By Emmanuel Simon
To examine the role of the Church in political matters, one must understand the relationship between the Church and state.
The Church is not the state. The state is not the Church. These two institutions are different. But does that mean that the Church is separate from the state? Not quite.
Though the Church and state are two distinct entities, they share a common goal: to promote and achieve the common good. However, the way that the common good is achieved for both differs.
A state promotes the common good amongst its people by means of enacting just policies and laws. Policies and laws are just if they help the individuals in society flourish. Thus, a just state bans all things that are intrinsically evil, actions that can only be done unjustly. The state concerns itself with matters of environmental, immigration, criminal, economic, healthcare, and social issues.
Heard seldomly in our times, the mission of the Church is the salvation of souls for all persons. The Church teaches doctrines and dogmas that one must believe in order to go to Heaven, including on how one should live in order to live a good life. Ultimately, the Church concerns herself with matters of faith and morals.
The Church and state both differ in that some issues of politics are outside the scope of what the Church concerns herself with. For example, the Church has very little if not nothing to say about whether an I.D. is necessary to vote for elections. However, there are some things, things that deal with morals, where a just state and the Church pass judgment on, for example, that murdering innocent 40 year olds is always evil. Because the spheres of the state and Church overlap to a certain degree, the Church, in her eyes, can pass judgments on the state if the state ever tends away from the common good, the goal desired to be achieved by all societies. For this reason, rather than there being a separation of Church and state, which is impossible and irrational, one must hold to a distinction between Church and state.
Inquiry concerning the Church’s role in political matters is made easier. The Church can and does incorporate politics within its teachings and through the sermons of priests in all matters of morals. Thus, whenever the state acts out of hand, promoting something hurtful to the common good, the Church ought to step in and correct the errors of the state. If members of the Church act contrary to the common good, the state has the ability to penalize these members, since members of the Church are also members of a state. This by no means entails that the Church and state are two equal powers, for though they can cast judgment on each other, the Church can do so in respect to individuals and towards the state as a whole, whereas the state can only judge individual members of the Church, and not the Church as an institution.
The Church and state are meant to help individuals and communities flourish. Both Church and state are necessary prerequisites for living a good life, and therefore cannot be entirely separate.
Melanie Moyer '22,