A Column of
Vatican II Turnaround on the
Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
My friend Jan recently wrote me asking for “something about the separation
of Church and State doctrine in the catechism or Church teaching.” She said
she didn’t believe in separation of Church and State but she had been
challenged by friends and did not know how to defend it.
The challenge came in the wake of the Pope’s recent four day visit to
France, where he spoke several times praising the separation of Church and
State, of which France has been the standard bearer since 1789. In remarks
to French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Elysée Palace on September 12,
Benedict called for a “healthy” form of laicism and said the time had come
to “reopen” the Church/State debate in France.
And what would the Church position be? In conflict with Church teaching
prior to Vatican II, he followed the actions of five conciliar Popes, (1)
insisting on separation between the political and the religious spheres. (2)
Three days later, speaking to the French Bishops at the Hemicycle of St.
Bernadette in Lourdes, Benedict confirmed his aim to work within the
“current institutional framework” of secular France.(3)
Benedict approves the secularized State established by the French Revolution
Returning to the Vatican and addressing 8,000 people, he referred to his
trip to France where “the healthy distinction between the political and
religious spheres developed.” This “healthy distinction” seems to be a very
tricky expression. Indeed, no one questions that there is a theoretical
distinction between the two spheres. However, this distinction should not
lead to the practical “separation of Church and State” as it exists today,
born from the French Revolution. But when Pope Ratzinger applies the concept
of a “healthy distinction” between the two spheres within the “current
institutional framework” of France, he is actually approving the separation
of Church and State that resulted from the French Revolution, in opposition
to the teaching of the pre-conciliar Popes.
So, in six days, Benedict thrice reaffirmed the separation of Church and
State that has existed in modern States modeled by the French Revolution.
This is, I might note, consistent with his previous positions as cardinal,
when he enthusiastically approved the new approach of the Conciliar Church
toward the Modern World, born from the French Revolution. Writing about the
constitution Gaudium et spes, Card. Joseph Ratzinger
called it a counter-Syllabus. (4) That is, instead of combating
Liberalism, as the Syllabus of Pius IX taught Catholics to do, we
should accept those errors. In 1990 the same Card. Ratzinger called the
Church’s anti-Modernist decisions in the Syllabus “obsolete.” (5)
Given the many years of this erroneous post-Conciliar teaching, telling us
that we must accept separation of Church and State as part of an inevitable
“progress,” it is not surprising that many people would assume this is a
legitimate, normal position. This is especially true of American Catholics,
who have always tended toward this liberal position.
However, it is a revolutionary position, strongly and firmly condemned by
the pre-conciliar Popes in indisputable terms, especially after the French
Revolution. As monarchies collapsed and revolutionary liberal democracies
were installed in Catholic nations, the Popes protested, noting that
governments based on the so-called will of the people, and not the law of
God, were doomed to decay and fail. That is, in fact, what is happening
How the Modern State was born
There were, of course, Liberals and Modernists inside the Church who were
trying to promote concepts like religious liberty and the separation of
Church and State. But the Magisterium stood firm in her centuries-old
position that the Church must safeguard the spiritual welfare of the people.
A radical turnaround came with the documents of Vatican II - especially
Gaudium and spes. (6) Conciliar Popes, Bishops and theologians began to give
open support to the ideals of the French Revolution.(7) Instead of the
Church orienting and influencing the temporal sphere, she began to adapt
herself to this false order established by the French Revolution. After a
century of Catholic fight against Liberalism, the Conciliar Church applauded
the religious liberty and separation of Church and State that she so
strongly opposed before. (8)
Liberalism does not refer to what we Americans normally call the “liberal”
customs and morals – also condemnable – of the modern world. Rather, it
refers to those who accepted the revolutionary Enlightenment principles of
“Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”
As Guimaraes notes, “By extension, the liberal accepted other
consequences of the French Revolution, such as the separation of Church and
State, secular education for children and youth, civil marriages and,
mainly, the idea that equal status should be given to all religions before
the civil law. ” [emphasis added] (9)
Teaching on Church-State relations
Here I present some documents with the aim of helping Jan in her discussions
with friends. Far from being an exhaustive list, it constitutes only a few
Already in the 5th century Pope St. Gelasius I was teaching the principle of
the “two powers” – the “holy authority of the Bishops” and the “royal power”
– that established the base for the Church’s view on Church and State until
the 20th century (11). These two powers were to be considered independent in
their own spheres of operation, with the State being subordinate to the
Church in spiritual matters. That is to say, the Church would have a direct
power over spiritual things and an indirect power over temporal things
whenever they have to do with the salvation of souls.
