54. The Universal Civilising Action of the Church.
UNTIL the Second Vatican Council, the Church has never ceased preaching to peoples submission to the authorities whose legitimacy comes from God, even though these be pagan, unjust or cruel. This loyalty of Christians towards the powers that be is so amazing that it has often, after many a persecution, earned them esteem, respect and finally liberty. To the extent that kings began to recognise the Church, so the Church brought them her enlightened assistance, forming with them an ever closer and more fruitful alliance. The Church aided them in their human role of maintaining order and peace, and they co-operated with the Church for the reign of Christ, the defence of the Faith and the salvation of souls.
Yet when it comes to the status of States and their boundaries, to political regimes and the major choices of temporal life, the Church allows herself to be guided by circumstances in an empiricism stamped with supernatural confidence in Christ, the Master of the world and human history.
1. The early Church, first centred in Jerusalem, and before long in Rome, freed herself from the imperialist, racist, theocratic conceptions of ancient Judaism, in order to establish herself as a universal, spiritual society, with no political designs, in the heart of the Roman Empire, the authority of which she recognised without, however, accepting its idolatry. The fall of Jerusalem and then the fall of pagan Rome, foretold by the Scriptures, were to free the Church from all politico-religious protection. She would then spread throughout the world, above every race and state.
2. For centuries, however, she would maintain, through force of habit, the idea of a universal Christian Empire whose emperor would be the replica in the temporal sphere of the Roman Catholic pontiff. It would take a thousand years of disappointments before the Church understood from her Lord, through the lesson of events, that the utopia of a hegemonic Holy Roman Empire would have to be abandoned as too dangerous for her freedom and for the freedom of the peoples, and that she would have to exist alone as the unique universal amidst the concert of the empires, nations, peoples and cities of Christendom.
3. Thus was established for the future the clear distinction between the two powers – spiritual and temporal, both sovereign – of Church and State. The State however was established by God as the servant of the Church, receiving from her, in return, the recognition of its legitimacy and the spiritual and moral aid it needed to co-operate in the natural and supernatural good of their common subjects. Such, until our day, was “political Augustinianism” with its “theory of the two swords.”