Gian Piero de Bellis
(2003 - 2014)
Churchism / Statism
The word religion comes from the Latin re-ligo and means
“binding together.” This term designated, for instance, the communities
of monks and cloistered nuns that congregated during the Middle Ages in
religious orders (i.e. religions) and established convents all
The binding, as connecting-uniting, can take place at two different levels:
- transcendent : human being - God
- immanent: human being – another human being.
With respect to the type of binding and the entities involved, we come to distinguish between:
- a spiritual religion that manifests itself as faith in a transcendent entity (God);
- a secular religion that manifests itself as a creed in an immanent entity (e.g. humankind, nation, state).
Both these types and forms of binding together, the spiritual and the secular, have given rise, in the course of history, to institutions of which the most relevant, and also the current ones, are:
- the Church. The term church (Anglo-Saxon, cirice, circe; Modern German, Kirche; Swedish, Kyrka) is the name employed in the Teutonic languages to render the Greek ekklesia (ecclesia) (Catholic Encyclopedia, The Church).
- the State. The term state and its cognates in other European languages (stato in Italian, Estado in Spanish, état in French, Staat in German) derives from the Latin status, meaning “condition” or “status” (rank). The term is also connected to the word “estate” referring to a condition of worldly fortune (e.g. landed property).
The aim and function of these entities have been the organization of the binding, i.e. the promotion and implementation of the idea of uniting and administering those who, on the basis of chance, personal choice or external imposition, found themselves bound together by a variety of outcomes (e.g. birth, propinquity, tradition, interests, etc.).
Given the commonality of the practical aim, even if by way of different
conceptions and finalities (spiritual, secular), the similarities between
the two organizations have been remarkable.
This was also due also to the fact that all human beings share certain common traits. For this reason, all those who rule a dominant institution present strong affinities, in attitude and behaviour.
At the same time, when large organizations pursue the same objective of binding people together and administering them, the contrasts between them are inevitable and recurrent. They appear, also, in the form of rival conceptions that tend to justify the supremacy of one power over the other.
Those conceptions and the behaviour of the entities that elaborated and expressed them, are here examined, namely:
- Churchism : the concept of the overall supremacy of the Church;
- Statism : the concept of the overall supremacy of the State.
The following brief historical survey and synthetic analysis of these realities aim at showing that:
- to side with one or the other concept and entity does not free the human being from a domineering power;
- to free the human being from a domineering power has been and is possible only with a radical change concerning the concepts affecting these entities and their related practices.
The beginnings of Churchism (^)
In the distant past, at the time of the Greek city-states and of ancient
Rome, there was no separation between transcendent and immanent religion.
As highlighted by Fustel de Colanges with reference to the ancient city:
“La cité avait été fondée sur une religion et constituée comme une Église.” “La religion qui avait enfanté l'État, et l'État qui entretenait la religion, se soutenaient l'un l'autre et ne faisaient qu'un; ces deux puissances associées et confondues formaient une puissance presque surhumaine à laquelle l'âme et le corps étaient également asservis.” [“The city was based on a religion and constituted like a Church.” “Religion that gave birth to the State, and the State that assisted religion, supported each other and were just one thing; these two powers associated and confounded made up an almost super-human power to which the soul and the body were equally subjected.”] (La cité antique, book III, chapter XVIII, 1864)
During the time of imperial Rome, the populations of the Empire were bound together, not just by the authority of Rome, but also by the granting of Roman citizenship through a process known as Romanization. It represented one of the most successful tools of integration of the different cultural groups under the control of Rome.
As for the aspect of transcendent religion, the Romans generally allowed
the practice of many different cults as long as they were not in opposition
to imperial power or a nuisance to public order and morality (like, for instance,
the Bacchanals that the Senate tried to restrain in 186 B.C.).
The preservation of cults and deities of the annexed populations, instead of their suppression, was meant to promote stability and defuse social unrest. As a matter of fact, the political power, at Rome and in the Provinces, inspired and promoted many of these cults. They had, as predominant features, the fact of being:
- Polytheistic, i.e. relying on many Gods, each one performing a specific function and supervising a specific sector or activity;
- Ritualistic, i.e. based on highly formal ceremonies (sacrifices, offerings, processions, methods of divination);
- Opportunistic, i.e. utilitarian in the sense that the rites were aimed at achieving specific goals or fulfilling specific vows.
The appearance of a new life concept, inspired by the figure and message
of Jesus Christ and diffused by his disciples and followers, especially Paul
of Tarsus, represented a radical break with all the preceding transcendent
and immanent experiences.
The differentiating features of Christianity were the fact of being:
- Monotheistic : “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”(Exodus, 20:3). “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who is above all and through all and in all.” (Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, 4:5-6);
- Spiritualistic : “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John, 18:36);
- Universalistic : “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Letter of Paul to the Galatians, 3:28).
These refreshing novelties found a fertile terrain at a time when the empire was undergoing a terminal decline. According to Edward Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776 – Chapter XV), the main reasons for the power of attraction and the widespread development of the Christian faith were:
- the “practice of rigid virtue”;
- the zeal of proselytism : “there is the strongest reason to believe that before the reign of Diocletian and Constantine the faith of Christ had been preached in every province and in all the great cities of the empire”;
- the setting up of a network of local churches with “provincial councils, which mutually communicated and approved their respective proceedings" so that "the catholic church soon assumed the form, and acquired the strength, of a great federative republic.”
The term "catholic" derives from the Greek “katolikos” meaning universal.
It was first used in the early second century and marks the aspect of gathering
and binding people in a communitarian assembly (ecclesia), beyond
any difference of culture, race, status.
However, while the message was addressed to everybody, the fact that Christians lived in a sort of parallel society, with their own moral norms and burial places, together with the refusal to participate in official cults and to recognize the emperor as a God-like figure to venerate, provided, for some rulers and common people, sufficient reason to attack and persecute this religious minority. A clear evidence of that is the fact that the first thirty Pontiffs in Rome were all martyred.
The initial persecutions (under Nero, Domitian, Trajan), were local and limited.
They were followed, from the third century, by wider and more systematic repressions
under Decius (edict in 250), Valerian (measures taken in 257 and 258) and especially
Diocletian that started a general persecution against Christians in 303.
In the words of Tertullian (c.160 - c. 220)
“they [those who conspire in hatred] take the Christians to be the cause of all calamity, of all mischief in the world. If the Tiber overflows, if the Nile does not fertilize the fields, if the sky stops, if the earth quakes, if famine or pestilence take their marches through the country, the cry is at once, ‘The Christians to the Lions’." (Apology for the Christians, Chapter XL)
Nevertheless, all this did not stop the spreading of Christianity that attracted
not only the poor and destitute but also individuals belonging to the high
echelons of Roman society.
It was also in response to the fact that persecutions did not halt the appeal of Christianity and the rise of its Catholic Church, that the son of Diocletian, Constantine, on assuming imperial power in 306, stopped all repressive actions and allowed Christians to freely profess their faith.
In 313, Constantine (who controlled the western part of the Roman Empire) and Licinius (who controlled the Balkans) met in Milan and agreed to treat Christians with benevolence and to extend this benevolence to all religious communities. ("We, Constantinus and Licinius, the Emperors, having met in concord at Milan … should therefore give both to Christians and to all other free facility to follow the religion which each may desire …” (Edict of Milan, 313, from Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum - On the Deaths of the Persecutors, in Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds., 1954)
Constantine had been exposed to Christianity by his mother Helena, and, on his deathbed, assented to be baptised. It seems that he considered his military successes as related to his acceptance of Christianity and so he favoured the development and the prosperity of the Church. He became also interested in the solution of the controversies that arose within the Church and to this aim he convened the Council of Nicea (325) where some questions were settled and some decisions concerning the organization of the clergy and the date for the celebration of Easter were taken.
During the time of Constantine, the favour that the heathens had enjoyed in the past from the rulers (for instance resources for the maintenance of the temples) disappeared. Meanwhile "Constantine granted the Church one privilege after another. As early as 313 the Church obtained immunity for its ecclesiastics, including freedom from taxation and compulsory service, and from obligatory state offices - such for example as the curial dignity, which was a heavy burden. The Church further obtained the right to inherit property, and Constantine moreover placed Sunday under the protection of the State." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Constantine the Great)And so, the terrain was prepared for the emperor Theodosius I to declare, in the year 380, that there was only one faith and that only the assemblies of the Catholic Christians should receive the name of Church. All the others "are to be punished not only by Divine retribution but also by our own measures, which we have decided in accordance with Divine inspiration." (Edict of Thessalonica, 380, in Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds., 1954).
The rise of Churchism (^)
The ascension of the Catholic Church to a position of supremacy with respect
to other religious expressions meant that, for various centuries (i.e.
from the Edict of Thessalonica, 380, to the affirmation of religious tolerance
starting from the XVII century) also this new transcendent religion
found herself intermingled with secular power. These two entities, namely
the Church and the Empire, alternatively supporting or opposing each other,
remained for a very long period of time the main institutional actors on the historical scene.
Spiritual religion and the Catholic Church played a very important role in history, even if always dependent for protection on a secular power.
After the death of Theodosius (395), the Empire was divided between his two sons, Arcadius in the east (Constantinople) and Honorius in the west (Rome). This partition was to result, in the course of time, in a different development of the relationship between Church and State in the two areas. Briefly said we have:
- In the East, the setting up of a State Church (Hans, Küng, 1999) in which the Emperor acted not just as protector of the ecclesia but also as supervisor of the right doctrine (orthodoxy) and elector of ecclesiastical personnel, in particular the patriarch of Constantinople, who was appointed or, at least, confirmed by him.
- In the West, the development of a Christian State (Hans, Küng, 1999) in which the Pope became increasingly detached from the imperial power and from the patriarch of Constantinople, and was in search of a new secular entity on which to confer the power to protect Christianity and upon which to exert its moral authority.
These separate paths would culminate in the year 1054 with the mutual
excommunication of Rome and Constantinople on the basis of theological
differences and reciprocal pretensions of supremacy.
But, prior to that, in the West, the Emperors and the administrative and military apparatus had shown their absolute ineffectiveness when faced with attacks by warriors from Central and North Europe. These populations were occasionally federated to the Empire, but more often discontented with their lot and in search of new riches.
A series of invasions took place in Italy, Gaul, and Spain, that resulted also in the sack of Rome by the Visigoths under Alaric (410) and by the Vandals under Genseric (455). Eventually, the last western Emperor, Romolus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 by Odoacer, a German soldier and military leader, who became king of Italy (476-493).
Out of all these upheavals, the Roman Pope emerged as the defender
of peace and, with his spiritual message, also as the comforter of
ills. In fact, to Pope Leo I (440-461) is attributed the merit of persuading
Attila, the Hun, to turn back from his invasion of Italy (452). Whatever
the truth of this episode, the fame of the Pope increased. He interceded
also with Genseric during the second sack of Rome that "the city
should not be injured and that the lives of the inhabitants should
be spared." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope St. Leo I)
Pope Leo I was also a stout supporter of the unity of the Church and the primacy of the bishop of Rome. In a letter (letter 14) to Anastasius, the bishop of Thessalonica, he wrote that "the care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter's one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope Leo to Anastasius bishop of Thessalonica).
After various centuries in which different powers dominated, in their
turns, parts of Italy and of the Western Empire (Visigoths, Vandals,
Huns, Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the Lombards),
finally a new power emerged that would play (directly or indirectly)
a significant role in the development of the Church and of Churchism:
Clovis I (c. 466 - 511) reunited the Frankish tribes and became king of the Franks from 481- 482 till 511. The expansion of Christianity and of the Church of Rome received a powerful boost when the king converted to Christianity. There were several reasons for this conversion: the pressures from his Christian wife Clotilde, the vow made on the occasion of a successful battle, the friendship with the bishop of Reims (the future Saint Remi), the clerical elements that were powerful within the population.
According to Hans Küng (1999), there were some events that marked the formation of a new paradigm characterized by the affirmation of the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe. Amongst them he lists :
- the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) that introduced a vacuum of power and prestige that, in the course of time, would be filled by the Popes and the Church;
- the baptism of king Clovis (498 or 499) that expanded Christianity into a vast kingdom of Europe and endowed the Church with a new protector who would be generous with his resources (for instance, by building many churches);
- the arrival onto the scene of Muhammad (c. 570 - c. 632) who in 622, operating from Medina, drafted the Charter of Medina aiming at ending all fighting between various Arab tribal and religious communities. In the end, he took control also of Mecca and united Arabia under a single religious polity.
The vacuum of power in the West and the arrival of the new Muslim power (Islam) in the East, perceived as a menace, contributed then to the rise of the Papacy and of the Catholic Church as universal spiritual protector of the people. However, the Papacy in its turn needed a secular protector of Christianity in place of the Eastern Roman Emperor, and the choice fell on the Carolingian dynasty that was, at that time, the most important power in Europe.
Already in 739, Pope Gregory III had sent ambassadors to Charles Martel (c. 688 - 741), the Carolingian who, as Mayor of the Palace was de facto the ruler of the Franks, asking him to intervene against the Lombard king Liutprand who was threatening Rome. On that occasion, Pope Gregory stated that he was willing to give up his allegiance to the Eastern Empire and place himself under the protection of the Franks. Albeit unsuccessful this time in his request, the foundation had been laid for a reciprocal support between the Carolingians and the Papacy. Already with the son of Charles Martel, Pepin the Short (c. 714 – 768) we see the formation of an understanding leading to the proclamation of Pepin as king of the Franks with the approval and blessing of Pope Zachary.
The culminating point of this process took place during mass at Christmas Day of the year 800, in Saint Peter Basilica in Rome, when Charlemagne (the son of Pepin) knelt at the altar to pray and Pope Leo III put on his head the crown declaring him Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans). For Charlemagne it was a prestigious title that raised him to the highest possible level in the West, as far as earthly power was concerned. For Pope Leo, it was not only the way to confirm and certify the Carolingian dynasty as protector of the Church but also a visible sign asserting the supremacy of the bishop of Rome and of the spiritual power over the secular one, by enthroning (and, if the case, dethroning) imperial rulers.
The predominance of Churchism (^)
The coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III marked a passage towards the predominance of the Church in the Western world. The major steps in this march towards supremacy have been:
- The political acceptance. Constantine accepted and favoured the Christian religion within the fold of the Empire; Theodosius made it the official religion of the Empire and started opposing pagans and heretics; Justinian I (c. 482- 565) became the defensor of orthodoxy and the suppressor of other creeds, particularly paganism. In this phase, the Church was rising to a position of pre-eminence over other religious groups and cults. But it was still the Emperor who, in the name of Christ Pantocrator, was taking decisions in matter of religion, except those already regulated by dogmas.
- The theoretical elaboration. In the West, the growing feebleness of the imperial power contributed to the development, on the basis of the thinking of St. Augustine, of a Heavenly City (The City of God) distinct and superior to the earthly city (the city of man). The ideas and writings of St Augustine helped to justify not only the supremacy of the Church over any other power, but also the fact that every temporal power should be an instrument at the service of the Church for the suppression of dissidents and heretics. For some "Augustine was the dark genius of Imperial Christianity, the ideologue of the Church-State alliance, and the fabricator of the medieval mentality." (Paul Johnson, 1976)
- The practical implementation. One of the aims of the catholic Popes was to build up a territorial base that would grant to them a certain material strength and cushioning space vis-à-vis other territorial powers. From this perspective we have to understand the request, by the Popes, and the concession, by the Carolingians kings, of territories that would become the Papal States and would remain under the rule of the Popes until 1870. This early acquisition of territories by the Church is known as the Donation of Pepin (756), that was confirmed and extended in 774 by his son Charlemagne. To underpin the claims by the Church to territorial possessions, Pope Leo IX would make reference (1054) in a letter to Michael Cærularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to a document, the Donation of Constantine, that, later on (1439-1440), would be exposed as false by the Catholic priest Lorenzo Valla. According to that document the Emperor Constantine would have transferred to the Popes the authority over Rome and the Western part of the Empire.
During all those centuries, and at least until the time of the papacy
of Gregory VII (1073-1085), the dominance of the Church should not
be seen at all as paramount.
The Byzantine emperors and the Carolingian kings both intervened in matters of creed and in the election of ecclesiastical personnel. This prompted a scholar of Church history to say that, at that time "neither in the West nor in the East do we find any trace of a primacy of a papal jurisdiction." (Hans Küng, 1999). And an historian remarked that "the fusion of the temporal and spiritual power was far more complete in the Carolingian state than it had been in the Christian barbarian kingdoms, or even in the Byzantine Empire." (Christopher Dawson, 1950). In fact, under the Carolingians, the "bishop, no less than the count, was appointed and controlled by the emperor and acted with the count as joint representative of the imperial authority." (Christopher Dawson, 1950)
We assist, nevertheless, to a growing pretension of moral superiority by the Popes over every existing secular power. This claim was generally considered appropriate by the fact that, at least in the West, a divine legitimization to royal sovereignty was seen, by most people, as necessary for accepting and respecting a secular ruler. In other words, instead of a pretended divine origin of the king (descending from pagan gods), a person became king by the grace of God (Gratia Dei rex), through his representative on earth, the Roman Pontifex. (Hans Küng 1999).
