Part 5: Catholic Europe. Lesson 6 of 8.
Lesson 31. Church and State

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will be confident that God can expand His Kingdom in any type of relationship between church and government.

  1. Many forms. The relations between church and state have taken many forms during the past 2000 years.  We will look at the cooperation and conflicts, and discover why the trend in recent centuries has been to keep a separation between church and state.
  1. Roman Empire. After Christianity became legal in 313 AD, the Roman government not only stopped persecuting the Christians, but in fact the emperor often took the lead in making church decisions.  For example, in 325, the emperor called together the bishops for the first ecumenical council to determine what to do about the teachings of Arius, who said that Jesus was not equal with God.  When the teachings of Arius were rejected, the Roman government actively suppressed the followers of Arius.  In 380 the emperor said “only those who believe in the Trinity are true church members.”  The church on the other hand didn’t want the emperor to have too much power.  In 386 a church leader wrote “the emperor is within the church, not above the church.”  This struggle for power continued for centuries.
  1. Byzantium. In 476 the European part of the empire ended.  The Roman Empire continued for a further thousand years in the middle east, where it was also called the  “Byzantine Empire.”  These Byzantine emperors felt a responsibility for the church, which we now call the “Eastern Orthodox” church.  The Emperors often called meetings and exerted their influence in church problems.  After the Byzantine Empire was destroyed in 1453, the Russian Empire became the sponsor of the Orthodox Church, and the Russian Emperor felt the same kind of responsibility and exerted his influence.  This connection was finally ended when the Russian Empire ended in 1917.
  1. Europe. The end of the Roman Empire in Europe meant that there was no one with authority to defend the common people.  Since the pope lived in Rome, people turned to him for protection.  The pope took on many government functions.  When Germanic tribes conquered Italy and threatened to attack Rome, the pope asked a Catholic tribe named the Franks for help.  In 756 the King of the Franks attacked the Germanic tribe that ruled Italy, and gave some of their lands to the pope; the pope then honored the Franks and looked to them for protection.  From this time on, the pope controlled most of the land in Central Italy, where there were armies he could command.
  1. Charlemagne. The next king of the Franks was named Charlemagne. Charlemagne expanded his kingdom to include the lands we now call Germany as well as France.  He continued his father’s policies by again attacking the German tribe that controlled Italy, and added those lands to his kingdom, promising to protect the pope’s control over central Italy.  In return, Charlemagne received something from the pope: in 800 the pope  crowned Charlemagne as emperor.  This gave legitimacy to Charlemagne’s claim to power, and gave honor to the popes, who could now claim that they had the authority to make people into emperors.
  1. Political power. Charlemagne’s empire did not continue after he died, but a century later the dream of having an emperor in Europe was revived.  Leaders in Germany came together again to create an Empire.  They wanted it to be a Christian empire, loyal to the pope. Since they felt they were reconstituting the Roman Empire in Europe, in 962 Italy and Germany were combined into a single unit called the “Holy Roman Empire”.  In the following centuries, the cooperation between the popes and the emperors often turned to conflict.  The popes often called on the kings of other countries of Europe to assist him against the emperor, and sometimes asked the emperor to assist him against the kings.  They all disagreed about who should have the right to select the bishops of the European cities.  In the earliest centuries, the bishops had been chosen by the people, but as the kings grew in power, they selected the bishops.  The pope felt that only he should select the bishops.  The highest point of the pope’s political power occurred when in 1077 pope Gregory VII forced the Holy Roman Emperor to give up the power to choose bishops.  The pope got his way by excommunicating the king.  This meant that no one was permitted to obey the king.  The king stood barefoot in the snow for three days, asking for the pope’s forgiveness.  Gregory didn’t succeed in maintaining his victory, but a pope that followed did reach an agreement through which the church would give the spiritual authority to the bishops and the emperor could still give the bishops rights to the lands that would be their source of income.  Another high point was reached when In 1213 a pope forced the King of England to submit to him as his legal overlord.
  1. Independence. However, as the nations became stronger, the pope became weaker.  In 1340 a pope admitted that the power of the emperor came directly from God, not from the pope.  At the time of the Renaissance, the pope encouraged one country to fight another on his behalf.  In general, the Holy Roman Empire supported the pope, while the French fought against the power of the Germans and the pope.  Starting around 1229, the Roman Catholic Church started the “inquisition.”  The church put people on trial to see if they were teaching any false ideas.  If they were found guilty, the church did not have the power to punish them, but asked the government to do it.  Many people were put to death.  The inquisition lasted until 1834 in the country of Spain.   Finally, at the time of Napoleon, around 1790, the pope had lost his earthly power, and was a religious and moral leader only.  In 1806 Napoleon ended the Holy Roman Empire.  The popes continued to claim their rights to be the secular rulers in the areas around Rome until 1870 when the pope’s lands were taken over by Italy when it united into a single government.  The popes at first regarded themselves as prisoners, but since 1929 have agreed to rule only a small part of Rome now called “Vatican City.”
  1. Luther. When Luther began the Reformation in 1517, the pope wanted the Holy Roman Emperor to arrest him.  However, Luther was protected by the prince of his local area.  If the princes of northern Germany had not accepted Luther’s ideas, and had not used their armies to protect the Protestants, the pope might have been successful in ending the Reformation.  The German government continued to be involved with church affairs.  In each government area, the king or prince decided which branch of Christianity all the people in his area would follow: Luther’s ideas, Calvin’s ideas, or the Roman Catholic Church.  In the Lutheran countries of northern Europe, the Lutheran church was supported by government taxes.
  1. Calvin. Calvin was asked to lead the government of Geneva, Switzerland.  If someone broke one of the ten commandments, the church asked the city government to punish that person. At one time, the Protestants judged a man for denying that God was three in one, and they asked the government to have him put to death. Because both Luther and Calvin relied on the government for help, their part of the reformation was called the “magisterial” reformation. Magisterial refers to the magistrates, that is, the government officials. This is in contrast to the anabaptists, who emphasized their independence from the government.
  2. France. There was also a connection between the Reformed church in France and some of the princes.  The princes used their military power to protect the Reformed believers, so that in 1585 the Protestants were given the legal right to worship. However, in 1685 the Protestants were made illegal again, until in 1802 freedom of religion was established in France.

