A Byzantine Perspective on “Integralism” – Part III

Wisdom Hath Builded Her House

By contrast, the Latin model saw a strong distinction between the clerical and civil powers develop early on in the Middle Ages with the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne and his successors attempted to exert influence and sometimes even directly control the clergy in the manner of the Eastern Roman emperors. But unlike the East, the Western clergy under the banner of the pope were able to resist what they viewed as imperial usurpation of the ecclesiastical authority. And this centuries-long struggle culminated during the High Middle Ages with a papal triumph over the emperors and the establishment of clerical supremacy. This victory marked a period held by many Latin Catholics to be a golden age in church history where spiritual values reigned supreme over politics and culture. And indeed in many respects it was, showing forth the high point of Western Christian civilization in a flowering of justice, piety, sacred art, and architecture.

But woven with the fabric of this social-religious order was the very thread of its dissolution. For in the assertion of clerical supremacy we see the beginnings of the dialectic of “Church” and “State” which is so foreign to ancient Christianity. Instead of an expectation of cooperation between the clergy and lay rulers as members of one Church, their opposition and even hostility was now assumed. In previous times there were troubles in practice between the relations of the clerical and civil powers. But now their tension had become enshrined in the very theory of society that came to reign supreme in the West during this time. Thus, with Pope strong-arming Emperor into submission, the stage was set for an equal and opposite reaction by the civil power against the clerical power, which came during the Renaissance with the rise of the modern secular State.

Christendom is not meant to be a theocracy where clerics control everything. Rather, its stability depends on a balanced synthesis of clerical and civil powers where each contributes in its own manner and sphere to the welfare of society. So when Latin clergy arrogated to themselves the direction of temporal affairs, laymen in the West began to seek a mandate for their rule outside the Church, which they found in pagan antiquity where force and natural reason was king. This secularizing trend accelerated exponentially during the so-called Age of “Enlightenment” in the 18th century, when the growing rift between clerical and civil powers first manifests as the full-fledged separation of Church and State. By the 20th century, this movement had attained such influence over society that the upheaval brought by the Great War resulted in the demise of the last bastions of integral Christendom: the Habsburg Empire and Imperial Russia.

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