Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
By civil allegiance is meant the duty of loyalty and obedience which a person owes to the State of which he is a citizen. The word allegiance is a derivative of liege, free, and historically it signifies the service which a free man owed to his liege lord. In the matter in hand its meaning is wider, it is used to signify the duty which a citizen owes to the state of which he is a subject.
That duty, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, rests on nature itself and the sanctions of religion. As nature and religion prescribe to children dutiful conduct towards the parents who brought them into the world, so nature and religion impose on citizens certain obligations towards their country and its rulers. These obligations may be reduced to those of patriotism and obedience. Patriotism requires that the citizen should have a reasonable esteem and love for his country. He should take an interest in his country's history, he should know how to value her institutions, and he should be prepared to sacrifice himself for her welfare. In his country's need it is not only a noble thing, but it is a sacred duty to lay down one's life for the safety of the commonwealth. Love for his country will lead the citizen to show honour and respect to its rulers. They represent the State, and are entrusted by God with power to rule it for the common good. The citizen's chief duty is to obey the just laws of his country. To be able to distinguish what laws of the civil authority are just and obligatory, it will be advisable to lay down the principles of Catholic theology respecting the nature, subject-matter, and limits of the obedience which citizens owe to the State. To understand these we must know something of the mutual relations between Church and State. From the time of Our Lord to the present, no accusation has been more persistently made against Catholics than that they cannot be good Catholics and good citizens at the same time. They owe, it is said, a divided allegiance. On the one hand they are bound to obey an infallible pope, who is the sole judge of what comes within his sphere of authority, and who may be a foreigner; and on the other they must satisfy the claims of the State to the loyalty and obedience of its subjects. It is asserted that the duties of the citizen are sure to be sacrificed by devout Catholic to the interests of his Church. This conflict of jurisdictions did not arise in pre-Christian times. Each nation had its own religion, its own gods, its own worship. The national religion was a primary element in the constitution of the State. The chief ruler of the State was also supreme pontiff. As a citizen owed obedience to his country's laws so he owed reverence and worship to his country's gods. The State domineered with absolute sway over both the spiritual and the temporal; it claimed the whole devotion of both body and soul. Jesus Christ established a spiritual kingdom on earth, which we call His Church. He gave His Church authority over all matters concern with the worship of the one, true God, and the salvation of souls; it was His intention that the Gospel should be preached to every creature, that all men should enter His kingdom, that His Church should be Catholic, i.e. universal. This fact is of supreme importance not only in religion, but also in history and politics. As von Ranke said:
The rise of Christianity involved the liberation of religion from all political elements. From this followed the growth of a distinct ecclesiastical class with a peculiar constitution. In this separation of the Church from the State consists perhaps the greatest, the most pervading and influential peculiarity of all Christian times . . . The mutual relations of the spiritual and the secular powers, their position with regard to each other, form from this time forward one of the most important considerations in all history. (The Popes, I, 10)
The teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the duty of civil allegiance will be clear if we lay down her doctrine about the origin and limits of the temporal and spiritual power, and the relation in which they stand to each other. The Church's teaching on these points is part of her doctrinal system, derived from Scripture and tradition. The archbishops and bishops of the United States made use of the following weighty words in the joint pastoral letter which they addressed to the clergy and laity of their charge in the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, held in the year 1866:
The enemies of the church fail not to represent her claims as incompatible with the independence of the Civil Power, and her action as impeding the exertions of the State to promote the well-being of society. So far from these charges being founded in fact, the authority and influence of the Church will be found to be the most efficacious support of the temporal authority by which society is governed. The church indeed does not proclaim the absolute and entire independence of the Civil Power, because it teaches with the Apostle that 'all power is of God'; that the temporal magistrate is his minister, and the power of the sword he wields is a delegated exercise of authority committed to him from on high. For the children of the Church obedience to the Civil Power is not a submission to force which may not be resisted; nor merely the compliance with a confounded with a condition for peace and security; but a religious duty founded on obedience to God, by whose authority the Civil Magistrate excercises his power.
In order to learn in detail what the Catholic doctrine is concerning the duty of civil allegiance we can not do better than consult the popes themselves. Leo XIII touches upon this doctrine in several of his Encyclical letters, he treats of it at length in that which with the words "Immortale Dei", issued 1 November, 1885.
According to Catholic teaching man is by nature a social animal, he naturally seeks the society of his fellows, and he cannot attain to his proper development except in society. As he is born and bred in the bosom of the family, from the necessities of his nature, so, in order to defend himself, in order to attain the full perfection of his bodily, mental, and spiritual faculties, families must join together and form higher and more powerful society, the State. Nature prescribes that the father should be the head of the family and to keep the peace between citizens, to secure to all their rights to punish the wrongdoer to foster the common good, nature imperiously demands that there should be a supreme authority in the State. As Leo XIII says in the Encyclical "Immortale Dei",
It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man's natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life, be it family, social, or civil, with his fellow-men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the cornmon good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author. Hence it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything without exception must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. 'There is no power but from God.'
