Many Anglicans have heard or read the word Erastian or Erastianism without really understanding what the word really means. Erastianism is a political theory of absolute state primacy over the church. The idea comes from Thomas Erastus (1524-1583), a Calvinist who debated whether religious leaders had the right to punish sinners and dissidents in matters of doctrine. He argued that sinners (against church precepts or morality, or those who for example denied the Trinity) should be punished by the State.

The idea of the State in control of the Church is an old one, and the ultimate cause of the increase in the political power of the Papacy. The Church under Constantine is the first example of an official established Church. History is characterised by the Church being under the control of a strong State and being independent at times when the secular power was weak or non-existent. Soloviev quoted Saint Jerome as saying: Ecclesia persecutionibus crevit; post quam ad christianos principes venit, potentia quidem et divitiis maior, sed virtutibus minor facta est (The Church firstly languished under persecution. After this, she turned to Christian rulers who gave her wealth and power, but she thereby grew weaker in virtue).

The power the Church obtained from kings and emperors prepared the way towards the schisms between Rome and the Oriental Patriarchates, Luther, King Henry VIII and the Church of England, the Church of Utrecht and the Old Catholics. The principle of Cuius Rex eius religio (literally "whose king, whose religion" – the "Vicar of Bray syndrome" – not having any real religious convictions but just going along with one's country's ruler, and changing as the regime changed) ran parallel with the rival claims of the Popes. The Church in Russia and the Balkans was subjected to imperial domination, a sort of cæsaro-papalism, and in the West, the rule was papo-cæsarism. The Anglican theologian Eric Mascall, in The Recovery of Unity, made the remarkable observation that "the causes of Christian disunity are to be found in the agreements of Christians rather than in their disagreements". Does not all this ring a bell in the collaboration of churchmen in present-day anti-Christian agendas?

The historian will easily identify the first step of the rise of the Papacy in the Gregorian Reform undertaken by after Gregory VII (1073–85). The essential theory behind this reform, which imposed clerical celibacy in the western Church, consisted of affirming that the Church was founded by God and entrusted with the task of embracing all mankind in a single society in which divine will is the only law; that, in her capacity as a divine institution, she is supreme over all human structures, especially the secular state; and that the pope, in his role as head of the Church under the petrine commission, is the vice-regent of God on earth, so that disobedience to him implies disobedience to God: or, in other words, a defection from Christianity. This, under Boniface VIII, who issued Unam sanctam in 1302, became the two swords. Both spiritual and temporal power were to be under the pope's jurisdiction, and that kings were subordinate to the power of the Church.

Now we understand the reason for the revolt of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII before her against the Papacy! It was simple rivalry over who pretended political power, the local Monarch or the Pope as Emperor of the world. This is the whole key to understanding what has gone on in the Christian world since the fourth century, but especially since the mid eleventh century, which was – no coincidence – the fateful year 1054, the schism between Rome and the Byzantine Church.

As the power of the Papacy became extreme through centuries of weak kings and princes, that power went to their heads and corruption set in. What do you do when you want a check on the Pope’s power? You’ve got it. Put the Church under secular authority. That is what the Reformation was all about. The doctrines of Protestantism, the famous solas, was all about making priests and bishops unnecessary. If the clergy is not necessary for salvation, you do away with the Pope, bishops and priests at one fell swoop – but don’t imagine for a moment that this was to give freedom to the people! This is where Erastus and the tyranny of the Protestant State came in. The people would go on tithing, but no longer to the clergy but to line the pockets of politicians and corrupt officials.

When I consider all this, I look upon the demise of Establishment Anglicanism with a feeling of relief. I compare it with the demise of European Establishment Catholicism in the nineteenth century, in the wake of the French Revolution. The doctrine of the separation of Church and State, as it developed in nineteenth century liberalism, was called madness by Gregory XVI in 1832 when he condemned Lamennais. But, it was the only solution for the freedom of the Church from atheistic and anti-clerical political authorities. This is what the document on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, was all about. The State and the Church are two radically separate entities.

Some traditionalists would like to see the State reinforce their agenda and uphold the Social Kingship of Christ. They are living in a fantasy world. The people they would ask to punish heretics by putting them in prison and making them pay fines are those who legislate for abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage and curbs on religious expressions in public places. But, the price of disestablishment is not having the grand buildings one had and the money to finance their upkeep. The Church becomes a private enterprise and has to be financed as such, either by getting people to tithe or earning money.

