What really is “separation of Church and State”?

church and stateWhenever the Church opposes government policies or initiatives to legalize anti-Gospel laws, politicians, editorials, and opinion-makers are quick to denounce “Church interference in State affairs” – nakikialam na naman and Simbahan is the common complaint. The Church is criticized in media as meddlesome, medieval, and out-of-touch with the times. Some critics assume a moral stance by quoting Scripture, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Teaching the Church Scripture has got to be the height of conceit. Are politicians and media Bible experts now? If a Bible is taken out of context it is pretext, this takes the cake: highlighting Caesar’s rights and totally ignoring God’s! Vox populi, vox Dei others sat. Wrong! God’s world is not a democracy, but a theocracy where His word is law. His voice should be the people’s voice. The State needs His guiding voice to enact laws that make for true democracy. Temporal matters are not absolute State domain.

The Church as custodian of Truth and entrusted with a prophetic mission has every right “to pass moral judgements even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or salvation of souls requires it (Gaudium et Spes).”

Bishops must boldly speak out at risk of ridicule, persecution, or physical harm. Silence mean an abandonment of divine mandate. Admittedly, a few undiscerning clergy are dupes of secular affairs. There are those too preoccupied with politics like Fr. Cardenal of Nicaragua, the Sandinista bureaucrat chastised by then Pope John Paul II at the airport tarmac, and our own revolutionary priests never in the confessionals but always at rallies; readily game for interviews and media limelight.

Church and State have clashed time and again over misunderstandings. Guilt may be found on both sides especially where politics – Satan’s playground – is involved; but the State is often at fault in meddling from lack of appreciation of the Church’s role. The first meddler was Constantine. After legalizing Christianity and sponsoring the Council of Nicaea, he tried to influence its outcome. All succeeding emperors meddled.

The Church suffered repeated encroachment by powers-that-be, notably from the Middle Ages onwards by ruling families of Europe. Nobility secured ecclesiastical office for relatives, allies, and rascal cronies through foul schemes as bishops, even Popes, allowing disreputable lackeys to occupy positions in the hierarchy causing corruption and scandals. The Church struggled to maintain sovereignty. Clergy railing against injustice were persecuted: exiled, imprisoned, tortured or even executed for indiscretion of “meddling”.

Pope Boniface VIII promulgated the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam in 1302 that dealt on unity of Church and temporal powers. He carefully distinguished their respective roles and stressed the essential superiority of the spiritual. Eventually, benign rulers recognized the Church’s spiritual role and undertook her protection as a fundamental duty, giving rise to the principle of separation of powers: a proposition that guarantees State protection of the Church from any interference. Meddling and persecution exist today in totalitarian states; likewise in democracies where lawmakers and media infringe on moral matters.

To whom does a citizen owe primary allegiance?

King Henry VIII had his good friend the Exchequer of England, Thomas More beheaded for opposing his divorce, break with Rome, confiscating Church property, and subjecting the clergy of England to the crown. Said More at his execution, “I am the king’s loyal servant, but God’s first.”



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