Caesaropapism and the Liberty of the Church – Part II

The Emperor Justinian and His Suite

And such a focus on the secular over the sacred brings us to the crux of it all: the institutionalized hypocrisy called “separation of church and state.” For it is impossible to separate governance from notions about how things are and the way they ought to be ordered. And this philosophy of governance ultimately comes from spiritual/religious assumptions on the nature of reality. Even a lack of belief in anything beyond the material involves making a definite judgement on the topic. As we know, atheists can be some of the most dogmatic people out there! Hence, what really results in a society like that of America claiming separation of the religious and political is not religious freedom, but rather a kind of “soft” caesaropapism. For keeping religion out of the government does not secure the liberty of the Church, but rather ensures the secular state hegemony over the public sphere, which, due to the connectedness of “private” and “public” life, inevitably exerts pressure on the Church to conform to the values and ideals of the specific secular ideology in vogue at the moment.

Soloviev here again is insightful, for unlike (classical) liberals, he did not believe the remedy to an oppressive Russian caesaropapism was to overthrow the traditional union of throne and altar. Rather, he envisaged a Russian Catholic empire with both Tsar and Pope working together in cooperation to maintain the firm hand of civil power protecting man from sin and error, but with the Church reigning supreme, free from state manipulation. As he writes in a letter,

The reunion of the Churches would be advantageous to both sides. Rome would gain a devout people enthusiastic for the religious idea, she would gain a faithful and powerful defender. Russia for her part…would thereby become free to fulfil her great universal mission of uniting around herself all the Slav nations and of founding a new and truly Christian civilisation, a civilisation uniting the characteristics of the one truth and of religious liberty in the supreme principle of charity, encompassing everything in its unity and distributing to everyone the plenitude of the one unique good.”

Vladimir Soloviev, letter to Msgr. Strossmayer. Vladimir Soloviev, prophet of Russia’s conversion (

I think it is a realization about the challenge of establishing Christian civilization in a secular society that leads some traditionally inclined Catholics to (naïvely) sympathize with the Russian vision of uniting church and state. And herein lies an important insight. Make no mistake: the Russian system as now constituted is not amenable to Catholicism, and Patriarch Kirill’s failure to condemn Putin’s fratricidal war is disgraceful. But the problem with Russia is not in it seeking to restore an integral society but inverting its proper order. In other words, the issue is not that church and state work together in “symphony,” but that the state, rather than the church, is the one on top. It is unnatural and indeed impossible for religion to be totally isolated from political life. The only way for Holy Church to be truly free is for her to take leadership over human affairs and assert the social reign of Christ the King over the kingdoms of men. Nothing less than the conquest of the earthly powers by the spiritual Kingdom of God will do.

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