The Church lives in a world of negative secularism, the ideology that has reigned in France since the Revolution and the anti-clerical era of the 1900’s. It now characterises England’s New Labour and political correctness. The Church does just fine if it collaborates with all this stuff, accepts secular moral / ethical tenets, waters down any requirement religion will make of our moral conduct. But, from the moment the Church complains about abortion, equal opportunities laws to an unreasonable extent – and so forth, persecution is not far away.

I am brought to realise that one aspect of Anglican patrimony will have to go, that of Erastianism or its modern equivalent. It is ironic that some of those who are most vocal in upholding “classical” Anglicanism are those who live in countries where the Church is free in a free State. Isn’t it amazing that you don’t find this way of thinking in England? A few days ago, I received a series of highly rude and aggressive e-mails from a person claiming to be an ordinary Anglican lay parishioner in the north of England. I am English, and know our people have lived under the Established Church. I examined the headers of the e-mails in question, and found the IP address based in Florida – an American! Of course! Is it not amazing that those who live in a free country are those who often despise the freedom of other people’s consciences? Thank goodness there are some wonderful American Anglicans and Catholics who are grateful to be free and love the freedom of others!

At last, we have a Pope who is a theologian and a historian. He has no ambition to be a secular emperor, but he does take his role to govern the Church seriously, and will not allow himself to be trodden underfoot by the atheist and the negative secularist. The Church has to live in a secular world, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The USA is an example of a secular state that traditionally respects the freedom of conscience and all religions. The price of the Church’s freedom from political interference is the freedom of non-religious people from specifically religious tenets. We can’t have it both ways.

For the first four centuries of the Church’s existence, Christians lived either under persecution or indifference. The Christian community celebrated the liturgy and the Sacraments, studied the Scriptures and the Fathers, prayed and waited for the Parousia. Today, it is the life of monks, and increasingly of the rest of us. We try to have a moral influence on the world as much as possible, but we should try to do so through positive witness and not violence and shows of fanatical behaviour. We are free, but we no longer have the power churches once had. The price is paid and our survival depends on the authenticity of our religion and the quality of our faith, love and prayer.

We will be observed and judged for our love for each other.

Author: Fr. Anthony Chadwick

Father Anthony Chadwick was born in the north of England into an Anglican family. He was educated in one of the Church of England’s most well-known schools, St. Peter’s in York, at which he was nurtured in the Anglican musical tradition. After several years studying and working in London he studied theology at university level in Switzerland, Italy and France. Still living in France, he has been a priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion (under Archbishop Hepworth) since 2005. Fr. Chadwick is charged with chaplaincy work among dispersed Anglicans in the north of France, is married and lives in Normandy. His interests outside the Church and directly religious matters include classical music, DIY and sailing. As a non-stipendiary priest, he earns his living as a technical translator.

24 thoughts on “Erastianism”

  1. Forgive me, Father. I can struggle to get the gist of the Latin quotes, but I'm sure very many of your readers, if not most, will not be able at all. Would you please put a translation in brackets? Your thoughtful writing deserves to be understood by all.

  2. Just a little coda to my posting:

    I came across a charming comment in guess where. Yes, you’ve got it and won a cigar!

    I read therein after a thorough trashing of the TAC along with the American Episcopalian Church and the Church of England. The future of Anglicanism lies not in the spiritually bankrupt churches of … yada yada… This is nothing new or even worth quoting.

    The next bit is what grabbed me:

    Anglicanism rests solely in the continuing Churches. They are the successors to Cosmo Lang, Michael Ramsey and other saintly Canterbury Metropolitans. (…) It is our task to re-evangelise, to rebuild the faith and dignity of the Anglican patrimony.

    There is just one problem. They need to ask around and see if anyone has a spare King or Queen stashed away to make it work!

