THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Separation of Church and State

It’s often astonishing how much words and phrases can change meaning or have a different meaning depending on the time and place.  “Money,” for example, used to mean a means of carrying out economic transactions, the consideration in a contract, or “all things transferred in commerce,” to quote Black’s law dictionary.

Mayer Anselm Rothschild


Nowadays money means a mystical thing created by a third party, usually a government, by means of which you are allowed to participate in economic life.  Instead of production and consumption being what drives economic life and provides the material means of existence, it is now whoever controls “money” who determines who lives and who dies.  “Give me control over money and credit,” Mayer Anselm Rothschild is reputed to have said, “and I care not who makes the laws.”

That’s just an example, however, of how a fundamental institution and concept can change meaning and thereby change the course of history.  We’ve addressed it many times in the past on this blog.  Today we’re looking at the fundamental change in a concept that among other things helped bring about the change in the understanding of money: separation of Church and State, or — more accurately — the idea that “the Nation-State” constitutes the whole of society, with both organized and religion and the family completely subject to the civil order.


Once upon a time, at least in the civilization of Europe built upon the foundation of the heritage of Greece and Rome, people recognized three discrete societies that made up a nation.  These were the State or civil society, organized religion (“the Church”) or religious society, and above all the Family or domestic society.  All three necessarily worked closely together to create the Nation or the People, but were viewed, especially in Roman times as distinct, each with its own laws and courts with which the other two societies could not interfere.

Pater Familias


This led in some circumstances to what we would today regard as bizarre results.  A pater familias, the head of the family or domestic society, could convene a domestic court and try and convict a member of the familia, be it wife, child, or slave (slaves in ancient Rome were legally the same as children), and sentence them to death.  This was not because the government — in charge of civil society — allowed it, but because it had no power to interfere, and family rights (meaning those of the pater familias) took precedence over civil rights.  The family was considered the basic building block of the nation and therefore absolutely sacred.  Parricide was the worst crime on the books and was considered so terrible that it was a civil offense as it struck against the very foundation of society.  We won’t describe the punishment.

Ancient Roman Priests and Priestesses


There were other oddities.  Because certain forms of foreign diplomacy were construed as being the relations between the people of one set of gods to the people of another set of gods, a diplomatic mission had to include a certain type of priest.  Because certain civic functions involved invoking the gods on behalf of the nation, the head of state also had to be the chief priest, the pontifex maximus, or chief bridge-builder between the gods and man.  These were different roles, and the head of state could not function as both head of the civil order and head of the religious order at the same time, but they had to be the same person, at least in the Roman way of thinking.

Interestingly, although the civil, religious, and domestic societies were distinct from one another, they were all considered integral to the life of the nation.  Someone who attacked the family by committing parricide, or refused to worship the official gods could and often would be punished by civil society as a traitor and a danger to the state.  Roman society was virtually unique in the ancient world in that it did not view foreigners automatically as a threat, but foreigners did have to respect the Family, the State, and above all, the gods.  Jews got a special dispensation for a while, but when Christianity emerged as distinct from Judaism, Christians were viewed as dangerous threats for not honoring the gods and treated accordingly.


Fast-forwarding a few centuries, the Protestant Reformation revived a notion from non-Roman pagan society that Church, State, and Family were all one.  Not all Protestants, of course, and many of those who did continued to keep the family separate, but the idea gained validity.  It had always been a temptation, of course, and was often difficult to maintain separation of Church and State in practice, especially when civil authority virtually disappeared in some areas, and the only institution that could maintain order was the Church.  Bishops in some cases became de facto civil rulers and then evolved into legitimate civil authority.  Often, they tried to keep the civil order and the religious order separate, “but.”

Uh . . . not quite . . . but expected


With the Protestant Reformation things went the other way, and organized religion was considered subordinate to the civil order. Not “separate but equal.”  Neither were Protestants the only ones — the Spanish Inquisition — the real thing, not the mythical creation of eighteenth and nineteenth century novelists and polemicists — was an instance of a Catholic civil power subordinating a religious institution to state purposes, admittedly with the enthusiastic participation of many religious authorities, but also in defiance of the pope.

"I'm 'Enery th' Eighth I am"


People forget that at this time it was “Catholic” governments going to war against the civil power of the Papal States, all the while declaring their allegiance to the pope’s religious authority.  When Pope Julius II imposed a religious interdict for attacking his non-religious authority, it was viewed as a scandal and “not playing the game.”  Henry VIII seems to have originally viewed his dispute with Rome over his marriage to Katharine of Aragon as something similar, a political issue due to the perceived need for a male heir to the throne of England that somehow got tied in with religion and that rapidly got out of hand.  Many people don’t realize that Henry viewed himself as a faithful Catholic to his dying day, and he may have assumed the break was temporary even as he did everything possible to ensure it was permanent.

Sir Robert Filmer


It was Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and Sir Robert Filmer (Patriarcha) who merged Church, State, and Family into a monolithic whole in their work, laying the foundation of the modern “Nation-State” in which “Nation” (Church, State, and Family) was integrated into the State, properly confined to the civil order alone.  Church, State, and Family were now no longer “separate but equal” with interrelationships and shared responsibilities and authority, but as subsumed into the civil order completely.

“Separation of Church and State” came to mean organized religion was a thing completely separate from the rest of society, and alien to it.  The State for its own protection could dictate to organized religion and be tolerant of it on a case-by-case basis, but only so far as the State allowed.  The Founding Fathers of the United States were reactionaries in a sense when they insisted not on mere religious toleration, but as freedom of religion as a fundamental human right.

1848 . . . Meh, close enough . . .


The French Revolution and the later growth of socialism, “the New Christianity,” cemented the complete integration of Church, State and Family as “the” correct way of thinking in the minds of many.  The only question was which was supreme and would rule the others, not how to work together to create a harmonious nation.  This is why many of those who promote the civil order seek to minimize religion sometimes to the point of eradication, religious people often seek to establish a theocracy, and the family, as the least powerful of the three, is nowadays in a permanent state of crisis.

This is a disaster because the Romans were right.  The family is the fundamental unit of society, although not quite as they understood it; there has been progress over the past two thousand years.  Restoring the family, which means restoring the individuals who make up the family, has the potential to repair a lot of the damage that has been done over the past two centuries, and that will only come when family members are economically as well as politically empowered.  That is the goal of the Economic Democracy Act.