Booklet Report – Church & State . . .

The Relation of Church and the State in the Middle Ages

The Very Reverend Bede Jarret, OP, MA, STL

Requiem Press, 2005

ISBN 0-9758542-7-5

Whew.  So as you know, when it comes to philosophy, I really have just fallen off the turnip trunk.  Which  is a bit of a problem, because when I picked out this little booklet as part of my Req Press omnibus order in January, it looked like a perfectly nice essay on *history*.  Close: history of ideas.  Lent-a-claus sure was feeling lenty on me.

Luckily not a very long essay — the whole booklet is about 30 pages of comfortable middle-sized print – and entirely readable.  I couldn’t comment critically on it, but I could understand it.

Here’s what it is: A summary of how theologians have viewed the relationship of church and state from the founding of Christianity through the end of the middle ages, and how that relationship has worked in practice.  The goal is to puzzle out how the English Martyrs got into the position they did.  Seems obvious now, but apparently, as the publisher’s preface observes, even St. Thomas More didn’t initially believe that the papacy was a divine institution.

Now if your history-of-philosophy education was as sorry as mine, your knowledge on this topic might consist of two assumptions:

1) We enlightened people believe in the Separation of Church and State

2) People in the past believed in The Divine Right of Kings.

The Relation of Church and State walks you through a much more nuanced and detailed assessment of how Christian thought and practice has developed over the centuries.  It opens with this observation about why the question is a uniquely Christian one:

That the difficulty [of adjusting the relations of church and state] is wholly Christian can be seen if it be remembered (using the words in their present day sense) that to the pagan his State was his Church, and to the Jew his Church was his State.  In either view, they were not two powers, but one. . . . For the Christian, however, the problem was much more delicate, since he was brought up to look on both the Church and State as divinely authorized powers and to believe that the authority of both was from God.

Tricky, what with the king being Nero and all.

But it got even trickier after the Edict of Milan:

. . . when Christians were allowed freedom of worship, and when the Emperor himself became a catechumen.  The difficulty now was no longer the simple difficulty of heroic obedience to a persecuting government, but of adjusting obedience to two authorities which were both interested in the application of the moral law of Christ to life.

The essay details of how this tension was addressed through the centuries, and what legacy was available to the martyrs of the English Reformation.   I can’t tell you how completely or precisely the author covers the topic, because it is brand new to me.  But I will say that it is worth your attention, if you want a survey of ideas for an introduction.  (Or, if you are more knowledgeable, you want a nice argument.)

Curiously, the conclusion is that relationship of the papacy to the national monarchies remained incompletely resolved at the close of the middle ages.  Jarret concludes that the the right to invest the Bishops was won by the papacy.  The right to tax and judge the clergy was won by the national monarchies.  But one thorny issue remained open:

. . . the right to determine the character of the beliefs of the nation.  This was the wholly new problem which John Fisher, Thomas More and the rest had to settle for themselves.

Worth a look.  I won’t say it’s an essay for everybody; but if it is a topic that interests you, it’s a respectable start.  And manageable – ordinary mortals can read it, which cannot be said for all works of philosophy.

Oh and the most wonderful bit about Requiem Press’s edition:  *translations of all the Latin*. Ha.  Because you know back in 1928 when this paper was first presented, it was assumed you could just toss off bits of Latin and everyone would understand.  Turns out not only was my philosophy education deficient, but my Latin isn’t all that great either.  Go Req Press.  My heros.  Woohoo.

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