The state of civil society then is the state of nature; there never was, nor, man's nature being what it is, could there be could there be a state in which men led a solitary life of freedom without the restraints and the advantages of civil society, such as was dreamed of by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The authority of the state is derived not from a social compact, voluntarily entered into by men, but, like the authority of the father of a family, it is derived from nature herself, and from God, the Author and the Lord of nature. This Catholic doctrine concerning the Divine origin of civil authority, as it is inherent in society, must be carefully distinguished from the theory of the Divine right of kings which was popular in England among the High Church party in the seventeenth century. According to the theory of Divine right the king was the Divinely constituted vicegerent of Jesus Christ on earth; he was responsible to God alone for his acts; in the name of God he governed his subjects in both spiritual and temporal matters. The theory united the spiritual and the temporal power in one subject, and derived the combined authority from the direct and immediate delegation of God. It has not ineptly been called Caesaropapism.
But though nature and God prescribe that there should be a supreme authority in the State, and that all citizens should conscientiously render due obedience to it, yet they do not determine the subject of the supreme civil authority. Whether a particular State be a monarchy, an oligarchy, or a democracy, or any combination of these forms of government, is a matter that depends on history and the character of the people. Provided that the government fulfils its function, its form in the eyes of the Catholic Church is of comparatively little importance. As Leo XIII says,
The right to rule is not necessarily bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature to ensure the general welfare. But whatever be the nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount ruler of the world and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. (Encyclical, Immortale Dei)
The Church, the guardian always of her own right and most observant of that of others, holds that it is not her province to decide which is the best among many different forms of government and the civil institutions of Christian states, and amid the various kinds of State rule she does not disapprove of any, provided the respect due to religion and the observance of good morals be upheld.
Various political governments have succeeded one another in France during the last century, each having its own distinctive form: the Empire, the Monarch, and the Republic. By giving one's self up to abstractions one could at length conclude which is the best of these forms, considered in themselves; and in all truth it may be affirmed that each of them if good, provided it lead straight to the end--that is to say, to the common good, for which social authority is constituted--and finally, it may be added that from the relative point of view, such and such a form of government may be preferable because of being better adapted to the character and customs of such or such a nation. In this order of speculative ideas, Catholics, like all other citizens, are free to prefer one form of government to another, precisely because no one of these social forms is, in itself, opposed to the principles of sound reason or to the maxims of Christian doctrine.
The state should not be indifferent to religion and profess mere secularism. Leo XIII writes in "Immortale Dei",
The State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, not less than individuals, owes gratitude to God, who gave it being and maintains it, and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its teaching and practice--not such religion as they may have preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion--it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin in the State not to have care for religion, as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which he has shown to be His will. All who rule, therefore, should hold in honour the holy name of God, and one of their chief duties must be to favour religion, to protect it, to shield it under the credit and sanction of the laws and neither to organize nor enact any measures that may compromise its safety. This is the bounden duty of rulers to the people over whom they rule. For one and all are we destined by our birth and to enjoy, when this frail and fleeting life is ended, a supreme and final good in heaven, and to the attainment of this every endeavour should be directed. Since, then, upon this depends the full and perfect happiness of mankind, the securing of this end should be of all imaginable interests the most urgent. Hence civil society, established for the common welfare, should not only safeguard the well-being of the community, but have also at heart the interests of its individual members, in such mode as not in any way to hinder, but in every manner to render as easy as may be, the possession of that highest and unchangeable good for which all should seek.
Although the State must not be indifferent to religion, yet direct authority in matters pertaining thereto, since the coming of Jesus Christ, no longer belongs to the State but to the Church, a Divinely constituted and perfect society which He founded, and to which He gave full spiritual power to rule its subjects in matters of religion, and guide them to God. As Leo XIII says, in his Encyclical of 10 January, 1890:
No one can without risk to faith, foster any doubt as to the Church alone having been invested with such power of governing souls as to exclude altogether the civil authority.