One of the most important teachings is the Bull Unam Sanctam of Pope
Boniface VIII. In it he defines the two swords – the spiritual and the
temporal – and affirms that “the latter must be exercised for the Church,
the former by the Church.” For “one sword must be subordinated to the other,
and temporal authority subjected to spiritual power … Hence we must
recognize clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility
any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal … For
with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the
terrestrial power and to pass judgment if it has not been good.” (DR 469)
"That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely
false, a most pernicious error"
The Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, affirms this
teaching: “Both powers originate in God. Therefore the secular power is
subordinate to the spiritual power in matters that concern the salvation of
souls. In matters that concern more the civil common good, a person is
obliged to obey the secular rather than the spiritual power.” (12)
For example, raising taxes or building a new road would not pertain to the
sphere of the Church, and thus she should not interfere in such matters. A
law permitting abortion, however, would most certainly involve the spiritual
welfare of the people, and the Church has a duty to condemn it and do all it
can to not permit it.
From this wise relationship came Christian Civilization, which is, quite
simply put, “the structuring of all human relations, of all human
institutions, and of the State itself according to the doctrine of the
As Pope Leo XIII so beautifully taught, the ideal State is the Catholic
State that follows the Gospel, where the laws, customs and institutions are
influenced by the Church. (14) He called this beneficial Church/State
relationship “a never-changing law” that brings forth abundant fruit. When
it falters, not only do smaller interests fail to prosper, but “things of
greatest moment fall into deplorable decay.” (15) This is what we are seeing
today in almost all the modern States.
Leo XIII’s argument on the supremacy of the Catholic Church over the State
is irrefutable: “And just as the end at which the Church aims is by far the
most noble of the ends, so also is her authority the most exalted of all
authority, and can in no way be looked upon as inferior to the civil power
or in any way subject to it.” 16)
Fighting the Liberalism of his time, Pope St. Pius X taught that the Church
must have the authority to promote the proper end of society – the salvation
of its members – and direct all its members toward that end. “That the State
must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most
pernicious error,” he states firmly. “Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never
ceased, as circumstances required, refuting and condemning the doctrine of
the separation of Church and State. (17)
The Church has the “right and authority to promote the end of society and
direct all its members toward that end,” he insisted. (18) It is the
opposite of what Pope Ratzinger affirmed in France.
On his 1977 trip to France, JPII praised the liberty and equality of the
Pope Leo XIII insists that the State has the natural obligation to assure
that the people will live according to the laws of God. He calls the
separation between Church and State “an absurdity” for, “since God is the
source of all goodness and justice, it is absolutely ridiculous that the
State should pay no attention to the laws of God or render them abortive by
contrary enactments. The State is not only obligated to protect the temporal
and physical well-being of the people, it is obligated to protect their
spiritual well-being as well.” (19)
In his encyclical on the Kingship of Christ, Pope Pius XI warns that human
society will totter and fall if God continues to be excluded from political
life and if authority is considered to be derived not from God, but from
How true his prediction has proved to be! In the laicized modern-day France
that Benedict recently visited, regular Mass attendance among Catholics is
edging below 10%. Church weddings have dropped from 147,000 in 1990 to
89,000 in 2006. One abortion per each five live births has been a constant
for the past 30 years. Homosexual marriages are permitted.
One can’t help but wonder why Benedict XVI on his recent trip to France
didn’t address this sad state of spiritual health instead of supporting the
current “institutional framework” that generated it?