  3. I have read with a lot of interest your column, and I would like to add that Erastanism is not absent of some Catholic Churches in the world. The Chinese example is well known, with the Communist Party choosing Bishops without the agreement of Rome, and the Catholic Church in China definiting itself as "Patriotic Church". There are less knowns examples, countries such as Vietnam where the Holy See proposes three names for the office of Bishop, the government picking the name that seem to it the most "appropriate" (the less opponents to communism). Even in countries known as democratic, the office of Bishop can be reserved to citizens of the country, such as the Archbishop of Riga who cannot be anything else than Latvian. In Biélorussia, the Church has to ask the government to appoint bishops, and invite foreign Priests to work in the country.There are also local Churches (as the Catholic Church in France) wishing some independence regarding the Pope on the basis of the belonging to a nation, a sort of Ecclesiastic nationalism, such as our French Gallicanism that is still alive. I can continue for long with examples, this post intend to say that still today the national question is a topical in the Catholic Church.

    1. Erastianism is present in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This might not have been apparent, but it is my whole point. It is a constant throughout history. Every secular authority wants power over the Church because of the Church's moral influence, which often competes against ideologies and manipulation of people.

  4. Excellent post on this observation of church/state relations. However, you wrote:

    "The Church under Constantine is the first example of an official established Church"

    Not a major mis-statement but a common one; Constantine only liberated the church and made it equal with all other religions, he didn't establish it. He did play favorites with the various groups to his own advantage.
    It fell to Emperor Theodosius to 'establish' the church throughout the empire.

    As 'head' of the Church of England, I am bewildered at the lack of leadership that the Queen has exhibited over the years. I have read that she has had an interest in Orthodoxy (I believe Prince Philip is Orthodox and Prince Charles is interested), then I read she has possitive feelings for the Catholic Church and the current Pope (I think it's a German connection), and recently I read she is very 'low' church (whatever THAT means among the aristocracy!). So religious disfunction from the top down. What IS one to do!

    1. Thank you, a historical error on my part. I think it could be said, however, that freeing the Church and giving it some public status was a step towards establishment in the strict sense by Theodosius.

      What does one do? There are clearly three choices:
      – The Pope
      – The secular authority of the country where you live
      – The Catacombs or the desert

  5. I thought I should share this traditional English song with you, since I mentioned the Vicar of Bray. Between the Youtube recording and the text below, there are some divergences. Which is more authentic? Perhaps someone could tell me. I sang this song at school during our Friday morning singing lessons from the New National Song Book – but that was more than 40 years ago!

    In good King Charles's golden days,
    When loyalty no harm meant;
    A furious High-Church man I was,
    And so I gain'd preferment.
    Unto my flock I daily preach'd,
    Kings are by God appointed,
    And damn'd are those who dare resist,
    Or touch the Lord's anointed.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoever king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

    2. When Royal James possess'd the crown,
    And popery grew in fashion;
    The penal law I shouted down,
    And read the declaration:
    The Church of Rome, I found would fit,
    Full well my constitution,
    And I had been a Jesuit,
    But for the Revolution.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoer king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

    3. When William our deliverer came,
    To heal the nation's grievance,
    I turned the cat in pan again,
    And swore to him allegiance:
    Old principles I did revoke,
    Set conscience at a distance,
    Passive obedience is a joke,
    A jest is non-resistance.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoer king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

    4. When glorious Anne became our queen
    The Church of England's glory,
    Another face of things was seen,
    And I became a Tory:
    Occasional conformists base,
    I damn'd, and moderation,
    And thought the Church in danger was,
    From such prevarication.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoer king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

    5. When George in pudding time came o'er,
    And moderate men looked big, sir,
    My principles I chang'd once more,
    And so became a Whig, sir:
    And thus preferment I procur'd,
    From our faith's great defender,
    And almost every day abjur'd
    The Pope, and the Pretender.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoer king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

    6. The illustrious House of Hanover,
    And Protestant succession,
    To these I lustily will swear,
    Whilst they can keep possession:
    For in my faith, and loyalty,
    I never once will falter,
    George, my lawful king shall be,
    Except the times should alter.
    And this is law, I will maintain
    Unto my dying day, sir,
    That whatsoer king shall reign,
    I will be Vicar of Bray, sir!

  6. Thank you for this essay, Father. I have several friends I will want to read it.

    Clearly, now those who look for the state to ram-rod their ideology are racists, war-mongerers and despots. There was once a time when leaders, kings and queens were saintly… but Erastianism spawned Bolshevism, Nazism and Maoism (dare I include capitalism?). These are merely secular counterparts of the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi.

    I see the choices as reducible to two:
    (1) Hope (the Pope).
    (2) Despair (the rest).

