Church and State
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
“And there’s another country I’ve heard of long ago, Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know.” 1
The dedication anniversary of the Roman cathedral, the Lateran Basilica, since it is the head and mother of all churches throughout the world, offers us an opportunity to examine the mystery of the Church. This is all the more poignant because of the contrast between this spiritual society and civil society which is so glaring over the last week.
The Catholic Church defies easy definition, but there are scriptural images that emphasize one or another of its aspects. It is the People of God, gathered by the Father. It is the Mystical Body of Christ. It is also the Temple of the Holy Spirit. But one of the entrance antiphons in the Roman Missal for this feast quotes the Apocalypse of St. John: “I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.”
The holy city. The new Jerusalem. Coming down out of heaven from God. Holiness is the sum of all the Church is and stands for. God, Who is all-holy, is her founder, her builder. She comes from Him and returns to Him, ever united to Him, and so is ever new. This stands in stark contrast with the earthly city, built by man, secular in its nature, so often anything but holy, trying to escape God’s grasp at every turn and thus doomed to decay even in its inception.
This city is founded on Christ Jesus, with a secondary foundation of the Apostles. Such a firm foundation will last forever. Our earthly state is blown by the winds of popular vote, fraudulent or not. Even the best of nations hardly lasts for a few hundred years and then is consigned to archeology. Babylon is in ruins to this day, “fallen every purple Caesar’s dome,”2 and the Turks inhabit Constantinople.
Here in the United States, we appear to have a representative democracy, although the disease of socialism has been infecting us for decades, to the point now where an ideology directly contrary to the founding principles of our nation is not only granted equal status but also political immunity as it plans and wreaks revolution. Will we still have a president? Christ, however, is the King of the Church, its true monarch—invisible to us now, ’tis true, but still mysteriously working through the visible head of the Church to unfold His providential design. “We may not count her armies, we may not see her King,”3 but He cannot be overthrown; there can be no revolution. Besides, His approval rating is somewhere in the 100% range.
And therefore the laws of this country, which are now approaching the farce of the moribund Roman Republic, when laws retroactively made good changes illegal and their proponents criminals—our nation’s laws, and many nations’ laws, so enshrine what is unnatural that those who a decade ago never thought to uphold them now apologize for having been so blind. On the contrary, the laws of our Church intend to protect true justice and thus help souls get to heaven, for the salvation of souls is the highest law of the Church. Our law is the Gospel, the law of grace. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”4
Jerusalem means “Vision of Peace.” True peace comes from God and extends to all, even our enemies, for the Church prays even for her persecutors. But what peace can states have when God is evicted from political assemblies? Is peace with fellowmen then anything other than a temporary ceasefire? Does not the whole history of atheistic revolution show that sooner or later they turn and devour one another, as Robespierre was by his own Reign of Terror?
The separation of Church and state, as expressed in the First Amendment, is clearly to protect the Church from the state, not vice versa. But separation between our nation and our portion of the heavenly Jerusalem does not necessitate animosity between the two. There will always be enmity between socialism and the Church, but the state doesn’t have to be socialist. In fact, it is contrary to the common good of any nation even on a secular level that it be socialist. But even maintaining a healthy delineation of realms of jurisdiction and action, that state which is more informed by the Christian ethic will more abound with that internal peace which is the goal of every nation.
And so, as we pray for our teetering nation that it not fall off the precipice into the chasm of socialism—something we hardly know to be God’s will—so also we pray for the survival, increase, and ultimate triumph of the Church—something we certainly know to be God’s will to grant, and to grant through our prayers, until that day when the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down in its final perfection out of heaven from God.
“And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”5
1 From the hymn, “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” by Sir Cecil Spring Rice.
2 From the poem, “To Virgil,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
3 From the hymn, “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” by Sir Cecil Spring Rice.
4 Rom. 1:16.
5 From the hymn, “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” by Sir Cecil Spring Rice.
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’”
It can be an uncomfortable experience when we’ve “put in our place,” reminded of our lower status, that we are not always in charge. This is what appears to be happening in the daunting scenario Jesus proposes to His apostles today.
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