Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

. . . We wish to touch upon two points . . . which, because so closely connected with religious interests have stirred up some division among Catholics. . . . One of them is the Concordat . . . . On the observance of this solemn, hi-lateral compact, always faithfully kept by the Holy See, the enemies of the Catholic religion do not themselves agree. . . . The more violent among them desire its abolition . . . . On the contrary, others, being more astute, wish, or rather claim to wish, the preservation of the Concordat: not because they agree that the State should fulfil toward the Church the subscribed engagements, but solely that the State may be benefited by the concessions made by the Church . . . . Of these two opinions which will prevail? We know not. We desired to recall them only to recommend Catholics not to provoke a secession by interfering in a matter with which it is the business of the Holy See to deal.

We shall not hold to the same language on another point, concerning the principle of the separation of the State and Church, which is equivalent to the separation of human legislation from Christian and divine legislation. . . . As soon as the State refuses to give to God what belongs to God, by a necessary consequence it refuses to give to citizens that to which, as men, they have a right; as . . . it cannot be denied that man's rights spring from his duty toward God. . . . In fact, to wish that the State would separate itself from the Church would be to wish . . . that the Church be reduced to the liberty of living according to the law common to all citizens. . . . It is true that in certain countries this state of affairs exists. It is a condition which, if it have numerous and serious inconveniences, also offers some advantages -- above all when, by a fortunate inconsistency, the legislator is inspired by Christian principles -- and, though these advantages cannot justify the false principle of separation nor authorize its defense, they nevertheless render worthy of toleration a situation which, practically, might be worse.

But in France, a nation Catholic in her traditions and by the present faith of the great majority of her sons, the Church should not be placed in the precarious position to which she must submit among other peoples; and the better that Catholics understand the aim of the enemies who desire this separation, the less will they favor it. To these enemies, . . . this separation means that political legislation be entirely independent of religious legislation . . . . But they make a reservation formulated thus: As soon as the Church, utilizing the resources which common law accords to the least among Frenchmen, will, by redoubling her native activity, cause her work to prosper, then the State intervening, can and will put French Catholics outside the common law itself. . . . In a word: the ideal of these men would be a return to paganism: the State would recognize the Church only when it would be pleased to persecute her.

Source: John J. Wynne (ed.), The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII ( New York, 1903), pp. 255-260, 261-263. French and Latin texts in Acta Sanctae Sedis ( Rome, 1891 1892), XXIV, 519-540.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

J. Brugerette, Le prêtre français et la société contemporaine ( Paris, 1933- 1938), II, 323- 370.

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