  7. I think that we should not forget that one of the main early premises of papal authority and universal jurisdiction was not based upon the promise to Peter (which has had many differing interpretations throughout history), but the "Donation of Constantine" which purported that Emperor Constantine gave the world (The Roman Empire) to the Pope as his personal fiefdom. It has been proven a forgery, but was used throughout the middle ages to "prove" the Pope's authority.

    1. I can understand what you're getting at, and have read the relevant passage in Döllinger's The Pope and the Council and Hans Bernard Hasler's How the Pope become Infallible (with the nice cosy fireside chat preface by Hans Küng). It's a nice theory but leads nowhere – except abortion and lesbian bishopettes. I used to find the idea of Old Catholicism quite attractive, as with Gallicanism, "moderate Jansenism", "classical Anglicanism" – you name it. All those ways are stillborn and lead to a dead-end.

      Orthodoxy? It's not for western people except very exceptionally.

      The trouble is with all this is that it brings up more questions than offers answers, and the result is having to choose some Church authority – or postmodern secularism. One makes one's choice.

      I'll leave you with a reflection. In the spring of 1945, in Italy, Mussolini had been taken by the partisans and killed. Hitler has committed suicide and the Germans were defeated. Imagine Rome after the Liberation. There was no one left to lead the people – except one great man who had stayed in the Vatican throughout the war – Pope Pius XII. He gave the ravaged and war-torn people their soul and purpose for going on living.

      When earth's proud empires fade away, as we sing in one of my favourite evening hymns, the Pope with his outstretched arms is ready to welcome us. No historical precedent needed for that!

      Presently, I see no one more capable at this time of uniting the Church than the Pope.

      Whatever, even if the "Donation of Constantine" is now proven to be a forgery, we are always brought to the same point.

      The real point is all this is – to hell with historical precedent and let's start being pastoral towards Christians in need before there's no Church for anybody!

      1. This might make sense if the Donation was an isolated incident of forgery to prove universal jurisdiction, but it is not. The number of false decretals used throughout the ages to prove universal jurisdiction are well known. What I have found interesting in the information provided by the new Roman Catholic catechism is that it does appear that Rome is in some manner retreating from the ultramontanism so evident in Vatican One; much, much more like the collegiality of both the Byzantine as well as Oriental Orthodox Churches.

  8. Fr. Chadwick:

    What "some traditionalists" want is for the State to be Catholic in her constitution. There is a world of difference between a State which is constitutionally bound to uphold the True Faith (the Catholic Church) and one in which a non-Catholic State of any stripe obstructs the freedom of the Church or imposes laws that are contrary to the Church's interpretation of the Natural Law. It is the Church alone that has a right to interpret Natlural Law with authority, and all states are bound to respect those interpretations in their positive laws. What is needed, then, is an acceptance of the Catholic Religion in the State Constitution, whether it be a written constitution or no.

    There are indeed times when we cannot have a Catholic State and when the principle of proportionality would make wrong attempts to impose such a State (or even advocate it, in extreme cases). But we can and should advocate Establishment of the True Religion as a matter of principle. The error in Erastiansim is to make the State itself the arbiter of Truth and the Church merely a department of the State. That is to reverse rôles: the student leads the teacher.

    The closest to the ideal in modern times was Malta during the Second World War. The Catholic Church was the official Church. Non-Catholics were allowed to worship in private and even to do so in their own churches. But they were not allowed to advertise or evangelise, and they could not even post signs outside their churches. Why all this? Because the State has a responsibility, as a Catholic organ, of protecting the faithful from hellfire. The purpose of life is to get to Heaven and every institution is bound (as an ideal) to co-operate in and support that endeavour.

    The proper limit to restricing false religion is the maintenance of public order (Quanta Cura) and not the common good (Dignitatus Whatever). That is why the issue of Religious Liberty will be the real problem in the talks between Rome and the S.S.P.X. They have wisely decided to start with the easier issues first!


    P.S. Incidentially, a criticism against union of Church and State has been that, should we refrain from it, non-Catholics will similarly refrain from persecuting the Church when they have control. But history proves this to be wrong. Visit Saudi Arabia. The devil preaches tolerance only to weaken the Church of Christ. He doesn't actually practise it!

