August 1, 2017

Where the Crusades and Clashes Between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire Etc. Instances of Political Meddling by the Catholic Church? “No.”


By Father Thomas Mattison

So, you will ask me — legitimately — how about the Crusades and the clashes between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire etc.? Were these not instances of meddling in politics by the Catholic Church? As you can imagine, my answer will be, “No.”

The Middle Ages represent the vacuum created in the western world by the collapse of the old and totalitarian Roman Empire. Hostages to their political past, and lacking in political imagination, both sides of these conflicts claimed as their due the mantle of European supremacy. They called it “ius divinum” (divine right). They both claimed it — the emperor no less than the pope.

The collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of what we call the nation states of the modern world left the Church still claiming its ius divinum in the face of new claimants to the same right — the kings and parliaments of emerging countries. For background on this check out the internet’s treatment of such figures as Pope Pius VII and IX, Napoleon and Voltaire and Thomas Becket and Henry III.

Frankly, it took the absolute collapse of every semblance of European coherence in two world wars to make the Catholic Church realize that she was struggling for the cadaver of the Roman Empire, not its mantle. Awakening in a world where the prize was no more, the Church, under the leadership of St. John XXIII and some really brilliant (American) theologians came to the realization that politics and peace treaties are probably the best way to get humans to create wider and wider circles of mutual inclusion. But they are not all that humanity needs or all that it longs for.

The Church now defines her role keeping alive and living out the vision of a single united creation that must be the ultimate goal of all human interactions at whatever political level. This leads her, though, to the role of ever-vigilant critic of any “secular/godless” party or coalition to bring about the divine plan for the world — the ultimate stage of human history.

Do all Catholics at every level of the Catholic Church always practice this vision with utter purity of heart and deed? Probably not. But if you keep this insight in mind, you will notice that when the Church does seem to be a hostile participant in partisan or international politics it is always because she refuses to see the victory of one party over another or of one political system over another as “right.” And the hostility is not generated by the Church that seeks the overthrow of anyone else, but by the “other” who wants only endorsement and brooks no demurral.

The Catholic Church is the oldest and most effective NGO in the world. It is truly universal and, as a rule, conducts her affairs with admirable non-discrimination and inclusiveness. This fact does not entitle her to run everything. Nor does she claim that right. But as the only really universal body on the ground in every place, it does give her a unique perspective on which to judge the “world wideness” of every other organization.
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Fr. Thomas Mattison is pastor of Christ Our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington Vermont.

9 comments :

Will Walsh said...

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that prior to the 20th century the Church mistakenly thought it was seeking to reinstate Christendom in the place of the Roman Empire? Thus, during past centuries it would attempt to guide the affairs of various states. Now the Church recognizes that this is a pipe dream, and the main principle guiding its interaction with the various states is vigilance against totalitarianism--something like that? Let me know if I misunderstand you. Can you point me towards a text of Vatican II or anything prior that might corroborate this?

Doug said...

"you will notice that when the Church does seem to be a hostile participant in partisan or international politics"
Why is it a "participant" of any kind in man's politics?
Jesus held the contrary view. "They [Christians] do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" John 17:16,18, NJB
And how did Jesus fare in the world? He was hated, hounded and finally murdered. Christians must expect the same. John 15:20 We must preach the good news of the kingdom in the world that needs it, without becoming part of it. Mt 6:9,10; 23:14
God's kingdom, coming soon "on earth as in heaven", is man's only hope. Why doesn't the Church teach that?

Gerbert d' Aurillac said...

Doug I am wondering if you even read the article, your comment makes no sense, it is as if you had a statement already made in your mind and you are going to stick with it even if it is contrary to the article. In response to you remarks, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. In other words the Gospel must be brought to light in all areas of human life including politics. The Church has a responsibility to bring the understanding of the Gospel to those who govern so that they govern ethically, morally and with justice. To leave those in the political arena to there own convictions is irresponsible, ignorant and a violation of the trust and mission of the Church given to them by Christ himself for the benefit of the whole human family. Using a verse, taking it out of context is not helpful and provides misconceptions to others.