It must also be said that the claim of moral superiority asserted by the Church and her Popes was, in many cases, well deserved. In fact the Papacy enjoyed also a reflected aura of esteem in virtue of the spiritual acts and benevolent activities of many churchmen and churchwomen (bishops, abbots, monks, priests, abbesses, nuns, deacons and simple believers) some of whom would later be declared Saints. However, the purely moral and charitable aspects would perhaps not have sufficed to grant her predominance if the Church, through all its components, had not owned and shown an overall ascendancy under the following aspects:
- Culture. As already underlined, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, "the Catholic Church, heir of the culture and of the organization of antiquity, is the only cultural power subsisting in the West." (Hans Küng, 1999). By way of bishops in the cities and monks in the monasteries, the Church succeeded in preserving and transmitting cultural texts and artifacts through the centuries. "The monastic schools and libraries and scriptoria became the chief organs of higher intellectual culture in Western Europe." (Christopher Dawson, 1950)
- Economy. The people attracted by the Christian message, when they united in small communities (monasteries), were also capable of economically transforming the rural environment, tilling new soil and bringing deserted lands back to cultivation. "At its height, the Benedictine order could boast 37,000 monasteries." (Thomas E. Woods, jr., 2005). St. Benedict's rule, Ora et Labora, meant that all these monasteries were also centres of production and "agricultural colleges" for the whole region in which they were located (in Thomas E. Woods, jr., 2005).
- Organization. The Church, counting on literate personnel and a growing amount of resources, by way of gifts and the collection of payments, was also capable of setting up an internal central administration (the Curia) modelled in some ways on the old imperial Roman administration. That will be, in its turn, copied by the rulers of the future nation states. At the same time, the bishop-counts were becoming, from the time of emperor Otto I (912 - 973) "the central figure in the administration of the Empire" (Christopher Dawson, 1950) establishing a close alliance between the Papacy and the Empire.
According to some scholars, "the chief reason for its [the Church’s] success was that it was not anchored in any particular racial, geographical, social or political context." (Paul Johnson, 1976). This allowed for universal predication and proselytism that took place in various parts of Europe (Spain, Germany, Ireland, England, Poland, etc.).
The success in converting people built up to a point in which the
old aspiration of Gelasius I (Pope from 492 to 496) of a Church independent
from and superior to any imperial power came again to the fore.
And it found expression through the action of a Benedictine monk, Hildebrand of Sovana, who was raised to the Pontifical See in 1073 and took the name of Gregory VII (1073-1085). At that time, the intromission of the Emperor in electing bishops and even in controlling the election and dismissal of the Popes had reached such a point that, in order to stop this practice, in 1059 a synod, presided over by Pope Nicholas II, was convened in Rome and approved the decision that only the college of cardinals could elect the Pope. In this way, the Roman aristocracy and the German Emperor were excluded from meddling in ecclesiastical affairs at the highest level.
One of the first acts of Pope Gregory VII was the formulation of
a program (Dictatus Papae, 1075) that, in 27 statements, affirmed
the authority of the Pope on every power on earth, the supremacy of
the Pope over the entire clergy and the infallibility of the Catholic
The most important step towards affirming the overall autonomy and supremacy of the Church was to exclude the German Emperor from electing bishops. The achievement of this objective resulted in what is known as the Conflict of Investitures. The conflict set the Pope, Gregory VII, against the Emperor Henry IV who refused to give up what he considered an imperial prerogative and was then excommunicated (1076). At that moment, sensing the risk of losing all legitimacy in the eyes of barons and the people, and so all influence and power, the Emperor decided to submit to the Pope and went to Canossa (1077) to ask for forgiveness.
The Conflict of the Investitures was finally resolved by the Emperor Henry V and Pope Callixtus II with the Concordat of Worms (1122), in which the granting of spiritual authority and symbols to the ecclesiastical hierarchy was removed from the Emperor and reserved only to the Pope. The Emperor was recognized as having the right to invest bishops with secular authority ("by the lance") but not with spiritual authority ("by ring and staff”).
Gregory VII was not fully successful in his fight for Church supremacy, as the emperor Henry IV tried again to affirm his power in those matters up to the point of electing and installing an anti-Pope. However, the changes towards a higher morality and autonomy of the Church, introduced by Hildebrand of Sovana, first as a counsellor to Pope Nicholas II (1059-1061) and then as Pope Gregory VII, the so called Gregorian Reform, survived and led to the apogee of Papacy.
Pope Innocent III (1198 – 1216) was the Pope who expressed very clearly the idea and aspiration of the superiority of the spiritual power with respect to any secular power. In a Letter to the prefect Acerbius and the nobles of Tuscany (1198) he stated :
“Just as the founder of the universe has constituted two great luminaries in the firmament of heaven, … so too He set two great dignities in the firmament of the Universal Community ... the greater one to rule the day, that is, souls, and the lesser to rule the night, that is, bodies. These dignities are the papal authority and the royal power. Now just as the moon derives its light from the sun and is indeed lower than it in quantity and quality, in position and in power, so too the royal power derives the splendor of its dignity from the pontifical authority.” (see: Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds., 1954)
Under Pope Innocent III "Rome is the unquestionable centre of European policy" and "Innocent III is really the master of the world - not in the sense of an absolute dominance, but as arbiter and supreme sovereign." (Hans Küng, 1999)Nevertheless, the struggle between Papacy and Empire that resulted in the separation between ecclesiastical authority and secular power, weakened both, in the end, and planted the seeds for the emergence, in the course of time, of new actors: the territorial sovereign states. (Hendrik Spruyt, 1994).
The beginnings of Statism (^)
The "triumphal pontificate [of Innocent III] marks not only an
apogee [for the papacy] but also a turning point." (Hans Küng,
The signs of this transformation had already been manifest at the turn of the millennium and they were accentuated with the passing of time. They were:
- The centralization: the Church as ecclesia (assembly of the community) was increasingly replaced by the Church as hierarchy having at the top a figure, the Pope, to which full obedience had to be given because he was the representative of God on earth. The Roman Curia became the organism that implemented this hierarchical centralization, running the Church from the centre in a way that will be replicated by the future territorial states.
- The bureaucratization : the Curia came to be “primarily a legal organization, with over a hundred experts employed there by the thirteen century, plus other lawyers who looked after the interests of kings, princes and leading ecclesiastics.” (Paul Johnson, 1976). This was a time when law was more important than theology, as remarked by Roger Bacon in his Opus Tertium (1267) : “More praise is gained in the Church of God by a civil jurist … than by any master in theology, and he is more quickly promoted to high ecclesiastical positions.”
- The clericalization: the differentiation between clergy and laity, that was practically non-existent in the early years of the Church, became an established reality. As a matter of fact, it was the conflict between the Pope and the Emperor that led to the (necessary and inevitable) separation between the ecclesiastical personnel and the secular apparatus (see Hendrik Spruyt, 1994). At the same time, this contributed to the formation of a clergy that, in many cases, would detach itself from the communities of the faithful and would dominate all in alliance with secular rulers.
- The militarization: the formation of territorial Papal States required, for the defence of the territory, the establishment of an army. When it was necessary, alliances were made with secular sovereigns in order to get the papal territories protected through their armies. Moreover, some sections and personages within the Church became increasingly militant in their fight against all those who had different ideas (called “heretics”) and creeds (Jews, Muslims) and promoted the use of violent means against them. This in open violation of the message of Jesus Christ and even of the prescriptions of Pope Innocent III (see, for instance, the Decree of 1199 on the Jews : “We decree that no Christian shall use violence to compel the Jews to accept baptism.”)
By developing these features, the spiritual universal Church increasingly lost the characteristics of spirituality and universality and became another secular territorial power; one amongst the many. This process of transformation reached its peak during the Renaissance when the Popes were nothing other than "simple Italian princes" (Hans Küng, 1999) involved in political intrigues, and interested less in the Evangilium secundum Marcum (Gospel according Mark) and more in the Evangilium secundum Marcam (Gospel according to the mark - i.e. money).
In a certain way, Statism must be seen to have its origins in the Church and in some policies promoted by the Church. A starting point could be ascribed to the preaching of a Crusade with the declared aim of liberating Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre from the presence of the Seljuk Turks, a Moslem population that had captured Jerusalem in 1076 and had closed that route to the East to pilgrims and merchants.
So, when in 1095 Pope Urban II launched from Clermont in Auvergne (France) an appeal to a Crusade, responding also to a pressing request for aid against the Turks from the Byzantine Emperor (Christian Orthodox), many elements were conducive to the starting of an adventure larger than life. In fact, under the impulse and justification of spiritual aspirations (to pray before the Holy Sepulchre) the first Crusade offered the pretext and the justification for pursuing all sorts of political, military, commercial interests (to kings, barons, merchants, entrepreneurs, etc.) and personal adventures (to those who wanted to go away from pestering creditors, pitiless magistrates, authoritarian parents, obnoxious wives, exploiting masters and whatever else). All this with the full encouragement and blessing of the Holy Catholic Church.
Eventually, the expansionist and commercial interests replaced completely
any trace of spiritual fervour and Christian ardour. “The men of the
Fourth Crusade (1200-1204) [the one dominated by Venice] did not even
enter the Holy Land” (Henry Treece, 1962) and concentrated on the
burning and sacking of Constantinople (1204). And this, as usual, "in
a vainglorious and always treacherous pretence of furthering the interests
of Christianity." (Henry Treece, 1962)
The result was, instead, a total poisoning of the relationships between the Churches (East and West) that would last for centuries.
The Crusades also provided the opportunity to the King of France
to appear as the Rex Christianissimus, anointed by God, and,
on that basis, also the confidence that will lead him to withstand,
in due time, the will of any Pope. The occasion presented itself when
Pope Boniface VIII signed the Bull Clericis Laicos (1296)
in which he reaffirmed that only the Pope was authorised to tax the
clergy. This prescription was made in order to avoid a situation where
the clergy was taxed for financing the war between the king of France
(Philip IV) and the king of England (Edward I) over the Duchy of Aquitaine.
However, both kings reacted to the Bull with political and economic measures that damaged the interests of the Papacy (e.g. seizing Church land, forbidding the export of bullion and so drying up the flux of money towards the Holy See).
So, the Pope had to back down and the Bull was practically repealed and replaced by a new more accommodating one (Etsi de statu, 1297) that allowed taxation of the clergy in case of emergencies.
In France, the King was supported by bishops, nobles and laymen over which he exerted a direct control. It was the beginning of the formation of a national powerbase that would be increasingly successful against the universal claims of the papacy. In fact, Philip IV, against the will of the Pope, supported by previous agreements (Concordat of Worms, 1122), was electing and dismissing bishops as he wished and was putting down the founding stones for a Gallican church, obedient to the secular power.
To stop this practice, the Pope first warned the king (Letter Ausculta fili, 1301) and then excommunicated him (Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302) because of his insouciance and intromission in what were Church matters and Church autonomy. The Bull reaffirmed the supremacy of spiritual authority over secular power in the most forceful terms. However, the climate had changed to such a point that the secular power could now perform actions that were inconceivable in the previous century. So, it is appropriate to say that the “pontificate [of Boniface VIII] marks in history the decline of the medieval power and glory of the papacy.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Boniface VIII)
In fact, what happened was that, as reprisal, the King sent his Minister, Guillaume de Nogaret who, leading a band of adventurers and enemies of the Pope, entered the small town of Anagni (Lazio) where the Pope was residing at that time. The Pope suffered physical humiliation and maltreatment culminating in the famous "schiaffo di Anagni" (Anagni slap). The killing of the Pope was also suggested by one of Nogaret allies, Sciarra Colonna, but the plan was to take him prisoner to France. However, the situation turned bad for Guillaume de Nogaret and his band when the people of Anagni rose against the Pope captivity and Nogaret was forced to retreat in a hurry. The Pope died a month later (11 October 1303) probably as a consequence of the physical and psychological trauma of the event.
The king Philip IV, with the various decisions and actions he took during his reign, could be rightly seen as one of the major destroyers of Churchism and founders of Statism. Under Philip IV, what will become a permanent fixture of the modern states, i.e. the constant drive to capture resources, was much in evidence. It resulted in the intensive exploitation of large sections of his own people. Amongst his many political acts on the way to Statism and State dominance we have:
- the imprisonment and expulsion of Jews and the expropriation of their properties (July 1306);
- the disallowance of his debts towards rich abbots and Lombard merchants and bankers, the latter ones being expelled from France and their property confiscated;
- the levy of taxes on the French clergy of one half their annual income;
- the suppression and practical extermination of the Knights Templar, a Christian military and commercial Order that was extraordinarily wealthy and to whom the king was deeply in debt. In 1307, in France many of the Order's members were arrested, tortured and burned at the stake.
Philip VI was also responsible for two big debasements that, from then on, must be ascribed to almost every state ruler and are intrinsic to the practice of Statism:
- the debasement of the currency: by 1306 the French units of coinage (livres, sous and deniers) had lost two-thirds of their value. Riots erupted in Paris and Philip was forced to find refuge in the headquarters of the Knights Templar, the very same ones that he would eradicate and exterminate shortly afterwards;
- the debasement of the Church: after the death of Boniface VIII (1303) there begun a period of dominance over the Church by the French State, known as the Avignon Papacy (1309-1378) or “Babylonian captivity”. This was a sort of strict control over seven Popes, all French, that were either puppets of the French Crown (like Clemens V who was a pawn in the hands of Philip IV in the persecution of the Knights Templar) or strongly under its influence.
The fourteenth century represented then a turning point not only for the final transformation of the hierarchy of the Church into a secular State, but also for the birth of secular States (France, England) that, in due course, will take the role (moral, cultural, administrative) played once by the Church.
Petrarch, who spent many years of his life in and around Avignon, expressed in a letter to a friend (Epystole sine nomine, V, 1340-1353) his strongly negative impressions about the life at the Papal court:
“Instead of holy solitude we find a criminal host and crowds of the most infamous satellites; instead of soberness, licentious banquets; instead of pious pilgrimages, preternatural and foul sloth; instead of the bare feet of the apostles, the snowy coursers of brigands fly past us, the horses decked in gold and fed on gold, soon to be shod with gold, if the Lord does not check this slavish luxury.” (in Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges, eds., 1958)
If the king Philip IV of France was the practical promoter of national state dominance and so of Statism, the theoretical ammunitions were provided by a series of thinkers and writers that emerged from the XIII to the XVI centuries : Marsilius of Padua (1275-1342); William of Ockham (1280-1349); Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Jean Bodin (1530-1596).
Marsilius of Padua in his Defensor Pacis (1324), written with Jean de Jandun, canon of Senlis (Northern France), intended to show that the Emperor was independent from the Pope and did not necessitate any confirmation of his power from an external authority. The general attitude of Marsilius was to "check the incursions of the spiritual authority into the concerns of the self-sufficient community." (George Sabine, 1951). Starting from that preoccupation he elaborated a view that confined the Church to spiritual matters and, for all the rest, put the clergy under the jurisdiction of state power. The Pope was subject to the decisions of the general ecumenical councils and the Church, on the whole, was bound by the laws and authority of the community. "The community elects the parish priest and supervises and controls the clergy in the performance of their duties; in a word — the community or the state is everything, the Church playing an entirely subsidiary part. It cannot legislate, adjudicate, possess goods, sell, or purchase without authorization; it is a perpetual minor." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Marsilius of Padua).
While Marsilius, moving from a radical critique of the supremacy
of the Pope, arrived to assign to the civil community (represented
by the secular state) and to the Emperor almost absolute powers, William
of Ockham, a Franciscan friar educated in Oxford and Paris, was interested
in more spiritual problems. So his critique of the Pope was addressed
to his abuses, while recognizing the authority of the Church in spiritual
matters and advocating a return to the simplicity and poverty of the
William of Ockham “stood upon the ancient distinction and independence of the spiritual and temporal authorities” (George Sabine, 1951) that will be taken up by liberal thinkers in a later period. However, this distinction will be, later on, implemented as a de facto subordination of the spiritual to the secular power, given the continuous extension of the sphere of control of the latter with respect to the former.
The Church, weakened by her servility to a temporal ruler (during the Avignon Papacy, 1309-1378) and by temporal interests (to amass riches and power) was then further shaken by intestine clashes that would result at a later stage (1409) in three individuals claiming to be Popes at the same time (the so-called Western Schism from 1378 to 1417). Eventually, after the Council of Constance (1414), all three pretended Popes were dismissed and in 1417 the assembly of the cardinals elected the new Pope who took the name of Martin V.
But more negative facts and acts would characterize the Church during the XV century. One of them was the permission to institute the Spanish Inquisition granted to the "very catholic" Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand. In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV, after some hesitations and a lot of external pressure, promulgated the Papal Bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus by which the Tribunal of the Inquisition was established in the Kingdom of Castile and later extended to the whole of Spain. By way of the Spanish Inquisition the Queen and King succeeded in eliminating and expropriating the property of Jews and Muslims and founding a new national state. This was clearly and poignantly remarked by Machiavelli with reference to Ferdinand of Aragon:
“servendosi sempre della religione si volse a una pietosa crudeltà, cacciando e spogliando el suo regno de' Marrani” [“always using religion as a plea, he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors.”] (Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, XXI, 1513)
On the whole, the Church, as Pontifical States, had now become an Italian principality, and the Popes, most Italians, were nothing else than princes within an Italian court. Spiritual religion was supplanted by interests of power, with the Popes, as territorial princes, aiming at the political control of the Italian peninsula. The clearest exponent of this policy was Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), of which Machiavelli wrote :
“di tutti i pontefici che sono stati mai, mostrò quanto uno papa e con il danaio e con le forze si posseva prevalere.” ["of all the pontiffs that have ever been, he showed how a pope, with both money and arms, was able to prevail."] (Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, XI, 1513)
His son, Cesare Borgia, was taken by Machiavelli as the epitome of what a Prince should be. So, it is appropriate to say that the Church of those times, after having abandoned the original spiritual message of love and charity was now nothing else than a secular power. As such, it was preparing and showing the way for Statism, that would impose itself once the new power, the State, would be ready for the task.