    1. I would agree that the ideal is a Catholic State whose laws exactly match the moral teaching of the Church. As our Prayer Book says when praying for our rulers – to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and the maintenance of thy true religion and virtue. With such a State, the establishment of the Church would be a good thing, with the country's Monarch or President being obedient to the Church's moral teaching and influence – perhaps with a formal Concordat between the two as between Napoleon and Pius VII or Pius XI and Mussolini. The latter was a difficult situation where the Pope considered it his duty to try to contain evil and limit it.

      Unfortunately, Catholic states are a thing of the past and secular authorities are more or less tolerant or hostile to the Church. For that reason, separation of Church and State is necessary and a condition of the Church's survival.

      I agree that tolerance is often one-sided. In Saudi Arabia, the Church can be separate from the Islamic state and try to function in the catacombs, or can be "united" with the state and agree to die. As it was in anti-clerical France. The French government edicted the separation and persecution in 1905, and the Church had to do her best to carry on against all the odds. So it is now with Obama, British New Labour, you name it…

      Union of Church and State is moot and impossible in the present conditions.

      1. Fr. Chadwick writes:

        "Unfortunately, Catholic states are a thing of the past and secular authorities are more or less tolerant or hostile to the Church. For that reason, separation of Church and State is necessary and a condition of the Church’s survival."

        The problem with the misprinciple of separation is that, in the end, it only benefits one party, not both. That is why we are now seeing the first examles of the State telling priests what they can and cannot say, even from the pulpit. This is only the beginning of a new persecution of Holy Church: far more is acoming. The solution is never to accept error. Sure, we may have to live with it: but we don't accept it. We work for what is humanly possible adn pray for what is not.

        We still have union of Church and State in some South American countries. instead of thinking of these as hold-outs, we need to regard them as models (to that extent) to be emulated in the future.

        Of course, I do not include republics as a matter of principle. While a republic is not incompatible with the Church, it is by nature deleterious to Christian Order, given human nature–given fallen human nature. If people act as though all power comes from man, most will come to believe it as well. Human nature needs to refrain from an act of power and let God act in the hereditary principle of monarchy: we do not choose our own king, He does! (sometimes to guide us, sometimes to scourge us for sin). A parallel? We refrain from using contraceptioves to leave every sexual act open to the transmission of human life. But let this ruler be restrained by the Church as she speaks through a truly Catholic common law tradition. That is the best constitution, and not one written by arrogent men. The best constituion is an unwritten code proceeding from a common-law tradition that is grounded in Church teaching. This way, one benefits from the wise judgement of the best jurists over the centuries, men who were not 'celebrities' on ego trips when they made their decisions. The worst constitution is a written one–written by arrogant and self-serving politicians. That is why the unwritten British constittuion is better than the written American one. The problem with the former, however, has been 450 years of separation from the source of the divine principles: eternal Rome, Mater et Magistra.

        The first task is to insist on correct principles in intellectual work. Implementation is a later step. We do not put the cart befroe the horse.


        1. Reply to # 14 (won't go in its proper place)

          I am very tempted to agree with all that as I so hate modern politics and the stuff we have to put up with (and pay for). You seem to be right in that persecution isn't far away. People like Ms. Schori, most of the C of E bishops and the English "magic circle" bishops formally in union with Rome don't get persecuted because they collaborate with the regime. Those who get persecuted are those who believe the Church should have a public influence for moral and social issues – stick your head out and it gets chopped off.

          Intellectual principles are fine, but there sometimes are legitimate pragmatic priorities and times when intellectual integrity is a luxury. I don't know. Perhaps I should be digging the garden or doing something useful instead of writing this…

  9. Fr. Chadwick writes:

    "The Church has to live in a secular world, and this is not necessarily a bad thing."

    Yes, it is necessarily a bad thing, just not as bad as a Muslim world or a Protestant world or a Hindu world. Secularism is neutral only from the erroneous point of view of secularists. Our Lord told us that all who were not with Him were against Him. Hence secularism is objectively anti-Christian from the Christian point of view; it is not merely 'non-Christian' but anti-Christian.

    That is why the U.S.A., which Fr. Chadwick mentions as a preferred model, is presently a state that allows divorce and artificial contraception and openly promotes abortion and sexual inversion; it is also a socialist state. It was a house founded on the Freemasonic sands of secularism.

