Friday, April 17, 2009

On the Catholic confessional State

A reader of this blog asked me about how I would envisage a Catholic confessional State. Here is how I responded (this is a recapitulation, possibly with some additions, of some things that I have discussed on this blog in the past, so it might already be familiar to you but might be interesting to revisit nonetheless):


1. Sources for my opinions: my opinions are based on the teachings of the great Popes of social doctrine, chiefly Bl. Pius IX and Leo XIII, in documents such as Quanta cura (a document handed down ex Cathedra), Syllabus Errorum, Libertas, Immortale Dei, and Sapientiæ Christianiæ. These documents are available at several places on-line; some are quite lengthy but are well worth reading nonetheless.

2. Definition of and rationale for the Catholic Confessional State: the Catholic Confessional State is simply a State—the juridical and moral person that exercises God-given civic authority over a given populace connected to a given territory—that professes the truth of the Catholic religion and pays homage to God according to the forms of the Catholic religion. This profession and homage are necessary as a matter of justice, since the State receives its authority—its purpose for existence—from God and so is completely indebted to Him, and is further indebted to Him for whatever blessings descend upon the State.

That is what one might call a ‘top-down’ explanation for the necessity of the Catholic Confessional State. What one might call a ‘bottom-up’ explanation would be as follows: the Social Kingship of Christ is a dogma of the Faith. Now the State is, by its very nature, society taken at its highest (natural) level (I say ‘natural’ because the Church is a society at the highest supernatural level)—that is, it is what is called a ‘perfect society’ (a society that has within itself all the means necessary to reach its end, the State’s end being the common good). For the Social Reign of Christ to be fully realised requires not just that everyone in a society acknowledges Christ’s Kingship, but that everybody as a society acknowledges Christ’s Kingship. And since the State is society personified, the State itself must acknowledge Christ’s Kingship—it must confess Christ, not only in its constitution and laws but in the homage that it pays through the rites of the Church.

3. Activity of the Catholic Confessional State: one way to summarise the activities of the Confessional State is with what I call ‘the four Ps’ (based on the work of a mid-twentieth-century scholar and priest whose name I can’t recall, but who is cited in Mr. Michael Davies’s The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty): profession, protection, promotion and prohibition. Profession: the State must profess the Catholic religion, the only religion that is true without any admixture of error. Although the State is not a human person, and therefore cannot receive the virtue of Faith and the unshakeable certainty that that entails, it is still a juridical and moral (or rational—morality is an aspect of rationality) person, so it can examine the truth-claims of the Catholic religion and come to a moral certainty of their veracity. Protection: the State must protect Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church.

Now it seems to me that the first two ‘Ps’ are non-negotiable; the extent to which the other two ‘Ps’—promotion and prohibition—are to be exercised, if at all, is for the State to adjudge according to political prudence, that is, according to how well they would serve the common good. If non-Catholics are a sizeable minority then clearly it would be imprudent to promote the Catholic religion except by relatively gentle means, and when non-Catholics are numerous it is clearly also imprudent to prohibit offences against the Catholic religion. (One might raise an objection: what if it is the Catholics who are in a minority and a non-Catholic State judges that it would serve the common good to prohibit Catholic religious activity? This objection is resolved by pointing out that one cannot do evil in order that good—even the common good—may come of it.)

So to sum up: there are three relationships to consider:

3.1 The relationship between Christ the King and the State: this requires the State’s public and official acknowledgement of Christ’s Kingship and that it renders to Him the homage that is His due by reason of being the Principle of the State’s authority and well-being.
3.2 The relationship between Christ’s Church and the State: this requires that the State unite itself to the Church and co-operate with her (the extent of this co-operation is for the State to judge according to political prudence, but the principle of its desirability is not to be denied).
3.2 The relationship between offenders of the Catholic religion and the State: the State may tolerate offences against the Catholic religion if it judges that such tolerance would serve the greater good or avert a greater evil, but it is the State that has the right to tolerate, not the offenders who have the right to be tolerated. And when the populace is united in the Catholic Faith and desires to persevere in this unity—which is the ideal, and under which circumstances offences against the Catholic religion would harm the common good even if they do not contravene the natural moral order—the State can and ought to restrain, by enacted penalties, offenders of the Catholic religion.

4. Requirements for the Catholic Confessional State to be implemented: presumably, for the State to profess the Catholic religion and unite itself to the Church would require the Catholic proportion of the populace to exceed fifty per cent.; as for restraint of offenders of the Catholic religion, this could never occur without damage to the common good until non-Catholics are a tiny minority, and even then, given the expected international repercussions of such actions, it is unlikely that it would be prudent until a long time from now.

5. Further information: as well as the writings of the Popes that are available on-line, I had a post at my blog not long ago listing some points of Catholic doctrine in these matters:

and another post from the same time discussing how to explain these teachings, especially with reference to Scripture:

Also, if you view the posts collected under the ‘Confessional State’ and ‘Social Reign of Christ’ tags at my blog you will find more information.


Reginaldvs Cantvar
Friday in Easter Week, A.D. 2009

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