Category Archives: Philosophy

The Source of a Maxim on Faith and Reason

A common maxim used to explain the relationship between faith and reason in dogmatic theology within the theistic tradition is “Non enim fides est contra rationem, sed supra rationem” (“For faith is not contrary to reason, but above reason”).

Many, however, fail to give a reference to the original source of this maxim which is the eleventh chapter of the Summa Sententiarum (P.L. 176, col. 59C) attributed to Hugh of Saint Victor.


Some Literature on Ethics and Moral Theology

V. J. Bourke. History of Ethics. 2 vols, 1968.

A. R. Jonsen and S. Toulmin. The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning. 1988.

Ph. Wogaman. Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction. 2nd ed. 2010.

A. MacIntyre. A Short History of Ethics. 2nd ed. 1998.

S. Pinckaers. The Sources of Christian Ethics. 1995.

Ch. Yannaras. The Freedom of Morality. 1984.

A. MacIntyre. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3d ed. 2007.

J. Finnis. Natural Law and Natural Rights. 2nd ed. 2011.

J. F. Childress and J. Macquarrie, eds. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics. 2nd ed. 1986.

Church and state

Today there are three main systems of relationship between church and state in modern free democratic constitutional states: (a) establishment (e.g., England and Denmark); (b) separation in which the church has status as a corporation of public law (e.g., Germany and Finland); and (c) separation in which the church has status as a corporation of private law (e.g., the United States, France, and Sweden). These systems are products of the history of European Christendom.

The Western Reformations of the sixteenth century resulted in a constitutional crisis since they made it impossible to continue the medieval union of church and state in a single Christendom (i.e., the Corpus Christianorum). The modern state began to develop rapidly in the seventeenth century as politicians, jurists, and philosophers tried to solve this constitutional crisis. The relationship between church and state as well as power in (and over) the church were recurrent issues in this crisis among both Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Summepiscopate and territorialism

The Augsburg Conference

The Augsburg Conference

The theory of Protestant episcopalism was derived from the Augsburg Settlement (1555). The Reformation had, according to this theory, transferred the bishops’ power of governance (jurisdiction) to the princes who henceforth exercised this ecclesiastical power (summepiscopate) in their territories separately from their secular power. The theory of territorialism held that the princes, according to natural law, by virtue of their sovereignty held absolute power over everything in their territories, including organized religion and public worship.

Collegialism and natural ecclesiastical law

The dominant theory during the Enlightenment was collegialism which held that the church was, according to natural law, an association (Lat. collegium) comparable to any other which ought to be autonomous in the regulation of its internal matters (ius in sacra) while subject to the state in the regulation of its external matters (ius circa sacra). This theory was related to the rational natural law (Vernunftrecht) of the Enlightenment and the movement of natural ecclesiastical law (natürliches Kirchenrecht) which tried to construct ecclesiastical law from concepts deduced from rational human nature rather than the revealed will of God or church history. Although the Enlightenment theologians did not make any distinctions between rational human nature and the will of God. The theory of collegialism is the foundation of the legislation on organized religions in most states today.

Gallicanism, Febronianism, and Josephinism

These theories are often inappropriately called Protestant theories, but they had medieval predecessors and were also very influential in Roman Catholic states (e.g., Austria and France). The Roman Catholic movements of Gallicanism in France, Febronianism in Germany, and Josephinism in Austria combined ideas from these theories and ecclesiological theories of conciliarism and clerical episcopalism in order to restrict the influence and power of the Papacy in the Roman Catholic Communion. (The Papacy did not gain effective control over the Roman Catholic Churches in Europe until the nineteenth century).

Russia and the Eastern Orthodox Churches

Samuel von Pufendorf

Samuel von Pufendorf

These theories, especially in the social philosophy of Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), were also implemented in Russia during the reforms of Emperor Peter the Great (1682-1725) and afterwards. The prerevolution Russian textbooks on ecclesiastical law are written in the tradition of natural ecclesiastical law. They begin by defining the general concepts of religion, religious societies, and the necessity of law in societies as well as the sovereign power of the state before treating the specific religious societies sanctioned by the Russian state (i.e., the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Church, the Lutheran Church, Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Lama Buddhism). But the main focus was on the law of the established Eastern Orthodox Church. The abolishment of the Moscow Patriarchate and the transferal of its jurisdiction to the Holy Governing Synod chaired by a layperson representing the sovereign was an example of how the theory of summepiscopate of the sovereign was implemented in the Russian Orthodox Church.

