All things concerning human freedom must be governed in some way. For human freedom is not its own measure. It is measured by the good. Since marriage concerns human freedom, it must be governed. And the proper governance of marriage is absolutely crucial for the health of society.
Why? Marriage is the foundation of society. It is the most primordial society in all society. To get marriage wrong is to expose the very fabric of civilization to stresses that will unravel it.
If we are at the end of the end of marriage, we are at the beginning of the bitter end of contemporary society.
But how to govern marriage rightly if no merely human authority has any power concerning the bond? If no merely human authority can judge marriage cases or legislate concerning marriage? Further, how to govern marriage if, in our fallen state, to discern the elemental structure of natural law is very difficult and even practically (statistically) impossible in many cases? Further, how to govern marriage if no human mind can on its own grasp the determinations of Divine Law? (By Divine Law we are indicating specifically those free providential decisions God makes but which could be different for a good purpose. For example, through Jesus God has absolutely proscribed polygamy. Also, divorce is proscribed. These proscriptions are most wise, yet they are not absolutely necessary.)
If marriage is to be well governed but no merely human authority can undertake this, are we sheep without a shepherd? Are we lost? Doomed to found intrinsically foundering states? No, we are not doomed. God has provided for us. In the Old Covenant, he provided for his people Israel, chosen for the sake of the world (not only for themselves), a Light to the Nations. Fulfilling this Covenant in Jesus, he now provides for the world through him, the King of the World.
It is becoming clear that there is a significant political implication of Catholic dogma.
If marriage is crucial for society, and if it must be well governed, and if the only agency that has any authority about this institution itself (natural or sacramental) is the Catholic Church, then every society will find itself well governed in this arena to the extent that it receives guidance from the very religion established by Jesus Christ, namely, the Catholic Church.
Further, since it is incumbent upon rulers to rule in accordance with God’s law and the law of nature, since it is incumbent upon rulers to rule for the common good and not their own and not for the base desires of the governed, it is incumbent upon them, objectively, to recognize the divine institution of the Catholic Church so as to receive that good counsel concerning the essence of the bond over which the state has no authority.
Thus, not only is the Kingship of Christ a reason that all societies and states must acknowledge his Church to be the one divine religion — for his Kingship objectively calls for recognition by all (individuals, families, associations, cities, and states). Not only this. But the very institution of marriage, its properties, etc., call for the state, if it seeks its own good, to acknowledge this Church as well.
This obligation is objective. There may be conditions in which this obligation cannot be prudently met. Indeed, great obstacles. However, that there is an objective obligation is the teaching. This gives us our “North Star” to navigate practical decisions.
But who has heard this of late? Hardly a one. The reader will be dumbfounded someone could say this. But this is what the Catholic Church herself teaches. Let us read the salutary words of the great pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Immortale Dei (A.D. 1885):
6. … The State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion…. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will….
But this seems unreasonable! After all, did not the same pope teach that there are two swords–the secular state and the Church–and that these should remain separate?
That there are two swords, yes. That they should be separate, no! The swords are Distinct but Not Separate.
But how can the secular authority have any competence in religion? It cannot judge the contents of the religion. Is the emperor the pope? No, the emperor is not the pope. The state cannot judge the contents of the religion (Trinity, Eucharist, etc.).
However, God has indicated with clear signs what is the true religion. Thus, it is possible to recognize it and thus adhere to its counsel. Thus from the discernible Glimmer of Divine Truth shining in the midst of the world’s history, an obligation arises on the part of individuals and of states.
Thus, Leo XIII continues:
7. Now, it cannot be difficult to find out which is the true religion, if only it be sought with an earnest and unbiased mind; for proofs are abundant and striking. We have, for example, the fulfillment of prophecies, miracles in great numbers, the rapid spread of the faith in the midst of enemies and in face of overwhelming obstacles, the witness of the martyrs, and the like. From all these it is evident that the only true religion is the one established by Jesus Christ Himself, and which He committed to His Church to protect and to propagate.
But surely the Catholic Church no longer teaches the above? Surely, she has abandoned this ancient idea? Not so, unless we subscribe to a “hermeneutic of rupture”. But what Leo puts forth here is established Catholic teaching, having been expressed by numerous popes over centuries.
But what about Vatican II? Vatican II is in continuity with the Great Tradition. Thus, it must be read in accordance with this continuity, not in accordance with a hermeneutic of rupture. Here are some key opening lines of the Council’s counsel:
Art. 1: On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.
One cannot be forced to this embrace. that would be contrary to God’s providential care for the human race. Thus, one cannot force another to become Christian or die. The Council defends this principle thoroughly. But
…it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.
Many have taken Vatican II as an excuse to baptize the secular state qua secular. But right here in this line we see that there is no excuse being given for the separation of Church and state. Religion has since the Peace of Westphalia been more and more privatized.
A certain public state of tranquility prevailed in many ways since that peace. Yet, that tranquility was premised upon morality. And morality was premised upon religion. As the strangling of religion has continued, morality has declined. As morality declines, public order deteriorates. Wester states become more and more “police states”.
Thus, the peace of Westphalia is being proven false before our eyes. Religion cannot be a private affair. It is anti-religion to think it or make it so. Religion is public. If it is not the true religion, it is a false religion. Although some false religions are truer than others, none is that true religion itself. At most, it can have elements of truth about it or preserve the elements of sanctification and truth found in that one true religion. The West has declined from false religions closely associated with the true, to a general humanism and hedonism. We now worship the cult of pleasure and of Marxist egalitarianism. Thus, we have exchanged one religion for another and that for another. Absolute commitments are public and these form the pith of religion. We thus do not have a public zone of neutrality and a private arena of freedom of religion. We have warring religions.
After the peace of Westphalia fails, and modern civilization collapses before the barbarians within and outside the borders, … when a new society must be constructed, let us pray the wise words, about Church and state, of Popes Gregory XVI – Pius XII, as well as those of Pope Leo the Great, et al., esp. those of Leo XIII, will be heeded.