However, the Church was still considered, in the West, to be a overall power, with many internal currents of thought and action that were still faithful to the original message. But this would change at the beginning of the XVI century with a breaking up of the Church between Roman Catholics and reformed Protestants. This further weakening of the Church will mark the rise of the States as a new power and of Statism as a new religion for the centuries ahead.
The rise of Statism (^)
The fight against the Papacy, beginning with the Emperor and continuing with the kings of France and England, prepared the terrain for the release of temporal powers from the external authority of the Church. The fact that the Church:
- had fallen, during the Avignon Papacy, under the tutelage of a particular secular ruler, the king of France;
- had, later on, become a territorial state, more interested in fulfilling political and economic objectives than pursuing spiritual aims,
encouraged secular powers and some ecclesiastical subjects to object
to it and, eventually, to detach themselves fully from the control
and approval of Rome.
The Pope in Rome was seen as a foreign ruler, an intruder and exploiter, at a time in which the idea of nationhood was taking roots.
In Germany, the sale of the indulgences (for the re-building of Saint Peter in Rome), in which the Dominican friar Johann Tetzel played the role of the commercial peddler, was the spark that motivated Martin Luther to write a protesting letter to his bishop, Albert of Mainz (31 October 1517). In one of the Ninety-five theses enclosed in that letter, Martin Luther asked: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" (Thesis 86) (Roland H. Bainton, 1956)
The sale of indulgences was one of the many signs of the degeneration of the Church and, in particular, within some parts of the hierarchy in Europe. The need for a moral reformation was, at that time, felt by many sectors of the Christian world. So, when in January 1518 the Theses were translated from Latin into German and printed (the printing press in the West dating from around 1450), they circulated widely in Germany and in other regions of Europe.
The reaction of the Pope (Leo X), through his envoys, oscillated
between conciliation and repression, but eventually, Luther was threatened
with arrest and burning at the stake if he did not recant.
Martin Luther, in his turn, branded the Pope as the Anti-Christ and this led to his excommunication in 1520. During the Diet of Worms (1521) Luther was declared an outlaw, his writings were banned and his arrest required. At that point Frederick III, the elector of Saxony, placed him under his protection. That marked the beginning of a conservative turn of position by the protestant reformer.
The favour encountered by Luther with the German populace for his writing and preaching was linked to the fact that he was seen as the opponent of the malpractice of the Roman clergy. Now, fully detaching himself from Rome, Luther became or “was pressed into becoming a spokesman of the German nation.” (Lewis W. Spitz, 1985) represented by his more powerful exponents, the German princes.
Martin Luther sided with them during the repression of the peasants
rebellion (1524-25) proclaiming that the authorities are appointed
by God and should not be resisted (divine rights of the rulers). The
princes established in 1531 the Schamalkaldic League that promoted
Lutheranism in their territories and reaped economic advantages by
breaking from the Catholic Church. The League "perfected the link
between Lutheran reform and political power." (Hans Küng, 1999).
In fact, "all rulers, Protestants included, inherited from the Christian Roman Empire the view that a state cannot thrive without the support of religion. Only one religion can be true and that religion should be upheld by the State." (Roland H. Bainton, 1956). Even better if it is a state religion, where the state is the guide and protector of the faithful and of the clergy.
With the spread of Lutheranism and of other reformist churches we
achieve exactly that: the arrival of a national church
grounded on the state and, in some cases, set up by the state.
“At Luther’s time the Church … sought shelter under the roof of the State. She borrowed from the State the essential elements of her spiritual and administrative organization and therefore … became an annexe or a department or a ward of the State.” (Adolf Keller, 1936)
In England, for instance, the king Henry VIII succeeded in having
himself proclaimed "the only Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England" (Act
of Supremacy, 1534).
In Sweden, "the introduction of Lutheranism was tied in with the drive for national independence from Denmark between the years 1521 and 1523." (Lewis W. Spitz, 1985).
All this is nothing new, when you consider that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain had used the Catholic religion to promote the formation of their national state.
The condemnation by Martin Luther of Anabaptists and Jews was the logical consequence of his views of a religion in tune with political state power. He found abhorrent the position of the so-called Anabaptists (as they were named by their opponents) who questioned the right of the political rulers to impose their religious will on the people.
As for the Jews, Luther advised:
“First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them.”
“Second, … that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”
“Third, … that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”
“Fourth, … that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.”
“Fifth, … that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.”
“Sixth, … that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping.” (Martin Luther, 1543)
It seems then appropriate to say that the Protestant Reformation has upheld and strengthened the "authoritarian state and the absolutism of the princes" and that, by that way, "the local prince became in the end a sort of pope in his territory" (Hans Küng, 1999).
This fact was confirmed by the stipulation of the Peace of Augsburg (1555) between the emperor Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League of the Lutheran princes that officially ended the struggle between Catholic and Lutherans and marked the division between Christians in what was still the Holy Roman Empire. By the formula “cuius regio, eius religio” it was sanctioned that the religion of the ruler prevailed over the free will of the individual. It was an important passage towards the overall juridical pre-eminence of secular power, “a supreme assertion of the civil power.” (Walter Lippmann, 1929). Anabaptists like Menno Simons (1496-1561) in the Low Countries were not at all pleased by this and declared : "Where do the Holy Scriptures teach that in Christ's kingdom and Church, conscience and faith … are to be regulated and ruled by the violence, tyranny, and sword of the magistrate?" (Harold S. Bender, 1955).
Nevertheless, this was the new state of things to come and everybody
had to accommodate to it or suffer the consequences.
In England, as previously pointed out, Henry VIII took the pretext of the refusal by the Pope Clement VII to allow the dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (the youngest child of Ferdinand and Isabella) to set up his own Church (1531). That refusal by the Pope was also consequence of the fact that the he was, at that time, hostage of Catherine's nephew, the emperor Charles V. Only a few years earlier the imperial troops of Charles V became out of control, because they hadn’t been paid, and had pillaged the city of the Pope in what was known as the sack of Rome (1527). The Pope had to take safety in the refuge of Castel Sant'Angelo, and, as a result, the authority and the prestige of the Pope had been drastically diminished. He was forced to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati and agree to the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire (although, only the last could be occupied in fact), while Venice took Cervia and Ravenna, and Sigismondo Malatesta recaptured, at least for a certain period of time, Rimini. In other words, the territories of the Papal States were up for grabs.
It was at about the same time that Henry VIII broke with Rome and started the process that would be known as the English Reformation. Here again political reasons (independence from Rome), mixed with economic ones (taking over the wealth of the Church), conjured up the national Anglican Church. The roots of this move could be traced long before, when the knights of King Henry II had entered Canterbury cathedral and had murdered the Archbishop Thomas Becket (1170) during the conflict the set the king against the Pope about the rights and prerogatives of the Church.
Now, another Thomas, the Lord Chancellor Thomas More, opposed the
policies of the king who sought a separation from the Catholic Church
and the formation of the Church of England, with the king as the supreme
head. For this reason, after his abandonment of the chancellorship,
he was accused of high treason, imprisoned in the Tower of London and
condemned to execution by decapitation (6 July 1535).
As supreme Head of the Church of England the king had free hands in matters of economic appropriation. To buttress financially his power, he introduced a series of legal and administrative measures by which he disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries and appropriated their land and income to the State, and in effect to the Crown. He ordered also the murdering of various abbots like the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Richard Whiting, who was eighty at that time. “He was, however, dragged on a hurdle to the top of a hill, overlooking his once beautiful abbey, which had been partially laid in ruins, and when ‘he would confess no more gold and silver,’ was hanged and quartered.” (John L. Stoddard, 1921).
The First (1536) and the Second (1539) Acts of Suppression of Religious Houses put at the king's disposal a wealth of financial resources that is difficult to estimate. An approximate figure is obtainable considering that "the total annual net income of the religious order had been assessed in 1535 by the commissioners for the Tenth at a little over £136,000, but, because of omission from and underestimates in their survey, the true figure was probably nearer to £175,000 or nearly three quarters as much as the average annual income of the crown at the same date." (G.W.O. Woodward. 1966). The Church in England (The Anglican Church) was now controlled by the State and economically subservient to the State and to its head, the King of England.
In France, the ascension of the State to a central role was marked by the arrival on the throne of Henry IV (1589-1610). A protestant (Huguenot) King of Navarre, he showed, with his conversion to Catholicism, made in order to surmount the opposition to his becoming king of France (Paris vaut bien une messe - "Paris is well worth a mass"), that spiritual religion and theological disputations should not be an obstacle to the exercise of power and to social harmony. Henry IV is also remembered as the promoter of the Edict of Nantes (1598) that, by allowing Huguenots (French Calvinists Protestants) a certain freedom to practice their creed, put a stop to religious persecution that had been rife in France during the XVI century. Those clashes, apparently motivated by questions of faith, were actually factional fights between the House of Bourbon and the House of Guise aimed at achieving what is the goal of almost any war: the monopoly of power.
And precisely because of this motive, i.e. the constant aspiration to monopolize power, the Edict of Nantes could not last for long. The catholic majority, for political reasons, resented the protestant minority and circulated the rumour that they had created a state within a state (Carl J. Burkhardt, 1935). So after the assassination of Henry IV (1610) by a fanatic who reproached the king for failing to protect the catholic faith, tolerance towards the protestants became increasingly weak. It vanished under Louis XIV who proclaimed the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) which revoked the Edict of Nantes and made the practice of Protestantism a crime to be persecuted.
The real motive behind all this is the formation of an absolute cultural uniformity between royal subjects in view of what will be called, in later centuries, the national identity. Homogenization of creed and centralization of power were considered necessary conditions for the affirmation of the French state and, as a consequence, of the absolute power of his King.
The work of installing the national state as a superior entity, was
carried out in France during the XVII century and was performed by
two personalities who would play a decisive role. What is apparently
paradoxical is that they both belonged to the high hierarchy of the
Catholic Church: Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin.
In fact, while Henry IV had been willing to become Catholic and attend catholic masses in order to reach state power, the Catholic Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin were willing to celebrate all sort of political masses for the glory of the King and the power of the State. In all these cases spiritual religion was a simple pretext for reaching and exerting power.
Richelieu has been the clearest exponent of a national Church operating
for the formation of a national state. As the leader of a national
Church, he was an implacable enemy of all heretics, that is all who
did not abide by his own creed, and so, all possible dissenters and
disturbers of the royal power. For this reason he dismantled the Huguenot
stronghold of La Rochelle and squashed every possible opposition against
the king amongst the landed aristocracy. As a promoter of the national
State he was ready to ally himself with any sovereign (Protestant or
Muslim) to weaken what was seen, at that time, as the defender, in
Europe, of the catholic faith, the House of Habsburg, and, with it,
to put an end to the Spanish hegemony. And all the time Richelieu was
preoccupied to make clear, first of all to his King, Louis XIII, that "he
is at the king's service and not at that of the Pope's." (Carl
J. Burkhardt, 1935).
In fact, "... nobody could be more zealous in defending the 'state' against the church in Rome than Richelieu himself - to the point that he has often been regarded as its true founder." (Martin van Creveld, 1999)
The overall aim was the building of a strong French National State
in which the Catholic faith would be only the cultural glue to justify
and solidify the submission of the people to the central power of the
King and his State.
This took place during the reign of Louis XIV, under the initial supervision of Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661). As chief minister (1643-1661) he increased the power of the king by weakening the aristocracy and undermining Parliament. During his regency, Mazarin prepared the terrain for the absolute power of the Roi Soleil to fully emerge and be dispayed. Absolute power means one power dominating all and everyone. This was condensed in the formula : un roi, une foi, une loi. Cardinal Mazarin was also the mind behind the drafting of the peace accords known as the Treaties of Westphalia (1648) that re-drew the chart of Europe after the Thirty Years War and officially sanctioned the existence of the fully sovereign territorial state.
State absolutism was manifested in a series of acts that characterized
the reign of Louis XIV: from the forced conversion and persecution
of the Huguenots, to the ambition of becoming the new master of Europe
by way of continuous wars (against the Low Countries, Austria and Spain).
However, it was not royal absolutism that, in the end, would install the State as the acceptable and unquestionable power and point of reference in the lives of people. Absolutism, in fact, weakened the State by fostering internal conflicts and, in some cases, despoiled society by causing the departure of the most energetic and brilliant individuals. For instance, 250,000 Huguenots left France after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes, and brought their skills and knowledge to the advancement of other societies.
The final predominance of Statism has been, in large measure, the
direct and indirect consequence of the emergence of a current of ideas
which was given the name of Enlightenment and which was opposed
to many dogma of the past. Moreover, the formation and diffusion of
a scientific method of investigation would give rise to the development of technological
tools that contributed to a tremendous increase in material production.
All this would eventually break down the medieval paradigm based on Church and spiritual religion and lead to the coming to dominance of the State and of the secular religion.
There was a visible turning point in which this momentous change, prepared during the course of centuries, became manifest to all.
In June 1870 two ecclesiastical doctrines were proclaimed: the juridical
primacy of the Pope over every national Church and Christian subject;
and the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope in the exercise of his magisterium of
faith. Two months later, in September 1870, the bersaglieri entered
Rome through the breach of Porta Pia and annexed the city to the Italian
State, confining the Pope to a small enclave, the City of Vatican.
So, while the Pope was still immersed in ideas of primacy and infallibility, he was reduced to a sort of recluse, an impotent figure whose temporal power was practically nil and whose spiritual authority was greatly weakened and highly questioned.
At that moment, any trace of Churchism had been completely erased.
The predominance of Statism (^)
The rise of Statism was a process that took centuries to be completed.
An important passage in this process has been represented by the French
Revolution, to which we have to add two other revolutions, the Russian
and the Fascist Revolution, that led to the complete affirmation of
The French Revolution was, amongst many other contributory causes, the result of
- the bankruptcy of the parasitic state of the King, with his cohort of aristocrats and high clergy;
- the diffusion of new ideas (Enlightenment) and the arrival of new protagonists (the commercial bourgeoisie and the so called liberal professions).
The clash between these two realities produced contradictory outcomes that could be simply characterized as new liberties and new servitudes.
The blockage to social change represented by the traditional powers
(the aristocracy as the first estate and the high clergy as the second
estate) was put aside, at the start of the Revolution, by the third
estate (low clergy, commercial and professional bourgeoisie) that proclaimed
itself as a National Assembly and then National Constituent Assembly
which, on August 26, 1789, approved the Declaration of the Rights of
Man and of the Citizen.
The principles of the Revolution, that will be condensed in the formula Liberté – Egalité - Fraternité, were based, at least in the initial phase of the revolution, on:
- the idea of rationality as the motor of human conduct, against obscurantist traditions and costumes;
- the individual, each one seen on the par with every other, by the suppression of all privileges of birth and status;
- the people as a community linked by fraternal ties of association.
However, quite soon, these three aspects were corrupted and degenerated to such a point that a new despotism, based on a new Church (the State) and a new creed (Statism), started creeping in. In fact it happened that:
- Rationality became a God and the Cult of the Goddess of Reason (see Wikipedia, Cult of Reason) was developed as a replacement of the God of Christianity. By referring to this new Goddess it was then permissible to impose all nefarious measures in view of the pretended well-being of the human race.
- The individual became a social atom, a state-subject totally dependent on the almighty State. In fact, all the local groups and communities and voluntary associations were disbanded as expressions and remnants of the Ancien Régime;
- The people became the nation and, as such, they were to be represented by the Nation State.
Whoever opposed this theoretical and actual framework was to be treated
as an enemy of the Peuple (People) and of the Patrie (Fatherland)
and crushed by all means (imprisoned, guillotined, exiled).
So, the Revolution, that was supposed to have at its foundation progressive and enlightened ideas, imprisoned and guillotined, amongst other brilliant minds, poets like André Chénier et Jean-Antoine Roucher; emancipated women like Madame Roland and Olympe de Gouges; scientists like Jean Sylvain Bailly, astronomer and mathematician, and Antoine Lavoisier, chemist. With reference to Lavoisier, it seems that a certain Jean-Baptiste Cofinhal, president of the revolutionary Tribunal, declared: “la révolution n'a pas besoin de savants” [revolution doesn’t need learned individuals]. And Pierre Gaspard Chaumette, procurator of Paris, qualified Olympe de Gouges as impudent because she “institua des sociétés de femmes et abandonna les soins du ménage pour se mêler de la République” [instituted women’s societies and, instead of housekeeping, involved herself with the matters of the Republic].
These statements by highly placed exponents of the Revolution reveal troubling views about a movement that was supposed to be enlightening and progressive.
On the whole, during the space of few months (1793-1794) 17.000 citizens
were condemned to death according to the official documents, but a
more truthful number of victims is around 45.000, if we include those
killed without trial (see: La Terreur). The majority of them
(85%) belonged to the Third Estate, i.e. to the common people on behalf
of which the leaders of the Revolution were supposed to act.