These theories were also influential in the establishment of the national churches in the new Eastern Orthodox states created in the nineteenth century (especially in the bid for jurisdictional independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate which was still subject to the Ottoman state). The Eastern Orthodox Churches in Muslim states had the status of ahl al-dhimmah (a tolerated but discriminated religious group) according to Islamic law and were generally met by an attitude of indifference from the Muslim authorities as long as they paid their taxes and did not rebel.

It should be noted that the traditions of Western and Byzantine political theology differ. The Western tradition is based on dualism (e.g., the two cities of Augustine, the two swords of Gelasius, and the two kingdoms of Luther) which presumes conflict and competition between the spiritual and the civil spheres. The Byzantine tradition is based on monism and presumes the harmony (Gr. symphonia) and cooperation of spiritual and civil authority. Although the leaders of the Byzantine Church generally were successful in defending the autonomy of ecclesiastical power in matters of doctrine, sacraments, and polity they saw no problem in granting extensive powers to the emperor in matters of administration and organization. It was therefore easy for the Eastern Orthodox Churches to accept the modern theories which seemed to be congenial to the tradition of Byzantine political theology. But many Eastern Orthodox theologians found the abolishment of the Moscow Patriarchate on the basis of secular sovereignty very problematic from an ecclesiological perspective.

The limits of secular power in the church

Emperor Peter the Great

Emperor Peter the Great

These modern theories did not mean a complete arbitrary subjection of the church to the whims of the sovereign. In the Roman Catholic Church the claims of secular power were limited by the claims of ius divinum (divine law) derived directly from the sources of revelation. In those Protestant Churches which did not accept the concept of ius divinum the power of the sovereign was limited by the demand that the law regulating the empirical church could not contradict the confession of the church (i.e., creeds and symbolic books). The idea was that Jesus Christ had determined both the message and the order of the Christian Church. The confessions (norma normata) of the empirical churches were their public confirmations of the Gospel derived from the source of revelation (norma normans non normata). Similar ideas were also used in the Eastern Orthodox Churches to limit the power of the sovereign.

Societas perfecta and Roman Catholic ecclesiology 

Roman Catholic jurists of the Ultramontane persuasion reacted against these theories and constructed the theory of societas perfecta. This theory held that the church is according to natural law a sovereign society analogous to the early modern state and its absolute monarchy. The church and state have different purposes but are analogous. This theory was officially approved by several popes during the nineteenth century when it had become a political anachronism. The characteristics of the absolute monarchy of the early modern state were consequently incorporated into Roman Catholic ecclesiology at a time when the modern states had developed beyond absolutism under the influence of the division of powers, constitutionalism, civil liberties, and democracy. But this theory made it possible for the pope, as the sovereign of the Roman Catholic Church, to negotiate bilateral treaties (e.g., concordats) with the states within the framework of international law. This proved to be a powerful political tool during the Papacy’s successful attempt to gain effective control over the Roman Catholic Churches in Europe during the nineteenth century. But today, after the Second Vatican Council, a theory of the church as communio has replaced the theory of societas perfecta in the Roman Catholic Church.

Selected bibliography

Ch. Link, Kirchliche Rechtsgeschichte. 2nd ed. 2010.

R. Zippelius, Staat und Kirche: Eine Geschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 2nd ed. 2009.

Th. Hahn, Staat und Kirche im deutschen Naturrecht: Das natürlische Kirchenrecht des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts (ca. 1680 bis ca. 1850). 2012.

H. J. Berman, Law and Revolution, vol. 1: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. 1983.

H. J. Berman, Law and Revolution, vol. 2: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition. 2003.

J. Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition. 2003.

R. P. de Mortanges, P. B. Bouzar, D. Bollag, and Ch. R. Tappenbeck, Religionsrecht: Eine Einführung in das jüdische, christliche und islamische Recht. 2010.

R. Potz and E. Synek, Orthodoxes Kirchenrecht: Eine Einführung. 2007.

F. Dvornik, Early Christian and Byzantine Political Philosophy. 2 volumes. 1966.

J. Listl, Kirche und Staat in der neuren katholischen Kirchenrechtswissenschaft. 1978.