1. Atila Guimaraes carefully documents Paul VI and
John Paul II’s praise of the trilogy “Liberty-Equality-Fraternity” in Vol. V
of his Collection: Animus Delendi I,
(TIA: 2000), chap. IV, pp. 207-213. For example, on John Paul II’s trip to
Lourdes in 1983, he praised “the efforts of its citizens to keep it worthy
of the country’s traditions of liberty and fraternity.”
2. John Allen, “Benedict makes a case for 'healthy secularism,'” National
Catholic Reporter online, September 12, 2008
3.”Pope Speaks to French Bishops,” Vatican Information Service,
September 15, 2008
4. Progressivist Document of the Week, TIA website,
Card. Ratzinger: Gaudium et Spes is a "counter-Syllabus"
5. He made these statements on the launching of the Instruction on the
Theologian’s Ecclesial Vocation published in L’Osservatore Romano,
June 27, 1990. See A. S. Guimaraes, In the Murky
Waters of Vatican II (TIA, 2008, 3rd ed.), p. 271-272.
6. For excerpts from Vatican II documents that defend or open the door to
the principles of 1789, see A. Guimaraes, Animus Delendi I, pp.
7. Ibid, pp. 202-206.
8. For pontifical documents condemning the principles of the revolutionary
triad, the foundation stones of the modern world, see In the Murky Waters
of Vatican II, Chap. I, footnote 14.
9. A. Guimaraes, “Liberals,
Modernists and Progressivists
10. More examples of Church teaching on the Vatican opening to the modern
world can be found in Chapter IX of In the Murky Waters of Vatican II,
pp. 253-278; Animus Delendi I, pp. 201-230, Animus Delendi II,
part 1, first premise pp.43-48. See also Patrick Odou,
Hillaire Belloc, the Liberal - Part I, which shows the teaching of four
Popes who took strong stands against the principles of the French
11. Letter to Anastasius Duo sunt, in 494,
Medieval Sourcebook: Gelasius I on Spiritual and Temporal Power
12. Summa Theologica, Sent. II, Dist. 44. Q. 2, 5, ad 3, 4
13. Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution
(Foundation for a Christian Civilization: 1980), 2nd ed., p. 60
14. Pope Leo XIII teaches: “There was once a time when States were governed
by the philosophy of the Gospel. Then it was that the power and divine
virtue of Christian wisdom had diffused itself throughout the laws,
institutions, and morals of the people, permeating all ranks and relations
of civil society. Then, too, the religion instituted by Jesus Christ,
established firmly in befitting dignity, flourished everywhere, by the favor
of princes and the legitimate protection of magistrates; and Church and
State were happily united in concord and friendly interchange of good
offices. The State, constituted in this wise, bore fruits important beyond
all expectation, whose remembrance is still, and always will be, in renown,
witnessed to as they are by countless proofs which can never be blotted out
or ever obscured by any craft of any enemies” (Encyclical Immortale Dei
of November 1, 18985, in ibid., pp. 56-57).
15. Yves of Chartres, Epist. 238, to Pope Paschal II (PL 162, 246B), in. Leo
XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, (Paris: Bonne Bress), p. 40.
16. Immortale Dei, n. 16.
17. Encyclical Vehementer Nos of February 11, 1906, No. 3.
19 Encyclical Libertas Praestantissimum of June 20, 1988, No. 18.
20. Encyclical Quas Primas of December 11, 1925, No. 31.
Posted on September 23, 2008
Related Topics of Interest
Ratzinger: Gaudium et Spes Is a "Counter-Syllabus"
Modernists and Progressivists
Hillaire Belloc, the Liberal -
Popes Oppose the French Revolution
R-CR in the Tendencies,
Ideas, and Facts
The State Must Be Subordinate to
The Steps of an
The Waning Authority of the
Church in the Temporal Sphere
Talks with Jan | Religious |
Home | Books | CDs
| Search | Contact Us
Tradition in Action, Inc. All Rights Reserved