Besides that, many exponents and participants to the Revolution showed once again their truly intolerant attitude and behaviour, when they:
- suppressed any popular movement (e.g. the Vendée) that rebelled against the orders emanating from the central state;
- expropriated Church properties and condemned the independent clergy (the one not subservient to the new régime) to submit or leave.
Concerning this latter aspect, it is correct to say that "the revolution, was not at all directed, initially, against the Church" (Hans Küng, 1999) and this because the majority of the churchmen, especially in the countryside and in the small communes, belonged to the low clergy that was sympathetic to the principles of freedom, equality and fraternity of the Revolution. In fact, the text that presented the arguments underpinning the Third Estate and brought it to the attention of everybody was written by the Abbé Sieyès (Qu’est-ce-que le tiers-état, 1789). However, very soon, the new National Assembly voted measures that were designed to dramatically weaken the Church and promote the interests of the State and of its associates. According to a contemporary historian “the roots of the revolutionary dechristianisation are to be sought not so much in the action of the church as in the increasingly religious character of the Revolution itself, and the fact that Catholicism came to be seen as a rival and, in some respects, incompatible faith.” (Hugh McLeod, 1981)
The main measures voted by the National Assembly that affected, i.e. disrupted, the Church were:
- the properties of the Church were declared to now belong to the Nation and were sold by auction (1789);
- the convents and the religious orders were suppressed (1790);
- the Catholic Church was re-organised along the lines of the state structure, taking the form of a National Church, with general elections for the curés. The priests that refused to abide by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) were expelled from France. As a consequence, forty thousand of them were forced to leave (Karl Heussi and Eric Peter, 1967);
- The Comtat Venaissin and its main centre, Avignon, that was a Papal territory, was annexed to France in 1791 under the decree of the National Constituent Assembly.
The French Revolution could be seen as a watershed. From now on political religion and political persecutions fully replaced the sectarian violence of the past in which the Church was involved (directly or indirectly) and the state was her secular arm. Now, the state was totally in charge of any massacre, in the name of the nation and of the people, without the need to refer to any external authority.
One of the many examples of this persecutory fury is what happened
in Paris from 2 to 6 September 1792 when more than one thousand so-called
counter-revolutionary individuals, of which 191 were ecclesiastics,
were massacred in a fit of rage after the news that Verdun had been
taken by the Prussian troops. A more resounding illustration of the
strategy of annihilation implemented by the State is the War in the
Vendée (1793-1796) in which the state powers committed such atrocities,
and on such a large scale, that a modern historian has qualified them
as “a French genocide.” (Reynald Secher, 1986).
The events of the Vendée, in which a mainly Catholic population was butchered by agents of the National State (the number of people exterminated or killed in the fights varies from 120,000 to over 200,000), represents one of the first and most atrocious examples of what a secular religion of modern times can accomplish in terms of extermination.
After such episodes, the Catholic Church in France was under the sway of the French State. So, it should not have come as a surprise that, in 1798, French troops led by general Louis-Alexandre Berthier invaded the city of Rome and took the Pope Pius VI as prisoner to Valence (Department of Drôme) where he died six weeks later (1799).
A way out of this harsh treatment and confrontation with the Church
was found in the post-revolutionary phase when the State, in the person
of Napoleon Bonaparte, thought it convenient to bring the Catholics
on his side and to use the Church as a prop to his secular state religion.
So, in 1801 a Concordat was signed between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII
by which the Church was given back a certain autonomy albeit remaining
in a position subservient to the state (the bishops were still nominated
by the French government, the properties remained still confiscated,
the clergy was still to swear an oath of allegiance to the state).
However, this was the price to pay for surviving : a semblance of independence provided that the Church acted as the main supporter of the State.
During the 19th century the European States continuously expanded their sphere of influence and action in the name of popular sovereignty, nationalism, socialism.
The socialist conception, as elaborated especially by Marx and Engels in England, during the Industrial Revolution, got spread at a time in which the Church, especially in continental Europe, was the subservient justificatory pillar of state Restoration. This was the reason why, to many socialist thinkers, the Church came to be associated with obscurantism and absolutism. The starting sentence of the Communist Manifesto (1848) binds together "Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies" as the Powers of the old Europe that have entered into a Holy Alliance in order to keep oppressing and repressing the people.
Within this the scenario, anticlericalism became one of the characteristics
of socialist thinking and practice. Less understandable, if not utterly
incomprehensible, is the fact that socialism became the ideology that
justified the attribution to the State of a large authoritarian
In fact, for Marx and Engels “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848). In their views, the development of the capitalistic mode of production would inevitably lead to economic concentration and this, in its turn, would result in state political centralization. The taking over the State by the workers would then be the necessary passage towards the equally necessary and rapid fading away of the State itself, in a progressive move that would have been almost automatic. This was because the capitalists would have developed the means of production and the amount of production to such an extent that the state, as controller and regulator of it, would have become, and also appeared, very soon, irrelevant. At that moment "Society, which will reorganise production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it will then belong: into the museum of antiquities, by the side of the spinning wheel and the bronze axe." (Friedrich Engels, 1884).
However, things did not turn out that way. A different version of socialism prevailed, inspired by a German politician, Ferdinand Lassalle, who saw the State as the indispensable demiurge for the emancipation of the working class. This aim developed into a form of religious fervour. As remarked by an historian, “Lassalle meetings took on the character of the founding of a new faith. Lassalle himself wrote: ‘I had the constant impression this is how it must have been at the founding of a new religion’.” (George L. Mosse, 1975). This view characterized the attitudes and political actions of what will become the strongest socialist party of Europe, the Social-Democratic party of Germany, founded in 1875.
The appeal of State Socialism received a huge boost when a supposedly socialist revolution took place in Czarist Russia in 1917, led by a figure, Ilic Ulianovic Lenin, who professed to refer to Marx and Engels in his thought and action. But the social and economic conditions envisaged by Marx and Engels for the development of socialism were simply non-existent in Russia at that time. So it was claimed that they had to be engineered by the only existing power having a certain weight: the State. In July 1917 Lenin wrote: “every state is a special force for the suppression of the oppressed class. Consequently, every state is un-free and non-popular.” (Lenin, 1917). A few months later, after the capture of state power, Lenin, with a sleight of hand, started to present the omnipotent state and its ideology, Statism, as socialism or as the best path towards socialism.
In reality, the Russian Revolution was an eastern replica of the
French Revolution. Like the French King, the Russian Czar was executed.
As in the French Revolution, lawyers (like Lenin) and propagandists
by profession (like Trotsky and Stalin) were the real protagonists.
The French reign of terror was paralleled and surpassed by the reign
of terror instituted by the Cheka under Lenin and Trotsky. Here too
the so-called worker’s revolution had to be saved from outside attacks,
and this multiplied the repressive actions within. And, as it had happened
in France, the properties of the Church were expropriated and the priests
On the whole, it was like following the script of a tragedy already performed. The only difference consisted in the fact that, given the non existence of the bourgeoisie, a new class had to be created in the form of a huge state bureaucracy.
For the people to accept this revolution and follow its leaders,
a sort of Messianism had to be introduced in every act of propaganda.
Lenin assumed the role of high priest of the revolution, a role that
he was to perform even after his death. As remarked by a theologian
in a 1936 lecture "Leninism is a camouflaged secular religion" promising
and assuring "the coming classless society, the 'Paradise on earth'
as Lenin said as early as in 1905 - a new Church of faithless believers,
unmasking the old Christian Church and depriving her of her bells,
her treasures, her cathedrals and her servants." (Adolf Keller,
1936). The most visible sign of the “sacred” character of Leninism
is the Lenin mausoleum, where the corpse of the "prophet" the "Saint
Vladimir of the October Revolution" (Michael Burleigh, 2006) is
preserved and presented to the faithful for respect and veneration.
Later on, the same cult would surround Mao-Zedong, whose corpse would be embalmed
and preserved in a special mausoleum in the middle of Tienanmen square
in Beijing (1977).
The speech delivered by Stalin on the death of Lenin is full of vows, like those made by a believer to a transcendent being:
“Departing from us, comrade Lenin, enjoined us to hold high and guard the purity of the great title of member of the party. We vow to you we shall fulfil your behest with honour!”
“Departing from us, comrade Lenin enjoined us to guard and strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat. We vow to you, comrade Lenin, that we shall spare no effort to fulfil this behest, too, with honour!” (Joseph Stalin, 1924).
And so on and so forth.
Only if we consider Bolshevism (Leninism and Stalinism) as a political religion charged with a messianic message, can we explain the incredible amount of suffering inflicted for implementing the “promised paradise,” and the strength and perseverance in accepting it.
The Communist Party was considered by the believers such an infallible and immortal entity that even an intellect like that of Nikolai Bukharin, put on trial by order of Stalin on fabricated charges, could not help admitting to be “politically responsible for the sum total of the crimes committed by the bloc of Rights and Trotskyites.” In other words, in order to preserve the sanctity of the Party, he (falsely) admitted the terrible sin of having introduced a political schism within the holy body of the Communist Party and that he “merited the most severe punishment.” (N. I. Bukharin’s Last Plea, 1938).
By way of the Russian Revolution, “the Communist Party figures as a sort of new Church” (Gustav A. Wetter, 1958), and the Soviet State appears as the new Demiurge. It was then fully consequential that the Bolsheviks wanted to stamp the old Church and any trace of a spiritual God out of people's lives and have them concentrating exclusively on state obedience and the cult of material production. “Matter here appears as a new absolute, a new divinity replacing the transcendent Creator-God, and as such unable to tolerate any other sort of deity by its side.” (Gustav A. Wetter, 1958)
In a letter to Gorki (1926) Lenin wrote: "Any religious idea,
any idea of God whatever, even the flirting with such ideas, is an
unspeakable baseness, the most insidious infection." (Adolf Keller,
1936). For this reason, atheist education should start from a young
age. The «Young Pioneer Leader's Handbook» of the Soviet Union stated
that "every Pioneer would set up an atheist's corner at home with
anti-religious pictures, poems, and sayings, in contrast to the traditional
Russian Christian icon corners.” (Wikipedia, Young Pioneer Organization
of the Soviet Union).
This attitude can be summed up in a sentence we find in a William James Lecture: “He believes in no-God and he worships him.” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, The Gifford Lectures, 1901-1902).
In other words, atheism was part and parcel of the Soviet Union state secular religion, against the spiritual religion of the Orthodox Church.
The immediate reason for this opposition and contempt for spiritual religion, and so for the Orthodox Church, was the link between that Church and Czarism and her backing of autocracy in exchange for privileges (Adolf Keller, 1936). However, a much stronger and deeper reason was that a new materialistic religion could not triumph without first erasing the old one. In order to reach this goal, Church properties were expropriated (decrees of October 26, 1917, and of January 23, 1918); monasteries were closed and converted to secular use; priests were tortured, sent to labour camps, imprisoned in mental asylums or simply executed; believers were continuously harassed; atheism and materialism were propagated in schools and in society at large.
The aim of getting rid of Church and of spiritual religion was present
also in another revolution whose final objective was, once again, to
put in its place the State and its secular religion. We are referring
here to Fascism.
The Fascist Revolution and all the related political revolutions that were inspired by it and went also beyond it, as is the case of National Socialism, have represented the apogee of Statism. In fact, the protagonists of the French Revolution, while setting up the apparatus of the modern state, were mainly animated by the ideal of a civil society; and the leaders of the Russian revolution, while strengthening to the utmost the power of the totalitarian state, were still presenting their final aim of a classless stateless society. Only the Fascist revolution had as its ideal, from beginning to end, the glorification and domination of the State on every aspect of people’s life.
The philosopher Giovanni Gentile, in his Doctrine of Fascism (1932) stated openly that : “for the fascist, everything is inside the State, and nothing of human or spiritual exists, or even less has value, outside the State."
The ancient formula of Churchism, extra ecclesiam, nulla salus (outside
the Church there is no salvation) has been preserved by the advocates
of totalitarian Statism by simply replacing the Church with the State,
the new secular Church. With fascism and national socialism we assist
then, in the most evident manner, at the manufacturing of a political
secular religion by new secular high priests, Mussolini and Hitler.
In Italy, Mussolini convinced people that he was the man sent by Divine Providence to solve all the problems affecting the Italian nation. A French professor visiting Bologna for a scientific congress was amazed at discovering that “the city’s walls were completely covered with posters” with the words: “Dio ce l’ha dato; guai a chi lo tocca!” [God sent him to us; woe to him who attacks him!] and that “the picture of il Duce was to be seen in all shop windows.” (Rudolf Rocker, 1937)
In Hitler’s Germany, symbols and ceremonies were servilely copied
from spiritual religion with a stroke of further mysticism. The result,
remarked by a journalist even some time before Hitler’s accession to
power, was that “as to the degree of veneration, Hitler leaves the
Pope far behind.” (Rudolf Rocker, 1937).
Hitler copied even church architecture. “Hitler’s town’s hall, which he designed often, took the shape of churches whose towers had to be taller than those of all the churches in town.” (George L. Mosse, 1975).
The difference between Russian “socialism” and German “national socialism” with respect to the Church and spiritual religion was poignantly characterized by a British journalist towards the end of the thirties: "Lenin would destroy the altar or at least promote its decay. Hitler would preserve the altar while replacing the Cross of Christ by the Swastika." (F. A. Voigt, 1938)
The strategy to set up the new secular religion was quite similar for Italian fascism and German national socialism. In both cases we find the following tactical steps:
- Accommodation. In the first phase, the new regimes tried to prepare the accession to power by mollifying their anti-clerical stances (fascism) or even presenting themselves as promoters of Christianity (national socialism). And they were ready to compromise in exchange for the support of catholic parties (or some sections of them) and of important figures (e.g. Fritz von Papen in Germany).
- Conciliation. In a second phase, the Church has been enticed into the stipulation of Concordats (Italy, 1929; Germany, 1933) that attempted to limit the Church to an exclusively spiritual role, leaving the monopoly of political action to the party in power (dissolution of the catholic Partito Popolare in Italy, November 1926 ; dissolution of the catholic Centre Party in Germany, July 1933).
- Suppression. Finally, once the regime was firmly installed in power and realized that that spiritual feeling was still present in large strata of the population, it decided to suppress catholic organizations as it happened in Italy with the dissolution of the Azione Cattolica in May 1931 and in Germany with the suppression of the Catholic Youth in April 1934, followed by the assassination of prominent Catholic German figures during the months of June-July 1934 (like the head of Catholic Action, the director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, and the editor of Munich's Catholic weekly).
With Fascism and National Socialism intent on installing the State as the new Church, we witness the total incompatibility not only between (dominant) Statism and (defunct) Churchism but also between Statism and any other possible leanings, spiritual and civil. In two encyclical documents (Non abbiamo bisogno, 1931; Mit brennender Sorge, 1937) Pope Pius XI raised his voice strongly, but within the limits imposed by a condition of impotence and in the knowledge that it could provoke further repressions against Catholics.
With reference to Fascism he condemned the intent "to monopolize completely the young, from the tenderest years up to manhood and womanhood, for the exclusive advantage of a party and of a regime based on an ideology which clearly resolves itself into a true, a real pagan worship of the State - the Statolatry". (Pius XI, 1931).
The term Statolatry, had already been used in the past in a booklet published in Paris in 1848 in which the author, the abbé Antoine Martinet, denounced the mire of all politicians condensed in the formula: “Omnipotence de l’État.” [Omnipotence of the State] and exposed “le cult de l’État, divinité abstraite, aussi insaisissable dans son essence qu'insatiable dans ses appétits.” [the cult of the State, abstract divinity, so imperceptible in her essence as insatiable in her hunger] (Antoine Martinet, 1848)
As for National Socialism, the Pope had to be even more cautious given the fact that it was a much more repressive and fanatical regime. Nevertheless he could not abstain from denouncing “whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power” and “whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level.” And reiterated the message that there is not a National God or a National Religion (reference to the attempt of setting up a German National Church subservient to the regime) because the message of God is universal, "independent of time, space, country or race" and takes the form of a natural law. And “human laws in flagrant contradiction with the natural law are vitiated with a taint which no force, no power can mend.” (Pius XI, 1937).
However, persecutions continued and intensified, and not only against the Jews who were the main target of them. By 1940, dedicated clergy barracks had been established by the Nazis at Dachau Concentration Camp. Of a total of 2,720 clergy recorded as imprisoned at Dachau, the overwhelming majority, some 2,579 (or 94 %) were Catholic. (Wikipedia, Persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany).
With the totalitarian regimes of the first half of the 20th century we reach the final stage of the continuous expansion of the sphere of state intervention, from the starting point of the French Revolution and through the impulse given to it especially by the First World War. We are now at the apex of State dominance and of Statism.
It is now useful to recapitulate briefly what were the strong points (pillars) and the tragic shortcomings (poisons) of Churchism and Statism in order to see how we might progress past them and past any monopolistic totalitarian power.
The pillars and poisons of Churchism (^)
The establishment of a Church like the Catholic Church and her coming
to dominance, in the Western world, for many centuries, were due
to aspects that are deeply attractive to many people, be they quite
simple or highly cultivated individuals.
These aspects can be qualified and listed as:
- Universalism. In a letter to Christians in Smyrna written in 107 by Ignatius of Antioch, we had probably the first use of the term Catholic, that means for - towards (kata) the whole (holos). The Catholic Church is for all and her message is universal, i.e. addressed to all.