And in the Encyclical "Immortale Dei" he says:
For the only-begotten Son of God established on earth a society which is called the Church, and to it He handed over the exalted and Divine office which He had received from His Father, to be continued through the ages to come. 'As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.' Consequently, as Jesus Christ came into the world that men might have life and have it more abundantly', so also has the Church for its aim and end the eternal salvation of souls, and hence it is so constituted as to open wide its arms to all mankind unhampered by any limit of either time or place. 'Preach ye the Gospel to every creature.' Over this mighty multitude God has Himself set rulers with power to govern; and He has willed that one should be the head of all, and the chief and unerring teacher of truth, to whom He has given 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Feed my lambs, feed my sheep. I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.' This society is made up of men, just as civil society is, and yet is supernatural and spiritual on account of the end for which it was founded and of the means by which it aims at attaining that end. Hence it is distinguished and differs from civil society and, what is of highest moment, it is a society chartered as of right Divine, perfect in its nature and in its title, to possess in itself, through the will and loving kindness of its Founder, all needful provision for its maintenance and action. And just as the end at which the Church aims is by far the noblest of ends, so is its authority the most exalted of all authorlty, nor can it be looked upon as inferior to the civil power or in any manner dependent upon it. In very truth Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles unrestrained authority in regard to things sacred, to gather with the genuine and most true power of making laws as also with the two-fold right of judging and of punishing, which flow from that power. 'All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth going therefore teach all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.' And in another place, 'If he will not hear them, tell the Church.' And again, 'In readiness to revenge all disobedience.' And once more, 'That . . . . I may not deal more severely according to the power which the Lord hath given me, unto edification.' Hence it is the Church, and not the State, that is to be man's guide to heaven. It is to the Church that God has assigned the charge of seeing to, and legislating for, all that concerns religion; of teaching all nations; of spreading the Christian faith as widely as possible; in short, of administering freely and without hindrance, in accordance with her own judgment, all matters that fall within its competence.
The Almighty, therefore, has appointed the charge of the human race between two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over Divine, and the other over human things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But in as much as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. ' For the powers that are, are ordained of God.' Were this not so, deplorable contentions and conflicts would often arise, and not infrequently men, like travellers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to disobey either of the two. But it would be most repugnant to deem thus of the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of then clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work together for the great purpose of the universe. There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as we have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever is therefore, in things human is of a sacred character whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar's is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God. There are nevertheless occasions when another method of concord is available for the sake of peace and liberty: we mean when rulers of the State and the Roman Pontiff come to an understanding touching some special matter. (See CONCORDAT.) At such times the Church gives signal proof of her motherly love by showing the greatest possible kindliness and indulgence.
The pope then briefly describes the advantages which would follow from the establishment of this Christian scheme of society if both powers were content to keep within their legitimate sphere. Human nature, however, is prone to go wrong and many and bitter have been the conflicts between the two powers. While no Catholic would maintain that in these struggles the Church was always in the right, modern historians of the scientific school freely admit that the civil power was generally the aggressor. One cause of conflict was the jurisdiction over many merely temporal matters which the Christian emperors of Rome granted to the popes and to bishops. During the Middle Ages bishops continued to claim and to exercise this jurisdiction, which was sometimes enlarged, sometimes curtailed, by local customs and laws. In various ways the pope became paramount lord of whole kingdoms during the same period. Thus, by the voluntary act of King John and his barons, England was made a fief of the Holy See and became for a time tributary to it. When the Church had once lawfully acquired such rights as these, it was natural that she should wish to retain them; indeed, no churchman could lawfully surrender the justly acquired rights of his church, even in temporal matters, without just cause and the leave of the Holy See. Still, the double jurisdiction led to strife between the two powers, and by degrees the State in most European countries not only deprived the Church of the jurisdiction in temporal matters which she once possessed, but made large inroads into the spiritual domain which belongs exclusively to the Church. Conflicts also arose over mixed causes, such as legitimacy, which belonged to both jurisdictions, and in consequence of the claim of the Church to an indirect and incidental jurisdiction in matters temporal. Thus the Church claims authority over the education of her children even in subjects which do not pertain directly to religion, and in all probability in the same way she obtained in England the power which she once enjoyed over testamentary dispositions. This is a matter of the greatest importance in the history of English law. Owing to it the English law of property at the present day is divided into halves, that of reality and that of personalty. The division is due to the fact that the Church, on account of her authority over pious causes and legacies to charitable purposes, early obtained jurisdiction over all testamentary dispositions of personalty, while the realty was left to the civil courts. There was a controversy among theologians and jurists as to the extent of the Church's power over temporal affairs. All admit that her authority does in some way extend to temporal affairs; indeed the proposition that she has no direct or indirect temporal authority was condemned by Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors. To explain the nature of that power three systems have been devised by theologians and jurists.