    It is tempting to jump to conclusions in this matter. Many of us simply have no option but to do our best to Christianise our secularist society. Fr. Chadwick is right that the motive must be love. But love is not always opposed to force, just as the mother who rightly spanks her child for putting his hand on the element of the stove acts from a good motive.

    The ideal State is the Catholic State, not a secularism. It is a State which respects individuals' freedom on conscience in matters of religion but whcih does not permit them to lead others astray and, when reasonably possible, prevents a false evangelism. Yes, in the ideal state, the police arrest Jimmy Swaggert for preaching a false religion.

    Nobody should be led astray by the fact that pretended agents of the Church in the past violated the principle and acted tyranously. In fact, a better model than Spain was the example of English common law that St. Thos. More used in his defence. It failed to save him only because the King had defected from God to advance his own family's interests. English common law, which has been the most civilising force in international jurisprudence, emerged ENTIRELY from English Catholicism. There is not one thin thread of high and arrogant Protestantism in it. Not one thread. The entire complex of its principles were elaborated in the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries.


    1. In the absolute, fine. But the only way to deal with the State is through the ballot box or a coup d'état. For the former, you need a Catholic majority, and that exists nowhere. For the second, you need the country's Army in your pocket, and you have to be prepared for some not very Christian ruthlessness – you know, a few show trials and executions by firing squad as examples to consolidate your new-found power!

      To insist on these principles as anything but historical theory, we need to identify some actual Christian State in the world. I don't know of any. The USA is bad with the pro-abortion legislation and a lot of other evil things. Perhaps persecution of religion is just around the corner, but until now, the US Constitution gave more freedom for Catholicism (and also all other religions) than France or Germany.

      The ideal in the absolute in the Christian State with an Established Church, the ruler obeying the Pope in temporal matters related to Christian morals and social teaching. But in the current situation, so-called "positive" secularism (as Sarkozy here in France puts it, inspired by the US Constitution) is the best way rather than maintaining atheism as the official "religion" and religions barely tolerated.

      Spain under Franco and Chile under Pinochet were of interest to some European Catholics, and the SSPX supported the latter (in spite of human rights abuses like imprisonment and execution without trial). Those last two totalitarian regimes have passed into history.

      I don't like Socialism and what passes for "modern democracy" with its corrupt politicians any more than you do, but it's all we've got.

      The best thing is to elaborate a theory by which all this can be made to work and for the proverbial silk purse to be made out of the sow's ear. I believe that was the idea of Dignitatis Humanae.

  10. Dear Fr. Chadwick:

    There is only one civilised way of despatching a malefactor and that is by hanging and not these newfangled American technological gassings and electocutions, firing squads and, worst of all, the very *painful* lethal injections that are sold as painless. Mind you, the Spanish garotte is wonderfully colourful. Much more interesting that the South American firing squad, thereby proving the superiorty of the Spanish kings over these gauchos in the Latin American republics.

    About the U.S.A. versus France & Germany, your statement lacks the needed precisions. Which France? That of the Third Republic or that of the Fifth? And models do not 'pass into history' unless you accept the error that certain systems are inevitable. Says who?

    No, the ONLY theory to be elaborated is the single one that conforms to Truth and that is definitely not the U.S.A.. I agree that America has afforded more freedom to the true relgiion than have most others, but we fight for what is good, not for what seems less bad (and only seems so owing to a difference between short- and long-term effects). Do you want to be like Dante's neutral angels, hovering on the fringes of Hell? Malta was a much better model–by a thousand times–than is the U.S.A, which is now getting worse by the day.

    We do not need to choose among existing situations. Change can never occur if one does. We do not have to accept some huge error like the U.S. Constituion and then work with it on the grounds that other current errors are far worse. Why is this relevant? Because the devil's next endeavour is indeed world government. International terrorism and the freedom among states of capitalists will be used as the pretexts. The question is this: Under what sort of constituion will an empowered U.N. operate?

    We do not merely labour against existing error: we must prepare for the error to come. The devil never rests and nor should we.


    1. I disagree with capital punishment, even if I'm tempted to say that such and such a person should be hanged, drawn and quartered!

