Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment

By Bryan R. Wilson | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

THE concept of the Church, as it has been understood in the social sense, is one which acquired its full meaning and realization in European feudal society. It claimed within a a given territory, the monopoly of spiritual power, just as the state claimed the monopoly of political and military power. In European history one Church presided over several nascent states, and this but reflected its claim to transcendence and universality. For, although in the age of more emphatic nationalism the Church tended to become closely identified with the state, and this was especially true in Protestant Christendom -- indeed to the point of accepting the dominant authority of the state -- the earlier conception was of a Church unconfined by national or ethnic boundaries. But the Church relied, for the effective recognition of its claim to a monopoly of spiritual power, on the coercive power of the political authority.

As the institutions of society grew apart, and as religious institutions and functionaries lost, first their control of, and later much of their access to, various social activities -- diplomacy, education, the regulation of trade, etc., so the civil authority gained in power, and, having less need for the good offices of the Church, was less disposed to protect its ancient privileges. The emergence of new classes with new skills and resources, who were unaccommodated in the Church, but whose social importance sometimes won for them the protection of princes, created a pluralism which became the first properly instituted invasion (there had been many unlegitimated invasions before) of the Church's claim

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