One school, which comprised such men as John of Salisbury and his friend St. Thomas Becket, maintained that the pope had direct power over temporal as over spiritual matters. All power was given to Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and he made over the plenitude of the power which He had received to His vicars, the Roman pontiffs. Consequently the popes are the supreme rulers of the world in both spiritual and temporal matters, they keep the spiritual power in their own hands, while they delegate the temporal to emperors and kings. These, therefore, are directly responsible for their acts to the pope in whose name they govern. It is possible to quote expressions from papal documents which seem to support this opinion. Gregory VII, Innocent III, and other popes, used phrases which are capable of being interpreted in that sense; but if the scope of these documents be considered, and especially if the teaching of these popes on other occasions be taken into account, they must be explained in another way. Thus Innocent III, writing to the Patriarch of Constantinople, says that "not only the Church universal but the whole world was left to Peter to govern," But his aim is to show the universality of the pope's spiritual jurisdiction in contrast to that exercised over particular churches by other spiritual rulers. In his celebrated Decretal "Novit," Innocent III defends himself from the imputation of desiring to usurp or curtail the jurisdiction or power of the King of France: "Why", he asks, "should we desire to usurp the jurisdiction of another, while we are not competent to wield our own?" He explains that he had summoned the French king before his spiritual tribunal to answer for a sin, a matter which belonged to the ecclesiastical court. Similarly, in his Decretal "Per venerabilem", the same great pope says that he is well aware that Christ said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's", but that, notwithstanding, in certain causes the pope exercises temporal jurisdiction casually and incidentally.
Hence there was another opinion defended by Hugo of St. Victor, Alexander of Hales, and others, according to which the power granted by Christ to the Church and to the pope was spiritual, and had reference only to religion and the salvation of souls. The Church had no merely temporal jurisdiction of Divine right; Christian emperors and kings were supreme within the limits of their temporal authority. However, in as much as all must give way when there is question of the salvation of souls, "For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?" and, "If thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee"; so all impediments to salvation must be removed. He, therefore, who has the care of the salvation of soul should have the power to remove any impediment to salvation, even if it be caused by a Christian emperor or kings. Besides, Christian emperors and kings are children of the Church, and as such subject to the supreme rulers of the Church. The first Christian emperors acknowledged this; great saints and bishops like St. Ambrose and St. Chrysostom taught it and acted on it; the popes of the Middle Ages were only following precedent when they acted like manner. Bellarmine, one of the chief exponents of this theory of the indirect power of the popes over temporal affairs, says that it was the common opinion of theologians; Francisco Suárez, another great upholder of the same view, in his volume against James I of England, says that it was the more received and approved opinion among Catholics. In our time this opinion has become generally accepted, and Leo XIII seems to adopt it in his Encyclical quoted above on the Christian constitution of States. "Whatever", he says, "in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred, to the salvation of souls or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church."
A third opinion was held by Fénelon, Gosselin, and a few others, that the pope has only a directing and guiding, not a constraining, power over temporal affairs. These writers taught that the Church should instruct, exhort, warn, and admonish temporal rulers she may declare that a civil law is unjust, but that she has no coercing power even indirectly in temporal matters. This position of the Gallican School is now abandoned by all Catholics, and has become obsolete. From what has been said it will be clear what are the nature, the extent, and the limits or civil allegiance according to the teaching of the Catholic Church. According to that teaching citizens are religiously bound to reverence and obey their civil rulers in all matters which belong to the sphere of civil government. That sphere comprises whatever may contribute to the temporal welfare of the whole body of citizens. As religion is a sacred duty and its practice contributes much to the well-being of the citizens, the State must not be indifferent to religion. Still the direct care of religion has not been committed to the state but to the Church founded by Christ, which is a society to which the baptized members of the State throughout the world belong, which has all the powers necessary for the attainment of its supernatural end, the sanctifcation and salvation of souls, and which is independent of the State. Hence, there are limits set to the duty of civil allegiance. The State is not competent to make laws in matter of religion, nor may it interfere with the rights of the Church. If the State transgresses the limits assigned to it, the duty of obedience ceases: "We ought to obey God rather than men." This undoubted Christian principle is not invoked by the Catholic to shield his disloyalty and disobedience to the State under the specious pretext of following his conscience. The Catholic is not guided in matters of duty by private judgment, but by the public teaching and law of the Catholic Church. The State has nothing to fear from the action of the Catholic Church; her whole energies are bent on making her children good men, good Christians, good citizens. Moreover, the spiritual teaching, power, and influence of the Church are necessary in order to correct certain modern tendencies to exaggerate the power of the State. In proportion as certain doctrines of some socialists and idealists are translated into fact, the power of the State will be increased, and the liberty with which Christ has made free the Christian world will be in serious peril.
APA citation. (1908). Civil Allegiance. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03794b.htm
MLA citation. "Civil Allegiance." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03794b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.