- Communitarianism. The Church grew by spreading her message based on unity and charity and by setting up communities whose members were trying to base their life on the practice of love.
- Philantropism. Reciprocal love found expression in reciprocal assistance within the community and in charitable actions towards everybody in need.
A noble message and a living testimony of that message had the power
to attract a growing number
of people towards the first Christian communities.
So, in the course of time, on the basis of those theoretical and practical pillars, a universal Church came into existence.
The reasons for its penetration in different societies and permanence throughout the ages were due also to two very important components:
- Cultural Superiority
- Practical Suppleness.
It is an unquestionable fact that, for many centuries, the Church attracted the most cultivated and energetic individuals and was the organization that was most capable of promoting the cultivation and expansion of individual personalities. For this reason, the secular powers had to rely on the advice and assistance of clerical staff for running temporal affairs.
The expansion of mental and material horizons, after the fall of the Roman Empire, was the work of many individuals that, animated by a spiritual fire, congregated and erected monasteries and abbeys. They, not only acted for the preservation of the literature of ancient civilizations (Greek, Latin), but also established the basis for a new civilization.
The Church, through deacons, canons, priests, abbots, bishops, and the faithful, promoted various spheres of theoretical and practical activity, that were signs of her cultural superiority over many centuries:
- Science. The idea of a rational God that created the world to his image and according to the rules of rationality, was a powerful motive for the search for God in this world and, by consequence, for the development of scientific inquiry. In his Lowell Lectures (1925), Alfred Whitehead, after asking himself where the scientific frame of mind came from, suggested that "it must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher." This is the mental attitude that led Isaac Newton to produce his Principia and that animated so many scientists, from the astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543), a canon, through Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) an Augustinian friar who is credited as the founder of modern genetics, to Father Roger Boscovich (1711-1787) a polymat Jesuit who was defined by Harold Hartley, a 20th century fellow of Royal Society, "one of the great intellectual figures of all ages." (Thomas E. Woods jr, 2005).
- Technology. The medieval monasteries, promoted by churchmen all over Europe, were not only centres for the preservation and transmission of culture, but also for material production, using technological devices that had passed into oblivion (like the watermill). At its height, the Benedictine order could boast 37,000 monasteries (Thomas E. Woods jr, 2005) and "we owe it to St. Benedict that the monasteries were the homes of practical agriculturists, as well of saints and of artists and men of learning." (Alfred North Whitehead, 1925). The Benedictines were highly keen on and had respect for the exercise of manual labour and were in the forefront in reclaiming new land for agriculture. Agricultural work and the love of experimentation led the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers, to make important contributions to the methods of production of champagne wine. The Cistercian order, that emerged from a group of Benedictines of the village of Cistercium (Citeaux in French), was also innovative in developing techniques of hydraulic engineering and metallurgy.
- Philosophy. Philosophy was highly considered and practiced by many churchmen. Amongst them we have Robert Grosseteste and his disciple Roger Bacon (Franciscan), Albertus Magnus (Dominican), Thomas Aquinas (Dominican), William of Ockham (Franciscan) and the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. Some Universities in Europe (e.g. Paris) sprung from cathedral and monastery schools dedicated to the training of the clergy as promoted by Pope Gregory VII. In some other cases the clergy played a substantial role, for instance at Oxford, where, from the mid-13th century, the members of many religious orders (Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians) opened halls for students.
- Law. The Catholic Church, through the voices of some of her members, was instrumental in making natural law the basis of any human produced law, i.e. “to derive from that part of eternal law which is natural law the foundations of a rational system of positive law.” (Harold J. Berman, 1959). In Latin-America the Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos (circa 1475-1540), followed by another Dominican friar, Bartolomé de las Casas (1474 or 1484-1566), vigorously condemned the abuses of the Spanish conquistadores against native people. The Dominican Francisco de Vitoria, and other fellow theologians "defended the doctrine that all men are equally free; on the basis of natural liberty, they proclaimed their [the human beings] right to life, to culture, and to property." (in Thomas E. Woods jr, 2005). On the whole, we can credit the Church message with stressing the value of the individual human being (the persona) against the encroachment by any overall power. This aspect was considered so important that some theologians (Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, Juan Mariana) declared that it was legitimate to rebel against rulers who were not abiding by natural law, justifying also their ousting and suppression.
- Economy. Many churchmen appear as setting the foundations of early economic thinking. Joseph Schumpeter, in his History of Economic Analysis (1954) made reference to St. Antonine, Archbishop of Florence (1389-1459) as "perhaps the first man to whom it is possible to ascribe a comprehensive vision of the economic process in all its major aspects." (Joseph Schumpeter, 1954). And concerning the late Scholastics of the XVI century (like the Jesuit Luis Molina), Schumpeter wrote that “it is within their systems of moral theology and law that economics gained definite if not separate existence, and it is they who came nearer than does any other group to having been the 'founders' of scientific economics.” In a later period, we have only to mention the names of the Abbé de Condillac (1715-1780) and the Abbé Ferdinando Galiani (1728-1787) to show the importance of churchmen in the development of economic science.
- Art and Architecture. The field in which the Church played a quite magnificent and visible role in society was the promotion of arts and artists. Christian art started with frescoes in the Catacombs of Rome, at the time when Christians were persecuted, and continued with the erection of basilicas, statues and all the ornaments that went with the architectural works. All over Europe the Cistercians excelled as builders of abbeys. In France, cathedrals were built that were pushing verticality to new height, suggesting a physical ascension towards God. But the most splendid period was that of the so-called Renaissance, where painters, sculptors, architects were at the service of the Church to embellish towns and places of cult. This is the period when Brunelleschi (1377-1466) built the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore at Florence and Michelangelo (1475-1564) painted the Sistina Chapel at Rome.
To last so long and to dominate so many areas of life, the Church had to possess, besides a superior (spiritual and cultural) authority, also an incredible flexibility and adaptability to current circumstances. This practical suppleness contributed to her survival but was also the main cause for her fall from grace.
In fact, when moral authority was not sufficient to protect the Church from the assaults of secular powers, a survival strategy was implemented, according to times and situations. This strategy contemplated various possibilities:
- Finding an imperial protector: this happened, with ups and downs, during the long initial phase of Churchism, when the Church, from being persecuted, found herself under the protection of the Roman Emperors. Afterwards, the Carolingian dynasty (Charlemagne) and the medieval Holy Roman Emperors were the protectors of the Church, in a situation in which clergy and laity were variously intermixed.
- Becoming a territorial power: this was the situation of the Church during the Renaissance, when the Popes controlled central Italy (Papal States) and started acting as the rulers of a kingdom, with their magnificent court, bestowing favours on relatives (nepotism). The artistic splendour could not dissimulate the corruption or halt the consequent decline and break up of the Church (Protestant schism).
- Justifying national sovereigns: this stage arrived when national states emerged and the Popes were asked to approve decisions taken by their rulers or risk a schism (Christopher Hollis, 1949). This was, for instance, the case in the establishment of the Anglican Church and could have been the case in an independent Gallican Church. From that time on the Church authority was no longer in a position to dictate to temporal powers.
- Allying to dynastic rulers: with the arrival and consolidation of national states and the affirmation of secular ideologies (liberalism, socialism, positivism) as a result of the Enlightenment and of industrial and political revolutions, the Church found herself culturally marginalised and socially under attack. In the end, following the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), the Church hierarchy considered convenient to associate herself with secular rulers, by allying the restored thrones with the shaky altar.
- Accommodating to totalitarian regimes: in the age of nationalistic ideologies and totalitarian regimes, the Church had to sign accords with the state powers in the form of concordats. In other words, just to survive, she had to submit and even appear as to favour them or risking to be forbidden from preaching her message.
The last two stages are identifiable with the European Restoration (1815-1914) and the long European Civil War (1914-1945).
During the period of European Restoration, the Church, with some exceptions, as for instance Pope Leo XIII, responded to the advancement of science and to the aspiration towards social emancipation by uniting with reactionary powers or by condemning progressive movements. An example was the refusal to accept or even to take into consideration currents of ideas like Modernism and Liberal Catholicism. These conceptions, while preserving the core message of Christianity, tried, at the same time, to abandon the obscurantist and obsolete aspects of Church doctrine that were completely out of tune with the progress of times. Lord Acton remarked at that time that the defenders of Catholicism “have induced a suspicion that the Church, in her zeal for the prevention of error, represses that intellectual freedom which is essential to the progress of truth.” (Lord Acton, 1864)
And another scholar wrote that “the Popes accepted with disastrous readiness the doctrine that every change in itself was a step on the road to Jacobinism and atheism.” (Christopher Hollis, 1949).
The more the Church was under attack by liberals and socialists, the more she responded by attacking everything that smacked of liberalism or socialism; even ideas related to the freedom (free will) and equality of all human beings on the basis of their common human nature, that were and are part and parcel of Catholic doctrine. So we have the paradoxical situation of Gregory XVI, one of the most conservative Popes of all times, who wrote an encyclical condemning slavery, while some progressive liberal minds, like Thomas Jefferson in America, supported and practiced it.
Church conservatism and obscurantism of the last centuries was promoted also by figures whose religious spirituality was basically absent. Like the Franc-maçon Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) who has been qualified as “utterly irreligious at heart” (Christopher Hollis, 1949) and the agnostic Charles Maurras (1868-1952) who was a fervent advocate of a national religion that had nothing to do with a universal Catholic Church.
These have been probably the main reasons why the spiritual authority of the Church has been replaced by the secular dominance of the State.
The pillars and poisons of Statism (^)
The rise and affirmation of the State required the emancipation of that secular entity from the cultural dependency to an organization, like the Church, endowed with more cultivated and attractive ideas. In other words, it was necessary to elaborate a fully autonomous and highly appealing conception, i.e. Statism, for the State to be seen as the new point of reference in the life of individuals and the masses.
This is what thinkers like Marsilius, Machiavelli, Bodin, Hobbes,
and many others did. The development of their ideas in favour of a
secular sovereign power developed from the disorder generated by wars:
between the partisans of the Pope (Guelphs) and those of the Emperor
(Ghibellines); between the rulers of the different principalities in
the Italian peninsula; between the partisans of different branches
(Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists) of the same Christian religion;
between the kings of different states (France, England, Spain).
For this reason, all those thinkers, in different ways and with different stresses, envisaged a strong central power controlling violence and providing security. In particular for Hobbes, the granting of security was the fundamental task of an entity, the Leviathan, to which all had to submit for their personal survival. In absence of that, everybody would remain in "continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." (Leviathan, Chapter XIII, 1651)
However, this idea of a strong absolutist power was nothing new and nothing modern. For the effective coming to dominance, theoretically and practically, of the modern State, we have to make reference to three historical developments that would constitute the pillars of Statism:
- The emergence of nationalism. Nationalism was a spiritual and secular phenomenon. National Churches and national churchmen are found at the basis of Statism, no less than national kings and national heroes. In fact, in France, Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin, did more to establish Statism than many kings and statesmen. As remarked by an historian : “For better or worse, they [Richelieu and Mazarin] acted as midwives to the modern state.” (Carl J. Friedrich, 1952). It is, for instance, worth pointing out that the coup d'État by Napoleon (18 Brumaire 1799) saw the active involvement of Sieyès, member of the Directory, Fouché, minister of Police, and Talleyrand, minister of Foreign affairs, all men previously belonging to the clergy (Hans Küng, 1999). At a certain point in time, the national religion of the national State took the place of the universal religion of the catholic Church (see Carlton Hayes, 1926). And this was followed by the imposition of a monopolistic national sovereignty which was associated with an identitarian national monoculture.
- The advancement of laicism. In a situation in which the Church had exhausted her cultural superiority and was under attack from many quarters (Protestants, Millenarists, Secularists), the Enlightenment was the spark that lighted a renaissance of the critical spirit and put an end to the Church's cultural hegemony. All the areas in which Churchmen had excelled were subtracted to their influence because, on the whole, the Church was, no longer, promoter of cultural progress but had become a defender of stagnant obscurantism. And a figure like Voltaire, even if educated in a Jesuit college, became, as a reaction, a formidable critic of the cultural suffocation perpetrated by the Church.
- The arrival of industrialism. The freedom of personal research promoted by the Enlightenment bore fruit with a series of scientific discoveries (in physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc.) that prepared the ways for the introduction of technological devices that, in their turn, made possible the development and spread of the industry. Without industrialisation, and the consequent increasing level of productivity, the modern state, with his huge bureaucratic apparatus intervening (controlling and regulating) in every sector of life, could not have come into existence.
In short, the cultural decline of the Catholic Church, and the later
excesses of the Churches (Catholic and Protestant) in their fight for
survival and dominance, made the desire for a non stifling cultural
environment inevitable. This aspiration, supported by the invention
of the printing press that made the circulation of ideas faster and
easier, led, amongst other things, to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment
(with the subsequent ideologies of liberalism and socialism) offered
the ideas and Industrialism offered the means for overpowering the
Church and Churchism and for the affirmation of the modern State and
Statism, at least initially, was a progressive ideology in so far as it succeeded in:
- Overcoming particularism. The remnants of feudalism, with many local masters imposing their will and exactions on producers (farmers, artisans) and merchants, were abolished when the national ruler annexed very large territories and got rid of many restrictions to internal trade. To provide just one example, "On the Rhine there was one toll-collector to every 10 miles of the river, and on the Loire one to every 5 miles. In 1650 there were 48 tolls on the Elbe." (Herber Heaton, 1937). All this would finally disappear, for instance, in Central Europe with the Zollverein (Custom Union) of 1834 that was one of the most important steps towards the formation of a German state and a German nation.
- Promoting egalitarianism. The modern State, born out of the French Revolution, fought against privileges of birth and affirmed the equality of all human beings before the state law, promulgated and administered by the central state. This aspiration to juridical equality was then translated into the advocacy of popular sovereignty resulting in the arrival of representative democracy. The right to vote and to be elected was progressively extended to all adult citizens and became one of the most important causes for the spreading of Statism.
- Advocating cosmopolitanism. The most progressive representatives of the modern state, i.e. the liberals, supported cosmopolitanism and the abolition of barriers to the circulation of people, ideas, goods. This corresponded with the needs of the most advanced economy of the times, the British one, and to a general outlook of progress and friendship amongst people of which a free trade treaty, signed in 1860 between France and the United Kingdom, was a clear sign.
Some of these aspects had already been promoted in previous ages (like the universal brotherhood by the Stoics) or were part of the message of spiritual religion and of the Church policy, as for instance the equal worthiness of every human being without distinction of race (see the encyclical Sicut Dudum, 1435, of Pope Eugene IV against the enslaving of Black Natives from the Canary Islands).
However, these ideas and principles were upheld by the exponents
of progressive Statism, in a more convincing manner, at least from
an emotional point of view, and were better propagated through
the formula liberté,
égalité, fraternité, that became the best condensed and most
popular message of the new statist age.
Unfortunately, as soon as the message was formulated and spread all over Europe, already the cracks were appearing in the form of:
- New restrictions. The feudal limitations to trade and industry re-appeared, with reference now to a bigger area under the control of the national rulers (macro-feudalism). Each state government, including the United Kingdom in a later period, started reintroducing measures of trade protectionism and industrial dirigism. In addition, prohibitions of trade unions and repressions of worker's actions were put in place. These measures were demanded mainly by national businessmen who wanted an internal market tailored for their convenience and a docile working class, obedient to their orders.
- New privileges. The feudal privileges of the past were replaced by updated privileges in the form of licences, patents, quotas, subventions, etc. This was nothing new except for the fact that the privileges were now addressed to the successful commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, allied to the national state rulers, instead of the decadent aristocracy and the backward clergy, both on the way out as recipients of favours from the state power.
- New oppressions. The modern state, born out of wars, the so-called wars of religion, or the wars of independence, kept waging new wars. It did so internally, to impose its own (state) religion against political dissidents, cultural minorities, ideological heretics, etc; and, externally, against weak or non-existent state entities, in Africa and Asia (imperialism), annexing territories and exploiting resources.
In substance, the more the new state power became consolidated, the more its hubris grew and the state rulers considered it permissible to impose on everybody, within a certain territory, their creed and will. As remarked by a contemporary scholar: "In the past it was possible for the State to regard many things as matters for God and the Church alone. The new State could recognize no such limitations. Formerly, men lived in groups. A man had to belong to some groups, and could belong to several at the same time. Now there was to be only one framework for all activity: the nation." (J. L. Talmon, 1952)
In this nationalization of the masses, the political rulers were
assisted by the wealthy business community that replaced the Church
as the new allies for the promotion and propagation of the new temporal
This secular religion presented almost the same deformations and excesses shown by the spiritual one when it had the same monopolistic power to manipulate and coerce individuals. Only the entities of veneration and oppressions had changed. Veneration was now addressed to three very secular realities to which a sacred-material essence was attributed. They were:
- Man as Super-man. The increase of knowledge in the biological sciences and in the sciences of matter, that took place in the course of the XIX century, led some philosophers, like Ludwig Feuerbach, to extol humankind as the new God while reducing the human being to simple natural functions. Feuerbach formulated his new conception by operating a series of substitutions: "in place of religion and Church there was now politics; in place of heaven, the earth; in place of praying, working; in place of hell, material misery; in place of Christians, the man." (in Hans Küng, 1978). We were then only a step away from proclaiming that "God is dead" (Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882). The cult of humanity has been the stepping stone for the cult of the masses that would characterize the first half of the 20th century.
