Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering

Church and State

In the Middle Ages

100. Q. What great principle ruled the relation of Church and State during the Middle Ages?

R. The principle that Church and State should be in friendly union, both independent in their own spheres, but protecting and helping each other in order to promote the honor and glory of God and the eternal and temporal welfare of the people.

101. Q. How was this principle realized?

R. 1) The nations, grateful to the Church, that had converted and civilized them, protected her through their constitutions and laws in her divine mission.

2) They used her powerful and willing help for promoting order and law, higher and elementary education, public works of charity, and whatever tended to the welfare of the people.

3) United by the bond of Catholic faith and charity, they formed one great Christian common-wealth of nations, of which the Pope was the spiritual head, while the Roman Emperor of the German Nation acted as his anointed protector.

The popes were recognized peacemakers between the nations of Christendom, and so were bishops and abbots in their narrower spheres. In order to lessen the frequent feuds or petty wars among the nobility, the councils of the Church established the so-called "truce of God", which forbade under pain of excommunication to have feuds from Wednesday night till Monday morning, and during Advent, Lent and Easter time. Weaker princes and downtrodden peoples found protection against tyrannical rulers with the great father of Christendom.

Popes and councils combined to reduce slavery, to protect commerce by land and sea and to promote public safety and order. Universities and all institutions of education and charity enjoyed the special protection of the popes.

102. Q. Give some prominent examples of this relation.

R. England. King Alfred raised England from ruin and disorder with the help of the Church, and throughout the Middle Ages the kings of England, with few exceptions, followed his example. England was called the dowry of Our Blessed Lady.

Scotland. Kings like Malcolm III. and his queen St. Margaret, in union with the Church, led their country to religious and temporal prosperity.

Ireland. From the time of St. Patrick to the disastrous invasion of the Danes, the princes of Ireland were in closest union with the Church and. Ireland flourished as a free nation, the island of Saints, and the cradle of learning for Northern Europe.

The Frankish Empire  became the greatest and most admired of all nations through Charlemagne, the friend and anointed protector of the Church.

Norway, under rulers like St. Olaf and St. Erich, Sweden, under Olaf and Magnus, Denmark, under Canute, the Great, and St. Canute, flourished as Christian and civilized nations of the North, formerly the home of savage pirates.

Poland  became one of the greatest Christian nations during the Middle Ages, and, ever grateful and true to the Church for her blessings, was the bulwark of Christian civilization in Europe against the fierce Turks.

Spain  and Portugal, aided by the Church, shook off the Mohammedan yoke, grew in strength and wealth, and extended their power to America, Africa, and Asia.

France, called the oldest daughter of the Church, was, under rulers like St. Louis IX., a great Christian nation, the cradle of the crusades, and blessed in its religious as well as its temporal affairs, so that "the work of God done through the French" became proverbial in history.

Hungary. From the time of King St. Stephen, it remained in close union with the Popes, who favored it as the bulwark of Christian Europe against the inroads of the heathens. Thus the former home of the barbarous Huns had become the land of the chivalrous nation, called the Kingdom of Mary.

Germany  was a great Catholic empire. Its emperors were anointed and crowned by the Popes, and its national unity was strengthened by the bond of the One, Holy, Catholic faith.

Switzerland, the ancient free republic, found its liberty blessed and safeguarded by the Church.

The republics of Italy, Venice, Genoa, Florence, and others, testify by their history and the monuments of their former greatness, that they prospered in their union with the Church.

103. Q. How did the people judge of ecclesiastical power and its influence?

R. The people loved the influence of ecclesiastical power, which defended the rights of the governed and the downtrodden, checked the excesses of princely rulers, and governed its own subjects with mildness. Hence the proverb: "It is good to live under the crosier."

104. Q. Was this union never disturbed?

R. Yes; emperors and kings repeatedly encroached on the sacred rights of the Church, in order to increase their own power.

105. Q. Name some examples.

R. 1) Emperor Henry IV. of Germany dared to appoint bishops, and sold ecclesiastical offices; but Pope Gregory VII. vigorously defended the rights of the Church. Henry had to yield and did penance for this sacrilege at Canossa, A. D. ro76. Soon after he relapsed, and invading Rome with an army, forced Gregory to flee to Salerno. There the great defender of ecclesiastical rights and public morality died, uttering the words of the psalmist: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile." But God's judgment followed the imperial offender. His own son revolted and robbed him of crown and power. He died a fugitive and excommunicated.