Doug said...

Gerbert, my quote was a general statement by the author. I'm interested in the larger picture, since our Lord addressed it often. That picture is the question of who is best qualified to govern mankind. The gist of the OP is that the Roman Catholic Church is, using various methods at various times.
The evidence as seen in the news is that society is being run by imperfect humans, not by Christ or any "vicar", and is going downhill. This is consistent with the Bible record, which shows the First Pair following Satan's direction and not Yahweh's. Not only do we 'know how that turned out', but we know how it is turning out. If the Church wants to admit any level of responsibility for that, it's quite welcome to do so.
The one government that Jesus told us to pray for - in sure anticipation, unless he was a liar or a joker - was his Father's. That rulership is established now in heaven. We are to look for it soon "on earth as in heaven". Mt 6:9,10; Ps 37:29; Isa 55:10,11; Rev 21:3,4.
There is not one government of man, including those of the various churches, which follows the laws of God for the Christian era. For that reason Jesus taught the kingdom as something not of this world. John 18:36; Dan 2:44; 7:14. For that reason he sent his disciples - all of them - to preach the good news of that kingdom. They were not to negotiate treaties or oversee the irreformable arrangements of men. Mt 24:14.
You write, "The Church has a responsibility to bring the understanding of the Gospel to those who govern so that they govern ethically, morally and with justice." The Christian responsibility is to bring it to all men, of all stations. Acts 20:26. It is seldom that government heads pay attention to it; they're committed by inclination and by oath to maintaining their governments. Meddling in political affairs leads most often to impasses like the investiture struggles, settled in favor of the stronger party, which was rarely the Pope in those days. [Catholic Encyclopedia @ newadvent.org] That excellent reference also notes that Pope Sylvester II confirmed one Arnulph in the See of Reims, in a way that proved he had abandoned his former position as to the authority of Papal decisions in such matters.
My leader is more powerful. Mt 28:18.

Catholic Guy said...

I concur with Gerbert d' Aurillac. The Church is, after all, a human institution with a divine mission – one founded by Christ Himself. Indeed, not every Catholic has acted in concordance with our Lord’s teaching and example. There have been abysmal Church leaders (to wit: Alexander VI] who were selfish, self-serving, politically motivated and sinful. In attempting to explain this, I cannot improve upon the article and Fr. Mattison’s observation:

“Do all Catholics at every level of the Catholic Church always practice this vision with utter purity of heart and deed? Probably not. But if you keep this insight in mind, you will notice that when the Church does seem to be a hostile participant in partisan or international politics it is always because she refuses to see the victory of one party over another or of one political system over another as ‘right.’ And the hostility is not generated by the Church that seeks the overthrow of anyone else, but by the ‘other’ who wants only endorsement and brooks no demurral.”

The Catechism is dispositive on the Church’s origin, foundation and mission: All three proceed from and are sustained by God. Here is the relevant paragraph titled “A plan born in the Father's heart”:

759 "The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,"150 to which he calls all men in his Son. "The Father . . . determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ."151 This "family of God" is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father's plan. In fact, "already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvelous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Advance. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time."

Salvatore Romero said...

Yes! And I am reminded of Blessed Pope Paul VI who said, “There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’ She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.”

Msgr. Thomas White said...

@ Catholic Guy, @Salvatore Romero: The Catholic Church is hated precisely because: “she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a "sign of contradiction." In the world.

Thank you for posting this most insightful article!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. Mattison! Truly, the Church's mission is to be the Kingdom on earth. Despite good and evil coexisting - even in the Church - God's Will is to be done through her and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

Br. Bartholomew Joseph said...

Amen Father Mattison. Here is Pope Benedict XVI’s observation that I think is in agreement with Father’s insights (concerning the Church’s divine mission):

“The proclamation of the Gospel remains the primary service that the Church owes to humanity, to offer the salvation of Christ to the man of our time, who is in many ways humiliated and oppressed, and to orientate in a Christian way cultural, social, and ethical transformations that are unfolding in the world.”

– Pope Benedict XVI Links Evangelization and True Peace, Vatican City, October 7, 2007