- The nation as the supreme community. Humankind was seen to represent a New God. In actual reality, it was made up of individuals reduced to behave as social atoms and then aggregated to form national masses. The essential, if not unique, social unity became the nation, i.e. a mass of individuals supposedly united by material and cultural bonds (territory, language, laws, etc.). When these common bonds were either non-existent or non-univocal, they were invented (e.g. national traditions and commemorations) or reduced to unity by the suppression of the ways of life of the minorities. A national official language became the premise for a national official culture and for national laws that would homogenize, discipline and control the mass of people living within specific territorial borders, fixed and controlled by the nation state.
- The state as the perfect society. Civil societies, reduced by those in power to be composed of individual atoms and national masses, ended up being dominated by an entity called The State. The modern state was the product of the thinking of Rousseau (the imposed “social contract”) and Hegel (the imposed “ethical idea”). For the individual it was imperative to conform to the “general will” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762) that was supposed to be made operative by the laws of the state, as proclaimed by the drafters of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen : “The law is the expression of the general will.” (1789). For this reason “the state has supreme rights against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be member of the state” (Friedrich Hegel, 1821). For Hegel, the state is "absolutely rational” and “it was in the state that freedom of thought and science had their origin” (Friedrich Hegel, 1821). It followed then, for him, that “sacrifice on behalf of ... the state ... is a universal duty.” (Friedrich Hegel, 1821). No wonder then that Max Stirner wrote a few years later, with totally sarcastic intention: “In our being together as Nation or State we are only human beings.” (Max Stirner, 1845)
All this, in due course, led political leaders, and the masses of individual atoms they manipulated and dominated, to:
- The exaltation of the state. For Hegel "the state is the actuality of the ethical idea" and "it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life." (Friedrich Hegel, 1821) In the first half of the 20th century these theoretical positions will be translated into reality by Benito Mussolini and his Fascist movement. As it has been very clearly expressed in the Doctrine of Fascism: “For Fascism the State is an absolute, individuals and groups are relative.” (Benito Mussolini, Enciclopedia Italiana, 1932). And for the philosopher Giovanni Gentile "Antiindividualistic, the fascist conception is for the State; and is for the individual so far as he coincides with the State, universal thought and will of the man in his historical existence." (Giovanni Gentile, Enciclopedia Italiana, 1932).
- The expansion of the state. In the frame of mind moulded by the philosophy of Hegel, the economist and politician Adolph Wagner formulated in 1893 what would be known as the Wagner's law of the growth of state spending and state sphere of intervention. The state was then presented by some and seen by many as the universal problem solver. No entity in history would interfere and dominate the life of the individuals as the state did in the 20th century. Even when spiritual religion had been dominant, God was supposed to leave to the individual a quite large responsibility for managing his life as in the classic idea of the “free will” and in the popular expression: God helps those who help themselves. On the contrary, the state ruler, presenting himself as the last and best of the humanitarians, “wishes to be a prime mover in the lives of others. He cannot admit either the divine or the natural order, by which men have the power to help themselves. The humanitarian puts himself in the place of God.” (Isabel Paterson, 1943)
Not everybody was convinced by this statist approach. A thinker like Herbert Spencer openly rejected this "great political superstition" by which the state was installed into full power through the magic trick of replacing the divine right of Kings with the divine right of Parliaments (Herbert Spencer, 1884). Moreover, while the power of the king was never so absolute as pretended and every sovereign was always bound to respect the natural laws given by God to all human beings, the Parliaments could produce their own positive laws and so had a much wider and arbitrary power. To the point that, being, as the saying goes, "vox populi, vox Dei" (the voice of the people is the voice of God), the representatives of the people were like the representatives of God on earth and so could dictate all sorts of laws.
State absolutism was back in a more pervasive and constrictive way than in the past. As remarked by a modern author:
“A State is absolute in the sense which I have in mind when it claims the right to a monopoly of all the force within the community, to make war, to make peace, to conscript life, to tax, to establish and disestablish property, to define crime, to punish disobedience, to control education, to supervise the family, to regulate personal habits, and to censor opinions. The modern State claims all of these powers, and, in the matter of theory, there is no real difference in the size of the claim between communists, fascists, and democrats.” (Walter Lippmann, 1929)
Towards the turn of the 19th and during the first decades of the 20th century, and especially after the outbreak of the First World War (“the suicide of civilized Europe" in the words of Pope Benedetto XV), state rulers and state bureaucrats concentrated in their hands such an incredible amount of power that their ideology, Statism, could very well be qualified as Statheism, i.e. the doctrine that preaches and imposes the adoration of the God State.
Max Stirner has synthesized very well this new mental and behavioural attitude of the masses:
“The thought of the State passed into all hearts and awakened enthusiasm; to serve it, this mundane god, became the new divine service and worship. The properly political epoch had dawned. To serve the State or the Nation became the highest ideal, the State's interest the highest interest, State service (for which one does not by any means need to be an official) the highest honour.” (Max Stirner, 1845)
How did we arrive at that position? In other words, how was it possible
to replace a spiritual religion, albeit tainted, in her implementation,
by many failings, with a secular religion that was presented (and imposed)
as a new miraculous answer to human predicament?
It can be argued that this happened through the unfolding of a twofold process :
- Destroying the temporal wealth and spiritual role of the Church.
- Appropriating the temporal wealth and cultural power of the Church.
Destroying the temporal wealth and spiritual role of the Church
During the 19th century, after the impulse provided by the French Revolution, the theoretical and practical foundations of modern Statism were put in place. However, it was during the 20th century, and especially after the First World War, that the State and its ideology dominated the lives of the people. The consequences of this domination, as previously sketched, were tragic for the Church and for Christianity. The most notorious occurrences, during that century, of the systematic destruction of the temporal wealth and the spiritual role of the Church, were:
- In Germany, the Kulturkampf (1871-1891), waged by conservatives and liberals under Bismarck, was designed to obliterate the autonomy of the Roman Catholic Church. "By the end of the 1870s, when the Kulturkampf was at its strongest, one half of the Prussian Catholic episcopate were in jail or exile, one quarter of the parishes had no priest, and 1800 parish clergy were incarcerated or out of the country. Nearly half of the monks and nuns had left Prussia, and one third of the monastic houses were closed. Thousands of Catholic laity were tried and jailed for assisting priests to evade the punitive new laws." (Richard J. Helmstadter, 1997).
- In France, the period between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century was characterized by a series of laws that tried to criminalize the activities of the Catholic Church and to put her “hors la loi” [outlaw] (Jean Sévillia, 2006). Under the premiership of Emile Combes, starting from 1902, anticlericalism became, de facto, a state doctrine. This led to the closure of almost 3000 catholic schools (summer 1902) and to the interdiction of more than 400 religious congregations (1903). A further 2500 catholic schools would be suppressed during the summer of 1904 and the properties belonging to the congregations that had been sequestered (1904) were then given to the municipalities (1908). On the whole, between 1901 and 1904, 30.000 monks and nuns were forced into exile and 14.000 catholic schools were closed. (Jean Sévillia, 2006). Pope Pius X could do nothing more than raise his voice against this persecution in his encyclical Une fois encore (1907).
- In the Soviet Union, the ex seminarist Joseph Vissarionovitch Djugachvili (admittance 1894 - expulsion 1899), better known under the name of Stalin, continued the destruction of the Orthodox Church, started under Lenin, with the expropriation of Church properties and the strong deprecation of any spiritual feeling and practice. "A decree of May 15, 1932, announces the complete dissolution of all religious doctrines, confessions, religious communities and sects.” In the bureaucratic words of the decree “By May 1937 no Church is to be left in the Soviet Union. God will therefore be expelled as a medieval relic from the territory of the U.S.S.R." (Adolf Keller, 1936.)
- In Italy, the doctrine of Fascism as presented by the philosopher Giovanni Gentile, clearly indicated that fascism was a new religion: “Fascism is a religious conception, in which man is viewed in his immanent relationship to a highest law [the Law of the State], with an objective Will [the Will of the State] transcending the particular individual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society [the State as a Spiritual Entity]." (Giovanni Gentile, Enciclopedia Italiana, 1932). This is why the clash between the organizations of the Fascist movement and those of the Catholic Church (like the Azione Cattolica) was inevitable. As for the expropriation of the property of the Church, this had already been undertaken by liberals and radicals after the unification of Italy.
- In Mexico, the Calles Law (June 1926), from the name of the president Plutarco Elías Calles who promoted it, greatly restricted the sphere of action of the clergy. For instance, wearing clerical garb in public (i.e. outside Church buildings) earned the huge fine of 500 pesos (approximately $250 US at the time); a priest who criticized the government could be imprisoned for five years; no priest could exercise his ministry without a State’s licence. In order to further weaken the resistance of the Church to that law, Calles ordered the seizure of Church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed monasteries, convents and religious schools. “An armed revolt of ‘Cristeros’ (Catholic peasants, so called after their rallying cry “Viva Cristo Rey!”) broke out in several provinces ; but it was suppressed with unparalleled brutality.” (Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds., 1954). In 1929 an accommodation of the question was worked out between the Mexican state rulers and the Catholic Church hierarchy. Following that, as “revenge upon the Catholic ‘freedom fighters’,” “500 [Cristeros] leaders and 5,000 ordinary men [Catholics] were shot, often in their homes in front of their families.” (Brian Van Hove, 1994).
- In Spain, during the Civil War, there was widespread persecution of Catholics. According to the study of the catholic historian Antonio Montero Moreno, the figures, accepted also by other historians, are that 6,832 people belonging to the clergy were killed during the war, of which 4,184 were priests, 2,365 monks and friars, and 283 nuns. (Wikipedia, Persecución religiosa durante la Guerra Civil Española). To those figures we have to add the assassination of around 10,000 individuals belonging to Catholic associations and the destruction of around 20,000 churches, including some cathedrals together with their historical archives.
Appropriating the temporal wealth and cultural authority of the
To weaken and sideline the Church (or even to suppress her if possible) was the first part of the state strategy. The next step was to appropriate not only her wealth but also her cultural authority in order that a new secular religion could be put in place of the old spiritual one. The imitations, conscious or unconscious, by the state ideologues, of the symbols and forms of the spiritual religion, are striking. Here we can only list some of them without going into much detail. We have, for instance, the following likenesses:
- The poor of the Catholic Church were replaced, in the Western World, by the proletarians; and like the poor needed assistance by the spiritual clergy, so the proletarians needed guidance by intellectuals and party leaders that assumed the role of a lay clergy. Those leaders inspired a reverence that was paralleled in the past only by highly spiritual figures (see Robert Michels, 1925). They used a vocabulary that was fully reminiscent of a messianic religion, like, for instance, calling a pamphlet advocating violence, the Revolutionary Catechism (Sergey Nechayev, 1869). Fascism even instituted the School of Fascist Mysticism (1930) with a view to forging the future high priests of the regime (see Wikipedia, School of Fascist Mysticism). In the so-called backward regions of the World, the lay priest was the white man (the civil servant, the magistrate, the army official, the developmental economist) with his civilizing mission (“the white man's burden”), that justified every sort of intromission and imposition upon the lives of other people (e.g. territorial annexation, exploitation of resources, introduction of laws, etc.).
- The lay clergy took the place of the clerical personnel in almost every sphere of social life, in education as in the area of assistance and care. The institution of the welfare state was the way to expropriate not only the Church of an important function carried out for centuries, but also the voluntary communities of any capability and willingness for self-help. Even the father confessor, assisting the human being with his moral problems of sins and guilt, was replaced by the psychoanalyst and the psychologist. The confessional, in which the person does not see the face of the confessor, was replaced by the psychoanalyst couch, where the patient closed his eyes and opened his soul to the new priest.
- The crusades of the past that were initiated by the Church but were then enthusiastically carried out by secular rulers, were now continued by the state on its own, with even more vigour and brutality. The 20th century has been a century of ideological crusades (communism, fascism) promoted and conducted by the states in order to impose their brand of totalitarian ideology. Recent crusades have been organized in order to propagate the dogma of bureaucratic totalitarian democracy and of crony financial capitalism.
- The sale of indulgences has been replaced by the sale of promises often illusory: the vote (power) in exchange for some financial reward at other people’s expense. Or, the payment to the state of a certain sum of money for the remittance of some “secular sins”. The sins can be real, as in the case of the destruction of natural resources; or established by the state, when the individual has not given to the state rulers a slice of his fortune. In both cases, through the payment of a fine or the disbursing a certain percentage of the sum claimed by the power, the state subject can be forgiven and be absolved.
- The state has even been able to make people believe that the state rulers can perform miracles creating resources out of thin air. For instance, the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish pales before the printing of money in extraordinary amounts and the growth of the state debt to unparalleled levels. Further miracles are expected to make this wondrous phenomenon continue forever.
- The persecutions of minorities has been totally taken over by the state. As remarked by Aldous Huxley, “from about 1700 to the present day all persecutions in the West have been secular and, one might say, humanistic. For us, Radical Evil has ceased to be something metaphysical and has become political or economic.” (Aldous Huxley, 1952). However, even in the far away past, the persecution of minorities, like the burning of so-called witches, was, on the whole, a phenomenon of mass hysteria, more than a Church-inspired occurrence. For this reason it is quite understandable that it continued under the state as a witch hunt against so-called saboteurs and dissidents (in the Soviet Union under Stalinism) or communists and anarchists (in the USA during McCarthyism).
- The saints and martyrs of the Mother Church have been replaced by heroes and soldiers dying for the Fatherland. Especially after the First World War, monuments and statues celebrating those heroes and their heroic deeds have been erected all over Europe. In Italy there is even a so-called Altar of the Fatherland (1911-1925) which, since 1921, holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lighted with an eternal flame. The similarities with a Church Altar and its sanctuary lamp always lighted near the tabernacle are too striking to be casual.
- The ceremonies, processions, candles, holy banners, were all forms and symbols taken up by state movements, like fascism and national socialism. “The Nazi substitute for baptism, ‘consecrating the name,’ was held in a special room in the center of which stood an altar.” (George L Mosse, 1975). The mass gatherings were intended to re-create a spiritual atmosphere around the secular leader (the Duce, the Führer). Denis de Rougemont described with these words a political ceremony in national socialist Germany: “Je me croyais à un meeting de masses, à quelque manifestation politique. Mais c'est leur culte qu'ils célèbrent ! Et c'est une liturgie qui se déroule, la grande cérémonie sacrale d'une religion dont je ne suis pas, et qui m'écrase et me repousse avec bien plus de puissance même physique, que tous ces corps horriblement tendus." [I believed to be the spectator of a mass-meeting, some political demonstration. But, it is their cult they celebrate! And it is a liturgy that takes place, the big holy ceremony of a religion of which I have no part, and which crushes and pushes me away with more force, even physical, than all those bodies horribly stretched.” (Denis de Rougemont, 1938). The original model was revolutionary France where “the old Catholic processions were replaced by processions through the streets of Paris headed by statues of the ‘trinity’ of revolutionary martyrs, Marat, Chalier and Le Peletier.” (Hugh McLeod, 1981).
- The transubstantiation of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ is paralleled by the (pretended) transformation of private individuals and private interests into public (civil) servants and public concerns. And this just because a certain number of people have cast a vote for them. In this respect, it is quite sensible to wonder how it is possible that, by giving considerable power (e.g. the power to tax and spend other people’s money) to some people, there will not be a temptation to abuse their position. If that never occured, it would be miraculous. However, because this kind of extended miracles concerning human behaviour do not usually happen, we have to consider the fact that the amount of credulity demanded by the State from the common person is greater than the faith demanded by the Church to her members. All this became possible because, as pointed out by a legal scholar “the mythology of our age is not religious but political. And its chief myths seem to be 'representation' of the people, on the one hand, and the charismatic pretension of political leaders to be in possession of the truth and to act accordingly, on the other.” (Bruno Leoni, 1961).
- The prayers are also a fixture of the secular religion, starting from the kindergarten, in order to instil the habit: “Händchen falten, Köpfchen senken, still an Adolf Hitler denken.” [Join your little hands, bend your little head, think in silence of Adolf Hitler]. But not only the habit to pray is copied from Catholic religion; also the words, like in the plea that circulated among groups of Hitlerite girls and boys: “Adolf Hitler, du bist unser grosser Führer, Dein Name macht die Feinde erzittern, Dein Drittes Reich komme, Dein Will sei allein Gesetz auf Erden. Lass uns täglich deine Stimme hören, und befehle uns durch deine Führer. Denen wir gehorchen wollen unter Einsatz Unseres eigenen Lebens. Das geloben wir. Heil Hitler.” [Adolf Hitler, you are our great Führer. Thy name makes thy enemies tremble. Thy Third Reich come. Thy will alone be law upon the earth. Let us daily hear thy voice and command us through thy leaders, to whom we will obey even at the forfeit of our lives. We vow thee! Hail Hitler!]. And before a meal this was the prayer recited: “Führer, mein Führer, von Gott mir gegeben, Beschütz und erhalte noch lange mein Leben. Hast Deutschland gerettet aus tiefster Not. Dir danke ich heute mein täglich Brot. Bleib lang noch bei mir, verlass mich nicht. Führer, mein Führer, mein Glaube, mein Licht.” [Führer, my Führer, given to me by God. Protect and preserve my life for long. You saved Germany in time of need. I thank you for my daily bread. Be with me for a long time, do not leave me, Führer, my Führer, my Faith, my Light].
