated from their supernatural welfare, the State should protect the Church, foster its interests, and recognize it as the public and official State religion. On the other hand, the Church should respect the jurisdiction of the civil power as supreme in its own sphere, and teach respect and obedience to that authority as of divine obligation. This mutual relationship should hold where the majority of its citizens are Catholics. Where the majority of the citizens of a state are not Catholics, the Church for reasons of policy does not insist on recognition as the State religion. In a non-Christian State recognition of the Church as the State religion is out of the question as the Church has no jurisdiction in right or in fact over unbaptized persons. There the Church should be accorded the toleration and protection given to any corporate body with full freedom to administer its own affairs. This is the practical position of the Church today in all countries where it is not the State religion.

New Catholic Dictionary

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