2) Emperor Frederic Barbarossa of Germany not only infringed on the rights of the Church, but even undertook sacrilegiously to enthrone an anti-pope and depose Alexander III.; but a terrible pestilence broke out and destroyed his army. Terrified by this judgment of God, he sought and obtained reconciliation with the Church.

Henry VI. and Frederic II., emperors of Germany and successors of Barbarossa, committed great and manifold wrongs against the Church and the Holy See, from which their family (Hohenstauffen) had received innumerable blessings. Frederic was excommunicated by the council of Lyons, and his young grandson Conradin, the last of this proud imperial race, met with a sad death under the ax of an executioner.

3) King Henry II. of England passed laws (Articles of Clarendon, 1164), arrogating rights of the Church to his crown (for example, appointment of bishops), forbidding appeals to Rome, etc. St. Thomas h Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, who opposed such proceedings, was assassinated. But the excommunication of the Pope and the indignation of the people forced the king to sue for peace.

4) Philip, the Fair, king of France, made similar claims, detrimental to the liberty of the Church, which were developed by his successors and called Gallican liberties. Pope Boniface VIII. was insulted and made prisoner by the king's minions, but set free by his own faithful subjects. The last days of the king's life were sad, and he died an object of hatred to his people. His three sons died in quick succession, and this line of the royal family of the Capets became extinct.

106. Q. What was understood by the dispute about the Right of Investiture?

R. It was a dispute between the popes and the princes about the right to invest newly elected bishops and abbots with ring and crosier. While the popes claimed this right on account of the spiritual power, which they conferred upon these prelates, the princes claimed it on account of the temporal power, which the prelates received from them as their vassals.

107. Q. How was this dispute settled?

R. This dispute was finally settled between Pope Calixtus II. and Henry V., emperor of Germany, by the Concordat of Worms (1122), so that the pope should invest the prelates with ring and crosier as emblems of their spiritual power, and the emperor should confer the temporal power by his imperial sceptre.

108. Q. Which was the most dangerous heresy of the Middle Ages?

R. The heresy of the Albigenses, which during the 13th century, had secretly spread over the countries of Europe. They denied the Incarnation and Redemption, taught that the world had been created by an evil spirit, and held doctrines destructive of marriage and of order in Church and State. The Church excommunicated them and the State punished them as criminals.

The Waldenses  were a small sect, founded by Peter of Lyons, a layman. They preached voluntary poverty, but soon became disobedient to the Church and fell into errors, similar to those of later Protestantism, by which their scattered remnants were greatly patronized.

109. Q. In what manner did the Church prevent the spreading of this secret and dangerous heresy?

R. The fourth General Council of the Lateran, held by Pope Innocent III. ( A.D.1215), established the Inquisition, an ecclesiastical tribunal, by which persons, accused of this heresy, were tried and, if penitent, reconciled to the Church; if obstinate, handed over to the secular power.

1) By order of Christ and from apostolic time the Church guards the faith, warns against false teachers and excommunicates them. (Gal. 1, 8; Tit. 3, 10; 2. Tim. 4, 2.) The Roman Inquisition acts in this manner to the present time; but has never shed a drop of blood.

2) The Christian states of the middle ages punished this and similar heresies more or less severely, because they threatened the existing order, established by law. For the same reason in our own time France punished the communists, and the United States, the anarchists of Chicago with prison, exile, or death.

3) The Spanish Inquisition was mainly a state institution. It was founded by Ferdinand and Isabella after the deliverance of Spain from the Mohammedan yoke, in order to protect their kingdom against Moors and Jews, who had remained in the country and, pretending to be converts, conspired secretly with the African Moors for the overthrow of Christian Spain.

NOTE.—The Church is God's kingdom on earth, with a divinely instituted hierarchy, constitution, and laws. Hence she loves order, and this also in the State, be it republican or monarchical. Where, as in our country, Church and State are separate, she is always on the side of the constitution, law, and order, and teaches her children to cherish and uphold them.

Worldly power and success, commercial prosperity, development of science and art, rank infinitely below the spiritual blessings of divine faith and its graces for the salvation of immortal souls and their eternal happiness. To bring the latter to the nations, is the great mission of the Church of Christ Crucified. If temporal blessings have come so richly to the nations through their union with the Church, they came as Christ has said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you."

Peace and co-operation between the spiritual and the secular power have always been recognized by the Church as willed and ordained by God from whom both are derived. In the famous Syllabus of the year 1864 (N. 55) the Holy See pronounced censure on the contrary opinion. Although in some countries complete separation of Church and State may appear to be a lesser evil on account of difference in religion, the Church looks upon it as a state of affairs not applicable as a general norm.