- The Church as ecclesia was replaced by the society as State, through a process of secularization of civil society and sacralization of state power (Carlo Lottieri, 2011). The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have become now the three arms of the state power, the Legislative, the Executive, the Judiciary, all working, to the best of their intention, to generate harmony on earth through the production, implementation and supervision of laws. The recognition of the existence of natural laws and the slow formation of norms of civilization emerging from human intercourses were gone. Now, the new God, the nation State, creates and dictates his positive laws for all. In fact, "with the rejection of the Church, and of transcendental justice, the State remained the sole source and sanction of morality." (J. L. Talmon, 1952). During the 20th century all the “ethical” norms have been state norms in the form of laws, defending and imposing a certain type of morality. An example of this were the laws against the consumption of spirits, against the assumption of certain substances, against certain sexual intercourses even between consenting adults.
On the whole, the State as Maker and Regulator of everything (laws, roads, schools, hospitals, security, utilities, morality, relations, habits, civilization) was intended to be the sole source and point of reference. Paradoxically, state-oriented intellectuals that, absolutely, do not believe in God creationism, have either manufactured or blindly accepted State creationism. Creationism with reference to the cosmos (supposedly created by a benevolent God) has a least the justification that we really don’t know how the universe came about. And the Big Bang might be seen just as a secular impersonal variation of the Big Master (God the Almighty). But state creationism is a dishonest attempt to distort history and to ignore the fact that the state is mainly the appropriator and not the creator of everything. It is only human beings, individually or in communities, that have devised and produced everything in the past and are still devising and producing everything in the present, against all the difficulties, artfully created, by state rulers. So, what has been and is before everybody’s eyes, all throughout the centuries, is not state creationism but individuals and communities (spontaneous) evolutionism.
By successfully copying and replacing the spiritual with the secular, state rulers no longer need a Church as a spiritual entity, justifying and supporting their secular power. So, “the Church as a secular vehicle of deity was superseded by la patrie as an instrument for the spreading of the new gospel of the Rights of Man.” (Arthur Koestler, 1945).
From the times of the French Revolution, when “three hundred priests officiated at the "altar of the nation" erected on the Champ of Mars (1790), wearing tricolor waistbands over their priestly vestments and calling down God's blessing upon the Revolution” (Wikipedia, Civil Constitution of the Clergy), we have now reached the point where the laity can do without the priests of a national Church. And “certainly it is true that during the last few hundred years there has been transferred to government a considerable part of the devotion which once sustained the churches.” (Walter Lippmann, 1929). The national rulers have become the High Priests and their religious ideology, based on laicism, patriotism, chauvinism, could stand on its own.
However, it is just at the moment in which Statism as Statheism has reached its apogee that the need, aspiration and possibility of going beyond Statism appear. It is then now necessary to conclude this excursus by showing how it was possible, in the past, to go beyond Churchism (and this has regenerated the community of the faithful and their spiritual message) and why it is now appropriate and advisable to go beyond Statism (and how this is likely to regenerate human societies and their civic organizations).
Beyond Churchism and Statism (^)
It seems intrinsic to the nature of human beings that there exists a desire to bind oneself
- with a superior entity (God or god-like figures)
- with similar entities (other human beings).
That is why spiritual and secular religions (re-ligo = binding together) will be always with us. The proclaimed intention, of some people, to abolish religion, has always masked the unconscious or deceptive intent of imposing a different religion.
As a matter of fact, the term religion in its common meaning (associated to individual spirituality and to the Church rites) is a relatively modern invention, linked to the emergence of the lay state. In ancient Rome, the term "religio was largely indifferent to theological doctrine and was primarily about the customs and traditions that provided the glue for the Roman social order." (S. N. Balagangadhara in William T. Cavanaugh. 2009). In other words, the term “religion” referred to a complex of ideas and practices on which the association of individuals was based.
Once clarified the fact of the inevitable persistence of religion (spiritual and secular) as providing an answer to fundamental human exigencies, it is necessary to focus on the two main organizations that have structured and administered those needs:
- the Church: the spiritual authority
- the State: the secular power.
To do so we have to concentrate on their respective
conceptions, i.e. Churchism and Statism, that
have provided theoretical systematizations and
justifications for their practical dominion.
The aim is to see if the inevitable presence of religion is also necessarily linked to the presence of Churchism and/or Statism. To do so, we briefly recapitulate some points and facts already presented.
As previously sketched, the Christian religion started amid persecutions, and his major propagator (St. Paul) was originally one of her persecutors. Afterwards, the power of attraction of the Christian conception led the imperial rulers to consider and accept it as a new glue and fresher support for their power. From then on, secular rulers, not having yet elaborated the updated social reasons underpinning their rights to govern, relied on spiritual religion and her earthly organization, the Church, to provide one. And the Church, becoming a recognized reality of this world, accepted the secular power as her protector and defender.
This mutual support, even with inevitable clashes,
lasted for centuries because it responded, as
already pointed out, to reciprocal exigencies: the Church
needed a secular power to shield her and the
Empire needed a spiritual power to justify its
It must be also added that, over the centuries, spiritual and secular religions have been conceptions and practices that went well beyond their most visible representatives. i.e. the Church and the Empire (later on the State). They found expressions, for instance, in many monastic orders and in groups of Christian devotees, like the fraticelli (lesser brothers) that joined Saint Francis in his practice and predication. And also in the secular world, we find many urban and rural realities set up by artisans and merchants which would be the protagonists of future developments.
It happened then, that the quite recurrent attritions between Church and Empire made both to appear increasingly undesirable and to become increasingly weak. In due course, a total reshuffling would take place: the Church got divided and the Empire practically disappeared. The States emerged, in the end, as more localized and energetic powers in comparison with the Empire. They had the upper hand also with respect to the Church. This occurred because the Church
- lacked the material might vis-à-vis of the State;
- lost its position of cultural superiority over the State.
The protestant schism and the so-called wars of religion gave to a Church, already affected by a process of moral decadence, a tremendous blow, following which her prestige and influence were seriously shaken.
Historical events could have taken a different path if the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church had been capable of reforming itself instead of persisting in the worst vices of a temporal ruler, whilst pretending to be a spiritual authority. In other words, if the Church high spheres had been willing and capable of expressing tolerance and humanism instead of intolerance and Churchism (absolute monopolistic power).
A strong voice indicating a more appropriate path for the Church was that of Erasmus (1466-1536). He was a champion of free will and a strong advocate of what will be called religious tolerance. Unfortunately, the direction taken by the protagonists of that historical phase was, on the one hand to try to save Churchism by relying on the Emperor (the House of Habsburg); and on the other to sow the seeds of Statism through the Protestant Reformation that entrusted to the secular princes the survival and development of the reformed Church.
From now on, the Pope was often at the mercy of powerful temporal rulers. To refer only to a case, the temporal rulers of many supposedly Catholic countries (Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain) succeeded in expelling the Jesuits (1750-1773) and even forced the Pope (Clement XIV) to suppress (1773) the Company of Jesus seen as a centre of cultural and economic power and influence and so an undesirable competitor to them. “Every work of the Jesuits — their vast missions, their noble colleges, their churches — all is taken from them or destroyed. They are banished, and their order suppressed, with harsh and denunciatory words even from the pope.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, The Suppression of the Jesuits).
After the Protestant schism, spiritual religion
was to be, increasingly, used by secular rulers
only as a pretext for wars of state supremacy.
As it has already been pointed out “much of the wars of religion involved Catholics killing Catholics, Lutherans killing Lutherans, and Catholic-Protestant collaboration. To cite only one example: Cardinal Richelieu and Catholic France intervened in the Thirty Years' War on the side of Lutheran Sweden, and the last half of the Thirty Years' War was essentially a battle between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons, the two great Catholic dynasties of Europe.” (William T. Cavanaugh, 2009). So, to call them “wars of religions,” in the sense of originating from sharp differences in spiritual religion, is a misnomer, to say the least.
The authority of the Church, broken by the
protestant schism and by the repulsion following
the devastations of the so-called “wars of religion,”
received a further battering when the Church,
in order to save what was left of her power,
put herself in a defensive position, by opposing
everything that was new and modern.
So that, when the Restoration came, after the excesses of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic wars, the ecclesiastical hierarchies were convinced that, by siding with the reactionary monarchies of Europe, under the diplomatic supervision of count Metternich, they could restore the ancient power and prestige of the Church.
In actual fact, its opposition or detachment
with respect to new ideas and new phenomena,
sanctioned a further cultural decline of the
Church and, with it, also the definitive end
After Erasmus, several individuals had made the case for greater tolerance (Locke, Voltaire) and the acceptance of progressive ideas. They emerged from outside of the Church, and were highly critical of the Church's. Moreover, the general cultural climate was turning against the Church and spiritual religion, which was felt and made to appear as the source of every atrocity and irrationality. Many sectors linked to the State were actively engaged in promoting a new laic and anti-catholic outlook. The propaganda against the Catholic Church and against spiritual religion was seen, in fact, as a necessary step for the success of the State and of the ideology of Statism. By way of this propaganda:
- The Catholic Church was portrayed as a sort of criminal organization, uniquely responsible in history for wars, killings, torture and much more. A famous case is that of the Black Legend through which partisan historians succeeded, amongst other things, in presenting the Spanish Inquisition not as a case, amongst many others, of repression of minorities and expropriation of their riches in favour of the State, but as the Absolute Evil emanating from religion and Church power. A more balanced view should have taken into account that "the inquisition was in every way an instrument of royal policy and remained politically subject to the crown" (Henry Kamen. 1997); and that the number of people condemned to death by the Spanish Inquisition, in the course of over three centuries, amounts, according to some historians, to between 3000 to 6000 individuals. This is much less than the 17.000 citizens condemned to death by the French Revolutionary Tribunals in the space of only two years (1793-1794) and the over 120,000 individuals that were exterminated during the Vendée repression (1793-1796). Clearly, this does not justify the killings perpetrated under the Inquisition that, even if smaller by number, remain, in the words of a Catholic scholar, “completely inexcusable” (Catholic Bridge, Catholic Inquisition). However, to qualify those bloody episodes as absolute evil, far worse than anything ever committed in history, seems quite a distortion of reality.
- Spiritual religion was portrayed as the conceptual source and the effective instigator of all violent and intolerant acts. It was equated to an irrational and obscurantist belief; for this reason, all that was bad and heinous was deemed to come out of it. Some obscurantist views held in certain periods of the history of the Church might justify this attitude. However, it is necessary to stress that practically all the violent acts, committed by groups in the course history, are carried out because certain prejudices and hatred are largely shared by the populace at large and not just by one specific institution. This is almost always the case when persecuted minorities are concerned, i.e. those which the local people call deviants or strangers or foreigners. A classic example was represented by the witch-hunt in the past. It is worth noticing, in this respect, that the notorious and infamous text, Malleus Maleficarum, against the witches, that circulated all over Europe, was banned by the Church in 1490, three years after publication. This showed that, quite often, the members of the Church have been more enlightened than the mass of the people.
In any case, with the suppression of the temporal power of the Church and the discredit in which fell the ideology justifying her overall dominance, i.e. Churchism, the time was propitious for:
- a recovery of the Church as ecclesia, that is as a voluntary community of the faithful;
- a replacement of Churchism with the original universal conception of a spiritual religion freely chosen and professed by the faithful.
So, by the beginning of the XX century, we had already gone beyond Churchism because the tolerance of various spiritual religions was universally accepted and practiced in Europe and in other regions as a matter of fact. However, conflicts and wars not only did not go away but even intensified and amplified to a scale never seen in the past. That suggests that Churchism was only part of the problem and that something more and something else has to be done.
The second step to be taken is, then, to go
also beyond the secular totalitarian religion
that the entity that has replaced the Church
as absolute power, i.e. the territorial State,
wanted and still wants to impose on everybody.
This secular religion is called Statism.
We have already seen that, from time immemorial, the state has been linked to religion, as remarked by Fustel de Coulanges:
“L’État était étroitement lié à la religion; il venait d’elle et se confondait avec elle. C’est pour cela que dans la cité primitive toutes les institutions politiques avaient été des institutions religieuses.” [The State was strictly linked to religion; it came out of her and got mixed with her. It is for this reason that, in the ancient city, all the political institutions were at the origin religious institutions.] (Fustel de Coulanges, 1864)
This linking and mixing still remains today. If we examine carefully mischievous acts committed by or attributed to the Church in the past, we find almost always the state as either initiator, or accomplice or executioner.
For instance, we are all horrified thinking of Giordano burnt at the stake and of Giulio Cesare Vanini to whom the tongue was cut because he had cursed God, but not many ponder about the fact that Giordano Bruno was handed over to the Roman Inquisition by the very illustrious men of the Most Serene Republic of Venice and that Giulio Cesare Vanini was tortured and burned by order of the Parliament of Toulouse. And we can continue with witches and priests (like Urbain Grandier) burnt at the stake (always by the secular arm) apparently for reasons of spiritual religion until we discover, as usual behind the fact, powerful secular interests that employed popular credulity in order to dispose of an inconvenient individual.
In other words, the Church on its own was,
generally, impotent and did not have the ability
to implement any repressive measure.
So, for many centuries, the state, remaining often in the background, has used the Church and has been used by her in what came to be known as the alliance between throne and altar. At a later date, during the 20th century, the State has played the role of the sole dominant power, having put in place an apparatus composed exclusively of lay people (state bureaucracy) and having elaborated or appropriated cultural conceptions (state liberalism, state socialism) in which spiritual religions and even God could be put aside as tools no longer useful for state control.
We could mark the deployment of the full and exclusive dominance of State and Statism with the outbreak of the First World War. "Before the war it was almost possible, in the really democratic countries of Europe, for a self-centred individual to ignore the State and live his own life." (Adolf Keller, 1936). Or, in the words of the historian A.J.P. Taylor :
“Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any other country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.” (A. J. P. Taylor, 1965)
Everything changed from that fateful summer
of 1914. If it is true to affirm that "the
state makes war and the war makes the state" as
in the often quoted statement of the historian
Charles Tilly (1985), it is appropriate to say
that the First World War was THE WAR that finally
made THE STATE, as the Father, the Master and
the Omnipotent God.
While in the past the state rulers needed to cloak their lust for power and wealth, leading them to war, with the mantle of the defence of spiritual religious principles, in the course of the XX century they have continued to wage wars with reference to other “principles” that have been manufactured and structured in the form of secular religions (the nation, the fatherland, the people, democracy, etc.).
The naïve expectation that, with the end of
the dominion of Church and Churchism, violence
and obscurantism would disappear, leaving the
place to harmonious and rational social relationships,
was totally disavowed during the 20th century,
the century of "rogue ideologies" (Robert
Conquest, 1999) and genocidal plans.
What’s more, everything now seemed permitted under the pretext of realizing heaven on earth, or, at least, that type of paradise that was in the minds of the state rulers. This was made possible also by the fact that now the State could fully disregard the restraints imposed by a spiritual religion that, however badly implemented and often disregarded even by the Church, still assumed the existence of inviolable natural laws.
To make an example, some sectors of the Catholic Church did sometimes accept and even promote the mistreatment of Jews as a retribution for their killing of Jesus, even if Pope Callixtus II issued around 1120 a general Bull of Protection for the Jews (Sicut Judaeis) and “Callixtus’ formulation was repeated by most of the Popes from the 12th to the 15th centuries.” (Jewish Virtual Library). But some States expressly approved positive laws for the discrimination and persecution of the Jews, and put into action plans for their extermination (the “final solution”). And the same happened with reference to other minorities (religious, ethnic, political).
It is a matter of fact that the secular religions of the XX century (fascism, national-socialism, communism, Maoism, etc.) have carried out persecutions of "heretics" and practiced genocidal massacres at a scale unparalleled by any spiritual religion of the past. The State has been a much more dangerous and murderous agent than the Church because it has succeeded in combining, as the sole totalitarian master, the power of manipulation (mind) with the power of constriction (body).
According to Professor R.J. Rummel, “putting the human cost of war and democide together, Power has killed over 203,000,000 people in this [20th] century.” This figure has been later on revised upward to 262 millions.” (R. J. Rummel, Twentieth Century Democide). Other estimates of the number of people who died in all the wars, massacres, slaughters and oppressions of the 20th century vary from 167 to 226 millions (see: Necrometrics). In any case, death-figures much higher than during all the preceding centuries (133 millions) (R. J. Rummel, Pre-Twentieth Century Democide). This is due not only to the refinement in the instruments for bringing death to the masses, but also to the birth and spread of homicidal ideologies that state rulers have tried to impose on millions of people and that, in their turn, millions of people have tried to impose on minorities and dissidents (those who were thinking differently from the dominating power).
During the period of their full power (the
20th century) state rulers and state personnel
have been not only extremely murderous but also
highly obscurantist. They committed heinous crimes
against human beings even in the supposedly most
advanced regions of the world (see Unethical human
experimentation in the United States)
under the pretext of scientific experimentation
(performed on Jews, blacks, minorities). They
impeded the development of science when it
collided with their ideological premises (like
in the famous Lysenko affair in the Soviet
Union). Furthermore, they considered the social
organization based on the state the last and
definitive form of social organization, and
so they tried and still try to stop at all
costs any possible alternative that would go
beyond the territorial sovereignty of the states
already existing and their international organizations.