11.  England. When the King of England removed England from the rule of the pope, the King took over as the leader of the Christian church.  Still today, the king or queen of England promises to lead and protect the Church of England.  The king used his police and armies to punish those that did not agree with his decisions about church affairs, and compelled people to use the church rules and worship service forms that he promoted.  The king persecuted the Catholics.  The problem was that when the king died, his son lived only a short time, and then his daughter Mary took over as queen.  She was a Catholic, so she protected the Catholics and persecuted the Protestants.  When she died, another sister Elizabeth ascended the throne.  She was protestant, so she protected the Protestants.  She intended to give freedom to the Catholics, but killed a number of Catholics who plotted to overthrow her.

12.  Tolerance. In the 1600’s, the group who did not want to obey the church of England gained military power, and killed the king.  Now the group in power persecuted the Church of England believers and tried to get everyone to join the Presbyterian church.  In 1666 they lost power and a new king took the throne; the Church of England became the official church, but England gave freedom to all the Christians religions.  Since 1976 the taxes of the people of England are no longer used to support the Church of England.

13.  The Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were the only group that did not depend upon government power for protection.  In fact, they taught that people should remain separate from the government.  This idea was very unpopular at the time, and all the churches and governments persecuted the Anabaptists.  However, in the end, the Anabaptists found safety in America, and were one of the influences that led to the establishment of separation between church and state in America.

14.  Just War. The influence of the church has led the governments of Europe to  limit their reasons for having wars.  Having a war for selfish reasons is regarded now as an offense against God.  However, there are times when war cannot be avoided.  In order to demonstrate that such a war is just, not selfish, there are certain criteria that must be met.  The war must protect and help the oppressed.  The war must have definite strategies to minimize harming ordinary citizens. 

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