The church and politics today: cooperation and autonomy

The historical evolution of the relationship between the church and politics

The early Church very soon identified flight from politics as component of holiness, and while rejecting heresies that saw all the material world as evil, it was nevertheless tainted with their views. The condemnation of Galileo in 1633 seemed to typify the Church’s suspicion of the world after the Johannine Jesus (Jn 8:23;12:31;14:30;17:9;1836). Otherworldliness was seen as potential holiness, whereas this worldliness was not. Monasticism in practice was considered better than secular involvement, poverty better than responsible use of wealth, chastity better than conjugal life. Secular values had no real worth except that which religion gave them. It was subordinate to religion. Popes Innocent III and Boniface VIII proclaimed absolute sovereignty over the world (Leonard Doohan, 2003, p.170).


With Vatican II, new ways of understanding the relationship between the Church and politics emerged. The Council teaches that the Church serves the world by witnessing to eternal values, making God’s love present, healing and proclaiming human dignity (Gaudium et Spes. 40). The Church helps people in their effort to better the world by opening to them the meaning of their existence and dignity (Ibid. 41). By promoting family unity, consolidating human unity and injecting faith and charity in daily life, the society is helped (Ibid. 42). By trying to bring faith into a beautiful synthesis with action, the Church also betters the civil society (Ibid. 43). The Church’s relationship with the world is positive and mature, avoiding the extremes of neglect and patronage. The world is seen as part of the Father’s plan (Lumen Gentium. 2), and the Christian faith helps believers to appreciate their mandate to develop the world (Apostolican Actuositatem. 2). It is the Church’s task to explain God’s will for the world’s development (Gaudium et Spes. 2). To achieve this, Christians are to safeguard the world against misuse (Lumen Gentium 43); give the world a new soul and spirit (Apostolican Actuositatem. 19) by fulfilling their responsibilities in the world. Vatican II began a new era in the Church’s relationship to the world; from opposition and neglect to a spirituality of involvement. Major Church documents now focus on work, the family, the economy, social justice, women issues, peace etc while spiritual writers stress the need for holistic living. The trends of liberation theology, incarnational theology and inculturation are indices of this development (Leonard Doohan, 2003, p.171),


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