However, territorial States and the ideology of Statism, being human phenomena, like all phenomena, go through a process of birth, ascendancy, decadence, unless there is a continuous regeneration that transforms those phenomena and puts them in tune with the times.
The parabola of Statism can be punctuated by the following dates:
- 1789: fall of the walls of the Bastille, the Parisian prison, and beginning of the French Revolution;
- 1870: fall of the Porta Pia wall in Rome and final suppression of any trace of the temporal power of the Popes;
- 1989: fall of the Berlin wall and shattering of the illusion that the state is a superior entity that can bring heaven on earth.
So, after the end of the Church as temporal
power and of Churchism imposed to everybody,
it is now time to go beyond the state as territorial
power and beyond the ideology of Statism imposed
This does not mean the end of religions (spiritual or secular) intended as conceptions and practices that bind people together (re-ligo). The affirmation that “religions rule the world” (Giuseppe Mazzini, 1860) is very likely to be correct if applied to the past, the present and also the future. Even a very down-to-earth thinker like Herbert Spencer stressed the fact that “a religious system is a normal and essential factor in every evolving society.” (Herbert Spencer, 1896).
However, what we are likely to witness is the
end of any entity that presents itself as authorized
to impose its will on everybody living in a certain
territory and of any ideology that upholds that
The Churches as ecclesia (communities) and the States as status (organized social conditions) will remain but they will be totally transformed, if that has not already happened (as has been the case for the Church in the Western World).
The transformation of the Church in the last
centuries is a very instructive case when considering
any future path that should be undertaken.
Whenever the Church acted like a political territorial power or based itself on political territorial premises, the consequences have been disastrous for the human beings involved, materially and morally. This bloody past is very lucidly exposed in this sentence:
"Do you remember the times when people shouted religious opinions more loudly than anyone ever shouted political arguments? When the divine creator became the Lord of Hosts, the avenging and pitiless God in whose name blood flowed in rivers? Men have always tried to take the divine cause into their own hands - to make Him an accomplice of their own bloodthirsty passions.
‘Kill them all! God will recognize His own!’." (Paul-Emile de Puydt, 1860).
And then something happened. After so much
killing and shedding of blood, people were almost
forced to discover that all of them could live
peacefully, side by side, even while professing
Again, in the words of de Puydt:
"What has become of such implacable hatreds? The progress of the human spirit has swept them all away, like the wind the dead leaves of autumn. The religions, in whose names were set up stakes and instruments of torture, survive and live together peacefully, under the same laws, eating from the same budget; and if each sect preaches only its own excellence, it is quite rare that it persists in condemning its rivals." (Paul-Emile de Puydt, 1860)
So, what has been accomplished in the sphere of Church religion, after so many murderous wars (like the Thirty Years War) and abominable persecutions (like the one against the Cathars), can very well be accomplished in the sphere of State religion, after the Thirty Years World War (1914-1945) and the innumerable persecutions of minorities and dissidents.
“Then, what has become possible in this obscure, unfathomable region of the conscience, … could not … be all the more possible in the purely secular domain of politics?” (Paul-Emile de Puydt, 1860)
However, to make this happen, we have to go beyond a mental paradigm and a material practice based on:
- Dichotomism. The conceptions of Churchism in the past and Statism in the present are based on exclusive polarities: We and Them. We, the exponents of the right doctrine (orthodoxy) and them the heretics, the infidels, the dissidents, in one word, all those that must be converted forcibly or crushed without pity, lest they might spread everywhere their evil message and practice. Dicothomism is only the first stage, the theoretical starting point for the promotion of antagonism, i.e. the pointing out and fighting of enemies.
- Antagonism. The philosopher and legal expert Carl Schmitt expressly declared that “the specific mark of politics, to which all the political acts and motivations can be connected, is the discrimination between friends and enemies.” (Carl Schmitt, 1932 ). The political antagonism can quite often reach the point when war is deemed absolutely necessary in order to defend your friends and destroy your enemies, being war a mere extension of politics. In the words of von Clausewitz: “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” (Carl von Clausewitz, 1918). And if enemies, for whatever reasons, are on the wane, for instance when secular ideologies and politics become less important in the mind and life of the individuals, they can then be manufactured with crafty political expediency.
- Monopolism. The manufacturing of this clashing dualism (dichotomism + antagonism) is possible because of the monopolistic control that the State exerts on all the people living within a certain territory. This monopoly is called territorialism or territorial state sovereignty. As previously pointed out, if in the past we had the formula "nulla salus extra ecclesiam" so that those putting themselves outside or even against the ecclesia were considered almost not human (being Christian the synonym for "human being"), now the formula is "no security outside the state" so that a stateless person (like the Jews in the past) becomes a non-entity and, as a non-entity, can be minced to pieces. Monopolistic state power over a certain territory (territorialism) is for the state rulers the way to control their (pretended) flock and expel, exploit, exterminate, the black sheep or any other living being presented as inferior or infectious.
By going beyond dichotomism, antagonism and
monopolism, we go beyond fake ideas and artificial
realities full of invented foes, foreigners,
heretics, minorities, territorial borders, and
so on and so forth. At that moment, it will be
finally possible to overcome the current political
Quoting again de Puydt:
“Under the present conditions a government exists only by the exclusion of all the others, and one party can rule only after smashing its opponents; a majority is always harassed by a minority which is impatient to govern. Under such conditions it is quite inevitable that the parties hate each other and live, if not at war, at least in a state of armed peace. Who is surprised to see that minorities intrigue and agitate, and that governments put down by force any aspiration to a different political form which would be similarly exclusive? So society ends up composed of ambitious resentful men, waiting for vengeance, and ambitious power-sated men, sitting complacently on the edge of a precipice. Erroneous principles never bring about just consequences, and coercion never leads to right or truth.” (Paul-Emile de Puydt, 1860).
Now “imagine that all compulsion ceases; that every adult citizen is, and remains, free to select from among the possible offered governments the one which conforms to his will and satisfies his personal needs; free not only on the day following some bloody revolution, but always, everywhere, free to select, but not to force his choice on others. At that point all disorder comes to an end, all fruitless struggle becomes impossible.” (Paul-Emile de Puydt, 1860).
End of compulsion means freedom and “real freedom, if it could be brought about, would go a long way towards destroying hatred.” (Bertrand Russell, 1916)
At the beginning of the XXI century, we have the cultural elements and technological instruments to make this possible. The recognition and realization of the free will against the past forced intromission of the Church in the life of individuals, must now be coupled with the recognition and realization of the free choice of membership to voluntary communities by the individuals, against the oppressive intromission of the territorial State in the life of everyone.
One hundred years (1914-2014) of totalitarian invasive statism are enough.
It is now time to go for personal freedom and to experiment with voluntary communities.
[1340-1353] Francesco Petrarca, Epystole sine nomine (Letter V, criticizing
the Avignon Papacy)
 Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe (De Principatibus), IGDA, Novara,
 Martin Luther, On the Jews and their Lies
 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan or the Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1946
 Voltaire, Traité sur la tolérance, Flammarion, Paris, 2007
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social
 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Britannica, Chicago, 1990 (Chapter XV : The Progress of the Christian Religion, and the Sentiments, Manners, Numbers, and Conditions of the Primitive Christians)
 Abbé Sieyès, Qu’est-ce-que le tiers-état, Flammarion, Paris, 2009
 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1967
 Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifest der kommunistichen Partei [The communist manifesto, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968]
 Antoine Martinet, Statolatrie ou le communisme légal
 Giuseppe Mazzini, Doveri dell’uomo, Edizioni Lara, Roma, 1968
 Paul-Emile de Puydt, Panarchy
 Lord Acton, Nationality
 Lord Acton, Conflicts with Rome, in Essays on Freedom and Power, Thames & Hudson, London, 1956
 Fustel de Coulanges, La cité antique, Flammarion, Paris, 1984
 Sergey Nechayev, The Revolutionary Catechism
 Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology
see Chapter XII: The Theological Bias
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
 Herbert Spencer, The Great Political Superstition
 Herbert Spencer, The Sins of Legislators
 Friedrich Engels, The Origin of Family, Private Property and State
 Gustave Le Bon, Psychologie des foules, Presses Universitaires de France,
 Lev Nikolajevic' Tolstoy, Notes for Officers – Notes for Soldiers
 William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion, delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1928
 Lord Acton, Lectures on Modern History, Macmillan, London, 1960
 Bertrand Russell, Why Men Fight, Cosmo Classics, New York, 2004
 Vladimir I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1992
 Israel Zangwill, The Principle of Nationalities, Watts & Co., London
 Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism, Penguin Books, 2010
 Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Chapter 1, 24)
 Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, Watchmaker
Publishing, USA, 2010
 John L. Stoddard, Rebuilding a Lost Faith, Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, Illinois, 1922
 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2005
 Robert Michels, La sociologia del partito politico, il Mulino, Bologna,
 Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World. The Lowell Lectures, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1928
 Carlton J. H. Hayes, Essays on Nationalism, The Macmillan Company,
see: Nationalism as a Religion (http://www.panarchy.org/hayes/nationalism.html)
 Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals, George Allen & Unwin, London
 Hilaire Belloc, Richelieu, Gates of Vienna Books, Norfolk, USA, 2006
 Joseph Bernhart, Il Vaticano potenza mondiale, Bompiani, Milano, 1936
 Eli F. Heckscher, Il Mercantilismo, UTET, Torino, 1936
 Carl Schmitt, La notion de politique, Flammarion, Paris, 1992
 Carl J. Burkhardt, Richelieu, Mondadori, Milano, 1973
 Eli F. Heckscher , Mercantilism, Economic History Review, November 1936
 Adolf Keller, Church and State on the European Continent, The Epworth Press, London
 Herbert Heaton, Heckscher on Mercantilism, Journal of Political Economy, pp. 370-393
 Rudolf Rocker, Nationalism and Culture, Rocker Publications Committee,
 F.A.Voigt, Unto Caesar, Constable, London
 Denis de Rougemont, Journal d’Allemagne, Gallimard, Paris
 Luigi Sturzo, L'État totalitaire
 Ignazio Silone, La scuola dei dittatori, Mondadori, Milano, 1977
 Isabel Paterson, The Humanitarian with the Guillotine
 Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government. The rise of the total state and total war, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 2011
 Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power. The Natural History of Its Growth, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1993
 Arthur Koestler, The Yogi and the Commissar, Jonathan Cape, London, 1964
 Christopher Hollis, The Church and the Modern Age, Catholic Truth Society, London
 A. S. Turberville, L’Inquisizione Spagnola [The Spanish Inquisition], Feltrinelli, Milano, 1965
 Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, Doubleday, New York, 1991
 George Sabine, A History of Political Theory, George G. Harrap, London, Third Edition 1957
 Carl J. Friedrich, The Age of the Baroque 1610-1660, Harper & Row, New York, 1962
 J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, Mercury
Books, London, 1961
see : http://www.panarchy.org/talmon/totalitariandemocracy.html
 Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun. Appendix
 Sidney Z. Ehler and John B. Morrall, eds., Church and State through the Centuries. A collection of illustrative documents, Burns & Oates, London
 Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, Allen & Unwin,
see : http://www.panarchy.org/schumpeter/scholasticism.html
 Harold S. Bender, Anabaptist Testimonies on Religious Liberty
 Roland H. Bainton, The Age of the Reformation, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York
 Leon Bernard and Theodore B. Hodges, eds., Readings in European History, The Macmilan Company, New York
 Gustav A. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism. A Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union, Frederick Praeger, New York
 Harold J. Berman, The Influence of Christianity Upon the Development
 Henry Treece, The Crusades, Mentor Books, New York, 1964
see : http://www.panarchy.org/treece/crusade.html
 Pierre Janelle, The Catholic Reformation, Collier-Macmillan, London, 1975
 Jacques Ellul, L’illusion politique, La Table Ronde, Paris, 2011
see : http://www.panarchy.org/ellul/politique.html
 A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford
 G.W.O. Woodward, The Dissolution of the Monasteries, Blandford Press, London, 1969
 Karl Heussi & Eric Peter, Précis d’histoire de l’église, Éditions Delachaux et Niestlé, Neuchâtel
 Henry Kamen, Nascita della tolleranza [The Rise of Toleration], il Saggiatore, Milano
 Joseph R. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2005
 George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996
 Robert Nisbet, The New Despotism
 Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Pelican Books, Harmondsworth, 1980
 Hans Küng, Dieu existe-t-il, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1981
 Gerhard Benecke, Germany in the Thirty Years War, Edward Arnold, London
 Hugh McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe, 1789-1970, Oxford University Press, Oxford
 University of Exeter, Department of History and Archeology, Nazism 1919-1945, A documentary reader, vol. II : State, Economy and Society, 1991
 Lewis W. Spitz, The Protestant Reformation 1517-1559, Harper & Row, New York, 1987
 Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience. A personal view of the search for God, The Penguin Press, New York, 2006
 Charles Tilly, War Making and State Making as Organized Crime
 Reynald Secher, Le génocide franco-français: la Vendée-Vengé, Perrin,
see also: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Génocide_franco-français
 François Furet – Mona Ozouf et collaborateurs, Dictionnaire critique de la Révolution Française, Flammarion, Paris, 1992
 Doug Bandow, The Politics of Envy. Statism as Theology, Transaction Publishers, London
 Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996
 Brian Van Hove, Blood-Drenched Altars, Faith & Reason, Summer 1994
 Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition. An historical revision, Weidenfield & Nicolson, London
 Richard J. Helmstadter, ed., Freedom and Religion in the Nineteenth
Century, Stanford University Press, Stanford
see: Introduction http://books.google.ch/books?id=aw_1aaE0Fb4C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Hans Küng, Le Christianisme. Ce qu’il est et ce qu’il est devenu dans l’histoire, Seuil, Paris
 Martin van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
 Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, W.W. Norton & Co, New York
 Emilio Gentile, Le religioni della politica, Laterza, Bari, 2007
 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Regnery Publishing, Washington
 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., The Church and the Market, Lexington Books, Lanham, Maryland, USA
 Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason. How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Random House, New York
 Jean Sévillia, Quand les catholiques étaient hors la loi, Librairie Académique Perrin
 Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes. Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Quaeda, Harper, London 2007
 William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence. Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, Oxford University Press, Oxford
 Carlo Lottieri, Credere nello Stato? Teologia politica e dissimulazione da Filippo il Bello a Wikileaks, Rubettino, Soveria Mannelli
 William T. Cavanaugh, Migrations o the Holy. God, State and the Political Meaning of the Church, William B. Erdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
 Marc Angenot, Le siècle des religions séculières : esquisse d’histoire
Web sites and Web pages
The Church (Catholic Encyclopedia)
The Catholic Church (Wikipedia)
State church of the Roman Empire (Wikipedia)
Constantine the Great (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum
Edict of Thessalonica
Thomas F. Madden, The Real History of the Crusades, 2002
Empire and Papacy : Internet Medieval Sourcebook (Fordham University)
Conflict of Investitures (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Catholic Bridge : Catholic Inquisition
Thomas Madden, The Truth about the Spanish Inquisition, 2003
Reformation (Internet Medieval Sourcebook – Fordham University)
The Suppression of the Jesuits (1750-1773)
Quotations : State - Church
Jewish Virtual Library : Christian - Jewish Relations
Papal Bulls and Encyclical Letters
 Pope Gregory VII, Dictatus Papae
Jewish Virtual Library, Papal Bulls concerning the Jews
 Pius X, Une fois encore
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_x/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_06011907_une-fois-encore_en.html (English version)
 Pius XI, Non abbiamo bisogno
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_29061931_non-abbiamo-bisogno_en.html (English version)
 Pius XI, Mit brennender Sorge
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_14031937_mit-brennender-sorge_en.html (English version)
Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen de 1789
Civil Constitution of the Clergy
Cult of Reason
France (1792-1831) : les têtes qui tombent
Les guillotinés de la Révolution Française
Carmes Massacre (1792)
La Terreur (1793-1794)
Guerre de Vendée (1793-1796)
 J. V. Stalin, On the death of Lenin. A speech delivered at the second
all-union congress of soviets
 N. I. Bukharin’s Last Plea
Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union
School of Fascist Mysticism
Giovanni Gentile – Benito Mussolini, La dottrina del fascismo, 1932
German National Socialism
Thomas Schirrmacher, National Socialism as Religion
Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany
Catholic resistance to Nazi Germany
Spanish Civil War
Persecución religiosa durante la Guerra Civil Española (Wikipedia)
Gabriele Ranzato, Ambiguïté de la violence politique: la persécution religieuse
durant la guerre civile espagnole (1936-1939), 1993
Texts and Authors
The Holy Bible
La Sacra Bibbia
Tertullian, Apology for the Christians, 197 a.D. (Chapter XL)
Tertulliani Apologeticum (latin)
Marsilius of Padua (Catholic Encyclopedia)
List of Roman Catholic cleric–scientists
Pope Boniface VIII (Catholic Encyclopedia)
State and Popular Violence
Witch hunt (Wikipedia)
R. J. Rummel, Twentieth Century Democide
R. J. Rummel, Pre-Twentieth Century Democide
Unethical human experimentation in the United States (Wikipedia)
Liberalism and Libertarianism
Ralph Raico, The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant,
Tocqueville, and Lord Acton, 1970
Murray Rothbard, The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult, 1972
Walter Block, Religion and Libertarianism, 2008