      Even the worst sinners can find redemption. My thought about this is very Russian. But serial killers, terrorists, child rapists and other dangerous criminals need to be removed from society permanently. I would advocate humane penal colonies (like the Gulag Archipelago, Devil's Island or Botany Bay) in remote parts of the world (Pacific atolls, Siberia, South American jungle, Sahara Desert, etc.), making sure escape is impossible, and letting those people earn their way – the facility having no finance from the outside and the prisoners' work entirely financing everything. No work, no eat.

      For the rest, it's a little like the future Anglo-Catholic liturgy. There's not a damned thing we can do about it. You could be right about the Orwellian dystopia – I have mentioned it often enough. If that happens, all we can do is batten down the hatches and go below decks. On the other hand, it hasn't happened yet. Orwell gave the year 1984, and that was a good while ago – 26 years.

      Thanks, anyway, for your reflections.

  11. The Church certainly can thrive in societies where the civil constitution allows true religious freedom, and as an American, I do appreciate Dignitatis Humanae's clarification on the Church's teaching in this regard, the core of which teaching is that coercion should not be used in matters of religion. I would also agree that having an established Church does contain dangers to the independence of the Church from the civil powers that can infringe on the Church's mission and doctrine. That said, I am not sure we can simply ignore prior magisterial statements about the goodness of an established Catholic Church. I guess the way I reconcile the earlier magisterial statements with the Vatican II magisterial statements is to think that an ideal society would have a state that supports the Catholic Church without infringing on its just freedom and that does not practice coercion in matters of religion, i.e., allows religious freedom to its citizens. However, in the modern day and age, it is unlikely that any government will allow the Catholic Church to hold any preferential position in society as an established church and, if so, to allow it the independence to teach at odds with the prevailing secular "ethical" system. Therefore, as a prudential matter, I think the best position for the Church in the current age is uphold a civil structure that upholds religious freedom for all and to act within such a system to strenuously protect her rights to practice and believe as she wills.

  12. Our hope is with the Pope which will lead us back to the catacombs – if such a thing, catacombs, is possible in today's world of seek and destroy un-manned drones at 65,000 feet. Technology, the new magic, makes the Christian state a thing to be dreamed of but never again realized. Sad, but a fact we have to deal with. I prefer Mr. Perkins world, but the spiritual deposit that made it once possible has been squandered. Only great suffering will restore what has been kissed good-bye. Either that, or our Lord cometh.

    Gardening and a sink full of dirty dishes to wash offer us a surer satisfaction of "job well done," than any political escapades. Even if Pope Benedict XVI could become President of the USA, it would be an exercise in futility – for the only way he could get the job was if he had sold out to the "ghost in the machine."

  13. Fr. Chadwick writes:

    "Intellectual principles are fine, but there sometimes are legitimate pragmatic priorities and times when intellectual integrity is a luxury."

    I agree, of course, but it doesn't alter the fact that we need an intellectual blueprint for what should be done in polity. The model must be elaborated in full before the construction crew can begin work. As for the denizens of secularism, let them foul things up. Once they are in a real pickle, they will be more open to alternatives. I do not accept this view expressed here that the Catholic State can never return. The entire scene can change in the blink of any eye. Anyone who had predicted the death of Russian communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1987 wouild have been judged insane. And yet, three years later, the same nut would have been proved right.


    P.S. On capital punishment, Fr. C.'s view correspsonds remarkably close to my own of just a few years ago. I have flip-flopped on this issue seven times now over the past several decades. I now favour c.p. again. But it's a discussion for another day.

  14. I am over a year late to this discussion, but it's a good article with many thoughtful replies. I just wanted to say that in general this issue doesn't date back to Constantine. It goes much further, and is embedded in Scripture.

    Romans 13:1-5: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. "

    Paul was writing to the church in Rome, so I assume he specifically means the Roman government.

    Likewise Peter in his first letter 2:13-14: "Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good."

    On the other hand:

    "But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'" (Acts 5:29)

    And our Lord: "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s."(Matt: 22:21)

    The tension point is there and has been as to the "things that are Caesar's," and it's not always easy to resolve. If we are not careful, in either case (being the Vicar of Bray or the revolutionary) we may do well to heed the advice of Gamaliel to the council: "In the present case I tell you…if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:38-39)

    Rather than overarching systems that attempt to resolve this tension everywhere and forever, the key to me seems to be discernment about "the present case." If there is a general application to specific cases, maybe it's the command God gave to the exiles in Babylon in what was their "present case":

    "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD." (Jer 29:4-9)

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